Title: The Challenge (Part X)
Author: ficeler37
Note: Don't own Mai-Hime. I'll let Sunrise take the credit.
Rating: PG
Word count: 1014

Summary: The conclusion.

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Somehow it does not occur to Natsuki that perhaps the best course of action is to punch Takeda on the face to make him drop his cue stick, instead, she rushes towards Shizuru and throws herself on top of the distracted chestnut haired woman, hoping to use her own body as a shield of flesh and blood. Shizuru, whose attention was focused on the 8 ball in front of her, was startled by the sudden yelling and the pressure on her back, and was surprised to see two hands being abruptly placed on the table on either side of her body.

No matter what happens, I'll protect you, Shizuru. Natsuki closes her eyes and waits for the imminent blow to her back. However, a few seconds have passed, and Natsuki still finds her body completely free of pain. She gradually opens her eyes and relaxes her body. Finally aware of the scandalous position she has put herself in, a blush quickly creeps onto her cheeks. When she feels fits of giggles exploding underneath of her body, Natsuki can only wish that a hole will appear on the ground and devour her.

Just then, the voice of Reito interrupts the comedic scene at the pool table. "Takeda-kun, it's awfully dangerously to stretch with a cue stick in hand. Who knows, you might poke a hole through the ceiling." The ever observant Reito of course had detected the strange behavior of Takeda a while back. While Natsuki dashed to cover up Shizuru's vulnerable body, Reito had stepped in front of Takeda and grabbed his cue stick in mid air. Next Reito leans closer to Takeda so that his hushed voice can only be heard by the kendo club captain. "If you have to insist on acting like an idiot, I don't promise the possibility of you getting out of this pool hall unscathed."

Hearing Reito's words and taking Natsuki's action into account, Shizuru already has an idea what just happened. Attacking me behind my back, huh? I'll make you pay for this. "Ara, was Natsuki afraid that Takeda might 'accidentally' hurt me with his stretches? Natsuki is the best bodyguard ever! Daisuki" Though pinned to the pool table by Natsuki's protective stance, Shizuru still teases Natsuki mercilessly. Thank you for protecting me, my brave Natsuki …

"Baka, why do you always have to throw those lovey dovey words around?" In a flash, Natsuki gets off Shizuru's body, and stands to the side with her arms crossed in front of her chest with her head turned away from the group. Does this woman have any sense of danger? What if something had happened to her? I …I …Natsuki cannot imagine what she will do to Takeda if he had hurt her most important person. Shizuru, is this how you felt when you went to destroy first district …for me?

Back to the boys, Takeda had come to his senses the moment that his cue stick was captured by Reito. Did I just try to … oh my god … hitting a girl? This is not me. What kind of a warrior will hit a girl? On top of his own guilt, Reito's whispered threat has pushed Takeda almost to tears.

Finally free to move her body, Shizuru twists her head a little and takes a quick peek at Takeda. So that's where you are …The usually elegant Kyoto woman jams her cue stick back roughly and earns a loud yelp from the kendo club captain. Shizuru turns around to offer her oh-so-sincere apology. "Ara, I'm sorry, Takeda-kun. I didn't see you behind me. You know, you shouldn't stand so close to someone who is about to make a shot. Pool can be a dangerous game, you know?"

Meanwhile, Takeda can only nod in pain as he is now on his knees with his hands covering up his private parts. Reito takes in the whole scene and can only shake his head at the kendo captain who is still writhing in pain. Can't say that you don't deserve it, Takeda-kun. Rest in peace.

The last shot is a piece of cake for Shizuru. A clear 'ping' ends the ridiculous challenge. "We won, Natsuki." Shizuru flashes Natsuki her real smile, not the fake one that she usually gives to her fangirls. Mission accomplished, Tokiha-san. As if I'll let Natsuki go out on a date with that loser.

"Yea, we did, and it's all because of you, Shizuru." Natsuki smiles back, something that Natsuki's classmates at Fuka High cannot imagine. She takes a look at Takeda who is still groaning on the floor. "Sorry, Takeda. I can't go out with you. Don't bother me anymore. Oh, and you're paying for the rental fees, as you promised." Then she walks over to her pool champion and grabs her hand tenderly. "Let's go, Shizuru."

As Natsuki leads Shizuru towards the exit, Shizuru's voice emerges from behind, "Ara, now that Natsuki's weekend is freed up, would you like to go out on a date with me instead?" Seeing Natsuki stops in her track, Shizuru smiles at herself sadly. This is how our game goes. I take one step forward, then you take two steps back. And we just drift apart further and further …

"Uhm, I won two admission tickets to the amusement park from playing pachinko. We can go together this weekend …" Natsuki mutters, refusing to turn around to let Shizuru see the blush on her face. "AND it's not a date, ok?" Natsuki adds before she starts dragging Shizuru towards the door again.

Surprised by Natsuki's reply, Shizuru's body froze on the spot. Consequently, when Natsuki tries to pull her forward, Shizuru loses her balance and falls on top of Natsuki's body. Chestnut colored tresses tangle with indigo locks of hair on the floor of the pool hall.

"Shizuru, what happened? Is there something wrong with you?"

"Yes."

"Huh?"

"Let's go to the amusement park together this weekend."

THE END

Extras:

"Uhm, Shizuru, you can get off me now."

"Iya, Natsuki's body is so soft. I'm Duran." (Pounce) (Pounce)

"SHIZURU!"

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A/N: (sniff sniff) The end of my first long fanfic! This is so sad. I can't believe it's over. Thank you all for hopping on this wild ride with me. (hugs)