Author's Note: My updating was messed up a bit by my computer going down, but I hope to get back to Crimson Maiden once it's fixed and I have my files back. Till then, enjoy the conclusion to this fic! ;) Much thanks to Yuri-hime for betaing!


Title: Too Late

Rating: T

Chapter 5: Puppy


~Secrets~

I've been reluctant to wake up before, but nothing like I was that particular morning. In my dreams, I could be with Natsuki. We led many different lives, we got together in so many different ways, and it always worked out perfectly. But that wasn't this world. In this world, I was lying in bed alone, Natsuki having abandoned me sometime in the night. I kept myself on the verge of sleep as long as I could, but in the end, the absence of Natsuki's warmth was simply undeniable.

I didn't have Natsuki. It was as simple as that. In many other lives, I may have found her, but in this one I'd just missed my chance. I was so close, too. Close enough to get one night of dreams. Enough to know what I was missing, before she left me for her fiancé. I didn't begrudge her that decision. I could tell by the light in the room, even if I didn't open my eyes, that it was getting into the day. Reito would certainly be worried, and he deserved an explanation. Natsuki wouldn't keep something like this secret from him, like I'd kept it from her.

Perhaps if I hadn't kept my feelings secret, this could have turned out better. I could have let Natsuki know she had another option before she committed to marrying Reito, rather than force her to face it afterwards. Or perhaps for her sake, I should have remained strong, and kept this secret forever, even if I destroyed myself in the process.

No. That certainly wasn't the best option. Natsuki was an adult. She deserved to know the whole truth so she could make her own decisions. It wasn't my place to shield her from difficult decisions. Perhaps I had waited too long, hoping that my feelings would fade as I could convince myself that she was taken. At least at the point where I knew it wasn't happening that easily, I should have said something to Natsuki. As she'd proven the previous night, she was my friend, even if she wasn't my lover.

No more secrets. If Natsuki chose Reito, then I would just have to live with it, loving her without reciprocation until my feelings burned out, or until I found someone else. I wouldn't destroy myself trying to hold my feelings in again. I had to face the world as it was, and make the most of it.

At last, I peeled my eyes open, forcing myself to fully awaken to the fact that I was left alone in bed, without Natsuki. Taking a few long seconds to let out a deep sigh, I turned my head to check the time. There I found her note.

Really sorry I had to leave, Shizuru, but I can't leave Reito without an explanation. He deserves to know what's going on. At this point so do you, so I'll just say this: Don't give up on me. It's not too late.


~Simplicity~

Marrying Reito was the easy choice. It was also, undeniably, the wrong one. It wasn't who I was. As much as I may have wished to just live my life like a typical girl, it would never have worked. I was deceiving myself in saying that that was what I wanted.

A sense of exhilaration hit me as I left Shizuru's room. I hadn't felt anything like this since I'd played games with Suzushiro-san, trying to make her snap with my behavior. I wasn't born to be a faithful housewife. I needed to go wild. Some of my friends have compared me to a dog – I can indeed be a very faithful companion, but you'd damn well better give me a huge backyard to run around in when I need it.

Reito had tamed me from the wild animal I was when we'd first met. Although it was nice to be with someone like him and show a tamer side, I missed the freedom I'd had before. The more I stayed with Reito, the more I settled down. My degree would end up as nothing more than a piece of paper on the wall of our house if we got married. My only life would be his.

Fine for some girls, but not for me. Staying with Reito would be too easy, too simple… too boring. Would Shizuru end up being any different? At that point, I had no idea. And I loved it.


~Warmth~

It's not too late.

I held onto those words throughout the day. I nearly bounced around my dorm in giddiness. Most days I pictured Natsuki as a cute puppy, but for this one day, I was hers. If only she could have been there to see it. But she had important things to do, so I waited. Puppies could be patient too, after all, waiting for their masters to come home after a long day.

I kept myself occupied as best as I could with homework and my studies, hoping to get a phonecall or a knock on the door from Natsuki. None came, but I didn't let that faze me. The simple fact that I might still have a chance was enough, whatever Natsuki might have been up to in the meantime. I would let her come to me. Until she did, the spark of hope she'd lit within me would be more than enough to keep me warm as I slept. I didn't even need to hold Natsuki in my arms that night to dream of even more heavens for us to be together in.


~Dreams~

Reito was a good guy, I'll give him that much. I'd been expecting a fight from him, but I got nothing. I had no idea at the time why our breakup went so well, but I just chalked it up to him honestly caring for me as a friend and wanting what was best for me. In retrospect, it may have had a bit more to do with a certain friend of his sister's that he met around that time and later ended up dating.

I was free. But as much as a dog might wish to run around in the wild for a day, she always would need somewhere nice and warm to sleep at night. I took my day of freedom for myself, but the night was always on my mind. As much as I couldn't keep Reito wondering that morning, I couldn't leave Shizuru wondering that night.

Maybe it wouldn't work out. Maybe she'd end up just like Reito, or even worse. I didn't feel like that would happen, though. Even if I weren't so sure, I needed to try. The call of the wild was calling me to Shizuru. She was the unknown. She was adventure. Perhaps in time she'd be my shelter for the night, while I ran wild during the day. Or, even better, she might supply me with a way of going wild all on her own.

Now I was just dreaming. But what did it matter? It had taken a dream to break me from Reito; I could use this dream to get together with Shizuru. I just wanted to make sure I could return the favor. She'd been dreaming of me, I was sure, and it was time she finally realized that dream.

I waited until it was late and I was sure she was dreaming of me before I made my move. Even though I hadn't done it in years, picking the lock to Shizuru's door was still a breeze for me. Motivation will do that to you. I snuck into her room, leaving the lights off and just letting my eyes adjust so I didn't disturb Shizuru. I found her on her bed, hugging a pillow with a blissful smile on her face. Perfect.

I crawled carefully onto the bed, hovering just over Shizuru. A gentle brush on her cheek was all it took for her to loosen her hold on the pillow and roll onto her back, facing up at me. I might have had a few qualms about what I planned to do next, but her gentle utterance of "…suki…" was enough to ease my mind.

I lowered myself slowly, coming to a rest on top of Shizuru. Somewhere within her mind, she must have known what I was doing, as her cheeks tinged with a blush. "It's time to wake up, Shizuru," I whispered to her, "but I won't ask you to leave your dreams behind when you do."

A gentle fluttering of Shizuru's eyelashes was all the response I got, but it was all I needed. I closed the last remaining inches between us. My lips met with Shizuru's. Time slowed as her lips took charge of the kiss, capturing mine within them. Her arms wrapped around me, and I surrendered myself to Shizuru's dreams.

I was Shizuru's puppy. For the night, at least. And every night since then, as it turned out.


Author's Note: This chapter is dedicated to the memory of my own puppy, who passed away yesterday. Not that I let that sway my writing - the "puppy" theme is just a coincidence, I swear! :P

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