Here's chapter 10 finally up! Firstly, I'd like to say that I have stated in the previous chapter that I'd be hibernating for 3 months, that's plus minus 90 days, but currently it's been more than that, so I sincerely apologize. I can't quite believe it but there were some readers (you know who you are) who actually sent me reviews and PMs to remind me to update. I'm very touched, thank you. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, please do enjoy this chapter, and I will definitely put up another chapter sometime in the next 3 weeks.
Some chapter notes. Tsukimori was mentioned in the anime in ep 7, I'm not sure if that is a place name or something else but currently I used it in this chap as a place name.
Chapter 10: Decisions
A pair of eyes stared at her. Within those eyes were amusement, and surprise perhaps, as well as, what was that? Annoyance? No, it can't be. Boredom then? She didn't know which seemed a worse prospect. But amusement was definite. Better to just stick with that then. So the conclusion was, a pair of crimson eyes stared at her with amusement. Why exactly was this?
"This is getting old, no?"
This was uttered by the crimson eyed, which answered the amusement question as well. And she couldn't agree more. Other times it was inside shops or stores, but today was the middle of the street. She figured that must contribute to the increased awkwardness.
"It must be…six times now?"
Good guess. But it was seven actually. The other wasn't keeping a good count. But she wasn't expecting her to. It was quite a few times already.
Well here's what's happening. This meeting marks the seventh time they had stumbled into each other while shopping in Tsukimori. The first few times had been brushed off as coincidence, on the older girl's part at least. But at this point, it would be difficult to still believe that. She knew better though. It truly wasn't coincidence. The fact is, they used to shop in all the same places together so even now, though the 'together' part doesn't apply anymore, all the same places still did. 'Together' would happen from there.
She huffed. "Seven."
Those eyes lit up. More surprise. More amusement. "Ara."
Coming from her, that was always a bad sign.
"Natsuki was keeping count?"
A blush appeared.
The other grinned. "If I didn't know better, I would think that Natsuki is stalking me."
The blush deepened, followed closely by a twitch of the eyebrow. She glared at the taller girl. "Who would stalk you?"
The crimson eyed raised an eyebrow, and the grin widened, showing a little bit of teeth. And was that a snicker she heard? She swallowed. She had to admit, she hated it whenever this expression showed. This expression which said that the other knew something she didn't. It didn't help that she's seen this expression way too many times than to her liking.
She quickly scanned her last sentence, 'Who would stalk you?' and immediately she noticed the flaw. But she was too late.
"Well," the other began, "if I may ask Natsuki to look over my left shoulder, at the entrance of the nearby convenience store."
She looked. She spotted said convenience store with ease and focused on the entrance. There was a magazine rack inside, positioned in such a way that its back faced the street. Three girls in that distinctive orange school uniform stood there, with what appeared to be fashion magazines in their hands. Only that the magazine wasn't what they were looking at. Their eyes looked pass the top of the page at the very person who stood there with her. And occasionally at her too, with intense jealousy.
She turned back to the one with the victorious look on her face. She sighed. She couldn't believe that she let it slip her mind even for a moment just who she was with. Of course there would be people stalking her. She is Fujino Shizuru after all.
"Do they ever leave you alone?"
To this Shizuru smiled helplessly. "I wonder." She let it hang there, and chose to eye the younger girl's dressing instead. "Natsuki came straight from school?"
Natsuki nodded, glancing at her uniform clad body.
"What did Natsuki come here for?"
She cocked her head slightly. "Maa…I had some things to do. You?"
"I was shopping," came the answer.
She looked down, and noted the empty hands.
Shizuru instantly picked this up and chuckled. "I couldn't find what I wanted, so I'm heading back now."
"I see," she replied and cast another look at the convenience store. The three were still eyeing Shizuru, and still death glaring her. She scowled. "Will they follow you back?"
"If they live in the dorms, I suppose they will," Shizuru answered.
At that Natsuki focused on their faces, half covered by the magazines. She frowned when she found she recognized them. "I think they do."
Shizuru sighed and smiled helplessly. "Yes, I think so too."
The defeated look on Shizuru's face was absolutely priceless. Who would've thought, the great Fujino Shizuru rendered helpless by a bunch of fan girls? Natsuki let out a chuckle, which soon turned into full blown laughter. The other smiled, and joined in.
The shorter girl stared straight at the taller one as the last of her glee left her. "Need some help?"
Shizuru locked eyes with Natsuki. "What might Natsuki be implying?"
She smirked, pleased at the other's curiosity. She tilted her head, motioning to her bike parked across the street.
The crimson pair scanned across the street and eyed the bike with interest before they turned back to the vehicles owner, slightly bewildered.
Natsuki proceeded to explain herself. "You know they won't be able to follow me."
A smile formed on the kaichou's lips. "I never said I doubted that. But," she paused, looking intently at Natsuki. "You brought a spare helmet?"
Because the question seemed honest in its curiosity, Natsuki nodded, for it was true. She failed to see where it would eventually lead.
Shizuru feigned surprise. "Did Natsuki not come here by yourself?"
Another nod. Still oblivious.
A glint appeared in those crimson eyes. It made them look even more striking than they already are. They narrowed at the person in view. "Then why did Natsuki bring a spare helmet?"
Green eyes widened. Caught. "That-That's because I…I-"
It was Shizuru's turn to smirk now, as she looked expectantly at Natsuki.
Natsuki stopped, knowing full well that she won't win this one. "It doesn't matter!" she snapped. She quickly turned around and headed for her bike. "Let's go!"
The other seemed genuinely surprised by her actions. But she was soon overcome by mirth as she walked after Natsuki. "Ara,"
Natsuki felt an impending dread.
First came a gleeful hum. "So Natsuki is stalking me after all."
Her eyebrow twitched. How she did hate the older girl sometimes.
Somewhere between vehemently denying that she's a stalker and coming up with a plausible reason for the presence of the spare helmet, she managed to get both Shizuru and herself onto the bike. She caught a glimpse of the actual stalkers rushing out of the convenience store as she passed, but they were soon out of sight and out of mind. Those were the events preceding how she got here. Except, she didn't know where 'here' was.
To put it generally, she was in a park. But why and what she was doing there, she had no idea. She looked ahead, at the back of the person who should have all the answers. Said person walked at a leisurely pace on the path. She matched the pace.
She let several breaths pass before she asked. "Here is?"
Shizuru stopped, and turned to look at Natsuki. She smiled, inhaling deeply as she surveyed her surroundings, seemingly in deep thought.
Natsuki found herself holding her breath.
Shizuru's eyes finally landed back to Natsuki after a moment. "This is-" she started, the pause being clearly intentional. She grinned at the inquisitive look she received. "-a park, Natsuki."
Natsuki's brows furrowed at the obvious. "I know that! What I meant is what are we doing here?"
Shizuru gave Natsuki a confused look. "I'm wondering as well. Was it not Natsuki who brought me here? Stealing me away to have me all by yourself."
It was said with such frankness that for a while she did not notice anything out of place. She blinked. And then she turned red. "You-You directed me here!"
The accusation only made the other laugh.
"And I didn't steal you away! I was just helping you," she stressed.
Shizuru stared objectively at the red faced girl and smiled. "Natsuki is just so easy to tease."
"But," she continued before Natsuki could retort. Her smile grew. "That's what I like about Natsuki."
The one being spoken to was taken aback. Her eyes widened, and her mouth hung open, speechless. Then of course, there was the blush.
Shizuru smiled still at her companion's silence. She turned around and headed to a spot on the grass. "Shall we sit?"
The other did not wait, and went ahead to sit on the ground in a more comfortable fashion than her usual seiza-style, with her legs in front of her bent at the knee.
Natsuki watched as Shizuru sat. Composing herself, she slowly followed the act, placing herself to Shizuru's right with about a foot distance between them. But it was a worthless distance, for as soon as she relaxed in her position, Shizuru readjusted herself, closing the gap to mere inches.
That act startled her, and she whirled her head to look at Shizuru. "Wha-"
Her words stopped there, mainly because Shizuru wasn't even looking at her. Instead, she faced straight ahead, but with that evident curve of the lips which said she knew what she did, but would not necessarily acknowledge it. Natsuki sighed, and relaxed once again. It wasn't as though she disliked the closeness. She had grown to long it. Had she been bolder, she would not have created the distance in the first place.
Shizuru seemed to sense Natsuki's growing comfort. "Thank you, Natsuki."
Natsuki looked over. "What for?"
The look was returned. "For helping me. I'm really grateful."
Natsuki dipped her head low and smiled small, accepting the gratitude. In time she wrapped her arms loosely around her knees and like the one beside her, she just sat in silence. There weren't many people in that part of the park, and as a result it almost seemed as though it was just them and nature. The wind was a bit strong, mercilessly bringing down leaves from treetops. But it didn't bother her.
She glanced at Shizuru, who had her eyes closed. "Tell me honestly," she said, catching the other's attention. "Why did you want to come here?"
Shizuru opened her eyes, and slowly rested her head on her hands, which in turn rested on her knees. She made no move to face Natsuki. "I once said that being in the former Student Council Room puts me at ease. Do you remember?"
The younger girl nodded.
"But now I can't go there anymore, because the whole building has been closed off for restoration," she said, glancing around a few times. "So this place is a replacement. I feel calm, there's a good atmosphere, and-," she smiled at Natsuki, "good company too."
A light blush adorned Natsuki's cheeks. "But…I wasn't with you the other times."
Shizuru raised an eyebrow. "Other times? What other times?"
"Eh?" Natsuki was equally confused.
But then it dawned on the kaichou. "Ah, today is the first time I'm here."
The biker seemed even more perplexed. "Then how did you know how to come here?"
A chuckle escaped Shizuru's lips. "It wasn't my intention to come here. But, all is well, no?"
Natsuki stared at Shizuru in disbelief. "You mean you had no idea where you were directing me?"
Shizuru grinned and nodded. "And yet we found this place. Does Natsuki not like it here?"
"No," Natsuki replied. "I like it here."
But that's only because…you're here with me
That was something she had begun noticing within herself recently. Whatever she did, wherever she went, she wanted Shizuru to be there with her. Even in the most mundane of activities. And as long as the older girl was with her, she liked it. Take this park for example, she was not one who usually holds sentiments for places-save a few truly significant ones-, but because Shizuru was here, she felt she liked it already.
"I feel that it would be different it Natsuki wasn't here with me."
Natsuki froze. Did Shizuru feel the same way?
"Natsuki," Shizuru called. "Since we came here together, what do you say we make this place our special place? A place that we can only come to when we're together."
The notion seemed somewhat childish, and even through Shizuru's serious tone she wasn't sure if the other meant it. Things like having secret places, wasn't that what kids do? Though that didn't mean that she didn't like the idea. Quite the opposite in fact. The whole suggestion that this place would be special to just both of them made her stomach flutter. She was going to have to treasure this place from now on.
"You don't like the idea?" Shizuru asked suddenly. There wasn't any disappointment in her voice. The question sounded more like bait.
This was bait she would take willingly. "I didn't say that."
A smirk spread across Shizuru's face. "That's a deal then."
"You're a strange person, Shizuru." Natsuki remarked. She nudged the older girl with her elbow as though to reinforce her point.
Shizuru laughed. "And you're not, Natsuki? People of a kind tend to stick with those of the same kind."
"Which part of me is strange?" Natsuki retorted.
Shizuru brought a finger up to her chin, and feigned a look of deep thought. "I could name many, but one should suffice. Is stalking not strange?"
Natsuki's brows knitted. "I already said I wasn't stalking you." She rolled her eyes away with a slight pout. "But…I was hoping…I'd run into you. That's why I brought the spare helmet."
"Natsuki was hoping to run into me?" Shizuru asked, brows raised. "Why?"
The dark haired one further turned her face from the light haired one's view. The pout grew as well. She made a choked sound when the words didn't leave her throat properly. "That's because…we ran into each other so many times before but I couldn't give you a ride back…I didn't have a spare then..," she paused. Somehow she felt she wasn't getting any nearer to the point. "I just…wanted to offer you a ride back. That's why."
There was a moment of silence as Shizuru pondered Natsuki's answer. But then she raised her hand to stroke Natsuki's hair gently, lightly brushing the ear as well. It sent a shiver down the receiver's spine, and caused her to face Shizuru once again.
Shizuru was smiling. "That is very sweet of Natsuki. Thank you."
Natsuki could not find any words to say in return, so she just stared at Shizuru as the stroking of her hair went on. She swallowed. There was warmth in her chest. This person wasn't exactly the one she had known for the past four years, but was it really a bad thing? Did she want Shizuru to remember again? She wasn't sure anymore. Before this, she had been stalling it because she didn't know how to go about it. She hoped that Shizuru would remember on her own accord. But now, she was beginning to agree with what Mai had said. That it was better off this way.
She dropped her eyes, unable to keep up the contact of their eyes.
What would Shizuru do…if she was in my position?
Perceptive as ever, Shizuru immediately noticed the solemn tone. She stopped the stroking and drew back her hand. "What is it, Natsuki?"
Natsuki looked almost dejected when the hand left her. But she hid it by taking in a breath. "Can I ask you a random question?"
"Ara, a random question? That sounds interesting," Shizuru quipped. "Please, go ahead."
She paused slightly. "You like tea, don't you?"
The answer was obvious, of course. And Natsuki knew it too. Shizuru was well known to be a master in the art of tea sipping, if such an art exist, as well as tea ceremony. So she must like tea.
Shizuru appeared mildly amused. "It certainly was random, but I must say I'm disappointed."
Natsuki's brows twitched. Disappointed? What exactly was Shizuru expecting her to ask? "I'm not done yet."
"Is that so? Then, please go on. Yes, I like tea," Shizuru replied.
She huffed. It was hard not to feel lifted by Shizuru's teasing, albeit a little irritated as well. She steadied herself once again, licking her lips. "Let's say, that you woke up one day and discovered that you've lost your sense of taste for tea. You can still taste everything else. Just tea."
All the while she asked, she observed the other's expression. The lack of change prodded her to go on. "If you could restore it somehow but there is no guarantee of success, would you restore it, or let it be?"
Shizuru seemed intrigued. But without a moment's hesitation she answered. "I would let it be."
Natsuki blinked; surprised that Shizuru didn't even take a second to think about it. "Why?"
It was only now that Shizuru stopped to think. "There must be a reason it happened that way, no? And since it happened already, maybe it's for the best."
"But…how you lost it was not natural. Why don't you try to restore it?"
"You said so yourself, there is no guarantee of success. Even if I let it be, there is no saying that I won't regain it, no?"
"And if you don't?"
"Then…I suppose I will have to get used to it," Shizuru murmured. "Though I cannot taste tea, I can still smell it, see it, hear it, and feel it." She sighed contentedly. "There is not only one way to enjoy something, Natsuki."
At that Natsuki fell silent. Was that it? Was that what Shizuru would do? She knew it was inaccurate though, for there were elements she omitted from her tea questions. Elements she couldn't include.
"Don't you think that tea will be angry with you? Because there is a way for you to be able to taste it again, yet you refuse to take it," Natsuki pushed.
Shizuru stared at Natsuki, and then chuckled softly. "Natsuki really is strange. Tea is not alive, why would it be angry at me?"
She knew even when she asked that question, that it made no sense. But because of the elements she omitted, she had no choice but to form the question that way. So she couldn't say that she was disappointed by Shizuru's answer, she could only blame herself for that, but she wished for a moment that Shizuru would just overlook common sense to answer that question. Because in truth, tea is alive.
She turned away. "Never mind. Forget it."
She thought she ended the conversation, and was about to bury her head in her hands to sulk when Shizuru spoke.
"How I lost my taste for tea is not natural," Shizuru started. "So I think that tea would understand, if for a moment I'm at a loss of what to do."
Natsuki eyed Shizuru, startled that Shizuru was going along with her. "Just for a moment?"
An ambiguous smile took over. "A moment that I end up procrastinating while deciding what to do. Then I realize, tea doesn't taste half bad this way. So I'll wait and see. And in the meantime, perhaps I'll come to appreciate the days I took tea's taste for granted."
Her eyes widened. She couldn't believe what Shizuru just said. It was almost exactly what she was really doing. Was that truly just Shizuru's opinion? Or was it something else?
Said person looked her way. "Yes?"
She looked her straight in the eyes. Nothing. This time though, instead of feeling down as she usually did when Shizuru showed signs of remembrance only to find that it was false alarm, she smiled. She didn't smile because she was happy, but because she had made up her mind. She had come to a decision.
She wanted Shizuru to remember. What Shizuru had forgotten, was a part of their lives. And she wasn't going to just let it go. If the memory doesn't come back naturally, then she would tell her. But not now. Not yet.
"Shizuru," she now wore a determined expression. "Say my name."
Shizuru was clearly taken aback by the sudden request. "Wha…," she trailed off, seeing the unwavering look on Natsuki's face. "…Natsuki."
That's right. I won't let you forget that name.
There was hesitation, but eventually Shizuru said it, slower than the first time. "Natsuki."
I won't let you forget me.
"Natsuki." Less hesitation, but still cautious. "What's wrong?"
She shook her head, still sporting the smile. "Nothing. I just wanted to hear you say my name."
Shizuru gazed incredulously at the younger girl. Then she broke into laughter. Propping her head up on her hand, her incredulous gaze turned into one of pure adoration. "Natsuki."
Because she didn't ask Shizuru to say her name again, she gave the other a questioning look.
But the older girl merely shook her head, a suggestive smile accompanying it. "I just wanted to say your name."
The look of adoration and suggestive smile proved too much. A patch of red appeared on Natsuki's cheeks. She quickly turned away in an attempt to hide it, but when she heard Shizuru chuckle she knew it had been noticed. Well, she didn't really think that Shizuru would miss that.
Suddenly, she felt a sensation on the knuckles of her left hand. When she looked she saw Shizuru's right hand hovering above her left, the thumb gently brushing against her knuckles. It gave her goose bumps. She gulped, and raised her eyes to meet the others.
But Shizuru wasn't looking at her. The evident curve of her lips was present though. She knew what she was doing. The curve slanted upwards further, as though knowing it was being watched.
Natsuki pulled her eyes back to her hand, and almost absent mindedly, she twisted her hand to expose her palm to Shizuru. Immediately, Shizuru's own spread across Natsuki's palm and tenderly brushed each of the five digits. It laid there for a while, unmoving. Just feeling the heat from each other's palms. Then, as though it was the most natural thing to do in the world, both hands slowly intertwined their fingers.
I won't let you go.