Author's Note: Well, we're coming to the end of this fic, but that in no way means I'm stopping. I still have many other ideas to write, which includes continuing where this story leaves off, in both the past and present. There's also another entry for Oneesama Sidestories I have planned, which will also tie in with Ascension Reborn. It's been too long since I've written a good smut scene, don't you think?
Anyways, sorry for the wait in getting this out, but I hope that the Ascension updates and the size of this chapter (double the length of the average Oneesama chapter) will make up for it.
Chapter 7: Natsuki's Love
Shizuru dematerialized her robe just as her feet gently touched the ground outside the Column's complex, where she and Natsuki shared their living quarters. The outdoor lights detected her presence and flicked on, compensating for the vanishing rays of sunlight. Shizuru waited out front for just a moment, allowing her eyes to readjust from her flight in the dim dusk light so she wouldn't end up with a headache as she walked indoors. She made a mental note to talk to Youko later about whether it might be possible to install some form of lights onto their robes.
As her eyes adjusted, Shizuru noticed a very odd shape just inside the doorway. At first glance it looked like a rough five-pointed star, though when the two arms bent inwards to hold the center stalk she recognized it as the form of Professor Gal supporting her apprentice, Irina Woods, on top of her. She had to suppress the urge to tease Irina about this – old habits die hard – and instead put up her authoritative mask as she entered the building.
"Good evening Irina-san, Gal-sensei," Shizuru said with a nod of her head as she opened the door. "You should consider yourselves lucky that Natsuki wasn't the one to catch you two behaving in such a manner. You know well how she feels about such displays."
"Ah, no," Gal said, raising up a finger as she spoke to Shizuru. "Gakuencho has had a 'Change of Heart' about this. She says, a little professor-student bonding is just what Garderobe needs at a time like this, in a 'Time for Rebuilding.'"
"Yup!" Irina said. She replaced the ceiling panel she'd removed and jumped down from Gal. "Besides, it's a lot more convenient than grabbing a stepladder when I need to do some work in the ceiling."
"Ara, well if it's alright with Natsuki, then it's alright with me," Shizuru said, unable to help smiling to herself. It was quite pleasant to see that Natsuki's good cheer as of late had extended to her allowing some leeway to the other residents of Garderobe. "I'll leave you two to finish with your work then." Shizuru gave the two a polite bow and proceeded towards her apartment.
"Alright. Thank you, Shizuru-sama!" Irina said from behind her.
Shizuru made it only a couple of steps down the hall before her cell phone rang from her pocket with the distinctive tone she'd selected for Natsuki. Not bothering to mask the smile this caused – even when she noticed Carla Bellini coming down the hall with a bundle of wires over her shoulder, presumably helping out Irina and Gal – Shizuru raised the phone to her ear. She spared Carla only a quick nod as she walked past and concentrated on Natsuki. Her subconscious thought it was a bit odd to see Carla around here helping out, but she wasn't going to worry about that now.
"Ara, was Natsuki getting worried about me?" Shizuru said as she answered the phone.
"Shizuru..." Natsuki replied, breaking off into a light chuckle.
"Don't worry, Natsuki-suki. It was a long day, but I'm almost home now. I'm sorry I couldn't be back earlier, but it seemed that Mai kept finding new things she needed my help with."
"It's alright, Shizuru," Natsuki said. Shizuru imagined Natsuki blushing just a bit at the sound of her pet name. "I just called to say I love you." Despite herself, Shizuru blushed in response to this simple phrase and Natsuki's thoughtfulness. "And yeah, I have been waiting for you, but I think I know how to make it all worth the wait. Just trust me."
"Ara, is Natsuki in a kinky mood tonight?" Shizuru said. Her teasing mode was officially on. "Perhaps she wishes to punish me for getting home late? I guess I do deserve it..."
Yep, definitely blushing. "I love you too, Natsuki."
I was running mostly on euphoria after my victory against Haruka-san. I returned to the Pearl's coliseum lounge after the battle, hoping that I might run into Natsuki there. I knew that she wasn't technically allowed into that area, but she'd been let through before the match. Even so, she didn't show up afterwards, and I was forced to wait until after the proceedings were over in order to see her and we could finally proceed with our relationship.
Normally, of course I'd be able to leave the lounge and go meet Natsuki in the stands, but the administration threw a surprise at me immediately after my match. Well, it was Adriana-sensei specifically who came to see me, but I have no doubt that she had the support of Gakuencho Markova in this decision. Adriana-sensei explained that she was watching my performance in the battle and she was very impressed, and she wished to bestow upon me a very high honor.
We parted from the Pearl's lounge to talk in private in one of the spare locker rooms. When we got there, Adriana-sensei explained that she was still recovering from her injury and wouldn't be able to participate in her battle today. Unfortunately, none of the other Columns were nearby, and no Meister Otome was available to take her place. She'd been thinking about asking a couple Pearls who'd won their battles to fight together against Markova-sama, but after seeing my performance, she wanted to see if I'd like the honor of going it alone.
Needless to say, I was stunned by this proposal. A lone Pearl going up against one of the most powerful Otome in the world? I'd be beaten... well, much like I'd beaten Haruka-san not ten minutes ago. Adriana-sensei must have seen the doubt on my features, as she said, "Don't worry, it's alright if you don't wish to do this alone, Shizuru-san. I just thought it might be an honor appropriate for your recent victory."
When Adriana-sensei could see that I was still unsure, she continued, "And no, I'm not like Miss Maria. I'm not trying to get you to do this to teach you a lesson about going all out on your classmate. I was genuinely impressed there, and I thought this would be an appropriate honor. And besides, it's not as if your motivations behind that fight were any big secret, and I also know that Haruka-san wanted nothing less than to face you at your best."
I wasn't really sure what Adriana-sensei had in mind there. Even with a partner, I would have likely have lost out to Gakuencho. I think she just wanted to push me to the extent of my abilities. Later that year, she revealed to me that she'd decided to retire, and it's quite possible that she was grooming me to be her successor even back then.
But all of that is just speculation in retrospect. Back then, I only thought of not wanting to disappoint the Third Column, and so I agreed. Quite pleased with me, Adriana-sensei begged her leave for a couple minutes so she could inform the rest of the staff of the change in plans. She returned shortly, and we spent the rest of the time before the match discussing strategy.
I remembered much from Markova-sama's battle with Adriana-sensei during the enrollment battles the year prior. Adriana-sensei had come out the victor, but it was a very close fight. I could tell from watching that the two of them had battled many times, as both of them were very good at anticipating the other's moves. I had thought then it was just their past performances in enrollment battles, but Anh-oneesama later informed me that Markova-sama had been Adriana-sensei's heya-gakkari when they were students.
What I also noticed, near the end of that battle, was that the two seemed to really care about each other, making it hard for them to inflict pain on one another. Adriana-sensei seemed to target her opponent's armor as much as possible, trying to wear it down while inflicting as little pain as possible. I even saw her briefly embrace the Gakuencho when it was over. Back then, I just thought that they'd become close friends from working together for so many years, but now that I find myself and Natsuki occupying the same positions with a much deeper relationship, I wonder if they might have shared that as well. Perhaps I should ask Adriana-sensei about this when we next speak.
Going into the battle, this gave me a few advantages over Adriana-sensei, which I would have to take full advantage of. The Gakuencho wouldn't have the experience of battling more before like she did with Adriana-sensei, so she wouldn't be as good at predicting my moves. I also wasn't nearly as worried about hurting her – more because I didn't believe I'd be able to do much than from lack of caring – so I could go all out.
However, this didn't nearly compare to the advantages Markova-sama had over me. She had a Meister robe compared to my own Pearl robe, which meant it was superior in almost every facet, and she had years more experience than I did. Adriana-sensei's tips were the only reason that I might have a fighting chance of lasting more than a handful of seconds.
The most important piece of advice that Adriana-sensei gave me was to beware of Gakuencho's element. She was the wearer of the Ice Silver Crystal robe before she passed it on to Natsuki. I'm probably a bit biased, but I do believe Natsuki uses the robe a lot better. She seems to be a lot better at handling her element than Markova-sama was, including adjusting its size on the fly and shooting it with much better accuracy. She is also far, far more beautiful and sexy in it. And the way Sakura's hairpin reacts to it just proves that not only is the robe meant for her, but so am I.
Ara, but that's quite another story. Even my battle with Markova-sama isn't the primary focus, but I hope you will indulge me, as my performance in that battle is a particular point of pride. When it came time to begin, I was as nervous as I'd ever been. I had practice hiding my emotions though, so I was able to project a confident and proud exterior as I was raised into the stadium. The cheering did little to help with my nerves until I caught the sound of a particular husky voice breaking through the cacophony.
"You can do it, Oneesama!" Natsuki called out. I followed the sound of her voice to find her waving at me from the stands. "If any student can beat the Gakuencho, you can!"
Natsuki's confidence in me immediately calmed my nerves. I caught her eyes and blew her a kiss in thanks. I'd already won my battle for her that day, but that wasn't going to stop me from fighting this battle with the same determination. After spending a brief moment to wave to the rest of my fans in the stands – making sure to catch Natsuki's eyes once more at the end so she knew that she was by far the most important fan at that moment – I turned to face the Gakuencho.
"Thank you for granting me the honor of facing you in battle, Gakuencho," I said.
Markova-sama bowed her head to me. "I am quite sure you will not be one to disappoint, Miss Viola."
I bowed before the Gakuencho and faced off with her as I waited for our cue to begin. She was quite the imposing figure in her robe, even without her element materialized. In my memory, I can't help but compare her to Natsuki, not only due to their sharing the same robe, but also because they share no small amount of physical resemblance.
The major difference I saw was in their facial features. Markova-sama's were quite angular and severe naturally, though they softened when she smiled or was otherwise in a good mood. On the other hand, Natsuki's face was naturally soft and sweet when she wasn't thinking about it. It was only when she was in a fight or angry that they hardened. Naturally, this is one of the things I find most adorable about Natsuki; despite how much she tries to put up a strong front, I know that her true nature is that of an utter sweetheart. This is not to say that Markova-sama doesn't possess a beauty of her own, of course, but Natsuki will always be the first in my judgment.
Most of this judgment is in hindsight, though. At that time, I could only compare Gakuencho to the young Natsuki I knew. In a way, it was one of the first of many temptations I faced. I had no trouble admitting that Gakuencho was indeed quite beautiful, but I felt a little guilty noting this now that there was something between Natsuki and me. In the end though, I couldn't stop myself from noticing beauty, so there was nothing to be done. I could, however, stop myself from acting on it. That I didn't for so long is one of my biggest regrets, but Natsuki's forgiven me now and I've cut off the flirting completely – except with Natsuki, of course.
Fortunately I was able to focus my mind back on the situation at hand before we got the signal to begin. I slowly shifted my stance so I was tensed to leap as soon as I heard it, but I didn't want to let on too much to Gakuencho. If she knew what I was planning to do as we started, it would be easy for her to pick me off. From what Adriana-sensei had told me, I had to be extremely careful about her long-range shots. If she got off a decently-charged shot and I wasn't ready for it, I could be out of the battle right there. My sole saving grace was that she couldn't use her ultimate attack, the Howling Silverwolf for fear of the collateral damage it might cause to the stadium and the risk of injuring some students if it broke through the shields protecting the stands. Even with her less-powerful attacks though, she could easily eat through my shield quickly if they hit home, so I couldn't take that chance.
I leaped into action immediately, dropping out of Markova-sama's line of sight amongst the pillars. I whipped out the tails of my robe to stop myself from falling while I charged up for flight, and I used them to pull myself quickly forward. The sound of an explosion from behind me signaled that Adriana-sensei had been right that Markova-sama would shoot quickly at the beginning, so I continued with my plan. I kicked my way off of pillars, using just a small amount of my robe's power to keep from losing altitude while I approached the pillar Gakuencho had started on.
It took me only a handful of seconds to reach this point after that battle had begun, but I didn't doubt that Gakuencho would have had time enough to react after her initial shot was foiled. Probably not enough to move more than a single pillar away though. Since I started by jumping a bit to my right, she might have gone to the left to keep distance. I shot out a couple tails to latch onto the pillar she started on while I crouched against a pillar off to its right.
As soon as my stance was settled I leaped away and upwards with as much strength as I could muster, sparing just enough thought to materialize and extend my element. I used my robe to add momentum as I started to swing around the pillar at a high velocity, coming out above the tops of the pillars and to the riskiest part of my gambit. If everything went perfectly, I'd be able to whip out my element and hit the Gakuencho with it cutting through the air at a very high speed, possibly even wrapping it around her and giving me a huge advantage in the fight. It was risky, though. If she figured out what I was doing, she could remain on her original pillar and pick me off easily.
I wasn't surprised to find that Gakuencho wasn't on one of my target pillars, but she fortunately also hadn't remained where she started. I caught sight of her in the air off behind them, drifting back and upwards. Flight was another area she had an advantage over me in, as Meister robes were capable of hovering and limited mobility in the air without needing to spend time charging up, while my robe was still charging at this point. She'd likely taken off in hopes of being able to spot me among the pillars and pick me off.
I was too far into my attack to change tactics at this point, though, but luckily I saw an opening. I caught sight of Gakuencho just an instant before she spotted me, so I pulled my element upwards and extended it as far out as I could. She apparently saw my body before my element, and so she raised her element to aim it at me rather than trying to defend herself.
It would seem luck was on my side at that moment. The tip of my element's chain cut into Gakuencho's wrist just as she was trying to take aim at me. I could barely hear her let out a hiss over the wind rushing past my ears, and her grip on the element faltered. My element's chain soon caught up to her rifle and knocked it clear from her hands where it soon dematerialized in a shower of green sparks.
As I swung away, I could hear two things. The first was the announcer shouting, almost in surprise, that I'd scored the first hit of the battle, minor as it was. The second was the telltale whine of my robe that told me it was done charging. When I heard this, I released the tails of my robe from the pillar and fired its thrusters to take off into flight. I had only scant seconds to press my advantage here. It was impossible to predict what Markova-sama might do from here, so I had to take advantage of her momentary stun as much as I could before she turned the tide on me.
I guess my getting the first hit made me overconfident there. Gakuencho was able to recover even before I could turn around, and I found myself struck by one of her robe's tails. She was upon me quickly, and we battled it out in close combat for some time. Needless to say, she far outmatched me. I was able to get a few good hits off after that point, but I was simply doomed from the start. As the battle went on, I wondered just how Adriana-sensei had been able to convince Gakuencho to go along with this. Asymmetric battles certainly weren't unheard of at Garderobe, certainly. In fact, the graduation battle between the top Pearls and Corals was one such battle which took place yearly, but this was quite a different matter.
That was simply my pride getting in the way of things, though. The perspective in the stands turned out to be quite different. Even though I was no doubt losing the fight, the crowd seemed amazed by just how well I was holding up. From what Natsuki told me of what she saw while watching it, I was managing to get roughly one good attack in for every two or three of the Gakuencho's, which, quite frankly, I considered a minor miracle.
About midway through, the crowd was completely enthused by the battle. The cheering for me was able to push away my doubts about the fight and I pressed on until the end. When the last bits of my robe's durability were worn away, I dropped to the ground in an exhausted haze. I was barely able to stand on my feet long enough to bow before Gakuencho. I had to lean against the remnants of a pillar to keep from collapsing into a heap on the ground. Even in defeat, an Otome had to be the epitome of grace. Though if one were to judge by the crowd's reaction, I hadn't faced much of a defeat at all. The applause was almost deafening. I may not have officially won, but it was a spiritual victory at the very least.
"Very impressive, Miss Viola," Gakuencho said to me, barely audible over the cheering.
I spared Markova-sama only a quick nod and smile before I casted my gaze into the stands. My body felt ready to collapse, but I needed to make eye contact with Natsuki once more. I had dedicated this battle in her name, so it only seemed right. My eyes found hers easily, and I gave her a weak smile. I tried to read her expression, but it was impossible to figure out given the distance. Judging by the rush of warmth that went through my heart though, I think she was smiling back.
I was fortunate enough in the battle not to sustain any serious injuries. In the end, all I needed was a good amount of bed-rest to recover. Many others who had lost a battle weren't so lucky, and I actually felt a little guilty about the damage I'd inflicted on Haruka-san. She'd suffered a concussion and more broken bones than her nanomachines could repair at once, forcing her to endure an extended recovery period. I wasn't too guilty though; she knew what she was getting into when she provoked me into fighting at my best, and I was sure it would just encourage her to work even harder for the next time we fought.
Once I'd been cleared to leave so the nurses could deal with more serious cases, I retired to my room for the remainder of the day. Even though I wasn't seriously injured, my body was still incredibly sore after my battle, so I spent most of the evening resting in bed. I watched some recordings of the rest of the enrollment battles which I missed while discussing tactics with Adriana-sensei, along with both of my own to see how I looked.
Around the time I was finishing up with the recordings, I noticed that some sort of commotion was developing outside my room. I started to get up to go see what was happening, but a sharp pain in my back made me rethink that idea. It probably wasn't worth the exertion at this point, I figured. Most likely it was simply my fans crowding at my door hoping to offer their congratulations or support. Though perhaps if that were the case, it might be nice to let them know that I was alright so they wouldn't worry themselves too much, I mused.
I was still trying to decide whether or not to make the effort to try to reassure the crowd when I was brought out of my thoughts by the sound of my door opening. I'd locked it when I came in earlier, and only the Trias and staff had master keys that could open the door, but any of them would simply ask first. Surprisingly, I was wrong in that assessment of who it could be. Almost as soon as the door was open a crack, Natsuki came tumbling through. She quickly turned around and pressed it closed against the tide of my fangirls, growling at them to scare them backwards. I couldn't help but notice that the commotion outside seemed to die down after Natsuki's growl, but I didn't pay much attention to it after that point. I had a much more important person to pay attention to.
Once Natsuki had secured and locked the door, the tough image she'd put up vanished. She slowly turned around, revealing a nervous and self-conscious expression, which I found simply adorable. "Err... sorry, Oneesama," she said timidly. "I shouldn't have come in without knocking. It was just such chaos out there. Rosina-oneesama unlocked the door for me, but there just wasn't time to..."
"It's alright Natsuki," I said, cutting her off before she got too worried. Already she'd worked herself up into a blush and she was looking away from me as she tried to justify her intrusion. As cute as it was, I didn't want to give her the impression that I didn't want her to remain through silence. She looked up at me with a relieved expression, blush fading, and I continued, "You are my heya-gakkari now, after all, so my room is always open to you. I'll get a copy of my key for you soon, too."
"Ah," Natsuki said. She was still quite nervous, and she remained rooted to her place. "Thank you... Oneesama."
"Natsuki can come over here if she wants," I said, motioning to a chair near my bed. "There's much I'd like to discuss, and I wouldn't want Natsuki-chan to get sore legs from standing there all night." Natsuki winced slightly at my words, sending a wave of panic through my chest. She did come and sit down though, pulling the chair up next to my bed, but I had to know what was wrong. I couldn't bear the thought of hurting her again, even slightly. "Is something the matter Natsuki?" I asked.
"Er, no," she said, shifting uncomfortably in her seat, which just served to make me more worried. "It's just... 'Natsuki-chan' is what you called me when you... you know..."
"Oh," I said. It really hadn't been that long since the incident between us, so it wasn't surprising that she might still be sensitive to reminders (of that – additional?). I had to do what I could to make things right now, so I reached out to take one of her hands and gently pat it. "Forgive me, Natsuki. I won't call you 'chan' again if it's an unpleasant reminder."
Natsuki shook her head quickly. "No! You didn't do anything wrong. You couldn't know how I'd take that. It's fine, really. I'm just being silly here." Natsuki looked up into my eyes as she said this. Her own eyes seemed to sparkle with sincerity here, and I couldn't help but instinctively smile back at her.
"Thank you, Natsuki," I said. I continued gazing into her eyes for a time. For some reason, this moment felt special to me, and I wanted to make it last as long as possible. I was still unsure just what it was I felt for Natsuki, but there was certainly some connection there. Part of my new quest to rediscover myself would definitely have to include figuring out just what I felt for Natsuki and what role she might ultimately play in my life.
Natsuki broke from our gazing before I did, glancing away as her cheeks filled with pink. "Um, so yeah..." she said. "I guess we're girlfriends now, right? I've never really been in a relationship before, so..."
A newly-formed part of my mind spoke up at this point, bringing a potential way to tease Natsuki to the fore. I could have pretended to be surprised she thought we were girlfriends, pointing out that we'd only really talked about her being my heya-gakkari. It surely would have provoked an adorable reaction. The only thing was... she was already acting adorably. She didn't need me to push her further, and in fact, that she was acting like this all on her own made it all the more special. It was almost a shame, as it was such a clever tease, but something else would surely come to me when I needed it.
"This is my first relationship as well, Natsuki," I said. "So at least you aren't alone there. We're both just as new at this."
"It is?" Natsuki said, turning her head up to look at me with surprise. "But what about all your fangirls? I thought you did stuff with them all the time..."
Sure enough, my mind didn't fail me at bringing up a tease just when I needed it. "Natsuki thinks me such a lech?" I softened my features into a feigned hurt and blinked my eyes sadly. "Does she think me the type to give up my innocence to a girl I feel nothing for? Natsuki herself was the only one I ever considered doing that with..."
It was pure heaven watching Natsuki's features contort as my tease went on. First was the fear and panic from thinking that she'd just insulted me. This led into mortification as I frankly discussed what I'd originally planned for her. She must have caught a hint of a smirk on my face though at this point, as she seemed to realize that I was just joking with her. "Gah! Shizuru!" She angrily swatted at my body through the bedsheets and then turned away as much as she could in her chair with a pout as I broke out into laughter at her reaction.
When my laughter calmed down – and Natsuki's face reached its peak level of purple – I bent up in bed, grimacing through the pain, and I reached out a hand to Natsuki's shoulder. She let out a soft growl when she felt it, but her own hand soon came up to connect with it, letting me know that she wasn't really mad. I pulled gently to get her to turn back around, and I gave her a gentle smile in apology. That wasn't to say I regretted it, of course, but she had to know I wasn't teasing out of malice.
"But seriously, Natsuki. I never fooled around with my fangirls beyond what I could get away with in the halls. I did plan to do more with my eventual heya-gakkari, but Natsuki's reaction changed things. I'm not really the person who puts up a show in the hallways. My Oneesama changed me over my last year here. Her constant teasing and groping made me start acting like a pervert myself. My true self became buried and lost. It wasn't until Natsuki rejected me that I started remembering who I was."
I had Natsuki enraptured by my story. She was watching me so sweetly as I talked. There was just a hint of a blush on her cheeks from realizing just how important she was to me.
"Before I entered Garderobe, I was a romantic idealist. I dreamed of falling in love with a beautiful and graceful Oneesama and having a storybook romance. Unfortunately, although Anh-oneesama helped me a lot in becoming an Otome, she corrupted my dreams. When I met Natsuki, I should have dreamed of romancing her, not making her my heya-gakkari and ordering her to my bed." It was my turn to blush as I remembered these thoughts of mine. Natsuki certainly deserved much better than such a treatment. She was such a strong girl in her own right. I had no right to even consider ordering her to sleep with me.
"You know..." Natsuki said. "You're really not so bad at the romancing part when you talk like this." She brought my hand up to her face and gave it a light kiss. "Thank you for sharing this, Shizuru."
I nodded back at Natsuki. "I just wish I could say more about who I really am, but I guess we'll both just have to find that out together as we grow into ourselves." Natsuki nodded at this and gave me a shy smile. "I guess that'll be your primary responsibility as my heya-gakkari. I keep my room very clean myself, so you won't need to help out there. Since you're also my girlfriend, it wouldn't feel right to give you any orders. I might request things, but I'll never force you into anything."
Natsuki let out a light chuckle. "It's alright, Shizuru. You worry too much, you know that? I'll be certain to help you find yourself, and I'm going to help you take care of your room whether you ask me to or not."
Natsuki gave my hand a gentle squeeze. Her sentiment caused another blush to make its way to my face. "Natsuki's too sweet..." I said, while privately vowing to get my revenge for that blush. As soon as it settled down, I decided to delve into an area that would hopefully provide some good teasing material. "So, Natsuki, I've told you about where I'm coming from here. How about you? Were you the romantic type before coming to Garderobe as well?"
"Er, well, not really," Natsuki said. I was surprised that this simple question brought a blush to her face; I hadn't even been trying yet. She even went so far as to nervously rub the back of her neck and avert her eyes from me. "Or not at all, I should say. I barely gave romance a second thought before I got here."
Natsuki shifted in her chair a bit, looking back over at me before continuing softly, "I mean, I knew that Otome had to give up relationships with men until they retired, but I just wasn't interested in that stuff at the time, so I didn't worry about it. My mother did caution me that things might change as I got older, but it seemed far enough off for me that I wouldn't have to worry about it until I'd done my duty as an Otome first."
"Ara, yes," I said, giving Natsuki the most understanding smile I could. "That is what most girls coming in here think, and it generally works out well enough for them. I guess I was just expecting you to be a bit more like I was: a romantic, but one who preferred girls and so faced no barriers if she became an Otome. The way you reacted to my advances were much like the romantic I was in your place."
My mind had started to drift as I spoke, back to my own days as a Coral. I was brought back to reality after a minute, though, when I caught the sound of Natsuki's voice. "It was you," Natsuki said, just above a whisper.
"Ara?" I turned back to focus on the girl. She seemed to be engrossed in thought herself, with her eyes cast down to the bed and her hands idly playing with the bedsheets. "What do you mean, Natsuki?"
It was another minute or so before Natsuki answered. I watched her closely, waiting patiently for the words to come to her. She was so adorable in this state that I could easily have waited hours After some time of cutely chewing on her lip as she searched for the words, she started to speak again. "I wasn't the romantic type until I saw you. First day at Garderobe, you greeted the Corals and won the hearts of half the class. Second day, I found myself dreaming of a future with you, with all the romantic crap that entailed. You – or at least the mask you put on when greeting us – fit the profile of the perfect girlfriend for me that I didn't even know I had. Hell, I was clueless that it was even a girlfriend I wanted. Even now, it's hard to picture myself with anyone else, boy or girl. The romantic part of my mind was born from you... which was why it hurt so much when I found out that you weren't who I thought you were. Well, maybe you are now, but back then..."
I cut Natsuki off by gently placing a finger to her lips. As cute as her rambling back and forth was, I just couldn't take any more of it. Her explanation was so utterly sweet, I could feel my cheeks burning red from the thought. That was the first time I really knew that I'd made the right decision to be with her. Someone that could break down my barriers so effortlessly was precious indeed. Even the surprised look she gave me as I cut her off was priceless. All I could get out in explanation was an embarrassed, "Natsuki is making me blush..."
I let myself lay back down on my bed and turned to the side then – wincing a bit from the pain in my back and trying to find a good position – hoping to spare my burning cheeks the agony of watching Natsuki's cute expression any longer. It really wasn't fair, I protested silently. I wasn't the blushing type. I was supposed to be able to make my cute heya-gakkari blush for me, not be at her mercy. Well, I guess I could make her blush, and I think I was still ahead overall, I had to admit to myself. And it wasn't that I didn't enjoy her being so sweet... I let out a sigh of resignation. If Natsuki was willing to put up with me making her blush, then I had to do the same for her, even if we achieved that result from each other in different ways.
Soon I felt a gentle hand come to rest on my shoulder, stroking down my arm slowly. "Are you alright, Oneesama?" she asked. "Gakuencho really did a number on you..."
I guess Natsuki must have seen me wince as I lay down. Her concern was indeed sweet, but she was also overdue for a blush of her own. I rolled onto my back to look up at her and put on my best "wounded" expression. "Does Natsuki think me so weak that I can't even lie down without injuring myself?" I sniffled a bit and blinked my eyes rapidly to build up moisture in them. "Ikezu..."
Sure enough, Natsuki went into panic mode. "What? No! No, Shizuru, I didn't mean it like that! I'm sure you're just fine!"
Natsuki was so cute getting flustered over the slightest possibility of having insulted me that I nearly broke out into laughter right there. However, I was fortunately able to keep it in for just one more tease. "Then Natsuki doesn't care about my injuries? She really is an ikezu..." I started sobbing at this point, acting like I was on the verge of breaking out into tears. I know it was a bit cruel to play with her like that, but I was starting to get the impression that she secretly enjoyed that type of teasing, after our conversation earlier that day, before my battle. I didn't expect her to ever admit it, of course – which made me all the more touched when she actually did, but that's another story.
"Wha- No, no! I do I care, and I am not an ikezu! I don't even know what an ikezu is and..." Natsuki trailed off as I couldn't contain myself any longer and started laughing at her behavior. Oh, she was priceless indeed, especially with how her face promptly turned purple at the realization that I'd tricked her so easily and so blatantly. "You're mean, Oneesama..."
"Yes, yes, I'm an ikezu myself sometimes, I know," I said through my diminishing laughter. "But it's only because Natsuki is so fun to tease." I reached out to take Natsuki's hand, in a little show of apology. "But I'll stop if she really wants me to. I could never truly hurt her again."
Natsuki's reaction to that showed me just one of the things I'd eventually come to love most about her. She seemed to consider it for a bit, her face contorting through her consideration and her eyes glancing back and forth from me, all the while her cheeks remaining in an adorable shade of pink. Eventually she let out a defeated sigh. "You're an ikezu, Shizuru... But as long as you're my ikezu, I can live with it."
I couldn't help it. I let a huge grin cross my face and I flung myself upwards and to Natsuki, grabbing her in a hug as I pushed all thoughts of the pain in my body to the back of my mind. I held her tight as she initially jumped from the shock, but as she slowly settled into it and brought her own arms around me, I loosened my hold and let my chin come to rest on her shoulder, resting my head against hers. We both knew well what those words meant from her: She was learning a bit about who I really was, and she was fine with it. Perhaps it even made her like me more, deep inside.
"And Natsuki is a sweetheart," I said once she started to cuddle back in the hug. "My sweetheart." I couldn't see her blush from this, but I could feel the warmth coming from her cheek, especially as she pressed it closer to mine.
"Shizuru..." she mumbled into my shoulder. We remained like that for a few more precious seconds, before a concern seemed to hit Natsuki. She slowly pulled back from the hug, and said as soon as she could see my eyes, "You really shouldn't move like that, you know... It can't be good for your injuries."
"Yes, yes..." I said, backing up a bit more from Natsuki and then allowing myself to lie back down. "Natsuki is sweet to be concerned, but that hug was worth it." I shuffled around a bit to find a good position for my back, and then I looked back over at Natsuki and said, "All these injuries are worth it too, you know. I fought both my battles in Natsuki's name today. Even if I couldn't win the second one, I hope she still is proud of me..."
"You did?" Natsuki said, and I gave a small nod back to her. She seemed to consider this for a moment, before saying, "Thank you, Oneesama. I guess it was really amazing that you held up that well against Gakuencho... but why would they put you in that battle at all? Are such lopsided battles common here?"
"Well, not that common, but they do happen. For instance, in my graduation battles last year, Haruka-san and I had to fight against our Oneesamas. It's really supposed to be more of an honor than anything else. No one expected me to do more than scratch Gakuencho, but it was an honor just being able to fight her."
"I see..." Natsuki said. "Though you still did really impress everyone with just how well you did." Natsuki dropped her eyes from mine as her cheeks filled with pink. "And it was all in my name, you say?"
"Did Natsuki forget that already?" I teased the girl with a little smirk, though she just gave me a little glare in response. "Of course it was for you, Natsuki."
"Well then!" Natsuki said, determination now in her voice, much to my confusion. I was even more confused when she stood up from her chair, and then she crawled up on my bed and hovered above me. "I guess it's up to me to make up for all those injuries then..." she said, an impish grin on her face.
I gave the girl a thankful smile. "Ara, thanks, but Natsuki doesn't have to..." The feeling of Natsuki's body coming to rest on top of mine quickly made me lose track of where I was in my sentence. Her face was so close to mine now... It was a good thing I was already lying down, as otherwise I surely would have collapsed from the wave of weakness that hit me then. Even lying down, I felt I had to wrap my arms around Natsuki's back to keep myself stable.
"Maybe not, but I want to," Natsuki said. Her eyes were mere inches from mine, and I felt like I could see right into her soul... a soul which I adored very much.
My heart started racing as Natsuki moved closer to me, her head tilting slightly so her nose wouldn't bump into mine. I let my eyes drift closed and stretched my lips out towards her in anticipation. I knew this was a moment I'd remember for the rest of my life, and the anticipation nearly killed me as Natsuki slowly descended.
At last, it happened. Natsuki's soft lips came into tentative contact with my own. At first it was slow and cautious, as she gently formed a seal with my own lips and sucked in, pulling us together in a beautiful moment that nearly brought tears to my eyes. We remained kissing like that for many blissful seconds, before Natsuki slowly broke the seal.
She didn't move away, though. It seemed that she just wanted to explore more with kissing me. She let her lips part a bit and started exploring around my own with them. I matched her pace here, parting my own lips to help deepen the kiss with her, bringing us from the innocent peck we'd started with to a much deeper connection. My heart kept racing as we explored our first kiss together, and my body was overwhelmed with new sensations to me. My chest seemed to be filled with a strange aching, but the pressure of Natsuki on top of me seemed to help balance it out and turn it all into a pleasant warmth.
I don't know how long the kiss lasted. Neither of us seemed to want it to ever end. The longer it lasted, the better everything felt with Natsuki. It only ended when Natsuki seemed to get worn out from holding her head above my own, and she slipped to drop her face down onto the pillow beside me. We stayed like that, holding each other for some more time, before I finally spoke.
"Natsuki..." I said weakly. "I know I said I wouldn't give you any orders as your Oneesama, but for tonight, one request?"
Natsuki pulled back so she could look down at me and smile. "Of course. What is it, Shizuru?"
I felt my cheeks redden a little under her gaze. "Could you stay here tonight? I just want to keep holding you... kissing you..."
The expression in Natsuki's eyes then was so beautiful; it was so full of joy. "I'd love to, Shizuru," she said softly.
Natsuki and I made out and cuddled late into the night, eventually falling to sleep in each other's arms. There were many special moments in our relationship together, but this stands out in my mind as the first truly magical one. It was when I first felt a small flame igniting in my heart for Natsuki. I'd begun the long process of falling in love with her. Even today, I'm still falling, and I doubt I'll ever stop.
Shizuru opened the door as slowly and quietly as she could manage, hoping to be able to surprise Natsuki with her early arrival. Her lover certainly wouldn't expect her to be here mere seconds after their call. She noticed that the lights were out in the hall just past the door, and she opted not to turn them on and possibly give her presence away. As soon as the door was open just enough, she slipped through it, careful not to let the door open to the point where its hinges would start to creak and possibly alert Natsuki.
A subtle click and a small burst of light from just the edge of Shizuru's vision made her quickly turn her head, hoping she hadn't been spotted and that Natsuki had just turned on the light in the bathroom. Neither of those was the case, though. In fact, Shizuru wasn't really sure what was going on. A small light was mounted on the wall just in front of the door, illuminating a piece of paper taped to the wall below it.
Allowing her eyes to adjust to the dim light, Shizuru approached the paper, trying to puzzle out what all was going on. Natsuki had just called her from their apartment, so she had to be in here now. What was her plan then? Some big romantic gesture, perhaps? It would indeed be just like Natsuki to feel she'd gone overboard the previous night and try to rectify things now, but could she have planned something like this out in just one day? If it involved mounting lights on the walls, and possibly a trigger for when she opened the door, it couldn't be simple.
When Shizuru's eyes had adjusted enough, she took a long look at the paper. It appeared to be the cover of an Otome fanbook, featuring a beautiful illustration of her holding Natsuki in bed. It was set back in their student days, with her wearing her Pearl uniform and Natsuki in her Coral uniform. The art was unbelievable, and just looking at it brought Shizuru back to those days herself, feeling the emotions that her illustrated version did. The setting looked just like the time she'd shared her first kiss with Natsuki, and she couldn't help feeling the rush of emotions from that moment flow through her body again.
Shizuru brought a hand up to trail along the image of Natsuki, instinctively trying to stroke her love. Her fingers trailed down, over the title written below the two young lovers: "The Natsuki and Shizuru Story." Shizuru smiled at this. She knew well that many fanbooks had been written about her and Natsuki, from young fans just guessing at their relationship – or perhaps able to see their compatibility and imagine them together – but she'd thought that Natsuki didn't want anything to do with them. Apparently all bets were off though when it came to big romantic gestures, though. Natsuki was truly too sweet sometimes.
The light slowly turned off now, but it was replaced by piano music which rose up around Shizuru. It took only a few seconds before she was able to place the tune that was playing: It was one of her own pieces, and her own piano playing even. It was what she called "Natsuki's Song," and it was the only song she felt truly contained a piece of her love in it. She'd taken to playing it for Natsuki on lazy days in the office, improvising a little each time, to keep her love entertained. It certainly never failed to bring a smile to Natsuki's face as she lay back to listen, preferably while drinking a cup of Shizuru's home-brewed green tea.
A gentle brush against Shizuru's right cheek made her turn her head, expecting to find Natsuki standing beside her. She saw no one, though. Was she just imagining it? ...No, she definitely felt Natsuki's presence, and her scent was in the air. Her love was most likely just playing some little game here, which was perfectly fine with Shizuru. A playful Natsuki was a lovable Natsuki – which was not to say that any other type of Natsuki wasn't lovable, of course.
Although Natsuki wasn't to be seen in this direction, Shizuru did witness the illumination of a series of candles that were lined up along each side of the hallway. The pair closest to her lit up first, followed by successive pairs down to the corner and then around it, likely leading her to either the bathroom or bedroom. The bedroom seemed most likely to her, although Natsuki had come up with that particular Valentine's Day treat a few years ago...
Shizuru was so engrossed in memories of the mingled tastes of chocolate and Natsuki that it took her some time to realize that another light had lit up, just down the hall from her. Not bothering to wipe the smile off of her face, she approached the light to find pages from another fanbook attached to the wall below it. It was drawn in a different artistic style, but these pages also featured her and Natsuki together. They started off with their conflict in the cafeteria, when Natsuki had asked to be her heya-gakkari and Shizuru had let her base desires take over. The panels followed both of them for the next couple of days, as neither could get the other out of her head, even though they should have had every reason to be on bad terms. The final panel showed Haruka's challenge to Shizuru over who would win Natsuki, with Shizuru finally showing resolution as she accepted the terms.
Shizuru's smile widened a bit at the memories. Much of those events had been public, so it wasn't surprising that many fanbooks featured them more or less accurately. Their private thoughts, as each of them tried to figure out what had happened and why this bothered them so much, of course had to be guessed at, but it seemed that Natsuki had picked out a book which made a reasonably accurate guess. How many books did Natsuki search through to find the best match to reality? Shizuru wondered. Natsuki was certainly a woman of many surprises.
Soon this light did as its predecessor had and went out, but another came on to replace it just across the hallway, after the next pair of candles. Shizuru found herself drifting over to it as if in trance. The whole experience was starting to feel just a little surreal. The candles seemed to be giving off a decent amount of smoke, certainly more than seemed likely given the small amount of illumination they provided, and she could have sworn she spotted Natsuki's figure briefly outlined by the wisps on a couple of occasions. Was that a simple trick of her mind, or had Natsuki somehow figured out a way to engineer that effect?
There would be time to ask her love about that later, though. Natsuki obviously had her own plan tonight, and Shizuru was more than happy to follow it. She read through the pages she found under the third light, which covered her brief chat with Natsuki before her battle with Haruka plus the two battles she participated in that day. Truly such nice memories...
The attention to detail these fans paid was simply amazing, Shizuru had to note. How many people would have even known that Natsuki had come down to see her before the match? It couldn't have been common knowledge, though a few Pearls had seen Natsuki coming to see her that day. Perhaps this artist had heard from one of them – or even was one of them. Most of her classmates who hadn't gotten a Meister position found work in other Otome-related areas, such as supporting their fandom. Garderobe students were taught a variety of secondary skills, which the staff told the students were to help them please their masters, but were actually intended to help out those students who didn't land a Meistership, so that they had other skills to fall back on. Many students took up artistic endeavors, so it wouldn't have been too surprising if one of Shizuru's classmate's who was into drawing had gone on to create work like this after she'd left Garderobe.
The dimming of the light in front of her and another playful touch from Natsuki – who somehow still managed to remain out of view – signaled Shizuru that she'd sat there musing over the artist's identity long enough. She turned around, finding the next light to be lit up over the corner, illuminating a pair of pages and the small table below it. Shizuru approached it, and then she had to let out a small laugh when she saw what Natsuki had pasted up here. Instead of a couple pages showing an excerpt of their story, Natsuki had plucked panels from dozens of different fanbooks, every one of them illustrating the two of them engaged in a sweet, passionate kiss. Shizuru didn't know the context of them all, but perhaps they were all even supposed to be their first kiss. Natsuki just seemed intent on constantly topping herself tonight, but Shizuru certainly wasn't going to complain about that.
Shizuru hadn't thought much of the table at first – it was normally where they just left their keys – but an intoxicating and familiar aroma coming from it was now starting to fill her head, and it made Shizuru look down to see what Natsuki had done there. She'd initially assumed that the candles here were just like the others, but she now noticed that they in fact weren't candles at all, but dimly glowing sticks. A bemused smile crossed her face as she realized what they in fact were: incense sticks imported from Zipang, much like her parents used on special occasions.
Special occasions...? Shizuru let out a gasp. Natsuki had never gone to such lengths as this before. She had set up big romantic gestures for their various anniversaries and Shizuru's birthday, but this night was starting to look bigger than any of those. The only possible explanation was that this was for a huge, one-time event. And the only real possibility for that...
Natsuki wants to marry me.
Shizuru couldn't help it; tears broke free from her eyes. It was all too much. Natsuki just wasn't playing fair here. Shizuru's every sense was being stimulated, with the music playing in the background, the beautiful drawings before her, Natsuki's occasional touches from wherever she was hiding, the incense burning, and even the taste of a chocolate-covered Natsuki which she'd brought to her own tongue. There was just no way she could resist; she was starting to break down now. She only wished she'd been able to hold out long enough to get through everything Natsuki had planned.
Shizuru was saved from collapsing by a pair of strong arms which wrapped around her from behind. She felt Natsuki's head come to rest on her shoulder, and she reached her hands up to hold onto Natsuki's arms. A small rippling effect in the air revealed Natsuki's arms to her eyes, and the back of Shizuru's mind identified this as the effect from Sara's cloaking device, which explained why she'd had so much trouble spotting Natsuki. It was yet more evidence of all the work Natsuki had put into making this night so magical.
"Forgive me, Natsuki..." Shizuru said, her voice trembling as she rested her head against Natsuki's. "It's all too much. I'm sorry I couldn't last through everything you had planned. It's just too much."
"Don't worry, Shizuru," Natsuki said. Just the sound of her lover's voice sent ripples of contentment through Shizuru's body. "Just come." Natsuki slipped away to Shizuru's left, her hand interlocking with Shizuru's and guiding her towards their bedroom. She hit a couple buttons on a device attached to her robe as she walked, cycling through the lights that were on in the hall and finally illuminating their bedroom in a soft glow. Shizuru made a note to herself that she had to make sure she saw the rest of Natsuki's presentation as soon as she had it in her, but for now, she simply couldn't wait to let Natsuki make her proposal.
Natsuki guided Shizuru to stand at the foot of their bed. Shizuru thanked her lover's small mercies, as this provided her with a nice place to collapse down should her knees fail, as seemed almost inevitable at this point. Shizuru watched silently as Natsuki placed her remote down on the dresser and then dematerialized her robe.
Shizuru's breath caught in her throat as she gazed upon Natsuki's chosen outfit for the night. Her lover was wearing a long, sparkling black dress that held loosely to her form. It was sleeveless, exposing Natsuki's arms which somehow pulled off the miracle of being muscular and yet perfectly feminine. They were the perfect arms to be held by night after night. And for the rest of my life now, Shizuru thought with a smile and a few more tears coming to her eyes.
Even the fact that Natsuki was wearing a dress at all threatened to make Shizuru break down now. It was no secret that Natsuki hated wearing a dress. The closest she would ever come normally was wearing her dress robe, and that only when it was obligatory. Natsuki's reason for this was that she normally didn't like appearing too feminine, at least in public. The exception was when she was alone with Shizuru, where she could let her inner sweetness show through. In time, Natsuki had rethought her views on appearing feminine in public, but by that point this had become established as one of the ways she showed her love for Shizuru, and so she kept this part of herself saved for Shizuru only.
Shizuru's mind had just started to drift to fantasies of peeling Natsuki out of that dress when her love picked up a small box from the dresser and turned to Shizuru. Shizuru's heart started to beat fiercely in her throat as Natsuki took her hand and knelt down – or at least tried to. The tension was broken as Shizuru watched Natsuki struggle with her dress so she could properly kneel. Eventually she managed it by bunching up the lower half of her dress around her waist, but it was too late to prevent Shizuru from breaking out into laughter at how cute her lover got when she was flustered.
Natsuki let out a low growl, though Shizuru could see that her cheeks were filling with red, so she knew that Natsuki was taking this hitch in her plans well enough. To clinch the deal though, Shizuru had to get in one little tease. "Ara, now this just makes me doubly glad that Natsuki chose to wear a dress tonight," she said.
True to form, Natsuki's blush deepened. She let out a low growl and said, "Well, I guess now I understand why the man usually does this."
"But I don't want a man," Shizuru said, taking back her girlfriend's hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. "I want Natsuki, girlishness and all." Natsuki looked back up at Shizuru and gave her a thankful smile. Her blush had started to fade a bit, but not entirely. Shizuru knew she would forever be thankful that that particular blush remained on her love's face throughout what she said next.
"And I want you too, Shizuru," Natsuki said. "Ever since I've known you. In my life, you're the only person I've ever felt this way about. I love you, Shizuru, more than I could have ever imagined possible. Every day it seems I fall in love with you a little more. Even when we fight we somehow always seem to come out of it even closer and with everything forgiven. It just doesn't seem possible that what we have could ever end, and I thank Shinso everyday that we could be together like this."
At this point, Natsuki raised up the box she held in her left hand and flipped it open with her thumb. Shizuru let out a gasp upon seeing the brilliant gem shining inside. It looked somewhat like an amethyst, but she'd never seen that particular shade before. The crystal's color seemed to flow between a vibrant violet and cobalt blue, depending on just how the light hit it. Shizuru didn't know exactly what it was, but if it was rare enough that she'd never seen anything like it before, then it was surely priceless.
"Everything I am I owe to you," Natsuki said. Shizuru tore her gaze away from the ring to look back at her lover. "You're my other half, Shizuru. I can't live without, and I don't intend to. I want to spend the rest of my life with you by side. I want to be married to you, Shizuru. Will you make my dreams come true and become my wife?"
Shizuru could barely speak. She'd thought she'd been able to stabilize herself for this after the lighthearted moment before, but hearing the words was just too much. Tears broke free from her eyes and her voice caught in her throat. She nodded desperately and then forced out a reply. "Yes... of course, Natsuki. A thousand times, yes..."
The smile that split across Natsuki's face made Shizuru's heart feel like it was exploding in joy. She was barely able to contain herself as Natsuki withdrew the ring from the box and then delicately slipped it onto her left ring finger. Once she was done, Shizuru didn't even give her a chance to react before she pulled Natsuki up to her feet and locked her into a passionate kiss. Natsuki was a bit surprised at first, but in less than a second her own emotions seemed to have gotten the better of her as well and she kissed Shizuru back just as passionately.
"Thank you... Thank you, Natsuki..." Shizuru said in the breaks she could manage in the kiss. She didn't put much effort into talking, though. It seemed that Natsuki, too, had started to break down. The strength she had prepared for this night was running out, now that her proposal was finished. In fact, this was just what Shizuru was now counting on. She needed to pay Natsuki back for all of this, and if her lover wasn't in a bit of a weakened state she might waste some of her energy trying to do something for Shizuru. That certainly wouldn't do. Shizuru planned to use every bit of energy her fiancée had left tonight for Natsuki's own pleasure. It wouldn't come close to being thanks enough, but she had to start somewhere.
As she tried to kiss Natsuki down to a weakened state, Shizuru slowly turned herself and her lover around so that Natsuki's back was to the bed. As soon as they were ready, she pushed forward, bringing Natsuki down until she was lying on her back with Shizuru on top, still kissing her to forestall any questions. Natsuki didn't seem to mind at all, though. In fact, she seemed to have been expecting this. All the better then, in Shizuru's opinion.
It was hard to pull herself away from the kiss, but eventually Shizuru managed. She gazed down at her lover, and she brought up her hand to trace her fingers around the shoulder-strap of Natsuki's dress, eying the flesh beneath it hungrily. She allowed a touch of a predatory glint to enter her eyes as she looked directly at Natsuki. "And now, my fiancée, I have to thank you properly. I never imagined you'd propose this soon, or do this much for me, so now I have to do everything in my power to repay you. You're mine tonight, and I don't intend to let you go until you can take no more."
A trace of fear crossed Natsuki's expression as she understood just what Shizuru intended, but it was soon gone. She let her eyes close and gave a light chuckle. "Alright, Shizuru. I'm yours."
To be continued in Oneesama Sidestories
Author's Note: I really hope everyone enjoyed this. It certainly feels like an epic end for this story. Of course, there's still more I can write here, but I'll likely work on Ascension next. There are actually quite a lot of things I'd like to say about this chapter, some just to share my thoughts, some to anticipate possible questions from readers, so why don't I just go ahead?
-I believe this is actually the first story on about how Natsuki and Shizuru got together in the Otome universe to actually be completed. I hope you think it's worthy of that position.
-I'll likely write an epilogue to this story where you'll see all that Natsuki (and I) actually had planned out for her proposal. I was originally planning for them to go through all of it, but sometimes I just have to go where the characters take me.
-More than one little nod in here to other stories I've written. It's a parallel universe after all, so similar things probably happened. ;)
And finally, I just want to give thanks to all my readers and reviewers, with a special thanks reserved for chatterbox-hikaru who betaed most of this for me. She also deserves credit for inspiring me to finish this faster. Oh, and for becoming my girlfriend while this chapter was being written. ;)