Beep! Beep! Beep!

The alarm clock on the bedside table was an excellent one. It was an alarm clock for a new age, a renaissance clock. Abraham Maslow would have been full to bursting with pride to have owned this clock. It was what all alarm clocks dreamed of being, did what all alarm clocks dreamed of doing. It possessed the loudest and most piercing intonation, capable of cutting straight through a girl's sleep like a hot knife through butter, and once through that barrier, the cacophonous frequency bounced gleefully through the skull with a conscious, malicious refusal to be shunted to the back of the mind and ignored. Then, as one unsteady hand finally, wearily emerged from the security of a warm blanket and cast about on the bedside table, the inanimate object's screeching would seem to slowly take on an amused, cajoling tone, mocking the poor soul's utter inability to find it, the clock which made itself at home on the far side of the table, upon the floor.

In resignation, heavy eyelids cranked themselves reluctantly upward over a pair of unfocused, pale carmine eyes. The bright harshness of the morning sun in the window made her close them once more, and she heard footsteps pad across the floor.

"Uh-uh, princess, time to wake up," a shadow passed over her face, and she felt a tender pair of smiling lips meet hers.

"Mmm, minty," Hiro murmured, smacking her lips.

"Mmm, morning breath," Sae laughed, causing Hiro to open her eyes again, just so she could give Sae the full effect of a disapproving pout. It didn't last long. Sae stood over her with an irrepressible grin and matted, damp, tousled hair straight from the shower. It was, for some reason, rather difficult to stay irritated with somebody whom you wished to pull into bed and do exceedingly enjoyable things with. She sat up, and it was Sae's turn to feel a touch of the, "I don't want to get up's", seeing Hiro's cute, sleepy face framed by tumbling, untamed waves of pink hair that reached down into her unbuttoned pajama shirt. Sae couldn't help but think that must tickle her chest, and if the hair didn't do it, Sae herself might see about managing it instead...

All in all, it was probably for the best that neither of them followed through on their thoughts, or they wouldn't have gotten anything important done today. And for Sae, who--as usual--had a deadline startlingly close on the horizon, this would have been rather troublesome down the line. Hiro cutely raised her hands to her girlfriend. Sae sighed with exaggerated sufferance and clasped her hands warmly, pulling her out of bed and into an embrace. She turned towards the bathroom, peeled Hiro off of her, spun the other girl around, and gave her a light push in the general direction of the door. Hiro stumbled off, Sae watching her the whole way until the door shut.

Hiro, as Sae had ample opportunity to observe, was not a morning person. Hiro was also, as Sae had observed with a great deal of happiness, an adorable not-morning person. In preparation for her love's emergence in a bit, Sae turned on one of the stove burners and put a skillet on. She took a bowl of batter from the refrigerator, too, so that when Hiro walked into the kitchen, damp hair slung behind her and tumbling over a fluffy, sky-blue robe, she was able to sit at the table and have a fresh, hot plate of pancakes sitting in front of her.

"Looks like it's a good thing we had leftover batter yesterday, Hiro. I felt like a good, hot breakfast this morning, and even if I don't have any trouble making food hot," Sae, who had a hit-and-miss record in the kitchen, made a face, remembering far too many burned morning meals, "The good part requires more of your touch."

"It's because I put lots of love into what I cook. Want to guess who's on my mind those times?"

"Um... Taga Kakeshi?" Sae ventured jokingly. Hiro just offered a mysterious smile in return, not quite denying the charge. Sae knew better than to get baited by that, though; fool her once, and all.

"So Sae, that must mean you put lots of 'burning' passion into what you cook, hmm? That would explain you're propensity for screaming so wildly and making the room so hot."

"Ah..."

"You did good with these, though," Hiro changed the subject abruptly after seeing that she succeeded in her aim. It could be so easy to fluster Sae; she never stopped being cute, and it never stopped being fun.

Sae smiled after a moment, and sat down with her. They enjoyed their breakfast quietly, both of them rather caught up in wildly different thoughts of what they needed to do today. Hiro ate a little quicker because she was on a tighter schedule, and went to wash her dishes while Sae took a more leisurely pace. When finished, Hiro walked up behind her thoughtful lover and gave her a close hug, whispering in her ear,

"I need to run to class, but I want you to get a lot of good writing done today. Sae is being a meanie in not telling me what happens next, so she better get the manuscript in on time, or else," Hiro nibbled Sae's ear for a moment before letting go and disappearing into the other room.

Sae's mind wandered to whatever "else" might be, and whether she would really mind it that much. A smile touched her lips. It was rather fun keeping the next plot twist a secret, seeing how anxious Hiro was to know what happened next. She hoped it would be worth the wait, as this next volume might well change the entire makeup of her fanbase; she wanted this to be the defining volume of her career thus far, the installment that would break the constraints she'd unintentionally built around herself with her first few publications. Plus, she wanted it to be a good read, she reminded herself sternly. Had to keep that in mind first and foremost, the concept didn't matter if it wasn't enjoyable to read. Oh, but she had high hopes for this one.

"I hope that self-satisfied little smile there means, 'I'm going to write my fingers to the bone today,'" Hiro remarked from the doorway, tucking a loose, white blouse into a knee-length black skirt, the required attire for her culinary academy. Sae looked further down and smiled at the cute, bright blue shoes that Hiro wore this morning. She always felt somehow obliged to wear something more colorful beneath the somber uniform. Hiro started about the process of tying her unruly hair up, and Sae washed her dishes.

"It actually means something more along the lines of, 'Wait, how exactly did I get here, again, with these happy feelings and my beautiful girlfriend in the other room?'"

"I can answer that one. It's the glasses of course. So sexy. I mean, what else could it be?"

"Sheesh, and you wonder why I don't try to say very many romantic things..." Sae grinned nonetheless, and they shared another kiss.

"I'm still just all giddy about yesterday's news."

"Ah. Well, that would do it. Go have fun rubbing your classmate's faces in it, Chef Goto."

"Ooh, I think I like the sound of that, but I won't be like that with my classmates! There are still plenty of better cooks than me, I just got lucky."

"You just put the most love in your food. She could taste it, I betcha."

"I do love you quite a bit," Hiro agreed.

"And I love you quite a bit," Sae returned. Hiro smiled, and walked out of the door. The girl within took a deep breath, and turned to the desk tucked away in the bedroom. Breakfast, check. Uniform... she looked down at her baggy, faded sweatpants and favorite navy-blue hooded sweatshirt. Check. Hiro was awake and out the door. Sae emptied her lungs, sighing in resignation, and walked wearily over. Having a vision and putting it to paper were, unfortunately, very different things, and now she didn't have any excuse not to work at bringing them together.

--

"Yo, Hiro-san, or should I say Chef Goto--"

"I already heard that one today, Saito-san," Hiro interrupted, smiling sweetly at the young man walking spryly towards her, silver stud earring in one ear and a shock of dyed red hair. Despite his appearance, he was a talented, professional student, and he and Hiro had become good friends from her first day at the academy.

"Aw, who beat me to it?"

"Sae."

"Hmph. That's not fair, she got a head start."

"You'll just have to think of something else, then. But please, no more 'Chef', it's embarrassing." Hiro said modestly as they walked side by side across the grass.

"Yes, yes, whatever you say, Hiro-san."

That was all the time she had for her classmate and friend right now, though, as she headed to her first course of the morning: wine studies class that she was finding rather interesting this year, even if she still wasn't old enough to legally purchase the product herself out in the world. The subject matter at least, she found interesting. She personally found the fellow teaching the class to be a malodorous, snobby man who always smelled faintly of his other favorite subject to expound upon: finely aged cheese. The class always got an earful from him on how poorly this academy was run, mostly because it didn't offer a course of study centered wholly around cheeses. Fortunately for Hiro, he also knew quite a bit about the class he actually tought, so she was able to swallow her distaste with his character and get on about the process of studying. Today he had brought in a sample of unidentified red wine and told them that, after a day of notes and questions, they would be expected to try and identify the vineyard and vintage by tomorrow.

"The first thing you will notice, I'm sure, is the translucency of this fine liquid," he spoke with something akin to an affectionate purr as he held a glass up to the lights and turned it around, letting all the class have a good view, "This is clearly no fresh, dark wine of recent times--as I'm sure I have no need to tell you, but I will leave it to you to determine a more accurate age. That will be all for the information I provide you with, however. What more would you like to know, my assuredly sharp and intelligent pupils?" He said the last with thinly veiled scorn, but by this point the students were far too used to his attitude to care. Hiro listened in as the rest of the class volunteered questions about the thickness and aroma and other such details of the wine, only giving the subject a half-hearted attempt at noting. She thought it was much more interesting to learn about which drinks went with meals as far as taste were concerned, she wasn't too interested in all of the pomp and esotericism that he found such joy in. So Hiro diligently daydreamed through the lesson and eventually bid her indifferent instructor farewell, continuing on through the rest of her day, which--aside from the occasional congratulation from a classmate--she found to be the same as ever, and gradually brought her spirits back down to the lower region of the atmosphere. Really, she told herself, it's only a little job at a little restaurant, it's not as though she'd been selected to some preeminent establishment in Japan. Unfortunately for her, though she came to recognize this, the rest of the students didn't share her opinions, or were so lost in their own pride that they did not care. Hiro had a break in her classes around one o'clock, a period she tended to spend doing lunch with Saito. They met up in a shady, treed area of the campus with a low wall, an decided to just sit there and enjoy the day.

"So there I am, sauteing some peppers and onions, and--I know, I was showing off a little bit, but I saw Masayuki-san looking over and couldn't help myself--somebody bumps into me right when I give the pan that extra flick to send it soaring magnificently, and a good portion flies right over and lands in Arumi-san's pan!"

Hiro covered her mouth, stifling a giggle, "Not Imamiya Arumi-san!"

"The very same," he nodded, wincing at the memory, "She started screeching about her food being tainted by my impure technique, and also had some very unflattering things to say about my aunt's adopted sister, most of which I'm pretty sure weren't true. I admit, I don't know my aunt's adopted sister very well, but I'm sure I would have heard more about her if half of those things were true."

Hiro laughed gaily, only too able to imagine that scenario, complete with the same blithely unconcerned expression that her friend wore now.

"Ah, speak of a demon, and she will come," he whispered from the corner of his mouth, though surprise was evident in his features as the very same Arumi approached the pair. She had straight, dark blonde hair and her face had a kind of permanently pinched look, as though she found everything her gaze fell upon distasteful. She probably would have stepped gingerly around the ground itself, if she could have worked out how. A sneer was all she graced Saito with as she approached, but Hiro she greeted with a smile. A sickly sweet, oily-looking smile, but a smile nonetheless. A wrapped bundled hung from the tapered fingers of one hand.

"Hello, hello, Goto-san. I was so very... surprised to hear about your good fortune," there were volumes in that pause and what was left unsaid, but Hiro wasn't the type to take offense for no good reason. She returned Arumi's smile and lowered her eyes modestly,

"Oh no, Imamiya-san, that's all it was, was good fortune. Thank you, thou--"

"Nonsense, my dear girl. I'm sure you have just mountains of talent--in some special areas. That's actually why I approached today, I prepared something that I believe you have some extraordinary experience with. I was hoping to get the opinion of a true connoisseur on my dish. Could I possibly bother you for a moment?"

Hiro blinked, taken aback at the sudden praise lavished upon her. She wasn't entirely immune to flattery, particularly not from one of the more recognized talents at the school, if one of the more unsavory, "Of course, it would be no trouble at all. I'm afraid I can't claim to know what it is I'm supposed to be such an authority on, but I'll do my best."

Arumi smiled a crooked smile and extended the lunchbox she held. Hiro took it, unwrapping it carefully. It felt oddly light. The cloth lay draped over her lap, and she opened the top of the ornate box carefully. She opened it. She stared, eyes slowly widening. Saito looked at her concernedly, eyes moving also to regard Arumi's wickedly upturned lips,

"Well, come on. What are you waiting for? Munch munch, Goto-san, you're good at that, right? Is this better than Yumemiya's, you must have had plenty of hers--"

Yumemiya was the surname of the heiress that had selected Hiro for the job. At mention of her, Saito saw Hiro's fists clench, and before she could stop her Hiro's hand darted into the box and blurred back out, and something struck Arumi under the eye before the other girl could react. Saito watched a roughly hewn swatch of carpet fall to the ground from where it bounced off of Arumi's cheek, a rough scratch marking where it had struck. Hiro stood, fists trembling at her side as she looked hotly into a clearly surprised Arumi's face. Wihtout any more warning, she stepped forward and slapped Arumi across the cheek. Finally dispensing with his own shock, Saito jumped up and placed himeself between the two.

"H-Hiro!" He faced Arumi angrily as well.

"Your 'dish' looks as though it tastes like all the rest of your food, Arumi-san. Do you always do your grocery shopping at the home improvement store? It would explain a good deal," he didn't care how blatantly false that was, it was worth seeing the shocked woman blow up like a bullfrog and stomp away, though she threw a parting shot back over her shoulder,

"You can have that stupid position with your perverted lezzie boss. It's not like I care, I know who the better chef is here."

Saito glared at her as she departed, then turned and put his hands reassuringly on Hiro's shaking shoulders.

"Yo, Hiro-san, don't listen to a thing that little witch says--"

"I don't have to. I'll probably hear it again, from somebody else. I wonder how many people agree with her?"

Saito was about to respond, but she shook his hands off and she picked up her things saying,

"You don't have to answer that, Saito-san. Thank you, but I need to go now."

--

Bending backwards across the back of her chair, Sae tapped her pen against lips pursed in thought, then bent back down over her desk to scribble out a few lines, frown, erase part of them, fill them back in, reorder the sequence, frown again, change a word, then lean back again. In her mind, she rehearsed the scene she was creating,

"Midori-chan, thank you for all your hard work. Even though I have nothing to offer in return, you stayed with me..." The haunting memory of Yuuki's burning office played behind his words, but his gratitude at her loyalty helped subdue those bad feelings.

"Yuuki-sensei, being with you is all I need," Midori said sincerely. Even after all of Yuuki's employees had gone, she had faithfully stayed with the editor she loved, and helped him put out that one last newspaper. Now, tired but fulfilled in the hotel room he had rented for the night, she wondered if she could finally confess the feelings she'd held, "Because, no matter what happens... I love you, Yuuki-sensei! That's why I stayed with you, and always want to stay with you."

Yuuki watched her cheeks flush a deep scarlet, eyes wide in surprise. He looked at her sadly, however, "Midori-chan, I'm very happy for your feelings, and I want to stay with you too. But there are things you dont' know about me, and I have to tell you that it's impossible."

Midori face rose and fell with Yuuki's words, and she tried to meet his gaze with hurt in her eyes, but he wouldn't look at her, "Why, Yuuki-sensei? I told you, no matter what! Why is it impossible?"

He turned his shameful face back to her, and thought that perhaps it was time to tell the truth, now that it didn't matter any more, "Now that I've lost everythign anyway, I guess I dont' have to keep my biggest secret any more. When I tried to first go into business for myself in this business, I found that it was very difficult to get ahead, and had to make a change in my life. Everybody loved the ambitious, determined young man they thought I was then, full of energy and brimming with confidence. What I had to keep hidden, what I've had to keep hidden, was that I wasn't a young man at all. Yuuki the authoritative young man was able to get much farther in this than Yuuki the annoyingly bossy young woman was. He was even able to get your love, while I don't think I could have a chance..." Yuuki stopped speaking, dropping her eyes, sure that now her last friend in the false life she'd created would leave her now, shocked and disgusted at her deception and feelings.

Midori raised a hand to her heart, she was shocked at this revelation. But as she watched the person in front of her, she still felt the same warmth in her breast, and all of her happy memories were still of being with Yuuki. She got up and walked over to the young woman she'd fallen in love with, even if it were through a deception, and clasped Yuuki's hand in two of her own.

"I still said I love you, Yuuki-sensei, no matter what."

Yuuki turned her eyes up, scarcely believing the words she heard, "Midori-chan..."

Yuuki stood, and pulled Midori into a passionate embrace, before they looked into each other's eyes and drew their faces together, sharing a deep and loving kiss as they had both desired to, but been constrained by themselves from. No matter what hardships they had faced in the past, right now they were happy and in love, and that was enough.

Sae read back over it, gulping. It was one thing to envision writing such a story, and another to have it on paper before her, almost ready to be put into an envelope and mailed off to her editor. Sae wasn't sure what kind of reaction she was going to get from that quarter. She expected that she would be yelled at, told that she was going to alienate her fanbase purely for some foolish whim. Would she really be changing anything, or doing anything worthwhile, or could she just be about to cause such hardship to herself for no reason? It would still be perfectly easy to rewrite that last chapter, and take the next volume and keep Yuuki a man. She frowned, nibbling the end of her pen. The sound of the doorknob turning startled her from her thoughts. Who would be so stupid as to just try and walk right into somebody else's house? Hiro wasn't off from class for another couple of hours. Sae stood up, heart pumping faster as a few unpleasant possibilities ran through her mind.

The door opened, and it was Hiro. Sae was immediately walking towards her, seeing how upset she looked. Hiro stood in the doorway, eyes blinking rapidly, but then she gave a strangled cry and plowed into Sae, taking them both to the floor. Sae looked down at Hiro's face nuzzled into her chest, and she put her arms around her. She waited for a little while for Hiro to calm down, just holding her tightly.

"Hey, Hiro, what's all this about? It's okay now, talk to me."

Hiro smiled against her, feeling a little better already just being with Sae, and she related the events from where she was, Sae listening intently, grimacing slightly at the sound of this disagreeable young woman at Hiro's school. She tried to be cheeful for Hiro's sake however.

"Well now, she couldn't really have gotten to you this much, could she? A little brat like that istn' worth your attention, Hiro."

"It could be that I just wanted to be upset enough to have an excuse to be like this with Sae," Hiro said comfortably into Sae's breast. Sae laughed shortly, and Hiro giggled at the feel of Sae's chest boucing with it, "But really, it's not just her that has me upset."

"Oh? What else happened?"

"Nothing today, Sae, but why does it seem like this kind of thing always happens to me? You never told me about anybody being awful to you for being a lesbian, and Yuno-san and Miya-chan don't seem to have had any problems. But it was my parent's who had a meltdown at the beginning, and it's when I'm at school that I have people doing things like this."

"Heh, I can't speak for Yuno-san and Miyako, but I think that half the people who see me still think I'm a boy, and the other half think I'm such a tomboy that I'm supposed to like girls."

"Oh Sae..." Hiro laughed.

"What, you think I'm joking? Remember that time when we were out and I was wearing a skirt, and that one guy came up to you and told you to ditch the girly boy and get with a real man? What a jerk," Hiro laughed again, and Sae smiled down at her.

"So, should I make some tea or anything?" Sae asked self-consciously. That seemed to be the kind of thing Hiro would appreciate. Or rather, the kind of thing that Hiro would do were their situations reveresed and Sae was troubled by something.

"That would be lovely," Hiro answered, "I think I'll go do that."

"Wh-no, I can get it, Hiro, really," Sae protested, but Hiro cut off her objections.

"No no, I'm the one who ran in and disturbed you at work. I still want that next volume to be out on time, so you focus on your own work right now."

"Hey, that reminds me, what aout your classes, Hiro?"

"They can wait for a day. College is nice in that regard."

"Just don't make it a habit, Hiro."

"Yes, mother. Or would it be father? A rather feminine father, though."

"Hiro..." Sae drew out the word in mock warning, and Hiro winked at her impudently. She turned to walk into the kitchen, and Sae frowned. A slow smile formed on her lips, and she stood quietly and walked with hushed footsteps after her lover. Sneaking up behind her, Sae reached around Hiro and pulled her close, meeting Hiro's surprised yelp with a long kiss as the other turned her head around. Initially stricken with surprise, Hiro softened in Sae's arms and fell back with a sigh into her lips. Sae snaked a couple of her fingers between the buttons of Hiro's blouse, gently stroking the skin of her belly and chest while she trailed her lips from Hiro's, across her cheeks, and finally to her ear to whisper,

"If Hiro is going to skip class, I'm going to make sure it's for a better reason than to sip tea and watch me at a desk."

"Mmm... you said not to make this a habit, but you're making it seem worth it to do just that."

"Don't tempt me," Sae growled, starting to unbutton Hiro's blouse.

"Sae, the bed, at least. The kitchen floor is too cold and hard, we figured that out before."

Sae smiled and bent forward just enough to hook her arm around Hiro's knees and pick her up. She stifled a grunt at the effort and stayed silent as she carried Hiro into the bedroom. The flirtacious woman she carred stroked Sae's jawline sensually,

"My my, Sae is strong, to even be able to pick up somebody so fond of sweets as myself."

Sae unceremoniously dumped Hiro on the bed when she said that, instead of the careful placement she had been planning on. She jumped after her, straddling Hiro and saying only,

"Hush, you," before she made it hard for Hiro to do anything but that.