Author's Notes:
Now, why update a completed story, you're probably wondering. Well, the answer is really quite simple. I don't know exactly when I'll be able to start posting chapters of the follow-up to "Prologue", especially since my way of writing a story is anything but organized. I type out scenes as they pop into my head, then later on re-order them and connect them into a (hopefully) smoothly flowing tale.

So in order to keep the interest alive, I'm adding a small teaser/preview/carrot on a stick/whatever you want to call it, consisting of bits and pieces from the stuff I've managed to write so far. Enjoy.

One would think that I had grown used not having you in my life after this long, but I still expect to hear Natsuki's voice whenever my phone rings. Does it still sound the same, perhaps? I hope so.

I hope you look mostly the same as you did at the Academy, as well. It would certainly make it easier for me to reconcile the image of the girl I have in my mind with the woman that you've no doubt grown into. I suppose that's a selfish wish.

But even if you should have decided to shave your head and gouge out your beautiful eyes, I hope you know that I would still wish to see you again. Will you help me fulfill that wish, Natsuki?

The campus-wide PA system crackled slightly above her head. "Kuga Natsuki, please report immediately to the main office of the Biology Faculty. Kuga Natsuki."

She lifted her head enough that she could send the inconspicuous loudspeaker a curious glance. "Huh. Wonder what I did this time," she muttered to herself as she got to her feet and headed for the door. "Can't really be about Lab 17. They haven't even finished rebuilding that yet."

"If you would please look these over." The slender, middle aged woman handed her the folder with a light bow. "They are the details on the young woman who has been chosen as your temporary assistant."

"Assistant?" The executive claimed the folder with a slight tilt of her head, but made no move to examine the files within.

"Yes. Since ojou-sama was so suddenly appointed here, there was little time to find a suitable candidate without outside assistance," Yamuri Kina explained hastily. "Fuuka University has recommended one of its top students in the field of biotechnology. She will be meeting with you today for an interview. If ojou-sama does not approve, someone else will be found to replace her as soon as possible."

"Ugh, whatever." She slid off her glasses and pocketed them as she rubbed her forehead and fought down a sting of supreme disappointment. "I came here for a job interview, but obviously that's not going anywhere." She turned on her heel and strode off towards the door, her posture rigid and her brows lowered in a scowl. "Gimme a call when you're actually willing to go through with this."


Another step.


Two more, and she was almost at the door.


Another loud bump came through the speakers."Oof! Kaguya, let go! You're gonna knock me over! What? No! Absolutely no more chocolate for any of you!" Chattering. "How would I know? Go find a DVD to watch, okay?"

Ara, ara...Shizuru thought to herself as she unsuccessfully tried to clamp down on her giggling.Poor Natsuki.

The background noise from the other end of the line lessened considerably, and she heard the younger woman sigh heavily."God, it's like herding chickens...Sorry about that, whoever you are. Hello?"

Clearing her throat and trying her very best to keep her voice even, Shizuru gave the mute button another poke. "It seems that Natsuki's home life has gotten considerably more interesting in my absence."

"Very funny, Shizuru."

"Hey, Nee-chan?" She waited for the older woman to look up, and tilted her head slightly. "Do you know Fujino Shizuru?"

Akiko considered the question silently, her brow furrowing in thought as she tried to remember where she'd heard that name before. The surname was familiar enough, of course, since she worked for Fujino Incorporated, but the first name...

She blinked once as it hit her. Ah. Of course. "Why do you ask?"

Natsuki raised an eyebrow. "Because she very obviously knows you."

"Alright!" Natsuki cheered right along with her niece, high-fiving the girl as the song ended and the familiar, lurid You Rock! flashed on the screen. "Well done, Brat!"

Then applause sounded from the doorway.

"Encore!" Shizuru called, grinning broadly at the two of them.

"Shizu... ru?" Natsuki stared at the older woman, then glanced down at her own half-clad form. A sudden, near-adolescent panic turned her insides to mush. "Uh..."

"Ara... Natsuki is playing guitar like this and didn't invite me?" The CEO placed a hand against her own cheek and pouted. "Meanie."

"Dreams are the substance that live beneath the paper of a wrapped gift." Shizuru smiled gently. "And I want Natsuki to have as many dreams as possible."

Predictably, the sudden realization that someone else was in the room with her made the CEO turn abruptly, and Natsuki took advantage of her friend's momentary lapse in concentration to deftly snatch the cell phone out of her hand.

"She'll call you back next week," she spoke into the device. "Get some sleep."


She sent her suddenly indignant friend a bored look as she snapped the phone shut, and unceremoniously sent it sailing through the room with a flick of her wrist. There was another light thump when it landed on the carpet. "You," she told the older woman as she jabbed a finger against the top of Shizuru's chest. " your employees a very decent wage."

"However." Another poke, one that made the brunette take a slight step back as a bewildered look entered the crimson eyes. "No company in the world..." Poke. Step. Natsuki followed. "... pays it's employees well enough..." Poke poke. " send them on that kinda half-assed, wild goose chase..." Poke poke poke. ".. at a quarter to goddamn midnight on a friggin' Friday."

The mattress dipped again, and she felt a hand lay itself lightly on her arm. "Hm?" She opened her eyes and gazed up at the familiar face hovering not all that far above her own. A slight flutter of nervousness hit her stomach, but she ignored it. "What?"

"Sing one."

Natsuki groaned. Definitely gonna be the death of me. She studied the familiar features and found no trace of humor or teasing in the older woman's eyes. For all intents and purposes, the executive's request seemed to be genuine.

Ugh, whatever. The sooner she goes to sleep, the sooner I can."Fine. Any requests?"

"No." Shizuru shook her head and smiled slightly. "Whatever Natsuki wants to sing is fine by me."