For Askim.

Author's Notes:
Infectonator: World Domination is ridiculously addicting. Fwoooomph! Aaaah!

Also, if my girl buys me a drum kit for my Xbox when I'm a little under the weather for one day, I have a feeling our back yard's gonna be a petting zoo by the time our first child turns 7.

Moo. Better start stocking up on animal feed. And it's a somewhat short chapter. My apologies.

EDIT: What in the world is going on when '-----' is no longer an accepted divider? Really? Really?

Thanks for reading.

A Million Reasons; part X
Running at the Speed of Sound


"Really, Shi-chan. You lived under my roof for seven years, and not a day went by without you mentioning this young woman at least three times. Now you refuse to ask her along so your old father can at least meet her?"

"Papa..." Shizuru pinched the bridge of her nose and gave the phone on her desk a look. "As I told you, Natsuki and I had a bit of a... stilted situation between us last night. I don't wish to push her into anything that would make her feel uncomfortable."

"Oh, pishposh," came the stern answer. "You let the young lady make up her own mind about that. From what I was told by you – and that was quite a bit, mind you – Kuga-san is hardly the type of person to agree to something she doesn't want if she can talk her way out of it."

Well, that was certainly true.

"And if she doesn't wish to come, but agrees anyway?"

"Then that's no fault of yours, and we'll make her feel as welcome as possible," her father replied. "If things really were that troublesome just last night, the two of you could use some time to talk it out, hm?"

The young CEO stifled a sigh, and her lips shaped a small smile in spite of the situation. Her father had always known exactly what to say to get his way.

"Very well," she confirmed after a moment of consideration. "I'll ask her about it tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" came the curious reply. "Why not today?"

"Because shortly after I asked Kina-san to call her, she related to me that Natsuki's phone was off, and her answering message had been changed to saying she was sick."

xXxXx

Natsuki had called in sick to school that morning, but it wasn't exactly due to something so common as the flu, although she figured it wasn't much of an uncommon state, either.

The only thing wrong with her, she considered as she stared at the ceiling in her living room, was a bad case of confusa, otherwise known as a good old dose of confusion so bad, her head was spinning from it.

What in the hell had happened to her last night? Why had her body suddenly reacted so strongly, and to Shizuru, at that?

Natsuki rolled onto her stomach and folded her arms beneath her chin with a long, drawn-out sigh. That made her sneeze, and she made a faint note to herself that the carpet needed vacuuming. Sometime. Right now she had more important things to do.

She could only remember her body reacting to another person once before, and that had been a ripple in the glass compared to the raging white rapids she experienced by being pressed close against Shizuru for 10 seconds or less. The faint tingle from that one time before had probably only been because it had been her first... well. She chuckled. Her first and only voluntary kiss.

Even if they had both been so drunk it was ridiculous, and it had been more of a random 'Oho!' followed by a fit of uproarious giggles and 'We probably shouldn't do that again'. But as far as Natsuki could remember, it had been nice all the same. She hadn't even been worried that she was kissing another girl – alcohol or not.

Was that strange? Her forehead scrunched as she considered the notion, peering contemplatively at the gray carpet. That the first person she'd kissed on – mostly - her own initiative was a girl? Did that make her a lesbian, or could she just chalk it up to drunken stupidity? Or did it mean something the way she'd reacted last night? Furthermore, had she reacted to having a woman that close, or to having Shizuru that close? Would she have felt the same things with a man?

Maybe. At least as long as it wasn't Takeda. Natsuki lifted herself onto her elbows and scratched her nose. But she couldn't know for sure without wrestling with a man, and she really had no desire to do that. Maybe that was another clue.

And maybe it wasn't.

She sighed and gave the world outside the window a glance. Part of her wanted to call Shizuru and see if she wanted to go do something since the weather was so nice, but another part – the bigger one – wanted to have this whole mess figured out, preferably before she saw the older woman again. Besides, she had somewhere to be soon.

So what could she do about this without talking to Shizuru, and without being late?

"Not much," she muttered with an unamused half-grin, and rolled onto her back to ponder the mysteries of the ceiling once more.

Well... Natsuki blew out a heavy breath and folded her hands behind her head. She could at least try to figure out if... well, if she was attracted to her old friend. More than just randomly, anyway.

One hand reached out and tugged her mp3-player down from the table, and she popped the earbuds in and closed her eyes, letting the rhythm of some 80's rock calm her mind as she called on an image of Shizuru the teenager.

Ah, there she was. In her regular uniform, once she attained the title of seito kaichou. Natsuki kept her eyes closed to hold the image, and tilted her head as she considered her old friend's former appearance.

She looked cute, for one. There was no denying that, and Natsuki had no trouble admitting to it. She couldn't really find anything about the image – not even the short skirt – that made her feel the way she felt the night before. But that could, of course, be because that would be cradle-snatching at this point in time. At least to her.

So nothing there, she mused, mentally waving the image away, treasured as it was. Let's try something more recent.

Soon, it was Shizuru the adult that faded into view behind her eyelids, both in her power suit and in the more casual clothes.

God, two of her! The thought made her snicker. I'd never hear the end of anything, if that was the case. But she pushed her amusement aside and concentrated, studying both versions of her friend with a critical eye. Shizuru was gorgeous, no question, and certainly attractive. But was she attracted to her?

Natsuki cleared her throat and felt her face heat up as she tried to image kissing the young CEO. A light peck just made her blush intensify, which was hardly surprising, and she opened her eyes with a sigh at the lack of results.

That's no use, she thought sourly. Even a kiss like that can be accepted between close friends, for God's sake! Which meant that she had to picture something more involved. Like the way she'd kissed... oh lord.

That... had certainly been involved, and even now, Natsuki had no clue what in the world had possessed her to just drape herself over the other woman like that. Jesus. She scrubbed a hand over her face and sighed for the nth time. I guess I'll at least have to try.

So she closed her eyes again, and tried pulling the flashes of that night back into her mind. Flashing lights, absurdly loud music and a very strong taste of liquor at the back of her throat were the first to arrive, followed by a longer reel of a smooth face with large, smiling eyes surrounded by semi-short, platinum hair.

She had tilted her head and thought, as much as she was capable of at that level of intoxication, then gotten to her wobbly feet and caught her friend's face firmly in her own hands before planting her own lips over the blonde's. The other woman had responded, and Natsuki had been in her lap by the time they broke apart.

Then they'd both gone bright red and started laughing helplessly.

Now, Natsuki girded her mental loins and replaced a table at some random nightclub with the couch at Shizuru's house. She forced herself to ignore the incredible heat in her face and focused, picturing the two of them sitting there together. They made eye-contact and stayed like that, then she started leaning in and Shizuru followed.

When their lips met in her head, Natsuki felt herself gasp in reality, but she stayed in her made-up situation, her hands twitching beneath her head as she slowly tasted Shizuru's lips, then her tongue, and then felt a warm body settle against her.

The second that she placed a hand on Shizuru's thigh and kept it there, her eyes flew open to see only the white of her ceiling, and she spent a few minutes evening her breathing out, staring unblinkingly as her head spun all over again.

"Shit," she then cursed softly. "I am."

The remaining question was then: Now what?

Okay, so she wanted to kiss Shizuru. Natsuki growled at the blush that didn't seem to want to leave her face. And maybe do... other stuff, too. The issue was whether or not she should do anything about it, especially since she had never really gotten the feeling that Shizuru was completely over her. That might be wrong, of course, but if she was right and she made a move.... well, then what would that do?

Probably push her away, or at least really hurt her. She sat up with a sigh. And that really wasn't what she wanted to accomplish.

Of course, it was also possible that her body was just confused, she considered, getting to her feet and giving the clock a glance. That it was just mistaking someone she'd missed with someone she wanted. That was, after all what had happened last time, she remembered as she found her shoes and sat down to slip them on.

The music playing in her ears caught her attention again as she tucked a light leather jacket over one arm, and she listened idly as she put the garment fully on and zipped it up.

Oh, you're a loaded gun
Oh, there's nowhere to run
No one can save me, the damage is done

Natsuki growled. "Don't help," she sourly told the gadget before turning it off, settling it on a random flat surface before closing the door behind her.

She tugged her riding gloves into place as she trudged down the stairs, her helmet tucked safely in the crook of her arm and a thousand things still running through her head. They hadn't stopped by the time she was settling the helmet on her head and herself on the bike, and she really hoped the sound of the potent engine would drown the whole mess out for a while.

xXxXx

It was exactly five to seven when she parked the Ducati outside her current watering hole, The Ale Room. As the name indicated, it was a place specializing primarily in a large variety of beers, though they also served regular alcohol to draw in more customers. Natsuki preferred beer herself, though she could be persuaded to drink sake or wine every now and then. Vodka, rum and the like were hardly her favorites, but since Kaori preferred them, they usually compromised by meeting here, or at a place similar to it.

She made sure the bike was probably secured before leaving it, and entered the building with her helmet in hand, nodding to the doormen whose faces she vaguely recognized.

The room was dim, as always, but the color of her friend's hair resembled that of cut silver in this type of light, and shimmered just as much. And true to form, it only took her about 15 seconds to spot her.

Kaori was a bit older than her at 27, but – much like Midori – she refused to admit it. When asked three years ago, she'd been twenty. Now, she'd say 25, much to Natsuki amusement.

They'd met the year Natsuki had started college, on a night where she'd been royally pissed at one of her professors and had taken her old bike out for a ride that was significantly faster than the law allowed. Then-sergeant Yuuki Kaori – newly transferred to the Fuka police force from Yokohama - had been the one to pull her over, lock her up in the cruiser for a few hours and give her an earful so efficient that Natsuki had actually felt guilty. At least for the rest of the night.

Two weeks later, the same thing happened all over again. And it had kept happening at semi-regular intervals for a year, the earfuls being slowly replaced by amicable conversations until they'd eventually become friends. Much to Nao's surprise and chagrin when she came to meet her cousin for lunch, and had found them chatting. That had certainly been entertaining.

She waited until she caught Kaori's eye and returned the friendly grin, then pointed to the bar to explain that she was going to get a drink before sitting down. That got her a nod, as well as an imitated drink held to the blonde's mouth and gulped down, followed by swaying.

Idiot. Natsuki rolled her eyes and started threading her way between tables and chairs. Not tonight. I'm driving, and I'm not leaving my bike here.

At the bar, she secured herself a Sapporo Reserve in short order, and made her way to the table Kaori had parked herself at. She gave her fiend a whap to the back of the head by way of greeting, and then slid into a seat across from her.

"You know…" the lime-green eyes glowered at her as Kaori ran her fingers though her almost chin-length hair to re-rumple it properly. "I could probably have you arrested for assaulting an officer right now."

"Well, excuse me, lieutenant," Natsuki replied, opening her can of beer with a hiss and a smirk. "At least you aren't on duty."

"I could be in 20 seconds, but then we'd both be in trouble." The other woman lifted her glass in explanation. "So I'm letting you off the hook this time."

Natsuki snorted. "And every time after this," she added, taking a sip of the cold beer and letting it slide down her throat. "As long as I catch you in a bar."

"This is true." Kaori smirked and took a sip through the straw in her glass. "Guess what I'm having?"

"Oh, hell no!" The younger woman leaned back and wagged a finger at her. "Not on your goddamn life, lady. Last time you did that, I asked, you answered and I spit beer all over you."

"Oh, so you did." The blonde snickered. "But it's hardly my fault you didn't know there was a drink called Anal Sex. And on the subject, you still owe me the money for dry-cleaning my clothes."

"Go piss up a tree. It was your own damn fault."

"Says you."

"Says I." Natsuki eyed her friend for a few moments, and eventually gave in. "Alright, then. What are you having?"

Kaori smiled. "A Dickhead's Delight."

"Fitting."

"Fuck you."

"You wish."

To an outside observer, the two of them seemed to be bickering as bad as Natsuki and Nao normally did. But if you were to look a little closer, the tiny smiles of amusement would be visible, and make it clear that all they really were doing was picking on each other, the way that friends sometimes do.

They mock-glared at each other for a few more seconds, then Natsuki smirked and brought her beer to her lips again, while Kaori sucked on her straw.

"So." The blonde licked a few drops from her lips and quirked an eyebrow at the younger woman. "What has your knickers in so bad a twist that you had to talk to me ASAP?"

Natsuki pulled a face. "Bah." A low sigh. "First off," she said, the tone of her voice dipping into a much more serious range. "This goes no further than us, okay?"

"Sure." Kaori shrugged. "Not like I've blabbed to anybody in the past, right?"

"True." The younger woman looked around to make sure nobody was listening, then leaned in a little closer and lowered her voice. "Well, I… I kinda found myself with a problem last night."

"That so?" Kaori leaned closer herself, matched Natsuki's posture with her arms folded, leaning on the table with her elbows. "And what kinda trouble was that?"

"Um…" Natsuki looked down and blushed faintly, though it was hard to see in the low lighting. "I told you that my boss and I we… we get along pretty well. Right?"

"Yeah, sure." The pale eyebrows lowered in a frown. "Natsuki, what's wrong? You'd think that you'd run headfirst into a ghost."

"Not hardly." She snorted derisively. "But I did have a pretty brutal run-in with my sex-drive."

"You?!" Kaori stared at her in shock. "You got hot?!"

Natsuki cringed at clapped a hand over her friend's mouth. "Goddamn it, try again a little louder, you moron!" she hissed agitatedly. "I don't think they heard you in fucking Moscow last time!"

Two hands raised and waved silently, palm out, and Natsuki removed her own, though the glare stayed.

"Sorry, sorry." Kaori kept her voice down now. "But shit, Kid, you gotta allow me to be shocked to hear that. I've spent years thinking that you didn't even feel desire!"

"Welcome to the damn club," came the answering growl. "But apparently I do, I did and from that point the whole night just went to hell."

"I woulda thought it'd been looking up," the blonde mused philosophically.

Natsuki resisted the impulse to thump her head against the table. "Not in a state of panic, no." She tapped her friend's glass with one finger. "Drink some more, it tends to make you smarter."

"Kiss my ass," Kaori snarked, but did it anyway. "Panic over you never feeling it before, or over who it happened with?" A pause. "And what the hell were you doing, anyway?"

"Yes. No. Both." Natsuki sighed. "I don't know. We we're just playing around, she was tickling me, we ended up on the floor and suddenly…"

"…the Hormone Train arrived," her friend finished for her. "Christ, how do you get yourself into these situations?"

"Fuck if I know." She rested her forehead on her crosses arms and sighed. "And now I just don't know what to do. I was freaking out the rest of the night, she noticed, and she left so I'm pretty sure I made her feel bad," she explained quietly. "Earlier I tried to figure out if I'm attracted to her, and I am." A small, joyless chuckle. "So maybe I'm gay, but even if I am, it's not like I can do anything about wanting her. Fun, huh?"

"Oh, come on, Natsuki." Kaori rolled her eyes and ruffled the dark hair gently. "Being attracted to one woman doesn't make you a lesbian."

"Two women," came the grumpy, somewhat muffled correction.

"I told you, I don't count." Her tablemate removed the straw from her drink and sucked the end of it clean. "And regardless, that doesn't make you any more gay than you'da been straight by locking lips with a man."

Natsuki sat up with a heavy exhale, and collected her beer only to start nursing it sourly. "Then what the hell am I?"

The blonde bit the rim of her glass and grinned. "Horny?"

"Fuck you."

"While that should solve the problem, I'm not that drunk." Kaori waved the straw at her. "And neither are you." She met the glowering emerald eyes for a few seconds, then shook her head and swirled the straw around the remainder of her drink. "Seriously - what are you so worked up over? Lots of people have the hots for their boss."

Natsuki sighed and took a healthy sip from her large, silver can. "I'm worked up because my boss also happens to be a very old friend of mine," she explained. "And because I – out of the damn blue! - want her so friggin' bad that I can't think straight, but I also care about her and don't want to do anything stupid." She clenched her hands into fists. "So if I did something, which, God, I want to… but what if she suddenly wanted more?"

"More?" Kaori frowned and pushed a lock of pale hair out of her eyes. "Look, kiddo, just because your motor started running once when the two of you were horsing around doesn't mean you actually have deeper feelings for her. Stick to worrying about wanting her for now, alright? Besides, there's every possibility that even the whole 'wanting her' thing is nothing but a fluke."

Natsuki rubbed her forehead. "I don't think it is," she related quietly. "I doubt I'd have been able to recreate the exact same thing just by thinking about kissing her earlier."

"Okay, point for you, but look..." The blonde tapped one manicured nail against the table. "You're worrying too much. The stupidest thing you can do is to make a mountain out of a molehill and worry about an actual love-affair when you only have ants in your pants. Give it some time for now. Try to figure out – without saying anything – if she's interested or not. If she isn't – you focus on something else and move past it. Lust isn't that hard to get over." Kaori grinned. "I should know."

"I bet, the way you looked me over the first time you caught me." Natsuki shook her head. "Pervert. But what if it looks like she is interested?"

"Then you take it from there and weigh the pros and cons." Kaori chewed the end of her straw and peered calmly at her. "And decide if you want to go for it or not."

"Mmf." Natsuki bent her neck and frowned. "I guess it doesn't help that I feel guilty. About what happened last night, I mean. I know she was way gone for me when we were teenagers, but I turned her down and now..."

"And now you're an adult and from what Nao grudgingly tells me, in many ways a different person." Two fingers grabbed playfully at her chin. "Don't beat yourself up just because you might do something else now."

"Get off." Natsuki batted the offending hand away and gave the other woman a look. "So basically 'don't live in the past'?"

"Exactly. And you owe me a drink." Kaori gave her a wink. "I'll have a Between the Sheets."

The emerald eyes narrowed in a glare, but Natsuki rose anyway. "You are such an asshole."

"Oh, I know." The blonde grinned cheekily and waggled her fingers at her. "But I still want my drink. With peach brandy, please."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah."