Author's Note: Well, it's been quite a wait, but this fic is finally coming to a close. Of course, I have to reassure everyone that this doesn't mean the story is ending. There's still more to write. As for exactly what, all I can say is, "You'll see."

I'd also like to make a note on the time period of this fic relative to the main series, due in part to a review by hamsterbox which I can't reply directly to. We aren't given any definitive clues on the ages Natsuki and Shizuru in the series, so we have to make do with guesswork. Putting everything we know together, my best guess is that Natsuki was a Coral about four years before the events of Mai-Otome (possibly up to six, but I doubt much beyond that). Much thanks to Olivia U. L. for her findings in this area – and yes, I'll see if I can fit in the event we talked about (if you still remember what we talked about) later in the series. So, best guess puts Natsuki at 19 and Shizuru at 20 in the series, possibly a year or two older.

And for those who might want more updates on how I'm coming along with writing chapters, I'm now on Twitter with the name Leebot. You can either bookmark my page or set it up with a feed reader if you want to keep track of how my work is coming along. You can find me at twitter . com / leebot (cut the spaces, or just click the link in my profile).

Title: Ascension Reborn

Rating: T

Chapter 3: The Prize

Ugh... Can't move... too heavy. ...zuru... Shizuru hit me...

"Miss Viola, this really isn't behavior appropriate for the future Third Column."

...Heavy, but soft... soft like Shizuru...

"I don't care. Natsuki's hurt. I hurt her."

Mmm... Shizuru-ness. Zuru's nice... wouldn't hurt me.

"You might as well give it up, Kojima-sama. I've seen these two together and frankly, you're putting your life on the line trying to pull Shizuru-oneesama away."

Uhh, hard to really feel it... Zuru-ness needs to be held... hugged...

"Hrm... Very well, as long as you don't impede her recovery. Adriana-san might have something else to say about this behavior, though."

Ah, there we go, arms are moving now. Mmm, yeah... definite Shizuru-ness here... ah, so nice. Shizuru's so soft... so huggable... Really love this...

"Natsuki... Forgive me..."

"Erruhh..." Voice still bad... but Shizuru's hurting. Mmm... Shizuru-neck. That always tastes good...

"Natsuki? Ah! Heh-ah... Mmm... Natsuki..."


Natsuki's eyes snapped open at the sound of someone else intruding on her Shizuru time. Shizuru slowly pulled away from Natsuki just as coherence was starting to return to her, and unfortunately a splitting headache came along with it. She glanced around quickly, confirming that she was in the infirmary. The nurse, Rei Kojima, was standing to the side of her bed with an eyebrow raised, and the cause of her bemusement was currently lying on top of Natsuki: A heavily blushing Shizuru Viola. The sight of this was fortunately enough to push thoughts of the headache temporarily out of Natsuki's mind.

Thoughts of just how beautiful Shizuru was when she blushed started to invade Natsuki's mind, but Kojima's stern gaze pulled her back to reality. It was then that she realized just what position she was in and where she was. Trying to get her tongue to work properly, she said, "Er, Shizuru... what are you doing lying on top of me in the infirmary?"

Shizuru looked down at Natsuki and blinked slowly, with a smile that Natsuki had learned to fear crossing her face. "Ara, I think the better question is: What was Natsuki doing nibbling on my neck in the infirmary?"

Nibbling... on your... neck... Natsuki went into panic mode as her face starting flooding with blood. Oh Shinso, no... Was I really doing that in public? Did anyone see? I have to cover! "Er, well, that was... I was just..."

"Coming out of the anesthesia." Natsuki and Shizuru both looked over at Kojima – Natsuki to offer silent thanks, and Shizuru to pout at her teasing being spoiled. The nurse ignored them both, though, and continued, "You took quite a blow to the head there. I had to put you under to make sure your body had enough time to recover."

"Oh, uh, thanks then," Natsuki said. The reminder of her injury also made her aware once more that her head indeed still hurt. "But why does my head still feel like it's splitting apart?" Shizuru let out a small whimper at hearing this, and she leaned down to give Natsuki's forehead a kiss – which somehow actually helped a little – and then cradled Natsuki's head between her hands and rested her cheek on top of it. Natsuki cringed a bit in embarrassment, but she had to admit it did help. Even if it hadn't helped, she just didn't have the heart to push Shizuru away, even if the pain was her fault in the first place.

Kojima's brow furrowed at this. "Sounds like dehydration to me. The fight likely took a lot out of you, and then your nanomachines had to use up a fair amount of your body fluids to repair the damage. I had you on an IV, but perhaps it hasn't circulated through your body quite enough yet." At the mention of an IV, Natsuki glanced down at her right hand through the small opening between herself and Shizuru. There was a bandage attached to the back of it where the needle had been, but apparently the IV had been taken out already. "It should fade soon, but you'd be best to drink plenty of fluids just in case."

"I'll go get you something to drink then," Mai's voice came from Natsuki's left. Natsuki turned her head over to the source to seek out her roommate, wondering why she hadn't noticed her before. However, just turning her head gave her the answer, as her field of vision was filled Shizuru still trying to smother her. Even if it weren't for Shizuru blocking the view, her mere presence was quite distracting... Er, what was I supposed to be doing again? Right, Mai! Mai can... Mai can tell me if I won the bet! Wait, that wasn't it... It had something to do with Shizuru's lips! No, no! Not Shizuru's lips... Shizuru's full, soft lips...

Shizuru watched silently as Natsuki went through her mental debate, trying to think of something other than just how kissable Shizuru looked at this moment. Her expression was full of concern, and almost too sweet for Natsuki to handle. Unfortunately for Natsuki, it only got more so as Shizuru saw her getting flustered. It was only through the grace of Shinso that Shizuru acted on this moment first, and that she chose to do so by simply kissing Natsuki on the forehead. She then withdrew from her position – to Natsuki's private disappointment – in order to make room for Mai who was returning with a cup of water.

"Do you want to try sitting up, Natsuki?" Shizuru asked. She reached a hand out to hold Natsuki's and help her up. Natsuki gave a small nod at this and started to push herself up slowly. The world seemed to rush by her a bit and a wave of dizziness accompanied the headache, but she was at least able to make it up without collapsing back onto the bed, even if she did allow herself to fall forward into Shizuru's arms.

Natsuki allowed herself to remain in Shizuru's arms a fair bit longer than was strictly necessary. She didn't really need the support that long, but she sensed that Shizuru needed to give it to her. Shizuru seemed to be feeling quite guilty about how she'd ended their battle, even though Natsuki didn't really begrudge her for it. It had hurt, sure, but so had most of the fight. It was really just the difference between a slow beatdown or a quick hit. And if this way meant she got to be coddled by Shizuru until she was completely recovered, then it was worth it. Though I would prefer if we could do this in private at least...

A finger tapping on Natsuki's shoulder reminded her that Mai was still waiting with the water. She grudgingly parted herself from Shizuru and took the cup with a thankful nod to her roommate. Her head was already starting to feel a fair bit better, but she sipped up the water anyways. Kojima came back at this time to check on her. "How's your head feeling, Kruger-san? If it's getting better, you're probably free to leave. I can trust Tokiha-san to let me know if anything happens to you."

Natsuki's eyes flicked to Mai and then back to Shizuru. Mai was certainly showing a bit of friendly concern for her, but she was really no match for Shizuru. Natsuki knew full well who was going to be taking care of her tonight – not to mention the fact that they still had the unfinished business of their bet. She'd bring it up now, but she didn't want the nurse prying into it. Kojima had a certain reputation around Garderobe, and Natsuki didn't want to pique her interest if at all possible.

"It's getting better," Natsuki said, looking back at the nurse and handing her the empty cup. She caught sight of an empty bed next to her as she turned her head, and a question occurred to her. "Hey, what happened to Haruka-oneesama? She looked like she'd be much worse off than me. Shouldn't she still be in here recovering?"

"Ha!" Mai said. "You really don't know Haruka-oneesama. She was out for a bit, sure, but she was awake within an hour demanding to know why Shizuru could let her get knocked out like that. She didn't settle down until Yukino-san came by to check on her. They ended up going back to her room for... oh, this and that, I imagine."

"'This and that'?" Natsuki said. She didn't recognize that particular phrase, as with a lot of idioms Mai translated from Zipango. However, it did occur to her that the nurse was from Zipang as well, along with Shizuru's parents. She suddenly started to feel a bit left out on the joke.

"You know, what you were thinking of doing with Shizuru...?" Mai nudged Natsuki with her elbow and winked at her slyly.

"Mai!" Natsuki said, glaring at her roommate. She should know by now what she was getting Natsuki into with Shizuru. Damn it, why did I have to fall into that one?

"Ara, Mai-san," Shizuru said, with a menacing edge to her voice, just beneath a cloak of sweetness. "I think it would be best you not tease my Natsuki. It might not be good for her health at a time like this – or yours, for that matter." Natsuki looked at Shizuru in thanks. She knew she'd be paying for this later, but that would at least be in private. Seeing Shizuru defend her possessively like that did feel quite nice, at least.

"I don't appreciate threats against students under my watch, Viola-san, however veiled they might be," Kojima said. Her voice wasn't too stern though, so she likely understood that Shizuru hadn't said that in all seriousness. However, the dread of her tendencies coming to play upon hearing this still managed to fill Natsuki with fear. "Although I should say, a good dose of 'this and that' might be just the thing to ease Kruger-san's headache." At the stunned look from Mai – who apparently had managed to stay out of the rumor mill on this one until this point – the nurse shrugged and said, "I was your age once too, you know, with an Oneesama much like Viola-san in certain ways."

Natsuki was frozen to her seat, trying to blend into the scenery. She did not need her sex life – or lack thereof – being discussed with the school faculty. This was all Mai's fault for bringing it up in front of her, she decided, and she casted a glare at her roommate. Mai shivered at the look from Natsuki and backed away. "Er, I think I'll head back to our room now. You can take care of her, right Shizuru-oneesama?" Mai didn't spare the time to wait for an answer before she ran out of the infirmary. Natsuki's glare didn't usually work that well on Mai, but perhaps this time she knew she meant business with it.

Of course, however angry Natsuki was with her roommate, a simple stroke down her back from Shizuru was all it took to make her completely melt. "Shizuru..." she said, looking over at her girlfriend, who'd gone right back into caretaker mode and was looking at Natsuki with concern.

"Do you think you'll be able to walk, Natsuki?" Shizuru asked. "If you're up to it, we can go back to my room so you can rest. It's closer than yours, so it won't be as hard to make it there."

"Alright," Natsuki said. She knew that the proximity wasn't the real reason Shizuru had suggested her room. Over the year, it had become the primary place where they were safe to act naturally with each other and develop their relationship. Granted, Natsuki didn't have to hide her relationship from Mai, but some things just needed to be kept private. "So am I free to leave then?" she asked the nurse.

"I'd say so," Kojima replied. "All you need is some rest, but you're free to do that in your Oneesama's room if you wish."

At this approval, Shizuru pushed herself off of the bed and reached out a hand to Natsuki. Natsuki took it and cautiously swung her legs out over the edge of the bed. Feeling only a tinge of dizziness, she used Shizuru's hand to pull herself up to her feet. Giving a smile to let the nurse and her girlfriend know she was alright, Natsuki took a few hesitant steps towards the door. Feeling no more dizziness, Natsuki gave a nod and said, "Yeah, I think I'll be good. Thanks."

"Alright then, have a good night, Natsuki-san, Viola-san."

Natsuki made her way out, keeping ahead of Shizuru in order to demonstrate that she was fine and didn't need to be supported. She didn't want Shizuru to get any ideas about carrying her to her room. She wasn't going through that embarrassment again if there was anything she could do about it. She did allow herself to slow down, though, once she was out the door and had made her point. It was about that time that something the nurse had said struck her.

"Wait... 'good night'? How long was I out, Shizuru?" Natsuki said, looking back at her girlfriend, who was just now catching up to her.

"Almost five hours," Shizuru said. A somber tone had entered her voice, and Natsuki could see guilt start to spread across her features again. "Kojima-sama assured me you were alright, and she just wanted to keep you under anesthesia to heal better, but I still couldn't tear myself away from you. I'm so sorry for hurting you like that, Natsuki..."

Natsuki glanced around the hallways quickly to make sure no one was around before she allowed herself to be touched by Shizuru's sentiment. "It's alright," she said. "That was what you were supposed to do in the battle anyways, wasn't it? But, um, thanks for staying with me." With the warmth now entering her cheeks at the admission that she appreciated this, Natsuki was doubly glad no one was in the hallways to see them.

Unfortunately, this didn't seem to assuage Shizuru's mind, as she didn't take the chance to comment on Natsuki's blush. She remained silent for most of their walk, eventually speaking up just as the two were entering the Pearl's dormitories. "By the way, Natsuki, I'm very proud of you. Five minutes and two seconds. I really never expected you to win our bet."

Natsuki froze in her step, caught off-guard by this statement. I won... I actually did it. I don't have to let Shizuru force me into sex... Shizuru turned back to look at her as Natsuki ran those words through her mind. They just didn't sound right. With how much care Shizuru had shown Natsuki over the thought of hurting her, how could she possibly have considered using her favor to force Natsuki to make love to her when she wasn't ready? Natsuki grimaced slightly. Is that why this doesn't make me feel completely relieved then?

Natsuki shook her head to try to rearrange those thoughts into an order that made more sense as she started walking again. As much as she tried though, she just couldn't shake the feeling that maybe things would have been better if Shizuru had won. Shizuru did this type of thing all the time, really. She laid intricate traps for Natsuki, and however much she might fight it, things always turned out great when they went as Shizuru planned.

Even if she had wanted us to make love... I have made her wait too long. Would I even want to stop it if she tried to seduce me? I mean, I do want to do that with her, I just need to find the perfect moment... And if Shizuru's good at anything, it's making moments perfect. But every time I consider it, I just keep chickening out. Maybe... would it have been better if Shizuru had won, so she could make the first move?

"Natsuki?" Shizuru said from behind her. Natsuki stopped and turned around. "Is everything alright? You walked right past my door."

Natsuki's eyes widened. "Oh, uh, sorry. Just lost in thought," she said. She walked back to Shizuru and followed her girlfriend into her room. Shizuru sat down on her bed and motioned for Natsuki to join her, which she did gladly. She pressed herself up against Shizuru and rested her head on her girlfriend's shoulder, trying to just relax her mind. It wasn't much use though. Her worries were still plaguing her, and she could feel a lot of tension in Shizuru as well. They needed to get this out.

Lifting her head from her girlfriend's shoulder, Natsuki turned to Shizuru. "Alright Shizuru, out with it. What's bothering you so much? This isn't like you." Shizuru sighed, but other than that she remained silent. When Natsuki had had enough, she grabbed her girlfriend's shoulders and turned her to look at her, giving her best puppy-dog eyes. "Please, Shizuru. Don't keep me out."

Shizuru tried to resist, but it was ultimately no use. Her expression slowly broke down under Natsuki's pleading gaze, revealing a fear she'd tried to bury. Seeing this, Natsuki brought her hand up to gently stroke Shizuru's cheek. This gesture caused Shizuru to finally break down completely, and tears started to well up in her eyes. She brought her own hand up to cup Natsuki's and said, "I don't want to leave you."

Natsuki spared only a second to let her mind run with this thought – Shizuru was worrying about having to leave when she graduated and what might become of their relationship – before she pushed herself forward and wrapped her arms around Shizuru in a tight hug. She didn't bother with asking what had brought this up just now; all that mattered was that Shizuru was sad, and she needed to do all she could to support her girlfriend. "It's alright, Shizuru. I know it'll be tough, but we can make it."

Shizuru slowly brought her own arms up to hold Natsuki. She buried her head into Natsuki's shoulder and allowed a few sobs to escape. It was truly rare to see Shizuru breaking down like this, even in private. The prospect of leaving must really have been hurting her. Does she... does she care for me that much?

"Natsuki... thank you..." Shizuru said once her sobs had calmed down. She slowly pulled back from the hug. Her hands came to rest on Natsuki's shoulders as she looked into her girlfriend's eyes. Natsuki gazed back into hers, allowing herself to be sucked into those crimson depths so she could try to understand everything that Shizuru was feeling. There was so much affectionate there; Natsuki knew beyond a doubt that she was the most important thing in the world to Shizuru. A stirring in her heart told her the same was true with what Shizuru meant to her.

This is it... I can't waste this moment, with how little time we have left before she leaves... I may not get another chance. I have to say it.

"I'm not going to let distance get between us, Shizuru," Natsuki said, her eyes locked with Shizuru's. "I don't want this to just be a Garderobe romance. I want to stay with you. I want to be with you... in every way. I love you, Shizuru."

Natsuki was treated to what she considered to be the most beautiful sight in the world at her confession of love. Shizuru's cheeks tinged pink, in one of her most adorable blushes ever. She blinked back tears from her eyes and said, "Oh, Natsuki... I love you too. So much..."

Natsuki remained gazing at Shizuru for a few more moments, expecting her girlfriend to come in for a kiss. She was slow to act, though, and Natsuki figured she was just too stunned or too weak to move. No matter, though. Natsuki simply leaned forward herself to capture Shizuru's lips with her own.

Shizuru moved slowly, as if in a daze, and their kiss was slow, full of tender passion. Natsuki breathed in Shizuru's essence, feeling as if she could inhale the essence of Shizuru's love if only she kissed her long enough. She kept the two of them linked together like that for a long while, until finally she felt Shizuru's lips start to tremble against hers. Fearing her girlfriend might be getting too weak now – it always amazed her how she could have that much effect on the great Shizuru Viola – Natsuki pulled just an inch away, and she gazed into her love's eyes.

Shizuru was certainly in a weakened state now, Natsuki could tell, but it also looked like something was still bothering her. Or, possibly not bothering her, but something was certainly on her mind. Thinking back to what had brought this moment on, it occurred to Natsuki that it was odd for Shizuru to be worrying about what would happen when she left just now. She pulled her head back a couple more inches and asked, "What's wrong, Shizuru? Don't hide what's bothering you from me."

Shizuru closed her eyes at hearing this and breathed out a sigh. After a few seconds, she turned away from Natsuki and pushed herself off of the bed. She paced the room nervously for a bit, finally coming to a stop near her desk with her hand resting on the back of her chair, facing away from Natsuki. Natsuki waited patiently for her to speak. She wasn't sure why, but Shizuru needed some space now. I guess I can see that if she needs to recover... she was getting pretty weak while we were kissing.

"Sometimes you're just too much, Natsuki. It's hard to control myself," Shizuru said. Natsuki remained silent, letting her girlfriend get it all out. "I was so worried. My emotions felt like they were getting away from me. I was starting to care for you so much – too much, I thought. I realized that I'd fallen in love with you, and I had no idea how to handle it. I had no idea you might be feeling the same way, and I was worried that you might start to forget about me when I left."

Shizuru brought her free hand up to her face, and Natsuki wondered if perhaps it was to wipe away tears. She had to hold herself back from going to embrace Shizuru; she was afraid it might break down whatever strength her girlfriend had built up. But she had to at least say something to try to reassure her. "It's true, though," she said. "I do love you. The feelings scare me too sometimes, but only when I'm not with you. When I am with you, everything just seems right."

Shizuru nodded, almost imperceptibly. She turned around slowly, but she still stopped when she was facing off to the side; at least it was an improvement from keeping her back to Natsuki. "I wanted to find a way that we could be together for the rest of our lives. When Adriana-sensei let it slip that Gakuencho was planning to retire next year, I started hoping that you could take her place. But I was afraid that you'd ruin your chance if you performed poorly in our battle, which seemed too likely given your attitude. That's why I came up with that plan to motivate you."

"Gakuencho!" Natsuki said, letting her mouth hang open. Her mind buzzed with thoughts of just all being the Gakuencho and Second Column implied. Even though the columns were officially equal in rank, the Second was the closest they had to a leader. Among the world community, she took a seat at the affairs among world leaders as their equal. Although she had to be prepared for combat like any other Otome, the Second Column was supposed to exemplify intelligence rather than simple brute force. Rather, the Third Column was assigned to be her right arm, bodyguard, and envoy as the situation called for it.

The prospect of the responsibility of being Gakuencho in just a year was chilling indeed, but this was mitigated by the thought of being able to work alongside Shizuru. Natsuki mulled this over in her mind, trying to weigh the options. The responsibility wasn't really so bad, even if it was daunting. She'd have Shizuru to help her through it. Shizuru was worth it, she decided.

"Don't worry, Natsuki," Shizuru said. Natsuki focused back on her girlfriend to find that Shizuru had turned to her now, a supportive smile on her face. "They wouldn't simply take an unprepared teenage girl and place her on the world stage. The transition period for the Second Column is a fair bit more gradual than for the other Columns. If you accept the position, Markova-sama will stay around for the first year to teach you the job. After that, you'll still have Miss Maria's experience to rely upon."

"I'll do it," Natsuki said, nearly cutting off Shizuru. She gazed steadily into her love's eyes. "If it means I can spend the rest of my life working alongside you, I'll take on any responsibility necessary."

Shizuru's cheeks filled with a pink tinge. "Natsuki..." She closed her eyes and seemed to concentrate for a few seconds. "Thank you," she said.

Although Shizuru's voice was mostly steady, Natsuki noticed that her hand was grasping the back of her chair tightly enough that her knuckles had turned white, as if she were trying to hold herself down. "Shizuru? What's wrong?" she said. She started to get off of the bed to approach her girlfriend, but a raised hand from Shizuru made her stop. Not understanding why, but trusting her girlfriend, she sat back down.

"I'm sorry Natsuki," Shizuru said. She took a breath and let out a deep sigh. Keeping her eyes downcast, she explained, "It's hard to control myself at times like this, when I really feel my love for you. Things just go wild in my mind. I always have to fight to hold myself back, for fear that I'd push things too far for you. As much as I want 'this and that' from you, I just can't risk scaring you off. It's better I back off from time to time than risk losing control and molesting you again."


..."No!" I swung my hand around with all the force I could muster. It met Shizuru's cheek with a crack that resounded throughout the cafeteria and caused all eyes to focus on us. I couldn't have cared less, though. I backed off from Shizuru and brought my hand up to protect my abused breast. On the verge of tears, I managed to get out, "W-what are you doing, Oneesama?"...

...I shook my head fiercely at this. "No!" At Shizuru's shocked expression, I quickly explained, "I mean, I wanted to know who you really are, so if this is it, then well... I'll have to learn to live with it. Just don't get grabby again. That isn't really you anyways, I'm sure."...

I was right. The real Shizuru isn't a simple lech. She's a lover, and she wants to make love to me. I want it too, but I just couldn't act. Natsuki looked up at Shizuru's face. She was fighting to keep from doing what she thought would hurt Natsuki, and it was causing her to hurt herself. Damn it, no more. I'm not letting fear control me.

Natsuki pushed herself up and approached Shizuru. Her girlfriend recoiled a bit in surprise, but Natsuki didn't let her escape. She was going to do this for Shizuru. It was the only way to make things right. She placed her left hand on Shizuru's shoulder to keep her from backing away, and she brought her right to just under Shizuru's chin so she could hold eye contact with her love. Shizuru was trembling with nervousness, but Natsuki was determined to wipe that away.

"You're just too loving for your own good, Shizuru," she said. "You don't have to carry that burden. You should have just talked to me about this. I mean... Mai wasn't entirely wrong when she said I was considering this if I won." Shizuru's eyes widened as the first traces of nervousness started to fade from her features. Natsuki pressed her advantage now. "But I think I need to go with something a bit more specific right now. Shizuru, my favor is this: Trust in my love."

Confusion appeared in Shizuru's eyes, so Natsuki pushed forward to explain just what she meant. "Stop worrying so much that I might reject you. I promise I won't. I love you just as much as you love me, and I don't want you to have to worry that I won't want to work with you to maintain our relationship while you're away, or that I won't work to get the Second Column position to be with you.

"And finally, don't worry about me rejecting your advances. There's a big difference between making love to your girlfriend and being molested by your Oneesama, and I want the former just as much as you. I just wanted the moment to be perfect, but now I realize that it's simply being with you that makes a moment perfect. But tonight especially..." Natsuki smiled, remembering her confession of love to Shizuru. "I love you, Shizuru."

Natsuki wanted to lean forward and kiss her girlfriend to seal the deal, but Shizuru looked about ready to melt again, and she didn't want that to happen just yet. Instead, she satisfied herself with simply gazing at her love while she recovered. The blush on Shizuru's cheeks was easily enough to distract her right now. It always felt good when she could turn the tables on her tormentor. Well, maybe "tormentor" is putting it a bit harshly... she really only teases out of love. And that's the only reason I put up with it!

Sooner than Natsuki expected, a mischievous glint appeared in Shizuru's eye, signaling that she'd regained control of herself. "Natsuki is too sweet," she said. Most of the blush had faded from her face, but a tinge still remained in her cheeks. Her expression had settled into a more typical look for her, which was a big relief for Natsuki as it heralded the recovery of her emotional state. Not to mention, this Shizuru was a lot more fun. "But I just can't let you do that." Shizuru took Natsuki's hand with her own and brought it up to her mouth for a quick kiss.

And Shizuru has officially switched to "teasing mode," Natsuki mused. Well, let's get it over with... "What do you mean, Shizuru?"

"Natsuki worked very hard to earn her favor," Shizuru said. She put on a small pout and gave Natsuki her best puppy eyes. "As her girlfriend, I can't let her use it so selflessly."

"What? Shizuru, no-" Natsuki was cut off by Shizuru pressing her finger to her lips.

Shizuru continued, casually ignoring Natsuki's faux-annoyed glare. "I won't hear it. In respect for you, I will still give you what you asked for, but I must also give you what you wanted but didn't ask for. Tonight, Natsuki, I am giving myself to you, body, mind, and soul." Shizuru leaned forward, bringing her mouth to Natsuki's ear. She whispered, "Especially 'body.' Please, take me Natsuki."

Natsuki let out an involuntary shiver as Shizuru's breath in her ear sent waves of excitement through her body. She was starting to tense up, and an aching need for Shizuru was already starting to build. Damn she's good... Natsuki shook her head to clear it out and backed up so she could look at Shizuru. She'd been planning to talk, but her instincts took over and she ended up pulling Shizuru's head into her own to engage her lover in a desperate kiss.

Although Shizuru seemed to be prepared for a kiss like this, the depth of Natsuki's passion did seem to catch her a bit off-guard. This didn't stop her from melting into the kiss, though, and returning the passion. By the time Shizuru was letting out light moans into their locked lips, Natsuki tore herself away. Alright... if you're mine for tonight Shizuru, then let's get at this.

"Shizuru..." Natsuki breathed out through her panting. "Bed. Now."

To be continued in Oneesama Sidestories...

Author's Note: Well, after close to a year, Ascension is finally complete. It's too bad I couldn't do it with Centauri, but I just didn't want to leave it unfinished. I hope I did it justice on my own. For those curious about how we did the collaborative first chapter, a little explanation of how it went:

First came the story idea. The idea and story were completely mine. I wrote up a sketch of the events (which I've since diverged from, but no matter), and sent it off to Centauri to see what she thought of it. She liked it, so we got to writing. I first wrote up a rough version of the events I wanted to happen in the chapter, along with the dialog (mostly full-formed). Centauri then went through and replaced my rough narration with a more detailed narrative, in mostly her style (this is why some readers felt that the first chapter seemed a lot more like her than me). She sent it back and I went over it, tweaking and proofreading. When it was ready, she posted it.

The second chapter we'd planned to go the same way. I'd written up my rough version and sent it off to her, but that never got done for various reasons. Eventually I came back to fix it up into a publishable form myself (the procedure to get to this point isn't how I normally do things with my writing, which is why it might seem a little off). I also decided to split what was going to be one chapter into two. And that's how we get to where we are.

As for the poll results, they came out to be 54 wanted Natsuki to win, and 20 wanted Shizuru to win. Since my original plan was to have Natsuki win, this worked out well. I might have reconsidered things if enough thought Shizuru should win, but I think this works pretty well.

For those of you also reading Oneesama, yes, they'll both be continued in OS. You'll just have to wait and see what I have in mind, though I really wouldn't be surprised if some of you can guess. Until then, much love to everyone who takes the time to read and drop a review.