Disclaimer:
Mai HiME and all characters belong to Sunrise. No profit made, no copyright infringement intended.

Author's Notes:
Gah! Oneshots are distracting! Damn plotbunnies; I'm not gonna get a thing done on my chaptered stories as long as new ideas keep popping up.

Title snagged from an old Blümchen song that I'm still very fond of. Hop on over to YouTube and give it a listen – the music fits the mood of the story, and if you speak German, you'll probably find the lyrics pretty apt.

Thank you for reading.

Gib Mir Noch Zeit


Goddamn festivals.

Solitary footsteps echoed off the walls of one of the many Fuuka Academy hallways, and the girl that was the source of them glanced around the otherwise deserted area with a relieved sigh. Crowds really weren't her thing, she privately admitted. If she hadn't spent the better part of her life in solitude, that might have been different, but as it was, she had little to gain from wondering about could-have-beens. Right now, she was just happy to have made it inside the academy buildings and away from the staggering number of guests milling around outside.

Natsuki shook her head and snorted at herself as she turned a corner. She could scarcely believe that she'd forgotten about the Summer Festival in the first place. It had certainly been the main subject of conversation within her little circle of friends for a while, and she'd come very close to giving Kanzaki a whole new meaning to Foot-in-Mouth Disease if he hadn't gotten Mai to shut up about it. Why did that slick bastard have to go and ask the redhead to it, anyway?

She shot a glance outside as she passed by a window, and watched the gently reddening sunlight paint the grounds and the visitors with its golden rays. "I hope it ends better for them this time," she muttered to herself.

Her fingers found purchase in the back pockets of her jeans, and she watched her sneakers touch onto the floor below her feet as she walked. It was strange to see this section of campus back in shape after knowing – unlike the majority of the academy's populace – exactly what had happened to it. Stone, steel and mortar had proven to be no match when pitted against violence born from sheer, desperate emotion, and she had been more than little surprised that Suzushiro Construction had managed to rebuild everything in just a few months.

It was almost eerie... to be walking these new halls that looked so much like the old ones. Almost like being caught in some sort of twisted time-warp.

The sound of rubber against linoleum stopped when she did, and she sighed softly as she moved her hands to her side pockets and leaned back against the wall.

Student Council Room

Amazing just how mocking a sign could seem, she considered as she fingered the silk in her hand. It was as if the black lettering was daring her to open the door and go inside... or was that challenge coming from somewhere inside her, instead? Was that, perhaps, why she'd ended up here in the first place?

The silk was tugged free from her pocket, and she held on to one end of the ribbon as it unfolded itself with gravity's helpful assistance. The kanji for her own name stared back at her from the surface of the lavender fabric, and she laid the smooth material over her palm and drew her thumb slowly across the neat, precise writing.

Shizuru.

Unbidden, the mental image of the older girl penning her name on the wish ribbon popped into her head, and she bit her lip as she felt a stinging pang in her chest.

Why me? She raised her head and stared at the door, remembering all the times that the two of them had met beyond it. What did you see in me that made you feel so much?

How is it that you can find so much more in me than anyone else ever could?

It would, of course, make sense to actually ask those questions out loud to the source of her confusion. It wasn't like she didn't have the chance to do so often enough, because although Shizuru was busy with her classes at the nearby university, the two of them always found some way to spend time together at least once a week. With the summer holidays coming up, she'd surely have even more chances.

But she just couldn't bring herself to ask. Shizuru was hurting enough as it was without having to indulge her insecurities.

And that was why she was here. Natsuki pocketed the ribbon and pushed away from the wall before taking the few, hesitant steps that moved her across the width of the hallway. She was tired of being afraid. Tired of flinching in unconscious reaction whenever the older girl touched her shoulder... tired of not daring to be alone with her... tired of keeping away from spots that had been theirs once.

Fear could last forever if you didn't deal with it. So maybe by doing this small thing... maybe this way she could start putting some of all that fear to rest.

She slid the door open, and froze in surprise.

"Shizuru?"

There was no response from the kimono-clad figure seated at the desk, and Natsuki quietly shut the door behind her after entering the room. She paused there, barely beyond the threshold, and rubbed her suddenly moist palms against her denim-covered thighs. The sound of her own breathing seemed loud all of a sudden, and she swallowed down a stab of nervousness and forced herself to take a step, then another and yet another... until she came to a stop in front of the desk.

Asleep, she realized as she took in the sight of her friend. Shizuru had her elbows resting on the surface of the table, and her interlaced fingers served to support her chin. As was often the case whenever the older girl was dressed in this more traditional manner, her hair had been pulled up, and as Natsuki watched, a single lock of wavy, tawny hair managed to free itself from its bindings and tumble down over one smooth cheek.

It was easier, she realized somewhat guiltily, to be this close and alone when Shizuru wasn't aware of it. When she didn't have to worry about inadvertently hurting her friend even more than she already had.

Quietly, she placed one palm against the smoothly polished surface of the table, careful not to jar the furniture and wake the other girl up as she leaned on that arm and reached out to tug the errant lock of hair back.

Her hand shook.

Stop it! she scolded herself firmly when she saw the appendage hesitate. Stop being afraid of her!

Still, the hand drew back, and she swallowed down a defeated sigh as she set it down next to its mate instead. Why did it have to be so hard, she wondered as she watched her own fingers curl and press against the wood beneath them. Why couldn't she just be happy that Shizuru was accepting what she was offering? Why was every moment between them so stilted?

Was she really that afraid? That worried that Shizuru would... would what? Force herself on her?

No. The response resounded in her own head with startling clarity, and she felt her brow furrow as she studied Shizuru's face and saw the faint signs of tension that were visible now that the mask had slipped away. In repose, there were a few, subtle lines visible around the older girl's mouth and eyes. Those lines added a definite world-weariness to the otherwise youthful, calm face... made Shizuru look old beyond her years. Tired.

My fault.

Her chest panged painfully again, and she instinctively covered the smarting area with one hand, dropping her head to watch her fingers clutch at the cotton of her t-shirt.

Why are you still here? she silently asked of the sleeping girl. Why are you putting yourself through this for my sake?

A sigh as she straightened. I just... don't understand you.

She made her way over to the window and gently popped it open. The warm breeze carried the scent of far-off rain to her nose, and she inhaled deeply and closed her eyes as she rested her hands on the sill.

I don't understand how I can mean so much to you.

Shizuru loved her. Even before the Carnival, she'd known that much. But exactly how frighteningly deep that love ran was something she'd only recently started to understand. Forbidden or not, she was glad to know how the older girl felt, and wouldn't dream of holding it against her as long as she could still have Shizuru's friendship.

But was that really fair? Her teeth worried at her lower lip as she stared out across the grounds. On this side of the school, the scenery was pretty much void of people since the majority of the festival booths were set up on the other side of the building, but she could see a few stragglers walking around in the reddening sunlight of approaching dusk.

For a few seconds, the sight made her angry. Every one of them had sacrificed so much. Bled, cried and outright saved the world for these people, and now they wandered around in happy oblivion while the so-called heroes continued to suffer? They'd given all they had so these people to could live to bumble about for another day, and this was their thanks? How was that fair?

Natsuki rubbed her forehead irritatedly. That was a bit hypocritical of her, wasn't it? All take and no give could probably be ascribed to her relationship with Shizuru, too. She'd certainly done her best to keep her at arm's length, even after Shizuru had turned out to be a HiME as well. Especially then.

And yet, Shizuru had never wavered. She'd stubbornly stood by her come hell or high water. Even in the depth of insanity, everything she'd done had been born from the love she felt – the need to protect what mattered most to her.

So what was the thanks that Shizuru got? To be no more than awkward friends with the object of her affection, which was surely tearing her up inside. To have said object never want to be alone with her. To be met with wariness instead of warmth.

Natsuki exhaled through her nose and rested a hand against the frame of the window. Would it perhaps have been better, she wondered, if they two of them had just cut their ties? Let Shizuru go, let her move on instead of constantly shoving in her face what she couldn't have?

Yeah, maybe it would have been. But she had been selfish and wanted to keep her precious one close – she'd gotten her wish, but continued to keep her distance anyway.

I'm such a good friend, aren't I? she considered disgustedly. Pulling her closer and pushing her away at the same time... no wonder she looks so tired.

"Natsuki?"

She startled at the sound of her own name, and turned around to see crimson eyes blink at her as Shizuru straightened in her seat. The lines were gone now - the mask having slipped back into place the second that the older girl had woken up - but that didn't keep her from remembering what they'd looked like.

"Yo." She folded her hands behind her back, and let them cushion her as she leaned against the window sill. "Here for the festival?"

"In a manner of speaking." Shizuru rested her folded hands on the table. "Kikukawa-san was supposed to meet with a collection of sponsors today, but she regrettably fell ill this morning. Fumi-san asked me for a favor."

"You work too hard."

"I'm flattered that Natsuki thinks so." The former kaichou's lips quirked in a small smile as she rose from her seat and stepped over to the window, though she visibly made sure to keep a polite distance from the other girl. "Have you been here long?"

Natsuki shook her head. "No," she muttered, and hated the distance between them, even if she didn't know if that hate was for the physical or the emotional kind of distance. "Just a few minutes. Sorry if I woke you up."

"You didn't." She watched that damnable lock of chestnut hair waft in the breeze from the open window; taunting her as Shizuru turned her face into the wind. "In any regard, I suppose it is somewhat rude of me to fall asleep during such a festive time."

Their eyes met briefly, and the pain in the red eyes that Shizuru couldn't quite hide made her have to look away. "I guess."

Dammit, Kuga, you're hurting her all over again. She tracked her gaze around the room and watched as the sunset painted the walls in a fiery display of oranges and reds; almost painfully conscious of the presence at her side and the faint hint of lilac that drifted over to her. You have the power to fix this – to put a stop to it – so do it already!

But just the thought of saying goodbye made her throat close up.

"Natsuki?"

Hesitantly, she looked up, and flinched inwardly as she saw the worried look aimed her way.

Why do you care so much?

Shizuru blinked, and Natsuki clapped a hand over her mouth as she realized that she'd spoken the wistful question out loud.

"Because I love you."

She sighed and shoved her hand into her pocket. "That simple, huh?"

"Yes. That simple." Shizuru gave her a small, sad smile and folded her own hands in front of her. "And that complicated."

Her hand closed almost instinctively around the ribbon in her pocket, and she rubbed her thumb against the smooth silk as she studied her feet in silence. She couldn't keep hurting her most important person like this. It wasn't fair to Shizuru if she had to constantly be happy with what Natsuki herself was willing to give; that was something that had been going on for far too long already, which the ribbon was a stark reminder of.

But if she couldn't stop this vicious dance by pushing Shizuru away completely, then she really only had one other option.

Pull her in. Hold her close. Give her everything she had.

Never let go.

The question was... could she do that? She lifted her head and met Shizuru's eyes again, studied the affectionate, soft look in them that the older girl seemed to do nothing to hide. It was a scary thought.. the idea of opening herself so completely to someone else.

A thought occurred to her. Was that... was that what made her so afraid of Shizuru? Because admittedly, if she was going to make herself so vulnerable to another person, who was a more likely candidate?

Again, there was a pang in her chest. But this time, she realized with some surprise, it didn't hurt.

The wind blew that damned, stray lock of hair in front of Shizuru's eyes, and the older girl raised a hand to brush it aside.

"No." She straightened - determined - and stopped the hand with her own. "I..." Her hand shook again as she lifted it up further, but this time, she pushed through her fear and caught the soft hairs on her own fingers.

And watched the crimson eyes widen almost imperceptibly as she gently settled the tawny strands behind her friend's ear.

"... there," she muttered, and knew that she was blushing badly.

"... ookini." To say that Shizuru looked surprised would be an understatement. There was the faintest of confused furrows in her brow, and her lips were slightly parted as she seemed to struggle with a question. "Natsuki, what..."

What are you doing?

She wasn't entirely sure of that herself.

"Shizuru." She felt her own hands tremble, and settled them on the other girl's shoulders to steady them. "I..."

I'm scared.

"I don't..." Hesitantly, she lifted one hand and traced lightly shaking fingers over her friend's cheek. "You..."

You already have so much power over me. And here I am... about to give you even more.

She sighed through her teeth, frustrated at her inability to explain, and watched her own palm come to rest against the side of Shizuru's face. Her eyes flicked up and met another pair, and she bit her lip as a hand tenderly covered her own. There was still a small spark of uncertainty in the red gaze – as if Shizuru wasn't quite sure what was going on – but more than that, there was support. Understanding. Affection.

Hope.

"I just..." She couldn't let that hope burn out. "I don't want you to hurt anymore. So..."

"... Natsuki?"

Her fingers clutched at the material that covered Shizuru's shoulder, and she noticed how the red light of sunset deepened the color of her eyes and made her fair hair glow. "Please, just..." A small step forward, and she could feel the faint, brushing contact against her own chest as Shizuru's breath hitched. "Just... please..."

Please don't leave me.

Soft. That was the first thought in her mind when their lips met tentatively – the lightest brush of skin against skin. Almost fearful; like the trembling hands that came to rest on her hips, then slowly slipped further as arms wrapped gently around her waist. Shizuru's eyes had already closed, and she let her own do likewise... let her hand slide back to feel the soft hair... let her own arm circle the older girl's shoulders.

And just felt.

Oh, God... Her heart seemed to be trying to leap right out of her throat, and her knees almost gave out. Her head was swirling with thoughts. Doubt. Her life had just become a mass of whirling, terrifying chaos all over again.

But she'd never felt safer.

Wetness met her hand where it still lay against Shizuru's cheek, and she heard a soft whimper as she pulled back and gently wiped the tear away. Whether the whimper had come from Shizuru or herself, she didn't know.

"I need... some time," she murmured into the shoulder her face was resting against. "Can you give me that?"

"Of course." A cheek brushed against her temple, and she felt the arms around her waist hold her a little closer. "Natsuki can have all... all the time she needs." The faint, warm moistness of a shaky exhale washed over her ear. "But... could we stay like this for a little while longer?"

"... yeah." She tightened her own hold and could almost feel Shizuru's heart thump painfully against her own chest. "I'd like that."

xXxXx

End notes:
Yeesh, that took a lot out of me. I'd better not mention to my brothers how much my own writing can affect me, because they give me plenty of flack for crying during Dumbo.

"Aww! Does poor wittle big sis wanna tissue?" Brats. Love 'em. ^^ If anybody else needs a little pick-me-up, I recommend listening to Fascination by Alphabeat. Both the song and the video are marvelously goofy and cheerful.