A/N: Hi everyone! I know it's been quite a while (and by quite, I mean a ridiculously long while) since I've last updated this story. I'm sorry for making you all wait for so long. I got a bit caught up with school and other boring life stuff like that, but I want you to know that I have every intention of finishing this story. It may take many, many years (with any luck not), but I will pull it off!
Thank you to everyone whose stuck with this story for so long, and big thanks to those who continue to review and PM me in the hopes that I update. I am really honored to have such a committed group of readers!
This chapter is a bit of a detour from the case that Natsuki and Shizuru had been working on, but for all those who like the crime solving aspect of this story: rest assured that it'll pick up again in later chapters.
Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoy it! :D
Chapter #9: Sudden Adjustments
"Mai!" Natsuki exclaimed in an exasperated tone. "I've been shot, not paralysed. I can get into the car by myself."
Natsuki and Mai were standing in the Garderrobe Agency parking lot - an air of apprehension surrounding them. After a week in the infirmary, Natsuki was finally being released. Natsuki swallowed hard as she considered her situation. She was relieved to finally get to go home. But it was where her definition of 'home' had suddenly shifted to that was panic-inducing.
The redhead scowled in response, but stood back and gave Natsuki her space nevertheless. The navy haired woman suppressed a grimace as she gently lowered herself into the car before her. Pain tore through her left side, but after spending seven days with a hole in her side she was almost accustomed to its presence.
Mai waited until Natsuki was inside before gently closing the car door behind her. Then she made her way around to the driver's side - climbing in with ease that came dangerously close to making Natsuki jealous. "So," Mai began with a familiar sparkle in her eyes, "to Viola-san's?"
Natsuki almost winced at the familiar name. "Obviously," she replied with a hint of a malice in her voice.
"Alright... grumpy," Mai replied with an amused smile. She turned the key in the ignition and eased the car out of the parking lot. As the two hit their first red light, Mai slowed the car to a stop and Natsuki shifted uncomfortably under her seat-belt. The silence between the two women was almost suffocating. The discomfort grew until Mai couldn't take it any more.
"...Can you please just say what ever it is you need to get out?"
"How could you do this?" Natsuki snapped. "I have to live with her now. This is all on you."
"Are you even listening to yourself?" Mai replied with a raised eyebrow. "How dare I make plans for you to temporarily live with the woman of your dreams. What could I have possibly been thinking?"
"Mai!" Natsuki growled. "And I think calling her the woman of my dreams is a bit of a stretch," she added as an afterthought.
"Really?" Mai questioned. "Cause she's the woman of my dreams. If I hadn't run into your new director on the way out, I may have seriously questioned my sexuality after meeting her."
"Oh God." Natuski wrinkled her nose in disgust but couldn't suppress a smile. "Don't get your hopes up, Mai. He may have a daughter." Her mind flashed back to Director Wong's office, and the picture of him with a small, navy-haired girl on his desk.
"But does he have a wife?" Mai asked – seemingly unfazed by this new information.
"I'll leave that up to you to find out," Natsuki replied in a mildly amused tone. Her slight smile faded when her mind snapped back to the current situation. With a hefty groan, she tilted her head back against her seat.
"What!?" Mai snapped. "You are killing me here."
"Do you know how embarrassing this is?" Natsuki demanded. "I can't even walk straight. I have my own special toilet seat for God's sake! I don't want Shizuru to see me like this." She was referring to the plastic seat with handles to help her get from a sitting position to a standing one. It was currently stashed in the trunk of Mai's car.
Mai briefly turned to give Natsuki an unamused look. "You're worried about a toilet seat? The great Kruger Natsuki will take a bullet for you any day – just don't ask her to squat over anything other than porcelain."
"This isn't funny!" Natsuki exclaimed. Mai raised an eyebrow in response but said nothing. Natuski considered the other woman's statement for a few seconds. When Mai put it like that, it did sound a bit ridiculous. Natsuki quickly turned away so that the red-head wouldn't see the corner of her mouth turning up into a smile.
"Seriously Natsuki, stop freaking out," Mai said with a laugh. "Everything is going to be just fine."
Natsuki said nothing in response and turned to look out the passenger window.
"Geez," Mai mumbled, "you used to have so much game. Now you're just acting like a lovestruck teenager.
"Just drive," Natsuki growled.
"This can't be the right street," Natsuki stated as she and Mai scanned the rows of houses on either side of them. There was no chance that Shizuru would be able to afford any of the houses they had passed so far. Elite agents were paid well, but not that well.
"It is according to what Viola-san wrote down," Mai replied. "Number 226." Natsuki felt her stomach knot even tighter when Mai pulled the car into the driveway of a gorgeous two-story house. "...Wow." Mai commented when the car had come to a stop. The light gray house before them almost looked like something off of the cover of a real-estate magazine. White pillars lined the front porch, both for effect and support of the second-floor balcony above them. There was even a white picket fence lining the front yard.
Natsuki leaned forward a little to take in the full effect of the house. "How the hell can she afford something this big?" "Mai..." Natsuki began. "Do you think Shizuru is..."
"Filthy rich?" Mai finished for her. "Judging by both her wardrobe and house, Viola-san is either rich or very much in debt."
"Because she wasn't intimidating enough before," Natsuki thought to herself spitefully. "Well," she forced herself to speak, "I guess we should get a move on." She refused to allow the fact that she would be living with Shizuru sink in any further; her heart was pounding hard enough as it was.
"Right," Mai agreed. "Stay there, I'll come get you."
Before Natsuki could protest, Mai had unbuckled her seat belt and was out of the car. The redhead jogged around to the passenger side and opened Natsuki's door for her. Natsuki bit back a frustrated sigh as she let Mai help her out of the car. "Arigato, Mai," she muttered. She tugged at her shirt as she straightened up. "Not just for right now. For helping me pack up all my stuff and taking me here." At the moment, bending over to lift moving boxes seemed practically impossible, and the painkillers that she was on meant she wasn't allowed to drive. Even simple things like getting into a standing position from a sitting one seemed daunting.
"Natsuki," Mai chided with a playful grin. "Friends don't have to thank each other for stuff like this. Just like they don't have to apologize when they throw out your old pyjamas and replace them with sexy lingerie."
Natsuki's smile faded instantly. "You did what!?"
"Shall we?" Mai looped her arm around the navy-haired woman's neck and began guiding her to the door.
"Mai!" Natsuki growled. "Are you telling me that I didn't bring any pyjamas?!"
They reached the front door and Mai knocked on the front door before Natsuki could stop her. "No," Mai replied – her tone as care free as always. "You just have better ones."
"I cannot wear lingerie to bed in Shizuru's house!" Natsuki snapped - lowering her voice to a furious whisper in case Shizuru was near the door. "She's going to think I'm trying to... seduce her or something."
"You are trying to seduce her!" Mai replied in an equally hushed tone.
"No, I'm not!" Natsuki snapped. "...And those pyjamas had puppies on them!" Mai gave Natsuki a look and opened her mouth to reply. But before she could reply, the front door opened and both women quickly faced forwards as if nothing had happened.
When Shizuru pulled back the door, Natsuki instantly forget what she and Mai had been arguing about. Shizuru was dressed casually – in a pair of black tights and a long purple sweater – but Natsuki thought that she had never looked more gorgeous. "Hi," Natsuki spoke quietly.
Shizuru felt a smile tug at her lips as her eyes locked with Natsuki's. "Hi," she replied. It wasn't until Mai shifted on her feet that Shizuru snapped out of her daze. "It's nice to see you again, Tokiha-san," Shizuru added as she turned to smile at the red-headed woman.
"Likewise," Mai grinned. "Great house by the way."
"Ookini," Shizuru replied with a small laugh. She stepped back a little to let the two women inside. "Is there anything I can get for you before we start bringing in boxes?" Shizuru asked. "I could make some tea?"
"I'm fine, arigato," Mai replied. "I'm actually in a bit of a hurry. The drive back takes a couple of hours and my sadistic boss is making me work this weekend, so..."
"Of course," Shizuru nodded. "Feel free to make yourself at home, Natsuki." With that, she and Mai headed back towards the car to begin bringing in Natsuki's things. Shizuru barely had time to relish the way the words had slipped easily off her tongue before being handed a heavy box filled with clothing.
A few minutes later, the last box had been taken inside. Mai clapped her hands together with a satisfied sigh, as she examined the boxes strewn across Shizuru's front hallway. "Well, that's the last of them."
Shizuru nodded in agreement and wiped the thin line of sweat that had accumulated on her brow. "Perhaps I shouldn't have worn a sweater in this heat," Shizuru said with a laugh. Natsuki tried not to stare as Shizuru lifted her hair up behind her neck before letting it fall back down. The slight red tinge on the older woman's cheeks made it seem like she was glowing.
"I know what you mean," Mai agreed. She tugged up the sleeves of her own sweater in an effort to cool off. "Well Natsuki, I really do have to get going." The redhead wasted no time in walking over to Natsuki and gently tugging her off of the wall she was leaning on. "Go easy on Viola-san," she instructed as she pulled Natsuki into a fierce hug.
Natsuki hesitated before an amused smile formed on her face. She halfheartedly wrapped her arms around the redhead. Shizuru smiled as Natsuki's green eyes met hers. "Only if she goes easy on me," Natsuki replied with a grin. Shizuru was unable to suppress a small laugh. After a moment, Natsuki turned away from the mischievous glint in Shizuru's eyes and back to Mai. "And once again, arigato." Natsuki bent her head a bit closer to Mai and added quietly: "But don't think I've forgotten about the pyjamas."
Mai released Natsuki from her death grip with a grin "Viola-san," she said as she turned to walk over to Shizuru. "Anyone who can put up with Natsuki's grumpiness has my utmost respect."
"Ookini," Shizuru replied with a laugh. She was a little surprised when Mai pulled her into a small hug as well, but recovered quickly.
"Take care of her," Mai spoke softly in Shizuru's ear before pulling away.
"I'll do my best," Shizuru promised and Mai could tell from the look in her eyes that she really meant it. She held Shizuru's gaze for a long moment – long enough so she could be sure that Shizuru understood the true meaning of the moment – before heading for the front door.
Shizuru watched silently as Mai closed the door behind her. Though she barely knew the red-head, she knew that they had come to a new understanding. Mai had no choice but to return to Fuuka, so she was trusting Shizuru to care for Natsuki in her place. It was a great responsibility; Shizuru felt honoured.
After a moment's contemplation, Shizuru locked the front door behind her. She turned back to the navy haired woman in the front hall and hesitated. Now that Natsuki was here, Shizuru almost felt a little on edge. She was never one for opening up to other people. And having someone in her home – the one place where she let herself be vulnerable– was toying with her sense of security.
"Shizuru," Natsuki stated bluntly, "how can I get Director Wong to pay me as much as he's paying you?" She tilted her head up to glance at the winding staircase as the end of the hall – a small smile on her face. "I'm pretty sure your mortgage payments could end world hunger."
Shizuru's felt a grin form on her face when she registered what Natsuki had said. It was the sort of borderline tactless comment one only made with the people they were truly comfortable with. It was the sort of comment that clashed with the white picket fence and picturesque garden. Shattered the illusion of a showcase home so tidy it looked almost un-lived in.
With one comment Natsuki had pointed out everything ironic about how Shizuru had been living for the past five years - bluntly voicing the ridiculous nature of one woman living in a house that could hold ten. And for some reason, it was the most refreshing comment anyone had ever made upon seeing her home.
"I'm glad you're here, Natsuki," Shizuru replied softly. Natsuki's deep, green eyes regarded her silently and Shizuru realized that Natsuki was still waiting for some sort of explanation. "If you'll follow me, I'll show you to your room," she added quietly.
"That would be great," Natsuki replied - deciding not to press the issue. She moved a bit to the side so that Shizuru could brush passed her. The brunette headed towards the staircase and, after a moment, Natsuki followed behind her.
Shizuru paused to shove one of the boxes scattered around them to the side. Natsuki politely averted her gaze as Shizuru bent over in her tight black pants – a slight blush forming on her face. "Stay calm," Natsuki recited to herself like a mantra. She would have to get used to living in close proximity to the other woman as soon as possible. "Like I'll ever get used to it," Natuski couldn't help but think.
When Natsuki allowed herself to turn back, she realized that Shizuru was already halfway up the stairs. The navy-haired woman quickly hurried to catch up – only slowing when her injury restricted her to tackling the stairs at half-speed.
Shizuru glanced over her shoulder, sensing that the navy-haired agent wasn't behind her. She mentally kicked herself when she saw Natsuki gingerly taking the stairs one at a time. "Oh, Natsuki," Shizuru spoke breathlessly. "Let me help you." A couple of seconds later, Shizuru was at Natsuki's side.
Natsuki's expression changed from determined concentration to surprise when she registered what Shizuru had said. "Oh, no, I'm fine," she said with a forced laugh.
Shizuru raised an eyebrow, but said nothing in response. She studied the angry blush on the younger woman's face and felt a pang of guilt. "She's too proud to ask for help," Shizuru realized.
Natsuki watched as Shizuru visibly hesitated. "Really Shizuru," she added, "I'll manage. You're not going to always be there to help me get up the stairs." Her grip tightened on the dark mahogany railing as she used her upper body strength to move up a step. The movement put her on the same step as Shizuru and Natsuki tried desperately to ignore her close proximity.
Shizuru watched as Natsuki's strong arms wavered a little under the stress and she mentally cursed the younger woman for her stubbornness. Did she really expect to be at full strength after lying in a hospital bed for a week? "Natsuki," she spoke with quiet insistence, "put your arm around my shoulders."
Natsuki's breath hitched as she felt Shizuru's arm brush against her lower back and curl around her lower waist. The motion was obviously so that Shizuru could lift some of the weight for her, but Natsuki was not mentally prepared for Shizuru's thumb rubbing circles into her right side. Natsuki bit her lower lip to stop herself from moaning aloud. Oh god. The touch burned into her skin.
The small movement was meant to be encouraging, but when Natsuki stiffened Shizuru pulled back suddenly. "Did I hurt you?" she asked in a panicked voice.
"Subtle," Natsuki congratulated herself sarcastically. "No. I guess I'm just a bit ticklish," she replied sheepishly.
"Kanin na," Shizuru laughed. Natsuki hesitantly wrapped her left arm around Shizuru's shoulders and Shizuru's grip around Natsuki's waist tightened reflexively.
"Calm," Natsuki chanted as Shizuru leaned into her to get more leverage. The smell of Shizuru's shampoo was almost intoxicating. "Stay calm."
Shizuru bristled a bit as Natsuki's arm grazed her neck, but quickly recovered. With a joint effort, the two women carefully made their way to the top of the stairs. Natsuki would never admit it, but having Shizuru support half of her weight definitely made things easier. "Arigato," Natsuki said - pulling her arm back from Shizuru like the older woman was on fire. Shizuru responded with a small smile and retracted her arm as well.
"Wow," Natsuki commented as she looked around the upper story of the house. A long hallway extended to her left, and an open concept area to her right. From what Natsuki could see, Shizuru had used the wide open space to set up a home gym. There was a treadmill, exercise bike and a set of weights against the far wall. A bit closer were quite a few interesting looking weapons – as beautiful as they appeared to be deadly. "Kind of like Shizuru," Natsuki couldn't help but think. A thick mat lined the floor to prevent injury and in the centre of the room hung a punching bag that had obviously seen its fair share of use. "I would love to have something like this set up at home," she commented wistfully.
"Please feel free to use it anytime," Shizuru replied with a smile. "With any luck in a week or two you'll feel more up to it. Just promise me that you won't try anything you're not ready for."
"A week or two?" Natsuki repeated with a furrowed brow. Would she really be staying at Shizuru's for that long? "Shizuru, I really don't want to inconvenience you. In a couple more days or so..."
"Natsuki," Shizuru cut the shorter woman off with a hand on her shoulder. Natsuki's green eyes met hers before briefly glancing down at the hand on her shoulder. Shizuru quickly pulled her hand away again – as if she hadn't really realized she was touching Natsuki until that moment. The older woman could feel her cheeks start to uncharacteristically burn. "You can stay as long as you need to, Natsuki."
Natsuki watched as the brown-haired woman averted her gaze and seemed to look at everything but her. "I'm sure if Nao were here she'd make some joke about lesbians and u-hauls," she replied with a grin.
A smile turned up at the corners of Shizuru's mouth and Natsuki's grin widened. "Ara," Shizuru replied with a sparkle in her eye, "I'm afraid we are setting a bit of a record, aren't we?"
"Yeah," Natsuki laughed. "Usually there's anywhere from one to two dates beforehand."
Shizuru's melodic laugh seemed to echo in the open space. If she had been talking to any other woman she was attracted to, she would have responded with a teasing: "Well, let's see what we can do about that" or at the very least "What a novel idea." She would have sold it with a playful smirk, prolonged eye contact, and maybe even some flirtatious touching. But with Natsuki doing any of those things felt... wrong. Cheap somehow to use tactics that she'd used on women before. Natsuki was so much more than that, Shizuru told herself. "Or maybe you're just afraid she'll say 'no'," Shizuru added as an afterthought. Her stomach tightened painfully as she considered that the truth was probably a mixture of both options.
"So, what do people say when they see your... arsenal?" Natsuki asked her curiously. She gestured to the weapons in the corner. "They're gorgeous, but they're not exactly low-profile."
"You mean how do I convince my dates that I'm not a serial killer without letting onto the fact that I'm a secret government operative?" Shizuru asked in an amused tone.
"Well, okay," Natsuki laughed, "if you want to put it bluntly."
Shizuru allowed a slow smile creep across her face. Natsuki took one look at the mischievous look in her eyes and knew she was in for it. "You forget your training Kruger-san," Shizuru drawled. "You're making an assumption."
Natsuki did all she could to stop her heart from pounding out of her chest when Shizuru tilted her head a little to the side. "And what would that be?" she replied with a raised eyebrow.
"Most women I bring home never make it upstairs."
Natsuki felt her face flush a bright red as she realized the implications of her statement. Mental images of Shizuru sprawled out on the soft carpet in her living room assaulted her mind. The image was replaced with one of Shizuru spread out on the large couch – her face flushed with exertion. Natsuki blinked a few times as she desperately tried to clear the images from her mind.
Shizuru burst out laughing at the stunned look on Natsuki's face. "I'm kidding, Natsuki," she managed to gasp out as she regained a perfectly straight face.
Natsuki desperately tried to ignore the tingling feeling that crept down her torso. She forced a cocky grin onto her face. "I did kind of figure that."
"Usually my conquests don't make it up the driveway," Shizuru deadpanned. With that, she brushed passed Natsuki and headed down the hallway.
"Sh...Shizuru!" Natsuki managed to get out. She couldn't suppress the grin on her face. Shizuru felt an irrepressible smile tug at her lips as well. "Geez," the navy-haired woman laughed, "remind me not to go anywhere near the big couch you have down there. Or the front steps." She took a couple steps toward the brown-haired agent.
"Ara," Shizuru commented as she opened the second door on the left. "If that's how you feel about it, I should probably warn you to stay away from the coffee table as well."
"Agent Viola!" Natsuki exclaimed. Shizuru's teasing comments were not helping Natsuki slow her heart rate back down to normal.
"And the beautiful mantle on top of the fire-place," Shizuru added – completely unable to resist.
"Oh God," Natsuki laughed. Shizuru pushed the door open the rest of the way and gestured for Natsuki to step inside the room. Her sparkling red eyes didn't leave Natsuki's. "Are you finished?" Natsuki asked with a raised eyebrow. She paused in the doorway, not fully realizing how close she was to the brown-haired woman until she turned to face her.
"Well," Shizuru added with a slight wince, "there was that time on the kitchen counter..." she trailed off with a smirk as Natsuki's grin widened.
"Now that's just unsanitary," Natsuki replied playfully. It had been a long time since anyone had made her blush like a hormonal teenager. Maybe it was the medication but she was even starting to feel a little light-headed.
Shizuru let a look of realization play across her face. She lowered her voice to a slow drawl. "Is that why she kept telling me what a dirty, dirty..." The sound of the doorbell chiming cut her off mid-sentence and made both women jump. Natsuki's entire body tensed, sending a searing pain through her side. She bit back a cry of pain and managed to resume a neutral facial expression before Shizuru noticed.
"Ara," Shizuru said with a little sigh. She glanced over in the direction of the front door as if she could see through the floor and stairs in her way. "Well, maybe some things are better left to the imagination," she said with a devilish grin forming on her face.
Natsuki was well aware of the fact that Shizuru was trying to see just how red she could get the younger agent's face to go. Her thoughts were momentarily brought back to Mai telling her that she used to have game. "I really did at one point. Before Shizuru appeared, anyway," Natsuki reminded herself. She held onto that thought as she let loose a small laugh, then covered her mouth as though it had betrayed her. "I'm sorry," she said while halfheartedly trying to suppress a grin. "I'm just enjoying the fact that you think sex on a kitchen counter is kinky. It's..." Natsuki searched for the perfect word, and her smiled widened when she found it. "...sweet really."
Shizuru's eyes widened a little as she took a step closer. "Ara," Shizuru couldn't help but think, "So that's how you want to play this?" "Oh really?" She spoke - trying to appear as unamused as possible, but the irrepressible smile on her face gave away her true feelings on the manner. "Sweet," she repeated – emphasizing the word as if it tasted bad on her tongue. "I certainly haven't gotten that one before."
"Really?" Natsuki asked with a pensive frown. "Innocent maybe?" The cocky smirk on her face made Shizuru inhale a shaky breath. The older woman almost forgot to respond with a dramatic, scorned expression.
"There was nothing innocent about it," Shizuru hissed. Her crimson eyes seemed to flash as she took a step toward Natsuki. "I'll have you know there were spatulas involved." she blurted out the first kitchen object to come to mind. The statement was intended to make Natsuki lose her composure and Shizuru watched in delight as the younger agent let the statement play around in her head. Natsuki's confident smirk twitched a little - a valiant effort to recover from the shock - before bursting into a fit of laughter. Shizuru followed soon after and soon the two women were blinking back tears.
"I don't even know how to process that," Natsuki managed to get out between laughs. The laughter dug into her side painfully, but she had no problem ignoring it.
The doorbell rang again, surprising them both. "I really should get that," Shizuru said with a smile that Natsuki thought was the most genuine smile she had even seen Shizuru give. The brown-haired woman quickly walked out of the room and down the stairs. A moment later, Natsuki heard the front door open. She turned back to her room and took a good look around. Like the rest of the house, it looked like a page from the home decor magazine Natsuki had been forced to read while trapped in the infirmary. The beige walls were accented by dark wood furniture and a light golden-brown bedspread. There were ornate lamps on the nightstands lining the large bed, and beautiful pictures of sakura trees on the walls. Natsuki opened the closet door to find a roomy walk-in closet, and the bathroom had both a small bathtub and shower.
The sound of laughter drew Natsuki's attention away from the room. Shizuru and whoever was at the door seemed to be having a good time talking. Natsuki stepped out of the bathroom and made her way to the bedroom door just in time to hear an exchange of pleasantries as Shizuru closed the door. When Shizuru began climbing the stairs, Natsuki quickly ducked back into the room.
"Kanin na," Shizuru offered with a smile as she re-entered the bedroom. The brown-haired woman glanced around the room and looked as if she was about to say something.
"Who was at the door?" Natsuki asked before the other woman could speak. Her curiosity was getting the better of her.
"One of my neighbours just saw my car in the driveway and stopped by to say hello," Shizuru replied. "Just a bit of pleasant small talk." Natsuki regarded the older woman quietly. Shizuru didn't seem to want to say anything more about the matter.
"Oh," Natsuki replied - nodded in understanding. "That's nice." It took a bit of effort to make her tone match the statement. The two women stared at each other for a moment. The playful energy from before dissipated as their conversation took a more formal turn.
"Is your room to your liking?" Shizuru asked.
"Oh, yeah," Natsuki answered honestly, "it's gorgeous. Arigato."
"I'm glad that you like it," Shizuru replied. "I'll get your boxes so you can start unpacking." She stepped out of the room before Natsuki could reply.
Half an hour later, Natsuki had finished unpacking. She was in the process of collapsing empty cardboard boxes when there was a polite knock at her bedroom door. Natsuki turned around to find Shizuru leaning against the door frame.
"Hi," Natsuki said with a contagious grin. She had no idea how Shizuru had managed it, but Natsuki hadn't even heard her walk up the stairs.
"How is everything going?" Shizuru asked, her intelligent eyes observing the scene in front of her. The younger agent hadn't brought much with her. But unlike the majority of her house, the room finally looked lived in. A small smile crossed her lips when her eyes fell on the stuffed husky lying on Natsuki's bed.
"Great," Natsuki replied, "I think I'm finally..." she trailed off as she studied the look on Shizuru's face more closely. The older woman was looking intently at something just passed her right shoulder. "Hey!" she exclaimed. "Stop that."
"Hmm?" Shizuru spoke as her gaze snapped back to meet Natsuki's. "Stop what?"
"Studying my room like it belongs to a suspect," Natsuki replied with a slow shake of her head. "Don't give me that innocent look, Shizuru."
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," Shizuru said with wide eyes. "I simply came up here to ask what you would like me to make for dinner."
It was such a thoughtful, domestic sounding statement that Natsuki was a little caught off guard. "W...wait, you really don't have to cook for me, Shizuru," she said after a moment. "You've done more than enough for me already." She gestured at the bedroom to emphasize her point.
"Natsuki," Shizuru began with a slow smile. The younger agent felt her heartbeat speed up a little at the tone in her voice. For a moment, Natsuki allowed herself to believe that this was a typical workday. She and Shizuru had just driven home together, and Natsuki was in the process of unwinding. It wasn't unusual for them to cook for each other. "I don't think a place to stay while you recover can really compare to everything that you've done for..." Shizuru began.
Natsuki flushed angrily when she realized what Shizuru was about to say. "Stop," she said quietly. The brown-haired woman paused mid-sentence - her eyes searching Natsuki's. Shizuru's statement had ripped Natsuki from her fantasy world. "The last thing I want is for you to feel like you owe me something," Natsuki stated – anger tinting her words just enough to be audible. She didn't want Shizuru doing things for her just because she felt obligated. Things were confusing enough between them as it was.
"A...alright," Shizuru replied. The older woman was a little caught off guard. Did I say something offensive? "If you would prefer that I order something or..." she began slowly.
"No that's not what I...," Natsuki began – frustration evident in her voice and her features. "I'm... I'm sorry, I'm sure what ever you want to make will be great. Arigato."
Shizuru hesitated before turning and walking back out of the room. She paused in the doorway to say, "I'll let you know when it's ready then," before heading back downstairs. She paused at the foot of the stairs – her hand curling around the railing. The brown-haired woman was a little frustrated herself. Why won't she just let me take care of her? Would it be so bad to accept my help?
Upstairs, Natsuki gingerly sat down on the springy bed she'd been given. It was high enough that she didn't have much trouble, but that didn't stop the young agent from releasing a frustrated growl. She had been in Shizuru's house for less than a day and was already acting strangely. If Shizuru found out that Natsuki was attracted to her, it would put both women in a very awkward position. "If only I wasn't on these stupid painkillers," Natsuki thought to herself. They made it hard enough to think clearly, let alone control her body language, facial expressions and vocal intonations. Of course, it didn't help that Shizuru was an elite agent trained to decipher people's darkest desires.
A faint ringing sound snapped her out of her train of thought. Natsuki glanced around the room with a small frown on her face. It was her ring tone, but where exactly was her cell phone? Natsuki carefully stood up from the bed and followed the sound down the hallway. When she peered down the stairs, she saw Shizuru pick up her cellphone from a small table by the front door.
"Sorry, that's mine," Natsuki said sheepishly.
Shizuru turned to look up at her with a smile on her face. "I believe your mother is calling you, Natsuki," she said with a laugh. Quickly she jogged up the stairs and dropped the cellphone into Natsuki's waiting hands.
"Arigato," Natsuki said as she flipped open the phone. "Mom?" she asked.
"Oh, finally Natsuki," her mother's voice rang through the phone. Her disapproving tone instantly made the navy-haired woman nervous. "Where are you, honey? It's late."
"What?" Natsuki replied - a frown forming on her lips. "What do you mean, where am I? I'm just... enjoying a relaxing night in."
"Well, I've been knocking on your apartment door for five minutes now, and it sure seems like no one is home," her mother replied. Natsuki's gaze snapped up from a spot on the floor she had been fixating on.
"What?!" Natsuki demanded. The shock in her voice caused Shizuru to pause in her descent back down the stairs. "You're in Garderrobe?! Right now?!" Shizuru's eyes widened a little when she heard the panic in Natsuki's voice.
"Yes, I'm in Garderrobe," her mother replied in an annoyed tone. "Natsuki, did you change addresses and not tell me? I came all the way down here to surprise you. We always said that one day I'd have to come down and stay the weekend."
"Yeah, we said that mom, but we never made any plans," Natsuki replied frantically.
"Natsuki, it's just a casual visit," her mother replied. "Look, honey, I'll get over it if your apartment is a mess. Aren't you at least going to let me in?"
There was silence on Natsuki's end. The younger agent opened her mouth as if to say something, but nothing came to mind. An uncomfortable moment passed.
"Don't you want to see me?" her mother asked. There was no understanding in her voice, and Natsuki couldn't blame her. Why, of all weeks, did she pick this one?
"...Of course I want to see you mom, I just..." Natuski began, but had no way to finish the sentence. Her hand subconsciously reached for her injured side. Shizuru noticed the gesture and swallowed hard. Natsuki's mother knew nothing about her being shot, much less what she did for a living. There was a long pause as Natsuki's mind tried frantically to work out some sort of solution to the mess she had been thrown into. The pause was too long. Shizuru quickly closed the gap between the two of them and gestured for Natsuki to hang up. Natsuki hesitated before giving a small nod of her head. "Mom, I'm really sorry but I've got to call you back. I'll just be a minute." Before her mother could protest, she snapped the phone shut.
With trembling hands, Natsuki lowered the phone. Her heart was pounding in her chest, but she was too frantic to bother trying to slow it back to normal. "Shizuru..." Natsuki began – her voice pleading. Her thoughts were racing too quickly for rational thought. "...my mother is in Garderrobe, outside of my apartment. She's waiting for me to let her in." The younger agent ran a hand anxiously through her long before continuing. "I have no way of explaining why I'm not there and if she finds out I got shot then she's going to want answers. Like why I decided not to tell her about it. And it's not like I can tell her what I do for a living."
"Alright," Shizuru stated, keeping her voice calm for Natsuki's sake. "You've bought us a few minutes anyway, so let's think this through." She placed a hand on Natsuki's shoulder so the younger woman would look at her. When Natsuki's green eyes finally met hers, Shizuru held her gaze. "I know that this is personal, but we've handled far more delicate situations than this. We can work this out, Natsuki."
"I know," Natsuki said with a nod of her head. "I know," she repeated, "I'm just having a bit of trouble..." she trailed off as she lifted a hand to her head. She exhaled slowly and started to organize her thoughts. "Okay, my mother expects me to be at my apartment."
"Are enough of your things still there to make it seem lived in?" Shizuru asked. "You could say that you worked late and are just getting home now."
"It looks a bit bare, but I could probably make it work," Natsuki replied as she tried to remember how her apartment had looked when she left. "My main concern is explaining why I can't drive. And why I can't move properly."
"Alright," Shizuru murmured after a moment's consideration. "What if you got into a slight car accident on the way home from work? You can leave the car at my house and tell your mother it's being repaired. Your side was injured in the crash."
"My mom's going to demand to see the injury," Natsuki replied. "I don't know how I'm going to explain such a...precise injury with a car crash. And even if I manage to keep her from taking off the bandages, the location of the wound isn't exactly characteristic of a car accident."
"You're right," Shizuru replied – her mind working furiously. "What about medical reasons? You could tell her that you've just had your appendix removed. The painkillers you're on prevent you from driving, so you had me - a friend from work – drive you home from the hospital."
"My mom had hers out a few years ago, so she'll know the wound placement is wrong," Natsuki replied with a shake of her head.
"Of course she did," Shizuru replied with a sigh. She brushed her hair back in a smooth motion as she considered their options. "I think we're approaching this the wrong way," she said finally. "It seems to me that the main problem we're running into is an explanation of your injury. So the best solution would be one in which your mother fails to notice it entirely."
"Agreed," Natsuki replied after a short pause. "But how are we going to manage that? I'm not exactly agile at the moment. And there's just too much to explain."
"I'm afraid it wouldn't be the most tactful solution, but is there any way that you can send her back home?" Shizuru asked. "The only way we can be sure that she won't notice your injury is if she doesn't see you at all."
"It's almost seven though," Natsuki replied. "It'll get dark out before she makes it halfway home. And I think she was probably planning on staying over for the weekend. If I tell her I have plans or that I have to work late, she's just going to want to wait in my apartment until I get home."
"Of course," Shizuru replied – a little embarrassed that what Natsuki was saying hadn't occurred to her. "That makes sense." It had been so long since she'd had parents drop in for a casual visit. Her stomach clenched a little at the thought. "If we can't send her back home then we're left with..."
"Distraction," Natsuki finished for her. "We effectively blind her by either confirming something that she fears or giving her something that she wants." She paused to consider what she had just suggested. "I guess I've never really thought about it before, but my mom is the sort of person who I would consider a prime candidate for something like this. Easily excitable, prone to overreacting."
"Alright," Shizuru replied with a nod. "Since this is after all your mother, I think it may be kinder to use desire instead of fear. Though if we're taking this approach, I don't think it's a one person job. If we can find a way to work me into the situation I can help you get around the house, drive you places, distract your mother while you change your bandages."
"Okay," Natsuki replied in an excited tone. "That could work, but what will we distract her with, and more importantly how will we work you into the situation?"
"Well, we need some sort of sustainable lie to enact. The simplest way I can think of doing that is by giving you something that she wants for you. That way we avoid doing something like... pretending she's won the lottery only to admit days later that it was all a fraud. If the lie most directly affects you, then you can drag it out for as long as necessary and wrap it up cleanly when you're finished."
Natsuki nodded her head in agreement. What Shizuru was saying made a lot of sense.
"So what does your mother want for you or think you lack?" Shizuru asked. "Career success? Financial security? We could have a celebration for a big promotion you've just received. I could forget myself and drink so much that I have to stay the night on your couch, and in the morning we could make plans for the new day."
The thought if Shizuru playing the part of a tacky houseguest made Natsuki smile. The older woman seemed far too conscientious to ever do something socially awkward. But Natsuki knew that her mother wasn't exactly thrilled about her job with the temp agency. Unless Natsuki invented a new cover job, her mother probably wouldn't be happy enough for her; she knew Natsuki well enough to know that temp agency work could never lead to career satisfaction. "It's not going to work," Natsuki said with a shake of her head. "She doesn't want it enough."
"Then what does she want?" Shizuru prodded. "Out of everything in this world, what is the one thing she wants most for you?"
Natsuki's stomach tightened painfully into knots as it suddenly hit her. She knew exactly how to distract her mother from her injury. The idea made her tremble with nervous anticipation. "Natsuki?" Shizuru spoke softly. She watched as there was a noticeable change in Natsuki's features. The younger woman had looked anxious before, but the look on her face was more a fearful resignation now.
"What do all parent's want most for their children?" Natsuki asked quietly. It was a conscious effort to meet Shizuru's gaze without flinching. Shizuru gave her a soft, questioning look in response. "Love," Natsuki spoke – the word barely making it out at all. "She wants me to find love."
There was a long pause as both women considered the implications of the statement. "Oh," Shizuru whispered. "Of...of course she does," she said with a nod of her head. "And your mother knows that you prefer women?"
"Yes," Natsuki replied – her stomach knotting even further. She could feel her cheeks starting to burn and took a deep breath to try and get things back under control.
"Good," Shizuru replied with a soft smile. She tentatively reached out to rest her hand on Natsuki's shoulder. Her hand rubbed gently against the side of the younger woman's neck to coax her into meeting her eyes. "Then you'll have love," Shizuru whispered.
Natsuki trembled under the touch but forced a small nod. Shizuru was looking at her so intensely that Natsuki had a hard time reminding herself that the older woman was playing a part. Shizuru slowly pulled her hand back.
"Now that we have a story, we need to embellish a little," Shizuru said with a smile. "Let's try and keep this as close to real life as possible for the sake of simplicity. We work together at the temp agency and met on your first day of work when I conducted your orientation."
"Okay," Natsuki nodded. Her attentive gaze faltered a little as Shizuru continued speaking.
"We began dating three days after meeting, and you occasionally stay over at my house. I'll offer to put your mother up for the night since my house has more room than your apartment. That should ensure I stay in the picture. Our relationship will also give me an excuse to be physically close enough to you to aid in your movement..." Shizuru trailed off a little as she saw the hesitation on Natsuki's face. "Are you alright, Natsuki?" she asked with a frown.
"Are you sure that you want to do this?" Natsuki almost blurted out. "I don't want to make things awkward for you or..."
"Natsuki," Shizuru cut the younger woman off, "we'll both treat this as if it were an assignment. Considering how serious it would be if your mother found out about our line of work, it really may as well be. Alright?" Shizuru asked - her voice full of expectation.
Natsuki considered her statement. It would be a severe breach of protocol if her mother found out. It was possible to put forward a motion to tell someone the basics about their work, but it took months to put through the paperwork. The process involved a psychological profiling of the person under consideration for disclosure and even a few legal contracts. But such procedures were usually reserved for spouses only. It had never even really occurred to Natsuki to bother telling her mother. In fact, considering how dangerous her job was, it seemed like a particularly bad idea to tell her.
"...Okay," Natsuki replied. Her mouth was so dry the word barely made it out. Was Shizuru's heart pounding as fast as hers was?
"If we're going to be successful we're going to have to seem comfortable with intimacy," Shizuru added quietly. By this point she was so far out of her comfort zone that her training was near forgotten. Her cheeks took on a slight red tinge as she spoke, "I just want you to know that you have my permission to...act intimate with me. To..." Shizuru hesitated as the sound of her heart pounding in her ears got even louder. "...To touch me."
Natsuki was fairly certain she was about to pass out. D...did she just tell me to... The younger woman gave a small nod as she gulped almost audibly. For a moment she considered that Shizuru was just joking with her, but the look on the older woman's face was completely serious. "Of course she's being serious," Natsuki reminded herself. "This is essentially an undercover operation. Nothing more, nothing less."
"Y..yeah," Natsuki stuttered in response. "Same here." Her green eyes locked with Shizuru's. "Just another case, right?" she said with a forced laugh.
Shizuru nodded and forced a small laugh herself. "Of course." Natsuki's gaze made her feel as if she were completely transparent. The younger woman had probably already picked up on how flustered she was. "How could she not?" Shizuru asked herself bitterly. The brown haired woman held the younger agent's gaze for a couple more seconds - just to prove that she could - before looking away. "We only have a few minutes to smooth out the details, being as true to ourselves as possible for realism's sake," she said, quickly changing the topic. "Which restaurants we frequent, the location of our first date..." she trailed off a bit as Natsuki nodded.
"Exactly," Natsuki replied nervously. "We have about five minutes to fabricate weeks of information. I guess most of the minor details will have to be improvised as we need them," she added with a forced shrug - as if she wasn't too concerned.
In reality, she was nothing short of terrified.
"Precisely," Shizuru agreed, "though there is one detail I've yet to figure out." It was something that had been bothering her for quite a while now - weeks even. Chance events had made it possible for her to ask what she had previously thought to be unaskable. But when Natsuki gave her a questioning look, and the older woman found herself hesitating; she had no guarantee that she would like the answer she received. She almost felt as if she were taking advantage of the situation when she finally asked, "If... if you were attracted to me, would you make the first move?" As soon as the words left her lips, she felt a rush of adrenalin surge through her veins. There.
Natsuki's eyes widened as she processed the blunt question. "W..what?" she stuttered. For a moment, she almost forgot the situation entirely. But what other reason would Shizuru have for asking such a question? "Um, s...sure," she forced out to fill the silence. She fought desperately to regain composure as she continued, "Why not?"
"Oh," Shizuru replied - her mouth so dry that her voice sounded husky. She felt a painful knotting sensation in her stomach when she realized the implications of the younger woman's words. If she did feel the same way, she would have already told me. Her reaction was so visceral that it completely caught her off guard. She had been rejected before, but nothing she had ever felt before came close to this.
"I mean...would you?" Natsuki asked - a sudden need to know surfacing inside her. She tried to clear her mind from the painkiller-induced haze so she could focus on Shizuru's response.
In the instant before Shizuru's expression turned neutral, Natsuki caught a moment of hesitation. "I don't see why not," the older agent replied quickly.
Natsuki felt her heart sink. "Then... that means...but why did she hesitate?" Natsuki asked herself. She considered it for a moment before she realized she was most likely holding onto false hope. She refused to meet Shizuru's gaze for the moment it took to refocus on the task at hand. "Why did you ask that?" She finally spoke.
"I was trying to decide what events we should say led up to our first date. It seems likely that your mother will ask," Shizuru replied. "Since we both appear to take matters into our own hands, we may as well say that you asked me out during lunch on your third day. We had dinner later on that night."
"That sounds good," Natsuki nodded. She let the sentence play over in head once more. It didn't sound very characteristic of her. Would her mother notice? Natsuki bit her lip nervously as she considered the situation. "Do you really think this is going to work, Shizuru?"
Shizuru studied the obvious worry on Natsuki's face. "Yes, I do," she replied confidently. It was forced, but Natsuki appeared to believe her. It occurred to Shizuru that the emotional reaction she herself was having was a bit ridiculous. She had infiltrated organized crime organizations after all. She was sure they were much less forgiving than both Natsuki and her mother.
"It's just..." Natsuki began, then paused to consider her word choice, "I don't usually date, per say." She had never been good with commitment or intimacy - actively distancing herself from those who sought either.
"Well, perhaps I'm a game changer," Shizuru snapped - a hint of ferocity surfacing in her voice. The moment the words left her lips, she regretted them. Their façade hadn't even begun and she was already letting her emotions get the better of her.
Natsuki looked a little startled by the outburst, but didn't respond.
Suddenly, her ring tone cut through the silence. The younger agent flipped the cover on her phone and glanced at the caller id. "It's her," she said simply.
"You should answer it," Shizuru replied - grateful for the distraction. "Explain the situation and provide her with my address. We'll be ready when she gets here." The confident words didn't entirely match the look on Shizuru's face.
Natsuki glanced down at her phone a second time and felt herself falter. This was her mother she was dealing with. It seemed so morally wrong to do what they were planning. To convince her mother that she and Shizuru were in love would be giving her mother what she wanted. But when Natsuki had to invent a story about the two women breaking up, her mother's fantasy would be obliterated.
Natsuki's fantasy would be obliterated.
Natsuki didn't know if she could handle coming so close to what she desperately wanted, only to have it ripped from her grasp. It was like the whole situation was some kind of cruel joke.
"I don't know if I can do this," she whispered. She felt her eyes start to moisten and bit her lip to stop tears from forming. Frustration tore through her - she couldn't even tell Shizuru why she was so opposed to their plan.
Shizuru saw the pleading look in Natsuki's eyes. Hesitantly, she reached out her hand and took Natsuki's in her own. She gave the younger woman a light squeeze. "Natsuki," she spoke softly, "I have faith in you."
Natsuki's hand tingled as Shizuru released her from her grasp. Shizuru's stare left Natsuki with no doubt that the older woman was telling the truth.
The words gave her the confidence she needed to press the small green button on her phone.
"Hello?" Natsuki spoke as she lifted the phone to her ear.
A/N: Thanks for reading! I hope you all liked it!
Reviews are very much appreciated! :D