Knowing what she knew now, Shizuru found it astonishingly easy to apologize to Natsuki. In fact, she did it again and again: she apologized for the rage and destruction, for the secrets kept, for the heat of her passion that had led her to fight with such blind and unreasoning fury. Natsuki accepted all the apologies, and that was when Shizuru thought that everything that had happened was for the better, even though having her secrets wrested from her had hurt like nothing else, had left her wounded and lashing out at the one she loved. That was when she thought maybe she wasn't dirty and wrong. Maybe this love was--not pure, never pure, but acceptable. Maybe it was something that could grow and blossom.

That was the easiest part. It was harder to walk by Nao in the halls, and shameful to be grateful that graduation--and Nao's own change of heart--would soon separate the two of them. The problem was that change of heart. Nao forgave. Shizuru could take that from Natsuki because she could take anything from Natsuki (except, perhaps, the tiny hints that maybe there was something else there than their old friendship--that was exultantly terrifying and also a story for another day). But Nao was a stranger she wronged, and Shizuru wanted to take that consequence onto herself. She wanted to hide it, as she once hid her feelings. But there was no more hiding. The curtains she relied upon so much were torn wide open.

With Haruka, Shizuru lacked even the comfort of knowing that graduation would separate them. They both planned to attend the same university. Haruka herself did not realize it yet, because such headstrong action was her style, but Shizuru paid attention to small details, and she had been aware of it for some time. Before, she had considered it a useful coincidence: she would be able to maneuver Haruka into doing work for her at university just as she had before at Fuuka Academy. Now things would be different. She could no longer be Haruka's oblivious overlord. She had to be something else--a true rival, perhaps, or worse, a friend. She had to make up for what she had done. That was not negotiable.

Perhaps the change that took hold of her dreams wasn't the worst thing, but it was the most frightening. In some ways, of course, they did not change. She dreamed of Natsuki as she always had, Natsuki smiling, Natsuki blushing, Natsuki in various states of undress. But before she had been a passive observer, hiding in the shadows, watching faithfully and soundlessly. Now she stood before Natsuki painfully visible, with her perfect clothes torn and in disarray. Natsuki could see her wounds; Natsuki could see where the truth leaked out of her lies.

They might, someday, peel the lies away and replace it with a new truth. But those wounds would heal into scars, and those would remain forever. Shizuru could not yet decide if it was worth it. It was terrifying to do so, but she trusted Natsuki to help her find the answer.