I don't own these characters; Sunrise does.

A/N: this is the sequel to my story Reinforced Steel. Sorry for the wait. The rating will eventually go up, but probably not for the reasons you think. I do hope you enjoy the tale.

Playing with Mercury

1: Food for the soul

Natsuki Kruger, controlled and dignified principal of the famous Garderobe School for training Otome, was knocked out on her dark indigo pillow. She was lying flat on her back as if she had fallen out of the sky. A dopey, happy smile was spread across her peaceful face while a thin line of drool oozed out of her mouth. Her ebony hair was spilled around her, making her pale skin seem to glow in contrast. Sunrays poking in through the closed vertical blinds shone over her, and in them she had this almost ethereal, heavenly form. As usual, she appeared to be utterly adorable, especially to her bedmate.

Shizuru, Natsuki's beloved wife and right-hand in work as well as private life, was awake first, typical of her. Her shining ruby red eyes were locked on her snoozing wife. Adoration and love shone through her eyes so easily and in such abundance that a blind man would have been able to see it. A soft, contented sigh escaped her lips as she stared lovingly at her spouse.

Generally, at this point in the morning, the Third Column would have been all over her spouse, wanting to wake Natsuki with carnal ecstasy, but she was trying to wean herself off of that little habit. In the past, Natsuki always preferred to be given such a wake-up call, but Shizuru wanted to hold off for a couple of reasons.

The most important reason was that Natsuki had been taking special medications lately and they gave her mood swings—horrible, evil mood swings. Things that she often liked suddenly repulsed her and things that used to annoy her now brought her to tears. There did not seem to be any room for happiness with the medication either. Not very fun for Shizuru…or Natsuki for that matter. They were both going to be extremely joyful when Natsuki did not need to take the supplements anymore.

"Dearest Natsuki, working so hard for both of our sakes," Shizuru whispered, lightly stroking her beloved's cheek with gentle fingers. Her other hand floated down to Natsuki's stomach and lightly caressed her abdomen.

Leaning down, she lightly kissed Natsuki's parted lips, not minding the drool. After that, she rolled out of bed and went into her morning routine, which started with brushing her teeth. She then moved onto her morning chores. Ironing Natsuki's work clothing, she laid the gear out on the bed for Natsuki when she woke up. After that, she went to the serious work of making breakfast.

Ever since Natsuki started on her medication, there were specific things that she could not eat…most of which were things that she liked. Others were things that were common around the school. Natsuki had a special diet and despite all of the sacrifices that she was making, Shizuru was more than certain that if she did not keep a watchful eye on her spouse, Natsuki would ruin the diet. In fact, she had busted her spouse a couple of times trying to cheat. So, Shizuru kept a careful eye on her beloved and also made sure to follow the diet precisely whenever she prepared meals…not matter how much Natsuki begged her to bend the rules a little bit.

Being together for almost twelve years, happily married for one, Shizuru had taken upon herself to learn to cook sometime ago. There were a couple of reasons why she had learned to cook. One, she thought that it would be a good trait for a dutiful wife such as herself. Two, sometimes she would like to just stay at home with her beloved and have a decent, home-cooked meal alone. Natsuki was never to be trusted in a kitchen, having almost burnt one down from trying to boil water, so Shizuru had taken up the skill. Natsuki seemed to thoroughly appreciate the homemade meals, which made it very satisfying for Shizuru.

The year of married life seemed to agree with Shizuru and most thought that often enough to comment on it. It did not have anything to do with her cooking or ability in doing other chores. It was just that she had a glow to her. Her eyes seemed to be eternally bright now and her smiles were almost always genuine.

Shizuru was well aware of the shift within herself, but she did find the shift to be a bit strange and amusing. Their married life was not very different from their lives before they got married. They still had all of the same routines, same jobs, and most of the time their behavior was still the same…most of the time…until recently anyway.

Shizuru found that she had become more romantic since marrying Natsuki last year. Her behavior influenced Natsuki and Natsuki proved to be quite the romantic when she put her mind to it. Love notes were Natsuki's specialty. These started after Shizuru wrote a sonnet to her after their honeymoon. The principal had been so touched that she had to respond, writing a letter almost five pages long to her wife. Shizuru's rather…passionate reaction sealed the deal that Natsuki would be writing more love letters. Love letters were usually long and confessing her deep love whenever Shizuru was out on assignment. Whenever she was gone, those lifted her spirits. Sometimes, wherever she was stopped her from receiving the letters, but Natsuki would hold onto them and present them to her when she returned home. She liked those letters even more, letting her know that she was on her beloved's mind at all times, not just when she was reachable.

At home, Natsuki would leave little notes to Shizuru, just reminding her how much she loved her. These, Shizuru often answered back with little love poems of her own. Natsuki considered those poems the highlight of her day whenever she got one—much like Shizuru whenever she received her own letters.

Every now and then, Natsuki would surprise her wife with flowers too. She never needed a reason. In fact, if Shizuru asked her what was the occasion, she would always answer, "Because I love you." The Third Column often felt like swooning whenever Natsuki did such things. She hoped these bits of romance always existed in their relationship and was not just a side effect of their first years as a married couple.

Shizuru went to work around the kitchen, putting together breakfast for her beloved. As she was setting the table, Natsuki lumbered in, looking as flat as possible. Her hair was frizzed and it seemed like she did not wash her face. She had managed to crawl into her uniform, but even that seemed to fit on her funny. Shizuru thought that it might have to do with Natsuki sitting with such poor posture lately, but she doubted that was it. There was just an air of misery around Natsuki that seemed to affect everything about her.

"Good morning, dearest wife," Shizuru chirped as she came over to the table, putting down a cup of milk for the principal.

Natsuki groaned when she saw the beverage. "More milk? Can't I have some tea?" she begged.

"You know the caffeine isn't good for you right now," Shizuru reminded her wife. The look in those emerald eyes broke her heart. Natsuki had missed their tea times since being put on this accursed diet.

"Orange juice?" Huge, pouting emerald eyes turned to Shizuru, imploring her for anything but milk again.

"The acid is bad for you right now. Would you prefer water?" the tawny-haired woman offered.

"Yeah, with cola in it," Natsuki remarked in a grumbled voice, folding her arms across her chest like an upset toddler.

"Oh, sweetheart…" Shizuru stepped behind Natsuki and wrapped her arms around the grumpy female. She hugged her wife tightly and nuzzled her face in a warm, creamy neck. "It'll all be over soon. Just endure it for a little longer, please," she implored her strong spouse.

Natsuki nodded weakly. "I'll try…" she muttered, still sounding perturbed.

"Good girl," Shizuru cooed, gently kissing her wife's neck. "Would you like anything else with your breakfast?"

The angry principal shook her head. She turned her attention to her food and had to rub her face to help keep herself together. Yes, she did want something else with her breakfast.

"Can I have salt with my eggs?" Natsuki requested, even though she knew better. Every day, she hoped for a different answer.

"Natsuki!" Shizuru said sharply, more surprised than scolding, though. She knew that she could not reprimand Natsuki now. Not with those medications wreaking havoc on her hormones and emotions.

"Pepper?" The hope in her voice was gut-wrenching for the Graceful Amethyst.

Shizuru shook her head. "You know you can't have spices, even salt and pepper. The salt alone would slaughter your blood pressure and who knows what would happen after that. Please, just eat breakfast. Hopefully, soon you'll be off this diet."

Natsuki did not seem to be listening. Her lackluster eyes stared blankly at her breakfast, wishing that it was something else, something better. Her voice was small as she started to speak again.

"It's so bland, Shizuru. It's nothing like your usual cooking…" Natsuki commented.

"Oh, dearest heart, I promise you, as soon as this is all over, I'll make you a huge banquet," Shizuru vowed, rubbing her spouse's back with the hope that it would calm her down and get her to eat.

"Baby…mayo…?" Natsuki pled, her voice cracking.

Shizuru shook her head. "You know you can't."

"No mayo? What about Miracle Whip? It's not really mayo. It's salad dressing! It shouldn't count!" Natsuki was pretty much hysterical at this point. She turned to cling to her tawny-haired wife.

"Natsuki, sweetheart, please, calm down!" Shizuru worked to make sure Natsuki stayed in her seat and she did not get worked up.

"It shouldn't count…" The ebony-haired Second Column whimpered and then she burst out crying. The tears poured out of her eyes as if she was seriously wounded.

"Natsuki!" Shizuru wrapped her arms around Natsuki and embraced her, hugging Natsuki's head to her bosom. The younger woman continued to cry, even though she did not want to.

"Damn it, I can't stop. This is driving me nuts. It's making me impossible to deal with," Natsuki growled, now angry with herself more than her breakfast.

"It'll be over soon, sweetheart," was the soothing response.

"Do you know yesterday while I was talking to Miss Maria, she gave me the usual scolding and I burst into tears? She didn't know what to do and I couldn't stop!" the principal huffed, wiping her eyes, even though she was still weeping.

Shizuru chuckled a bit, but made sure to keep the sound low to avoid setting her poor spouse off again. She could just picture Miss Maria telling Natsuki off and then being caught off-guard when the tough, former biker principal burst into tears, even though Miss Maria knew the risk. Bless Miss Maria, though, because she had been trying her best to treat Natsuki normally, even though she knew all about the mood swings. Natsuki appreciated the gesture.

"Miss Maria knows what's going on, so there's no reason to be embarrassed," Shizuru reminded her lover.

"That's not the point! The point is that I started crying because she was scolding me! What the hell is that about?" Natsuki shouted with a seething snarl.

"You've done it before," Shizuru pointed out. The last time it happened—a couple of weeks ago—Miss Maria looked ready to run away as quickly as possible. Amazingly enough, the elder Otome had stood her ground, despite how foreign, creepy, and downright weird it was to see Natsuki cry. Shizuru doubted that Miss Maria even knew that Natsuki could cry until she started her medication.

"It was horrible then and it was horrible yesterday! I have no control over myself anymore! Last week, I was in a meeting with a nation looking to join the Otome program and looking to send their first few girls in and I had to leave twice! I cried in the hall because it was a nice day outside! A nice day, Shizuru!" The Second Column wanted to jump up, but Shizuru still had her in a hug, holding her tightly.

"It's okay, dearest. It's very much okay. It's not you. It's the medicines," Shizuru said in a soothing tone, rubbing Natsuki's back to calm her down.

"I don't know if I can keep doing this," the shorter woman admitted in a low voice.

"You might not have to. This could be it. Today could be it."

"What if it's not? What if all of this didn't work and I have to stay on all of this medication for another two months? I don't think I could take it, Shizuru. I'm sorry, but I really don't think I can take this for two or three more months," the principal stated, sounding sorrowful and ashamed.

Shizuru softly kissed the top of Natsuki's head. "It's all right. I don't want you to hurt anymore, love. You know I don't want you to hurt, but stay positive. This is the final day of this, please believe that."

Natsuki sniffled and nodded into Shizuru's shoulder. They were quiet for a little while before Natsuki eased back into her chair, knowing that she had to eat. Shizuru made her own plate and sat down with Natsuki. Shizuru had been eating exactly what Natsuki had been eating since the principal went on her special diet. Shizuru thought the support would help Natsuki get through it. It worked for the first couple of weeks, but soon, Natsuki was starting to feel the pings of withdrawal from all of her favorite things.

"We'll go see Youko-sensei before going to work, all right? I am sure that the good news will set you at ease," Shizuru said to offer up some conversation. She was growing weary of quiet meals watching Natsuki pout or just look plain miserable.

Natsuki sighed as if that was some great burden, but she nodded in agreement. After breakfast, Shizuru got a brush and fixed her spouse's hair, making sure to tie it back when she was done. She did that because a few weeks ago, Natsuki had a breakdown just because her hair kept falling in her face. The appalling thing about the whole incident was that Natsuki always realized when she was having a breakdown and just could not stop. She often felt like it she was a prisoner in her own body, watching as she did one embarrassing thing after another.

"Babe, I'm sorry for being so difficult," Natsuki said after Shizuru finished her hair.

Shizuru smiled and kissed her mate's cheek. "I don't mind. You're doing this for both of us and for our family. I actually expected you to be much worse when Youko-sensei said the side-effects would be extreme mood swings," she giggled a bit and hoped that did not strike sensitive Natsuki in the wrong way.

"I've been trying my best to keep it together."

"You're doing a great job, sweetheart. I honestly expected Natsuki to cry and scream everyday with the way Youko-sensei explained everything. I also expected Natsuki to go insane from the lack of mayo."

Natsuki laughed a little. "I thought I would too. I'm upset you raided all of my secret stashes, though."

"I have to make sure my beloved does not cheat her diet. That is the best way for us to make it past this first step, correct?"

The ebony-haired Column nodded to that. Shizuru then went to get dressed herself while Natsuki called her new receptionist. Shiori, the principal's former receptionist, had graduated and was now quite the successful Otome. Natsuki had allowed Shiori to pick her replacement. Irony of ironies, Shiori had chosen Kyoko Heinrich, a young lady that had been brought to Garderobe by Takeda, a man who had fallen in love with Natsuki and tried to steal her from Shizuru. Kyoko started out as a shy girl, not too sure what to expect at Garderobe and intimated by the sheer size of the school, but she soon found herself fitting in. Her golden eyes that had seemed so lost in the beginning were now sharp and alert, ready for anything from what everyone could tell. She was considered a bit of a curiosity by many of the other girls because they did not know much about the area that Kyoko was from. Kyoko was from the same area as Natsuki, but not the same island, so Natsuki knew a little of what Kyoko was going through because she went through something similar when she was a student.

Natsuki called to make sure Kyoko knew about her appointment with Youko-sensei and she also let Kyoko know that she was going to be in late. Kyoko, rather efficient at her post, took note of that and assured the principal that all messages would be waiting for her when she got there. Natsuki was not looking forward to that, but thanked Kyoko for her hard work anyway.

"Ready for your appointment, love?" Shizuru asked as she came out, dressed in her usual Otome uniform. She ran her fingers through her tawny hair, even though she had already brushed it.

"Let's go before I start crying for no reason again," Natsuki answered with a bit of a huff.

Shizuru smiled and took her wife by the hand, calming Natsuki instantly with the simple gesture. They walked to their destination and found Youko waiting for them. The couple had seen Youko Helene, the chief medical officer of the school and head of the science department, much more often than usual since Natsuki started on her supplements. Honestly, Natsuki was sick of seeing her, but she blamed that on the medication. After all, she had never had a problem with the chief medical officer before the medicine. Whatever the cause, her tolerance level dropped severely and her temper often flared around the scientist.

"Good morning, Sensei," Shizuru said brightly. Natsuki only glanced in Youko's direction.

"Good morning, Shizuru-san. How is the patient this morning?" Youko inquired, turning away from her computer screen. She was the only one in the lab at the moment. She was always the first in the office and the last one to leave, which was how she believed a leader or boss should be. It was a trait and belief that she shared with the Second Column.

"The patient would rather not be spoken about as if she was a thing," Natsuki replied with some bite in her tone. She threw a glare for good measure, just so that Youko remembered that she was not the principal's favorite person right now, despite all of the work that she was doing for them.

Youko chuckled a bit, very much used to the attitude that the younger woman had. "Still cranky, I see. Well, you know the drill, Principal. We can go through this quickly and then talk about the update in your condition."

Natsuki nodded and quickly undressed. The doctor then gave her a physical. Youko made sure not say anything beside the basic questions or she knew that her patient would literally bite her head off. Natsuki answered them all with the expected hostility. Youko did not seem concerned and Shizuru had long ago stopped reprimanding her lover for the behavior.

After the physical, Youko drew some of Natsuki's blood. While waiting for that, the younger woman put her clothing back on and then went to Youko's desk. Natsuki stood in front of the doctor and glared down at Youko, who ignored her patient. The scientist was already looking at the blood analysis and focused all of her attention on that. Shizuru pulled over a chair and forced Natsuki to sit down. Once she was planted in a seat, Youko turned to the couple.

"Okay, a few points," Youko started out, turning her attention to the eager couple. "First is the good news, which is that you are pregnant," she announced with a huge grin.

Natsuki's mouth dropped open, but she was unable to speak. Shizuru gasped, having to put her hand over her mouth, so that Youko would not see that she was gapping just as much as her beloved. The ebony-haired Otome reached for her wife's hand and gave her a tight squeeze. Shizuru squeezed back.

"We're pregnant…" Natsuki whispered in awe. Her obvious joy made the doctor smile even more.

"Yes, you're six weeks along," the doctor informed them.

Natsuki breathed a sigh of relief, as did Shizuru. Neither of them even knew that they were holding their breath. They could not believe it, but they were going to be parents. Natsuki was six weeks pregnant!

"That's just…wow…" Shizuru muttered, sounding much like her lover now. She could not think of anything beyond that.

"Yes, six weeks along," Youko stated again.

"Okay, so we're finally pregnant. Does that mean no more of these damned medications or diet?" Natsuki inquired, praying that was how it worked. This was very important for her because she doubted that she could make it through eight more months of those two things.

"You're done with those. I told you, those were to help your body prepare and accept the procedure. I know for you, two months of all of that was pure torture," Youko said, teasing ever-so slightly.

Shizuru had to swallow down a snicker, even though she did feel some envy. She had not been able to inflict even the most innocent teasing on Natsuki. The principal did not notice how amused her wife was, focusing more on the doctor's smart-ass comment.

"Yeah, it was. You should've said something about how extreme those pills were going to be. It wasn't fair to just say 'they might give you mood swings.' I've been a walking lunatic for the past two months, not sure when I was going to go off," Natsuki griped, throwing her free hand up in annoyance. "Most people just think I've gone off the deep end because they don't know we've been trying to get pregnant and I'm on like a million and three pills!" she huffed, twisting her mouth up.

Natsuki and Shizuru had decided to keep it a secret so far that they were trying to have a baby because they did not want to get anyone's hopes up. The procedure that Natsuki needed to go through had a bad track record for first-try successes. They did not see the point in mentioning that they wanted a baby if it almost a year just to get pregnant.

The couple told Miss Maria about the medication just because they did not want to her to devour Natsuki whole if a mood swing hit her at the wrong time and she went off on Miss Maria. Of course, the funny thing was that Natsuki never lost her temper with Miss Maria. Instead, she always ended up bawling her eyes out with the older woman, which was much stranger than her losing her temper. In fact, she tended to randomly cry more than anything else. Other than Miss Maria, everyone else did just think the big, bad principal was stressed out of her mind.

"If I told you about all of that, I knew you would've started thinking on it and worrying about it. You would've wasted a lot of time, even though it was clear that you and Shizuru really want to start your family now," the scientist answered, as if that was the most obvious thing in the world.

Natsuki frowned. "Fine, fine, fine. So I'm done with all of those stupid medications now?"

"Done with those, yes, but now we have to start you on others."

"What! You didn't say that when we first came and asked what we needed to do if we wanted to have a baby!"

Youko sighed. "Once again, I didn't tell you everything because I knew you would start thinking it over. We all know you have a tendency to think too much if you're given enough time. I doubt that you would've gone through with it right now if you knew all of the work you needed to do it. You would've waited until you retired, even though, we all know you both want a baby right now."

Natsuki frowned even deeper. "You've just got all the fucking answers, don't you, doc?"

"Natsuki!" Shizuru scolded her.

"A worst case scenario is that you would have retired immediately without picking out a decent replacement or finishing your new work of expanding the Otome program to help underprivileged girls in other nations. You still have work to do, Natsuki. I want to see you finish it before you retire," Youko explained in a gentle tone.

The pale woman continued to frown, but then she suddenly sighed. "Fine. What do I have to do now since we're pregnant?"

"Okay, well, I'll write you up a new diet. It won't be as severe as the other one, but I'm sure you won't like it anyway. You just have to remember that you're eating for two now. I'm going to give you vitamins to take for the baby and also some for yourself. These won't give you the mood swings like the others… The pregnancy will take care of that. I'm sorry, I know it seems like a lot, but we have to be sure your baby makes it."

Natsuki nodded. "I know, I know. How long will I have to take the pills for me?"

"Through the pregnancy, I'm afraid. The reason for that is just like why you were taking the supplements before. We have to make sure your nanomachines don't attack the baby. The nanomachines can't think, obviously, so they are not aware that your baby is your baby. The nanomachines just think that a foreign body has invaded your system and will attack, constantly and continuously. The pills lower the amount of nanomachines in your system without destroying them all and also keep them unaware of the baby growing inside of you," Youko explained.

"Does this mean that Natsuki will get sick more easily?" Shizuru asked curiously.

"No, Natsuki has a very healthy immune system and the vitamins will keep that up. The vitamins will keep both mother and daughter quite healthy," Youko assured the couple. "I'm not completely certain if she can do more than activate her Robes while she's pregnant and the nanomachines are being suppressed. You'll still be able to use your GEM for other things, but using your weapons or trying to use the Robe to its fullest would be too much for you. I wish I could do more, but you will have a long road ahead of you."

The couple both nodded. "Will our baby be all right?" Shizuru inquired, trying her best to keep a tremor out of her voice. She barely succeeded.

"I'm sorry to say, but she will be in danger of an abortion from the nanomachines up until delivery. She'll have to be monitored carefully. The medication should be fine, but we all know that everything does not often go as it should. I want you to come in once a week, just so we can keep an eye on her."

Once again, the couple nodded. There was a moment of silence, which Natsuki decided to break. "I guess this is why most Otome wait until they retire before becoming pregnant," the principal commented. Part of her thought that she should have waited, but she honestly did not want to. She and Shizuru were ready for their family, but they were not ready to give up their jobs because there was still so much to do.

"This is true, but I am certain that your little girl will be fine. There is no way that a daughter with your backgrounds is not a fighter," Youko remarked with a small smile.

"You are correct about that, Youko-sensei. I am sure that our daughter will be fine also. We will all fight for her and with her, after all," Shizuru stated strongly, soundly.

They all nodded in agreement. They were not going to let anything happen to the baby. Youko informed them that she would write out everything that the couple needed and she would send the list to both of them. That was the end of the appointment and everyone went about their day as if it was a normal day, but they all knew that this was far from normal. Natsuki was pregnant. Natsuki and Shizuru were going to have a daughter, a little piece of both of them, in less than nine months. It was amazing. It was nothing short of a miracle for them.

Next time: the couple celebrates their bundle of joy.