Author's Note: I'm back to Shiznat! I felt that all my fans deserved some sort of a treat, particularly at this time of year. Enjoy, and merry Christmas and happy holidays to you all!
A special thanks to KugaKruger and Shezaei Neko for the help they gave me with this fic. ^^
Title: The Holiday Spirit
When was the date she'd given up? It had to have been sometime after January 3rd, when school had started back up, but it couldn't have been too long afterward. Natsuki had been in school that day, sitting by herself at lunch. It had been when she was alone with her thoughts, with nothing to distract her and no excuses remaining, that she'd finally given up on hearing from her father. She'd tried to call him, but the bastard never returned her messages. Natsuki had held out hope that he was just busy, and that he would phone her later, or a card would come in the mail. Nothing came. Even for Christmas, her father wanted nothing to do with her.
Ever since then, the holidays had left a big hole in her heart. It wasn't a time of togetherness; it was a time that reminded Natsuki of what she'd lost. She'd been able to get away from it last year, as she only had to evade Mai's attempts to get her to do something for Christmas. With everything else going on, Natsuki had had plenty of excuses at hand.
This year was another matter. If you'd asked Natsuki for a list of her friends, you could have counted them on one hand. If you asked anyone else though, you'd need to resort to both hands and a foot to get a full count, and every single one of them seemed to have something planned that Natsuki was expected to show up for. Natsuki couldn't even think up a good excuse for getting out of most of these events - she lived with Shizuru, and there was no way to convince Shizuru to lie to cover for her, so she was stuck. Natsuki just settled for going along with whatever her friends came up with and at least pretending to enjoy herself.
She should have known she wasn't fooling anyone. She'd figured that Shizuru could see through her and just wasn't saying anything out of politeness - or perhaps it was because she was planning something. Mai's frustration started to show through more and more as Christmas approached. This thankfully meant that she at least didn't force Natsuki to sing at karaoke, and Natsuki's food seemed to contain more mayo than usual when she visited, but it still wasn't doing much to get Natsuki into the holiday spirit.
What ended up shocking Natsuki out of her sulk was when Nao, of all people, complained about Natsuki's mood. They were in the middle of playing a co-op game at the arcade, and Natsuki was so shocked at Nao's comment that she dropped her gun. "What did you just say?"
"I'm saying you've lost it," Nao said, not taking her eyes off the screen. "Just look at the score. You're falling behind. Something is seriously wrong when I can outshoot you."
Natsuki looked at the score, realizing the Nao was right, and it wasn't simply because she'd just dropped her gun. Nao seemed to be doing better than usual, but she might have just been picking up the slack for Natsuki. No, the problem was definitely on Natsuki's end. She tried to turn things around as the game played out, but her own frustration kept throwing off her aim. She was able to close the gap with Nao a bit, but in the end she had to admit defeat.
"Ugh, fine, you win," Natsuki said, placing her gun back in the stand. It was getting close to the time they usually call it quits for the day, so she could probably make it out without having to face too many questions. "I think I'm just getting worn out. It's been a long day."
"Yeah, right..." Nao said. Natsuki had turned away, but she could tell by Nao's tone of voice that she wasn't buying Natsuki's excuse. "I'll catch you Thursday, then. Try not to be such a sad sack next time."
Natsuki grunted as she headed out, but she didn't have anything good to say in reply. Nao had a point, as much as she hated to admit it. Being grumpy at parties she was forced to go to was one thing, but she shouldn't have been letting her mood ruin the rest of her activities as well. It was hard to improve her mood on the bus ride back to her house, though. If she could have driven her bike, she would have easily been able to relax, but the snow was just too deep for that.
Natsuki remained in a sulk until she opened the door to the house she shared with Shizuru. After that, she found it rather difficult to maintain her bad mood, as Shizuru was suddenly wrapped around Natsuki and kissing her way around Natsuki's neck. "Shi-Shizuru!" Natsuki said. She wanted to protest, but a wave of shudders betrayed how Shizuru was affecting her body, and she didn't quite have the strength to push Shizuru away.
"Mmm... forgive me..." Shizuru said between kisses. "The rules are... must kiss... till you move... from under..." Shizuru caught Natsuki's lips with her own after these last words, so Natsuki didn't get a chance to hear just what she was under. And it wasn't as if she could look up when such soft lips were pressing against her own, when such love was emanating off of Shizuru's body, when such a sweet tongue was invading her mouth...
Natsuki wasn't quite sure how she found herself pinned to the floor after that point, but she wasn't in a very questioning state of mind. She was finally able to get a look at what was above them: Mistletoe. She should have realized that was it. With an effort, Natsuki was able to roll out from under it and Shizuru so that she could at least get a chance to breathe. It certainly wasn't in any rule that Natsuki had heard of that you had to keep kissing until you moved out from under the mistletoe, but Shizuru did at least give Natsuki a break at this point.
Natsuki stumbled her way to her feet and straightened out her clothes. She tried to glare at Shizuru for this assault, but she just didn't have it in herself to be angry. Shizuru's smiling face was just too enchanting to be mad at for long. At last, Natsuki gave up on trying to be mad, and she let out a sigh. "I swear, Shizuru... What got into you to ambush me like this today?"
Shizuru tilted her head to the side. "The holiday spirit," she said, as if it should have been obvious. "Isn't Natsuki feeling it?"
"You know damn well I'm... not..." Natsuki replied. She trailed off as she noticed just what Shizuru was wearing. She'd been a bit distracted up until this point, but she was finally able to see that Shizuru had donned a red and green wool sweater. There wasn't anything obviously sexy about it, but something about it caught Natsuki's eye. She couldn't put into words what it was, though.
"Natsuki...?" Shizuru said. "Are you alright?"
Natsuki turned away, shaking her head to try to knock some clarity into her thoughts. Why was it so hard to stay in a bad mood when Shizuru was nearby? It just wasn't fair. She had to be cheating somehow...
Shizuru placed her hand on Natsuki's shoulder, and the tension that Natsuki had tried to build up faded once more. Shizuru was definitely cheating. The soft kiss on the back of Natsuki's neck just served as confirmation. "What's wrong, love? You've been in a bad mood this whole month... and you don't even seem to want me to try and cheer you up..."
Natsuki let out a low growl. She'd been trying to hold things in, but it was just no good. Shizuru would never give up. It was both one of her most endearing and one of her most frustrating traits. After a minute of trying and failing to figure out a way she could get out of a long talk about this with Shizuru, Natsuki let out a sigh. "Fine, fine... let's go to the living room. I'll tell you the whole story."
"I guess I can understand that..." Shizuru said. She took Natsuki's hand in her own and pulled it up to her mouth to give it a kiss. "You've been on your own for quite a while, so I can understand how you might have gotten used to resenting the holidays." Shizuru placed the hand back down and looked into Natsuki's eyes. "Things are different now, though. You aren't alone anymore."
Natsuki was able to hold Shizuru's gaze for a moment, but she was soon forced to look down so that her emotions wouldn't overwhelm her. Talking about her father like that had dredged up a lot of feelings she'd wanted to keep buried. "I know, Shizuru, I know..." she said softly. "It's not that I'm afraid of opening up to you or anything... I know that by this point you aren't going to abandon me like my father did. It's just..." Natsuki paused to take a couple breaths. She just had to keep talking, and the words would come to her. "I don't like being reminded of what I've lost."
Shizuru smiled softly at this. "I see," she said. "But does it have to be a reminder of that? Can't you use the holidays as a reminder of everything you've gained?"
Natsuki was finally able to meet Shizuru's gaze. Of course, Shizuru would have a very specific thing in mind for what Natsuki had gained. Natsuki couldn't exactly turn her down when she put things that way. "Thank you, Shizuru. I just wish it were that easy..."
Of course, Shizuru wasn't perturbed by this. "Then I'll give you all the help you need. I know one thing for sure: You aren't going to wash away your bad memories by moping the whole month."
Natsuki narrowed her eyes at Shizuru. This had to be where the catch was. "Don't think you can use this as an excuse to drag me out to a party. I don't like parties in any season."
"Very well..." Shizuru said, letting out a sigh. "I'll have to figure something else out, then." Something in Shizuru's tone felt a bit off to Natsuki, but she couldn't pin down exactly what it was. She had a bad feeling, though.
Natsuki kept her eyes narrowed. "I mean it, Shizuru. I'm not good with all of these parties."
Natsuki was expecting another sigh to come from Shizuru, but she instead got a smile out of her girlfriend. "I know. And I suspect that's also part of why you're in such a bad mood." Shizuru gave Natsuki's hand a gentle squeeze. "Just leave everything to me, alright?" Although the words themselves were reassuring, they somehow only ended up making Natsuki's bad feeling worse.
Two days later, Natsuki learned exactly why she'd had a bad feeling about Shizuru's words. Shizuru had been busy the past couple of days putting up Christmas decorations, but Natsuki hadn't thought much of it. She'd figured it was just Shizuru trying to get her into the Christmas spirit. It actually did help a little, though Natsuki wasn't ready to admit that openly. At the very least, the decorations weren't bringing up bad memories.
It was starting to become a bit much though, when Shizuru began to hang some type of plant with red berries from the ceiling, in long strands that zig-zagged down the hall. "It's holly," Shizuru had explained. "Well, this is fake holly, but it's the look that's important. It just isn't Christmas without it." It did give a different feel to the house, Natsuki had to admit, though it was a bit hard to get used to it.
As it turned out, the holly had another purpose to it. Natsuki didn't find this out until after Shizuru had managed to get Natsuki to spend a couple of hours glued to the television in her bedroom playing a video game. Shizuru had mentioned that she wanted to see a romantic scene in one of Natsuki's games again. Eager to please her lover, Natsuki had started playing the game again from the beginning to get up to it before Shizuru had even asked her to do so. It only took her a couple of hours to get to that point, and it was fun to see how quickly she could do it. Shizuru had come into the room a couple of times to check on Natsuki and supply her with a drink, so Natsuki had never suspected that Shizuru was setting something up just outside the bedroom.
Her suspicions were aroused slowly once Shizuru came into the bedroom to watch her play. At first, Shizuru just cuddled up alongside Natsuki on the bed. Natsuki didn't begin to get suspicious until Shizuru started talking. "Do you know what I like most about Christmas, Natsuki?"
Natsuki glanced over at Shizuru, though she didn't take her eyes off of the television for long. She couldn't think of anything good to say in response, so she settled for one of her fallback responses for when Shizuru was acting oddly: "This isn't leading up to a tease, is it?"
Shizuru chuckled at this. "It can if Natsuki wants it to, though that wasn't my original plan." Natsuki replied with a simple grunt as she continued to focus on her game, but Shizuru didn't seem to mind. "It's feeling the connection to all my friends and family. I think that's the part that Natsuki's missing out on."
"Hmm... maybe..." Natsuki said, still trying to focus on her game. She was starting to suspect that Shizuru had something else in mind for today, but she was almost up to the romantic scene by this point. She might as well try to get to it for Shizuru. "Here, just let me save so I can show you this scene easily anytime you want..."
Shizuru was silent for a bit, but as soon as the progress bar filled up the screen, she took Natsuki's wrist in her hand. "Natsuki," she said. "Thank you, but we can watch that later."
Natsuki turned to Shizuru. She thought she might already know the answer, but she had to ask anyway, "Then what's up?"
Shizuru smiled wordlessly. She turned to get off of the bed and walked to the door. "I'm going to go put some music on. When you hear it, why don't you come and join me? I want to make sure you understand just how you're connected to everyone."
"Shizuru?" Natsuki placed her controller to the side. "What do you mean?" She didn't get any reply, though. Shizuru merely held up a finger, motioning for Natsuki to wait as she turned around. She slipped through the door quickly, not allowing Natsuki to get a good look into the hallway, despite her best efforts to lean over and get a peak through the opened door. Letting out a grunt of displeasure, Natsuki resigned herself to waiting until she heard the music. She opened the door just a crack so she could be sure to hear it, though she somehow managed to resist the urge to peak through it.
When the music did start up, Natsuki found herself somewhat relieved that Shizuru had avoided anything too cheesy. She didn't recognize the current song, but it was actually pretty good. Though in any case, this was supposed to be her signal to join Shizuru, so Natsuki headed toward the door. There had to be something in the hallway - it was the only possible reason that Shizuru would take such pains to hide it and make Natsuki wait until the music had been turned on to leave.
As it turned out, Natsuki was right to be suspicious. Shizuru had wrapped the strands of holly with Christmas lights, which provided most of the illumination in the hallway. It was a bit fainter than her room, so Natsuki gave her eyes a moment to adjust. Natsuki didn't want to fall for Shizuru's plan so easily, but she had to admit that the combination of the lights and the music did seem to give the hallway a certain atmosphere. She wasn't sure she liked the atmosphere yet, but it certainly had one.
Natsuki's eyes were soon drawn to a series of Christmas cards that were each attached to a piece of string and suspended from the holly. Natsuki reached out for the closest one and opened it up, wondering how Shizuru might have expected her to read it in this dim light, when a voice spoke out from the card.
"Merry Christmas, Natsuki!" Mai's voice came out of the card. Natsuki blinked in surprise. She hadn't been expecting a recording. "Shizuru asked me to record a short message to try to ram it into that thick head of yours what you mean to all of us. You're our friend, Natsuki, and you're my best friend. With all the trouble we went through earlier this year, there was no one I could rely on more than you.
"You were the one who knew what she was doing and gave me the strength to start fighting. You were the one who never betrayed me, and who fought by my side until she had to sacrifice her own life to give me a chance to end it all. And even now that we all have a second chance, you're still by my side, no matter how much you may protest. I know that we can rely on you, Natsuki. We all know you're one of us until the end, and we'll remind you of that every time we have to. It's what friends do."
Natsuki let her eyes drift closed as she listed to Mai's message. Unbidden, a smile formed at her lips. When the message ended, she let out a sigh. "Thank you, Mai..." she whispered. After a moment, she moved around the hanging card and opened up the next one.
"Hi there, Natsuki," said Yukino's voice from the card. "The store wasn't willing to sell ten of these cards to Shizuru, so she asked me to pass along messages from the rest of your friends. Let's see here... Mikoto wants you to know that she's thankful to have a friend who's so good at helping her pick out new lingerie. Midori says that she considers getting you to sing karaoke her personal Everest, and she's enjoying the challenge. Nao says that she and you are alright now, though she did mention she was hoping you could help her get revenge on Shizuru one of these days. She didn't seem too committed to it, though.
"Haruka... well, when I asked her about this, she acted mad that you hadn't distracted Shizuru from her studies and let Haruka pull ahead... which I think is her roundabout way of saying she thinks that you've been a good influence on Shizuru and she's sorry for what she initially said about your relationship. Just don't tell her I said that, okay? I should probably thank you for that as well. Oh, and also for your support in the Student Council elections. I'm still hoping you'll take a position as my vice president next year. It'll look good on your transcript if nothing else. Anyway, I'm going long. Merry Christmas from all of us!"
Natsuki had to resist laughing at that one. Some people never changed, but most just took forever to do it and would never admit it. Now that she thought of it that way, they were probably thinking the same thing about her right now. Gah... no way am I going to let Haruka show me up! Determined, Natsuki walked to the final card, wondering who was left. It had to be just Shizuru now.
"Good day, Natsuki. I hope you're doing well." Natsuki blinked in surprise. The voice wasn't Shizuru's, though it was close. It was Shizuru's mother who'd recorded a message for her. Natsuki had only met Shizuru's mother a couple of times, but she hadn't thought that she'd made a very good impression. Shizuru disagreed with her on that point, though, and apparently her mother did as well. "I hope you aren't feeling too lonely this time of year. Shizuru's told me about what happened with your parents, but I don't want you to feel that you don't have any family.
"You have Shizuru, first of all. I've seen the change in her since she began to date you, and I can't imagine that the two of you will ever separate. And as long as you're together, I hope you'll think of myself and Shizuru's father as your family as well. You will always have a home here if you need it. Please don't let your past get you down. I'm positive that you and Shizuru have a very bright future ahead of you."
Natsuki let out a sigh. That was nice to hear, but she wasn't sure if she could take much more of this. Shizuru almost certainly had a speech planned herself, so Natsuki would have to make sure to cut her off before Shizuru managed to say something more and melt Natsuki into a puddle of mush. She walked quickly out into the living room, found Shizuru, and placed a finger to the girl's mouth before she could utter a word.
"You've done enough, Shizuru," Natsuki said, giving the girl a firm but loving gaze. "I get the point, and you can say whatever you wanted to say later tonight, because I know you just won't let it go otherwise. I surrender, okay?"
Shizuru looked as if she were about to reply, but her eyes looked down to the finger that was pressed to her lips, and she simply pouted instead. Natsuki rolled her eyes and removed her finger, giving Shizuru the chance to talk. But instead of talking, Shizuru bit her lips and turned to the side. She picked up her cell phone from the coffee table and dialed a number on it. Natsuki was so surprised by this action that she didn't stop Shizuru until she'd already started talking.
"Mai?" Shizuru said. Natsuki blinked a couple times in surprise. "You may tell everyone that they're free to come over to our place now. I think Natsuki is in the mood for a Christmas party now."
"Wha-?" Natsuki said as Shizuru ended her call with Mai. "You promised no parties!"
Shizuru tilted her head, a look of utter innocence on her face. "I promised Natsuki not to take her to any parties. I don't believe I made any promises regarding whether or not I might host a party at our house."
Author's Note: I hope you all enjoyed this. I certainly haven't lost my love for Shiznat, and I hope no one else has either. But before I end this, one little plug for a Mai forum that I hope you'll all check out. It's called Mai Universe, and you can find a link to it in my profile. Some of the nicest people I know are there, and I hope you'll all come to share the love.