I don't own these characters; Sunrise does.

This is a side story for Playing with Mercury. It fits in with chapter 3 of that story, but can be read as a standalone one-shot.

Ring Mail

Haruka Armitage was not the type of person to give up or even try to ask for help, no matter how dire a situation might seem. She believed that she was always strong enough to make it through on her own. She had to be strong; she was an Otome, damn it! One of the best Otomes and she had an extremely important task. The most important task to her—protecting President Yukino Chrysant. She had to be able to stand on her own to make sure nothing happened to Yukino. So, she had to be strong and brave.

Strong and brave were not helping her at the moment, though. Apparently, nothing was helping her at the moment and she was beginning to feel like the idiot many people assumed she was. While she was impulsive, brash, and liked to tackle things head on, she was not stupid by far. Unfortunately, her secret intelligence was not shining through, which was just more frustrating to her.

She frowned and shoved her hands into dark green jacket as she walked on, marching down the streets of the city and looking at the shops as she passed by. Night had already fallen and she would need to get home soon or questions would be asked. She did not want to go home yet, though.

"I can't go home yet," Haruka growled to herself as her frown deepened.

Picking up speed, her sharp eyes focused on all of the stores that she passed by. She slowed, knowing that a shop that interested her was coming up. Before entering the store, she looked at the window display. There were sparkling bracelets and expensive rings staring back at her, mocking her. If she listened hard enough, she would swear that she could even hear the pricey baubles laughing at her.

"None of you are good enough for her," the Otome snarled in fury, glaring at the jewelry as if its very existence offended her.

Despite feeling like nothing was good enough, Haruka went into the jewelry store. She waved off any sales representative that tried to come her way, just wanting to be miserable and look through the displays on her own. I can find what I need on my own. I don't need any help. She knew what was best for her Yukino.

"None of these are right," she grumbled, scanning the dozens of rings. She felt like she had looked at every ring in the Republic over the past couple of weeks. None of them caught her attention. None of them were worthy of her Yukino. Her Yukino deserved the very best, now if only she could find such a ring.

She did not like the look of any of the rings and whenever she pictured them on Yukino's hand, she thought they looked awkward. Scowling, she turned to leave, but was halted by a smiling salesman. She stopped dead in her tracks just because it would not be right to plow through a citizen just looking to do his job.

"Did you find anything you liked, General?" the young man asked, sounding chipper and eager to assist one of the great heroes of the Republic.

"No, none of these are right," Haruka answered, trying her best—and failing—to not sound disappointed. Of course, it could have been worse and she could have screamed at him for not staying away as she had silently insisted the salespeople do. Lucky for him, she was too busy feeling sorry for herself. It did not make any sense that Natsuki could find the perfect ring for that tea-drinking maniac she was married to, yet here she was, General Haruka Armitage, unable to find the perfect ring for the sweetest woman in the world!

"Are you sure? Maybe I could help you find one," he offered with a polite smile.

Shaking her head, she waved him off. "I don't really need help. As I said, none of these are right," she stated once more.

He was insistent, though. "Please, General, we have a very wide selection. Have you looked in the back? There's a large display there. What are you looking for?"

The blond Otome sighed and rolled her eyes. "Find," she conceded, unaware that she used the wrong word.

The salesman seemed to understand well enough, rushing off to show Haruka the rest of the store's collection. The back had a wide variety, as promised, but none of the rings did anything for Haruka. So many beautiful gemstones and precious metals stared her in the face and all she could think about was how they were not right for her Yukino.

"How the hell did an idle like Natsuki find something so wonderful and I can't find anything?" Haruka lamented with a pout. Sighing, she turned to leave for the second time.

"Ah, wait, General! Don't leave yet! I'm sure we have something that will suit your tastes!" the young man implored, moving to block her path. "Maybe if you told me what you're looking for! I know if you just give me a little time!"

Haruka waved him off and regarded himself with sorrowful eyes. "It's not your fault. It's just… nothing is good enough," she informed him. It was not like the shop was not filled with lovely items. It was just that like everywhere else she had gone, nothing was good enough. None of these rings deserved to be with her Yukino.

With that said, the General took her leave and marched back outside. Even the air out there seemed to mock her and her failing quest for the perfect ring. Taking a deep breath, she started on the long walk back to the Presidential Mansion. As she strolled, she thought about Natsuki and how not only did she manage to pick out a beautiful engagement ring, but also stunning wedding rings. The rings even suited that tea-addicted crazy person perfectly, as if they had been made for her. If someone like Natsuki could do it, Haruka felt like she should be able to do it. Too bad weeks of searching every jewelry store in Aries had proven her wrong. Soon she was going to have to start looking in other countries.

"I don't understand. I remember when Natsuki didn't even know how to talk to people. She couldn't look that bubuzuke in the eye and now she's like some romantic genius. It doesn't make any sense," the blond huffed, kicking at imaginary dust in the street. "I should be able to get Yukino the perfect ran too."

Getting back home, she had to quickly shower and change to have dinner with Yukino. Checking the clock, she saw that she was actually late. Mentally, she cursed herself for not paying better attention to the time. She had spent so much time wallowing in self-pity that she failed to realize how late it was! Yukino was probably worried about her.

"Sorry I'm late!" Haruka announced as she trotted into the small, private dining room she and Yukino tried to take most of their meals in. Most of the time, things did not work out in their favor and they were forced to eat at meetings or at least with dozens of other people—be they guests or fellow members of the Aries government.

"It's all right, Haruka-chan," Yukino said with a smile, already sitting down at the cozy round table.

"Still, sorry!" Haruka apologized again, grabbing her chair and pulling it out.

Their meals were already prepared, waiting for them to eat. Yukino had not touched her food yet, wanting to wait for her Otome. As soon as Haruka sat down, Yukino took a roll from their breadbasket and spread honey on it. Once the roll was covered in honey, she eased it onto the small saucer by Haruka's plate.

Haruka smiled. "Thanks."

Yukino nodded and smiled slightly. "Where have you been?" she asked curiously as she picked up her knife and fork to begin eating.

"Oh, just out. Momma's birthday is coming up soon, you know," the blond replied, waving her hand a little as if that made everything more believable. She was not exactly lying. Her mother's birthday was coming up within a couple of months, but she was not worrying about that.

The President nodded again. "You're right. I'm glad you started looking early. You always wait until the last moment and then you run around looking for just about any gift to give your mother," she commented with an amused smile.

Haruka yelped and her face pretty much dropped into her plate. "I don't!" she objected.

"You do, Haruka-chan," Yukino gently insisted.

Haruka snorted and angrily folded her arms across her chest. "You make it sound like I can't pick a pressure!"

"You mean present, Haruka-chan," Yukino corrected her Otome.

"That's what I said!" Haruka protested, even though she was sure she did not. Her trouble with words tended to get really bad when she was excited. Most of the time, if she remained calm or at least thought out what she wanted to say, she could keep it under control. Of course, getting it under control took a lot of work, years, and corrections from both Yukino and Sara Gallagher.

Yukino giggled. "Of course."

"Momma likes my gifts," the Otome grumbled, deciding to start in her food.

"She does. I never said she didn't. You're very much appreciated, Haruka-chan," Yukino assured her, putting down her utensils to free up her hands. She then reached across the table and gently caressed Haruka's forearm.

The blond smiled and took Yukino's hand in hers. For a moment, she was content to just hold onto Yukino, the love of her life. And then as she thought about it, she glanced down at Yukino's hand, seeing all of her fingers naked and a jolt of pain stabbed her in the chest. She was letting Yukino down by keeping those fingers bare.

"Haruka-chan, are you all right?" the quiet woman inquired, noticing the storm of emotion that swirled in those violet eyes.

Haruka snapped out of her thoughts. "Huh?"

"I said are you all right?"

"I'm fine," the Otome asserted.

"Why did you zone out like that? Did you work yourself too hard today? Come, let's finish dinner and we can take a bath and then go to bed," Yukino suggested.

Haruka could only nod in agreement with that plan; a bath and then bed always sounded good when Yukino was involved. But, as she ate, disappointment and shame started nipping at her guts. She asked herself how could she possibly take comfort from a woman that she obviously did not deserve? After all, if she deserved Yukino, she would be able to find a ring to put on her finger!

For the rest of the night, Haruka was noticeably withdrawn. It got to the point that when Yukino slid into bed next to her, Haruka did little more than wrap her arms around the brunette's slim waist and spooned Yukino in a position to go to sleep. Yukino's brow furrowed.

"Um… Haruka-chan?" Yukino said in a low, perplexed tone.

"Yeah?" Haruka asked, eyes closed and mind going a mile-a-minute.

"Are you all right?" The question was asked with tender concern.

"Fine, fine," Haruka insisted.

Yukino swallowed. "…Have I done something?"

Eyes open and alert, Haruka sat up and looked down at the President. "What? NO! Why would you think that?" she asked in a panic.

"Because you're been subdued this whole day, nothing like yourself. In fact, you've been like that a lot lately," Yukino explained. "If you say you're all right, then I assume I must have done something to make you this way toward me."

"Oh, no," Haruka said, holding into the brunette and hugging her tightly. "It's nothing. I've just got a lot on my mind."

"Will you tell me?" Yukino requested with begging eyes and a small pout.

"When I get everything settled, I'll tell you everything," the blond promised before placing a gentle kiss to Yukino's lips. She was able to settle back down, but she suddenly noticed that Yukino was wearing a silk cream teddy and nothing else. She blinked hard. How the hell did I miss that?

"Haruka-chan." Yukino reached out and caressed Haruka's cheek. "You seem very distracted."

"I'm so sorry, Yukino," Haruka apologized again before going in for a proper kiss. In the back of her mind, she realized that something had to give before things got even more out of hand. She did not want Yukino to think that her behavior meant that they were having problems.

"I love you, Haruka-chan," Yukino whispered as they pulled away for air.

"I love you too," Haruka proclaimed before going in for another kiss. She wanted Yukino to feel of her love tonight.

Her kisses were fiery, but tender. The touch of her calloused fingers was reassuring, but spirited. By the end of the night, Yukino was panting her declarations of love to Haruka in a whisper of a voice. While the Otome was certain her message got through, in the back of her mind, she was still thinking about her mission. She needed to find a ring that could remind Yukino of these feelings just by feeling it on her hand.

-8-8-8-8-

Haruka tossed herself on a bench, frowning deeply again. Miserably, she watched happy shoppers walking by and frowned even deeper. She hated that everyone else could be so happy while she was full of woe and worrying Yukino. If only she could find the perfect ring and put all of this madness behind her! Checking her watch, she saw that it was getting late and Yukino was probably worried about her.

"What am I going to do?" Haruka wondered aloud with a sigh. Pulling out her cell phone, she thought to call Yukino, if only to ease her worry, but for some reason, she did not dial that number. Instead, she called someone else. Someone who could probably help her, if that someone was not asleep or with a certain annoying bubuzuke.

"What?" a harsh voice snarled into the phone.

"Natsuki?" Haruka whispered. She did not use her usual tone just in case Shizuru was around. The last thing she wanted was for Shizuru to find out that she could not do something on her own. It was a matter of pride!

"Haruka, what is it?" Natsuki inquired, sounding quite tired and grumpy.

"I'm looking at rings right now for Yukino," Haruka answered, making sure to continue with the low voice, even though it was difficult. She still did not want Shizuru to hear, but now it was for pride and for fear that Shizuru might spill the beans to Yukino.

"How the hell are you doing that now?" Natsuki asked, sounding dazed and confused.

"Malls don't close until eleven, especially the good ones," Haruka answered, realizing that it was midnight in Windbloom. "Now, is your busybody wife anywhere close by?"

"Uh… yeah, we're in bed, trying to sleep."

"Good! Is she asleep?"

Natsuki groaned. "Yeah, she is, like I was trying to be before you called."

"Okay, good!" Haruka declared, feeling energized. She climbed to her feet, marching through the mall to the next jewelry store, looking confident now. "I need to buy Yukino a ring, but I haven't seen one I liked at all. What should I do?" she demanded to know.

Natsuki made a noise that suspiciously sounded like a growl, but Haruka ignored that. After a few seconds, Natsuki decided to answer. "Get her something that you know she would like. Something that suits her," she answered.

"Something that she likes?" Haruka echoed in a puzzled tone. Honestly, she never thought of that. Her whole plan had been geared toward finding something that she felt was worthy of sitting on Yukino's left ring finger.

"Uh, yeah. What the hell have you been doing?"

"Looking for something I feel is right."

"Something that you feel is right for her or right for you?" Natsuki asked.

Haruka was paused by that. "Hmm… I suppose I was looking for something that felt right for me. Something that would speak to me."

A long groan escaped the Garderobe principal. "Is this why whenever you give Shizuru a birthday gift, it's something that she would actually buy for you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Haruka, you do realize that when you go shopping for someone, you're shopping for them, not for you, right?" Natsuki asked. Haruka resented the question and Natsuki's tone.

"What the hell do you mean? I know how to shop for people, especially Yukino!" the General proclaimed. She always picked out nice things for people.

"Uh-huh. Look, when you're looking for a ring, just picture her expression and reaction when you give it to her. Think about something that you know represents her, something that she likes, and as I said, the most important thing is to keep her in mind while you're shopping for it," Natsuki explained.

"I do that!"

"I don't think you do, Haruka. You think about how the ring is going to look on her, don't you?"

"Of course! I want it to look good on her!" Haruka stated the obvious.

"Yeah, don't do that," Natsuki said and then strangely enough it sounded like she moaned.

Haruka ignored the weird noise. "So, don't think of how it'll look on her?"

"No. Think of something that represents who she is and like I said, think about her reaction. No matter what you give her, her face is going to light up and she'll love it," Natsuki said, pausing again to release what sounded like a moan.

"What the hell, Kruger? I don't want to think like that! It means that I could get her any old thing!"

"No, you knothead, you can't. Yes, she's going to love whatever you get her, but it should mean something and it should show that you had her in mind when you brought it. Look, it works, trust me. Now, I gotta go." Natsuki hung up before Haruka could say anything else.

The blond looked at her phone in disbelief that Natsuki just hung up on her. She was tempted to call back and yell at the younger woman; principal and Column be damned, Natsuki was still younger than she was! But, instead, she took a moment to let Natsuki's words sink in.

"Think about who Yukino is and keep her in mind while I look, but don't think about how it'll look on her. Think about her reaction," Haruka mumbled to herself as she took off walking.

Shoving her hands into her jean pockets, she was ready to give up. She really needed to go home before Yukino thought something was truly wrong. She was already on thin ice, after all. And, yet, she found herself wandering into another jewelry store. Scanning the place, nothing called out to her, nothing said "Yukino!" at all. But, she kept searching, making sure to picture Yukino's face in mind with each ring that she noticed.

Once again, her search yielded no results. Dejected and depressed, she started off for home, deciding to walk with the hope that her mood would somehow change. On the way, she passed by a street of closing shops and a sparkle caught her eye. Glancing over at the store window, she saw it—the perfect ring.

"By the founder," Haruka whispered, mouth agape with surprise and violet eyes wide with wonder.

Without even realizing, she could see herself presenting the ring to Yukino and practically feel Yukino's delight wrapping around her like a tight embrace. The ring itself was shaped like a snowflake, covered in diamonds and white gold. It spoke to Haruka, sounding very much like Yukino, reminding her of the time she and Yukino took a short vacation to the mountains.

The large blankets of snow had enchanted Yukino. It snowed in Aries' capital city, but not like in the mountains and Yukino thought it was the most beautiful thing that she had ever seen. The President of Aries had actually played in the snow like a happy child. On their last night there, it snowed and Yukino just watched it, holding Haruka close as she did so. They had then made love by a roaring fire. To that day, Yukino always spoke fondly of that memory and seemed to want to do it again whenever they could get a chance.

"Yukino, I will give you snow once again," Haruka said and she rushed to the door, only to find it locked. The shop was closed. "No! Please, somebody be in here!" she called, knocking as loudly as she could and as hard as she could without breaking the door down.

"Hey, can't you see we're closed!" a loud voice called from the back.

"According to your sign, you're supposed to be open for ten more minutes!" Haruka replied, glancing down at the sign that advertised the business hours.

"It's our business! We close when we want to close!"

"Open up! I need to buy something!"

"Come back tomorrow!"

"Damn it, open up!" Haruka roared. She was tempted to use her Robe to get in, but thankfully things did not come to that.

Haruka watched as a female figure approached the door from the back of the store. The woman looked middle-aged and was dressed in a demure outfit. She smiled at Haruka as she unlocked the door. Haruka could not help actually grinning.

"Thank you! Thank you!" Haruka repeated like a mantra as the door was opened.

The store owner smiled. "It's no problem and please forgive my husband. He's just a grumpy old man."

"I don't mind and I won't be long. I just need to buy the ring you have in the window," Haruka explained, pointing over to the display.

The older woman blinked, appearing a little surprised. "Which one?" she asked with a soft smile.

"The one that looks like a snowflake!"

"Oh, that one. It's quite beautiful. You know, there's not another ring like it in the world," the shop owner commented as she walked over to the window display.

"No?" Haruka was intrigued.

"No. The company that designed this ring does all of their rings in a snowflake design, but like all snowflakes, the rings are all different. No two rings are alike," the woman explained.

The Otome nodded; that made her want the ring all the more. There was no one else on the planet like her Yukino. It was perfect.

"Here we are," the shop owner said, retrieving the ring from the display. "Would you like it gift wrapped?"

"No, no, no. I'll take it as is. How much?" Haruka asked, reaching for the ring with a shaky hand.

The shop owner smiled and told Haruka the price. Usually, hearing such a high amount would have sent Haruka into hysterics, even though she could afford it. Right now, though, the woman could have asked for her first born child and Haruka would have signed on the dotted line. Thankfully, it did not come to that and Haruka had the cash to make her purchase. After that, she hurried home.

Haruka hid the ring away first and foremost. After that, she went in search of Yukino. It was too late for dinner, so she went to the bedroom. Yukino was not there, so she went to check the office. Sometimes, Yukino would stay up late in her office to catch up on work.

"Yukino?" Haruka called into the large office, noticing the stack of papers on the otherwise clean desk.

Yukino was reading through a document and did not bother to look up. Haruka did not think anything of the bizarre attitude, feeling too good about her success right now. She rushed Yukino, picked her up out of the chair, and placed a deep, passion-laced kiss to Yukino's mouth before the President knew what was going on. Yukino had to catch her breath when Haruka finally pulled away.

"Haruka-chan…" Yukino breathed out, blinking several times as if that would help her get herself together.

"Oh, Yukino, I'm sorry again. I know I keep screwing up, but no more. I'm sorry I stayed out so late," Haruka apologized.

"I was so worried about you. Are you sure I haven't done anything wrong? Why do you keep staying out so late?" Yukino asked, wrapping her arms around Haruka's neck.

"I promise I'll explain soon. Just know it has nothing to do with you doing anything wrong. Nothing is wrong. Actually, everything is great. Now, can we go to bed?" Haruka was so happy that she needed to get Yukino into bed and expressive just how pleased she was with her day.

Yukino giggled and nodded. Haruka did not need anymore than that, carrying Yukino off to bed. That night, they kept the whole Presidential Mansion up.

-8-8-8-8-

Haruka laid in bed with her hands behind her head and Yukino passed out against her. Usually, she would have been smiling from pride, knowing that she had given Yukino a wonderful night of passion, but right now her mind was moving faster than the speed of light. Yes, she had the perfect ring, but she still needed to figure out how to propose.

Gotta keep Yukino in mind, like the bubuzuke's pet told me to, Haruka reminded herself. Thinking about Natsuki, she was going to have to call her and tell her the good news as soon as she and Yukino parted ways. Until then, she had to figure out the perfect way to offer her ring to her lover. What would Yukino like?

Ideally, Haruka would love to keep the snow theme after remembering how much Yukino loved the snow, but winter had passed, so she had to think of something else that her lover enjoyed. Glancing down at Yukino, she smiled at how peaceful the President appeared in her sleep. It was very rare for Yukino to look in such a way. Typically, she was stressed from her job or concerned about some important matter. Staring at Yukino, Haruka remembered other times when Yukino so serene.

"She always looks so calm and happy when we get to go to the symphony. Maybe I should take her to one and then I can propose to her then. She'd probably love that," Haruka figured. She could picture Yukino's smiling face at the symphony. With that it was decided. "I bet Natsuki didn't think of such a perfect place to propose like that," she muttered.

It was not that she had anything against Natsuki, but for some reason, she just felt like she was competing against the principal in the romance department. She could not wait to tell Natsuki about her plans now. She had it all mapped out and she would show Natsuki that she could do this romance thing just as good, if not better, than Natsuki!

Haruka's thoughts were disturbed as Yukino started moving against her. The President tried to cuddle closer to Haruka; it was a failing attempt to stay asleep. Eventually, Yukino would have to get up anyway. Haruka helped her along by leaning down and kissing her softly. Yukino let out a small moan as she felt Haruka's mouth touch her own. Her eyes fluttered open as she returned the show of affection.

"Good morning!" Haruka smiled down at her lover.

"Good morning indeed," Yukino agreed, staring Haruka in the eye. "Haruka-chan, last night was amazing..." she said in a low voice, as if she thought others might hear.

"It was," Haruka agreed. Finding the ring had taken such a weight off her shoulders so much so, that she could barely contain herself last night. She wondered if it would be the same when she proposed. She would try since Yukino looked especially beautiful when ravished and exhausted due to ecstasy.

"I wish we could stay like this forever," Yukino commented, burying her face in Haruka's neck.

"Me too."

Unfortunately, they both knew that was impossible, especially since Yukino had an early meeting that she needed to get to and they were already behind schedule. Yukino moved quickly, hopping in the shower and getting dressed at a rapid pace. Haruka was used to seeing the whirlwind of activity, knowing by the end of it no one would ever suspect that the president of Aries had gotten less than five hours of sleep and had woken up a half-hour late.

Yukino was out of the room after giving Haruka a quick peck on the lips. Haruka herself was still wet from her shower, not at all as efficient as Yukino when behind schedule. Once Yukino was out of the room, Haruka put on her Otome uniform and then went to go check on the ring. She wanted to make sure it was not some fantastic dream that she had last night, but she had actually found the perfect ring.

Digging the ring out of its hiding place, Haruka stared at it in awe for a moment. It was just as beautiful and magical as it was last night. She rushed to the phone, wanting to brag to the only person she could about how perfect the ring was. As she waited for an answer, she found that she could not keep still, wanting to shout it to the mountains that she had the perfect ring for the perfect woman.

"Kruger here," Natsuki answered her phone.

Haruka jumped in excitement when she heard Natsuki's voice. "Okay, Natsuki, I have the ring. It's beautiful. Not as beautiful as my Yukino, of course, but beautiful nonetheless. It's like a snow flake with white gold and diamonds,"she reported with her delight clearly in her voice as she bounced around even more.

Natsuki chuckled a bit. "Okay, calm down, Haruka. It sounds like you're jumping on a couch."

Haruka had no idea what that meant, but she did not care. She let out a long sigh of relief, once again feeling a weight being lifted off of her. "Oh, Natsuki, you were so right! It was best to think about the ring with Yukino in mind."

"Yeah, I know," Natsuki replied. She sounded a little smug, but Haruka let that slide for the moment.

"I'm going to send you a picture of it, so you can see that I know exactly what I'm doing and I can do it way better than you!" Haruka declared since Natsuki seemed to think that she was so great.

"I would love to see a picture and see what you've picked out for her. What do you have next?" the principal asked.

Haruka nodded, more for herself since she was on the phone. "I need to figure out where to pop the question. I was thinking about taking her to a concert. A symphony," she answered.

Natsuki made a weird noise. "Do you really want to propose in front of an audience? All eyes will be on both of you the whole night since you're both very high-profile individuals in Aries. When I proposed to Shizuru, I didn't want an audience, so I took her to a very special place where I knew we would be alone."

Haruka's face fell into a pout as she thought about that. "An audience would be bad. They would come between us before I even got out the question. I wouldn't want to have to scream over the music either. Hmm…" She pondered what she should do now. The symphony obviously was not perfect.

"Just think of some place you both like, some place that's special to you. I always pack food whenever I go out with Shizuru because I get hungry, so you might want to pack something too," the principal of Garderobe informed her.

"Food for me?" Haruka asked curiously. It seemed like a strange thing to bring on a date. If she got hungry, she figured that they would go to a restaurant. She was starting to get confused because now she did not know what to do. She wanted everything to be perfect and now it seemed like that was impossible. She would not be able to live with herself if she did not make Yukino feel completely special when she proposed.

"Food for both of you. Come on, Haruka. I know you know how to think of Yukino. Keep remembering that she's in this too. You can't let the panic take hold," the Second Column pointed out.

"Right! Right!" Haruka yelped as everything Natsuki said was catching up to her. She should bring food in case she and Yukino spend a lot of time at a special place where she should propose. That did make sense. How did Natsuki get so good at this romance stuff?

Haruka now wondered what special place she should take Yukino. Pacing, she scratched her forehead, trying to will her brain to come up with a phenomenal place to announce her undying love for Yukino. Her breathing increased as she continued moving, troubled that she no longer had any brilliant ideas. She was close to hyperventilating until Natsuki's voice sounded in her ear again.

"Haruka, take some deep breaths and just think about some place that Yukino would like to go and you would like to go. Some place you can be alone for a long time and you can enjoy each other's company. Like I said, bring food and whatever else you might need, so you don't have to leave soon. Or eat first and then go down it, but make sure you can stick around for a while."

"All right." Once again, Natsuki made sense. It was a bit weird because Haruka could remember back to a time when Natsuki barely knew how to talk to a girl, now she was married and giving out all sorts of good advice. Before she could say anything more profound, she heard noise on the other end.

"I have to go. Shizuru just walked in," Natsuki announced.

Haruka yelped, hearing about that busybody bubuzuke. She hung up the phone without thinking and without thanking Natsuki. She figured that she would do the latter later on. In fact, she would thank Natsuki by thinking of a fantastic proposal for Yukino.

Her eyes fell to the ring that she had purchased for her precious one. She needed something out of this world to precede the presentation of the ring. But, it would have to wait until the day was over as she realized she was late!

-8-8-8-8-

Haruka felt like patting herself on the back. After she sat down and thought about it, she had come up with something that was so outstanding that she could hardly believe it! She could not wait for tonight! First, she had to get Yukino, though.

"If the way she acted this morning is any indication of how hard it'll be to get her to go out, I'm screwed!" Haruka grumbled to herself as she marched down the hallway of the Presidential Mansion.

Shaking her head, she shivered while remembering the cold shoulder Yukino had given her that morning. It was like the thing with the ring all over again, except Yukino was way more angry than worried. Haruka had been spending a lot of time out, planning and preparing for tonight. Of course, she could not tell that to Yukino, so it just seemed like she was ignoring her beloved.

"Well, that changes tonight!" Haruka declared, pounding on her chest with her fist to pump herself up.

With determination in her stride, Haruka went off to find her master. Yukino was in her main office, on the phone. Haruka did her best not to listen since the President did not sound upset. In fact, Yukino was calm until the phone was back where it belonged and she had to focus on Haruka.

"Is there a reason you're here, Haruka-chan?" Yukino said as curtly as she could manage with the blond, which was not much. "I thought you needed space and time to go do whatever you have to do that you can't tell me about."

"Yukino, I promise, this'll all make sense. All you have to do is come with me," Haruka implored her lover.

"Come with you? Oh, you suddenly want to spend time with me?" Yukino huffed, practically sneering in her beloved's direction.

"Yukino, please," the Otome said, rushing over to the President. She went to grab the brunette's hand, but Yukino moved out of the way.

"It's too late, Haruka-chan." Yukino turned her head away, silently dismissing the Otome.

Haruka's eyes widened in disbelief. Too late? Too late for what? That could not mean what it sounded like!

"Yu…Yukino…please," Haruka begged, her voice quivering. Butterflies gathered in her stomach and she had to hold back tears. No amount of strength or guts could stop the pain that she was feeling.

The brunette turned a little, taking in Haruka's pathetic expression. "Oh, Haruka-chan, don't look like that," she cooed, pulling her lover to her in a sweet embrace.

"You're gonna live me!" the Otome cried.

"I think you mean 'leave,' Haruka-chan, and I'm not. I didn't mean it that way. I just meant it was too late for apologies," Yukino explained and pulled away a little to look in teary eyes. "Haruka-chan, you've been doing nothing but apologizing for the past month. I don't want any more apologies."

"I swear, this is it! No more apollos after this!" the blond vowed vigorously, wiping away her tears.

"Apologies, Haruka-chan."

"You know what I mean! Just give me this one last chance!" Haruka beseeched her master.

Yukino sighed, her face tense and her eyes unreadable. She stared at Haruka for a moment before giving the briefest of nods. Haruka smiled and straightened up. She quickly wiped her face and put on a brave expression.

"I promise, Yukino, this will make up for everything," Haruka pledged confidently.

Yukino looked skeptical. "All right. Let's see it."

"Okay, but first, we have to change. I need you to put on one of your best dresses."

The President just went along with it, wanting to see what Haruka had planned that was so important. Haruka was giddy when she realized her lover was going to go with her. She hurried off to get ready too, informing Yukino that she would pick her up at their bedroom.

Haruka had placed her clothes in one of the guest bedrooms as well as the many other items she would need for the night. She put on a teal-colored dress that she bought just for the occasion. Doing her own hair and makeup, she then made sure she had the ring, which she put in a clutch purse that she had. Lastly, she picked up a bouquet of two dozen roses; it was a mix of peach and white roses. Yukino was partial to peach-colored roses and the white roses were to set the theme. With everything gathered, she went to collect her date.

Haruka knocked on the door. "Yukino, you ready?" she inquired, easing the door open.

"One moment, Haruka-chan," Yukino answered.

For once in her life, Haruka actually waited patiently, going so far as to shut the door and wait in the hallway. The blond bounced slightly, wondering when Yukino was going to join her. The door opened again after a couple of minutes, revealing her date. Haruka's mouth dropped open and her eyes went wide.

"Yukino…" the Otome whispered in a sheer awe.

The President blushed a little from the admiration that was so clear in Haruka's eyes. Honestly, she knew that she should have expected it since Haruka always looked awed when she wore this particular black dress. The expression made her feel rather attractive, so she always happy to see it Haruka's eyes.

"You look amazing," the General stated.

"Thank you," Yukino replied politely. "You look stunning too," she added, admiring her lover's outfit.

"It's nothing," Haruka said modestly. "Um… these are for you," she said softly, presenting Yukino with the bouquet.

"Oh, Haruka-chan…" Yukino lovingly cradled the flowers to her chest. "They're beautiful."

"Not as beautiful as you," Haruka said before she realized it.

Yukino blushed again. "Thank you…"

"All right. We have a long night ahead of us, so we need to get going. I hope you're ready to have the time of your life tonight."

Haruka offered Yukino her arm, which Yukino accepted. The couple marched out of the Mansion, as they did often. Everyone knew a date when they saw one, so they did not trouble the General about security involving the President. Haruka escorted Yukino to a carriage that was waiting, drawn by two white horses.

"Haruka-chan…" Yukino could not believe her eyes.

"Your chariot, my lady," Haruka said, opening the carriage door for her lover.

Yukino stepped inside and then begin to question Haruka on what was going on. Haruka, feeling her confidence return since Yukino seemed impressed, managed to keep everything a secret. She pretended that the whole thing was an apology for her behavior over the past month. By the time they got to their destination, Yukino was holding onto Haruka's arm tightly, eager to find out what was next.

"Haruka-chan, why are we at the Meadow?" the President inquired. The Meadow was a very elite restaurant with a bewitching area set in a faux-park that was designed by one of the top architects in Aries.

"To have dinner," Haruka answered as if it was the simplest thing in the world. She then helped Yukino out of the carriage.

"But… the crowd…" Yukino protested. They rarely went to the Meadow because every wealthy person in Aries seemed to think they knew everything about the government and the world and had an opinion that needed to be shared with both the President and her Otome. It was quite annoying, especially when she and Haruka were just trying to have a romantic night out.

Haruka grinned. "Don't worry about it, Yukino. I have everything under control."

Yukino nodded and decided to just follow Haruka's lead. They entered the restaurant and were greeted by the host. Yukino scanned the place, noticing that it was empty, except for a string quartet playing by the entrance to the park area. And Yukino noticed that was exactly where they were going. As they approached, Yukino gasped, seeing that a light snow blanketed the whole park.

"Haruka-chan…" Yukino grasped her lover's hand and squeezed it.

"I hope you like it," Haruka stated.

"I do."

The couple sat at a table that was circled by a patch of grass. Yukino looked around, delighted by the sight of snow. She then turned her attention to her companion as a waiter came over with a bottle. Champagne was poured for them and their meals were immediately. Yukino was not surprised to see her favorite meal placed in front of her.

"Haruka, this is all so wonderful," Yukino said. "The flowers, the restaurant, the snow… It's all too much," she declared.

"Nothing is too much for you, Yukino!" Haruka proclaimed, puffing out her chest as she spoke.

"But… this must have cost a fortune…" the President pointed out.

Haruka only shrugged. It had cost a lot, but she had been able to get much of it done on favors and the fact that much of Aries loved her anyway. But, of course, she would move the heavens to please Yukino.

"Haruka, was this what you've been planning? Is this why you've been so busy and staying out late? Just to do this for me?" Yukino asked, voice trembling from the sheer beauty around her and the thought that her lover had done so much for just her.

"There's more than this. I just want you to enjoy the evening," Haruka answered.

"Oh, I am! I'm sorry I was so upset with you earlier. I just never imagined… all of this," Yukino said, motioning around the winter wonderland.

"Like I said, there's more," Haruka replied, clutching her purse a little tighter. She was starting to itch to take the evening to its conclusion, but she knew that things needed to progress.

"What else?" Yukino asked curiously.

"Just wait and you'll see. Now, please, enjoy the food. I made sure to tell them to avoid those spices they usually put on it that you hate."

The brunette nodded, blushing a little, showing that she was touched by the care that Haruka put into the evening. The couple ate while conversing and smiling through every moment. To the Otome, it seemed like they talked about nothing, yet everything. Maybe the conversation was just a blur to her because of how excited she was. At least she managed to stay engaged and not zone out.

"Haruka, that was all so wonderful," Yukino praised her lover as their meals were finished.

"There's much more to come," Haruka promised with a small, proud smile.

Once dinner was over, they shared a single dessert. The way Yukino moaned as Haruka fed her spoonfuls of the creamy treat was enough to make the Otome melt. Haruka was surprised she did not burst at the seams, wanting to get take out the ring, but Yukino's calm voice kept her from jumping ahead.

"Haruka-chan, this was more than anything I could ever except. You outdid yourself," Yukino declared with an elated look on her face.

"Um… this isn't it, Yukino," Haruka stated.

"No? What else is there?" Yukino asked curiously. As far as she knew, dessert tended to mark the end of the evening.

"Dancing, of course," Haruka answered with a smile.

"Dancing? Haruka-chan, you dislike dancing," Yukino pointed out.

The blond shook her head. "It's not that I don't like it. I just don't like doing it at every party we go to. But, I want to dance with you tonight."

Yukino did not object anymore and smiled brightly as Haruka got up to take her hand. They then glided around the small, grassy area, being careful of the snow because they were both wearing open-toe shoes. Haruka smiled to herself as Yukino laughed while they danced for several minutes to the string quartet playing not too far away. When they sat back down, Yukino was still giggling like a schoolgirl.

"This is so amazing!" the President grinned.

"I'm glad you're enjoying this," Haruka said.

"This is the perfect night, Haruka-chan."

"I think I can make it better," the Otome declared confidently.

"Really? How?" Yukino asked curiously.

Haruka took a deep breath as she secretly opened her purse and reached inside. Once she had the jewelry box in hand, she placed her purse down on the table. She then got up and walked over to Yukino's side of the table. Yukino was about to say something, but Haruka was suddenly down on one knee. All words abandoned Yukino as Haruka held up the ring box.

"Yukino, you are the most amazing woman ever born and I am beyond lucky that you chose me to be by your side. You give me strength and you are my reason to go on. You make me want to be the best that I can be. Seeing you follow your dream, do the right thing, and press on no matter what always has inspired me and I have always been flattered that you allowed me to stand with you as you try to make the world a better place. I would be the happiest person to ever live if all you allowed me to do was stand beside you. But, please, allow me to ask for more. Allow me to ask for your hand in marriage, allow me to stay by your side forever, allow me to build a life with you, and allow me to love you as best I can for the rest of my days," Haruka implored before slowly opening the box, revealing the engagement ring.

Tears quickly welled up in Yukino's eyes as she took in the ring. Covering her mouth, she gasped from surprise at the sight of it. Still speechless, all she could do was nod and utter a phrase that her Otome was familiar with. "Oh, Haruka-chan…"

"Is that what you want? To stay together? To be married?" Haruka asked to be sure. The last thing she wanted to do was misinterpret something at a critical moment and ruin everything.

"Yes, Haruka-chan. YES!" Yukino answered, crying, but grinning at the same time.

Haruka eased the ring onto Yukino's left ring finger. As soon as the ring was secure, Yukino threw herself into the Otome and kissed her with a burning passion. By the time they parted, Haruka was dazed from the show of affection. Yukino laughed when she noticed Haruka's expression. While Haruka seemed to be gathering her wits, Yukino studied her engagement ring.

"Haruka-chan, this is the most beautiful ring I have ever seen," the President stated.

"It's just like you, beautiful, special, unique, and brilliant," Haruka declared.

Those words earned Haruka another mind-numbing kiss. The blond was left in a daze for a second time. Yukino giggled again. She was engaged to Haruka! She could not wait to tell everyone. Haruka was the same.

"We're getting married!" the General shouted to the stars, picking Yukino up and spinning her around to celebrate. She could not wait to get married and start their new lives together!

-8-8-8-8-

The end. Well, really if you want to see more, you can read chapter 21 of Playing with Mercury. I'm considering to do a second chapter to this, but I make no promises.