I don't own these characters.

A/N: this is an AU ShizNat story based on a manga called Pieta. I recommend it to anyone who likes manga.

Here's an early holiday gift – the very last chapter of the story. Please, enjoy.

Epilogue: Forward

Hey, doc

I know you're wondering how I'm doing now that I've graduated and moved and put our sessions on hold while me and Shizuru settle into our new place. Well, the settling is over. I still can't believe Shizuru put up with living at home for year to wait for me to graduate, so we could get our own place together. I'm a bit surprised that Anh and Laula put up with me for a year and basically refused to let me leave until I graduated. They're cool people, but you know that. Anyway, I was hoping you'd come check the place out. See if maybe Shizuru should put some pads on the walls and hid the butter knives. It's okay if this is too personal and all, but I would love for you to come and see it. I want you to see that I'm doing really well and I plan to keep it up.

Maria chuckled a bit as she dropped the letter onto her desk. "I don't know how someone that clueless can be so sweet," she commented with a smile. "It's even more adorable that she wrote a letter instead of calling me."

She was always glad to hear from Natsuki, especially when it was not part of their therapy sessions. She liked being included in Natsuki's life, which was good since she knew that Natsuki needed as many good people in her life as she could collect. Natsuki made it a point to keep her informed, too, and she knew that Natsuki looked at her as more than a therapist, which she did not mind. She shook her head and decided to go see what all of the hoopla was about.

So, as soon as she had a spare moment, Maria found herself driving to Natsuki and Shizuru's new address. They had suspended their sessions as Natsuki wanted to settle into her new college life and into her new home. Maria agreed because Natsuki had definitely made leaps and bounds once she was away from the Kugas' poisonous sphere. Of course, they had also agreed that the sessions would continue once Natsuki was settled.

Natsuki still had issues to deal with, even though the Kugas were now little more than a horrible memory to her. There were little reminders of their existence, though. Her father had to pay her monthly stipends to repay the money that he had embezzled from her trust fund; the theft had been proven by an accountant as well as paperwork that Kuga kept and apparently was not smart enough to shred. He also had to pay her compensation for his treatment of her, which had been ruled as abusive. In fact, the judge had gotten red in the face and almost could not speak when he made the ruling because he was so disgusted with Kuga's actions as Natsuki's guardian. The judge wanted to throw Una in jail for what she had done, but conceded there was no law against her actions. Still, he made sure that they would give Natsuki something for the torment that they put her through.

Natsuki imagined it was tough on him to pay her every month since he had been fired quite publically the day after meeting with Natsuki's army of lawyers. She was not sure if he had found another job. Natsuki had not seen her father since those rulings and felt like if she never saw him again, it would be too soon.

Still, she felt anxiety over her new freedom sometimes. There were moments were her whole reality struck her as surreal and she had actually hyperventilated in the early months of her emancipation. She was over it for the most part and Maria expected the nervousness to vanish eventually. Natsuki was strong and wanted to live a good life, so she would eventually stop feeling so concerned and gobsmacked over living a good life.

She also worried about her relationship with Shizuru and the Fujinos from time to time. She feared that they would "take off their rose-colored glasses" and see her for what she truly was, broken and useless. Everyone knew that this attitude was the greasy, putrid residue left on Natsuki's self-worth by her father and his wife. There were assurances from Maria, as well as others that Natsuki spoke to, that those were thoughts left behind by her father and stepmother, which made the thoughts total and complete lies. No one else viewed her like that and they knew it would take her time to adjust to that idea. She was eternally grateful for the patience that her adopted family showed her.

She occasionally had nightmares over her mother. Maria assured her all of that was normal and she would get through it as long as she tried her best and talked about it, not just with the therapist, but Shizuru and her new family as well. Natsuki followed the advice well, finding it easiest to speak with Shizuru and Laula much of the time. She spoke with them often about her thoughts, about life, about interests, and everything in between. No one was surprised she did that with Shizuru, but the bond she was starting to share with Laula was a bit of a shock.

Maria gathered from their sessions that Natsuki looked at Laula as a mentor, which was good. It took some of the emotional burden from Shizuru, who was slowly only having to wear the hats of being Natsuki's friend and lover, in the classical sense of the word. Natsuki and Shizuru loved each other deeply, so they were lovers. Of course, Maria knew that Natsuki did not quite yet fathom their love in adult terms.

"This is a delightful looking area," Maria noted as she pulled up to the building. She was certain that it would be a massive step up from the rat-hole apartment that Natsuki used to live in and she was right.

"Graceburt-sensei, thank you for coming," Shizuru smiled as she let Maria into the apartment.

The apartment was not that big, but it was certainly more than enough space for two college students. There was a small terrace area with plants and what looked like a small spice garden; those were Shizuru's without a doubt. There were a few pictures up of the pair, as well as a couple of Shizuru's family. She smiled when she noticed a picture of Alyssa; she was certain that it was an old picture, but the fact that it was there spoke volumes. There were still boxes waiting to be unpacked. They had the basics out, though.

"Can I get you anything, Graceburt-sensei? We were about to have lunch," Shizuru said with a gracious smile.

"Whatever you're having is fine with me," Maria replied.

Natsuki moved to prepare the table and they all gathered around as Shizuru served. Maria noted that they seemed as natural as ever around each other. If she were a betting woman, she would wager everything she owned on them staying together for the rest of their lives and being quite happy with each other. They ate in a silence for a while before Maria spoke up.

"This place looks really good. How's it coming along?" the doctor inquired. She noticed that the television was set up and Natsuki's video games were out, which was a good sign because the video games were Natsuki's way of relaxing. There was an end table by the sofa that held magazines; some for motorcycles and some for other things that Maria guessed were Shizuru's interests.

"Really well, so far. Shizuru's still beating me up because I won't let her pay the rent, but other than that, it's fine," Natsuki replied.

"Doctor, could you work that into a session? Tell Natsuki she doesn't have to pay for everything when we do something together?" Shizuru actually frowned.

"I'll see what I can do, but you know how stubborn she can be when she thinks that she's right. Do you know when I can expect her back?" Maria asked, purposely talking to just Shizuru because she knew it annoyed Natsuki.

"We're thinking next week. School is going well and she says she can manage the workload. We were considering Tuesdays because she only has one class that day," Shizuru answered.

"Hey, I'm right here and I can tell her," Natsuki objected. "Next week Friday I should be back, more than likely. Friday I have one class, too. I can come right after class on both days. I think I can manage twice a week. Is that good?"

"Twice week should be fine. You coming is about what you're comfortable with, Natsuki. I think you're making great strides and it's your decision," Maria informed the teen with a proud smile. So far, Natsuki had been making good decisions and she could not help being happy for the girl.

Natsuki nodded. "I feel good about twice a week right now. I still have a lot inside of me that I need to get out."

The doctor nodded and then turned her attention to her other hostess. "What about you, Shizuru? How are things going with you?"

"Thank you for recommending Doctor Helene to me. She's a very good therapist, but I typically only see her once a week now," Shizuru said.

Natsuki reached over and took Shizuru's hand. "Sorry I drove you back into therapy, Shizuru."

Shizuru shook her head. "Natsuki, we have gone through this. It wasn't your fault. I am just glad that I got to you in time." A bright, loving smile spread across her face.

"Me, too." Natsuki smiled.

While they did not speak of "the incident" often, Shizuru witnessing Natsuki with a gun to her head and almost shooting herself was extremely traumatizing. While they were working on getting Natsuki out of her father's grasp, Shizuru had been busy enough to push it from her mind. Court, school, and making sure Natsuki was all right did not give Shizuru time to consider the things that happened before.

The second that they settled down into a comfortable life, though, the nightmares started. She often dreamed that she had not made it in time to stop Natsuki. Sometimes, in her dreams, she would show up just in time to see Natsuki put a bullet through her brain. It bothered her to the point that she would call Natsuki endlessly whenever the younger girl was out of sight to make sure that she was still alive.

Eventually, she began following Natsuki around, so that the pale teen was never out of sight. Natsuki knew that she had to do something and she asked her doctor to recommend someone for Shizuru to confide in and help her through her trauma. Shizuru had been seeing Doctor Yohko Helene ever since and the nightmares lessened as did the phone calls and clingy behavior. It was a lot to deal with, though, and Shizuru was not sure when she would be over it, if she would be over it.

"Thank you two for the lunch and the chance to see your lovely new home. It's wonderful," Maria said.

Shizuru and Natsuki both smiled proudly and they moved onto more pleasant conversation about what they were going to do with their new home. After they finished eating, they gave Doctor Graceburt a tour of the apartment, even though there was not much to see. The kitchen, which Natsuki proclaimed "Shizuru's domain" was stocked more so than any other room and had modern appliances.

"I'm only allowed to do dishes in here. If I go beyond that Shizuru thinks I'm stepping on her wifely toes," Natsuki joked.

Maria chuckled and Shizuru smiled while hooking her arm around Natsuki's. In all of the time that Maria had gotten to know the teens, she still found their relationship to be strange, even though it worked for both of them. They were beyond friends, beyond lovers, beyond married, as Shizuru once said. They honestly seemed like the other's world, which Maria would have thought was unhealthy if only they did not open each other up to new experiences on the daily basis. For a while, she worried that if something happened to one of them, the other would be damaged beyond repair, but she was starting to understand that was not the case. They had built each other up to the point where if something did happen to the one, it was now guaranteed that the other would survive.

"We got a western style bed, even though Shizuru was really opposed to it," Natsuki announced, opening the door to their bedroom. It was a Spartan space with only their queen-sized bed and a dresser out. All of the boxes let Maria know they had unpacking to do there. She entertained herself by wondering what the most personal space in the apartment would look like between the two of them since they had such differing personalities.

"The rest of the furniture has yet to arrive," Shizuru sighed. "But, it does give you a good sense of the space in here, yes?"

"It does. This is a large room. You two were lucky to find this apartment," Maria said.

"It took a lot of patience, which my dear Natsuki doesn't have. She was ready to move in to any little space, as if my aunts were ushering us out of the door the second she graduated," Shizuru remarked. "I actually thought Aunt Laula was going to get on her hands and knees and beg you to stay."

"I didn't want to be in the way and we should be closer to our schools, anyway. You had to travel so far. Besides, it didn't matter to me where we lived as long as we were together," Natsuki declared with gusto.

Maria chuckled, enjoying the fact that Natsuki was too thickheaded to be embarrassed by such a statement. The tour continued on and Maria expressed pride that the pair had found a good place to turn into their own. Natsuki was beaming by the time Maria had to leave.

"Please, come by anytime," Natsuki told the doctor as they were saying their farewells.

"I'll check on you every now and then to make sure you're not driving poor Shizuru up a wall," Maria teased. Natsuki looked indignant and folded her arms across her chest like a petulant child, causing Shizuru to smile.

Later on, Shizuru had her family over to show off the new apartment. It was only the third time that Natsuki got to interact with all of the Fujinos in one, confined place; the first two were Shizuru's graduation and her graduation. As always, she could definitely see the family resemblance in all of them, beyond the fact that they were all tawny-haired and slightly above average height. They were all just so personable and charming almost all the time, like they could not help themselves. And, of course, they all adored the baby of their bunch, gushing over everything that Shizuru had and did. They also heaped plenty of praise on Natsuki, who they also adored; they often said that they considered her the "new baby" of the family.

The attention was something that both Shizuru and Natsuki still had to get used to. Every few minutes, they separated from the group to get themselves together. They held each other's hand and hugged before going back into the fray.

"Make sure you two spend some time studying between all the hugs and kisses," Anh teased and that earned a blush from Natsuki. The blush was very noticeable and the other Fujinos jumped in to playfully taunt the two college students.

After a few minutes, Shizuru stepped into save her poor Natsuki. "All right, all right. You all know you can't pick on my beloved Natsuki at once," she scolded them as she wrapped her arms protectively around the biker.

"Natsuki knows we tease because we love," Taro declared.

"Is that what they're calling it now?" Laula scoffed. She put a hand on Natsuki's shoulder. "You know you can't take anything they say to heart. They joke about everything," she reminded the younger woman.

Natsuki nodded. "I know. I'm trying to get used to it, but the damned blush always comes up."

"I'll help you stop it," Laula promised. She then leaned in close. "It used to happen to me all the time, too. After a while, I figured out how to keep under control."

Natsuki breathed a sigh of relief. "You definitely have to tell me the secret soon." Laula nodded and patted the pale girl again. Natsuki smiled at the older woman.

"All right, all right. To make up for almost bursting a blood vessel in Natsuki's face, let's take these two out. Dinner on me," Taro said.

"Thank you, Otousan," Shizuru smiled and graciously hugged her father. He could not help grinning and then Shizuru's mother and siblings came in for hugs of them own. It was amazing because Shizuru accepted and returned the embraces without flinching. Once they were done with Shizuru, they turned to Natsuki, who was not much of a hugger unless it was Shizuru, so they gave her encouraging pats on the back.

"Yeah, let's go," Natsuki replied and the Fujino family practically cheered.

-8-8-8-8-

"Shizuru …" Natsuki whispered as they were curled up in their bed. She was running her fingers up and down Shizuru's arm. Shizuru had her head tucked comfortably under Natsuki's chin.

"Hmm?" was the lazy reply.

"Thank you for giving me a whole new life."

"Thank you for doing the same to me."

"Okay, then thank you for loving me."

"Again, thank you for doing the same."

"Uh … thank you for giving me a family, then."

"Again, my dearest Natsuki, thank you for doing the same."

Natsuki laughed a little and knew that there was nothing more to say. Everything that she wanted to thank Shizuru for, Shizuru already knew. Just like she knew everything that Shizuru would thank her for. So, she made herself comfortable and thought of her how she had her whole life ahead of her. Oddly enough, there was one thing that she would like from her old life.

"If you're patient, she'll come to you," Shizuru said.

Natsuki groaned. "Don't read my mind like that!"

"Not your mind. Your body language. You stopped running lines down my arm and began playing with my fingers. You do that when you want to distract yourself and when it's just us alone in the dark, there are only two things you need to distract yourself about."

"Well, how do you know I'm not thinking about Mom?"

"Tears fall from your eyes when you do and make their way down your face. I usually feel the drops hit my face when we're snuggled like this. When that doesn't happen, I know you're thinking about Alyssa. You have to be patient."

"You're right."

And, of course, Shizuru was right. Natsuki was not very patient, but she was getting better, especially with things beyond her control. One day, it paid off. There was a knock at the door, Natsuki answered and standing before her was Alyssa. Miyu stood a few inches back.

"Oneechan!" Alyssa threw herself into Natsuki's arms.

"Alyssa, I missed you so much!" Natsuki said as she returned the embrace with all that she had. She went so far as to lift Alyssa off the ground as she held onto the child.

"I promised Miyu I would never talk to her again if she didn't bring me to see you. I know you're a grown-up now, but I still wanna see you sometimes!" It sounded almost like Alyssa was scolding her, which brought a massive grin to the biker's face.

Natsuki held onto the small blond just a little tighter. "I wanna see you, too. I wanna see you a lot actually. So, come on in and stay a while. You get to meet Shizuru today," she smiled and ushered Alyssa into the apartment. She then turned to Miyu.

She noticed that Miyu was wearing her school uniform, but it was not from Fuuka Academy. She actually felt guilty, knowing that the Kuga family could not longer afford to send Miyu to the excellent school. Thankfully, from what she could tell with Alyssa's uniform, Alyssa still went to Fuuka. She was willing to bet the child had a scholarship; undoubtedly in music from the way the girl sang.

"You can come in or stand in the hall all day. I think we both know which one you'd prefer, but we also know you don't trust me with Alyssa, so you might as well come in," Natsuki said to the teal-haired teen and motioned into the apartment.

"Just know that if you do anything to harm my little sister, I won't hesitate to return the favor," Miyu informed the biker.

Natsuki laughed. "I know you don't believe me just yet, but I promise you that all I want is for our sister to be happy. I just want to love her like you do. I want her in my life and I'll never do anything to mess that up."

She felt like she owed Miyu at least an explanation since the teen was taking a risk by bringing Alyssa by. Surely Miyu's mother would be upset if she found out what Miyu had done and might possibly continue to do. She hoped that did not deter Miyu in any way.

"I know that night … I know what she told you," Natsuki said. "I know you might never believe it, but I swear I would never try to hurt Alyssa. I would never do anything to hurt her."

Miyu frowned. "I'm not stupid, Natsuki, just so you know. Yes, I was young and, yes, my mother said things, but I'm not stupid and I've had time to think on it. I remember you, what you were like, what it was like for you. Now, I can't say I totally knew you. Didn't know if you were as crazy as they made you sound or as dangerous as they made you sound, but I know you never showed any real danger signs beyond what you did to yourself. I know you didn't have a reason to hurt her, but she was crying and I don't know why, but you had a gun."

"I shoved her to get her out of the damn room, so she wouldn't have to see me do what I wanted to do," Natsuki hissed.

Miyu shook her head. "Either way, that's the distant past. But, in the not-too-distant past you did something that would've torn her apart. I don't care one way or another if you want to end your miserable life, but she does," she said, pointing to Alyssa. "She loves you for whatever reason and you killing yourself would be too much for her to handle."

"I'm over that. I'll never get to that point again. So, she'll never have to feel that kind of pain or confusion," the pale girl vowed.

"You better mean that or as I said, what you do to her, I will do to you," Miyu promised.

Natsuki nodded to show that she understood and then she turned her attention to her little sister, who was already introducing herself to Shizuru. Shizuru was smiling graciously at the child. Natsuki joined in and those three had a delightful time together, just talking over their interests and getting to know each other. Miyu never joined in, just watched like a hawk, which Natsuki did not mind. Nothing could take away her happiness with the moment and the idea that Alyssa would come back to see her as often as possible.

"It was great meeting you, Alyssa-chan," Shizuru said as she and Natsuki saw their guests to the door.

"You, too," Alyssa smiled. "I'll be back soon, Oneechan."

"I'm looking forward to it," Natsuki replied. "Give me a call and we can arrange to go somewhere. Maybe the arcade or a fair or something. I dunno. Shizuru's good at planning trips, so she can help me figure out."

Alyssa giggled. "I would love to go on a trip with both of you."

"We look forward to it, then," Shizuru said.

Natsuki smiled and nodded before giving her sister one last hug. With that, the little blonde left with Miyu. Natsuki turned her attention to Shizuru and embraced her. Shizuru turned to properly hug the ebony-haired girl.

"Today was a really good day. I'm looking forward to just living," Natsuki sighed happily.

"You know what I'm looking forward to, Natsuki?" Shizuru asked.

"No, what?"

Shizuru chuckled, but did not verbally respond. She dipped her head slightly and her lips made contact with Natsuki's mouth. Emerald eyes went wide briefly and then fluttered shut. She returned the show of affection with as much love as she could muster. She could feel Shizuru smiling against her lips and it felt like an eternity past before they reluctantly pulled away.

"I've been looking forward to that for a long time and I wouldn't bear to wait any longer," Shizuru remarked in a low, breathy tone.

"Oh … um … plenty time for that, too," Natsuki quipped with a blush. Yes, there certainly was plenty of time for that.

Of course, Shizuru was not looking to wait. She came in for another kiss, deeper than the first. Natsuki was not caught off guard that time and returned the kiss immediately. She wrapped her arms around Shizuru's waist while Shizuru's arms went around her neck. They pulled each other as closely as they possibly could as their lips and tongues fervently caressed each other. Shizuru giggled when they finally pulled away for much needed air.

"Do you want to know what else I've been looking forward to?" Shizuru asked in a low voice with a coy smile.

"You know I'm not good at guessing. I'm a visual learner, so I need you to show me," Natsuki replied with a small smirk. It certainly did not take a rocket scientist to figure it out when Shizuru took her by the hand and gently pulled her toward their bedroom. She was looking forward to that, too.

The end.

Thank you for reading my story. I hope you enjoyed it. I'm returning to my padded cell now and with luck I'll be back with more ShizNat goodness.