A/N: It's that time of year again...my wife's birthday, which means her birthday gift story featuring Natsuki, Shizuru, and the CHILDs! ^_^ Incidentally, this just happens to be the fiftieth story I've written featuring the chibi-CHILDs: 44 chapters of "Duran and Kiyohime's Omake Theater," plus "Illusion" and the five holiday gifts, "The Secret Ingredient," "Finding Words," "Taking Wing," "A Balanced Recipe," and now this story. So it's doubly a milestone for you to enjoy. And especially for Tarma to enjoy!

Spring Daze


"It's All Part of Being a Dog Owner"

(featuring the Kuga-Fujino family pets!)

Natsuki and Shizuru were generally conscientious, even doting pet owners. They looked after their animals' comfort. For example, in the living room of their house, Kiyohime had her favorite purple pillow to nestle up on and Duran a fluffy throw rug, since the carpeting wasn't quite soft enough to lie around on during family evenings.

The existence of such amenities, however, did not always insure that they were properly used.

"All right, guys; get down."

With downcast eyes and plaintive expressions, the six-headed hydra and the steel wolf climbed down off the couch, all the while giving the impression that Natsuki's order was the worst abuse ever inflicted upon a house pet.

Their audience seemed remarkably unaffected.

Lip curled, the dark-haired biker turned to her girlfriend and said, "They learned this from you, you know."

"Ara? What is Natsuki accusing me of?"

"The fake pout, the puppy-dog eyes, the obviously transparent attempts to make me feel guilty even when I'm completely in the right and you know it and you're not even upset." She ticked the offenses off on her fingers. "And now you're teaching it to Duran and Kiyohime!"

"I do not believe that Duran, at least, needed any instruction in the use of 'puppy-dog eyes,'" Shizuru pointed out. Natsuki was having none of her logic.

"That is not the point. The point is that we've just finished dinner, I wanted to relax on the couch and play some video games to unwind, and now I'm feeling guilty over chasing my own dog onto the floor!"

Shizuru looked at her curiously. For her part, she felt no guilt at all. After all, the furniture was for human use, and many people would have thought Natsuki was being generous for allowing Duran to get up on it all even though it had been unoccupied at the time.

Plus it was more comfortable for her stretch out on the couch with a book and put her feet in Natsuki's lap than to do the same thing on the floor. Given where Natsuki usually sat when gaming on the floor, the coffee table would be in the way so Shizuru would have to sit up if she wanted to snuggle while reading—and for Shizuru Fujino, snuggling with Natsuki was an absolute priority.

Then again, if she didn't have her personal idiosyncrasies, Natsuki would not be Natsuki, and that would be a horrifying thought.

"You should learn to relax and be more confident," she said. "That way you would not be preyed on by the common lot of unscrupulous manipulators that you encounter in daily life. It's your innate generosity and desire to please others that makes you such an easy victim—"

"What?" Natsuki exploded. Shizuru decided that her girlfriend was definitely mellowing out. Back while they were still caught up in the HiME Festival a little over a year ago, Natsuki probably would have blown up before she even got the second half of the tease in. "There are so many things wrong with that that I don't know where to begin!"

"Ara? Do tell," Shizuru prompted, but Natsuki was off and rolling all on her own.

"Is there anyone out there who gives less of a damn about what people think than me? My entire life has been about not caring about all that social crap! Do what I want and let the chips fall where they may."

"You sound like you're describing Nao."

"Don't make me have to hurt you, Shizuru."

Shizuru took this threat with the seriousness it deserved and broke into muffled giggles.

"And as for being preyed on by manipulators, who the heck do you think is the number-one one of them in my life, huh? So you're telling me to not put up with your tricks any more?"

"Natsuki, dear, I said that relaxation and confidence would fend off common manipulators. I will have you know that I take great pride in being an expert." She managed to slip just a trace of hurt into her voice.

"Sorry," Natsuki said reflexively. "Hey, wait..."


Natsuki shared her smile at that one.


"And as for Natsuki caring about others, well, you do. Making puppy-dog eyes and whimpering wouldn't work on you if you didn't care if I was unhappy. It's simple logic."

"Your logic is never simple."

"Now, it's true that you care very little about the happiness of humanity in general, but for certain specific individuals you do care very much indeed. You want me to be happy to the fullest extent possible, and there's Mai and Mikoto and Duran and Kiyohime and yes, even Nao." Natsuki started to reflexively protest the last one but Shizuru pressed a fingertip to her lover's lips to shush her. "You would go a very long way to help and protect any of us, and don't think that we don't know it. It's very, very sweet and kind of you, Natsuki."

She leaned forward, slipping an arm around Natsuki's waist so that their bodies were pressed together, bent her head, and whispered huskily into her shell-pink ear.

"Of course, this is also why Natsuki is such a marshmallow when one of us wants something from her."

There was really only one rational response to this. Natsuki scooped a throw pillow off the armchair and whomped Shizuru with it. Shizuru reeled away, laughing, and snagged Kiyohime's cushion off the floor.

"Your pillow-fu is weak, young Kuga."

Natsuki's eyes glinted dangerously.

"This isn't an ancient Japanese art with its roots in the Heian period, old Fujino. Bring it on!"

Shizuru, of course, did exactly that, and for the next five minutes the girlfriends diligently tried their very best to pummel one another unconscious with large, soft objects, a martial contest further made difficult by the fact that they were laughing their heads off the entire time. At last, they collapsed sweaty and gasping for breath onto the couch while feathers drifted down around them.

"I think..." Shizuru pouted. "You killed...That pillow..."

Natsuki looked at the rag in her hand that used to be a pillow cover.

"What...am I doing...living in a house with...throw pillows anyway?" she panted. She found the strength to look at Shizuru, or rather to let her head loll over to one side so it rested on the back of the sofa facing that way. "Lucky for you that one's just got a couple of burst seams. Otherwise the wrath of the hydra would be upon you."

Shizuru gave her a dazzling smile.

"And yet, our pillow fight had no clear winner, despite me having to hold back to keep from damaging Kiyohime's cushion too much. It seems to me that under the circumstances, I should be declared the victor."

"Wait, you're saying that I lost?" Natsuki breathed out.

"Oh, no. You're not the loser, Natsuki."

Shizuru's eyes were getting that familiar gleam in them.

"You're the spoils."

It wouldn't be accurate to say that she pounced. That implied the kind of quick action that neither one of them was quite ready for. Rather, she seemed to glide towards Natsuki, slithering snakelike up the couch while her lover was transfixed by her hungry gaze.

Even after a year, Natsuki still found Shizuru's feelings overwhelming. The idea that someone else could desire her, with all her rough edges and emotional scars, utterly swept her away. The sheer intensity of Shizuru's love was a daily revelation to her. Even now, she still found it hard to believe, sometimes found herself withdrawing into her shell or having a hard time trusting—the lessons of her mother's death and the following bitter years weren't so easily put aside.

Realizing that she loved Shizuru had been a revelation for Natsuki. Accepting that she could be loved, that was more of a slow, steady process of growth.

Lucky for me, Shizuru's a lot more patient than I am, to wait for me.

Patient in some things, at least.

The weight of Shizuru's body was pressing up against her, now. Her thighs straddled Natsuki's, their breasts nestled together, their faces were inches apart.

"You can't possibly have the energy to..." Natsuki began, but the evidence was not on the side of that observation. Shizuru's agile fingers found the button of Natsuki's jeans and undid it, even as her mouth came down over Natsuki's. Her lips were warm and soft, but insistent as they urged Natsuki's own open beneath them. Their tongues met, sliding together, and Natsuki found that she, too, had more than enough energy.

~X X X~

The sounds of laughter and the thumping of pillows on flesh had stopped, so Kiyohime's fourth head, always the daredevil, peeked out around the side of the bedroom door, where the CHILDs had retreated to avoid the fight. A couple more heads followed when nothing immediately bad happened, and six eyes surveyed the aftermath. Feathers were everywhere, as if a gaggle of molting geese had flown through. On the couch, Shizuru and Natsuki were embracing closely, and appeared to be involved in some sort of puzzle game, the object of which seemed to be to peel as much of the other's clothing off as possible while keeping one's body, especially one's mouth, in contact with the other at all time. Since Kiyohime's interest in the mating behavior of humans was generally limited to the observation that frequent incidents of it tended to raise both women's spirits and make for a happier, more harmonious household, she turned back into the bedroom.

But not before noticing something.

Duran had already settled himself on the foot of the bed in classic "nap" position. No doubt his superior canine hearing had picked up on the soft moans, gasps for breath, and other sounds of what was going on. He didn't quite understand why this kind of snuggling was different than the regular kind where they'd be happy to curl up with Duran as well, but after the first time he'd tried to hop up in bed with them he had firmly fixed in his mind the warning signs of "kissing cuddles," where he was advised to mind his own business.

Kiyohime hissed at him; he opened his eyes and cocked an ear in her direction while she hissed some more. He then hopped down from the bed, trotted into the next room and was back in a couple of seconds with her pillow in his mouth. He dropped it next to her while her sixth head hissed a thank-you, then he hopped back up on the bed, turned around three times, and was asleep in seconds.

Kiyohime, meanwhile, slithered over to her mistress's night-table, opened the drawer, and fetched down the sewing kit. She figured that she had an hour or so to kill and she ought to be able to have her pillow fixed by then.

~X X X~

Shizuru and Natsuki lay curled together, naked, kissing softly as they basked in the afterglow of their lovemaking. Somewhat unusually, Natsuki had ended up on top, her weight a gentle burden on her lover. Breaking off the kiss, she pushed herself up on one elbow and looked down at Shizuru, a lazy smile on her lips.

"You know, I think you're at your most beautiful when you look like this."

Shizuru looked up at her in surprise, then covered for it with a quick, teasing gaze.


"Well, yes, but not what I mean. Normally, you're so perfectly put together, from your clothes to your hair to the expression on your face, all exactly how you want people to see you. But now you're naked, your sweaty, you're sticky, and your hair is a mess from having my hands repeatedly buried in it." She illustrated her point by plucking a lock of hair away from where it had gotten sweat-stuck to Shizuru's cheek. "Best of all, I get to see your face with your guard down, without that mask you always hide behind. Just my Shizuru, letting everything down for me,and only me, to see her real self."

Shizuru let out a little gasp, a soft indrawing of breath, and she could feel her face grow hot.

"That is not fair, Natsuki. I'm supposed to be the one who makes you blush," she said in a voice barely above a whisper, completely overwhelmed.

"Tough. That's what you get for being so lovable."

That comment just made Shizuru blush even worse, and Natsuki's gaze drifted down to see how far it would go. Then, though, her amused look turned quizzical.

"Shizuru, are you wearing body glitter?"

"No; such a thing is not at all my style. Would Natsuki like to see me in it?"

"No, I just wondered why you're covered in sparkly stuff."

Surprised, Shizuru raised her head and looked down at herself. It was true; there were tiny silver sparkles adhering to her limbs and torso. Then she noticed that Natsuki, too, had them on her and said so.

"Okay, this is weird," Natsuki said, rubbing at herself and dislodging a few metallic flakes. They sat up and began to look around.

"Natsuki, the couch has all kinds of them on it. They must have stuck to us because our skin was sweaty."

"Yeah, that makes sense, but...what are they? Do we need to get the place fumigated or something?"

They looked at each other, trying to think, until Shizuru suddenly broke into giggles.

"What's so funny?"

"Well, does Natsuki remember that Duran was lying on the couch just before now?"

"Yeah, so?"

Shizuru smiled at her.

"It's late spring, just getting into the hot days of summer...when dogs start shedding their winter coat!"

Natsuki stared at her, then groaned, shaking her head.

"And here I thought I'd have it easy because he's a hairless breed."

~X X X~

A/N: Happy birthday, sweetie! ^_^

Incidentally, if any of you readers noticed that Natsuki's sentiments about Shizuru's post-sex appearance are reminiscent of Himeko's about Chikane (no surprise, really, given Shizuru and Chikane's similarities in projecting a polished public facade) in "Moving Day"...congratulations on being so familiar with my writing. It took me four days to figure it out for myself! ^_-