Disclaimer: I do not and will never own Mai-Hime (Anime or Manga version) or any of the characters within it.

Author's Note at the end.

Chapter 1 – An Empty Room, I'm Empty Too

Natsuki watched her reflection as she chewed on her lower lip nervously and adjusted the hemline of her dress. She had ended up hiding in the women's bathroom to avoid making small talk with the many people that were mingling in the room down the hall. She always felt out of place and uncomfortable at dinner parties. Not that that was really a surprise. Natsuki was notorious for her dislike of social events. Everyone knew that if she could, Natsuki would find a way out of attending any event that involved propriety, dressing up, or small talk. She despised small talk. As a result, the only such events she ever attended were those held by Shizuru's law firm. Since Shizuru's attendance was mandatory, and it was expected she would have a date, Natsuki went. Partially because Shizuru wished it and Natsuki knew it made the brunette more comfortable to have her there and partially because Natsuki was too possessive to allow anyone else to escort her lovely girlfriend, even if it wasn't a real date.

Not that she would ever own up to that. It was one of the many things that Natsuki left unsaid, not wanting to let the emotions she was less proud of show. She hated how jealous she got, how possessive she was. She hated how she was constantly afraid of losing the woman she'd come to love to the point where living without her was not an option.

Natsuki's world had come to revolve around two things. Shizuru, and the all-consuming worry that her fixation with her would be the reason she lost her. And no matter how hard she tried, Natsuki couldn't condone her obsession. She had reached a point where she knew that the only way she could control her fear would be to prove that she wasn't clingy and that she could give Shizuru space. Because how could anyone love a person who was so pathetic that they couldn't stand on their own two feet?

So maybe, just maybe, if she could learn to love Shizuru just a little less or if she could just learn to be okay on her own rather than falling into a desperate misery every time the brunette was gone, she would be able to stand beside Shizuru without the agonizing worry tainting every moment. The worry that Shizuru would see the real her and that she would leave as a result. Just like everyone else had. And Natsuki knew that she wouldn't be able to get over losing Shizuru the way she'd gotten over every other person who'd walked out of her life. She'd never let anyone get so close. Never let anyone so far into who she was. Not until Shizuru. If she lost Shizuru there would be a hole that she'd never be able to fill.

She didn't know when the comfortable companionship and affection she'd held for the woman blossomed into an obsession. And that was what worried Natsuki the most. The possibility that the way she felt about the older woman was abnormal or unhealthy. For all she knew her behaviour was borderline psychotic. And the only way she could find out would be to ask someone she knew. Natsuki had no experience to speak of and she was more than aware that asking someone else and allowing them in on her personal feelings and thoughts would not happen. And Natsuki was fairly sure she had no other options.

Her lips turned down into a serious frown and she began to push her hand through her hair, a nervous habit she'd maintained since high school, only to groan in irritation as she remembered the elegant bun it had all been gathered into. She settled for flicking her bangs to the side instead of her hair and went back to staring at her reflection.

The woman she saw reflected was marked by the scars of her past. She would never feel smart enough, attractive enough. She would never feel good enough. In particular she didn't feel she'd ever be good enough for Shizuru. Hell, she probably would never feel good enough for anyone. Her track record only proved this. No one stayed around when it came down to it. Her father hadn't, any friends she'd ever had had run for the hills the moment they discovered anything about her past, and she'd grown to expect that. The running. Then Shizuru had come along and she hadn't given up. No matter what had occurred she'd fought for the chance to stay by her side. But why? For what? Was Natsuki worth that? Previous examples said no. So what did Shizuru see? How could Natsuki continue to live up to that image that Shizuru seemed to adore so much?

A small sigh escaped her and Natsuki closed her eyes. Now wasn't the time for her to be thinking about such things. She needed to pull it together and get back out there where Shizuru was waiting for her.

Just as she was about to open her eyes once more, a pair of arms encircled her waist. Before she could react in what was most likely to be a fairly violent manner the smell of Shizuru's perfume wafted into her nose and she relaxed. She opened her eyes slowly and smile at the other woman's reflection. "Hey. I was just about to come join you again."

"I figured you would eventually but I didn't want to wait. Besides, if you'd managed to come find me before I found you I wouldn't have been able to do this." In a swift motion Shizuru managed to turn Natsuki around so that they were facing each other.

Natsuki tilted her head back slightly and stared into dark crimson eyes. "And what would this be?"

A mischievous glint sparked in the taller woman's eyes before they slid closed and she leaned in to move her lips over Natsuki's own. With a small sound that melded as a mixture of agreement and contentment Natsuki kissed back.

The kiss was short and sweet as both knew someone could enter the restroom and anytime. They pulled away from each other slowly and began straightening any and all wrinkles that had developed from the embrace. "I guess we should head back before someone gets suspicious hey?"

Shizuru smiled sympathetically. "Yes. That would be for the best. We don't have to stay much longer though. Soon we can head home and I will once again have my Natsuki all to myself."

Natsuki rolled her eyes and stifled a laugh. "Sure. Whatever you say Shizuru." She took a deep breath and blew it out before taking Shizuru's arm and leading her towards the door determined to at least attempt to enjoy the rest of the night. "Let's get this over with."

Shizuru followed behind her readily enough but just before they reach the door she took a moment to hide the concern that had crept into her features. Something had been bothering Natsuki and she couldn't help but fear the day when she would find out what it was. For the time being however, she would just have to do as she'd always done, smile and give Natsuki her space. Then hopefully, it would all work out.

It was past ten and Shizuru was growing tired. She'd been waiting up for her girlfriend to return home but as the minutes slipped by she came to realize that the other woman wasn't going to be returning home anytime soon.

Normally that wouldn't phase Shizuru at all. Natsuki had worked later than intended many times before. But this wasn't normal anymore. It was the third night in a row that Natsuki hadn't returned home. Or if the younger woman had returned home she'd done it while Shizuru was at work and had left no sign of her presence.

To make matters worse it wasn't the first time something Natsuki had been absent. Initially it had been only one day here and there. Then it had grown to two. And now it seemed three had become the norm. And there had been once or twice Natsuki had gone as long as four days without contacting Shizuru.

Shizuru's jaw tensed as she finally allowed herself to consider the most obvious possibility for her partner's extended absences. She hadn't wanted to go off assuming things and making problems where there were none. She'd even confronted her love on the whole ordeal, asking her why she didn't mention when she wouldn't be home. The response she'd received had been far from reassuring. Natsuki had been defensive and stand-offish.

All of these things culminated in a mess that left Shizuru sitting on their couch at half past ten, wondering if the woman she loved was in the arms of another. The thought that Natsuki would cheat would have been ludicrous to her before. But before they'd been closer, they'd shared their days and their feelings. Now it almost felt as though they were strangers. And Shizuru couldn't stand it. She wanted to rage at the younger woman. Demand answers. Demand something, anything.

A part of her was adamant that something would be better than the nothing they had become. But Shizuru knew, deep down, that there was something worse. A true nothing. As it stood she and Natsuki were still together. They still had conversations, as lacking as they were, and her girlfriend still kissed her goodbye before she left for work. That was something. Maybe it could no longer be classified as a meaningful something but it wasn't as bad as the alternative.

Even as the thought flitted through her mind Shizuru felt her heart clench and her stomach turn. In moments like these, where the hurt and doubts flooded through her, Shizuru wanted to consider the alternative. A part of her even wanted the alternative. But she knew how badly it would hurt her. And every time she came close to making that passing possibility a tangible one her heart and her head clashed, both wanting different things. In the end, her heart won. Every time. Because Shizuru knew that if Natsuki truly was cheating on her, it wouldn't matter who ended the relationship.

She'd be the one to break.

Natsuki sat back in her chair and winced as her back cracked and something moved back into place. She'd finally finished compiling her research on her newest patient's illness. It had taken her a great deal of time to sift through all the symptoms that had been pointing her in the wrong directions. And all the while she'd had to slowly watch her patient deteriorate.

It had been killing her. The woman was not too much younger than Natsuki and she'd apparently been on the verge of heading off to university. Then she'd started showing signs of an illness. She and her family had initially assumed it was nothing more than a simple illness. That it was a harmless virus that would run its course. But she'd gotten worse and worse until one day, she finally collapsed.

Then suddenly she'd begun having hallucinations and exhibiting several symptoms of psychosis. That was when Natsuki had been handed the case. Before Natsuki had even been able to find out all of the symptoms the girl had become much worse and had begun to exhibit signs of acute liver failure. Somehow they'd managed to avoid it but no one was sure how.

Merely dealing with the liver issues had sidetracked Natsuki and isolating which symptoms were offsets of the liver problems and which ones had been the initial neurological symptoms had proved to be incredibly difficult.

In the end Natsuki had realized she'd been looking in all the wrong places. As she'd gone through option after option she'd dismissed them. Some options stood out as more probably than others and it was those she looked at more closely. With most of the illnesses she looked at something would eventually stick out as unlikely and she would dismiss it. With those that remained likely, she'd administered the appropriate medications or treatments. Each time the failure of the treatments had proven her hypotheses wrong. And with each definitive failure Natsuki had become more frustrated.

Finally she had come to the conclusion that what the girl had wasn't common. So she'd started looking at the less likely candidates. One had stood out to her and upon looking as far back in the patient's family medical history she'd found a few distant cousins that had died from similar complications. Such cases showed up in both her mother's and her father's families.

Eventually she'd pinpointed the most likely candidate for the girl's strange symptoms as a disease known as Wilson's disease. It was incredibly rare and very few people carried the gene that caused it. And somehow both of the girl's parents had been unaffected carriers. Then their daughter had managed to be the one in the one in four to inherit the gene and contract the disease. The disease resulted in the accumulation of copper in her tissue. Unfortunately Natsuki knew that there was no perfectly reliable test for the disease. Her best shot was to do a liver biopsy. If the biopsy proved her hypothesis to be correct they were merely have to recommend the girl a diet of foods low in copper and prescribe some medication to prevent any further damage.

With a feeling of triumph still floating through her Natsuki left her office and tracked down the intern that had been watching over the patient with her and updated the young man on what she'd discovered. Once she was sure he understood everything she gave him orders to inform the parents and find a time in which they and Natsuki could talk and sign all the necessary documents for her to perform the biopsy.

After the intern had rushed off to fulfill his orders Natsuki glanced at the time. It was nearly one in the morning. The time had passed by much faster than she had realized. She focused for a moment, trying to remember what time her shift had ended at. She sighed as she realized she was supposed to have left many hours before, in the early afternoon. For the most part it wasn't that big of an issue. Shizuru most certainly wasn't waiting up for her. She rarely told her partner when her shifts were any longer. The bigger issue was that Natsuki hadn't been home in days. She couldn't even remember the last time she'd been home. Even worse she was fairly sure the last time she had been home she'd barely talked to Shizuru.

As she entered her office Natsuki's emerald gaze zeroed in on her phone. Her first instinct was the same it had always been, to call home and let Shizuru known where she was.

For a moment Natsuki couldn't help the wave of emotion that collided into her. She was tired and she'd been working herself to the bone. Every nerve she had felt fried and raw and it reminded her once more of why she'd been avoiding her girlfriend. In the state she'd been in Natsuki knew she was volatile and likely to flip out at any moment. And knowing this she was stuck in constant fear that the person she would blow up at would be Shizuru.

Things had been so tense and strained and Natsuki knew that it was her own fault. For the longest time Natsuki had taken advantage of Shizuru willingness to hear her out on her problems. She'd been using Shizuru to blow off steam and in the process she had been burdening her. When Natsuki had realized what she'd been doing she'd barely managed to restrain her self-disgust. In the end the only cure to her guilt was to promise herself that she would stop burdening her girlfriend with all her problems and instead offer Shizuru the opportunity to vent.

Unfortunately it hadn't been going as Natsuki had planned. She hadn't realized just how much telling Shizuru everything had worked as a de-stressor for her and now, without that outlet, everything was piling up in her head and driving her mad. The obvious solution was to just resume talking to Shizuru about everything again. But to do so Natsuki would have to burden Shizuru with all of her feelings of self-disgust, guilt and loathing. And no matter how hard she tried to convince herself to do it, Natsuki just couldn't. She knew she already relied on Shizuru too much as was. She loved her too much, needed her too badly. Surely, under the pressure of all that, Shizuru would eventually break and decide she couldn't take it anymore.

And that left Natsuki stuck in the middle, with no idea what to do or where to go. No matter how hard she thought about it, she couldn't even think of a solution. A part of her wanted to ask someone else and get some advice but her private nature made her wary of doing anything of the sort. So it appeared that for a while at the very least, Natsuki would remain stuck. She could only hope that she could figure out a better solution eventually.

In the mean time she was going to have to suck up her fears and head home. She'd spent one too many nights in the hospital, and though she truly did love her job the place was beginning to drive her crazy. All she could do was try to ignore the niggling fear that she would make all of her worst nightmares a reality. And in the process, do everything she'd tried so hard to avoid and lose the one she loved.

Shizuru flicked through the options on the screen, reading the synopses as they passed. As she did so she had to admit to herself that it really didn't matter which movie she selected to play because the bottom line was that she wasn't going to watch it.

She blew out a small breath and let her eyes wander the half lit room. As her burgundy eyes landed on the clock across the room she winced. It was already half past one and she knew there was no way she'd be getting to bed any time soon with the way she was feeling.

She unfolded her long legs and stood. Since she was going to be up at least a while longer she figured she could do with a cup of tea and maybe a late night snack. As she passed into the kitchen Shizuru couldn't help but sigh once more. It was perfectly spotless. In most cases the cleanliness of the space would have made her happy. Unfortunately the reason behind the continued state wasn't even remotely positive. Normally there would have been a few opened letters tossed on the table, a few cups by the sink, maybe even a loaf of bread left on the counter instead of being put back in the bread box. And there definitely would have been a set of keys by the coffee maker. All of those things, things that technically tainted the immaculate cleanliness that Shizuru used to strive for, were signs that someone lived there.

Signs that Natsuki lived there. More and more, the little signs of Natsuki had been disappearing and Shizuru wasn't sure why. At first she'd figured that Natsuki had merely been attempting to be polite and clean up after herself but Shizuru couldn't attain the reason why it had happened so suddenly. There were so many things that had been happening that she just couldn't understand. All she could really grasp was that Natsuki was going through something, some sort of change. A change that Shizuru was fairly sure didn't include her.

The kettle whistled, startling Shizuru out of her thoughts for a moment. As she prepared her tea they came flooding back once more. She was beginning to think there was to be no relief from her inner turmoil. Of course, she could just ask Natsuki about it all. And wasn't that just the crux of the matter? All she needed to do was ask. A few simple words phrased in just the right way and she would get an answer. It was so simple. In theory at least.

Shizuru picked up her steaming mug and carried it over to the balcony. She slid the door open easily and stepped out into the night air. She allowed her thoughts to occupy themselves with how refreshing the cool air felt. Eventually the darker thoughts that had been flitting about returned once more as a particular thought shoved itself to the surface.

You're scared.

And indeed she was. Shizuru Fujino was not one to be easily cowed by anything and it was even more uncommon that she would readily back down. But it wasn't every day that Shizuru was unsure of her footing either. And lately, with Natsuki, unsure was all she was. She didn't know what to say, how to act, what to do. She was torn between hurt and dread. All the signs pointed towards a precipice in their relationship and Shizuru couldn't help but feel like they were engaged in a balancing act.

A balancing act that one wrong word could destroy, that one action could up end.

And then where would she be? With Natsuki? Most likely not. Things had been growing dire for a long time. The more Natsuki worked, the more stressed out she seemed to become. And Shizuru had been doing all she could to relieve that stress. And she'd been successful, up until the point where Natsuki began to shut her out. Now all she could do was watch that tension build and push them further apart.

All because she was a coward.

Natsuki rubbed the back of her neck as she climbed the stairs to the apartment she and Shizuru shared. It had been a long day and she wasn't entirely sure what to expect once she entered their home. Initially she had assumed she'd slip in while Shizuru was asleep and then the other woman would awaken and head off to work before she did. In such a case Natsuki had known that she would be able to avoid seeing the brunette and wouldn't have to worry about what to say or do.

Then she'd realized that it was a Friday and Shizuru didn't have work the next day. On the weekends Shizuru had always had a habit of staying up quite late. One she'd actually inherited from Natsuki herself. They'd always stayed up late together when they could and talked or watched movies together. Sometimes they would play board games or Shizuru would watch while Natsuki played on her console. But none of those things had happened for a long while. And no matter how hard Natsuki tried not to, she missed those nights.

There wasn't much she could do about it though. She'd accepted that. It was one of those cases where she'd set herself up for the fall and now she had to suffer the consequences. The heavy weight of that knowledge along with the day to day stresses that work had been piling on her increased the constant, buzzing feeling that had been itching under her skin. She was constantly on edge and tense.

Volatile. That was the perfect word to describe how she felt. For too long she'd internalized so much. The feeling had been bubbling up from underneath for so long. She kept it locked away, not wanted to ruin the perfection she and Shizuru had shared. But as her insecurities had mounted the more negative feelings had as well.

Natsuki nearly flinched as she realized she was standing in front of the door to the apartment. There was no more putting it off. She finally had to go home and face the woman she'd been committed to for so long. The woman she'd shared so much with but had hidden half of the most important aspects of herself from. She had told Shizuru of her hopes and dreams but she'd never shared her fears. She'd kept them close and hidden them away, so afraid of how Shizuru would react when she saw the worst of her.

And for an instant, a part of her resented Shizuru for it. She resented her for being so perfect and making Natsuki feeling unworthy. But as quickly as the flare of anger came it fled and was replaced with intense self-loathing. How could she even think that way? Shizuru had never been anything but encouraging and supportive. And her she was, using her as a target for her own messed up feelings.

She reached out and turned the knob as all these feelings whirled through her. Later she'd wonder if maybe, just maybe, if she'd taken a few more moments to sort herself out, if she could have prevented what came next.

As she stepped into the small front hall way she clearly heard the sound of someone moving in the kitchen. She couldn't help the way her body tensed or the way dread welled up from the pit of her stomach to flood through her body. And she hated herself for it. What kind of person had that sort of reaction upon coming close to the person they loved? And Natsuki did love Shizuru. That was the only truth she'd been able to hold onto. But it was beginning to show that, no matter how much she loved the brunette, their relationship was no longer right.

A sigh escaped her lips and she dropped her bag by the door. She toed her shoes off slowly, doing everything she could to draw out the time before she was confronted by her partner. It didn't matter how long she prolonged the simple rituals of coming home, it was still over far too quickly and before she could prepare herself sufficiently she was entering the kitchen where Shizuru stood.

Silence reigned as the two women stared at each other for the first time in over four days. The longest they'd been apart for a long time. They both looked worse for wear and there were hues of unwanted emotions swimming in the depths of both of their gazes. Neither one wanted to be the one that spoke first.

Finally words slipped out of Natsuki's mouth. Unwanted, unbidden words. Words she couldn't take back. Rather than the heartfelt greeting she should have uttered her words were tempered with indifference. "You're up pretty late. Why?"

For a moment it almost looked as though the brunette flinched before her face closed off in the mask she'd perfected in high school. A mask that Natsuki had seen many times, but had rarely, if ever, had directed at her. "I tend to stay up fairly often. Though I suppose I can't expect you to know that as you're rarely here."

Natsuki ignored the flash of what might have been regret that flashed through crimson eyes and allowed the initial feelings that leapt forward in response to the other woman's words take control. "Not much of reason for me to be. It's easier if I stay at the hospital. I get more done."

Hurt flashed through the other woman's eyes before dark brown lashes lowered hiding Shizuru's eyes. "What is it exactly you do Natsuki?" The syllables of her name were drawn out and laced with warning and something else.

"Why should I tell you? You don't need to know what I do at work." Natsuki's thoughts were screaming out at her, telling her that she was saying all the wrong things. That her words were untrue, spoken only out of the anger and tension that had been lying dormant. They urged her to take everything back and apologize before she made it all worse.

Dark red eyes iced over and Shizuru's mouth tightened almost imperceptibly. "It's not what you do at work that I wonder about Natsuki. It's what you do when you're not at work. You rarely come home anymore. And when you do come home it's almost as though you time it to be when I'm not around. Where do you stay? What do you do?" A hint of frustration and desperation inched into Shizuru's voice as it became almost imperceptibly louder.

The implication was clear in Shizuru's words. She suspected Natsuki of cheating. The same thing her father had done…The rage was instant and instead of the truth that had begun to rise to Natsuki's lips, she said others. "It's none of your damn business Shizuru. I do my work and I help pay my half of the bills. Anything else I do is none of your concern!" Without intending too, Natsuki's voice had risen to a full blown yell. She had never yelled at Shizuru before. And even now, a part of her knew it wasn't really Shizuru she was yelling at.

Shizuru's eyes widened a fraction and she set her shoulders as she rested her hip against the counter. As she moved her expression transformed into one of cool detachment. She gave Natsuki an icy smile. "Oh? I wasn't aware. For some odd reason I assumed that being your roommate as well as your girlfriend meant something. My mistake. So that brings up an entirely new question. What in the world are we now? What are we going to be?"

Natsuki's pride stood in the way of the area of her mind that was screaming for her to get down on her knees and beg Shizuru for forgiveness. But a much larger part was infuriated by what Shizuru had implied. Natsuki was nothing if not loyal. And if Shizuru thought so lowly of her…then she almost wanted there to be nothing between them.

But that thought, that possibility hurt too badly for her to turn it into a reality. Once more she had thrown herself into a situation that she had no idea how to deal with. So instead of dealing, Natsuki did what she always had. She ran. Without another glance at the brunette she was out the door and headed back to the hospital, change of clothing forgotten.

Shizuru rubbed her temples as she stopped in front of the door to her and Natsuki's apartment. Grocery bags sat by her feet as she stood outside the door and gathered herself. It had been a stressful day and the last thing she wanted to do was enter their home and see Natsuki after the fight they'd had only a few nights before.

Ever since the night they'd had their less than pleasant exchange their conversations had gone from bad to much worse. Now the majority of Natsuki's answers were short and strained. They'd had some arguments but it seemed that every time Shizuru had tried to make even simple conversation the blue-haired woman had given vague response. And if her time as a lawyer had taught her nothing else, it was how to identify when someone was trying to avoid saying anything of value. Natsuki was evading any and all types of personal conversation. Sharing had become completely off limits. It had hurt the first time her partner had done it. Shizuru hadn't understood why her lover didn't want to share stories of her patients as she'd done so many times before.

After it had become the norm Shizuru had come to accept it without need for an explanation. And as it went on, Natsuki began to divulge less and less about her personal life. She would disappear in the evenings and work late without giving Shizuru notice. And then they had had that argument. Since then it was almost as though they were two strangers who lived in the same apartment.

The younger woman's actions had made Shizuru's fears become more and more real. It was apparent that things were going past the turning point if they hadn't already. Now…now Shizuru could only sit at home, alone, and let the numbness take over. She no longer wanted to try to maintain any semblance of a relationship. It almost pained her to even touch the woman she loved in the most casual of ways. Every time she couldn't help but picture Natsuki with another woman, doing the same thing Shizuru herself was doing, but with more warmth, with actual feeling.

And no matter how many times she tried to stop herself from dwelling on it, the thoughts came back to torment her again and again. The only positive of the whole situation was that the more her fears and doubts tortured her, the easier it was to deal with not seeing the woman she loved. It was getting to the point that Shizuru was almost relieved to return to an empty apartment. And more often than not that was the way their home was. Natsuki rarely ever returned home, and when she did it was only to get some spare clothes.

Shizuru had stopped wondering where the blue-haired woman was staying the night a long time ago. The concept was too much for her to bear. And as the nights pass, Shizuru became more and more numbed to the growing chasm in their relationship.

As far as she could tell, there would be nothing left for them to salvage.

Shizuru closed her eyes and sank back into the couch. Natsuki was three and a half hours late and Shizuru knew what that meant by this time in their relationship. Natsuki had forgotten their anniversary once again and it was likely that the older woman wouldn't be seeing her partner until the next day, if at all.

When they'd first started dating, back when Shizuru had begun university, they'd been nearly inseparable, always finding ways to be together in spite of their busy schedules. That hadn't changed much even when Natsuki had entered their university's medical program and Shizuru had immersed herself in the law program. It wasn't until the two of them had completed their degrees and gotten jobs that something had changed.

They'd still made time for each other of course, but the impossible determination they were both known for no longer seemed to encompass the other in its goals. Shizuru had been the first to figure this out when she'd finally won the most difficult, publicized homicide case she'd ever come up against. And, as with most triumphs she experienced, her first desire was to share it with Natsuki. The only problem had been that she hadn't seen Natsuki in over a week. The blue haired woman had been working night shifts and with Shizuru staying at the firm and working on her case late into the evening they had just been missing each other time and time again.

The brunette sighed as she remembered that day. She'd come home, just as she had so many times before, and she'd waited. And waited. Until eventually she'd realized, for the first time of many that Natsuki just wasn't coming home. In the months that followed Shizuru did what she could to bring that spark they'd had back into their relationship only to be blocked time and time again by the person she was struggling to connect to.

It had only been a year since that fateful realization and in the months since then Shizuru's attempts had become mockeries of what they once were. Mockeries just like the situation she was enduring at that moment. It was the eighth anniversary of the day they promised to always be together, to always support each other, and to always love each other. And now here she was, wondering what those words had become and what they now meant.

And Shizuru knew it was more than just them growing apart. It was as though Natsuki was holding back, drawing herself inward, away from Shizuru. No matter how hard she tried, Shizuru couldn't understand what she had done wrong. What she had said or done that had made her lover pull back and lose confidence in their relationship.

Because that was it. The big thing that Shizuru had begun to notice, that she'd truly begun to fear. At first it had just been little things. Natsuki would say less about her day, she wanted to go out less, she shared her interests less. Then she'd stopped accompanying Shizuru to the parties her law firm held. Initially the latter hadn't bothered her. She'd known Natsuki wasn't exactly partial to social engagements and she'd felt so honored when Natsuki had been willing to put up with them for her sake. But something had changed the way she felt about Shizuru. Or perhaps Natsuki had never felt the way about Shizuru that she'd assumed.

In the end that was the biggest issue, the one that she didn't want to face at any cost, the thing that Shizuru had wondered about the most. Had Natsuki ever truly wanted the same things she had wanted? Or had Natsuki just tried to live up to what she'd thought Shizuru expected to maintain their friendship? She'd never asked. How was someone to go about a question like that? Do you love me or do you love me? How would Natsuki have known what she meant? Or what if Natsuki thought she was in love but had it all wrong because she had nothing to compare it to? What then?

What if…all along…Natsuki had just been putting up with Shizuru to keep her happy? What if none of their relationship had been what Natsuki had wanted? Maybe the blue-haired woman had felt like she owed her friend for all the help she'd bestowed during high school and dating her was the only way she'd come up with? And now…now she felt she'd repaid her debt. Meaning she was finally done with Shizuru and just didn't know how to break it off.

Or maybe…just maybe their relationship hadn't been meant to succeed. From the beginning Shizuru had pushed for something to happen. Time and time again she'd made the first move. Maybe she'd just convinced herself that it was everything she wanted it to be so that she wouldn't have to face the failure of her first and only love.

What if…she was holding Natsuki back and the younger woman had merely been trying to appease her by staying in a relationship she felt had run its course? It wasn't as if Natsuki had any experience with relationships. She'd never given any boys a second glance in high school. She'd always been focused and driven to gain answers in regards to her mother's death and her own childhood.

Shizuru emitted a small whimper involuntarily. There was only one thing she could really do. Keeping up the farce their relationship had become was no longer an option. The possibility that she was putting Natsuki through any sort of difficulty or situation she didn't wish for wasn't something she could do.

She sighed and stared at the entryway where Natsuki was due to arrive later on mournfully. "I guess this way I'll finally get the chance to see if we were meant to be."

Natsuki stared at the door to the apartment she and Shizuru shared, irritated as the familiar dread settled in the pit of her stomach. It had seemed like just yesterday that coming home to Shizuru had been the highlight of her day. When had it become something she tried to avoid? How had she not realized that all those times she'd agreed to stay a few hours longer or cover someone's shift had been to avoid this exact moment and this very feeling? Why hadn't she tried to combat it before it had gotten so common? Before it had become a necessity to avoid her home?

She slumped against the wall beside the door and closed her eyes, holding back the urge to do something. Be it to scream, cry, laugh hysterically, or hit something she wasn't sure. It took her a moment before she was able to rein everything in and compose herself before she turned the knob and forced herself through the door.

Most of the lights were off, leaving the apartment dim. Natsuki frowned, accustomed to Shizuru having most of them on as she constantly flitted from room to room. As she set her coat and bag down on the hall table the dread she'd felt intensified. Nothing felt the way it should. She took a deep breath and held it until she found herself in the living room staring into the eyes of the woman she'd loved for so long and somehow grown so far from.

"Shizuru..." The once so-fondly uttered word came out in a shaky exhale. She let her eyes wander over the woman, unable to refrain from admiring her beauty and casual elegance before settling on the uncommon frown that had settled on her lovely features. It was then that Natsuki knew what was coming next.

Shizuru stood and took a few steps forward before stopping, remaining a few steps away from Natsuki. Her frown slipped into one of longing sadness. "Natsuki…"

She relished the sound of her name made more beautiful by the familiar Kyoto accent and suddenly, Natsuki knew she couldn't take what was coming next. Shizuru was the most important thing in her life and had been for years. And how had Natsuki shown her that? She hadn't. She hadn't shown it at all. Which brought up the true question Natsuki had to ask her self; did she truly deserve Shizuru after neglecting her to such an extent? After taking her for granted? The blue-haired woman squeezed her eyes shut in a moment of childish hope that the action would make reality fade away.

She heard a soft step and felt Shizuru hesitate. "Natsuki, I…we've…" She sighed, and in that sigh Natsuki heard all the pain she'd caused, the longing, the forgotten hopes, and the resignation.

Hot tears prickled behind her eyes as she slowly opened them bringing the floor into her view. She tried to meet the crimson eyes she'd adored for so long, tried to give Shizuru that at the very least but found she was too cowardly. 'The least I can do at this point is give her what she wants, let her go without a fight. By this point, she deserves at least that.' And Shizuru truly did. The way Natsuki had been treating the brunette was far from what she deserved. Without realizing it, Natsuki had finally made all of her insecurities about being unworthy a complete reality.

The heavy feeling in her stomach seemed to grow to encase her chest, leaving it aching and tight. She momentarily allowed herself a fleeting observation that your heart couldn't actually break and that the pain she was feeling, in spite of how it was physically affecting her, was merely emotional. Natsuki lifted her eyes to meet the other woman's before dropping them and finally speaking. "I know 'Zuru." She shook her head slowly and felt the energy drain from. "I'm so sorry."

A warm hand settled on her shoulder and Natsuki hated herself for not knowing what to say to make the woman she loved stay and even more so for knowing she didn't deserve to have her stay. "I wish things hadn't reached this pointed Natsuki. But I promise I will make it as easy and painless for you as possible. I've already removed most of my things and I'll be back for everything else tomorrow…"

Natsuki tuned the older woman out at the word 'easy'. How could this be easy? Or painless? How could Shizuru not know this was tearing her apart? That she was mentally cursing herself for her goddamned inability to ever show how she felt or say it or even say anything? All she could manage were innocuous words that meant nothing. Just as Natsuki's rage rose up she pushed it down. She was hurt and desperate and Shizuru deserved better than having Natsuki lash out at her. Here she was, doing what she'd always done. She'd always been trying to make everything easier on Natsuki. She thought back to all the times Shizuru had prepared dinner after she'd worked a long day herself just so Natsuki wouldn't have to do anything once she'd gotten home. Now that she thought of it, Natsuki realized that Shizuru had done virtually everything.

What had she done in return?

Nothing. Less than nothing. She'd hidden her fears from her and kept Shizuru at a distance from a part of who she was. In effect, she hadn't given the older woman the complete honesty she had promised.

But she could do something now, something to make up for it all. She could give Shizuru that easy break she was striving for. She raised her face to finally meet Shizuru's eyes. She didn't push away her hair as it slid forward to shadow her own eyes, slightly thankful for the additional coverage it gave. Feeling fairly certain she could finally speak with a level tone Natsuki forced a smile and did what she could to return Shizuru's kindness, just this once. "Are you going to need any help? I have work tomorrow but I'm sure I could call in. My co-workers are always telling me they owe me for all the shifts I've covered and they've been practically begging me to let them cover one anyway so it wouldn't be a problem I mean…" She trailed off, realizing she'd been rambling. It had always been a nervous habit of hers. If only she would spout out something more than useless words when she did it maybe she wouldn't be standing here, trying to hold back the sobs that were building in her throat, maybe Shizuru wouldn't…

The brunette's lilting voice broke into her thoughts. "I'll be fine. My assistant is helping me. And there isn't much left anyway. But thank you for the offer Natsuki. It is very kind of you."

Inwardly, she cringed at the formal tone. It had been years since Shizuru had been so formal and distant as she was now. So…aloof. But it had been becoming common for quite a time. And Natsuki had ignored it, had almost welcomed it. But now, now she hated it. She forced herself to nod and smile again. "It's no problem. I'll be at work then I suppose. It'll keep me out of your way. Just give me a call if you end up needing anything."

Some emotion Natsuki couldn't place flitted through crimson eyes only to be replaced with a smile that didn't seem real. "Thank you very much Natsuki. I'm sure I'll be fine though." She picked up her purse from the table and began to walk past Natsuki, stopping as she stood beside her. "I think that's all then. I'll be on my way now and allow you to get a good night's rest."

For a moment Natsuki was afraid her never failing control would snap and let her launch herself at the taller woman, sobbing and begging her to stay. Using every ounce of the steely resolve she'd developed since her mother's death she shut her emotions down in a way she hadn't since before she'd allowed herself to love Shizuru and be loved in return. "Yeah. Thanks. Have a safe trip."

And with that, Shizuru walked out of her life. Only then did Natsuki let herself sink to the floor and finally break.

So this is my first story in a very long time. It's been so long since I've posted anything that I doubt anyone will remember me. Haha. But this isn't my first story and it won't be my last. It is however, my first yuri. I hope I did the pairing some justice because I do love Shizuru and Natsuki a great deal. Almost as much as my girlfriend (the amount of adoration she has for them is astounding).

I thank you for reading and hope you enjoyed. And you have my guarantee that there will be more. Mostly because my girlfriend has been encouraging me to post once more. Until then, thanks once again and I hope you have a wonderful day.