Chapter Seven - I Just Ran out of Band-Aids and I Don't even Know Where to Start

Mai walked into her friend's apartment, feet dragging. Her day hadn't been particularly difficult but it had felt like it lasted forever.

But in truth the exhaustion probably had nothing to do with her work at all. She had a feeling it was a side effect of the stress and sadness she'd been avoiding dealing with since her and Yuuichi had broken up. Then again, avoiding wasn't the correct word. She just hadn't reached the point where she could deal with it. Now seemed to be the point where she'd reached the stage of acceptance.

Unlike Natsuki she had always expected her time with her partner to come to an end. And while the whole ordeal was sad, she'd been able to grieve and accept the change. She knew he wasn't the one for her. He had been wonderful and she would always be grateful for their time together, but there was a part of her that had always known that he wasn't the one who could make her truly happy. They just hadn't been compatible in that way.

In spite of that, she couldn't deny that she felt abandoned and betrayed. To have all of his promises and vows of forever diminish into nothing was hard for her. But she'd been lucky that she'd had a friend like Natsuki. She was a true example that there were people who could be there through the good and the bad, through thick and thin. And Natsuki had been with her through the aftermath of her relationship in spite of still having difficulty with her own split with Shizuru. And Mai had known that her split from Yuuichi had refreshed Natsuki's pain all over again.

But Natsuki had still stood by her side; taken her into her home, and done everything she could to help her through it. Because that was who Natsuki was, the type of person who you could count on to be there until you told her otherwise. And sometimes, even after that.

And that probably had a lot to do with why she was still devoted to Shizuru, even though they were separated. The emerald eyed woman had dedicated herself to the brunette when they'd first gotten together, and though her insecurities had interfered with their relationship, Natsuki's heart had always stayed true to Shizuru.

That alone was reason enough for Mai to continuously attempt to get the two back together. At least until she had proof that they truly were better apart. And so far the two were only proving how much worse off they were apart. Added to that the way both women refused to pursue any one else despite the many offers they'd received and it became easy to assume that they weren't going to attempt any more relationships. And that was something that wasn't going to go over well with any of their friends.

A smile curved Mai's lips as she reaffirmed her belief in the little meddling she was doing. While she'd intended to leave it be until Natsuki herself decided what she wanted to do, she couldn't help easing her friend along and encouraging the decision she knew was coming. And she did know what Natsuki would choose. The fact that she'd seen the other woman wearing a nightshirt that she could identify as Shizuru's to sleep made it all pretty obvious. Now she just had to wait for Natsuki to admit her feelings to herself and everything else would fall into place.

With a nod of assurance Mai headed into the kitchen and looked through the fridge. Since she'd been cooking so much lately as a way to keep herself focused, the fridge was loaded with leftovers. She grinned and selected some leftover stir-fry.

As she waited for her meal to heat up her ears caught the sound of a doorknob turning and looked up to see Natsuki coming in through the front door. She waved quickly and turned her attention back to the beeping microwave only to double take. "Natsuki…? What the hell is in that bag?"

Natsuki grinned devilishly. "You sure you want to know?"

Mai was about to response with an affirmative answer when she saw the bandages on her friend's hand. "Natsuki! What did you do to your hand?"

A faint flush decorated the blue haired woman's cheeks and she looked away sheepishly. "Nothing much. It just had a brief introduction with a wall."

"With a wall?" At Natsuki's nod she groaned. "You could teach classes on how to effectively do the most damage to one's own person." She rolled her eyes and returned her attention to the case in the other woman's grasp. "Okay, tell me what that is. And if you say bomb I am leaving this apartment and never returning."

"A bomb?" Natsuki stuttered for a moment and then shook her head. "Why in the world would I have a bomb Mai?"

Mai snorted. "I don't know. But since you seem to enjoy self-destructive behaviour so much I figured you might be considering indulging in a little suicide bombing fun."

"Uh huh…" Natsuki stared at the other woman and laughed. "Okay, okay. I get the point. I'll try to maintain a hold on my self-destructive urges. But no, it's not a bomb. It's the answer to my hobby issue."

As Mai gave her an admonishing look Natsuki put up her hands in surrender. "Don't worry, I don't intend to use the hobby to deny my personal issue. I plan on using it to let off extra steam. Kind of as a de-stressing activity if you will."

Mai nodded slowly as she contemplated whether or not she believed her friend's reasoning. She took a hard look at the woman in front of her and saw the sincerity that practically shone in emerald eyes and smiled. "So what is this de-stressing activity you've decided to pick up?"

Natsuki removed the case to reveal a bow and a quiver and rather than explain it, waited for Mai to understand. As she did, the red head grinned. "Kyudo?"

"Exactly." Natsuki re-covered the bow and moved it to the closet for temporary storage, planning on using the locker the dojo offered to store it later on. "When you said martial arts I couldn't really think of one that I found interesting. I mean some of the more hands on ones would have been fun but I'm already pretty decent when it comes to hand to hand fighting. So I figured I might try something a little more refined."

Mai laughed. "Well you could definitely use some refinement." When the other woman sent her a glare she smiled widely. "I'm glad you're found something to keep you busy. You're been so tense lately. The extra physical activity and focus Kyudo takes will be beneficial."

Natsuki smiled and glanced at the covered bow. "I agree." Her features slowly became pensive as something occurred to her. "How many years in prison do you think I would get if I accidentally hit someone with an arrow?"

There was a soft thump as Mai ran into a wall, too distracted by her surprise to notice it. She whirled around and fixed Natsuki with a stern glare. "You are not going to go around shooting people with arrows."

There was a pause as Natsuki gave the bow and quiver a longing glance. After a moment she sighed. "Fine. I promise I won't go around shooting people. Unless they really deserve it."

"Uh huh…" Mai eyed her friend for a moment before rolling her eyes. For Natsuki, that promise was clearly the best she was going to get. Besides, if Natsuki were to shoot at someone, Mai knew she could rest assured that they would most definitely deserve it. And in the end, that was good enough for her. She glanced at her friend again and smirked. "Your turn to make dinner."

There was a groan of dismay from the other woman as she turned away from the closet. "You are a complete and total killjoy."

Mai grinned. "I know. But if it helps, I already prepped all the ingredients. All you have to do is cook them."

Natsuki grinned. "Of course you did. Thanks Mai."

Mai yawned and gave her friend a smile. "No problem."

As Mai yawned Natsuki's gaze sharpened and she took a closer look at the other woman. "Hard day?"

Mai shrugged her shoulders. "Kind of. I think everything is just catching up to me."

Natsuki nodded. "You go sit down and watch a movie or read a book. Just do something that you find relaxing. I'll let you know when dinner is ready."

As Natsuki walked away grumbling about whatever odd thing she was focusing on, Mai couldn't help but grin. Maybe the other woman hadn't come to the conclusion she had, but there was definitely progress. And maybe, just maybe, Natsuki would soon be able to see the same inevitable end Mai did. And when she did, Mai knew everything would end up as it should be.

For the first time in a while Shizuru found that she was able to reach the end of her day without feeling like a train wreck. Her visit with her mother had done her a lot of good, and while she still wasn't entirely sure how she was feeling or what to do about, she did know that the position she was in was better than the one she'd been in a few days before.

She flicked her gaze over her desk and smiled slightly, feeling accomplished. She'd been managing to keep up with all of her cases but ever since she'd split with Natsuki she'd been constantly on the verge of being overwhelmed. But after a very productive day of work she was back to her normal state of being ahead of the game.

Just as Shizuru was about to begin reading the next stack of papers that were set out on her desk she was interrupted by a knock. She took a moment to straighten herself out before calling out permission to enter. She was more than a little surprised at who came through the door. "Haruka? What are you doing here?"

Tall, lean, and as energetic as ever Haruka's presence seemed to fill the entire office. She strode in and took a seat in one of the two leather chairs in front of Shizuru's desk. "Alright, spill it. I let you off easy before but you've still been going around looking like…uh…looking really bad."

Shizuru stared at the blond for a few long moments, trying to ascertain if the other woman was serious. With a sigh she admitted to herself that Haruka was indeed serious, as per usual. "Thank you for that Haruka."

Haruka nodded, either missing or ignoring the hint of sarcasm. "Anyway, what I mean is that it's time for you to admit it."

Shizuru raised an eyebrow elegantly. "Admit what exactly Haruka?"

Haruka rolled her eyes and glared at the woman before her. "You know what I mean Shizuru. I think it's time that you admit how you're feeling to someone. And I think I'm a good candidate."

Shizuru blinked. "Well…I'm feeling a bit peckish, and maybe slightly tired. And I think-"

"That's not what I meant and you know it Shizuru." Haruka glared and crossed her arms under her chest. "I meant how you're feeling about Natsuki."

Shizuru flinched imperceptibly. "Why do I have a feeling that you're not going to let this one go?"

"Because I'm not." Haruka crossed her legs and leaned back in her seat as she tried to give her friend a reassuring grin. "Talk to me."

With a sigh Shizuru leaned back in her seat. "I really don't know what it is that you want me to say. There are so many things…" She trailed off as she tried to come up with the words her friend was looking for. After a moment she re-evaluated the question and decided to say the only thing she'd come to be sure of. "I think…I think I might have made a mistake."

A slim, blond eyebrow rose and Haruka's eyes widened almost imperceptibly. "You think you made a mistake? In what regard?"

Shizuru's mouth curved slightly as she recognized her friend's tone change to the one she used both with her client's and in the court room. "I'd think you'd know what I mean Haruka, especially since we are talking about how I'm feeling. And I'm sure it's fairly clear that everything that I've been feeling in recent weeks can be directly linked back to Natsuki."

Haruka chuckled. "Recent weeks? Come on Shizuru, we all know that the majority of your feelings have been linked to Natsuki in one way or another for years. Practically since the first day you saw her."

With a soft snort Shizuru leaned forward to rest her chin on folded hands. "Have I always been that obvious?"

"Obvious?" Haruka scoffed. "I wish. No, you've never been obvious. Not really. I just got really used to looking for certain things."

"Well that's reassuring." Shizuru gave her friend a crooked smile as the blond rolled her eyes at her.

Haruka blew out a breath and followed the exhalation with a groan that was more for dramatic effect than out of actual annoyance. "In what way?"

It took less than a moment for Shizuru to follow the change in conversation and the smile slipped from her features. "I thought…I thought that by letting Natsuki go, by separating…I thought that things would improve. That she would be happier and that her happiness would be enough for me."

Haruka shifted in her seat and changed the position of her legs as she thought the other woman's words over. "So, in essence, you thought that her happiness would mean your happiness?"

Shizuru nodded. "That's the way it's always been. If Natsuki was happy, I couldn't help but be happy. I guess it was naïve of me to assume that would carry over even though we were apart."

"So, what now?"

Shizuru blinked and met her friend's expectant gaze. "What do you mean?"

Haruka snorted and rolled her eyes. "If you have no idea, I think it might not be time for me to be asking you that question yet."

There was a pause as Shizuru surveyed her friend, almost as though she was hoping that the other woman's appearance would give away what she was thinking. "It's not like you to be this cryptic Haruka."

Haruka grinned deviously. "Yeah, well it's not like you to be this dense Shizuru."

"Touché." Shizuru pouted slightly without thinking about it and gave her friend a pointed stare. "Is there anything else you plan on saying?"

"Nope." Haruka grinned again and stood. "I just wanted to come by and give you some things to think about. Oh, and to make sure you were okay."

Shizuru nodded slowly to show that she understood. "Do I pass inspection?"

Haruka snorted. "I suppose. But believe me, you barely pass. If you get any worse I'm dragging you out of here and throwing you onto a plane to the nearest tropical resort."

Shizuru smiled crookedly and met the other woman's intense gaze. She couldn't help but take her friend seriously as she recognized a mixture of concern and determination in violet depths. "Understood. I'll do what I can to avoid letting things come to that. I mean really, I don't think you would appreciate having to cover my workload."

Haruka paled ever so slightly and stared at the brunette with wide eyes. "I've changed my mind; if you don't improve I'm going to put you under constant surveillance."

Shizuru laughed. "I figured you'd say something like that."

Haruka rolled her eyes and headed for the door. "You're such a pain Shizuru." Just as she was about to leave she looked back over her shoulder and gave her friend a soft grin. "Take care of yourself Shizuru, and if you need anything, don't hesitate to call."

Shizuru nodded and gave her friend the best smile she could. "You have my word Haruka, if I need anything, you'll be the first to know."

With another quick grin Haruka left Shizuru to her work once more. And though Shizuru couldn't help but feel a bit confused by the encounter she set aside her questions until she had the time to deal with them. And instead she smiled fondly and continued about her work with a smile.

"Well, hello there, old friend!"

Yukino nearly spit out the mouthful of coffee she'd just sipped as a perky voice boomed throughout the room. There were only two people she knew with that loud of a presence. And only one of them had the capability of sounding that feminine. She turned around as she returned the other woman's greeting. "It's good to see you again Mai."

A small pout adorned the woman's pale pink lips. "How did you know it was me? You'd already said my name before you saw me. That's not even close to fair. Are you psychic? Is that how you handle Haruka's antics?"

Yukino laughed and motioned for Mai to take a seat. "Not at all Mai. I'm just familiar with your voice and I have a fairly good memory for sounds." It was true to Yukino's nature to give the more polite reason rather than the brutally honest truth that Mai was simply too obnoxious to be anything but unique. "As for how I put up with Haruka, you can account that to familiarity as well. It's almost reached a point where I find those who are unlike Haruka to be the ones who are strange."

Mai blinked at the easy-going brunette and processed her admission for a few long moments. "Scary. I think it's about time you start worrying about your mental health Yukino."

The other woman merely smiled. "If I'm losing my mental stability I think I'm alright with it." At the look of disbelief that flashed through violet eyes Yukino laughed. "Oh Mai, come on now. Think of it this way, I'm perfectly happy and no one is being harmed. It's the best kind of insanity. Why ruin it with silly things like normality and social acceptability?"

Mai laughed and rolled her eyes. "When you talk like that you make me wonder if you could rationalize murder and make me think it would be alright to massacre innocent individuals. It's a scary talent Yukino."

Yukino's expression became solemn as she waited to be sure that she had Mai's full attention. "If it helps Mai, I swear to never use my powers for evil."

Mai's eyes widened and she stared at the brunette's calm, genuine expression for a long moment before bursting into a fit of boisterous laughter. "You…evil…powers…oh god!" Regardless of Mai's efforts to calm herself and get more than a few broken words out between fits of laughter she couldn't manage to contain herself. And Yukino's mischievous wink didn't help her at all.

A loud bang sounded through the room as the door to the main office was flung open. The sound nearly silenced Mai's peals of chuckles until she saw who it was and the expression the new addition to their little group wore. As she dissolved into more giggles Haruka frowned. "What in the name of all things that have holes is going on in here!?"

Yukino rolled her eyes fondly as Mai's laughter increased. "You mean 'what in the name of all things holy' Haruka. And Mai came for a visit." She motioned at the red head whose face was hidden as she attempted to muffle her laughter. "I believe something I said set her off and she seems to be having some issues containing herself."

The rampage that had been building up within the blond petered out as she recognized their friend. "Ah. I see." She quickly checked her watch then grabbed a nearby chair dragging it over to place by the one Mai was seated in. She sat and waited for Mai to compose herself before grinning. "Long time no see Mai. What brings you to the woods of…uh…?" She glanced over at Yukino for help.

The brunette smiled warmly and finished her employer's sentence. "Our side of the woods."

The smile slowly faded from Mai's face as her expression became solemn. "I think it's time we step in. This has gone on long enough."

The two women had different reactions, with Haruka frowned in confusion and Yukino leaning back in her seat and nodding in understanding. After a moment Haruka couldn't help but burst out. "What in the world are you talking about Mai?"

Mai's eyes settled on Haruka and her lips curved in amusement. "Sorry Haruka, I forget that you're not always in freakishly perceptive lawyer mode." Her smile widened a bit and Haruka straightened in her seat and beamed with pride. "I'm talking about Natsuki and Shizuru. They aren't making any progress. And while I know we all said we wouldn't interfere…"

Yukino nodded again as the redhead trailed off. "I agree."

A glint suddenly entered the redhead's eyes as something occurred to her. "I think I might know how to deal with Natsuki."

Yukino frowned slightly and sighed. "I have a feeling I'm not going to approve of this idea."

In response to her partner's words Haruka grinned. "It already sounds like I'm going to love it."

Mai couldn't help but laugh. "You two really are an interesting pair." With an amused look she glanced between the two then smiled again. "Natsuki is stubborn and incredibly strong-willed. Despite that, she's been all over the place lately. She doesn't trust her own thoughts and feelings. I think it might help if I push her towards a co-worker who's had her eyes on her."

Haruka frowned deeply. "I don't understand how this is supposed to help us push Shizuru and Natsuki back together. Wouldn't involving Natsuki with her co-worker make things more difficult?"

Mai shook her head. "Natsuki misses Shizuru more than anything. The problem is that she agrees with Shizuru's decision. She feels that Shizuru is better off without her."

Haruka stared at the redhead blankly as she tried to add the components together. Finally she shook her head. "I still don't get how this is supposed to help."

As Haruka had struggled Yukino's eyes lit up. After her girlfriend had finished speaking she smiled. "I think I know what Mai is getting at." She paused a minute as she tilted her head to meet Mai's gaze. "You want to get Natsuki to go on a date with her co-worker and make sure the information gets to Shizuru somehow."

Haruka emitted a sharp gasp as she finally understood. "That's brilliant Mai! While Natsuki will let her guilt rule her, Shizuru won't. Once she's faced with the idea of Natsuki moving on she'll re-evaluate the entire situation. For better or worse, Shizuru views Natsuki as hers. She's just always been plagued by the fear that Natsuki could never be happy with that."

Mai grinned. "Exactly. But that's exactly what Natsuki needs. She needs someone to make it clear beyond a doubt that she's the one they want. And more than that, she needs to know that there's someone who will do anything to be with her. And Shizuru is that person."

"There's one thing I don't get." Yukino waited for her companions to turn their focus on her. "Why don't they already know these things? They've been together so long and they're so perfect for each other. I can't understand why it all fell apart."

Haruka nodded to show that she was following her girlfriend's words then spoke. "I can't speak in regards to Natsuki but in Shizuru's case, it's pretty simple. She'd always been terrified that Natsuki agreed to be with her out of a sense of obligation and friendship. She worries that Natsuki has never truly loved her the same way she loved her."

Mai nodded as well. "And I know Natsuki would have never made the extent of her feelings clear. She fears the possibility of relying on someone for anything. And I think that's why she started withdrawing from Shizuru. She was starting to depend on her and in essence it had gotten to the point where Natsuki knew she wouldn't be happy without Shizuru. She wanted to reaffirm to herself that she could still be okay on her own."

"I'd never thought about it before, but that makes a great deal of sense." Yukino's eyes radiated sympathy. "I can't help but wonder why."

Mai bit her lip and shook her head slowly. "To be honest, I'm not even sure why. I would assume it has to do with her childhood. But I've never wanted to pry into that part of her life."

Haruka's features pulled into a frown that shared in her companions sympathetic looks. "How has she been overall? Is she holding in all right?"

"I think you mean 'holding up' Haruka." Mai smiled crookedly as her eyes lit up in amusement. "But yeah. She's doing okay considering. Before…" Mai's eyes darkened once more and she sighed. "Before I knew what was going on she was a complete mess. And I had no idea."

Yukino laid her hand over the other woman's and gave her a soft smile. "Natsuki had always been very good at concealing her emotions. We all know this. So you can't blame yourself for it Mai, if anything you should be proud that you were able to notice before things were beyond the point of help."

"Yukino is completely correct." Haruka nodded in a definitive matter as she continued. "Shizuru is the same way. It's almost impossible to guess what they're thinking, especially if they don't want you too."

Mai's lips curved in a small smile. "Thanks guys." She glanced at her watch and sighed. "I'd love to stay longer but I have to go to work soon. We should all get together for dinner or something soon."

The other two women nodded in agreement as Haruka began to speak. "Definitely. In the meantime, you set your plan in motion with Natsuki and I'll make sure to keep tabs on how Shizuru is dealing with everything. But I can't see her changing how she feels anytime soon. Natsuki is what Shizuru wants."

"I think they just might be one of those couples that need to be together because together they make a whole that's better than their separate parts. They just need to believe in that." Mai sighed wistfully. "But I guess that's the hardest part. And it's probably why so many good relationships fall apart. Love isn't enough to keep two people together, no matter how strongly they feel. You need faith and trust too."

Yukino tapped her chin gently with her index finger as her expression became thoughtful. "I'd never thought of it that way but I think you're right. I couldn't help but wonder all this time how two people so perfect together could be split apart. But what you just said Mai…I think that answers that question better than any other reason could."

Mai flushed and beamed at her friend. "I'm glad to hear that. But I think I'll head out now. I'll give you two a call soon and we'll all have dinner or something. I might even be able to drag Natsuki along. Either way, I'll pass along your concerns. I'm sure she'll appreciate them."

Yukino and Haruka stood up along with their friend and saw her to the door. After a fond goodbye they returned to their seats. For a few minutes silence reigned but it was soon broken by Haruka, as per usual. "Yukino…do you think Shizuru and Natsuki will be able to work everything out in the end?"

Yukino's eyes softened as she caught onto her girlfriend's deep concern for their friends. "Honestly Haruka? I'm not sure. On one hand, I know that they're just as likely to remain apart as they are to get back together. But on another…I feel like it's inevitable. Almost as though they have to get back together. Because they can't be who they've become without one another."

Haruka smiled and focused her eyes on the brunette with a loving gaze. "I know exactly what you mean Yukino. And I believe it too. I just hope we're not denying ourselves."

"You mean 'deluding' Haruka."

Natsuki flicked her hair over her shoulder then realizing it was beginning to frustrate her, she gathered it into a fairly neat braid. She re-opened the file that sat in front of her, a patient that another doctor had passed over into her care and began to read only to be interrupted by a knock at her office door. She turned and was surprised to see the particular doctor of whose case she was holding in her hands. "Dr. Akita. I was just about to look at your patient's file. Is there something you need?"

The slender woman pouted and clasped her hands behind her back. Her actions were a fairly clear sign that there was something she wanted. She had a flair for the dramatic and tended to act fairly childishly. Though for her, that was acceptable seeing as how she dealt with children all day. Most people assumed she'd just gotten so used to being immature that she couldn't be bothered to fake maturity. And many of those people also found they couldn't care. Dr. Akita was known to be one of the more attractive doctors at the hospital and even Natsuki could see why. With long blond hair that was said to have been inherited from her European mother and warm brown eyes that shone with mischief, she was cute and stunning all at once. Most of the hospital was desperate to go on a date with her but for the most part, the woman didn't seem to notice. "Can't I just stop by and see my favorite co-worker?"

Natsuki rolled her eyes and chuckled softly. "Of course you can Dr. Akita. However, you normally do so after your shift is over. And since I'm fairly sure you're on duty I have a very bad feeling that there is something you want from me."

The blonde's pout intensified. "How mean Natsuki. I truly did want to just say hello. And really, how many times have I told you to call me Eiko?"

Natsuki blinked at the blond woman. "Eiko? I thought you said your name was Hitomi?"

Akita clapped her hands together and beamed. "I am so honoured to know that the legendary Dr. Natsuki Kuga has remembered my name. And even more incredible, she listens to the things I say!"

"First off, you've told me your name so many times I'd have to be borderline mentally incapable to not be able to remember it and secondly, I have to listen to you. You have seniority. If I were to disrespect you by ignoring you, you could quite easily get me fired." Natsuki kept her face serious, doing her best to maintain the act. Hitomi was incredibly fun for her to tease and though she hated to admit it, seeing the woman put on a show was always entertaining. "And I worked my ass off to get this job. I'm not willing to lose it over something as silly as ignoring a woman with slightly questionable sanity."

Hitomi dropped down into the seat in front of Natsuki's desk with a pained gasp. She clutched the arm of the chair with an iron grip and gave Natsuki a forlorn look. "I'm so very hurt Natsuki. I thought that we had something special. I thought that you and I…" Hitomi trailed off, tears flooding her eyes.

Emerald eyes narrowed on the scene in front of them. "How in the world can you do that Dr. Akita?"

Hitomi's eyes glittered with moisture and her brown gaze slid to the side. "How can you still refuse to say my name like this Natsuki? Even after all the intimate times we've shared?"

It took all Natsuki had to restrain the laughter that was bubbling up inside. Instead, she rolled her eyes and flicked a piece of hair that had fallen out of her braid back over her shoulder. "Intimate times? The only intimate times we'd ever had would be on either side of the country."

Hitomi sat up straight and her eyes flashed with mischief once more. The only sign of the tears that had been nearly overflowing before was a slight gleam. "Oh my. I never pegged you for the adventurous type Natsuki. However, if it is what you desire, I would be more than willing."

Natsuki's expression was a mixture of stunned disbelief and suspicion. "Alright Akita. What in the hell are you getting at."

Brown eyes glittered with mischief as Hitomi moved to sit on the corner of Natsuki's desk. She then proceeded to cross her legs, the movement causing her knee length skirt to rise, showing half of a well-toned thigh. "Oh my. Maybe I misunderstood? I thought Natsuki was talking about phone sex. And considering her dirty language I thought it would be oh so fun to indulge her fantasies."

"My fantasies huh?" Natsuki smirked and stood, leaning over her desk to bring her face closer to the other woman's. "Do you want to hear about my fantasies Hitomi?" Her voice had dropped to a huskier tone, one that surprised her completely. She hid her shock and merely raised an eyebrow as Hitomi's jaw dropped.

"Umm." Hitomi swallowed and took a deep breath to stabilize her voice before she spoke. "S-sure. I…I'd love to." The blond internally winced as she realized her attempt hadn't worked. Her voice was breathy and had shaken just enough to be noticeable. Hitomi supposed that she was just lucky Natsuki wouldn't see the stutter for what it was.

"My fantasies include you…" Natsuki trailed off, allowing tension to fill the silence before she lowered her lashes and continued. "Telling me what exactly you wanted. And then having you let me do my work."

Hitomi nearly fell off the desk as she gaped at the blue-haired woman. Natsuki still wore the seductive smirk she'd worn before, despite the complete change of subject. Well, perhaps not complete. A laugh burst out of the blond and she grinned. "Wow Natsuki. I never knew you were so witty. It's an interesting new aspect to your personality and I can't say it's a bad one. We should do this more often. I know very few people with whom I can indulge in some witty repartee." She shook her head and chuckled. "However, I will fulfill your fantasies and tell you what I came here for."

With that said Hitomi's demeanor seemed to do a complete one-eighty and her expression and stance emanated complete seriousness. She reached down and tapped the folder between Natsuki's splayed hands. "I've gone and talked to Sakura and her parents and they are more than willing to accept any advice you're willing to give. To be perfectly honest, I would just pass the case over to you but it took Sakura a great deal of time to come to trust me the way she does. And though I know she'll come to trust you quickly I think it might help her if I remain involved. Besides, I think my expertise may still be able to come in handy."

It was clear to Natsuki that Hitomi had a point. "I agree completely. Though I think you're underestimating how much your knowledge of the case will still be needed. The question remains how you wish to go about this. Would you prefer to watch over me and be there when everything happens or do you want to work this out together?"

Hitomi pursed her lips as she considered the question. "I'm fairly flexible when it comes to this kind of situation. So I think that we should go with whatever makes you feel the most comfortable."

"I see." Natsuki didn't take long to come to a conclusion. "I say we do this as a complete partnership. Every step of the way we should work Sakura's case together. With the two of us as her doctors she'll have the best shot at making it through."

The mischievous glint returned to her brown eyes instantly, stunning Natsuki. "Oh my, the renowned lone wolf, Dr. Kuga is willing to work a case with me? I'd be an idiot to let a chance like this pass me by." Hitomi winked. "Wow, I must be incredibly lucky considering how I managed to not only get you to work with me, but I also got you to call me by my first name. I really think there should be medals awarded for miracles like this."

The look of glee that shone on the blond woman's face was enough to break Natsuki's calm demeanor. She'd always known that most people thought of her as a lone wolf, but it had also been her assumption that they preferred that distinguishing line. And yet, for some reason she couldn't understand, Hitomi wanted to cross that line. She wasn't sure if she should be happy about that or uncomfortable, so she allowed herself to feel a mixture of the two. "Perhaps, but then morons like you would have your egos swelled to even more unbearable extremes."

Once the words had come out of her mouth Natsuki wanted to take them back. She was teasing Hitomi in much the same way she would tease Mai or…those she knew pretty well. And here she was, basically insulting one of her superiors. Okay, basically was bullshit. She'd just called a superior an idiot. She'd be lucky if she didn't get reported, or fired, or some other such horrible thing.

With all these thoughts flying through her mind she nearly whimpered in shock when Hitomi merely grinned and teased her right back. "Well then, we're lucky that we have pretty girls like you to bring us down a couple pegs." Hitomi quickly glance at her watch and grimaced. "As much as I'm enjoying travelling into territory unknown in discovering the wonderful secrets of one Dr. Kuga I've got to be going. I have a surgery soon and I need to prep for it. Besides, I think I've kept you from your work long enough."

Natsuki rolled her eyes. "Uh huh. Perhaps you should have thought of that in the beginning?" She smiled as Hitomi gave her another pout. "Fine, this time I'll excuse your interruption since you did actually have a valid reason…though you did take much longer than necessary to make that point."

Hitomi chuckled and gave Natsuki a sheepish smile. "Okay, okay, I get it. I'll be off now. Make sure to contact me soon. Sakura's been stable but you never know how long these things will last." Hitomi was about to leave when she suddenly turned back. "Oh, that reminds me! I know I could just get it from a receptionist but that seems really creepy, so I'll ask you. Can I have your number?"

Initially Natsuki thought the other woman was kidding. As Hitomi waited, looking at her expectantly, she became quite sure that it was no joke. "Why do you want my number?"

Hitomi grinned. "To be honest, I would say that I want it for personal reasons just so I could get another one of the adorable blushes, but I'd actually like it for work purposes. If we're working together it would be a lot easier to contact one another if we didn't have to constantly relay messages through the hospital. The phone lines are busy enough as is."

Hitomi ended up getting the desired blush as Natsuki flushed with embarrassment. "Oh. I apologize then. I shouldn't have jumped to conclusions. Of course. Just give me a moment to find some paper and a pen."

"No need." Hitomi reached into her pocket and took out her phone, placing it in front of Natsuki. As the blue haired woman picked it up and began entering her information in the contacts section Hitomi spoke once more. "Also, you have no need to apologize. I've been here since you were an intern. I saw how many of our co-workers, interns and doctors alike, hit on you. And it seemed like a lot of them were pretty desperate and willing to do almost anything to get your number or your address. So your suspicion is more than understandable, especially since I've flirted with you on several occasions."

Upon hearing definitive confirmation that the older woman had been flirting with her, Natsuki nearly dropped the phone she'd been handing back. Luckily Hitomi seemed to have good reflexes and caught it in mid-air. For a moment Natsuki remained frozen before she flushed an even darker shade. "So you admit it? That you are flirting with me?"

Hitomi slid her phone back into her pants pocket and nodded. "At first you never really seemed to notice. And that was perfectly fine with me since it was all in good fun. Then not long after I became serious about it until one of the nurses informed me that you were taken. Then I made sure to keep it light." Her eyes took on a serious edge once more as she continued. "I may be a flirt but I don't interfere with other peoples relationships. So you don't have to worry. You're completely safe from my feminine wiles."

Hitomi was clearly offering an easy friendship, with no complications. That wasn't something she regularly ran into with people. Most men only wanted to get in her pants and when it came to women…well it had been clear to Natsuki for a long time that she didn't care for most women and most women didn't care for her. Unfortunately, as much as Natsuki wanted that friendship, she didn't feel alright allowing Hitomi to remain under the wrong impression. "Actually, that…the relationship I was in…" Natsuki trailed off for a moment, surprised by how hard it was to tell someone about her not so recent break up. Sure it had been hard to tell Mai but it had been a decent amount of time since then. She mentally shook her head and quickly spoke again. "It's over. It has been for some time."

Rather than hitting on her like Natsuki fearfully expected, Hitomi smiled gently. "I see. That's too bad. But not to worry, you're still safe."

Even though the blonde's words had echoed sincerity Natsuki was having a hard time believing it. "Wait, but why? You've essentially said that you're interested but…" She trailed off, too confused about the situation to know what exactly to say.

"It's obvious that it wasn't the easiest break up. The way you were acting for a while there…I could tell something was wrong. And I know you don't get over something just like that. It takes time. And I'm not the kind of person to use that sort of emotional frailty to get what I want. So if you ever want to try something between you and I, you can come to me. But I won't push myself on you." Hitomi smiled once more. "And with that being said I think I should give you some time to yourself." With a small wave she walked out of Natsuki's office leaving the blue-haired woman stunned into a thoughtful silence.

It had been almost an hour since she'd returned from her lunch break and Shizuru found she still hadn't managed to do any of the work she'd allotted herself for the evening. Instead her mind seemed to need to constantly round back to the conversation she'd had with Haruka a few days prior.

She scoffed softly and shook her head. Haruka had said she wanted to give Shizuru some things to think about, and she'd been more than successful. On and off the words she'd admitted passed back through her thoughts, demanding more and more of her attention.

With a sigh, Shizuru set down her pen and leaned back in her chair. As she looked at the ceiling she had to admit that there was no way she'd be doing any more work unless she dealt with her confused mess of thoughts.

Once more her own words repeated in her mind and for the first time she forced herself to look at how true they were. She truly had made a mistake, perhaps many mistakes. And now she was left at an impasse.

Yes, she had made a mistake. But she still wasn't sure exactly what that mistake was. Should she have tried harder? Should she have broached the issues in their relationship sooner? Perhaps talking with Natsuki would have been the answer, would have been the key to solving their problems. But Shizuru hadn't wanted to risk hearing the woman she loved say all the things she'd always feared. And she still worried about it. She worried that Natsuki had been so willing to let her go because she'd been right about the way the blue-haired doctor had felt all along. Worried that Natsuki had stayed with her out of a sense of obligation.

And if that were the case…where was she supposed to go next? If she'd truly made a mistake how was she supposed to fix it? Did she even want to fix it? And if she did…how was she supposed to go about? Was she supposed to just throw her pride to the wind and essentially drop down at Natsuki's feet, vulnerabilities and all?

Shizuru closed her eyes and let out a controlled breath. She knew that pride wasn't really the issue. She was afraid of being hurt; afraid of giving the one person she loved more than anyone else in the world the power to destroy her. Yes Natsuki's actions over the past six or so months had hurt her, but she was still standing. She still had some hope to hold on to, a sense of comfort connected to the possibility that Natsuki had indeed loved her the way she'd always wanted.

That left her where she was, miserable and fractured, but still essentially whole. If she were to confront Natsuki and have the other woman confirm that all they'd shared over the years was merely an illusion, a forced union, Shizuru wouldn't be able to deal with it.

And perhaps that was the real question. How much was the possibility of a second chance with Natsuki worth?

Before she had the chance to contemplate the question further there was a knock at the door. She recognized the knock instantly and knew the woman would enter without being invited.

"Ms. Fujino?"

Shizuru looked up reluctantly to meet her assistant's gaze. "Yes Ms. Marguerite?"

"Would you mind if I…" The younger woman trailed off but proceeded to make her intent clear as she motioned at one of the chairs.

Shizuru refrained from sighing and gave the other woman a quick nod as she shifted the papers on her desk. It seemed that people interrupting her day to discuss one thing or another was becoming common, and while she didn't mind in some instances…well Tomoe Marguerite always tended to be a unique case. "What is it you need today Ms. Marguerite?"

Tomoe bit her lip and made her usual show of lowering her eyes in a facsimile of modesty and batting her lashes. "I have a question I'd like to ask you, and it's kind of personal."

Shizuru felt the usual sense of annoyance bubble up in her chest as she replied. "I'm not exactly the best person to come to for such things but we'll see what I can do."

"What…what does being in love feel like?"

There was a long, pronounced silence as Shizuru merely stared at the other woman. To say she was shocked would be an understatement. Out of all the things she'd thought Tomoe would come to her about, love was nowhere on the list. "Pardon me?"

"Love." Tomoe's pale cheeks flushed lightly and she continued her display of bashfulness. "I…I've been feeling differently about someone I've known for quite a while and I wanted to know if it might be love. But I've never been in love before."

Shizuru was too shocked to pay attention to the other woman's body language as she normally would have done. In fact, she felt too shocked to answer. But after a moment she managed to scrounge up a decent response "Love isn't really something you can put into words. And I think it's different for everyone. In this case I'm afraid I can't really be of help. I recommend you ask someone you're close to."

Tomoe's lips twisted into a position that Shizuru couldn't manage to correlate with any emotion. Mere seconds later it was replaced with a quick smile as the other woman leaned forward, causing her hair to obscure her face. "I have one other question Ms. Fujino and it's much more invasive..."

Shizuru exhaled softly and nodded. "Go ahead Ms. Marguerite."

Tomoe straightened up once more and looked Shizuru in the eye with an odd intensity. "How many times have you been in love?"

Shizuru frowned slightly as she found the other woman had managed to surprise her once again. In fact, it seemed the younger woman was making a habit of drawing out such a reaction. She pondered whether or not she should ask the question and in the end decided it couldn't hurt. Considering her issues with getting emotionally involved with people, answering the other woman's questions might even have beneficial results. "Only once."

"With Dr. Kuga?" Tomoe watched as Shizuru nodded in affirmation. "Do you still love her?"

Shizuru's features remained calm but inside her emotions had become tumultuous once again. A part of her felt like reprimanding her assistant and avoiding giving any sort of response. But at the same time, she'd already agreed to allow the woman to ask her questions, knowing that they were of a personal nature. Shizuru pursed her lips and decided to answer the question. Though it went against her usual actions she felt that going out on an emotional limb might help her in some way. But even with that decision made she found she couldn't be completely open. "I shouldn't still love her. Our relationship has ended and is now in the past. I'd argue that that fact is what is important."

Tomoe nodded and kept her features relatively blank in what seemed like a deliberate move, one Shizuru chalked up to the awkwardness of their conversation. "Thank you for answering my questions Ms. Fujino. I know they weren't exactly the most comfortable ones."

"You don't need to thank me Ms. Marguerite. Though I do recommend that we have conversations like this as infrequently as possible." Shizuru smiled crooked and gave a small chuckle. "I'm of the opinion that they would be quite taxing."

Tomoe laughed and nodded. "I agree completely." She stood and moved for the door. "I'll return to my work now. Thanks again Ms. Fujino."

"Of course." Shizuru watched as the other woman left the room and closed the door behind her gently.

With a sigh she leaned back in her chair heavily and stared up at the ceiling once again. She felt out of sorts and as though she'd been under duress. It seemed that the past few weeks had affected her a great deal more severely than she'd expected. With all of the things she felt she should be feeling and their complete lack of similarity to the things she was feeling she was becoming incredibly disoriented. In a sense, she felt as though she was losing herself. She didn't know what move was right or wrong or what actions would fix her situation or make it worse.

Another sigh escaped her lips and she covered her face with a hand. She had a feeling that her life was about to become a lot more unbalanced than it already was. And she was far from pleased about it.

End of Chapter Seven

Alright, since the responses I got in regards to my author's notes were favourable, I shall continue them with fervent delight!

I'm actually quite proud of myself as this chapter only took about two weeks to put out. Which is a bit odd since I'm back at school with full-time classes. It should have taken me longer than usual. But apparently not. Haha. So this chapter is the beginning of the move forward. We're starting to pass Shizuru and Natsuki's stagnant, depressed stage. In essence ladies and gentlemen, the shit is about to hit the fan. Slowly though. In a bit by bit kind of deal.

Oh, and since I really think this needs to be said, Fallout had surpassed 90 reviews. It has passed all of my older fanfictions in number. I am so incredibly flattered. You guys are all amazing. Thank you for every review, favorite, and follow. It makes me horribly gooey and squishy inside.

Now, since that's about all I will be off do me-ish things. In other words, going between the horrid grind of studying and writing papers and procrastinating via my writing and playing Mass Effect. I'm so addicted. It's worrisome.

I wish you all a lovely day. Goodbye for now.