Chapter Eight - Counting the Conclusions

Shizuru sighed and let her eyes slide shut. It seemed that all her days were melting into the same blend of agonizing similarity. No matter what she did, everything came circling round to the same problems. Almost as though her life had been put on some sort of horrific repeat cycle that was never quite the same, but always equally monotonous.

She glanced over at the clock and bit her lip. It was only nine o'clock in the morning. Worse yet, it was a Saturday. The first Saturday in a great while in which there was nothing that demanded a significant portion of her day. No errands to run, no clients to meet. She couldn't even convince herself that she needed to spend time with her mother seeing as how the older woman was on a vacation for an undecided amount of time.

A vacation that Shizuru was fairly sure was meant to put her in the exact situation she was currently bemoaning.

She had an entire day ahead of her in which she had nothing, and no one, but herself. And that meant nothing but her own thoughts.

With a deep sigh Shizuru began to prepare her morning coffee, thinking of anything and everything she could do to pass the time. The longer she thought about it, the clearer it became. It was going to be an incredible long day.

Natsuki and Hitomi had their heads bent over Natsuki's desk as they discussed the most recent complications of their patient's case. The two women were frustrated and were stressed out beyond belief. They had a course of action but neither felt it was good enough. They wanted to help the little girl improve rather than just stabilize. Just as Natsuki was about to snap there was a knock on the door.

A small smile played on Hitomi's lips as she looked toward the door as well, where a pretty redhead leaned. A glimmer of familiarity passed between the two and Natsuki found herself confused by the interaction. Or perhaps by the lack thereof.

Natsuki smiled at her friend. "Hey Mai. What's up?"

Violet eyes ceased in their study of the other woman in the room and focused on the blue-haired woman. "I'm picking you up. We're on for a dinner date tonight, remember?"

"Of course I remember." At Mai's arched look Natsuki rolled her eyes. "Okay, so I've forgotten a lot in the past but I swear I remembered. I've just lost track of the time." Natsuki quickly glanced around her desk, attempting to locate the small digital clock that usually sat upon it.

"It's fifteen to six. I figured you'd get caught up so I came to drag you out against your wishes." Mai grinned at her friend's obvious relief. "By the way, your clock's on the ground."

Emerald eyes followed the direction the other woman motioned in to find her small clock at her feet. "How in the world did that end up there?" As she racked her mind to figure out the point at which it had fallen to the ground she noticed Hitomi stand.

The blond smiled warmly and began to answer Natsuki's unspoken question as she began to re-organize the charts they'd spread out over the desk. "Your date awaits Prince Natsuki. And I couldn't bear to stand in the way of such a magical event as a romantic dinner for two."

Natsuki snorted and stood to help the blond. "Sure. I'd totally believe that. Except for the whole part where I've told you Mai's my best friend and completely straight. And not to mention the bit where I told you that I'm not even remotely interested in anyone right now."

Hitomi clutched her chest and gave Natsuki a pained look. "Oh Natsuki, you wound me. I thought we had something special."

"Special?" Natsuki rolled her eyes and pushed the charts she held into Hitomi's arms. "Bull. First you pair me with Mai and now you pair me with you. What am I, an imaginary whore?" As Hitomi opened her mouth to reply with a playful gleam in her eyes Natsuki rushed on. "Never mind. I don't want to know the kind of things that go on in that twisted mind of yours."

"Alright, alright. I can take a hint Natsuki. My wounded pride and I will take ourselves elsewhere." She gave Natsuki one more fake pained look and Hitomi slipped past Mai with a farewell.

The instant the blond doctor was out of sight Mai shut the office door and focused in on Natsuki as she approached her. A tense silence laced with unspoken questions hovered as the two women waited for the door to close behind the blond. Natsuki concerned as to what her friend would think and Mai reassessing the plan she'd intended to set in motion.

The instant the click resounded through the small office Mai sat and spoke. "So, what was that all about?"

Natsuki propped her chin on her hand and returned Mai's inquisitive stare. "What was what about?"

"You know very well what I mean Natsuki." Mai crossed her legs and leaned back in her seat. Her eyes stayed focused on her friend's emerald green gaze even while she continued to reconsider her friend's circumstances. "I could be wrong but I would almost swear that you and Dr. Akita had been flirting."

The blue haired woman stayed silent for a long moment, and though her expression was blank anyone near her would be able to see the gears spinning as she processed the question. Her eyes were also at opposition with her carefully placed expression. They swirled with many emotions; regret, confusion, fear, and some that were less identifiable. "I hadn't really intended too. I was just trying to play along with her at first. It's what she likes. Hitomi enjoys games and to her, I'm the most complex one she's encountered. And by playing along I was able to get what I wanted to know out of her a lot faster. But…"

Mai watched in concern as her friend's eyes darkened. It was a look she knew well. When Natsuki wore that look it usually meant that she had something on her mind that either didn't sit well with her or frightened her. And it was never good when she kept such things to herself. Which meant Mai was going to have to prod her friend a bit to get the rest of whatever she'd been about to utter. "But…?"

Natsuki rubbed her hands over her face with much more force than was necessary. She opened her mouth to speak but instead of words all that came out was a shaky sigh. She repeated the action once more before realizing that if she continued she'd look little a fish out of water. She shook her head and blurted out the words that had been floating in the back of her mind. "I think…I think I might have enjoyed it."

For what seemed like an eternity Mai merely stared at the other woman. Out of all of the things she'd thought Natsuki had been about to say, her admission was one of the few she hadn't even remotely considered. In a way, her enjoying the attention of a woman other than Shizuru was a good thing. And Mai didn't have a preference as to who her friend ended up with, so long as Natsuki ended up happy. And if Dr. Akita could make Natsuki as happy as Shizuru initially had, then Mai wasn't opposed. But it didn't feel like things were adding up. Despite her intention to push Natsuki towards Dr. Akita, Mai hadn't really thought anything would come of it. Natsuki had been so determined to win Shizuru back. She didn't simply move on when it came to things she truly wanted.

Silky blue strands fell forward as Natsuki shook her head vehemently. A strangled noise emitted from her throat as her head drooped down to rest on her hand. "I liked that she flirted with me. But I still…I still love her. And when we're talking…God Mai, Hitomi reminds me of her."

With those few words, Mai's eyes filled with understanding. The way Natsuki had interacted with the pretty doctor had screamed of something familiar. And though the words and the reactions were different…the game was so very similar. She quickly scanned her friend's face and opted to remain silent, thereby encouraging the other woman to continue.

"As if that wasn't enough, I know that enjoying what happened between Hitomi and I wasn't wrong. But god, it feels wrong on so many levels." Her hands rose to grip her arms, appearing almost as though Natsuki was trying to hold herself together through physical force.

Mai studied her friend's face as she tried to put her finger on the feeling that was growing within her. It was as though there was still something missing. Something that Natsuki hadn't admitted. "There's something more."

Natsuki looked down at her arms, eyes filled with shame and confusion. She didn't need to ask if Mai expected an answer, she knew. "I finally realized…" Natsuki looked up once more, a pained expression contorting her normally smooth features. "I realized that Shizuru might not feel the same way. All this time that I've been thinking of winning her back I hadn't really considered that time has been going by. In this time I've felt lonely, I've missed being with someone, with Shizuru. And I know her. She liked the companionship just as much as I did."

Natsuki's words had been so emotion-filled that Mai had been paying rapt attention. Though Natsuki had been opening up more and more it was still rare for Mai to see her in such an impassioned state. So when the taller woman stood up, the scraping of the chair against the floor nearly made her fall out of her own seat. Natsuki didn't seem to notice in the slightest as she began pacing the small space between her desk and the window.

"In my little fantasy I'd never considered how Shizuru has been feeling since she left. But she probably feels the same way. And she's a great person; I know there's someone that would do anything to have her, hell there's probably multiple people. And right now, they're probably making the most of their chance." She leaned against the wall beside the window, angling herself towards the redhead. "And who am I to think I can interfere with that? If someone else can treat Shizuru better than I did, then who am I to stand in the way? I can't keep holding onto her like this. I can't keep holding her back..."

Mai clasped her hands together and blew out a breath of air. She couldn't believe she'd been so far off base with what was happening between her friend and Dr. Akita. There was a strong connection growing there, one that she could no longer see herself interfering with. And now, added to that, Natsuki was taking a huge step backwards. And Mai would be damned if she let it send her friend back into the depression she'd barely stepped out of. "Wow. Okay, that's definitely a lot to deal with at once. So let's take it piece by piece. And I think the most important thing to address here is whatever it is that is between you and Dr. Akita."

A grin spread across Natsuki's face as she heard the concern in her friend's voice. She looked up and gave Mai the most reassuring smile she could manage. "Don't worry. Hitomi and I flirt but I've made it clear that I'm not interested in a relationship. At least not for a while, and Hitomi has made it clear that if we do get together, it won't happen until I'm emotionally grounded. Rebounds aren't her thing. So I'm off the hook there. I don't have to worry about screwing around with one of my superiors in a moment of idiotic weakness only to have it screw me over later."

"Thank goodness. That's the last thing you need right now." Mai let out a relieved sigh, thankful her friend had a good head on her shoulders. But the relief was short lived as her brow furrowed into another frown. "Are you sure? Is that something you truly want for yourself?"

Natsuki knew instantly that Mai had moved on to talking about Shizuru and the epiphany she'd had. She saw the confusion on Mai's face and she understood it. The idea of trying to let go of what she and Shizuru had had, completely this time, was one she never would have believed herself. But it was the best thing she could do for Shizuru. The woman deserved better than having an ex-lover force their way into her life just as she was putting it back together. "I can't change who I am in hopes that it'll fix everything with Shizuru. Because it won't. And though I've come to that conclusion, I do have a part of me that hopes there can be something between Shizuru and me in the future. But I also know that I can't count on that and I can't hold her to that. I need to give her the space to move on. Then maybe, maybe we can be...friends, or something."

"Christ." Mai rubbed her forehead and stared at the green eyed woman before her, fully absorbing just how far she'd come since she and Shizuru had separated. She'd grown, matured, and somehow she'd managed to open up to others the way she'd only ever opened up to the woman she loved. And while Mai didn't agree with her conclusions, she realized that it was best she stand back and let things run their course. "So long as you're sure this is what you want then I say go for it. I'll do whatever I can to help you."

A weak smile graced Natsuki's pale pink lips. "Thanks Mai. I can't say it's necessarily what I want. But I do think it's what's best for me right now. So I'm going to go for it and see what happens. And while I do that I'm going to just… I don't know…exist? I think I've got a good start so I'll just elaborate on it."

Mai stood and rounded the desk to pull the other woman into a tight embrace, torn between a deep sadness and a sharp sense of relief for her friend. "Sound goods Natsuki. And don't forget, I'm here for you. Whenever you need me." She pulled back a bit to look into stunned emerald eyes. "And maybe this is a good time to renew old friendships. Yukino and Haruka have been asking about you. Some of the others too."

Natsuki tilted her head slightly and tried to comprehend what Mai was telling her. "They've been…asking about me? Why?"

"Because they care about you, silly." Mai smiled and started to speak again, looking a little hesitant. "Yukino and Haruka are especially concerned about you. They heard about the split and they want to make sure you're okay."

"How do they even know about that?" Natsuki racked her brain, trying to find a link through which either of the two women would have found out. Mai may have been the one to tell them but Natsuki doubted it. Mai wasn't one to share other people's personal business without permission. But how else…?

Mai's voice broke through Natsuki's thoughts. "Haruka works at the same firm as Shizuru. Remember?"

Natsuki's look of confused faded into a sheepish smile. "Oh. Right. I can't believe I forgot about that. Is Yukino still working as her assistant?"

Mai nodded. "Nothing seems to make Yukino happier than working at Haruka's side. I asked her if she ever intended to do anything else, but she said that working as Haruka's assistant made her feel much more fulfilled than anything else could." She laughed. "Besides, if Yukino wasn't around to keep Haruka in line I think she probably would have lost her job by now."

Natsuki couldn't help but laugh as well. She could see the fiery blond woman yelling at clients and telling them they'd been morons. Not to mention refusing cases because she felt people deserved what was coming to them. Out of her periphery Natsuki caught a glimpse of the time. The small black numbers read six 'o' clock exactly. "Ah, perfect. My shift is officially over. So I vote we go and get some food now. How would you feeling about getting some take out and heading over to my house? We could play a board game or something and just talk."

Mai beamed. "That sounds perfect! Oh, and it's my turn to choose where we go. I was thinking sushi?"

"Again?" Natsuki shook her head and rolled her eyes. "You are a creature of habit aren't you?"

Mai huffed. "No. I just know what I like. Now let's go." The two changed their clothes and made it out of the hospital in record time with Mai dragging a very amused Natsuki behind her.

The next night found Natsuki sitting in her office, pouring over the familiar files yet again. With the minimal flow of incoming patients, she'd been able to escape to her office and focus on the one case that had been constantly in the back of her mind.

She finally leaned back in her chair, surveying the mess of paper and notes that were illuminated by the soft glow of her computer screen and the nearby lamp. She'd been researching the many possible causes for Sakura Hitoshi's illness for hours, finally giving the case the precedence it should have had all along.

And it seemed that all her hard work had paid off.

She double checked her notes once more and compared them against Sakura's charts for what seemed like the millionth time. She had to be sure she knew what it was before she could be willing to take her results to Hitomi. And the best way to be sure would be to go and survey the girl herself for an extended period of time.

The room was dark, lit only by the machines that were aiding in keeping the small girl's condition stable. Natsuki leaned against the sill of the window that looked in, barely able to make out the silhouette of the child.

She couldn't have said how long she stood there. Sakura's parents had been sent home for the night, both on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion, and a nurse had been assigned to monitor the girl closely.

Sometime later, a hand rested on her shoulder, pulling her from her thoughts. She turned to meet a concerned purple gaze. "Mai? What are you doing here?"

The redhead snorted softly. "I'm here to watch Sakura. I've been by every half hour to monitor her stats." As a brief wave of confusion flashed over her friend's features she couldn't help but laugh softly. "You forgot that you and Hitomi assigned me to Sakura, didn't you?"

Natsuki flushed as she recalled the agreement she and the pediatric doctor had come to. Mai had been the most obvious choice as one of the best pediatric nurses their hospital had. Her abilities added with Natsuki's trust in her had solidified the decision. "Sorry, I guess I've been out of it today. I was just so close…"

Mai nodded and took a similar position to her friend, eyes focused on the small, shadowed form. "Have you gotten any closer?"

She couldn't help the soft smile that curved her lips as she saw the mixture of concern and affection in the other woman's gaze. "She suckered you in too, huh?"

Mai sighed wistfully before giving her friend a small grin. "I don't think anyone could resist this kid. She's absolutely adorable."

"I know what you mean." Natsuki turned her own gaze back to the little girl. "As a doctor, I'm supposed to care about all my patients equally and put the same amount of effort into each case. And while I can give each one of them every ounce of effort I have, I can't help but connecting to some of them more than others. I used to think that made me a bad doctor, but I think…I think that maybe, it just shows that I'm human."

Mai nodded. "No one can give everyone the same amount of love. The more you connect, the more you have in common, the more levels there are in which you can see eye to eye, these and so many other factors influence feelings. And it only seems reasonable that there will always be different results. Just like with illnesses. The root is the same, but they all interact with people differently."

Natsuki couldn't help but smirk at the accuracy of her friend's comparison. Trust Mai to manage connecting their profession with the intricacies of emotion. "On the note of illnesses, I think I might be on to something with her case."

Hope flared in the other woman's eyes as her focus sharpened. "Do you think you can help her?"

"I fucking hope so. I don't want to have to tell this little girl and her family that there's no hope. I don't think I can." Natsuki sighed and shook her head. "One way or another, I'll find a way to help her."

Mai smiled and rested a comforting hand on her friend's shoulder. "I know you will Natsuki. And I know you'll figure everything out soon."

With a small chuckle Natsuki glanced at her friend. "I know the technical stuff isn't really your thing, but do you mind if I bounce some thoughts off of you?"

"Of course." Mai frowned, not able to understand why Natsuki would want to discuss the case with her rather than Hitomi. "Though, I'm not really qualified to give any advice."

Natsuki grinned. "No offense, but that's exactly why you're perfect. When Hitomi and I talk, there are too many ideas going back and forth. In essence, we're too rational to really consider looking outside the box. But you're not weighed down by the standards and commonalities we are."

"Which makes my insight useful?"

Natsuki nodded. "Precisely. Up until now, we've been focusing on all the main neurological diseases that are common in children. Some come close to fitting."

"Like bacterial meningitis?" Mai's brows were furrowed in concentration as she thought back to the notes she'd seen on Sakura's charts. "That ended up being incorrect, yes?"

Natsuki nodded once more. "Exactly. We've tried all of the more mainstream treatments and looked for all the more common ailments. However…I have this feeling…"

There was a few moments of silence before Mai rolled her eyes, realizing that her friend had gotten lost in her thoughts. "And your feeling would be?"

Natsuki flushed slightly and laughed. "Sorry. Her symptoms fit. It's just that her scans…Well, they don't show anything out of the ordinary."

"Her scans?" Mai frowned, finding she wasn't following her friend's line of thought. Within a few seconds she came up with her best guess. "Her CT scans?"

Natsuki nodded. "If it's what I think it is, there should be an abnormality. But there isn't."

It was then that something occurred to her. "When were the scans done?"

"Before I was on the case." Natsuki watched her friend's expression as it darkened. "Who was the nurse?"

"I think her name was…" Natsuki bit her lip as she tried to recall the woman's name. "Ami…Aya? Aya Miyazaki?"

"I was afraid you were going to say that." Mai met the other woman's eyes with a look of distaste. "Miyazaki was let go for negligence and a variety of other impressive infractions. In essence, I strongly recommend you have that CT scan redone."

Natsuki stared at her friend blankly, unable to wrap her mind around the possibility being laid in front of her. "What would Miyazaki have done to Sakura's CT scan?"

Mai grimaced. "She was let go for negligence, things like being unreachable when she should have been with a patient and the like. But there was also some indication that she'd been taking scans and running tests on friends and acquaintances and filing them under patient names so that the costs added up. Nothing was proved though."

"Meaning…" Natsuki trailed off, eyes growing dark with annoyance.

"Sakura's scans are likely not her own."

Natsuki reached Hitomi's office in record time, bursting in without even bothering to knock. Luckily Hitomi was alone in her office and merely glanced up in surprise as a folder was flung onto her desk.

Rather than saying anything, Natsuki just indicated the folder she'd dropped in front of the other woman and took a seat opposite her.

They sat in silence as Hitomi's eyes flitted across the pages. At first her expression was one of curiosity, but it quickly morphed into a simmering rage. "I'm not entirely sure what's going on here. But from what I can see, I'm not going to like the explanation."

Natsuki nodded, her expression grim. "Do you remember Aya Miyazaki?"

Understanding lit the blonde's eyes, mixed with apprehension. "You mean…" Her mind worked rapidly, connecting the scans in front of her to the issue at hand. "Hell, I'd heard she'd been running tests on her friends and family but why would she replace other patient's test results?"

"To cover her ass." She watched as Hitomi's eyes narrowed in disgust. "I've already reported my findings it to the higher ups. Now that they have proof, they're going to press charges against her for potential patient endangerment."

Hitomi nodded, the emotion hidden in her eyes quieting before shifting to frustration. "All this time, Sakura has been suffering. If only I'd noticed this before, we could have figured this out by now."

Natsuki moved around the blonde's desk and sat in front of her. "It's not your fault Hitomi. We had no reason to suspect that such a thing had happened. And maybe we could have figured it out earlier, but what really matters is that we know how to help her now."

Brown eyes flooded with excitement as she began to understand what Natsuki had said. As she saw Natsuki grin and look down at the folder, her eyes followed, finally reaching the bottom of the page where the younger doctor had written her diagnosis. "My god. It's so simple. But so…"


Hitomi didn't even glance up as she nodded, instead electing to continue reading Natsuki's conclusions. When she finally finished, her eyes were brimming with tears. She breathed in slowly, fortifying herself and pulling her emotions in check as she laid eyes on the blue-haired woman who sat in front of her, expression calm but eyes alight. "When I came to you with Sakura's case, I'd only hoped you could help. I'd heard so much about how good you were with the impossible. But still, I hadn't really believed…"

Natsuki's calm demeanor finally morphed to show her inner exuberance. She grinned widely and laughed. "I honestly didn't think I could either. But this…finding this solution, being able to help that little girl…I can't thank you enough Hitomi."

Hitomi frowned softly, confusion etched in her features. "I'm sorry but I don't really understand why you're thanking me."

Natsuki met her questioning gaze with a warm smile. "I've been going through a lot of personal issues and this case, this little girl, helped bring back some balance. At the very least, I can now focus on my patients with the attention they deserve. And for the first time in a while, I feel this I've done something…right."

With a small laugh Hitomi reached up and took the other woman's hand in her own. "I'd say you've done a lot right, but I think I know where you're coming from. Sometimes, everything just goes to hell, and one little kid can make it all okay again."

"Exactly." Natsuki smiled widely and stood, using their linked hands to pull the other woman up. "From what I've heard, Sakura's parents have returned. What do you say we go and give them the happy news?"

Hitomi took a deep breath then smiled brightly. "I've feel like I've been waiting forever. Let's put an end to their desperate guessing, once and for all."

The two women watched with warm smiles as the worried parents rushed to their daughter and pulled her into a tight embrace.

"This is why I became a doctor." She crossed her arms over her chest, and slowly turned to look at Natsuki, seeing her own emotions dimly reflected in the other woman. "I told myself it was because it was a well-paying job that would make my parents proud but…I chose pediatrics so I could save the lives that were just beginning, and in turn save the lives of the adults who loved them."

Natsuki smiled and met the blond woman's eyes. "I can't disagree with you there. Maybe if I'd been better with children I would have ended up in your area as well. But for some reason, I just excelled in neurosurgery."

"I'd say excel would be an understatement Kuga. You're a genius when it comes to that stuff." She glanced back at the family then reached out to steer Natsuki back towards her office. "What do you say to coming out with me for a late, celebratory dinner?"

"Shouldn't we begin preparations? I'll need to go over all of her charts again before we start filling her parents in on the details of the surgery." Natsuki bit her lip and glanced back towards the room they were moving farther and farther away from.

Hitomi rolled her eyes at the slight resistance. "I think Sakura and her parents could do with some time to themselves before the next hurdle, don't you?"

"Oh." Natsuki blinked and nodded as she allowed herself to be propelled along. "That does make sense. I apologize, I didn't mean to jump the gun. So, yeah, I'm up for some dinner."

"Perfect." Hitomi beamed and clapped the other woman on the shoulder. "I know just the place. Let's get changed and get out of here."

Hitomi's pick was a small Vietnamese restaurant only a few blocks from the hospital. It seemed pretty clear that she frequented the place when the host greeted her by name and ushered her over to a quaint table situated near the side windows.

With a quick bow the host had given them each a menu before vanishing back to his post.

Hitomi picked up the menu with a practiced ease, skimming it quickly before closing it and laying it down.

Natsuki smirked. "I take it you come here often?"

The blond laughed. "I seem to have a thing for any eastern food that isn't our own."

"You don't like Japanese cuisine?" Natsuki couldn't keep the incredulous look of her face.

"Hey, I may have been born and raised here, but that doesn't make my aversion to sea food any less intense. Though I'm alright with any Japanese dishes that don't have any sort of sea creature in them." She paused and frowned thoughtfully before sighing. "Unfortunately, sea food seems to have the majority wherever I go. It just…mocks me."

"Dead sea creatures mock you?"

Hitomi flushed and gave the other woman a weak glare. "Are you planning on looking at the menu any time soon?"

With a quick glance down at the object of conversation, Natsuki shook her head. "I was thinking of just getting whatever you get." At the other woman's questioning look she rolled her eyes. "It seems practical. And fine, lazy. I don't feel like deciding."

With an amused smirk, Hitomi made eye contact to the waiting server and motioned her over.

As they conversed, Natsuki let her mind wander as she gazed out the window. For all intents and purposes, they'd just managed to figure out how to save a little girl's life. Natsuki should have been happy, more than that, she should have been ecstatic.

But she wasn't. She was proud, and truly glad to know that little Sakura would be able to grow up and accomplish whatever it was she wished, but there was something that cast a shadow over that joy.

No, there wasn't something interfering with her happiness. It was more that she was missing some final element. Her eyes closed and a soft sigh escaped her. She knew what was missing, and she knew that she would continue to be missing it.

That final step, that single thing that always pushed her victories at work into the ultimate joys, had been sharing her successes. More, it had been sharing them with Shizuru. It had been seeing that glimmer of pride in the other woman's eyes that had just…completed everything somehow.

Funny how it wasn't until something was gone that its value became truly apparent.


She straightened her posture and returned her gaze to the woman in front of her, putting a smile on her face. "Sorry, just got lost in thought."

"Uh huh." She leaned back in her chair and leveled the other woman with a thoughtful stare. "Why do I have a feeling that you were thinking about a beautiful, mysterious lawyer?"

Natsuki's cheeks went red in record time. "I…um…well…"

Hitomi rolled her eyes. "Come on Kuga, it's clear to anyone with half a brain that you're still head over heels for her. The only question is why you haven't done anything about it."

There was a potent silence as Natsuki bite her lip. "I guess…I guess there's still a part of me that's afraid…"

"Oh?" Hitomi pursed her lips and surveyed the other woman closely. "What is it that could make the great Natsuki Kuga hide like a coward?"

"I'm not-!" She frowned and stopped herself, admitting the lie before she even finished speaking it. "I guess I have been. But it's not exactly that. I'm not afraid of rejection, not really. I mean yes, of course it would hurt me but…in a way it would be better."

Hitomi made a thoughtful sound but didn't respond, having seen the server arriving with their orders. Once the woman had been assured that they had everything they needed she left and Hitomi focused on her colleague once more. "You don't think you deserve her."

While she knew Hitomi's declaration wasn't a confirmation of her fears, Natsuki couldn't help but wince as the other woman's words cut through her. "I guess that's one way to put it."

"It doesn't matter how you put it Kuga, it's bullshit." Hitomi rolled her eyes as the other woman stared at her in shock. "How long was she with you?"

Natsuki frowned and shook her head slowly. "I don't see how that's relevant?" She sighed as the other woman's eyes narrowed dangerously. She knew that look and she knew that Hitomi wouldn't drop it until she got the answer she was looking for. "It depends on where you start counting the days. From the day I met her? From the day she told me she loved me? From the day I finally told her that I felt the same way?" Natsuki closed her eyes as images of each step floating through her mind, the happiness and the sorrow overwhelming in its intensity. "Long enough. Long enough that we shouldn't have given up so easily."

"So why are you still doing it? Still standing back and playing the martyr?" Hitomi pursed her lips as emerald eyes opened slowly, showing her a glimpse of the emotions swimming in their depths. "God damnit Kuga, anyone with half a brain can see the difference in you. I may not have known you as well, but I knew you well enough to know you had someone to go home to, someone who made you glow even on your worst days."

Natsuki's brows furrowed, eyes filled with annoyance and frustration. "If my idiocy was the only factor here I'd be grovelling at her feet Hitomi. This isn't about me anymore. The mistakes I made aren't anything I can undo."

"So you say. But did you ever ask her if that was the case?"

There was a long pause as Natsuki merely stared at the woman across from her. "What do you mean?"

Hitomi sighed. "I'm really going to have to spell this out for you aren't I?" She waited a moment, making sure she had the younger woman's full attention. "You seem to think you've got everything figured out. But did you ever consider that your lady love might have had another reason for the split? One that wasn't just about you being an ass?"

The blond growled in annoyance as she received a blank stare. "For someone so smart, you really can be quite obtuse Kuga. I'm saying that she might feel she played a role in this. And that while you're sitting over her, assuming you know what's best for her, she might be god knows where, assuming this bullshit is what's best for you."

Natsuki took it all in, mind spinning. "But that's absolutely ridiculous."

Hitomi snorted. "Oh really now? And here I thought the only ridiculous factor here was you."

Natsuki glared at the other woman without any real venom in the action. "Okay then, taking into account this new information, what do you propose I do?"

"Take a chance moron. Give your woman enough credit to accept that she'll reject you if it's what she truly wants." Hitomi leaned forward, gaze intense and unyielding. "You've told me time and time again how beautiful, smart, and capable she is. If she's truly done with you, she'll send you packing."

"Well that's reassuring." And despite the sarcastic tone to her words, Natsuki couldn't help but smile as she leaned back. Because as crazy as it seemed, she was most definitely reassured.

Hitomi smirked, knowing she'd gotten her point across. "Now then, since you're done being an idiot, I say we enjoy the rest of our meal. You in?"

Natsuki rolled her eyes at the change in demeanour and nodded. "Sure, whatever you say, you freak."

Shizuru's eyes flicked up and down the street, scanning for a familiar face. With a small sigh she resigned herself to a longer wait than she had expected. Not that she should have been surprised. While Haruka was usually on time when it came to her job, she tended to be a bit scattered when it came to her personal life.

A small frown worked its way over her features as she tried to puzzle out Haruka's call once again. The other woman had gone off on so many tangents that she was having a difficult time pulling anything tangible out of it. All Haruka had really managed to make clear was where and when she wanted to meet up. She'd also stressed that the meeting had nothing to do with work which left Shizuru with little idea of why she was there.

A soft humming noise brought Shizuru's gaze up and she was met with the curious gaze of a woman near her own age. Brown hair cascaded over her shoulders and her warm brown eyes gleamed as she studied Shizuru with equal intensity. "What could have someone as lovely as you standing on a street corner at this time? Frowning no less."

Shizuru brow furrowed a miniscule amount more, the only outward sign that she was taken aback. "I'm sorry?"

Soft pink lips curved into a playful smile. "I can tell you're smart, I'm sure you can figure out what I'm attempting here."

It took her a moment longer than it should have, but the woman was right. Shizuru could tell when she was being flirted with, especially when it was so blatant. Normally she would have picked up on it instantly, but her thoughts had still been elsewhere. "I suppose you're right. But I think you should know, you're wasting your time."

The other woman's brows rose and she linked her arms behind her back. For a moment she seemed to just study Shizuru, as though trying discern any hidden meaning to her words. Then she smiled. "I don't know who she is, but I have a feeling things aren't going so well for the two of you right now. And I don't mean to pry, or stick my head into your business but…if you're able to shut me down that quickly, it's probably in your best interest to win her back."

At first Shizuru stayed still, impressed by the other woman's conclusions. But by the end of the woman's assessment, Shizuru's eyes had closed. "Maybe I would. No, I would. I would try." She opened her eyes slowly to meet the gaze that had read her with such accuracy. "But sometimes, it just isn't meant to be."

That playful smile was back, but this time there was a calculating edge to it. "You don't strike me as a coward Miss, but that, chalking misfortune up to some convoluted idea of fate? That's cowardly. Hiding behind the acceptance of 'what's meant to be' is no better than running away from your problems. If she's as important as she seems, you'll fight to get her back."

Shizuru's eyes hardened. "Her importance has nothing to do with this. Added to that, you know nothing about me."

The woman chuckled softly. "And yet I've been pretty spot on so far, haven't I?"

Shizuru shook her head, mind working rapidly in an attempt to figure out how to deal with a situation she barely understood. "Why are you even saying these things? What's in it for you?"

There was a pause as the woman's smile faded and her eyes turned thoughtful. "Honestly? I guess I've just been having a shitty day and I could pretty much feel your misery from a block away. Initially I just wanted to make someone smile, and you seemed like a good candidate."

Shizuru studied the other woman, feeling as though there was a continuation to her explanation that she was holding back. "But now?"

The smile returned, and brown eyes lit up with interest. "Well, now it feels a bit more personal."

"Personal in what way?" Shizuru's gaze was as intense as before, eyes narrowed as she concentrated on every slight alteration in the other woman's expression.

The woman sighed and motioned to a nearby bench. One they were seated, she leaned back and let her gaze wander. "My name's Hana."

"I see." Shizuru immediately felt silly as she recognized the expectant look she was being given. Considering the fact that the other woman, Hana, was about to reveal some personal information, it made sense that she would want to at least be on a first name basis. "Shizuru."

"Shizuru. Pretty name." She sighed again and crossed her legs. "She was the one that made me accept I was…interested in women. I mean, I knew it before her but, well, she was the one who made it all easier. Being in love with a woman was one thing, but being in love with my best friend? That was something I could deal with.

"Anyways, I think I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. I should probably start a bit closer to the beginning… There was one day, out of the blue, she confessed her feelings to me. That was before I'd really even tried to come to terms with the way I felt about her. End result, I freaked. I told her to stay away from me, that how she felt was wrong." Her eyes glazed over, unfocused as she recounted the events. "Biggest mistake of my life."

Shizuru watched the emotions that flitted over the woman's face, finding she could relate to the majority of them. The sadness, the regret, the loss…She'd become all too well acquainted with those feelings.

"To make a very long, very boring story short, it all fell apart. I never let go of my self-resentment over what I did, and she never accepted that I truly loved her as more than a friend. So eventually she left me, and I let her." Tired brown eyes finally landed on the woman sitting next to her and she smiled sadly. "I missed my window, I let her move right out of my life and I was never able to bring her back in."

Shizuru pursed her lips, wondering what to do next. She could pull away, act like the other woman's words didn't affect her, weren't important to her. But she'd never been one for lying when the situation demanded the truth. "So you're saying I should find a way to fix things?"

Hana shook her head. "I'm saying you need to come to terms with whatever issues you had that contributed to the split. Then you need to go to her and see if she's willing to try again."

"And if she's not?" In the simple phrase sat Shizuru's greatest fear, having Natsuki completely reject her. There had been times she'd felt like the other woman had been pushing her away, had wanted to reject her, but Natsuki never had. And Shizuru didn't want to be the one that pushed her to finally make that move.

"Then you're back where you started. Miserable, hurt, overwhelmed by your emotions." Hana's smile was wry and she shook her head, as if to dispel some sort of imagery. "But you won't have that nagging regret eating away at you, day after day."

Shizuru thought it over, biting her lip gently. "I…I suppose you're right."

Hana grinned. "Of course I'm right."

Shizuru looked at the woman again, seeing her in a different light. "You don't even know me. Why…why are you trying to help me?"

"I've never been one to stand aside and leave a pretty lady to her misery." She smirked and laughed lightly as Shizuru's eyes narrowed. "Okay, okay. Honestly? Something in the way you were standing there struck a note with me. I've been there and it sucks. I wanted to do something, anything, to help ease that pain."

In a sense, Shizuru could understand the other woman's drive to help. A thought occurred to her and she smiled. "Be it a date or advice?"

Hana blushed faintly. "You can't really blame me for trying. Usually it's the best option for the broken hearted. And I have no problem being a rebound."

"The best option?" Shizuru tilted her head quizzically.

Hana nodded. "It someone's broken your heart, you want to be able to pick up the pieces and prove that you can move on. But in your case, well, there was no way you're going to be moving on."

Shizuru's brows furrowed as a slight worry flashed through her. "That sounds rather ominous."

"I guess it does. But it's not meant to." Hana laughed and patted Shizuru's shoulder in what was meant to be a comforting manner. "But all I mean is that the pieces aren't just lying there for you to pick up. You've still got them given out."

With a soft laugh Shizuru nodded. "And I can't take them and move on until I've seen whether or not I should be taking them back."

Hana grinned. "Exactly." She watched as Shizuru's eyes caught onto something, or someone, down the street and she knew her time with the other woman was up. She let out an inaudible sigh, immediately regretting that she would have to leave. She'd found a friend in an unthinkable way and she was loathe to leave it at that. "I think it's time for me to leave, but would you mind doing me a favour?"

Shizuru's eyes alit with curiosity as she considered her answer. After a moment she nodded. "Alright. What is it you need?"

"Your phone." Hana grinned as Shizuru eyes her suspiciously. "Don't worry, I'm not going to run off with it." She was only slightly surprised when Shizuru pushed the device into her hands, still eyeing her cautiously. She flipped open the phone and quickly went about her task before handing it back.

"Should I be concerned?" Shizuru's voice was cool and controlled but Hana could tell she was confused.

She laughed. "Only if having a way to contact me is really that frightening. I just put my number in there. In case you ever want to talk again."

Shizuru bit her lip lightly and stood. "I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong impression, I loved talking to you but I'm not-"

Hana cut her off with another laugh. "Shizuru stop. I'm not asking you out. I'm asking you to be…friends. I think you're enthralling and beautiful but…even if I hadn't just encouraged you to attempt to rekindle your romance with someone else, I wouldn't be able to intrude in that area. It's just a feeling but I don't think you and me would be a good idea. At least not in a romantic sense."

Shizuru nodded, unsure if she should be offended or grateful. "Very well. I'll keep your offer in mind."

Hana grinned. "Do that. I'll see you around Shizuru."

With an amused smile, Shizuru watched the brunette saunter away. It wasn't often she met someone she found so intriguing and she had a feeling she'd be seeing the other woman again.

"Who was that?"

She turned to see Haruka frowning, surveying Hana's retreating figure with suspicion. "Her name's Hana. We just met."

Haruka squinted at the woman one last time before shrugging. "Alright then. Are you ready to check out that restaurant with me?"

"Considering the fact that we were meant to be there twenty minutes ago, I certainly hope I am." Shizuru smirked as the other woman blanched.

"Shit. I'm not that late…am I?" She pulled out her phone and checked the time before groaning. "I'm so sorry. I thought I was only running a few minutes late. If I'd realized I was this late I would have called."

With a small laugh Shizuru patted her friend's arm. "Don't worry Haruka. My friendly encounter kept me entertained."

Haruka smiled, relief clear in her eyes. "Seems she was a blessing in disgust. I guess I'd better thank her someday then."

"You mean disguise, Haruka. She was a blessing in disguise." Shizuru smiled and chuckled softly, acknowledging just how true the statement was. Even though nothing had come of her advice yet, Shizuru knew that one day, she would be thanking Hana as well.

End of Chapter Eight

So, oops? I really meant to get this out sooner but between the end of the semester, finals, work, and my girlfriend and I getting an apartment, I didn't have a chance. But here it is! It's sort of filler but it ties up some loose ends and sets the stage for what I need to go down in the next one. In spite of that, I hope you enjoy it. Thank you all for being your lovely selves and reading this.