Title: Album

Rating: K+

Chapter 8: Ring

X-X-X

The seventh page of the album shows a picture of Natsuki in her bed, clutching a pillow to her chest in her sleep. Kiyoran is lying down behind her, pressed up tightly to her back. A letter and a small box can be seen on the nearby desk.

The sound of a whimper caught Shizuru's ear. Kiyoran wasn't one to whimper without a very good reason, so Shizuru put down her book and got up to check on him. "Kiyo-chan?" she called out. "Where are you, puppy?"

Kiyoran let out a yelp, which guided Shizuru toward her and Natsuki's bedroom. Kiyoran was sitting down in front of the door, one paw pressed up against it. He turned his head and looked back at Shizuru as she approached, though he didn't move from the door.

Shizuru furrowed her brow as she tried to figure out what Kiyoran was up to. He seemed to want into the bedroom, but... Wait, why's the door closed? Perhaps Natsuki was changing her clothes, but she usually didn't bother to close the door for that any more, and this was an odd time for that anyway. Shizuru reached out and knocked gently on the door. "Natsuki?"

No answer was immediately forthcoming from behind the door, though Kiyoran let out a whimper at the sound of Natsuki's name. Shizuru felt a sudden ache in her heart, at the thought that something might be seriously wrong.

"Natsuki? Are you all right in there?" Shizuru said, a bit of worry entering her voice now.

"...I-I'm fine..." came Natsuki's voice from the other side of the door. "You can come in..."

Shizuru cracked open the door and peeked in. Natsuki was sitting on the bed, a piece of paper in her one hand and a small box in the other. "Natsuki..." she said as she entered the room, Kiyoran at her heel. The puppy soon ran around her leg and forward to Natsuki, sitting down at her foot and looking up at her, whimpering softly in sympathy.

Natsuki couldn't help but smile weakly at the puppy. She reached a hand down and patted him. "Sorry to make you worry..." she said. "Just... this wasn't something I was expecting to deal with today."

Shizuru approached the bed and sat down next to Natsuki. She wrapped an arm around Natsuki's shoulders and let Natsuki rest her head on her shoulder. Natsuki passed the piece of paper to Shizuru, and she read it:

Natsuki, I thought you might like to have this. It was your mother's engagement ring. It's the least I can do for walking out of your life all those years...

The letter continued, but Shizuru didn't need to read any more to realize how this must have affected Natsuki. Shizuru put the letter down and placed a hand on Natsuki's knee. "How are you doing, Suki?"

Natsuki let out a low growl and shook her head. "What did he... why now? He's had that for all these years... I don't know where it's been, who's worn it. And he suddenly springs this on me, like he wants to get back in my life, as if he'd done even the slightest thing to deserve it."

Shizuru was silent for a long while. It was hard for her to relate to this. Her relationship with her parents hadn't been perfect, but in her case, she'd done her own part to pull away from them. Natsuki's case was quite different, though. Her father had abandoned her, and that wasn't something that could easily be forgiven. Perhaps it wasn't even something that should be forgiven. This gesture was nice, but it couldn't make up for everything.

"...Perhaps..." Shizuru said, "don't think about your father right now, love... Maybe just think about the ring. Maybe forget the fact that he was the one who sent it to you. It could just be a memorial for your mother."

Natsuki was silent for a long while. "I... I don't know..." she said.

"It can mean whatever you want it to mean, Natsuki. It can be a reminder of your mother, not of your father." Shizuru squeezed Natsuki a bit in her embrace. "A memory of her love, even now that she's gone."

Natsuki didn't reply to this. She simply closed her eyes and buried her head in Shizuru's chest. Shizuru brought her hands to Natsuki's back, and she slowly stroked it until Natsuki finally seemed to relax a bit.

"You don't have to decide anything now, Natsuki," Shizuru said. She leaned down and planted a kiss on Natsuki's head. "Just spend some time here now... with me... with Kiyo-chan."

Natsuki shifted in Shizuru's embrace, pulling back so she could look up into Shizuru's eyes and give her a weak smile. "Thanks, Zuru..." At the sound of a small yelp from the floor, Natsuki smiled a bit wider. She turned and picked Kiyoran up, holding him in her lap and patting him slowly. "And thanks Kiyo... I really am lucky to have you and Shizuru."