Mai HiME, all characters and any other related indica belong to Sunrise. No profit made, no infringement intended.

Author's notes:
Well, I was wanting this out in time for Christmas '12, but... yeah. Better late than never! This takes place very early in the BtS-verse – while the girls are in university, and before any foreign exchange programs, cheeky redheads and new companies. You might spot another OC making a brief appearance, however.

As for the ending scene, I'm fairly sure that any adult human being who's ever tried to share a bath with another adult human being will agree with me on this: Unless you have a plan (or alternately, a tub the size of the Mongol Empire), it takes some maneuvering, and most importantly a sense of humor. There are all kinds of bits to slip on, not to mention nozzles and plugs to poke you in awkward and hilarious places.

Those 'take a bath with your lover' romance guides should come with a free submission to AFV, or at the very least two first-aid kits. One for the body and one for the ego.

Anyway - enjoy!


Damn. Natsuki tilted her head back and peered up at the overcast sky. It's really coming down. Her own exhales made the effort, but the warm air she was expelling into the freezing temperature surrounding her wasn't enough, and she still had to blink much faster than normal to keep the thickly falling flakes from gathering on her eyelashes.

The town of Fuuka had been hit by something as unusual as snow – this region of the country was usually fairly warm, and even in the depths of the cold season it was rare for the temperature to drop to below freezing. Yet here it was; winter and Christmas on the doorstep in all it's white, frosty glory. Not, the young woman considered as she zipped up her jacket all the way to her chin and tugged the knitted cap firmly down over her ears, unlike something you'd see on a postcard. Really, it was almost picture perfect. It had been snowing since late the previous evening, and at this point – just before noon – there were several inches covering the ground in the spots that had previously been cleared.

In other areas? It was more a matter of feet.

Natsuki shoved her hands into her pockets and took the final few steps down the front walk of her new-ish apartment building. The concrete tile had been both shoveled and salted twice today – the first time by one of her neighbors - and when Kashima-san had left the shovel and the bag of salt by the front door, the second time Natsuki had done it herself. Until that point, she'd spent a few lazy hours sitting by the window with a pot of hot tea and a jar of honey; half-reading in one of her textbooks, and half-watching city employees attempt to tackle the unfamiliar weather and clear the roads. She'd moved here just barely a year ago; trading her old apartment near the academy campus for one that was closer to both the university and its dorms.

A piece of light equipment with what she presumed to be a hastily attached circular broom at the front came rumbling past when she turned onto the sidewalk, and Natsuki watched the driver wipe a small piece of cloth over his ruddy, exhausted face while the loose snow that the previously passing, massive plow hadn't removed was sprayed off towards the side of the road. The opposite side, thankfully, she considered as she watched the spray of not-entirely-clean-powder coat a good portion of the sidewalk over there... and decisively picked up her pace before the cart got the chance to turn around and cover this side, too.

It was Saturday, with Christmas falling on the following day – meaning that for once, it actually was a day off for most. That usually wasn't the case in Japan, where the Christian population was entirely too low for such a tradition to become a national holiday the way it tended to be in Western countries. It had even become a bit of an extended holiday – at least for students – since the sudden onslaught of what was already bordering on an honest-to-God blizzard had left the city scrambling to keep traffic flowing, and closed down every single school in town. So instead of driving the few blocks to the university campus and taking part in the half-day of classes that was her usual schedule on Saturdays, Natsuki had stayed in; catching up on some of her work for the following week while attempting to wait out the snow.

However, according to the weather services, the snow wasn't likely to stop anytime soon, and after finishing a short paper on photojournalism and outlining another for her class in Advanced Design, she'd decided to brave the elements as they were, rather than chance them getting worse. College, she reflected idly, was certainly keeping her busy enough that such everyday things like shopping for groceries had quickly become a fixed event rather than a spur-of-the-moment one. It had become something she only really found the time to do on Sundays, and since it looked like Sunday wouldn't be much of an option this week...

Well, that was why she was wading through what varied between an inch and mid-calf snow at the moment. Much as she loved her motorcycle, she wasn't either stupid or suicidal enough to drive in these conditions. Besides, the snow was creaking in a very interesting way under her heavy winter boots, and it was honestly kind of fascinating to see the familiar neighborhood covered by the decidedly unfamiliar blanket of white.

Natsuki rounded a corner, and spotted a conspicuously un-powdered bit of concrete against the side of another set of apartments. There were a few drifts in her way, so reaching the spot in question took some doing and some careful maneuvering, but she did reach it, and spent a few seconds brushing clumps of snow off of her jeans with her gloved hands before removing one glove and fishing her phone from her pocket.

Hey, she tapped into the messaging system. What are you doing? It took a few seconds before a reply came back, and she passed them by removing her beanie and shaking it free of snow.

Studying. Natsuki put the cap back on her head, and quirked a half-grin at the predictable reply. Natsuki isn't?

I was, she sent back. But if this keeps up, I need supplies. I'm low on everything.

The phone stuttered in her hand almost immediately. Kamui Market?

Long as they're open in this weather, she responded. Anything you need from there?

Yes, the phone flashed at her. I'll meet you, though. Ten minutes?

See you then. She flicked her thumb over the Send button and deftly locked the phone before storing it in her jacket's inside pocket, then left her sheltered little spot and stepped back into the chilly wind and the neverending curtain of white.

There was, Natsuki acknowledged as she squinted at the trodden parts of the snow and tried to place her own feet in those dips, still that same tickle of anticipation, now that she knew she'd be seeing Shizuru before long. Apparently an odd thing, she gathered from the snippets of conversation she somehow kept overhearing; most young women her age certainly seemed to complain that the excitement left their relationships after a few months – sometimes as early as after a few weeks.

Maybe it was because she was still a little bit uncertain about everything, she considered as she bent down and collected a handful of snow; pressing it into a ball as she walked. Not about whether or not she wanted to be in the relationship – if that was it, she'd never have entered into it in the first place. No, it was more that she was unsure exactly how she was supposed to do this whole 'romance' thing, because how did it all work? How did you go about making a relationship last, in the long term?

And she definitely wanted that, Natsuki decided as she turned onto a different, smaller street and started lazily tossing her snowball back and forth between her hands. Scary as it was to open herself so fully to another person, being with Shizuru – loving her – felt right in way that she couldn't put into words, and just the thought of losing that was enough to turn her insides into icy knots.

God, they'd only been together romantically for a few months, she berated herself and kicked at a wayward snowball that rested on the ground in front of her. It was way, way too early to be thinking of things like lifetimes and forevers.

Wasn't it?

The street she was on curved gently, and started bordering a large, open area. Several people of ages varying from pre-school to university were running loose in the snow; tucking behind the sparse trees and man-made defenses to avoid a constant barrage of white missiles in what seemed to have become a neighborhood-wide snowball-fight. Natsuki watched the chaos with only half an eye as she passed, and that was probably why the impact between her shoulderblades caught her off-guard.

"Doof!" she grunted as the hit sent her stumbling a few steps, but soon regained her balance and turned on her heel to see a boy of about seven grinning at her from a few feet away. The boy then stuck his tongue out and started running – which was no easy feet given how thickly he was bundled up. Natsuki watched him go for a few seconds, then eyed the snowball still in her own hand, and with a figurative shrug of her shoulders sent it flying – though she took care to use far less force than she would've if she'd been aiming for someone her own age.

It clipped the boy on the shoulder just as he reached a few of his peers, and then Natsuki had to make a hole in the snowfall as she was suddenly made the primary target for the entire group.

Well, she considered as she ducked under one snowball and – after a few steps - managed to hop over another one, too much thinking was bad for the brain, anyway. Right?


She skidded to a stop behind the wide trunk of a winter-barren cherry tree to the sound of at least five thumps against the bark. One shot went a little wide though, and she picked up the snowball that had landed unharmed by her feet, briefly peeking out of cover to send it back to its owner, and chuckled as she took a return volley to her upper chest.

"Come on, you little pollywogs!" she taunted with a grin, and swiftly pulled her head back as a snowball exploded against the trunk just in front of her face. "Damn good aim, though," she muttered to herself; dropping to her knees and starting to compress as many missiles of her own as she could.

It was, she mused as she heard the sound of several feet coming towards her through the deep snow, not the best cover spot she could've chosen. Strategically speaking it was way too unprotected, and once her little gang of assailants reached the tree and circled it, she would probably end up resembling a snowman in less time than it would take to say the word.

Oh, well. Natsuki nailed the first boy to step into sight in the chest and swerved around the next one's aim. She'd just have to hold them off as long as she could. There was no pride in an easy victory, after all; nor was she about to be taken down by a pack of kids without a fight. So she hopped and dove and scooped and threw – weaving between and around the giggling boys as she took several hits on various parts of her anatomy, but also managing to land a good number of her own in return.

Predictably, however, numbers won out in the end, and it didn't take many minutes before Natsuki was on her knees in the snow, fending off the group assault as best she could by intercepting or deflecting as many snowballs as possible with her gloved hands.

"Okay!" she cried, and narrowly avoided taking a snowball right in the face. "I give! You win!"

Mercifully, the barrage stopped, and she raised her head to see a round half-dozen of proudly grinning faces surrounding her.

"That was fun," one piping voice commented.

"Yeah!" the boy who'd started the whole thing agreed. "You throw good, ojou-san. For a girl."

"Thanks," Natsuki retorted dryly as she got to her feet and started brushing herself off. The first boy was right though, she reflected idly. That had been fun.

"Juro-kun!" a third boy now yelled from his place near the tree. "Look – they're trying to take our fort!"

Natsuki looked to where he was pointing – as did the the boy she'd been talking to, who was apparently the one being addressed. Through the heavy snowfall, she could make out four figures making for a shaded spot – a half-circle wall of packed snow that looked like it would come up to her own waist.

"High-schoolers?" she guessed, basing her musings mainly on the heights of the various would-be conquerors.

"Middle," Juro replied. "It's my brother and his friends – they've been trying to take our fort all day."

"Ojou-san, will you help us get rid of them?" a fourth boy suggested, and before Natsuki could blink, she was surrounded by a veritable sea of pleading faces, as well as small hands that tugged hopefully at her sleeves.


"Pleeeeeease?" all six voices chorused as one, and she felt her face twitch in a series of ways before fishing out her thankfully still dry phone. Well, she still had a few minutes before she was due to meet Shizuru, and Kamui Market was literally right across the street at this point. How long could it take to chase off a handful of middle-schoolers?

"Sure," she finally agreed, and shook her head in bemusement as the boys cheered. "But we have to be quick – I have to meet a good friend of mine very soon, okay?"


"Right." Natsuki briefly wondered how she'd gotten herself into this, then pushed the thought away and dropped to her knees in the snow again. "Everyone start making snowballs," she told them. "We'll run in and bury them under a few tons of this stuff, and hopefully they'll hightail it."

"Yes!" The boys scurried every which way to copy her, and before long they were tearing across the blanketed ground – each with their own armful of ammunition, and all yelling at the top of their lungs as they let fly at their opponents, who wisely decided to run away and regroup from a safer distance.

Natsuki stayed her own arm as she jogged along, only sending a snowball careening through the air when one of the older boys tried to sneak off and flank them. It impacted the side of his head with an impressive, wet splat, and the shocked squeak he produced in reaction was enough to capture the attention of two of her own team, who immediately focused their fire on him.

They reached the fort just as their opponents rallied, and everyone dove for cover as a hail of snowballs came flying at them. Even after everyone was safely out of the danger zone, the attack kept coming, and it didn't take Natsuki long to realize that the older boys were trying to pin them down.

"F... iddles," she muttered – only barely staying her language around her younger audience. Last thing she wanted was a lecture from someone's mother. "Did you make any peepholes in this thing?"

"Here," one of the younger boys in her group called, and squiggled on his belly over to the wall. Sure enough, there was a patch of light coming through a hole about three fingers wide and roughly two handspans above the ground.

"What's your name?" Natsuki asked him, and kept her peripheral vision on the rest of her little group – most of them were making more snowballs, and a few waited for pauses in the attack to send some of them flying in return.


"Okay, Ryo. If I tell you to aim for something at twelve o'clock, would you know what I meant?" She chuckled softly when the boy's big, blue eyes goggled at her. "I'll take that as a no."

Natsuki found a small branch, and used it to draw a circle in the packed snow that made up the fort's floor. "Here," she explained quietly, aware of the rest of the boys listening. "If you say there's something at twelve o-clock, it means that it's straight ahead – six o'clock would be directly behind you."

"Uhuh," Ryo nodded.

"Okay." Natsuki used her branch to make another, smaller peephole at her own, current eye-level, and peered through it. "See the tree in front of us? On the clock, where is that?"


"You got it," she patted the boy on the back with a grin. "Alright," she then addressed the group as a whole. "As long as they're hammering us like this, there's not much point in peeking out and looking for them, so Ryo here's gonna be our eyes for now. If he sees anyone closer than that tree, he's gonna tell us where on the clock they are, and we just fire blind. Everyone following?"


"Good. Get ready!"

"Ten!" Ryo shouted, and five snowballs went sailing over the wall. "Got him! One!" Another five snowballs. "Oo, right in the face."

"Hah!" One of the other boys grinned. "Serves him right."

"Twelve – owwwww, that had to hurt."

"Think I can figure out where he got hit," Natsuki muttered, and chanced a peek over the top of the wall now that three of the four attackers had been discouraged.

"Two!" Ryo yelled just when she spotted the fourth and final boy getting way too close, and she sent a snowball of her own barreling through the air with a decisive sweep of her arm. It hit the boy in the center of his forehead with a solid thwap, and carried enough force to send him flailing onto his back in a massive pile of loose snow.

"Good hit, ojou-san," Ryo cheered. "Juro-kun, she nailed your brother right in the forehead!"

"Mm." Natsuki rose to her full height and frowned. "I didn't mean to throw that hard," she told her group, and then raised her voice. "Timeout!" she yelled as she jumped the wall, then jogged over to the human-shaped hole in the snow drift and peered down. "You alright, kid?"

"I think so," the prone figure replied with a voice that still carried the occasional high pitch of a boy in puberty. "Did you get the number of the truck that hit me?"

"No truck," Natsuki chuckled as she extended one hand and tugged the boy to his feet. "Just me. Sorry about that."

"Hey, it's part of the game," the dark-haired boy grinned easily as he brushed himself off. "So Juro called in reinforcements, huh?" His warm, brown eyes twinkled in wry amusement. "Little twerp never could handle losing."

"We got you, Kenji-onii-chan!" the boy in question yelled as he came running out of the fort himself. "We got you!"

"Yeah, yeah, you got us," Kenji agreed with a wry smile. "Good job."

"Ojou-san!" Ryo's voice suddenly piped up in alarm. "Seven!"

Natsuki reacted without thinking. She caught the snowball Juro quickly lobbed to her, spun on her heel and threw it in one move, and sure enough, it hit the approaching figure in the chest with a very satisfying whap.

… and showered its target with a cloud of snowflakes, just as Natsuki realized who it was.

"Aw, poop," she muttered. "... sorry."

"Well..." Shizuru blew the flakes off her upper lip and brushed the remainder of the snowball off of the chest of her warm, woolen jacket. "I was wondering what was taking you so long."

Natsuki coughed. She'd seen that look in the older girl's eyes several times, and it usually heralded nothing good. "I'm sorry," she offered. "I got here early and... well, I'm not sure exactly how it happened but one thing led to another and sudd- gack!"


"Wow, ojou-san!" Juro's voice piped up between the stars she was sure was whizzing around her head. "Your friend throws even better than you do!"

"I bet," Natsuki commented as she studied the overcast sky from the new hole she'd made in the snowdrift. "She never does anything halfway."

A warm chuckle floated around her ears, and she clasped the extended hand and let Shizuru pull her back to her feet – out of the snow and into the amused regard of four middle-schoolers and six elementary-schoolers.

"You are so bad for my image," she complained halfheartedly in return for a chorus of childish snickers, and a set of wide, innocent red eyes. "Yeah, yeah." Her lips shaped a grin regardless. "We've got shopping to do, huh?"

"Mm." Shizuru smiled in return and brushed a clump of snow off of her shoulder. "And then I think we need to get you home and into some fresh clothes – preferably sooner rather than later."

"Hm." Natsuki regarded herself with a thoughtful sniff. She'd be lucky to be halfway dry by the time they got out of the market – let alone back to her apartment. "Good point."

"If you'll excuse us." Shizuru bowed politely to the collection of boys. "We really do need to get going."


"Are you mad at me?" Natsuki asked roughly half an hour later as she shut the door to her apartment behind both of them.

"What?" Her lover sent her a puzzled glance as she removed her warm boots and set them by the door. "Why do you ask?"

"Well..." She tugged off her own footwear and frowned at the wet socks that emerged. "You've been real quiet the whole time. You rushed me around for groceries and since I was late to begin with, I figured that maybe y- mm."

"I'm not angry with you," Shizuru promised softly as she ended the kiss. "And I'm sorry if it seemed that way – but the only thing keeping you from being being soaked to the skin is the fact that most of your clothes are frozen solid, and I don't want you to get sick."

"Ah." Natsuki colored faintly and hooked her fingers in the belt circling the waist of Shizuru's coat as their foreheads touched. "Okay. Just making sure."

"I am glad that you've grown comfortable enough to ask, though."

True, she acknowledged to herself. A month ago she would just have assumed, and worried over it in silence until Shizuru practically dragged it out of her. Opening her mouth had saved her a lot of time in that way.

"I have," she agreed, and watched her own fingers pick at the buckle holding the belt closed. "Sometimes it just feels like all the stuff I have to learn takes too long to stick."

Warm lips brushed tenderly against her chilled forehead, and she closed her eyes in response. "We can talk about that, if you wish," Shizuru told her quietly. "But right now, I really would like you to go take a warm bath before you end up catching something. Is that alright?"

Natsuki chuckled softly. "Yeah, that's fine," she promised, but didn't make a move to step back.

Of course, Shizuru made no move to release her either, and Natsuki was quite convinced that she could fall asleep right there – in the middle of all that peace.

"Okay." She finally took a breath and extracted herself from the embrace, but not before catching the other girl's lips in another soft kiss. "I'm going." Pause, and a brief moment of consideration. "Put the groceries away and join me?"

The widening of the red eyes told her that she'd surprised Shizuru with her request – hell, she'd halfway surprised herself – but as she was wont to do, her companion rallied quickly, and smiled in response. "Gladly."

Exactly how she was supposed to reply to that, she wasn't sure. So she didn't, and instead gave a small smile before turning and heading for the bathroom – only to pause after two steps and remove the socks that were squishing wetly against the wooden floor as she walked. She hung them on the radiator in the bathroom as she closed the door behind her, and only realized that she was about to lock the door out of long habit when her fingers clasped the key.

Natsuki shook her head and pulled her hand back – leaving the sturdy door closed, but unlocked. There were so many tiny little adjustments in her day-to-day life that came along with sharing it with someone else. Not, she considered as she set about removing her cold, sodden clothes and settling them in various places to start drying out, that she'd trade it for anything. She definitely preferred the new habits that came along with having Shizuru in her life at this level; no questions about that. But she was candid enough to admit to herself that the constant adjustments were a little disconcerting to her – even though she more than enjoyed the results that came along with them. One such adjustment was the one she'd just set in motion herself, because while their relationship had turned sexual a while back, the sort of more casual nudity she'd just opened the figurative door to would be something new.

Now naked, Natsuki knelt by the tub and set the plug into place; then turned on the water and rested her folded arms on the edge as she watched the clear, gently steaming liquid start to slowly collect and rise. One thing she really did detest was being uncertain around her lover – especially since Shizuru seemed perfectly centered in all things that involved the two of them as a couple. She was forever assured and comfortable – perfectly patient and willing to wait for any new experiences until Natsuki herself gave the invitation.

And Natsuki was grateful for that – she really was. But on the flip-side, she also didn't want her lover to have to wait. She wanted them to reach that level of solidity that she saw in other relationships like the one Mai shared with Kanzaki – the kind that made people look at them and just know somehow that they were two halves of a hole.


She wanted this relationship to be everything Shizuru could ever have wished for, she decided right there in the middle of the swirling mist and the sound of running water – and preferably sooner rather than later. And since she was now starting to realize that the fastest way to bypass any uncertainties that arose along the way was to essentially run headfirst into them, divetackle them to the ground and beat them unconscious... Well, that was why she was now drawing a bath for two, wasn't it?

"You know something?" she muttered to her own reflection as she padded over to the mirror and set about tying her hair up and out of the way. "You think too damn much." Because it would take time for them to get to that point, and she did realize that. She also wasn't naive enough to expect complete perfection even when they did – she and Shizuru had argued in the past and would undoubtedly argue again. That was inevitable as long as a relationship involved two people; especially two people as fundamentally different as they were.

Still, she mused as she returned to the tub and shut off the warm water, she was impatient by nature, and that wasn't something she could really do anything about. The best she could do, she decided as she added a few dollops of scented soap, was to keep talking to Shizuru, and to keep chasing off her own uncertainties and nerves whenever they showed up.

The addition of another few inches of cool water had only just managed to churn the soap into bubbles and lower the overall temperature to a level acceptably between hot and scorching, and Natsuki was turning the dial to shut the water off when she heard the door open.

"Hey," she greeted over her shoulder, and furiously stomped down on the urge to cover herself. "Close the door? You're letting all the heat out."

"I thought you were drawing a bath," Shizuru commented dryly, but did as requested. "Not turning the room into a sauna."

"No comments from the peanut gallery, thanks. You're the one who wanted me to warm up, remember?"

"So I did." There was the soft sound of footsteps against the tile floor, and then familiar arms were sliding around her waist; tender lips brushing the skin just below her ear as Shizuru embraced her from behind. It was an interesting sensation to feel her lover's fully clad front against her own very naked back, and Natsuki spent a few moments turning it over in her head while she watched her own hands stroke slowly across the skin on Shizuru's forearms.

"Natsuki?" The hold on her waist loosened as Shizuru apparently picked up on her mood. "Should I leave again?"

"No." On that, she had no doubts. She was about to make some further reassurance about her being fine, but reconsidered and instead turned around in the embrace to link her own arms loosely behind Shizuru's neck. "I'm just... a little twitchy, I guess. I'm not used to being naked around you – not like this, you know?"

"I know," was the soft reply. "I think it's fairly normal, to be honest. Most anything is a little disconcerting until you get used to it."

"Mm." Natsuki closed her eyes as their foreheads touched, and smiled faintly at the feeling of gentle fingers stroking her back. "For most people, anyway," she then teased. "You're as unflappable as ever."

Surprisingly, the answer to that was a quiet laugh. "Hardly," Shizuru objected. "I'm think I'm about as 'twitchy' as you are, and I haven't even undressed yet."

"Really?" That was certainly news to her. "You don't seem..."

"I am, though," the older girl confirmed with a half-grin. "But it's a good act, isn't it?"

"Shizuru..." She felt her brows furrow into a frown, and caught the red eyes with her own. "I don't want an act." One hand, still wet from testing the temperature of the water, cupped her lover's face. "I want you."

For several long moments, the warm eyes across from her own studied her curiously. Exactly what they were looking for, Natsuki didn't know, but Shizuru's eyes were beautiful, so it wasn't as if looking into them involved any hardship on her part.

Nope, she then decided fuzzily as her face was cupped, and her lips caught in a tender exploration that just about had her toe-hairs curling. No hardship at all.


"Eh?" She licked her lips absently as they parted, and tried to to figure out exactly what she was being thanked for. "Um, sure. For what?"

Another soft brush of lips against her own, and then she was feeling slightly chilled again when Shizuru stepped back. "For being a patient teacher."

Patient? Natsuki perched on the edge of the tub and half-watched her lover undress as she tried to puzzle that one out, because she certainly didn't feel like she was being anything of the kind. Nor was she sure what it was that she was supposedly teaching Shizuru – to her it felt more like it should be the other way around. Shizuru was the one always waiting for her; the one who had everything planned out and under control while Natsuki mainly felt like she was forever stuck playing catch-up.

Ah. A clue beaned her in the side of the head. Shizuru seemed like she had everything planned out, yes, but what if that was all an act, too? Her way, maybe, of dealing with the same insecurities and half-fears, half-hopes that Natsuki herself wrestled with?


"Hm?" She refocused her gaze as she was drawn out of her thoughts – and immediately resettled it several inches higher as her face flared mercilessly. "Shut up," she complained when Shizuru giggled, and scowled. "God, am I ever gonna grow out of this?"

"Oh, I hope not," her lover commented as she stepped into the tub and settled herself beneath the bubbles with a sweet smile. "That blush is absolutely precious, and I would miss it sorely."

"I bet." The heat in her face faded somewhat, even as she rose as well and carefully lowered herself into the steaming water. "You're not the one who has to go tomato-faced every five minutes."

"Nope," Shizuru cheerfully agreed; her legs cradling Natsuki's hips as she sat down. "All I have to do is enjoy the result."

"Idiot," she grumbled good-naturedly and scooted back until she could recline against Shizuru's front – then almost ended up with her face underwater as she slipped on the smooth floor of the tub with a plasticky squeak. Only Shizuru's quick grip on her sides and her own swift reflexes kept that from happening.

"Hm." Natsuki studied her own feet where she'd clamped them against the low end of the tub to keep herself from skidding any further on her rump, and waited for the violent sloshing of the water to die back down. "They never mention this part, do they?"

Shizuru snickered, and after a flex of tension in a set of deceptively strong arms, she was tugged back into place. Thankfully, she stayed there this time.

"Well, then," Shizuru spoke up once again after they'd both settled themselves comfortably. "Was the twitchyness what you were referring to earlier?"

Actually, she'd almost forgotten about that.

"Partly," she agreed after a few seconds of thinking, and tilted her head a little to let her temple rest against her lover's cheek. "Shizuru, please don't tell me I'm the only one scared of messing this up."

"Us, you mean?" came the low question.


"You're not." A promise that somehow made her feel pounds lighter. "Although if I were to describe myself in that aspect, I think 'terrified' would be more accurate."

"Hm." Natsuki craned her neck back until she could make out at least half of the other girl's face. "Why does that make me feel better?"

"Probably because it means that we're in the same boat, as it were?" Shizuru theorized. "I am sorry if you thought you were the only one feeling that way." Hands clasped her own beneath the bubbles, and she felt warm lips press against her forehead in apology. "I was trying to hide my worries in order to make things easier for you, but I seem to have done the opposite, instead."

"You were trying to help," Natsuki countered. "You said so yourself – it's not your fault that I didn't chime in sooner."

"Perhaps," Shizuru agreed reluctantly. "We should have had this talk ages ago, shouldn't we?"

"Probably," she chuckled. "But better late than never, right? At least we're having it now."

"True." The hands holding her own moved as Shizuru's arms encircled her fully and pulled her closer – not that there was a whole lot closer to get – and she felt the skin on her lover's face twitch as Shizuru smiled. "I vote we make this a weekly occurrence."

One green eyeball rolled up to peer at her. "The bath, or the talk?"


"Pervert." She was smiling herself, all the same. "Can we agree on something else?"

"Presumably," was the amused reply. "What is it?"

"That we're both in this for the long ha- gah!" Natsuki had barely gotten the words out before knowing fingers were skittering over her sides, and it took all of half a second before she was writhing in helpless reaction. "Shizuru!"

"Kanin na." The words and the accompanying laugh brushed warmly against her ear when the tickling thankfully stopped again. "We can definitely agree on that." A wet hand traced her jawline tenderly. "I'm not letting you go if I can help it."

"Good." She pressed a kiss to a passing fingertip. "As long as we're on the same page." A slow touch travelled down the centre of her belly, and she quirked a grin in response. "I take it serious-talk time is over?"

"You are naked on top of me," Shizuru commented wryly. "I tend to have a hard time focusing on other things, when that's the case."

"Urngh." Natsuki groaned and let her head drop back onto her lover's shoulder. "You are hopeless," she decreed into the misty air as she slapped at the water surrounding them for emphasis, and felt more than heard the chuckle travel through the frame beneath her own. "I need a new name to call you when you do this."

"Is that so?" was the laughing retort. "'Idiot' isn't cutting it anymore?"

"Not by a long shot." She craned her neck back and brushed her nose against a warm cheek before kissing the nearby earlobe. "How about... wench?"

"Wench?" Shizuru's voice sounded a little disbelieving. "Hm. And if I don't like it?"

"Tough." Natsuki nipped at the ear as she carefully shifted off of her lover and onto her side, and heard a sharp breath being sucked in when their legs twined. "I like it, it works, and it suits a multitude of occasions," she decided. "So I'm pre-emptively vetoing your veto, and you're just gonna have to deal."

"I do so love it when Natsuki waxes poetic."

"Wench." Pause. "See?"

"Well..." Shizuru cupped her face and turned her own to kiss her. "I suppose it's better than 'wrench', at any rate."

Natsuki growled softly. "This," she breathed against the soft lips, "is starting to turn into one of those circular arguments you're so damn good at, and if you keep it up, I swear I'm going to tickle you."

"Alright, alright!" The body halfway beneath her own twitched in instinctive reaction to her little threat, and she smiled as she watched Shizuru giggle. "I'll be good."

"Yeah, right." Natsuki rolled her eyes. "That'll be the day."



Green and red eyes met and fenced briefly, before two very similar grins appeared on two very different faces.

"Should we get out?" Shizuru then asked. "I think we've both warmed up sufficiently."

"Nah." Natsuki pushed her head into the hand that was tenderly combing through her hair. "I'm comfortable where I am, though you..." She tapped her lover lightly on the nose. "... might be feeling a little squished by now."

"Hardly," came the dry response. "I'm naked in a warm bath with full access to Natsuki's equally bare and delightfully slippery body. How could I be anything but content?"

"Hrm." She was aware that she was blushing again, but that knowledge was pushed aside as their lips met once more – this time in a far more involved manner. "Prove it, then," she challenged on an uneven breath, and shivered when familiar fingers trailed over several patches of sensitive skin just as her own hands started a return journey. "Talk, as they say, is cheap."

Neither of them was one to back down from a challenge. And so, those were the last words spoken for a while.

Audibly, at least.


END - "Storyboarding"