Story: The Onset of the Frost (all chapters)

Authors: bleeding.blade

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Chapter 1

[Author's notes:

PREFACE: I wrote this story for the same reason that fanfiction writers everywhere do stories about Shizuru and Natsuki: namely, because of a profound dissatisfaction with how their relationship is treated in both My-Hime and My-Otome. More specifically, I thought Shizuru's devotion to Natsuki deserved to be reciprocated in a far more substantial way than what's shown in both anime series. What I didn't expect though was for this story to evolve into a series of its own. It's the longest and most ambitious work I've attempted so far, and I hope the reader stays patiently with me as I work towards its completion. If it's any kind of reassurance, I already know how it will end. It's just about filling in the details :0)

WARNINGS: While the stories in this series are not intended to fall under the category of "crossover fiction", I did extensively borrow concepts and characters from the anime series Blood+. (As a general rule, I try to avoid creating original characters whenever possible. It's just a personal preference.) To help readers unfamiliar with Blood+, I've put short explanatory notes where needed. Having said all that, I think the most important warning is that these stories contain spoilers to both My-Hime and Blood+, since the events they relate happen after the conclusions of both series.

NOTES: Most, if not all, of the chapters in these stories open with verses from songs by the band Evanescence. For ShizNat fans with the time and patience, I highly encourage that you acquire their albums, especially the one entitled Fallen, and listen to the tracks quoted below. If ever an unofficial soundtrack to the story of ShizNat existed, it would have to be this album :0)

DISCLAIMER: None of the characters below are my property. The characters of My-Hime belong to Sunrise while the characters of Blood+ belong to Production I.G. and Aniplex.


I'm so tired of being here
Suppressed by all my childish fears
And if you have to leave
I wish that you would just leave
Cause your presence still lingers here
And it won't leave me alone...

From the song My Immortal (the Fallen album), by Evanescence

My name is Natsuki Kuga. My whole life I've been haunted by the ghosts of dead women.

The first belongs to my mother. I spent the first part of my life trying to put her soul to rest.

The second belongs to a woman I loved: a woman I still love; a woman I will always love. We could have been together when she was alive. But like I said, my whole life has been about ghosts. She had to die before I could give her the attention she deserved.

But unlike the case of my departed mother's soul, I'm not trying to put my beloved's to rest. Her ghost is all I have left. In her life, she loved me to the point of madness. In her death, I try to return the favor.

Her name was Shizuru Fujino. And when she was alive, she was the most maddening, infuriating, and utterly bewitching person I'd ever met or known.


She could have had anyone she wanted. She was beautiful, intelligent, charming and elegant. She was, in a word, perfect.

Only I didn't have the time or energy to spare for perfection. At first, I was merely coolly grateful for the help she gave me - for the support she quietly and unwaveringly offered in our first two years of friendship. In time I grew to love her. Who could resist loving her after all? But my love for her was a detached and muted thing - a peripheral emotion that orbited somewhat distantly around the hatred I nurtured in my core over my mother's death.

If I had been less preoccupied, I would have noticed just how intensely and desperately she loved me.

When I did find out, when I heard what she'd done as I'd lain ill, I had felt...violated. If only I had taken greater care then to understand what exactly had revolted me, perhaps things would have ended differently. Perhaps they could have even ended happily.

Then she had gone on that rampage, and my feelings of disgust and betrayal had suddenly seemed inconsequential. I'd realized then that we both had to die. And when faced with the prospect of death, agonizing over a stolen kiss and a naked embrace suddenly seemed pointless and trivial.

And even after we'd come back to life, there was still so much that had needed to be done, still an entire world that had needed to be saved.

It was only when things finally got back to normal - when the perspective and magnanimity that our Armageddon had afforded us had disappeared - that the trouble really started between us.


At the end of it all, it was really my fault. Normalcy gave me time to reflect, and the result of my reflection was unease. I no longer knew how to be with her. I didn't know how to respond to her love. Underneath her apparent strength was an explosive fragility that could destroy the world with its power. I loved her. But knowing that what she felt for me was different from what I felt for her also made me...afraid of her.

She knew it of course, without my having to say or do anything. I can remember the desolation in her crimson eyes, though she hid it well behind her silvery laugh. In the end, she simply decided to leave.

She said goodbye to me in that garden where we'd first met. Only I didn't realize it was goodbye. It was the day before the spring term, shortly after her graduation. She had walked in on me in that disquieting way of hers. I'd been pulling absently at the weeds. Ever since my first encounter with her, I'd been much more solicitous towards flowers. She had interrupted me then.

"Natsuki," she shook her head gently. "You shouldn't do that. Even weeds deserve their chance to grow."

I'd been faintly annoyed by her remonstration. "They'll kill the flowers if I leave them alone."

She'd looked saddened by this. "Weeds can't help being what they are. Who are we to judge whether they should live or die?"

She'd gazed at the garden then. The way she had looked at it had seemed like a caress. "I'll miss this view," she said softly. She'd looked at me while she'd said it, and I could hear her unspoken words. I'll miss you, Natsuki. I looked away. I thought then that she had merely meant going to university. But where she disappeared to over the next two years no one knew.

When I saw her again, when she finally came back, she belonged to someone else. And as for me, well, I was in love with her by then.

Chapter 2

You used to captivate me
With your resonating light
Now I'm bound by the life you left behind
Your face it haunts
My once pleasant dreams
Your voice it chased away
All the sanity in me...

From the song My Immortal (the Fallen album), by Evanescence

I'm not sure how it happened. It's possible that it had happened a long time beforehand, only I hadn't paid enough attention. The first few weeks she was gone went by easily enough. It was the start of my second year in high school after all, and I was determined to finally enjoy a normal teenager's life.

Only I hadn't anticipated what actually constituted the normal life of people my age. When I took a good hard look at the "normal" teenagers around me, it occurred to me that adolescence was almost entirely about...intimacy. Suddenly I was surrounded by couples: Mai Tokiha and Yuuichi Tate, Akane Higurashi and Kazuya Kurauchi, even Chie Harada and Aoi Senou.

And if the peer demonstrations weren't enough, there was also the fact that boys and girls at school began to pursue me in earnest. Mai told me that with Shizuru and Reito Kanzaki gone, they had all needed a new object at which to target their affections.

It was all enough to start me thinking, for the first time in my life, about the subject of relationships. And on that subject, I found that my mind tended to fixate on a single object: Shizuru Fujino.

She had quite simply, and without my ever realizing it, become the standard against which I would measure all admirers. And not a single one of them even came close, whether male or female. I saw and heard countless declarations of love and countless demonstrations of lust, but all I could think of in reaction was a pair of crimson eyes that blended both effortlessly in a look of utterly tender desire.

It infuriated me at the same time that it confused me. When I'd told Shizuru weeks earlier that I couldn't love her back the way she loved me, I knew I hadn't lied. I couldn't understand how I could feel so differently in so little time.

It disturbed me enough that I decided to talk to Mai.


I ambushed her one evening at her desk.

"Mai..." I asked hesitantly. "How did you figure out that, you know, you liked Tate after all?"

She stared at me dumbfounded. "Where did that come from, all of a sudden?"

I sighed, "Just answer the question, Mai." She raised an eyebrow at me. "Please?"

"Well..." she paused to consider her answer. "I guess I always kind of knew; only there was so much that I had to deal with. Like taking care of Takumi, juggling school and a part-time job, getting used to being a Hime...And then there was all that baggage with Shiho-chan, and possibly getting my Child and Yuuichi killed on top of it all."

I frowned. "So what you're saying is that you really liked him all along, and it wasn't that you went from disliking him to liking him overnight?"

She leaned back and stared at the ceiling. "If you ask me, I don't think people's feelings can change all of a sudden. They're either just ignoring them, or denying them, or misinterpreting them." She looked at me then and giggled. "It's kind of like you, Natsuki. I swear you're so out of touch with yourself sometimes."

"What does that mean?" I looked at her in genuine bewilderment.

She patted my hand affectionately. "I worry about you sometimes, you know. I mean, I don't think you've ever really been a teenager - or even a kid for that matter. Your whole life's been devoted to getting back at the First District for killing your mother. I just worry that all of those childhood and adolescent things that you never paid attention to or cared about before will catch up with you someday."

I snorted. "You're one to talk, Miss I-Raised-My-Brother-All-By-Myself-Since-I-Was-In-Kindergarten."

She shook her head firmly at my interruption. "Yeah, but I've never shut out the possibility or given up an opportunity to have a normal life, Natsuki. I mean, fine, a lot of my time went to taking care of Takumi, but I did try to go to school and I did try to make friends. But you were so different. You were just so...single-minded about your crusade. It was like you didn't have time for anything or anyone else...including yourself."

I closed my eyes in frustration. What Mai was saying made sense. It also meant that I was, quite possibly, the biggest fool in the world for having let the one object of my affection slip away unnoticed and underappreciated.

"So," Mai leaned forward. "Can you please finally tell me what this is all about?" Her eyes suddenly widened. "It's's not about a boy is it? Oh my God...this isn't about Takeda-san, right?"

"Don't be an idiot," I said crossly. "I may be psychologically stunted, but I'm not a complete moron." And to prevent her from prying any further, I added, "In any case, you'd better start cooking dinner really soon, or Mikoto's going to make trouble."

She was out of the room before I even managed to slide off her desk.


After I'd begun to think of Shizuru that way, I couldn't get her out of my mind. It had been several weeks since I'd last seen her or talked to her. In all the time we had known each other, I was almost always the one who approached her first.

Only this time, my approaches ended in failure. Calls to her mobile phone, then to her house, then to the different universities of Fuka yielded nothing. Her phone was disconnected, her servants simply said she was away, and the university registers didn't have anyone listed by the name of Shizuru Fujino. I went as far as using my contacts in the underground to find her, but she had completely and utterly vanished.

I nearly went mad those first few days. My initial panic eventually yielded to anger - anger that she hadn't told me, that she hadn't warned me, that she'd left no word at all about what she had planned to do. Then as the weeks passed, anger gave way to despair. And then finally, as the months dragged on in continued silence, despair gave way to a numbed longing.

I missed her. I missed her intensely and desperately. I missed her chestnut hair, her crimson eyes, the musical lilt of her voice, the playful curve of her lips, the graceful way she carried herself. I relived the brief moments we had spent together: times, I realized with shamed hindsight, which consisted mostly of my asking her a favor, then abandoning her once my request had been granted.

I suddenly wished that I'd been awake when she had kissed me. I suddenly wished that I'd been awake when she had lain naked beside me. Thinking of her that way - imagining her lips, and the tongue that lay behind, and the body that lay beneath caused me countless sleepless nights. It was only then that I'd realized what it was that had revolted me. It wasn't the idea of her touching me. It never had been. (I even vaguely recall the flush of pleasure I'd felt when I'd woken up that night, believing I had dreamt her kiss.) I'd simply felt betrayed that she had touched me without asking - that she had invaded that most private of spaces without permission.

I badly wanted to give her that permission. And she was nowhere to be found.

Chapter 3

Have you forgotten all I know?
And all we had?
You saw me mourning my love for you
And touched my hand
I knew you loved me then...

From the song Taking Over Me (the Fallen album), by Evanescence

It was nearly two years later, shortly before my graduation, that she finally came back.

I was in the garden, dreading saying goodbye, saying it anyway, and missing her as always. And then that melodic accent, unheard for so agonizingly long, sounded from somewhere behind me.

"I've been thinking...Perhaps the only way for flowers and weeds to grow without killing each other is to keep them apart."

I whirled around. There she was, smiling with that heart-breaking, soul-aching smile she always used on me. She looked so beautiful it took my breath away. I must have sighed her name. All I know was that in the next moment, I had her in my arms, holding her with all the desperate longing I'd endured for the last several months.

I felt her hand gently stroke my hair. "Ara, I take it Natsuki missed me?"

There were tears in my eyes when I looked up at her: tears of intense relief - and remembered anger. There was so much I wanted to say. But the first words to leave my mouth were an accusation. "You left without a word, Shizuru."

She looked at me and answered quietly. "I'm sorry, Natsuki. It was selfish of me to not say anything. But I was only fulfilling your wish by leaving."

I opened my mouth to protest, then looked away with shame. She was right. I had instigated her departure. I looked at her again, hoping she could see the regret in my eyes. "I missed you, Shizuru. More than you can ever know. And I wish," my voice suddenly trembled, "I wish you wouldn't fulfill all my wishes if they meant your being far away."

She smiled at this, a smile of infinite tenderness that was exceeded only by the sadness in her eyes.

A voice interrupted us.

"Ah, there you are, Shizuru."

I looked around in annoyance for the source of the interruption - and found a man who, impossible as it seemed, was even handsomer than Reito Kanzaki. He had rumpled blonde hair and kindly green eyes and carried himself with an aristocratic grace that matched Shizuru's perfectly.

He was also looking at Shizuru with a familiarity that I immediately detested. Only Shizuru was looking back at him with a warmth that I'd only ever seen her use on me.

"I'm truly sorry for abandoning you like that, Solomon. I got carried away by nostalgia." Then gesturing at me fluidly with her right hand, she made the introductions. "Solomon, allow me to present Natsuki Kuga, a former schoolmate of mine and a dear...friend. Natsuki, this is Solomon Goldsmith, the CEO of Cinq Flèches Group...and my fiancé."

In the dead silence that followed, Solomon Goldsmith bowed to me and smiled. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Kuga-san."


My memory of those moments is muffled by detachment. To this day, it's the only way I can deal with the recollection.

As soon as she had uttered that final word, I had gone very still.

"Your fiancé?" I'd looked at her then, the betrayal in my heart echoing in the flatness of my words.

Solomon spoke for her, smiling apologetically all the while. "We've only just gotten engaged, so please don't think Shizuru kept it a secret from you. Actually, that's the reason why we're here at Fuka Academy. Shizuru wanted her friends here at the school to be the first to know."

When I heard my answer, it seemed to come from across a vast distance. I marveled at its grave civility. "I'm honored then, in that case." Then nodding at the both of them, I excused myself. "Pardon my rudeness, but I have to be getting back. I'm sure we'll have many opportunities to get to know each other better over the next few days."

I'd walked away then and just barely managed to stop myself from running.

It was only after I'd reached the safety of my dorm room that I collapsed, chest heaving and throat aching with a pain too large for tears. And that was only just the beginning.


The next few days passed by in a haze of agony. The whole school was in an uproar over Shizuru's engagement. The excitement was only heightened by the fact that she and Solomon were, without a doubt, the most magnetic couple that any of us had ever seen. Both were beautiful, graceful, elegant and refined. Even the protests of Shizuru's undying fan club withered under the force of Solomon Goldsmith's angelic charm.

Chie was quick to accost me in the hallway the next day. "Oi, Natsuki. Did you know anything about this?" She looked incensed. Her girlfriend, Aoi, smiled sympathetically at me. "Chie-chan is upset that she missed the scoop of the decade."

Chie looked offended. "Scoop of the decade? Scoop of the century you mean! Shizuru Fujino is the only direct heir of the family that owns the country's largest corporation! Her marriage prospects have been debated for years! And now she's engaged all of a sudden and we didn't even have a clue?"

I simply shook my head and walked away. In the refuge of an empty classroom, I reflected on Chie's words. I had never fully considered Shizuru's stature as a Fujino. The aura of quiet authority she carried with her had been so deeply her own, it had been easy for me to forget her wealth and lineage.

I rammed a fist against a wall in frustration. What was I thinking? Forget that, what was she thinking? Even if nothing else had stood in our way, we could never have been together. I closed my eyes. Images of a crimson-eyed angel cutting a path of destruction suddenly filled my mind. But that's a lie...You know there wasn't anything she wouldn't do for you, including murder. What makes you think she would have let her inheritance get in the way?

The only thing that had gotten in the way - the only thing that could have gotten in the way, and did - was me.

I sank down to the floor and buried my face in my hands.


Mai flopped down next to me in the grass, sighing dramatically. "Goodness. I never thought I'd see the day when Shizuru-san would actually find her match. Even Reito-san never quite seemed her equal. But this Solomon Goldsmith seems absolutely perfect for her, don't you think?" She sighed again, dreamily this time. "They look so wonderfully romantic together. Next to them, Yuuichi and I look like Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead."

I didn't respond. Much as it pained me, I had to agree with Mai's observation. Whenever I saw Shizuru those days, it was always on the arm of Solomon. And much as I searched for evidence to the contrary, they seemed to be genuinely devoted to each other. They were so blatantly, perfectly suited for each other, it made me sick to think about it.

"Hey, Natsuki." I looked down to find Mai staring at me with concern. "Are you...okay? You've been kind of off ever since Shizuru-san got back. I would have thought you'd be ecstatic to see her again, especially with the good news and all."

I managed a half-hearted smile. "You worry too much, Mai. It's just the graduation blues, I suppose."

She looked unconvinced. "Since when did you start disliking the idea of finally getting through high school?"

I chuckled wryly. "Ever since I realized it meant having to get through university."

Mai shook her head good-naturedly. "You do have a point there, my non-academically-inclined friend. Still, you have to try harder to cheer up. It'll upset Shizuru-san to see you like this."

For once, I wasn't too sure about that. I wasn't sure anymore if anything I could ever do could make Shizuru feel any way at all.

[End notes: Solomon Goldsmith is one of the principal characters in the series Blood+. I won't say too much about him here as more will be revealed later on in the series, but the most important thing to know about Solomon at this point is that his character has several things in common with Shizuru's. Like Shizuru, he is exceptionally wealthy, good-looking and charming. Also like Shizuru, his easygoing manner conceals the fact that he is an extremely capable leader and formidable fighter. His death is strongly implied in Blood+, but since his actual destruction isn't shown, I've taken the liberty of "borrowing" his character for this series. For readers who like knowing how a particular character looks, you can view a picture of Solomon at Wikipedia (type in "Solomon Goldsmith" in the search field; this will lead you to the Blood+ main article and from there you can click on the main article for Characters of Blood+). You can also view several pictures of him on the blog Random Curiosity (you can search for articles related to Blood+ under the blog's "categories" tab).]

Chapter 4

I've woken now to find myself
In the shadows of all I have created
I'm longing to be lost in you
(Away from this place I have made)
Won't you take me away from me?

From the song Away From Me (the Fallen album), by Evanescence

It was the day after graduation. I found myself wandering through the hallways of Fuka Academy, bitterly amused by my belated realization that I would actually, truly miss it.

Without intending to, I found myself in the Student Council Room. I sat down at her old desk. I could always count on finding her there, in those days, sipping a cup of tea. I leaned my chin on my hand and gazed out into the sunset, the blood-red orb reminding me of her crimson gaze.

"Ara, the scene seems somehow incomplete without my laptop on the desk and Natsuki's dirty fingers all over it."

I couldn't help smiling, in spite of everything. Her teasing me now was such an intensely comforting reminder of old times. "Dirty or not," I drawled, "I bet your laptop was grateful to have any fingers touching it at all, given your propensity to avoid real work."

There was a dangerous curve to her lips as she walked towards me. "Oh, I'm sure it was grateful. I wouldn't mind having Natsuki's fingers touch me either, the dirtier the better."

I had forgotten just how good she was at this kind of wordplay. Without thinking, I responded: "Maybe you wouldn't, but I'm sure Solomon would."

I regretted the words the instant I spoke them. She shook her head slightly, her eyes concealed by her bangs. "That's one of the things I love about my Natsuki. She's always concerned about my virtue even when I'm not." Her voice was light, but there was just the slightest quaver.

"I'm sorry, Shizuru." I said helplessly.

She waved away my apology and made her way towards the window. "And how has my Natsuki been?"

I gazed at her silhouette, the fading light bathing her in a crimson glow. "I've been better," I answered, my voice low.

She turned towards me then. "And what is making my Natsuki unhappy?"

I stared at her in silence while a million thoughts ran through my head. Do you really not know what's making me miserable? Do you even realize that I've never congratulated you on your engagement? Has it ever occurred to you that the two years you disappeared were the most wretched years of my life? Isn't it obvious to you by now, you maddening woman, that I'm head-over-heels in love with you?

Seeing that I still wasn't saying anything, she walked towards me and sat on the edge of the desk. She bent until our heads were nearly level, then very gently tipped my chin up. Looking straight into my eyes, she said: "If there is anything at all in the world that Natsuki desires that I can give, I would give it to Natsuki."

You! My mind screamed. The only thing I desire in the world is you! I so badly wanted to say it, if not for the intensity I saw in her crimson eyes.

Because I suddenly had the conviction that if I asked her to run away with me, that if I asked her to abandon Solomon Goldsmith, abandon the Fujino name, and abandon the Fujino Corporation, she would. And I knew she would do it without a second thought, without a backward glance.

And somehow, knowing that I had the power to change the trajectory of this woman's life - knowing that I could alter this utterly bewitching, entrancing, captivating woman's destiny - terrified me. She was the Shizuru Fujino. She was the sun around whom countless worlds wobbled, and stars didn't abandon their positions for mere...asteroids. What if I'd made a mistake? What if she'd made a mistake? What if everything we'd felt and dreamt with such frenzied anguish was nothing but the product of a youthful infatuation?

She saw my hesitation and understood my terror with a single swift glance. She touched my cheek, gently and tentatively, then allowed her hand to drop.

"Take as much time as you need to think about it, Natsuki. When you come up with an answer, I'll be there to hear it. And if after that you come up with another answer, I'll be there to hear it as well. And I will continue to be there, whatever your answers are and however they change."

When she left, I felt an overwhelming despair and resentment - toward her for giving me such a burden, and toward myself for being unable to shoulder it. Give me time, Shizuru. I begged in the silence of my mind. Don't marry him. At the very least, don't marry him just yet.


When the invitation came, it had felt like a good, hard punch to the gut. Mai, on the other hand, was tittering with excitement.

"An engagement ball! A real, honest-to-goodness, formal, dress-up ball! We have to go shopping, Natsuki."

I considered my response carefully. Refusing to attend the engagement party would only raise Mai's suspicions. On the other hand, I wasn't sure if I could maintain a façade of normalcy through an ordeal like shopping.

"Um, why don't you go with Midori and the rest of the gang?" I asked. "There's just some stuff I have to take care of this weekend."

Mai pouted. "Don't be such a Natsuki, Natsuki. It's been ages since we went out together. Besides, if I don't force you to come with me, I just know you're going to go wear any old thing."

As it was, I was already at the end of my psychological tether, and Mai's emotional blackmail was the last thing I needed. "Please, Mai? I promise I will get something suitable to wear, and I promise that we will go shopping together some time soon. I really just need to handle a couple of things right now." I said this while giving her the most imploring look I was capable of (something I'd only ever used on Shizuru) and was gratified to sense an immediate surrender.

"Well, all right," she relented. "It's as good a time as any to catch up with the girls anyway." She smiled at me fondly then let herself out of the room.

Sighing, I lay back on my bed and retreated under the covers. Shizuru, I thought, how much more cruel can you get?

Chapter 5

All this time I can't believe I couldn't see
Kept in the dark but you were there in front of me
I've been sleeping a thousand years it seems
Got to open my eyes to everything...

From the song Bring Me To Life (the Fallen album), by Evanescence

The night of the ball came without my ever having stepped inside a single boutique. The last thing I wanted to do was celebrate Shizuru's engagement to someone else beyond the minimum required for appearances. So I decided to a wear a dress that had belonged to my mother. More than anything else, it would remind me of her and give me the fortitude to endure the evening that lay ahead.

When Mai knocked on my door with the rest of the girls, I'd been sitting at my bureau for half an hour trying to compose myself. At the sight of me, Mai had looked taken aback, while Midori had broken out into wolf whistles. Nao Yuuki was the first to speak.

"Not bad, Kuga. Right when we're about to forget you're actually a girl, you do something once in a while that proves you're actually female."

Chie looked at me approvingly. "Midnight blue floor-length gown with a one-shoulder neckline and a silver choker with matching bracelets. And of course, you've kept your hair down."

My cheeks were beginning to burn under their scrutiny. "We should be going," I said. "It'll be rude to keep the happy couple waiting."


As things turned out, we needn't have worried about punctuality. The sheer number of guests that crowded the Fuka Academy Director's Residence made it impossible to keep track of people's comings and goings. For a good hour, we saw neither Shizuru nor Solomon. This, combined with the stares that I was getting rather too frequently, made me decide to retreat into the safety of an abandoned balcony.

And that was when I ran straight into her. We were only a few feet away from each other when recognition set in.

She looked absolutely breathtaking.

She wore a burgundy floor-length strapless gown and a necklace with a ruby pendant that matched her eyes to perfection. I couldn't help staring at her: at the creamy expanse of neck and shoulder that ended in a generous swell of cleavage, at the graceful curve of jawbone that was partially hidden by wisps of her upswept hair. When I looked into her eyes, I could see that she had been staring at me as well.

There was raw hunger in her gaze. And I knew she could see the same in mine.

I could feel the tension building between the both of us. And at the exact moment that I knew that I had to yield, Reito Kanzaki materialized from out of the darkness.

"Ah, Shizuru-san, Natsuki-san! How lucky can I get to have the two most beautiful graduates of Fuka Academy all to myself?"

Shizuru's voice was mild when she spoke, but I could detect just the slightest hint of steel. "Reito-kun, have you been lying in ambush this whole time?"

Reito looked wounded as he stepped forward. "Really, Shizuru-san, you're too cruel. And even if you did happen to be right, which isn't the case at all, one can't say that I haven't been rewarded for my efforts." With this, he gallantly offered an arm to the both of us, which we each accepted with sighs of mutual resignation.

Our entrance into the ballroom caused a bit of a stir - which was hardly surprising given that most of the people in the ballroom had been in love with either one of my companions during their time at the Academy. We were met at the bottom of the stairs by Solomon, who looked resplendent in a white tuxedo. He bent down to kiss my hand, and when he looked at me, I could understand easily enough how any woman could want him. He had a way of looking at people that made them feel that only they existed. "You're looking especially lovely this evening, Kuga-san," he murmured softly. Then he turned his attentions toward Shizuru, and the look that passed between them made me turn away, heartsick.

"That leaves just the two of us then, Natsuki-san," Reito remarked cheerfully. I gave him a wan smile, feeling too defeated suddenly to respond with my usual sarcasm.

As the orchestra began to strike the chords of a waltz, Reito started steering me towards the dance floor. I stopped, and quite literally dug in my heels. He turned around and looked at me questioningly.

"I don't dance."

He gazed at me for a while, then smiled with surprising gentleness. "I think you'll find that you're a splendid dancer, Natsuki-san. Just leave everything to me, okay?"

After a moment, I nodded. Anything was better than having to watch Shizuru in Solomon's arms. It felt strange to be held so close, but Reito acted like the perfect gentleman. He was also an excellent dancer, and I found it surprisingly easy to simply give in to his lead. At some point I closed my eyes, content to merely follow, finding the rhythmic and mindless movement a solace after the turmoil of the past few days.

It was only when I heard the applause that I opened my eyes - and found Reito's face uncomfortably close to mine. "See, didn't I tell you? You dance beautifully, Natsuki-san." He let go of me gracefully and bowed slightly to our audience, which, I realized with no little embarrassment, consisted of most of the room's occupants.

Feeling slightly panicky, I scanned the room and immediately made a beeline towards a bobbing head of orange hair.

"Natsuki!" Mai enthused. "I didn't know you danced!" Her boyfriend, Yuuichi, greeted me with a nod. "I didn't know you had a thing with Reito-san either," she waggled her eyebrows mischievously.

"Kanzaki?" I frowned, confused. "There's nothing going on with Kanzaki at all! And I don't dance either."

"Well," Yuuichi stated calmly, "that's what you were doing out there anyway."

Behind me, I could hear the orchestra starting enthusiastically into a swing. "And that," Mai said, grabbing Yuuichi's hand, "is what we're about to do there ourselves. Come on, you."

Chapter 6

You don't remember me but I remember you
I lie awake and try so hard not to think of you
But who can decide what they dream?
And dream I do...

From the song Taking Over Me (the Fallen album), by Evanescence

As soon as Mai and Yuuichi disappeared, I collapsed into the nearest chair with a sigh.

"Champagne, miss?" A waiter hovered in front of me with a tray. I didn't drink. But then again, I didn't dance either. I took one flute and drained it. Then I took another and stood up.

I scanned the room - and found my gaze colliding directly with a pair of crimson eyes. She was standing in the middle of a circle of admirers. Despite the denseness of the crowd, she had known exactly where to find me. I stared back. For the first time, it occurred to me that she looked unbearably lonely. Without thinking about it at all, I started to move towards her. I had to rescue her somehow.

Only a blonde figure in a white tuxedo suddenly leaned towards her and whispered something in her ear. I could feel her reluctance when she broke away from our gaze. As my steps slowed, I heard the opening bars of a tango.

I saw Solomon lead her to the middle of the dance floor. And for the next five minutes, he proceeded to possess her with a thoroughness that I thought could only happen in a bedroom.

The entire room watched spellbound as he held Shizuru in a close embrace, their cheeks and foreheads nearly touching. I watched with a sickened fascination as his arm curved possessively around her waist, his hand bracing itself against her lower back, her hand resting on his shoulder. It startled all of us to see Shizuru - languid, elegant, graceful Shizuru - capable of such an intensely violent and impassioned display. Yet she moved effortlessly and perfectly - submitting completely to Solomon's mastery of the dance.

It was absolute torment. Every single time his hand caressed her hips or her thighs, I felt violated in the very depths of my being. I suddenly, desperately wanted to see her eyes. Throughout the dance, he had looked at her fiercely with his emerald-green gaze. I wanted to see what her eyes held, what lay in those blood-red depths I'd stared into so often and so long. But she kept her eyes closed the entire time.

When the dance ended, he dipped her low to the ground, and drew his face close to hers. The entire room had fallen into a hush, and even the sound of the violins had stilled. At the moment when I thought their lips would touch, the silence was suddenly interrupted by the sharp crack of breaking glass. I looked around to locate the source of the sound, before I realized that everyone was staring at me. More specifically, they were looking at the remains of the champagne flute that lay crushed in my bleeding hand.

"Natsuki!" I heard Mai's horrified cry. I looked with detached surprise at the mess that was my hand and gently set the shards down on the nearest table. I could feel the pain in my palm in some distant part of my mind, but the nearer part of it was preoccupied with the more keening pain in my heart.

"Let me see that." I looked up to find Shizuru's concerned eyes staring into mine, the ruby orbs matching the color of the liquid that ran down my arm. I mutely held out my hand to her. As she took it, she calmly addressed the guests, "Do carry on. I'll make sure Natsuki-san's hand gets attended to."

Relieved that the situation was under control, the small crowd that had gathered began to disperse. Still holding my hand, Shizuru led me towards one of the room's exits where we were intercepted by a concerned-looking Mai.

"It's fine, Tokiha-san," Shizuru reassured my worried friend. "It's not serious and I can easily handle it." Sensing that Mai was about to object, Shizuru pressed on kindly but firmly. "I think it would be more helpful if you could be the one to tell Natsuki's other friends that she's all right." Mai nodded reluctantly at this and left.

After retrieving a first aid kit from one of the residence's guards, Shizuru sat me down in a nearby room and examined my hand. As she cleaned and bandaged the cuts, I spoke mechanically.

"I'm sorry, Shizuru. You shouldn't have to be attending to this - to me - on this night, of all nights."

She didn't respond to the apology, but merely asked: "And how did Natsuki happen to break that glass?"

I laughed hollowly. "You know me. I tend to underestimate the fragility of things."

We looked at each other then. In the seconds that dragged, in the eons that flew, volumes passed between our eyes - but none passed between our lips. Everyone who has loved, and loved long and well, knows this: that there are times when words seem utterly futile but are at the same time desperately necessary. I gave in to that feeling of futility - and sacrificed the last opportunity I ever had for telling her how much I loved and desired her.

She sensed that moment of farewell better than I did, because she suddenly held my bandaged hand to her cheek, and with violent tenderness, covered it with kisses. I heard her strangled moan. "Natsuki..."

But before I could interpret what that anguished cry could mean, the whole world exploded in red and black and green.

Chapter 7

Now that I know what I'm without
You can't just leave me
Breathe into me and make me real
Bring me to life...

From the song Bring Me To Life (the Fallen album), by Evanescence

We never found out until much, much later the exact nature of the monsters that attacked us that night.

I had fought against terrifying Orphans in my time as a Hime, but the creatures that descended on us that night were the most demonic and hellish things I'd ever seen until then. And there was no one left in that crowd who had the powers of a Hime.

One of the monsters had exploded through the windows of the room where Shizuru and I stood. The screams erupting from the hallway outside told us that they had invaded the ballroom as well.

Reacting almost instantaneously, Shizuru shoved me out of the creature's way in a single fluid motion. Using the first aid kit, she smashed a nearby display case of katana and, brandishing the weapon, called out to grab the monster's attention. I froze in terror. I had no doubt that she still retained her fighting skills, but without her former powers, she could hardly hope to defeat the demon stalking towards her.

"Run, Natsuki!" There was a steely urgency in her voice I had never heard before.

"I'm not leaving you alone with that thing!" I yelled back.

"This isn't the time for heroic displays!" she snapped. "If you run now, you might be able to find something to use as a weapon outside."

Against all my instincts, I nodded and ran. It was complete chaos in the ballroom, with people screaming and running. I eventually found one of the residence guards cowering on the floor, and lit up at the sight of his gun.

"You!" I yelled, "Hand that gun over right now!"

The only response I got was a vacant stare and a whimper. With a curse of impatience, I yanked the weapon from his holster and ran back towards the room where I had left Shizuru.

Somehow, through sheer skill and cunning, she had managed to injure the monster in several places while remaining relatively unscathed. However, it was slowly yet inexorably backing her into a corner.

"Shizuru!" I yelled. The monster craned its neck towards me and I fired a bullet close to its head to distract it from Shizuru. Slowly, it turned its torso toward me, and at the moment that it begun to lumber forward, I emptied the five remaining bullets into its chest.

The monster paused, then stumbled to its knees. I smiled in vicious satisfaction - only to discover a moment later that I had rejoiced too soon. With a howl, the creature bounded to its feet and rushed towards me. Just when I thought it would decapitate or disembowel me with its claws, the blade of a katana emerged from the middle of its chest. Moments later, when it toppled forward, a slightly disheveled but very much unhurt Shizuru emerged into view.

"Shizuru!" I ran towards her and embraced her fiercely. "Shizuru, you idiot. You bloody, bloody idiot. Don't ever, ever do anything like that again!" My eyes were bright with tears of relief; my knees were beginning to shake. And despite the fact that she had done most of the fighting, Shizuru held me close and stroked my hair. "There, there, Natsuki. It's over now." I looked at her again, scarcely believing that despite her slender form and the loss of her powers, she had managed to win.

"Natsuki? Natsuki!"

It was Mai, running in the hallway outside looking for me. We met her at the door, and she sagged with relief at the sight of us.

"Natsuki! Shizuru-san! I'm so glad to see you're safe."

"Are the rest of the monsters dead?" I asked her.

She nodded. "It was lucky that there were only two of them in the ballroom. I don't think Fumi-sama's going to be too happy about how the former Hime made free use of the Japanese medieval weapons collection that she just acquired, but it really came in handy."

Shizuru spoke. "Has anyone sent for the police and for ambulances, Tokiha-san?" Mai nodded. "Reito-san, Suzushiro-san and Yukino-chan are handling that right now. They're also trying to identify the most seriously injured so they can get treatment first."

She looked at our disheveled clothes and added worriedly, "Actually, we should get the both of you checked for injuries too."

Shizuru smiled at her concern. "We're fine, Tokiha-san. I don't want to distract the medical staff from the ones who really need assistance."

Mai smiled back, relieved at this reassurance - before her eyes suddenly widened in startled horror.

What happened next happened very quickly, and very slowly, all at the same time.

I remember Shizuru pushing me away, hard.

I remember the flash of a katana, sudden and blinding.

I remember the monster collapsing, thrashing violently in its final death throes.

I remember Shizuru turning away from the creature at her feet, looking at me from across a vast distance.

I remember the smile on her face, her relief at seeing me safe.

Most of all, I remember her crumpling to her knees, blood streaming in a thin line from the corner of her mouth.

What I don't remember, can't remember at all, is when the monster managed to stab her, its claws piercing neatly through her midsection, so that her burgundy dress was stained into an even deeper crimson.

I remember, somewhere, the sound of an inhuman scream.

I remember scrambling and stumbling to her side, catching her before she finally collapsed.

I remember the look on her face as she gazed at me with sorrow, longing, tenderness and love.

She put her hand on my cheek and whispered, "It's not so bad if a weed dies so that a flower can bloom..."

Then still smiling at me, she closed her crimson eyes...and left me, finally and irrevocably.

It was then that the madness descended.

[End notes: Some readers may have noticed that Shizuru wields a katana instead of a naginata in this chapter. This is a deliberate substitution on my part. It would have been too much of a lucky coincidence if the weapon nearest at hand had also been Shizuru's signature weapon. In any case, it's not too farfetched to assume that Shizuru would also possess some skill with a katana (or with any other bladed weapon, for that matter).]

Chapter 8

Fallen angels at my feet
Whispered voices at my ear
Death before my eyes
Lying next to me I fear
She beckons me
Shall I give in?
Upon my end shall I begin?

From the song Whisper (the Fallen album), by Evanescence

I don't remember what happened immediately after that, apart from the madness.

Mai told me that I'd pressed my lips against Shizuru's, and covered her face with kisses, and coaxed her ever so gently yet insistently to wake up. She told me that Solomon had arrived shortly after, and had tried desperately to make me let go of her body. She told me that it had taken Solomon, Yuuichi and Reito to make me let go, and that I had screamed and cursed and railed at them, while she had wept upon seeing me in that state, understanding for the first time what I had really felt for Shizuru.

She told me that Solomon had taken her body; that he had carried her out himself. They had allowed him to attend to her, being her fiancé. Also, they had needed to devote all their energies to restraining and calming me. Mai told me that after I'd fallen silent, I'd gone as still and limp as a rag doll - that I'd retreated somewhere inside myself where none of them could reach.

She had taken me home, and for the next three days, she and Mikoto had watched me in turns as I lay on my bed: not sleeping, not eating, not drinking, not moving, trying to approximate for myself what my Shizuru was doing, which was neither sleeping, nor eating, nor drinking, nor moving, because she was dead, and the dead did nothing, and I wanted so so so badly and desperately to be in that nothingness with her. And the whole time that I lay there, Mai told me that my tears never stopped. It was only when she told me, with much hesitation and much sadness, that they would be holding Shizuru's wake, that I finally moved, finally lifted my head, finally sat up. Sat up and collapsed immediately from exhaustion, hunger, thirst and grief.


It was their compassion and their concern that kept me alive. Most of the former Hime knew what it felt like to have the person most important to them taken. Only Yukariko, Shizuru and I had been spared the experience, as we had died immediately in the arms of the persons we held dearest. Mai knew it especially, having suffered it twice with the deaths of Takumi and Yuuichi.

They gathered around me without having agreed on it. They offered no advice. They uttered no platitudes. They simply took turns staying with me and caring for me.

Then one day, nearly two weeks after Shizuru's funeral, Solomon Goldsmith came to see me.

"I'm sorry for disturbing you like this," he said quietly. "I know you would prefer not having to see me. But I think Shizuru would have wanted you to have this." He held a locket in his hand. "Shizuru wore it for as long as I'd known her."

I opened it. It was a picture of me and Shizuru, with Shizuru standing behind me, her chin on my shoulder, her arms around my waist. We were both smiling. At the sight of it, the ache in my heart, always so close to the surface those days, began to throb.

Solomon watched me silently. I returned his grief-filled gaze with one of my own. While Shizuru had been alive, he had been a rival. Now that she was gone...he was a comrade. He was the only other one I knew with whom Shizuru had been close. He would understand not just the general pain of losing a dearly beloved, but the more specific anguish of losing Shizuru. He would be the only other one who could truly, completely comprehend how mind-boggling and soul-crushing the loss of Shizuru was to the world.

"What...what was Shizuru to you?"

I knew he understood what I meant. He looked away for a long time. When he spoke, it was with tremendous sadness. "She was...she was an equal. A mirror. A compatriot. A friend. A fellow sufferer. She was the only other one I knew in this world who held nothing back when it came to love. For love, she gave everything. She was, quite simply, the most magnificent human being I'd ever met."

"A strange eulogy..." I said softly, "coming from a fiancé."

He smiled sadly. "If I say more, it will only cause you more grief."

"The pain is all I have left of her," I told him, "So let me indulge in what little I have left."

He fell silent for a while. "Shizuru and I were genuinely fond of each other, but we weren't in love with each other. We were both in love with people we couldn't have. And the only way we could show that love was by...staying away. She agreed to marry me because her father would have needed to marry her off anyway. At least with me she knew that she was safe. With her I knew that I was safe. Neither of us expected to be each other's spouse in the full sense of the word. But I did love her. She was the only one who ever understood me."

He was right. It was suddenly, infinitely more painful than I could bear.

"So you were with her this whole time? These past two years?" Much as it relieved me to hear that he and Shizuru had not been lovers, it hurt me to think that he'd been the one she'd spent most of her last months on earth with.

He shook his head. "To be honest, I only knew her for a year before we came here. Before I asked her father for her hand, she was living in a monastery near Tokyo."

The startled look on my face prompted him to explain. "She didn't talk much about it. She just told me that she wanted to atone for her sins...that she wanted to at least deserve to be the friend of the one she loved the most. I think she would have stayed there indefinitely, if my proposal hadn't made her father force her to leave."

I couldn't help it - couldn't help the tears that streamed down my cheeks yet again. Shizuru, my Shizuru...How much pain had she borne alone in those last years of her life? Was that how she had seen herself in those final months? As a weed that had stood in the way of my blossoming? Somehow, that made the fact of her death even more insupportable...because I couldn't make it up to her, couldn't explain to her that she had been wrong, and that I had been wrong.

Solomon watched me weep quietly. "I'm so sorry, Kuga-san. More sorry than I can ever express or than I can ever explain." His green eyes contained such sorrow and such understanding. He stood up to make his leave. At the doorway, he paused and looked at me. "Someday, I hope you can forgive me."

I looked up, confused by my pain and my grief. "For what? For nearly taking Shizuru away from me?"

He paused, reflecting on my words. "That's close enough, though I think nothing will ever take Shizuru away from you. Not even death."

"Not even death..." I repeated tonelessly. Had he read my mind somehow? Did he know how often I had contemplated that final recourse over the last several days?

His gaze hardened. "Don't stoop that low, Kuga-san. Would you mock Shizuru's death with your own?"

I stared at him bitterly. "After all I've lost and been through in my life, she was the most important reason I had left for living."

"Then find out why she had to die, Kuga-san. Those monsters had to come from somewhere. They will probably come again."

And with that challenge, Solomon Goldsmith left. I wouldn't see him again for a very long time.


And that's why, six months after Shizuru's death, I found myself working as a part-time lab technician in the Fuka Crime Lab. It was an irregularity given that I was still a university student, but I had made enough connections during my work as a Hime to secure the favor. It rankled some of my colleagues in the department no end, but I wasn't there to make friends.

It would have been a lonely life, only I still had Mai and Mikoto and the rest of the former Hime. And of course, there was the ghost of my beloved...

Shizuru, my Shizuru, haunt me until I can find who did this to you. And then, once that's done, I can join you.

[End notes: And so ends The Onset of the Frost: Part I of The Chronicles of Blood and Ice. I hope readers have enjoyed it enough to want to continue reading the rest of the series. As usual, comments, reviews and feedback would be greatly appreciated :0)

I just want to leave a short note though on a matter of some importance. The reader may wonder if my treatment of Natsuki, especially towards the end of the story, is consistent with her normally stoic character. Some may find it difficult to imagine a Natsuki who is grief-stricken enough to the point of contemplating suicide. The key thing here is that she merely contemplates it - and for very good reasons: (1) she has lost, yet again, the most important person in her life, and (2) her grief is compounded by guilt and regret (that Shizuru suffered so much in the last two years of her life, and that she never got around to telling Shizuru the truth about how she really felt). At the very end of the story, she implies her intention to reunite with Shizuru after she discovers who is responsible for Shizuru's death, but like all intentions made at the beginning of a crusade, only time can tell if they will be ultimately carried out or not.

And finally, I just want to end this series of notes with an invitation to read...

The Baptism in the Blood: Part II of The Chronicles of Blood and Ice, where Shizuru abandons life - and defies death - to continue protecting the person she loves most.

Watch out for it :0)


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