Author's Note: Urusei Yatsura, its characters, and the events alluded to are the work of Rumiko Takahashi and copyright of Viz Media. This is a non-profit work of fanfiction.

My kudos goes out to "A Night Only for Two: Alternate Ending" by Flower princess 11 for exploring this idea before I did. Further kudos to Crazyjw18, who gave us the truly excellent masterpiece that is "Lum gets Grounded." As a fellow fan of UY from long ago, this one goes out to you.

A little bit of context, for those who might be curious: Urusei Yatsura was one of the first anime I was introduced to. While my first fanfic project was set in the Sly Cooper universe; before that, I stumbled into some UY RP, though that was long ago. But years later, after my writing skills have evolved, I now dedicate a proper story to Urusei Yatsura. Let's hope it was worth the wait.

Also, the original anime depicts Lum's hair and eyes as green and teal, respectively, while the colored manga pics and the teaser for the new anime give her iridescent hair and gold eyes. I've chosen to split the difference for this fic, giving Lum green hair and gold eyes. Of course, this being a written narrative, you can imagine Lum with any combination of hair/eye color that you please!

A Night Alone (Together)

"Good night, everyone~!"

Ataru watched as the owner of that cheerful voice stood at the window, waving goodbye to the guys below, for all the world as if they hadn't been trying to break down the door to his bedroom. Ataru hadn't seen the results, having yanked the door open so momentum would send them barreling out said window, but he'd heard the ensuing crash...and given that they were on the second floor, he'd bet a year's worth of Beef-Bowl take-out orders that his classmates would be nursing some colorful bruises at Tomobiki High tomorrow.

Probably some serious grudges, too, aimed exclusively at him.

But that was tomorrow's problem. Right now, Ataru was looking at the figure standing at the window, silhouetted by the night sky and the lights from the neighborhood.

At her.

It wasn't like he hadn't seen Lum plenty of times by now. Ever since she'd barged into his life, the extraterrestrial Oni had been (literally) an electrifying constant in his life, for better or worse – usually the latter, but more and more of the former as time had gone by. Not that Ataru'd admit that last part; not out loud, anyway. Whatever. The point being, he'd had more than enough time to get used to having an alien princess in his life, constantly floating around and interrupting his girl-hunting with a burst of lightning, or making him try her weird cooking, or dragging him into the weirdness that followed her like a really crazy tornado.

Only right now, as he watched Lum close the window, drowning out the groans and protests of their classmates outside, Ataru found himself reminded of a couple of facts that had somehow gotten lost in that daily storm of insanity. Like the fact that she was always there for him when he needed it, and would leap to his defense with even more high-voltage gusto than when she was mad at him. Or that he maybe kind of probably didn't mind all the weirdness. Heck, by now, he reveled in it. The fact that he met a lot more cute babes this way didn't hurt.

Oh, and, uh...the little detail that, possessiveness and lightning and alien cooking aside, Lum was actually...kinda...really…

...Beautiful.

How he'd gotten so used to it that he almost ignored it, or why he was noticing it right now, Ataru didn't know. All he knew was that he couldn't take his eyes off Lum as she pulled the curtains shut. The way the light played across her creamy skin as she floated a few inches off the ground. The grace of her shapely legs kicking out like a diver's to push her forward through the air. The sway of her curvy hips, flaring like the bell of a rose before tapering into a taut, smooth belly. The tantalizing swell of her bust. All flaunted to breathtaking effect by the tiger-striped fur of her go-go boots and what basically amounted to a two-piece bikini.

Or bra and panties, some part of Ataru's brain added helpfully. Feeling his cheeks heat up at that visual, he swallowed hard and tried to play it cool.

This was no big deal, really. He was used to this. Sure, Mom and Dad were away on vacation; and yeah, maybe he and Lum were going to be sleeping in the same bedroom tonight, instead of Lum going back to her spaceship or the closet; and okay, maybe she had all but outright confessed (much to the chagrin of Mendo and the others) that if certain lines were crossed, she would be very okay with it...

But it was fine! This was no big deal. Really.

At that moment, Lum turned back to look at him, and Ataru's train of thought derailed.

Funny, really, that part of his brain chimed in again, so nervously it looped right around to a bizarre kind of serenity. You think it wouldn't be so easy to forget the way her hair's like a jungle-green waterfall. Or that her eyes are like molten gold. Or how her bangs frame her face so perfectly. And really, her horns, her fangs...they just make her look cuter...wilder, in all the right ways...

That's when Lum's voice, soft and playful, cut into his thoughts. "Well," the Oni princess said with a smile that was coy and eager all at once, "now that nothing can disturb us…"

Ataru felt his heart jump at the unspoken implications. Play it cool, play it cool, he told himself as he absently stretched his arms back behind his head, cupping his scalp with both palms. "So, er...what about Ten-twerp?" he asked in a tone that he hoped sounded casual. "My parents told him to keep an eye on us…"

Lum giggled as she sprang into the air again, doing a graceful twirl as her power of flight took over. "Don't'cha worry," she replied as she approached, practically bouncing as she playfully pirouetted around Ataru. "Ten-chan agreed to sleep downstairs if I gave him some candy, so I did! He's mature for his age, but he is still a toddler."

Ataru gave a noncommittal grunt, absently running his fingers through his chestnut-brown hair. So much for that particular obstacle (or escape hatch). Now if he could just figure out where the butterflies in his stomach had come from, or why his heart had decided to start imitating a taiko drum. He was either nervous or excited, but damn if he knew which. For what felt like forever, he stood there looking at Lum, an expectant silence hanging in the air between them. The longer it lasted, the more awkward he felt.

Finally, Ataru cleared his throat. "S...so," he said at last, his cheeks growing hot again, "Shall we...go to bed now?"

Lum beamed. "Mm-hmm!" she almost purred. Why don't'cha get changed? I'll get the bed ready. I won't peek, I promise~"

Doing his best to ignore the backflip his heart did in his chest, Ataru turned to his dresser and pulled it open, rummaging around for his pajamas. Before long, his hands had switched over to autopilot, leaving his brain to replay the events that had led him here - him being flung to the ground by the guys after Lum suggested she and Ataru go to bed, Mendou on the verge of drawing his katana, and Lum jumping between them to shield him from his enraged classmates...

"Don't'cha touch him! Darling, are you all right?"

"Miss Lum, why are you defending that cretin?!"

"Lum, we're trying to protect your purity from-!"

"That's enough, Mendou! And you too, Megane! I don't need your protection! After all...my body and heart belong to my Darling~!"

Ataru felt a shiver that had nothing to do with the fact that he'd just taken off his shirt, leaving him bare-chested. Sure, Lum considered herself engaged to him, and they'd been living together since that incident with the space taxi and Earth's oil crisis. But there had always been that damn unbreakable line between them - her stubborn clinginess, her temper...and yeah, maybe his own pride. Maybe he was partly to blame, too. Either way, they'd been stuck in that holding pattern, with no real progress to be made.

Until now.

Lum's declaration had driven it home for Ataru...for all her stifling of his youthful fun (skirt-chasing, others would call it), she was devoted to him. She was willing to give, not just take. And what she was clearly ready to give, well...it was a lot.

Ataru's pants hit the floor, leaving him in his boxers. Reflexively, he looked over his shoulder, and saw Lum kneeling by the bed. Sure enough, she'd held true to her word, her shapely back turned to him as she propped up the pillows and smoothed out the blanket over the sheets. Her lustrous green mane hid any trace of her face from this angle, but he swore he could hear her humming to herself, voice soft and musical with delight. Feeling a fresh surge of jitters, Ataru began donning his pajamas, hiding his wiry, toned body beneath lime-green cloth and trying to ignore the butterflies that were still darting about in his stomach.

It's the same thing, either way, he told himself again. Lum insists we're married, and she'll zap me if I even look sideways at another pretty girl. It isn't any different. This is no big deal. No big deal at all.

"This'll be the first time we've slept together."

A fresh rush of heat flooded Ataru's cheeks at Lum's words, and his heart pounded a little faster. "It, uh...it is, isn't it?" he remarked with a sheepish chuckle, absently scuffing the floor with one foot and keeping his gaze focused firmly on the ceiling, the walls...anywhere except the beautiful alien Oni behind him.

This is a big deal; it's a very big deal; things are gonna change after this; oh man oh man oh man what do I do?

Part of Ataru wanted to bolt. It was a familiar, reliable feeling, and he liked to think that it'd let him keep some measure of freedom in his life. Funny thing, though - there was another part of him piping up now, and it was suggesting a course of action that Ataru was trying his best to not think about; at least not directly. The latter voice was getting harder to ignore, though, especially since he was running out of excuses that made any kind of sense…

He had to stall. Play for time until...until something happened, he just wasn't sure of what. "Lum," he said aloud, trying to keep his voice calm and even "L...listen, I...I mean...that is…"

Lum tilted her head to one side, looking curious. "What is it, Darling?"

Ataru swallowed, finding himself put on the spot. "Oh. U-um...nothing, really," he muttered sheepishly, looking around the room again for inspiration as the butterflies in his stomach cavorted about with a lot more animus now. Looking at Lum seemed to be the trigger; he kept getting sidetracked with just how beautiful she looked, and how melodious her voice was, and how he was about to cross the line that he'd drawn between them in ways that he couldn't take back...

Come on man, think!

Ataru snapped his fingers. "Oh, that's right! Tomorrow's Thursday, right?" he wondered aloud, trying for a casual tone now as he started to pace the room. "I wonder how my parents are doing? Man, I still can't believe they just up and went on vacation without us!" He paused by his desk, spotting a magazine and plucking it up to take a look. "Huh. This car actually looks pretty good, doesn't it?" he asked, feigning interest with a manic need to focus on something else. Anything else.

Though to be fair, the car did look pretty good, considering that he was holding the magazine upside down.

Great. Now I'm babbling. And these butterflies ain't going away. How much longer can I drag this out…?

"Dar-ling~"

Ataru flinched, the playful sing-song tone in Lum's voice sending a thrill up his spine. "Y-yeah?" he stammered, his voice almost a yelp. The bachelor in him wanted to bolt more than ever...but the really scary thing was, the other part of him - and what that part of him wanted - was getting a lot harder to ignore…

"Could you help me put these on?"

Ataru blinked twice as his train of thought broke off cleanly. Wait, what? Put something on? His nervousness momentarily overwhelmed by bewilderment, he turned around to face Lum again. Still wearing her tiger-striped bikini (to Ataru's surprise, and maybe disappointment), she was holding something out to him. Cradled in both hands, it was long, silky, and yellow - and it came in a pair. His curiosity piqued , Ataru leaned in a little closer for a better look.

"Waitaminute," he said slowly, recognition dawning on him. "Is that…?"

"Cherry's ribbons?" Lum finished for him. "The ones that can seal my powers? You betcha!"

Ataru stared blankly at the warding ribbons that he'd almost completely forgotten about since that day long ago, shortly after Lum had aggressively moved into his life. Then, looking up at Lum, he pointed between her and the ribbons she was holding, trying to process that she had kept something that he'd tried to trick her into wearing to keep her out of his way. Not to mention volunteering their use now.

"...Why?" he finally managed.

Lum let her shapely shoulders rise and fall in a little shrug. "Sometimes I give off sparks when I'm sleeping," she explained. "It's a nocturnal habit among some Oni. This way, you don't have to worry about electrocution. Just to be safe, you know?"

Ataru cringed. Oh, great. I can't even sleep with her without getting zapped? "And, uh...this'll work for that?" he asked out loud, trying not to sound too put out.

"Well, it worked before, remember?" Lum replied, a bit archly. Then she fidgeted a little, suddenly looking embarrassed. "There was this shock-proof suit I was planning to have you wear, but...um…" She glanced over to the corner of the room, where what looked like a bulky suit of armor - something like the love child of a hazmat suit and a human-sized Gundam - lay in a charred heap. "There were a few...hiccups with assembly," she finished sheepishly. "And then I remembered I was still hanging onto these, so..."

Ataru cast a sidelong glance at the discarded suit, trying to picture what it would have been like to try and sleep while wearing that. "Uh-huh," he said matter-of-factly, reaching for the ribbons. "I think I'll take my chances with these."

Lum's fingers tightened around the ribbons without warning, making the yellow fabric crumple in her grasp. "Darling."

Ataru froze, a flare of trepidation racing up his spine as he looked at Lum. "Yeah?"

Lum pulled the ribbons back to her chest, biting her lower lip nervously as she met his gaze. "We both know you're the only one who can take these off once you put them on," she said softly. "Just…promise me you'll do that tomorrow morning, all right?"

Ataru blinked, opening his mouth to reply...but whatever he was going to say died in his throat as he registered Lum's expression of tentative hope and worry alike. The vulnerability in her golden eyes. The quiet, pleading tone in her voice, so different from her usual bubbly cheer or heated anger. The way she clutched the ribbons against her bikini-shielded bust, as if their slender yellow length were the only thing protecting her modesty.

And that's when it finally, properly, hit him.

She's putting her faith in me, Ataru realized with a strong twinge of rueful awe. This time, she knows the ribbons will seal her powers away. She knows that's what I tried to do last time. She knows she'll be nigh-helpless. But she's still letting me do this. As rocky as things were in the beginning - hell, as rocky as they are now - she's putting her trust in me. Because…

Ataru swallowed, his heartbeat quickening, then forced himself to finish the thought.

Because she wants us to be together tonight. She doesn't want to hurt me by accident. And even though she's got every reason not to...she's trusting me to do right by her.

The next thing he knew, Ataru was clasping Lum's hands in his own, his fingertips tracing her slender digits as he gazed into her eyes. And despite everything - his pride, his youth, the bachelor in him telling him to bolt - he knew what the answer was. What it had to be.

"I will, Lum," he said gently, surprised at how heartfelt his own voice sounded. "I promise."

As surprised as Ataru was at himself, Lum seemed even more astonished. "Darling," she breathed softly, her greenish-blue / bright amber eyes holding his own with quiet amazement. Then a smile crossed her lips, and her fingers relaxed beneath his as she relinquished the warding ribbons. "Okay. I'll holdja to that."

With that, Lum did another graceful pivot on her heel, her long green hair twirling in her wake as she left her shapely back exposed. Recognizing his cue, Ataru approached her and reached out, his hands moving cautiously to the back of Lum's head as he began tying the ribbons in place. His fingers worked on autopilot, wrapping the yellow silk around her horns with a fluid sort of ease and tying them into loops that would ensure they wouldn't come loose by accident.

All the while, Ataru found himself taking note of further details about Lum that had gotten lost in the usual shuffle of life in Tomobiki. Like a strange, spicy-sweet sort of aroma that was either her shampoo or perfume. Like how silky and soft her hair felt beneath his touch. Like the whisper of that little voice from earlier, now wondering what the Oni girl's skin would feel like under his touch…

Go ahead, that voice urged. Go for it. You'll find out anyway soon enough, right?

"Nice work, Darling~."

Lum's voice pulled Ataru back to reality, cutting him off before he could decide to agree or argue with that hidden part of himself. Blinking a couple times, he realized that he'd finished his job; Lum's horns were hidden beneath a pair of yellow bows with a distinctly girlish vibe. Lum was looking over to the far wall, admiring herself in the mirror there. Absently brushing one of her bangs aside, she leaned forward for a better look; Ataru tried his best to ignore the way this pushed the Oni beauty's curvy hips back towards his own. Only a few inches separated them now...and Ataru felt a distinctly southward jolt as he looked down and saw where their bodies were almost touching.

Hoo, boy. She moves just a few more inches, and this is gonna get real awkward...

Without warning, Lum's arm flicked lazily out to the side, slender fingers splayed out as if to cast her lightning. Ataru flinched on instinct, but the bolts he'd come to dread never came. Pursing her lips and nodding to herself, Lum took a couple of experimental hops, but her tiger-striped boots didn't get far off the ground, let alone take flight. Seemingly satisfied with her test, Lum did another twirl to face Ataru again, more cautiously this time. "Looks like the ribbons still work," she remarked with a lopsided smile. "You'll be safe now."

Ataru blinked at Lum, tilting his head to the side. She seemed cheerful enough, but something in her voice...her eyes…

"Lum," he asked slowly, "Are you nervous?"

Lum looked away, her cute little fangs worrying at her lower lip. "A little," she admitted. "I'm not used to not having my powers. Not being able to fly, or use my lightning…" She hugged herself a little. "It's like part of me is missing, Darling. It's kinda scary."

Ataru was quiet for a moment, letting that sink in. He'd never thought about it that way, but...Oni like Lum were born with their powers, right? To suddenly not have them...forget being inconvenienced, it was probably like suddenly becoming colorblind. Maybe even like not being able to walk. That kind of vulnerability, after spending so much time being powerful...it could not be a good feeling.

And she'd gone through with it, anyway. For him.

Driven by a sudden urge to reassure her, Ataru reached out to clasp Lum's shoulders, his fingers absently tracing her creamy skin as he gave them a reassuring squeeze. "Hey...it's okay," he remarked with a good-natured half-grin. "I won't let anything hurt you."

Lum smiled again, and something in her grateful expression made Ataru's heart do a backflip. "My hero," she replied with a wink. "Why don'tcha get comfortable? I'll turn off the light."

Ataru gulped and nodded, his pulse quickening as he was reminded of what he was doing and who he was doing it with. But there was no turning back now, butterflies be damned. Making his way over to the futon, he flipped the covers back so he could slide beneath them. Even as he lowered himself to the mattress, Ataru found his gaze drawn to Lum as she sashayed over to the light switch, swaying her hips to a softly-hummed melody as she reached out with one finger. For a moment, she stood in curvaceous relief, a view that committed itself to Ataru's memory - her silky green mane spilling down her back, her tiger-striped bikini hugging her figure, her yellow-gold eyes as bright as the playful little smile on her lips.

Then there was a soft click as the lights went out. Ataru's world was enveloped in blackness, the shift so abrupt that the dim light from the street lamps outside barely registered. But he could hear the soft footfalls of Lum's padded boots as she approached the futon, the subtle whisper of her long hair sliding across her bare back as she knelt by him. A draft caressed his body as she plucked the covers open, making him shiver through his pajamas for reasons that had nothing to do with cold. There was a whisper of movement as Lum slid beneath the sheets, the mattress yielding subtly beneath her body. A rustle of fabric as she drew the covers back over them both.

And just like that, Ataru found himself sharing a bed with Lum. With an Oni who was beautiful by any definition of the word. Who was now lying next to him, the flaring curves of her perfect body held in check by little more than a tiger-striped bikini.

Or bra and panties, that little voice reminded him cheerfully.

Shut up shut up shut up! he hissed back at his subconsciousness. But the seed was planted. He couldn't not think of Lum's outfit that way, and it was revving up his heart like an engine. Kami above, how had he ever gotten used to that simple-yet-provocative getup? Would he ever be able to again?

Would it be so wrong if he didn't?

And that was just the beginning. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, Ataru had a clearer view of the alien beauty next to him. Even beneath the covers, the plush outline of Lum's curvy figure was impossible to ignore. Her supple thighs shifted as she scooted closer, close enough that he could practically feel the warmth of her body, just inches away. A soft, ample pressure like a pair of cushions nestled against his arm, and Ataru realized with a not-unwelcome jolt that it was Lum's generous cleavage, barely held in check by her top. That realization made his mouth go dry, and a wild thrill shot along his spine that left him both paralyzed and wanting more.

But much to Ataru's surprise, what caught his attention the most was Lum's face, still visible despite the darkness. What little streetlight that spilled through the window and curtains played across her lovely features and collected in her ocean/sunlight-hued eyes, making them glisten like jewels as they found his own. Her lower lip drew back beneath her fangs as her breath quickened, as if she might be eager and nervous all at once.

Kami knew that he was. His heart was doing that taiko drum impression again, his mouth had gone dry, and the butterflies from before must have invited company or something. All the while, his brain seemed to have jammed, because the same thought was playing over and over in his head, like the news crawl on TV.

This is happening. This is happening. This is happening. Oh, man oh man oh man, this really is happening...

"Darling," Lum murmured, her voice an exquisite mixture of coyness and excitement. One of her arms draped itself across his abdomen, her fingers absently drawing small circles across his chest with a gentle lightness that made his skin tingle. All the while, her gaze never left his, her smile quietly playful. "Hi there~"

Ataru swallowed hard, his cheeks feeling even hotter now. "H...h-hey, Lum," he managed in reply, idly wondering if it was healthy for his heart to be pounding this hard. Or this fast. Hell, it was a wonder Lum didn't pick up on it, the way she was stroking his chest...

Lum blinked, her slender fingertip pausing on his pecs. "Are you okay?" she asked with concern, tilting her head to one side. "Your heartbeat's going crazy."

Crap. Spoke too soon. Reluctantly tearing his gaze away from Lum, Ataru focused intently on the ceiling. "Am I?" he asked absently, wondering if his cheeks were going to catch fire at this rate. "W-well, y'know...I mean...this is new for me, y'know?"

There was an awkward silence. Idiot! that inner voice berated him. After resolving to go through with this, after years of girl-chasing only to find a girl who isn't gonna deck you, you're getting cold feet?! You dumbass! Feeling distinctly foolish, Ataru looked back to Lum, opening his mouth to try to explain, to apologize, something-

But Lum's finger left his chest and darted up to his lips, shushing him before he could say anything. "Shh. Don'tcha worry, Darling," she said gently, her smile warm and understanding. "I won't push you into anything you're not ready for."

Ataru blinked, staring at Lum in bewilderment. "I...uh...say what?" he asked blankly.

Lum giggled softly. "Just what I said, silly - I won't force you into anything." Her fingertip left Ataru's lips, and she reached down to clasp one of his hands. "What we're doing, right now..." She paused, holding his gaze as her fingers entwined with his own. "You...me...like this..." She leaned forward, resting her head gently against his shoulder. "I'm happy with that, Darling," she whispered. "I wouldn't change a thing."

Ataru couldn't say anything. For a few minutes, he lay there staring at the beauty next to him. If Lum was disappointed by him freezing up, she sure didn't show it - indeed, she was already snuggling up to his side like a sleepy cat, a quiet smile on her face as she nuzzled his shoulder and draped her arm back over his chest. Whatever she'd had in mind for tonight, she was willing to let him set the pace. Or maybe the simple act of sharing a bed, sensual yet wholesome, was what she'd wanted all along. Unbidden, Ataru found himself comparing it to his usual girl-chasing habits, and felt an unusual pang of guilt.

Man, could I take a clue.

The next few minutes passed in enticing silence. Ataru's heartbeat had calmed down a little, but it still drummed out a rhythmic tattoo against his ribs as he stared over at the beautiful Oni next to him. Lum returned his gaze, her amber pools half-lidded with either impending slumber or blissful contentment as she rested her head against his shoulder. All the while, her voluptuous figure nestled against his wiry frame in ways that were both innocent and suggestive, all the moreso in the darkness. Once again, that inner voice was urging him to just throw caution to the wind, and finally enjoy the silver lining of having a high-voltage alien princess declaring herself as his wife.

But oddly enough, the thing Ataru noticed the most was the familiarity of Lum's embrace. It was a casual and tender sort of intimacy, one which spoke volumes about the way things had changed between him and Lum since they first met.

She'd been trying to invade the Earth. I was the one who'd been shanghaied into stopping her. And then…

The thought trailed off in Ataru's head, but it made him think of something he'd wondered about at times, when he couldn't sleep. A question that he'd never quite gotten an answer to, because life kept getting in the way until he forgot. Until now. But should he ask? Would it risk killing the mood? What if it opened up lines of discussion he wasn't ready for? For a few minutes, Ataru just lay there, his doubts wrestling with his desire for answers.

Screw it. I've come this far. Taking a deep breath, he cleared his throat. "Lum," he said quietly. "There's, uh...there's something I've been meaning to ask you for a while, now."

Lum perked up a little, her greenish-blue / golden-yellow eyes catching the moonlight as she met his gaze. "Oh? What is it, Darling?"

Ataru hesitated, trying to find the right words. "Well, it's just…I mean..." He swallowed pensively, then took a deep breath. "Why did you decide you wanted to marry me?"

Lum blinked, looking puzzled. "Whatcha mean, Darling? You proposed to me, remember?"

Ataru briefly flirted with the idea of telling her that technically, he'd been vowing to marry Shinobu, then decided that it was neither here nor there at this point. "Yeah, well, I mean…" He cleared his throat to compose himself, then gave Lum a bewildered look "...Why'd you say yes? I mean, you'd been sent to take over the Earth, and I was the guy who'd just stopped you. I kinda thought you'd hate me…"

Lum pursed her lips, looking thoughtful. "I was pretty mad," she admitted. "Part of me wanted to zap you right then and there. But then you proposed to me, and, well...that explained everything you'd been doing for the last nine days."

Now it was Ataru's turn to blink. "Huh?"

"You were the underdog, Darling," Lum replied, her golden-yellow eyes seeming to glisten in the darkness as they caught the light from the window. "Nobody was expecting you to win; certainly not me. But you kept getting back up. Despite the jeers, despite the odds, you kept going. You overcame it all." She paused, a subtle blush touching her lovely features. "All because you wanted me. I was trying to invade your world, and you were ready to defend it...but even though we were rivals, you beat the odds for me. How could I not fall for you after that?"

Ataru blinked again, feeling his own cheeks heat up. Was that how she'd seen him, in that moment? Him, of all people? "Sheesh, Lum," he muttered after a moment, looking away in embarrassment. "You're making me sound a lot cooler than I am."

Slender fingers cupped her cheek, and Ataru found his head turned back to meet Lum's gaze. "You are cool, Darling," she insisted gently. "Sure, you're fickle most of the time. But when it matters - when it really matters - you always come through. Like when you took care of the caterpillar nobody else wanted. Or your boxing match with Torajima. Or how you saved me from drowning in the typhoon. Or when you followed Ten-chan all the way into space, so you could crash that arranged-marriage party that Dad tried to set up for me. Whenever things get serious, so do you."

Ataru felt his flush deepen, but before he could say anything, Lum slid her hand up along his chest, once again drawing lazy, playful patterns against his pecs. "You're silly, and reckless, and funny, and bold," she went on with a coy little smile. "You don't pretend to be anything you're not. You're comfortable with who you are. And even though you can be selfish, you always do good when it counts the most."

Once again, Ataru started to open his mouth, but his reply was lost in his throat as Lum leaned forward. His mouth going dry, he could only watch as she drew in close, brushing her lips against his ear in a way that was tender and sultry all at once. Her breath was warm and gentle, making his skin tingle under its caress.

"And that," she said softly, tapping him gently on the nose to emphasize every syllable, "Is why I. Love. You, Dar-ling~"

Ataru couldn't answer. Though he opened his mouth a couple of times, his lips ended up moving soundlessly on incomplete words. Anything he could have said was lost to the sweeping wave of astonishment that swept through him as he stared at Lum, losing himself in her golden gaze as he tried to process everything that she'd said about him.

This is how she's seen me, this whole time?

Ataru felt his throat lock up all of a sudden. For a moment, everything about his history with Lum seemed to rush up and engulf him, his mind's eye playing it all on fast forward...only this time, Ataru found himself recalling more profound, soul-searching moments. The first time he'd really noticed that Lum was beautiful, after she'd saved him from the prank date set up by her Stormtroopers. Their first real date, which he'd ended up enjoying a lot more than he'd thought he would. The class reunion with all of Lum's old friends, where he'd ended up comforting her until it turned out they hadn't left her out. All those key moments, and smaller ones, that had subtly shifted the dynamic between him and Lum.

All of it leading up to here. To now. To this.

To finding out why Lum loved him.

And somehow, that discovery put everything in perspective.

"Lum."

Ataru didn't realize he'd spoken until a couple seconds after the fact, his voice seeming to hang in the air like an echo that never was. But he had spoken, and now Lum was perking up like a cat and staring at him with a mixture of curiosity and anticipation. As if she knew what he'd say, and was eager to hear the rest. Maybe, somehow, she did know. That little voice in the back of Ataru's head had piped up again, urging him to keep talking. To say...well, what he'd done his damn best to not think about. What he'd tried so hard to ignore, to the point he wasn't sure when it had started. What would change everything, if he admitted it out loud.

"What is it, Darling?" Lum's voice, soft and eager, pulled Ataru out of his thoughts. Her golden-amber pools seemed to hold his own captive as she gazed at him. Waiting for him to keep talking.

Swallowing hard, he tried to find his voice again. "I...Lum, I…"

The Oni princess in question leaned forward, her breath seeming to quicken a little. "Yes?" she prompted, a small smile of anticipation on her beautiful features.

Ataru gulped again. He knew he ought to keep talking, except that he was of two minds about doing so… and the two sides were having a throw-down that made the Tokugawa-Toyotomi war look like a playground scuffle. Part of him knew what it wanted to say; the rest of him was fighting tooth and nail to not say it. He wanted to look away, to collect his thoughts and think of an excuse to clam up...and yet, he couldn't tear his gaze away from Lum's, or ignore the mixture of hope and longing in her beautiful ocean-hued eyes.

What about my youth? part of him protested.. What about my freedom? What about...about…?

She bared her soul to you, idiot! the other part of him shot back. She's shackled her own powers so you could sleep with her without getting hurt! Damn it, you owe her this!

"...I…"

He had to say something. Had to. The butterflies in his stomach cavorting about worse than ever, Ataru wracked his brain for an answer that'd satisfy both sides. His mind raced, spun out, just barely managed to veer away from hitting a wall, and kept roaring down the track. He opened his mouth again, promptly shut it as he thought better of when he'd been about to say, and kept thinking. All the while, part of his brain was flipping through the memories of him and Lum, those moments flashing through his brain like TV channels on overdrive. The tag race, his first epiphany about Lum's beauty, their first date, the attempted marriage arrangement, that time he'd thought she'd left for good...

And just like that, something clicked. "I still have that doll of you," Ataru blurted out, the words coming out almost on their own. "The one you left for me when you, um...when you left that one time. A couple years ago, remember?"

Now it was Lum's turn to look surprised. "Oh, that! That was a little while ago, wasn't it?" She paused, biting her lower lip gently as her voice grew softer. "Darling...you kept it?"

"Right over there, in the back of the drawer," Ataru replied, indicating his work desk with a nod. "I mean, sure, I don't look at it every day, but…well, back when that happened..."

He paused for a moment as his throat began to lock up. All of a sudden, he was remembering why he didn't look at that doll of Lum so much. Thinking of the memories that kept bubbling up to the surface when he did. He'd pushed it to the back of his mind and built a wall around it, kept going on like nothing had happened, because acknowledging that time meant facing a truth that he hadn't been ready for…

"Darling...?"

But here, now, something about Lum's gentle touch against his arm - the quiet note of concern in her voice as she looked at him - was causing that long-standing bulwark to gradually crumble. Feeling his throat unlock, Ataru took a deep breath to try and steady himself. Then another. All the while, the wall kept breaking away in bigger and bigger chunks, spurred on by that inner voice that was telling him to just get over himself, already.

And then the dam broke.

"It freaked me out," he admitted, his voice shaking a little. "First I thought Mendo was blackmailing you to stay away or something; I was about five seconds away from throttling him if he didn't give you back. Then it turned out he didn't know what happened to you; everyone started looking, but there was no sign of you..." He stopped, swallowing hard. "...And I thought that you'd finally gotten fed up with me. I thought that you'd given up, and left Earth. I thought I'd never see you again. And...and I..."

Ataru shut his eyes tightly for a moment, remembering that night. How he'd wandered aimlessly down the city streets, alone in a crowd of couples. How he'd ended up stumbling into an alleyway, collapsing against a brick wall and slumping to the trash-strewn ground. How he'd clutched that home-made doll of Lum to his chest, breaking down in tears as he'd cursed the way that she'd left without a word. How he'd begged any god or goddess that would listen for her to come back.

"I lost it pretty hard," he said at last. "And I didn't really get it together until...well...until you came back."

Part of Ataru's mind reeled at that admission, screaming that it came way too close to a sequence of three words that would bring his carefree youth to a premature end. For once, though, that particular voice was growing steadily fainter, and the other voice - the one that was encouraging him - was taking its place, reminding him of how low he'd felt when he thought Lum was gone.

Decision time, buddy, that voice was telling him. Are you really gonna risk losing her again 'cuz of your pride?

The gentle brush of Lum's fingers over his knuckles snapped Ataru out of his reverie, and he realized she'd scooted a little closer to him, her voluptuous body nestling against his as she reached out and gave his hand a comforting squeeze. She didn't say anything, but the softness in her gaze as their eyes met - the unspoken sympathy, the silent encouragement - spoke for her.

He couldn't risk losing her. Not again.

"Lum...there's things I'm not ready to say," Ataru said at last, rolling over onto his side to face Lum properly. "Not out loud. Not yet. But...well..." He swallowed hard. "That doesn't make them any less true, y'know? And maybe I haven't always been the best about showing that. Maybe I've been kind of a jerk about it. Maybe…" He paused, taking a deep breath. "...Maybe it's time I made a compromise or two. Made those unspoken things a little more clear. I...I can't promise it'll be quick, or easy. But I'm definitely gonna try, because…"

Ataru's throat locked up for a moment, as much out of unfamiliar emotions as out of a deep-rooted reluctance to commit. But backpedaling wasn't an option. He'd passed that point when he'd agreed to share his bed with Lum tonight. Or maybe he'd passed that point long ago, all the way back when he'd first admitted to himself how beautiful she was. When he'd reached out to take her hand as they'd walked home together.

Either way, he couldn't stop now. Almost on its own, one of his hands rose to brush a few stray locks of silky hair out of Lum's face, then tenderly cupped her cheek. She shivered and blushed, her breath shaky with excitement. Holding her gaze, Ataru took a deep breath, steeling himself as he looked for the right words.

Then, finally yielding, he took the plunge.

"I can't imagine life without you, Lum," he said quietly, his voice tight with emotion. "I just can't. Not anymore."

And there it was. Maybe not those three words...but at the same time, they might as well have been. A profound shudder swept through Ataru, a sense of release that was equal parts terror and relief as what he'd kept bottled up for so long finally came out. Unspoken or not, he'd finally crossed the point of no return. But what threw him the most was that despite everything it meant for his youthful freedom, despite finally giving in, despite realizing there was no taking it back...

...Ataru wasn't sure he would have wanted to.

It was clear enough that Lum understood what he'd meant. Her soft lips parted in an inaudible gasp as she stared at him, disbelieving realization dawning on her lovely face. One of her hands drew back and came to rest against her own chest, as if she'd caught Ataru's words and was cradling them like something fragile and precious; the other slid up from his hand to brush her fingertips along his face, as if unsure that he was real. All the while, her eyes never left his, sunlight-yellow jewels that glistened as if on the verge of tears. Ataru felt his cheeks burn, but said nothing. He was in over his head, he'd plunged into the deep end; all he could do for a moment was wait to see what happened next.

It was Lum, finally, who broke the silence. "Darling," she said at last, uncertain and longing all at once. "If...if you really mean that…" She bit her lower lip, a tentative note of hope entering her voice. "Will you...do something for me?"

Ataru swallowed hard. Oh, boy. Here it comes. She's gonna ask me to end my girl-chasing. Farewell, o youth! He gave a shaky nod and braced himself…

"Can we keep doing this from now on?"

...And blinked twice in bewilderment, caught flat-footed by Lum's request. "Um...what?" he asked blankly. "By 'this,' you mean…?"

"I mean this, silly," she replied with a soft giggle, draping her arm back across his pajama-clad chest for emphasis. "You. Me." Her finger traced along one of his pecs, drawing a circle through the green fabric. "The way we are, right now. Just the two of us." She met his gaze again, her ocean-hued / amber eyes nervous and hopeful all at once. "Would...would you be okay with that, Darling?"

Ataru gulped, feeling his cheeks heat up again as Lum's request sank in. The two of them, sharing a bed from now on...even in a platonic sense, it'd be a huge shift in their dynamic. Not to mention Ataru wasn't sure how long he'd be able to resist the urge to take things further; certainly, he knew Lum wouldn't object at all if (hell, when) he gave in to those urges. But it had been the last part, in particular, that stood out the most, and really got his heart pounding.

Just the two of us.

The way Lum had phrased it, she could have just meant their privacy. But there was a lot more that could be implied. Maybe she was dancing around what she really wanted to ask for, same as him. Either way, Ataru knew that there was no going back if he said yes. The seconds ticked by in silence as he stared at Lum, his mouth going dry and his heart hammering as he wrestled with the answer. She met his gaze, her beautiful features filled with the same vulnerable hope she'd had when begging him to untie her ribbons tomorrow.

And, like before, he knew what the answer was.

What it had to be.

Wordlessly, Ataru let his palm slide along Lum's cheek until his thumb brushed along her lower lip, gently tracing its delicate contours. The alien Oni's whole body tensed up for a moment, like a sparrow about to take flight...and then she relaxed, leaning into his touch with a sensual sort of surrender. Feeling his heart climb into his throat, Ataru leaned forward as well, his pulse quickening as he drew closer. Lum's gaze met his, her molten gold eyes half-lidded with yearning as she parted her lips. Swallowing his nervousness, he leaned closer…

...Closer…

...Closer…

...And then, finally, it was happening.

Ataru had only meant it to last a few seconds, so he wouldn't be tempted to go further. Really.

Only...Lum's lips were just so soft, so warm. Even this fleeting contact was sweet and intoxicating; a few seconds just weren't enough. Before he knew it, Ataru found himself leaning forward into that exquisite contact, drawing it out as long as he could. His hand slid from her cheek and into the alien Oni's lustrous mane, his fingers losing themselves in her silky green tresses as the spicy sweetness of their scent filled his nostrils. All the while, a wild thrill shot up along his spine, electric in ways that Lum's lightning could never have matched.

And Lum seemed to feel the same jolt, too. A shiver seemed to run through her body, and she melted into the embrace almost at once. One of her hands sought out his own, slender fingers entwining with his more calloused digits, while the other clutched gently at his pajama top as if it were a life vest. A soft moan, gentle in its relief, escaped her lips as they pressed back against his own with a heartfelt longing.

As she returned the kiss, that, for once, had been entirely his idea.

Finally (or perhaps all too soon), Ataru drew away, reluctantly breaking the liplock to come up for air. Lum leaned back as well, her cheeks flushed scarlet as her small fangs worried her kiss-swollen lower lip. Feeling his pulse spike as he met her gaze, Ataru swallowed nervously and tried to find his voice. After a minute or so of having no success on that front, he settled for taking a deep breath, bracing himself...and then, almost on instinct, he gave a bashful, boyish nod.

Sometimes, actions out-spoke words when the latter couldn't be found.

Judging by the way that Lum's golden eyes lit up, the message had been received. With a delighted smile, the Oni princess snuggled in close and draped her arm back over his chest, resting her head on his toned shoulder. "You really mean it, don't you?" she murmured, her voice soft with hope and relief. "Darling…thank you."

Ataru swallowed as his heart did a backflip in his chest. "Y...yeah, well," he muttered sheepishly. "Like I said, well...it's not gonna be easy, but...I'll still try, okay?"

There was no answer, save for a vaguely content murmur. Blinking, he looked over at Lum, trying to gauge her expression, only to find that she was drifting off. Her eyes already closing, the alien princess snuggled closer against him, treating his shoulder like a pillow. Her body relaxed even as it nestled perfectly against his own, no longer guided by conscious thought or impulse. All the while, her gentle smile remained, even as she slipped away into slumber.

"...So happy, Darling," she mumbled quietly, talking almost to herself. "Knew all along...you cared..."

A few seconds later, Lum was asleep. For what felt like forever, Ataru lay there, gazing at her as his mind pinballed from one thought to another. One minute, he was reflecting on how hard Lum must have been preparing his homecoming for exhaustion to kick in, then he was thinking about how content she'd been just to cuddle with him; from there, he flashed back to the alien beauty's explanation for why she'd fallen in love with him in the first place. And over and over again, Ataru found himself reflecting on how everything was going to be different, now.

They hadn't gone all the way...and yet, at the same time, they had. Whatever happened after this, there'd be no going back to the way things had been.

And as sleep finally took him, Ataru's last conscious thought, as he considered the beautiful Oni in his arms, was that he was actually pretty okay with that.

-Fin

Afterword:

For those expecting something spicier, sorry to leave you blue-balled and/or moist, as befits your identification. I elected to keep it PG-13 to focus on the emotional bond between Japan's most unlucky horn-dog and the alien Oni who had fallen for him. Once Ataru got it in his head to ask Lum WHY she agreed to his unintended marriage proposal, it was always going to be a heartfelt conversation between them, answering the question that I'm sure every UY fan has asked at some point: "What in the name of every deity in every heaven does Lum see in Ataru?"

Well, that, and given how long this fic was already, I was worried about readers falling asleep by the time they got to the REALLY hot part

When this scenario initially played out in my head, Ataru would have responded to Lum's request with a vague-yet-clear reply of "Just the two of us," still too flighty to commit beyond any doubt. And technically, he still HASN'T said those three magic words that convey so much. But as I wrote this, I decided that you, dear readers, deserved a better payoff, damnit! So Ataru took the plunge. I don't imagine he'd be complaining any more than Lum if things got this far!

Anyway, depending on what reviews and requests I get, I might be convinced to write a spicier follow-up, either as its own chapter or a "what-if" that kicks in around the kissing scene. Your reviews and comments will make it more likely to happen!

I'll be returning to my Thundercats 2011 fanfic next, but I'll keep an ear out for any comments and critique here! Ciao for now~!