A/N: Oh. My. God. I am so sorry, all you loyal ComiPa fanfic readers, for having delayed this for so long. -( I have no workable excuse for this. I always quote Piro from Megatokyo when I say this: "Writing is an organic process. If you aren't careful, it can take over." Some organic things, like plants, grow strong quickly; others can wither and grow sickly if not cared for. Mad props to Cendrillo for her enthusiastic beta reading as always.

I just kinda lost my impetus for Deeper Water, probably due to an overdose of estrogen and romanticness that sorta put me forth onto the project in the first place. Then The Hollow Men happened, and next thing I know, I'm making inroads into the Full Metal Panic! fandom.

Either way, I owe it to the characters to finish this. I will not leave them in limbo. Yuu's skin would get wrinkly from the hot springs.

It's not over yet. One more left to go. We still have a flashback denoument...

On with the show!

10: Ordinary World

This is it. Now or never.

Yuu pulled the towel she wore tighter around her chest, just as one last-minute defense of her modesty. She didn't want anything to come off, but just enough skin should at least...

Should at least what? Excite him? Scare him off? Am I trying to be sexy, cute, innocent, seductive... what am I trying to do here?

The rock on which she sat was partially submerged, with a small grotto that was convenient enough for her to use as a step up. In one motion, she could be up and over the rock, facing Kazuki.

He'll react to this. But there's no way out now.

Yuu turned in mid-water, grabbing a solid hold onto the rock, and firmly planting her good foot into the tiny grotto/foothold; she got ready to pull herself up when she heard a rather feminine sigh.

"This really does feel good..." she heard Aya say to nobody in particular. "I wonder where Yuu-san went, though."

Left side, Aya! LEFT SIDE!

Yuu drifted forward, banging her forehead on the rock with incredulity; she inflicted enough pain to make her hurt, but not enough pain to take away the fact that Aya had gotten in on the mens' side as well.

There were a few more splashes as she went deeper into the hot spring, followed by a content sigh and a light, almost random musical humming.

So that's what it sounds like when the best-laid plans of mice and humans fall apart. Go on and relax, Aya-chan. I guess I'll make it like I was trying to scare you.

Yuu sighed and leaned back against the rock, trying to make as little noise as possible. Fortunately, it was quiet enough that she had her own private little pool to work with, a feature that she'd barely regarded during the countless time she'd spent in the hot spring growing up.

Yeah, I've been here forever, but it wasn't until Tokyo that I really thought of this place as something out of an anime. They all have that hot spring episode, don't they?

Grinning in spite of herself, Yuu sat back down on the rock, the steaming hot water coming up to the nape of her neck. She pulled her ankle up, massaging it a little, turning it experimentally. She wasn't quite up to the task of walking on it yet, but the heat and minerals in the water were doing wonders for the lingering pain.

A few more splashes came from the entrance to the hot spring itself, but instead of Aya sighing again with contentment, she heard a brief shriek.

"Kazuki-san! What are you doing here!"

Yuu sat up with a start. Is everyone forgetting their contact lenses today!

"Aya? What are you doing in the mens' baths?"

"This is the women's side, Kazuki-san! Please don't look!"

"I'm not, I'm not! The mens' changing rooms are on this side, the womens' are on the other!"

"Are you sure? I could have sworn I saw Yuu-san go on this side..."

"Hmm... maybe she's trying to ambush us or something?"

"Well... I have my towel on, Kazuki-san; if you want, you can stay on this side. I don't mind."

"I couldn't! I don't want to make you uncomfortable or anything like that."

"No, really, it's all right. It would be nice to have company until Yuu-san shows up."

Aw, hell. My plan's already blown. Might as well have some fun.

Yuu peeked out from behind the rock. Aya was mostly under water, the white of her towel visible under the rippling surface of the water. Kazuki had one foot in the water, as if he was stepping into it, just turning towards Aya; both of his hands were holding the knot which kept his towel in place.

Oh man, he's shirtless. Not as toned as I'd expected, but that's probably just me fantasizing too much again. Reiko got me into too much yaoi recently. Still, oh man...

"Are you sure? I mean, I didn't think you'd be one to be... well... almost naked with a guy in a hot spring."

"It's all right." Aya blushed noticeably and avoided his gaze. "If it's you and Yuu-san, I don't mind."

"Okay, but if you want me out of here, just say the word," Kazuki said, stepping into the hot spring and finding a place to sit a few feet away from Aya on a perpendicular rock bed.

"Here I was, hoping I'd get to freak you both out." Yuu pulled herself up and over the rock with one hand, managing to clear the rock and sit on it imperiously. All through her half-flip, her free hand was holding her towel up as she grinned. "The best-laid plans..."

"There you are!" Kazuki stood up as Yuu crossed her legs and leaned back on the rock. "What's with switching the sides all of a sudden?"

"This one's got a little more room," Yuu shrugged, sliding down from the tall rock back into the water. She made her way over gingerly, using her left toes to keep herself balanced. "Besides, it's got better nooks and crannies to converse in."

She reached out for a nearby rock outcropping; Aya stood up to help her over. "I'm okay, I'm okay," she said, waving her off with a smile. "Besides, I was kinda hoping Kazuki would swoop in to rescue me if I started to teeter."

"You're nuts," Kazuki replied, rolling his eyes.

Damn damn damn! Should I still let a little bit of the towel slip, or... no, not with Aya around... it'd be rude, and definitely she'd feel very uncomfortable. No, that can't happen... and now I don't know what the hell to do.

"I think I'm starting to get a little overheated," Aya stood up after about a half-hour's soak. "If it's all right, I think I'm going to get out and set out the futons."

"You can get out, but forget about the futons," Yuu shook her head. "My mom got to you before that. She's treating you guys like her own kids, only better."

"Oh... then, um, I suppose I'll—"

"She got the laundry too, Aya," Yuu cut her off.


"We're here to relax, Aya-chan," Yuu stretched her arms. "Go on and kick back. Steal my brother's video games if you want, or use mine. Read, write, eat, drink, be merry."

"Then I'll be getting out now," she stood up, making sure her towel was secure before she bowed formally.

"Geez. If she wasn't so relaxed about being so polite, I'd tell her to chill out," Yuu remarked.

1:35 AM

The mini-celebration after the hot spring had long since broken up. A couple hours' worth of relaxing pockmarked with a good supply of snacks and saké had let them unwind, with Kazuki taking his leave just shy of midnight, at the receiving end of much ribbing from Yuu.

She'd finished off the saké with Aya, finally getting the shy girl to open up, and they'd spent most of the night simply being girly. Talking about dresses, manga, and even sharing places to shop—Aya seemed particularly interested in Vandalize. It wasn't long before Aya was taken in enough by the combination of the hot spring and the sake before she was sound asleep, her yukata loose over the contours of her body.

Lightweight, Yuu thought with a wry grin as she tentatively stood up, tightening the sash on her yukata. The robe-like garment was warm enough for the ryokan, but only because it was heated for the winter.

I used to walk around in these during the summer, when it was too perfect out to leave the air conditioning on, she thought, gingerly heading for the rice-paper door that led out to the small deck overlooking the ryokan's rock garden.

She bunched herself up against the cold night, sliding the door shut quietly as she sat on the edge of the deck. The rock garden was typical Japanese, like a miniaturized forest. It was as quiet as it ever got, the cicadas present during the summer long since deep in hibernation.

After tonight, we go back to Tokyo, she thought, taking a small sip from the tiny cup of warm saké that she had brought along. We go back to our lives and the upcoming ComiPa. For all this time we've spent together, I want to have something to show for it. I want to be with him...

I don't want to lose him...

I don't want to be hated for that, though...

Her breath formed a tiny cloud of fog as she sighed, already feeling warm from the effects of the saké. Her foot was feeling a little better as she twirled it around, the sandals she wore dangling playfully from her toes.

If I don't do anything, I'll have lost my best chance. If I make a move, I stand to lose him.

Yuu already felt the butterflies in her stomach start to get a little more erratic, no thanks to the saké. It's come down to this again. I worked hard to get into this position. I can't just let him go so easily.

I wonder if he's sleeping...

The guest rooms were all located next to each other, and each was set up in the same way; connected by the hall on the inside and the deck on the outside. Yuu made her way next door, her sandals quietly flapping as she walked lightly, both for stealthiness and her swollen ankle. She gently knocked on the cedar frames of the rice paper door. "Kazuki?" she whispered. "Are you awake?"

There was no answer, just the sound of light breathing.

"I'm coming in," Yuu whispered, mostly for her own benefit. She slid the door aside, just enough to walk through sideways, stepping out of the sandals as she entered his room. His duffel bag was open and his school uniform was hanging in the open closet, but aside from that, the room was cleanly kept. He was sleeping, mouth open slightly as he breathed; his right hand dangled over his stomach and his left was under his pillow, propping his head up gently.

He looks so comfortable, she thought, sitting down on her knees next to him, smiling softly. The moon was up at such an angle that the room was lit with the grid-like pattern of the shoji door, casting a pale light on Kazuki. Yuu's shadow blended nicely with it.

I want to sketch this scene... she thought, shifting position as her ankle started to ache from the angle at which she sat. She propped herself up on her hands, stretching her legs so that she was parallel to Kazuki's sleeping form. I want to be able to remember this as something special between you and I. Even if nothing ever comes from this, even if we end up as something wonderful together... I want us to start from here. I want everything to start here between you and I...

Almost as if he had heard her thoughts, Kazuki rustled a little in his sleep, shifting his weight towards his left side, facing Yuu just a little more.

She sighed, curling up and rolling onto her right side. She propped her chin up in her right hand, just watching him sleep for the moment.

I don't want this to be the last time we're like this, but... what do I do? Wake him? Crawl into his futon? Just watch him sleep? Uch, this is way too creepy already. I don't want to be Kazuki's stalker. Do I kiss him?

Kiss him...

She blinked, not quite sure how to react to the fact that the thought of kissing him really kicked the butterflies into high gear.

You're not thinking straight. Come on. Kissing him while he's asleep? That's so overdone, so unfulfilling. It's like sneaking up on him. He'll never even know anything. It's just something for you and you alone. Besides, you were drinking. You're not entirely yourself. Come on. You can think of better. He's asleep. You're tipsy. Get it through your head.

But if I can think of better... why is my heart beating so fast? Why do I feel so nervous?

Yuu felt her cheeks flush even more than from the alcohol. She swallowed, hoping that the noise wouldn't wake him, but knowing that it wouldn't anyway.

I really could if I wanted to, though... maybe it's for the best...

If he's going to make his own decision in due time, then it's definitely for the best. Maybe I'm just being greedy, wanting him to wake up and suddenly embrace me.

Maybe I'm delaying the inevitable? Maybe it's just one other direction that isn't going to happen, or maybe it's just the first kiss of many.

How I want it to be the first kiss of many...

But think about it. Isn't it better to have one kiss than none at all? Is it really Yuu Inagawa's way to see the world for anything other than what it is?

Yeah, I see the world for what it is. I do that pretty well. But this is one time when I want the world to be different...

Yuu turned around to sit on her knees again at an angle that her ankle wouldn't protest. She took a deep breath, exhaling gently as not to wake Kazuki.

I see how it is. I see that he and Mizuki have known each other forever and how I've only known him since this past spring.

Maybe I have a chance... but maybe I don't... and maybe this is my last opportunity.

She reached out a hand, lightly brushing an errant hair off of his forehead, then propping it flat on his futon.

You see what you've done to me, Kazuki? I swear, if you wake up... well, maybe I want you to wake up.

She lowered herself a few inches, shifting her legs to rest again on her side.

I want you to look at me and smile. Not because it's me, but because you want me in your life as much as I want you in mine.

Yuu felt him breathe rhythmically, his breaths creating a gentle wind that she could feel on her neck. She shivered at the thought and sensation.

I want you to hold my hand. I want to fall asleep with you. I want to make love to you. I want you to be happy.

Above all things, I want you to be happy... with or without me, with or without Mizuki... so just allow me my own happiness for this one moment.

Yuu didn't even worry about waking him up. She slowly leaned forward, shuffling a little more towards him as she stretched her neck out, and lightly, tentatively touched her lips to his as she closed her eyes. His breathing didn't change, and she gently touched his cheek as she began to press a little more firmly.

She held the kiss for a moment, simply savoring the surprisingly smooth texture of his lips. He moved his lips slightly as she pulled away, as if he was subconsciously returning the kiss, but he was still sleeping soundly. Her heart had kicked up rapidly, almost making her feel light-headed. Motivated by the unfamiliar, tinglingly giddy feeling in her neck and shoulders, she touched her lips with her fingers as if to make sure they were still there.

Yuu was blushing more than she ever had in her life, her chocolate-brown eyes starting to take on a teary sheen.

"I meant it when I said I loved you," she whispered. "If loving you means seeing you happy with someone else, then I'll be fine with that. Maybe I'll move on one day, but for now, there's deeper water running where someone might normally be shallow."

Yuu sighed, leaning in to kiss him once more. Her heart still beat swiftly, and she still felt as if her upper body was going to take flight, but all she could feel was Kazuki's lips against hers and his gentle breathing in the dark. She could see him with her eyes closed just as easily, and as she felt an electrical tingle travel down her back, making her shudder, she pulled back just enough to breathe.

"Good night, Kazuki," she whispered simply, standing back up, wary of her ankle. As she turned towards the door, she cast one look back at him, simply smiling.

If it gets any better than this, I'll wait for you, she thought. You're worth it, and you're worth the happiness. I would hate to have to lose you, but... when what I want is for you to be happy, it'd be worth it.

February 14th
Tokyo Big Sight
Odaiba, Tokyo
8:55 AM

Kazuki helped Chisa lift the box filled with their dojinshi up onto the table. It was a good thing, too; this was the fifth of five boxes, fifty copies each box.

"Thanks again, Chisa," Kazuki leaned on the table, wiping a few beads of sweat from his brow. "If there weren't four of us, this'd tie you up forever."

"Chisa would happily unload them on her own." Chisa grinned and clasped her hands together, stretching them over her head. "Your team-up work is really something that Chisa hasn't yet seen before in dojinshi."

"Team efforts go a long way in this business, Chisa-chan," Yuu remarked, sliding up and throwing a harisen-bearing arm around Kazuki's neck. "You just gotta delegate everything to the right people and balance your talents, isn't that right, Kazuki?"

"Yuu, you're choking me!" Kazuki managed to eke out.

"Sure, sure," she sighed, letting go of him and tapping the boxes of dojinshi with her harisen. "I hope this wasn't too much of a burden for the shop, Chisa."

"Chisa was under no burden whatsoever, Inagawa-sempai!" Chisa shook her head, her pink ribbons undulating with her motions. "Oh! By the way, Kazuki-sempai, if you have a moment..."

"Huh?" Kazuki asked, peering over the small girl as she shuffled around an open box on her cart full of deliveries.

"Here!" she squeaked out, bearing a small red box tied with a white ribbon. "It isn't much, but I hope you'll accept this chocolate for the holiday."

She held out the box, blushing slightly and smiling nervously.

"Aw, c'mon, Kazuki, how can you refuse something that cute?" Yuu teased, poking him with the harisen. "Go on, be a gentleman and say 'thank you!'"

"I don't need etiquette coaching," Kazuki growled at Yuu. "Chisa-chan, you didn't have to go through all this trouble for me..." he blustered a little more politely than the growl.

"It's no trouble at all, Kazuki-sempai," Chisa shook her head again. "Chisa just wanted to thank you for doing so much for me since she got the chance to meet you and do your printing." She held the chocolate out tentatively.

"Thank you so much, Chisa-chan," Kazuki smiled as he accepted the chocolate, unwrapping the box. It was a broad, thin heart-shape, obviously from a mold, but it had a rich, chocolatey scent to it.

"I hope you enjoy it," Chisa bowed politely. "Chisa has to make other deliveries, but she'll be sure to stop back to buy a copy of your dojinshi!"

"I'll be sure to save you a copy," Kazuki promised.

"You owe her big for that one, Kazuki," Yuu ribbed as Chisa dashed off, in control of her cart for once. "I remember running into her at the school kitchens, kicking up a real mess trying to make that chocolate for you."

"Geez..." Kazuki broke off a piece of the chocolate and tasted it. "This is really good."

"You're acting like you never got chocolate before!" Yuu scoffed.

"Well, not since a few minutes ago..." Kazuki trailed off, blushing slightly.

"Hey, I wanted to thank you for everything, too," she said, glancing at the white box that rested on a corner of the three joined tables. "Besides, I wanted to sorta keep everything... well... you know, the way things normally end up when people get together..."

An awkward silence fell between the two of them amongst the din of the convention hall. Yuu looked at Kazuki just as he turned to look at her, and just as quickly as their eyes met, they turned away, blushing.

"I'm still not used to this," they said at the same time.

Yuu was the first to laugh. "Sorry about that," she said with a smile, turning back to the table to set down a small stack of their dojinshi next to some older Karamitei releases. "I guess we have a lot of turf to cover."

"Hey, you covered plenty of turf before I was even aware of it," Kazuki shot back with a smile equal to Yuu's. "I only wish you'd just come out and said something sooner."

This elicited another rare blush from Yuu. "Well, I was worried... I kept telling myself, 'if you mess this up, he's never going to want to speak to you again, he'll never see you the same way,' and I—"

"But that's the point, isn't it?" Kazuki asked introspectively. "I mean... well... we see each other differently now, right?"

"Yeah..." Yuu looked off to the side, then steeled her gaze and nodded confidently. "Yeah. We do see each other differently now, and I'm glad." She nodded again, looking up at Kazuki and smiling gently, looking at him with a different, more open gaze.

We do see each other differently now. Not just as friends, but... as something more

A familiar, giddy shiver tingled from the small of her back.

Kazuki made a final check on the table as Aya walked up, bearing three bottles of iced oolong tea. "I'm sorry, but they didn't have any green tea," she demurely explained, handing out the bottles of tea.

"It's okay," Yuu grinned in reply. "Today just felt like a green tea kind of day. No biggie."

Yuu handed Kazuki a bottle, taking a moment to let his fingers brush against hers. This time, when their eyes met, they grinned, cheeks slightly flushed.

He doesn't know how happy I am...

"... and that's the entire truth of it all, Kazuki. I couldn't hold back the way I feel anymore," she said, lowering her head to look at the carefully-wrapped chocolate, her hands tightening their grip around the box.

"Yuu..." Kazuki blinked. "I... I mean, I didn't think that you even—"

"It just happened..." Yuu took a deep breath, trying to force away the fight-or-flight tension that rose throughout her shoulders. She calmed down enough to stop desperately clutching the chocolate that she was demurely holding out.

"I can't help it. All the time we've spent together really means something to me. YOU mean something to me. I feel my heart beating when you open up like you do, when who you are shines through. It makes me feel special... and I want to be able to make you feel the same way..."

Kazuki looked down, just as Yuu was, but as she glanced up at him, she could see that he was blushing as intensely as she was.

"I've... I don't know, I've never gone out with anyone before... I've never really been in this situation..."

"Neither have I," she shook her head. "But... I wanted to know if you would go out with me. Be more than friends with me. I want to be with you, Kazuki."

Kazuki slowly looked up, meeting Yuu's dark brown eyes with his gaze.

"I've... never really thought about it before," he said after a moment's thought. "But... when I do, it kinda feels... I don't know..."

He held a hand over his heart tentatively. "I guess... I mean, I don't GUESS, but... it feels... it feels exciting, it feels good... kinda electrical..."

"... I know how you feel, Kazuki. I feel the same way."

He didn't say another word; he merely accepted the chocolates, his fingertips touching Yuu's as he reached out towards her.

The PA system of the convention hall played out a three-tone chime, most likely Minami announcing the start of the convention. Aya turned to unlock their cash box, and when she wasn't looking , Yuu took an opportunity, standing on her toes to give Kazuki a quick kiss on the cheek as he looked up at the nearest loudspeaker.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Minami's friendly, familiar voice echoed throughout Tokyo Big Sight. Kazuki turned to Yuu's smiling face and squeezed her hand under the table. "The third semi-annual Comic Party is now open to the public!"

To be concluded...