A/N: I've had all four games and all of SIGN, but I never got the chance to finish up Outbreak. I did that last week and I just beat the seventh Phase, and when everyone got together, it rekindled how awesome I thought Natsume was. I don't know why she's up amongst my favorite characters, but like all the others, there's backstory there. Her drive is what really connected me to her, I guess. I started playing .hack when I was at a point that my life turned more and more into my control. I learned from my own sweat what "doing your best" really meant. Because of it, I lost about 30 pounds and gained a lot more self-esteem than I thought I would.

Now that I'm gainfully employed and moving up the corporate ladder (as well as getting .hack out of the way so I can look forward to Fragment and GU!) I thought it was time to do a Natsume one-shot. I don't really have the time to take on a long project, but one of my best works (Deeper Water) started with a little one-shot… we'll see…

Spiral Edge

"Come on! I'll throw in another Noble Wine!"

An electronic tone in her headset noted that the extra item had been added to the Trade window.

She didn't bother responding for a moment; the girl behind the Neuro Goggles was frantically paging through her user manual to look up the command to shake her avatar's head.

"Uch. Come on, three Noble Wines and an Alert Greaves! These are level 78 weapons! The No Damage alone is worth it!"

"Um…" the young Twin Blade shook her head reflexively. "I'm sorry, I just can't…"

"Look, there's a difference between a hard bargain and outright stupidity," the Long Arm groaned, his online character crossing his arms and tapping his feet. How come he can do that but I can't? she thought.

"I'm sorry, but I can't trade these," Natsume finally managed a /shrug. "I know your friend may need them, but they have some real sentimental value to me."

"Sentimental value! My buddy from junior high just joined the game and I can't leave him hanging! If he's got the Spiral Edge, he'll be able to go up five levels in just two monsters from a higher-level dungeon!"

"But I- "

"Don't tell me you're one of those people, always tryin' to put so much value on all this virtual crap." The Long Arm scoffed as the Trade window closed out. He had exited out of the potential deal. "Didn't you learn jack from the Twilight Incident? The World is even more vulnerable than the real world. All this can disappear in a second!" He threw his arms wide as if to condemn all of Mac Anu to eventual doom.

Yes, it can…

"Yes, you're right," Natsume responded, her character hopping up and down from the inactivity. She hadn't moved for a few moments since the Long Arm had noticed the Spiral Edge in her inactive items menu, seeking something to trade. "It's really just a game, but doesn't that mean we have to try our best in order to do everything we can?"

"'Try our best to do everything we can?'" the Long Arm mocked. "Please. You probably listen to everything your teachers say and read a lot of books. Did you ever even do anything to merit that Spiral Edge? You probably had someone go hunt it down for you, or maybe you just bought it for GP."

"That's not true!" Natsume blurted out. She felt her cheeks blush, and she swore that the redness of her avatar's cheeks started standing out against her green hair and bluish dress. "I didn't have someone win this for me… kinda."

"Yeah, kinda. He probably pitied you."

"We traded for it!"

"Traded for it? Wow, how original. He musta just taken a Recovery Drink out of spite, to make you think he'd accept it."

"I gave him something of value!" I just want to turn around and walk away, but I can't give up on telling you why…

"Please. You probably never had anything of value and never will!"

"I gave him something that almost equates for such a rare item. These helped me grow, so I gave him something that'll help him grow!"

"So you're too good for your own words, huh? You won't let my friend have that Spiral Edge?"

"I…" Natsume held her hands to her heart, even if she didn't have the FMD Gloves to have her avatar copy her movements. "I learned to grow on my own thanks to these Spiral Edge, and if I just gave them to you, and you gave them to your friend, he wouldn't be able to learn the value of such an item. I'm sorry… he just won't. I did what I could to earn these… I did what I could, and after everything that happened afterwards… I knew I'd earned the Spiral Edge that I got so long ago."

A watery tone in her headset marked the arrival of a Flash Mail. She didn't even need to bother reading it.

"I hope your friend does well, and if I see you again, please tell me how he does," Natsume said as politely as she could. She pulled up her Gift window and selected five Healing Potions. "Please give him these; I always needed some extra when I was just starting out like he was. If he has friends that care about him, though… he won't need a Spiral Edge from me."

Before the Long Arm could protest, Natsume turned and ran towards the Chaos Gate. It didn't take long for her to land at Omega Server, an unfamiliar sight considering its recent troubles.

"Thank you for choosing me!" she said to the Twin Blade who was waiting for her. Her avatar's smile couldn't match the one behind her FMD Goggles. "I will do my best!"