*This chapter is better read after 1.7.
CHAPTER 0.1 Omake: “Du-chan”
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This omake chapter is dedicated to all of you who have shared your opinions large and small about my fic as well as those of you who have helped with my research questions (if you’ve done both, I suppose the dedication doubles up? Ha). Please continue and be honest about my writing. ;)
Setting: About two months after the HiME festival ended. Winter.
“We haven’t been down this shopping arcade in a while.”
“I am sorry.”
“Idiot, I’m not blaming you for anything.”
“Though I thought Natsuki preferred not to brave this particular shopping area?”
Natsuki merely grunted and maneuvered around a group of adolescents accumulating at a shoe store entrance, not admitting that she missed Shizuru’s company more than anything else lately. She had been seeing less and less of her presidential friend, who hid in meetings or holed up in her dorm room or the library to work and study. Natsuki couldn’t help but become worried. It wasn’t like Shizuru to not be surrounded by a gaggle of other students in large, public areasâ€”or rather, it wasn’t like Shizuru to avoid such places, either. Finally taking matters into her own hands, Natsuki cooked up a plan: She knew Shizuru enjoyed this particular shopping arcade for the brightly lit storefronts and the oft-festive atmosphere, and it had several expensive eateries the Kyoto girl liked to patronize. Natsuki pretended to window-shop as both girls maintained a comfortable silence while walking past several Maneki cat statues, each with a welcoming paw straight up in the air.
“May we go in here?” Shizuru tugged at her friend’s elbow, bringing her out of her conscious act. Natsuki nodded and turned with her into a toy shop, but not before catching a mysterious glint in Shizuru’s eye.
Natsuki soon discovered the reason for that look. Draped over the side of a cardboard box labeled “Sale” were two white paws on which rested a rounded puppy head with pointed ears, nose, and a pair of doleful, black eyes. Both girls stopped and stood shoulder to shoulder in front of the box.
With an infectious smile, Shizuru gathered the plush puppy in her hands and lifted it up to inspect it. “My, my, such an adorable thing. Look, it has white paws and belly, and the tail curls over its back like an Akita or Shiba dog. This light brownish red is attractive.” She began to tweak the ears with a hand and make cooing noises, much to the younger girl’s embarrassment.
“Well, it’s cute, but…” Natsuki couldn’t help but stare at it. It really is.
“He is just a little longer than my forearmâ€”a perfect carrying size.”
“Er, I suppose…”
“Look at those adorable puppy eyes.” Shizuru fondled the slightly floppy, pellet-filled body for a moment before bringing the plush’s nose to her own. “Reminds me of Natsuki.”
“Whaâ€”!” Natsuki quickly lowered her voice. “Don’t say such things! Why would you say that?!”
“So cute.” Shizuru ignored the hissed outburst and continued to pet the thing until she finally looked up with that frighteningly mischievous look. “Natsuki does not have too many cuddly things in her apartment.”
Just as Shizuru began to sweep away from both box and Natsuki with the pup in hand, a blur of dark bluish hair flew past and into her path, and the plush was quickly removed from her arms. The brunette blinked as her precious friend stalked down the aisle with the puppy stuffed under her arm, its head comically peeking out back at Shizuru. A very bemused look settled on Shizuru’s face as she immediately recognized Natsuki’s inner grumbling.
Goodness knows I can’t let Shizuru buy me something while we’re out here. This is supposed to be my treat! And she wouldn’t let this thing go. Heck, she’d probably come back later and buy it when I’m not looking. Well, it is cute… Natsuki ended up purchasing it.
“We have not enjoyed good sushi in a while.”
“Yeah, we thought this place was pretty good the last time we came here, huh?”
“Everyone was exceptionally friendly.”
That’s probably because several employees were related to Fuuka and knew you’re the student president, Natsuki thought to herself. “And they gave me my own mayonnaise dish,” she grinned happily.
“Yes, the chef told me that it is their own house recipe, and it is lighter. I liked it as well.” I will not tell you that half the recipe is soy-based, however.
And that’s exactly why we’re here, Natsuki thought smugly. You won’t make faces while I have their mayonnaise! Instead, she commented, “I remember that you liked their tea.”
“Yes, it certainly is excellent.”
“Do the Misses have a preference for tea?” a waitress bowed politely.
“Aonotera gyokuro, please.”
“Are you ready to order, Shizuru?”
“Yes, and I assume you are as well.”
After the waitress left, Shizuru motioned for Natsuki to hand over the sealed store bag. Lifting an eyebrow, Natsuki complied. She watched as the brunette carefully pulled the tape back from the rolled down opening.
“Uh, are you sure you should do that here? It might getâ€”well, we’re in a restaurant, you know.”
“I merely want to say ‘hello’ before it sets up residence on your bed tonight,” she remarked in her soothing Kyoto accent. Natsuki only stared a bit in curiosity. “Has Natsuki thought of a name yet?”
“Are you kidding? I just bought it.”
The brunette had the puppy in her hands now and was grinning playfully at its nose. “Hm. Yes, male, I believe.”
For some inexplicable reason, Natsuki blushed. “Eh, I suppose I was thinking…”
“Natsuki had a companion before…” Shizuru had closed her eyes and was nuzzling its nose with her own. “Duran.”
Natsuki quickly shot a withering glare at a table of young men staring at Shizuru. As they nervously averted their eyes, she turned back and let her face fall slightly. “…I miss both of them.” The table deflected the soft comment, and Shizuru quietly absorbed it.
Green irises quickly looked up to meet knowing red ones, eyes that seemed to speak to her fully. You will always need Duran, and you will always have him. Do you understand? Perhaps you have been lonely lately… I have been quite busy myself, after all.
“I’m not sure a toy should inherit that name,” Natsuki murmured and resumed studying the chopsticks.
“Of course not.”
The light, woody sounds of chopsticks and glassy sounds of other tableware insulated the two at their table by the window. Both turned slightly to observe the rows of colorful paper lanterns and other decorations at the storefronts around the shopping arcade. The crowds had not diminished, but the lack of noise lent the outside world an atmosphere of ordered chaos, as if everyone knew exactly where they were going.
“Eh?” Natsuki broke away from the bustling, tranquil scene.
“A nickname, perhaps?”
Natsuki pondered this for a moment before allowing the barest line of smile lift her lips. “I think I like it.”
“Du-chan it is, then.” Shizuru gave the newly named pup a peck on the forehead and returned him in the bag and to the younger girl’s grasp. A hint of fatigue was just barely betrayed in the student president’s eyes but passed so quickly when Natsuki received the bag that she shrugged it off.
They enjoyed the exquisite sushi, fine mayonnaise and other sauces, the fine tea, and each other’s company. As she talked about school eventsâ€”her political knowledge greatly increased with regular attendanceâ€”Natsuki noted the greater energy infusing her friend’s face. She looked happier, perhaps even more rested.
Having wrested the bill from Shizuru’s grasp and paid, Natsuki led the way out of the shopping arcade as it was getting late. The plastic bag swung carelessly from Natsuki’s gloved hand, and she didn’t notice her friend eyeing it with just a little worry. Finally, they reached Shizuru’s dorm.
“Thank you for the meal and the break, Natsuki. I believe we needed it. I am sorry we have not done this recently.”
“Don’t apologize. We’ve both been busy, but… you’ve been a lot more busy that normal, right?” Natsuki frowned. “What’s going on with the student council?”
“This will be the most difficult trimester due to reconstruction,” Shizuru managed a half-smile. “I am also training other students for specific tasks at the council, as well as preparing myself for college.”
“We should make time again soon. I would invite you to my room, but every surface is covered with paper at the moment.”
Amusement raised a dark blue eyebrow as Natsuki imagined Shizuru’s room actually “messy.” Then squeezing Natsuki’s gloved hand once, Shizuru fished her key from her pocket.
“Good night, Natsuki, and thank you again.”
“Sure…” The younger girl left her mouth slightly open as she began to speak, but stopped when she caught a trace of something melancholy in the slanted reflection of half-closed red eyes. She grabbed Shizuru’s wool-clad arm. “Wait.”
When the wine-red eyes turned to her, the trace was gone and replaced with a patient warmth. Natsuki sighed. Will you still hide parts of your true self from me? After a moment’s hesitation, an idea struck her.
Ripping the tape off the store bag, Natsuki fished out Du-chan’s head. Then keeping her eyes on Shizuru’s face, she puckered her soft lips very slightly and slowly brought Du-chan’s nose to them. The calm red eyes were fixed at her mouth as she kissed the cloth nose for one, two, three seconds. The younger girl then shifted her face to press her lips into the plush’s ear for another three seconds; the furry, triangular ear hid a small smile as Natsuki noticed the red eyes never left the lower half of her face. Lifting Du-chan fully out of the bag and firmly in her hands, Natsuki suddenly stepped forward and pushed the toy into her friend’s chest.
Shizuru peered down with surprise as she grasped the pup. “…Natsuki?”
“I told Du-chan to watch over you and to report to me if you’re not taking care of yourself.”
A bright smile slowly enveloped her face as Shizuru realized the meaning behind Natsuki’s words. She lifted her arms to hug Du-chan to her body and gazed at both it and her friend adoringly. With a smile and a brisk turn, Natsuki lifted an arm to wave back.
“Shizuru doesn’t have too many cuddly things at her place either.”