Disclaimer: Mai-HiME owned by Sunrise, except the characters that aren’t.
(Please do not repost to other sites without my permission blah blah thank you. ^^ Linking to this site is easier.)
Her slender fingers absentmindedly wandered to the back of her neck, lightly pressing against the faint itch of a mosquito bite tucked just under her hairline. It was an unintended souvenir from an otherwise wonderful rural park visit last week with her younger, dark-haired friend. She had a photo from that trip laminated into a bookmark, which, due to the easily misinterpreted posture and blush, her friend insisted that she show no one at any time, under any circumstance. This small memory made Shizuru smile in the faint, cool gray glow that spilled from the nearby window onto the massive wooden table she had appropriated.
After taking notes from the necessary books and loaned materials for Natsuki’s sake, Shizuru stretched and stood up, piling everything neatly together for the library attendees to take away. They did this with astounding speed, as though they had been hovering by the stacks around Shizuruâ€™s table for just this opportunity. Though forced into the human contact, she smiled and thanked them for their services, then quickly exited the building.
It was cloudy out. Shizuru had hoped to enjoy an ephemeral slice of sunset before the predicted clouds settled on her way back to Natsuki’s apartment, but her meetings with the present and former student council members before the library visit sucked away more time and energy than she thought. Still, she was surprisingly awake and sharp while in the library, for when it came to helping Natsuki, Shizuru found she could always find that extra bit of strength.
She opened her cell phone and punched a few buttons. “Natsuki? Yes, I am on my way back now. Sorry that I am late. Would you like me to pick something up for dinner? …Oh, all right.” A smile rolled across her face. “I look forward to trying your cooking again. We should thank Mai-san sometime for dealing with you. She seems like a superhero.” Laughter danced lightly across the sidewalk. “…Yes, I will see you shortly.”
The cell phone snapped smartly shut, but before Shizuru could slip it back into her bag, a dull pain thrust itself between, behind her eyes and a wave of nauseating, white dizziness swept down from crown to gut, threatening to crush her with a blackout. Her heart pounded painfully against her ribs and throat.
It is just a bit of fatigue; nothing a full night of sleep will not cure. Shizuru frowned to herself. She swallowed and allowed herself to fumble the phone, dropping it onto the nearby grass. Pretending to pick it up and inspect it as she kneeled for a few moments, Shizuru squeezed her eyes shut and rubbed her forehead to regain her bearings.
“Kaichou-s—er, I mean, Fujino-sama?” A timid voice from behind caught her attention and forced her to quickly blink away the white spots in her vision. She stood up gracefully but slowly with cell phone in hand and turned to an old fan from the Fuuka Academy.
“Yes?” A pleasant smile appeared on her lips.
A girl who looked sixteen spied the cell phone with bits of grass on it. “Oh! I’m sorry. I thought you were ill, but I guess you just dropped that. Ah, never mi—er, I mean, please have a pleasant evening.” She shifted a little nervously and waved.
“Ah, thank you very much for your concern, and good evening as well.” Shizuru nodded warmly. This simple act brightened the girl’s demeanor, and with a little nod, she scampered off to her destination. Shizuru sighed and wiped off her cell phone. Fortunately, the pain had passed quickly.
By the time she returned to the apartment, Natsuki had already set out everything on the dining table and was waiting, peering out the window impatiently.
“Ah, I am back.” Shizuru grinned impishly and raised her hand, knowing full well that Natsuki would ask in that habitual akimbo pose why she was late by a whole hour. “Two of the meetings went overtime, and the research took a little longer than expected.” She took out her notebook on cue and presented it to Natsuki, whose mouth was slightly agape from being interrupted so smoothly.
Natsuki eyed the glossy blue notebook in her hands and then flipped it open. She merely stared blankly for a moment before recognition fired in her eyes. “Wh-what! These are—”
“Extra notes for your literature and language classes. I know that you are better at history and math but have no interest in anything remotely artistic, yes? These are merely analytical hints and notes, but you must still do your reading.” Shizuru winked at Natsuki’s wide stare. “What now, you do not need these?”
She counted on being treated to any number of Natsuki’s standard responses—scoffing in indignation, pouting with her slightly puffed cheeks, blushing and frowning, looking away, even brooding. But Shizuru was not so lucky today.
“Aren’t you tired today from all those meetings? You shouldn’t push yourself so hard, Shizuru…” Natsuki trailed off with a concerned yet suspicious look in her eye as she peered at her sempai. She then remained unusually silent while studying Shizuru up and down.
Shizuru merely blinked and smiled, tilting her head slightly as if to say, “Whatever do you mean? If it is for Natsuki…”
Natsuki added hurriedly, “It’s not like I need all those extra notes, either. We’re just doing this to accumulate time since that was the agreement, remember? You really shouldn’t work so hard already.”
Slightly disheartened by the lack of expected display, Shizuru chose to glide over to the table rather than respond. “Oh, my. It seems all that work has paid off. Perhaps for dessert…” She glanced back at Natsuki with a terribly mischievous glint in her eyes.
That did it. Natsuki’s cheeks instantly puffed and burned pink; she stomped to the table, forgetting the notebook on the couch where she had just hurriedly tossed it. < !— She didn't know exactly why she ran to the table, though; it wasn't as if Shizuru would be overly critical of anything she made and demand an explanation for what happened to each dish—not that any of them were particularly maimed beyond recognition.//—> Natsuki tersely cleared her throat to direct Shizuru’s attention away from her and towards the kitchen.
“H-hey. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Anyway, have a seat. Fortunately, this is still hot.” Natsuki made her way to the small oven and pulled out a square pan of what looked like a cheese-topped casserole. Shizuru raised her brow slightly when she caught a glimpse of a small pie just before her underclassman closed the oven door. “Um, I know you prefer Japanese foods, but I asked Mai for directions to make this lighter so it shouldn’t be too heavy, and there’s salad and rice.”
Shizuru instinctively looked towards the water pot.
“—And tea!” Natsuki grumbled slightly as she brought out a cast-iron tea kettle and placed it on a trivet over a light blue candle that immediately caught the older girl’s eye.
“Oh!” Shizuru clasped her hands to her face. “How romantic. There is a candle and even a special tea pot for the occasion. Hmm… Just what is the occasion, Natsuki?” Her teasing expression turned to one of genuine curiosity.
It was not often Natsuki cooked, but she had been taking lessons from Mai, who seemed to enjoy taking advantage of that large kitchen and rare oven. Mai had the wisdom to demand that foods be “palatable first, presentable second.” After a few mishaps that earned the younger girl some good-natured ribbing from Shizuru, she slowly improved by trying only simple things. This something-casserole was the most complicated thing she had yet attempted.
Natsuki happened to enjoy rich foods, but the heavily fried material was usually a bit much for Shizuru. Still, the older girl learned to stretch her palate a little, if only for Natsuki’s sake, and Natsuki learned to refine her tastes in turn, if only with a little painfully cute pouting.
“Actually…” the younger girl seated herself and leaned forward on her elbows, “I, uh, wanted to thank you for tutoring me, and since it’s Friday, I wanted to do something, eh… special.” Shizuru also rested her elbows on the table, cradling her chin on her hands, smiling fondly at the raven-haired girl who grew pinker by the second under that impossibly intense gaze.
“S-stop it! If you don’t stop teasing me, you won’t get any food!”
“Eat the casserole already,” Natsuki scowled slightly, then leaned over ungracefully to snatch up her friend’s cup and fill it with fresh tea. Shizuru merely offered a contented smile.
Through the dinner and their light conversation, the light brunette couldn’t help but be impressed. Although casseroles were technically easy to cook, she appreciated Natsuki’s effort and did enjoy the lightly spiced chicken and broccoli with only a dusting of parmesan cheese. Nor was the display overly burnt and otherwise maimed. It was a shame the younger girl had little interest in healthier Japanese cuisine, but at least Shizuru managed to add some other basics like rice, miso soup, various fresh noodles, and sushi to Natsuki’s personal menu. Yes, she is still improving, Shizuru thought.
She gently placed her fork down and wiped her mouth, watching Natsuki dip a piece of chicken in her mayonnaise with great care, the tip of her pink tongue just peeking out between those glistening, tender lips, her emerald eyes alight with anticipation.
“Natsuki, this was excellent. I am so very proud of you.” Those wine-red eyes burned, causing Natsuki to grin and even blush a little. Her own brilliant eyes darted up to meet the smile.
“If you are finished, we can take a short break before resuming studies.”
“Ah! Not yet. There’s something else.” Natsuki finished off her last piece of broccoli and scurried to the kitchen, navy-black hair flapping. Shizuru could hear something metallic clanging about before Natsuki reappeared with a small pie and a big grin. After placing it on the table, however, her grin turned quite sheepish.
“Actually, Mai made this, but…”
Shizuru only laughed.
Natsuki lazed on the floor by the couch and surfed on her own laptop for a while before cracking open her books. Although it was the short spring break before the new school year started, both girls had full schedules on a daily basis, except for the day trip they made the first weekend of break. The brunette had student council and business meetings every morning “to tie up loose ends” and spent the rest of the afternoons and evenings tutoring Natsuki. Due to said student’s lackluster attendance record, the beloved former student council president managed to form a deal with the principal and new school director to allow Natsuki to pass into the second year, provided she have formal tutoring to make up missing time and then took a general exam at the end of the break. Even despite always being busy, Shizuru still managed to prepare ahead for her own Fuuka university classes, which had not begun yet, while Natsuki studied at night. The moody girl usually grumbled at her friend for being “too damn efficient.”
Gliding about the apartment as though on silent wheels, Shizuru tidied up and adroitly avoided Natsuki’s annoyed glances. Not having been trained in the finer details of housework, the younger girl had developed some very bad habits like leaving dishes and cutlery in the sink until mold grew. She then grumpily allowed her sempai to teach her some organizational skills in which the former student council president was an expert.
Despite Natsuki’s grumbling, they had developed some routines together. Shizuru would wash the dishes, and Natsuki would dry them; Shizuru would tidy up objects and return items to their places while Natsuki wiped surfaces down. It was not common knowledge, but Shizuru could cook, albeit not as efficiently as Mai without substantial preparation. Natsuki assumed not many people knew since most everyone who ever met Shizuru wanted to take her out to a fancy restaurant or some such nonsense. When Shizuru cooked, Natsuki cleared the table.
An awkward realization prodded the base of Natsuki’s skull as she mentally tabulated their shared activities. Actually, what else do I do? She stopped typing on the laptop to lean back against the couch and stare at the ceiling. What am I doing? An uncomfortably tight ball of guilt settled on top of her stomach. At this rate, it’s as if I hired Shizuru to be my tutor and maid… and I’m not even paying her! What do we talk about anymore?
Shizuru watched and wondered. In a given context, it was often quite easy to read Natsuki, whose basic social ineptitude left awkward openings to her inner self if she failed to guard herself. Most people would miss these openings, but not the former student president. Natsuki did have imposing defenses as well as violent reactions should anyone nearly slip by a barrier, but since Shizuru had become close to her over the years, the dark beauty softened her edges and even sometimes lowered her guard. Then, since the HiME festival, Natsuki’s inner warmth had begun to glow through that ice even more as she slowly expanded her small circle of friends.
But at this moment, Shizuru could not fathom what sorts of roiling and possibly embarrassing thoughts were battling in her younger friend’s mind. Curiosity got the best of her, and she crept in front of Natsuki to peer down at the upside-down laptop screen. Green eyes were suddenly staring up into her face.
“Wah!” Startled out of her contemplation, Natsuki yelped and slid down until the back of her head rested on the couch, pushing against Shizuru’s lower legs with her knees. Shizuru’s hands, which had been behind her back, shot out to balance herself on the couch’s seat. Ruddy crimson blinked down and brilliant green blinked up.
“Such an interesting expression you had on your face, Natsuki. I did not mean to startle you. Perhaps something you saw on the internet…?” An easy smirk quickly appeared in response to Natsuki’s gawking.
“I was just—! …th-thinking. It’s nothing… important.” Those words were true in the sense that she couldn’t remember what she was thinking about. She smells like lavender.
“Certainly. I apologise for interrupting.”
“Ah, it’s nothing…”
Breathing was the only movement. Shizuru’s light brown tresses framed and tickled the borders of Natsuki’s fair face. The younger girl’s eyes were wide open and her expression tense and uncertain.
Open, Shizuru mused, so very open and innocent, almost as if she is waiting for something to happen. Are you, Natsuki? Are you…? She halted the sadness that pooled behind her own eyes.
Natsuki hardly noticed the heat flooding through her body. Her eyelids were frozen as well as most of the air in her throat, which had been stoppered by a small lump. She could feel the warm breath cascading gently over her face and saw from the corner of her eye the slow, steady motion of the young woman’s full breasts cupped in what Natsuki knew was an expensive bra underneath that crisp, white blouse.
She resisted the urge to wave away those light hairs tickling her face, entranced as she was by the irises of abyssal wine calmly staring back. Unable to focus on either of them, she settled on the space between Shizuru’s eyebrows. Closing her slightly parted lips to swallow the lump in her throat, Natsuki then allowed them to part again into a slight frown. Her mood, originally frozen by surprise, was tottering back towards a dismayed disapproval.
This miniscule motion widened Shizuru’s small smile, squeezing up her cheeks and eyes in a genuine expression of enjoyment. She pushed herself up from that odd, tent-like posture and sat on the couch, smoothing Natsuki’s dark hair around her ear. The younger girl blinked at the warmth of her hand.
“Thank you for the wonderful dinner, Natsuki,” she whispered. With a very happy expression, the brunette stood and walked to the kitchen to resume her tidying.
Natsuki remembered to breathe, pressing her palm to her chest.