Disclaimer: Mai-HiME owned by Sunrise, except the characters that aren’t.
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Four hours earlier:
“It’s about time!” A girl’s voice bounced haphazardly past the edge of the door the moment Reito began to slide it open.
“It isn’t quite 9:00 yet, Haruka-chan.”
Reito immediately moved aside to allow Shizuru and Nari through.
“Good morning, Kikukawa-san, Suzushiro-san,” Shizuru cheerfully interrupted as she stepped in and placed her business case on the long table. The newly renovated room had an impressively large, rectangular table in the middle and served as the new conference hall. Tall windows ran across an entire side of the room, and the blinds were already pulled up to fill the space with sun.
“Eh? Why is Watanabe-san here?” Haruka puzzled.
“Because Sato-san couldn’t make it today, remember?” Yukino pulled on her buxom friend’s sleeve.
“Yes,” Shizuru snapped open her case and began removing papers, “Watanabe-san is kind enough to fill in as today’s transcriptionist. Ah, before I forget…” the sandy brunette elegantly stacked papers, removed a notebook from the case, and handed it to Nari. “Thank you for lending this to me, Watanabe-san.”
“It was useful, I hope?”
“Indeed. We are very much obliged.”
“Ah, may I ask who you’re tutoring? Perhaps I could be of some help…”
“Kuga-san, your classmate the last year, yes—and her tutoring will be nearly finished soon, but thank you for the offer,” Shizuru smiled very graciously.
“Really. You’re welcome.” Nari upturned her lips politely, though a shock of envy ran up her spine. When her beloved kaichou-sama requested notes, she was thrilled to volunteer, but having discovered now that it was for one Kuga-san, she felt ambivalent. After all, from the past few years it was no secret amongst the elite Fujino fan club members that Fujino-sama saw a lot of that rebel and vice versa. Moreover, the two were actually on first name terms. Nari simply did not know what her kaichou-sama saw in that girl. Surely the then-president had better things to do than waste that much time on a girl who was so willingly a delinquent.
“Now, let us begin, shall we? I am due elsewhere at 13:00 sharp.” Shizuru sat herself down as the others did the same. Nari hesitated only a split second before seating herself, slightly disconcerted for not being able to pursue the subject further. She did not notice the quick glance Yukino and Haruka gave each other.
Reito hid behind his casual smile. Flawless timing as ever, Shizuru-san.
“Ito-san from I-Kurata Industries shall visit us this coming Tuesday to discuss renewal and re-funding the coming contract year. Kikukawa-san, these are all the previous contracts for your perusal.” Shizuru slid a file to the smaller girl sitting at the head of the table. The former president had insisted that Yukino get used to that position since she had been the secretary before.
“What is not noted on these documents, however,” Shizuru continued, “is that Ito-san has the longest tenure of any company representative Fuuka has dealt with, and as such, expects deferential treatment. The entire staff should be instructed to speak formally should they come into contact with him. Furthermore, he is highly chauvinistic.”
Yukino blanched at this additional information and looked helplessly to Haruka, who looked angry at some unspoken memory.
“But do not worry about this. I had Reito-san’s full support in negotiating with Ito-san, for instance, and he did accept our version of the proposal. If you carry yourself confidently and surround yourself with strong and trustworthy people, people like him are not a threat.”
“There aren’t any male executive officers yet because our resources were scrambled so late…” Yukino trailed off. Haruka grunted and appeared in deep thought.
Reito spoke up from Shizuru’s side. “To help you specifically with that, I recommend both Shimizu brothers from the second and third years as potential senior officers. Naturally, I will be present for the coming meeting on Tuesday. However, not everyone is like Ito-san, so we need not take too many precautions.”
“Yes, the Shimizu brothers are very trustworthy and would give key backing in certain situations,” Shizuru agreed. “They clearly respect you already and would be responsible in other capacities as well. Of course, it is your decision since your office is the only one assigned in this case, and the other offices may be either assigned or elected late. I am confident you will choose wisely.” This seemed to perk up the timid girl, who smiled and nodded at the suggestion. Nari was typing away on her laptop by Haruka’s side, across from Reito.
“…If there is time for a late junior election, there could also be one for the presidency, if Kikukawa-san is uncomfortable with this.”
All eyes turned to Nari, who kept her silver eyes on the laptop screen. Maintaining a cool tone, she continued, “I mean, because there hasn’t been a normal election for the coming year, a percentage of the student body is discontented–not because of the appointment, just not being able to vote. And this unusual appointment might also be unfairly stressful for Kikukawa-san because Fujino-s-an—” she narrowly avoided attaching that telltale honorific—”had been president—”
“Now, wait just a minute!” Haruka hissed and leaned over the laptop’s keyboard. “Yukino can definitely hold her own against—”
“Kikukawa-san is the only viable candidate,” Shizuru smoothly intercepted the Fury’s coming assault, effectively commanding silence. Reito smiled loosely at Nari, who looked up from the laptop at last and found herself unable to break away from Shizuru’s dark eyes.
“Because of the extensive damage to the campus, student applications and attendance decreased dramatically this past school year. For this reason, some of the academy’s donors and partners lowered contributions or reneged on contracts altogether, but many have simply not renewed. Had it not been for the Suzushiro construction company’s timely and generous intervention,” Shizuru nodded to Haruka, who merely nodded back, “we would be forced to negotiate construction contracts for weeks or months before the academy would be in proper condition to receive the representatives again, which in turn may prevent students from joining or returning to the academy.”
Everyone listened attentively as the elegant young woman’s gentle but compelling Kyoto accent expanded through the sun-filled room. She would make an excellent instructor, Reito thought fondly to himself.
“Now, since construction has been proceeding at such a rate, we need to regain lost funds or seek new funds to meet payment to the Suzushiro company quickly. That said, it tends to be less demanding to renegotiate with known contacts as the infrastructure is already present. I must stress ‘known’–naturally, old contacts prefer to work also with Fuuka representatives with whom they negotiated the original contracts.
“Of course, the top executive officers have now graduated, and at least one of us had always been present at such meetings. The only other officer who had been present at nearly all the meetings, had met nearly all the representatives personally, and who is not leaving the academy yet…” Shizuru broke into a smile and turned to Yukino, who smiled nervously and shifted her glasses with her hands. Haruka grunted and nodded, her arms crossed.
“Ah, I see,” Nari immediately capitulated and bowed her head slightly to Yukino, smiling. But she’s still such a… weak, uncharismatic thing. How would that reflect on Fuuka with the contacts, old or new?
Shizuru turned her red eyes back to Nari as though reading her mind. “Familiarity with all the accounts and procedural experience are the primary concerns for now as we—or rather, as the new council pursues old partners. Concerns such as confidence may be learned with practice, but Kikukawa-san already has the two other requisites for a good leader which are not as easily trained.”
“…Two?” Nari turned back.
“Integrity and… tact.” Shizuru was smiling very brightly, a look mirrored by Reito, while Yukino looked embarrassed. The faintly altered tone that colored Shizuru’s last word seemed lost only on Haruka, who scratched her chin. Nari paused, then smiled abashedly and nodded before returning to a deep concentration with the laptop.
Shizuru immediately resumed the rest of the account information. For the rest of the meeting, Nari kept quiet and strove to take good notes.
“…And this is sufficient for both Tuesday and Wednesday partner meetings,” Reito concluded, handing a stapled packet of papers to Yukino. She was surrounded by small stacks of documents and, for all intents and purposes, looked like a secretary once again. “Do you have any questions?”
As he settled himself back in his chair, Reito stealthily slid his hand over Shizuru’s under the table. She had remained quiet in the past hour, and from the corner of his eye, he could see a faint strain on the former president’s face. While others may have believed she was silent out of respect, he could sense her discomfort increasing. Shizuru’s hand was cold and clammy.
“No, I think I have it. In any case, everyone will be present at the partner meetings except Fujino-san, right?”
Shizuru did not notice that Yukino was glancing at her with a slightly worried look.
“Indeed, Shizuru-san can’t be present since you’re now presiding. It could confuse the representatives. This is a good exercise for you, Yukino-san,” Reito covered. “The rest of us will support you while we can, so don’t worry.”
“Yes,” Shizuru concurred shortly, looking up.
“Very well. Let’s adjourn, and my thanks to everyone for this.” Yukino stood up.
“…Nothing? We have fifteen more minutes,” Haruka cocked her head slightly.
“Everyone had excellent presentations, especially yours, Haruka-chan.” Yukino smiled warmly at her friend, who beamed proudly. “I believe I have everything. Besides, I won’t be alone anyway. We ended late the past few times, so there’s no harm in ending early today, right?”
“Okay!” Haruka was as happy as everyone else to escape the council room during break, as dutiful as she was. Above all, she had complete faith in her younger, if timorous, friend.
“Please forward the transcription and notes to everyone present, Watanabe-san,” Yukino continued. “And thank you for filling in for Sato-san.”
“Of course,” Nari nodded. She began to look back up to Shizuru, but the older girl had turned away and was returning papers to the case she had propped up on a chair. Reito then maneuvered himself in front of Shizuru to help, blocking her view completely. Nari sighed with mild discontent.
“Can you make it?” he whispered into her ear. For once, he was grateful for Haruka’s rough background noise.
“Yes. And Natsuki is usually early.”
“Good. That’s good.”
“…Do I look that bad?” Shizuru whispered merrily.
“You should go to bed.”
Shizuru could only sigh in response. The pain medication she had taken was wearing off as the meeting went on, and fighting to maintain a facade was difficult. She felt relief now that Yukino called the meeting short.
Nari’s voice jarred her from the feeling, however. “Can I walk you out, Fujino-san? I’d like to talk to you.”
“Ah… I shall meet you in a moment, Watanabe-san. I have just a few loose ends to tie up here. Please wait outside for me.”
“Yes.” Nari packed up, bowed to everyone, then left the room, her very dark, reddish hair bouncing slightly.
A moment after the door slid closed, Yukino advanced to Shizuru’s side. “Are you feeling all right? You seem… pale.” Haruka had fallen silent and was packing up. She eyed Shizuru as Yukino spoke.
A slow twinkle developed in the dark red eyes as realization set in. “Kikukawa-san, you did not adjourn early for my sake, did you?”
Yukino only smiled shyly. “Haruka-chan and I want to go to a park…”
“I see. Thank y—” but room began to spin as soon as Shizuru stood up. She felt Reito’s strong arms around her.
“A-ah, Fujino-san…” Yukino gave a start, alarmed.
Haruka trotted over to their side and leaned forward slightly to inspect Shizuru, who had pressed a hand to her face. “Really, you don’t look well at all, Fujino,” she huffed in slight exasperation. “Crazy bubuzuke woman. We would’ve been fine without you, you know…”
The former president only nodded mutely and slowly looked up to Reito’s worried expression.
Shizuru leaned on her forearms against the toilet seat and blinked. A small hand reached over and flushed it.
“Ah… how did I…” Shizuru looked around blearily, noting that she was in a stall of the girls’ bathroom. Yukino was supporting her shoulders as Haruka hung back and seemed to be watching the main door.
“Are you feeling a little better?” a small, worried voice came from behind her head.
“…Kikukawa-san?” The brunette stared at the toilet in confusion and increasing dread. “I do not… remember how I got here.”
“I think you were on the verge of a blackout, and Kanzaki-san carried you here first. Well, you looked like… you could use a bathroom. We haven’t been here long.” Yukino continued holding Shizuru’s shoulders as the girl shuddered slightly. “Kanzaki-san is outside.”
Shizuru closed her eyes and remained silent, coughing weakly as she forced down the bitter nausea.
“Yoko-sensei is still around,” Haruka spoke up as she paced towards the main door. “Do you want to go there?”
Shizuru considered for a moment. “Not yet. I will return with Natsuki and then decide whether I will visit the local hospital or not, which is actually closer to the apartment.” I do not think whatever is wrong with me is very communicable, since Natsuki has been fine for the past week. If I become seriously ill now, this will probably affect Natsuki’s studying… I hope I do not.
Haruka sighed and threw up her arms. “Fine, fine. Can you stand?”
Shizuru shifted slightly from her kneeling position. “Ah…”
“Haruka-chan, would you please go buy some juice from the machine downstairs?”
The tall blonde paused before hitting her palm with a fist. “Right! That’s a good idea. I’ll be right back.” The door squeaked open and clicked shut. They heard some muffled speech between Haruka and Reito, then some rapid tromping down the hall.
“Well, then,” Yukino released Shizuru’s shoulders since it appeared she had finished retching, “Monday’s meeting isn’t critical, and you can’t come to the partner meetings anyway, so why don’t you get some proper rest?”
The brunette still sat with her back to the smaller, short-haired girl. Leaning against the wall, she murmured, “You will be just fine.”
“The way you handled the meeting adjournment is an example. Do you need more proof, Kikukawa-san?” Shizuru now turned so her back was against the wall, and smiled at the mousy girl. “I do believe you have potential. What I said to Watanabe-san was true: Confidence and self-bearing may be trained and practiced, but character and the subtleties of social interaction are far more difficult. So you just need a little practice, Kikukawa-san.”
Yukino was blushing now and smiled a little. “Okay, let’s clean up.”
The smaller girl helped Shizuru to a sink where she rinsed her mouth and washed her face. Tromping down the hall signaled Haruka’s return, and the busty girl threw open the main door with much fanfare. Shizuru soon found a small bottle of juice shoved under her nose.
“This should help,” Haruka declared.
“Indeed. I thank you.” Shizuru wiped her hands and face on her handkerchief and bowed, taking the proffered juice. The blonde merely grunted and looked away.
Shizuru leaned against the sink and sipped the sweet juice, feeling the cold slip refreshingly down her burning throat and through her center.
“Are you sure you won’t see Yoko-sensei?” Yukino asked.
“I believe I am feeling better. Thank you,” Shizuru reassured her quietly. “Moreover, I cannot keep Natsuki waiting.”
“Actually, when I talked with Kanzaki, he said that he didn’t see Natsuki outside the building yet,” Haruka placed a hand on her hip and waved the other wildly as she was wont to do.
“Oh? Well, that is of little consequence, I suppose. I shall just wait outside, then.” Shizuru cheerfully bowed and thanked them. Reito met her by the door and escorted her to the entrance as Yukino and Haruka parted ways the opposite direction. As they approached the main entrance, Shizuru’s arm hooked in Reito’s, they saw Nari’s tall figure sitting on the low retaining wall and staring up at the sky.
“Ah… perhaps I will wait with you for Natsuki-san to arrive,” Reito offered.
“I will be fine. Please do not let me keep you. Watanabe-san may be fawning, but she seems more mature than the others…”
“…Of your rabid fans. Of course. Call me if you need anything,” Reito winked. They strolled outside and Nari’s attention immediately drew to them. She watched silently as Reito helped Shizuru sit—a good meter away from Nari—on the retaining wall. He casually placed her case and the bottle of juice between them, then nodded to Nari and walked away.
“Did you wish to speak?” Shizuru asked.
“…It was not important,” Nari replied, leaning slightly towards Shizuru, her red-black hair shifting in the slight breeze. “Fujino-san, you look pale.”
Ah, so she has noticed. I hope she does not try to… nurse me. Shizuru vaguely recalled some student fans overreacting when she had a headache some time ago.
“Yes, I have not been feeling well. I am waiting for my roommate to pick me up, and then I will just go to bed.”
A minute passed and Shizuru closed her eyes to concentrate against the disgusting feeling that weakened her body. She jerked when a cool hand pressed against her forehead. “Ah…”
“I’m sorry. I was a little worried… and I think you’re a bit warm.”
Shizuru discovered that her softened will couldn’t take the intense, silver stare of this girl, and she looked down at her hands. Natsuki’s clear, green eyes could be just as intense, but it was different, barely hiding a deep and magnetic innocence. There was something wholly and piercingly aggressive in Nari, on the other hand. How ironic, Shizuru mused, that Natsuki once strove for this very aura.
“Um… I wanted to apologize.”
“Yes?” Shizuru looked up at her.
“For implying that Kikukawa-san may not be… up to the job. I mean, the standards had been shifted since you… Anyway, if Fujino-san has faith in her, then I will, too,” Nari declared quietly.
Shizuru managed a smile. “I am glad. And yes, I do have faith. Please support the council well, Watanabe-san, including Kikukawa-san.”
“Yes.” The otherwise knife-sharp gray eyes softened a little.
Shizuru froze. Nari had replaced her hand on her forehead and allowed her strong fingers to lightly trace down the brunette’s cheek to her jawline, then cupped beneath her ear. Deep red eyes widened with uncertainty when she realized Nari had managed to lean closer; she began to feel lightheaded as her breathing increased.
Natsuki, Shizuru thought desperately, where are you?
No one had had the nerve to actually make a physical move on Shizuru before, what with her authority, supposedly powerful family, and other rumors surrounding Reito. But something in Nari’s eyes told her that she knew better on the last matter.
“You… you should not get too close, Watanabe-san,” she finally managed to whisper. “I am ill, after all.”
Nari seemed to consider this, but a distant roar of a motor closing in broke their standstill. The tall, athletic girl released her grasp and smiled broadly. “Well, then, I’ll leave you now.” She smoothly picked up her laptop case and bowed. “I will email the notes to everyone,” Nari added proudly.
Shizuru could only smile and nod agreeably, blinking away an expression of relief.
The brunette’s rounded silhouette leaned over the table, the outline of her full breasts jutting from her chest provocatively in front of Natsuki’s face.
The rectangular image dropped from a man’s hand onto a picnic blanket that was spread evenly behind some shrubs and a low retaining wall. The black-haired young man, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and jeans, then handed a black digital camera to a short shadow behind him.
“What do you think?” the young man inquired of his small and hooded companion.
Two small hands turned the camera around to expose the LCD screen, the round shadow of a head obscuring it somewhat. A small finger poked at some buttons and an image of Nari with her hand on Shizuru’s forehead crawled onto the screen. Another shadow then appeared over the camera screen.
“I haven’t seen her before,” a woman’s low voice commented as the short shadow hovered above the screen. The two small hands responded by poking another button, this time summoning an image of Nari leaning forward with her hand on Shizuru’s face, Shizuru looking anxious.
The small hands then returned the camera to the young man; a boy’s voice muttered, “Keep an eye on this one.”