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.)
Natsuki sighed as she stared up at the hospital ceiling, a slit of sharp yellow escaping across it from the drawn curtains. She looked at the clock, which did nothing but increase her anxiety. I suppose that doctor will be visiting in the morning like he said he would.
The girl pulled herself into a sitting position and turned to inspect Shizuru. A light sheen of moisture and skin oils had accumulated on her friend’s face, so Natsuki slipped out of bed and into her slippers, and dutifully wiped her gently with a soft towel. Shizuru lay just as still and neatly “arranged” as she was last night. Natsuki felt a twinge of disappointment that those deep red eyes didn’t just flutter open and peer at her with a mischievous twinkle as she was just pretending to be asleep.
Of course, it’s ridiculous to think she’d be cured by this morning. Her fever was pretty high. Wonder if it went down… Natsuki hovered with uncertainty like a lost moth. Well, it’s not like I can really do much about it.
She retreated into the sink room, turned on the light, and kicked off her slippers to wash up and change into her clothes. She had not slept well that night in the creaky bed; not only was the setting absolutely perturbing, but she was paranoid with every toss and turn that her friend would wake from the incessant squeaking. Looks like that sedative is still at work. At least I can be grateful for that.
As she methodically pulled on her light blue hooded shirt, a pair of jeans, and socks, her mind wandered back to an unexpected conversation last night.
A low, muffled buzz permeated the room, vibrating Natsuki from her spiral of discomfort. She blinked and looked around for the source. ‘What the hell?’
It continued to buzz in intervals until she realized it was coming from Shizuru’s case, which she had placed beneath the table. Pulling out Shizuru’s cell phone, she inspected the screen: Kanzaki Reito.
‘Ah, he can just leave a… Unless it’s important… Wait, he doesn’t know what’s going on.’ The realization sent Natsuki into a flurry to answer the vibrating cell phone before it could stop.
“Yes, this is Shizuru’s phone. I thought you should know, though, that we’re in a hospital and she can’t speak right now.”
(“How is her condition, Kuga-san?”)
‘Weird, he doesn’t sound surprised at all…’ “Well, they’re running a test now but we won’t find out until the morning. She has a bad fever, but they gave her some sedative to help her sleep, and she’s on an I.V. Um… I’m sleeping over to keep an eye on her.”
(“I see. I’m glad you’re there, then.”) He sounded genuinely relieved. (“She looked awful at the meeting and then seriously took ill.”)
“Did she?” Natsuki frowned.
(“Yes. You didn’t notice or she didn’t tell you?”)
This deepened the girl’s scowl. ‘She looked a little pale when I went to pick her up, but it wasn’t until…’
(“No, I’m sorry. I did not mean to sound accusatory. Actually, I think you would be the last to know.”)
“What the hell does THAT mean?” Natsuki snapped defensively.
(“Well, naturally, when you care for someone a great deal and don’t wish for them to worry…”) ReitoÂ calmly answered and trailed off, waiting.
“…You do your best to cover up for that person. Right.” Natsuki heaved an aggravated sigh into the receiver. Of course she knew that frame of mind. Throughout her time with Shizuru, before the festival had gone too far, she had kept the fact that she was a HiME from her best friend. Of course Shizuru would worry. Of course it was natural. And Shizuru had done much the same.
(“And remember, I have probably been spending more time with Shizuru-san than you have lately.”) His easy-going manner oozed through the phone.
Natsuki conceded half-bitterly. “So was there something specific you wanted? Not that I can really help, but maybe when she wakes up…”
(“No. I was only going to ask a few clarifying questions, but we’ll manage fine. Don’t tell her I called if she asks, pleaseâ€”at least not until she’s well again.”)
“Mm. Will do. Good night.”
A light sound of shifting cloth caught Natsuki’s attention, and she leaned into the dim room.
The sandy brunette had slid one of her arms over her stomach, and Natsuki could barely make out the slits of dark eyes.
“Shizuru?” She leaned closer to her face, but the slits only blinked twice before quickly dropping closed. Natsuki sighed and plopped herself into a chair. Guess all I can do is wait.
Soon, there was a weird, tinny tune from the hall and a man’s voice she recognized as that of the old doctor. Kimura stopped just outside the door and talked to a woman before sliding the door open. The little gray-haired man motioned the nurse with the food cart into the room and slid the door closed. As the nurse opened the curtains, he looked Shizuru over and touched her shoulder. Natsuki only shook her head.
“I hoped the sedative would have worn off by now.” The doctor leaned over Shizuru and again tucked a thermometer into her armpit. “Since Shizuru-san probably cannot eat solids yet, I shall leave you with a share. This is not standard procedure, of course.”
“Ah, thanks.” Natsuki accepted the tray with covered bowls from the woman. “Maybe you could come back?”
“I cannot return until around lunch, and I would rather explain things myself. You can tell her if she wakes up, but I’ll return later.” He waved around a manilla envelope. “I have the blood test results here.”
“That little thing?” Natsuki grimaced. She could hardly believe all this trouble was over something as miniscule as a microscopic hole bored through the skin by a common insect, which by all accounts should have left no more than a centralized skin irritation the size of a 5-yen coin. At least she had already taken revenge on said offending insect, having mashed it into a leggy, wet pulp that particular night as she and her best friend enjoyed a beautiful sunset. Shizuru complained loudly about the nightmare-inducing mosquito guts on her neck for the rest of the trip, however.
How Natsuki wished her older friend would tease her right now.
“Yes, it was the mosquito bite. We wouldn’t have tested for it except that you mentioned your trip, and that pushed it into the realm of possibility. Japanese encephalitis doesn’t really occur in urban areas, after all, but… now we know for certain.”
“So… you said that was swelling of the brain?” Natsuki wanted to laugh hysterically; it felt quite surreal.
“Well, technically, Shizuru-san hasn’t reached the encephalitis stage of the disease, but I will tell you that the mortality rate in this case is probably well below 25%,” Kimura nodded. “There is a decent chance she won’t reach that stage at all. The small number of people who develop symptoms often appear to recover from influenza.”
“Oh, so that’s no problem.” Fantastic. All this worry and time for the flu.
“Well, there are possible complications,” the gray-haired man hesitated when he saw a flare light in Natsuki’s eyes. “Shizuru-san could get worse. If she does, we might see neurological problems that show actual encephalitis. As Yoko-san and I mentioned yesterday, she may retain problems for a very long time.”
Natsuki glowered blankly through the doctor before realizing that her inadvertent gaze was making him nervous. She quickly dropped her eyes onto Shizuru’s face. “…What kind of problems?”
The doctor sighed and scratched his scruffy head, suddenly appearing much older and more tired than Natsuki realized. “Those can range from personality changes to more serious brain damage, paralysis, intellectual disability…” If Natsuki had hackles, they would have been raised.
“I’m telling you this as a precaution, Kuga-san,” Kimura said evenly as he removed the thermometer, “and I will say the same to the Fujinos. There is nothing we can do but wait, make her as comfortable as possible, and watch for warning symptoms such as confusion and seizures. In this setting, we can treat symptoms as they arise and try to avoid complications with medications. We need to stay positive for Shizuru-san’s sake as well. I will go inform her family now.”
Natsuki dug through her bag for chopsticks though her appetite had been sufficiently demolished by the news. Kimura wanted Shizuru to stay for at least a week, where they would run tests every day. He had returned to inform Natsuki that the Fujinos wanted updates but would not send someone down for Shizuru just yet.
The dark-haired girl found this just a little odd. What kind of family does she have? I mean, Mai always pampers Takumi and would barely leave him to his own devices…
Still, her rebelling thoughts didn’t remain long on that particular issue. Instead, her head filled with various scenarios of Shizuru with neurological damage, in a wheelchair, or with a different personality as she mechanically comforted her loneliness with the tolerable hospital food.
Her unpleasant musings were interrupted by a deep inhale and exhale. She looked up with the last bite of rice filling her cheek. “Shzrru?”
Dark red slits blinked blurrily at her as she went into a mild frenzy; unable to chew properly and swallow, Natsuki spit her food into a napkin and moved closer to the bed.
“Are you awake now? How are you feeling?”
Shizuru had only a tired and glazed expression as her non-tubed hand crept up to her neck and flapped her sleepwear a bit. “Hot…” she mumbled. She stopped and turned her head back to Natsuki, sleepily inspecting her taut face and wide, green eyes.
“…Have we… met?”
Natsuki froze as every gear in her brain skidded to a halt.
Shizuru’s slender hand slowly reached up to Natsuki’s pale face and caressed her lower lip with a thumb. “Bad…” she whispered hoarsely, “…joke.” Her dry lips parted into a large grin, and she dissolved into weak giggling. The emerald eyes grew substantially wider and then blazed.
“IDIOT!” Natsuki yelled and leapt forward, directly on top of the hospital bed. Shizuru’s wine-red eyes watered as she held up her hands helplessly and begged for mercy.
“I…. f-forgive me…. Natsuki…. c-could not… resist…. ah,” she coughed and laughed.
Natsuki stood over Shizuru with both arms leaning on either side of her neck as though a motion away from throttling her. After a minute, Shizuru’s giggling had subsided, and she winced slightly at the soreness filling her body in the wake of retreating sedative. The younger girl had fixed a steely gaze down on her.
“Natsuki?” Shizuru tried to placate her friend with a smile. “I am sorrâ€””
With a smooth motion, Natsuki leaned down and slipped both arms around her. Shizuru’s head fell back as she felt herself being lifted from the bed and propped into a sitting position, her chin resting naturally on the shorter girl’s shoulder. As she pressed her face into the dark bluish hair and inhaled, she couldn’t help but shudder upon feeling the other girl’s firm warmth pressing through thin cloth. It smells just like Natsuki…
Neither spoke. Shizuru’s shallow breathing finally evened out, but she remained perfectly quiet and still in the unexpected embrace, afraid to break the spell despite her painâ€”such a rare opportunity it was. She felt Natsuki’s hand pressed firmly between her shoulder blades and her body expanding and deflating regularly with air.
“Um…” Shizuru whispered into Natsuki’s ear, eyes tightly closed, “I was waking up during… so I heard…” She breathed her friend’s long hair again. “I am sorry. That was inappropriate.”
“Damn right it was.” A hot hiss filled her own ear. Dizziness rattled around her head as Natsuki gently lowered her back into the bed. “But… I forgive you.”
“So,” Natsuki perched on the edge of the bed, her countenance finally relaxed, “did you hear everything?”
“Mm, just enough. And I did hear ‘wait and see.'”
“Then how are you feelingâ€”really?”
The red eyes quickly disappeared from sight as Shizuru tried to formulate an answer that wouldn’t worry her precious friend, but possible responses were evaporating too quickly from her hot head. Her brows began to knit together as she felt nausea slip into her senses. The sleep was nice…
Natsuki rolled her eyes at the pause. “Never mind. I’ll call a nurse or that doctor to give you more painkillers. Oh, by the way,” she sighed as she stood up, “Kimura-sensei already called your family, and they’re basically keeping track of this. I think they’re not sending someone down just yet because I’m here.”
A rather odd look crossed over the older girl’s faceâ€”all at once surprise, hurt, and relief. Natsuki mentally catalogued this. “That is fine,” Shizuru finally responded. “Please call Reito-san… and tell him that I will not be able to help with the council this week.”
Natsuki only nodded silently. Then her curiosity, which she had suppressed fairly well since meeting Kimura-sensei, got the better of her; it reared up, forcing her mouth open to release the question. “Uh, say… Shizuru, how is that doctor affiliated with your family?”
“Kimura-sensei?” Shizuru blinked and squinted at Natsuki’s hair, concentrating her attention as much as possible. “Mm, Kimura-sensei has been with the family since before I wasâ€”” She broke off into a shuddering yawn, quickly losing her train of thought.
Oh, then he’s been around them for a while, Natsuki thought to herself with some relief.
The sandy brunette stared groggily up at the ceiling for a moment and pursed her lips. “Something else… important.”
Shizuru squinted and paused before returning to Natsuki’s gaze. “Are you still studying?”
“Oh, come on! We haven’t been in the hospital that long.”
“How long… did Kimura-sensei want me to stay?”
“About a week…”
“Do you intend on staying?” Shizuru’s eyes narrowed as she gathered her will into a little ball, trying to prevent it from diffusing and allowing that half-sleep to overcome her.
“Of course!” Natsuki crossed her arms as though answering a challenge. “Someone has to make sure you’re resting properly.” And safe.
“If Natsuki wants me to rest properly… she should not make me worry, correct?”
“I…. uh…. what?” Her arms uncrossed as she leaned down with a quizzical expression.
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“This is not the proper environmentâ€””
Natsuki was moving to throttle the aggravating patient until a soft knock interrupted them.
The door slid open a crack. Two bright green eyes and two dark red eyes stared at the tuft of fiery orange hair that filled the crack in the doorway. The door slid further open to reveal a familiar face.
“Mai!” Natsuki scurried with an awkward grin to greet her.
Shizuru smiled sleepily, noting how Natsuki warmed up when her friendâ€”yes, her friendâ€”appeared. And to think she really attacked that girl last year.
“I brought some food and came to see how things are,” Mai smiled brilliantly when she spotted Shizuru’s half-open eyes. “I hope you’re feeling better, Fujino-san?”
Shizuru maintained her sleepy smile as Natsuki took a bag from Mai’s hand and set out a chair by the bed, opposite her own seat.
Mai sat and peered curiously at the face from which the smooth Kyoto accent flowed. She chuckled. “I’m so used to calling you ‘kaichou-san.’ Shizuru-san it is, then.”
“Mai-san.” The brunette managed a nod against the pillow. She finally released her smile and turned to the ceiling, tightly closing her eyes.
Natsuki frowned when she caught this. “Still no good?” A slight headshake was the only answer.
“Well, I just wanted to let you know my schedule,” Mai took out a slip of paper and handed it to Natsuki, “in case you need something.”
A mild banter crisscrossed the bed as Shizuru half-dozed under the weight of the oppressive heat flowing from her body. She wasn’t sure if they were discussing her condition, but left that to the discretion of her younger friend. Then an odd little idea formed amidst the haze. She opened her eyes a crack and frowned that her mild headache was worsening with the lights on. The more the medication wore off, the more lucid she became, but that was also nearly equally negated by increasing discomfort.
“Mai-san,” she interrupted quietly, eyes closed, “could you convince Natsuki to continue studying while I am here?”
Mai turned back to Natsuki with a raised brow. “Your pupil is being stubborn? Tsk tsk, Natsuki…”
“Hey!” dark brows gathered dangerously like a thundercloud. “Now is not the timeâ€””
“Now is the perfect time,” a firm whisper floated between the two younger girls.
Natsuki cocked her head, wondering if Shizuru was even aware she was talking. That manipulativeâ€”
“Weeeelll…” Mai breathed and clasped her hands together, her own face sobering in deep consideration. “Shizuru-san has worked so hard tutoring you. It would be a shame for that to go to waste.” Bubbles of vexation were practically popping off Natsuki’s head. “Shizuru-san must worry all the time about Natsuki’s academic misbehavior, right?”
A wicked little smirk began to form on Shizuru’s lips, much to Natsuki’s horror.
“That’s two reasons there, I think.” Mai winked at the dark-haired girl. “Waste and worry.”
“You littleâ€”taking sides!”
“Library,” another thick murmur floated between them.
“NO.” Two forearms crossed in an ‘X’ immediately rose to ward off this suggestion. “I’ll bring my books back here, but I’m not going to some smelly, quiet-as-a-coffin libâ€””
“Is that all right, Shizuru-san?” Mai turned a bubbly smile back to the patient on cue.
“Wonderful,” came the airy reply. “Thank you for your help.”
Natsuki’s delicate mouth remained hanging open mid-word. They… they tricked me!
Natsuki sped down the hallway with purpose, dropping the food tray on a cart and then making a beeline to the entrance. Her hair billowed in a deep navy cloud as she escaped the hospital’s threshold and captured a substantial lungful of crisp, morning air, which made her sinuses tingle. She exhaled slowly in relief.
Though she didn’t want to leave Shizuru’s room, she was grateful for the respite away from the hospital while Mai was visiting. Still, a part of her roiled that her short motorcycle trip back to their apartment involved retrieving books, of all things. Straddling her motorcycle and ignoring a few stares from passersby undoubtedly interested in her jeans in that position, she flipped open her cell phone.
“Hey, Kanzaki… Yeah, I’m okay. Well, I’m not sure if she’s doing better or not. Mai is visiting at the moment while I go to our apartment to get some stuff, but Shizuru wanted me to tell you that she can’t help with council matters this week… Yes, they want her to stay for about a week… Um, I don’t know if Shizuru would want me to tell you what it is,” Natsuki scratched her chin a little nervously. “Okay… I’m sure she’d appreciate that… Bye.”
Mai retrieved the used bento container and placed the new meals on the table. Acutely aware that Shizuru’s deep red eyes were following her around, Mai slowed her pace and finally settled back in her chair, turning to smile at the brunette.
Shizuru continued her soft gaze and upturned her lips slightly when Mai smiled at her. Otherwise, her expression was quite blank.
She must be pretty tired, Mai thought.
“Do I make you nervous, Mai-san?” Shizuru decided to fight the heat and pain for now.
Mai blinked. This was not what she expected as a conversation starter. “I wouldn’t say that, Shizuru-san.”
“Good. I am no longer the student council president.” Shizuru turned her face to the ceiling and closed her eyes again. “Thank you for taking care of Natsuki.”
“…Of course,” Mai replied gently. She watched the older girl rest. It was an unusual situation, seeing this young woman of power lying there. Moreover, with what she now knew from Natsuki, Mai itched to talk to Shizuru about their mutual friend, but she couldn’t form the proper words. Looking down at her hands, the orange-haired girl thought about her relationship with Tate Yuuichi. And I thought that was complicated…
She looked up and found that Shizuru had once again fixed her with a soft, red gaze. “How are you and Tate-kun doing, Mai-san? Reito-san told me… that you seem happy, and that is good.”
“I, ah,” Mai chuckled nervously as though she was found out, “we’re doing great, I think. We talk a lot more now ever since we first started dating formally this year. I hope Reito-san didn’t take it too badly…”
“No, he understood,” Shizuru smiled weakly. “I think that turned out for the best. Reito-san will surely find someone…”
Mai didn’t answer but peered at Shizuru with a curious expression.
“You knew that we were not a couple, surely, since… he expressed interest in you early on, yes?” A slight and knowing smirk appeared on the former president’s face.
Mai only nodded. She turned her gaze out to the window for a moment, contemplating how to talk to Shizuru about Natsuki. Well, it is their business. Maybe I’m just being nosy. But they could use a little help, right? Though maybe being meddlesome would make it worse. Uh, I’m not Chie, but… I think I’ll just wait and see if Natsuki talksâ€”
“Has Natsuki told you… about… us?”
Mai turned again to the soft, red gaze with mild surprise. Is she psychic? Yes, this woman must be psychic. No wonder she was the student president. “Yes, she did,” she said evenly with a small smile.
Shizuru measured the sparse answer on Mai’s face, then slowly turned back to the ceiling and closed her eyes again, this time deciding to keep them closed against the headache. “I am glad,” she whispered. “I realize… this was a burden to her. That means she trusts you. Please take care of her…” Knowing Natsuki, she did not tell Mai-san the whole story.
Mai narrowed her eyes slightly at this odd response. “Are you planning on leaving?”
“No.” The brunette hesitated before adding, “I assure you, this attraction is one-sided. That is why I request that youâ€””
“There’s no need to assure me of anything. Obviously, from the HiME festival, you two care about each other very much.”
So she knows at least that much. Shizuru pressed her lips together.
“I think both of you need to give each other a clear chance,” Mai continued, cringing slightly at the direct tone she inadvertently took. “Iâ€”I mean, Natsuki is obviously worried about you and realized that you’ve been… acting oddly towards her for some time now.” Great, now I’m just snowballing. Well, no stopping now. “And I know I don’t know you very well, Shizuru-san, butâ€””
“You do not… have a lower opinion of me, Mai-san?”
“…Why? You took care of Natsuki for a long time, haven’t you? And I believe Natsuki is better for it.” It was hard to miss the sincerity in the gentle reply. “Love is a miracle regardless of who it’s from, I think.”
She definitely does not know, Shizuru thought almost sadly to herself. “Mai-san, did Natsuki tell you… what happened to me? Why we died together?”
“Ah, th-that’s… She said that you had, err, a nervous breakdown of sorts because… she found out and… Don’t you think you should talk to Natsuki about this? That was my advice to her,” Mai lamely tried to save herself from the complicated conversation.
Shizuru remained silent. As much as she would have liked to tell Mai the whole truthâ€”as was her right since it was also her storyâ€”she was terrified of it herself. “Yes, that is good advice. Thank you, Mai-san,” she whispered instead, “for being a friend to Natsuki.”
“She helped me deal with the HiME festival,” the younger girl sighed and slouched in her seat. “I count Natsuki as one of my first friends at Fuuka as well.”
“Ah, yes. I am aware of how you two met.” Shizuru chuckled as though she could see Mai’s embarrassment. “And I can see now that you know how to handle her. Your ruse earlier was quite good.”
Mai snickered, happy the conversation had taken a lighter turn. “Oh, I’m sure you know more about this than I do, but Natsuki definitely requires a delicate touch. She’s so sensitive! But once you get to know her, she’s….”
“…An open book?” Shizuru offered. Both laughed at their shared insight.
“Ah-cheh!” Natsuki frowned and rubbed her nose. Is it dusty in here? She continued rooting around her half-messy room for books and notebooks. “Maybe I should bring her laptop, in case she wants it.”
Natsuki gingerly slid the door to Shizuru’s room open, calling softly with a smile, “I’m coming iiiin.” Their rooms were their last domains. It became an unspoken custom that, while each might enter each other’s rooms, those four walls were their private spaces. Natsuki rarely spent any time in Shizuru’s room and vice versa, often only entering to retrieve something if the other requested so.
Flipping the light switch, Natsuki exhaled slowly at the order of her best friend’s room. Books, papers, clothingâ€”everything was where it should be. The laptop sat neatly centered on the desk. Unplugging it and straightening the cords, Natsuki noted the photos lining the side of the bookshelf. Some contained groups with some student council members. A few more had Shizuru with Reito, and then all the rest contained only the two of them.
Natsuki fingered one particular photo that was obviously well-cared for. It sat in a plastic sleeve within a purple and blue origami paper frame, dangling from a little tack by a golden string away from direct light. From the flat surface stared a dark-haired girl dressed in a middle school uniform, her clear green eyes focused somewhat off to the side while her slightly pink cheeks puffed out with indignation; on her shoulders rested two slender hands. To an older girl wearing a different uniform belonged those hands. She had wavy, light brown hair just past her shoulders and bright but deep red eyes, gazing forward with a broad, happy smile. The side of her chin was resting against the side of the younger girl’s forehead, as though coaxing her to focus on the camera and not the ground. In the background, surrounding their heads like a shared nimbus, were fluffy pastel flowers.
A warm smile filled Natsuki’s face. It was their first photograph together, taken only a few days after the first day they had met in that garden. She always called it ‘our garden.’
“Why are we back here?” The younger girl sulked.
“You do not like being here?” A serene voice with a distinct Kyoto accent lilted by her ear, causing Natsuki to jerk away slightly.
“I wanted to show you some of the flowers.”
“Not really interested,” Natsuki clipped.
“But they are beautiful. You do not hate them so much now, do you?”
“You’re too soft. They’re just a bunch of flowers. Why should they be loved just for that?”
“Is that what you think? Let me show you something…” The older girl with light brown hair motioned the underclassman to a low retaining wall. “What is this?”
Natsuki scowled and crouched. “It’s a little white flower.”
“Where is it growing?”
“What?” the younger girl scoffed. “In the ground, of course. Is this a riddle?”
“No.” Shizuru smiled patiently. “Look at its surroundings.”
“A wall…. a rock… the sidewalk…” Natsuki finally sighed and flipped her long hair with a hand. “I don’t understand what you’re trying to say.”
Another patient smile lit up the brunette’s face. “The sun comes from the east and sets in the west. A normal seed would be planted so it could catch either of these directions, but not so this one. See, this little flower is trapped between this wall,” she tapped the brick with a fine finger, “and this large rock. Before it is unyielding cement. Once planted, the seed cannot be moved. It is alone, away from its siblings, receives no natural sun, and rain reaches it only through this small hole. It is unlucky, is it not?”
Natsuki was silent as her green eyes studied the dwarfed white flower in its shady corner. Her young heart felt a pang. ‘…Unlucky… huh.’
“But you know,” Shizuru whispered and leaned closer, “I think this flower is incredibly beautiful. Do you know why?”
Natsuki’s eyes widened slightly as she turned and saw that Shizuru’s face was nearly touching hers. She could feel her senior’s warm breath brush her mouth and chin.
“Because it is trying so very hard, Natsuki. Despite all odds, it is struggling with all its young might. Its duty, all its ability is thrown towards growing as a flower does. It has a hard existence; howeverâ€”noâ€”therefore, it is so beautiful. And Natsuki… Natsuki is trying so very hard as well, is she not?”
Something cracked in that tender heart with its many eggshell-strong walls. The young mind didn’t fully comprehend what the older girl was saying, but something clicked enough that hot tears began to slide down those cheeks. Frowning deeper, the girl trembled and tried to twist away from the sudden grip she found herself in. Within moments, the torrent came unabated. The brunette closed her eyes and firmly hugged the youth from behind as she wept, crouched beside a single small, white flower.
The very next day, Shizuru had taken Natsuki yet again to that garden. She didn’t hate it so much that time, and the class representative even managed to coax the young Natsuki into a photograph with herâ€”something about remembering their first meeting. Now the older Natsuki stood before this little photo with a faint gleam in her eye. She flipped it in her hand out of curiosity and raised a brow. A negative, huh…
Natsuki exhaled again and looked around, drinking in all that was Shizuru in the small room. A tuft of fur on the bed caught her eye, and a grin erupted on her face as she walked towards it. I think she’ll appreciate this.
“And that’s why we think this is a good plan,” Mai concluded proudly with her arms crossed.
Natsuki stared up at her from her seat beside the bed and then back to Shizuru. “You just decided this behind my back? That’s unfair!”
“But it’s for your own goodâ€”” Mai tried to reason.
“I don’t want to.”
“Natsuki doesn’t like us.” Mai turned a sad face to Shizuru, who was smirking slightly.
“Natsuki… I know you would hate… being trapped in this cramped room for the entire day. Please do this for me? It is only two hours… and I want you to eat well… fresh air…” Shizuru swallowed and pressed her hand over her mouth. Both the younger girls moved forward with worry, but she soon waved them off. “Please?”
“O-okay,” Natsuki slumped in utter defeat. “I’ll go to lunch with Mai and the others for two hours every day. And then I’m coming right back!”
“You can pay for groceries so I can cook for you guys, if you like. Maybe you think that will be more fair?” Mai leaned forward and smiled at her stubborn friend.
“Fine, fine.” Though Natsuki replied with an air of nonchalance at the suggestion, she appreciated the opportunity to maintain equity in her relationships.
A knock on the door caught their attention, and the gray-haired doctor shuffled in with a smile.
“I’ll be going now.” Mai grinned to both of them and then pointed at the dark-haired one. “Tomorrow, Natsuki.”
“Fine,” she groaned but inwardly smiled.
Kimura-sensei proceeded to explain things to Shizuru while taking her temperature and checking her other vitals. She seemed exhausted from the visit with Mai, however, and only managed to nod and shake her head in response.
“Shizuru-san, your temperature has not changed much, so we will put you on a slightly different medication schedule. This will include light sedation for a few days to make you more comfortable.” He thoughtfully flipped through sheets of paper in a clipboard.
Natsuki furrowed her eyebrows with worry and grasped her friend’s hand.
“I will begin now, but is there anything you want or need while you are lucid?”
“Wait a minute,” Natsuki interrupted. Leaning down to the massive bag she had dragged back from their apartment, she pulled out a little plush toy of an Akita-like puppy.
Shizuru broke into a joyful grin and held out her hands as eagerly as she could. With the dog safely in her arms, she looked back to the doctor. “I am ready.”
Within minutes, Shizuru was in a gentle slumber, and the doctor had gone off on his other rounds. Alone again, but not so anxious, Natsuki patted her arm before stacking her books onto the table.
Do you know, Shizuru? You became my sun. I’ll do my best.