Disclaimer: Mai-HiME owned by Sunrise, except the characters that aren’t.
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A very annoying man grunted energetically into Natsuki’s ear, trying to prick the girl’s interest in the weather and local events. Hissing irritably, she reached over with outstretched palm and smacked him hard on the top of his flat skull, effectively silencing him.
“Stupid radio alarm.”
Rolling onto her back and unintentionally twining her already horribly twisted bed sheet around her legs, Natsuki arched and forcibly stretched, releasing a squeaky grunt in the process. Suddenly, she noticed the sound of frying in the kitchen. She rubbed her eyes and tumbled off the bed, grumbling while extracting herself from the net of twisted sheet.
Both the aroma of food and sound of cooking increased dramatically when she opened her door. Plodding to the kitchen, she released her habitual warning growl of sorts.
“Good morning, Natsuki,” came a very cheerful reply. “The miso and eggs are ready as well as your toast. The jam is also out on the table.”
The pleasant smell of fresh food was as thick as Shizuru’s warm Kyoto accent. The disheveled Natsuki pondered sleepily how that was possible when the food was actually quite simple. The curiosity of how Shizuru always had impeccable breakfast timing only managed to form halfway before Natsuki yawned it off.
“Natsuki?” Shizuru turned to peer at her younger friend who was still grumbling. After a moment, Natsuki stopped and realized Shizuru was staring with an obviously muted smile—a stare that lengthened and caused Natsuki to narrow her clouded, green eyes in suspicion. She rubbed her face while her eyes darted anywhere where a source of amusement might hide. After removing the small frying pan from the stove, Shizuru finally grinned and pointed to Natsuki’s other hand.
“Again, pillows should not be fed.”
Natsuki looked down and realized she was clutching her oversized pillow much as a lost child would. Blushing, she stomped back to her room to hurl the thing onto her bed and grabbed her robe along the way.
Shizuru’s rich laughter pursued all the while.
Since Shizuru had asked her to refrain from consuming mayonnaise for at least one meal a day, Natsuki had finally gotten used to foregoing the stuff on her egg for breakfast. The decision to sacrifice this meal, however, came about when the former student president publicly begged and hugged Natsuki from behind, forcing an embarrassed acquiescence. Shizuru later commented that she should have bargained for two meals, which earned her only a deadly glare.
After throwing open the curtains to allow the cool, morning sun to filter in, Shizuru seated herself opposite Natsuki’s bowl of miso and plate of toast and fried egg and meticulously placed her own bowls of miso and rice beside a small plate of fried egg. Though the setup might have been missing a few customary items like tsukemono, the older girl was hardly one to eschew simplicity. She merely responded to such situations with increased elegance. Natsuki poked at the perfectly centered yolk of the perfectly fried and circular egg.
“I’d ask how you did this, but it seems… unnatural.”
“Nonsense,” Shizuru winked. “You are to meet Mai-san today, correct? My meeting should end at 13:00, in time for a snack at our ice cream shoppe. Would you prefer to wait for me outside the building, or will I find you at her apartment?”
“I still don’t understand why you have all these student council meetings when a bunch of you are graduated now. Just what sort of loose ends are there to tie up that the new council can’t manage?” Natsuki washed down her jam-laden toast with milk. Shizuru didn’t answer, calmly closing her eyes and sipping green tea to settle the meal. Natsuki gave a sidelong glance at her face and deftly noted that her face was a little pale. She sighed.
“I’ll wait at the main building. By the way… did you sleep well enough last night?”
After surfing for a while and helping Shizuru with the dishes, both wandered to the living space to settle down for a quietly productive night. The older girl stacked two large pillows on one end of the sofa and curled up with a book while Natsuki settled down to study at the low table, her back to the sofa’s seat. She had discovered that having Shizuru in the room, even if inattentive, helped her concentration a bit in that unfamiliar and uncomfortable silence. Of course, this was far more useful when Natsuki was struggling through literature or language material out of sheer boredom. An hour passed without incident, the light shuffling of paper or shifting of clothing the only indoor sounds.
“Hey, Shizuru, what do you think about—” Natsuki turned her head back towards the couch, expecting to see two burgundy eyes attentively on her, but immediately stopped her inquiry.
“Restful” would not adequately describe the truly tranquil expression on Shizuru’s face. Her eyelids quivered slightly, suggesting a deep sleep, and her body appeared completely lax and almost sunken into the soft couch except her upper torso, which was supported by two fluffy pillows. Her fingers were limp around the cover of her book, which was splayed on her chest in an uneven V-shape. The nearby lamp haloed her sandy head with a warm, yellow incandescence.
‘…She must have been really tired,’ Natsuki noted the slight pallor of her friend’s lips and face. She pulled a zabuton to the end of the couch and knelt, considering what to do. Wincing inwardly, she gingerly lifted a wrist and gently set the hand lower on Shizuru’s stomach; she did the same with the other hand and placed the book aside. The dark-haired girl then knelt on the zabuton for a little while, watching her friend’s chest slowly rise and fall, and considered what to do. She finally sighed.
‘It’s pretty early. If she sleeps now, her schedule will be all off. Miss Always-Just-On-Time… Guess I’ll wake her up for now…’ She gently shook the girl’s shoulder, but Shizuru did not stir. She tried again with a little more force.
‘…What the heck?’
“Natsuki?” Shizuru had set her tea cup down and was mirroring Natsuki’s unintended stare. Suddenly, she stood up and leaned forward, placing the slightly open neck of her blouse right into the younger girl’s line of sight, causing Natsuki to jerk to attention. “You should not stare at a woman’s throat so attentively, Natsuki. She might get the wrong idea.”
“Nn–idiot!” She shot up in her chair to glare directly into Shizuru’s twinkling eyes, but stopped herself midway. The brunette blinked.
“What is wrong?”
“You don’t remember last night?”
“Hmm. I think I remember you helped me to bed… I was a little dizzy.”
“Yes, and you still look tired.”
“I feel better. Your point is?”
Natsuki narrowed her eyes. “Are you sure you’re feeling better? I had to half-carry you to your bed! Say, do you have a fever?” She reached up to Shizuru’s face, who leaned back from the table on cue.
“I took some medication this morning,” she began to stack the dishes, “and I’m handing over some important documents today at the meeting…”
“—So you can’t miss it. Right,” Natsuki didn’t bother to hide her sarcasm.
“But that Natsuki is worried about my health truly fills my heart,” came an immediate and light reply. Shizuru finished stacking the dishes and emitted a rather happy sigh while carrying them to the kitchen. “Ah, I am so fortunate.”
The head of long, dark hair bowed in defeat. “Just one thing.”
“Yes?” Shizuru called from the kitchen.
“Since I can’t stop you from going to your meeting, we’re coming home right after it, on time, and you’re not going out tomorrow at least. Take some medicine.”
“Yes, yes…” Shizuru merely raised her brows slightly and smiled inwardly, having summoned certain vivid memories of the previous night, though she would never confide this in Natsuki—unless she wanted to impart a permanent red glaze over her friend’s face.
She remembered the pleasant sensation of falling into slumber on the plush sofa and then the rather irritating sensation of someone shaking her rather violently by the shoulders. She remembered the buzz of sleep and nausea clouding her senses as she struggled to wake and then the image of Natsuki’s worried eyes floating above her face. She remembered her head pounding and the sore feeling that shuddered from her body in waves and then Natsuki pulling her from the couch to her bedroom. She remembered the scent of Natsuki’s hair and the dully arousing sensation of being pressed to the girl’s side, her arm slung over her shoulders. She remembered saying something to the shorter girl to soothe that pained expression, how her illness had nothing to do with Natsuki’s cooking.
She remembered cool water, foreign hands helping her out of clothing and brushing across her skin, two pills, soft bed sheets, a hand on her face, and feeling the other girl’s breath as she leaned close to her face… and then shooing Natsuki away to her own bedroom. A faint smile tugged at her face. I am always the one taking care of her since I cannot…
When Shizuru awoke this morning, she felt little better than the night before. Head pounding, she struggled to roll out of bed. 07:24… plenty of time. Fighting off the dizziness that complicated her headache, she slowly made her way to the bathroom by leaning against the wall. Natsuki’s door was closed. Carefully closing the bathroom door, Shizuru groaned and frowned. Medicine… what medicine do I take?
“Remember!” Natsuki yelled from her motorcycle.
“Yes, yes,” came the standard smile and nod. “I shall be on time.”
“And you,” the helmet, its open visor revealing only two bright green irises, turned to a young man with neat, black hair and dressed in an equally neat black suit, “don’t let things get out of hand.”
“Well, it’s just an informal meeting. I am sure it will be fairly uneventful.” His mellow answer matched an equally mellow facial expression, and though he stood completely straight and still, his aura was quite relaxed.
Natsuki shot him a very narrow, slicing stare. “Kanzaki.”
“Yes, yes, I mean to say, I’m sure it won’t go too long, and if it does, Shizuru-san doesn’t need to stay,” he held up his hands to show surrender and smiled warmly. “Now, then, I shall escort my charge without further ado.” He bowed magnificently.
Natsuki scoffed in derision and sped off to hit a grocery store before going to Mai’s apartment. It was another cooking session. Shizuru smiled and waved happily at the rapidly retreating motorcycle.
Reito turned to Shizuru when Natsuki had disappeared around the bend. “But are you sure you’re feeling up to this? You could always leave the papers with me.” Do you trust me?
“The information on these papers are not annotated, and I would still need to explain them anyway. I prefer to give Kikukawa-san as much information as possible, including undocumented items. We cannot postpone the meeting as our schedule is booked for the next week before classes resume, and attempting to change times on our corporate partners is unwise. Also, I took some medication, so I feel fine for the time being.” It is not that at all.
His gray-brown eyes watched Shizuru from the side. “Kuga-san looked genuinely concerned, and you don’t look entirely well. We should finish it as quickly as possible. All of your accounts should be brought forward first. I can postpone my own information… What medication did you take?” You needn’t put up such a show.
“It feels somewhat like the flu, though the timing is odd. The medication has helped a little, but I do intend on going home immediately after this.” Musing thoughtfully, she smiled and slid her arm around his. “Reito-san has been working very hard of late. Perhaps he should look after himself as well.”
To this, he was silent as they walked down the broad sidewalk. Shizuru allowed her eyes to wander over the blossoms waving at her from the ground.
“…Repairing what he did will take far more work,” he finally murmured at length, staring straight ahead.
“It was hardly your fault.” She didn’t look up from the passing blooms.
“But the responsibility of the damage still falls somewhere, must it not?”
Reito blinked. He had simply walked into the blunder without realizing it. “I did not mean,” stressing his backpedal, “the damage you did while in your state. You know I meant the conductor, the puppet master—damage both physical and psychological.”
“Oh, ‘my state’, was it?” she chuckled softly, recalling the number of buildings throughout the campus that she and Kiyohime battered, not even including the cost in human life and limb. The former student council vice-president did not miss the sad bite in her tone and pressed his hand over hers.
“Regardless, we must press forward. And we all have our senses returned, yes? Let’s get some good work done here while we can and return to the path of life. This was the gamble the Crystal Princess made, and we are here now. We owe her and those who suffered that much.”
“My, that sounded rehearsed, Reito-san.”
Shizuru burst out laughing but faded it quickly, as moving too much made her body sore. She sighed.
“Are you feeling all right?” Reito slowed their stroll.
“Fine, thank y–”
“Fujino-san!” a bright voice shouted from behind them. The sound of loudly clopping shoes increased dangerously.
“Her timing is impeccable,” Reito muttered good-naturedly.
“Ah. Watanabe-san, good morning,” Shizuru nodded when a girl swept up to her elbow. The girl had shoulder-length, dark reddish-brown hair and light gray eyes that reflected the weather. By all appearances, she was fairly athletic, and her height probably gave her an advantage in such things.
“Good morning, Nari-san,” Reito offered a sunny greeting that would normally floor his usual entourage of fans but was rewarded with only a cursory nod. He shrugged and reverted to their usual standoffish relationship. “Watanabe-san, I trust you brought all the recorded minutes we need?”
“Of course,” the girl replied coolly from Shizuru’s other side. There was no mistaking her exploitation of physical proximity with the famed former student president; the other Shizuru fans often hung off Nari when the object of their attentions was not present, hoping to glean more gossip from her status as student council affairs historian.
“Well, let us enter before Suzushiro-san increases her blood pressure,” Shizuru smiled mildly to no one in particular, and the three marched through the main building’s doors. “There is much to do.”