Disclaimer: Mai-HiME owned by Sunrise, except the characters that aren’t.
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Her own auburn hair was a tad too wiry, cloud-gray eyes a tad too light, pale skin a tad too oily. Her lips were a bit too thin, fingers a bit too thick, and feet a bit too large. Nari crossed her arms in distracted contemplation as she peered at a spot above her shoulder within the mirror. She shrugged slightly.
Ah, so flawed and average.
Such words could not adhere to her idol’s figure, however. No, Fujino Shizuru was perfection. Of course, there are many kinds of perfection, but many like Nari noticed hers alone. A tight discomfort pressed up against her ribcage as those self-critical thoughts to which she was unaccustomed flapped awkwardly against the mirror. Frowning slightly, which caused the layer of lather on her face to pucker, Nari straightened out her shoulders and cast a cool glance of admonishment at her own reflection. This effectively steered her fancy back to that person.
The lightest gold-tinted brown…
She rinsed the lather off her face and patted dry with a towel. Taking a brush to her head, Nari counted the times she observed the student council president’s furtive attention cast upon a female form, then deftly removed and capturing everyone’s consciousness with a few, splendidly accented words. Oh, Nari was fully aware of Shizuru’s glances around the girl’s locker room and the veiled encouragement to young fans to help with the suntan lotion.
A real woman’s body.
After all, Nari was much the same way in the former manner, though she lacked the built-in fan base for the latter. Her suspicions were heightened after observing how Shizuru behaved around the handsome boys—formally, her eyes never leaving theirs to any other part of their bodies.
Ah… Nari had thought when she accumulated these details into a conclusion. Are you like me?
She pulled a band over her head, securing it behind her ears to keep shoulder-length hair out of her eyes. As her hand slid down her face to release the band, however, she stopped, suddenly remembering another time where her hand was in a similar position, and pursed her lips as a memory of the shrouded shock on Shizuru’s face surfaced. Her pinky tapped lightly against her own face as she recalled feeling the girl’s pulse under her finger. Rolling that image of Shizuru’s face around in her mind, Nari felt an unpleasant twinge of doubt.
She sighed and brushed it off, then picked up a cream to apply to her skin.
It was not an earth-shattering realization, Nari decided, whenever her consciousness had registered her own sexuality. She was aloof even before she understood what puberty was. Of course, her family’s frequent shuffling about the country and even overseas due to her father’s work prevented her from placing too many social anchors.
Nari had decided upon enrolling at the Fuuka academy to simply follow her same routine and shun both boys and girls, concentrating on her hobbies. Of course, she had not counted on seeing Shizuru back then.
She had not counted on the otherwise mere class representative running for the highest seat of student body president, thereby placing her image around the most public points of the school grounds. She had not counted on catching snatches of that girl’s rich Kyoto accent wrapped around intensely sage speech. No, Nari had not counted on her father permanently settling in this particular city, either.
Above all, she had not counted on Fujino Shizuru worming her existence every which way through the crevices of her wakefulness and installing herself firmly under her skin, provoking her deepest wants and needs at the most inopportune times.
I would have been perfectly happy if I had never seen you.
And yet, despite her own misgivings, Nari had sought to join the student council as well just to satiate the unfamiliar feeling of longing. Pausing with towel in hand, the sigh she was about to release became a grunt when her cell phone interrupted.
(“Hello, Watanabe-san. This is Kikukawa.”)
“Ah, hello,” Nari built up her false brightness, “how may I help you?”
(“Actually, I was wondering if you were busy today…”)
“…No. Do you need something?” A flash of Shizuru’s appreciative smile rippled across Nari’s mind and vanished just as quickly.
(“Is it, ah, possible for you to make it to today’s meeting?”)
“Is it Sato-san?” Nari sighed inwardly. Honestly, that girl is nice but not so dependable.
(“Ah, yes… Is that possible?”)
Nari frowned slightly at the diffidence in Yukino’s voice but quickly halted the feeling of disdain when she imagined Shizuru’s sparkling eyes. “Yes, I can make it.”
(“Wonderful! There’s something else. Would you please bring an advance copy of the transcript of Tuesday’s meeting for our review? We need only the agent’s section.”)
“Of course. I can also forward it to everyone this morning, if you like.”
(“Thank you, but that’s unnecessary. We have half an hour after the meeting commences until the representative arrives, which is plenty of time for review, so we can just hand out copies then.”)
“Ah, then I can give one to Fujino-san since she won’t be at the meeting,” Nari commented more for her own benefit than Yukino’s; the idea of being able to catch a glimpse of the girl with just a petty errand was still too good to refuse. “I’m sure she wants to be kept up-to-date.”
(“…I don’t think that’s possible. I will bring her a copy and the notes later this week myself. I’m sure she would have appreciated it, though.”)
“Why? Has she gone on a trip?” Nari straightened up, trying to sound nonchalant despite the disappointment and curiosity.
(“Well… Fujino-san is in the hospital.”)
“Excuse me, Watanabe-san. May I speak with you?”
“Of course!” Nari spun to her side upon recognizing the lilting Kyoto accent and immediately brightened.
“Actually, I have a favor to ask.” Shizuru stood before her like a wavering pillar of light in the cold, her gloved hands clasped together around the handle of her kaban book bag.
“Yes?” ‘Anything–anything at all.’
“Let us find somewhere to sit and talk, shall we?”
After moving away to a less busy area of the campus, they settled on a bench. Nari’s heart pounded in her ears, for to be this close to her idol in private was a rare thing indeed. As the student president sat down, the small space of air her coat displaced flit by Nari’s face; she secretly inhaled Shizuru’s scent.
“Kaichou-sama wishes for a favor?” Nari ventured.
“Ah, that is it,” Shizuru smiled pleasantly. “You need not use ‘sama’. Kaichou-san or even Fujino-san is fine.”
The tall, auburn-haired girl hesitated and turned off to the side momentarily, nonplussed by the unexpected request. ‘Could she mean…?’
“Please do not misunderstand,” the gentle voice added. “I would merely like to move away from the formal address.”
“Why?” Nari turned back and blurted, immediately regretting her brashness.
But Shizuru seemed to have expected the reaction and continued smiling. “I ask you this in private also because I hope you can spread my request to the others? I am aware that you are somewhat in higher standing among my… admirers, if you will–and I do appreciate the attention you have accorded me, earned or otherwise.”
“If… if that is what you wish. But why do you ask this now?” the girl blinked, baffled. “After all, you could wait until you have graduated…”
“I would like to begin distancing myself from my seat. I am fully aware of the strong loyalty some students have, but I sincerely hope that loyalty will transfer in full to the next president when I leave.”
The underclassman thought about this and seemed to come to a realization. “Is this why you, ah, have not been seen in the usual public gathering spots lately?” ‘Damn it, that made me sound like I always take notice of her movements.’
“That is indeed true. Thank you for understanding.” The president’s tone remained ever soft.
“I wonder who will succeed you…”
“That is under some discussion,” Shizuru smiled knowingly.
Nari sighed, still unconvinced. “If you insist, I’ll do as you ask to the best of my abilities, but I suspect many may… forget. Such habits are hard to break, I think.” ‘And some will simply ignore it, I guess.’
“I insist,” the brunette leaned forward to stand and bow. “Thank you for your efforts, Watanabe-san.”
Another beaming look solidified Nari’s resolve to do what the girl asked, even if she neither understood nor liked it.
(“I had bumped into Yoko-sensei, and she mentioned only that Fujino-san is recovering at the hospital, so I think it’s best if we don’t stress her with these matters.”)
“Of course,” Nari agreed with sincerity. Her hand tightened around the small cell phone. “Um… Do you know which hospital?”
After drifting at the edge of consciousness for what seemed an eternity, Shizuru found herself gazing sleepily at the nearly in-focus ceiling, barely noticing the environment until her field of vision was eclipsed by a navy blue roundness and a pair of green discs.
“Ah, I was wondering when you were going to really wake up. Kimura-sensei said your fever was starting to go down, so they stopped the sedative last night.”
“Natsuki?” Shizuru frowned and coughed through the thick hoarseness in her throat. A moment passed before she managed to croak, “…Time?”
“You’ve been asleep for days, and that’s your first comment? Yet I’m not surprised.”
Another round object, this time orange-red, eclipsed the other side of Shizuru’s field of vision.
“But isn’t it a good sign that Shizuru-san reacts like she should? Ah, and it’s about 11:00,” a cheerful voice pushed Natsuki’s grouchiness away.
“Mai-san,” the supine girl murmured to the ceiling but quickly turned back to the dark blue shadow. “Days?”
Natsuki’s face came into focus and chuckled a bit. “Um, it’s Wednesday–but don’t worry about it! Everything is under control. Kanzaki is handling the council, I’m doing fine, and as you can see, Mai is also helping out. Right?”
Shizuru saw a bit of orange sphere bob energetically and smiled. “I was not worried.”
“Oh, really–” a snide reply began to sneak out of Natsuki’s mouth but was cut short by a soft tap at the door. “Come in.”
A prim-looking woman in a nurse uniform slid into the room and bowed stiffly. A second later, however, a bright and carefree smile erupted below her light blonde hair and thin wire glasses. “I see our patient is awake this morning.”
“Ah, Azami-san. You’re early today,” Natsuki smiled.
Shizuru turned up a brow at the casual way Natsuki spoke. She made friends with a nurse? How unlikely.
“Well, we thought the sedative would wear off by now, and I wanted to check in and see if Fujino-san needed anything,” the woman’s musical voice bounced happily over the bed. Then leaning forward directly, she bubbled, “Does Fujino-san need anything at all? Drink, food, a bath, a phone, something to read…”
And to make friends with this kind of person, Shizuru blinked incredulously.
“Oh! Where are my manners? Though I have helped take care of you for the past few days, we still have not met. My name is Okada Azami, and you are Fujino Shizuru. Pleased to meet you.”
“Y-yes… Azami-san,” Shizuru managed to overcome her surprise and reply. “Pleased to meet you. You helped… take care of me?”
“Oh, yes. Kimura-sensei thought your friend needed some help, so he has kept me as the nurse on reserve for your service. I have been helping her take care of you when she was out or at night, especially with the sponge bathing since I am trained and experienced.” The blonde flashed a grin.
At this, Shizuru turned a light smirk to Natsuki, who was blushing furiously. With a slightly embarrassed look, the fiery-haired girl patted Natsuki on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. Most people aren’t so experienced in this. I’m an exception. I did offer to help, you know–”
“Yes, well,” Natsuki coughed irritably into her fist, “be that as it may, now that Shizuru is awake, I can do all right by myself. Maybe I shouldn’t go to lunch with you today, Mai…”
“I can understand that.”
“No,” Shizuru mumbled.
“What about me?” the nurse crossed her arms sullenly. “I’d like to do my job, and Fujino-san needs to be taken care of. Now, shoo!”
“A-ah, Azami-san–” Natsuki stammered helplessly.
Light laughter washed over the chatter and all three turned to Shizuru in the bed.
“I… It is fine, Natsuki. Please go with Mai. Azami-san can take care of me. Please?” For you to see me like this… She noted how the soft lips began to twist into the rebellious girl’s signature scowl. I wish you would not do that. It does not suit your beauty. “Unless you wish to help Azami-san bathe me…” A wicked yet genuine smile graced Shizuru’s own face at the thought. “Ahh, a dream come tr–”
“Okay, I’m hungry anyway,” Natsuki closed the curtains before grabbing Mai’s arm and marching to the door. “I’ll be back on time, and we can talk then. If you want something to read, I left your mail on the table corner by your bed.” Mai squeaked as she was shoved past the threshold; the blue-haired girl then tilted her head back into the room. “On time.”
“Yes, yes,” both Azami and Shizuru chanted.
She tiredly reveled in the cool, wet sensation being rubbed over her chest and stomach. Closing her eyes, Shizuru had allowed the nurse to remove the hospital gown and lift her arm to gently massage away a day’s worth of skin oils and sweat with a soft towel dampened in a water and ethanol mixture. Azami would both wipe and massage with the towel, easing muscles sore due to being recumbent for so long. The moisture left by the cloth evaporated easily and cooled Shizuru further. She sighed in relief as Azami gently turned her over into the clean bed linens and began massaging and cleansing her back.
“Better?” the musical voice dripped over her shoulder.
“Yes. Thank you.”
“I told you so.”
Shizuru chuckled while lying on her stomach. Indeed, although she managed to chase Natsuki and Mai away, she was hesitant to allow the nurse to touch her, though she wasn’t lucid enough to discern why. The thought of simply waiting until she was strong enough to bathe herself did occur, but after a bit of convincing, Azami managed to get the girl out of the gown, off the bed (and onto Natsuki’s) to change the sheets, and bathed.
“After all, I had helped nearly every night since you’ve been here, so there’s no need to be shy about it now,” Azami spoke lightly and concentrated on Shizuru’s back. A soft grunt was the only answer, and the light blonde smiled that the younger girl’s eyes were closed.
Her own green-tinged hazel eyes then drifted to the table’s corner, noting the stack of mail and, in particular, the light blue corner of an envelope peeking from the paper pile. Returning her attention to the girl before her, Azami continued cleansing and massaging down Shizuru’s body.
How ironic, the would-be nurse smirked inwardly, that I know your body more intimately than those two ever would–as is proper. Ah, he in particular must be jealous. Her lips twitched upwards in a reflexive smile. Of course, I won’t hold that against him. Who could blame him, after all? You do have a remarkable body… Fujino Shizuru-san. But just what kind of person are you? I really have only one side of the story. I don’t know you at all. Such a mystery you are.
Working her way down to Shizuru’s feet, Azami began to turn the girl over, but was met with a resistant murmur. “You want to stay on your side?” The brunette nodded. “That’s understandable after being on your back for days, I suppose.” After tucking Shizuru into a comfortable position on her side and ensuring the I.V. line was out of the way, Azami resumed cleaning her feet.
Well, that might be remedied soon, Shizuru-san.
Pulling the sheet over the girl, she gently squeezed Shizuru’s shoulder to see if she was awake. Wine-red eyes soon opened and brightened when the patient saw Du-chan being waved in front of her face.
“Thank you, Azami-san,” Shizuru smiled and returned the stuffed puppy to her chest. “That was very refreshing.”
“Of course. Would you like to try to eat or drink something?”
“Ah… Now that you mention it, I am a little thirsty.”
Azami helped her into a sitting position. “White miso is light fare. And I don’t mean to brag, but the food in this hospital is actually fairly good. You do not need to finish the bowl, however; we just need to test your appetite. Kimura-sensei will be in later to run some tests.”
After helping Shizuru settle back after the light meal, Azami quietly vacated and strode down the hall to the public restroom, whereupon she changed into a nondescript skirt and shirt. Stuffing the uniform into her bag, she casually wandered to the entrance, leveling a sharp eye and slight nod to Kimura-sensei, who otherwise walked purposefully down the hall without slowing his pace. Nearing the entrance, Azami realized she had forgotten to open the curtains and giggled inadvertently as she pulled her cell phone from her bag.
“Let me see.”
“Giving you the binoculars is not going to change that,” Kosei muttered as he pulled slightly away from the boy’s reaching hand.
“Maybe Azami is still helping.”
After a moment, both heaved bored sighs.
“When is she going to get better?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
Another lengthy moment passed, and Yukio began to prod the young man in shameless impatience.
“Stop it,” Kosei hissed. Mercifully, he felt his cell phone vibrate in his pocket and finally shoved the binoculars into eager young hands. “Fine, it’s your turn.”
Padding quietly across the empty room that was conveniently located across the road from Shizuru’s hospital window, Kosei flipped it open to see that a text message was waiting for him.
Seems better. Was awake this time. Letter received but unopened. Sorry, forgot curtains. m(_ _)m
Snorting, Kosei snapped it shut and smirked as he stalked back to the boy’s side.
“Well,” Kosei shook Yukio out of his concentration, “you can stop that for now. Azami-san forgot about the curtains and is on her way back now.”
Yukio groaned and dropped the binoculars. “She could have told us first.”
“That wouldn’t be the same as ‘forgetting’. Anyway,” he hesitated, “she also told me that she got the letter but hasn’t read it yet.”
The dark eyes seemed to brighten a bit, and the boy leaned his light, tawny head back to peer up at the much taller man.
“But there’s something I need to tell you.”
“About the letter…”
The door slowly slid open, and Natsuki peered through the room with one eye at the crack. Left already, huh. And she’s asleep again. Damn…
The green eye briefly closed as she released a sigh against the door. Finally sidling into the room, Natsuki quietly began to set up her books, as much as she hated it. A paperback slid off her stack and fell to the floor with a slap, making Natsuki wince at the impact.
Exhaling, Shizuru shifted on the bed and opened her eyes. Turning to the source of the noise, she smiled upon seeing that thing of beauty that haunted her deep dreams and picked up one of Du-chan’s white paws to wave.
“Actually, it’s after 13:00.”
“No matter. Has Kimura-sensei been in to see you? I want to know how you’re doing…”
“Do I not seem fine?”
“Er, I guess, but… these medical things–I think a doctor’s opinion is… a standard thing to trust, right?”
Shizuru laughed at the hesitation in that statement. “Kimura-sensei visited me while you were out. He says that my temperature is falling and may become normal soon. He wants to run other sorts of tests later, though.”
“Of the physical and cognitive nature, I believe.”
“Speaking of which, I will not bother you if you are about to study…” Shizuru then began to roll away and curl around Du-chan.
At this, Natsuki scoffed, tugged on Shizuru until she rolled back to face her, scraped her chair around, scooted it forward, and set it down with a firm clunk. Crossing her legs, she made every effort to show that she had no intention of wasting time on the futile exercise.
“It’s just for pretense anyway,” she growled, crossing her arms until it seemed her entire being was knotted up into the chair to prove that not even the former student president could force her to do anything. “Even Mashiro and Fumi-san knew it.”
“But you have still been keeping up the pretense,” Shizuru commented. “And you should do very well on the exam to prove the point.”
“Well, of course.”
“How have you been doing otherwise?” the brunette asked, sensing that her young friend needed to discharge her usual witty banter normally reserved just for the two of them.
Natsuki immediately launched into her small adventures in the time Shizuru was asleep, recounting the smallest details and fuming about random things as she was wont to do. A rare feeling of joy welled up in Shizuru’s chest as she watched the dark-haired girl unknot herself from the chair and become more animated in her storytelling. She even recounted the annoying picnic with Nao, though she left out certain details. I’ll ask about her involvement with that girl later, I guess.
Eventually, both fell to laughing lightly. Natsuki had ended up resting her elbows on the bed and was very close to Shizuru’s face.
So close. Shizuru turned to the ceiling to avoid looking directly at the piercing eyes.
“Shizuru? Are you tired?”
“That is…” Should I say yes? Before the older girl could decide, both turned to a light knock at the door.
“Ah, Reito-san,” Shizuru smiled happily as the door slid open.
“Natsuki messaged me earlier that you were awake, so I just came to visit.”
“Really? I appreciate that, Natsuki.” Shizuru turned her somewhat bleary eyes to Natsuki, who merely shrugged.
Reito smiled easily and slowly settled into the chair, signaling to Shizuru that he had business to discuss. After a pause, Shizuru turned to her friend with an apologetic smile.
“Natsuki, I do not mean to chase you away, but I believe Reito-san and I have things to discuss…”
“Right. Isn’t it a bit early for that?”
“I believe a couple major meetings have already occurred.”
Groaning, Natsuki rubbed her head with one hand. “Okay, I’ll go to the apartment to clean up and… stuff. I’ll be back in a couple hours, okay?”
“That would be wonderful,” the brunette beamed.
“And don’t tire her out,” Natsuki hissed at Reito, who nodded politely.
Shizuru and Reito watched as Natsuki stalked deliberately towards the door. “Natsuki?” the brunette called out.
“Yeah?” The long, dark tresses waved as she cocked her head slightly.
“Are you not forgetting something?”
“I… oh. Damn.”
Returning to take her books, Natsuki then stuck her tongue out as she slipped out and slid the door shut.