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An 'I, My, Me, Strawberry Eggs' story
by Brian Randall

Disclaimer: 'I, My, Me, Strawberry Eggs' was created by Yasuko Kobayashi, and is the property of Pioneer LDC, TNK, and the IMM! Committee.

Note: Dark, surreal, and quite possibly just a little disturbing. This is not a happy story. To read it, understand that it diverges before episode eleven, and that the world that IMMSE takes place in is not truly within our own reality… for what that's worth.


[-The Pact-]

"They are unworthy. I know this to be true, and you cannot deny it. My school is run by this principle."

"And I disagree. I say that their force can be a creative one. A constructive force."

"You are wrong. It is too active, too destructive. It is not a force that I will tolerate."

"A bet, then. I will prove to you that one of them can be everything you think is important. Agreed?"

"Agreed."


[Hibiki]

He lay on his futon, listless.

It was far too seldom that he truly gave himself time to simply think as much as he would have liked.

Much of his time was spent doing the things that a teacher must do, and, increasingly, the things that a woman must do. So much so that when he was required to be neither, he wasn't sure what to do with himself. He blinked, attempting to look at his eyelashes as he did so.

The attempt failed, and he roused, fumbling with the light for a moment to blind himself with it before rubbing at his eyes and searching for his mirror. But the mirror was not far from his traditional sleeping spot, one of his blouses hanging from one edge.

He stared into the glass intently, squinting, and assessing his features. His.

For what that was worth. His face was already soft and rounded, very feminine. His hair was long, kept tied back while he wasn't in his normal clothing. Normal clothing? When had they become that, anyway?

It wasn't important, he decided. But he smiled at the mirror and attempted to make a pretty face, and even without the makeup, even without coloring his hair, he couldn't decisively label his image 'male' or 'female'. Whatever was happening, he was very slowly losing himself.

"Hibiki Amawa," he said slowly, allowing the name to roll off his tongue. Of course, that was another failure to factor things in as far as deciding if he was man or woman. Eyes turning distant, he gazed into the mirror. "Definition," he mumbled. "I lack definition."

"I'm a man," he said quietly.

Only nighttime stillness answered him, and he sighed.

At the end of the futon, Kurage was curled up, not waking. The sign about the dog's neck was clearly labeled, "Do not disturb."

"A little late for that," Amawa mused, turning off the light, and crawling into bed.


[Amawa-sensei]

Class over for the time being, she sorted through the papers, thinking of her students.

It wasn't quite the way she wanted to do things, but she was happy that she could teach.

She. How much of what she was pretending to be had she become? How much of the concept of 'woman' was now a part of her?

Shaking her head, she jotted down some quick notes, and stood, stretching slightly. It felt good to be done, though.

Now she had a little time to herself, where she didn't need to worry about school. Not that she really cared to. Teaching was her life, really.

Waving to one of the other teachers still sorting through her notes, she offered a cheerful smile. "I'll see you tomorrow!"

The other teacher repeated the parting words back to her, deeply engrossed in her own paperwork.

Some time to walk home, alone, then.


[-W-Ai!-]

Finished with the chores she had stayed behind to take care of — Sensei had asked someone to, and she had volunteered — she took her book-bag in one hand, and skipped to the door, wending her way through the school's passageways until they allowed her exit.

Taking a deep breath, she looked upward, and behind her, where the ramparts stood. It was a pleasant day, she thought. The kind of day that reminded her of happier times, and family.

But then, was that really a problem? There was Sensei, after all. Well, there were many sensei, but there was only one Sensei. Other teachers could come and go, and doctors wore the title, too.

But Sensei was Sensei.

"Oh! Kuzuha!"

And there she was! "Sensei! I was just thinking of you!"

The woman looked surprised, then smiled a bit, flushing very slightly. "Where are your friends, Kuzuha?"

Not quite meeting Sensei's eyes, she explained, "They left without me, because I offered to straighten out the books."

"Oh? Well, then let's walk together!"

She offered Sensei a happy smile and an affirmative sound, falling into step beside her as the two walked away from the school.

"Isn't the weather nice, Kuzuha?"

"Hai!"


[Gochi]

She folded herself into a crouching position, staring at her chariot. Motorcycle. The vehicle of herself when she wished it, and in many ways, the conveyer of much more than her own slight personage.

A good deal of attention had been paid to the recent modifications — modifications that would be perfect for, say, putting out a fire with all the style and grace that a being of her statue deserved. And those modifications had been completely unneeded, too.

Rising slightly, she grumped, before perching on a stool, and brushing aside a small pile of screws from her workbench. "Well enough," she mumbled. "He's passed one opportunity to leave this place."

Not, of course, that there weren't plenty more, but they would come with greater and greater price, from this point on. Two ways that it could truly go, now.

In the one, Hibiki won. And so did she.

In the other, Hibiki still won. But she did not.

Of course 'winning' was something that bore consideration. A prize was not always something to be had in any sort of positive sense. One of Hibiki's prizes was a girl. The other was a woman. And that prize came with a price.

No others had walked as far in Hibiki's path and returned without scars.

Of course, beyond Hibiki's victory, there was her own to think of. More and more, her ancient enemy was proving herself to be correct. This, at least, was a chance to prove it.

The only problem was that the arena was too much in the control of her enemy. On the other hand, while her enemy could define the arena, only she could define the weapons.

Fat lot of good that did.

Sighing, she plucked a schematic from a file on the desk behind her stool, and consulted it briefly. "That's just stupid," she observed. Fire-fighting mecha were bad enough, hopefully the next tool wouldn't be called into play, either.

Simple things, she did not mind. Some of the more complex changes were fun, too. But some were so vulgar and blatant it was a wonder that Hibiki hadn't already woken up from them.


[-Lament-no-Mori-]

"I need a job…."

"I won't abandon you, Mori-chan! We can do something, I'm sure—"

"That won't be necessary."

Both he and his friend turned to regard the old woman through narrowed eyes. "Oh?" he asked, not entirely trusting.

"Is it over already?" his friend asked, eyes shining with worry.

"Shut up!" she hissed, glancing around sharply. Of course, Hibiki wasn't near, but there was no excuse to grow lax. "No. I'm probably going to need you around from time-to-time."

"So we're back in your keeping?" his friend asked slowly.

She rolled her eyes theatrically. "Not entirely. We still have a chance at this. I thought Hibiki would leave, but…."

He frowned, wondering at what she was so hesitant to state.

"Suffice to say, I might make something of him where I failed with you," she finished, glaring down his inquisitive gaze.

"Feh," the old man grumbled. "You think Hibiki might be your shining one? And what did you fail at with us? We're both plenty good at what we do!"

"Too good," she growled. "Keep close, and stay in line."

"I remember more than you think, Gochi," the man warned as she turned away.

She smiled, looking back over her shoulder and putting one hand into the inner folds of her kimono. "I know that's what you think," she returned. "Tofukuji, are you happy with what you've become? Do you remember enough to know what you might have been?"

He bowed his head, considering. "I think so," he said after a moment. "Why?"

"So you know how great you could have been?"

The old man was completely silent, turning his head to the side and staring away. Hakumori Kouji blinked, not sure what he was witnessing.

"Well?"

"I think I should regret that I'm not that, but I don't know how to," the old man mumbled.

The woman turned back to face him completely, dropping her hands to her sides and relaxing her vicious expression. "Then would you deny Hibiki the chance to get it? To find out?"

"No," he answered, raising his head.

"Good."

And then she was gone, leaving the two men alone.

"Tofukuji…. What was that about?" he asked his friend hesitantly.

The old man looked very distant for the merest moment, before smiling, his eyes sparkling with eerily youthful joy and hope. "I don't remember, Mori-chan!"

Opening his mouth to explain, Mori realized that he couldn't remember anything important to discuss, either, and instead said, "I need a job…."

"Don't worry, Mori-chan! I'm sure something will turn up soon!"


[Amawa]

She lay on the futon, staring at the ceiling.

Dressed in casual clothing at the moment, she had found the energy to change, considering shopping, but had decided against it at the last minute. Her debts to the old woman were paid off, and she had decided to pay a month in advance in the worry of any potential forthcoming hardship, so money wasn't an immediate issue.

It was simply that she felt tired. Strained. And in the end she wanted nothing more than to lie on her futon and stare at the ceiling.

It was a good ceiling to stare at, she supposed.

He stared at it, too, when he couldn't sleep. When he was afraid.

But she wasn't afraid, or worried. Merely tired.

She sighed, closing her eyes. She should change into something more appropriate before she went to sleep.


[Sannomiya Himemiko]

She nodded without listening. Her assistant droned on about something or another. Something she wasn't concerned with at the moment.

"… Hibiki Amawa."

Blinking, she raised an eyebrow, otherwise not allowing her face to shift from its impassive scowl. "Why?" she asked. A better question would be 'what', but she wasn't about to let her aide think she wasn't paying attention.

"I…. I think it would be good to spend some time with her and discuss her recent changes to the way the school works," the woman said, eyes flickering to her notes briefly before meeting her superior's.

"Hmm," the principal mused. "Our school has a long, and proud tradition. I do not know that Hibiki is worthy of special note beyond the fact that she's rougher than any other teacher I've consented to venture within these halls."

"Er…. Of course, and if we were to take a day and discuss with her how the whole thing was going, perhaps you could guide her to be a better teacher. Maybe you could set her on the right path."

Eyes dimming as her memory reached back — further back than her aide could have suspected they went — she nodded, musing, "The path to greatness." Turning her attention to the aide, she nodded. "Very well. See that it's done."

"Of course!" the woman all but crowed. "I'll make arrangements at the baths right away."

Watching the woman leave her office, she spared a moment to wonder at the superiority of an onsen to something as simple as a tea ceremony. Maybe her aide thought that Hibiki was more deserving of openness. She dismissed the thoughts, turning her attention to an ancient bargain. "Your time grows short," she mused. "Where is the champion you expect to make me see differently?"


[-W-Ai!-]

Her homework sat on her desk before her, though her eyes were distant. Her attention was as far from the homework as the weather, heavy rains keeping ghosts and perverts alike at bay. Her pencil tapped idly in a small shape, much like an umbrella.

The traditional symbol of togetherness, a distracted part of her observed. Of course, her name would go on the one side, and the other would be….

Sitting up, she peered closely at the pattern of dots formed from idle pencil-strikes, recognizing her own name easily enough. But the other….

She blinked, managing a weak laugh. Now that couldn't be it. Still…. There was the other answer she had yet to give, though the longer she considered it, the longer she suspected that the answer would be 'no'. He wasn't the one for her.

Sighing, she erased the paired names, and then threw the sheet of paper away for good measure.

What was the strange warmth she felt in her heart when Sensei was near? Why did she dream so often of the day that Sensei had taught her to run? The memory of leaping into Sensei's arms to avoid a fall echoed again, replaying in her mind.

The leap that had told her that trust was a good thing, and the leap that had saved Sensei's job at the school.

She shook her head to clear it, looking at the paper.

The same umbrella and the same pair of names. "Maaaah," she groaned, unable to resist smiling. "That's silly."


[-The Chairwoman's Gauntlet-]

She remembered, from somewhere, the saying, "Tell a lie often enough, and you'll come to believe it."

She thought her mother had given her those words, but she wasn't certain about that. Was it her mother? A teacher?

Deeper pondering prompted her to wonder about her parents. Who were they? And why couldn't she remember?

"Hibiki-sensei!"

Jolted from her reverie, she looked up to meet the chairwoman's angered gaze. "Hmm?" she noised. "What's wrong?"

The woman emitted an indignant huff, and snapped, "Hibiki-sensei, a proper woman doesn't lean her elbows on the desk! And why is your desk so messy, anyway?"

She turned to study her desk for a moment. Three pens, all lying at different angles to one another, a pair of paperclips, and a stack of papers. And, of course, the computer. Was that messy? "Sorry!" she apologized, flashing a smile at the woman as she quickly placed the pens in a holder, straightened the stack of papers, and stuck the paperclips into a small pocket on the keyboard rest. "Anything else?" she asked, turning back.

The chairwoman seemed to relax a bit, and handed an envelope to her. "The principal would like you to accompany her and I to a private meeting this Sunday," she explained.

Accepting the envelope carefully, she bowed her head slightly to the other woman. "I'd be delighted," she said, her voice betraying a hint of worry. "Is there a problem?"

"Of course not, simply be prepared to speak with the principal, and join us at the onsen." She grinned wickedly. "You will come, won't you?"

She said nothing for a long moment, thoughts and worries whirling around in a panicked jumble before she distantly heard herself answer, "Of course! I wouldn't want to miss a meeting with the principal."

Satisfied, the chairwoman nodded, and marched away, leaving her suddenly alone in the office.

"Oh, no," she whispered. "What can— Ba-chan!"


[Gochi]

"Ba-chan! You have to help me!"

She turned to stare upwards, examining her young tenant closely. Dressed in her nearly habitual outfit, she wrung her hands anxiously, dancing from one foot to another. Setting down her pocket arc-welder, she frowned, crossing her arms over her chest. "What's the problem," she asked, already suspecting the answer.

"Ba-chan, I have to go with the principal to an onsen for a private meeting this weekend!"

Narrowing her eyes, she asked, "So?"

"So?" she yelped. "How am I supposed to be able to attend a meeting in an onsen! The chairwoman suspects — at least, I think she does — when we had the omiai, she took away the choker I need for my voice."

Words she didn't want to hear. She was losing the battle, and Hibiki was faring far poorer. "Need?" she stated quietly. "What do you want me to do?"

"Well," she temporized, staring at the ceiling and deep in thought, "something to make my voice work the right way all the time?"

And again. "The right way," she mused quietly. "How do you expect me to do that?"

"I don't know," the man-dressed-woman admitted. "But there's got to be something. Maybe you can hide it behind a tooth, or something?"

"Or something," she admitted. "I could do that, but…. If I make a change it would be a permanent one."

"You mean… you would fix my voice forever?" she asked with a small amount of trepidation.

"Fix," she mumbled. "I could undo it, but it would be painful, and not the kind of thing one would do lightly."

"Then…. Then can you help me? Can you fix my voice?"

"What about the rest?" she asked quietly. "How do you expect to hide those," she jabbed a finger into the soft padding on her chest for emphasis, "in an onsen?"

"Strapless bra and a towel cinched up higher," she answered slowly. "Will that work?"

"If this woman's out to get you, will that be enough?"

There was an extended moment of silence, lending some small hope that she would back down.

But she didn't. "No, you're right. I need to do something else, too, don't I?"

"And where does it stop?" she asked her young tenant wearily.

"Where does what stop? I only need this long enough for the meeting on Sunday."

If only that were true. "If that's so, then why do you want your voice fixed 'forever'? Hibiki, I'm not going to do anything tonight. Sleep on it, think about what you will be doing before you agree to do anything."

"But—"

"Think," she snapped. "You act without thinking too much! You lose yourself! Go. Get out of my sight — if you still want this done, talk to me after thinking about it for a few days."


[Hibiki]

Back alone in his room, he sat huddled on his futon, eyeing the outfit he had bought the prior day with the intention of impressing the principal. Traditional, neat, and costing more than any other article of clothing he had ever touched in his life. Though, to be fair, he hadn't touched it yet.

She had, though.

[-Ether-]

"I trust you," he said quietly. "Don't do this to me. I need you. I even…. I even love you."

She made no answer.

[-Void-]

"But I guess you don't need me, do you?" Did she? If he were to run, to abandon this place forever, and never return, would that effect her? Would she stay? Would she follow him? Haunt him?

He felt that she didn't, truly need him.

"It's not fair. You've got power over me. I've got nothing for you. You…. You took what I had away."

[-Formlessness-]

A soothing presence breezed through his mind for a half-moment before it vanished.

He bowed his head. "I want to teach," he hissed, running his hands through his hair. His fingers clawed slowly at his scalp, and he moaned quietly. "I want to have students, to be my own person. I want to be a part of you."

The presence returned, and he dropped his hands to his sides, taking a shuddering breath. "You want to be a part of me, too?" he asked, incredulous. "But… why? What do I have to offer you?"

[-Form-]

A body? But his was the wrong body. Gochi could fix that. But she merely wanted it, didn't need it, as he needed her. He could not imagine how to survive without her.

[-Shih-]

And that was that, wasn't it?


[-Gift-]

"Hibiki!" he caroled warmly. "I was just looking for you!"

The young man blinked. "Why?" he asked cautiously.

Well enough, he'd not done a very good job of presenting himself as anything other than an old pervert. And the next bit wouldn't help much, either. "When I was your age, I kept something of incredible value close to my heart," he began.

Hibiki relaxed somewhat. "Oh?" he asked, sorting through a box of clothing.

"Indeed, indeed, indeed…. And I want to pass my possession on to someone worthy."

Hibiki paused his sorting of clothes to look at him curiously. "What are you talking about?

"Hibiki…. I want you, as a man, to keep these, and treasure them as I have treasured them." Reaching into the fold of his robes, he produced a large manila envelope, which Hibiki accepted, opening it dubiously.

Sighing, closed the envelope. "Porn. You want to give me porn," he mumbled. "Why are you giving me dirty magazines?"

"They're very good," he mumbled, thinking back to older times. "They saved me when I was in danger. They might save you. Keep them close, and good luck."

Done, he turned his back to Hibiki, and strode away, shutting the door firmly behind him.


"I trust you," he said quietly. "Don't do this to me. I need you. I even…. I even love you."

She made no answer.

[-Ether-]

What was the question? That was the first step towards finding the answer. Finding the question.

But what was the question?

There were a great many questions, truly, and they all needed to be sorted through.


[Amawa-sensei]

"Hibiki-chan!"

She turned her attention from the board to the class, not able to readily identify which student had called to her. "Yes?" she asked.

"Hibiki-chan," the call came again, more clearly as Aoki stood up. "There's a note on the desk," he managed, before his face flushed crimson, and he sat down again.

Smirking, she shook her head, opening the note and scanning it quickly. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see that the majority of the class was amused by the process, except for Fuko, who had dropped her habitual smile, and Naruto, who never smiled anyway.

"That's vary cute, Aoki," she said, folding the letter away and pocketing it.

"How did you know?" he blurted out. Realizing his mistake, he quickly babbled, "I mean, what makes you think it was me?"

She rolled her eyes in a good-natured manner, dismissing the incident, and pointing to the board. "Okay, class, this week we have to be on the lookout for illegal photographers…."


"But I guess you don't need me, do you?" Did she? If he were to run, to abandon this place forever, and never return, would that effect her? Would she stay? Would she follow him? Haunt him?

He felt that she didn't, truly need him.

"It's not fair. You've got power over me. I've got nothing for you. You…. You took what I had away."

[-Void-]

Was it worth it?

Was what worth it?

Was it worth destroying HIMself for HERself?


[-W-Ai!-]

There were a great many things she did not like.

She smiled bravely through them, though.

That's what her mother told her to do, after all.

But her smile failed her whenever a man approached Sensei.

Why? What was it that made her worry and sigh whenever Sensei was near men?

What was it that had caused her heart to beat so strongly when she and Sensei were alone in the woods?

She sighed, burying her face in her hands.

It couldn't be love. Girls didn't love other girls.

Did they?


A soothing presence breezed through his mind for a half-moment before it vanished.

He bowed his head. "I want to teach," he hissed, running his hands through his hair. His fingers clawed slowly at his scalp, and he moaned quietly. "I want to have students, to be my own person. I want to be a part of you."

[-Formlessness-]

Teaching was a goal, until it had become a value. She WAS a teacher, which is what HE had wanted to be.

Was being a woman such a small price to pay for the opportunity to maintain that value? Would she still be him?


[Hibiki]

He wasn't sure why he felt guilty about it. Like a little kid who had smuggled a dirty magazine into his bedroom when his mother wasn't looking. Had he done that? He couldn't remember.

But he still felt guilty, looking through the dirty magazines that the old man had left him with. Still, as strange as the idea was, throwing them away would be rude — they HAD meant something to Tofukuji, after all.

And yet, even as his eyes roved freely over the lewd images of women who brazenly paraded their skin across page after page…. It just felt so boring. There was guilt, yes, and a subtle fear of being caught, yes, and…. Mild disgust.

"Maybe it's not much of a leap," he mused, tucking the magazines into their envelope, and that behind his dresser.


A body? But his was the wrong body. Gochi could fix that. But she merely wanted it, didn't need it, as he needed her. He could not imagine how to survive without her.

[-Form-]

How much of a change would it be, anyway?

He was scared, so very scared or what could go wrong, how bad things could get, and yet….


[-W-Ai!-]

In love with a woman? And Sensei, at that?

It just seemed so impossible.

But if she was in love with Sensei — there it was again, that flutter in her heart — how would she go about telling Sensei? Confessing….

Swallowing nervously, she put on the bravest smile she could manage — alone in her room as she was — and took a deep breath. Paper….

She set pen to paper calmly, slowly, and deliberately. She would simply have to state what she felt, and hope for the best. Love….

But today was Saturday, so she would have to wait until Monday before she could deliver it. Maybe she could bake some cookies.


And that was that, wasn't it?

[Shih]

"I've made my choice," she said solemnly.

The old woman slumped, shaking her head sadly. "So you have," she responded quietly. "Let's get to work, Amawa."


[-The Path to Greatness-]

Himemiko seemed satisfied with Hibiki's presence, and much to her own dismay, once in the onsen, Hibiki was proven to be a complete woman.

Worse yet, the principal seemed to favor Hibiki over her.

"Let me tell you," the old woman began stoically, "about the one Great Love we must use to teach our students. It is the Path to Greatness."

"Greatness?" Hibiki asked, seeming oddly subdued, given her normal demeanor.

The principal allowed the teacher a nod, before continuing with her speech.


[-W-Ai!-]

She had left early, heart hammering loudly in her chest, small bag of cookies and love-letter secure in her hands. Too excited and worried to sleep through the entire night, she had done her best to make herself look perfect for Sensei.

Her happy march to school was halted briefly as she passed Gochi-Sou, the old woman who owned the house raising a hand in warning.

Remembering — and fearing — the other tenants, she paused, asking, "Oba-san? Is something wrong?"

"Perhaps," the old woman allowed, looking away once she had halted to listen. "Ah. Young love is a beautiful thing."

Fuko blushed darkly, wondering at what had given her away. "Ah, that is—"

Cutting her off, the old woman turned back, warning, "Child, be careful. Remember my words. You have never needed another in your life so far. The end of the day will be no different from a day months ago. Even alone, you will survive."

She blinked, wondering at the old woman's intensity. "What do you mean?"

"Nothing," she mumbled, turning away. "Have a safe journey to school."


[-Fall of Ash-]

She awoke that morning, finding herself curiously free. Alone from the burdens that had haunted her prior to that awakening. The previous night, sore and awkward from whatever it was that Gochi had done for her, she rested poorly, not completely at home in her new body.

Her first thought was not of joy, but disappointment. He hadn't been strong enough.


[-Koi-no-Fuko-]

The classroom was empty as she entered it, though it was only empty for a moment.

She wondered if Sensei had known that she would be there, known to arrive early, and if so, what Sensei thought.

But Sensei seemed surprised to see her there. "Fuko?"

"Hai, Sensei!" she chirped, holding her hands behind her back.

"What are you doing here so early?"

"I…." Something felt off. Changed. Wrong about the entire situation. What was changed with Sensei?

"Yes, Kuzuha?"

Gathering her wits, she tested the waters first, "Sensei, can… can a girl love… another girl?"

Seemingly taken off guard by the question, Sensei frowned in puzzlement, and answered, "Well, of course. Only women can love, after all. Men are too shallow…. Or did you mean romantically?"

Fuko nodded, biting her lip in worry.

"I suppose, Kuzuha, but it seems very strange and abnormal, doesn't it?"

She said nothing for a long moment, tears burning in her eyes. She didn't know how she knew, merely that she did know. She could never smile when Sensei was faced with other men. She could never smile at the thought of Sensei leaving her.

But she could return the same bright, pointless smile she always wore towards this stranger in Sensei's body. "I see. Thank you, Hibiki-sensei!" She had smiled when her mother died, and she could keep on smiling even as Sensei was vanished.


[-Rain of Dust-]

He had never been strong enough.

But men never could be.


[-End of the Game-]

"You're out of time. Where is this champion that will prove to you that a man can be a capable teacher?"

"You won. My champion was taught too well, I suspect."

"Then I am right."

"No, you forced the issue with your control over the arena."

"Another game, then?"

"No. I think I tire of playing, for the time."

 


Author's notes: Never has writing a story made me feel like a cruel person. Until this. I think I'm going to huddle in a corner and weep for a few days, now.

Brian Randall

Who should probably not write so much.

 
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