"Oneesan," Takumi groaned, palming his face. His hand drooped, until its fingers no longer covered his eyes.
"What's wrong?" an octopus-haired girl asked, frowning. "She said she knew CPR, didn't she?"
"Yes," he allowed, exasperation seeping into his voice, "and she's really good at it, too. Best of her course, in fact."
Takumi just shook his head in frustration. 'The problem is, Oneesan only does CPR to pretty girls,' he thought with an inner sigh. 'And just after we had to move again, too… Oneesan, couldn't you be more discrete this time?'
Oblivious to the world around her, Mai was busily locking lips with the drowned girl their cruise ship came upon and fished out of the water.
A Mai HiME fan fiction story
Disclaimer: Mai/My HiME is the property of Sunrise and Bandai Entertainment.
With thanks to Ginrai and Beege for their helpful advice, and KPJam for prereading.
"You're lucky no one from our new school was there, Oneesan," Takumi chided, as he stood just outside their cabin door. "It would've been really bad if we got expelled before even attending classes."
"Oh, you love to exaggerate, Takumi," Mai's voice carried over through the closed doorway and into the corridor. "I never got expelled for a simple kiss before."
"No, not for a kiss," her younger brother allowed, sighing.
"What's bothering you, anyway?" she asked. "I figured that if not Mom, then at least you would see why a person could find girls attractive."
Unbothered by the sudden coughing fit erupting from outside the cabin on their cruise ship, Mai examined herself in the closet's full-length mirror with scrutiny. Scrunching her nose, she headed over to the door and opened it, waving Takumi over. "Hey, do you think I should go with this, or the school uniform?"
"I'm… I'm not really bothered or anything," he finally managed to get out, blushing and trying to avoid looking at her. "You know that, Oneesan. After all, I've been following you all over Japan of my own free will." Thinking for a moment, he shrugged in resignation. "And you might as well wear your favorite slutty clothing, if the alternative means people will find out what school we transferred to."
"So what is bothering you, then?" she asked, walking back inside.
He moved from one foot to the other uneasily, before following her into their cabin and closing the door behind them. "It's not that you like girls." He gave a hollow laugh. "It's more that you've yet to meet a girl you didn't like!" Takumi threw his hands up in the air. "Oneesan, guys that behave like that are the lowest of the low!"
"I'm glad I'm not a guy, then," Mai said flippantly, securing a stray lock of hair behind her ear. "Anyway, relax, little brother. I'm just browsing, you know that. And speaking of yourself, you can't spend your entire life just window shopping. When are you finally going to meet a nice girl and introduce her to me?"
Takumi rolled his eyes. "Don't you have enough female acquaintances already? You hardly need me to introduce any girls to you."
"Well, you can never have enough friends." Mai shrugged. "As you very well know, there was a time when I was a very obedient little girl, denying myself all sorts of things just so I could be Daddy's perfect daughter."
Takumi, having heard this speech enough times to know it by heart, closed his eyes and leaned against the door.
"So, then Daddy died. And I was upset, and everyone tried to cheer me up. My friends did. And so did you and Mom, even though you two were upset yourself. And I'll never forget what Mom told me—"
"You should enjoy life, go and do something you want to do, something you like," Takumi quoted with a ghost of a smile playing on his lips.
Mai nodded enthusiastically. "Yep! So it got me thinking. What did I like to do? What did I enjoy in my life?" She pressed the index finger of her right hand to her lips ponderously. "There was my family—" She nodded at Takumi, "—you and Mom, and I liked being around you two. And there were my friends… my female friends…."
"I know how the story goes, Oneesan," Takumi said. "And— ah, forget it. You're right, you should live your life the way you want to. I'm sure Mom will come around eventually, too." He then trained pleading eyes on his older sister. "But please, can we at least finish the school year in the same school for a change? Fuuka Academy sounded like a really nice place to study at, and I swear military brats travel less than us. Wouldn't it be nice to have some real friends for a change, not just your special kinds of friends?"
"I'll do my best," Mai agreed solemnly, sliding her hands down her skintight, white leather pants. Nodding in satisfaction, she picked up a matching leather jacket off a drawer in the closet, and put it over the straps of clothing strategically placed on her breasts, buttoning it up liberally for appearance's sake. "There, I'm done! Now, let's go back to the cruise!"
"Oneesan, are you sure we should be doing this?"
Mai threw her brother a glance. "This girl is all alone on this ship, and she doesn't know anyone here, doesn't she?"
Takumi nodded uneasily. "Yes…." he allowed, eyeing her warily.
"And on top of that, she almost drowned! Think of how lonely she must feel. How scared!"
"Not as scared as she'd be if you came to keep her company," Takumi muttered, though taking great pains not to let Mai overhear.
"That's why I have to go and comfort the poor girl," Mai continued obliviously. "We already share a special bond with each other, so it only makes sense."
Takumi was barely able to stifle a groan. "And why am I coming as well, Oneesan?"
"You're the extra baggage," she told him matter-of-factly. "Plus, it wouldn't hurt for you to be around girls other than your sister."
"You win, Oneesan," he said. Pouting, he added in a low tone of voice, "Even though you really didn't have to put it that way. And if anyone's extra 'baggage', it's you, you naughty, naughty girl."
Ignoring him for the time being, Mai glanced at the night sky, and froze in place. A large shadow of a wolf appeared against the starry background, traveling gracefully towards the cruise ship in a large arc. The star that only Mai could see shone on the flying wolf, as if in blessing… but only for a moment, and then the mirage was gone.
"Oneesan?" Takumi prodded his sister, after she remained speechless for another moment, calling out to her, "Is everything alright?" Blinking, he asked cautiously, "Are you having second thoughts about that poor girl?"
She bopped him on his head. "Don't be ridiculous! Let's go." Rolling her eyes, she continued on her way to the ship's sickbay.
Mai was sitting quietly by the almost-drowned girl's bed. Sleeping as she was, that girl seemed very cuddly, and it was taking all Mai had to stop herself from checking it for herself. Besides, she would have a chance soon enough, she kept telling herself, since surely the girl will be grateful to the person who saved her life.
And after applying her considerable frisking skills to the unconscious girl, Mai was quick enough to find out her name — 'Mikoto', or so her simple white underwear proclaimed. Mai decided it was a cute name for a cute girl.
She took several glances around the sickbay, examining it. The room seemed really bland, except for a large black sword propped against a corner near the doorway. Mai peered at the sword, before shrugging. Maybe it was for decoration?
"Wow, you're really holding yourself back," Takumi said, awe coloring his words. "Or she's really not your type."
"Nonsense," Mai said dismissively. "There's no such thing."
"Ah, I see," he replied, sulking. "I should've known."
Before Mai could say anything, the door to the sickbay caved in, its hinges broken, and a male figure tumbled into the room.
"Eek, it's a pervert!" Mai cried out, throwing a bedpan at the intruder's forehead.
The bleached-blond boy collapsed with a quiet sigh, muttering, "Violent girls everywhere," on his way down.
Takumi winced for him. "Should you really be calling anyone a pervert, Oneesan?" he asked conversationally, walking over to check on the fallen boy. "Or is it more of a takes-one-to-know-one deal?"
A figure in a leather, tight-fitting suit and a bike helmet stepped into the doorway before Takumi could reach the other boy. He — she? — observed the younger boy coldly for several moments, and then switched its gaze on the lone hospital bed, and its two inhabitants. Two guns appeared in the helmeted figure's hands, as if by magic, and were immediately trained on the pair of girls.
Mai didn't waste any time in scooping up the unconscious girl whose life she had saved earlier from drowning, and running straight at the figure in the doorway. He seemed surprised, and though a shot went off from each gun, they missed both Mai and her charge. Then, Mai was body-slamming into the shooter, pushing him out of the way, and using the impact to take off down the corridor, while he was still disoriented. Takumi called out her name, but was ignored as she sought out safety.
Mai was running up the stairs at her top speed, skipping two and sometimes three at a time. There were times in her life when she had been really glad that she was athletic and not lazy and vain as her dressing habits might suggest to the casual observer. And this was definitely one of those times.
A gunshot sounded right behind her, and she turned reflexively, just in time to see a large, fist-sized hole in the railing, bits of metal and plastic raining down to form a small dust cloud.
"Eek, it's a cop!" she shrieked, as a figure formed in the cloud, stepping out of it steadily, its right arm pointing a handgun at her. "I swear I thought she was eighteen!" Mai yelled in desperation, scrambling up the stairs even faster than previously.
The girl she was carrying over her shoulder stirred, and she patted her back soothingly. "Don't worry," she wheezed mid-leap, "we'll get out of here. Just sit tight."
The younger girl tried to say something, but dropped her head again. Mai smiled. "I'll cook us dinner afterward. Please look forward to it," she whispered. Then, having finally reached the top of the staircase, Mai glanced back. She saw no sign of their pursuer, but decided to head to higher ground in the aft section of the ship anyway. Having seen Titanic, she knew how these things went.
Mai leapt to the right, fluidly moving Mikoto into her arms as she hit the ground with her elbow. She rolled with the impact, cradling the smaller girl protectively, and darted behind a wide exhaust pipe. Inhaling deeply as she crouched, Mai glanced sideways, assessing the situation, trying to catch her breath.
An abrupt howl made her jump to her protesting feet, ready to flee this new danger. Poking from behind her makeshift cover, she spotted a large metallic wolf standing no more than a dozen meters away from her. The wolf howled once more, the large revolvers at its sides loading themselves in a flashy manner. Squealing in fright, Mai scrambled out of the way. As it was, she almost didn't make it, and the sonic boom from the twin projectiles threw her aside.
"This is bad," Mai chanted to herself, shaking her head to clear it of the cobwebs. "Very bad, very, very bad."
Their relentless pursuer appeared on the roof and approached the wolf, pausing to scoff at those words. "Harsher things will happen to you if you go to Fuuka Academy."
"Fuuka Academy? Sure, whatever you say!" Mai agreed readily. "I don't know how you know I'm going there, but no problems! I'll go somewhere else, and you go terminate someone else, deal?"
The mechanical wolf and its human master both blinked in confusion, their actions synchronized. "It's, err, good that you understand," the undoubtedly female voice of Mai's adversary came through the helmet haltingly. "If your friend understands as well—"
The ship lurched to the side, its roof tilting towards the armed girl, and Mai, already in a precarious position with Mikoto in her arms, felt herself lose her balance. The cruise ship already began regaining its balance, automatic water pumps coming into action to help distribute the weight evenly, but Mai and her cargo were already falling towards the helmeted girl.
Desperate for anything to prevent a seemingly inevitable and most unpleasant encounter with the metal roof, Mai wiggled wildly, praying for some sort of miracle. Her wiggling took her in a direct collision course with the other girl, and she had time enough to be grateful that her prayers had been heard, before her face was planted in the masked girl's leather-suited cleavage, bringing all of them to the ground in a tumble.
Mai lay passively, as the other girl wriggled underneath her. The red-head didn't resist when she was rolled over to her back, Mikoto curled up on her stomach.
Their opponent stood up on shaky legs, a heavy blush visible on her face through the helmet's visor. Her arms were crossed over her breasts, and tremors were going through her entire body. "Duran, load silver cartridge," she growled.
"Here we go again," Mai muttered with resignation. One shot was headed at a crazy velocity for her right flank, the other tearing through the air to her left. She dove forward.
Explosions rippled all around her, as she was lying flattened against the ground, Mikoto underneath her.
At first, Mai couldn't believe that the shots had missed her. Then, however, as she rose once again to her feet, a curious yet insistent thought came to the fore of her mind — it felt a bit drafty on her left side. Frowning in confusion, Mai turned her head, sparing a glance at her clothing, and paled. "My beautiful matching jacket!" she lamented, grabbing fistfuls of hair, as Mikoto fell on the floor, forgotten. "My favorite dating outfit… forever ruined!"
She trained a murderous glare on her opponent, saying flatly, "You murdered my jacket."
"So— So what?" the other girl said challengingly, quickly gathering her senses. She trained her guns on Mai. "What are you going to do, you perverted girl?"
"I guess I'll have to take that debt out of your hide," Mai said neutrally, though a grim smile spread across her lips.
"—And then she bolted, after a quick… struggle, and you know the rest," Mai told Takumi, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear in a showy manner. "The ship was damaged, but it still made the trip, so we could arrive safely." She puffed out her chest, thumping it for extra effect. "Now, you are amongst the few to know that you all owe your life to a genuine super-heroine."
Takumi rolled his eyes. He raised his right fist, half-heartedly calling out, "Yay."
"Oh, behave," she chided him, slapping at his arm.
"What now?" he asked, ignoring her reaction.
"Now?" She shrugged. "I suppose we check if our luggage got to our dorms yet, and then go and settle in. Prepare ourselves for the exciting school life of the spring of our lives. Hmm…." Mai smiled, her eyes taking on a far-off look. "I wonder who my roommate will be…."
"—So that's why there's no place here for disgusting creatures like you! If you understand, then get the hell out!" Haruka Suzushiro, the head of the student council's executive committee, ended her long rant to Mai on.
Mai herself looked unconcerned by the torrent of bile directed towards her. She was seated with her back to the window, leaning nonchalantly on her chair's back legs in front of Haruka, her crossed legs dangling in the air.
Yukino Kikukawa, Haruka's assistant and childhood friend, stood half-hidden behind the blonde girl, and tried to avoid looking at Mai. Especially since the other girl tended to stretch at odd times, complain of her feet falling asleep and spread them provocatively as she uncrossed them slowly, making Haruka blush furiously and rant anew.
The room's other occupant, the student council president, Shizuru Fujino, sat behind her desk quietly, pouring herself a glass of green tea.
"You're even cuter when you're angry," Mai said, smiling in a carefree manner at Haruka. Taking in the blonde girl's dumbfounded expression, she winked and blew her a kiss.
Squealing like a sacrificial pig, Haruka tore at her hair, stomping her leg, while Yukino fretted around her.
"Isn't she, though, Miss President?" Mai suddenly asked.
Shizuru sipped some tea from her cup, her eyes closed, and smiled. "Very cute," she agreed.
"Damn that stupid big-breasted woman! And that brainless rice-in-tea woman!" Haruka screamed, raising her head to the Heavens. "Indecent proposals in our sacred hallways! Moral corruption in this school! In this very student council!"
"Haruka-chan…" Yukino whispered sadly.
"My, it's so lively around here," a male voice said in a pleasant voice, just as the door to the student council chambers slid open, and a handsome black-haired man stepped in.
"Kanzaki! Don't you dare ride with them!" Haruka threatened, zooming across the room until she was grabbing him by the lapels of his shirt.
"That's 'side', Haruka-chan," Yukino commented quietly, twiddling her thumbs nervously.
"Side with 'them'?" the man asked, glancing at the two girls who had apparently raised Haruka's ire. "Ah, did we have a new member join our council?"
"I think that would be an excellent idea, Mr. Vice President," Shizuru voiced suddenly, her perpetual smile lighting up the room. "Kikukawa-san, would you please prepare an announcement about Tokiha Mai-san to the student body?"
"Y-Yes, Student Council President Fujino," Yukino replied shakily, cringing as Haruka turned her glare at her.
"I don't accept it! I won't accept it!" the blonde protested loudly.
"But Haruka-chan, you only have one vote against their two," Yukino tried to explain to her best friend.
"You're here too, so go and vote against their inbred stupidity!"
Shizuru looked mildly offended, and Yukino suddenly shivered. "I'm only here to support you, so…."
"Then it's unanimous," Shizuru announced, clapping politely.
Ignoring Haruka's cry of, "The hell it is!" Reito Kanzaki walked over to Mai to shake her hand. "Welcome onboard, Tokiha-san," he said, offering her a smile.
Mai returned the smile.
"So, I guess we're moving again?" Takumi asked his sister, sighing, as she joined him at his dorm room. He hung his head dejectedly, and reached below his bed, pulling out a suitcase. "I'll start packing right away…."
"Huh?" she returned articulately. "How come?"
"Didn't they bring you up in front of the student council on indecency charges, Oneesan, after you tried to pick up the head of their executive committee?"
"Oh, that?" She shrugged, plopping down on his roommate's bed and crossing her legs.
"Akira likes his privacy, Oneesan," Takumi chided her, but his heart wasn't into it, as he waited to find out the punishment the Student Council meted out to his sister.
She ignored him, as he expected she would. "They actually promoted me, kinda." Mai beamed at her brother with pride. "You're now looking at the new Student Council Secretary for Female Students Affairs!"
Takumi palmed his face, muttering, "What have I gotten into?"
"Hey, what's that?" Mai asked, spotting something peaking from below the pillow. Takumi turned towards her, his expression full of shock and a healthy amount of fear, but she already had the object in her arms. He froze when she let out a thoughtful, "Hmm," and opened the sketchbook, looking through it.
"You… shouldn't take things that don't belong to you, Oneesan," Takumi said at last, approaching her hesitantly. His desire to put the sketchbook away before Akira noticed and hit him warred with his apprehension of crossing the line his roommate drew on the ground between their parts of the room and getting hit for that. "Akira-kun is a very private boy. He will get angry."
Mai turned her head towards him, training her eyes on Takumi's. "You're my kid brother and I love you. You know that, don't you?" she said evenly.
He nodded with uncertainty.
"Then you also know that you shouldn't use yaoi in a desperate bid for attention," she told him, turning the sketchbook around. Takumi was featured there prominently, like a centerfold of an exotic magazine, rose petals floating in the background.
"It's… it's nothing like that!" he sputtered, waving his arms.
Mai ignored his protests, returning her attention to the other sketches of her brother.
"It's you!" Mai exclaimed, jumping to her feet as her chair flew backwards. "The wolf-borne terminator girl!"
"Natsuki?" Shizuru asked, blinking at her in surprise. "You two know each other?"
"Ah, we meet again, my well-proportioned femme fatale," Mai said gravely, a wide grin suddenly sprouting over her face. "This must be fate!"
Natsuki recoiled, as if physically struck, her hands in a warding position.
"So your name is Natsuki?" Mai's grin became even larger, if possible. "I like it."
"I'll see you later, Shizuru," Natsuki said stiffly, walking backwards towards the door. The blue-haired girl kept her eyes on Mai the entire time, watching her guardedly for any sudden movement, until she was out of the student council chambers.
"I think she digs me," Mai said blissfully, clasping her hands in front of her.
Shizuru's eyebrow twitched imperceptibly.
The morning, like all those before it, found Mai spread out haphazardly across her bed in Fuuka Academy's girls' dorms, dreaming pleasantly about the visions of loveliness her new school had to offer. Like that nice Nao girl. Mai would have to work extra hard this summer and save her money to afford a date with that one….
She abruptly regained consciousness, but avoided any sudden movements. The lump on her stomach felt familiar, and Mai smiled, basking in its warmth. Mikoto. Now she knew what she had been missing all of those years of waking up alone.
She wondered idly whether Natsuki would feel as warm and cuddly, and resolved to find out.
"I don't see why I have to work with her!" Natsuki accused, pointing at Mai.
Glomped onto Natsuki, Mai whispered throatily, "I knew you'd be warm and cuddly."
Shizuru's eyebrow twitched violently, and she cleared her throat, causing ripples of whispers to spread throughout the spectators, originating from Shizuru's fan club. "How was it that you ended up taking the cooking make-up exam, Tokiha-san, being at the top of that class?" she asked with a pleasantness that fooled few.
"Family emergency," Mai replied, smiling widely. As Takumi moved in his seat, she threw him a pointed glare.
Gulping, the boy shot to his feet, nodding frantically. "I-I was sick! Oneesan had to take care of me! Please let me keep my most important thing!"
"What is he talking about, Mai-san?" Reito asked, tapping his lips thoughtfully, as Haruka ranted about a family of perverts in the background.
"No idea," Mai replied, taking out a rolled-up sketchbook and smacking her free palm with it a few times, before returning it to an inner pocket of her jacket.
"I… see," Reito said, looking at her doubtfully.
Natsuki finally managed to extract herself from Mai's embrace, and circled the table they were to cook at, keeping it between them. "Why do we have to pair up at all?"
"But we make such a beautiful pair," Mai murmured, batting her eyelashes at Natsuki as she leaned across the table, stretching her athletic form.
"The rest are all in groups of four!" Natsuki protested.
Mai shrugged. "I don't see why you're dissatisfied with the assignments. They were done fairly by lottery."
"And who oversaw this lottery?" Natsuki pressed on.
"Why, an impartial and extremely attractive judge acting on behalf of this student council." Mai's face contorted into a mock frown. "You wouldn't accuse someone on the council of unfairly affecting the outcome of this lottery, would you?"
Natsuki was about to reply, when she saw Shizuru's face. Her older friend seemed upset, and Natsuki immediately decided to put an end to this line of questioning, if it would bring doubt to Shizuru's professionalism, even indirectly. She hung her head in defeat.
"I look forward to tasting your pastries, Natsuki," Shizuru cheered her on.
Natsuki blushed, not daring to raise her head, as a fresh round of murmurs made its way through the gathered crowds.
"It's nice to work with you. You learned to break eggs very quickly," Mai commented, mixing the crème in a large bowl. She caught Natsuki's hand, and gently patted it, before letting go, saying, "Don't add the chocolate chips to the crème, we'll just sprinkle them on top."
Natsuki glanced at the packet of chocolate chips she was holding, and nodded, setting it back on the table. "Thanks." An awkward silence stretched between the two, only interrupted by the sounds of Mai's mixer occasionally hitting the bowl with the crème. Natsuki stood there in her apron, just staring at Mai doing their work for them, and fidgeted. "So, umm, I didn't know you were such a good cook," she ventured finally.
"Well, they say the way to your loved one's heart is through their stomach," Mai replied happily. Natsuki twitched, but Mai didn't notice it, continuing, "But really, I just like to cook. And bake, obviously." She gestured at the oven, where their batches of cookie dough were shaping up in the intense heat. "Especially baking, actually. I feel really free and alive working next to an oven."
"I… see," Natsuki said, confused.
"Don't worry, Takumi doesn't understand it either," Mai told her, giggling. "But I can't change the way I feel." She turned her head towards Natsuki as she said that, giving her a lust-filled gaze.
"That's nice," Natsuki said, shivering and backing away a few steps.
Commotion from the direction of the other two groups drew their attention from each other. Bits of cake and eggshells were flying all over the cooking arena, the other groups' working areas in total disarray. Out of that mess, a shadowy shape leapt at their table, catching Mai off guard and sending her and the bowl of crème in her arms flying.
Natsuki reacted quickly, and caught Mai in her arms, the bowl of crème for their cookies held protectively by the younger girl.
Mai blushed, and leaned into the unwitting embrace. "You saved our labor of love," she told Natsuki sultrily. "Thank you." She straightened up, and kissed Natsuki on the cheek before the other girl could move out of the way.
Shizuru passed them, her eyes resting on the frozen Natsuki for a brief moment.
"Where are you going, Miss President?" Mai asked her curiously. "Weren't you eager to get your hands on Natsuki's cookies?"
Shizuru stopped, and gave Mai what was obviously a fake smile. "I will return in due time. First, there's something urgent I have to take care of." Before Mai could ask her what that was, Shizuru was off, muttering something about food thieves and vengeance.
Mai shrugged, and went back to work on she and Natsuki's chocolate chip cookies, humming to herself happily.
Wake up, yawn pleasantly, stretch. Grope Mikoto. Pat her on the head and get up.
Mai looked at the sleeping girl's form fondly. A routine was such a colorless name for the life she led at Fuuka Academy. Shaking her head at the thought, she went to make breakfast for two, as par her morning ritual. Imagining Mikoto's grateful expression, which never failed to appear as she ate Mai's cooking, was almost as fun as waking up next to the cuddly girl.
The bed could stand to be bigger, though, Mai mused. She was fully seeing the logic of double beds. Hmm. Wasn't she on the Student Council? Weren't they the ones who set all those pesky, sometimes useless rules of conduct that the hyper-but-very-hot Haruka girl took great care to enforce?
Yes, it could work, Mai agreed with a nod. There was absolutely no reason why she couldn't pass some motion giving students larger beds. And to get the kinks out of her idea, it seemed like a good idea to bounce it off someone, first.
Mai nodded to herself yet again, stirring the omelet she was making for breakfast. She'd just ask Natsuki how the girl felt about sharing a king-sized bed. Maybe at that Student Council-run function at the beach? That prudish blonde bombshell, Haruka, was lending her beach house for it….
"Introduce me to the person you chose to spend your summer holiday of love and passion with, Takumi," the orange-haired boy heard from behind him suddenly. An involuntary shiver passing through his extremities, he turned around slowly and waved feebly. "Hello, Oneesan."
Mai, clad in a tiny swimsuit and a lifeguard's cap, smiled. "I'm glad that you're more outgoing, and that you've already made friends," she said, nodding to herself. "So, like I was saying… who's your friend?"
Takumi looked as if he had swallowed a particularly bitter poison. "Umm, he is no one you would be interested in, Oneesan. Just my roommate."
"Just your roommate, whom you'd bring to the beach with you on a hot summer date?" she inquired, peering closer at Takumi. She clasped her hands in front of her. "I'm so happy it wasn't a cry for attention after all!"
Flustered, her brother waved his hands in the air erratically. "Don't misunderstand again!" he yelled, drawing Akira's attention. "And just how did this turn out to be a hot summer date?!"
Akira blushed, and sputtered denials.
"I'd love to stay and chat, but I know I shouldn't be interrupting. Ah, young love." Mai smiled to herself. A flash of blue hair in the distance caught her eyes, and she was off in a flash, calling out into the distance, "Natsuki, wait for me, your lovely scantily-clad lifeguard! Let's make many passionate memories together!"
"Umm… yeah," Takumi said lamely in her wake, turning to look at his cross-dressing roommate. "That was… my sister."
Akira crossed her arms in front of her chest, and retreated into the shade provided by a nearby beach umbrella.
"Gah!" Mai exclaimed, grasping the boat's edge with both arms as she inhaled deeply. "It's been a while since I had to spend so much time underwater!"
"Why… were you underwater?" Natsuki asked her cautiously, traces of shock still present from the moment when Mai suddenly surfaced next to her boat.
"It's faster to swim that way, silly, since you don't have to come up for air," Mai replied matter-of-factly. "Plus, there's less resistance, which is a factor for me." She thrust her scantily-clad chest at Natsuki. "See?"
Natsuki resisted the urge to bash her head against the boat's surface. "And you just happened to resurface here?" she asked sarcastically. "Completely by accident?"
"Of course not," Mai said, surprising her. She pulled herself into the boat, and smiled at Natsuki. "I wanted to come with you."
She didn't believe she would get a satisfying answer to this question, but felt compelled to ask it anyway. "Why?"
Mai seemed to think about it for a moment. "You might need someone to do CPR on you. I have a license, and a long, successful history of applying that technique on young women in your age group."
Natsuki brought her arms in front of her in the shape of an X. "Rejected," she deadpanned. "Go back."
"But this could be the start of our beautiful female friendship!" Mai protested. "Friends are important!"
"I… already have a friend," Natsuki said after a brief pause.
"My kind of friend?" Mai asked suspiciously, peering at Natsuki's face. This also brought her much closer to the other girl.
Natsuki recoiled all the way to the very edge of the boat. "Shizuru's not like that at all!"
"Alright, if you say so," Mai agreed with a shrug. "But it would be a lot more believable if you stopped blushing so badly." As Natsuki was at a loss for words, Mai grinned. "So, I can stay? Great!"
"What are we looking for?" Mai wondered out loud, taking the abandoned facility in.
"Keep your voice down!" Natsuki hissed at her, crouching and looking through her infra-red goggles. "There are traps all over the place," she finally told Mai, when she was done with her analysis of the security around the former laboratory. She stood up, and started walking towards the entrance, avoiding the sensors. "You'll have to follow my footsteps exactly."
"Not a problem," Mai agreed, her eyes gravitating towards Natsuki's behind. A wide grin on her face, she followed the other girl in, murmuring, "I'm really glad I came along."
"Did you get all you came for?" Mai asked, looking at the plush dog toy in Natsuki's hands. The name 'Duran' was sewn into its belly, she noticed with her keen eyes.
The blue-haired girl nodded absently. "This used to belong to me, a long time ago," she replied, before shaking her head to clear it, and placed the doll under her armpit, walking towards her boat.
"So, how are we getting back to Haruka's house, anyway?" Mai wondered, stretching out athletically.
Pointedly ignoring Mai's actions, Natsuki kept on walking. "I left my bike down the road from where I left by boat, just around the bend."
"Great!" Mai cheered.
"Hey, it's my bike!" Natsuki protested hotly. "Get your own ride."
"Don't be like that!' Mai pleaded with the other girl. "I was helpful, wasn't I?"
Natsuki's face contorted. "Maybe," she said guardedly.
The two walked together in silence, Mai hanging slightly behind Natsuki.
"Are we there yet?"
Natsuki twitched mid-step, her right foot freezing before she could lower it to the ground. "No," she grinded out. "Don't like it, go swim back." She gave Mai's breasts a passing glance, and added with a smirk, "Underwater."
"Why are you mean to me?" Mai asked her suddenly. "I'm your girlfriend, aren't I?"
"Only by the loosest, most technical meaning of the word," Natsuki said dismissively, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "In that you are both a girl and a friend of mine."
"You consider me a friend, then!" Mai said excitedly. "Oh, happy day!"
"…right," Natsuki drawled out, grimacing. She continued walking in silence, getting ahead of her companion.
Pouting, Mai jogged to catch up to her. "So if I'm your friend who is a girl, why aren't you being nicer? You know, to me?"
"Because I don't like you," Natsuki deadpanned, not missing a step.
Mai pouted again. "Why do you say all these things you don't mean, Natsuki? I'm perfectly likeable!"
"Not to me," the blue-haired girl dismissed with a wave of her hand.
"Can it be…." Mai frowned, pausing mid-step. "Can it be you just don't like girls?" She tapped her lips thoughtfully, pondering this for several moments, before laughing to herself. "Nah, that's impossible!"
It was Natsuki's turn to pause in mid-step, and she turned her head around to give the approaching Mai her full attention. "What do you mean by that?!" she demanded to know, completing the turn and standing with her hands on her hips.
Mai rolled her eyes. "Isn't it obvious?" She walked past Natsuki, and patted her on the cheek before continuing. "C'mon, I'm sure your bike is here somewhere. Aren't you excited about taking a moonlit drive together with me? I am!"
Natsuki stomped her right foot in frustration.
"Is this a bad time to mention I caught you changing before you left?" Mai smiled in remembrance. "You looked very hot."
"Miss President!" Mai exclaimed, flipping the lights on. She continued in a more amiable tone of voice. "Fancy meeting you here… in my quarters… after lights out." Her smile became suggestive.
"Natsuki came to see me," Shizuru said pleasantly, crossing her legs as she sat on Mai's bed. "She seems worried that you're after her." She paused briefly. "Can you explain to me why she seems to think that you're a pervert, Tokiha-san, and might be turning her into one as well?"
"Umm," Mai stalled, searching for words. "I might've hit on her a few times in school?" She eventually replied, deciding to be truthful with Shizuru. "And I snuck into her room at night — she has a lovely lingerie collection, by the way. Speaking of lingerie, it was stolen once by that strange underwear thief. It's strange how even though I offered to let her borrow some of mine she just ran away with her hands holding her skirt down. At least I found out that she is a natu—"
Shizuru made a little strangled sound.
"Right." Mai shrugged. "Oh, and we have stimulating talks about an assortment of subjects, such as the pros and cons of sharing a bed together, and we even got to have an exciting adventure at sea together! Actually, that one was very pleasant, since I got Natsuki to hitchhike. She was quite fetching, at that." She nodded to herself several times. "Plus, there was that time I accidentally landed on her when she was trying to kill me and ended up fondling her. Completely by chance, of course. She never did manage to let it go…."
"Ah, I see." Shizuru nodded. "I'm afraid I'll have to kill you now." She stood up, a large glaive materializing in her arms.
"Why is it… that the hot girls… in this school… have freaky weapons… and are trying… to kill me?" Mai lamented rhetorically, panting, her hands resting on her knees.
"Are you sure you have time to stop and regain your breath, Tokiha-san?" Shizuru asked her in a conversational tone, standing a few meters behind her. Moonlight glinted off the blade of her glaive menacingly.
"Wow, aren't you the little princess magnet, Mai-chan?" a new voice asked.
Mai glanced towards its source, spotting a young boy Takumi's age with untamed blue hair sitting comfortably on a tree branch above her. His legs dangled freely, and he seemed to be holding a fried octopus in his hand.
"Nagi?" Shizuru said, turning it into a question. "What are you doing here?"
"HiME shouldn't fight HiME," Nagi cautioned, waving the octopus around.
"You really shouldn't try to stop me," Shizuru responded, redirecting her attention to him from Mai for the time being. "Tokiha-san must die."
"Why?!" Mai all but yelled.
"A wise woman once said, 'Obstacles are for the killing'," Shizuru quoted from memory. The glaive was pointed at Mai once more.
"Oh, crap," Mai deadpanned. "I should've known. I, of all people, really should've seen the signs."
"Goodbye, Tokiha-san," Shizuru said, flying at her weapon-first.
"Want some help, Mai-chan?" Nagi asked, leaping from branch to branch as he leisurely kept up with Mai and Shizuru.
"Sure!" she yelled back at him. "Jump right in!"
"Ah, but I can't do that," he mumbled, munching on his food. "I shouldn't interfere in battles between HiME."
"But you said hime shouldn't fight!" she sputtered, adding quietly, "Whatever a hime is."
"This is most unfortunate," Nagi agreed.
"Go to hell, you idiot," she muttered.
"I could show you a place where you would find a weapon to defend yourself," Nagi offered, dangling upside down from a branch to her left. As Mai passed him, he lost his balance and dropped to the ground on his head.
She was in a cave, Mai realized. Pretty spacious, and with a small opening at the top, but still a dead end, as far as she was concerned. Nagi was nowhere to be found, either.
"This is the end, Tokiha-san."
Crap. She'd been set up. And if Miss President with the deadly-looking weapon came any closer, it would all be over. Takumi, her fun life… getting it on with Natsuki….
"Oh, hell no!" Mai objected out loud. She walked backwards away from Shizuru, her eyes darting to the sides, looking for anything she could use as a makeshift weapon. Even some small tunnel she had originally overlooked and could use for escape would be a welcome find. A section of the wall covered with strange writings and pictographs drew her attention, and she ran towards it in desperation.
A sword was embedded in the bedrock almost to the hilt. Mai grasped at it with both hands and pulled. Her legs slid across the ground, but the sword didn't bulge. Hearing a scraping sound caused her to throw a frightened glance over her shoulder. She saw Shizuru moving towards her at a leisurely pace, the blade of her glaive dragging across the ground, Shizuru's eyes flashing red.
Shrieking in terror, Mai held on tighter, her hands whitening, and put her feet against the wall, one after the other. She braced herself, and then gave another strong pull, crying out Natsuki's name.
The sword came out of its stony prison with a screech of metal. Mai didn't have time to balance herself, and landed on her back painfully, holding onto her liberated weapon. She groaned, rolling over to her stomach, and smirked at the woman trying to kill her.
Shizuru glanced at the sword coldly, and whispered a name.
Mai's superior smirk was instantly wiped out by the appearance of a gigantic, purple octopus-like being, its tentacles ending with sneering snakes. "You've got to be kidding me!" she whined, getting into a crouch with her back plastered against the wall.
"So, what's a hime, anyway?" Mai asked, stalling for time.
"A HiME is someone who can manipulate photons. Highly-advanced Materializing Equipment. So—" Nagi explained conversationally, though the explanation was cut off by the sounds of screeching from Kiyohime's heads.
"That doesn't make any sense," Mai commented, taking a step back. Her voice was shaky, and not at all casual like Nagi's, try as she might have to imitate him. "Not with the English the professors at Fuuka have been teaching us."
Shizuru shrugged, and twirled her scythe around her form elegantly. "I have to agree, Tokiha-san. However, any attempt to stall me with words would not work."
"Then— how about soldiers?" Mai asked suddenly.
Shizuru blinked. "You want to stall me with soldiers?"
"No," Mai replied, shaking her head. The sword in her arms dipped slightly, and she made a conscious effort to point its tip at her opponent once more. "Soldiers with Materializing Equipment. How about it?"
"No, no, it's all wrong!" Nagi protested. "A HiME is a HiME!"
Shizuru paused in her advance to think the suggestion over. "It does make more sense, and Nagi is against it—"
"I am, I am!" the boy agreed readily, nodding several times.
"—I guess that settles it," Shizuru concluded. "I never liked HiME, anyway."
"Do you still have to kill me?" Mai chanced, looking at the chestnut-haired girl with almost unbridled optimism.
"Afraid so," Shizuru replied, nodding.
"You were talking about—" Mai jumped back to avoid a giant snake head snapping at her. She hit the ground on her feet, but kept on sliding backwards. Grasping her sword firmly with both arms, she struck its tip against the ground, arresting her movement. "—how all of us had a Kiyohime to help us?"
"Not a Kiyohime, a Child," Nagi explained, sounding exasperated. "Kiyohime is just the name of Fujino's Child. Every HiME has a different Child—"
"I'm too young to have children," Mai protested, cutting him off. "Can't I just—" She used her sword to guard from another strike from Kiyohime, getting pushed back almost to the wall. "—baby-sit?"
"Maybe you should adopt one of the Orphans, Tokiha-san," Shizuru suggested, smiling calmly, her weapon at the ready.
Mai frowned. "Now I know you're making fun of me."
"Incidentally, the Child Kagutsuchi is sealed here," Nagi commented idly. "Oh, I wonder who will put their hands on those cavemen drawing on that wall behind Mai-chan — a little to the left, a bit higher, yes, Mai-chan — and gain his awesome power."
"Try and be any more casual about this, and I'll shove this sword where the sun doesn't shine, even if it's the last thing I do," Mai swore, shaking the weapon at the boy.
"Oh, my!" Shizuru exclaimed. Her scythe lowered. "I don't believe I've ever heard something so corny." She shook her head. "Certainly not said right next to me. I'm impressed, Tokiha-san."
"Impressed enough not to kill me?" Mai asked, her voice perky and hopeful.
"Ah, I forgot to mention something," Nagi interjected, before Shizuru could rebuff Mai once more. "When a HiME makes a contract with a Child, she has to put something important on the line. But that's not a problem, is it?"
Mai frowned. "How important? I mean, do I have to forego my allowance for the next week?"
"The next week?" Nagi and Shizuru repeated together.
"The whole month? No?" Mai then gasped. "Forever? You can't be serious?"
"It's not that kind of sacrifice," Nagi finally said at length.
"It is a form of human sacrifice," Shizuru said, her words chilling Mai. "When I fight, I put the life of the one who is most precious to me on the line. Should I lose, her life is forfeit. Therefore, losing is unimaginable."
"Okay. Suddenly, not really wanting to win, here," Mai grouched. At Shizuru's raised eyebrow, she snorted. "Let's cut the crap. I win, Natsuki gets it. Yes?"
Shizuru inclined her head in agreement.
"You win, Natsuki's screwed as well. In a bad way."
"Only if your powers have fully awakened," Shizuru pointed out helpfully.
"Ah." Mai nodded, and transferred the hilt of her sword solely to her left hand, slamming the right against the seal on the wall behind her. "Kagutsuchi!" She called out, and a gigantic bird of fire erupted from the wall, fumes escaping its nostrils.
Shizuru frowned, before adopting a neutral expression. "Okay," she said, and lowered her scythe completely, its tip pointing at the ground.
"Okay what?" Mai asked cautiously, glancing at her enormous Child to boost her confidence.
"I'm impressed enough to not kill you now, Mai."
"I wish I could've been there for the money shot," Shizuru said, winking suggestively at Natsuki.
"Shizuru?" the blue-haired girl asked, confused.
"When during the underwear-stealing incident your special lingerie was stolen, of course," the student council president replied matter-of-factly. "I understand that you gave Mai quite a view." Shizuru closed her eyes, drinking tea from her cup, a pleased expression on her face.
Natsuki gaped at her friend. "Money shot? Lingerie?" she stammered, her eyes wide. She turned towards the orange-haired girl. "Mai?!"
Mai grinned at Natsuki from her seat next to Shizuru. "Money shot," she confirmed. "Wouldn't have missed it for the world."
Natsuki switched her astonished gaze to Shizuru. "Did she do something to you?" She walked quickly, though stiffly, towards her friend. "Drug you? M-Molest you into losing your sanity?"
"Yay for Shizuru's sanity," Mai grumbled quietly to herself, ignored by the other two girls.
"Mai has done no such thing," Shizuru replied, shaking her head lightly.
"There it is again!" Natsuki exclaimed. "Mai!" She grasped Shizuru by her shoulders, leaning forward to lock eyes with her. "What happened to 'Tokiha-san'?"
"Mai is sitting right here," Shizuru replied, faking surprise. "Is there anything wrong with your eyes?" Suddenly, before Natsuki could respond, Shizuru's tongue darted out and licked Natsuki's nose playfully.
A shiver, starting from Natsuki's nose, passed through her entire body.
"A blushing Natsuki is a very pretty Natsuki," Shizuru commented, turning to Mai. "Tea?"
"That she is," Mai agreed. "And I'd love some."
Shizuru inclined her head in the orange-haired girl's direction, and poured some green tea into an empty cup. She then handed it over to Mai, who nodded in gratitude, taking it.
The bell signifying the end of classes rang, and Mai wasted no time in gathering her things. Whistling to herself, she stepped out into the corridor, where she spotted Natsuki. "Wanna go bust up some evil Orphans today together?" Mai asked cheerfully, walking towards the blue-haired girl while ignoring the couple of strange glances her words had brought on.
"How do you know about Orphans?!" Natsuki answered with a question of her own, eyeing Mai with distrust.
"Shizuru told me all about it," Mai explained, shrugging. "Since losing to one of them meant losing you, she figured I needed to know about the situation." She frowned then. "This is a very strange school."
"Shizuru?!" Natsuki shook her head in confusion. "She's involved in this, too?"
"Don't worry," Mai replied, making as if she was going to pat Natsuki on the shoulder. The blue-haired girl, already on her guard against Mai, danced out of the way. "We're not leaving you out of this."
"What do you mean?" Natsuki asked, dread mounting.
"Well, to make a long story short, after spending some time fighting over you," Mai replied, "we had a heart-to-heart and ended up deciding to form our 3-SoME with you, Natsuki."
All talk in the corridor stopped, as if a master switch had been flipped by an unseen hand.
"What the hell is this?" Natsuki demanded to know, her eyebrow twitching.
"A-A love l-letter," the mousy, brown-haired girl with a bob haircut stammered, holding a sealed letter in her hands. She bowed deeply, her entire body shaking, and stretched her arms out towards Natsuki. "Please accept it, Sempai!"
"But… I'm a girl," Natsuki protested weekly. "Why…?" She trailed off, out of words.
"You're really cool, and pretty, and… and…." Suddenly, the girl's head shot up, her eyes burning with conviction, "And both President Shizuru and Tokiha-sempai are in a dangerous relationship with you, Sempai! Please let me join, too!"
Natsuki palmed her face, mentally asking what she'd done to deserve this. "Mai?" she called out, not really expecting an answer. "Did you put her up to this?"
"No," a disembodied voice replied to Natsuki. "But I'd really like it if you turned her down. It was hard enough to come up with our current acronym."
As the confessing girl looked around in bewilderment, a cold shiver passed through Natsuki's spine.
"Mai, you're a pervert, and an overall pretty scary person," Natsuki said at length, shuffling from foot to foot, "but I suppose I can count on you where it, well, counts." She blinked, and amended quickly, "As long as you're not invading my personal space at a radius of five meters."
Mai pouted, and reluctantly removed her hands from Natsuki's slim waist, stepping back.
"Shizuru, you've been my only friend for over three years, and I've always been able to rely on you." She took in Shizuru's happy and more than suggestive smile, and shivered. "You're also probably an even scarier person and a closet pervert, with my luck."
Shizuru matched Mai's pout.
"For the love of all that is holy, why can't we all just be friends?!" Natsuki asked the two girls facing her, exasperated.
Mai and Shizuru exchanged glances. "You're kidding, right?" Mai snorted. "There's no way I'm going to be as repressed as Shizuru."
"Repressed?" the student council president asked, a whiff of indignation in her voice.
"Well, you've spent almost four years around Natsuki, and never once found the courage to confess, right?" Mai gave Shizuru a penetrating glance. "And while you'd fallen in love with her at first sight, too, I bet."
Shizuru looked away, abashed. "I wanted to keep our friendship, because Natsuki was an important person to me."
"She's important to me, too!" Mai insisted. "I'm not giving up on the person I want to finally settle down with, after all the searching!" She winked at Natsuki. "So how about it? It'll be fun, I guarantee it!"
"Am I a lesbian magnet?" Natsuki wondered out loud, dropping her head into her cupped hands to conceal her heavy blush.
"You could be," Mai's sultry voice filtered tenderly into her ears.
"Personal space," Natsuki reminded her tiredly, and felt Mai's body melt away from her own.
"Do you have a boy you like, Natsuki?" Shizuru asked her suddenly in her gentle voice.
"What?!" Natsuki exclaimed, her train of thought completely derailed by the seeming non-sequitur. "No!"
"A girl, then?" Shizuru pressed on.
Mai shrugged. "It's possible, what with her being a lesbian mag—"
"I'm not!" Natsuki interrupted Mai, her face flushed as a ripe tomato. "And no, I'm not in love with anyone. Shizuru, don't you see—" She stopped in the middle of the sentence, and spoke with resignation. "Five meters, Mai."
"I know, I got it the second time," Mai replied. Her voice sounded distant.
Natsuki opened her eyes, and looked at Shizuru's smiling face.
"Is anything the matter?" Shizuru asked, snuggling closer to Natsuki, a contented expression on her face.
"I can't win," Natsuki said in resignation, "can I?"
"Would it be so bad to lose just this once, Natsuki?" Shizuru asked her, looking at her with half-lidded eyes. A moment later, Natsuki could feel that Mai had once more violated her personal space, molding herself to Natsuki's back.
Natsuki stayed quiet this time.
"So, what's our next move?" Nagi asked himself, sitting cross-legged on top of the bell tower.
"Oh, who am I kidding?" He tussled up his hair in frustration. "With that 3-SoME in the way, it might as well be game-set-match for the other team."
Nagi pouted. "It really is unfair, especially after all the work I put into all the arrangement for the festival. Oh well, there's always another one three hundred years later," he said in resignation. "Better get ready for that one. So much work to do, so little time to do it." Nagi rubbed his hands together, before clapping them once. "Preparations it is!"
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