Centauri2002's Fanfiction

Sacrifice

Sacrifice - A Mai HiME Fanfiction

Normality - A Prelude

It had been six long months since The Carnival. Six months of school, awkward socialising and boredom. Kuga Natsuki was now nothing more than a school girl and the thought was not a pleasing one. She went to school most days, she went home to her lonely apartment and then she went out with her so called friends who forced her into embarassing karaokes and the like. It was almost enough to wish the days of The Carnival back. Almost, but not quite.

Yes, she missed Duran but the havoc The Carnival had played on everyone's lives had left lingering scars for many. Not just for the ex-HiME. It had been so painful or disturbing for some that they had moved away from Fuuka, as far as possible in some cases. She wasn't sure what had happened to a lot of people that used to live in the area nor did she much care. Those people didn't concern her. It was hard enough learning to care about the people who loved her.

She tightened her grip on the handlebars of her Ducati motorcycle, speeding away from the school as quickly as she could. The group of people who used to meet under the shade of the trees in the school grounds had gradually dwindled. The only ones left now were herself, Mai, Mikoto and Tate. She'd occasionally see Nao around but she didn't seem to be going to school any more. Not that it surprised her. She was probably busy looking after her mother. The strangest thing about going to school now was not seeing Shizuru there. She had been her constant companion at Fuuka for the longest time, it seemed. And now she was gone. Off to Fuuka University to follow her own path. She wasn't sure why she was upset at that.

After The Carnival and then the graduation, Shizuru had told her that she'd be attending the nearby University, which was a relief as Natsuki presumed she'd had offers for much more presitigious establishments than Fuuka. But her relief was short lived, it seemed. She hadn't been able to see Shizuru much at all in the past six months. She'd been so busy with her studies and Natsuki was too but it was almost as if Shizuru was avoiding her. Purposely putting off visiting her and using any old excuse to do so. Why are you pushing me away? She asked herself. But she knew the answer, if she was honest. She'd seen it in those crimson eyes after The Carnival. The deep hurt, the guilt, the shame, the longing. Shizuru was good at hiding all that, but not from Natsuki, she could see past those practiced defences.

Natsuki sighed, bringing her motorcycle to a halt as the traffic lights flickered to red. She'd always end up thinking herself in circles. She'd been over this many times but could never come up with an answer to it. Never. She missed her friend dearly but if this was her way with dealing, then who was she to stop her? Still, it had been several weeks since they'd last spoke and it was about time she paid Shizuru a visit. She hadn't phoned to check previously but Natsuki wasn't one to ask if it was okay to see someone.

As she rode past the traffic lights that were now green, she looked ahead, watching as her destination neared. Shizuru didn't stay on campus but she still lived in a building used as student housing for the university. Natsuki didn't like coming here much, she'd have to try and avoid all the students and their annoying questions. Did University automatically make you nosey? She pulled into the parking area for the building and picked a space as far from the main doors as possible. She killed the engine and slipped off the machine, taking a deep breath. Removing her helmet, she marched towards the main entrance, gazing up at the tall building. Many lit windows stared back at her.

She slipped inside the foyer, tucking her helmet under one arm and checked to make sure noone was around. Good, noone to harass me. She walked over to the elevator and pressed the call button. When it arrived, she was dismayed to see two people pile out, giving her curious looks. She scowled at them, hoping they'd take the hint. Luckily for them, they did and left her alone. Still scowling at their backs, she hammered the second floor button with her finger, jabbing mercilessly at the clear plastic. Satisfied when the doors creaked shut, she leant against the side of the elevator.

It wasn't exactly a pleasant enclosed space to be in, she mused. The once white walls were now yellowing with age and there were a few brown streaks from god knows what. She frowned with disgust and looked down at the ground instead. The brown carpet tiles really didn't do much to reduce the grim effect. At least it hid most of the nastier stains. The elevator jerked to a halt as it arrived at the second floor and when the doors slid open she escaped with relief. Throwing a glare back at the inanimate object, she stalked down the hall, her eyes focused on one door in particular.

Number Twelve. She stopped in front of it and hovered there for a while, eyeing the door. Why did she feel anxious all of a sudden? She'd been here on several occasions. She shook the feeling away and raised her hand to knock on the door. With some hesitation, she wrapped her knuckles against the wood three times and waited. And waited. She tapped her foot with impatience. Where could she possibly be? Classes would have ended a while ago. She knocked again, harder this time. Perhaps she was out with friends? The thought irked her though she knew she shouldn't be annoyed. Shizuru was allowed to have other friends.

Giving in to her frustration, she tried the handle, glancing up the corridor as she did so. Surprisingly, the door opened with a click. She slowly pushed it open and peeked her head in, scanning the room for any sign of her friend. These rooms tried to give the impression that they were in fact apartments but did so poorly. There was still the communal kitchen and bathrooms on each floor so all that was needed in each room was a bed and a few other pieces of furniture. Her eyes were drawn to the bed and her gaze softened when she saw the slender form of her friend. She slipped into the room and quietly closed the door.

She padded over to the bed and settled on the edge of it, twisting to look down at a slumbering Shizuru. Her eyes closed, lips slightly parted, and her chesnut tresses splayed across the pillow made her look almost angelic. She looked very peaceful at that moment and Natsuki smiled. She reached out, brushing away a few strands of hair that dared to break the perfect visage. She frowned when Shizuru's brow creased ever so slightly and she mumbled something incoherent. Looking at her gloved hand hovering over her friend's face she rolled her eyes and pulled the black leather from her fingers. She placed them beside her on the bed, along with her helmet. She turned back to Shizuru, watching as the corner of her lips twitched at whatever she was dreaming.

She shifted her position slightly on the bed and placed her right hand on the opposite side of Shizuru's waist, whilst her other played with a few strands of chesnut silk. She sat there watching her for a while before she noticed a thin layer of perspiration appear on her upper lip and the crease in her brow deepen. Those full lips moved, mouthing something that was never meant to be heard. Unfortunately, Natsuki wasn't very good at lip reading so it would remain that way. Her emerald gaze drifted down to the rise of Shizuru's chest, where the open cardigan revealed a white top and smooth skin. The rise and fall became quicker, sharper and she could hear her breath do the same.

What are you dreaming? She silently asked her friend. What troubles you? She let her fingers lightly caress the sleeping girl's cheek, causing a murmer to pass her lips. What if she were to wake up right now? The thought struck her. Isn't it a little weird that you're touching her in her sleep? It's not like that but... She stopped the train of thought. What was she thinking?

"Ngh." The sound brought her attention back to those full lips. She thought for a moment she'd woken but her eyes were still shut, though a little tighter than before. She felt Shizuru's body twitch beneath her and she was beginning to worry if it was her presence that was causing her sleep to be disturbed. She pressed the palm of her right hand against Shizuru's waist, above her hip, in an attempt to soothe her. I should just leave... She needs her sleep.

But there was something about her face that made her stay. Perhaps it was the slight discomfort etched into her usually calm features. Perhaps it was the way her lips moved, drawing her in to hear those silent words. Perhaps it was just to stay there and see those crimson orbs flicker into view. Whatever the reason, she remained sitting, staring at her friend.

She let out a sharp exhale of breath as she felt something on her thigh. She looked down and saw Shizuru's right hand laying on her leather encased upper leg. She frowned slightly and looked back at her friend's face. From the rise and fall of her chest, she could tell she was still asleep. The fingers and thumb of her hand dug into the leather a little, gripping her thigh. She felt heat rise to her cheeks but didn't move her hand, for fear of waking her. What if she caught her moving her hand on her thigh? She'd never let her live that one down.

"... suki..." Came the quiet voice from beside her and she would have missed it had she not been leant in close.

Her heart skipped a beat and she scowled, unsure to why it would do that. She leaned in further, tilting her head to the side so she might hear any more words. None came but she could hear the breathing hasten and feel the grip on her leg tighten. She pulled back a little and her heart ached at the pained expression that tugged at Shizuru's features. Her brow furrowed and relaxed consecutively and her lips tightened into a thin line and then parted again to reveal clenched teeth. She hated seeing her friend like this.

Wasn't there something she could do to ease her nightmare? She wished she could delve into her mind and chase the phantoms of whatever haunted her away. She'd beat them off with her fists if she could. She laid the flat of her palm against Shizuru's cheek now, feeling her friend relax a little at the touch. Okay, that worked a little, what else? She pondered. A few thoughts suddenly sprung to mind but she quickly batted them away, her cheeks colouring. Where the heck did they..?

"Please..." The word stopped her self derision and she looked keenly up at the lips that had produced it. Please? Please what? She wondered. The word sounded desperate though and she pressed her palm firmer against her cheek absent mindedly. "S-stop..." Another pained word slipped out of her mouth, quieter this time. She'd never heard her friend speak with such desperation.

"Shizuru..." She whispered, clamping her mouth shut as soon as the name slipped past her lips. She hadn't meant to speak at all. She didn't really want to wake her friend, she just wanted to take away her nightmares. But her attempts weren't working it seemed.

She let out a soft sigh as she watched Shizuru's left hand grip the pillow next to her head and the right hand followed suit on her thigh. She let out a small squeak at the applied pressure. It wasn't painful as such... it was just... different. She became aware of her right thumb idly tracing circular patterns against the smooth skin of Shizuru's waist and she blushed at the realisation. She didn't stop though, as it had appeared to calm her friend a little more. She shook the nagging thought that if anyone walked in on them, this would look very compromising, from her mind. Thoughts like that would only lead to her running from the room.

She leaned in closer again to Shizuru's face, pausing when she felt her short breaths against her face. The sensation sent a little flutter to her stomach but she ignored it. The warm air smelt slightly sweet to her. Watching as another furrow creased its way across her brow, she closed the final gap and smoothed it out with her lips. She lingered there for a moment, the feel of her heated skin against her lips and her breath against her throat causing all kinds of thoughts to flash before her. But she ignored them aswell, she was so good at it.

She pulled back slowly, smiling when she saw her friend looked peaceful once more. The grip on her thigh loosened until it was merely resting there now and the pillow felt the same relief. "Much better." She murmured to the sleeping woman, brushing her left hand through chesnut hair.

As gently as she possibly could, she picked up Shizuru's right hand and moved it til it was laying beside her on the bed. She took one last lingering look at her friend's slumbering features before rising quietly from the bed. She couldn't help but smile when she looked at her like this. She picked up her helmet and gloves and snuck over to the front door. Closing her hands carefully around the handle, she turned it.

"Nat... suki..?" Came a small voice from behind her.

Her heart stammered away in her chest and she froze for a moment. She's awake!? How long as she been awake? She inwardly panicked. Taking a deep breath, she turned slowly. Shizuru had propped herself up on one elbow and was rubbing at her eyes with the other hand, a very sleepy look on her face. She seemed to be uncertain whether Natsuki was in the room or not.

"Y-yeah?" Natsuki replied, a little too much nervousness seeping into her tone.

Cloudy crimson orbs locked onto her and Natsuki couldn't help but smirk at the vulnerable look a just woken Shizuru gave off. "Did Natsuki just arrive?" Came her instantly recognisable Kyoto-ben. Her voice was still low and filled with sleep.

She froze again at the words. What should I say? I don't want to lie... but it's a bit weird what I did. Finally deciding honest was the best course, she spoke up, turning completely and resting her back against the wood of the door. "No, I was just leaving. I didn't want to wake you."

Shizuru was now sitting up fully, her legs hanging over the side of the bed. "Ara, Natsuki was watching over me?"

Natsuki coloured at the teasing words but she could see in those crimson eyes that she wasn't completely joking. She scowled at her friend, as she always did, and turned her face away. "Whatever." She breathed, pretending as if it didn't matter. Why was she becoming so aware of the facades she had always put up? It had always been like this had it not? Why did it matter now?

A playful smile lit up Shizuru's face and she stood and strode over towards Natsuki. She stopped in front of her. "So you were." It wasn't a question, it was a statement and Natsuki couldn't think of a good retort so she decided on silence.

She noticed Shizuru's features shift out of the corner of her eye and she turned her face to look at her properly. Her eyes had clouded over as if she was remembering something. Had it been someone else studying her face, then they wouldn't have noticed the subtle changes in it, but Natsuki knew when something was worrying her friend, or when she was in pain. "Shizuru?" She asked, her normally harsh tones edged with concern now.

Shizuru blinked rapidly at her, breaking herself from whatever she was remembering. The mask came back up instantly and there was that calm smile once more. "Yes?"

Natsuki frowned. That would fool anyone else, but not her. "What's the matter?"

The chesnut haired beauty turned and walked back over to her bed, stopping to look out the window. She was sure she could hear Shizuru sigh. "I've... been having bad dreams... for a while now." Her voice was quiet and Natsuki had to strain to hear them.

"I know..." She replied, softly. "How long?"

Shizuru appeared to flinch a little at her words but didn't turn. "Ever since..." She trailed off, the pain in her voice evident. Shizuru didn't normally talk like this, not even with Natsuki. Perhaps it was because she'd just woken and the dream was fresh in her mind, or perhaps she'd just had enough. Natsuki was glad though, glad she could talk to her friend about it.

She walked up behind Shizuru and lay her free hand on the other girl's back, between her shoulder blades. She could guess what the nightmares were about and she didn't ask, she didn't want to force those memories on her friend any more than they already were. For the first time in the last few months, Shizuru didn't move away from her touch so she started moving her hand in circles soothingly. "I'm sorry..." Was all she could think of to say. She wasn't very good at the comforting thing.

Shizuru turned her head to look at her and a flicker of a genuine smile passed her lips. Natsuki could always recognise those smiles, they lifted her spirits and gave her a warmth in her chest that she rarely felt. Those smiles were just for her. Her crimson eyes caught her gaze and held it. The intensity of that look captivating her. She could see many things in they depths. Fear, pain, and there was that longing but something else, something she had a hard time explaining. Love? She frowned inwardly. How could she possibly be able to tell what love was? It was something that frustrated her immensely and she had thought about it a lot. Was she even capable of feeling it, as she had told Shizuru six months ago? She had told her that she was incapable of returning her feelings and she had honestly believed that. But the more she thought about it, the more confused she got. What if she did feel it but just didn't know about it? Couldn't anyone help her to know for sure?

She cursed herself for letting herself slip into her inner monologue. Her friend needed her now and here she was drifting off and thinking about self discovery. She halted her hand's ministrations and merely rested it on her back once more, still unable to escape that crimson gaze. There was something powerful about it, something that wanted to draw her in and never let her go. And she probably would have willingly gone if she just didn't think so damn much. Her eyes were finally able to break free when Shizuru's tongue darted out slightly to wet her lips. Her emerald gaze shot down to watch the action. There was that fluttering in her stomach again and she looked away quickly. She could feel the heat rising her in cheeks to she stepped back, attempting to hide it.

She turned to look at the door, pretending that the view was an interesting one. Her breath caught in her throat as she felt warm arms slipping around her waist and an even hotter body pressed against her back. She stiffened at the contact and shivered when she felt that sweet breath against her ear. Why did she always have to do this to her? Didn't she make her blush enough?

"I've missed you." There was that teasing tone again but there was also something hidden under it, something Natsuki had come to recognise as Shizuru's honesty.

She felt herself being pulled into an even tighter embrace and the arms around her waist tighten. Blood rushed to her face as she felt warm lips brush against her ear. "You could have called then..." She breathed, her tone having risen quite a bit in pitch.

"Kanin na, Natsuki." Her lips moved against her ear as she spoke in soft, low tones. Another shiver involuntarily shook her body, causing Shizuru to release her grip on her and step back. She frowned. Had her friend misinterpreted it? Heck, I don't even know what it means. Her body confused her sometimes.

She turned around and looked up at her friend, uncertainty and shame flickering across those crimson red orbs. "Or visited!" She continued, treating the last few seconds as though they hadn't happened.

Shizuru cocked her head at Natsuki slightly, wearing a crooked smile. "Did Natsuki miss me too?"

Natsuki glared at her friend for making light of the situation. "Yes." She admitted, surprising Shizuru. Several other emotions passed behind her eyes and she looked away, moving to the bed and sitting once more. Natsuki wandered over, merely watching Shizuru's face for a while. It didn't shift, not once and Natsuki often wished she had that kind of poise and control. She was always quick to anger, quick to blush but it was rare to see Shizuru lose control. "Shizuru..?"

Shizuru looked up at the questioning tone. "Yes?" She asked, curious as to Natsuki's hesitance.

The raven-haired biker dropped her helmet and gloves on the bed once more and sub consciously ran her sweaty palms down her leathers. "Have you... have you been avoiding me?" She asked tentatively, not wanting to upset her friend but needing to know the answer.

Shizuru's eyebrow quirked in surprise at the question. It was obvious to Natsuki that she hadn't expected it but she wasn't sure if it was because it was out of the blue or because it was insightful. The playful smile spread across her face. "How could I? Natsuki is irresistable." She replied melodically in her Kyoto accent.

Natsuki scowled at her but couldn't help the blush rise within her. "Shizuru!" She snapped.

And then the playful glint in those crimson orbs was gone and they darkened as her gaze dropped. Keeping up the facade must be really tiring, Natsuki found herself thinking. And she knew the truth of it all in that instant, from the way her shoulders slumped slightly, to the way pain seeped into that dark red. She had been avoiding her.

"Why?" The question came to her lips before she could stop it.

Shizuru glanced up at her and then back down at her feet. "Do we... do we have to talk about this?" Her voice was quiet, sad and it pulled at something inside Natsuki. For a moment she nearly dropped the whole thing.

Instead, she moved closer to her friend and knelt down beside her, resting a hand on the other girl's knee, giving it a slight squeeze. "Please." She pleaded. There had been enough silences between them. It was time for them to speak what they kept hidden. Natsuki pondered that. What did she keep hidden? Was she even ready to form that into words? Would Shizuru understand?

"I'd rather Natsuki didn't hear it." She said calmly but the biker wasn't sure what she meant.

"I thought we could tell each other anything. I thought we were friends." She snapped back, a little hurt that Shizuru wanted to keep something from her.

Shizuru looked her in the eye, smiling at her but it was a sad smile, an honest smile. "There's some things that shouldn't be said between friends." She murmured, the words hitting Natsuki harshly.

She felt as though there was a heavy weight on her chest, pinning her down. She wanted Shizuru to be able to talk to her about anything and everything, but was it true that there were some things that wasn't said between people who were only friends? She didn't know, she'd only really had Shizuru as a real friend. She considered Mai a friend but she wouldn't tell her anything, nor did she want to. She wanted to share her feelings with Shizuru though. My feelings? What are they? Her mind was running her in circles again and she shook her head in frustration.

She felt fingertips brushing her cheek and her eyes shot back to crimson, her heart stuttering in her chest. "Natsuki shouldn't think too much, it makes your face scrunch up." Natsuki's cheeks burned at her touch but she willed herself to keep herself still. She glared at Shizuru though, showing her displeasure at her remark. "Though it does make Natsuki even cuter." She smirked at the biker, causing her blush to deepen.

"Stop changing the subject, Shizuru." She growled, cursing her blood for going in the direction it had.

Shizuru's smile disappeared and her eyes clouded over as her expression became far away, as if she was day dreaming. Her fingers idly traced the curve of Natsuki's cheek. She was getting a little worried now, she'd never seen Shizuru like this. What was going through her mind? She brought a hand up and gripped the hand on her cheek. Shizuru's gaze cleared and she looked back into emerald. "Please, Natsuki, can we just forget it?"

Her voice was pleading and Natsuki couldn't bare to hear it like that. She sighed and pulled back, standing. "Fine." She grumbled. "But don't think that's it. We'll be having this conversation again." She folded her arms across her chest defiantly.

Shizuru's calm smile returned to her face. "Natsuki is so cute when she is determined." Receiving yet another glare, she stood aswell and picked up her keys from her bedside table. "Is Natsuki hungry?" She asked, sweetly.

Natsuki huffed at her but her curiosity about food eased her mood fairly quickly. "It depends if we have to eat with the others." She jabbed a thumb behind her, motioning to the door.

Shizuru chuckled, her eyes lightening for the first time since Natsuki had arrived. "How about we eat out?" She offered.

The biker's face lifted at the idea and she smiled. "Sure, I choose the place, right?" She asked eagerly. At Shizuru's nod she scooped up her helmet and gloves, slipping the leather over her hands. It had been far too long since they had eaten out together and she missed it. The thing she missed the most about it though was having Shizuru behind her on her motorcycle, clinging to her waist, holding on extra tight when she went too fast. Sometimes they would ride around all night, until she got dangerously low on fuel or was at risk of falling asleep. The freedom she felt on her bike was uplifting, and having Shizuru there with her was just... perfect.

Shizuru must have noticed the silly grin that had wormed its way onto her face as she was now peering at her with a mixture of amusement and curiosity. Natsuki would have blushed if she didn't feel so excited and contented at that moment, looking forward to enjoying two of her favourite things. Riding her bike and spending time with Shizuru. She grabbed an shocked Shizuru by the wrist after she had locked her door and almost ran them both to the elevator. She could hear her friend's giggle. Even if they ended up not seeing each other for a while, she was damn well determined to make the most of the time they spent together tonight.

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Sacrifice - A Mai HiME Fanfiction

Disorder

Orange hues blanketted the city as the setting sun ducked beneath the horizon. Natsuki sat crosslegged in front of her couch, the rough carpetting irritating her bare legs but she didn't move. She sat staring at her television, not really taking in what was on it. She had flicked onto the news and subsequently zoned out. She was bored. Bored stiff. She idly played with the hem of her white sleeveless top, her thoughts drifting. The past few nights after school she had been forced to go out with Mai, once to a kareoke and once to the cinema. Admittedly, it had taken her mind off of things but spending some much time with that ball of energy was draining. Just being near her was tiring.

She had to smile at her friend though. Mai had seen that she'd been slightly low in mood as of late and was trying to cheer her up. But she'd never admit to the fiery girl that she appreciated it though. No, no, that would be far to soft and emotional for the tough biker. She frowned at her thoughts. Stupid brain. She inwardly cursed herself. She stretched her arms out and then folded them behind her head, leaning back into the tattered sofa. She considered her options for the remainder of the night. She could sit here and watch television, not that she was really watching it at all right now and it could hardly keep her interest at the best of times. She could scour the kitchen for food, though she might only be able to come up with a few items, and she knew those wouldn't mix well. She shuddered at the thought. She could go for a ride.

That idea peaked her interest and she looked out the window. The sky was relatively clear but the temperatures were beginning to drop now the sun had made its descent. Plus, she'd used a lot of fuel recently and needed to cut down on the amount of night rides she'd been taking. She scowled. She hated having to sort out finances and balance the books. She was a teenager, she shouldn't have to worry about money. Sighing, she lifted herself and threw her body onto the couch, the furniture creaking beneath her in complaint. She'd probably have to buy a new one soon but there was familiarity with it she didn't want to part with. She smiled wryly. That summed her up didn't it. She hated change. She'd hold onto anything for dear life as long as it would keep her life familiar and safe.

Physically, she didn't mind taking risks. In fact, she probably went out of her way sometimes to put herself in danger. In the past she had, at any rate. But emotionally, she was a coward, pure and simple. Inside, she was still that frightened little girl, clinging to her mother, never wanting to let go. Pathetic, she thought. She shook her head. No, she wasn't doing this tonight. She wasn't going to spiral downwards into thoughts of self derision. She'd had enough of that. If she didn't keep herself busy, her brain kicked in, whispering in her ear, telling her things she didn't want to hear.

Scanning the room quickly with her eyes, she tried to find something, anything that would keep her occupied. Finally, her gaze rested upon a small desk with an uncomfortable wooden chair parked in front of it. A bag sat next to it, battered and abused from overuse. On top of the table sat several books and a pad of paper. Oh great, she thought. Homework. She lifted herself from the couch and sauntered over towards it, glaring at the offending article. After a few minutes of deliberation she finally shrugged. Better than nothing.

Soon, she had settled down into the uncomfortable chair and had flicked open one of her textbooks. Her brow furrowed in mild irritation. Maths. The bane of her existance. Her new arch nemesis. She'd take this one down just as ruthlessly, she decided. Holding her pencil as though it were the ultimate weapon, she starting scribbling on the notepad in front of her, scratching out a method in which to defeat this monster. In reality, she was hopelessly lost, writing any old equation in hope that it was the right one. After a few more minutes of this she threw her pencil down in disgust and scowled. Deafeated.

She massaged her temples with her fingertips. Maths always had a way of giving her the biggest headache in the smallest amount of time. Perhaps it was her weakness. She glanced at a few of her other textbooks. History, Geography and Biology. None of which she particularly excelled in. This was going to be a long night of boring homework, she mused. She briefly considered tossing the books out her window but dismissed the idea, she couldn't afford to pay for the replacements for every time she wanted to do that.

She picked up a sudden noise and she turned her head towards its origin. She could only describe it as a clicking, or perhaps a scratching. She looked towards the fairly large windows and glass door that led to her balcony. The blinds had been lowered so she couldn't see beyond them. She carefully stood, not making a sound and padded over to the window. Her pulse quickened as she listened and she almost lost track of the noise from the sound of blood pumping in her ears. There it was again, another click, followed by a metallic scratching. It was defintely coming from the glass door.

She wrapped her fingers around the pull chord that was dangling beside the cream blinds. She hesitated for a moment, all sorts of scenarios flashing through her mind. Her eyes narrowed in determination. Fear would not get the better of her. She swiftly yanked downwards, effectively pulling the blinds aside. They clattered against the sides of the windows as she peered through the glass. Her heart froze in her chest.

Outside, on the balcony, knelt a man covered in dark clothing, a mask hiding his face. He looked up at Natsuki in shock, dropping the tools he'd been holding. Apparantly, from the looks of the items, he'd been trying to pick the lock on her door. She gasped as he quickly stood and withdrew a long barelled pistol from his belt. It didn't look like a normal firearm, there was a chamber inside the weapon that appeared to hold a liquid of some kind. She didn't have much time to think about it though. The intruder fired a shot through the glass and she found herself leaping over that battered couch, rolling onto her knees once she had landed. Instinct was beginning to take over.

She heard the sound of breaking glass and shards scattering across her carpet. Then there was the crunch of glass under a heavy booted foot. Her mind raced as she quickly went through her options. She didn't have any weapon of her own, she wasn't able to summon her element or child any longer, she was basically defenceless against an armed intruder. If she could get in close, perhaps she'd have a chance. But getting close to a man with a gun wasn't easy. She flinched as another shot sounded and she heard something whistle past her ear.

That had been too close. She ducked and crawled around the side of the couch, peeking around the corner. Another shot. It ploughed into the wall behind her, plaster falling to the floor and leaving the surrounding air dusty. Bastard, she cursed. I'm going to have to clear that up! She heard the heavy thud of his feet against her carpet and they were getting closer. She pressed herself against the side of the couch, making herself a small a target as she possibly could. She could feel the vibrations of his footsteps now, and the menacing aura of his presence.

She gritted her teeth and tensed her muscles. She estimated he was around the back of the sofa so she made her move. She used the power in her legs to propel herself over the top of the sofa and lunged shoulder first into his chest. He hadn't been expecting that it seemed and his delayed reaction sent him sprawling across the floor, the gun clattering against the wall. Natsuki grinned viciously at him. Disarmed, he was much less of a threat to her. She threw herself onto his chest and punched him squarely in the jaw. Hard. He head swung around and met harshly with the carpet, a small grunt escaping his lips. She took hold of the black fabric and tugged it from his head, revealing a rough, thirty-something, male face. The red mark on his chin was mostly hidden by heavy stubble. He nose was crooked from perhaps other beatings he'd received and his eyes were closed. One more beating for you. She found herself thinking.

It was then she noticed that he hadn't come alone. Crap, she spat inwardly, as another gunman emerged from the balcony, gun aimed at her. She tried to dodge to the side but when she felt a sharp pain in her shoulder she knew she hadn't been fast enough. She let out a snarl as she tumbled to the ground, one hand covering the wound. She winced as she landed. It hurt. It hurt like hell. She'd never been shot before so she wasn't sure how it was meant to feel but she had a strange sensation spreading from the wound. It was like water soaking her muscle from the inside. Soon her entire arm felt cold, followed by a strange numbness. She was pretty sure this was not how she was meant to feel from a normal bullet.

She looked up at her shooter. He had closed in and still aimed his gun at her. His arm shook slightly and it appeared as though he didn't know what to expect from her. She cursed. How had she been taken down by an amateur like this? She attempted to push herself onto her knees but the pain that shot across her shoulder and chest forced her to stay down. Her limbs were starting to feel heavy now and she wondered what exactly had gotten into her system. She pulled her hand away to look at the wound. There wasn't much blood, in fact there was only a small mark where she'd been shot. She grimaced.

The first intruder had regained consciousness it seemed and was now staggering over towards her. He shot a venomous look at her and spat on the floor next to her. Natsuki glared at him. "You little bitch." He snarled, raising a fist as though to strike her.

His companion grabbed his arm. The unmasked one centred his glare on him. "Unmarked." Came the masked man's voice. He was surprisingly soft spoken. The unmasked man just grunted and pulled his arm away, stalking across to the other side of the room to retrieve his gun.

Natsuki's mind was beginning to get very cloudy and she had problems focusing on anything. The couch, the bloody spit, the men in front of her, her own fingers. They all began to blur. She squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again but it was only getting worse. She tried to shake her head but that just caused her to feel sick. The room was almost spinning around her now. What the heck was going on? What had she done to deserve this? She was only a school girl...

She finally slumped fully to the floor, her body completely numb, her mind whirling. She vaguely heard a cruel laugh as the darkness closed in. She tried to fight it but it consumed her, overtaking her senses and finally her mind. She gave in and then there was nothing.

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Mizushima Yoshiro paced from one side of his office to the other. It wasn't a particularly big room so it didn't take him long. No, it was a lot smaller than what he'd been used to. He glanced at his desk, frowning at the lack of elegance in it. It was a simple wooden desk, with far too much paperwork on it. He was not used to this at all. He walked around the desk and sat in the brown leather chair, ignoring the squeak it made. He flicked through a few pieces of paper, eyeing the information they contained wearily. How long had he been doing this now? He'd lost track. But things were progressing now so he couldn't really complain. His work was paying off.

Running an aging hand over one particular piece of paper, his eyes narrowed. It wasn't going as he had planned though. That annoyed him. He glared coldly at the image staring back at him. Those eyes, that face, those hands had taken so much from him. They had made him feel fear for the first time in his life. He would make them pay. He clenched his teeth together, barely able to contain the hate that reached into his mind like a claw, shredding rational thought as it went. He shoved the paper roughly back onto the desk and leaned back, looking at something other than that face.

He let out a sigh. He needed to focus on other things right now. He could wallow in his darker emotions later. He stared at the phone for a few moments, wondering why he hadn't received a report yet. He'd sent out his team hours ago. If there was one thing he didn't like, it was incompetence. He'd expected a phone call at least an hour ago. He pushed himself to his feet again. He felt restless. He turned and looked out the window that had been installed in the wall. Beyond it was a fake image but a calming one nonetheless. The fabricated view showed him the city, one he had looked down upon many times. He mind cleared a little as he took a few deep breaths.

There was a tap at his door and he turned, barking a command at it. "Enter."

The door creaked open and in stepped a young dark haired man in a grey suit. He closed the door and approached the desk with a short bow. "Sorry to disturb you, Senpai." Came the deep voice.

Yoshiro waved a hand at him dismissively. "Any news?"

The man replied with a curt nod. "The retrieval team have returned. They were successful." His gaze remained lowered to the floor.

Yoshiro smirked, relief coming to him at last. Finally, his real work could begin. He needed to forget his personal objectives for now, this was more important. If he could succeed at this plan, everything else would fall into place at his feet. He rested his hands on the desk, greying eyebrows lowering. "Status of the subject?" His low tones were commanding, precise.

"Unharmed as requested." Came the response. There was a pause and then he continued. "Do you wish to interrogate the subject?"

Yoshiro considered this. It was tempting. "No. Run the tests. Interrogation can come later."

His subordinate bowed a low bow. "Yes, senpai." And then he retreated from the room.

He let a smile reach his lips, twisting his mouth into an unfamiliar shape. Now he needed to be patient. And it was something he was good at, he'd had to be. However much he wanted to have his sweet revenge, it would have to wait. One he had the power, once he had the resources, it would come. Though that wouldn't stop him thinking about it with almost every waking thought. He could enjoy the idea of it, he could almost taste it.

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Something was gnawing at her. A small feeling at the back of her mind that kept nagging at her. She didn't know what it was but she found herself stopping occasionally to think about it. To try and put a finger on it. Doing that during a particularly long lecture was never a good idea though and she found herself losing track of what was being said on several occasions. Why was she so distracted today? Eventually the lecture had ended though and she'd gathered her belongings and walked back to her home.

Home. It didn't really feel much like a home. As she stepped inside the small room, she let out a breath. At least in here she could drop the walls she had built up. Walls that had taken years to reinforce and now they towered so high above her she couldn't see past them. It was hard to slip from that to being herself and the longer she kept them up, the harder it was to recognise her true self. Whatever that meant. She placed her bag beside the bed and sat on the edge of the mattress, trying to relax her tense muscles.

She glanced at her phone and was surprised when she saw there was a few messages on it. That was strange. She hardly ever received phone calls. If Natsuki ever wanted to talk to her she'd show up, she generally didn't use the phone. But as of late, she didn't come to her door much either. And that was Shizuru's fault. She'd been pushing her away. She had to give credit to her friend though, she wasn't giving her an easy time doing that. She was fighting with her tooth and nail to hold onto their friendship. Just like the little wolf that she was.

Shizuru had to smile at that thought. She didn't want to end their friendship, far from it. But it had been harder and harder for her to be around Natsuki since... The Carnival. She supposed she was being selfish but in order for her to be there for her when she needed her, she had to be apart from her aswell. It was a situation that made little sense to her, so she'd probably never be able to explain it to Natsuki. At first, she had tried to encase her heart in a stone coffin, but one look from the other girl would crumble that. She just couldn't build up a Natsuki defence.

If I'm honest, I wouldn't want to. She mused. Still, it was torture being away from her so much. As much as it pained her, she still felt some comfort in her presence and that's why she cherised the time they did spend together. Shizuru lowered herself onto the bed, lying as comfortably as she could. She didn't want to sleep, she just needed to rest. No, she hated falling asleep.

The dreams always came. The nightmares. If she wasn't envisioning a time of violence, hate, and bloodshed, she was dreaming of something she could never have. She wasn't sure which was worse. Those nightmares left her feeling drained, listless. Most of the time she'd avoid sleeping altogether, until her body couldn't function any longer without it. She found she could hide her fatigue fairly well too. Noone had commented on it yet, at least.

The blinking of that red number on her answerphone drew her attention once more and she sat up, giving in to her curiosity. She reached across to the table and pressed a button on the machine. There came a beep and the usual automated voice. Then there was the first message. "Hi... erm... Fujino-san? Are you there? Erm... well... it's Mai. You remember me right? Well... I was wondering if you'd seen Natsuki? Look, I'll just call back later. Sorry. Bye." A beep signalled the end of the message. There was something odd about the way she spoke. Before she could think on it any longer, another beep came.

"Fujino Shizuru... this is Inspector Oshiro with the Fuuka Police Department. We were wanting to get in contact with you about a Kuga Natsuki. Could you please return my call at..." She didn't hear the number as her thoughts began to build into a raging torrent in her mind. What had happened to Natsuki? Mai had phoned looking for her, which was strange in itself and now the police were asking about her? Panic gripped at her heart as she tried to think of a reason for it.

She took a deep breath, calming herself. She couldn't let herself lose control over this. If she kept calm she'd be able to make sense of it. She should call the police inspector back and find out what was going on. But the police weren't known for giving out information freely, they were in the habit of taking it. Perhaps she should call Mai then. If she knew anything at all, she'd tell her right? She picked up the phone, her finger hovering above the numbers. She took in a deep breath and flicked through the phone's memory to find the number she was searching for. There it was.

She pressed the call button and held it to her ear, trying not to let her thoughts wander as she listened to the ring tone. Soon there was a click and a familiar voice. "Hello?"

"Tokiha-san... it's Fujino Shizuru." She announced herself, her voice as calm as it normally was.

"Fujino-san! Thank god. I couldn't reach you before and I was getting worried and-" The girl started rambling so Shizuru gently cut in.

"Please calm down. I received a call from the police aswell. Where is Natsuki?" She tried to keep her voice even though at Mai's behavious she was getting more and more worried.

There was a pause at the other end of the phone. "We don't know. I hoped she was with you." Another pause. "Fujino-san... her apartment was broken into several days ago from what the police have told me."

"What?" The panic was rising up inside her now and she wasn't sure she could keep a lid on it for much longer. "What do you mean?"

"Natsuki didn't show up at school for a few days so I went round to her place. Finding noone there and not being able to reach her anywhere, I called the police. They broke down her door and we found... we found the balcony window shot out and blood on the floor." Mai's voice was shaking now.

Blood? Shooting? What was going on? What had Natsuki gotten herself involved with? Was she still out for justice and on a personal mission? No, she had left all that behind hadn't she? She felt her throat constrict in on itself, making it hard for her to get a decent breath. What if she was badly injured? What if she was...

"Fujino-san?"

"Kanin na... I'm worried about Natsuki." She admitted, finally taking a deep breath.

"I know..." Mai sighed. "There no sign of her, that's all that they'd tell us. Who could do this?"

Shizuru tried to process all the information. "I'm not sure. Can you call me if you find out anything further?"

There was silence at the other end of the phone and she guessed Mai was considering saying something. "Fujino-san... what are you going to do?" The question was tentative, as if she feared the answer.

Keeping her tone level, she replied. "There's nothing much we can do right now. We should just let the police do their job."

Mai seemed to accept this. "Alright. I'll call you soon. Try not to worry too much."

It was an empty assurance though and she doubted Mai really believed that either of them would not worry. "Goodbye, Tokiha-san." She waited for the response and hung up. So she had lied to Mai but that didn't bother her, it was probably for her own good that she didn't know Shizuru was going to do everything in her power to find Natsuki, without the help of the authorities. She didn't trust them to find Natsuki at all.

She went over the facts in her mind. The first thing she needed to do was go to Natsuki's apartment and see the damage for herself. That might help her understand who could have done this. Then she'd try and work out what to do from there. She stood with purpose and grabbed her bag, fishing about in it for some essential items before moving to the door. She grasped the door handle.

"Natsuki... Please be alright..."

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Sacrifice - A Mai HiME Fanfiction

Obscurity

Her body felt like a lead weight. And it hurt. A lot. What the..? Her thoughts echoed around in her skull, causing the ache in her head to flare up. And why was it so dark? She couldn't see a thing. Then she realised that her eyes were closed and no matter how hard she tried she couldn't force them open. Her muscles refused to comply with her groggy brain's wishes. She tried to think what would cause this but found it hard to remember where she was. She could feel something firm beneath her and cool air on her skin. She could sense the goose bumps rise up from the chill in the room.

Sound drifted to her ears and she became aware of a soft whirring in the room. A few clicks joined the whirring and then a constant beeping completed the symphony. Her senses were awakening and she smelt something akin to a hospital. Oh, how she hates those places. The sickly scent of sterilisation filled her nostrils and her mind began to construct the blurred moments of the past days. Had it been days? Her concept of time had been severely warped by her ordeal.

Images and sounds flashed before her and she grimaced as she remembered the attack on her apartment and her capture. Where the hell am I? She vaguely remembered a stabbing pain in her arm but she wasn't sure when it had happened. As if triggered by the memory, she felt an ache on the inside of her arm, at the elbow. Still, she couldn't remember what had caused it. A different sound came to her ears and if she'd been capable of it, she would have tensed. Footsteps echoed in the room and she could picture polished shoes against a smooth tiled floor.

She sensed a presence beside her and she had to fight the panic that gripped her heart. There wasn't anything she could do even if she did succumb to it. Instead, she kept concentrating on the senses that did work, trying to garner as much information as possible. Hopefully, it would be something she could use later. If she ever managed to get out of this situation, that was. The hairs on her arm bristled as she felt rough hands grab her right hand and pull it into the air. Two calloused fingers were pressed against her wrist and she guessed they were checking her pulse. From the beeping of the machines around her, she wondered why they needed to do it manually. Unless, they had other purposes.

Her arm was then dropped back to the hard bed and pain shot up to her shoulder. She heard rustling beside her and something being dragged over something metallic. It was very hard for her to make out what it was; she desperately wanted to be able to open her eyes. Her arm was grabbed once more and she felt a prick where the ache in her arm was. She would have winced if she'd been able to control the muscles in her face. She could feel the needle slip under skin and into a vein and then came the searing pain. Whatever was being pushed into her bloodstream felt as though it was burning her.

What the heck were they doing to her? Her mind went through so many scenarios but she had no clue. Perhaps they were sedating her again. The searing heat travelled (traveled) up her arm and across her shoulder, peaking in its intensity at her chest, where she felt as though she was being crushed. She found it hard to breathe and her mind screamed at her. She needed to concentrate on something else. At least until it passed, or she fainted from the pain.

Okay... so something else. Come on... Godammit, that hurts. Last happy memory? ... Shizuru... We went out... Dinner. How long ago was that? How... long have I... been here? It feels like I saw her... a few days... ago. And we went for a ride... I felt happy for the first time... in a while. Is she looking for me? Has she even noticed I've gone? Isn't it about time... this goddamn pain passed... What the hell..? My Ducati... I hope she's okay... Will anyone look after- Ngh- her? Wait... I don't want anyone damaging my... baby... Getting..... hard..... to.... concentrate. I... I.... wish..... I... could see..... Shizuru.... just one.... last....

Finally, the overwhelming sensations in her body forced her mind to shut down, her senses closing off completely and darkness enveloping her. With just the lingering memory of crimson and the scent of green tea, she fell into unconsciousness.

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Shizuru fought down the impatience, anguish and worry that were vying for dominance in her heart. She considered pushing past the police officer who stood guard outside of Natsuki's apartment but buried the urge, keeping her calm demeanour. He stood there, smirking at her, listening to her words but not moving to do anything about them. She'd come here and had been trying to gain access to the apartment, using her charm as she always did. It was obvious this man wouldn't stand a chance against her abilities but she'd perhaps overdone it. Now, he was just staring at her instead of getting his superior from behind the door as she had hinted at.

Men like this police officer were predictable. She could read his expressions like an open book. And it wasn't exactly a book that could hold her interest or was very deep and meaningful. She let him drone on for a while about how he'd joined the police and how sexy he thought he looked in his uniform. She'd perhaps had to stand here for fifteen minutes enduring this conversation and she hadn't even retrieved one iota of information on Natsuki or what had happened in her apartment. She inwardly sighed, her exterior showing no signs of her frustration.

Eventually, having had enough, she pointedly looked him in the eye and spoke with a soft tone. "Kanin na, but could you please direct me to your superior. I came here for a reason after all." She gave him her false smile for added effect.

That immediately quieted him down and he fidgeted a little under her intense gaze. She inwardly smirked, glad she still had that effect on people. Being around Natsuki could sometimes fool her into believing her mask was useless and everything she had worked so hard to hide was easily visible. Except, it wasn't. Only she could see those things, not even her family could pierce that invisible wall.

The uniformed officer hesitantly nodded and turned, opening the door quickly and stepping inside. Now that she was alone in the hall, she allowed herself to let out a forced breath, the tension in her shoulders easing a little. She allowed herself to examine the hallway more carefully now that he was gone, her eyes scanning the floor and walls. There didn't seem to be any signs of fighting out here. Her gaze rested on the door itself. Indeed, if she hadn't known Natsuki's apartment had been broken into before she arrived, she would not have known at all from outside. Even from below the balcony, on the street below, she could see no sign of the shattered window Mai had spoken of. That was probably due to the height of the apartment though, and the fact that the balcony itself hid the windows pretty well.

The door of the apartment opened once more and she found herself remembering the many times it had opened in the past. Always, Natsuki would be standing there with a slightly irritated look which Shizuru knew was just a facade, as much as her own stoicism was. She could see the happiness twinkle in those green eyes when they recognised who stood before her and that was something she yearned to see now. But instead, there stood a tall middle aged man, with too much stubble and not enough hair on his head. His receding dark hairline revealed a sweating forehead and he had rings circling his beady eyes. He looked at her with a mixture of curiosity and weariness.

"Yes?" He asked, his patience obviously worn thin years ago. His voice was deep and sounded as though he had smoked his way through life.

"Fujino Shizuru. Do I have the pleasure of greeting Inspector Oshiro?" She asked as sweetly as possible.

His eyebrow quirked slightly and he stepped out into the hall, ensuring the door was closed behind him. He had purposely blocked her view of the apartment and she hadn't been able to see anything of note. "Ah yes, I distinctly remember asking you to call back, not come in person." He stated bluntly.

"Ara, I thought it would be best if I came here, in case there was anything you needed to show me." She explained, the smile never leaving her face.

He let out a barely suppressed sigh and fished inside his long coat for a while before bringing out a small notepad and pen. He looked up at her from behind a heavy brow. "May I ask how you know Kuga Natsuki?" He reluctantly began, obviously wanting to get on with his investigation and then go home.

"We were school friends." She answered but countered with another question after a moment. "How did you get my number?" She was genuinely curious about this.

He paused and regarded her a moment, then flicked back through his notepad. "It seems a girl called Tokiha gave your details when she called this in." He said. "If you want to know any more, you can ask her. Now, can I continue with my questions?"

"My apologies, Inspector, please continue." She told him, not unaware of the disrespectful tone he was using with her. Not that she particularly cared what he thought of her.

"Can you think of anyone who would want to hurt Kuga?" He queried and he frowned when she shook her head. Though she could think of people that would want to hunt down the ex-HiME, she was sure none of those organisations existed any more. Or so she'd been told. "Did she have a boyfriend then?" He continued the set questions he'd obviously asked too many times.

"No." She answered a little too quickly. And when he looked questioningly at her she brightened her smile. "She was focused on her education."

He seemed to accept this and continued to stare down at his notepad. "When did you last see her?"

Shizuru's smile faded as the guilt crept into her consciousness. "Six days ago." He scribbled the answer down, oblivious to her reminiscent gaze. She'd intentionally seen Natsuki less and less, just so she could cope with her own feelings. And now, she may never even see the raven-haired biker again. I should have cherished the time I had with her. She thought but shook it from her mind. She couldn't think like that, she couldn't talk about her like she was gone.

"Hmm... Do you know anyone who might have seen her after that?" His words broke her thoughts.

She shook her head slightly. "Her classmates perhaps. Other than that... I'm not sure." She admitted.

He scratched at his stubble thoughtfully for a few moments. "Okay... Thank you for your cooperation. If we have any further questions, we'll be in touch." He nodded at her before moving to re-enter the apartment.

She quickly spoke up, knowing this was her last chance to gain access. "Ara, you're not going to invite me in?" She asked nonchalantly.

He glanced over his shoulder at her, a disbelieving expression on his withered features. "This is a crime scene." He stated gruffly.

Shizuru smiled cheerfully at him. "But I know Natsuki's apartment better than most. If something is out of place, I'd be able to tell you."

He let out a weary breath, opening the door and stepping over the threshold. He paused but didn't turn to face her. "Take one step out of place and I'll throw you out myself."

She felt the anxiety in her gut lift and she stepped forwards, her smile spreading further. She followed him inside, receiving a few questioning looks from two men in white overalls and a woman in a brown suit. She looked to be roughly ten years older than Shizuru and perhaps was Oshiro's partner. The other men were probably crime scene investigators. They quickly returned to their tasks when Oshiro shot them a warning glare.

Her eyes quickly scanned the room. Mai had been right. The balcony window had been smashed and there was blood on the floor near the sofa. Her heart stuttered in her chest at the thought of Natsuki lying there, bleeding. There was some dust on the carpet near one of the suited investigators and she noticed a hole in the wall. There didn't appear to be any other outward signs of a struggle in here though. Whatever had happened had happened quickly.

Oshiro stopped in the center of the room, having a quiet word with the only other woman there. She nodded at him, glancing at Shizuru for a moment. Oshiro then strolled back towards the young Kyoto woman. "So..?" He asked, a hint of doubtful expectance in his tone.

She took that moment to have a more thorough look around the room and stepped carefully around the sofa. She wanted to reach out and touch it, remembering all the times she'd sat there with Natsuki but restrained herself, knowing the police inspector would not be happy about that. Natsuki had threatened to throw it out, regarding its worn material and squashed cushions but then Shizuru would complain that she'd be throwing out their memories too. She was teasing her but she'd not gone through with the threat yet so she guessed it had hit home.

Her eyes reached the small desk Natsuki had set up in the corner of the room and she moved towards it, noticing the clean pad of paper and the pile of textbooks. The chair wasn't tucked under the table so she guessed from that and the open books that she'd been sitting here before the place was attacked. Not that Natsuki was a particularly neat or orderly person but Shizuru knew she would have needed these books for school.

She heard a cough come from behind her but she ignored it. She wasn't going to be pressured into hurrying just because Inspector Oshiro wanted to go home. Her feet led her into the bedroom and she noticed Oshiro's partner moving to intercept her but the aging inspector grabbed her arm. Shizuru paid them no heed and entered the small room, her crimson gaze moving directly to the bed. A dull ache had spread across her chest now and every memory brought her pain and doubt. What if Natsuki really was gone? What if she'd been killed? She couldn't bear the thought of it.

The first thought that struck her when she tore her eyes off the unmade bed was how messy the room was. Several articles of clothing were strewn across floor and furniture alike. On a chair sat a crumpled pair of jeans and a shirt, whilst on the floor beside the bed was a sweater and some socks. She noticed the socks didn't even match. A sad smile crept its way onto her face, pulling lightly at her lips. She ambled from the doorway to the right hand side of the bed and up to the little table that held a few of Natsuki's belongings. There was the hated alarm clock that looked slightly worse for wear having received many beatings in its short life. Shizuru had gotten into the habit of giving her a new one each Christmas as the previous year's one had usually given up on life by then, much to Natsuki's chagrin.

Her saddening look fell upon a photo frame and her eyes widened in surprise. Here was something she hadn't seen before. Inside the plain wooden frame sat a photograph of her raven-haired friend and herself. Natsuki wore her usual stern expression but she could see that glint of fondness encased in emerald. Shizuru wore her student council uniform whilst Natsuki was in her usual school clothes. The Kaichou had her arms wrapped around Natsuki's waist and wore a genuine smile, one she was not used to seeing when she looked in the mirror. She remembered that day, remembered snuggling into Natsuki's back, remembered the scent of her dark hair as it tickled her nose, and remembered the other girl's half-hearted complaints. It had been on her graduation day and Natsuki had insisted she set up the camera on a nearby wall, in that special garden.

Tears stung at the corner of her eyes as she stared at their faces. Why had Natsuki put this picture here? She'd never shown any interest in having any of her around the house before. Even the picture of her mother sat in the living room, never in the bedroom. She blinked away her pain, refusing to surrender to it. There would be time for that later, when she'd discovered Natsuki's fate. She felt a presence behind her and she straightened, turning her head to see the suited woman standing there. Her long brown hair was pinned up into a bun and she wore dark rimmed glasses. The whole ensemble gave her a very severe look.

"That's you and her?" The woman's voice was quite deep and had a very controlled edge.

Shizuru nodded. "Yes." She was glad for the years of hiding her emotions from the world around her. If she hadn't of had that experience, she knew her voice would have shook with barely hidden pain.

The older woman eyed the picture thoughtfully. "You look happy." Was all she said but the words stung her.

"We were." She replied. The words would have been sad if it were not for her forced cheer. She turned away from the picture and walked back out into the living room. Being in that bedroom was not helping her keep control. She could pick up the scent of Natsuki just being near the bed. She continued to ignore Oshiro and moved around to the broken window. She expertly avoided the shards of glass on the floor and as she got closer to the balcony she could see something lying on the floor outside. It appeared to be something thin and metallic.

"Lockpick." Grunted Oshiro from behind her, obviously following her gaze.

She glanced back at him and nodded. So whoever had smashed the window had tried picking the lock first? It seemed their entrance had not gone as planned. Knowing Natsuki, she had caught them in the act and forced them to take more forceful measures. She scanned the pieces of glass on the carpet, hoping to spot something the police had missed, but it was unlikely. Admitting defeat, she moved away from the window and paused near the patch of blood once more. There wasn't a lot of it but there was enough to suggest its owner had suffered a fairly bad wound.

She turned back to Oshiro. "Kanin na, but I don't think I'll be of much help, Inspector." She apologised.

The aging man rolled his eyes, having expected that answer all along it seemed. His partner was still eyeing her thoughtfully but kept silent. "Fine. As I said before, we'll contact you if we have any questions... Now if you'd please excuse yourself, we have work to do." His tone was impatient and she would have found him rude if she cared about what he was saying at all. She had far more pressing issues on her mind.

Shizuru inclined her head towards Oshiro and then his partner and then turned to leave, watching her step as she made her way out of the apartment. The uniformed police officer she had spoken to earlier was standing in the kitchen area and now shuffled after her, closing the door behind them both once they were in the hall. He moved his mouth to speak but nothing came out so Shizuru took the opportunity to leave before she was dragged into another boring conversation. Soon, she was down the hall and at the elevator before he could even find his voice.

She took the lift down to the ground floor and walked through the foyer, noting that there were two uniformed officers standing and chatting to a woman by the entrance. She slipped past them without drawing much attention and out into the evening air. A cool breeze hit her skin and she paused, breathing in the fresh air. As fresh as the town air could get, anyway. The sun was almost completely swallowed by the horizon now and soon the town's night life would soon kick in, releasing a different kind of culture onto the streets altogether.

She pulled her light jacket around her tighter and turned left, heading down the street. Before she could start formulating her next move, a noise caught her attention. Her head shot up and her crimson gaze settled on a nearby alleyway. The narrow passage led between Natsuki's apartment block and similar one. She couldn't see what had made the noise though. Deciding it was just her jumpy mind at work, she moved to continue the way she was heading but the same noise stopped her again. It was akin to a whistle but more muted. She peered down the alleyway once more.

Inwardly shrugging, she marched towards that alleyway, wondering why someone couldn't just speak to her instead of whistling at her if they wanted her attention. It would be much simpler and less confusing. She slipped between the two buildings and the awful stench from the trash cans instantly hit her nostrils. She considered retreating back the way she had come but it was then that she spotted the figure huddled at the far end. Whoever it was had wrapped themselves in a long beige coat and wore a similarly coloured cap. Their face was well hidden and it was hard to tell if they were male or female. She approached them warily, unsure as to their intentions.

"You must be a friend of Kuga's." Came a surprisingly youthful male voice and the mention of Natsuki's name caused Shizuru's pace to quicken. She was standing in front of the stranger quickly. She didn't speak; she merely waited for him to continue. He looked up, revealing a young handsome face, clean shaven and unblemished. He was probably a little older than Shizuru but not by much. "Well?" He asked, his eyes showing a hint of rebelliousness.

"Who are you?" Shizuru asked, cautiously.

His lips thinned as he pressed them tightly together, his brow creasing at her question. "I'm asking the questions here. And if you want any information you'd better answer 'em."

"Very well. I am a friend of hers, yes." She admitted. He seemed too inexperienced to be much of a threat to her.

A slight smirk pulled at one corner of his mouth. "Good girl." He muttered.

"Have you got anything worthwhile to say to me?" She said, her voice betraying none of the anger she was feeling.

His eyes narrowed at her words but then he laughed. "Yeah. You're trying to find Kuga right?"

Shizuru's heart skipped a beat. Could he possibly know where she was? "Yes." She decided it would be best to keep her cool with this man, he seemed to be led by his ego.

"I've worked with her before. I owe her so..." He trailed off, looking Shizuru up and down once. "This should make us even." He finished, pulling something out of his coat.

A thin manila envelope was brought into view and she found it amusing that it was the same colour as his coat. There didn't appear to be much in the envelope but he passed it to her without a word. She looked at him questioningly but he just nodded at it and smirked. As she began to open one end of it, he pushed himself off the side of the building and shuffled away.

"I'll leave you to it." He remarked when he noticed her look once more.

"Where did you get this?" She asked, not even sure what was in the envelope.

He shook his head before disappearing around the side of the building. "One musn't reveal their sources." And then he was gone. Obviously he only cared about repaying his debt and not what occurred afterwards. She briefly wondered how Natsuki had helped him before her attention fell to the manila envelope again.

She hastily pulled one end open and parted the sides of it, peeking inside. There were a few pieces of paper inside and she tipped it up to empty its contents. Two photographs and a piece of paper fell out onto her hand. Her eyes widened as she saw one of the photographs. It was in black and white but she could clearly see Natsuki being dragged into a van. A black nondescript van. From the picture, the biker seemed unconscious. Shizuru was finding the anger welling up inside her harder to temper at that sight. The second photograph had zoomed in on the van and one of the men's faces. She could just make out part of a licence plate. The man's face appeared bruised too. She smirked at the thought of her Natsuki putting up a fight.

She then turned her attention on the single piece of paper. There were a few things scribbled down on it. At the top was the licence plate numbers from the photograph. There were also some times, an address and two phone numbers written below that. In messy handwriting was a note saying: Call the first number to find out about the licence plate. The second will get you some info on that guy, if anything can be found out. That's all from me. You're on your own for the rest of the way. Tell Kuga about this once you've bailed her out.

She wondered how she was meant to tell Natsuki about his assistance when he hadn't even given his name. She decided it wasn't all that important right now. She was getting closer to finding out what had happened and perhaps even to finding out where Natsuki was. That's all that mattered.

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END OF CHAPTER

Sacrifice - A Mai HiME Fanfiction

Entropy

Staring at the papers in front of him, Yoshiro was not pleased. Not pleased at all. The data was incomplete and their progress was almost nonexistent. And that girl was fully responsible. His fists gripped the flimsy material tightly, his anger bubbling to the surface. He had so carefully planned all this, delicately and deliberately moved the pieces around him until everything was exactly where he wanted it. But now, some teenager was messing it all up. He released his grip on the paper and watched as it fluttered down to his desk. His eyes skimmed the remainder of the information. Damn her.

He let out a terse breath, bringing his frustration under control once more. He'd need to find out exactly what was happening, these reports didn't ever give him the full picture, only what his subordinates wanted him to see. He raised himself off of his office chair and strode across the room. Opening the door, he found his hand picked guards standing there, backs turned to him. Hearing sound behind them, they both turned and bowed upon seeing him. He nodded and slipped past them, glancing at a woman sat typing behind a small desk. His secretary was also selected by him, not that he particularly needed one anymore but it was a sign of one's status. Symbols such as this made all the difference when dealing with others.

Grey walls flanked him as he quickened his pace, waving a hand dismissively so none of his underlings would scurry after him. The bright fluorescent lamps overhead drowned him in artificial light and shone obnoxiously off of the polished floor. Perhaps he'd have to have the lighting levels dimmed a little to save his eyesight from further damage. He passed by a few reinforced glass windows, ignoring what lay beyond them. He knew these were his laboratories and he knew what they contained so there was no need to peer in at his scientists. All of that held no interest for him, he was just concerned with the results of it.

He turned right at the fork in the corridor and soon came to a sturdy looking metallic door. It had no handle that he could see but he knew it was operated by the fingerprint scanner that was embedded in the wall beside it. He pressed his thumb against the small panel, muttering his name as he did so. A light popped up on the panel's display and he soon heard a satisfactory beep. The door slid upwards with hardly any noise and he stepped through.

The room he found himself in was a small observatory, a row of monitors and keyboards sat on a desk that ran the length of one wall. The wall itself held similar glass as that he'd passed by earlier. Except this one was designed to be looked through only one way. A few men in white coats sat staring at the monitors, not noticing anyone had entered the room. At the far end of the observatory was another door, similar to the one Yoshiro had just come through but it was now open. He briefly wondered who was foolish enough to leave that open but as he looked through the window he found his answer.

Standing over a lone metal table was another man in a white laboratory coat, but his greying hair and weedy nature held him apart from the others he had noticed. He knew the man as Doctor Nakamura and that was good enough for him. First names were not important in this line of work. The room itself was dome shaped, the one-way window curving around it, and there was a staircase leading up to this observatory. Dotted around the room were several machines of varying sizes, their specific uses were not known to Yoshiro but he knew they were involved in 'patient care' as his laboratory team so affectionately called it. He almost chuckled at the thought. Although not knowing the particulars of the items in his building, he trusted in his team's loyalty enough not to do anything stupid or something that he'd dislike. If anyone had ever shown a sign of being rebellious in the past, they'd met with a swift and brutal end.

The aging doctor shuffled to one of the machines and hovered there, seemingly enthralled by whatever it was telling him. This gave Yoshiro a clear view at what was laying on the steel slab. He stepped closer to the window as his gaze fell upon a shock of dark hair and pale skin. His movements were not unnoticed by the staff in the room now and they hastily rose to their feet and offered him a low bow. He ignored their efforts and continued to survey his latest prey. The teenage girl was garbed in what appeared to be a hospital gown, her normal clothes nowhere to be seen. He didn't much care about that though. From her left arm hung a small tube that ran along the side of the table and was attached to a bag hanging on a metal stand. The drip contained a transparent liquid from what he could see from where he was.

Just as he was considering descending the steps to see this girl in person, one of the coat wearing staff members coughed and bowed desperately again. "Yes?" Yoshiro snapped at the younger man, not having time for meaningless chatter.

"A-are you here for a r-report on the patient, sir?" The scientist stuttered out the question and Yoshiro couldn't help but smirk at his reaction.

"Yes." He said curtly, his brow brought low over his eyes causing the young man to shift uncomfortably.

His companion, who appeared to be slightly older, stepped forward at this point in the conversation. "I think Doctor Nakamura would be better qualified to answer your questions, sir." Yoshiro's eyes narrowed at the words. He was annoyed that this man spoke with confidence and also was trying to defer him to someone else. Who did he think he was speaking to?

Staying his anger until later, he swept past his two subordinates and approached the door that led to the staircase. He placed his thumb against the reader beside the door again in an all too familiar routine. The door rose with a muted 'swish' and he passed under it quickly, descending the stairs without looking back. The sudden footsteps on the metallic staircase drew the only other conscious occupant's attention and the Doctor shuffled towards him hastily.

When Yoshiro reached the bottom of the steps, there stood Nakamura fiddling with the rounded spectacles that were balanced on the bridge of his nose. Yoshiro frowned at him, the scientist's obvious agitation adding to his own. He glanced over at the girl. Now he was closer, he could see her chest rise and fall unevenly and the way her muscles would twitch occasionally. He still couldn't make out the displays on the machines around the room but he didn't think he'd be able to even if he was standing next to them. He'd have to rely on 'the good doctor' here.

"Doctor." He said, drawing the other man's flitting gaze to his. "What's going on here?" He asked, his words laced with venom.

The greying man let out a strangled cough and turned, slowly walking towards the metal table. He seemed to remember Yoshiro was still there and faced him once more, one of his gloved hands resting beside the teenage girl's arm. "Did... did you see the report?" He asked tentatively.

"Of course." Came the cool, hard words. "Why else would I be here?"

The doctor visibly swallowed and he glanced up at his superior. "W-well... it would appear t-that she's... resisting." He finally managed to push the words out.

Yoshiro frowned. Resisting? How is that even possible? "And what would cause that, doctor?" He spat the last word out, more as an insult than a title.

The other man's brow furrowed in thought and he stared down at the girl. He cocked his head to one side for a moment before returning his awkward gaze to his benefactor. "I would say... will power." Was all he said.

The suited man scoffed. "Nonsense. Will power can't stop our drugs from working." He took a step closer to Nakamura, hoping he would take the gesture as the warning it was. He did not suffer fools and he certainly would not be made to look like one.

Withered lips pressed tightly together as the doctor attempted to form the words to explain the situation to Yoshiro. "Apparently it is so. No matter w-what dosage we inject i-into her... no matter what c-combination we use... i-it all results in the s-same thing. Failure." He sighed, the weariness in his voice obvious. "But it hasn't been a complete waste. We h-have some good data and I think we can improve the n-next batch of the serum."

"Next batch!?" Yoshiro spat, his hand slamming into the cold hard surface of the table. "I need results now, Nakamura. This will not do! Make her accept the drug... I don't care what you have to do!" His voice rose with each word, his anger forcing blood to his face.

"I... I-I'm really sorry, sir, but i-it's not possible. If the s-serum won't react with h-her chemical make-up th-then we'll need to find another s-subject." His nerves were obviously getting the better of him but he forged onwards in his explanation, almost sighing in relief when he finished his sentence.

Yoshiro walked around the table and glared down at the face of the unconscious girl. His hand shot up and grabbed her around the throat, raising her slightly off the surface. A beeping in the background elevated in pitch and regularity at the action. He smirked, satisfied that he could still affect something at least. "If she doesn't want to cooperate, then beat her into submission. Whatever it takes, doctor." His voice dropped suddenly and his words became menacing.

Then, he released the girl and stormed towards the staircase. "I doubt that will work." Muttered Nakamura but he didn't get a response. Yoshiro glanced over his shoulder seeing the doctor staring almost sadly at his patient. He was weak, compassion made him that way. He'd need to dispose of him once his usefulness had been fulfilled.

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Of all the places in the city, why did she have to meet this so-called contact in a dive like this? Shizuru held back the cough that wanted to dispel the foul air from her lungs and instead skimmed the sleazy bar with a steady crimson gaze. There was still no sign of the man she had spoken with briefly on the phone the previous night. Not that she'd be able to recognise him even if he had been sitting within the dark confines of the room. She'd never seen him before and only had his voice to go on, and she was beginning to wonder if that was real. She wrapped her arms around her waist, the material of her tailored coat doing nothing to keep the warmth in. The chill in this place seemed to permeate everything.

Resisting the urge to shift uncomfortably in a seat that had long lost its padding, Shizuru wondered how Natsuki could repeatedly come to places like this for information. The thought of her friend involuntarily brought a sinking feeling to her chest and she had to concentrate to keep her expression slipping into sadness. Slender finger grasped the smooth fabric of her coat tightly, pushing the pain deep down, far away from where it could hinder her work here. Emotions could wait, insecurities, worries, doubts, fear could all wait until after Natsuki was safe.

She became aware of a shadow being cast over the table and she squinted up at the silhouette of a man. He stood directly in front of one of the dingy hanging lamps, the light from it obscuring her view of his face. She felt a little vulnerable in the small booth but she never let that reach her face, never let a hint of it into her eyes which just stared at the unknown form, waiting for him to either move or attempt to communicate with her. After a few awkward moments, the silhouette shifted and she caught a glimpse of a stubbled chin.

"May I sit?" The voice was deep and gruff but held no sign of malice or alcohol. Both qualities were a bonus to Shizuru at this point. She nodded towards the seat opposite her and he slid onto the faux red leather, his stiff movements causing the furniture to creak under his weight. Now that he was sitting, Shizuru could get a proper look at him. Her practiced eye quickly assimilated the important facts. His dark eyes were slightly sunken and were bloodshot telling Shizuru he'd spent many nights awake in his long life. The greasy hairs at his temples were greying and wrinkles blemished the skin of his face, indicating he was living his middle years. Heavy stubble framed his chin and a tattered jacket clung to his slumped shoulders. He had obviously had a hard life.

"Can I help you..?" She asked him politely, deliberately dragging out the end of the question to infer she required a name of him.

"What you call me doesn't matter, what's important is the work I've done for you." He kept his tone low but casual. He held Shizuru's gaze for a few moments before looking down at the stained table. That surprised her, it told her his will was strong and she had realised she had let his outward appearance sway her view of his mind.

This man must be the person she'd spoken to on the phone yesterday. Suspicion flickered briefly in her mind though, pointing out that it could be anyone masquerading as her contact. But his voice did sound very similar. She doubted that anyone would be monitoring her calls, she was hardly a threat so there'd be no reason for it. Of course, that all depended on who had taken Natsuki. Still, she had no choice but to trust this person now. That vulnerability irked her but she had to put aside her own feelings for her precious one. "Very well. What do you have?" Her voice was level and cold, hiding any trace of doubt that she felt.

Dark eyes flicked back up to hers and the older man reached inside his jacket and pulled something out. He slid it across the desk and Shizuru could clearly see it was a data stick. He left the little storage device sitting in front of her and retracted his hand, his cracked lips parting to explain. "Everything's there. Want me to explain anything now?" He grunted.

Not taking her eyes from it, she nodded. "Yes, I'll have to wait to go over the information on this."

Her contact cleared his throat quietly, glancing into the centre of the room before looking back at Shizuru. "I found him." Shizuru's eyes widened ever so slightly at the news before settling to their previous relaxed position. "The guy in the picture. It wasn't too hard either. Seems he's a merc with quite the history too. You'll want to have a look at the info on there. Got an address and a few other snippets that I think you'll like." He grinned for the first time, obviously pleased with himself.

Last night, she had looked at the paper she'd been given and decided to call one of the phone numbers on it. This led her to speak with this man, it seemed and she had asked for his help to find someone. She was given another number and told to fax over the photograph and then meet in this place today. It appeared that young man from behind Natsuki's building wasn't as inexperienced as he seemed as he had given her a reliable source. "Are you sure?"

Dark eyes narrowed at the insinuation that he didn't know how to do his job properly. "Of course."

"Kanin na, but I do not know you from any other person I might meet in here." Shizuru explained, not having meant to insult him.

He grunted again. "Look at the info. It speaks for itself."

Her gaze travelled back down to the data stick and she picked it up, turning it over between long, slender fingers. Such a small thing to hold all her hope of finding Natsuki again. She couldn't waste any more time, she had to go look at what was on it. She looked back over at her companion who was now peering at her expectantly. Ara, of course. "Your payment." She reached into her own coat and pulled out an envelope, dropping it onto the table.

A flicker of a smile appeared on his feature and it looked out of place. He scooped it up quickly and ripped it open. Flicking through its contents he finally nodded in satisfaction. "It was a pleasure doing business with you." He muttered, no feeling in the words. "If you ever require my services... you know how to get in touch."

She inclined her head once and stood, slipping out of the booth. She gripped the data stick tightly, as if letting go of it would release any chance of seeing that raven-haired beauty again. She let the image of her burn itself into her mind's eye, the power of it forging her onwards, leading her out of that seedy bar and into the crisp night air.

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"Natsuki."

What the..? She looked around frantically for the owner of the voice but it felt as though she was floating in water, her movements were sluggish and when she turned it was as if the momentum continued even after she had stopped. She didn't think that was strange though, it didn't occur to her that she wasn't in her natural environment.

"Natsuki."

She blinked. Who was calling her name? She squinted to try and see her surroundings. Slowly a rock face came into view. She looked down and below her feet was stone, snow covering most of its surface. She didn't feel cold though. Her gaze travelled upwards and to a white sky, flakes falling upon her face. They didn't feel cold either.

She turned, her movements still slow and awkward. The site before her should have made her stomach flip and taken her breath from her. But to her, it seemed normal. The edge of the surface she was standing upon dropped suddenly, exposing a great distance of nothingness. Far down below lay an expanse of rock, jutting up in various degrees of height and mass. Coverings of white capped the peaks and a swirl of mist continuously travelled around each of them.

It appeared she was on some form of mountain path which wound up the peak she was currently on. Some distance up ahead she could make out a dark opening in the rock. Her feet led her up towards it. The pebbles beneath her feet should have been painful to walk upon but they weren't. It was then she noticed that she wasn't clothed but again, it didn't bother her, it didn't seem anything out of the usual.

"Natsuki."

The sound reached her ears and drifted past her. The voice appeared to be coming from that cave. She couldn't tell who the voice belonged to though, it sounded neither low nor high, young nor old. It held no emotion nor did it seem cold. She continued walking forwards, her steps seemingly not taking her very far as the rock opening didn't appear to get much closer.

Time probably passed by but she had no sense of it so it was irrelevant to her. The muted crunching of snow underfoot filled her ears suddenly stopped as she reached the snowless area just inside the entrance of what appeared to be a cave. The darkness inside was broken by a small campfire that pushed back the shadows and illuminated a lone figure. For some reason, she couldn't make out what exactly was sitting at that fire, her vision blurring whenever she tried to concentrate on it.

She stepped forwards, her movements becoming less laboured now and she could make out more and more sounds. The crackling of the fire, the howl of the wind outside, the heavy breathing of whatever was ahead of her and the continual dripping of water from within the cave.

"Natsuki."

It came as almost a growl and she knew the thing by the fire had said it. She walked deeper into the cave, feeling the heat of the flames ahead of her and chill of the glacial wind from behind her. The rough ground beneath her feet stung the soft skin there but she kept her gait even. Soon, she was standing directly in front of the small fire, the heat almost unbearable against the skin of her bare legs.

Her vision cleared and looking back at her were two alert amber eyes. She took a step back in surprise. Sitting there, head slightly cocked was a wolf, a coat of fine white and silver fur covering its muscled form, a black nose sniffing at her. Darker fur framed its mouth, giving the impression that it was smiling. Its expressive eyes never once left hers and the initial sense of fear left her completely.

"Natsuki."

She glanced around at the sound of her name. There was no one else here that she could see apart from the wolf and herself. Her emerald gaze fell back upon the magnificent beast waiting patiently at the fire. It still sat there, head cocked and peering right at her. Within those golden orbs she swore she could see a hint of amusement. And then, she realised it. It was actually this animal calling to her inside her mind.

"You want to speak with me?" She asked, taking a step forward.

The wolf rose up its rear end and padded around the fire, every lithe movement testifying the power it held within its limbs. It's thick, bushy tail swung bobbed up and down until it came to stop beside her, its head raised to look at her.

"Yes."

Natsuki felt compelled to reach out and stroke the exquisite mane that framed the animal's face but instead she knelt down before it, allowing her eyes to become level with it's. "What do you want from me?" She ventured.

"Is it not obvious?"

The voice in her mind was odd, it was a mixture of growl and elegant speech, holding no malice and almost warming her. She couldn't figure out what it meant though. Her brow furrowed as she tried to find an answer, perspiration forming on her skin from the heat of the fire.

"I wished to see you again."

Natsuki looked at the beast in surprise. See me... again..? She was sure she'd never come across it before, surely she would have remembered such a grand example of the species. Had she ever even seen a real wolf before? She couldn't remember any trips to the zoo when she was a child. She couldn't remember much of anything in fact. But looking at this wolf, it was obvious it wasn't raised in captivity. It was definitely wild and free.

"Do you not remember me, Natsuki?"

Natsuki slowly shook her head in confusion. How could this wolf know her? She tentatively reached out a hand, aware that this animal might strike at any moment but instead it sat down, gazing at her hand curiously. Her finger brushed against the fur at the top of its head and she ran her hand down across the middle of its scalp. The hair was coarse but felt clean. She was surprised when it leant upwards slightly, into her touch. The contact sparked a feeling of familiarity at the back of her mind. The action wasn't familiar but the essence of this beast was. "Duran?" The name fell from her lips before she'd even thought to speak.

"Ah, you do remember."

The wolf's lower jaw dropped slightly, revealing a row of large porcelain teeth. A pink tongue fell out to the side and Natsuki couldn't help but smile. The effect made him look as though he was grinning. "How can you be here?" She asked but then something dawned on her. "Where is here anyway?" A laugh sounded in her mind but it wasn't mocking, it was gentle.

"You still think so literally, Natsuki."

The response didn't answer either of her questions and the creases in her brow deepened. How was she being literal? She looked around once more but nothing had changed. She was still next to a hot fire, in a cave, up some freezing mountain. And why couldn't she remember where she had been previously and what she had been doing? This was all starting to feel like a dream. A dream?

"You're starting to get it."

"You can hear my thoughts?" The words burst from her mouth, surprise registering on her face. So this was a dream? She scratched behind his ear idly, lost in thought.

"Yes. But your dreams didn't create this place, nor did they create me."

Duran's words did nothing to clear the fog of her mind, they only added to her confusion. "Are you trying to say this is a dream but you're not part of it?"

"And neither is this place."

His reiteration still didn't make her understand. "How can it be a dream then?" The wolf nuzzled at her hand when she withdrew it.

"Dreaming only makes this place and I manifest."

She patted him on the muzzle before positioning herself on the ground comfortably, legs crossed. At least as comfortable as a naked girl could be on a solid stone floor. "Why can't you just make sense? Or is it some weird rule that you have to be as vague and mysterious as possible?" She was starting to get annoyed now, partly at Duran's lack of real answers and partly because she couldn't figure them out. A sigh sounded in her mind.

"I only wished to see you again, Natsuki."

She smiled at him, reaching out again and rubbing him under the chin. He stood and shifted closer, licking fondly at her hand. She couldn't help but giggle. "Well, now you have." A thought struck her, and sadness tugged at her heart. "When I wake, will I remember this?" He didn't respond at first, instead he lay across her lap, his head resting on her arm once it wrapped around his neck.

"You can do more than remember me."

"What do you mean?" She asked, genuine confusion in her voice. She could feel the soft beating of his heart against her thigh and the warmth of his body was comforting.

"We can be together again."

"What?" She was stunned. But that wasn't possible. Her powers had been taken from her, and with them, Duran. She couldn't quite remember how that had happened though. The images, sounds, scents and feelings that formed her memories were just out of reach.

"If you relent. If you stop your struggling. I will return to your side."

Amber eyes stared up at her again and she was sure they were pleading with her. Struggling? Struggling with what? "I don't understand."

"In your waking world, your body is undergoing forced changes. Your mind is fighting them."

Forced? She didn't understand. What could be forcing changes on her body? "But... if it's forced... if I'm fighting them... there must be a good reason." She argued, trying to get to grips on what she was being told. Without the information, without the memories she couldn't make a real decision though.

"You are right. I am selfish... It would have been nice though. To fight by your side once more."

The sadness in Duran's voice echoed around in her mind and she could feel him nuzzle closer to her. She could feel the cloudiness return and her senses began to dim. A sense of dread and imminence overtook her and she looked down at the wolf in panic. He lifted his head and licked her face, the softness of his tongue had a touch like velvet. "Duran..." Her voice cracked as she spoke the name.

"Natsuki."

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END OF CHAPTER

Sacrifice - A Mai HiME Fanfiction

Lamenting

Something had woken him. He groggily blinked, trying to focus on the world around him without much luck. He could feel his bed beneath him but it was still dark in his bedroom. If it ain’t morning, what woke me? He asked himself, bringing a hand up to rub at his eyes. He made no attempt to move, waiting for his senses to kick in once more instead. Slowly moving his head to the left, he eyed the digital clock that lay on his bedside table. 3.15am? He groaned to himself. What was he doing waking up at this time? He tried to peer around the room, wondering what could possibly have woken him. He wasn't a heavy sleeper, many years sleeping in hostile environments forcing him to be semi-alert, even when asleep. Any moderate noise from outside his apartment could have woken him, he realised.

He let his body relax, feeling the tension melt away from his muscles. Tani Kuichi let his eyes flutter closed once more, taking in a deep breath and releasing it slowly. But something was nagging at the back of his mind. Then, he heard a sound. His eyes snapped open but he didn't have time to move and find the source of what could only be described as a shuffle for the source was upon him in seconds. A weight pinned him by the mid-section and pressure was applied to one shoulder. A sharp pain cut into his neck and he held his breath, fearing that any movement of his throat would cause that pain to increase.

When he ventured to open his eyes, he found himself peering up at a girl- no, a young woman. A mass of chestnut hair hung down in front of a darkened face, shadows hiding all of her features except dark, piercing crimson eyes. A glint of metal told him a knife was pressed against his neck and from the ornate hilt of the weapon he guessed it to be a tanto. The heated pressure against his waist told him this woman was straddling him, one hand pushing so firmly on his right shoulder that it was beginning to throb. Who the hell is this crazy bitch? And how the hell did she get in here without me hearing her? The questions echoed in his mind but he didn't speak.

The blade shifted against the skin at his throat and he winced as a pain shot through the nerves there. He felt a trickle of blood travel down towards the bed sheets. "That's quite the bruise you have." The distinctive Kyoto-ben was like ice against the night air and they made him shiver. She must have been referring to the purple and blue mark along his cheek and jaw. What the..?

He grunted at her in a form of affirmation and she leaned forwards, lowering her head slightly and leaning into her left hand, increasing the pain in his shoulder. He snorted out in response, reacting to the stimulus. The pressure on his throat didn't waver. "What the fuck do you want?" He managed to hiss out; glad the speech didn't cause the tanto to cut any further into his throat.

As if hearing his thoughts, the blade was pressed deeper and he couldn't help but cry out. "Now, now, is that any way to speak to a lady?" The tone was mocking but still held very little emotion.

He tried to assess the situation in his mind. His attacker didn't weigh much, he noted and it would be easy to dislodge her if he lived long enough to be able to do so. He didn't know much about her and when dealing with foes, he usually went in with a lot of information about them. He was unused to being attacked first, that was for sure. He was pretty sure she meant business though and would probably slit his throat without a second thought. What did she want though? He hadn't been doing that many jobs as of late, could he possibly have pissed somebody off this much? There was that girl he had taken in for his boss though...

"Now, tell me..." The words brought his attention back to his attacker completely. "Where did you take the girl?" Her voice dropped as she spoke and another shudder broke through his body.

So it was about that girl. Yoshiro's goons didn't tell me she had family. They told me no one would miss her. The tanto bit into his flesh as it slid around his neck and he hissed out in pain. Obviously, this woman was impatient. "Okay, okay!" He forced out, beginning to wonder about her mental state. The pressure against his throat was released slightly and his attacker leaned back slightly, allowing the moonlight to spill across her face. She was beautiful. Young and beautiful. Tani couldn't help but be surprised. She was younger than he had guessed and he estimated her to be about twenty. Those unusual crimson eyes were impossible to read but they held a cold edge, one that filled him with dread.

"Tell me." She urged, her full pink lips parting slightly to reveal a row of white teeth. She didn't move the tanto this time though and he was relieved at that, perhaps she wasn't as ruthless as he had assumed.

"I was just hired to grab her and take her to some facility. I don't know any more than that." He explained, not being entirely truthful and he hoped his skills at deceit hadn't diminished over the years.

"Where?" The monotonous word passed her lips and she didn't even appear to react to his answer.

He thought quickly. He needed to find a way out of this situation and at the moment, he was at a disadvantage. "I can... show you."

Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "No." She leaned in a little. "Tell me."

He let out a sigh. She wasn't stupid it seemed. Having no other choice, he decided to tell her the truth. "Fine, there's an envelope in the desk by the window. It holds the info on the job I was given." When she didn't move to confirm his claim or reply he decided to continue, survival instinct kicking in. "Instructions for pick up, drop off location, target details, all o' that." He continued.

She tilted her head to one side, regarding the new information. She glanced to the side, eyes seeking the desk he was speaking of. He took the opportunity, his left arm shooting upwards to knock away the hand that wielded the tanto. His other hand hit her squarely in the chest, knocking her backwards. Combined with the motion from his hips, she tumbled completely off the bed. He sprung upwards, tossing the bed sheets aside and his feet touched the carpeted floor quickly. His attacker looked up at him and he was surprised to see the same cold stare as before. She didn't even seem shocked at being knocked off the bed.

"Who the hell do you think you are?" He spat at her, anger rising to the surface mingled with confusion. He brought a hand up and pressed its palm against the wound at his neck. When he pulled it away again it was coated in blood. Damn that bitch! He cursed. At least he had an advantage over her now he wasn't pinned beneath her, even though her grip on that tanto remained.

Her crimson eyes dimmed as she began to pull herself to a standing position. He involuntarily took a step backwards instead of knocking her back down, his body not complying with his wishes. "What are they planning on doing with her?" That same calm voice met his ears and it only succeeded in angering him further. How could she be acting as though she was still in control of this situation?

"They can kill her for all I care!" He growled. She seemed to flinch at his words and he smirked, finally having found something that seemed to provoke her. "Maybe after they've had their way with her. I reckon they like that kinda thing."

He had expected her to get upset and possibly shout something back at him but instead he saw her eyes darken and she lunged forwards. She moved fast and was at him before he could react. A pain in his stomach caused him to cry out and he fell to his knees before he even realised what had happened. A chill filled his torso, radiating from the source of the pain in his gut.

He looked down at his abdomen, eyes registering the hilt of the tanto jutting from his quickly reddening grey vest. His blurring gaze shot back up to look at the tanto's owner and was surprised to see widened crimson eyes, as if she had just realised what she'd done. A harsh cough wracked his body and he grimaced at the pain that caused. He reached down and wrapped a hand around the hilt of the weapon. It was still warm from where his attacker had held it.

A hand on his caused him to look up once more. "Don't." She spoke, stopping him from pulling the tanto from his body. "If you remove it you will bleed to death. Leave it and wait for help to come." Her voice was level and controlled but her eyes had lost their dull gleam and something gave them a brighter edge, though he couldn't tell what it was. He just nodded, not wanting to question her sound advice. He slumped against the bed, letting it take his weight and allowed his head to loll backwards. He clenched his jaw as new waves of agony soared through his nervous system and was only vaguely aware of the scrape of a drawer being opened.

Tani Kuichi murmured something incoherent as his mind began to succumb to the darkness. He could here a female voice muttering but it was distant now and he wasn't even sure it was directed at him. He let his eyelids fall and wondered if he'd ever be able to open them again. He was unaware of time passing but he could now hear what sounded like sirens. His first thought struck him. Oh shit. But then he remembered he was the one who had been attacked. Did that bitch phone the police? Why would she do that?

The renewing of the pain at his stomach distracted him from his questions and he realised that woman was still here. He felt her presence looming over him and her grip on the tanto. All of a sudden, he felt the brief resistance of skin against metal and then the searing, sharp pain as it slid from tissue and muscle. He let out an agonised yell, his voice breaking the long silence of the room.

"Kanin na but I couldn't leave this behind." Her voice seemed far off but the chill in it still pierced him. He began to drift from consciousness but her trailing words clung to him as he fell into the shadows once more. "If you ever go near her again, I shall replace it..."

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

She had lost control. This she knew. But when it came to Natsuki, she could so easily slip into madness it scared her. Part of her didn't care though; part of her wanted her to so she would have the power to do what was necessary. She gripped the sheathed tanto tighter, memories forming around that one moment where she had plunged it into that mercenary. His words had disgusted her, disgusted her so completely that anger teetered over and pushed her forwards. All she could see was Natsuki, hurt and alone and in that second she had felt as though she had failed her. She had to keep her promise to her. She would not stop protecting her. Ever.

She let out a sigh, secure now in her room. She lounged against a chair, her usual grace having left her as soon as she'd passed through the door. The first thing she had done was go over in detail the information she had taken from that mercenary's home. At least he'd been truthful about that. The contents of the envelope did indeed appear to be a mission outline and it was pretty in-depth. The first document was a blueprint of Natsuki's apartment block as well as brief descriptions of each of the tenants.

There wasn’t anything enlightening there though. The second set of papers seemed to be an outline of Natsuki’s routine. She scoffed inwardly at how they could sum up her life in just a few pages. There were a few notes here and there emphasising what Natsuki liked to do the most, such as riding her motorcycle. She scanned the printed text, noting that the biker hadn’t been up to much recently. She went to school, went out riding and then returned to her apartment. The social engagements seemed to have become less frequent as well. Ara, Natsuki, why were you living like this?

Placing the thoughts aside for the moment, she tried to concentrate on the task at hand with as little emotion as possible. She needed to approach this matter with distant detachment or she’d make no progress at all. Flicking past that section, she came across a sheet of paper with Natsuki’s photo attached. Her heart fluttered in her chest at the image. It didn’t matter if it was in person or from a mere echo of her face; she still reacted the same way. Swallowing down the choking pain that rose in her chest, she let her eyes follow the trail of words. It seemed whoever had put together this document knew that Natsuki had lost her HiME powers. A small note below this stated that she should be fairly harmless and capture shouldn’t be a problem. Indeed, they had all lost their powers but the ex-HiME were far from defenceless after The Carnival, especially Natsuki. A few lines below that stated that the only family she had remaining was her father and that she would not be missed. How could they know about her powers and yet make such a foolish error as that? I will ensure it will be their last.

Finally coming to the last few pages, she spotted the information she wanted. Here were the basic facts that the mercenary had needed to complete his task. From the way it was written, it appeared that this Tani Kuichi had been working for them for quite some time. Perhaps she should have let him die after all. There were exact directions to the ‘pick up’ and ‘drop off’ points and also a small thank you from the author of this note. Shizuru’s eyes narrowed as they fell upon the logo at the bottom of the page.

First District.

A chill gripped her, freezing her breath and causing her heart to miss a beat. How she had hoped to never hear of them again. She released her breath. Strong emotions swirled around her, all vying for control. Shame bit at her, shame for her actions, for murdering men and women in cold blood, for so easily taking life in the name of love. Anger rose like bile in her throat, anger at this company for daring to touch Natsuki after all they had done to her already. And finally fear wrapped its icy fingers around her heart, clutching at her, fear that this First District would be out for revenge and would truly harm Natsuki to get it.

She continued to stare at the address in front of her. So this is where the mercenaries had taken Natsuki? Are you there now? Will I be able to find you? Save you? She frowned. Sometimes it was easy to forget she didn’t have Kiyohime with her anymore. How could she possibly rush in and be Natsuki’s knight in shining armour when she didn’t even have a weapon? She was fooling herself. It didn’t matter though. She’d find some way to get Natsuki out of there, even if it meant sacrificing herself. Now that she knew who was behind the abduction, that gave her a slight advantage and perhaps offering up herself would be enough.

Sighing, she placed the papers to one side on the desk in front of her. She slowly rose from the chair, dropping the tanto on the desk as well. She scanned the room, attempting to decide what her next move should be. Her body had long ago started to feel the effects of weariness and she knew she was pushing it beyond its limits. How long had she gone without sleep now? Without food? She didn’t know. She wandered over to the small refrigerator and pulled it open, resigning herself to the fact that she’d need all her strength for a confrontation with Natsuki’s captors. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much in her fridge though. She’d been rather single-minded over the past few days and hadn’t had the opportunity to restock her supplies. Not that she’d really eaten during that time either.

Her eyes landed on the small white container at the back of the fridge and she could feel something plummet painfully in her chest. There sat the half empty bottle of mayonnaise she kept for when Natsuki visited. It had been there for quite a while though as the visits had become less and less frequent over the past few months. And that was her own fault. She subconsciously reached for the bottle and removed it from the cool confines of its home. It was fairly light in the palm of her hand but heavy in her mind. Memories seeped past the walls she had been trying so hard to maintain all day and she felt her features fall into a sorrowful frown. Without much thought, she flipped open the blue cap and squirted some of the off-white liquid onto her forefinger and popped it into her mouth. Her lips closed slowly around the tip and her tongue brushed against the mayonnaise. It tasted tangy and almost creamy. It certainly wasn’t awful but it wasn’t something she’d want drizzled all over her meals either. She preferred to be able to taste the food.

A fond smile pulled at her lips as she replaced the mayonnaise and closed the fridge door, remembering the way Natsuki would squeeze that container and cover her food with the liquid. She had long ago given up any hope of persuading the biker to stop overusing the stuff and had, instead, managed to get her to eat some semi healthy food with the mayonnaise on a fairly regular basis. She guessed Natsuki thought that a better compromise.

Her search for food now forgotten, she moved towards her wardrobe. She’d need to get changed into some practical clothing if she was going to meet up with the First District. She pulled open the two wooden doors and peered in at her clothes. She had a fairly eclectic range, from kimonos to summer dresses, from trouser suits to jeans. She reached in a dug around at the shelf above the main wardrobe, not exactly sure what she was looking for. Her fingers brushed against something soft and fluffy and she froze. She blinked a few times, knowing exactly what it was. With trembling hands she lowered the item down to eye level and gazed with watery eyes as the blue and white stuffed dog toy. Its black felt eyes were overly big and its paws comically large but it just screamed cuteness. She clutched it to her chest for a moment, remembering the day she had received it.

“Just… take it.” Came Natsuki’s irritated voice.

Shizuru stared down at the fluffy blue and white thing in Natsuki’s outstretched hand. It was cute, unbearably so even. She recognised it from the festival they’d been to recently. Natsuki had seen it at one of the stalls and hadn’t been able to think of anything else until she’d won it. It was strange seeing the usually cold girl so worked up over something so… sweet.

“I couldn’t possibly…” Shizuru trailed off, still smiling as brightly as she could.

Natsuki merely continued looking away, her brow furrowed, her arm unwavering. Why was she wanting to give this to her now? After she’d won it, she’d gripped it tightly in her hand for the remainder of the day. She’d even been able to ignore Shizuru’s teasing remarks about it. It was obviously something important to her, so that’s why Shizuru was so surprised at the offering ofsaid item to her.

“Look, it’s a gift, just take it already.” Natsuki fumed, a slight hint of hurt creeping into her voice.

Gingerly, Shizuru reached out and wrapped her fingers around a paw and lifted the small animal. She turned it over in her hands and finally brought it up to place a quick peck on its soft black nose. It smelled of Natsuki.

“Ookini, Natsuki.” She whispered. “But why this? I thought…”

“Yeah I know.” Raven hair fluttered as she turned to face her friend, a mild look of confusion on her face. “I thought for a while aboutwhat I could get you for graduation. In the end I could only think of him. I decided that if it was important to me then it’d be a good gift.” She looked at Shizuru expectantly, a child-like look on her face.

Shizuru’s eyes stung slightly at the sentiment and she found Natsuki so adorable in that moment. She seemed to be craving approval and she certainly wouldn’t be the one to withhold it. Gently cradling the stuffed toy in her arms, she gave Natsuki one of her genuine smiles, one she saved for occasions such as this.

“I love it, Natsuki. It’s perfect.” After receiving a warning glare from the other girl she decided to quickly correct herself. “Kanin na, he’s perfect.”

Natsuki nodded with a smug smile. “Besides, he can protect you when I’m not there.”

A single tear slid down her cheek and dropped to the nose of the stuffed toy. She quickly wiped it away. She had put the fondly named ‘Duran’ in her wardrobe because every time she’d come into her room after class and see him sitting on her bed, she’d think of Natsuki and that only led to negative thoughts. He was a reminder she didn’t need.

But now, she didn’t have the heart to return him to the darkness of the wardrobe and so she walked to the bed with him and placed him on her pillow. He seemed happy with that placement and she smiled a sad smile. “My apologies Duran, I won’t lock you away again.”

She sat down on the soft bedding as well, running the tips of her fingers against the cool fabric. Not that long ago Natsuki had sat here and watched over her as she’d slept. At least, that’s what she’d imagined and when she’d awoken, she was sure she could still feel the warmth of the other girl in this spot. Her heart ached now, ached with the distance between the two of them, ached with her barely concealed longings. She had to get Natsuki to safety. To know she was safe would ease her mind at least, even if it did nothing to ease the pain in her heart. To be able to protect her though, that was something she could feel content with. And she had promised. So that was what she would do.

Hang in there, Natsuki. I’m coming.

END OF CHAPTER

Comments

  1. A very nice fanfiction. I hope i can read more soon!!!
    ~CrimsonEye

    (Posted on 2010-06-24 19:45:00 by CrimsonEye)
  2. I doubt I'll continue with this one, to be honest. My other Mai HiME fan fictions are far more popular and it's just been so long since I updated this. I'm sure I have notes on it somewhere though.

    (Posted on 2009-04-25 19:42:00 by centauri2002)
  3. ohh this is a great fic! please continue this!

    (Posted on 2009-03-14 05:40:00 by Ms. Smile)
  4. this is a great story...i hope to see more soon.

    (Posted on 2008-09-17 05:52:00 by mimi)

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