Author: Genki Collective PM
Saten Ruiko is tired of being marginalized. Juufuku Miho seeks redemption. After their unexpected reunion, will they find what they seek? Saten x Juufuku; AT; yuri. A Railgun fanfic set two and a half years after the events in NT 6. CHAPTER 2: Miho tries to hold back her feelings; the partners face their first real test; in the aftermath, Ruiko makes a surprising request.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Romance - R. Saten & M. Jufuku - Chapters: 2 - Words: 17,144 - Reviews: 22 - Favs: 15 - Follows: 21 - Updated: 03-31-13 - Published: 01-31-13 - id: 8966039
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
WARNING! This story contains yuri subject matter. Read at your own risk.
DISCLAIMER: I do not own any part of the Raildex franchise. I do, however, own all original characters appearing in this fiction, and they may not be used elsewhere without my express written consent. I also do not own the cover art. That belongs to lexa (remove spaces and change "3" to "e"):: www . pixiv . n3t / member . php ?id=92869.
NOTE ON FORMATTING: Internal monologue, flashbacks, and written/electronic/telepathic communications are italicized.
PREFACE: This story is set some 28 months after the events of Volume 6 of the New Testament light novel series, and is my take on what might happen if something actually came of Juufuku's one-sided crush on Saten. To my knowledge, it's the first Saten x Juufuku fic published on FFN. Happy reading! – Genki Collective
Chapter 1: Senpai and Kouhai
As Juufuku Miho descended the long stairway in front of a certain high school, the early spring breeze swept through the cherry trees on either side of her, showering her with delicately scented blossoms. Like light pink polka dots, they clung to her dyed-chestnut hair buns and her navy blue sailor uniform, and collected in the space between her sleeve and her green and white Judgment armband.
Under normal circumstances, a stroll among the clouds of sweet-smelling petals was something Miho would have greatly enjoyed. Today, however, she was on patrol, and couldn't afford to treat the flowering trees as anything more than a minor distraction along her route. She would come back to enjoy them later, when she had the time to appreciate them properly. For now, she had to focus on her duties.
When she reached the base of the stairs, she pulled out her cell and tapped at the screen, brushing away the accumulated petals as she waited for the call to go through.
"Judgment Control," a laconic male voice answered.
"Agent 3635, Branch 176, Route B2," she recited from memory.
"Voice recognition check complete," the voice replied after a momentary silence. "Agent identity confirmed. Begin status report."
"I've reached Checkpoint 9 with no issues noted. I'm beginning the final leg of the route. Estimated completion time is 16:00."
There was another brief silence.
"Status report logged. Remember to call Control when you reach the end of your route."
"Understood," Miho replied. As the line went dead, she was already headed down the hill away from the school.
It was a routine call-in on an uneventful patrol. With so many of the students out of Academy City for spring break, both the school campus and its surrounding neighborhood were nearly deserted. Other than a stray aluminum can or two left behind by the sometimes less-than-thorough cleaning bots, Miho had encountered nothing out of the ordinary. For a change, there were no groups of delinquents making trouble, and no petty criminals to deal with. Everything seemed quiet. As far as Miho was concerned, that was just fine.
The weather was unseasonably warm for the final week of March. After several hours of walking under a relentless sun, Miho's throat was parched, so when she came to the convenience store a couple blocks away from the school, she decided to make a quick detour. According to her cell, it was only 15:44; there was plenty of time for her to pop inside to pick up something cool to drink and still be back at the branch office by 16:00 as scheduled.
As she pushed her way through the front door, the chimes hanging from it jangled, and she was immediately hit with the mingled scents of tobacco, newsprint, and convenience-store food. There wasn't much to the place beyond a few rows of shelves and a refrigerator case at the back, and yet Miho always found it welcoming, like an oasis in an otherwise barren cityscape.
The elderly clerk behind the front counter greeted her warmly, as befitting a regular customer.
"Ah, welcome back, Agent-sama! On duty today?"
"Yes, Obaa-san," Miho replied with a polite nod. "I'm just about done, though." She looked around the store, which was empty save for the two of them. "Slow day?"
"It's usually slow during spring break, especially at this time of the afternoon," the woman shrugged. "Not many students around, so it'll be dead for another hour or so, until the adults who work at the businesses near here get off work. Hey, where's that strapping young man you're always with? I haven't seen him in a couple weeks."
"My partner? I guess I should call him my ex-partner. He graduated, and he's with another branch near his new university now."
"Pity," the old woman clucked. "You two looked so good together. I'll bet you miss him."
In point of fact, Miho didn't consider her former partner's departure that much of a loss. They were an effective team as Judgment agents, but on a personal level, they hadn't cared much for each other. The old woman didn't need to know any of this, however, so Miho tried to make it sound as though she was sorry he was gone, even though she really wasn't.
"It can't be helped. My captain promised me a replacement, so I won't be patrolling by myself for long."
The clerk smiled encouragingly.
"Well, I hope it works out for you. Anyway, I've got a really good batch of steamed buns today. Pork, curry, and pizza. Have you eaten?"
She gestured toward the stack of treats lying under the nearby heat lamp. The mouth-watering blend of aromas had already gotten Miho's attention, but as tempting as it was to tuck in, she was in a hurry and didn't have time to linger.
"No, thanks. Maybe on the way home."
The brightly-colored cans of pomegranate cola seemed to be calling Miho's name from the refrigerator case, as if they knew how consuming her thirst was. Before she could reach inside to claim one, however, the door chimes tinkled again. Acting on impulse, Miho briefly glanced at the newcomer, then took a second, longer look. Something about him seemed off. It didn't appear that he had seen her, so she used her dummy check ability to blend in with the background – a trivial matter for a Level 3 – and moved out from behind the shelves to study him more closely.
Lean and well-muscled, with rugged, pock-marked features, a scraggly goatee, and long, greasy hair, he seemed far too old even to be a university student. Miho thought he was in his late twenties, at least. The way he was dressed – ragged, oversized baseball shirt with the sleeves torn off, and ripped, baggy jeans – was too shabby for a typical adult resident of Academy City. In short, he looked out of place in this part of town.
The man picked up a manga volume from the magazine display near the door, but Miho could tell he was only pretending to read it, because even though he was flipping the pages, he wasn't actually looking at them. Instead, he appeared to be scanning his surroundings, as if he was on the lookout for someone.
Something was very wrong – every instinct within Miho pointed to it. With her pulse pounding in her ears, she reached for her stun gun, but before she could take a step, the man made his move. He tossed the manga aside, and there was a sudden glint of light on metal. Miho's heart jumped into her throat.
"Open the till!"
The clerk gaped at the knife as the would-be robber waved it in her face. When she made no move to follow his instructions, his voice rose to a screech.
"I said open it, you old fart!"
"I…I c-can't…g-got to r-ring something up…"
"Then ring something up, bitch! Now!" He thrust the blade at her for emphasis, but the poor woman could do nothing but stand there, shaking like a leaf.
"Please…please don't kill me…"
"Open the goddamned register or I will kill you!" the man snarled.
The adrenaline surged through Miho, sending her heartbeat into overdrive and making her hands tremble so violently she was afraid she might drop her stun gun. She had faced knife-wielding attackers before, but never by herself. The prospect terrified her, and it took supreme mental effort to fight off the sudden urge to hide in a corner. Over and over, as if chanting a mantra in her head, she reminded herself that as a Judgment agent, she didn't have the option to run.
During past incidents, her former partner had been the one to confront the criminals while she slipped in and shocked them into submission. It had been much easier for her to deal with the violence knowing he had her back, but she didn't have him to rely on anymore. It was up to her to handle this armed thug by herself. She wasn't sure she had the courage to do it, but as she looked into the ashen face of the woman behind the front counter, she knew she had no choice but to try.
Her game plan was simple. He still hadn't picked up on her presence, so it was a matter of getting close enough to stun him. As long he was distracted by trying to get cash from the register, it would work. It had to work. She crept toward the unsuspecting thug from behind, moving as softly as her knocking knees would allow. His back was nearly within reach. Almost there…one more step…
The toe of her shoe slammed into a stack of beer cases, and just like that, she lost the element of surprise. Startled by the noise, the man spun around, looking for the person he thought had crept up behind him.
"What the hell? Who's there?"
Miho froze, cursing inwardly as she frantically considered her options. There was no way she was going to charge right at him; it would be like running into a buzzsaw, even if he couldn't see her. No, she would have to circle around through the displays and maneuver herself back into position.
The thug's words brought her up short. He was staring at the store window with an evil grin on his face. As Miho followed his gaze, she froze in horror. There in the tinted glass was her reflection, clearly visible next to his.
"I hate espers," he hissed. "Especially kiddy cops like you."
With blinding speed, he swung his knife in a wide arc, aiming for where he thought Miho was standing. She tried to jump backward, but didn't quite react fast enough, and the blade sliced across the front of her left shoulder, sending a spray of blood droplets into the air as it tore through her skin. With a gasp of pain, she briefly lost control of her dummy check, and as she turned visible, the robber cackled in triumph.
"Your ass is mine!"
He stepped forward, weapon raised, but then stopped short in confusion as Miho regained her concentration and blocked her image from registering in his mind. However, he only hesitated for a moment before resuming his advance, his blade sweeping back and forth, seeking her out. Miho's feet felt suddenly heavy, but her mind screamed that if she stood still, he'd find her and kill her whether she was using her ability or not. In desperation, she began to backpedal, grabbing whatever she could reach and throwing it at her attacker as she fought to stay out of range. His face a mask of fury, the thug dodged and ducked and flailed with his knife as boxes, cans, and jars seemingly flung themselves off of the shelves at him.
Eventually, Miho's hand closed around a bottle of rice vinegar, which she promptly threw at the man's head as hard as she could. This time, she scored a direct hit, and the bottle smashed into his nose. With a yelp, he reeled backward, and as he instinctively raised his hands to his face, the knife clattered to the floor, forgotten.
It was the moment Miho had been waiting for. She was now in control, and her terror evaporated as her tactical training kicked in. In a flash, she closed distance, jammed her stun gun under her attacker's ribs, and pulled the trigger.
With a howl of agony, the unfortunate criminal went rigid as the electricity took control of his muscles. Not taking any chances, Miho gripped his shirt firmly so she could keep the stun gun's electrodes in place. He was a serious threat, and she had no backup, so he needed to go down and stay down. Three seconds would do it.
One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three…
When she finally pulled the gun away, the man keeled over face first, crashing to the floor like a tree falling in a forest. Moving reflexively, Miho had her electronic handcuffs on his wrists while his body was still twitching. After making herself visible again, she stood over the now-subdued criminal, stun gun at the ready, trying to keep her voice level and authoritative despite the desert-like dryness in her throat.
"I'm a Judgment agent. You are under arrest for attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, aggravated assault and battery, armed robbery, and possession of an illegal weapon. Please lie quietly, or I'll be forced to shock you again."
The warning was a mere formality. After three seconds of high voltage, the drooling, quivering man on the floor in front of her was in no condition to resist any further. He wasn't going to stay that way for very long, however, so Miho turned to the astonished clerk, clamping her usual veneer of politeness back in place to avoid upsetting the old lady any further.
"I'm deeply sorry about the mess. If you'd please call Anti-Skill, I'd really appreciate it."
"I hit the silent alarm right after he pulled the knife," the still-shaking woman informed her. "They'll be here any minute."
Sure enough, Miho could hear the sirens wailing.
"My, my…you were so brave, Agent-sama," the relieved clerk babbled. "You saved my life, and…my goodness, child, you're bleeding!"
Miho looked down at the large, dark bloodstain that surrounded the tear at the top of her left uniform sleeve. As if on cue, her adrenaline level crashed. The sudden wave of exhaustion and light-headedness forced her to her knees, and the gash in her shoulder, which she'd barely noticed until just then, suddenly throbbed with pain. The stain began to spread rapidly as her body left survival mode and she began to bleed more freely. With a grimace, she clamped her hand over the wound.
"Sorry to be such a bother," she deadpanned. "Do you have any gauze?"
"A hero is never a 'bother'," the clerk snorted as she hurried toward the display holding the first aid supplies. "I'll be right back."
"I'm no hero," Miho muttered after her.
She had just pressed a handful of gauze pads to her shoulder when Anti-Skill's response team burst through the store's front door in full riot gear. At their head, as usual, was Yomikawa Aiho, who was not only an Anti-Skill captain, but until recently had been Miho's first-year homeroom teacher. Yomikawa had become a mentor of sorts to Miho, and the two knew each other pretty well. For that reason, there was an easy familiarity to their mutual greeting.
"Hey there, Juufuku. Geez, you look like hell. Whose ass did you kick this time?"
Miho smiled weakly up at her.
"Hello, Sensei. All I wanted was a pomegranate cola. I didn't think I was going to have to fight for it."
But the tall teacher wasn't listening to Miho's half-hearted attempt at humor. As two Anti-Skill team members yanked the still-dazed criminal to his feet, Yomikawa peered intently at his face.
"My God, it's Yoshida!" she exclaimed. "We've been after this low-life for weeks. Nice work, kid."
Yoshida, who had recovered enough to realize what was happening, glared malevolently at Miho.
"I'll get you, you little whore!" he spat. "I'll gut you like a tuna! You're dead, do you hear me? Dead!"
He struggled to get free, but the Anti-Skill officers holding him quickly dug their fingertips into his pressure points and put an end to it. Miho, unmoved by his empty threats, scarcely paid attention as they dragged him out the door.
"I guess we should add resisting arrest and communicating a threat to the list of charges-…guh!" She winced as the Anti-Skill medic applied bioadhesive to her wounded shoulder through the hole in her sleeve. "Ooh, that smarts. Good thing I have a spare uniform."
"I'm kind of disappointed that I missed all the fun," Yomikawa pretended to pout. "Mind telling me what happened?" After Miho did so, the tall teacher grinned triumphantly.
"That loser's going to rot in the District 10 lock-up," she crowed. "Make sure your captain sends me a copy of the report so I can take it to my battalion commander. You'll probably get another letter of commendation out of this. How many would that make it? Nine, right?"
Miho shrugged. "Does it matter?"
"It matters to a lot more people than you realize."
"I'd don't mean to sound ungrateful, but why should it?" Miho countered, blushing and looking away. Yomikawa was embarrassing her. "I'm just an ordinary girl who's trying to make up for her past mistakes. It's one of the reasons I joined Judgment in the first place. I don't think I deserve praise for that."
Yomikawa sighed wearily.
"Whatever. I guess you have to chase your demons, even though I've given up trying to understand the way you think. But never mind all that. You really need to watch yourself. You know how violent things have gotten in District 7 these days – every time I see you, it seems like you're putting the boot to one of these punks."
She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at the van outside, where Yoshida was cooling his heels.
"It's not like I go looking for trouble!" was Miho's exasperated rejoinder.
"Maybe not, but trouble sure has a way of finding you. You've got the worst luck of any Judgment agent I know. Take my advice – get your captain to find you a new partner, someone good with their fists who can watch your back. It's one thing to deal with delinquent students, but you're not a strong enough fighter to face off against hardcore criminals by yourself. Not consistently, anyway."
Miho shifted uncomfortably, trying not to think of how close she'd just come to being killed.
"She says she's working on it."
"Keep after her," Yomikawa urged.
Miho simply nodded. There was no point to mentioning that she had been pestering her captain for weeks about a replacement. It would only make her seem whiny.
As the Anti-Skill team secured the crime scene, Miho called Judgment Control to report the incident. After she was done, she decided she should probably call her captain, as well, because waiting until she got back to the office to explain why she was overdue from patrol would only make things worse.
"Yotsuba," the familiar female voice answered.
"Hello, Senpai? It's Juufuku."
The branch captain's imperious voice trumpeted from the earpiece of Miho's cell phone.
"Where the heck have you been? You're overdue! You'd better have a good reason for not calling in!"
Miho rolled her eyes. Normally, she would simply endure her fiery senpai's rant in respectful silence, but at that moment she was in no mood to submit to any high-handed treatment.
"Is getting caught up an armed robbery a good enough reason?" she retorted icily.
Yotsuba hesitated, and when she resumed speaking, her manner was much more subdued.
"I got Anti-Skill's email alert a few minutes ago. Was that you? Are you okay?"
"He had a knife. It's just a gash, though – no real damage. One of the Anti-Skills patched me up. My left arm's going to be sore for a couple days, at most."
There were several moments of silence on the other end as this information sank in.
"Oh," Yotsuba finally mumbled. "Glad to know you're okay."
It was as close to an apology as Miho was going to get, so she simply moved on to describe what had happened.
"Another close call, huh?" Yotsuba remarked when she had finished. "You've had a lot of those lately."
Miho thought it seemed as good a time as any to press for a new partner.
"Um, Senpai, I'm sorry to keep bringing this up, but Yomikawa-sensei says that I'm asking for trouble by patrolling alone. Isn't there some way I could be teamed up with one of the third-years? Two of them had partners graduate just like mine did. Please…I'd really feel a lot safer working with someone rather than going solo."
To Miho's surprise, Yotsuba didn't put her in her place, as usual. On the contrary, she seemed unusually agreeable. Miho soon found out why.
"It just so happens that I have some good news on that front. Headquarters sent us a Center graduate after all. I spoke to her on the phone a little while ago, and she's due any minute. Looks like you're finally going to get that partner you've been badgering me about."
Miho almost dropped her phone in shock.
"Wait, what? I thought we weren't getting anyone from the latest Training Center class! How…?"
"Headquarters changed her assignment just yesterday," Yotsuba explained. "It seems they had her going to a branch way up north in District 20. Big mistake, since she's going to be attending that certain high school down the street, same as you. Anyway, once they fixed things, we wound up with her. Of course, those clowns in Human Resources never bothered to tell me."
"So she's reporting in today?"
"Yeah. We got lucky with this one, Juufuku. She's really sharp. I'll email you the highlights from her training record. I'm going to make her your new partner, and you can break her in for field duty. You're going to be a second-year, so it's time you took on a little more responsibility."
Miho sighed inwardly. She was a bit put off that Yotsuba had decided to pair them up without either of them meeting the new agent first, but that was pretty much the way the captain ran things – solve one problem, move to the next.
Still, to have a girl as a partner would be a nice change. Miho hoped they would get along, and maybe even become friends; she didn't have many of those because of her shyness. It certainly wouldn't hurt if her new partner was cute, too, but that would just be the icing on the cake. At this point, Miho cared less about looks and more about the girl's ability in a fight.
"Thank you for taking care of me, Senpai," she replied gratefully. "So, what's she like?"
"How the heck should I know?" Yotsuba snapped. Her usual prickly manner had returned. "We'll both meet her soon enough. Get back to the office as quickly as you can, okay? I need the initial report on that robbery written while everything's still fresh in your mind. She should be here by the time you arrive. I'll introduce her to you then."
Miho glanced down at her tattered and bloodstained uniform.
"But I'm a mess. I should go back to the dorm and change. I wouldn't want to show myself in front of my new partner like this. It would be disrespectful."
"This is no time to get all feminine on me," Yotsuba shot back. "There's work to be done. Just get back here ASAP."
"I'll be on my way as soon as Yomikawa-sensei releases me," Miho replied. "Slave driver," she added under her breath after the line was safely dead.
Half a kilometer away, Saten Ruiko's first day as a Judgment agent was definitely not unfolding as she'd expected. Things were off to a rocky start, and she hadn't even reported for duty yet.
When she'd called 176th Branch to see if they had any last minute instructions, she found Judgment Headquarters hadn't bothered to notify them that she was inbound. She'd wanted to crawl into a hole when the branch captain asked, "Saten who?"
Still, Ruiko found reason for optimism. The captain, Yotsuba, may have been surprised to hear from her, but she was definitely happy to learn her branch was gaining another agent. Beyond that, Yotsuba hadn't had much else to say, other than to request that she be at the branch office by 16:00.
Ruiko didn't need to be told twice. She was so eagerly looking forward to her first field assignment that by the time she reached the gleaming glass-and-steel high-rise tower that housed the 176th Branch office, her annoyance at the Headquarters bureaucracy had largely dissipated in the face of her rising excitement.
After leaving the elevator at the fifth floor, Ruiko followed the signs on the wall to the end of a nondescript corridor, where there was a gray metal door with a large, brightly-colored sign on it:
Judgment ~ District 7 ~ 176th Branch
All Visitors Must Be Escorted
To the right of the door, there were two panels side by side. One, with a rectangular piece of dark glass mounted in its center, was a palm-print scanner, while the other housed a speaker with a large green call button underneath.
Wanting to make a good first impression, Ruiko took a moment to run her fingers through her hair and adjust her sailor uniform. When everything seemed in order, she reached into her book bag, pulled out her Judgment arm band, and carefully pinned it in place.
As she admired the way the green and white strip of fabric looked on her arm, she had a sudden attack of the jitters. It was the usual anxiety of someone entering a new work situation. Would she get along with her fellow agents? Was she really up to the task? Was she doing the right thing? To calm her nerves, she decided to engage in a bit of motivational self-talk.
Okay, Saten, you're more than ready. They said you couldn't get past Level 0, and you worked your butt off and proved them wrong. And you made it through the Training Center near the top of the rankings, even though you were the least powerful esper in your class. It's taken you more than two years of hard work to get to this point. Today, you're finally off the sidelines and into the game. Uiharu, Shirai-san, and Misaka-san – they're all rooting for you. You can do this!
With a deep breath, she pressed the call button. After a few seconds, a tinny, distorted female voice sounded from the speaker.
"May I help you?"
"Um, yes, my name is Saten Ruiko. I'm supposed to report for duty today."
"Ah, Saten, you're here. Good. You're in the system already, so press your hand to the scanner, then step to the door."
There was a buzz as the door unlocked, and after a moment Ruiko found herself in a large open office. It was quiet, because the place was nearly deserted. At the desk closest to the entrance, tapping at a tablet computer with a stylus, sat the room's sole occupant: a girl who looked to be a couple years older than Ruiko. The sound of the door closing caught her attention, and she set aside the tablet and stood in greeting.
The confidence that radiated from the girl's intense, dark-gray eyes gave the impression that she was used to giving orders and having them obeyed. They were set in a round face with a dainty, aquiline nose and pointed chin, and framed by shaggy brown hair. Her gray pleated skirt and navy-blue blazer hung loosely from her lean, athletic frame.
Trying not to be obvious, Ruiko allowed her glance to flick downward to the girl's navy-blue knee-highs and back up again. Although she had a taste for pretty women, this one didn't exactly make her hormones surge.
Not bad. Kind of cute, but not my type.
The voice in her head took her completely by surprise.
This is a Judgment branch, not a matchmaking service! Save the skirt-chasing for when you're off duty. Do I make myself clear, Saten?
Ruiko's book bag hit the floor with a loud thump. She stared at the girl, who frowned back. Her lips hadn't moved, and yet…
…how in the hell am I hearing a voice? And how does she know my name?
The response was swift and forceful.
One, I'm using telepathy, and two, you just identified yourself over the intercom. Are you dense or something?
After a moment of glaring at Ruiko, the girl spoke audibly for the first time.
"All right, that's enough telepathy for the time being. It takes a tremendous amount of energy for someone without the ability, so we can't do too much of it or it'll tire you out. Anyway, I suppose I should introduce myself. I'm Yotsuba. I run this place."
For the second time in an hour, Ruiko wanted to crawl into a hole. Of all the girls she could have been caught checking out, it had to be her new boss. As a fiery red blush crept across her cheeks, she was tempted to go back out into the hall and hit the call button again, simply to start the entire process over. It was a silly notion, so she swallowed hard and apologized, trying to sound as sincere as possible, and hoping Yotsuba wouldn't hold it against her.
"Um, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to be disrespectful."
The ice in the captain's eyes melted.
"Apology accepted. It's not all your fault, anyway – you had no way of knowing that I was reading your thoughts. Now how about you introduce yourself to me properly so we can move on with our lives?"
Relieved, Ruiko bowed and launched into the expected formalities.
"It's nice to meet you, Yotsuba-senpai. I'm Saten Ruiko…" She let out a nervous giggle when she remembered that Yotsuba already knew her name. "Oops, right. Sorry. I look forward to working with you."
"Likewise," Yotsuba nodded. "Relax, Saten. I only telepathize when I feel it's worth the effort…for example, when I meet new people. I learn the most interesting things that way." Her frown curved upward into a smirk, and it made Ruiko blush yet again. "You seem sincere, though, so consider the whole thing forgotten. Work hard and show dedication, and we'll get along fine."
She made a sweeping gesture with her hand, indicating the room behind her.
"Welcome to 176th Branch. I guess I'll get started by giving you the tour. It'll be quick – there's not a lot to see."
Yotsuba grabbed her tablet from the desk, and began to walk through the room, pointing out its features. Ruiko retrieved her book bag and followed the captain around, listening politely, even though she could easily have given the tour herself. Apart from the fact that the entire left wall was made up of glass windows hung with vertical blinds, the room looked almost exactly like 177th Branch's office, where Ruiko had spent so much time hanging out with her friends Kazari and Kuroko. From the column of desks along the windows to the small break area in the far right rear of the room, the layout was identical, as if Headquarters had been working from a standard blueprint when they set the place up.
As Yotsuba had predicted, the tour took all of about five minutes. Afterward, the two girls sat at the small table in the break area, drinking tea the captain had poured from the dispenser on the counter. It was weak and didn't have enough milk in it, and therefore tasted more like dirty dishwater, but Ruiko forced it down without complaining. She'd already offended the captain once, and she wasn't about to do it again.
After a bit of small talk, Yotsuba got right down to business.
"I'm really glad you're here, Saten. We're a bit short-handed, so you're going to find yourself on patrol very soon, and you'll pull more shifts than you would in most branches."
"That sounds good to me," Ruiko assured her. "I didn't join Judgment to sit around."
"So I gather from looking at your record," was the captain's response as she dragged her stylus across the screen of her tablet. "Ranked third overall out of 283 in your Training Center class…first in practical studies and tenth in academics…second-highest score in the class on the physical fitness test…top student in defensive tactics. I like that last one – it means you're pretty good in a scrap. Yes, overall, very impressive."
Yotsuba's praise of her achievements made Ruiko uncomfortable.
"Well, um, it's not like I have a lot of talent or anything…but I am a hard worker, and I don't give up easily…"
Yotsuba's eyes narrowed.
"Don't let it go to your head. The Judgment Training Center is an artificial environment. It's not like the streets. You might have done well there, but in the real world, you're as green as grass. The people we deal with carry real weapons, and they're not afraid to use them."
It was obvious that Yotsuba assumed Ruiko was a typical naive, sheltered Academy City student who'd never been in a fight in her life. Of course, the unfortunate truth was that she'd already faced death a number of times before she joined Judgment. After all, her three closest friends included two high-profile Judgment agents and a Level 5 electromaster with a hair-trigger temper, and her ex-girlfriend was a reptile-loving aeromaster with a track record of winding up as a crime victim, so she couldn't avoid facing more than her share of danger. However, there was no point to saying so. Something in Yotsuba's tone told Ruiko it would have been misinterpreted as overconfidence, anyway.
"You're in one of the toughest jurisdictions in District 7 now," Yotsuba continued. "District 10 is Skill-Out territory. It's right down the road, and the gang-bangers love to come up into this area to prey on helpless students. My agents and I deal with more violent crime in a month than most branches see in a year. This particular branch hasn't had anyone killed in the two and a half years since the World War, but most of us have been to the emergency room more than once. That's where you'll wind up if you get complacent, so trust your partner and stay focused."
It was the perfect opening to ask the question that had been nagging at Ruiko's mind the most.
"Um, Senpai, speaking of a partner…have you chosen one yet? For me, I mean."
"I'm going to put you with one of my second-years," Yotsuba informed her. "Her partner just graduated, and I need to replace him. You could do a lot worse. I consider her my top agent – eight commendations for bravery from the High Commissioner in the past two years. In fact, she just took down another armed criminal about an hour ago. Poor guy made the mistake of holding up a convenience store when she happened to be in it."
"Holy God, she sounds like a total badass!" Ruiko blurted out, unable to keep her thoughts from transforming into words. She clapped a hand over her mouth, embarrassed at using such rough language in front of Yotsuba, but the captain simply laughed.
"You'd never know it from looking at her…she's really shy and, well, girly, for lack of a better word. Not the type to stand out in a crowd. In fact, you'd never take her for a Judgment agent without her arm band. But you know what they say – appearances can be deceiving. When you get past the shyness and get to know her, you'll find she's really deep and intense, and a good friend, too…extremely caring and loyal to the few people she lets get close to her. And when she fights…well, let's just say she didn't get those commendations for nothing. The only negative thing I can say about her is that she's a bit too idealistic for her own good."
Ruiko was intrigued. Yotsuba's description made the girl seem larger than life. She pictured someone with a combination of all the best qualities that she admired in her friends: Mikoto's nobility and sense of justice, Kuroko's fierce courage, and Kazari's encouraging optimism. Of course, it wouldn't hurt if she had a killer body like Mitsuko, too, although Ruiko could do without the troublesome personality.
"So, uh…what's her name?"
The question didn't register, because at the precise moment Ruiko asked it, Yotsuba's cell phone rang. She answered it, had a brief, sharply-worded conversation with whoever was on the line, and then turned to Ruiko apologetically.
"Sorry, Saten, but I need to take this. You have a bunch of forms to fill out, so you might as well get started. Stay here and I'll bring the package back to you."
Hmm…I guess I'll find out her name when she gets here, Ruiko shrugged.
It took her about twenty minutes to slog through the stack of paperwork. She had just finished filling out the last form when she heard a loud buzz, followed by the sound of the front door opening and closing. That must be her, Ruiko thought with a smile. I can't wait to meet her.
"I'm back." Something about the breathy soprano seemed oddly familiar to Ruiko, but she couldn't place it. Still, she liked how gentle it sounded.
"Welcome back." Yotsuba's response was more of a mild scolding than a greeting; she reminded Ruiko of Kuroko taking Kazari to task over some trivial matter. "It's about time, too. If I didn't watch you every second, you'd-…geez, you're a mess! That uniform…"
The high-voiced girl's rejoinder contained just enough reproach to keep it from being openly disrespectful.
"I'm sorry, Senpai, but if you recall, you're the one who told me to come straight to the office. I was just following orders. And yes, my shoulder hurts. Thanks for asking."
"It's…it's not like I don't care or anything," Yotsuba spluttered. "You make me sound like a callous jerk. You're going to be okay, right?"
"Of course I am," the other girl soothed. "Please don't worry about me, Senpai. I've had worse."
"Can't help it," Yotsuba huffed.
Simply from the way the two girls talked to each other, Ruiko could tell they were close. Their mutual respect and affection was so obvious that they sounded more like sisters than superior and subordinate. Ruiko wondered what there was about the newcomer that was so special that she had broken through the captain's crusty tsundere shell like this.
"Hey, your new partner's here," she heard Yotsuba say.
"Really?" was the excited response. "I'm so glad!"
"Come back and meet her before you write that report."
When the two girls walked past the divider into the break area, Ruiko's jaw dropped, and the pen she'd been using to fill out the forms slipped from her fingers and clattered to the table. Meanwhile, Yotsuba's companion took one at Ruiko and froze; a tidal wave of surprise swept over her face. Their exclamations of recognition were nearly simultaneous.
Juufuku Miho was, without question, the last person Ruiko expected to see at that moment, yet there was no mistaking the distinctive chestnut-colored odango hairstyle, with its long, angled bangs that partially covered Miho's expressive brown eyes.
"You guys already know each other?" Yotsuba marveled. "Whoa. Did not see that coming."
"We do," Miho confirmed, her face all smiles. "Although it's been a while."
Slowly, Ruiko rose to her feet, unable to stop gaping at the brunette. The Miho she remembered was timid and hypersensitive. During their brief acquaintance back in junior high, Ruiko had sensed none of the inner toughness in her that one would expect of a battle-hardened Judgment agent. In fact, she couldn't picture the Miho of those days as a member of Judgment at all, let alone as one of the most highly decorated agents in Academy City. It didn't seem possible.
This is my new partner? Juufuku-san? You've got to be kidding. God, this has got to be some sort of bad joke or something.
Unfortunately, Ruiko had forgotten about the telepath standing next to her. As luck would have it, that telepath just happened to be listening in on her thoughts.
What the hell is that supposed to mean?
The scowl on Yotsuba's face sent a thrill of terror up Ruiko's spine.
N-nothing…it's just that…she was a lot different back in the day…
You're an idiot, Saten. Juufuku is the best we've got, and there's a lot you can learn from her. Anyway, you're her partner now – end of discussion. And for the record, I am extremely protective of her, so if you give her even a hint of trouble…
The words trailed off, but the baleful look on Yotsuba's face left no room for interpretation. Ruiko gulped, and nodded her understanding.
Meanwhile, Miho's eyes shone from under her bangs with undisguised delight, and twin patches of blush smudged her cheekbones.
"Oh, Saten-san, I can't believe it's really you…and after all this time! I didn't even know you joined Judgment, and now we're going to be partners! To meet you again like this…I'm so happy!"
"Yeah, what are the odds?" Ruiko finally managed to squeak, keeping a wary eye on the nearby captain. "You're right, it has been a while, hasn't it, Juufuku-san? Um, I guess that should be 'Juufuku-senpai,' shouldn't it? Please take care of me from now on."
She plastered a smile on her face and bowed formally.
"I look forward to working with you," Miho replied, returning the bow.
"Well, I can see you two have some catching up to do," Yotsuba observed. "I'll be up front. Remember, Juufuku, I want that incident report in the system before you go home."
With a last warning look at Ruiko, the captain swept from the break area, leaving the girls alone. After a moment or two, Miho, whose smile had never wavered, broke the silence.
"Would you like something to drink? There's cold milk tea, sports drinks, and bunch of different kinds of cola…"
Although Ruiko wasn't really thirsty, the acrid taste of Yotsuba's failed tea still lingered in her throat, so she nodded.
"Milk tea would be great."
As Miho rummaged around in the nearby refrigerator, Ruiko took the opportunity to study her more closely. The older girl appeared to be a couple centimeters taller than she remembered. Not only that, her figure had definitely filled out, as well, especially in the chest. Even underneath a certain high school's baggy sailor suit, Ruiko could see the curves, and they definitely got her attention.
However, she was careful to make sure Miho didn't catch her looking the way Yotsuba had. Her interest was merely casual, and the last thing she wanted was for Miho to think otherwise. Ruiko had no desire to suffer through a replay of the short-lived but intensely passionate one-sided crush the brunette had had on her back in junior high, which she'd unwittingly brought on herself simply by trying to be encouraging.
For the moment, at least, it seemed that if she didn't do anything to give Miho the wrong idea, she had nothing to fear. Although the brunette was undoubtedly delighted to see her again, she was acting like it was simply a reunion of old friends. To Ruiko's relief, there was no evidence that she still harbored any of those feelings from back then. As long as they kept things professional, Ruiko figured there would be no complications.
Miho placed a bottle of milk tea in front of her companion, then took a gulp from her own can of pomegranate cola as she sat back down at the table.
"Ahh, that's just what I needed," she sighed contentedly. "I tried to get one of these at the convenience store, but ran into a bit of a snag. Sorry for my appearance, by the way. I didn't have time to change. It's just disgraceful."
As Ruiko took a sip of tea, she eyed the brunette's uniform. She had been so preoccupied that she hadn't noticed how disheveled it was until that moment. Its bloodstained, tattered left sleeve was held together with safety pins to keep it from falling open, but she could still see the white bandage through the gaps in the fabric.
"That looks pretty nasty. You sure you're okay?"
"It's just a scratch – not even worth going to the emergency room for. All I really need is ibuprofen to take the edge off. You shouldn't trouble yourself over it, but thanks for your concern." Miho smiled gratefully, and took another sip of cola. "If I wasn't alone, it probably wouldn't have happened. With no partner, the risk goes way up, but I guess I don't have to worry about that anymore, now that you're here."
The realization hit with unexpected force: that injury had to have happened during the armed robbery Yotsuba had mentioned. That was no training exercise Miho had gone through, but a real fight against an opponent who was trying to kill her. Not only was Ruiko was deeply impressed, she was also ashamed for doubting Yotsuba's words. The bandage on Miho's shoulder was proof enough that her new partner was indeed everything the captain had claimed.
As Ruiko looked across the table with new-found respect, her misgivings about their partnership evaporated. She decided she couldn't afford to be stuck in her pre-conceived notions of the kind of person Miho was. This was a different Miho, a new Miho. She was not only a hero, but she was the senpai whom Yotsuba had trusted to lead Ruiko. It was up to her to follow, and follow she would, to the best of her ability.
"Our next shift is at noon tomorrow," the brunette informed her. "Are you doing anything between now and then?"
"Not really, no."
"Well, if you're going to go on patrol with me tomorrow, we have a lot to do. For starters, I have a report to write, and you can help me. That'll be a great way to learn about the automated reporting system. After that, we'll work through your in-processing checklist together. It's going to be a late night. I hope you don't mind."
There was no way Ruiko was going to object, even if she wanted to.
"Of course not, Senpai. If you stay late, I stay late. We're partners, after all."
− Thanks go to my long-time editor, Musician74, for beta-reading this story. According to her, the only reason she put up with my BS during the myriad rewrites of this first chapter is because "Ruiko and Miho are so cute together in Episode 14." (Too bad she's not as easy to please when it comes to my writing.)
− In canon, Miho and Ruiko are Level 2 and 0, respectively. When this story begins, however, they are each one level higher. How that came about will be revealed in a future chapter.
− Yotsuba is not an OC. She's actually a canon character from the Index light novel series. In Volume 1, she is referred to in passing by Komoe-sensei as a Level 4 telepath who is somewhat of an expert in mental esper powers, and who also happens to be a member of Judgment. However, she never actually appears in any of the subsequent volumes, nor does she appear by name anywhere else in canonverse. Fan speculation most commonly equates her with the unnamed Judgment agent who attempts to telepathize with Touma in Season 1, Episode 22 of the Index anime. That is the image and personality I have used for her in this story. EDIT, 2/1/2013: Thanks to Anonymous Gun Nut for the following screen shot of "Yotsuba" from the Index anime (remove spaces and change "0" in "c0m" to "o"): i1 . minus . c0m / isbA8840WzofC . jpg .
− I've tried to keep the effects of Miho's stun gun realistic, even though it's technically a departure from canon. When real people are shocked with a stun gun or Taser, they seldom lose consciousness, and usually aren't incapacitated for very long at all. It can take as many as three seconds of continuous shock just to drop a healthy person to the ground. As for a stun gun knocking someone unconsciousness for an extended period without also causing lasting neurological damage…it isn't going to happen.
Thanks for reading this chapter! Like it? Have some constructive criticism? Submit a comment below!