(A/N: Multi-chaptered FMP fic. Multi-chaptered FMP fic that I started writing at nearly two in the morning. Multi-chaptered FMP fic that is equal parts Alternate Universe and an adaptation of 'Beauty and the Beast'. Would someone please tell me what the HELL I'm doing?

My estimation is that this will be about four or five chapters, but I suck at estimating how long my fics will be. Suffice it to say, the rating is for later chapters, as there will be S/K squishies. And possibly a lemon as the finale but, well, that wouldn't be posted here obviously. And it's not written in stone.

I talk too much. Someone stop me!)


Beauty and the Otaku

By Anysia


Morning dawned bright and beautiful upon the small, rural, nonspecific village in a nonspecific country. Autumn was now upon the village, and the leaves lining the main thoroughfare had begun to change. It was upon this thoroughfare, on this morning, that Miss Kaname Chidori walked, absently glancing around at her surroundings as she headed towards the town square in order to do her weekly shopping. Kaname was a wholly beautiful girl, but even at the marriageable age of eighteen, she remained unattached.

Perhaps it was because of her beauty that the village men often feared to near her, or perhaps it was her intelligence—

"Miss Chidori!"

Kaname arched one eyebrow at the sound of Satoru Shirai, one of the few village boys who continued to pester her. "What do you want?" she asked in a disinterested voice as she came upon the bridge crossing the village stream.

"I was wondering if you'd be willing to head over to the tavern with me. My wife's out of town, and we could have some fun…"

Kaname said nothing; she simply shot one hand out and in one quick motion had pushed Shirai off the bridge and into the chilled water.

Yes, it may have been her beauty, or her intelligence, but the fact of the matter was that Kaname was an overly-aggressive, violent, bipolar woman who no man dared to near for fear of losing an eye.

"Idiot," Kaname muttered to herself as she continued into town. A frown tugged at the corner of her mouth. Part of her knew that she only continued to increase her isolation with each man she spurned, but she was far too stubborn and proud to ever admit that she was the one to blame for her loneliness.

It was in the midst of these thoughts that she heard the voice of the last person she wanted to encounter at this time.

"Good morning, Miss Chidori."

Kaname's self-assured smile immediately twisted into a scowl at the recognition of the voice behind her. "What do you want now, Leonard?" she asked in a monotone without turning around.

A hand gripped her shoulder and turned her around to face the newcomer. His slate-grey eyes bored into her, and his smile was infuriatingly cocky as he drank in her annoyed features. "I was just curious as to why you chose to run away from our encounter last night. It's not exactly polite, Miss Chidori."

Kaname threw the hand off her shoulder with a violent jerk. "Our encounter?" she intoned. "If you're referring to last night's escapade in which you so gallantly grabbed me and stuck your tongue down my throat, then you're pretty damn lucky you escaped with your internal organs intact."

Leonard simply laughed. "I love that about you. So fiery, so full of life. You don't seem to fear anything or anyone."

"No. I'm just not afraid of you," Kaname said with a disinterested look in her eyes. "I don't particularly like you, either. Why don't you just find some cheap harlot somewhere and show her a good time? Your treat." She turned away but was pulled back sharply.

"You don't understand, do you?" Leonard smiled softly, but there was a seriousness to his stare that Kaname hadn't seen before. "You're special."

"God, can you at least come up with some original pick-up lines?" Kaname rolled her eyes.

"You'll understand someday," Leonard said gently, then grasped her shoulders and kissed her gently on the forehead.

"Oh, get the hell off me!" Kaname yelled, pulling away violently. "What do I have to do to get it through your head that I don't want anything to do with you? God." She turned and started down the path to her small cottage. "I'm heading home now," she called over her shoulder. "If you value your life, you'd better not follow."

"You know I'll win you in the end," Leonard called from behind her. It was a statement, one borne of self-assuredness and determination.

Kaname didn't look back.


A deep scowl remained on Kaname's face as she made her way back to her cottage. "I'll win you in the end," she repeated in a mocking tone. "Yeah fucking right. Not in this lifetime, pal."

She swung open the door of her small home and absentmindedly set her basket down upon the kitchen table. "Is this all there is in my life, Mom?" she asked of the framed picture hung upon the wall as she sat down heavily in her armchair. "Some idiot constantly trying to win me over? Shopping in the village?" Her brow furrowed, and she began to worry her lower lip between her teeth. "I just…I want something more. You know…something invigorating. Exciting. I want adventure."

Kaname stood and crossed the room, softly touching the framed glass with one finger. "I miss you, Mom." She felt tears rising but quickly pushed them back. "I could really use some guidance right about now."


The rain had swept suddenly over the valley, and the poor messenger boy named Onodera found himself unexpectedly caught in the downpour. He looked up at the sky with a grimace, tightly clutching the wrapped letter within his cloak. "I am not getting paid enough for this," he muttered to himself. His horse snorted in reply.

He had been enjoying a nice pint of ale in the local tavern when a strange man with an indiscernible accent had approached him. Onodera had eyed the man warily; what was a foreigner doing in this sleepy little hamlet? The man had engaged in small talk for a few minutes in an obvious attempt to establish a sense of camaraderie, then had asked, "Say, boy, it is of the utmost importance that this letter be delivered to the Merida Fortress out past the forest." He reached within his protective great coat and pulled out a crisp letter wrapped in rich cloth.

"Hm," Onodera grunted noncommittally, then downed another mouthful of his ale. "And what would I receive for my services?"

The man smirked, then tossed a small bag of gold coins upon the table. "Half now, half when you've completed the task." His smirk had faded. "This mission is of the utmost importance."

Onodera's eyes sparkled at the sight of gold, and he immediately gathered the treasure to him. "Sure thing, Sir." He grinned. "I'll head out as soon as I finish my drink."

"That's the spirit." The man smiled slightly, but his eyes were dim and slightly troubled.

And so, here he was, in the middle of the night, caught in a drenching rain, delivering a letter to the frightful Merida Fortress far past the village. He couldn't believe he'd been so stupid; had he been so dazzled by a few pretty coins that he'd overlooked the inherent danger of such a trip?

Apparently so.

As with all adventurous young boys, Onodera had once stumbled across the fortress during rowdy games with his friends from the village. It was a tall, imposing structure, made of cold stone and supposedly inhabited by a heartless band of highwaymen and thieves who had long since overtaken the structure as their hideout. The women in the village loved to tell stories about how young boys were gutted and beheaded in an attempt to keep their mischievous sons away from the fortress, but they failed to take into account one pivotal rule—whatever is forbidden to a child becomes irresistible.

And so Onodera had stumbled across the structure with his friends years before. "It's not so scary," he had said in a haughty voice full of bravado. "I don't even know why it's forbidde—" His voice cut off abruptly as an arrow sliced through the air and pinned his tunic to a nearby tree. His gaze immediately rose to a shadowy figure standing silently atop one of the towers. The figure held a longbow in its hands.

The boy's friends suffered the same fate. "Let's get out of here!" Onodera cried, pulling the arrow from the tree trunk with a sharp tug and running away as fast as his legs could carry him. He could have sworn he felt the figure's eyes boring into his back as he ran…

Onodera gulped audibly as Merida Fortress rose up before him, its stone structure dark and somehow even more imposing in the heavily falling rain. A bolt of lightning split the sky and illuminated the fortress for a brief moment. Onodera unconsciously clutched the reins of his horse more tightly through his riding gloves, then clicked his tongue to spur the horse on.

As he approached the raised drawbridge, he began to have second thoughts. Who knew what lay beyond the gatehouse? Perhaps the fortress really was inhabited by thieves, or murderers, or who knew what horrible…

Onodera screeched as an arrow flew by his ear and landed solidly in the trunk of a tree several meters behind him. His horse reared up in fright and violently pitched him to the ground. Onodera landed with a splash in a deep puddle upon the pathway.

"Ugh…dammit," he cursed, rubbing his backside with one hand. He stopped abruptly when he noticed the young man standing no more than a few feet away from him. Onodera wondered briefly how he'd snuck up so quickly when he noticed the longbow in the young man's right hand. "What are you doing shooting that thing off!?" he yelled over the pouring rain. "You could have killed me!"

"A minor setback, I'm sure," the young man said in a monotone. His eyes remained firmly upon Onodera as he reached for another arrow in the quiver upon his back. "What business do you have at Merida Fortress?"

"I—I…"

"Your life will be shortened considerably if I am not given a satisfactory answer within the next three seconds."

"W—wait, man!" Onodera waved his hands frantically, then reached within his great coat and pulled out the letter. "Some guy asked me to deliver this to you! Honest! He said it was…um… 'of the utmost importance,' I think is how he put it." He slowly approached the young man and handed him the letter.

The young man didn't glance at the letter as he tucked it within the waistband of his trousers. "Your mission is now complete, I take it?"

Onodera nodded dumbly, all the while unconsciously processing the young man's features. He was of average height and had a lithe yet muscular build; his dark, messy hair was weighted down by rainwater. His eyes never moved from Onodera's; had he even blinked? A cross-shaped scar upon his jaw added to his more than slightly dangerous appearance.

Had Onodera been less frightened, of course, he would have realized that it was this same young man who, in his earlier days, had shot the arrow that had pinned the young Onodera to the tree when he stumbled across this fortress.

"Y-yeah," Onodera stammered. "I guess I'll be heading back to the village now."

"I strongly suggest you do so," the young man said in the same monotonous voice, narrowing his eyes slightly as he nocked the arrow he had retrieved from the quiver.

Onodera only nodded quickly, then took off running through the forest, no longer conscious of the rain.


Sousuke Sagara sighed as he laid his bow and quiver upon the broad meeting table within the fortress' Great Hall. It had been quite awhile since anyone had been stupid enough to attempt to approach the fortress, but his marksmanship skills had once again made quick work of the intruder. But wait, wasn't there something the messenger had delivered…?

Ah! The letter. Sousuke grasped the linen-wrapped letter at his waistband and tugged it out carelessly, unfolding it and scanning the carefully written words. His eyes widened as he digested the message.

"A civilian maiden? In danger?" He frowned slightly.

"A lovely lady's in danger somewhere? Count me in!"

Sousuke looked up to see one of his fellow soldiers, an incorrigible rogue named Kurtz Weber, come running towards him. He snatched the letter from Sousuke's hands and immediately scanned it. "Kaname Chidori? I feel like I've heard that name before…"

"If she's a reputable woman, I somehow doubt it," the leader of the squadron, Melissa Mao, said frankly as she strode into the Hall. "So what's the deal, Sousuke?"

"I'm…not sure," Sousuke said with a frown, handing the letter to his commanding officer. "From what I can gather, the subject in question is in some immediate danger, and we have been commissioned to guard her."

"Hmm…this is from the higher-ups," Mao said with a frown. "I wonder what the threat is?" She turned the letter over to be met with a blank expanse of paper. "Damn. You think they'd be more specific."

"All I need to know is that there's some beautiful maiden out there who needs guarding," Kurz said with a grin. "Kurz Weber is on the job!" He let out a grunt as Mao slapped the letter hard against his chest.

"Dumbass." She scowled. "I'd better alert the guards, just in case there are any screw ups before we can move out. Kurz, try not to be an ass. Sousuke, be on-guard."

"Ma'am?"

Mao raised a questioning eyebrow at Sousuke. "What?"

"Am I to understand that we are going to devote nearly all our available resources to guarding one civilian, when we are yet uncertain as to the particular threat endangering her?" Sousuke's brow had furrowed.

"We've been assigned to it, Sousuke. If we got to pick our assignments, do you think I'd be holed up inside this dreary fortress right now? Fuck no! I'd be out on a beach somewhere. Got it?"

"But…"

"Come on, man!" Kurz clapped Sousuke on the shoulder good-naturedly. "We're going to have some babe all to ourselves? Doesn't that make you happy?"

"I find it to be an utter waste of my skills. Conflict is consistently arising, and we are to be standing guard over one civilian?"

"Lighten up, Sousuke." Kurz couldn't stop grinning. "It'll be fun!"

Sousuke remained silent, his brows still knitted in concern.


"Hmm…now I need two tablespoons of dark rum…"

Kaname carefully consulted the recipe for Madeleine cookies, then added the necessary rum. Her mind unconsciously drifted back to her encounter with Leonard two days earlier, and she shook her head vigorously in an attempt to clear the thoughts from her head. That bastard…she thought with a scowl. He had a way of annoying her even when he wasn't around.

As if on cue, a knock sounded at her door.

Kaname pursed her lips but continued with her baking. "Let's see, lemon rind…where did I put the lemon…?"

"Miss Chidori…!"

Grinding her teeth, Kaname added the lemon rind to the rum and began to beat the ingredients into the mixture. "Next up is the sugar…"

"Miss Chidori!"

Kaname stifled a frustrated scream and slammed her hands down upon the edge of the bowl, sending raw cookie mix all over the kitchen and her crisp apron. She stormed to the door and wrenched it open. "What do you want now?" she asked in an exaggerated tone of annoyance.

Leonard smirked at her, then bent down to kiss her hand. "I just happened to be nearby and wondered if the lovely Miss Chidori would care to join me on a walk."

"Not on your life, pal," Kaname said frankly, attempting to pull the door shut. Leonard quickly wedged one well-shod foot between the door and its frame, forcing Kaname back into the cottage.

"Miss Chidori," Leonard said with a patient smile. "I have some friends who would love to meet you. I've told you countless times how special you are; how can I keep such a special woman to myself?"

"What are you…talking about?" Kaname felt a faint twinge of fear that disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

Leonard's smile widened as he placed a hand on either side of her head. "You really don't know, do you? We're the same, you and I. Within us is the potential to advance humanity by leaps and bounds, to either expand or destroy the universe. The Whispered, Miss Chidori."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Kaname said, trying to keep the fear out of her voice at being pinned like this by Leonard. "I'm not special—I'm just an average girl."

She gasped as she felt the touch within her mind.

You're special, Miss Chidori. Kaname gaped as she somehow heard Leonard speak when he had remained silent, his hands still on either side of her head. And it's because you're so special that my friends so desperately want to meet you.

"Wh—what?" Kaname gasped. "What is this?"

"Time to go, Miss Chidori." Leonard smiled gently at her as he removed the gun hidden at his waist from its holster. "Don't worry; I'll take good care of you."

Kaname laughed, a tense, high-pitched laugh. "C-come on, Leonard. What is this? Just because I wouldn't spend the night with you? Seriously, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. We have to work on your rejection iss—" Kaname screamed as Leonard fired a shot that embedded itself in the wall behind her.

"Miss Chidori, we can do this the easy way or the hard way." Leonard's smile had disappeared.

Wh-what do I do!? Kaname's mind all but screamed at her in a panic. Suddenly, she caught sight of the framed picture of her mother out of the corner of her eye. Mom…Filled with a newfound determination, Kaname steeled herself, then offered her hand to Leonard. "Alright, Leonard. Do with me what you will."

Leonard lowered the gun into a defensive position, then took Kaname by the hand. "That's a good girl. And here I was afraid I'd have to use—" His words stopped abruptly as Kaname struck him hard in the face, then sprinted across the room, out the door and into the thick forest.

Leonard watched her go, an amused smirk upon his features. "Poor Miss Chidori," he said in a mock-sympathetic tone. "You're running right into our trap."


Kaname ran as fast as she could, darting through the thick foliage and ducking under low-hanging tree limbs. Her legs ached, and she was gasping for breath, but she knew her life was in danger if she stopped to rest for even a moment.

Behind the natural instinct of survival lay a rush of emotions—fear, anger, shock, confusion. Fear for what might become of her. Anger at Leonard for suddenly turning on her. Shock that he would do so. And confusion as to what had suddenly become of her eternally-peaceful life.

A tangle of briars cut deeply into her exposed ankles, but she continued to run, hurdling over fallen logs and weaving between trees in an attempt to lose anyone who might be following her.

Anyone who might be following her…

Kaname stopped suddenly, staring up at the sunlight filtering through the forest canopy, listening to the carefree twittering of the birds, her features twisted into confusion. She spun around peered cautiously through the thick tree trunks, only to realize that Leonard hadn't followed her at all. Why on earth wouldn't he pursue? she wondered as she absentmindedly drew a line into the dirt with one foot.

She was immediately shaken from her thoughts when a knife flew out from seemingly nowhere and slashed her across the cheek.

Because the bastard knew I was running right into the waiting arms of his 'friends'!

Fear seized Kaname's heart as she immediately took off running in the opposite direction of that from which the knife had flown. Now she heard rushed footfalls from behind her, clearly indicating that whomever was targeting her was now giving chase. "Come on, men, we've got her!" she heard a rough voice call out from several meters behind her. That only made her run faster.

A little farther…just a little farther, Kaname! Come on, you can do it!

She tripped over an exposed root and fell hard upon the forest floor. Within seconds she was surrounded by a band of about six men wielding knives, bows, and muskets.

"Um…hello, gentlemen," Kaname said in her best 'sweet maiden' voice. "I assume you're here to help a young maiden in distress?"

"Not even remotely," the man who appeared to be the leader, a rough, unshaven man with a deep scar across his left cheek said roughly.

Oh God…Kaname forced herself to keep her pulse steady and her voice even. "Well, I—I'm sure I wouldn't make a very good slave, or even a good harlot for that matter. I have a terrible work ethic." She smiled and clasped her hands together in front of her apron. "I guess I'll just let you fine gentlemen be on your way now, bye!" She attempted to run but was caught roughly by the wrist and thrown hard to the ground with a force that knocked the wind out of her.

"Hey, boss," one of the men said with a leer, fingering his hunting knife. "She's a pretty one, ain't she?"

"Yeah, I suppose she is. What about it?"

"Well, Mr. Testarossa never said we couldn't play around with her a bit, as long as we get her to port in one piece, right?" He continued to leer at Kaname, who was now gasping for air against the force of her fall.

"Hmm…I hadn't considered that." The leader smiled, an ugly, twisted grin. "Alright, boys, as long as you don't do anything to ruin our bounty, have as much fun with her as you—" His voice transformed into a choked gurgle as a knife appeared out of nowhere, now lodged firmly in his trachea. He quickly slumped over, dead.

The remaining five men immediately adopted defensive postures, stealing glances around them, attempting to see through the thick foliage surrounding them.

"What the hell—" one of the men began, only to be halted by an gunshot wound to the chest. Two of his comrades fell just as quickly.

The two remaining men quickly grabbed Kaname and attempted to run with her, only succeeded in escaping a few feet before they were each struck down by a masterfully shot arrow. As the final man fell, his knife, which had been held against Kaname's waist, now plunged within the flesh.

As Kaname's vision blurred and she began to fall to the ground from the pain of the wound, one thought remained at the forefront of her mind.

What has happened to my life?

The last thing she saw before unconsciousness overtook her was the shadowy figure of a young man standing above her, concern in his serious grey eyes and a distinct cross-shaped scar across his jaw.


Uhh…

The first thing Kaname saw when she awoke was grey. Grey everywhere…she was in a sea of grey. It was only when she fully regained consciousness that she realized she was staring at a grey stone wall.

She quickly took in her surroundings, needing only seconds to take in the small, sparse confinement fully. She was apparently in a holding cell of some kind; the only items in the cell were a small bed of hay, upon which she had been lying, and a stool with a washbasin. "Where the hell am I?" Kaname wondered aloud, crying out in pain as she tried to stand.

That's right…that bastard stabbed me! Kaname immediately pressed her hand against the flesh where she had been wounded, only to find that it had been cleaned and expertly dressed. "What the hell…?"

Her head snapped up as she heard the heavy door to her cell open. "Miss Chidori," a voice stated simply.

In the doorway stood a young man who couldn't have been much older than she, but his eyes held a seriousness that was clearly far beyond his years. A frown was upon his somewhat handsome features, and he had a fresh bandage upon one cheek. "I see you have finally awo—" Sousuke Sagara began.

"Ahh!"

The young soldier fell back against the far stone wall at the impact of Kaname's blow to his gut, one hand pressed against his abdomen. Kaname had crouched into a defensive position, shaking slightly. It was only after a few minutes that she recognized the distinct scar. "You…" she started.

"As I was saying…" Sousuke continued, wincing slightly. "And might I congratulate you, Miss Chidori, on such a splendid technique. I will undoubtedly need to consult a physician to ascertain the impact of that blow. Now then, as I was saying, I am glad to see that you have finally awoken. I had begun to worry about the depth of the stab wound you received in the forest."

Kaname unconsciously pressed back against the wall, distrust and suspicion in her eyes. "Who…are you?"

"That information, I'm afraid, is classified," Sousuke said simply. "You must simply trust that we have your best interests in mind. We are here to protect you from those who wish to harm you, a small sample of which you met recently in the forest."

"Fine, fine," Kaname said irritably. " I just mean, what the hell's going on here? One minute I'm trying to deal with Leonard, who I thought was just a skirt-chaser all this time, and then he tells me I have some kind of special powers and pulls a gun on me, and then a bunch of crazies in the forest decide they want to have me for lunch, or kill me, or take advantage of me, or whatever they were trying to do, I don't even know what was going on there…"

"Miss Chidori, I must ask that you allow me to explain the situation."

"If you can tell me what's going on, by all means, enlighten me."

"You're a very special person, Miss Chidori—" He wondered why she had just scowled at his word choice. Oh well. "—and as a result, your life is endangered. Do you know of the Whispered?"

Whispered… Kaname's eyes widened. Her mind flashed back to that moment with Leonard in the kitchen. 'It's because you're so special that my friends so desperately want to meet you…' "Yes. I've heard of them."

"We don't entirely understand the specifications—the report my colleagues and I received was woefully brief. However, we have come to understand that the Whispered hold within them the power to help or harm humanity."

"I know…someone…someone told me that already." Kaname had begun to shake.

"Then you understand the danger you are in?"

"No! I don't understand any of it!" Kaname cried, leaping to her feet. "I don't understand why I'm being targeted or why anyone would want to have me or why the hell I'm in danger! I'm just a normal girl!"

"Unfortunately, that is incorrect." Sousuke's eyes showed no emotion. "My colleagues and I have been ordered to see to your safety so that your power as a Whispered does not fall into the wrong hands. As such, you are to remain confined to this fortress until such time that your safety can be guaranteed."

"Fortress?" Kaname had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as she began to realize her situation. "Is this Merida Fortress?"

"Correct."

"I thought it was supposed to be full of thieves and low-life scum!"

"You may refer to us in whatever terms as you wish. However, we will protect you, Miss Chidori."

"Fine," Kaname said with a resigned sigh. "Let me at least head home for a few days to get some things together."

"Negative, Miss Chidori. As I previously stated, you are to remain confined to this fortress."

"Confined to this…what are you telling me? I'm a prisoner?" Kaname gaped at the young man.

"Affirmative. I will take no chances with your—URK!" Sousuke felt his air cut off suddenly as Kaname's hands wrapped around his throat and squeezed.

"You can't keep me here against my will, you bastard!" Kaname yelled. "I won't let you!"

Sousuke finally managed to pry her hands loose, gasping for air. "My apologies, Miss Chidori. I do not view this assignment in a favorable manner, either. I have expressed my displeasure to my superiors and have been systematically overruled. I suggest that we learn to adapt to one another's presence." He scowled slightly.

"Oh, like hell!" Kaname yelled back. "You're keeping me here against my will and you expect me to 'adapt to your presence'?"

"Miss Chidori, as I said, we have no choice in the matter." Sousuke grabbed a torch from off the wall and held the heavy door open for her. "Now, if you'll follow me to your quarters."

"Oh, you're not going to keep me in the dark, musty cell?" Kaname asked sarcastically.

The two walked to Kaname's room on opposite sides of the expansive hall.


When they reached the tall doors leading to Kaname's new quarters, Sousuke handed her the torch and saluted sharply. "If you have need of anything, the servants will attend to you. Goodnight, Miss Chidori."

"Yeah, yeah, goodnight to you, too, Mr…um…"

"Sagara. Sousuke Sagara."

"Whatever." Kaname glared at him as she pulled the doors shut with a resounding thud.

The room was gorgeously decorated, with rich tapestries and candelabras adorning the walls. The rugs beneath her bare feet were thick and clearly expensive, and a king-size canopy bed loomed before her.

"They sure know how to live in places like this…" she mused aloud, staring at the décor.

A quick, staccato knock sounded at the doors. I bet it's that jerk Sagara again, Kaname thought, her features unconsciously twisting into a scowl. At this point, she'd almost prefer dealing with Leonard. "What do you want?" she asked in an overly-annoyed voice as she wrenched open the doors.

Instead of being greeted by the ever-stoic Sousuke, a small girl with large glasses and blondish-brown hair in twin braids stood smiling at her, a tea tray held in her hands. "Good evening, Miss Kaname," the girl said cheerfully, her smile widening. "I thought you might like some tea after the rough night you've had."

"Oh…thanks," Kaname said with a weak smile, holding the door open for the young girl. "It has been a little rough."

"I take it you're referring to Master Sagara?" the girl said with a knowing smile. "Don't let him get to you; he's always stiff and formal like that. I've never seen him open up to anyone."

"I think he's a jerk," Kaname said sourly, taking a porcelain teacup from the tray and pouring herself some steaming-hot chrysanthemum tea.

The girl laughed. "He's just very private and stoic. He'll probably get better once you get to know him."

"That's easy for you to say…um…"

"You can call me Kyouko," the girl said, her smile never wavering. "Is the tea to your liking, Miss Kaname?"

"Oh, just Kaname, please," Kaname said, returning the smile. "Yes, it's fine. So, Kyouko, do you know anything about what's going on here?"

"Well," Kyouko began slowly, "from what I've heard from the other servants, apparently there's another group out there—Amalgam, I believe they said—that wants to get hold of you, because of that special thing you are…what did they call it?"

"Whispered." Kaname felt a shiver run down her spine at the mere mention of the word. It was turning her life upside down.

"Right. Anyway, the leader is that Leonard guy who's been chasing you…" At the shocked look on Kaname's face, Kyouko smiled. "Don't be surprised at how much I know—servants are known for their information-gathering abilities!" She laughed, a pleasant, carefree laugh. "Okay, where was I? Ah, yes. Anyway, Master Sagara's organization, as well as that of Lady Mao and Master Weber—you'll probably meet them tomorrow—is called Mithril, and they've been assigned to protect you to make sure Amalgam doesn't get their hands on you."

Kyouko tilted her head to one side. "Is any of this making sense?"

Kaname stared at her wobbly reflection in her cup of tea. It was true…it was all true… A worried frown tugged at the corner of her mouth.

"Hey," Kyouko said soothingly, patting Kaname on the hand. "It'll be okay. You're safe here. And I'm sure that once you get to know Master Sagara, you two will get along splendidly!"

"Tokiwa!" Sousuke yelled sternly from the doorway. "How much information are you divulging to Miss Chidori?"

"As much as I want, jerk!" Kaname yelled, throwing the half-full teacup at the door. Sousuke quickly shut it before he could be burnt by the hot liquid, and the cup shattered against the door, the remaining tea running down the rich wood.

Kyouko looked back to Kaname, then smiled. "I think you two are getting along better already."

Kaname buried her face in her pillow and moaned.

To Be Continued…


(Okay, this is such new territory for me. If it seriously sucks, I want to know! Comments and constructive criticism are very, very much appreciated.)