Posted: 20/02/2006
1st Revision: 10/03/2006

I am not a very great fan of yuri pairings, I admit. Not to say I loathe them, as well, I'm just pretty much neutral - though I have a tendency to not read yaoi or yuri pairings unless if it is extremely well-written.

Consider this my little tribute to the extroadinary authors of the Mai Hime fandom. Your very, very good fanfics was what made me become fond of a certain pairing, and I pretty much turned the little fandom upside down to read fics. Not a very big feat, of course, considering that the fandom is still small. But that's beside the point. I bemoaned the lack of ShizNat fanfics, and well...here I am.

It's just an idea that crossed my mind, and I won't claim to be able to update quickly. Later, when you are half-reading, you feel that Shizuru was ooc, please read on till the end. If by then you still feel she's ooc, obviously I'm not doing a very good job of portraying her. I would appreciate if someone tells me so, if that happens. Any other critiques, of course, are always welcome. I won't say I have very good grammar, either.

Enough of my ramblings. Enjoy the story.

Stain
Thanks to Astarael00 for beta-ing.

Chapter 1

"Elba" by E.S. Posthumus, Unearthed.

I would do anything. Everything.
As long as you wish for it, Natsuki, I would do it.
Anything, Natsuki.

Even to live, when I wanted to die.

She almost choked on the foul stench that filled the air.

Darkness. Darkness everywhere.

She walked back and forth almost clumsily, hands reaching out to find something. Anything. But no matter how far or how long she walked - she had even tried walking in one straight line - she reached no wall, no barriers, nothing.

Shizuru Fujino was never, never a coward.

But just for that moment, just for those few lengthy seconds, she felt dread settling in.

Where the hell was she?

How long had she been here, for that matter?

To claim to be not exhausted would be a lie. This was taking its toll on her both physically and mentally.

She took in a deep breath. Exhaled. Inhaled. Exhaled.

She tried to ignore the sharp stench that stung her nose.

There was no need to freak out, she told herself. Calm. Stay calm.

In a movement uncharacteristic of a Fujino, she dropped to the floor ungracefully, and sat. Just a little break. A little break before she started moving again.

Her hands touched the floor as she leaned on them, and she attempted to stare upwards into - what she hoped to be a ceiling - oblivion.

She felt her throat constricting a little. She breathed in again. Breathe. Breathe, she reminded herself.

A part of her wondered if she was dreaming. Or if she was not.

Everything felt so real.

Then she attempted to stand up, hands sliding across the rough cement -

She paused, startled.

Her fingers felt something that did not seem to be the texture of the floor; it wasn't the hard and brittle stones she felt under her palm earlier, it was actually something else. Something that felt like a four inch diameter steel stick wrapped in a thick layer of a damp cloth stained with some sweet substance - it was a little sticky, after all.

It was also marginally warmer than the cold floor.

Slowly, her eyes turned downwards towards her hand.

It was still dark, so she felt for the surface of the thing under her hand.

The surface was smooth. She revised her assumption from earlier; it wasn't a steel stick wrapped in damp cloth, it was more like the feeling of touching the skin of a person - slightly wet skin, of an arm.

Hope rose of own accord, even if Shizuru told herself that hoping was dangerous.

Her hands moved up. She felt...fabric. Clothes? Smooth, velvety...it's nylon. Soft. Flimsy. Cotton.

It had to be clothes. Damp clothes, at least.

Then she felt long, silky strands of thread between her fingers. No, no. Not thread. It was much too tough and silky to be thread.

Hair?

She rubbed her fingers together, feeling the texture of the foreign strands.

Hair.

Obviously, if it was a person, he or she had long hair - and it was kept pretty well.

She felt hope rise again.

Then she remembered that whatever she was feeling was much too cold to be a person. A person who was alive, at least.

Shizuru felt faint.

Calm, she told herself. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Ignore that foul stench.

She suddenly realized the foul stench had a metallic, salty sting to it.

Her fingers shook a little.

Calm.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe -

Lights flashed. It was so sudden that she shut her eyes instinctively to avoid the blinding glare, a hand rising to cover her eyes.

She took things one at a time. Her eyes squinted to adjust to the lights. It wasn't a very strong light, but it wasn't very dim either. It was like the lights in the school gardens during the night.

Her hand lowered slowly, and it was only then did she remember to breathe again.

She looked around, scanning her surroundings quickly with newfound vigor. Perhaps there had been a blackout, and the electricity had only just returned? The first thing on her mind, of course, was to figure out where she was.

A sense of familiarity flooded her mind. She had been here, once upon a time. But...when?

There had been a fire here, she concluded, examining the charred surroundings. And she remembered having seen it before in that exact condition. Especially those charred, blackened walls, broken columns and...

Shizuru froze.

No.

NO.

She can't be here. There was just no way she could have come here willingly, of her own accord.

Shaking, she moved - crawled - backwards, and bumped into something. The something that she had been investigating earlier.

This time she jerked, and whirled around so fast that her head spun, and -

Crimson eyes widened, containing almost a shocking numbness.

"No," she whispered without meaning to. The word left her mouth on its own.

It can't be.

She stared. Stared and stared with unblinking eyes.

Then slowly, ever so slowly, she looked around - this time even more carefully.

She remembered those ruptured, cracked columns.

She remembered seeing those sharp, rough slashes on the walls, and...

Her gaze turned back to the thing she had been staring at.

The dead, bloody figure of a woman.

All around her were dead bodies with slashes and stabs.

Shizuru felt nauseous. Hands lifted to cover her mouth, before she realized her fingers, palms, were slightly damp and sticky.

She looked down at her shaking hands.

And saw blood. Blood so dark it almost looked black.

Her hands were stained. Stained by blood.

Her throat constricted again.

The...the thing that she tried so hard to forget...

She recognized this place. She remembered these bloody hands. She had to.

It was a deep cut in her soul, and she knew it would never heal.

First District.

The place where she single-handedly slaughtered every human being she found, and destroyed what was once known as a powerful organization.

Shizuru screamed.

She jerked up from her bed, eyes wide and frantic.

Alert crimson eyes instantly scanned the familiar surroundings with a sudden wariness. She was breathing hard, and cold sweat trickled down her face.

A study table filled with a few neatly stacked books was situated next the wall, a chair tucked into the empty space under the table. There was a dressing table at the corner. The floor was made of smooth, cold marble tiles.

Her room.

It was just her room.

Her stiff shoulders relaxed slowly, even as she continued to scan the room, as if expecting something...something...horrible, to come out of nowhere.

"A dream," she whispered to herself after what seemed to be an eternity, almost as if trying to convince herself. She closed her eyes, eyebrows furrowed slightly.

"Nothing more," she told herself. "Nothing."

Memories of the dream flashed in her mind.

She shoved the blanket covering herself away roughly - very uncharacteristic of her - and ran to the bathroom, a hand covering her mouth.

She wanted to throw up.

And she did exactly that, emptying her stomach of whatever she had eaten for dinner last night. For some reason, she felt she threw up more than just her food.

Shizuru panted for breath from the exertion. She was kneeling in front on the toilet bowl, fingers gripping the sides of the bowl for support.

A dream, she repeated to herself. Just a dream.

She took in a deep breath, calming her quickened heart beat.

Shizuru stilled, simply kneeling there, staring off into nowhere as she tried - with all her might - to collect herself.

It was working. She felt a lot calmer now. She stood up quietly, and washed up at the sink.

The brunette used the mouthwash to clean off the foul taste from her mouth, and proceeded to splash water on her face. Her eyes closed. The cool moist she felt on her face made her even more calmer.

The water was left running.

Again, she inhaled deeply. And exhaled.

Crimson eyes opened, and she stared into the mirror.

There, she saw her reflection.

And blood - blood was all over her face.

Her eyes widened, and fear had never been so apparent on her features.

She took a shaky step backwards, and her elbow knocked down a few items from the shelf by the side carelessly.

Shizuru glanced at the sink.

The water was a deep red.

She took another step backwards, and slipped on a bar of soap. Predictably, she fell.

The bruising pain was barely enough to allow her reasoning abilities to reassert themselves.

It's just your imagination, she tried to tell herself. It was just some aftereffects of realizing what you have done, which is...which is...

She shook her head hard. Her heart beat, once more, was becoming erratic. Her breathing was becoming shallow and fast. She needed something, something drastic to snap her out of this - this damned, pathetic, pitiful state. Almost frantically, she looked around from her position.

Then she spotted the scissors. It was one of the things that her elbow had knocked over.

She didn't even bother to think of the consequences. She needed something, and she knew this something would work wonderfully, and she grabbed the scissors.

Shizuru, in one quick motion, slashed the back of her palm with the scissors.

It stung sharply.

Blood dripped as she allowed the scissors to fall from her tight grasp, and she stood up slowly.

Her hand was throbbing with pain, but it wasn't shaking anymore.

Shizuru glanced at the mirror, then to the sink.

The water on her face and on the running water was a clear, transparent, sparkling liquid.

Later, much later, when Natsuki spotted her with a bandaged hand, concern found its way to her face immediately.

Shizuru did tease, with a little grin on her face, 'Ara, is Natsuki worried about me?'

That easily made Natsuki blush and clamp her mouth shut. But it wasn't everyday she saw her older friend get injured, and it was usually the opposite case - that is, Natsuki getting an injury almost on a weekly basis - so Natsuki persisted in asking how she got injured.

Shizuru was quick to reassure, by saying she slipped and cut herself on a sharp edge.

The implication - although Shizuru was being perfectly honest - was that Shizuru slipped, and accidentally cut herself at a sharp edge.

Little did Natsuki know she was wrong, so wrong, and Shizuru would say nothing to correct that view.

It was only a very long time later, when Natsuki noted a new injury every now and then which had found its way onto Shizuru's flawless skin, that she felt something had gone terribly, terribly wrong.