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.

"... tsuki..." 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.

"Natsu... ki..?" 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 their 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 a 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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Author's Note: This is a prelude to the main story. Consider it a teaser if you will. I've had the ideas for this story swirling around in my mind for a little while now and I just couldn't resist writing this part. I'm still going to be concentrating on The Chains That Bind for now but I'll be writing parts for this in between. This is for Shiznats, who asked for this personally, so here you go. Hope you like it. :) Please leave reviews, I love seeing what you have to say.

To 'Who Cares?' review - No, I wrote this over the past two days and it's certainly not similar to any fanfics I've read. It's possible that I've had a similar idea to someone else, which is a little disheartening I suppose but if you'd like to look back at those you've read and point it out I wouldn't mind editing mine so it isn't so similar. I guess no idea is perfectly original anyway. Still, I can't help thinking your review was a little accusatory. It's probably just paranoid ol' me though. (Tries to nurse the bruised ego.) :o