Sacrifice - A Mai HiME Fanfiction

Lamenting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First District.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Just… take it." Came Natsuki's irritated voice.

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

"I couldn't possibly…" Shizuru trailed off, still smiling as brightly as she could.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natsuki nodded with a smug smile. "Besides, he can protect you when I'm not there."

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

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

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

Hang in there, Natsuki. I'm coming.

END OF CHAPTER

Author's Note: Thanks to Azn-anime \ M-chan for taking the time to beta this, and for helping me complete the final scene. She's my little muse!