Disclaimer: Don't own anything Mai Hime or His Dark Materials related. Really wouldn't mind having my own dæmon, though…Can I claim to owning this made up universe? Hm...

Author's Note: This is a weird idea that wouldn't leave me alone. I hope the characters aren't too OOC, though having a dæmon would explain any subtle differences in personality...

If you're familiar with the concept of 'dæmons' from Philip Pullman books or the 'Golden Compass' film, then it should be fairly easy to understand (I lament the utter lack of originality for the title, I truly am terrible at naming things). If you have no idea what dæmons are, then:

"A dæmon (pronounced "Dee-Muhn") is a manifestation of a person's soul. It has a separate identity from its respective human, despite being an integral part of the person (i.e. they are one entity, though two bodies). In universes with physical dæmons, they exist external to the human in the form of animal's representative of the person's personality, although children's dæmons may change form at whim. The bond between dæmon and human is intimate, and dæmons must remain within a small distance of their human (with the exception of witches); contact between a person and another person's dæmon is taboo, although dæmons may touch each other.

In some cases the interaction of people's dæmons in this way mirror and reveal further the interaction between the people themselves. However, "the worst breach of etiquette imaginable" is for a person to touch another person's dæmon (even in battle, most soldiers would never touch an enemy's dæmon), though exceptions can be made (for example, between lovers). If one does touch someone else's dæmon, it causes great weakness for the person whose dæmon is being touched." -Wikipedia

Hope that helps clear things up. If you're still interested, read on…

The Golden Rose

"C'mon Natsuki, leave it alone." Murmured a quiet voice in the young girl's ear. Annoyed, she shrugged her shoulders, sending the speaker flying.

"Go away Duran." She replied woodenly, still glaring resentfully down at the object of her ire.

"You don't really mean that."

Natsuki glanced over at Duran -now hovering at eye-level- in his iridescent blue dragonfly form and scowled, though she could feel no anger towards him. He was her dæmon, her soul and she loved him helplessly in a way that she had never even loved another human, except perhaps for her mother. The thought of him parting from her filled her heart with paralysing dread. Natsuki had seen what happened to those separated from their dæmons in the sadistic experiments authorised by the First District. The nightmares still haunted her. She would never forget the look on her mother's face as she and Kalatra, her chameleon dæmon were severed. It had been a miracle she and Duran had escaped unscathed. Relatively, anyway.

Duran, following her thoughts, quietly settled on her shoulder, becoming a thick-furred mink and looped himself comfortingly around her. Heart swelling in wordless gratitude, Natsuki stroked his head.

"I know it hurts Natsuki…"

Natsuki's jaw hardened, her gaze turning back to the thing that mocked her, sitting there in all its perfection and without a care in the world.

A rose.

Her mother had loved roses.

A pale hand closed around it, poised to crush the life from the defenceless flower. She hated it. Natsuki hated that it was a symbol of everything she wasn't; pure, beautiful and untouched by the world. She wanted to destroy it.

"You shouldn't do that." An elegantly accented Kyoto drawl remarked, much too close for comfort.

Startled, Natsuki's hand jerked away, just as she was about to close her fist with enough pressure to crush the fragile petals. Duran leapt from her shoulders, turning immediately into a fluttering crow as he reflected her shock.

"Beautiful flowers are meant to be loved, since they're doing their best to bloom in their short life."

Natsuki turned, ready to deliver a liquid-nitrogen-weapons-grade glare and froze, blinking. The person who'd spoken was-

"She's…she's beautiful…" Breathed Duran, alighting on Natsuki's shoulder and turning into a drab little house sparrow (as he often did when he -and Natsuki- was embarrassed). A blush flamed Natsuki's face as she fixed a gimlet eye on the awed dæmon.

"Shut up, idiot!" she hissed, mortified. Duran had never given such an opinion on anyone before, even if the ash-blonde haired older girl standing less than a stone's throw away was…well.

"You think so too!" He hissed back, indignantly.

"Ara, it seems my pretty flower maiden is holding a private conversation in company. One wonders where she learned such poor manners…" A teasing voice broke into the whispered argument and both Natsuki and Duran's heads snapped around to look at the smiling girl, a mischievous twinkle in her maple-hued eyes.

"What the hell do you want!?" Natsuki barked indignantly, fighting off a blush. Who the hell was this girl to comment on her manners (or lack there of, muttered Duran)?

And how was she pretty?!

"I am so happy, my pretty flower maiden has addressed me at last." The playful teasing note was still there as the girl approached. It was then Natsuki noticed something that had been nagging at the back of her mind. "With such eloquence and grace, as well."

Where is her dæmon!?

Eyes wide, her thoughts racing with flashbacks from her time at the First District, Natsuki backed warily away as her eyes darted around, searching for possible ambushes or escape routes. Duran changed into his fearsome midnight-black wolf form and followed; tail held high between his legs and hackles bristling as he bared his fangs in an uneasy half snarl-whine.

The strange girl stopped moving towards them, cocking her head to one side in confusion –and for a moment what might have been hurt?– and then her face cleared.

"Ara, it was not my intention to frighten you."

"I'm not afraid!" Snapped Natsuki testily, her words punctuated by Duran's loud snarl.

The girl simply raised one perfectly formed eyebrow and murmured a single word.


Immediately, a smooth head slid free of one the girl's long sleeves, coiling around her outstretched hand and easing her long, slender body out of the clothing. The pale, albino Burmese python stretched sinuously and lifted her head, fixing the frozen pair with a regal eye. Natsuki was surprised to realise that the dæmon was a female; she had heard it could happen, but had never actually met anyone whose dæmon was the same gender as them.

Duran gave a sub-vocal whine and padded forward, seemingly hypnotised by the graceful dæmon. Almost too fast for the naked eye to follow, he cycled through a range of 'impressive' forms; from a bright-coloured peacock, to a frilled-necked lizard, to a miniature tawny-winged gryphon. Finally Duran settled on one of his more dignified and comfortable forms, a peregrine falcon. Natsuki felt the painful tug of their bond stretch as he moved away and she stumbled after him, fear spiking her heart as he didn't even seem to acknowledge it. She had never seen him act this way before.

Kiyohime for her part had gracefully slipped to the ground and was easily gliding across the ground towards Duran, her slit maroon eyes fixed on him with an intensity Natsuki found alarming. The snake's pale cream and yellow marking undulated in mesmerising patterns as she moved. It was easy to become transfixed by the shifting. Natsuki felt her alarm grow at the calm –almost expressionless– mask on the other girl's face, as though other people's dæmons were regularly hypnotised by the snake.

"You-!" Natsuki barked at the eerily smiling girl in an attempt to ignore the peculiar interaction between their dæmons, before realising she didn't actually know her name.

"Shizuru. My pretty flower maiden may call me Shizuru." Shizuru smiled, this time the expression somehow seeming more genuine, but Natsuki balked.

"That's inappropriate!" She protested at the informality, noticing that Duran was perched happily on a coil of Kiyohime's supple body, talons only gently grasping the powerful muscles, while the snake's pitch black tongue flickered into and out rapidly, obviously whispering to him.

"Please, I insist, Na-tsu-ki." Shizuru enunciated slowly, a strange, almost hungry look passing so quickly over her face that Natsuki wasn't sure if she'd imagined it. Either way, it made her blush, feeling unaccountably hot under the collar.

Maybe…maybe it wouldn't hurt

Natsuki felt her usually iron-will weaken, as her chest started to rise and fall more quickly. Glancing back at Duran, she realised that Kiyohime had gently coiled herself completely around the now wildcat-formed Duran, who was purring loudly with contentment and rubbing his head against hers, his tail flicking happily from side to side.

What the…Natsuki stared in shock at the dæmon and he weakly opened an eye to look sheepishly at her. Why did you tell her my name?!

I couldn't help it…Kiyohime is…nice.

Dæmons' interactions were a reflection of their soul-mate's emotions, with the dæmon that proved more dominant allowing their human counterpart to win arguments or confrontations. They did not give information to other dæmons –especially about their soul-mates– without good reason. Usually.

"Fine." She growled ungraciously. "Shizuru." Shizuru gave the same, more natural smile and stepped closer to Natsuki.

"Ookini, Natsuki. Though 'pretty flower maiden' is such a suitable name…it almost seems a shame to waste it…" The ash-blonde girl grinned, her blood-red eyes glimmering with mirth.

"O-oi…" Natsuki growled, hating the fact her face was heating up –AGAIN. And what the hell was up with that stupid name?! "I'm not a 'maiden', I hate flowers and I'm definitely not PRETTY, so don't get any weird ideas, idiot."

"Mou, Natsuki is being horribly mean in rejecting such a heart-felt compliment…" Pouted the older girl; looking almost heartbroken as she blinked rapidly, probably to hold back the tears forming. Strangely, panic rose in Natsuki's chest and out of the corner of her eye she saw Duran change to his wolf form, ears flat and tail tucked in as he frantically licked the jaw of Kiyohime, whining, while she leant pointedly away from him.

"Ah, I didn't mean…I mean I wasn't trying to upset you!" Natsuki protested. "I just…don't like roses –or flowers. And I'm not a girly-girl. Or pretty." She coughed uncomfortably, unaccustomed to apologising. "I-it was…ah, n-nice…of you…y'know, to say that or whatever…" She turned her head to hide the redness of her cheeks. Was she ill or something? Natsuki had never blushed this much in her life, let alone a single morning.

"Ookini Natsuki."

What the-?!

She sounded completely cheerful!

Shizuru grinned brightly at Natsuki, who hit her forehead with the flat of her palm in irritation. She'd been played.

"Argh!" Natsuki growled. "What do you want?!" She repeated her earlier question with great aggravation. It seemed a mystery to her why Shizuru, who was obviously older (though clearly not more mature) than her, was bothering to (obviously intentionally) rile her up. She had even been tricked into giving an apology! And that (as Sakomizu knew from experience) was like getting blood out of a stone. Shizuru's face became slightly more serious.

"I thought Natsuki looked sad."

"Yeah? Well you're wrong. I'm fine." Natsuki huffed, folding her arms and glaring at the beautiful girl. It was none of her damn business anyway.

"Ara, in that case, Natsuki is free to come to lunch with me." Shizuru beamed, clasping her hands together in joy. Natsuki's eyes bugged. How did her twisted logic come up with that?! This had to be the longest and most bizarre conversation (if it could be called as such) she'd ever had with anyone at school. It reminded her exactly why she preferred to avoid people.

But it's also the most fun you've had for a while as well…Duran silently pointed out.

Natsuki hated it when Duran was right.

"No. I've got other things to do." She said brusquely, beginning to walk off, ignoring the dull pang she felt rippling through her stomach as she did so. "Duran." Natsuki jerked her head in the direction she was leaving.

And was pulled up sharply thirty seconds later as the painful tug of the bond between them stabbed into her heart. Gasping, she stumbled to one knee and turned her head. Duran was no longer held within Kiyohime's coils, but he hadn't managed to move that far away from her either. Kiyohime looked (as much as a snake could look) distressed; lashing her tail violently from side to side and refusing to gaze directly at him.

Shizuru was watching with a closed expression on her face and her arm slightly outstretched as though it had been raised to stop Natsuki leaving. "Duran!" Natsuki hissed at her dæmon, unable to believe what he was doing and trying to fight down the panicked fear she felt rising at his resistance.

Duran finally managed to back away, chirruping in distress as he approached Natsuki. The feeling of aching loss eased within her chest and uncaring of her audience, Natsuki bent down and gathered the dæmon into her arms, cuddling him close to her chest and burying her face in his soft fur. Quivering from the shock, he nuzzled against her neck. The pain of almost-separation hurt him too.

"Natsuki…" Duran whispered, sounding strained. "I…don't…I don't want to leave her…"

Natsuki's mouth fell open, almost hitting her knees in the process.


"Same reason you don't really want to leave Shizuru."

"I-idiot...I don't care…"

It was pointless to try hide things from him -they were part of the same whole after all.

"Please Natsuki…"

Natsuki sighed. She really did hate it when Duran was right.

Rubbing her forehead tiredly with her free arm, Natsuki turned back. The barely hidden look of painful hope on Shizuru's face somehow decided her.

What could one lunch hurt? It wasn't like it had to be a regular event or anything like that.

"F-i-n-e." She gritted out, stomping towards the older girl. As she drew closer, Kiyohime uncurled from her comforting position she'd taken around Shizuru's neck and met the startled Natsuki at eye-level.

Natsuki suddenly had a much greater appreciation for Duran's difficulty in tearing himself away from the hypnotic dæmon. It felt as if the snake was devouring Natsuki with her eyes to slip inside her mind to uncover all her secrets. A shiver rippled down her spine. With Duran's help (in the form of a sharp nip to the side of her neck) Natsuki finally managed to break the penetrating gaze. Kiyohime lifted her head to Shizuru's ear and whispered something that made the red-eyed girl give another open smile.

"Ara, Kiyohime likes Natsuki."

Natsuki –without quite knowing why– blushed, even as a nervous tic developed in her left eye. Duran changed into his peregrine falcon form and puffed out his feathers in pride, preening happily under the attention. Kiyohime's behaviour was somewhat unusual, as dæmons rarely (if ever) addressed or interacted with anyone other than their soul-mate. Natsuki wondered, not for the first time, why nothing seemed to go as it should around the odd girl before her. This whole encounter had been as sudden as a car crash and had left her just as floundering on how to handle it. Shizuru seemed like an unstoppable force of nature; resistance was utterly futile.

"Great…" Natsuki muttered in response, willing the blood to stop flowing to her cheeks. Duran glared at Natsuki, his golden eyes flashing and ungently pecked her ear. "OW! Dammit!" She swore, clutching the pained spot. She immediately understood what he wanted and mentally swore at her dæmon. He was such a pain in the ass! "Ah, w-well…I think Kiyohime is…" Just how did you go about complimenting a snake dæmon? "Ah, I mean –she has very…pretty…ah, scales?" She trailed off, mentally cursing Duran. Kiyohime's mouth opened and gentle laughter (strangely not hissing, like Natsuki had expected) floated out, the sound of it as soothing to Natsuki's raw nerves as a Zen fountain. Shizuru's own laughter joined her dæmon's, merging into a single joyous sound and Natsuki privately thought she had never heard anything so enthralling before in her life. On her shoulder, she felt Duran shudder slightly as he rested his head against hers.

"Natsuki is very kind." Shizuru said as their laughter died away. "We are very much looking forward to having a lunch date with Natsuki and Duran."

"D-date?" Natsuki spluttered as they started to walk away. How did they suddenly get to having a date?! "Wait, what?!" Duran, clearly feeling obnoxiously cheerful, straightened happily in his perch on her shoulder in his spider monkey form and twisted her ear to cut off her (increasingly vocal) protests.

"Methinks the lady doth protest too much?" He softly quoted, an evil grin on his face.

Natsuki went red, hoping that this time maybe she'd pass out and save herself from this novel form of torture.

Suddenly Shizuru was beside her, offering up a perfectly formed pale yellow rose. "I believe people are much like flowers, Natsuki." She murmured, her unusual hued eyes meeting Natsuki's own with calm confidence, while something stronger and darker lurked below the surface, hidden just out of sight. "They both need love to flourish."

And then Natsuki couldn't breathe, because Shizuru –yes, the crazy yet hauntingly beautiful, embarrassing and interesting girl– had gently tucked the rose behind her ear, warm fingers lightly ghosting over the suddenly acutely sensitive flesh. Her heart hammered loudly, almost drowning out all other thought as a thousand unspoken words flicked between them in a moment of rare connection. Natsuki could see clearly into Shizuru…and reflected back in the maple eyes was a desolate loneliness which mirrored her own.

"Very pretty." Shizuru huskily whispered, slowly removing her hand and turning gracefully on her heel as she strode forward to lead the way.

"Natsuki?" Duran muttered in her ear. "Natsuki?!"

Oh. Right.

"What?" She mumbled, emotions whirling dangerously as her world tilted.

"Checking you're still conscious," Duran said dryly.

Natsuki just grunted, not really listening as she focused on the cheerful girl now ahead of her who seemed like she didn't have a care in the world. But she knew there was more to it than that, that Shizuru locked away bone-deep loneliness and pain behind the false masks of bright smiles and teasing grins. Maybe Shizuru could understand…

Maybe they did have something in common after all.

"Natsuki should hurry up," the object of her musing called, falling back to walk next the younger girl. "It's not polite to keep your date waiting, especially when they haven't even had their first kiss yet." Shizuru said sternly, grasping Natsuki's hand within her own and squeezing affectionately.

Natsuki went a purplish hue and made a dangerous strangled noise. Duran gave a choked sound and almost fell off Natsuki's shoulder in surprise. Kiyohime laughed quietly, her forked tongue flickering in and out in amusement as she shook her head at their reactions. Shizuru hid a smirk.

Maybe Natsuki would eventually discover they had something in common –if she could survive that long.

Ending Notes:

In case you're wondering, Shizuru's dæmon never changes shape because she's older and has 'settled' (basically when a person has grown into who they're going to be and their personality sets), you'll have noticed that Duran flitted between forms quite a bit because Natsuki is still immature. As for why an albino Burmese python for Shizuru? I saw a picture that just hit me as a 'Kiyohime', sorry I went such a snake cliché route... If you're wondering about why Saeko's dæmon was a chameleon, well I was going for the angle of it reflecting someone who can blend in with other people -i.e. First District and is a bit inscrutable (seriously, who can tell what a chameleon is thinking by looking at its face?).
Although I didn't have room in this to write any other Mai Hime characters, it was kind of fun picturing what forms their dæmons might be. Though few of them will actually have 'settled' like Shizuru's as they're mostly younger, they will still have 'favoured' forms which they prefer over others. The forms probably aren't as obvious as you might think -notice Duran wasn't in a wolf form all the time- but I suppose it's just up/down to interpretation.

I may continue this story at some point (especially if this is well received), but for now, it's complete.