Disclaimer:
Mai HiME and all its characters belong to Sunrise. No profit made, no copyright infringement intended.

Author's Notes:
Plotbunnies. Evil things. But since I always have a hard time writing Shizuru, any practice I get is only going to do me good.

One or two more parts for this one. Come part two, I'll up the rating to M and probably also switch POV's. Just so you know.

Thank you for reading.

Behind the Scenes
Part I


During my time at Fuuka Academy, the common perception was that I had been born into a high-ranking family. A sort of modern nobility, if you will. I didn't much care what people thought at the time, and so I didn't bother to correct them.

The truth, however, is that the Fujino line is middle-class. Upper middle-class, at most, and if I hadn't been offered the Kazehana scholarship, my parents couldn't have afforded to send me to Fuuka in the first place. So it was only thanks to the HiME gene and its decision to take up residence in my body that I ended up at that school, so far from my home.

That scholarship, of course, expired along with my high school career, but thankfully I had managed to secure another that granted me entrance to Fuuka University. The name of it escapes me at this time, but I am grateful to have received it. It was, after all, what earned me my degree and kept me beside my Natsuki; first as her roommate, and later on – much to my delight – as her lover.

I am still far from my home at the moment. Both the one with my parents in Kyoto, the one in Fuuka – where we live to this day – and the more mobile one; Natsuki herself. Unfortunately, an issue came up with one of the more recent story ideas at FNK Productions, and she had to stay behind.

FNK. Pronounced 'fink'. Oh, she was so smugly proud of herself for coming up with that name. Ever the rebel, aren't you, my love?

Ara, but I seem to be getting ahead of myself. Forgive me.

You see, as you may already know, I have always had what they call a 'good head for business'. Natsuki, meanwhile, has a keen eye for both the details and the bigger picture, as well as a thirst for truth and knowledge. The combination of those was what made her decide to pursue a career in journalism. Not as a reporter, as she's far too camera-shy for that, but rather as a producer and director.

Anyone can lay out budgets and add figures. All you need is a calculator and a list of where you already are versus where you want to go. But it takes a certain mindset to be able to find and hash out the right combinations of words, sounds and images that can capture the attention of an entire nation – sometimes the world. And I'm proud to say that my Natsuki has that mindset. In spades.

That is, after all, the entire reason that one of her documentaries was nominated for the Robert and Frances Flaherty Prize, and thus the reason that I now find myself at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival.

As I said earlier; far from home.

Oh, and Natsuki's piece won the award, by the way. I know she would have loved being able to receive it herself, even if she would have tried to make as if that sort of thing happened all the time. Nevertheless, she isn't here, and so it was I who had to get up on stage and give the acceptance speech in her behalf. I am, after all, the co-owner and one of the major shareholders of our still-small, independent production company. I doubt that you need to ask whom my partner is. Her name did supply two of the initials used in the name, as you may have noticed.

Yes, FNK. Fujino, and Natsuki Kuga. One of mine and two of hers, because as she often – and only half-jokingly - reminds me; it is behind the camera that the real power lies. Especially in this industry.

I wonder what you are up to at this moment, my darling? Have you taken to yelling at our staff yet? I know that Maname-han frustrates you to no end, but he is one of the best editors in the business, so please don't give in to the urge to rip his head off, hm? I promise that I'll soothe your ruffled feathers when I return.

Oh, you'll give a few token protests initially when you find out just how I plan on going about that. But that's another promise I'll gladly give – that you will enjoy it very much.

"Hey." A nudge catches my attention. "Snap out of it, Shiz. You look like you're about to start drooling."

"Blunt as always, Jessica-han." I give my companion a smile, glad that she offered to accompany me on this little northward jaunt once Natsuki had to bow out at the last minute.

She certainly managed to capture the attention of most of the crowd here, even if she isn't the only foreigner. Then again, even in this crowd, I suppose that someone with her looks would stand out. How did Natsuki initially describe her to me, again?

Ah, yes. 'Six feet tall, hair so bright a red it looks like it's gonna catch fire and built like a friggin' wet dream.'

Needless to say, that was one mouthful of tea that I didn't manage to swallow. Even from Scotland Natsuki apparently knew that, because her laughter was as warm as always, never mind the fact that I heard it through a cellular connection.

See, initially, Jessica was a classmate of Natsuki's, though only during the semester she spent studying at the University of Edinburgh. I wasn't fond of being without my at the time very new lover for several months, but since my own schooling was taking place in the United States during the same semester, I really couldn't complain too much. Natsuki certainly matched my efforts when it came to including each other in our daily lives, and I still have the collection of digital photos she sent to me during that time; one of which has her and Jessica standing in front of the new Scottish Parliament, both of them regarding the building with a very odd look.

The architecture used in that particular construction is... intriguing, to say the least.

'Getting to High Street drains your legs,' she told me during another call. 'And once you finally get there, the Royal Mile adds insult to injury and drains your damn wallet, too, if you're not careful.'

She still wants to take me back there sometime. And if business keeps up increasing at this rate, it should be a distinct possibility before too long.

Jessica and Natsuki became good friends during that semester, and managed to stay in touch during the years that followed it. And once FNK took off enough that Natsuki actually needed an assistant, she was the first choice. She accepted the offer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

And if it wasn't for the fact that Jessica is decidedly heterosexual, I would probably worry about the relationship that the two of them share – unfounded through it would be even then. Her exotic good looks certainly catches your eye, and I realize that we must look an odd pair in this setting, even if my own coloring isn't all that traditionally Japanese, either.

"Whoops." She catches the attention of a passing waiter to secure two glasses of the sweet wine we've both been nipping at through the evening, and passes one to me. "Here. Good for what ails ya."

"Thank you." I take a small sip, and take stock as I scan the crowded room. I do seem to be nearing my limit in terms of drinking without actually getting drunk, so after this glass, I believe I should probably switch to some of the seltzer water they're offering around.

"Hobnobbing with the famous and the not-so famous," comes a dry, low comment from my left-hand side. "If my Mum could see me now, she'd laugh her ass off."

I chuckle. "I am a little surprised that you haven't complained about the dress code, yet."

That earns me a grin. "Alcohol is available. I could run around naked to all and sundry and I wouldn't care."

"Ara..." What amuses me the most is that it doesn't sound all that unlikely for her to do such a thing – given enough time and liquor. "Then perhaps you had better stop drinking now," I offer conversationally. "Or at least stay out of the view of the cameras later on."

"Party pooper," Jessica snorts and discreetly adjusts the upper hem of her dress – a slinky, strapless black number that has earned her a good deal of glances throughout the evening. "Would you complain if Natsuki did that?"

"Not at all." I swallow a smile and smooth down my own dress, idly enjoying the feel of the velvety smooth, lavender fabric under my fingers. "I would simply ask for copies of the tapes."

Well. Not tea and not myself, this time. But at least she managed to land the liquid back into the glass.

"Oh, bloody..." She coughs a few times and glares at me. "Dammit, Shiz... no giggle-worthy lesbianism references while I'm drinking something, alright?"

Us being mostly isolated in this little corner of the room is probably a good thing. The fact that the owners of FNK Productions just happen to be more than housemates isn't public knowledge, after all. Homophobia is bad news for any up-and-coming business, even in this day and age.

"Ah, but I was simply answering Jessica-han's question."

A dry look. "Remind me to censor myself around you, then."

"Whatever for?" I wonder aloud. "It hasn't helped you any this far, since you consistently forget to do that very thing."

"Smartass."

Jessica isn't in Natsuki's league when it comes to me enjoying someone's company, but I will admit that she's a more than acceptable second choice for events such as this. Brash as she can be, she's infallibly polite when the occasion needs it, and has a natural sort of grace that allows her to fit in effortlessly in this opulent ballroom, with all its well-dressed occupants and its almost infuriatingly high-class music.

Still... I wish that Natsuki was here. Even if she would be liable to show up in torn jeans and a wrinkled shirt. And sneakers.

Wouldn't that ruffle the feathers of all these richly decorated peacocks, I find myself wondering as I raise the glass to my lips once more.

And outright stop breathing.

Because walking towards me is none other that the very subject of my thoughts herself. And trust me... she is not wearing jeans.

Would you believe that even after all the years I've known her, this is the first time that I've seen Natsuki wear a dress? And what a dress for her to choose. It's a small wonder that the crowd is parting for her on instinct.

The garment fits her like a second skin, lovingly encasing her body from just below her collarbone to a scant inch above her ankles, with two thin straps aiding in holding it up by running from the upper hem to the back of her neck, where I presume they've been tied off. Every inch of those long arms and strong shoulders are exposed, and as someone intercepts her and she turns to entertain him for a moment, I realize that her back is as well.

Every glorious patch of it... every smoothly shifting muscle under unblemished, pale skin is visible, obscured only by long, soft locks of dark hair that tumbles down her back like a silky waterfall and frames that heartbreakingly beautiful face. And I think I just swallowed my tongue.

The color of the dress? Green, almost... no, exactly like the color of her eyes. And in the slightly dimmed lighting in here, the matte, silken fabric almost seems to twinkle at me in a very familiar way.

Being jealous at a piece of fabric would be foolish, yes?

Ara, ara... that is one dangerously high slit, my love. Not to mention a very lovely flash of leg.

"Breathe, Shiz."

Sound advice, really, even if it is a bit silly. Surely it has to be a crime to do even that when in the presence of a goddess?

Somewhere, I manage to find enough presence of mind to hear the low, teasing wolf-whistle from Jessica as Natsuki resumes her trek and reaches us. God, but I love the way that woman walks. Normally there's just the slightest bit of swagger in her hips when she moves, and tonight, that slight swagger has been emphasized to a definite one by the elegant, heeled shoes that adorn her feet.

She's talking to Jessica now. What they're saying, I have no idea. Words, I presume. I happen to be a little preoccupied, as you may have realized. Because...

Well...

Good God, she is stunning.

Her heels have to be a bit taller than my own, I realize, because I actually have to crane my neck back just a fraction in order to properly see her face. Which, much to my further surprise, has acquired the barest amount of admirably well-done makeup. Just the faintest sheen of gloss on her lips... the smallest amount of color over her cheekbones and the slightest trace of dark shading around her eyes; lending them a very smoky, very sexy look.

So often, Natsuki's personality is one of such power and presence – such a traditionally 'male' mindset - that it can be all you remember about her. More fool you, I say. Because this side of her - the side that consciously mutes the sharp edges of her temperament, the side that does something so utterly out of character simply because she wishes to surprise me...

This side of Natsuki is all woman. All mine. And so very, very beautiful. Inside and out.

"Can I have a sip of that?"

For a second or two, I'm so lost in the sound of that dusky voice that I don't even hear the question. When I do, I glance down and belatedly realize that I somehow managed to hold on to the now half-drained glass of wine in my hand. How? I have no clue. My hands have officially been reduced to rubber, along with every other part of me. Still, I manage to nod and hand it over.

"Thanks." Her fingers slip lightly over my own as she takes the glass and turns it idly in her hand, returning a greeting from some other festival attendant before taking a sip. Then she just as absentmindedly turns it again and hands it back.

And I have to return the small, slightly smug smile that accompanies the motion. Why, that sly little devil. She did that on purpose.

As you may have gathered from the attention she obviously paid to her appearance tonight, Natsuki never does anything halfway, and neither does she do anything 'absentmindedly'. Every single action she takes has a reason behind it, and planning both ahead and in detail is something that she's acquired quite the reputation for.

The very obviously clear gloss on her lips must have been a part of her plan for tonight. That will, after all, leave only the faintest trace on the edge of the glass itself, and thus make it all the easier for me to fit my lips over the mark without seeming conspicuous when I take a sip of my own. Which I proceed to do.

An indirect kiss, since we're not currently in a place where we can greet each other with a proper one. She resents the fact that we have to hide the true nature of our relationship just as much as I do, but she – also just as I – goes along with it because we both know that it won't be this way forever. Once FNK has a steady place in the industry, what we do when not at the office won't matter, and we'll be free to do as we like, both in public and in private.

And the award her documentary won just an hour ago will go a long way towards achieving that goal.

"Well, Shiz, you seem to be in good company." Jessica's mildly amused voice breaks into my musings. "So I guess it won't hurt if I head off to bed now." A pause, and an addition spoken in a much lower tone. "Especially since my feet are friggin' killing me. Bloody heels."

"I hope you don't mean that literally," Natsuki comments. "Or I'd hate to see the cleaning bill we'll get for the hotel's carpets."

We all share a laugh. "Rest well, Jessica-han."

"Mm hmm." She gives me a wink in response. "I'd say the same to you, Shiz, but..." Again, she lowers her voice. "With the way you're eying Nat over there, I doubt you'll be doing much resting – 'specially since my boss was nice enough to find me a single room."

I just smile. Being the manager of the business side of things doesn't mean that I can't go with 'no comment' every once in a while. But that idea certainly holds merit.

Jessica takes her leave, and Natsuki and I are left to regard each other in silence, standing as we are off to the side of this large, noisy room.

"So." Even, white teeth gleam in the low light as she flashes a smile at me. "Surprised?"

"Absolutely flabbergasted," I pronounce, and enjoy the laugh that earns me.

Unfortunately – or fortunately, perhaps, given the way my fingers are literally itching to feel her skin beneath them – that's all the privacy we get before yet another person takes notice of Natsuki's presence. There's nothing that a crowd of filmmakers loves more than a good plot twist, and her unexpected, belated appearance certainly counts as that, especially after she won the most prestigious award that this event has to give out.

That effectively cemented her position as one of the brightest stars rising on the horizon of Japanese filmmaking. And I am perfectly content to stand in her shade, as it were, half a step behind her as she allows herself to be drawn into conversation. From the set of her shoulders, I can tell that she is a little annoyed at the interruption, but she will smile and bear it because she knows that connections are ever-useful and never-ending. The more of them you have, the better your chances are.

This is her night. I'm only happy to watch her finally get some of the recognition she deserves, though I do keep half an ear out for the business-related questions that are irrevocably sent my way as we mingle with the other festival attendees.

Ah, the seltzer water. I stop a calmly striding waiter and exchange my empty glass for two filled ones, take a sip from one of them and proceed to completely forget which one was mine as I hand it to Natsuki.

And if you believe that I truly did forget, I believe that I have a tower in Tokyo to sell you. Bargain price, at that. My beloved isn't the only one wearing clear lipgloss tonight, after all.

Speaking of things that one can wear... it seems that the dress Natsuki is wearing has a little gap between the side of her lower back and the material itself. Why, it almost looks as if one could slip a finger or two into that space.

A terrible shame that those news cameras are pointed our way at the moment, really, I consider as I nurse my drink.

Then again, if sharing a life with my lovely senior producer here has taught me anything about cameras, it is that lighting and angles are the alpha and omega of their uses. Poor light and bad angles will snuff out any frames before they're even taken, and if I just shift a little further to the left... Ah, there we go. Now my free hand is shielded from the view of the cameras and – thanks to the wall behind us – also from the prying eyes of the other people in attendance. How delightfully fortunate.

Hm. Her hand just twitched. I think she may be on to me. All the better, since that means she won't startle.

It really should be against a law somewhere in the world for someone to have skin this silky. She's going to get the both of us in trouble eventually if she keeps being so utterly irresistible. I'll have to exact a little preemptive revenge for that, I think... what a stroke of good luck that one of her more sensitive spots happens to be so handily within reach. Another good thing is that I know her body so well that I don't have to worry about breaking out of my own conversation to find it.

Oh, I'm not going for a spot so sensitive that she won't be able to focus on anything but my touch – I'm not quite that cruel. At least not in public view. No, the one I'm aiming for – ah, there's the slight cough that disguises my finding it – is just sensitive enough to distract her. To remind her not to spend too long rubbing elbows with her colleagues from various parts of the world, even if I have no problem with the idea of teasing her like this for a very long time, if need be.

Natsuki's passion, you see, can be likened to a burning piece of coal. Expose it to flames for too long and it'll flare very brightly, but burn out very fast. Gently stoke it to a burn, however, and the clear, red fire of it will keep for hours. And I have every intention of keeping the both of us awake – if not up – far past our usual bedtime, especially since she took the care to ensure that the double room I was supposed to share with Jessica-han is now one I'm sharing with her.

Besides, keeping a professional mask in place takes a lot of work. She should thank me for the additional practice time.

It turns out that she gets more of that practice time than I anticipated, as it takes more than an hour before the last in a ridiculously long line of well-wishers decides to wander off. By now, her hand is twitching rhythmically, and there is the faintest of tremors in the skin under my fingertips.

I retract my hand as I feel her move, and as she turns and effectively hinders anyone but me from seeing her face, the look in her eyes is enough to make my breath catch in my throat.

"You," she enunciates carefully. "Are such a troublemaker."

Ara, I consider as I give her a serene smile and drain the last sip from my own glass. Perhaps I kept up my attentions for a little too long... because if the slight husk in her voice and the faint flaring of her nostrils is anything to go by, I just might be in trouble here.

Good thing that I happen to enjoy her brand of trouble, isn't it?