Mai HiME and all its characters belong to Sunrise. No profit made, no copyright infringement intended, yadda yadda. You know the drill by now, yes?
I don't dream these days; I watch movies in my sleep. One of them started by scaring the living daylight out of me, and ended with putting this idea into my head. I can't really decide if this dream or the one with the five giant Elmo's was the spookier one.
I love Elmo, but dude, five of him? Yeep.
Thank you for reading, as always.
"What the hell crawled up your ass and died, Kuga?"
Natsuki rolled her eyes. "Just shut up and get on, will you?" She glared at the younger girl through the gap in her helmet. "You've got your mom back. Shouldn't you actually be home at night now?"
Nao crossed her arms and leaned back against the side of an alley somewhere in Tsukomori. "Yeah? What about you?" She buffed her nails against the front of her shirt with studied nonchalance. "Shouldn't you be hanging out with your psycho master, little pup?"
"Don't call her that!" Natsuki bristled. "Shizuru's no more psycho than any of the rest of us."
"Speak for yourself."
Gloved hands tightened on the handlebars of the Ducati, and Natsuki forced herself to take a deep breath. "Nao." She consciously lowered her voice. "Whatever happens or doesn't happen between me and Shizuru is none of your damn business."
"Really?" The redhead tapped a fingertip against her own chin and gave her a snide smile. "Then why are you oh so concerned about my relationship with my mo--"
"Because you have yours back!"
Two sets of green eyes met, though it was impossible to tell which pair looked more surprised by the outburst.
"Whatever." Natsuki snorted and started the engine up. "You wanna waste your second chance? Fine by me. It's your goddamn funeral." She threw the bike into gear, and was about to crank back on the throttle when another body settled in behind her with a huff and made her freeze.
"What?" Nao grabbed onto her waist with a sneer. "Just don't get any ideas, Kuga. Even if I did swing that way, I'd make sure to take a hell of a detour around you."
"Good to know." Natsuki privately decided that she really needed to start thinking before she acted. Maybe then she would have just driven past the redhead and had a peaceful night. "Does your mom live here or in Fuuka?"
"So... not that I actually care or anything," Nao spoke up some indeterminate amount of time later, when the lights of the Tsukomori district had faded behind the bike and been replaced with the quiet darkness of a mostly unoccupied stretch of forested hills. "But what the hell are you doing out at three in the morning?"
Trying to remember. Trying to forget. Trying to decide.
"If you don't care," she called back. "Then why ask?"
"It's called conversation, dipshit. Try it sometime."
"And here I thought I was," she muttered to herself. "Just driving around," she added in a louder voice. "Couldn't sleep. Something like that."
Natsuki sighed and gave the lake to one side a glance before steering the motorcycle up the incline of a familiar hill. If nothing else, their bickering was at least distracting her, and if it hadn't been for the eerie, orange glow surrounding the house that sat at the top of that hill, she probably wouldn't even have realized where she was.
"Hey." She felt Nao straighten behind her. "Isn't that..."
"Yeah." Natsuki swallowed against the lump of ice that had suddenly taken up residence in her stomach, and sped up. "It is." It only took seconds to reach the front of the burning house, and she forced the Ducati to a slightly skidding stop in front of the two police cruisers that blocked the small driveway.
"Ojou-san." Apparently their arrival had caught the attention of the small handful of uniformed officers present. "I need to ask you to move along, please. We--"
"My friend lives here," she pulled off her helmet and cut the man off. "What's going on?"
The officer – a sergeant, judging by the insignia on his collar – sighed. "One of the distant neighbors called in because of an explosion," he informed her gruffly. "The fire department has been notified. We are at serious risk of a forest fire at the moment, so for the sake of both you and the young lady behind you, please leave."
"Forest fire?" She flicked her gaze to the burning building behind the man, and watched the flames lick along the outer walls through a broken window. "What about the house?"
"The house is not a primary concern at the moment."
She understood why. Really, she did. The flames were reaching several feet above the roof of the two-story home as it was, and she honestly couldn't blame the officers for writing the structure off as a loss. She would've done the same in any other circumstance.
Natsuki dismounted the bike, but only managed to take two steps towards the front door before a set of strong hands clasped her shoulders.
"Let me go," she told the man in no uncertain terms. "I know that house. I know where she'll be."
"Ojou-san, I don't think you understand the situation." The sergeant gently pushed her back, then set his hands against his hips. "A bomb went off in there. I'm sorry about your friend, but going into this house is suicide!"
"I. Don't. Care." Natsuki barked. "Get out of my way!"
"I can't do that. I'm very sorry."
Natsuki closed her eyes and counted to ten. Her fingers tightened around the chin guard of her helmet, and her jaw clenched stubbornly.
One swing, and the side of the sturdy helmet hit the police officer in the temple; dropping the man like a rock. None of the other officers moved in the shocked silence that followed, and she took the chance to swiftly claim the man's service pistol.
"He'll be fine," she told them bluntly as she switched the gun's safety off. "But he might have a concussion. Would anybody else like one?" She tracked her gaze over the silent men. "No? Then move."
"Nao." She tossed the helmet to the redhead, along with her cell phone. "Call Mai. Tell her this is what she gets for wanting to be kept in the loop."
"Fine." Nao flipped the phone open and glowered at her. "But if you die, I'm gonna kick your ass."
She almost smiled. "Looking forward to it." Her free hand snagged a small handkerchief from one of the officers when she strode past them, and as she approached the house, her mind worked over the problem at hand.
A bomb... meant a lot of damage. A lot of fire, which was more than obvious even without going inside. The fact that it was late night only made it more difficult since Shizuru would probably be in her bedroom, which meant that she'd have to find a way to the first floor.
Fun times. Natsuki wasn't surprised to find that the door wouldn't budge, and sighed as she stepped back a few paces and sent a few bullets into the lock.
The inside of the house was... She covered her nose and mouth with the handkerchief and looked around. Well, it was actually a lot less damaged than she'd expected. Absolutely everything was on fire and creaking ominously, but...
Something cracked under her boot, and she stopped and lifted her foot.
Glass. Natsuki crouched down and examined it more closely, recognizing the curve that meant that it had come from the neck of a bottle.
Hell, that wasn't a bomb. That was a Molotov cocktail. Whether that was good or a bad thing... she wasn't really sure. A bomb did a lot more damage, but a Molotov caused a fire that was so much stronger. So much more potentially lethal.
But surely not that much worse than the trouble she'd just gotten herself into by knocking an on-duty police officer unconscious. Do it now and worry about the paperwork later, right?
Right. She carefully didn't draw in too deep of a breath, and forced her eyes to stay open in spite of the smoke that made visibility practically nil. The heat of the fire, the shifting of unfamiliar shadows and the hungrily crackling flames all served to make the otherwise familiar surroundings look very foreign, and she had to take a minute to adjust before she could remember exactly what direction the stairs were in.
There'd been more than one of those things tossed inside, she realized as she made her careful way up to the next level of the house. Both the railing and the wall next to her were burning, and she was glad for the small amount of protection that her bodysuit could offer, even if the surface of it was growing almost unbearably hot.
The sooner she could get out of there, the better.
"Shizuru?!" She held up her arm and winced as a burning picture frame fell from the wall and shattered on the floor in front of her. God, it was hot. Inhaling the air made her lungs burn uncomfortably, and it took everything she had to keep the image of where she needed to go at the forefront of her mind.
Dammit, where is she?
For a second, the smoke seemed to clear. Just enough for her blurred vision to spot the figure laying on the floor beyond the doorway.
"Shizuru!" She dropped to her knees next to the older girl, and fear batted at her from all sides until she noticed that her friend was still breathing. Gloved fingers traced the spot on Shizuru's temple where blood had matted the chestnut hair, and the soft groan that reached her ears when she rolled the other girl onto her back was one of the sweetest sounds she'd ever heard.
"C'mon, Fujino." She patted the mildly sooty cheeks lightly and ignored the deep groaning of tired, charred wood from the flame-engulfed ceiling above. "You may be dressed for bed, but now is no time to be napping."
"Natsuki ikezu." The groggy mumble made the knot in her stomach loosen so abruptly that it almost brought tears to her eyes. "She's always so impatient."
"And you're too damn calm," she countered absentmindedly as she made sure that her friend's pupils were responding evenly. "I'm just trying to even things out." She moved her own hair out of her eyes and ran a careful hand over the older girl's arm. "Can you move everything?"
The ceiling groaned again.
"I think so." Shizuru drew in a breath and coughed as she pushed herself to a seat, and Natsuki had to hook an arm around her shoulders to keep her from falling right back down. "But my head... is a little fuzzy."
"Mm. I don't think you got your brains rattled too much, but something clobbered you." She set a finger under the older girl's chin and watched the look in the crimson eyes clear a little. "Think you can walk?"
She watched Shizuru part her lips to reply, and felt her heart hit her throat as a loud crunch behind them made the floor shake. Her head snapped around, and time froze for a single instant as she saw the other end of the center ceiling beam head right for them.
Wow, her mind tickled her dumbly. That thing's thicker than my head.
They had no time to move. Green eyes narrowed in a glare at the massive piece of wood that seemed to be falling in slow motion.
You are not taking another one.
And with that decided, she did the only thing she could.
Oh, Christ. The force of impact emptied her lungs and knocked her silly for a minute, and it was several smoke-scented breaths later before she could clear her head enough to focus on her surroundings. The thick beam was pressing against her back in an almost diagonal line from her hip to her shoulder, and the weight of it was pinning her down against Shizuru's body. That... hurt.
And they were trapped.
"Kanin... kanin na, Natsuki. I..."
Those exact words...
"Shut up!" Natsuki wrenched one arm around enough that she could press two fingers over the older girl's lips. "Don't you dare apologize!"
From beneath the leather-covered fingers, Shizuru gave her a small, sad smile. "I always get Natsuki into trouble," she whispered softly, barely heard over the hungrily crackling flames and the sounds of sirens from the outside. "Kanin na."
"Stop it!" She lowered her eyebrows in a deep scowl. "I knew what I was doing, alright?" she went on in a more gentle tone. "I got myself into this. Not you."
And there had to be a way out of this, she considered as she raised her head, accidentally bumping it against the heavy wood that laid across her back. Her back and shoulders were aching something awful, she acknowledged somewhere as she looked around, but strangely enough, it didn't feel like anything had been broken.
Almost fearfully, she tried wiggling her toes. The motion sent a few dull throbs up the length of her body, but it was nowhere near the discomfort that she had expected to feel.
Sure not gonna look that gift horse in the ass.
If she'd managed to avoid breaking her back... then there had to be a way. She shifted a little and tried to figure out if maybe they could roll the beam off of them, but the sheer weight of it made that impossible. They couldn't get up or burrow down. They couldn't move forwards, backwards or to either side.
But there has to be a way. Even in her own head, it sounded weak and unbelieving, and she closed her eyes. There has to... there just has to.
But there wasn't, was there?
"Natsuki..." Her eyes snapped open as a gentle hand cupped her cheek. "It's alright." The older girl's voice was frighteningly resigned; the smile on her face sad, but affectionate. "It's alright."
No! her mind screamed in response. It's not alright! They had survived, dammit... they'd made it. They'd saved the fucking world and lived to tell the tale.
And now they were going to die.
Natsuki bent her neck and rested her forehead against Shizuru's. "It's not fair..." she whispered brokenly. "I wasn't ready for this... not yet."
"I know." The corners of Shizuru's eyes crinkled in a tender smile that she was too close to see, though she could make out the single tear that glittered in the shifting, red light.
A burning end table collapsed off to one side.
"I'm sorry we never got the chance to try."
"Maybe in our next life." A light caress against the side of her face as Shizuru pushed a lock of lightly singed hair behind her ear. "We had such a short time in this one."
Natsuki felt a tide of frustration run through her. "Yeah."
"I love you." A hushed, fervent whisper.
There was no time for fear or embarrassment. No room for doubts or reservations.
Their eyes met and held, and this time, they both closed the distance.
Because there were no more tomorrows.
It was just so unbearably unfair, her mind ranted angrily as she felt the fierce heat of the fire lash brutally against them from all sides; drying the tears on their faces shortly after they fell. The kiss tasted of tea and smoke and sorrow and lost chances and... and damn it... it wasn't fair!
And goddamn it all... Natsuki broke the kiss and stared into the eyes below her own... the eyes that – for the first time – were letting her see everything they held within their depths.
Goddamn it all, she wasn't ready to give up.
But fate, something whispered in her ear, doesn't bow to just anyone.
Yeah, well... The thick, charred wood pressed heavily against her back, and Natsuki gritted her teeth as she set the balls of her feet against the floor and coiled her legs. Fate can kiss my ass.
"Natsuki?" Hands grasped her arms when she slapped her leather-encased palms against the overheated floor on either side of Shizuru's shoulders. "W-what are you doing?"
It was insanity. She was just one person... one teenage girl pinned down by a massive, wooden beam that had to weigh hundreds of pounds. Natsuki took a breath and pushed up; her sorely abused body straining against the obstacle.
It didn't budge.
Move! She screwed her eyes shut and tried harder. She was a HiME, dammit! One of only a handful of girls chosen out of billions to fight for the world against impossible odds! What good was that if she couldn't save one person?!
The rancid, heated air made her head buzz while the sharp, harsh scent of smoke invaded her nostrils and made her eyes sting. A rebellious nature balked viciously at its enforced restraint, and - in the span of half a second - decided that there was no way that they were going to die like this.
No way was she going to let Shizuru die like this.
A low growl born from frustration and sheer, instinctual obstinacy ripped loose from her throat, and as she reached deep inside of herself and called on slumbering reserves of strength that she was only scarcely aware of even having, she heard a familiar echo of it in the back of her mind.
The source of power... is affection.
Even in the scorchingly hot room – through the almost boiling surface of her bodysuit - she felt the sharp, roaring burn on her left side that made her mind go blank for a single, timeless second. A piercing surge of energy pooled in her gut and exploded outwards, and a cry of pure rage erupted from her chest as she uncoiled and arched, to the sound of crashing and a yelp and a sudden, blinding white light behind her eyes that made her reel on the edge of unconsciousness for a frighteningly long moment.
"Natsuki!" Hands were grabbing at her, she dimly realized, and blearily blinked her eyes open to see Shizuru kneeling above her, her concerned face outlined by the flickering fire.
Right... the fire. She felt her brow furrow. So why is her breath misting?
"Shizuru..." Shakily, she pushed herself into a seated position in the oddly cold air around them. "What just..." Her own exhales turned the words into a fog that matched the one clouding her head, but she shook it off. "We need to get out of here."
The crimson eyes studied her with an unreadable expression before Shizuru nodded and kissed her forehead. "I don't know how you did that," she murmured. "But ookini."
Did what? Natsuki pushed the question away for later review. There were too many things happening way too fast right now, but she gathered her wits and got to her feet. "Sure," she muttered distractedly, glancing around at the inferno that surrounded them. "Anytime."
They were definitely still in trouble, she quickly decided, nodding when Shizuru grasped her shoulder and looked towards the staircase, where a few large pieces of burning ceiling were blocking their path. The chill that lingered in the air from... whatever the hell had happened was starting to dissipate, and she felt her skin redden almost painfully when the heat hammered against them once more.
Faintly, she picked up the sound of screeching tires and a yell of outrage that sounded almost like Nao. Then the large window to her left shattered as something flew through it, and she felt Shizuru's fingers dig into her shoulder as an almost pineapple-shaped, metal canister rolled across the floor towards them.
"Shit," she cursed wholeheartedly.
Natsuki literally thought on her feet and grabbed Shizuru by the arm, hauling the older girl across the room and towards the window across from the one that the grenade had just been thrown through. They had a matter of seconds at best.
And if the grenade had come from the road... then the other window should be about even with the edge of the cliff.
The rocky overhang that the house was built on. The lake below.
A hell of a drop. Possibly low waters at the end of it.
But infinitely better than getting blown to pieces.
"Trust me!" She felt Shizuru tuck against her in silent affirmation as she wrapped her arms around the other girl and jumped backwards, curling to let the protective leather that covered her own body take the brunt of the damage as they crashed through the window. Then her feet met with an uneven slope – the half-roof that covered the part of the first story that extended out a little further - and a hand closed around her own as they both ran two steps, crouched and jumped.
Just in time.
Hot, stinking air blew them forwards and downwards as a huge fireball shot out just above them, and she only had a split second to switch her gaze to the side and see the shocked faces of both the firemen and Nao before the rapidly rising cliff hid them from view.
And the dark surface of the lake was coming up fast.
Here goes. Natsuki saw Shizuru move beside her and followed, both of them straightening their bodies and raising their arms above their heads. Hitting the water from a few hundred feet in the air would be like hitting solid concrete if they didn't go in correctly, and she gave the lightly rolling waters below a quick look before she drew in a deep breath and closed her eyes.
Then she was suddenly immersed, and it took everything she had to focus on bringing her arms down – on stopping her still furious descent towards a bottom that might be closer than she knew – and not give in to the shock of cold water and the jarring sensation in her legs that made her lungs want to empty themselves of air.
A wildly careening car. Squealing tires. A scream over the sound of frantic barking.
Up. Natsuki fought against the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. She needed to go up. A tug on her hair caught her attention, and she blinked against the water as she opened her eyes and saw the faint, shadowy outline of an outstretched hand in front of her face.
She clasped it, and they broke the surface together.
Jesus. The bone-deep terror dwindled, but still left her shaking in its aftermath, and she had to spend a few seconds just breathing. She could feel the motions of Shizuru treading water in front of her, and met the worried, crimson gaze once her heart stopped trying to pound its way out of her ribcage.
"I'm okay," she promised, though she knew that the tremble in her voice probably didn't make the assurance terribly convincing. Shizuru, at least, didn't call her on it, but merely nodded her head and turned them both towards the nearest shore.
"I think we should be glad that it's summer," the older girl commented with a sigh as they started swimming.
Once they reached land, neither of them had the strength to move very far. Both of them half-walked, half-crawled a few feet away from the edge of the lake and just collapsed on the grass under a wide tree as they tried to catch their breath.
One green eye rolled around to peer at the still-burning house atop the cliff, and Natsuki felt her heart skip a beat as she watched the flames lick at the sky above.
How the hell had they ever managed to get out of there?
She fell back onto her elbows in the grass and felt her breathing even out as she watched the sun start to peek above the tree line with a curious, almost giddy sense of disbelief.
Apparently they'd have another tomorrow after all.
"Oi, Shizuru?" She turned her head towards her friend, who was sprawled on her back just inches away, and watched as a single, exhausted crimson eye popped open to regard her. "Can we not ever do that again?"
The older girl let out a short, surprised bark of laughter and rolled onto her side to better give her arm a squeeze. "We can certainly try."
"Mm." She was too tired to even yawn. There was still a tingling aftersurge of adrenaline pumping through her system, but she suspected that once it wore off, they'd both be sore as hell. What her back looked like after taking the impact of that damn beam onto it... she didn't even want to know. They were both covered in cuts and bruises, and probably had several burns of varying degrees in some very uncomfortable places. And they really needed to figure out exactly who they were dealing with. "Remind me to call Yamada."
"Later." Shizuru patted her hand. "I'm certain that we're fine for now."
Yeah. She turned her own hand over and folded her fingers around Shizuru's, and found the energy to chuckle tiredly as she pulled a stray piece of seaweed free from the soggy, chestnut hair and watched Shizuru's lips twitch when she showed it to her.
Yeah. They'd be alright.
Voices raised in alarm reached their ears, and Natsuki turned her head to see the flickering of several sources of light off in the distance; the bright beams bouncing off the many tree trunks. Rescue personnel of some kind, certainly. She couldn't really decide if she liked the sight for the medical treatment that it heralded, or disliked it for interrupting the sorely needed moment of peace.
"Here comes the cavalry," Shizuru noted wearily.
Natsuki recognized one of the bodies silhouetted against the lamplight in the still-dark morning, and smirked as she watched Nao almost run into a tree. "Yeehaw."
We still don't know exactly what happened that night... how Natsuki managed to not only get us both free, but to do it in such a way that the piece of wood that was pinning us down actually flew clear across the room. She doesn't remember anything about that moment except for a strong feeling of anger at the unfairness of it all, and a surge of will.
I continue to have trouble believing what I saw. I know that she is one of the strongest individuals that I've ever had the chance to meet; physically as well as mentally, but... I looked into the plans behind that house, after the fire had died down and we'd both had some time to heal. The beam that fell on her weighed over 600 pounds. And not only did she walk away from the actual impact with nothing but a few bone bruises on her shoulders; she shrugged it off of her body as if it were a toothpick.
The sight of her in that moment is something I will never forget. She just... screamed. In a way that I've never in my life heard a human being scream before. Guttural. Feral. Exactly like the look on her face. And in the second before she actually straightened, her eyes snapped open, though I'm sure they saw nothing.
They were the color of deep, blue ice. Like the center of a glacier.
We have talked about it since then, Natsuki and I. She still wonders every once in a while if maybe we both just lost it for a few seconds and imagined things. No single person should be able to move an object that heavy. No room that is being engulfed by flames should suddenly turn as cold as a night in the dead of winter. And yet, that is exactly what happened.
The best idea we can come up with to explain it? The HiME gene. Yes, the Star is gone. Yes, our Childs have vanished. She tried calling on Duran for argument's sake. Tried summoning her Elements. I did too.
But perhaps... perhaps somehow, for that one instant, she was able to tap into a connection that none of us even knew existed. Because as the former Director – Kazehana Mashiro – told us before she left; the HiME Star isn't the source of the power we once wielded. It is merely the source of the Festival.
The true source of a HiME's strength is her heart – the love that she feels for her most important person. Which means that the reason that Natsuki was able to do the impossible... was me.
Well, that... and the fact that she's simply stubborn beyond any reasonable measure of common sense.
It is truly humbling to know that she loves me this much. So strongly that even the limitations of the human form and the laws of physics will just have to duck and cover if she sets her mind on something.
A small wonder, really, that there have been no more attempts on our lives since she asked Yamada-san to discreetly put out an idea of just how we escaped that night. In the right social circles, of course.
"I'm sorry we never got the chance to try," was what she told me. But we have that chance now. We're trying.
"Oi, college girl. Are you about done being bardic?"
"Bardic?" Shizuru lifted her head from the page laid out on the desk and gave the girl in the doorway an amused smile. "Ara, but Natsuki thinks so highly of my writing skills. I'm very happy that she would describe my journal in such a way."
"Funny." A dark eyebrow lifted. "C'mon. You were the one who got those reservations, right?" Natsuki straightened and nodded towards the hall. "So let's hit the road."
"Ah, you do have a point." Shizuru set the pen down and rose with a smile. "Especially since Natsuki is actually on time in picking me up, for once."
The girl in question colored lightly. "I'm not that bad," she muttered with a mild scowl. "Traffic just sucks around here."
"Hm." Shizuru brushed lightly against the younger one as she passed her. "Then how did you make it on time today?"
"It sucked a little less," Natsuki called after her, and shook her head as a chuckle drifted down the hallway. "Grab a coat. It's getting cold out."
An affirmative response reached her ears, and while she waited, she took a few curious steps across the room. One hand came to rest on the polished surface of the desk as she bent over it, turning the leather-bound journal around and scanning her eyes across the latest entry.
Something that she knew Shizuru wouldn't mind, since this book focused entirely on the two of them.
Her free hand claimed the pen, and she pulled the cap off with her teeth.
"Natsuki?" She looked up and saw Shizuru standing in the doorway. "Shall we?"
"Yup." The pen was laid back down, and she managed to blush only a little as she crossed the room and felt a hand tuck itself securely into the crook of her elbow while their footsteps receded down the hall.
A few more words floated into the abandoned room.
"You might wanna help me out with table manners at this place, though. Otherwise I'll end up embarrassing the hell out of both of us."
"I wouldn't let my Natsuki down."
A door closed.
A lock clicked.
The fading afternoon sunlight brushed across the paper of the open journal and highlighted the final paragraphs.
We have that chance now. We're trying, it said in a gently curving, traditionally feminine script.
Below that were a few more words in a stronger, bolder hand.
And we're happy.
END - "Power Surge"