Cheddar Panic!

By: Gabriel LaVedier

This is certainly an odd little series I'm going to have going on. Imagine, a story about lesbians, set in the universe of Thea Stilton. You had to expect it of me. Five girls, furries, it's all up my alley. I hope this all goes well.

And, yes, I watched a lot of Strawberry Panic.

Disclaimer: I do not own Geronimo Stilton, Thea Stilton, the Thea Sisters or any other characters. Please don't sue me.

The Introduction

Mouseford Academy was an impressive, imposing structure situated on picturesque Whale Island. It was, indeed, the ultimate private school, wholly cut off from mainland concerns. It was a world unto itself, its own microcosm. Thus, those who attended the place looked at themselves as a world apart, beyond the separation caused by their selection for the prestigious academy.

Even among the isolated group, there was another division. Those five chosen to be the students of Thea Stilton, award-winning adventure journalist, considered themselves a unit unto itself, removed even from the other academy elite. This five, the Thea Sisters, did most everything as a unit.

The somewhat natural leader, by passion more than vote, was Nicky. The ever-moving Australian excelled at the physical part of leadership, being one to press forward boldly. She could handle it. Of all the Thea Sisters, Nicky was the hardiest, beating out even Pamela. For this reason, she was looked upon as de facto commander of the bunch.

Very ready, and very willing to put that unspoken assertion to the test was, ironically, the team peacemaker. Pamela was no slouch in athletics, though the Tanzanian was often forced to yield in matters like archery or javelin. She was, rather, better with track, lacking robustness but possessing an abundance of stamina. It actually seemed like she relished competing against Nicky.

Acting as a great contrast between the two athletic mice was the decidedly sedate Violet. Always quiet, frequently bookish and seemingly disinterested in competition, the delicate Chinese mouse was usually involved in some elegant doing or another with her other roommate.

That second roommate (the first was Pamela) was French beauty Colette. She, too, seemed wholly disinterested in all matters of competition. She was perfectly content to have tea, give a mani/pedi, style hair, do makeup or most any other creative thing.

The last Thea sister, and the one most likely to be in the middle of something, was the Peruvian Paulina. She was unassuming and quiet, like Violet or Colette, yet always managed to get roped into some nonsense or another instigated by Pamela and Nicky. Most of the other students that had seen this felt sorry for her. It was as though she had a giant target on her forehead.

But, seemingly, the only true anomaly of Mouseford Academy was the clique of girls. The others were far more conventionalistic. Common concerns, expected concerns were always expressed. What to wear, what to study, which teacher gives out too much homework, who is seeing whom. Thanks to the co-ed nature of the Academy, romances abounded, most especially as it was aided along by the island tradition of the "Good Morning Serenade." There was always some whisper of some girl being out after hours to visit someone, or some boy nearly caught in the halls at night.

The Thea Sisters, however, seemed immune to that. Though they inspired mushy, sighing adoration, Colette especially, none of them seemed particularly interested in returning the clumsily-offered affection, cultivating a cool, aloof and professional appearance in the process. Were it a female-only school, the five would likely have a princely reputation and be considered prime adoration material. As it stood, however, the most charitable saw them as dedicated and serious students; the most un-charitable saw them as raging bitches.

The truth was far more complicated.

They dwelled bodily at Mouseford, but truly, they dwelled in an endless lily field in spirit. No one existed except them. Even so, it wasn't a paradise. Five mouse girls lived in that land. But hearts could merge one to another only, and there was, therefore, one mouse too many.

Who would be the odd mouse out?

*Some assembly required?

"Now hold still. You don't want to smear." Colette was truly in her element. When it came to making mice over, she was the undisputed expert. Her many cases lay open and scattered around the room that she shared with Pamela and Violet. Pamela was out, getting extracurricular on the athletic fields. Meanwhile, Violet was…

"I'm trying my best. But if I can't move, how can I go out like this?" The demure Chinese mouse was reclined in a chair, bearing the marks of Colette's attention. Her normally straight, flat hair had been just slightly teased into a greater fullness and then waved into a passable, ebon imitation of Colette's locks; her lips were lined, and looked fuller with the ruby-red lipstick which had been applied; her cheeks were reddened, and her eyes had been lined, shadowed and mascaraed; and as a final mark of Colette's influence, her finger and toe nails had been painted bright pink.

"It's very easy, you move slowly, move little and try to keep track of all your makeup, in case you need a retouch." So saying, Colette whipped out her ubiquitous compact and inspected her well-made-up face. Perfect. "As well, once you get used to it, you learn how to walk quickly and talk naturally without smearing, streaking, flaking or erasing anything."

"I-I see…" Violet replied quietly, looking at herself in the mirror beside her. She was there, somewhere, behind the paint and product, somewhere inside the made-up face that looked like an eastern Colette. "… Colette?"

"Yes, Violet?" Colette had no truck with nicknames.

"Can I give you a makeover too? Mani/pedi, hair, makeup, everything, like you did for me."

There was a bright smile from Colette. "Of course. Anytime."

"Today? After I can move again?"

"Sure. Just wait for your nails to finish."

Violet was done in under an hour, and Pamela was still, thankfully, out. So, with great care, Violet began to work on Colette. First, all of her makeup came off, her face a blank canvas. Then her polish was stripped. And finally, her clothes were removed, leaving her bare as her roommate. This makeover session was made to show how, not prepare for a night out.

There was no giggling or other gaiety as the work began in earnest. The pedicure bath was filled with warm water and Colette's special brie-scented product. Colette seemed to favor brie; it was also the scent of the manicure product, which was a far better smell than the chemical harshness of the polish remover.

Violet said nothing as she carefully went to work, placing cucumber slices over Colette's eyes and setting to her task. Colette's toes were gently massaged, and carefully filed. The beauty mouse took excellent care of every part of herself, so hardly any additional filing was necessary. But she still did it, gliding the emery board slowly over each little nail; just as slowly, and as uselessly, she dragged a pumice stone over Colette's pawpads, making the French girl giggle.

"Just hold still, Colette…" Violet said quietly, with a hint of tease in her voice, echoing Colette's earlier requests that she be still. There was very little besides cursory trivialities to do during the pedicure. Thus it was that she moved quickly on to the manicure. Again, it was little more than a symbolic scrape with the emery board, and a tender massage, which again made Colette giggle.

While her feet and hands dried, her head was lowered back into a plastic container, with warm water slowly poured over it. With the water was a delicately-scented hair care product, invisible to the cucumber-blinded mousette. She only had to trust that Violet would not do anything to hurt her look too much. Her moist hair was brushed, Violet's delicate fingers slowly sliding through the golden cascade, working from scalp to ends with care and precision.

A towel was applied after the hair had been wrung out, the whole of it carefully rubbed over to prevent pulling or breakage, keeping the triumphal halo in perfect shape. No blow dryer would ever touch those locks.

"Keep them closed, Colette…" Violet removed, and ate, the cucumber slices, moving to the vast array of beauty products. Pencils, paints, powders, a whole rainbow of colors and consistencies. She took her time choosing her collection, picking just the right shade and type for every one. At last, with her selections made, she began, carefully applying the makeup to Colette, as had been done to her.

Colette began to wriggle in her seat. The mystery was torture. She always watched herself, always involved herself in every facet of her own beauty. But here, she was blind. She had to guess what was going on. The tiny tickles at the tips of her fingers and toes were nail polish, hopefully a flattering shade. The delicate pressure on her lips was… Lipstick, artfully applied. She felt no smears at all. Eye shadow, without liner? Curious choice. No mascara or rouge? Very odd. With the barest of touches, her face was abandoned and her hair was targeted. She felt… Heat. Heard the hiss. A flatiron. Straight hair? Like…

"Ready. What do you think, Colette?" Violet stepped away after making her announcement in her typical shy voice, leaving the mirror free.

One glance told the story. Her typically wavy hair was straight now, the cascade flowing in a light wave when she moved. Her finger and toenails bore no color at all. Just clear coat polish. Her lips, also, had no color. Just a clear, protective coat. And her eyes were just barely shadowed. The chosen shade matched her natural tone almost exactly. It was a subtle, natural look. A sedate and unassuming look. The look of a timid someone, who wasn't out to be noticed. She was… "… I understand."

"You do?"

"Were you… Worried because I gave you a makeover? Because I made you look like me?"

"Well… Not very worried…" Violet appeared shy all of a sudden, attempting to hide her painted face with a turn of her head.

Colette was upon her in an instant, arms wrapping around Violet's thin waist, bringing her in for a warm, close hug. "I made you over like that because it's how I do things. It's not how I want you to look. Or need you to look." The two drew together into a soft, sweet kiss, smearing their mismatched lipstick for a short interval. When they pulled away Colette smiled, and rubbed her face against Violet's. "I love you exactly as you are."

Violet fell forward, gently, against Colette, sighing softly as she cuddled herself against her beloved. "And I don't need you to change either. I fell in love with you." She grinned a bit and went on. "Prim, prissy, decorated, fashionable you."

Colette giggled in reply. "And you're my shy, bookish, unadorned and adorable coeur."

The two held on to each other, mirror images of their lover quite by accident, yet also by wondrous design. Thus was their entire relationship. A purposeful happenstance.

Fair Dinkum

Nicky slowly closed her right eye, tongue just slightly out. She narrowed her focus down to one, tiny point before her, closing out every other thing. Her body trembled lightly, and she concentrated hard to make it stop. Her right arm, drawn back as far as it could go, also gave a quiver, but this in anticipation. She calmed it internally, waiting for a moment of total stillness before her fingers opened up, releasing the arrow trapped between them.

With her body so perfectly still the arrow was launched forward with beautiful precision, streaking straight and fast from the bow down the narrow passage of her focus. It kept on track perfectly, zipping forward to thud heavily into the target. Bull's-eye. As usual.

A great cheer rose up as Nicky slipped her arm through the bow and rested it against her body while walking down the range to the target. She deftly plucked out the arrow and took a bow, smiling brightly to the gathered crowd. It was a cheery assortment of mice, male and female, all wearing the athletic uniforms of Mouseford. Her demonstrations could always draw a crowd.

The knot of onlookers followed Nicky as she put the bow away, and went to take up a javelin. She relished her fame, even if it got embarrassing at times. So, she fed the adoring crowd, as long as she could, and for as long as the coaches would allow her to monopolize the time of the crowd. Since she was such a great athlete, she was given a great deal of leeway. It kept her in shape, and the watchers always went on to do good work after seeing her in action.

She stepped up to the appointed spot with the javelin, licking a finger and holding it up to test the wind. It was very slight, but from directly behind her. Good enough for her purposes. She held the lightweight missile in her right hand, stepping back from the throw line slowly, feeling for just the right distance. It was always different, but it was always sufficient.

One final step and she felt it. That certain indefinable "it" that told her the distance was right. Trusting that feeling, as she always did, she held for the space of a single, firm breath. Then her fingers gripped, crushingly, on the javelin, and she started running. It was only a few long strides, but she put all the force she could into them.

She made certain that inertia was available when her drawn-back hand shot forward, timed exactly with her rapid halt. The fingers flew open right at the apex of the throw, letting all the force act on the javelin and launch it out in a stunning, high arc. Although the gain in altitude ate up energy, there was plenty of forward momentum to spare, and besides, a high, graceful arc always looked better than a flat toss. After passing the zenith of its travel, the javelin plunged smoothly down to earth, thudding solidly into the ground and wobbling slightly. A fair distance. As ever.

The silence which had reigned during the preparation, toss and travel exploded into a titanic and furious cheer at yet another athletic triumph. No one measured the distance; the exact measure was irrelevant. It LOOKED sufficiently distant to everyone. And it had made a most beautiful arc. It was about spectacle and awe, not competition. Nicky knew it well, and smiled as she retrieved her javelin. There really was no competition. No one had the nerve. Well, one did, but there were still races going on.

The javelin returned to the equipment racks, the others were eager to see what Nicky would do next. She briefly contemplated the discus, but had a far better idea after a moment of consideration. She dashed back to the locker room and returned with her ornately-carved boomerang. Something of an heirloom, a gift from her grandmother Naya. It was a lovely cultural artifact, an advertisement of her Aborigine identity, and something that always made the others ooh and aah.

She set up a target atop the archery targets, a small, brown lump of curly fuzz that she, for some reason, had with her things. Some thought it seemed vaguely familiar somehow, but they simply weren't sure how. It sat there, low but vulnerable. Nicky didn't need a big warm-up. She was very ready for this. Once behind the line she lined up the shot and tossed, intentionally too high and too far to the right.

It made for great theater. The whirling boomerang missed the target, but not by as much as the initial throw seemed to indicate. After passing the mark it curved back around, aimed at its thrower. And, with her usual deftness, Nicky caught the returning object. She didn't wait for applause. She had put on her show. Now to the real action. She grunted loudly as she hurled the boomerang with tremendous force. The wooden object whirled viciously, on target, knocking the fuzzy thing from atop the target. And it retained sufficient force to continue on, turn around and return to Nicky.

There was another cheer for her, which she savored. It was just too much fun to do that. But as she picked up the little fuzz ball, she heard an unfortunately familiar voice behind her. "Still savoring solitude in the spotlight? Still afraid of some actual competition?"

"Pamela…" The name dripped with sickeningly insincere sweetness, and Nicky turned to look at the other mouse, and her mop of fuzzy hair. "Are the races over?"

"Another win. Just finished my victory lap. No pukana*, I'll leave that to you. Why not put on a competitive show? Care for a race?"

"A tempting offer, Pamela. But that's alright. I'd hate to show you up at your one and only good sport. You'd have nothing left."

"Fraidy mouse."

Nicky turned up her nose at Pamela and rolled her eyes some, ending up looking over to the equipment area. A metal-mesh mask met her gaze and an idea formed in her mind. "Fine, but I'll pick the sport."

It was Pamela's turn to roll her eyes. "I figured that would be part of the deal. What sport?"

An almost-vicious smile crossed Nicky's features as she replied. "Fencing. No points. First contact wins. I hope that's alright. I don't want to delay the inevitable too long. There's a tea party tonight, after all."

Pamela considered everything, including the vicious look on Nicky's face. She was feeling confident enough to compete, but only wanted a quick victory, a chance to strike before her technique could be pinned down and countered. She was also flying high on adoration, and wanted to put on a show. "Deal."

The deal struck, both girls were prepared. Padded attire was placed on each one, covering them neck to toe in drab white. Next, each was allowed to choose a foil, carefully checking the balance and weight of the subtly-varying swords. Lastly, each received a metal mesh-faced helmet, which they set atop their heads, waiting for the last moment to slide them down.

"Good luck, Pamela…" Nicky said with a smile, before sliding down the mask. "It's all the hope you have to avoid humiliation."

"No stakes, Nic. No Polly…" Pamela slid her mask down over a very determined face. "But you'll get no mercy all the same."

The threats and postures done, both girls saluted each other with their swords and then crossed them, taking up a ready position.

A faculty referee stepped up and assessed the readiness of the pair. Satisfied that they were prepared, he dropped his hand and called out, "Begin!"

With a cry, Nicky lunged forward, aiming the blunted point of her foil at Pamela's heart. Before contact, however, Pamela twisted her sword inward and deflected the blow, turning a second strike as well, which Nicky fired off in a mix of surprise and anger. She attacked again, aiming for the rapid ending she craved. That was denied her once more, another quick parry knocking her hopes to naught.

Pamela was surprisingly speedy with her sword, using no extraneous movements or wild swings. And no attacks. Each attack that Nicky made was casually brushed aside, but never followed with a counterattack. She had her strategy ready. Nicky wanted an easy win against a wild foe trying to strike at her. She would not comply with Nicky's ego. If she wanted to win, she had to work for it.

Nicky started to snarl behind her mask, now realizing that this had gotten far out of her control. Of course that bitch Pam wouldn't make this easy on her. And she wasn't giving her a chance to parry and counterattack. But every attack she made was shoved back into her face. It was truly infuriating. And rather pointless. "No stakes, Pam…" Metal clanged on metal, deflected again. "No Polly. That's what you said. So why drag it out? Why no mercy if it means nothing?"

Another clang , the ring of metal on metal. "It means something. It means the cessation of your ego. I'm not going to make this easy for you. You want something, work for it. Why haven't you won yet? Not as good as you thought?"

It almost worked. Almost beautifully worked. Another growl ripped from Nicky's throat and she threw out a few rapid strikes. But abruptly halted after all were turned. That's it. She was doing what Pamela wanted. "Ok, Pam, I think we both understand how this is going. How about we cut to the chase? Simultaneous strikes at each other, at wherever we like. First contact wins. Scared?"

Pamela backed away a step and raised her sword in front of her face. "One strike? No tricks?"

Nicked backed away herself and raised her own sword. "No tricks. One strike."

Both girls held their swords up stiffly, bodies rigid, looking over the padded bodies of each other. All the potential points to hit, both knowing exactly where they needed to strike. To make a point. Straight for each other's hearts.

Each one waited for a sign, an indicator of when to go. The slightest twitch out of Pamela sent Nicky drawing back, and had Pamela doing the same, rapidly. Thus drawn, both lunged, eyes locked on their targets.

Bother cleverly twisted aside, the points of their swords just barely missing their targets.

(*Note: Pukana is an Aborigine tradition to celebrate a victory, making a warlike face and rushing about. To those unfamiliar with Aborigine customs, it looks arrogant and overly celebratory.)

Sweat

"This is SO delicious! Is it a new blend?" Traveling out at night was forbidden at Mouseford. Students were to remain in their rooms. But very few obeyed. Least of all the venturesome Thea Sisters. Nicky and Paulina chanced the halls to make it to Colette, Pamela and Violet's room. They were quiet, of course, but they had fun, by having tea and sweets. Pamela was the one who had asked, having taken a sip from her steaming cup.

"My parents sent me a packed shipment of several tea leaf types and several kinds of loose herbs and spices. Now I can mix my own blends. How do you like this new variety?" Violet still looked like her usual quiet, shy self. Though now with permed and puffed hair, painted nails and the barest remaining traces of makeup.

"Personally, je t'adore…" Colette looked a little different herself, her hair flat and straight, nails unpainted, and her makeup applied just slightly.

"It IS very tasty. I like the subtle vanilla hints. They remind me of home. Sometimes I miss Peru." Paulina sighed, and held her cup close to her face, letting the steam waft over her muzzle.

"I think we all miss home sometimes. Except Pam, because her home is having a civil war again." Nicky casually let the statement drop, and then took a delicate sip. Her retribution for the Pukana remark from before.

"There's no civil war anywhere near Dodoma, and you know it. The civil war is in Rwanda, not Tanzania. What if I confused Australia and Timor?" Pamela was cool and collected, taking a small sip and smiling at the flavor.

"No need to be snippy just because you didn't win." Nicky grimaced and recovered, taking another sip.

"You lost as well. That was a very inconclusive battle." Pamela noted, somewhat smugly.

"It was all psychological matters. Neither of us had a home field advantage. You can't dismiss the power of such an advantage." Nicky lifted her cup and scooted just a bit closer to Paulina.

Pamela fumed but held her tongue, angrily gulping her cup down.

The tea party continued on civilly enough after that, with most talking animatedly. But Pamela sat quietly, sipping her tea and sullenly munching ginger and cheese cookies. Watching while Nicky laughed with Paulina, casually placing hands on her arms and shoulders.

The party broke up before midnight, Paulina and Nicky silently slipping out the door. Nicky "accidentally" placed her hand on the small of Paulina's back, and grinned at Pamela before the door shut. Leaving a casually chatting Colette and Violet, and a dewy-eyed Pamela.

Colette and Violet slid easily into their beds, with a few glances at one another before they laid their heads down. Pamela flicked off the lights and flopped into her own bed with a dejected thump.

Night had never been Pamela's friend. Though raised in a wealthy household she had still been steeped in traditional tales. As well, even sheltered by money, things still went bump in the night. She thought she had left that behind when she got to Mouseford Academy. Then she met Polly. And soon after found that monsters did exist. Two mice, one girl. And Nicky was a wicked woman. She apparently had no qualms about pushing her room advantage.

A truce of some type might help. But, she reflected, Nicky would just take it as surrender. Nicky had a competitive streak a mile long and wide. She couldn't bear to lose and loved her adoring audience. It made her arrogant, cocky. But there was a method to her madness. She did what she was good at. It fed her reputation. And made it easier to bluff and bluster her way out of competition. No one wanted to risk being embarrassed.

Pamela smiled a bit, in the darkness, because of the unique status she had. She was the fly in the ointment. She wasn't afraid of Nicky. She was too enraged to be afraid. Nicky was dangerous. Not just because of her hubris and bold activity. She was actively attempting to steal Paulina's attention. And was using her accidental room assignment to do it.

"Accidental." Was it really? Paulina had chosen to be with Nicky the first day. But that was before anything had happened. Back when Colette and Violet had still been uncivil, and likely agreed to a third to keep the peace. Now Pamela wished that she had thought to ask to be Paulina's roommate. Such a loss, the lack of home-field advantage.

She tossed in bed, while Colette and Violet softly slumbered. The lucky princesses. Prim, prissy, unconcerned wretches. Neither of them showed any interest in romance, not a hint of passion or desire. They couldn't possibly know what it was to feel passion. Least of all, an endangered passion. And unrequited love, that might never even come to pass. The only saving grace was the fact that Paulina not only hadn't chosen, but seemed perfectly oblivious to any of the attention's meaning.

That last thought, the knowledge of Paulina's ignorance of the adoration aimed at her, calmed Pamela. There was no danger, so long as she knew nothing. The pressing of room advantage meant nothing if Paulina didn't understand. And her unrequited, unspoken love was in no danger at all. Pamela heaved a heavy sigh and settled into her bed comfortably. Though she had to admit that the night was still a scary place, there was one less boogeyman crouching in the dark.

At the seams

The door closed behind Nicky and Paulina, quietly sealing them into their room. Another successful tea party, unnoticed by the faculty of the academy. And the two traveling mice had similarly avoided the mice walking the halls to catch wandering students. It was quiet late, and Paulina was eager to get to bed. Nicky seemed to want to talk, as she usually did. But once more, as had happened many times before, Paulina successfully pleaded fatigue, and switched off the light, to give her freedom to slide into bed.

There was no peace in that bed, much as she feigned it under Nicky's watchful eye. The lights clicked off and allowed the scene to be swallowed by concealing darkness. With no danger of discovery imminent, Paulina allowed her face to fall and her body to curl up in tight nervousness. Another night. Another conflict between Pamela and Nicky. All because of her. She knew. It was too blatant for her to not know. And it wounded her to know that she was creating such a clear schism within the band of Thea Sisters . All by just being herself, desired by two, and capable only of loving one. And she couldn't choose, because not only would it create so much sorrow and pain, but she just didn't know which one. Both were worthy of it. Deserving. Cute. Sweet. In their own way.

She couldn't just let it go on, pretending ignorance, ignoring the obvious signs, allowing the growing conflict to rip the group apart. She'd have to make some kind of choice. Something would have to tip her scales and make one option or the other a superior choice. Until then, she was the bringer of destruction. The position she never asked for, needed or wanted. With her own quiet, soft nature she was creating a war.

Those thoughts tormented her mind as she drifted off to her now-usual fitful, dream-haunted sleep. She found herself in a beautiful home. All pink and white, decorated with cunning craftsmanship, soft, fine, lovely. Every inch of it pure, unstained plastic, molded, painted, set in place by skilled hands. The furnishings miniature versions of full counterparts with all their textures of grotesque size on the scale she occupied. And she, herself, was also cunningly crafted, a soft and tender mouse of velveteen with a beautiful porcelain head. This was her world, her beautiful, artificial dollhouse world. But she was a thing of beauty that belonged in it. So she took pleasure in wandering the empty halls, admiring the beautifully ugly undersized furnishings with their oversized fabrics and grains.

It was all a perfect pleasure. Things were quiet here. Beautiful here. She could savor the silence and peace. All alone. No longer needing to make choices, no longer in danger of destroying a group she adored. She was just a beautiful doll. A pretty mouse doll, which could ignore the problems and pressures of her living world.

But her perfect little world was ruined. It was always ruined. As she walked down the hall of her little house she felt a shuddering through the floor, her unmoving porcelain face trying hard to register the shock and sorrow she felt. She knew what was coming. She looked out to the open part of the house, which made it appear to be a normal house cut in half. In the distance, but not a great distance, she saw two huge figures approaching, pushing and squabbling as they came closer and closer.

They were familiar titans. Gargantuan beasts that she knew all too well. She of the frizzy hair and she of the cocky look. Every so often they turned to snarl and push at each other, both vying to be first to reach the doll house. Naturally, the arrived at the same time, and shoved against each other as they knelt down to look inside the house. They ignored all the well-crafted furniture, the beautifully-decorated walls, the miniature imitations of a wonderful house. Their eyes were blind to all but the trembling, upright figure of porcelain and velveteen.

Both giant hands wrapped around her, one on the top, one on the bottom, both of them lifting out the shivering toy. Then the tugging began. Both were of equal strength, and of equal determination. It began gently, at first, one giving slightly while the other pulled, and then that one giving while the first pulled. But that did not last for long. Their faces fell into scowls of anger, teeth grinding, lips pulling back, and their force increasing. Now the pulling was rough and violent, with sharp jolts and shaking, and occasional shoving with free hands.

The first stitch which popped went unnoticed. Nothing much came of it. The second one was right beside the first, and opened a small split that was noticeable, if only slightly. Still, the two fought on, shoving and tugging and shouting madly at one another. All the while, stitches popped and split more and more. They had come down to holding onto an arm and a leg, pulling with all their might.

Every seam on the lovely doll was tearing away, letting soft stuffing poke out from the many splits. With a violent and simultaneous yank, the strained threads parted, ripping arm and leg from the body. While both girls staggered back, the ragged doll fell towards the ground, heavy porcelain head aimed down. It impacted the solid ground, and shattered into thousands of pieces; beautiful little pieces.

When she shattered, her dream shattered as well, her living eyes popping open and a cry strangled in her throat. She shot up in bed, staring into the darkness in fear. She got hold of her right mind soon enough, hearing Nicky breathing softly and regularly. She hadn't heard her.

Paulina fell back onto her pillow and sighed, heart still racing. She just stared at the inside of her eyelids, trying to let fatigue take her to where she needed to be. She needed sleep. But there was such a terrible reality in that sleep. Her dreams told her what she couldn't bear to see in waking life. She was being torn apart by the fight. And if she didn't stop it, the one to suffer most, would be her.

The Illustrated Mouse

Mouseford Academy prided itself on its society. They enjoyed a fine culture that allowed the students to feel extremely well off. Given their private nature, it was a bit of gilding the lily. But they still did it. Mostly, this was manifested through numerous formal dances, multiple chances for nervous young men to stammer out uncertain attempts at asking beautiful girls out. There were many who relished it. But, as usual, the Thea Sisters were separated from it all. They were occasionally asked out, Colette especially. But always said no. Still, it was almost a game to try. To see which lucky guy could crack the ice castle.

The girls competed as well, and fiercely. It was a fasionista war of epic proportions, each girl trying to be seen as top of the charts in style, grace and originality. They went all out, sewing and restyling all the clothes they brought with them, adding new touches and flourishes to their formal attire to try and outclass their fellows.

Another night, another formal occasion. Most of the participants had already gone off, to see and be seen, including three of the five Thea sisters. Nicky and Paulina had been out for a time, Nicky in a flowing, broad dress of many ruffles and bows, about as unsubtle as her personality. Paulina, on the other hand, opted for the exact opposite. Her attire was somewhat simple, a traditional Peruvian cloth drape and conic hat, with Incan patterns on both. Joining them, in a mad dash, had been Pamela. Her dress was simple but the explosion of colors was a riotous blend evoking an entire colony of weaverbirds dipped in paint. As well, she enhanced the look with bangles and baubles of finely-worked stones and shells.

Taking the longest, as everyone knew they would, were Colette and Violet, the school fashion plates. It was expected of Colette, but was a surprise from Violet. Normally shy and withdrawn, she had been induced by her roommate to wear makeup and dress well for formal events. The pair seemed to enjoy coordination, which helped to double the effect of their individual outfits and effectively outshine everyone else.

Both outfits were prepared already, hanging up beside the huge mirror which Colette had added to the room. The girls were finishing their preparations before that mirror, both of them in nothing but their panties. Colette's dress was entirely backless, so she had no choice but to have no straps anywhere; Violet's dress was a glorified blue cheongsam that did not specifically require her to be braless. But she was anyhow.

Their makeup had been artfully applied, beautifully done to near excess on Colette, but it fit her so perfectly that it was a stunning effect, and subtly done on Violet, present but not overpowering, suited to her quiet and shy personality. With a final check, the pair looked at each other, an awkward appearance on both of their faces.

"Well…" Colette said, looking to a glazed clay pot sitting on the floor, beside a brush and a scroll.

"Yes." Violet went over to the pot and brush, kneeling down beside them. "Let's hurry. The others are already out there, and the dance starts soon."

Colette only nodded silently and strolled over to Violet, kneeling down in front of her, showing her smooth, bare back. Violet ran her fingers slowly over the blank canvas, tracing along the spine and smiling at the feeling of it. Smooth and soft, like velvet. "Don't tease…" Colette said, breathily, looking over her shoulder with a small smile. "… Coeur."

Violet traced the un-inked brush in the air, as her other finger traced over a large character written very clearly on the scroll. She traced it over and over, starting back at the beginning many times with a sigh and shake of her head. It had to be perfect. No hesitations, no mistakes, no shakes. It had to flow smoothly from her hand. From her heart.

After a short while, she felt that she was reasonably ready for it. She dipped the brush slowly into the pot, stirring it while taking a deep, slow breath. Finally, she removed the brush and lightly wiped it on the side of the pot before it was brought forward. Her motions were smooth and graceful, each line remaining dark and lush, without running or showing any gaps. Her focus was sharp, but her body was relaxed. She was well-prepared for this. With the completion of her final stroke, she set the brush aside and leaned forward, to slowly and softly blow over the moist ink.

Colette twitched a bit as the breath blew across the wet ink on her back, making her shudder and lightly nibble on her lower lip. "How long? As you said, we should go."

Another soft breath, and a smile from Violet. "Yes, just a moment. I'll get your dress and slip it over you. Just wait." Violet rose swiftly and went over to Colette's dress. It was a beautiful blue-black, sequined so that it sparkled but only from some angles. Colette already had her arms up when Violet arrived, so it was trivial to slip it over her head.

"Is it still alright?" Colette looked over her shoulder, trying to see the mark on her back. Her hair was up, braided and wrapped around her head to leave her back uncovered.

"Perfect." Violet said quietly, before sliding on her own outfit.

"Then, let's go dazzle them."

The dance was another success. As usual. The desperate, hormonal guys were practically on their knees before the spectacularly dressed and coiffed ladies, who were all watching each other, to see who outshone whom. Nicky and Pamela strutted their stiff in the limelight, glaring daggers at each other, while drab Paulina stuck to the wall, trying to be completely overlooked.

But of course, the real winner came in, fashionably late. Her dress sparkled like the night sky, the sequins the stars over the spread of her dark outfit. And she was followed by a subtly-pretty, exotic figure, a suitable companion for the vision of loveliness. The boys all gasped, and the girls all fumed. Except for the competitors, who only noticed each other and the shrinking wallflower.

The tongues wagged immediately. Sniping at Colette, behind her back as she passed. Calling her all the horrid names they could think of as she turned down partner after partner. She was seemingly just there to be seen, to drift through the dance and make everyone jealous. As well, the tongues wagged all the harder on seeing the mark so prominently displayed on her back.

None of the other students could read Chinese, and so they had no clue what it said. But the theories flew thick and fast. Everything from "bitch" to "superior." Most leaned towards more unkind propositions about Colette's own feeling of superiority. This seemed especially likely given her activity. Almost actively going to every male and turning down his advances. Having found no suitable dance partner, she sighed and rolled her eyes.

That was when her meek compatriot stepped up and offered a hand. Girls danced with girls, of course. The demographics were skewed just slightly female, and there weren't often enough good partners to go around. The two pressed in close, as the girls did. And danced gracefully, as they all did. But the quiet, unassuming mouse smiled a secret smile, caught by the popular girl that held her in her arms, who returned it.

Because when the other girls danced, the word "love" wasn't hidden in plain sight on their bodies, for all to see and none to understand.