Mai HiME and all its characters belong to Sunrise. No profit made, no copyright infringement intended.
For Askim. Thank you for reading.
"Are you still able to dodge bullets?"
"I don't know."
It was almost like one of the games she'd watched her play long ago. One wherein the main character had been equipped with a suit that allowed its wearer to manipulate the flow of time for a brief moment; either by slowing it down or speeding it up.
For her, time had certainly slowed to a crawl once the barrel was pointed directly at her face, and no matter how well she knew that she should either fight or duck out of the way, her body was unwilling to do anything of the sort.
It was ludicrous, the back of her mind sounded out with a certain twinge of exasperation, that after fighting monsters with what one might call magical powers for so long... after having felt Death breathe down the back of her neck and – indeed – take her temporarily, that she was now about to return to the underworld by way of something so plain as a bullet to the head. In an alleyway beside a 24-hour convenience store, none the less.
It truly was astoundingly idiotic that she would apparently have to die for the few thousand yen in her wallet. And the sheer disbelief was what was pinning her to the ground.
Because surely, that couldn't be how she was destined to leave this world. Could it?
From behind her, she thought she picked up the sound of a startled gasp, but her eyes were helplessly trained on the gun's trigger. The finger on it began to squeeze, and the closed her eyes as her mind sent out an apology.
And the gun went off.
Hands grasped her shoulders just before a rapidly moving body impacted her side with enough force to knock her to the ground. The rough pavement scraped the skin on her left hand as she caught herself, then continued her tumble until she had settled on her back, gazing upwards.
Stormy, wild eyes stared back at her, and the face they were set in was even paler than normal. Tiny, fluttering twitches moved just below the skin, and she studied them with an absurd kind of fascination as she dimly realized that this was the first time she'd ever seen her look so utterly terrified.
The grip on her shoulders was slightly painful in its intensity, and she faintly recognized the sensation of a tingling burn at her temple.
Long strands of hair – as dark as the alley around them – fell over one shoulder in a frame by frame-like motion as the face turned and the expression on it changed.
A large cat. That was what she reminded her of when she was angry. Haughty scoffs and embarrassed grunts vanished like dew under sunlight, clearing the path for the cold mist of predation at its most dangerous. Silky skin tightened around strong muscle, soft lips pulling back to reveal clenched, white teeth.
But anger of this kind had – thankfully – never been aimed at her, even in the worst of times. And as she felt the body above her tense as limbs coiled in preparation, she was grateful for that. There was a very real coldness in the ferally shimmering eyes that she never wanted to face.
Another click sounded unnaturally loud in the still air as the hammer cocked again.
And the panther pounced.
The sound of the assailant's yelp might have been what made her sense of time return to a normal rate once more, she mused, though as she tried to get her frantically beating heart under control, she was still only dimly aware of the other girl's growling voice promising a package deal of fire, brimstone, death and destruction to the man, should he ever repeat his attempt.
If only she was this enthusiastic about her schoolwork, the staunchly logical (and apparently very morbid) side of her mind voiced before being drowned out by a sodden crack and a muffled cry.
"Natsuki." She got to her feet somewhat shakily, and let the rest of her lapse leave her system on a slow exhale. "I think he understands."
Her only reply was a low snarl, and she actually had to physically pull the younger girl off of their assailant before Natsuki could even begin to calm down.
"Alright?" she asked, and received and angry, jerky nod in reply, though it was obvious the anger wasn't pointed at her, but rather at the groaning man on the ground a few feet away. "Alright." She searched the agitatedly gleaming eyes for a few seconds longer while she held the girl by her shoulders. "Could we leave, then?"
Natsuki gave no verbal reply, but grabbed her hand and lead her out of the alley with brisk strides.
Shizuru went along, studying the unusually cold hand in her own and stroking her thumb across the back of it until she felt the odd trembling subside. Only then did she cast a glance back over her shoulder; her gaze settling briefly on the dark, silent mouth of the alley that made her think of a black, gaping maw to a nightmarish world.
The thought made her have to suppress a shiver.
"Do you think..."
"He'll live," Natsuki muttered, apparently having guessed the unvoiced part of her question. "But they'll have a hell of a time putting those bones back together."
"Ah." She should, she supposed, ideally be feeling some sort of guilt for indirectly inflicting that kind of pain onto another human being. Natsuki had, after all, done whatever she had done because she had viewed the thug as a threat to her. So yes, she probably should feel some measure of sympathy for the man they'd left behind. That would be the modern, compassionate thing to do.
"I hope for his sake that he can afford the treatment, then."
But... Shizuru shrugged her figurative shoulders. The man in question would undoubtedly have killed them both if he'd gotten the chance to do so, all over a robbery gone awry. And with that in mind, she really couldn't find it in herself to pity him. Not when the woman next to her was acting so uncharacteristically jittery.
"Huh?" The dark head snapped towards her, and anxious green eyes searched her face as best they could under the dim street lights. "What? Are you okay?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing." Shizuru let her brow furrow in a frown. "You are far more agitated than I ever remember seeing you." She paused and cocked her head. "Why?"
Natsuki glared at her for a long moment, then sighed and touched a fingertip to her companion's temple. The touch was light but still stung slightly, and Shizuru felt her eyes widen in comprehension.
Only then did she remember the burning sensation she'd felt earlier. And only then did she realize what it meant.
"Because if I had been a fraction of a second too slow, you'd be dead." Natsuki replied softly, the words sounding unnaturally loud in the still night around them. "You'll need some burn cream for that."
"And..." A blush, as Natsuki lowered her gaze. "I'm glad I got there in time."
Shizuru said nothing, merely watching the other girl as her heart – quite against her own volition – skipped a beat.
It took several long moments before Natsuki met her eyes again.
"I'm glad..." she continued, crossing her arms and straightening almost defensively. "Because I'm much happier with you than without you."
"Ara?" She couldn't help the smile that curved her lips, and suddenly the terror of a few moments earlier didn't mean anything at all. "Then I'm doubly thankful for Natsuki's timely intervention."
"Hmf." A satisfied smirk. "You're lucky I was there to save you."
"Oh?" Shizuru chuckled. "But I was under the impression that it was Natsuki's unhealthy addiction to Mayo that led us to be here in the first place."
That earned her another blush, along with a low growl. "Shut up."
"Are you still able to dodge bullets?"
"Apparently I don't need to be."
END - "Five"