Soft music played in a grandiose hall, punctuated by the sounds of cutlery clinking, and the quiet murmur of chatter. A beautiful chandelier dominated the room, gifting those under its magnificent crystal with strong, radiant light. Impossibly smooth curtains hung from the rafters, hiding the exits that interrupted the flow of the plethora of decorations that lined the walls. Marble floors gleamed pretentiously, so bright they were nearly reflective. Tables covered by lacy fabric dotted the hall, upon which plates, glasses, silverware, and candle holders that were flamboyant almost to the point of being gaudy rested. Upon the equally ornate chairs sat extravagantly dressed young woman in the prime of their maidenhood.

It was the height of splendor, the kind of thing little girls everywhere dreamed of being a part of. The gloriousness of it all was straight out of a fantasy, and Kotake Rina could list a dozen places off the top of her head she'd rather be. The dentist, for one, or maybe getting her flu shot.

'Not that anyone could mistake these girls for nobles after the first glance.' The richly clad girls may have looked like high society damsels, but no amount of fine clothing could disguise the obvious commoner origins of the present gathering. There were those who were born to maneuver among the subtle, and decidedly cutthroat, world of the rich and famous, but they were few and far in between.

Not that there was anything wrong with common, in her opinion. Many of the girls were shining with the brilliance the Kaicho liked to talk about so much, and there was an unmistakable aura of awe and enjoyment permeating the hall. High society would never tolerate such obvious displays of emotion.

The Kaicho herself was near glowing with smug amusement. Whether at the student's awe, or the chaos that had been the seating rush, she couldn't say. This kind of surprise event was very much in line with that particular person's exhausting penchant for over-the-top activities, and the students had long learned to give up resisting in favor of enjoying what they could before everything fell into chaos and ruin.

That kind of thing happened a lot where the Kaicho's ideas were concerned too.

The current event had only started a half hour ago. It was going smoothly so far, and, aside from the earlier mess, there had been no major incidents. That was twenty minutes longer of a record than she had bet on, and she expected the streak to end at any moment.

"Who do you think will give in first. The Kaicho or the sword bearers?"

Rina snorted lightly at Ai's muttered comment, as did the rest of the staff within earshot. The staff had their own table, positioned just below the student council table (with Amachi at the head, as expected). They was dressed as resplendently as the students, but seated upon a fancier table than their charges. Their conversations were easily kept up, and they even managed not to complain too much. Though few had many objections to the dinner portion of the ball,they were slightly on edge about their later duties of keeping the peace. After all, one couldn't say whether a Tenchi event was a success or disaster until it was over, and the staff was of firm opinion that the latter was more likely than the former. The Kaicho's insistence otherwise did little to quell their skepticism. In spite of that, all of the woman were doing their best to project a dignified aura of authority and tranquility by keeping their expressions calm and voices level.

It even worked, until someone looked closely enough to notice that many of them were passing bets under the table on which students would make a scene tonight. Considering that all of the school was in attendance they had more than enough options to choose from, and the betting hadn't died down until the food arrived.

Rina fidgeted inconspicuously, a combination of irritation and discomfort sneaking up to stress her nerves every so often. Ai, seated across form her, looked relaxed as ever in her suit. She tried very hard not to feel unduly annoyed. The nurse hadn't done anything to earn her animosity yet. No, her irritation stemmed from a lingering headache from the earlier rush of girls desperate for an adult's reassurance that there was nothing wrong with their makeup, dress, hair, or shoes. Vexing though it was, it would go away given enough time, unlike her discomfort.

She fought the urge to adjust her dress unnecessarily. Her younger sister had been far more excited about this ball than she had, and had set herself to ferociously hunting for a dress that would, in her words, "show off that awesome god-given body." Rina, suffering from a minor difference of opinion, had fought tooth and nail against her fate.

As her mother had so helpfully quoted from that space show she was obsessed with, "resistance was futile."

The dress code was another of Amachi's ideas. In order to preserve the intent of a classic ball (translated to "because she thought it would be amusing"), half of the girls wore dresses, half wore suits. All the staff and students had been randomly given a wristband with a number on a digital display two weeks earlier. After two days of mounting curiosity and rumors, their purpose had been revealed. The odds were to wear dresses, and the evens the suits. There was one exception that turned the entire process into a mad scramble of negotiating, begging, bribing, and threatening that made federal politics look like a cheery debate over tea and cookies: you were only allowed to trade your number three times, and the wristbands were remorselessly efficient in their designated task.

If the staff had ever held any doubts about a teenage girl's capacity for murder, those horrific two weeks fully absolved them. Many weathered the storm by hiding in their offices, closing the blinds, and keeping the lights out in order to deter any student who sought resolution for their problems. The counselor, poor woman, had been driven nearly to tears by the never ending mob that routinely ambushed her office. Some staff members, like Rina and Ai, had informed their charges without delay that unless someone was dying they weren't interested and any who dared complain to them would find all involved parties suffering for it.

Rina wasn't quite so blunt as that but the point was made nevertheless, and she had been left to focus all her attention on her own situation, without the ceaseless torrent of complaints and pointless arguments.

The staff, not immune to their employer's whimsy, tackled the problem in a manner befitting adults. They set up a night long poker contest and all problems were solved, literally, overnight. Participation was required, and some had taken far more pleasure in the game than others had.

She fidgeted again, and resisted the urge to pull up the slightly loose strap on her shoulder. The more laid back part of her mind noted that it wasn't actually loose, it just felt that way, and so she should leave the matter alone and focus on more pressing things. Dresses were a hassle she didn't mind on a rare occasion when she was the one who picked the dress. Her carefully thought out plan to do just that, however, hadn't lasted longer than the ten seconds it took to tell her sister about the event.

"Ya know, the food would help your headache more if you ate it, instead of stabbing it to bits. I'm sure it knows it's dead." Ai drawled. Rina cursed herself for making her discomfort obvious (even though she doubted anyone but those sitting directly next to her noticed).

Nagai Sen, one of the middle school history teachers, smiled sympathetically. "Your girls ambushed you earlier?"

"Yeah." she winced. "Not even our initial "don't ask or else" policy is enough to deter the shyer ones from seeking adult advice. Not," she added immediately, "that there's anything wrong with asking for advice. They were just...persistent about it."

"You mean they bugged the hell out of you and dogged your heels until you were ready to strangle the whole lot of them. And there's nothing "shy" about invading the staff dorms while we're trying to get ready ourselves and refusing to budge until they're told how wonderful they look." Kamiki Hiromu, the home-ec teacher, took a bite of the (admittedly mouthwatering) chicken with a ferocity that was nowhere near as pleasant as the expression she wore. Ai laughed at the agreeing looks several others tossed their way and Sen winced in sympathy. She was one of the lucky ones who had escaped the madness relatively unscathed and from what she had observed in the dorms earlier, the statement wasn't exaggerated in the least.

"They are a bit, um, enthusiastic about this whole thing. That always seems to happen, no matter how much they bemoan the Kaicho's ideas." The history teacher said politely.

"I could have lived without their "enthusiasm." I saw more girls, sword bearers and regular, these two weeks than I usually see in two months." The nurse grunted. The concern for the welfare of her students that sentence would have provoked in another nurse was absent in Ai's countenance. The only emotion she spared for those fool girls was irritation at the lack of serious injuries. If they had time to whine, they had time to battle!

Rina gave Ai an unimpressed look that said she knew exactly what she was thinking, and that she was not amused. Not that she blamed her for that line of thought, in a way. She had (secretly) wished grievous harm upon certain students herself. Teenage girls were a hassle at the best of times, but occasions like these certainly brought out the worst in them. Sighing, she directed her attention to properly cutting up her mutilated poultry and twitched her shoulder in an attempt to adjust the phantom looseness of her dress strap.

Catching the twitch, Ai directed a raised eyebrow at her, but before she could begin teasing the judge a loud snort next to her drew her attention. Takada Kari, the Japanese teacher, blinked, shook her head, and took in her surroundings.

"Anyone die yet?" she asked sleepily.



"Unfortunately no."

"Net yet."

"Soon enough."

"The kids are getting curious." Rina said after the (mostly bored) responses. "We look too disappointed."

"How are we supposed to look then? Monsters, all of them. And you'd best eat now Takada. You're gonna need the energy. The dance is coming up, and we aren't getting any rest once the brats get started." The wince that last sentence from Hiromu caused rippled down the table.

The dance was, being the Kaicho's idea, not like normal dances (if the dress code could be considered "normal"). The numbers served a far more sinister purpose other than designating the dress code. There were three dances that required full participation. The partners for said dances were, however, chosen randomly based on the numbers. Worse, they weren't going to be revealed until the dances started, and there would be no trading. Though it wasn't explicitly mentioned, it was heavily implied that there would be no duping the system on that front either. Not that anyone was willing to test the theory when the Kaicho had all but dared them to try.

The potential for headaches surrounding that idea left the staff feeling none too happy about what was to come. They weren't even given the decency of being excluded from the selection.

"Can't I just find a nice corner to sleep in? I've been hounded by teenage girls for the last two weeks. I deserve a break."

"I'd like to see ya run that line by the Kaicho." Hiromu smirked.

"Better off talking to Miyamoto, like always." Ai played with her glass, swirling the contents around dangerously.

"I think she has enough problems to deal with, without adding our complaints. She only had as much of a warning as we did after all." The staff all looked over at the subjects of their conversation, observed the harassed redhead whispering frantically on a headset and shooting worried looks toward the entrance, and sighed.

The Kaicho had announced the ball during an assembly. None of the staff or students had known why it had been called, but the staff's assumption that Miyamoto would have dropped hints if it was anything too elaborate had been wrong because of one reason; it depended on the girl knowing in the first place. Unfortunately, her reaction had been just as horrified than their own.

In a way, that was the most terrifying part of the announcement. There were many ways to gauge the Kaicho's mood, and the trouble to be expected from her ideas. The easiest, and most reliable, was simply to observe Miyamoto's reaction at the time of the announcement. The obvious surprise hadn't been encouraging in the least.

"Yeah, she isn't gonna last the night." Came Ai's optimistic judgment.

"But there isn't much left for her to do, is there? Everything seems taken care of already." Sen put in softly.

"Not much for the ball. You forget, though, that her other main job, other than doing the grunt work Tatewaki wouldn't deign to do, is to keep the Kaicho in line. Err, sort of in line. More over her? No, no. Maybe...prevent anyone from being killed. Or rather, make sure anyone who does get steamrolled lives and gets apologized to." Kari said sleepily. Coughing filled the table as more than a few of the staff members choked on their food or drink. Sen looked slightly uncomfortable at the description of the schools vice-principal being more or less a glorified babysitter running damage control, but not even she could really deny the truth of it.

"Back to the main point. We're on our own here. So store up your energy and get ready to deal with the worst part of the night. I hope you practiced your dancing skills, cause most of those girls sure as hell didn't."

"Cheery, Hiromu. You can't blame 'em for not being able to dance. It had to have been hard to fit dance lessons in between all the classes, battles, pranks, blackmailing, spying, and crying they all did." Ai could have marinated her chicken with the sarcasm that dripped from that statement.

"And the shopping."

"Don't forget the stalking. You can't forget the stalking." Hiromu added in scowling.

"I say we make a break for it ASAP."

"Try not to get too riled up yet. It'll just make the rest of the night even worse."

An hour later, and the staff all wished they had taken that offer. The students hadn't, as per Hiromu's prediction, taken very many dancing lessons at all. It was a great show until they had to dance with one of them. The human feet just weren't made to stand up to that kind of abuse.

Ai had gotten lucky for the first required dance (a waltz of course. The next two as well, because there didn't exist many things less uncomfortable than waltzing with a stranger.) Her partner had been fellow teacher who had taken dancing lessons, way back when Miyamoto had once let it slip that it would be a good idea to brush up on their technique. Her fears hadn't been realized that year, but the staff that had taken her advice were now grateful they had.

There were plenty of others that hadn't gotten so lucky, however. She'd spotted Rina trying to contain a first year that was more energetic than skilled, Hiromu could barely get her little partner to open her eyes, Sen had been trapped with an arrogant high schooler that tried even her soft manners, and Kari had been stuck with Tatewaki of all people.

To everyone's amazement, Amachi and Miyamoto had not been paired during the first dance. It was universally expected that the Kaicho would rig the selection of the first dance. The illusion of a truly random selection was almost as scary as the thought of the Kaicho messing with the numbers to ensure a few badly chosen pairs.

Compared to the rest of the night, that first dance had been the easy one. Amachi, in full form, had revealed the third purpose for the wristbands after dinner.

All the student's wristbands also had the name of every staff member in its tiny database. At the beginning of each dance, save for the required three, one of those names would randomly pop up on the display. The one who was able to dance with the most amount of matches would earn a prize. The wristbands had to be within a two feet of each other for three consecutive minutes for the match to count.

It had taken the staff very little time to grasp the consequences of being vastly outnumbered by their charges. Ai blamed their horrified shock for their failure to run at that point.

Now she was stuck listening to some yappy kid who didn't make a lick of sense and danced as clumsily as she talked. Normally she wouldn't have any trouble enduring this sort of trial, but could this kid talk! None of her nurse students were this bad, and students weren't usually in a talking mood when they came to the infirmary.

On the other side of the hall, Hiromu spotted Sen switching partners happily, being dragged further onto the dance floor by some yellow haired kid nearly four inches taller than her. Snorting, she followed the winner of the competition for her match, one of the student aides if she remembered correctly. These kids were far more trouble than it was worth. She'd only managed to get a single snack before she was hunted down. Didn't she deserve a break for one dance at least? These girls were relentless!

"Uh, Kamiki-san? I think you're scaring the girls next to us." Hiromu blink and looked down at her half amused half startled partner.

As an office aide, Tea was well acquainted with most of the teachers habits and oddities. Kamiki Hiromu, she knew, was a generally pleasant person, until she started to stress out. Then her personality quickly switched from easygoing to irascible. It didn't take much to earn her ire in that state.

"Meh. Whoops. They'll live." The teacher shrugged and returned her attention to the dance. Only two more minutes before she could make a break for the table. Only two more minutes. She could handle this dammit!

Tea kept her face calm while she whimpered inside. Narrowly missing getting hit by an annoyed Takada-san, she counted the minutes in her head. Only two more minutes until she could switch. She would live...maybe.

Kari rolled her eyes at the stiff kid she'd almost blindsided, who shared the same suffering look that Kamiki did. Those two were obviously counting the seconds until the dance ended. Couldn't say she blamed them. The last kid she'd danced with spent the entire time whining about something or other. She hadn't paid much attention. This time at least, she'd gotten lucky. Her current partner hadn't stepped on her and she didn't talk much. Probably because she was spending all her time glaring at some annoying looking girl a few people away.

"Watch out!"

A second later her suited partner was gone and she was stumbling from some unknown force. Baffled by the abrupt disappearance of her student, it took only a moment to realize that the poor kid had just been full on tackled by another girl. Judging by the orange juice covering the floor, the girl had been holding a drink too. What she'd been doing on the dance floor with it she didn't know, but it didn't matter now.

"Up we go. Everyone alright?" She pulled the two girls up. A few students, presumably friends of the two girls, ran over to help. Guards were already hustling over to clean up the mess. She absently wondered what those guys had done to earn cleaning duty.

A minute later she was without a partner and back to haunting the snack table. Talk about lucky!

Bowing to her partner, one of her own students thankfully, Ai wasted no time in heading for to the refreshment table. A few of the staff members were lurking there to avoid their fates as long as possible, along with a few of the more reticent students. Takada was in the far back inching further away, no doubt hoping to skip out on the next set.

Dodging a pair of students, one of which she noticed was Miyamoto, she found herself in the clear. 'Now there's someone who's got it worse than we do.' One of the more surprising things about this affair was that the Kaicho and her partner had been included on the staff list. It shouldn't have technically been a surprise since they were the only two who held dual status, but they always seemed to be above everything.

Unfortunately, where the students were all rather intimidated by the thought of approaching the Kaicho, none held any such reservations where her partner was concerned. In many ways, she was the most wanted on the list. The Kaicho was too scary, and the staff were all too old except for a select younger few, herself and Kotake included. Miyamoto however, was not only their age and very approachable, but she was known to all students, sword bearer and regular alike.

"I am going to sleep for the next three days, and curse anyone who tries to wake me." Ai chuckled at Hiromu's melodramatic declaration and poured herself a drink.

"Have fun with your last partner?" she asked through a chuckle that started to turn unapologetically into a snicker. The home-ec teacher didn't see the humor.

"That kid was fine. It was the one before her. She may as well have stomped on my feet the whole time! Not sure I've got toes anymore."

"At least you didn't get elbowed in the gut." Rina said behind her. Ai craned her neck at her and raised her eyebrows. The judge was still shorter than her, but the heels she wore had shortened that difference enough to disorient her.

"And how'd that happen?" Curiosity won out over teasing. That last dance hadn't been that hard, or so she'd thought. She had to admit, it took serious talent to injure your partner like that.

"I'm not sure, but it definitely left a mark. I think she was trying to spin. I don't think she even noticed she hit me. She never stopped smiling and she certainly didn't apologize." The abused judge sourly rubbed her stomach, taking the proffered glass from a sympathetic Hiromu.

"It could be worse." Ai said after she allowed herself to revel in the amusement their expressions offered.

"Oh really now? And how's that?"

"Not much else worse than this."

"Simple. We could be Miyamoto." The other two stared at her, then turned their gazes to the other end of the hall, where the desperate vice-principal was surrounded by determined girls.

"Good point."

"I salute you kid. You don't even have age on your side for intimidation."

Their conversation was interrupted by the next song beginning, and the numbers flashing on their wristbands that indicated the next dance would be the second of the three required.

"Here we go again. What've we got here? I'm looking for 31."



Ai and Hiromu sent begrudging looks at the (mostly internally) celebrating Rina. "Lucky. At least you know your partner is normal. You'll have an easy time, if you can get around her fans."

"They're too busy looking for their own partners before the Kaicho spots them lounging about and corrects the situation." With that, Rina took off. They didn't have time to complain before Takada appeared behind Hiromu and dragged her off to the dance floor. Ai was in the midst of laughing at her coworker's expression when a hyper sword bearing first year jumped up to her (Kuro something or other) and announced that she was her partner very loudly.

Well. There were worse kids to get partnered with, she supposed. She certainly had plenty of energy to spare. A little on the short side, but they could figure something out. Watching Rin out of the corner of her eye, she thanked the gods that she had gotten a decent partner this time around. She might've snapped if she hadn't gotten at least one break. Shame though. It woulda been interesting.

"I'd ask how your night has been, but from what I saw earlier, I think I can guess." Rina muttered, enjoying a stress free dance for the first time that night.

"I, yeah. It's difficult to keep things in order when I have to dance all the time. I'd feel bad if I wasn't paying attention to my partner though." Miyamoto slumped her shoulders for a quick second then fixed her posture.

"You're taking on too much." She shook her head, impressed as much as she was exasperated.

"It's my job." The girl stated simply. "Although a little warning would have been nice." She huffed and glared off to the side, still annoyed that she had let Hitsugi get away with something like this.

She approved of the anger. Anger was a good, healthy reaction to being told she would have two weeks to help prepare a school-wide ball, then being forced to dance the entire time and not get any work done. She sympathized heavily.

"Maybe she wanted you to take a break." The thought hadn't even occurred to her until she said it, but looking at it from a weird, completely insane viewpoint, it made sense.

"From what, exactly? Because I don't think I can remember the last time I was this stressed. Maybe when I first came here..."

She laughed hesitantly. "Err. Well. Besides the last two weeks, how much work have you done since the ball started?"

"Almost none, to be honest. I've been too busy dancing with the other students." The girl sighed as she thought about how little work she'd finished the entire night. Not for lack of trying. It was just so difficult to turn down the girls when they were depending on her.

"Are you enjoying it? The dancing, I mean. You're better than any of the other girls I've danced with, and you looked like you were really pleased with Inori-san." They made a turn and she spotted Sen dancing with Kamijou Maki, one of the few sword bearers she knew by name due to her club leader status. They looked to be having fun, unlike the disgruntled Takada near them. "Although I don't think that helped you resolve that rumor issue."

Miyamoto cringed lightly and shrugged, face turning red at the reminder of that incident. "I don't really mind the dancing. I took lessons a long time ago, before I met Hitsugi-san. My mom wanted to keep me busy while she was working. I suppose...I do enjoy being partnered with the girls, even if they aren't the best dancers. They've all been so cheerful." She sighed despairingly. "But it's so hard to choose a partner when they crowd around me like that. It's a little intimidating. The third years are the most forceful."

"That little first year I saw you dancing with in the first set sure seemed happy." she said pointedly. It was hard to keep from laughing when she knew how often the girl followed (stalked) Miyamoto. "Her name's Takeda Miri, right?"

The sword bearer tried not to wince. "Very funny." she grumbled. "Ohara-san, the tall one she's dancing with right now, has been keeping her occupied. The other students are just as insistent though, with a prize on the line."

"I know how you feel. The more zealous judges and track members have been all but brawling over the right to dance with me and get their match." It would have been amusing if it wasn't been so frustrated. The seniors of the groups didn't help matters, goading their teammates on for kicks even when their match was a different staff member. It wouldn't be surprising in the least if popcorn somehow managed to turn up later. The girls were openly betting on the "battles" even! She made a mental note to triple their training for the next week.

To be fair, they weren't the only groups fighting. At least they had a legitimate claim on her. Many small arguments between sword bearers and regular students were starting to escalate in other places. The sword bearer's special status was often a point of contention with the more stubborn regular students. It was an unavoidable fact of life, and the teachers could only be grateful that it hadn't ever threatened to explode.

"But the point is, forget about work for the rest of the night. Frankly, you won't get anything done anyway, so might as well make the best of it."

"I suppose..." Miyamoto considered the suggestion seriously, then nodded. She still looked uneasy at the thought of leaving work undone, but the ability to adapt was a necessary trait when one worked for the Amachi family. It was good to know that she wasn't stubborn enough to continue down a path that had no advantages. It was hard to tell with this girl, sometimes.

"Look at the bright side. At least you get to wear a suit instead of a dress!" Rina lifted her shoulders and made a face. "You have any idea how long it took me to get ready, with students practically climbing through my window to get advice? It's a good thing the judges are scared to death of Yuu, otherwise they might have really climbed in!"

Miyamoto laughed, knowing the story behind Yuu's adoption. "I wasn't sure the dress code would apply to us, but Hitsugi-san told me after the initial announcement that the guard uniform wouldn't count as a tuxedo so I would have to get a new one." She smiled wryly. "I'm just grateful they kept my measurements on file, since we tend to run through the uniforms rather quickly if the Captain decides we need to train in them."

She snorted. "You mean the Kaicho hadn't already ordered you one?"

"...She had. Her warning was only a courtesy." Rina laughed as her dancing partner shook her head in resigned fondness.

"Glad to see you two are having fun, but mind if I cut in? I don't think your admirers are happy about Rin hogging you to herself." The two started at Ai's interruption, then realized that the dance had ended and new numbers had been displayed. There was, unsurprisingly, a group of girls watching them fixedly. Miyamoto laughed nervously, sighed, bowed to the judge, and left to face her fate. Her place was promptly taken by the older woman.

Ai must have heard the small huff that escaped, because she chuckled lightly. "Something wrong? I bet your feet are killing you, what with those heels and all."

Rina glared at her, annoyed that she had come so close to guessing what annoyed her. She would die before admitting that she hated that even with the heels the nurse was taller by a few inches. "So did you decide to warn us out of the goodness of your heart?" Rina asked, ignoring the comment.

"Miyamoto's fans weren't the only ones getting anxious. Your track members and judges were starting to go at it again too. I figured I'd solve their dilemma and give my feet some rest." Ai smirked as she caught sight of depressed Takada, then smiled at her crookedly. "Not all of us had nice, well trained partners to keep us safe."

"Neither of us had a choice in the matter, not that I'm going to complain about the first bout of luck I've had all night." She frowned. "Are we allowed to dance together?"

"No one ever said we couldn't. 'Sides, the Kaicho isn't making a fuss over it." The nurse said flippantly.

"Of course she wouldn't." Rina rolled her eyes and chuckled. "She's probably enjoying the girl's frustra-" A bright flash blinded her, and she spun her head around in time to catch a suited member of the photography club disappearing into the crowd.

"I bet she'll make a fortune selling that picture to our kids."

"That picture isn't going to get out when I get my hands on her!"

Nagai Sen watched Ai trying to keep hold of an infuriated Rina with worry. She didn't know what had happened to make the young staff member angry, but it looked like the older one had it under control. If she ever stopped laughing enough to hold the angry judge properly, that was. She had a bad feeling that if Ai continued holding Rina that close to her, the nurse would find herself the victim of the judge's anger.

"Is something wrong?" Her partner, Someya Yukari, was trying her best not to look too nervous. The girl was one of her students so that eased much of her nervousness, but it was still intimidating to have to dance with a respected adult.

"...No. Kotake-san just looks a little...bothered." she answered with a small frown.

Interested despite herself, the girl looked over and blinked several times. "Umm. A little?" she muttered dubiously. The sword bearer wondered at her teachers observation. From here it looked like Uryuu-san was the only thing standing between the head judge and whoever she wanted to murder, and she wasn't doing that great of a job. It was a curious site, if only because she would expect it to be the other way around.

"Well. Certainly more irritated than normal, but many of the staff members have been slightly on edge since the ball was announced." the teacher said delicately. She didn't care for gossiping about her fellow coworkers, but she figured that this much, at least, was evident to even the students.

Yukari, for her part, mumbled a short "I noticed." When the students weren't trying to kill each other for number changes, they were uselessly hounding teachers, staff, and club leaders alike. Not even her sempai had gotten a break! She was just too nice for her own good! Unconsciously she started glaring at the students of the art club who were still bothering her poor partner. As if Maki-sempai didn't have enough worries as it were! If only they weren't both evens! Then she could pull her out of that mess!

Sensing the change in her dance partner's attitude, Sen prayed for the next song change. She hadn't meant to make the girl angry! It was just an observation about the staff! Oh why did she always get stuck with the weird ones?

Benibachi Kiyoko watched the festivities from a darkened corner. Having escaped after the second waltz, she had sequestered herself in a corner, watching the dances go on without her. It was quite amusing, seeing her fellow staff members get hounded by teenage girls time and again. This latest idea of Hitsugi-san's was really something. She hadn't thought those girls could possibly get more annoying. She'd been proven wrong.

"Taking a break?"

The dorm manager flicked her eyes to her newly arrived companion. "Isobe. Having fun yet?"

"It's been an easy night. We've had a few troublemakers, but the guards are very thorough in their work." The woman smiled, but there was nothing pleasant about her expression.

"Threatening them with survival practice again?" she asked needlessly. After working for the Amachi family all these years she was well acquainted with how the guard captain operated.

"Of course. The last one went so well, I just can't help but want to do it again." Here she smirked. "With a twist or two."

"Whatever works." Benibachi said uncaringly. "I wouldn't have minded having something like that myself these last couple weeks."

"Hah! I've been watching. What a riot! Don't know how you can stand those brats for so long. I'd have beaten them all into the ground ages ago."

"You beat the guards into the ground. What does that make them?"

"My servants."

Neither one payed much attention to the conversation. It was one they'd had countless times, going back as far as when Benibachi first took the position of dorm manager. Isobe had called her crazy for ditching her well paying job to babysit kids all day. (The pay was actually better but that wasn't why she'd taken the job.)

Suddenly the signal went off for the third mandatory dance set, also the last dance of the night. There was a mad scramble as people began frantically searching for their matches before any troubles caught the Kaicho's attention.


"Agh hell no! Get away from me!"

"Woohoo! Let's go Wan-wan!

"Aw man! I got stuck with Kuga!"

"Oi Rin! Looks like we get to spend some more time together!"

"What? This thing is rigged!"

"Mizuchi-san! Isn't this great?!"

"Loser Kiji? You gotta be jokin!"

"Like I want to dance with you either!"

"I ain't ****** dancin' with this ****** midget!"

"Minori! Stop eating and get over here!"

Isobe laughed as she watched the mad scramble. "I'll leave you to your fate. Have fun." she sang as she disappeared into the shadows.

Snorting, she went off to find her partner. At least this was the last dance. She was almost home free.

Shizuku tried not to sigh as she watched the chaos around here. She had no need to hurry this time, so she could take the time to fully appreciate the torrent of movement that was the dance floor in the small amount of time that was alloted for transitions. The students were understandably determined to find their partner as quickly as possible. Hitsugi had made it a priority to "help" those who were having issues. It was astonishing how fast things got done with the threat of the Kaicho's intervention hanging over the student's heads.

Seeing that things were starting to settle down, she made her way to Hitsugi, her partner for this dance. Reaching her easily she stopped before her and bowed, holding her hand out. "If I may have this dance with you Hitsugi-san." It took all her willpower to keep her voice steady and ignore the stares of what she was certain was every person in the hall. The nurse captain's comment of " now that's how it's done" nearly broke her composure.

"Of course Shizuku." She didn't have to look to know that Hitsugi was smiling the way she always did when she was enjoying how much attention she was getting. Grasping the offered hand, it was a relief when the music started up and the dancing started. It was far too unnerving to have everyone's eyes focused on her.

As with every other set of the night, chatter was strained among the students. A short period of time was often required in order to allow the students to acquaint themselves with their partners and get over the awkwardness of being forced to dance with a stranger (in most cases).

Hitsugi reveled in the atmosphere that she had nurtured into being. "Shizuku." she said after a moment. "You conducted yourself in a quite a handsome manner. Truly, I was very nearly overcome with awe."

Shizuku stumbled. "But, you told me that I would have to properly ask you to dance when we were paired!" she huffed, blushing in dismay at her gullibility.

"Ah. I see. You took me seriously?"

"You were serious!"

"I cannot recall."

She grumbled. Hitsugi did so remember! She always remembered if it could be used to pester someone later. This was probably all just another joke for her amusement. Why, oh why did she always fall for those half-serious comments?!

"Despite you reasons, it can't be argued that you presented a most gallant picture."

"You don't need to try and make me feel better. Really."

"Your elegant manner and distinguished attire. You were the center of attention!"

"Are you trying to make me feel worse?!" Hearing the surrounding students and staff cover their not-so-subtle laughter made her want to cower. The Kaicho, as usual, pretended that she didn't notice it at all. That generally meant that she had aimed for that reaction in the first place. Desperate for a change of subject, she blurted out the first thing that came to mind. "Did you fix this last dance?"

Hitsugi raised her eyebrows and considered her options. Continue her teasing or allow her partner to have her way? She was certain that she could cause Shizuku to stumble at least twice more if she persisted in the teasing, but the second option had potential. Leaving the decision to her trusted instincts, she immediately took hold of the new topic.

"For the entire night I have stood by as the students fought for your hand."

"...Why are you saying it in such a weird way?"

She continued on as if she hadn't heard the comment. "The entire time, secretly yearning to pull you away from them and take you in my arms."


"In the end, unable to do naught but watch, held back by my sense of duty and pride."

"...What are you talking about?

"Desperately fighting fate and destiny, afraid of reaching out for my, for our, happiness and realizing our true love."

"What kind of cheesy romance story were you watching last night?! We aren't star crossed lovers!"

"Enduring this terrible ordeal, I believe that I have earned the right to be selfish for one dance. Don't you agree?"

"If you wanted to dance with me, you could have just asked!"

"Such actions are far too bold for a lady. Besides, I did not want to tear you away from your fans. They looked especially vicious."

"And why do you think that is? This was all your ideas."

"And through the admirable work of all the staff and students except Tatewaki, the night has come to a most magnificent conclusion, has it not?"

The sudden change in tone threw Shizuku off, just as she'd hoped. She would never get tired of causing that flustered, slightly annoyed look of total exasperation to grace her partner's face. Even when tired (or rather, especially when tired) her friend could be counted on for amusement. Nevertheless, Shizuku was no doubt reaching her limit. She would be as short-tempered as she ever allowed herself to be once she crossed that line.

"I really don't understand you sometimes." Shizuku mumbled. Her initial question had remained unanswered, but she was far too tired to collect her thoughts and erect some sort of defense against the Kaicho's usual behavior. Looking at the pairings for this dance, the Kaicho's fingerprints were obvious. Dancing with the students had been even more exhausting than she thought it would be. Certainly as exhausting as if she had been doing any work, but...she couldn't forget what the head judge had said.



"I...I had fun." It was against her personal policy to compliment Hitsugi for her stunts until they were good and over, but she could make an exception this one time. "Dancing, I mean."

"Did you now?" was the amused reply.

Taking a deep breath she pushed aside her reservations, stared at her partner straight in the eye, and smiled. "I did, and I'm glad it happened."

Hitsugi was not often struck speechless, or caught off guard, and she wasn't now. That said, Shizuku felt the hand in hers tighten, saw the normal smile on her partner's face soften into the genuine smile she so rarely saw, and knew that she'd chosen the right thing to do.

And when Hitsugi finally looked away in pleasure and a tiny amount of embarrassment from being read so easily, a small, distant part of her mind cheered and screamed "score one for me!"

~Three Hours Later~

"That's it! I'm done!"

Yuu, formerly sleeping peacefully on his humans bed, jumped a foot in the air and landed on the floor, caught completely off guard by the slamming of the door and the yell that followed.

"No more brats, no more dresses, no more dancing!"

His human, apparently, had lost her mind. Her foot coverings were tossed at him with unnerving accuracy considering she was facing the other direction, and the rest of her shiny coverings followed. Bewildered and a little frightened, he escaped out the open window and ran outside.

'You look as if you ran into a wind storm.' Whispering Fog commented from the shadows of the human den.

'My human has had a mental breakdown, I think. She threw things at me and complained about the little female.' She whined, annoyed that her nap had been disturbed.

'My human nearly fell on me as I was resting on her bed.' The other cat did not seem happy in the slightest, though she wasn't as disturbed by her humans behavior as much as she was.

'The humans have all been acting strange lately. Perhaps tonight is the end of it.' She sniffed.

'Let us hope it is, before the humans all go crazy.'


For those of you who paid attention to the big, bold letters at the top, hurrah! I bring you this story on the eve of Halloween (but not Halloween related. Sorry for the disappointment.) Also, this will be the last thing I post until...March. More or less. Moving soon, and won't have internet at the new place.

Just go to the library or Starbucks or something, you say? Well. See. After all the stress and life throwing curveballs at me for years, and everything just slowly accumulating while I stubbornly push it aside because it doesn't really matter, things have finally reached the point where I had to stop, take that good, long hard look at myself that I have always been afraid to do, and admit that years of taking care of others first has led me to become utterly broken in so many ways I can't even laugh at myself anymore. Of course, as I realize this, I am in a new city, hell, a new state, two timezones away from every single support pillar that got me through my father's death, then my family falling apart at the seams. Wonderful timing there.

I am using the last of my motivation and good cheer to write this, before the last seven hours of incredibly punishing cardio I put my body through in an effort to not think takes its toll. I am currently shaking horribly as I type this, and am pretty sure that I will have to crawl down the stairs tomorrow, so there's not much left in me. (Then I get to go and start cleaning the house because after the most difficult closing process ever, we're finally getting the damn thing.)

Anyway, I leave this fandom and its life or death to you guys. I hope to see it somewhat alive in March when (if?) I return. Or at the very least, limping along like a half dead zebra as it has been for the last year or five. Good luck.

(Also, posted up revised first chapters of HHE and Tigers both if you're interested.)