~Car~

Leaning her head against the cold glass of the window, she watched the trees pass by with a speed even she envied. The familiar forest was currently only a messy blur of moonlight tinted green and black as the car sped down the road. Jodo, her guard/driver for the trip, was practically humming with excitement. Despite the oddity of her heading to the school out of uniform, and at such a late hour, the strangest thing about this all was that Hitsugi wasn't with them.

What had been so urgent that she was out near midnight, sans Kaicho, on her way to the dorms? She dwelled on the question as she watched the distant lights grow larger. "Urgent" might not be the right word but Benibachi had called saying that there was some sort of commotion at the dorms and that assistance would be appreciated. Well, that's what she assumed was the point of the call. It had been somewhat difficult to hear over the loud arguing and clashing of students running amok in the background. The real message had sounded more or less like "The rubble's acid gecko tear." Or something.

It had taken two minutes of staring at her phone with an expression usually reserved for the aftermath of Kaicho created chaos, and a failed attempt at deciphering the rambles, for her to decide that it may be a good idea to check things out. The random screams in the background that punctuated the call were a little worrying, after all. Fortunately, they had seemed to be screams of outrage rather than pain, so the situation couldn't have been too dire. Though she had to concede that with Tenchi students, the former preceded the latter with alarming frequency.

Within a few short minutes she was dressed and ready to go, informing a insistent maid that no, she didn't need to wake Hitsugi-san and no, she wasn't hungry again, and yes, she would grab a hooded jacket in case it rained, and no, she really didn't need warm milk and cookies set out for her. When the car arrived she was more than happy to leave. Ichihara-san was very diligent in her care of the two girls under her charge and could be very insistent if matters of their health were in question.

"A vice president's work knows no time limits, huh? Lucky for you we ended up not having training tonight. You wouldn't be so happy to be here then." She hummed and wrinkled her nose. Jodo tapped his fingers on the wheel in time with the song.

"I'm not sure it is urgent, actually. I couldn't understand anything on the phone, but I figured it would probably be better to go check anyway." she said, scratching the back of her neck. "And don't jinx me. I wouldn't put it past the Captain to call a double practice tomorrow to make up for it." she sighed, cracking a smile at her fellow guard's barking laugh.

"Like she needs an excuse to do that. She certainly enjoys making us struggle. Remember last week's survival training from hell?" They both took a moment to grimace in remembered pain. "Speaking of enjoyment, where's the little princess? I thought she liked these kinds of things." he asked. She stared at him, then they both snorted. That was putting it lightly.

"She's sleeping. I'm not even sure what the problem is, just that it was loud. No point bothering her with something like that this late. If the incident is troubling enough to warrant an official reprimand from Hitsugi-san, then I'll send them to her in the morning." She tried to laugh, but this late at night, she just didn't have the energy. It turned into a sigh instead. Problems at Tenchi were rarely ever simple, to say nothing of the current Amachi in charge.

"Right." He smirked at her. "And it has nothing to do with the fact that it would only be more troublesome to throw a sadistic Kaicho in the mix, potentially tripling your unavoidable headache?" She choked, surprised that he caught on to her line of thinking.

"I don't... know what you're talking about." she huffed unconvincingly, turning a light shade of pink. Sinking lower in her seat, she looking away somewhat guiltily. He didn't have to smirk like that. "She was really tired today! She didn't even hear her phone go off."

"Relax, relax. I didn't mean it." he laughed. "Mostly." He smirked at her pout. "Even that one needs to take a break. She's just like the Captain, never passes up an opportunity to have a little fun with her underlings. When those two get together, the world cries."

"I'm a little worried that she fell asleep so early. I know she's been training a little more lately, since there's been a lull in paperwork after the last event. She's been getting anxious without the extra work to keep her occupied." Shizuku sighed. This happened every so often, but Hitsugi would always shrug off her concerns.

"She'll be fine. It's good for her body to act like a normal person's once in a while. Gives the rest of us a breather."

"Haha. Maybe so. She usually starts to avoid paperwork to wander the school after she recharges though."

"Plan for it later. We're here. Time to put on our authority faces." Jodo announced happily, eyeballing the brightly lit windows with all the glee of a child being told that Christmas would be coming a few months early. With twice as many presents. The sound of arguing voices escaped from open windows on the third floor, a small sign of the battle within. Random objects flew out of one particular window with startling speed, and after careful inspection she was glad to note that the window had been left open rather destroyed in the stuggle.

She found herself drawing her shoulders back and donning her "mask" before she could stop herself. It was practically instinct now. No matter what technical "authority" she had, she was still a child to society, and few adults took well to being ordered around by one, much less high school girls who saw her as a peer. She had once been told that if she acted confident, eventually she would become confident.

Okay, so the actual advice had been more along the lines of "the more people listen to you, the more confident you'll be," but the general principle was the same. In any case, it had been effective in instilling confidence in her, sort of. More than once, Hitsugi-san had half-seriously commented on her self-confidence when addressing teachers and staff, while simultaneously lamenting that it couldn't be transferred to the rest of her personality.

She was never sure how to take those kinds of remarks.

"Are you going to wait here, or come join the chaos?" she asked unnecessarily. Jodo had likely traded a debt or two for this opportunity. The Captain had a habit of randomly "testing" the alertness of those on duty, so any reason not to be in the vicinity of the manor was a prize in itself. Besides, problems at the school were guaranteed to be amusing for any sadistic-minded bystanders.

"And leave you to the mercy of a wild gaggle of pubescent drama queens?" Jodo laughed as they stepped out of the car and into the chilly spring air. "What kind of man would I be if I did that?"

The way he eagerly smiled as he opened the main door for her, bowing comically, made her grin wryly, amusement shining in her eyes. "Gaggle?" They shared a quick laugh before falling into their roles. Guards were supposed to be serious after all, and she didn't want anyone to think she was happy to be there. One Hitsugi was enough as far as the students were concerned. If she started showing signs of that particular brand of lunacy, they might just all decide to revolt. Her partner might enjoy such an event should it actually happen, but she was certain she wouldn't.

The dorm they walked into was alive with activity, pajama clad girls running around or standing in their doorways curiously. Several groups were arguing fervently, others were crowded together to gossip, and some lone students watched it all with varying mixtures of excitement, amusement, or annoyance. She spotted a struggling Kurogane being dragged back down the hall by her angry roommate. It was the taller one that first noticed her arrival.

"Miyamoto-san! Finally, someone sane 'round here. This whole mess is up on the third floor, in case yer wonderin'. Good. Luck." With that, she stomped into her room, ignoring her friend's protests.

"But I want to look too! Oh, hey Miyamoto-san! Did you come to look at-" The door slammed, cutting off the girl's question. The rest of the loiterers heard her name being called, and promptly vanished. Jodo whistled in appreciation as they watched the area clear within seconds, the once noisy hall now completely quiet. Curious eyes watched her from the safety of their doorway as she made her way into the building.

"Creepy." Jodo muttered under his breath. Privately, she agreed. Those eyes were already glowing with anticipation. Turn out the lights, and the dorm would be transformed into a setting for a cliché horror movie. It would be called "The Halls Have Eyes." It would involve stalking and psychological drama and have horribly overdone acting at the direction of Hitsugi-san.

Luckily for her peace of mind, the students were not homicidal stalkers. Insane, yes, but not homicidal. And, okay yes, there were some who had stalkerish tendencies. But that was beside the point.

A lot of the regular students she often worked with smiled before ducking back into their rooms. The third and second year office aides waved and offered a sarcastic "good luck," watching until she reached the end of the hall. The sword bearers, she noticed, were more likely to nod respectfully. Naturally, her position in the hoshitori hierarchy meant that she didn't often spend time around the sword bearers outside the student council or Kamijou-san, who, as a club leader, she met with occasionally. (The incident with Kurogane was best left forgotten. She still hadn't forgiven the Kaicho for that stunt.)

It was easy for her to guess where the center of the chaos was. With silence behind her, she needed only to follow the noise. Word of her arrival must have gotten out, because the halls she came to were already clearing when she got there. There was no sign of either Benibachi or any student council members. The former was most likely at the site already, but she doubted many of the latter would bother. For a student council, they were depressingly lazy about their duties.

Arriving at the scene of the crime, she stopped, blinked, considered turning around and blinked again. Perhaps she should leave it to the student council members to sort it out. The experience would be good for them, and there were far nicer things she could be doing. Things like training, or paperwork, or sleeping. Sleep in particular was nice, comforting, painless, stress free, and, most importantly at the moment, didn't involve other people. Specifically, sleep didn't involve Tenchi students.

A tense silence fell as her presence was registered and all eyes turned to her. A step behind her, Jodo made a choked sound that was suspiciously reminiscent of a hastily covered laugh. A distant part of her brain pretended to kick him. It took all of her willpower to keep her face straight, and she could feel eye desperately trying to twitch. She opened her mouth once, closed it, swallowed to soothe her suddenly dry throat, and decided to just let someone explain the situation. If it could be explained. She had a gut feeling that the "explanation" would be either convoluted, based on some idiotic logic, or worse, both. Silence, she had discovered as a child, was an authority figure's most potent weapon against the guilty minded.

She wasn't even sure where to begin in the first place. She really didn't get paid enough to deal with this kind of thing. There was bad, and then there was...this. Her mind worked a mile a minute to try and put some sense into the situation. Several students stuttered "Miyamoto-san!" either in horror (from the apparent culprits), or relief ( from the victims and Benibachi-san). Their voices hardly registered as she stared numbly at the scene before her.

In the middle of the rush of explanations, several balloons dropped and exploded, splattering everyone present with something that looked and smelled exactly like paint. Blue paint, to be precise. Bright blue paint. Glittering bright blue paint. Her hair drooped with the sudden weight and several surprised gasps were heard. Before her stood many glittering blue blob shaped people. The Benibachi-san looking blob was radiating murderous intent. A person she now recognized as Mikado-san was visibly shaking with anger, and the person she assumed was Inori-san was caught between the same anger and her instinct to hold down her partner. The other students were utterly emotionless.

A snap was heard, and her vision was filled with multicolored feathers raining down. A horrified silence pervaded the newly decorated hall. A whimper from the culprits sounded, breaking the ice and starting an avalanche of screams, threats, and apologies.

She should have just turned around, or better yet, she should have just gone to sleep earlier.

~Some time later~

"You can laugh now." she said to Jodo as they got into the car, who wasted no time in letting out the laughter he had been holding back for the past hour and a half. She was surprised he had managed to hold it in so long. He had been twitching the entire duration of the incident, and more than once fell victim to a severe "coughing fit." After the initial anger of being doused in glittering blue paint and feathers, of course. Not that she could blame him. The entire situation was ridiculous to the extreme.

She could still hear her coworker snickering to himself as he started the car. She sank into her seat in utter exhaustion, rolling down the window and letting the cool air hit her face. A nice headache had formed behind her eyebrow, and all she wanted to do at the moment was close her eyes and sleep. The cold air felt so good, and went a long way toward getting rid of the smell of paint that stuck to them both.

"Kids these days are certainly creative, I'll give them that." the guard finally managed to get out. "The little princess is gonna be upset that she missed it all."

"If I had known it was going to be like that, I would have gladly woken her up so she could deal with it personally." the exhausted girl groaned into the rushing wind. That had been quite literally a mess of epic proportions, one that she was not looking forward to explaining tomorrow. It was simple enough case of rivalries and pranks gone out of hand, but Hitsugi would be incredibly disappointed at her absence during the event.

She closed her eyes and laid her head on the door. By the time the mansion was in view she was more than ready to drop into bed, pajamas or not. She didn't have the energy to fuss over something small like changing. The paint had dried by this point anyway, so it wasn't like she had to worry about ruining the sheets.

"I can't wait to tell the others. They're going to love this." He looked down at his clothes and winced. "I hope this stuff comes out. I don't want to have to get another uniform. Anyway, good luck tomorrow kid. It was fun."

"Thanks."she mumbled, even managing to muster up a little sarcasm in it. "Night." She waved as the door closed. By the time she reached the front door, the car was gone. Her shoes and jacket were placed in their proper places and she found herself standing in the living room before she even realized she had taken them off. A dim light had been left on for her, and there on the counter sat a small pile of cookies and a glass of milk.

She had never felt more grateful toward anyone than she did at that moment.

"Ichihara-san really is the best."

~The next morning~

"Good morning." Hitsugi greeted mildly, hearing the small shuffle of socks against the floor in the hallway. Turning to smile at the younger girl, she faltered at the sight before her. Quickly overcoming her surprise, she examined Shizuku's surprising condition with well hidden confusion.

The jeans and button up shirt her friend wore were creased and wrinkled, obviously having been slept in. The shirt was only halfway buttoned up, and one of the sleeves had been rolled up. Her hair was sticking up in every direction, except for the back, which was completely straight save for the natural curl at the end. Most curiously, she was completely splattered with glittering blue paint and...were those feathers?

"Goo' mor'in." came the semi-intelligible reply, half yawn, half mumble.

"You're up later than usual. Here, breakfast." she said warmly, fondness for the oblivious girl creeping into her tone. She wanted desperately to ask about her partner's...artistic state, but she had a feeling the girl wasn't quite awake enough to explain properly.

She had to admit, the absent stare and messy state were undeniably adorable. It reminded her of their days of adventuring out into the forest that surrounded the property, back when the most difficult part of the day was explaining to their mothers how exactly they'd managed to once again ruin a set of perfectly good clothes. Although, there hadn't been many times even back then where Shizuku was this colorful. The few she could recall without hesitation had been...special occasions.

The groggy girl stared blankly at her for a moment, before the presence of food cut through some of the fog her mind was mired in. Shizuku managed to sit down without incident, though it was a close call. Hitsugi held back a chuckle as the empty stare was transferred to the food in front of her. She watched purple eyes narrow for a second in concentration, then return to normal after their owner decided that eating didn't require thought.

"I'm sorry. I woke up late." Not even her apparent exhaustion could stifle her natural reflex to apologize for the slightest things, it seemed.

"Hardly. Rest assured, we have no pressing matters to attend to today." Hitsugi consoled, chin on her palm, proud of herself for keeping most of the amusement out of her voice. It was rare for Shizuku to sleep in for so long, but she didn't mind in the least. "I did have the oddest message on my phone from Benibachi-san last night, but as I have yet to receive a call from her I believe it has been taken care of." the Kaicho mused in curiosity, and a not so small hint of humor. The message had been filled with more noise than actual words and was completely unintelligible. Judging from her partner's state, she could make a good guess as to why there had been no follow up call.

Shizuku choked on her food, suddenly wide awake. With a frustrated noise she dropped her head onto the table. The abused girl groaned in pain and regret for her hasty action. Hitsugi blinked in confusion. 'So I was correct. Hmph. I do not believe she should be treating herself in such a rough manner when she is in such a state.'

Raising an eyebrow, she inquired "I take it that you have some knowledge on the matter for me?" Another groan, this time with a small grumble, was her answer. In morning-person-Shizuku-speech, it roughly translated to "Yes, and I don't really want to talk about it but I will if you continue questioning me." It had taken her years to crack the code, but she thought that she had it completely worked out by now. "All I could discern from the message was that someone was rather angry. Several someones, if I heard correctly."

A snort and a growl. So there were a lot of angry people, Shizuku included. It was quite the herculean task to inspire Shizuku's anger. It only took a quick glance at her current state to discern that whatever had occurred, it had been on a large scale. If her partner was still annoyed about it, then she could also be certain that whomever was involved would no doubt still be several times angrier.

"If the noise was any indication, the entire dorm must have certainly been aroused by the incident. I assume that there were several complaints concerning the ruckus."

This time a short hum. Shizuku must have handled that already. Then again, her presence at the scene alone would have curbed any minor complaints. Only the bravest students (or the stupidest) went whining to her about petty problems. Shizuku was, in their minds, a much safer alternative.

"I assume it will be necessary for me to assign additional punishment." She pointedly looked at the ruined clothes. "I also assume you set the culprits to cleaning their mess, however extensive it was. I do hope the paint comes out of your clothes. That is your favorite shirt."

Shizuku covered her head with her arms. "I...yes. I did. It's kind of a long story."

Hitsugi said nothing as her friend tried to organize her thoughts. On one hand, she was slightly disappointed that she had apparently missed something so amusing, but on the other, Shizuku so rarely took the initiative and acted on her own.

She would tease her friend about abandoning her later. She wouldn't mean it of course. Too often she worried that Shizuku's deference to her was slowly eroding her already fragile self confidence. The insecurity that would result from a poorly timed joke of that manner would have her struggling for weeks to repair the damage. She would have to wait a day or two before teasing her about the subject. The period of silence was long enough that Shizuku would be assured of her happiness with the result, but short enough that she didn't get anxious about her lack of opinion on it.

She watched Shizuku run a hand through her hair, messing it up even more, and fighting to free her hand from the clumps of paint that had dried. She cherished the frustratingly helpless expression that took over her partner's face and wondered how Shizuku could think that she would ever be anything but pleased with any action she took. She wasn't sure she had the strength to ever be angry when faced with that painfully honest face.

But just because she was acting cute didn't mean she would go unpunished. She had a reputation to uphold after all.

~End~

After deciding to check something for another fic, I noticed that I had this, version two, tucked away in a corner, lost amidst a pile of other fics. It's not much different than the first version, to be honest, but just enough to assure me that it is slightly improved.