Author's Note: Thought or Emphasis; Flashback or English; Thought or Emphasis in Flashback
I don't own K-ON!, just the memory of Mio in a Santa suit.
The fans thank you, Sawako-sensei.
Read and review.
It was a winter night in the forest. Not many had explored this part of the world, even in the modern age, but the ones who did staked their claim quickly. Those who owned the land took care to preserve its natural state. While they stood with the cause of saving the world's ecosystems, its most recent owners also had more personal reasons.
Clumps of snow cascaded onto the pine trees, white layering over green and reflecting the moonlight. A thinner curtain had descended on the grasses snugly sprouting between them, masking the smallest creatures not yet hibernating. From one crowd of evergreens, a solitary chain of footprints led out to a brook, its waters nearly sterling in their purity.
The trail belonged to a lone doe, its thick caramel-hued hair coexisting with nearly invisible white dots. She was a picture of delicacy, from the slender legs that, to the untrained eye, seemed like they could snap from a strong wind alone, to the thin but active ears, always alert to the world around them. Even the sips the animal took, merely response to basic need after grazing, displayed gentility. The water's chill nearly bit at her tongue, but no matter; her thirst would soon be sated...
The softest movement in the distance, a mere rustle, was enough to bolt her head upright. Her instincts screamed.
The sound, and a shape, followed, leaving a splash in the water she left behind. From the footfalls that pounded the nearby earth, it was large... and gaining ground.
Still, the flight response pushed the doe through the almost knee-high grasses. If she could reach the thicker woods, she could hide there until the danger went away.
Her predator did not stop, though. She could hear its visible breath now; it wanted her, had waited for her... hungered for her. She heard the snap of jaws that missed, and found enough power to quicken her pace.
Then, a clawed swipe at her leg, and another. To her beating heart's relief, she was too fast for it at this point. They had missed just enough for it to stumble and slow, the sound soon quieting to a stop.
It had given up.
She could escape! The scent of the trees was so strong... so close...
She was so wrapped up in that scent, she paid no mind to the other that wafted within.
By the time the other had occurred to her, it had leaped from the foliage and connected with her throat with claws of its own. A bleated cry of pain erupted with her blood.
A different shape, a little smaller than the first and with much calmer breath, had taken hers away.
Hitting the ground, it was not long before she succumbed to the blackness. Her mind, fading into nothing, was too primitive to wonder why her killer looked so much different from the other that caught up with them.
The first pursuer was canine in origin, an animal that had not attacked the doe's kind recently. It appeared to be a wolf, female, her shaggy hair near-black in color, the darkness defying the moon's rays. She was larger than the average wolf, however, and had no tail. Her eyes were a cloudy yellow, but with the smallest flecks of blue, sparkling like embedded shards of a sapphire.
The victor of the hunt, also female, canine, and tailless, had a lighter coat of hair than her partner, one closer to the dead deer's shade on her back and limbs, thicker there than on her torso. Her eyes were amber, seeming to possess a light of their own.
Their body types did not match, though. Despite size and tail, the she-wolf was more... wolf-like, with paws, a snout, and ears near the top of the head. The latter figure possessed longer five-digit appendages, pointed ears on the sides of her head, and a flatter face that appeared...
The she-wolf and wolf-girl did not care about appearances, though.
"uuuuuUUUUUU..." Their twin alto howls showed they had a win to celebrate—and if the drool slipping from their fangs were any hint, a quarry to devour. And quickly, too...
If they took too long to get back, the girls would worry.
I'm not worried.
Mio had buried her head in a book for about an hour now, having decided upon that activity since the others in the snow-surrounded villa were occupied with—
"I win again!"
Occupation over. Still, thanks to the book, she would resist it...
...The urge to look out the nearest window.
Not at all.
"...I give up."
Azusa's shoulders sagged in defeat. She should have figured it out after the last 83 losses she had collected over the years. "Why do I keep playing card games with you?"
"Aww, Azu-nyan... Don't be so sad." Sliding from opposite the costly table they used, Yui pulled her kouhai into her arms. "I'm sure you'll beat me eventually."
Not interested either...
The younger guitarist's mind began to cloud over again from the Azu-energy drain. The luck of an airhead, plus something Ritsu once described as "hug magic," were a strange and fearful pair; that Azusa knew...
...but after a few seconds and a slow, consoling head rub, she lost the will to care.
Besides, she had not seen her senpai in months! JWU and Sakuragaoka were more than a few steps apart, and while her classmates were great friends, Yui was one of her first friends. It was only fair that she would take the chance to spend part of winter break with her ("—uh, and the others!" She remembered telling a smirking Ui and Jun), and spend a moment or two like this, blanketing herself in the warmth.
Unfortunately, the moment had to end, with Yui the one to do it. "Whatcha readin', Mio-chan?"
The distant, mumbled response sounded something like "Nothing important."
She was being honest; she had been stuck on that chapter for quite a while, because of that one distraction, that one temptation, making her gray gaze slide ever so slightly toward the side door.
Not... interested... at all...
Yui was no detective, but even she had noticed how slowly the ravenette had turned the pages.
"Worried about Ricchan and Mugi-chan, huh?"
Mio's posture went stiff. "NO!" In defiance, she dropped the novel, losing her place. The others now staring due to her yell, she fought down the embarrassment with a cough. "Ahem....no."
"It has been a while since they left, hasn't it, Mio-senpai?"
"I suppose." She salvaged her calm image. She had refrained from looking outside this long; she could endure for a little while longer. "And it does make sense...
Ritsu's eyes bulged in horror.
She had done all she could, honestly;
She had saved it every ten or fifteen minutes;
She had proofread it from top to bottom (Okay, she admitted, so maybe Mio did most of that, but it's still my writing);
She had even put it on a flash drive, right there in the laptop.
She just needed to print it, courtesy of the neighboring printer, and her BA grade in the course would be safe.
Ritsu had forgotten, one thing, however, which her own special condition should have taught her by now...
The kami have a strange sense of humor.
Her computer, what used to be a good friend and ally ever since high school, had frozen, trapping a ten-page report—a week's worth of work—in the digital world for eternity.
She knew she should have upgraded from Doors XP.
"Now? Are you KIDDING ME?" She screamed at the traitor's screen, as futile as her words were. "I WAS SO CLOSE!"
"Is there something wrong, Ricchan?" A friend had walked by the door. Out of her three bandmates, only Mugi happened to share this schedule gap, leaving her the only one in their group to hear her plight.
"This... this... UGH!" She gripped her head in frustration, nearly pulling the tawny hair out of her scalp. "I have one hour to get this fixed and my paper in Yuniko-sensei's hands, or my GPA's going down the toilet."
"Yeah. And it takes a half-hour to make it to class too!" Her hands let go of her hair, instead covering her face in despair. "I'm dead. Utterly dead. Hanging on a cross, spears through my guts, dead."
Ritsu had expected the conventional, though useless, responses: "Ouch," or "Too bad," or even, "Why didn't you just go to the library?"
What she did not expect was Mugi's response:
"That should be plenty of time, I think."
"Huh?" The drummer's head shot up. "What for?"
The blonde answered the brunette's question by pulling out her cellphone. "Hmm..."
Ritsu could not see the smartphone's screen, but she knew there had to be more than a few names on the list.
Whatever the length, Mugi found it. "Ah, here it is! Just a moment, Ricchan..." She pressed the call button after turning around. Her friend in need heard only, "Hello, Shion-chan?... Yes, it's me... Anyway, could I get some help with—Hello?"
It was quiet for a moment.
"I don't know what you're thinking, but there's no way—wait, what's that?"
Rhythmic thumping came from the hallway, a three beat:
Thump thump slap thump thump slap...
Its crescendo came with another noise: "…umUGI-SAMAAAAAAAA!"
The sound slowed, a little uncertainty before it finally ended. "TSUMUGI-SAMA! I'M HERE! I'M..." She gasped for breath and gripped the entrance for balance. "I'm... I'm here as requested."
The new girl sported dark hair a shade similar to Azusa's, cut to shoulder length, a wayward bang in front kept back by her frameless glasses, which she corrected after her stumble outside. Her clothes were, despite the informal surroundings, a black business suit and tie to match. She also carried a bag at her side on one strap, about the size of a briefcase but with pockets big and small on all sides.
"Hello, Shion-chan. You see, my friend could really use your expertise."
Her breath fully restored, the glasses girl stood erect, then bowed. "You need only tell me where the trouble is, Tsumugi-sama."
"Yes, Tsumugi-sama." Shion accepted the directions, stepping over to Ritsu. Her gaze seemed to grow cold as she scanned the computer, then the girl, then the computer again. "Hmm..."
The drummer's brow rose. What's her problem?
Shion's voice seemed to turn a bit colder as well. "Doors XP?"
"You should have upgraded."
A sigh. "Knew it."
"But I can fix this without a problem." She placed her heavy-looking bag onto the long desk where the laptop and printer resided. "Please step back. I will be done shortly."
Ritsu did... and watched the show. She was unsure when this girl attained extra limbs, but maybe that was just the blur left behind by moving between the three objects so quickly. Most of the sound was typing, but she saw the gleam of tools as well—and she could have sworn she heard a blowtorch.
Whatever happened, it was over in 15 minutes.
"You are free to print."
"Alright..." She noticed her screen a little bit shinier. "Did you clean it too?"
"For no extra charge."
"Awesome. But I better check..." With a few clicks of a mouse, her report entered the material world. "It works! You're a genius!"
The technician merely adjusted her glasses with a finger. "I must be, to be of service to Tsumugi-sama."
"And you have been a great help, Shion-chan." She smiled brilliantly. "Thank you again!"
"There is no need to thank me!" Her icy veneer melted under her mistress' sunny gratitude; her face reddened. "I thank you, for honoring me with your request." Another bow. "Farewell, Tsumugi-sama."
Before anyone could even say goodbye, she departed as quickly as she entered—and stumbled down the hall too.
"MUGI!" Too amused by the recent guest, the blonde was unprepared for another's act of gratitude: a hug from the excited drummer. "You're a lifesaver—no, wait, a grade saver... whatever! I owe you!"
Now she was the one blushing. "I just happen to know the right people!"
"No, I mean it! This isn't some tea or cake you brought just in time—it's my first term paper!" She released the keyboardist enough to hold her shoulders. "I feel like I gotta pay you back. You just name your price, and it's yours." She realized what she said. "But not actual money, though, 'cause... well, you know."
"Um... I don't know." Her eyes turned away. "This is the first time this has really happened..."
Seeing her withdrawal, Ritsu decided to alter the offer once more. "I know, I'll make it your Christmas present! That way, it's not a debt, just a gift, right?"
"Well... alright!" Mugi's bushy brow furrowed in thought for a while, but then she had it. A certain something she never got from those outside of the family. She grew excited from the very request, barely hidden under gentle words.
"If it isn't too much to ask, Ricchan..."
"...They are hunting after all."
The band had already spent Christmas Day with their own families, so the space between then and New Year's served as the perfect time to get away from home; the vacation was a belated present of sorts, but one in which all the girls could partake.
The mention of all expenses paid was a nice lure, as well.
"Strange," Azusa mused. "One year ago, no one could have told me Mugi-senpai had a scary bone in her body-"
"But Mugi-wan was huge!"
Both ravenettes giggled at Yui's accurate statement (and the new nickname). When sitting upwards in that form, the bestial blonde reached Mio's shoulder, above Ritsu, who was at about breast-height.
The junior continued the discussion. "I wonder what they're hunting, though? They are big, so... Deer?"
"Nah. They're probably too strong for that!" Yui countered. "They're probably fighting bears! 250 centimeters tall! Claw vs. claw! A battle to the death, the victor crowned queen of the forest!" She playfully loomed over her seatmate. "RAAAAAAR!"
"...Have you been watching TV with Ritsu-senpai again?"
Mio had tuned out a bit after that, because the worry came back.
Just what are they doing, anyway?
They had been gone for hours, but that was probably too long just to catch one animal; they were, in a way, born hunters!
Could the lead guitarist be right? Could they, in their monstrous mindsets, have been foolish enough to try facing another predator?
What if they were trying to kill each other?
Surrounded by furrows in the earth and trees both split and stripped of bark, two naked bodies lay. Barely conscious, both young women willed themselves from their places of defeat.
The one whose blonde hair was interlaced with crimson was the first to claw forward—with only one hand, since her other limbs were unable to move. Still, a smile eked out. "I will never forget you, sister of the fang... you were truly a worthy opponent."
"Heh heh—hak!" As for her tawny-haired opponent, the liquid launching from her mouth was quite familiar at this point—it was the same one leaking from her abdomen and leaving a trail from her crawl. She reached forward, a tired grin on her face as well. "You were pretty good too, Mugi."
Fingers so close, hands set to clasp as their final act...
Mio shook her head.
Great. I think I've been watching too much TV with her too.
There was no way that could have happened! Mugi had control over that other side of herself, and it seemed Ritsu did too. Outside of that, the girls saw that control for themselves (though they decided to look away first, since Mugi preferred to disrobe before transformation), and despite their appearances, neither wolf-girl made a single move toward or against them—except for Ritsu still licking Mio's face, for some reason.
So their hunt stretched on a little longer than she liked. Thinned patience or not, she was sure they were coming soon.
Make that now.
She was already speeding out of her seat when she told the others, "I'll get it."
The howl (Mio was unsure whose) was the signal to open the back door. The sliding glass was behind a curtain, made thin to let sunlight or moonlight filter in. She opened both to reveal two furry friends: dirty, panting, and partially covered in two different fluids, but overall in one piece.
"Welcome back, you two."
One tensed up to pounce—
"Don't even think about it, Ritsu!"
—but suddenly changed course, following the other to the nearest bath; there were two, thankfully, so only one room would have evidence of their nightly escapade.
Twenty minutes later (relatively silent, as thanks to their arrangements, the change was painless now), the duo entered the living room in human form and in pajamas, the brunette stretching her arms to the sky. "Ahh, that felt good!"
While Ritsu's hung over Mio's chair, Mugi sat beside Azusa, who asked the expected, "Did you have fun, senpai?"
"Oh, yes!" The keyboardist beamed. "Hunting with someone else is a much better experience than doing so alone!"
"Sure took a while, though." Ritsu heard a certain someone mutter, but that person once again tried to put her head in a book.
"Yeah, sorry 'bout that." She scratched the back of her slightly wet head, then patted her belly. "Wolf-san was a little rusty; she hadn't hunted for real in, like, a hundred years." (The Wolf had told her it was female, but she still had no real, or at least human, name.) "Plus, Mugi's pretty greedy when she's like that." She grinned half-jokingly at her partner. "Seriously, did you have to go for a group of three?"
"Perhaps I was a bit overexcited, seeing as it was my first hunt since the summer." She chuckled lightly. "Still, I really enjoyed our time together, Ricchan!"
"Hey, no problem, Mugi! It's not something I'd do every day..." Her other side may have liked it, but venison wasn't exactly Ritsu's favorite meal, nor was that last-minute rabbit, "but it was pretty cool to try out. Hopefully, it'll probably stop her from asking for freedom every full moon." She patted her belly.
"So that's why I've caught you muttering to yourself every once in a while." Mio looked up to her old friend. "Good to know I won't have to tell your parents there's a problem."
"Well, somebody's grouchy tonight." She pouted. "Why so cruel, Mio-chan? Don't like your present? Or..." The drummer poked the bassist's cheek. "...are you jealous?"
Mio rolled her eyes. "I'm not jealous."
The other brunette gasped. "It's a triangle, Azu-nyan!" The kitten kouhai could only stare at her senpai in wonder.
"There's no triangle! There's a ghost in her head, belly, whatever!" She turned to Ritsu. "You think I would rather be in your head? I'd probably go insane." She huffed. "And I certainly wouldn't want to be like you either."
"Werewolf?" The cursed girl filled in the blank. "A monster of the night, prowling the streets, with incredible senses, speed, and strength?"
Mio felt a small breeze near her lap, and looked down to find her book gone. Where's my-
She looked up—and the gift from Ritsu was back in the buyer's hands.
"You sure you don't wanna?" She waved the book. "Because doing this is kinda fun." She placed her free hand to her chin. "Then again, it's more fun doing this to you than anybody else. Maybe you shouldn't."
"Are you even listening to me?"
Mugi offered her aid. "If you really wish to, Mio-chan, I could arrange for-"
"ENOUGH!" Mio's patience broke.
POW! POW! POW!
As a testament to her skill, she stayed in her seat while pounding Ritsu's head three times.
"...why just me?"
"So you know better." She retrieved the novel, the only thing in the room that did feature a triangle—a square, actually. "I'd say that temptation to be like you flew right out the window the second you gave me a bird from the backyard as a gift."
"Aww, that was over a year ago!" Ritsu bounced back from her injury. "Anyway, don't you fret, Mio. No matter what crazy monster comes between us, you're still my favorite monster." Her arms flopped over the chair, fingers once again poked the bassist's cheeks. "Sorry, Mugi! You're in the top three!"
The heiress fortunately got the joke and laughed along with her. "Hee hee, that's just fine!"
"Geez... you say such weird things." All the same, a smile slowly formed on Mio's lips.
"Yep, and there's a whole new year coming!" Two hands started to press Mio's cheeks together, ruining the smile. "Hope your face can handle it!"
"Stop that!" She giggled as she swatted away the offending hands; the arms attached settled for a loose embrace. "But you're right. A new year is coming. And it's been almost a year since the secret's been shared between us."
"Yeah... Hard to believe we got it past Sawa-chan-sensei."
"Knowing her, she probably knew before Azusa." Their old costume-monger always could see things the others did not; that special sight probably worked more on things like weight gain than supernatural powers, though.
"Probably." Ritsu raised an imaginary glass. "Here's a toast to our old sensei anyway!"
The five all put their invisible tea cups in the air. "Kanpai!"
"Ooh, I got one!" Yui raised her hand. "To bonds!" Mio felt Ritsu's arms slide together a little tighter.
"To a happy new year!" Azusa and Mugi had gotten into the spirit.
The second half of last year and the beginning of this one were an uncertain time, but the girls had figured it out. Ritsu was now having fun with what was once a burden, and Mio... well, she was often the target of that "fun," but the curse was not such a curse anymore.
In their trials, they showed what this time of year was all about. However the next year would unfold, they would face that future like they did the past: as a team, as a band, and most importantly, as friends.
"Hey, the night's still young! Who's up for a snowball fight?"
"YAAAY! Azu-nyan's on my team!"
"Wait, Yui-senpai! You're going to catch cold without a coat on!"
A sigh, and a small smile.
The doe is based on the sika deer, native to Japan and other parts of Asia (notice how the word sika is like shika, or "deer" in Japanese). Apparently, Japan is overpopulated with this species, since humans wiped out its natural predator... yep, that's right, the wolf.
Isn't Wikipedia awesome?
Anyway, that ought to do it for now. It's not as "Christmas-y" as it could've been, but I hope I worked around that... and honestly, the main things stopping me from figuring out a mistletoe moment are my oaths for plausibility (why would it be there?) and no romance (I wanted to keep relationships at about anime-level, though that may change with another story I had in mind...).
One last thing: I gotta give thanks to the folks who hung in there. As of this upload date (the day after Christmas 2012), I have about 25 reviews, 25 favorites and over 5,200 views. Hopefully, this means that I'm doing something right, that the gift of inspiration hasn't been tossed away. I need you as much as you need me.
May the new year bring you new bonds to warm you up next winter; may your holidays be happy.