Mai HiME, all its characters and oth... aw, screw it. If you recognize it, it ain't mine!
Here we go again, folks! As usual, I have no clue how long this is gonna be or how many eternities it'll take for me to finish it. The only bit I know that you don't is how it's gonna end. Unless I change my mind. *grins and claps* Buckle up, people! Whoo!
For this chapter, I went looking for a song that would suit 2 (3) criteria:
- Must be J-Rock/VK (because Natsuki conceivably would listen to that, both in language (1) and style (2).)
- Must seem apt to use for an alarm-type-GITYERASSUP-song
… and in my first attempt, I wind up finding a song that not only fits all of the above, but (if the English translation is to be believed) fits the friggin' story as well. Most curious. But yeah - first few lines are from DIAURA's Lost November. If you don't know them - go, YouTube, listen! Seriously. I cannot stop listening to their stuff now.
Alright; I'm done rambling. Enjoy.
When I first touched you
up in the hills
the world changed
"Urngh," you groan into your pillow as the alarm from your cell phone intrudes on your dreams. It's too damn early to be getting up even if it is by way of music, and with that rather blurry but no less determined thought, you extend an arm from under your covers and blindly reach out towards the nightstand. For some reason, you find nothing but air in the space between your bed and the one Mai usually (and unconsciously) ends up sharing with Mikoto, and you growl in annoyance.
"Dammit, Mai!" You raise your voice to carry over the increasing volume of the guitars. "I told you to stop playing around with that Feng Shui crap! Somebody's gonna trip and break something if you keep doing this!"
"Yes, yes, Natsuki," you then grumble along with her usual reply, and when you grope for your phone with your left arm instead, you manage to locate it and drag it under the covers. The screen is lit brightly enough to make you flinch when you open your eyes and turn off the alarm, and when the page vanishes with a click, you squint at the phone and notice several things at once. One, it's five-thirty in the morning – about an hour earlier than you usually get up. Two, this is not your phone; oh, it's the same make, but a significantly newer, much more high-end model. And three, Mai never replied.
Curiously, you pull back the covers enough for you to peek out. The faint hint of sunrise that's lighting the room just enough to see by isn't coming from above your head as is usually the case, but rather from a large window next to you. It's also landing only on the bed you're currently in, as well as the smaller closet that single rooms are usually provided with, a solitary desk and chair, and a few feet away, a door to the adjoining, small bath.
… why the hell are you in Shizuru's dorm?
You sit up with a puzzled, still-half-asleep frown that's quickly cleared away when the phone buzzes abruptly in your hand and almost scares you out of a few years. Once your heart isn't trying to pound its way out of your ears anymore, you curse fluently and glower at the screen, which is disinterestedly displaying a reminder.
SCM, 7 AM, SCR
What? You scowl at it and wonder idly if maybe you're still asleep, because so far, the day has the odd, disjointed feeling of 'this is fucking stupid' that's the closest you ever get to lucid dreaming, and if only for the sake of eliminating the option, you pinch yourself on the arm.
Nope. You definitely felt that, and now you're thoroughly awake. With a sigh, you swing your legs over the edge of the bed and stand, and decide that apparently it's going to be one of those days.
"Shizuru?" you call lowly, figuring that if you're in her room – and you wish you could remember coming here to begin with and get at least some idea of what's going on – then she has to be around somewhere, too. "Hello?" there's no reply, and you knock softly on the door to the bathroom, and finally, cautiously open it when there's no reply. "Shizuru?" But no, the bathroom is empty as well, and you scratch your head and puzzle over that before deciding that maybe she just had some godawful-early appointment that she had to leave for. That would explain why that phone went off so early, though you still don't know who the darn thing belongs to unless Shizuru decided to replace hers and you just haven't noticed it yet.
… actually, that would make sense, you decide as you send the abandoned little gadget a glance. Because in that case, SCM could be Student Council Meeting, and SCR could be Student Council Room. Of course, that raises the new questions of not only when Shizuru started listening to that style of music and how she could forget the phone in the first place, but also where the hell she is now, because walking from the dorms to the main buildings takes 15 minutes at most, not an hour and a half.
"Grmf." You put the little puzzle out of your mind and instead turn it towards finding some sort of non-nighttime outfit to wear. A flick of the switch bathes the room in light, and when you spot no clothes whatsoever lying around (typical Shizuru), you instead turn to the small closet, where she usually keeps anything you forget whenever you visit, and where she probably put the clothes that you presumably just left wherever. Sure enough, there's some of your stuff in there next to the numerous bits that make up the kaichou's uniform– actually so much of it that you wonder why you haven't been missing what looks like your entire out-of-school-wardrobe.
Eh. You shrug it off and take a breath as you set about changing, and while something about that breath rings a little bell in your head, you decide to ignore it. It's no more strange than anything else this morning.
None of the numerous little discrepancies go beyond ignoring until you're fully dressed and in the act of closing the door to the room from the outside. The motion-sensed lights in the hallway flicker to life, and just before you pull the door fully shut and let the automatic lock click into place, the small plaque at eye-level next to it freezes you in position where you stand.
Not five minutes later, you're back in the room and sitting on the bed with your head in your hands while you try your level-best to not hyperventilate. You've practically torn the previously neat space apart, but nothing has disproved the name on the wall outside. Those are your supplies in the bathroom, the third-year school books on the shelf all have your name in them, the phone is your phone, the laptop on the desk lets you in with a password that's obviously your choice, the quality of the air that made something in you react before was the fact that the only scent in here is your own, and worst of all, the various pieces of the several, tan-and-black uniforms hanging in the closet are all in your sizes.
What the fuck is going on?!
Okay, you tell yourself and run a shaking hand through your hair. Let's just take it easy. After all, there has to be an explanation, right? A life just doesn't turn into a completely different one overnight.
You're wracking your brain and starting to give yourself a doozy of a headache as you try to think of something – anything – similar to this ever happening to anyone. Outside of their dreams, that is, because at this point, you've pinched your arm so hard and so many times that there's a bruise forming, and yet you're still here in this damn room with all these damn facts practically slapping you in the face;praying to high heaven that the whole thing is just some really, really elaborate prank. Even if your sense of logic is snorting in derision at the thought alone.
Wait... Briefly, your eyes sharpen as you stare unseeingly at the floor between your feet, and then your gaze unfocuses as it turns inwards in foggy remembrance.
"It was... in a way, it was really nice," Mai's voice is saying. "Everyone was happy. But at the same time, it just felt so... so wrong."
The experience Mai had while under... was it the influence of Sister Yukariko's Child? St. Vlas? You frown as you try to remember. Yeah, it probably was. Mai told you about it a while back – about a month after the Carnival was over. She'd mentioned what had seemed to be a different world – no one was fighting, and something about how you'd been in a sports club yourself and running relays. Mai herself had been dating Tate, and while she had been happy in that dream world, she told you about how she just hadn't been able to shake the feeling that it wasn't right, somehow. And that feeling had been one of very few things that had allowed her to escape before she'd been crushed by St. Vlas while under that strange form of hypnosis.
Well, if the feeling that something was 'off' was all it took, you coulda woken yourself up a hundred times by now, you decide with a sigh. So obviously this isn't a similar situation, and you seriously doubt that locking yourself in here is going to give you much more information on what's going on – nor is it going to get you back to where you came from.
The phone buzzes again next to you, and you glare at it as it displays the reminder about that damn meeting again. You're still having massive problems in wrapping your head around the fact that you're a third-year student here - let alone the friggin' kaichou – but unfortunately, it seems that right now, your best bet is to play along with whatever your... counterpart would do, and hope to all hell that that'll lead you to some useful information.
Shit. You push yourself to your feet and check that the front door is locked before you start stripping down again, and then plod into the small ensuite to take a shower. Just under half an hour later you've just finished drying and brushing your hair, and you're now studying the right-hand side of the closet with a distinct sense of discomfort. Still, you force it away and will your hands not to shake as you slowly start removing items; starting with the easy ones. One pair of black, polished shoes. One pair of the knee-high, heavy winter-socks, and a single, white hoodie rather than the white shirt and red ribbon that you're used to seeing, because apparently you and your 'usual' version around here does have that much in common.
And then comes the items that honestly make you want you to collapse in hysterics: the simple, black skirt, and the tan blazer. It takes you several tries to actually lift either of them out of the closet, but after much cursing and no small amount of mild freaking out, you manage it, and settle both on the surface of the bed. You spend another several moments just staring at your chosen garments in abject disbelief, only to curse some more as you shake it off and force yourself to start dressing.
Every single item fits as if it had been tailor-made especially for you, and since some part of you was hoping that they wouldn't and would thus at least partially disprove this whole 'different world' theory, that's disappointing in the extreme. You stare at your own reflection in the full-length mirror attached to the inside of one of the closet doors, and even though you're expecting it, there's still a small, not at all pleasant sense of shock when your eyes travel high enough to see your own face looking back at you from above tan and black rather than orange and brown.
Wrong doesn't even begin to describe it and you'd rather flay yourself alive than ever see that sight again, but you're here and apparently stuck for the time being. No other choice but to suck it up and deal – and hopefully determine if you're supposed to act differently before it's too late to find out and people start getting suspicious.
At least your body seems to be working in your favor there, you muse as you study the schedule pinned to the wall and the neatly ordered books, and then begin sorting the ones you'll apparently need into the bag you find next to the desk. During your shower, you started noticing several subtle differences; you're used to a different muscularity than the one you're experiencing now, though as least this one's as discreet as your own. There's a little bit of extra width to your shoulders, and an additional power in your legs that you can feel whenever you move. You're standing straighter, and you can feel yourself walking differently, too – more evenly, somehow. You're used to a slight bounce in your step, but here it almost feels like you're floating, apart from the irritating restlessness that you just cannot shake for whatever reason.
The only explanation you can think up, you decide as you claim a collection of bills from a very prepared-looking little pile on the desk, is that somehow, you and your memories must have taken up temporary – or at least you hope so and quickly squelch any further such ponderings – residence in the body that belongs to the Kuga Natsuki of this reality. Exactly what has caused these discreet yet noticeable changes... well, that's something you're gonna have to figure out on your own. Somehow.
As for where your counterpart's gotten off to, that's something else you're going to have to look into. Along with – of course – exactly how you're going to get yourself back home.
That should be enough to keep anyone busy for a while, right?
"Kaichou-san! Are you listening to me?!"
You are, actually, but it's still extremely difficult to remember to react to that mode of address.
"Yes," you reply, though you only briefly glance up from the laptop in front of you to meet the... your executive officer's glowering face. You can't help it; the thing is a veritable treasure-trove of information – doubly so once you realized that it's actually your own, and not one supplied by the academy itself. Your counterpart seems to be organized to the point of almost being anal, but at least the meticulous notes on student council business that she's stored in here is keeping you from looking like a bumbling idiot for now. "I just don't see how you can set such harsh penalties for being out of uniform." You lean back almost lazily – drawing very heavily on what you remember from watching Shizuru in similar situations - and indicate yourself with one hand. "I'm not in the correct one either."
"Then stop wearing that stupid hoodie and start setting an example for the students to follow," Suzushiro Haruka insists, and slaps her palm down on the desk. "That's your job!"
"Exactly," you growl, because now she's starting to annoy you and you just don't have Shizuru's patience for this sort of stuff. "And I'm gonna set an example that they can actually use once they get out there!" You rise, and point sharply towards the windows. "Blindly obeying rules and regulations isn't gonna do a damn thing for them in the real world – it's only gonna get them shoved into a box they're never gonna get out of! They need to know how to buck the system and tell it to shove it if needed, and believe me, there are far worse ways to learn that than by not wearing a pristine uniform every now and then!"
Haruka is glaring stubbornly at you, but from the corner of your eye you can see Kanzaki Reito sipping his tea with his usual, calm demeanor while Kikukawa Yukino merely shakes her head and takes notes. Good things all, the back of your mind tickles you, since that means neither of them are finding the situation unusual in the slightest, and you wish that you could say the same for yourself. It's a small comfort that the rest of the student council consists of the same people, and not for the first time, you're wondering how the hell your counterpart got roped into this.
Did she volunteer for it, maybe; the way Shizuru told you she did? Did she – also like Shizuru – go into it for the sake of someone else, or was it simply something she wanted to do entirely on her own?
"Then how do you propose to teach them that there is such a thing as going too far, Kuga-kaichou?!"
Haruka's voice abruptly pulls you from your mental sidetracking, and although that title – and the volume it's currently being spoken at - still makes you flinch inwardly, you have to admit that she does have a point.
"In that case," you find yourself suggesting as you sit back down and fold your arms loosely. "I suggest that we decide exactly what 'going too far' means." There's a faint glimmer of approval in Haruka's eyes, but she quickly masks it. "And then you can pass out punishments to those who don't stay within those lines. Fair enough?"
"It'll do," she mumbles, and from her seated position a few feet away, Yukino quickly hides a small smile.
"I think we've covered everything for now, kaichou-san," she then speaks up, and glances at the clock on the wall. "There's still time before classes start for the day, so if you'll excuse us?"
"Sure." You shrug and return Yukino's polite smile with a benign look of your own; then feel your face twitch slightly when her gaze shifts and her expression falls so slightly its hardly noticeable.
"Haruka-chan?" Kanzaki is saying as he disposes of his teacup and straightens to offer his arm. "May I escort you?"
Now what, you wonder as the three of them leave the room and the door slides shut with a soft snick, is that all about? You puzzle over it for a few seconds, and then shake your head before refocusing your attention on the screen in front of you. Whatever the issue between the three of them is, it's not your concern and certainly not something you have the time to figure out right now. Even if your behavior during the meeting was apparently no different from what was expected of you, it's one thing to convince three people, and quite another to fool an entire academy full of students. Especially if 'Kuga-kaichou' is as admired in this world as 'Fujino-kaichou' is in your own.
She probably is, you decide with a wry twist of your mouth as you poke around the carefully labeled folders and documents saved within the recesses of the laptop. Based on the neatly sorted and thoroughly completed notes you're finding in here, this version of Kuga Natsuki is probably one of the top students in her year – something you confirm by logging into the academy's internal systems and looking up her profile. She's apparently also a member of both the swimming and diving clubs, and you make a mental note to figure out when you're supposed to attend those, because everything is pointing to the fact that it takes something very serious for her to not show, and that's a habit you'd rather not break.
"Working hard, or hardly working?"
"Ngh!" The sudden sound of another voice breaks your concentration very efficiently, and the surprise brought with it almost makes you fall over backwards. You catch yourself, though, and turn a glower at the intruder.
"Nao?" You feel a frown forming at the sight of the figure leaning against the door frame on one shoulder. Nao's arms are crossed in comfortable arrogance, and there's a smirk pulling at her lips that you presume to be at your expense. She looks several years older, which is only underlined by the fact that's she's dressed in the same uniform that you were wearing only yesterday. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Always so touchy in the mornings, kaichou-san," is her reply, and the way in which she draws out your title makes you scowl deeper. "Seriously," Nao then continues as she shuts the door behind herself and ambles closer to peer at the screen over your shoulder. "... did someone piss in your breakfast? Or haven't you had time to indulge yet?"
"What?" You turn your head to find lime-colored eyes twinkling mischievously at you from way, way too close by, and then there's a knowing touch on your chin and no distance at all, and you go taut all over from sheer shock when Nao suddenly just kisses you full on the mouth.
"Whoa!" Exactly what happened, you're not sure. There was just a sense of instinct kicking in; your own need to suddenly be anywhere else coupled with some different kind of fighting reflex in this unfamiliar body, followed by sudden, swirling motion, and the next thing you know, you're standing on the other side of the desk while Nao is sitting an odd kind of sideways in the chair and gaping at you. "What the fuck are you doing, Yuuki?!"
"Oh, for Gods' sake," Nao groans and lets a glare replace her shocked expression. "Don't tell me this is another one of your friggin' 'hands off' days!"
"There is a difference between discretion and just running hot and cold for no reason," Nao complains, while you're surprised that the implications haven't yet made your jaw disconnect from the rest of your skull. "Jesus!" she growls and throws up her hands. "At least warn me in advance if you decide to change into PMS-girl overnight!"
No, seriously... what?! You can't even keep up at this point – you're still entirely too staggered by the notion that... that your counterpart is... with NAO?!
"Hey!" A hand snapping it's fingers in front of your face brings you back into a place where time is flowing normally again, and you blink several times before you can make out a set of surprisingly concerned, pale green eyes studying you. "What's up with you today?" Nao asks, though much more quietly this time. "Did you hit your head or something?"
"I haven't ruled that out yet," you mutter, and rub your temples in an effort to make the headache recede.
"O... kay?" Nao sounds as confused as you feel, which is honestly kind of reassuring in an odd way. "Na-" She stops herself, and starts again. "Are you alright? You seem a little... off, to say the least."
Well, there's a surprise, you snark mentally. You feel as if you have no place in your own skin anymore – which is presumably true, given the several massive differences you've found between yourself and your counterpart in just a few, scant hours. Then there are hands on your shoulders when Nao has apparently made her way around the desk, and you're being carefully turned to face her while she studies you intently for several long moments.
"Who the hell are you?" she then asks with a faint undercurrent of anxiety. "You aren't Kuga, that's for damn sure."
"No, I am," you sigh; explaining this mess is well beyond you, but this version of Nao is obviously someone your counterpart trusts, and maybe she can help. "I'm just not..." You fish for words and make several vague gestures towards your surroundings. "...this one."
"I swear, if you start spouting some crap about alternate realities, I am going to hit you!"
"Alternate realities," you deadpan dutifully, and feel your head snap to the side when Nao's palm connects solidly with the side of your face.
You look around and rub your now stinging cheek. Student council room, Nao as a high-schooler, you as the kaichou... nope.
"Well," you mutter to yourself. "It was worth a shot."
"Christ." Nao's voice is a choked whisper now. "You're serious, aren't you?"
You nod. "'Fraid so."
"I don't know!" you growl in reply. "I went to sleep in my own bed last night, and when I woke up this morning I was here instead!"
Whichever expletive Nao's set aside for an occasion like this is drowned out by the ringing of the first bell. "... piece of... damn!" She closes your laptop and stoves it in your bag, which she then holds out to you. "Alright, then we're gonna have to make you fit in as much as possible. The academy is gonna go nuts if people find out their beloved kaichou-sama is missing." Pause. "Sort of. Do you have your- her schedule?""
"No," you admit as you take the bag and shoulder it. "Not on me, though I do have her books for today. English is the first class, right?"
"Advanced English," Nao corrects, and you curse softly. "Room 204, and after that it's Asian History." Her hand grabs your arm as she marches you to the door and into the still-deserted hallway beyond. "If you don't know something just keep your mouth shut, and if you get lost, find and follow Kanzaki – he shares all her classes." The two of you have reached a stairwell, and she stops here. "204 is down one level, turn left, first hallway, second door to the right. Lockers are on the ground floor, hers is number 157 and the combination is 0815."
"Not much for complex codes, is she?"
"Just get going," Nao hisses and shoves you towards the stairs. "You might be late from time to time, but she isn't! Whatever you do, pay attention in class and meet me in the usual spot during lunch, alright?"
You sigh and eye her dryly. "I'd love to," you drawl. "If only you'd tell me where it is."
Once again, Nao's cursing is buried beneath the sound of the bell. "...alright. When your second class is over, just wait outside. I'll find you." Another shove. "Now go!"
A few hours later, you find yourself sitting next to Nao on the roof of the academy's eastern wing. The late February weather still holds a definite chill, but 'the usual spot' is tucked against a small storage room up here, and the combination of the wall shielding you from the cool breeze and the noon sun beating down on you actually makes it a very pleasant place to rest. Before coming up here, she brought you by the cafeteria, where she stood in line behind you and muttered lowly.
Apple juice, 2 cartons. Ham-cheese and chicken-bacon sandwich. One orange, one pear – please tell me you brought the money and for fuck's sake stop scowling at everyone.
Nao crunches her own juice carton - orange - into a ball in one hand, and you manage to reach out and grab it from her before she can send it flying over the edge of the roof.
"Good to know some things don't change," she muses. "She never lets me do that, either."
You roll your eyes, but the comment brings a question to mind. "Do I act like her?"
She outright laughs at that. "Oh, hell no," she emphasizes, and then grins cheekily. "For one, you stopped me earlier." Your blush only makes her grin wider, and she's starting to get on your nerves as much as her counterpart back home does. "For another, you haven't lit up yet."
"Huh?" you grunt around the straw while you sip your own juice.
For an answer, Nao holds up one hand with two fingers extended; then touches the fingers to her own lips and draws in an audible breath. A split-second later, the hand is thumping against your back instead as you choke on your drink, and it takes several wracking coughs and wheezing breaths – which is oddly appropriate – before you can speak again.
"She smokes?!" Well, at least that explains the twitchyness you've been feeling – if your counterpart has a tobacco-habit, it's no wonder her body's clawing at you for not getting its usual dose.
"I've been trying to get her to quit for months," is Nao's answer as she leans back against the wall and folds her arms. "It's an open secret – everyone knows she does it, but no one ever manages to catch her at it." Her eyes cut to yours, and the corner of her mouth twitches faintly. "At least not anyone who'll tell on her. Although if you're any indication, maybe I should if it'll work. Certainly tasted a lot better."
You feel your face flush again and level the heaviest glare you can possibly muster at her, but apparently your alternate's done that enough that she's grown immune, because she only smiles sweetly in reply.
Pissfiddles, you decide and roll your eyes, and then settle on changing the subject instead, much as you're having trouble wrapping your head around this bit, too. "So you and her are dating?"
The smile fades. "Kind of."
"What?" Confusion seems to be the flavor of the... well, everything in this world. "How do you 'kind of' date someone?"
Nao looks away. "Easy," she replies, and her shoulders slump so faintly you barely even notice. "Fall for someone who doesn't know what she wants."
This definitely ranks in the top five of the most awkward moments in your life, you decide, and pick at the peel on your orange just to give yourself something to do until you can figure out what to say.
"I'm sorry," is what eventually comes out – inane as it sounds to even your own ears.
"Not your fault," she shrugs off your concern much like you expected, and falls silent for a few seconds before speaking up again with a noticeably more neutral tone to her voice. "Any other questions? If you're gonna hang around until my- until the Natsuki I know comes back, I guess I should at least help you fit her part."
"Mm, just one." You decide to ignore the dancing around the subject – it's none of your business anyway, and you've been extremely puzzled at the clear absence of a certain name and presence around here. "Where the hell is Fujino Shizuru?"
You watch Nao's face scrunch in complete incomprehension, and you can feel the color drain from your face before she even opens her mouth.