Disclaimer: Mai HiME doesn't belong to me. I'm merely screwing with the characters for my own personal enjoyment.
After Ever After
The story was supposed to end after the happily ever after.
It was certainly a fitting thought. The great evil beast had been slain, cut down after the destruction of his one defense against any attack, and the maidens he had once imprisoned in his sick war games were forever free of his influence. Those who had died had come back to life, and all was well and joyful again until the inevitable sequel when the new heroine had to battle the next villain who was trying to revive the old one for whatever reason.
It was, to be simple, how nearly every magical girl show Haruka had ever watched in her life always ended, though she supposed the comparison wasn't being particularly fair. She had never seen a magical girl show where somewhere past the halfway point all of the magical girls went insane and started trying to kill each other.
And that was the easiest part when it came to understanding the whole mess that her best friend had been involved in.
Oh, Haruka certainly understood the story, once the night had ended and Yukino had returned to her tired but happy. Tired, but alive. Yukino had told her everything then, and it had all come pouring out with no sign of stopping. All in all, she supposed the entire thing had lasted well until the early hours of morning, and by then Haruka had long since given up on getting any sleep that night.
So she understood the story.
What she didn't understand was why the happily ever after ending seemed less than satisfying.
It would have been a lie to say that Suzushiro Haruka regularly stopped to think about things.
In general, her strength wasn't in thinking, wasn't in stopping to linger over thoughts and ideas as they crossed her mind. When Haruka had a thought or an idea, she didn't stop to think about it. She acted on it, and she acted on it with every fiber of her being. It was how she'd been all her life, and it had served her well; frustrated her parents to no end, certainly, but never once had the method let her down. Thinking was a frustrating event for Haruka, because so often her thoughts ended up tangled and twisted until she couldn't even trace where they'd started. Acting before it got that far was much easier.
(That had been how she'd first met Yukino, whenever she really stopped to remember it. If she'd thought it through, she'd have probably gone to find the adults for help, and that would have been the end of it. But instead she'd acted on it, had rushed to her defense, and the way Yukino had smiled and the gleam in her eyes had made the bruises worth it.)
Certainly, that particular decision to charge headlong into anything that challenged her hadn't earned her any friends; Haruka was well aware of the rumors about her that floated through the hallways when no one thought she was listening. And after several weeks of working with them, she was completely and utterly convinced that Fujino Shizuru and Kanzaki Reito had been born onto this world specifically to drive her insane. But she had never wavered from her path.
And in general, it had always worked for her. Sure, she bruised a few egos and injured some people's sense of pride along the way, but if the direct approach worked, she wasn't one to question it.
But then, Yukino had changed.
Haruka, as a rule, didn't spend a lot of time reflecting back on that night; the night when Shizuru's eyes had gone dead and dull with shock, and she'd realized that even though dying really hurt, seeing Yukino with tears in her eyes hurt even more. She didn't reflect on that night because in the end she had come back to life, so it didn't really matter anyway.
Perhaps it was wrong to say Yukino had changed. Yukino hadn't changed at all; Yukino was still the quiet, sweet, supportive girl she had always been. If she stayed a bit closer to Haruka's side after the Carnival, if her touch lingered a bit longer and she watched the blonde for a little too long, the older girl never said anything.
It was more accurate to say that she had changed. She, Suzushiro Haruka, had been changed that night in some small, impossible to name, impossible to ignore way.
And it bothered her. It bothered her, because this wasn't something she could confront head-on and directly like she always had. This wasn't something she could beat into submission with her fists or her forehead. This was something inside of her, something that required time and thought to come to terms with.
Haruka would need to think.
She, as usual, blamed Shizuru for absolutely everything. It only seemed fair.
Because of course, it was Shizuru's fault. It was always Shizuru's fault. She wouldn't be thinking about these things—about two women and filthy acts and how it all somehow circled back to Yukino because dammit, everything seemed to circle back to Yukino—if not for that woman's actions that night. Kissing another woman while she slept, taking off her clothes and doing… things, things Haruka had always been taught could only occur between a man and a woman, and between anyone else it was different, and wrong, and not to ever be done.
Of course, granted, when she looked back on that particular memory she was… at least reasonably certain that Shizuru hadn't gone as far as men and women were supposed to go when they got naked like that. It had been hard to tell, but that Kuga girl had definitely been asleep and not an active participant, and from what she could make out Shizuru had only snuggled, and had otherwise kept her hands to herself. That still didn't make the one kiss Haruka had seen clearly right, exactly, but while she'd certainly been in shock over the sight of two girls kissing, she'd been far more enraged by the fact that Shizuru had stolen the kiss while the Kuga girl had no way of saying yes or no to it.
So perhaps she had gone a bit too far in also including Kuga Natsuki in her insult. Probably. Maybe.
It was only fair in her mind, really. Shizuru had threatened Yukino. No one threatened Yukino. Not while Haruka was around to do anything about it.
So in the end, it all circled back to Yukino.
And in the end, it was still Shizuru's fault.
Because while all thoughts inevitably circled back to Yukino, leave it to Shizuru to be the one to actually make Haruka think, well and truly think, about anything.
Especially when that anything was herself, and her own wants and needs.
So in the end, the happily ever after wasn't entirely happy, and while 'after' implied some sense of closure, Haruka found herself more confused after the Carnival than she could ever remember being before it. Whoever had invented the concept of a happily ever after and had made it widely accepted would suffer, she knew that much, if she ever happened to find them.
She didn't know how long she'd been sitting in the student council room, her chin in her hand, watching the sunset. She'd never been one to do something like this, soaking in the silence of a room. That had always been more Shizuru's thing, or something that Kuga girl occasionally had a weakness for, the few times she'd seen her relaxing in the room without the president anywhere in sight.
It was perhaps a sign of just how off she felt that she was currently the only one still in the room. Reito had left shortly after the council business had been resolved, and Yukino had lingered for as long as she possibly could before finally leaving, apologizing the whole way, to attend a karaoke event that Tokiha Mai girl had apparently organized.
Whatever Haruka had seen in the movies or read in the books had lied, it turned out. The silence of the room, the gentle splash of mixed colors, did nothing to help her thoughts arrange themselves in any way she could understand. If anything, the silence made her mind race even more.
Then again, considering magical girl shows had also lied, Haruka wasn't really shocked by the realization.
She sighed deeply, dropping her head into her arms, and appreciating the solid thunk of her head against the desk. The sound was loud, and the pain that briefly seeped through her temples was something real, something she could grasp and understand.
This was why she didn't like thinking. This was why she always acted first.
This had, in general, been a horrible idea.
Even so, she didn't move. Maybe time would freeze her like this. Maybe the sun would never set, and she'd never have to face another day of this. Another day of thoughts and feelings, of noticing things she'd never really noticed about Yukino before, of wondering things about herself that she'd never given a thought to.
Her plan was interrupted by the sound of the door sliding open. It said something, though Haruka wasn't sure what, about the fact that she didn't even raise her head to view the intruder.
"Ara, I didn't think you'd still be here."
… Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
"Go away," Haruka growled. Her mind was occupied to the point of causing her a headache, and having to deal with Shizuru was the last thing she wanted to do. Maybe if she kept her head down and her eyes closed, the other girl would take the hint and leave. Or better yet, simply cease to exist altogether, and take Haruka's thoughts and headache with her.
There was a pause, and for a moment Haruka wondered if the other girl would actually be merciful and heed her request. Order, whatever. She just wanted to be left alone, was the point.
"Kannin na, Suzushiro-san. It was brought to my attention that I neglected to check a certain topic for the meeting today, so I'm afraid I'll be intruding on you for a bit."
So of course, because she wanted to be left alone, she wouldn't get to be alone. Dammit.
Shizuru didn't speak again as she slid into the student council president's chair and opened up the school laptop, but Haruka didn't take any comfort from it. The moment had been ruined, and no matter how quiet the other girl was, she wouldn't be able to get that moment back.
Not that the moment had helped much anyway, really, but it was the principle of the thing.
"Suzushiro-san is quieter than usual," Shizuru noted after a few moments of silence had passed and neither girl had moved.
"Suzushiro-san would really like to be left alone."
"Suzushiro-san can always leave the room if she feels that way."
Damn the woman and her logic. Even if what she was saying was true; Haruka was being much quieter than she normally was. But that was really none of her business in the first place.
Grumbling a bit, Haruka lifted her face from her arms, glaring sourly at the red-eyed woman who was still sitting at the desk. Shizuru, for her part, kept her eyes firmly focused on the gentle glow of the laptop, her fingers dancing over the keyboard.
Dancing. Dancing. Haruka had never thought about a woman's fingers moving like a dance before.
Fuck it. The silence was driving her mad, anyway.
"This is all your fault, you know," Haruka said.
Shizuru's fingers stilled against the keyboard. Her eyes met Haruka's after a moment, and the small smile curving her lips was so fake that it made the blonde want to scream. "Excuse me?"
"This. It's all your fault." Haruka leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring. "You had to go and do… things, that night, to Kuga Natsuki. I wouldn't be thinking like this if you hadn't done those things."
"So since I did those things, it's my fault you're thinking about them?"
Something flickered through the burgundy depths of Shizuru's eyes, but it came and went so quickly that Haruka couldn't put a name on it. After a moment she rested her elbows on the desk. "Ara, if Suzushiro-san is really thinking such things, then they were already on her mind before I did anything."
Something in Haruka snapped. She wasn't sure if it was the smile on Shizuru's face, or the gleam in her eyes, or the teasing lilt in her voice. Maybe it was how utterly relaxed, utterly serene she appeared to be despite the current topic of their conversation. Maybe it was the fact that whatever Fujino Shizuru was, in that moment she seemed more comfortable in her own skin than Haruka had ever been her entire life.
But whatever the reason, Haruka snapped and saw red.
Her hands slammed against the desk with enough force to make it rattle; her chair clattered to the ground so loudly that anyone who was still in school probably heard it. The blood was roaring in Haruka's ears, though, and she didn't care. "You still brought them to the surface!" she roared.
Whatever reaction Shizuru had been expecting, it hadn't been that. The student council president nearly jolted back into her chair, eyes wide, but Haruka wasn't done.
"All my life… all my life, I was taught this was wrong. That the stuff you did that night was only something a man should do to a woman. That was what I was taught, damn you! And now thanks to you I've been thinking about it, questioning it! It's made me notice things about Yukino I never saw before! It's made me think about her in ways I never thought about before!"
Shizuru opened and closed her mouth several times, but no sound came out. She could only stare. Haruka was hazily aware of a blurriness clouding her vision, of a hot lump in her throat, and was almost horrified to realize she might be crying.
She wiped furiously at her eyes and grumbled, before picking up the chair and dropping back into it, running a hand over her face. "It's all your fault," she whispered. "This was supposed to be the easy part, right? It's all over now. So why is everything still so damn constipated?"
A thick, dark silence hung between the two young women for a moment. Haruka didn't look at Shizuru again; she didn't think she could, not right now. Too much of her soul had already been bared to the red-eyed woman that night, and now on top of this…
No. It was too much.
"Kannin na." The soft, hesitant voice made her peer through her fingers, and she realized the student council president wasn't looking at her, either. Shizuru's eyes were down, focused on her hands. "It was never my intention to make you doubt yourself, Suzushiro-san."
Haruka snorted softly, rubbing her eyes.
After a moment, though, she sighed. Damn it all to hell, but she was tired. She didn't have the energy for this little battle of wills, not right now. Not after all of this. Not when she had a million and one things to try and figure out.
"I'm not going to apologize for all of what I said that night," she muttered, and Shizuru finally looked at her. "The things I said to you about the student council, I wasn't wrong about that. But I will apologize for what I said about Kuga-san. She was inaccurate in all of this."
Shizuru blinked at her for a moment, and her lips twitched slightly; to Haruka's everlasting relief, though, she didn't point out whichever word it was the blonde had messed up. That was something only Yukino did, and she was grateful that the student council president respected that.
And once again, her thoughts circled back to Yukino again. Dammit.
"I will apologize, as well." Shizuru's voice was still soft, but she was looking directly at her for… probably the first time since they'd known each other, really looking at her, when Haruka thought about it. "What I did that night, to you and to Kikukawa-san, was…"
Because her eyes were going dark, Haruka got to her feet and leaned over the student council desk, lightly whapping the president over the head. Shizuru yelped and jerked back, looking up at her in confusion.
"Enough of that," she said, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring. "Yukino already told me the things you've done for her and for Yuuki-san, to make up for what happened. Hold your head high and be satisfied with that, instead of constantly apologizing."
Shizuru blinked several times, then gave a shaky little smile. "Ara—"
"If you ara me again, I'm smacking you."
It was an empty threat at this point, considering Haruka had already slammed her head into Shizuru's at the height of the Carnival madness. All the same, though, for some reason or another it made Shizuru's smile become more firm and whole, and she was… giggling?
"Kannin na, Suzushiro-san. You're just so bluntly honest sometimes. It really is refreshing."
Haruka was relatively certain that was a compliment, but she still flushed anyway, her crossed arms tightening around her chest. "Yes, well, one of us has to be honest about things."
The giggles seemed to have passed, but there was still a small, honest, amused smile on Shizuru's face. After a moment of studying Haruka, she reached down and pulled out a piece of paper and a pen, scribbling something down and passing it to Haruka. "Here."
Haruka took the paper, lifting a brow. "A phone number?"
"Someone I spoke to when I was questioning myself, much like you're questioning yourself now. I've found it helps to talk to others about these things."
Haruka blinked, then studied the number a bit more intently. She didn't recognize the name that was attached to it, but she was reasonably certain this was the school caretaker, of all people. "I'll think about it," she said at last, folding the piece of paper and tucking it away.
Seeming content with that, Shizuru powered down the laptop and packed it away, getting to her feet. She was almost out the door before Haruka thought to speak again. "Fujino."
Shizuru paused, looking back at her.
"If you need any help with Kuga-san, let me know." Haruka nodded, giving her a grin that was more confident than she felt. "There has to be something I could do."
Shizuru blinked, and for a moment she simply stared at Haruka, once again giving the blonde that odd sensation of realizing that for perhaps the first time, the other woman was really, truly looking at her and liking whatever it was she saw. After a moment, she smiled and lifted a hand in farewell.
"Ookini, Suzushiro-san. I'll keep that in mind."
Haruka lifted her hand to return the gesture, and Shizuru was gone. For a moment, she simply stared at the empty doorway before fishing out the slip of paper again, studying the phone number intently. The warm colors of the sunset were beginning to fade, replaced by the cool darkness of an approaching evening.
After a moment of hesitation, Haruka tugged her phone loose and flipped it open, dialing the number.
This time, she didn't let herself think about it. She simply pushed the 'send' button.
I feel like I may have overdone it with Shizuru's verbal tics, but she's really the first character I've tried to write for fanfiction who had a verbal tic like that. I suppose in time, practice will make perfect, and all of that. A shout out to DezoPenguin, since I was constantly checking his Mai HiME fanfiction to make sure I had the proper verbal tics and meanings for them as I wrote this.
This originally started out as an idea for a HaruKino piece, then gradually evolved into a Haruka character short, and then somewhere along the way Shizuru decided to hijack it and take it for a joyride. I apologize if one or both of the girls is OOC, but I tried to stay as true to them as I could manage considering the context.
Read and review, please!