The Messiness of Life
By Victoria G.
Disclaimer: I don't own the characters in this story.
Fandom: A mix of Mai HiME and Mai Otome characters, AU
Description: As I would say about all of the fics I write, this is not really about anything in particular. In general ff terms, it is mostly a Shizuru-centric AU, which begins with the first time she meets Natsuki. Characters are explored as they emerge and their stories are tied in.
Rating: M. I suppose that I should warn this story contains various adult themes and foul-mouthed characters.
Author's Note: Each chapter will consist of three parts, a "Narrative" done from the point of view of Shizuru, a "Digression" which explores another character, and an "Aside" which is a drabble. Additionally, for sanity's sake italicized and bold-faced dialogue will represent words spoken in English, whereas all other dialogue is spoken in Japanese. It is tentatively slated for 25 chapters.
Author's Side Note: I do realize that I've set up the story as though healthcare systems, medical training, and hospital hierarchy are the same in Japan as in America. I also acknowledge the ethnocentrism inherent in doing this. You write what you know I suppose, no offense was meant
Narrative #1: Every Rebellion
Date: August 22, 2013 … a Thursday
I took a seat on the shuttle that ran between Fuuka Hospital's main campus and the building housing the administrative offices. It was raining lightly outside and unseasonably cool. I did not mind either of the two, but I found some comfort in the dry warmth of the air inside the small bus. Due to the slowness of our interoffice mail system, I had taken it upon myself to bring over a few documents concerning the research study I was overseeing. Between the study subjects and my residents, it had been unusually busy. The third and fourth years were competent, devoted. Overall, I was quite pleased with the progress my new group was making as well. They were intelligent, dutiful, and eager...all I could ask for in a student. There was that look on their faces already though, the sort of blind worshipful look that seemed to grow older each time that I saw it. It was flattering and tiresome in the same breath. Today I had enjoyed the rare chance to once again run a case myself. My eyes dropped to the window where thin slashes of rain streaked across the acrylic panels. The tired machine jerked to a stop and I watched as a woman with dark hair jumped through the doors. She gave a curt nod to the driver, nearly throwing herself into the seat, swinging a satchel from around her shoulder onto the empty space beside her. The forceful way she moved caught my attention. The fact that she was absolutely gorgeous held it. I let myself take in the sight of her, indulging my curiosity.
She sat in the corner seat, long legs crossed at the thigh, her tight black jeans ending just above a pair of sneakers. They surprised me because I had not seen a pair like that in some time; white leather, rubber toe, deep purple stripes up the side, incredibly clean…as if she paid attention to their state. She wore what looked like a fitted, waist-length military jacket, the zipper of which came across at a diagonal. It was an unusual shade of blue, almost indigo, the off-white hood of a knit sweater hanging outside the collar. A set of silver headphones wrapped behind her head ended in thin metal earpieces resembling lightning bolts and lead to a phone she was fiddling with. The ear that I could see, the left, was pierced four times. Her black hair was gathered loosely, escaped strands falling around her face. The eyes that stared down at the screen in her hand were impossibly green. She was silently but clearly conveying that she had no interest in interaction of any kind with a deliberateness that intrigued me. I felt ridiculous as my heart beat strongly against my ribcage. I was far too old for crushes, especially such sudden ones.
I looked down at my purse, slipping out the book I had been reading, opening to the page that my bookmark lay against. I read the same sentence five times, not once understanding it before I sighed and closed my eyes. Against my better judgment, I allowed myself another look in her direction. One arm rested on top of the bag beside her, fingers on her left hand dangling, a rather nice watch hanging from a thin wrist. Her head was turned, and my gaze followed the lines of her neck as she stared out the windshield. I saw the tip of a tattoo beneath her hairline, the back of her sweater preventing me from being able to guess what it was. She was every rebellion I could think of rolled into the prettiest package I'd ever seen. I was actually pleased she never looked my way because my impulse would have been to smile and I was not entirely certain how that would have been received.
When we stopped, I waited deliberately for her to rise before I stood up. I thanked the driver on the way out. I watched her stalk, there wasn't a better word for how she was walking, through the revolving glass door. My eyes stayed on her even as we waited, a few paces away from one another, for the elevator. She had yet to even look in my direction, which made me smile. To have avoided it this long already, indicated it was intentional. As the elevator doors opened, she paused for a moment, flipping her hair unnecessarily and then moved inside. I stepped in as well. The steady tap of some drumbeat poured distractingly from her headphones in the confined space.
"Can I press a floor for you?" I asked and she made no discernible response. It was very possible she could not hear me. As I depressed white circle labeled '5', quite suddenly she was next to me, pressing the button below. I turned my body to remove myself from in front of the panel, which resulted in her brushing my side and us standing rather close.
The beautiful woman stared at me so boldly with those gorgeous eyes that it, oddly enough, rendered me shy. For lack of a better response I smiled, to which she responded by making a completely baffling expression composed of a single concerned eyebrow, a single surprised eyebrow, and a slightly curled lip. My only recourse was to continue smiling, to which she responded by ignoring me completely and retreating to the back corner.
We did not look at one another for the duration of the ride up, whatever small talk I would have made blocked by her blasting music. When the elevator stopped and she stepped out, she turned the volume up impossibly higher. With the levels she had reached, it surprised me to note there was no blood trickling from her ears. Before the door closed, I was mildly surprised to see her embrace an older, thin man with an afro who I vaguely recognized as the head of the research laboratories. To some degree, I felt foolish for thinking so much on a girl I would likely never see again and showed no interest in me. I shook my head at myself as the metal doors closed in front of me. It amused me that I was so shaken by the sight of an angry, albeit attractive, stranger.
Digression #1: Tate Yuuichi
Date: April 14, 2012 ... a Saturday
"Kuga, what's in these boxes?" Tate Yuuichi's voice was strained as he hauled in yet another box, that like the three he had already carried, was close to unliftably heavy.
"Books." She answered gruffly, from the doorway where she was struggling to push a small sofa through with another woman whose gritted teeth and livid stare were starting to scare him.
"What do you want with so many books?" He asked between puffs of air, as beads of sweat broke across his forehead.
"To…uh… Nao lift it up!... read them…"
"What the hell do you think I'm doing? Why don't you goddamn look first, you're crushing me with it!"
"I'm not…wait watch it! You're gonna tear it."
"I'm not gonna tear it, you clumsy idiot! Turn it." With a wary glance, he took the extra steps to the side door, placing the box down in the living room and wiping at his face with his shirtsleeve. Those two girls together would be the death of him.
"I AM TURNING IT!" Soft brown eyes peered around a half-wall as a loud thump echoed, followed by a sharp cry. "IDIOT! YOU DROPPED IT ON MY FOOT!" He couldn't see the dark-haired woman because she was still outside, but he could imagine the expression of outrage, the one that turned her from pretty to terrifying in an instant.
"I told you to turn it, pup." The redheaded woman was taunting her. Why did the girl always have to do that when Natsuki was already angry? Like a schoolboy taunting a girl he liked because he didn't know what else to do with himself. It was annoying because he'd be the one who had to deal with the consequences of it. "With those mannish arms, you'd think you'd be able to handle a fucking couch!" Oh boy.
"Kuga, let me and Takumi get the couch." The suggestion was meant to be helpful.
"OI TATE, STAY OUT OF IT!" His eyebrows shot up.
If there was one thing he found completely unpredictable, it was women. He was a solution-oriented person. If there was a problem, he would fix it. The couch was stuck; he could fix that. With women though it was never about the couch being stuck. It was about things he saw as unconnected, things that never entered his mind when looking at the couch. It was apparently about respecting her as a person, or him not believing she was capable, or if her mood was right about the state of their entire relationship. Even Natsuki, who was so much less like that than the others he had met, still could manage to twist things around him like a noose, especially if she was hungry. He sighed, looking at the ceiling. One time… one time he wanted it to just be about the couch. Running a hand through short brown spikes, he released a frustrated grunt. In his younger days, when he dyed his hair that silly orange-blonde, when hers had dark blue streaks and both of their tempers were much shorter, he would have stomped off, stopped helping, but he had more patience now… or maybe he was resigned to this sort of craziness.
"Fine." He wandered back toward the truck. In ten minutes he expected the couch to be sitting abandoned in the doorway. In ten minutes he expected the two girls to say nothing about it and start moving boxes in the side door. In ten minutes he would find Takumi and they would move the couch in. In fifteen minutes it would never be spoken of again. In the meantime, back to those god-awful, back-breaking books.
"What are they doing over there?" A nervous voice sounded from inside the truck. A slim young man was moving boxes, trying to dig out a coffee table for them to put their lunch on.
"Getting a couch stuck in the doorway." He answered, smiling roguishly at the knowing look in the other's eyes. He did not have to ask if his assistance would be welcome as they pulled the piece of wooden furniture out together, easily placing it on the grass, where they both sat on its top for a minute to catch their breath.
Yuuichi sipped from a bottle of water he'd left with the truck, noting the off-white sofa was still lodged in the front door, but both women had departed.
"You feel okay?" He asked casually, listening to the respiration from the boy…man now, beside him. It was a habit for all of them, to see to Takumi. His shortness of breath had improved after the transplant surgery, but still, all of them thought about it, remembered seeing him gasping on the ground, clutching his chest when an attack seized him.
"Yeah." He smiled without meaning it, as he always did when they asked that question.
"We should get that couch inside."
The thin man laughed. "Yup."
The angle was the problem and it wasn't easy, but by flipping the entire piece on end, they were able to edge it inside. They made short work of bringing it into the living room where Nao sat throwing distasteful glances at what looked like the pieces of some sort of television stand and swatting at Natsuki's beloved dog as he kept trying to crawl into her lap.
Yuuichi said nothing when he walked out of the room, but being useful, feeling useful relaxed him. As he passed around the corner to the foyer, he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see green eyes looking up at him. Her brows were knit together in a worried expression.
"Sorry." She said quietly, standing on tiptoe to plant a quick kiss on his lips, her soft hand on his neck.
He smiled at her and squeezed her other hand where it hung by her hip. "I like your arms Kuga."
Her cheeks turned the faintest shade of pink and she looked away, as she always did when anything resembling a compliment was said to her. She did manage a half-smile before they parted, and he walked back outside. In one more year she'd be moving into her mother's house permanently. She'd sat on the property since her inheritance passed to her at the age of eighteen. Funny that all it took was her sister, Alyssa, starting school in Japan next year to finally convince her to use it. They'd been together six years officially; it had taken almost as long to wear her down in the first place. They'd made it through her attending an exchange program in England, seeing each other only sparingly when vacations allowed. It hadn't felt real until she moved back. Even if they were still a train ride away from each other, Kyoto was close enough for now.
He wondered at the fact that she still seemed surprised by kisses, even those she initiated. She had told him before that his face felt scratchy, but even when he just shaved, the reception was only a little more favorable. They called each other by their last names more often than not. It had evolved into a term of endearment. They'd known each other since they were twelve after all. He'd never been scared of her the way the other boys were. She was different than the other girls, he noticed it almost immediately. She didn't care about who liked who and what this one said. She was more practical, more logical, more like him, even if she was a bit hostile at first. It didn't last. They'd protected each other, confided in each other, and been each other's only real friend until their circle began to gather... until Mai and Nao.
It didn't change until their senior year in high school. He woke up like any other day and walked into his history class. She was sitting at her desk, the sunlight playing in her hair and he noticed something. His best friend, now full of piercings and attitude, was gorgeous. It hit him like a brick, and then like a truck when she looked his way. She had slapped him when he kissed her the first time, hard in fact, so hard that he still remembered the sting that burned all the way from his neck to his eye. He dated a bit in the years that followed, tried to get over it, but he could never get her out of his head, besides which they were friends. She was always there, looking so beautiful and staying so different than the others. Then things slowly started to fall into place for them, very slowly, five years of slowly. There were wrenches sure, Shiho for one. She'd been quite a large wrench too, not as large as she'd been with him and Mai, but a problem still. Natsuki had dealt with Shiho so differently than Mai. Natsuki dealt with everyone differently than Mai.
They were inversions of each other in that respect. Where Mai was friendly to a fault, to the point where someone had to go out of their way to prove themselves unworthy of such kindness, Natsuki was standoffish to a fault, to the point where someone had to go out of their way to prove themselves trustworthy. Mai had tolerated Shiho's possessiveness of him, Natsuki hadn't…ever. Then there was the much smaller wrench of Takeda and the continuously growing wrench of the tattoos and piercings. They were taking over her body. They scared his mother, though in fairness his mother had never liked her for reasons that were beyond him. His feelings about the body modifications were much more simple. He thought that covering skin like hers was a shame. He would never tell her that, but she knew anyway. She could tell, which he felt bad about. All of that aside, they'd always found their way through it.
Natsuki…theirs was not the relationship he had pictured when he first started to settle into the idea of having one in the first place. It was not home-cooked meals, and noisy sex, and the comfort of her presence. There was her nice smelling hair, her softness, that she was so damn beautiful, and that as much as she tried to pretend she wasn't, Natsuki was a very thoughtful person once you won her over. More than that though, there was the undeniable fact that they liked each other as people. They cared about one another. She never drew the line, the one divided men from women emotionally. Her expectations for him were because he was a person, only because he was a person…just loyalty, respect and never that he would treat her like a princess or pay for things or take care of her. He loved that about her, but they were not affectionate with each other in the traditional sense. She patted his back, squeezed his arm, kissed him with an embarrassed quickness, reassured him in ways that he felt were almost confusingly friendly. She would startle or occasionally glare when he looked at her naked, had a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of shyness. Unusual for a girl with tattoos and piercings he thought, even more unusual for a girl with such a varied and extensive collection of lingerie.
He tolerated the shyness, was compassionate about it to a point. He had his own insecurities and hers nurtured his. He started to hurt over it, quietly and only every once in a while. The affection in her unique eyes, in her smile, helped but were confusing as well… because she loved him, but sometimes didn't seem to be in love with him. It was harder to explain than that, she couldn't let him really have her. There were moments though that gave him hope when she momentarily forgot her self-consciousness and those moments, every single one of them still amazed him. It was the way she would hold his head to her chest in the rarest exchanges between them when he could hear her heart racing because it was proof that he affected her, at least in some minor way. The longer they were together, the more it bothered him, the rareness of these moments. He didn't know if it was because she was shy or because she really didn't want him with the same strength he wanted her, that she never would. It was a nagging fear and she would not live with him. It was school she'd said, always too busy. He fingered the ring in his pocket, the one that belonged to his grandmother, the one he kept on him at all times now because some part of Tate believed if it was exactly the right time Natsuki would say 'yes' and he wanted to be ready. She said 'no' the first time, but things would change for them, he was sure of it, that's what marriage did. He was sure that if they got married she would finally let him take care of her once in a while even if she didn't expect it, provide for her in some way. For as long as he'd known her, Natsuki had needed no one and still needed no one. Everyone needed someone, didn't they? And he needed her. All this was her way, he rationalized. The girl had always been difficult to figure out. Why would she stay with him for so long if she didn't love him if there wasn't something there? One thing she'd always needed was lots of time and he was not a quitter, and he cared, so he stayed.
"Alright, who's hungry?" He watched Mai pulling some bags out of her car and jogged over to help her with them. "Oh, thanks." She startled as he took them from her, not because she was surprised, but because it was him. She always startled when it was him, was different in a way he couldn't pinpoint.
"Yeah, no problem." He answered.
There was something about the redhead that crawled under his skin and made a home there since the first time they'd met. A sort of angry tickle that wouldn't go away no matter how hard he pushed at it. Sometimes it felt like every word they spoke to each other was sarcastic, or misplaced, or so awkward that it was barely worth speaking and then other times it was like they spoke a language only the two of them understood. It was that part that led to their tumultuous and very short-lived relationship when they were both sixteen. They had even argued over who was dumping who when they ended it after just six months. They did not get along, and they got along well, they could barely stand each other and yet they were friends. They walked toward the house a set distance away, their special brand of tension like an invisible wall between them.
Aside #1: Non-Profits and a Brief History of Fuuka Hospital (Background)
Fuuka Hospital was small but well-positioned in a wealthy section of the country. It was built by a Catholic Parish in the early part of the 1930s and staffed for several decades largely by nuns. The convent was still nearby. The hospital's handsome, gothic facade looked out of place among the other architecture of the region. The steepled points of the attached chapel, jutted out from the valley in which it was situated like a pair of wolf's ears. Unfortunately, due to a lack of sufficient donations, the building fell into disrepair and by the 1980s was nearly unusable. Shortly after, it fell into the hands of First District Healthcare's Community Rehabilitation Project. In an effort to 'preserve the historical appeal' of the building, the company hired a rather eccentric young architect with a grand plan to create a 'building within a building'. The restoration was funded out of the seemingly bottomless pockets of First District Healthcare's philanthropic affiliates. As a result, the gleaming glass and steel so very typical of hospitals were revealed to be a shell when one stepped through the energy-efficient revolving doors. The imposing stone of the old Fuuka Hospital was assimilated within the new design like some display in a museum. The uniqueness made the building something of a novelty and the project was, by all accounts a success. Due to regional demographics, Fuuka's clientele was largely upper echelon. As such the administration handpicked their staff from an overwhelming pool of applicants, most of whom's Curriculum Vitae saw nothing but the front end of a shredder. It took connections to secure a position, charm perhaps, but connections were better.
First District was an integrated healthcare system servicing the whole of Japan, or at least was established as such. Its connection to SEARRS was well buried in legalese and layered subdivisions. The company began buying up small, run-down hospitals in Japan some 30 years ago. Both First District Healthcare and the Community Rehabilitation Project were the brainchild of then up and coming Edward Searrs, a fresh 21 at the time and looking to make an impact on the family business. All the hospitals purchased by CommRehab, as it was referred to within the corporate offices, had been converted into state of the art facilities with a strong focus on medical research. SEARRS' partnership with Iwasaka Pharmaceutical ensured profit and was in point of fact the true reason behind the creation of First District Healthcare at all. The majority of Fuuka's research studies were funded by grants from Iwasaka, whose pharmaceuticals were tested during the clinical trials. The chemistry labs, the ready pool of potential research study participants…it made the venture worth the price of maintaining First District's non-profit status.
Non-profit was an interesting business model in itself as no business could ever truly survive such a thing. Non-profit had to be profit shifted, reallocated, redirected. The books were non-profit. They funneled their finances back into research, into pharmaceuticals. As such, nearly any higher-ranking physician within the First District system was connected to the research aspect of their hospital in some way. It was either through their own pet projects, sanctioned of course by the overseers from Smith Consulting, or by running research studies with the hospital. The combination of SEARRS' financial support and a stellar marketing team, made putting the proper spin on their enterprise relatively simple. Outreach and intelligent advertising painted a portrait of a company that genuinely cared about bettering the community, rather than the real version where access to quality healthcare was a convenient side effect of smart business. SEARRS had even sporadically lent their name to donated or renovated patient buildings within the system and so the entire operation appeared the very picture of a philanthropic big business.