Building a Bridge

A Princess Nine fan fiction by

Douglas Neman

The rain had stopped, but it was still muggy and the field was mud. That shouldn't have stopped them from practicing, but by unspoken consensus, they called it a day off and lounged around the locker room. Even Izumi took one look out the door and just scowled. Mother nature scowled back. Coach was nowhere in sight.

Hikaru caught a glimpse of something in Ryo's bag and asked, "Hey, is that the new CD from Next Century?"

"Yeah, just came out today," Ryo replied.

"Huh," Seira grumbled quietly. "You mean Last Century."

"Oh, they're not that bad," Mao said. "They're still better than Fifth Avenue and Shop Window Dummies."

"Hey!" Yoko exclaimed. "What's wrong with Shop Window Dummies? They're awesome! I saw them in concert last December. I got one of them to smile at me!" Her eyelids fluttered and she giggled.

"Oh my goodness!" Nene exclaimed. "Did you get to go backstage?"

Yoko's face instantly transformed into a scowl. "I tried, but that bodyguard wouldn't fall for my natural charm and my pretty face."

"All their dance moves are copied from The Yamaki Brothers," Seira grumbled.

"Who, Shop Window Dummies?" Kanako asked. "Or are we still talking about Next Century?"

"I think she means both," Koharu said.

"Fifi says they're all equally good, but the drummer for Next Century is really hot."

Everyone stared at Yuki for a moment.

"What do you think, Izumi?" Ryo asked, partially to break the silence and partially to include Izumi in the conversation.

Since Izumi had joined the team almost a week earlier, Ryo had repeatedly tried to get her to interact with her teammates, but the ice queen was a tough nut to crack. One of the many things about Izumi which baffled Ryo was that Izumi had to be aware of Ryo's constant attempts to include her in conversation and group outings, yet Izumi hardly responded at all one way or the other.

At the moment, the team's newest member was leaning against the wall, gazing out the window.

"Hmm," Izumi said, in the way that only she could say it. It was a simple sound which stopped just shy of being arrogant, a sound that gave you the feeling that she had already analyzed the topic five months earlier, shredded it, and dismissed it.

"Seira is right that almost everyone's dance moves are copied from The Yamaki Brothers," Izumi said, without turning around. "But The Yamaki Brothers copied their dance moves, and their music, from Nine Lives. And yes, the drummer for Next Century is really hot, but not as cute as the bass player for Shop Window Dummies."

"So what's your favorite music?" Ryo asked, again trying to get Izumi to interact with the team.

"Oh, it changes frequently," Izumi said. "Right now it's Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat major by Franz Schubert. Particularly the second movement."

"Ohhhh," everyone said quietly. The locker room was silent for a moment.

"Hey, where's coach?" Hikaru suddenly asked. "We're way past the time he usually comes in and shouts at us."

"Last I saw, our fearless leader was headed for the groundskeeper's storage shed with a 12-pack," Izumi said.

"Oh, man!" Seira burst out. "He is so lame!"

"Well, today doesn't really feel like a practice day, anyway," Kanako said.

"Yes, and I can get back to designing my dream dressing room!" Yoko squealed, pulling a pen and a pad of paper from her bag. "I love things that are ergonomic, so the stereo controls will be along the left side of the makeup counter, and the ice bucket with the champagne will be on the right, all within arm's reach!" She giggled.

"Don't forget the phone," Seira said. "You'll need to keep it close so you can speed-dial your plastic surgeon."

"What?" Yoko shrieked. "Seira!"

"Gosh!" Hikaru exclaimed. "You're so noisy!"

Izumi sighed. "I'd rather practice in the mud than listen to this." She opened the door. "Anyone else?"

Awkward silence.

"I'll come," Ryo said with forced cheerfulness.

"Don't force yourself on my account," Izumi said.

"Yeah, stop wasting your time on her, Ryo," Seira said wearily.

The air around Izumi became frigid and her eyes locked on Seira like a guided missile. "What was that?"

"Did I stutter?"

The two girls challenged each other with their eyes.

"Seira..." Ryo began.

"It's the truth, Ryo," Seira said. "She tries to destroy our team and everything we've worked for, then two days later she joins us." Seira glared at Izumi. "I don't buy it. I think the ice princess changes her mind at the drop of a hat, just like with her choice of music, and it's only a matter of time before she walks away. Soon as she gets bored, it'll happen."

"But Seira, Izumi didn't destroy the baseball team!" Nene said. "She cares about us! That's why she changed her mind and didn't collect on the bet!"

"Exactly," Seira breathed intently. "She changed her mind. On a whim."

Everyone was silent as Seira's words sunk in.

Izumi pushed the door closed again. "Fine," she said. "You obviously have a problem with me. So let's hear the rest of it."

"Oh, I got lots of problems with you, your highness," Seira said. "But as far as this baseball team is concerned – which is all that matters – that's pretty much it."

"You question my commitment."

"Oh, look," Seira said. "The girl catches on."

"In the five days I've been a member of this team, I have practiced harder than most of you combined," Izumi said. "I dare anyone to dispute that. Right. Now."

She looked around the locker room. No one said a word.

"Well, that demolishes the concern about my commitment," Izumi said coldly. "Anything else?"

"It's not your commitment, Izumi," Mao said simply. "It's you."

Her eyes widening ever so slightly in surprise, Izumi turned her laser glare onto Mao. Out of all of them, Mao was the second-to-last person Izumi would have expected to speak up. (Yuki held the honor of being absolutely last in that category, by a mile.)

"Just what does that mean?" Izumi asked.

Mao was neither timid nor angry. She spoke plainly. "You barged in here, telling us all that you hated Ryo. Well...that's your business, I guess. But you hated Ryo so much that you wanted to disband the team. And...well...this team has become a home for all of us."

Around the locker room, the girls looked at Izumi silently as Mao spoke.

"This team is important," Mao said. "We've only been together for a few weeks, but it's already like a second family, a family many of us need. For some of the girls in this room, it's the reason they were awarded a scholarship to a prestigious school in the first place, which means they have a chance for a better future because of this team. didn't care about any of that."

Izumi stared at Mao, transfixed.

"You just came in here like a whirlwind, and you wanted to destroy us," Mao continued. "Our friendships, our futures...all of it, just because you got into a snit about something. The hurt you would have caused us was nothing to you. And then you just changed your mind, again like it was no big deal. We still don't know why you almost destroyed us, and we don't know why you did the one-eighty. And...well...I have nightmares about it. Every night, I have this dream that you'll do it again. That you'll change your mind again, just like Seira said, and you'll go to your mother and somehow make her take all of this away from us. Just because you feel like it. Just because you can. You make us all feel...powerless."

The locker room was silent for a long time. Mao and Izumi looked at each other.

Finally Izumi broke her gaze away and sat down. Her expression was neutral, but Ryo thought she could see that Izumi was pondering something deeply. (Wow, Ryo thought. I'm actually beginning to read Izumi! So it is possible!)

"You're right, and I'm sorry," Izumi finally said.

"Huh?" Hikaru asked quietly. Seira's eyes about doubled in size.

"This is extremely difficult for me to talk about," Izumi said. "But you're right. My behavior was very callous toward the rest of you, and I never once stopped to consider how it might affect you. Please accept my humblest apologies. You have my word that I will never again try to harm this team." She looked at Seira. "You also have my word that my commitment to this team is total."

Seira looked down, unable to meet Izumi's gaze, wondering about this.

"Thank you, Izumi," Mao said. "That means a lot."

Izumi nodded.

"So just what was all that garbage about?" Hikaru asked.

"I'm ashamed to speak of it," Izumi said. "So I'll tell you, but in return, I ask that you respect the fact that doing so will make me vulnerable to you, and to please withhold judgment." Izumi looked at Seira. "Even you."

Seira gave a resigned smile and looked down. "Yeah. I guess we can do that."

"It's complicated," Izumi said. "Let's just say relationship with my mother has not been good in a very long time."

The others watched silently as Izumi, of all people, opened up to them.

"She lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes this baseball team," Izumi continued. "Especially Ryo. She has a special fondness for her star pitcher."

Ryo noticed the diplomacy with which Izumi handled that statement. Out of all the girls in the room, only she and Izumi knew the reason for the chairperson's interest in Ryo, and that wasn't something either girl was willing to talk about. Not yet.

"So you got jealous?" Seira smirked, coming dangerously close to the very judgment she had promised not to render.

"Jealous doesn't cover it," Izumi said quietly. "I won't excuse my actions, but I ask you to understand them. I became enraged in a way I cannot describe. All the hatred and resentment I feel towards my mother just exploded when I realized exactly how much this baseball team, and Ryo in particular, was dominating her time and attention."

"Yeah, well...I won't judge you, 'cause I said I wouldn't," Seira replied. "But as bad as that is, it doesn't seem like enough of a reason to go off the deep end. I mean, you basically-"

"That's enough, Seira," Ryo whispered, and there was something in her voice, and in her face, which affected them all. "There's more to the story than what Izumi's telling you, and...I understand why she did what she did."

The room was silent again as everyone took in this little tidbit of information.

"Whether you understand it or not, that was why I tried to destroy this team," Izumi said. "I changed my mind when I realized how deeply I'd hurt my mother." Izumi withdrew into herself a little at the memory. "At the last second, I realized that we needed a cease-fire. Besides...she got the message."

"So are things better between you two, now?" Nene asked.

"Hmp." Izumi gave a weak smile. "A little." She raised her head and looked all of them in the eye. "Again, I apologize for what I did. I was selfish, and I could have handled the situation much more maturely than I did, and I am ashamed of that. Whatever problems I have with my mother in future, I swear that I will never again use other people as weapons or as collateral damage."

"Well...I hope things work out between you two," Koharu said.

"Thank you," Izumi said. "And I have one final request. To me, she is my mother. To the rest of you, she is the chairperson of the board of trustees, and that is how you should continue to view her. I don't want you looking at her as the mother of a teammate who has problems at home, and I certainly don't want you telling the rest of the student body anything I've spoken about here."

"We understand," Hikaru said.

"As the daughter of the school principal, I definitely understand," Kanako said.

"We won't say a word," Ryo promised. "And thank you, Izumi."

Izumi nodded. She and Ryo shared a look of understanding.

The door burst open. "Why aren't you out there practicing?!" Coach Kido exploded.

"We are practicing!" Nene said excitedly. "It's a new method I read about in a comic book! It's called Zen Baseball!"

"Zen Baseball?" Coach Kido asked incredulously.

"That's right!" Nene said. "We sit around a room and think about baseball! Our meditation makes us better players!"

Coach Kido narrowed his eyes. "Uh huh."

"Actually, we'll tell you why we're not out practicing if you can tell us where you've been for the last hour," Seira said.

"Hey, I'm the coach. I don't answer to anyone."

Izumi stood up. "Maybe not, but according to the clock, practice is over. So I guess we'll see you tomorrow. If you can get out of bed."

She walked past him, out the door.

"Yeah!" Hikaru said. "Go knock back the rest of your 12-pack, coach! We'll see you tomorrow!"

"Good night, coach," Ryo said. "See you in the morning."

The girls filed past him and walked back to the main school building.


Coach Kido watched them go, a whimsical smile on his face. Not one of them had realized that he had been listening at the door for about five minutes.

See, princess? he thought. I knew you'd be better off with teammates than going through high school alone.

He walked back outside and shut the door behind him. Hikaru's suggestion of finishing his 12-pack sounded like a good idea to him.

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