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bouquet of duelists

Chapter Text

The sky is crimson, and the sun is beating down on them with the intensity of the end of the world, sapping the energy out of every person in its grasp. Sweat rolls down Utena's neck, chest heavy with weight of a lead heart. She has been pushed to the point of exhaustion, her muscles aching and crying out for relief, but she won't go down without a fight to the end. Her legs stay standing.

For you.

For friendship, for passion, for the connection that I know you must have felt between us.

You agreed to be friends, didn't you? You've always wanted more friends, and if there's anything I can count on, it's the words I heard come straight from your mouth without pretense. Weren't those feelings your own? They have to be, because, because, because-

Anthy clings to his body without batting an eyelash, draping her hands across his torso with maturity beyond her years, and says to Utena, sending an arrow straight into her heart, piercing as intensely as Cupid's weapon and as painful as a warrior's strike:

"Farewell, Miss Tenjou."

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Heart-wrenching pain - literally - erupted through Juri's entire body, a sensation so visceral and overwhelming that every part of her, for a moment, seems to disappear from existence. But it only lasted a second and then all her limbs felt like they were going to burn off into ashes, which might be the preferable alternative to whatever was happening. Her soul had been ripped from her, and by the person she loved the most. The only word left in her thoughts, repeating over and over like a mantra to keep her mind from going, was "Shiori."

Th breadth of the empty room made the silence hang heavier, the only noises being Juri's labored, sporadic breathing, slowly turning into occasional gasps, and then nothing. Soft, dainty footsteps trailed away.

This love that made her too weak to move was always, always, always just out of reach, despised, unrequited, an impossible feat that would take...

Her sight was wavy and more unreliable than a dream's, but she heard, while on the edge of consciousness...

Shiori stopped. The door hadn't opened.

"I don't understand you," she whispered. "Someone like you, who has everything... Don't choose someone like me." She pulled the creaky doors open and slammed them shut behind her, unrelentingly closed off.

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When Juri awoke, she could barely remember the events that had occurred, but the locket strewn beside her limp body had been a clue obvious enough to jog her memory. The most important part, however, was lost.

Chapter Text

It's been a long day. Anthy tries not to keep mind of things like that, because keeping track of time wears down her soul and she's learned that the hard way. With gentle, muffled shuffling, she makes her way over to Utena, who's fallen asleep at the table in their room. That's no good; she'll catch a cold in this night air.

Speaking of night- the giant window overhanging their bed is a glaring reminder of the reason for Utena's little nap. The constellations that can be seen through the stained glass shine like the crystal earrings Utena still clutches in her hand, millions of gifted diamonds floating in the universe.

Anthy hates the stars.

She reaches out to Utena's face, and gently brushes the back of her hand against the girl's cheek, fingertips trailing across her content expression. Anthy pulls back. Why did she-? Her own expression steels and she allows the sides of her mouth to tug downward, but to anyone who didn't know her (and of those there are few) it'd be unnoticeable.

"I hate you," she mutters. "I dislike your hypocritical and arbitrary sense of justice. Your naivety and dense nature appall me. How have you survived until now when you greet death's door with determination nearly once a week?" Her feelings come out all in one breath, deathly quiet, more of an intentional breathing than anything resembling a whisper, but Anthy immediately regrets speaking, for the pounding of her heart afterward beats so loud that it might alert someone to her confession.

Everything and everyone involved in her life causes her pain that gets more and more difficult to push away, despite her experience in the act. Even love causes pain. In fact, it causes the worst and most traumatizing pain of all, a lesson that Akio never forgets to remind her of.

Utena can die of illness for all she cares, Anthy lies to herself. Feeling ugly and sick in the heart, she retreats to their bed, leaving the unconscious duelist to herself.

A minute or so after Anthy's back is turned, Utena flutters one eye open, unsure of what she's dreamt and what is reality, feeling that she's forgotten something. On the edges of her memory are the vague feelings of someone's hand, a promise from long ago, someone's important- something. It fades away like a morning mist. She drifts back into a peaceful sleep.

In the morning, she finds a cotton blanket covered in cute dog faces draped over her shoulders.

Chapter Text

Over the years, Nanami's figured out how to channel her want for attention toward good causes. She makes sure that eyes will continue to turn to her wherever she goes, no matter her standing. No matter the location. It's not a matter of needing the attention to validate her self-confidence; no, it's because she knows she deserves that spot in the world, and she knows she can do great things with influence. Her contacts list is filled with charities and fundraisers and celebrities with loose bank accounts.

Utena's always there by her side. Nanami upgrades her school-assigned shoes to kitten heels and then to stilettos and then to a walk-in closet full of designer brands. Despite all of Nanami's fussing and insistence, however, Utena herself only ever changes to an unassuming pair of combat boots.

"They're comfortable enough," is all she says whenever Nanami glares at them sitting on the shelf as she struts out the front door. And that idiot will smile, like she's amused, like they're playing a game.

 

A too-tall man in a suit that doesn't fit right approaches Nanami with a microphone, and she can feel the smug aura coming off of him from miles away. She stops, turns in place, and faces him with her most professional "you think you're good enough to grace MY presence?" expression. Only Utena knows how much she's practiced it in the mirror at home, and she will be the only one to ever know. The journalist asks her if she'd care for a word, and she says nothing but he takes it for a yes.

"What can you say about the rumors that you've got an illicit female lover in your home? A woman with brightly dyed hair has been seen through the windows of your estate; can you confirm?" He shoves the microphone in her direction and grins with clear white teeth and dimples, then uses one hand to smooth a lock of blond hair behind his ear. It's the ugliest thing Nanami has ever seen.

She stomps on his foot and takes great pleasure in the amount of extremities that escape his mouth as she swivels the heel of her shoe further into his pained limb. "I have forged my life to be as comfortable as possible, and the parts of that that I don't make clear myself are not to be gossiped about. Thanks for the question." A winning smile, another twist of her ankle, and she walks away with another tale to tell the girl waiting for her at home.

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Anthy tries not to let herself fall for the illusion of sanctuary.

Safety is a concept fundamentally at odds with her existence, and has been for as long as she can remember. This is what she knows life to be: Pain, bitterness, revenge, vindication. No matter where she looks, this is all that she can see through the lenses that separate her from the world.

It's not as much of a relief as she wishes it would be, when she finds out this is only a small part of the whole picture. It's not just one or the other, but rather, a whole messy conglomeration of fractions of both negative and positive elements, and if there's one good thing she could say about her original mindset, it'd be that at least it was uncomplicated. She doesn't know how to handle this kind of complicated.

Utena makes her feel safe, which unnerves her at the same time. When they take each other's hands, she feels an injured heart close up another wound. When is the other shoe going to drop? Eternity doesn't exist. Happiness won't go on forever. Utena isn't a prince. Anthy doesn't understand what she's done to earn this happiness, even if it's temporary.

It's all too different from what she's formed her life around, but Utena doesn't let go of her hand. Anthy ties off all her invading thoughts and concludes that focusing on the sensation of her love's calloused palm is enough for her right now.

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The sun's rays peeking out from over the horizon is not magical when you're dead tired from waking up at 5:30 a.m. Instead of writing a soliloquy about the shades of pink in the sky mirroring Utena's hair, Wakaba is struggling to keep her eyes open. This isn't going the way she had hoped when the idea first popped into her head. Why couldn't sweeping a girl off her feet be easy?

Utena, sitting beside her, stretches out her legs while adjusting her seating so she doesn't slip off the rooftiles to her untimely death. Her eyes look soft and appreciative. At least one of them is having a good time. Wakaba fumbles for Utena's hand but in her drowsy mind accidentally jabs her fingers into Utena's wrist instead. Shoot.

"You good, Wakaba?" Utena tilts her head and pulls her hand away from Wakaba's, apprehensive of the accidental poke. Wakaba attempts to cover up her sleepiness and frustration by grinning as wide as she possibly can in response, and the result is like something out of a horror movie.

"I'm good, but I could nowhere be as good as you look," Wakaba says. It takes her a second to backtrack and figure out if that was a proper sentence or not. Her mouth is hanging open. She shuts it. Utena quirks her eyebrow but looks back at the sunrise.

A hand places Wakaba's head in the crook of Utena's neck from its opposite side, then slides around her waist. Wakaba blinks over and over again, trying to unblur the different pinks surrounding her.

"Thank you for this, Wakaba. Go ahead and rest."

"Next... time... I'll win..."

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When Juri brushes her fingers along the line of Utena's jaw, she goes through with her intentions for once. Her lips close in on Utena's and take what she wants. (Does she really want this?) The sleeve of her white nightgown slides down the length of her arm as she cradles Utena's cheek.

Utena's lips are slack and still in complete shock, unable to believe what's happening. Maybe she's never even thought that women could like each other until this very moment, Juri ponders. She can't imagine what living like that would be like. Nothing is happening for Juri, no vindication or happiness, and it's frustrating. That strike of magenta has a tight hold on her heart. This kiss is pointless.

That is, until Juri feels Utena kiss her back. It's only for a moment— Utena shoves her off right after, face colored as pink as her hair and her eyebrows scrunched with almost no space between them, but Juri knows what she felt. They stare at each other without a word and only their heavy breathing can be heard in the night. Utena looks so young, in her confusion, and Juri feels a drop of regret in taking the first kiss of a girl younger than her by two or three years.

The fountain they'd been sitting by only a few minutes before stops its flow of rushing water.

Juri smirks, but feels exhaustion all the way into her blood. Another girl keeps knocking on the door to her mind, and she's trying so hard to reinforce the lock.

Utena shoves herself off the ground and charges at Juri like a wild bull to tackle her. They both land in a tangle of limbs and scuffed elbows and knees, sending a cloud of dirt up into the air. Juri's mind goes blissfully blank.

"Why," Utena starts. She shuts up and gazes into Juri's eyes, seeing a reflection of the crescent moon in them. "Why did you do that."

and then they had more closeted lesbian tension that went nowhere bc theyre both bottoms that im too sleepy to write

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They're in 6th grade and Shiori is hoping that she can have a lot of playdates with Juri over winter break. She's really looking forward to celebrating the holidays with her best friend, and has been planning what gifts to make her for weeks. Nothing has seemed good enough yet, but Shiori has plenty of time to think of something that'll match up to Juri.

"What do you mean you're going away for winter break?" Shiori's heart cracks a little bit more. Something else will eventually fill those openings.

"My mother wants to take me out to her vacation home with my older sister for 'family bonding time.' It's idiotic." Juri's voice is disaffected, and it makes Shiori feel ashamed that she bothered to think of plans when clearly, she was never part of Juri's time. She avoids looking Juri in the eye and misses her tense expression.

"Oh," Shiori replies. "I hope you have fun." Juri only nods. The conversation switches roads to other topics, but slowly comes to a stop sign.

Do you want to come with, Juri doesn't ask.

Why didn't you tell me before that I don't matter to you, Shiori doesn't say.

Winter break comes and goes and the cracks in Shiori split open a little wider.

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The clerk at the makeup counter is a bitch and Nanami makes it her personal responsibility to make sure she gets fired as soon as possible. The delight that clerk gets in tormenting Nanami pisses her off further, as if she's some sick prankster. First, it was selling her foundation that looked like one shade but was actually completely different when applied. Then it was giving her a pad of blush that was left half-open so it scuffed the insides of Nanami's purse with sparkly pink. And then it was giving her expired mascara that decorated her lashes with quick-drying clumps.

"Why don't you just go to a different store?" Utena asks her.

"That's exactly what she wants me to do! There's no way in hell I'm losing to that vindictive bitch. She's the one who started all of this, and I'm going to end it." Nanami smacks her lips, then turns her head to work on eyeshadow. Utena's been ready to go out for half an hour.

The next time Nanami bumps into that blue-haired clerk, it's in a rather unexpected situation in the hall outside the makeup store. 'Damn, I wanted to be the one to make her cry,' Nanami thinks.

A man at least ten years their elder with a balding forehead and black shades puts a comforting hand on the clerk's shoulder, but she slaps it away.

"How could you?! I was in love," she spits out. The man offers shallow attempts at calming her down until he hugs her and she sobs into his chest. Nanami starts to back off, figuring life has punished that girl well enough, but then.

"I'll give you another credit card, darling," the man says. "I can take out a loan to pay off what you bought." Nanami's jaw drops as the girl's tears dry up near instantaneously and she smiles up at him with adoration. She stands there in shock as they kiss and part ways, and has to steady herself when the woman actually approaches her.

"You can't get me fired, because we're in love," she says with about as fake of a falsetto you could have. Nanami almost respects the power, but she's too busy vowing to herself that she'll ruin this girl's life if it's the last thing she does.

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"Oh my god, Juri-senpai, is that you? It is you! Wow, how long has it been? You look as elegant as ever!" Wakaba's ponytail bobs behind her as she rushes to greet Juri in the middle of the sidewalk.

"Oh, hello..." Juri's reply trails off as she tries to remember who this girl is. A schoolmate? Wasn't she that girl who was always hanging off of Tenjou? Her memories of those days are rather foggy, especially regarding those outside her circle. She startles a bit when Wakaba enthusiastically grabs her arm and begins to lead her down the street (and away from where Juri was headed for lunch). Wakaba has quite the tight grip, she notes. Has she done sports before?

"Let me treat you to a meal!" She barks out a laugh that makes Juri stretch away due to the volume, but there's no escaping Wakaba. The wind picks up some of Juri's orange curls and whacks Wakaba in the face as they walk, but all she does is laugh again.

"This is my favorite cafe! They have super yummy sandwiches, and I love their boba, and—"

"Why were your hands shaking?" It's a question that's been on Juri's mind the whole time, and the reason she didn't put up a fight being lead here. Wakaba freezes but barely misses a beat.

"You must've imagined it!"

"Are you okay?" Juri might be regarded as cold, but she couldn't help but be concerned. Wakaba seemed so frail, like she'd break in a breeze, despite her strength only minutes before. She laughed again, but it was starting to ring hollow.

"Ah, well... It's not a big deal. I broke up with my boyfriend and he didn't take it well. I needed to get out." Her smile gets wider as she speaks, as if the force needed to keep it up gets stronger. Juri reaches her hand out and puts it over Wakaba's.

"That's awful. I apologize."

Wakaba's smile gets tighter.

"Thanks, but I'm sure you wouldn't get it. He was nice. I'm the asshole in this situation." Wakaba takes her hand away and laughs for the fourth time. It's the most sad laugh, like a deflated clown. "Have you ever been in love, Arisugawa-senpai? Because, looking back on things, I don't think I have, really."

Juri takes the admission and examines it for hints. It couldn't be a coincidence that Wakaba approached her of all people with this dilemma, could it?

"Like, infatuation, obsession... It's not really love. When you don't see the other person as they are, you're loving something that doesn't exist. Isn't that so sad? I couldn't accept it until it stared me in the face." Wakaba has begun to hunch over with her hands in her lap. Juri does not know how to handle this, and feels distinctly defensive without cause.

"Sorry for bringing the mood down. I'll leave some cash, and you can get whatever you'd like, senpai. I should... go back." Wakaba stands. Juri's hand shoots out to grab her wrist, but she has nothing to say after the action, so they simply look at each other.

"You should call me sometime," is what she ends up saying. "If you'd like."

Chapter Text

"Wow, it can even take pictures?! How did you get your hands on a phone like that?" Keiko, Aiko, and Yuuko were gleefully admiring the new item Nanami had brought to school for bragging purposes. The flip phone was an off-white with an Ohtori-brand rose on the back, sleek and modern and completely unique. Nanami kept flipping it open and closed in front of their gaze, smiling down at it.

"Oh, just a birthday gift from an admirer," she said, snapping it closed one final time. The bell had rung only a few minutes before and Nanami had whipped out the phone immediately to shove in her friends' faces, but now it was time for a student council meeting so she flipped her hair, grabbed her schoolbag, and left.

 

"Incredible! Do you know how it works?" Miki's reaction was boring and he wanted technical jargon that she didn't have available so she brushed him off.

"Don't become reliant on it," was all Saionji said. He was disdainful of technology and didn't trust it.

What struck Nanami the most that day was Juri's response to it. She kept trying to feign disinterest, but throughout the meeting Nanami could feel her eyes flitting back to her and her phone from time to time.

"Juri-senpai, would you care to look at my phone?" Nanami crooned as she prodded at Juri's facade. "I couldn't help but notice your" (incredibly obvious) "glances over here!"

Juri's eyes widened and Nanami wondered if she had gone frozen with shock, but Juri swiped the device a second later. The usually cool and collected upperclassman seemed so different all of a sudden and it made Nanami curious why.

"Could you. Never mind," Juri mumbled, putting the phone back down on the table. Nanami's eye twitched in annoyance, but she kept smiling sweetly and asked Juri to continue.

"Could you theoretically contact someone with this, but without them knowing who you— the sender— are?"

Wow. Uh, that's creepy as hell. Nanami raised an eyebrow, wondering who Juri wanted to anonymously contact. Was she a serial killer?!

"Of course not! I was simply curious. It was hypothetical," Juri said, raising her voice. Oh shoot, Nanami hadn't meant to voice her thoughts.

The pitiful look on Juri's face contrasted her usual demeanor so starkly that Nanami couldn't help but tease her by saying, "Why don't you buy your own and find out?"

For some indiscernible reason, Juri began to blush just the slightest bit. A powder orange reminiscent of her hair. "Don't take me for a fool," she spit back, standing. "...As if I could use it even if I had one."

Did Juri have a secret love on some boy at school?! The idea tickled Nanami greatly, seeing the composure of her senpai broken from the pedestal she'd seen her on before.

Nanami gave her another smug smile and then her last word: "I'll be rooting for both of us, in that case."