Creeping Shadows, Three Lights Overhead
“Next!” Juri Arisugawa called out, having bested her eighth opponent in a row; Shiori Takatsuki held a smirk of satisfaction on her face as she watched Juri, watched her be so strong, watched her project that image of strength so that everyone would believe it. She alone knew the truth about Juri, her pathetic secret and her shameful weakness, and Juri knew it too; one day Shiori would use that secret to destroy Juri and make her suffer the way she'd made her suffer. Shiori just needed the right time and the right place to do the most damage possible.
“Right!” Shiori glanced at the source of that cheerful high voice, a blue haired boy so small, the smallest on the team easily. Young and slender and weak and naïve, he'd be no challenge to Juri at all, he'd only last a second if that before she got bored and destroyed him the way she did with everyone who was beneath her. The boy put on his fencing mask and stood before Juri; no doubt he was one of those fools, the sort who thought that just being with their crush for even a second would be worth it.
“Poor little boy...” Shiori circled her finger around the railing and blinked, anticipating that the match would be over when her eyes opened again. It wasn't. It was going and...and he was keeping up with her??? Shiori did not blink again, someone was keeping up with Juri? She looked at the boy, and she remembered that she'd seen him before, back on the day that she'd transferred back to Ohtori, she'd defeated him soundly, he was pathetic before her, and yet now he was on even ground with her. No...no...he was pulling ahead! He was pushing her back, maneuvering her, even though he was smaller, his reach shorter, his limbs weaker, less experience, he was going to...he'd won! A glance at a nearby clock, that match had taken over three minutes to complete, impossibly long compared to all the proceeding matches, and the boy had won???
Well, this would be interesting to watch; would Juri be able to keep her perfectly cold mask up now, now that she'd been humiliated and dragged down to the ground in front of everyone? “That's the second time now Miki.” S-second time? As in, the boy had beaten her before?? “Most impressive; I'm going to have to work harder to keep up with you now.” Did...did those words...how could those words have come out of her mouth? Her perfect little mouth...saying those words???
“Thank you Miss Juri, but I just got lucky, and this was my first match while being your ninth; if I'd been your first, I don't think I would have stood a chance against you.” At least the boy knew his place, he understood his mistake and was making excuses for it.
“No.” Juri shook her head. “Your sword has changed, it has become immensely stronger than before, two levels at least, and I could feel it growing even as we fought. You've realized something Miki, something important and now all that genius of yours is beginning to pour out.”
“Have I?” Miki rubbed the back of his head. “I don't know, it seemed like... but if you say so Miss Juri...” He looked down, a contemplative cast to his features.
“I do say so, and I imagine your piano playing must have improved as well.” Shiori ground her teeth, wrung her hand on the railing; Juri was happy about being beaten, by some boy? Wait...they spoke in such a familiar way to one another, and the way they smiled at one another...
“Oh ho.” Shiori's smile returned, bigger than before. “Well now, I think a little miracle just fell into my lap.” She hummed as she waited for the Fencing Club's practice session to wrap up, plotted out every little detail to satisfaction, and so when Juri called an end, Shiori was on her way.
“You've realized something Miki, something important.” Miki stood before his locker long after the other male members of the fencing club had left. Juri's words had settled in his ears. “All that genius of yours is beginning to pour out.” Miki looked down; Akio had taken him to the End of the World and he'd thought that he'd changed, that he'd become ready to become an adult and face the world and become dirty in order to get what he wanted, but then Kozue...no, he'd balked, his actions failed to match his words and so Utena had beaten him. He hadn't learned anything, hadn't gotten anywhere really, and yet Juri thought differently, and he'd always trusted Juri's judgment before...
“Hello there Miki.” Miki gasped and fell back, there was a girl in the boy's locker room! He looked at her, and thought to himself that she was a rather pretty girl with a playful, impish smile that he hadn't seen on any girl before. “I was really impressed by your match today Miki; I've been watching you for a real long time and I'm amazed at how good you've gotten.” She giggled. “My name's Shiori Takatsuki.”
“Hello Miss Shiori.” Miki rubbed the back of his head, tried to place the girl somewhere in his memories; he'd heard the name somewhere before hadn't he? Yes, he had. “You're Miss Juri's friend, yes?” Juri hadn't talked about her, but Utena had mentioned her in passing.
Her smile only grew. “Yes, but I didn't come here to talk about her.” Shiori stepped in close, very close, Miki could smell her, he noticed it was a nice smell before he stepped back. “Oh, did I scare you?” She giggled, so unlike any girl that Miki had ever known in his whole life. “I'm sorry, I was just wondering, since you're so talented at fencing and piano, I was wondering if maybe you were talented at other stuff too, like school stuff?”
“I am taking several college-level courses...do you need a tutor?”
“Would you?” She grabbed his hand. “I've just been having the hardest time lately, and a genius like you, I'm sure you would be able to help me.”
“Well, Miss Shiori, I'm sure that once we get started you'll find that your problems are actually a lot easier than they seem.”
“I sure hope so!” Shiori wrapped herself around Miki's arm. He felt his whole body heat up from the contact.
“Um, Miss Shiori, I, I still need to change back into my uniform...”
“Oh, right, of course!” Shiori let go, Miki did not breathe a sigh of relief as that would have been unacceptably rude of him. “I'll be waiting right outside for you, my genius!”
Miki looked at the door Shiori had left through; he'd always been vaguely aware that he had fans, not as many as Touga and Saionji but still more than the average boy, but before it had never really registered with him. After all, it wasn't long after he noticed girls to begin with that he saw Anthy and he had no room in his heart to even see them. But now...it wasn't that he didn't have any affection for Anthy anymore, but the picture he'd put together in his head of all the ways they could be together had grown faded and weak somehow. “Maybe I really am changing...” He put those thoughts aside, let it take residence in the back of his brain and focused his conscious thoughts on getting changed.
Juri Arisugawa stood outside the girl's locker room, she saw Shiori standing outside the boy's locker room; Shiori was bouncing on the balls of her feet, her skirt bounced with her and she had a smile on her face like back then... “Oh, hello there Juri.” Shiori turned and kept that same smile going at her. “A shame about today; don't worry though, I'm know you'll do better next time, you usually do.”
Juri refused to let her expression change, refused to rise at Shiori's words; there was nothing shameful about what had happened, Miki was and had always been her best pupil, right from the start...
A drop of water, ripples spreading out as memories came to the forefront of Juri's mind. “Next!” Juri had called out, and the one who emerged from the group was a small, short and slender boy with blue hair. His face was soft and his eyes gentle; the idea of him in a fight, even a mock fight brought a smirk to her face. “You are?”
“Miki Kaoru, Miss Juri.” He bowed to her. “I just signed up today, I hope I won't disappoint you.”
“I wouldn't worry.” Juri brought her saber up. “Just do your best.” She didn't know what this Miki Kaoru had imagined fencing would be like, but odds were good that he would quit before his first match was over.
“I will, Miss Juri.” He put on his fencing mask and brought up his sword. Her referee signaled the start of the match and of course it was over and done with quickly, at least from an outside perspective; for Juri, who was in the moment, it stretched on and on, allowed her to examine all the particulars of this boy's talent, and so with her mask safely concealing her face, she allowed her eyes to widen; rough and inelegant and untested though he was, Miki Kaoru was brimming with talent, his gentle thrusts conveyed the sense that he sought to please by excelling, that he approached all things in his life in this same way. Indeed, she feinted against him twice and on the second time he didn't fall for it; it wasn't enough of course, he was still too slow and uncertain for it to matter, but that he picked up her technique that quickly...
“Miki Kaoru.” Juri Arisugawa took off her mask, her face visibly neutral. “You're not yet ready to fence against me personally. For the time being, you will fence against Ayukawa.” She turned her head to the girl in question; she'd joined half a year ago, if Miki had the sort of talent that she'd sensed in him, she would be a worthy opponent for him.
“Thank you Miss Juri.” He smiled even as his stance said he was already aching, and the way he returned to his stance so quickly against his new opponent was not something that Juri allowed herself to dwell on...
Another drop, more ripples. “Oh, there you are Miki!” Juri had been pulled back into the present, she saw Shiori with Miki. “Come on Miki, we've got to hurry, I've got a big test tomorrow and I need your help!”
“Eh?” Miki stepped in closer to her. “You should have said so, we've got a lot of work ahead of us.” He half turned away, then turned to Juri. “Oh, Miss Juri...I'm sorry, I agreed to help your friend Miss Shiori, but I promise I'll talk to you as soon as I can.” Miki bowed to her and returned to Shiori. They walked away together, and then Shiori pressed herself against Miki's arm and looked over her shoulder at Juri; her smile bared her teeth, her canines.
“Ridiculous.” Shiori was mistaken again; Juri had no idea how the idea had gotten into her head but it made no difference, the friendship between her and Miki was not something that could be broken, least of all by her. Let her do whatever it was she was trying to do, Juri would not be hurt by it and neither would Miki, Shiori would only hurt herself and have only herself to blame for it and Juri would not extend her sympathy or mercy for that. After all, she knew how she really felt, yet she continued to be this way. Thus, Juri returned to her dorm room.
“Wow, thank you so much Miki!” Shiori clapped her hands together. “You were right, its all so simple the way you explained it!” That, and the subjects she'd chosen were ones that she'd had no trouble in at all; that way, she'd been able to control the pace of the tutoring session, gauge Miki's mood and determine just when to get it right and when to not 'get' what he was saying; honestly, for a genius he was incredibly easy to play...but then again, that just made her little miracle all the better, didn't it? “You're so smart like that Miki, to be able to explain stuff so that even I can get it.”
“You shouldn't talk about yourself like that Miss Shiori.” He had that smile on his face; now that Shiori had had time to really think about it, she realized she'd heard about Miki before now, that while not as popular as Touga and Saionji he was still quite popular with a lot of girls, even high school girls! She could see how that could happen, that youthful innocence was just so tempting, no doubt it was a major component to what was going on between him and Juri. “Just keep at it and you'll do great, I'm certain of that.”
“Oh, you don't mean that.”
“Of course I do Miss Shiori.” Something in Miki's tone made Shiori's insides twinge, but she ignored that sensation, it wouldn't do to be distracted now. “You're a lot smarter than you give yourself credit for.”
“Oh, that's so nice Miki, no one's ever said anything that nice to me before.” And meant it, Juri had lied about it plenty of times, led her along and strung her along for her own amusement. Miki was a fool, but an honest fool, he meant what he said and that made him perfect. “You'll tutor me again, won't you Miki?”
“Certainly Miss Shiori, any time you need me.” He stood up, breathed in a silent yawn. “Right now though, I need to get back to my room though; just remember everything we went over and you'll do just fine on your test tomorrow.” He bowed and went for the door, he opened and stepped just outside.
“Wait!” Now was the perfect time, if Shiori had worked out everything just right. “Miki, umm...” She was just outside her door with him, and just like she thought, her friend Mizuko was headed their way on the way to her room, right on schedule. “Thank you so much!” She kissed him, nothing long and only the lips of course, but Miki had no defense against it, he froze up and heated up all at the same time while Mizuko gasped in shock. “I hope to see you again soon!” Shiori withdrew into her room and closed the door behind her, hardly able to stay still; Mizuko, in addition to being punctual and strict about schedules, was also a horrible gossip. Having seen what she'd seen, having heard what she'd heard, there was no doubt in Shiori's mind that the first phase of her plan had gone off without a hitch. “Just you wait Juri, I'm going to tear you down until there's nothing left, and there's nothing you can do to stop me.”
“Utena, Utena, Utena!!” Utena heard Wakaba yell in the moments before her friend leaped onto her back; at least she wasn't standing next to a ledge or anything like that. “Have you heard? Miki's got a girlfriend now!”
“Eh?” Utena fell forward and now Wakaba was straddling her. “Wakaba, isn't it a bit early to say stuff like that?”
“I'm not kidding Utena, it's all anyone's talking about right now.” Wakaba pulled back on Utena's head. “Some lucky girl finally snatched that darling little genius up, and just as I was about to make my move on him.”
“Oh really?” Utena rolled over and got Wakaba off before standing back up.
“I'm kidding of course Utena, you know you're my only real love, always and now and forever more!” Wakaba stood back up.
“Huh, so Miki's attached now?” Utena rubbed the back of her head; she remembered how Miki had crushed on Anthy and she did her part to help the little guy, it made her feel like she was a big sister and had a little brother to look out for, but nothing came of that...and it was just as well? “Who would've guessed he'd move on that quickly?”
“He sure does move quickly!” Wakaba said. “The way I heard it, last night he was tutoring a girl, and she'd asked him how she could show her appreciation, and he said to stand still, and then he kissed her right then and there!”
“Now that part you're making up.” That was the kind of playboy stunt that Touga might have pulled. “I bet this whole thing's some sort of weird misunderstanding or something.” Utena looked over. “Oh, hey Juri!” She waved at the orange-haired member of the Student Council, who stopped in front of her. “Wakaba was telling me this silly story about Miki kissing a girl last night.”
“Is that so?” Though she smiled, Juri's posture was as stiff as ever. “I certainly hope that the two of them will be as happy as long as possible.”
“Me too, and if he messes up, you and me will be there to help him out.”
“Me?” Juri's expression shifted a moment.
“Well yeah, you're his best friend, and you've known him for a lot longer than I have, and you're older than me too; I bet he's going to have all sorts of questions for you.”
“Hmm, you may have a point there Utena.” Juri's expression returned to its original state. “I'll be sure to be ready for when he does.” She turned to take off.
“Miss Utena.” Anthy appeared. “We better hurry, we don't want to be late for class do we? It would certainly be a bad influence on our younger classmates wouldn't it?” Juri paused a moment, then moved on.
“Oh, you're right!” Utena laughed a little and so she and Wakaba and Anthy all rushed to their morning class, away from Juri.
“Miki, were you aware that you've become the talk of the whole campus?” Nanami Kiryu said; the student council was in session and Miki was seated underneath a giant magnifying glass while Nanami stood on a ladder so that she could look into the magnifying glass's eyepiece. Juri was seated off to the side in a large soft chair angled away from Nanami and Miki.
“I don't see how Miss Nanami; yes, Miss Shiori kissed me, but it was just her way of saying thanks...”
“Oh, Miki, Miki, Miki,” Nanami adjusted the eyepiece to better handle the particular shade of red that Miki's face had turned. “Maybe if it had been on the cheek, but no girl gives a kiss like that as just thanks and you are far too much of a genius to not know that.”
“I suppose so.” Miki lifted his head. “Miss Juri, you're friends with Miss Shiori, you know her well don't you?”
A spotlight turned on, it started up above Miki and angled down to Juri. “I do.” Off in the distance she could hear a polygraph needle scratching wildly, neither Miki nor Nanami heard it. “Nanami is right, Shiori would not kiss you simply as a gesture of gratitude.” The needle settled down. “So tell me Miki, do you plan on being with Shiori?”
The spotlight was emanating from Juri now, beaming down onto Miki now. “I'm not sure Miss Juri; she is a rather nice girl, and she is fun to be around...she's not like any girl I've ever known before.”
“And this would include Anthy?”
Miki nodded. “Miss Juri, if I do decide to go out with her...what do you think I should do first?”
Miki's face turned a deeper red, the spotlight was coming from him again and was again on Juri. “...Simply be yourself Miki and do what you feel is right; you are more than capable of handling this matter on your own Miki, you do not need my guidance on the matter.”
“Are you sure Miss Juri?”
“I am quite certain.” She closed her eyes and she was back in that day, that day she'd heard him in the music room; his fingers on the piano reached past all her defenses and the distance between them, everything that she'd carefully put up to make sure that no one could ever get to close to her, be able to hurt her again, none of it meant anything to the song that Miki played. It had pulled her heart back to those days with Shiori, back before everything had gone so wrong between them, before Shiori had told her to believe in miracles and then showed her there were no miracles. Juri opened her eyes and saw that the spotlight was off of her.
“Regardless of everything else, you will still be playing at my party this weekend, right Miki? I simply would not be able to forgive you if you forgot your obligations to me.”
“Don't worry Miss Nanami, you know I'd never forget.” The spotlight vanished and Nanami climbed down off the ladder.
“Well, that's everything I needed to know; meeting adjourned.” Nanami called out, and then they were together in the elevator again.
Juri looked at Miki, tried to recall the last time she'd listened to his piano playing. Too long she'd decided, and this business of Shiori going after Miki was something she could use a reprieve from. She wasn't worried of course, for as she'd said Miki could handle himself, there was no danger that he would make any foolish mistakes with her, but it would still be nice to experience his music again, see how much he'd improved since the last time, how much his genius had grown. The elevator came to a stop. Juri opened her mouth...
“Miki!” Shiori was standing right outside. “Miki, I just got my test back, and I got an 82, isn't that amazing?”
“Wow, you did that much better? That really is incredible Miss Shiori, I'm so glad I was able to help you on such short notice.” His face sported some pink on the cheeks, more than a dusting but still less than a full blush; Juri had found that Miki's face could turn many different shades of red, some so intense as to defy belief.
“I know, but I could still do better, you said so didn't you Miki? Do you think you could come back to my room so we can go over my test so I can do even better next time?”
“Ah, sure thing Miss Shiori.” He walked over to her, turned to face Nanami and Juri. He bowed to them. “Miss Juri, Miss Nanami, if you will pardon me.” He turned with Shiori and walked with her. Juri saw Shiori take Miki's hand and he did not remove it.
“Hmph, so that's Miki's girlfriend eh? She's certainly not shy about what she wants, is she?”
“No, she's not.” Juri felt her hand tense at her side, she made it loosen up. There was still nothing to do, Shiori would not get what she wanted no matter how hard she tried, Juri refused to let herself be drawn in and hurt again.
“Tell me Touga,” Akio Ohtori took his eyes off the road as he drove along, the engine humming steadily as he kept his foot on the pedal, he looked over at Touga in the passenger's seat, “what do you think when you see young love flourishing?”
“I take it you're referring to Miki and Shiori?” Touga looked away; he knew it wouldn't last, that the buzz would die down, but already he'd had to go a day without his usual crowd of faithful fans yearning for him to even glance in their direction, all they could talk about was how Miki had finally gotten a girlfriend. “I'm surprised that even matters to you, seeing as Miki is out of the running now.” Miki of course had never been a serious contestant, he'd always been just another pawn, his defeat after having seen the End of the World just finalized that, that was all.
“He may not be competing directly, but he is still a very important part of both the Academy and of the Student Council, he still has his role to play in the fate of the Rose Bride even if he doesn't realize it.”
“His role to play?” Touga looked at Akio; even after how many times they'd been together like this, it was still difficult to see what lied behind those eyes of his. “His role...the council...Juri.” Touga smiled, that was what Akio had been playing at.
“For duelists, those two are rather close friends; this development may show us how close they are, and even position Juri to where she needs to be.”
“I will certainly be keeping my eye out for new developments.” Juri Arisugawa; it was one thing that she'd been immune to his charm from the start, but she would also needle at him, question him while standing behind her own impregnable armor; the chance to see the cracks form in that armor was not one that Touga Kiryu would pass by.
Akio Ohtori revved the engine and sped off into the unknown distance, smiling.
“Thank you again Miki.” Kozue heard an unfamiliar voice coming from the front door. “You're so kind and generous and such a wonderful genius, I'm so glad that I worked up the courage to approach you.”
“I'm glad I was able to help you so much, Miss Shiori.” Shiori...Kozue placed the name, Juri's old 'friend'. Kozue made her way down the steps, saw her brother standing with that purple haired girl. “It was my pleasure, I assure you.”
“You bet it was Miki.” Kozue watched the girl kiss her brother, and felt a twinge inside; honestly, it wasn't nearly so bad as she would have expected...until she happened to catch the look in Shiori's eye; she didn't realize she was being watched, that anyone would see that expression. “You know, you're a pretty good learner too; guess that's part of being a genius, right?”
“I guess.” Miki rubbed the back of his head. “I suppose I'll see you tomorrow then?”
“You bet!” Shiori hopped out and skipped away, leaving Miki standing in the doorway looking out at her. He brought his hand to his lips.
“So, that's your girlfriend?” Miki almost jumped out of his skin. “I suppose getting dirty late is better than never.”
Miki furrowed his brow. “Miss Shiori isn't dirty, it isn't like that with us...I'm going to be careful, I'm not going to make any mistakes with her like I did with Miss Anthy.”
“If you say so.” Kozue shrugged. “Still, she's not who I'd figured you'd be with when all was said and done.”
“What do you mean?” Miki's expression relaxed, it was like she was his teacher or something; well, this was something she was much more experienced in than he was. “Did you really have someone in mind for me?”
“Not really; just an idle thought.” Kozue turned and made her way back upstairs. “She's someone who appreciates you almost as much as I do.” If it really came down to it, she could entrust Miki with her.
“Captain Arisugawa?” She heard, but Juri did not turn her head, she kept it on the door. “Um, Captain Arisugawa? Um, shouldn't we be practicing right now?”
“Huh?” Juri turned to face her junior club member. “Oh, yes, of course.” She glanced at the door again, then turned and walked with her junior.
“It's okay Captain Arisugawa, we all understand; we can't believe it either.”
“Well...that Miki would be going out with Shiori.”
“That's his choice to make, it is no concern of ours.”
“Well, I suppose, but...” Juri's junior looked away, they were right in front of the rest of the club.
“But?” Honestly, why were they stepping on tip-toes around her like this?
“Well,” another member of the club said, “we'd always figured that you and Miki would've eventually...you know...”
Juri's eyes widened. “That is none of your concern.”
“Sorry, you're right Captain Arisugawa.” A third member of the club. “It's just, you've always focused on Miki's training so much more than the rest of us, we just assumed...”
“You shouldn't have.” An absurd line of thought; Miki was a remarkable young man unlike any that Juri had known, an immensely talented and a superlative pianist, why on Earth would she need something as ridiculous as...why was she even thinking about this? “If I catch any of you idly speculating on matters that are none of your concern...”
“Miss Juri, Miss Juri!” Miki came running in, breathing hard. “Sorry I'm late, Miss Shiori caught me by surprise, she wanted my advice on a book and...”
“It is no matter Miki.” She turned and smiled at him, the tension gone from her face; Miki was smiling, the smile he only had for her, the smile that anticipated her lessons, her diligence, her focus. “We were just getting started ourselves; now then, here are everyone's assignments...”
“Miki, Miki, thank goodness you've finally shown up!” Juri heard Nanami call out and so she turned her head, and yes, Miki was there in his suit...and so was Shiori in her dress; she was clinging to Miki and Juri couldn't help thinking how like a princess she looked, just like back then. “You know my parties simply aren't complete without your piano playing.”
“Sorry about that Miss Nanami, I would've been on time, but Miss Shiori wanted to have just the right dress for the occasion.”
“Well of course Miki!” She grabbed onto his arm. “I couldn't stand it if I looked bad next to you, after everything you've done for me.” Quick as a flash Shiori looked Juri in the eye, Juri refused to meet those eyes; she wanted that, she wanted Juri to react, to step in and expose herself, she wanted everyone to see her lose her composure, she wouldn't let her have the satisfaction, her plan would fail and fall apart the moment Miki realized that Shiori was only using him; he would take it hard of course, but he would move on, he'd grown so much, she'd been there and guided him through so much of it...
“Yes, it's certainly good that you understand that you need to look good for Miki.” Nanami said. “But right now he needs to be at the piano, come along Miki!”
“Of course Miss Nanami.” Miki followed her to the Kiryu family's grand piano and everyone was gathered around. “I just want everyone to know that I have a new piece I'd like to perform.” A new piece? Juri watched attentively as Miki took his seat and positioned his long, slender fingers over the keys of the piano. He started playing, and Juri felt herself pulled up and forward by his song; The Sunlit Garden always took her to her past before everything fell apart, but this, this brought her into the future, she saw herself smiling in the future in a way that she hadn't ever before in her life. Juri closed her eyes and the vision grew stronger, clearer, the colors brighter and the feeling of Miki's shoulder under her hand...Juri opened her eyes, she hadn't actually walked up to Miki and put her hand on him, but to think that his song could affect her like this, that his genius had grown that much...
Miki's song came to an end, he stood up, he turned around and his eyes met with Shiori's. Juri walked away, quietly, discretely, without drawing attention to herself. She found a pillar and stood behind it, seethed quietly as she clenched her fist. “What's the matter with me?” Juri banged her fist against the pillar. She brought her shaking hand to her pocket and took out her locket; her suit was low-cut in the top and so she didn't wear the locket but she still kept it on her person at all times. She held it in her hand, reminded herself that her feelings were still bound to Shiori, that she still hadn't been able to set them free. She closed her eyes again, and saw herself with both Miki and Shiori. Her eyes shot open, Juri refused to close them again.
“Juri? Something the matter?” She looked over and saw Utena standing there along with Anthy; she hadn't realized that they'd also decided to attend the party. She wondered if Touga had tried anything with Utena yet or if that would come later.
“Nothing is the matter Utena, I assure you.”
“But, you ran off right after Miki's song...man, I can't believe how good he's gotten.”
“Of course you can't.” Juri froze at the sound of her own voice, at the words that head leaped out from her mouth unbidden and unwanted. She saw the look on Anthy's face, it reminded her of the time she'd presented her with the orange rose even though the expression was completely different from back then, somehow the feeling came through all the same.
“Right, of course not, I'm not nearly as close to Miki as you are.” Juri kept her mouth shut, she would not betray herself again. “Still, you sure everything's okay? I mean, I know you've got to be happy for Shiori and all...”
“And that is all that I am Utena.” She stepped away from the pillar. “I certainly hope that her happiness will last as long as possible.” She walked away and left the party entirely, she never saw Touga on the upper balcony, looking down at her with a smile on his face.
“Miss Shiori, is something bothering you?” Miki walked after her as she stormed away from him. “I know the song was unpolished, I'm still working on it and...” She stopped, they were away from the rest of the guests.
“There was nothing wrong with the song Miki.” Shiori continued to face away from Miki. “It was perfect, just like her.”
“You know who I mean; you're just like her, exactly like her, I don't know how in the world I thought you would be different from her.”
“Miss Shiori, I don't...do, are you talking about Miss Juri?”
“The genius figures it out.” Shiori laughed bitterly. “After all, you were always thinking about her even when you were with me, even when I kissed you the way no one's ever kissed you in your life, you were still thinking about her.”
“Shiori, she's my best friend, I thought she was your friend too.”
“Friend?” Shiori spun around, Miki froze at the tears on her cheeks. “With the way you two look down on me, string me along for your own amusement, you two deserve each other!” Shiori stormed away again, and this time Miki did not follow.
“Deserve each other?” Miki looked down at himself, contemplated the strange train of thought that Shiori had set off in him.
Shiori was outside the Kiryu estate, she was out of sight and she just grumbled and groaned to herself while her insides twisted and writhed; if Miki were a girl she'd have thought he was a witch, that was the only explanation for the effect his stupidly perfect song had on her; she listened to it and she saw herself in her head, all older and stuff, and she was with Juri and they were smiling and happy and Miki was there too and arrgghh! “Greetings, Shiori.” Shiori would've snarled at the one who dared to talk to her in her state, only it was Touga Kiryu, and even as things were she wasn't fool enough to try and bite his head off. “I have someone I would like to introduce you to.”
“And why should I go with you?”
“Because I think he can help you with all your problems, your problems with Miki, and Juri.”
Shiori looked Touga Kiryu in the eyes. “All right, who is this guy?”
“Someone we will meet at the End of the World.” He said this, and she heard a car driving fast up the parking lot.
Juri stood alone in the Fencing Club's room; it was after hours, her privilege as a member of the Student Council meant that she could stay as long as she wanted without fear of interruption. She thrust out with her saber, again and again and again and again, the empty air her only opponent. She swung and sliced at the air, she kept her footing and stood her ground and never relented in her offensive that kept everything at bay. “Hello Juri.” Her sword stopped a mere millimeter from Touga Kiryu's nose. “As capable as ever.”
“If you have business with me, you should show up to the Student Council meetings for a change.”
Touga chuckled. “As professional as ever Juri; truly a mature adult who knows how the world works.” He walked past her, his back to hers. “Certainly not someone who would yearn for a miracle even now.” He sighed. “Still, that boy Miki, he truly does make one want to believe in miracles, doesn't he?” Juri didn't need to see Touga's face to know that he was smirking. “I know he makes me believe.”
“Enough.” Juri turned to face Touga, he responded in kind. “I did not nurture Miki's talent so that someone like you could swoop in and take him.”
“So you thought to horde him all to yourself?” Touga laughed, Juri saw herself punching him square in the mouth, she did no such thing. “And Shiori as well, how greedy of you Juri.” She did punch him in the face, right in the nose; he reeled but never made a move to defend or dodge. “The miracle you need has only grown, and it terrifies you to think how dirty you are to be so greedy.”
“I've had enough of your lies.” Juri turned away from him, headed to the door.
“There...” she stopped, “...can't you hear it?” She turned her head, her silent question heard. “If your soul has not truly given up...” An engine revved, like a car was right next to Juri's ear. “...then you can hear the sound...” someone was shifting gear, “...that races through the end of the world.”
Juri shook her head. “What are you babbling about now Touga?” Still she stood, she did not leave him to his empty rambling. The engine revved louder, someone was pressing down on the gas. “That sound...where is it coming from, how are you doing this Touga!?”
“Come! Come with us!” Touga spun around, and somehow his shirt had come undone; it was an ugly and distasteful sight so far as Juri was concerned. “Follow us to the world you seek!”
And then it was there, in the fencing club room; it had pulled in to a sharp and sudden stop, a red sports car, the chairman's sports car.
There was a gap in Juri's memory, all she knew was that she'd somehow gotten into the car and it drove off onto the highway around Ohtori Academy, somehow without crashing through the school on its way. The radio was playing Miki's song. In addition to her and Touga, there was one other person in the car. “Hello Juri.”
“I trust you won't mind that I invited her as well.” Touga said from the front passenger seat. “After all, the two of you are the same, you both have that same greed in you.”
“He's right you know.” Shiori said, her posture and expression so inviting. “In all honesty, Miki was just about riling you up, seeing how long you could take it before you had to do something about it...but now,” Shiori looked down, “I think I've gotten what I wanted, and now I want something else.” She sighed. “I want to think we've got a second chance here, that Miki is a miracle for us to be like back then.”
The fencing boy that Shiori thought that Juri had been in love with; Juri didn't even remember his name, barely remembered his face. “Things can't ever go back the way they were back then.”
“That's right.” Akio said. “You've grown and changed so much since then, realized things you could never have imagined as you were back then.” His voice was rich and smooth, it rumbled with the engine of the car. “And now you can have everything, you have that kind of power that can seize a miracle and make it yours.”
The engine thrummed, Juri cringed at the sensations it created in her. “I'll take that miracle, and make it so that neither of you,” Juri looked from Akio to Touga, “can interfere in their lives ever again.”
“So long as you go along with this.” Touga said.
“And now I will show it to you as well, The End of the World.” Akio shifted gears, accelerated, and then flipped over onto the hood of his car, spreading his legs out and letting his shirt billow open to expose his chest to the night sky.
“Juri, Shiori...” Utena was with Anthy and Miki at the library, they were all studying together when Juri and Shiori appeared before them, the looks on their faces more shocking than the red sports car behind them inside the library.
“After school, in the dueling arena.” Juri said, her eyes firmly on Utena and Anthy.
“Don't worry Miki, this won't take long.” Shiori said.
Off in the distance, the sun was low in the sky and cast long shadows across the campus. If you looked at the shadow of the Chairman's tower, you would see the shadow of a flying saucer crashing into it, and down below at the base of the tower, the Shadow Play Girls putting on another of their performances.
“Yosh!” A-Ko was flexing and stretching while wearing hiking gear. “I'm going to do it today, I'm going to climb the mountain!” And sure enough, there was the shadow of a mountain on the right-hand side of the wall.
“Oh, are you sure?” B-Ko was dressed like a tourist guide. “Wouldn't you rather climb this nice hill over here?” And now there was the shadow of a hill to the left. “Doesn't it look much easier? And haven't you hurt yourself trying to climb that mountain before?
“That doesn't matter, climbing mountains is in my soul, it's part of who I am!”
“Oh yeah? I've seen you have picnics at the base of the hill lots of times.” B-Ko declared and A-Ko reeled as though struck. “The truth is you want to climb the hill too, don't you?”
“J-just because I think the hill looks nice, doesn't mean I want to climb it, you shouldn't go and assume things like that!”
“It's not just the picnics, I've seen you make paintings of the hill, and even clean up the trash around it.” B-Ko leaned forward. “That hill is just as important as the mountain, isn't it?”
“It...it is nice to relax against...but that doesn't matter! If I can't climb the mountain, I'll never be satisfied!”
“Well, either way, whichever one you climb, that's the one you've got to stick with.” B-Ko stuck her nose up.
A-Ko looked frantically from the mountain to the hill, standing in the exact middle between them, and fell to her knees and wailed to the sky. “Why can't I climb both???”
Utena and Anthy emerged at the dueling arena, the gondola having delivered them there. Up ahead were their opponents, Juri and Shiori; Shiori was in a stunning purple dress that matched her hair, designed just like Anthy's dress as the Rose Bride. Behind them was that red sports car, Akio's car. “Are you ready, Miss Utena.”
“As I'll ever be.” The last time she'd faced off against Juri, it had taken a miracle, a real no fooling no kidding miracle for her to win, and though she'd gotten stronger since then, there was no doubt that Juri had grown just as much if not more; the quiet fury in her eyes told Utena that.
“Shiori.” Juri said. “I'm trusting you.”
“Of course Juri; we're on the same side again.”
Utena leaned back in Anthy's arms, Juri leaned back in Shiori's. Anthy's hand lingered on Utena's chest, a powerful and familiar heat built up in her bosom. Utena braced herself for the sensation of the sword being drawn out of her, wondered at how Juri would react to it; it didn't feel like how you'd think a sword being pulled from your chest would feel, but it was still a sensation that coursed through your entire body and the moment that the blade was all the way out it felt like all the universe was exploding all around you. “Grant us the power to bring about The World Revolution!” Utena now stood with Anthy in her arm, sword in hand, Juri and Shiori a mirror of them.
Cars thrust up from the ground, not even breaking through or anything like that, just jutting up while their engines roared. Juri stepped forward, her gait like a leopardess. The bells tolled, the battle had begun. “This won't take long.” Juri's saber was right in Utena's face, Utena felt her sword ring and sing as she parried the blow.
“I don't get it Juri, why are you doing this? You're the last person I would have expected back here.” Utena leaped back, used one of the many cars around her for cover.
“I'm sick of it Utena.” Juri rushed forward and around, the car was no deterrent. “So long as I'm doing nothing, nothing will happen.” Utena dodged, saw the car racing aimlessly around the edge of the arena, endlessly going in circles to no end. “One way or another, everything is going to be released, everything!”
Utena got behind the car jutting up from the ground, Juri's sword pierced right through it, came this close to piercing the rose on her chest. The blade pulled back, Utena looked up and saw Juri leaping down from on top of the car. Utena swung out to deflect her blade and drive her off course. “What do you mean everything? Are you talking about you and Shiori?”
Juri spun around, the motion wild and feral yet still conveying the grace and control that characterized Juri's fencing. Utena knew she had to attack, that she had to cut Juri's rose, but Juri gave no opening, no chance, no sign that she was even tiring. “Me, Shiori, Miki.” Juri continued her assault as though it had no effect on her. “We're all being held back, we're all being constrained and we can't move on because of it, because of stupid rules that shouldn't even matter!” Juri feinted, drew Utena in, grabbed and tossed her to the ground.
“Is this really you, Juri?” Utena jumped and flipped back onto her feet. “Are you saying you really do believe in miracles now?”
“If I have to.” Juri advanced on Utena, her blade unrelenting. “This has all gone on long enough.” Utena's arm was getting sore, the vibrations from the blades were passing through her body. “It's over.” Juri pulled her sword back for the finishing blow, and in that moment Utena saw her chance, a desperate one in a trillion chance that she had to take or else she would certainly lose and Anthy would become Juri's bride; Utena didn't want to lose Anthy, and the way Juri was acting, she didn't trust her to have Anthy's best interests in mind.
So Utena struck, she thrust forward, and like she'd feared, Juri dodged out of the way...no, she almost did; while Utena missed the rose, her sword did catch something else.
Juri's locket. The car racing around the arena crashed.
Utena punched right through it, destroying it, breaking it off its chain, the links scattered about and fell to the ground. Juri stood frozen. She did not move. Utena could strike now for certain and Juri would make no move to stop her. Utena was frozen as well, the weight of her action still bearing down on her. “It's over.” Juri grabbed her own rose and tore it off. “Why did I think I could have everything?” Rain poured down. “Why did I think I could have anything?” She looked up at the gray haze of the castle and let the rain fall down onto her.
Shiori walked up to her. She reached out to Juri, she withdrew her hand, she never made contact.
Juri, Shiori, and Miki were in the fencing room. They were each seated on a chair. The chairs were positioned on the points of an equilateral triangle. They looked at one another, none of them said anything. There was no miracle, nothing to save any of them from what people would think. They looked to one another in silence.