by Ekai Ungson
Legality: I don't own Sakura Taisen, or the Sakura Taisen 2 videogame. Characters used without permission.
Note: Also, I'm going to pretend I didn't hear a word that Sakura-oneesama said. That's because in this fic, Leni Milchstrasse is a guy. He's a boy. Okay? (Anyway, in a lot of internet sites, Leni is called a 'he'! So it's basically not going to change anything. ^-^)[I just like the thought of Leni as a boy. He seems so much like a boy anyway.] More notes at conclusion.
The poetry is lifted off the Malate Literary Folio. There will be a section at the end for citations. ^-^
Forgive the OOC-ness of the fic. I'm not very very familiar with Sakura Taisen, and I made up a lot of things as I went.
"I tell myself,
I love the word 'cherish',
love the word 'utterly',
And I tell myself,
hunger is belief in someone
overhearing the things we tell ourselves.
Someone who, when he reads them written
in dust on the night table, beside which
he lies unsleeping, suddenly
touched, suddenly aching
will agree, will love the words, too."
-- "Tango Alone", Michael C. Morco
I: Tango Alone
'If you must know, try
writing desire, writing
grief on every page of every notebook you have
alternately, 'til your hand
bleeds of everything
you have confessed to yourself,
still not everything.'
She looked up and down the stage and saw no one in the rafters, no one in the wings. Then she stared at the piece of paper in her hand, on which was written a shard of poetry in a hand she didn't know. It was most definitely not Sakura's hurried, harried handwriting, nor Oogami-niichan's hard letters. It wasn't Maria's flowing script, and not Kohran's confusing Chinese. It was foreign to her, which meant it probably was dropped by anybody that went within the walls of the theatre, and that was a large number of people indeed.
The other day a committee of sorts from the foreign contingent had arrived, and she had to take them into consideration, too.
Among the newcomers was a light-haired boy and Sakura-san had said that his name was Leni... something. His last name wasn't French-sounding, it was somehow more German, she supposed, or Dutch, but she really had no way to be sure; and Sakura-san also said that he looked a lot like her. She had stared, and didn't know if Sakura-san was right or wrong in her deduction. The boy was indeed handsome, but not like anyone she'd seen before, not in Japan. Boys in Japan weren't quite so fine-boned and fragile-looking.
He also felt... different. She could feel an aura around him, and if it were a color, it would be blue. Cool and cold and refined and fluid. Like water.
It was beautiful poetry, she decided, and really quite sad, if she was understanding it right. Poetry had a tendency to express a lot of things but definitely not all, and some had tendencies of hiding their very meaning. Still, she thought it was very pretty indeed, lyrical and heart-rending.
Iris Chateaubriand looked all around the stage again and then folded the piece of paper. Someone probably dropped it, and if anyone went looking, she would give it back immediately. For now, she would keep it.
He knew he left that sheet somewhere on the stage. He knew it because he'd been writing there at the time. He didn't go anywhere else. He was writing there because hardly anyone used the stage in those hours, and he liked the silence. He knew it had to be here, someplace.
But where was it?
He ran a hand over his hair in frustration. Oh, well. He could write it down again, anyway. But he wanted that piece of paper. It disconcerted him to think about anyone reading his work. It wasn't as if he was ashamed of it-- he was just a little bashful about it. Pouring your heart out on a piece of paper was one thing. Having someone read of your most secret thoughts was quite another. That was why he wrote it on the sly.
A custodian might've taken it, dismissed it as trash. It couldn't be helped.
He quite liked the silence of the empty theatre, where every move you did would be supplemented with echoes. He found the rest of the house at best messy, and at worst chaotic. People were always running around going someplace else. Did people in Japan never stay still?
He heard approaching footsteps and immediately got off the stage. When he looked back, a small girl was tying ballet shoes on her feet in the right wing. A teddy bear sat next to her on the floor.
She never saw him, but he stood, riveted, stunned, even, by the delicate goddess whose blue eyes were intent on her work. Then she walked to the center of the stage and began to dance to a music only she could hear.
He remembered her from the day he went in as the girl who had stood beside the woman named Sakura, clutching at her skirts, her face buried in her teddy bear. French, he was told, daughter of a Duke, and that particular piece of information he had found hard to swallow. What was a count's daughter doing in a place like this? He dismissed her as a visitor, most probably, because he didn't see her again during the day and the next, not even at meals. He never would have dreamed that she lived here, and he couldn't believe his incredibly good fortune.
This sylph, this creature, dancing so gracefully, ever so gracefully, blond hair flying, hands raised to the skies in prayer. He couldn't move.
He couldn't quite believe that the shy creature from the other day was the same girl dancing before him with reckless abandon.
Then she stopped and turned to look at him.
Leni Milchstrasse turned and ran away.
Iris stared at the foreign boy as he ran off, and knew that he had been watching her for quite some time. She had no idea what he was doing in that place just now, and even less of why he had stayed to watch her. Strange, it all was, why he ran off the way he did. It was all very rude to her, but then again, she supposed it was better this way, she really didn't like people around watching her dance. Not even when she was performing onstage. She presumed that her dancing alone was much the same thing as dancing in front of an audience, but she still didn't like audiences very much.
Could it be possible to feel infinitely more alone under the light and scrutiny of a hundred people?
She remembered the poem she'd picked up today, and felt much akin to what the poet was trying to express, about writing grief, and writing desire, and confessing so many things to yourself, but still not everything. And as she continued to dance, she thought that solitude, and aloneness was very much sad indeed.
He'd found the piece of paper he'd been looking for, and he found it at the most inopportune of places.
He had found it when that French girl from the theatre today had decided to grace them all with her presence for dinner. She had been introduced by Miss Shinguji as Iris Chateaubriand. She was the youngest in the troupe. And there, on the pocket of her apron, was a small piece of paper with his definite handwriting, there was no mistaking it. So she had picked up his poem, hadn't she? Probably thought it was dropped and didn't know whose it was. He wasn't about to tell.
He wondered if she found his poems all right, and stopped short. He wasn't feeling resentful at all of the fact that she had read his work. In fact he was finding it quite nice that she did. Which was strange. Of him. Uncharacteristic, even.
He usually wasn't that quick to jump in trusting other people, especially with his most secret thoughts. In fact, at best he was called paranoid.
There was something different about that girl, though. He knew it the moment he set his eyes on her in the theatre earlier today.
She was exactly like him. In a different way, but exactly like him.
Iris could feel him staring. Which, she supposed, was what she deserved after staring at him so long and so much the other day. She longed to go to Oogami-niichan and envelop herself in his arms. Or even Sakura. Sakura was so warm, and so like a sanctuary. Maybe it had been a wrong idea to go to dinner today.
She hugged Jean-Paul tighter. She wanted to hide from the scrutiny of this boy. He was... she didn't know. Or perhaps she did know, she just didn't want to admit it to herself at the moment.
Leni knew that she wanted to hide from him. He could feel it from her. And in that moment Leni knew that to reach this angel, to be able to touch her, he would need more than what he had in his hands.
He had to put his heart on the table as well.
There was something squidged underneath her door today, a folded piece of paper. She dismissed it as another of Sakura's notes, probably saying: "Iris, we'll be going out today! Would you like to come along? Meet us out front at five in the afternoon! Keigu, Sakura-san" but then she saw that the paper itself was store-bought stationery and looked very expensive indeed, she dismissed her initial thoughts about it being Sakura's. Sakura wouldn't get her expensive paper for everyday notes.
She opened the letter and was surprised to find the same script as in the poem she found on the stage.
'Hold strange beliefs as in places
called 'otherwise.' Burn
all bridges between verbs.
To consume to be consumed. For
in situ, archaelogists say, is best:
bomb or body, you
are astonished, are astonishing.'
Iris reread the whole thing over and found herself most infinitely confused. So the writer had found out that it was she who had picked up his poem, and now he was sending her other snippets of his work for what purpose only God knew. Also, this piece was strange, and the only part she understood clearly was "You are astonished, are astonishing".
She then blinked as she realized the very off-putting possibility that this could very well be a love letter and almost dropped the piece of paper.
"Iris!" Sakura-san was knocking on her door. "Are you up?"
"Hai," she replied softly.
"Oh, good! They want us all in the main dining room."
Iris folded the letter and placed it in the pocket of her apron, to read again later if she found the time to do so. She quite liked the idea of making another friend, and if the writer of these poems found her worthy enough to be reading them, then she would do her very best to try and understand them.
She entered the large dining hall and everyone was already there. She clutched Jean-Paul to her chest and found a seat next to Oogami-niichan.
She suddenly realized that everyone in the room was staring at her.
"N-nani?" she asked softly.
Sakura turned to her with a smile on her face. Only there was something different with her smile. Iris wondered if anything bad had happened to her parents back in France. Or if anything bad happened to anyone. She tried to still her heart. Things happened when Iris reacted violently to circumstances.
"Iris-chan," Sakura began gently. "You..."
Iris waited for the other shoe to drop.
"... have been chosen to play the lead for the next production."
Iris was so relieved, but at the same time shocked at this revelation, that she almost transported herself to Kobu. Oogami-niichan had put a hand on her shoulder, probably to steady her or stop her, she didn't know.
"E-eh?" she managed. "But... I'm not ready. I'm not..."
"Good enough?" Sumire-san interrupted. "Of course you are, child. Even though you ARE just a child. You have enough talent to do this."
"I'm not a—" Iris began, but she was cut off by Sakura.
"And you won't be alone," Sakura-san soothed. "We'll all be there to help you, and Leni will be there as well."
Leni...? But what has Leni got to—
"Leni-kun will be playing the male lead, Iris," Maria said by way of explanation.
She turned nervous eyes on the aforementioned boy and he stared back. She looked away.
"I... I'm not ready for the lead role," she whispered. "What is it about anyway?"
"It's an old foreign tale," Sakura-san explained. "That's why you and Leni will be playing in it. It's called 'Swan Lake'."
"And you were chosen because you were good at dancing ballet," Oogami-niichan said.
Iris knew about that legend. It was about a princess cursed by a witch to be a swan and only transform back into a human by the light of the full moon on the lake. Then a prince came by and fell in love with her. She liked this story, but she didn't like the thought of playing lead and dancing in front of lots of people. She simply wasn't ready for it.
But the others would hear none of her protestations. The play was set and had to be on schedule. Nobody else could dance as well as she could, they reasoned, and it was too late to back out.
She sighed as she put on her ballet shoes. Outside somewhere, a piano was playing. Rehearsals were underway.
Sumire was grooming her on princess behavior. Not that she needed it; she was, after all, the daughter and sole heiress of the Duke Chateaubriand of Champagne, and all the royalty and finesse was if not inbred, taught to her at the very age she could understand them. Still, Sumire insisted, and Iris didn't have it in her to refuse.
The dancing, however, was left entirely to her. Sure, the troupe had hired some choreographer, but he was at best idealistic and at worst utterly useless. Iris' experience in dance was far more advanced. She was also getting some help from the Italian actress that had arrived with Leni, who claimed to have watched the Russian Ballet when they came to fetch Leni. She had good points once or twice, but it was Iris who improvised and ornamented most of her steps.
Iris had to admit that she quite liked playing the Swan Princess, Odette, and working with her friends was much fun. She still had reservations about Leni, of course, because he'd never rehearsed with her as yet. When she asked Maria, the woman replied, "You will begin to rehearse with Leni if you finish half of your dance steps."
To that she sighed and began to dance again.
Leni was memorizing most of his script and thanked the gods for making him Japanese-proficient. He sat at a corner of the theatre most of the time, quiet and brooding, and Soletta often scolded him for acting so "antisocial". Well, Soletta's attitude was much akin to that of a social butterfly. It couldn't be helped.
He heard the "Moon Lake" piece being played again and he looked up to see the girl, Iris, enter the stage and begin to dance. Just watching her, he mused, was making his moods considerably lighter, even in the light of all the pressure thrust upon them both. Iris was handling things very well from his perspective, nodding to anything and everything told to her, but he had witnessed an impressive display of girlish tantrum when the audacious Soletta had presented her with a dress in the brightest, most flashy red he had ever seen in his life.
Iris had shaken her head very slowly at first, but the woman insisted, saying it was the latest off Rome. Iris shook her head again, and when she wouldn't relent, she stared at her with all the royalty a duke's daughter could muster and said very politely, "No, absolutely not."
So. Iris was conservative.
Onstage, Iris was bending down and then arching up, and Leni saw the perfect image of a swan rising to life as a woman. She really was a very good dancer, and as he continued to watch her dance he was hit with a sudden burst of inspiration.
He pulled out a pen and began to write at the corner of his script:
'Call me worshipper.
At the pantheons of the heart sometimes
there are no words for praying,
only the sounds of bleeding.'
'Tangoing alone means the heart
is a dance in three steps:
Despair beautifully, stop mid-beat. Repeat.
Iris folded the piece of paper and placed it in her desk drawer, where all of the poems the writer was sending her were kept. She really wished he-- or she-- would just tell her straight out who he-- or she-- was, instead of making her wonder. She quite liked this new poem, something about dancing alone, with which she could relate, and something about admiration. He—or she—was doing a very good job, and if he would just reveal himself, she could thank him.
There had been poems appearing morning after morning, underneath her door, just as she was going out for breakfast. She considered asking anyone about the poems, or matching handwriting with samples, but she just couldn't find the time, the production was nearing, and today was her first rehearsal with Leni.
Leni. Did she even have a right to call him that? Sakura was rubbing off on her. Maybe she should be calling him Milchstrasse-san, but Iris could never pronounce it right. Leni, then.
Leni, in her eyes, was a solitary creature alone in a crowd of hundreds. He valued his peace and his quiet, and she often found him alone, reading to himself and if not that, simply out at the gardens, brooding on something she couldn't identify. Such a lonely boy, she had thought. She wondered if he was sad. She didn't think anybody deserved to be so sad, or as sad as he appeared to be.
She wanted to ask him about so many things, to know so many things about him. He intrigued her. He was mysterious, and everything she knew about him was secondhand information from Sakura-san and Oogami-niichan. He was foreign, he was here to help the Hanagumi, he had been a performer of sorts, too. This was all solid, physical information.
Iris found herself wondering about him, and wondering what he felt when he watched her dance, because she had caught him once or twice trying to pretend he was looking at his script, but as she pirouetted she found him staring at her.
Maybe today she could find out.
--to be continued-
Snippets of poems were lifted, in order, from:
"Six Wounds; ii"; Michael C. Morco. Malate Literary Folio. Vol. XVIII No. 3
"Tango Alone; 2"; Michael C. Morco. Malate Literary Folio. Vol. XVIII No. 3
"Six Wounds; vi." Michael C. Morco. Malate Literary Folio. Vol. XVIII No. 3
and "Tango Alone; 7" Michael C. Morco. Malate Literary Folio. Vol. XVIII No. 3