Shoujo Kakumei Utena : As Others See Her - by Alan Harnum Shoujo Kakumei Utena

AS OTHERS SEE HER

by

Alan Harnum

Utena and its characters belongs to Be-PaPas, Chiho Saito,
Shogakukan, Shokaku Iinkai and TV Tokyo.

E-mail: harnums@thekeep.org

Transpacific Fanfiction: http://www.thekeep.org/~mike/transp.html

Utena Fanfiction Repository: http://www.thekeep.org/~harnums/UFR/

* * *

Once in a museum I saw a statue of Athena, smooth marble limbs,
wise countenance, infinite grace. Juri-sempai reminds me of that
statue a lot; especially when she's thinking, like now.

I like watching her; when she moves, in a fencing match, or
when she's sitting still, like now. I think she's the most
beautiful girl I know, maybe just because she's the oldest;
Himemiya-san and Tenjou-sempai and even Nanami-kun are all
pretty, but Juri-sempai's beautiful. When I first met her, I
even had a bit of a crush on her, but not any more; we're just
friends now. Good friends; she's the best friend I have here at
Ohtori.

She was sitting in the corner of the high school cafeteria,
head slightly bowed, middle knuckle of her index finger lightly
touching her chin. Alone, of course, and even though the
cafeteria was crowded for space, all the tables next to hers were
empty as well. Juri-sempai's got a reputation for being aloof,
and even dangerous to know, but I don't think it's deserved;
she's never been anything but nice to me, and if people got to
know her, they'd understand that a lot of the things people say
about her aren't true.

Not that she's exactly an easy person to get to know. She
doesn't let people get close easily, just like me. Maybe that's
why the two of us get along so well, because we're similar
people. I'm happy being around people, but I'm just as happy
being by myself, playing the piano or studying. At least, I used
to be; things have been a little different recently, because of
how I feel about Himemiya-san. Needing to be around another
person to be happy isn't really a feeling I'm used to.

"Hi, Miki!"

I smiled, waved back, because that's the polite thing to do;
clicked my stopwatch. It's kind of embarrassing when the high-
school girls look at me like that. They were loud enough for
Juri-sempai to hear, too. She looked up; first at them, and they
looked frightened and hurried to sit down at a table as far away
from her as possible; then at me, and beckoned.

"Good afternoon, Miki."

"Hi, Juri-sempai."

"Sit down if you like."

"Thanks."

"What are you up to?"

"Well..." I was embarrassed suddenly; the look on her face
was enough to let me know, without her saying anything, that she
knew I'd been watching her from the shadows for a time.
"Actually, I wanted to talk to you."

"About the Rose Bride's engagement to Touga?"

"Perceptive as always." I laughed softly; Juri-sempai likes
to go right to the point of a matter, whereas I always seem to
dance around it. Then I stopped laughing, because this was one
of those things I didn't want to think about, but couldn't avoid.
"Juri-sempai, will Himemiya-san... will she really do whatever
the one engaged to her asks?"

"From what I understand of her role, yes."

"Anything at all?"

"I assume so, if what Ends of the World tells us in their
letters is true."

"Oh."

"Is there a further point to this, Miki?"

She was a little annoyed, I could tell, but not entirely at
me. "Well, you see... Touga-sempai. He's got a reputation, you
know. Ladies' man. A playboy. And--"

"You want to know if I think he's had sex with Himemiya
yet."

I didn't have anything to say to that. It was what I wanted
to know, of course, but the way she said it... it made it sound
so much worse. Dirty. I sometimes wonder about Juri-sempai's past,
because it would explain a lot if some boy had broken her heart
when she was younger. I'd never ask, of course; it seems rather
ridiculous, too, because any boy lucky enough to have Juri-sempai
in love with him would have to be utterly stupid to reject her.
Touga-sempai said something about her being in love with someone,
before she dueled, though. I really do wonder. But it's not my
business.

I should have said something, but I couldn't. I couldn't
find the right words. Juri-sempai seemed to realize that
quickly, because she started talking again, quietly enough that
no one else would be able to hear.

"Yes. He probably has. That's the kind of man he is."

Of course it is. I knew that. But, hearing someone else
pronounce the judgement, especially Juri-sempai, forced me to
admit it fully to myself. It brought on other thoughts, just as
unwelcome; Himemiya-san was engaged to Saionji for a long time,
after all. But it doesn't change how I feel about her. I'm not
naive of the things that go on between men and women. Or men and
men. Or women and women, I suppose, although that's not
something I've ever really thought much about.

"Why does she do it, Juri-sempai?" I tried to ask it
detachedly, almost philosophically, but it came out like the
whispered question of a confused little boy.

"Play the Rose Bride, you mean? I don't know, and I won't
guess. Perhaps it's the path she's chosen to walk, seeking
whatever it is she desires."

Freedom. That's what she wants. She wants to be free, to
make her beautiful music, to shine, without anyone telling her
what she can and can't do.

"But why would anyone choose that path?"

"Why indeed?" And she shrugged, indicating that was the end
of the topic as far as she was concerned. "Do you still want her
for yourself?"

"I want her to be free." It came out unexpectedly fierce.

Juri-sempai smiled at me; I don't want to call it
condescending. "Then you're going to challenge him?"

"I don't know if that will meet with the approval of Ends of
the World." I hesitated before saying more. "Or if I could beat
him."

"You've beaten me before. I would have beaten Tenjou, but
for a trick of chance. Touga needed trickery to beat her." She
paused, and looked me up and down with a gaze that seemed to
penetrate to the core of me. "You could beat him, Miki."

"A duel is quite different from a fencing match," I
murmured.

"So it is," she replied. "So it is."

"What about you, Juri-sempai?"

"I'll fight again if I feel it necessary."

"Do you?"

"I don't know yet. By the way of these things, if I
understand them, Tenjou should get a rematch, if she wishes it.
Then would be Saionji, except that he's been expelled. Then
you."

"Do you think Tenjou-sempai will fight again?"

"I don't know that either. I assume you've heard the
gossip."

"I haven't seen it with my own eyes yet."

"Neither have I. But it would fit." Juri-sempai looked
suddenly like I'd never seen her before; satisfied, yet unhappy
at being so. "All her reason for fighting was to meet her
prince again. Touga made her believe he could be her prince,
and then he betrayed her. So, what does she have left to fight
for?"

"Isn't Himemiya-san her friend?"

"Perhaps for friendship's sake, then." But she sounded
doubtful, and looked even more unhappy.

"What's wrong, sempai?"

"It just gets me a little down," she said finally. I'm
surprised she even said that much, because I expected her to tell
me nothing's wrong, like she always does when I ask her this sort
of question. So, when she went on, I was really shocked. "A
girl like Tenjou, she's a special kind of person; she shouldn't
become one of the crowd just because some man hurt her. She
deserves better than a playboy like Touga. Much better."

And, suddenly, I knew, and it made so much sense that I
feel like a complete idiot for not realizing it before. Maybe
it was just the look on her face when she talked about Tenjou-
sempai, but I knew. I was certain. I'd bet almost anything on
it.

It doesn't change anything, though. It's just another piece
of information about Juri-sempai, and I don't have many of those.
Maybe she wanted me to know, and that was her way of telling me.
Maybe she isn't direct all the time.

"I agree," I said, even while I was processing the new
information. "Tenjou-sempai... I find it hard to even think of
her in a regular uniform. Maybe we should, I don't know, talk to
her..." I paused, and frowned as something else occurred to me.
"But, if she doesn't fight again..."

"Then it will be your turn by default." She watched me
carefully, as though we were fencing, and she wanted to try and
anticipate my next move.

Direct attack. "What kind of person do you think I am,
Juri-sempai? I... well, you know how I feel about Himemiya-san.
But Tenjou-sempai's my friend. I don't want to see her turn into
a completely different person because of this."

She smiled lightly. "As I thought." She rose from her
seat. "Shall we, then?"

I rose as well. "We shall." Then, deliberately hesitant,
"Or... maybe you should. I mean, you were the one she told about
her prince, right?"

"Yes," Juri-sempai replied, wistfully, regretfully. "And
then I let it slip to Touga, giving him the opening he needed;
the crack in her armour."

"She trusted you with her secret." Shuffle my feet now,
look uncertain. "I don't know why, maybe because you're a girl,
and she thought you'd be able to understand--"

"Yes, Miki," she drawled, "I do feel somewhat guilty for
giving it away to Touga. The point is made."

"So you can make it up to her now! Convince her to fight
again!"

I could almost see her retreat emotionally, like a turtle
into its shell. That definitely came out too eagerly. "I don't
have anything to make up to anyone," she said icily. "And
whether or not Tenjou fights again isn't really all that
important to me."

Suddenly, voices were rising in the cafeteria in a steady
wave. A familiar sound: virulent gossip. But then I heard
someone say Tenjou-sempai's name, and then someone else said
Touga-sempai's name; Juri obviously heard it too. I'm glad we
had something to distract us, because I had no idea what to say
in reply to her.

She grabbed her satchel from beside her chair and stalked
over to the nearest table. "What's the news?"

The three girls looked up, eyes wide, mouths open. They
were obviously scared. Juri-sempai was about to speak again,
which would probably just intimidate them further, so I stepped
up beside her and smiled reassuringly. "Hey, don't worry; we
just want to hear the gossip too."

"There was an incident in the middle school cafeteria," said
one, a bright-eyed girl with her hair in two pigtails; a childish
style, I thought, for a high school girl. "Touga-sama tried to
kiss Tenjou Utena, that girl who wears the weird uniform, but
this other girl, who's her ex-lover or something, got jealous and
tried to stab him with a fork!"

"That's not what I heard," said one of her companions, a
short girl with a large red ribbon in her hair. "She pulled a
straight razor on him, but Tenjou disarmed her using kung fu,
and now she's in the hospital!"

"You're both wrong," said the third softly, shaking her
ponytailed head. "Touga-sama was hitting on Tenjou. Her friend
didn't like it, because Tenjou wasn't acting like her usual self,
and he was taking advantage of that. She threw a glass of water
at him, but he moved, and she got Tenjou's roommate, Himemiya
Anthy, instead. Then her friend started getting angry at
Himemiya, saying it was her fault, and Tenjou slapped her. So
she slapped Tenjou back." She sighed. "A fight between close
friends... how tragic."

The first two glared darkly at their companion. "Our
versions were more exciting," they said in perfect unison.

Juri-sempai and I moved away towards the exit, leaving the
first two to berate the third.

"Strange girls," Juri-sempai said.

I nodded in agreement. "I guess we part ways here," I said.
"I'm going to go to the music room, and you're going to go find
Tenjou-sempai, right?"

After a moment, she nodded.

"Tell me how it goes, okay?"

"Sure."

I watched her walk away. She walks beautifully.

* * *

He hadn't been expecting to meet her on the way to his
rendezvous, but attempted to make the best of it, as he did
everything. He liked to consider himself an optimist. If
nothing else, Arisugawa was aesthetically appealing, albeit
unattainable. Quite beyond even him, and he knew that from the
moment he met her; he'd never made a single advance towards her.

"Good afternoon, Mister President."

"Afternoon, Arisugawa."

His was a mind devoted towards the examination of
possibilities, however, and her response if he did make such an
advance was something he'd considered from time to time. Coy
refusal? Violent anger? Perhaps, inexplicably, acceptance?

He knew more about her than she probably thought he did,
things she didn't want anyone to know, especially someone like
him. If the need arose, he could use them against her, and
would not hesitate in the least to do so. The need had simply
not arisen yet.

"Where's the Bride?"

"I left her in the Council chambers."

He studied her as they exchanged words beneath the shadow of
the bridge spanning the central buildings. She wore her usual
enigmatic, unreadable, sober expression. Her face was still
beautiful, of course, but he considered it an expression ill-
suited for her features. Her beauty wasn't made for sneers and
scowls and frowns; he could count the number of times he'd
actually seen her smile on one hand, and she was a true beauty
then.

"Oh? So that talk of always having her by your side was
only that?"

"Of course. I don't intend to let her impede my lifestyle."

At times, he wondered what she thought of him. She'd never
been anything but polite to him; even earlier in the day, in the
Council chambers, she remained civil while openly deriding his
sword skill--from her, the master fencer, a grave insult. Of
all of them, he thought she probably knew him best of all, the
true him, which made her a potential danger.

"My... before the dismissal bell even rings. You're
certainly busy."

"I'm shocked at your insinuations, Arisugawa, and my
affairs are my own business."

He wondered if he could defeat her if she challenged him,
using skill alone. Perhaps; their styles were very different,
after all, and she would probably underestimate him, believing
that only his trickery had allowed him to beat Tenjou. Which was
foolish, of course; he'd used trickery because it was easier.
The path of least resistance was generally his preferred one.

"Of course. I don't mean to suggest otherwise. Though it
makes me wonder what such a playboy wants with the Power of
Dios."

"Why, more power, of course."

He surprised himself with his own honesty, he who was so
seldom honest. Power was why he did everything. Even sex,
pleasurable though it was in myriad other ways, was most
exquisite for the power it allowed him to wield.

"How interesting."

"Isn't power why you want it as well, Arisugawa? Seize the
power to revolutionize the world with your own hands, and grant
the secret wish of your heart?"

As she frowned, he began to think he might have gone a step
too far. He had to be cautious with her, more cautious than with
anyone else, if he was to use her to his advantage.

"What I want with the Power of Dios is none of your
business, Mister President."

"Of course not. Shall I prepare myself to cross blades with
you in the future?"

He said it lightly, as though unconcerned at the prospect,
which was far from the truth. He knew her skill very well, and
knew also that beneath the icy slopes, magma boiled and bubbled;
to use her past against her might make victory easy, or it might
send her into such a rage that beating her would be impossible.

"If you wish; the possibility is there, of course."

"Of course. I really must be going now."

As they passed by each other, she said, very quietly and
absolutely neutrally, "Mind you take good care of Saionji's
exchange diary, Mister President." And she smirked, just a
little.

He froze as she continued to walk on, momentarily stunned.
Then he kept on moving. She knew, apparently, or suspected;
perhaps she'd seen him receive the diary, and then observed him
at the incinerator immediately after. Mere circumstantial
evidence, but strong. And hers was a suspicious mind. From that
piece, she might put together the rest of the puzzle.

The possibility was there. Preparations needed to be made.
He pulled out his phone. "It's me. Yes, she's a sweet flower.
That's not what I'm calling about, though... oh. You surprise me
again; yes, I think it's time to bring her back into the fold.
She may be useful for the future... you'll take care of
everything? Very well."

He hung up, frowning, and headed towards his delayed
meeting. The distraction would be pleasant, or so he hoped.

* * *

It's been a real interesting day so far, in the old-Chinese-curse
sense of the word. Your life is generally a little bland (in a
happy, contented, no-worries sort of way), so a big fight and
emotional making-up scene with your best friend (in your humble
opinion, the nicest, coolest, sweetest, greatest, most wonderful
and perfect best friend in the entire world, bar none) because of
some kind of weird triangle relationship between her and the
Student Council President and the weird-but-increasingly-friendly
girl she's been living with, while exciting, is just a little too
exciting.

You can still sort of feel her lips on your forehead; soft,
light, warm. It's a funny feeling; no one outside your family
has ever kissed you before, even like that. You don't really
know how to react to it, whether it changes anything; all that
talk you give about her being your true love and your boyfriend
and your prince is just that, talk. It's a game you play with
her, and sure, some people whisper about it behind your back (and
sometimes talk about it quite loud right in front of you), but
you don't care, because you're perfectly comfortable with who you
are, and you are absolutely positively one hundred percent
heterosexual, and you'd always assumed she was the same way, even
with all the sports and the uniform and everything else.

Of course, you have to admit, if you _were_ that way, and
you _were_ going to have a real crush on another girl, it would
definitely be on her. She's totally, totally cool, and sweet,
and brave, and pretty, and you sometimes can't believe that she's
best friends with a normal girl like you...

But it's just talk. That's all. It was just a little kiss
on the forehead, like you'd give your little sister (which is
probably how she thinks of you), and it didn't mean anything, and
neither of you are that way anyway.

The last you saw of her, she was off to take back who she
was. Whatever that meant. Probably involved tearing that jerk
President Kiryuu a couple of new holes in strategic places, which
you are entirely in favour of, because despite the fact that he's
absolutely gorgeous (though not quite as gorgeous as Vice-
President Saionji, whom you were really sorry to see go, even
though he posted that letter you sent him; which you should have
expected, you know, because, really, what were you thinking, a
girl like you sending a letter to a guy like him?), he gives you
bad vibes like nobody else ever has. Just being around him when
he's around Utena makes all the little hairs on the back of your
neck stand straight up like cornstalks. It's more than the
playboy reputation or the too-charming charm, though; the guy's
bad, bad news. He did something to her, something that Himemiya
Anthy's tied up in, and you don't know what, but it hurt her bad
enough that she showed up acting like a totally different person,
like he'd torn the heart right out of her.

You don't really have any idea what's going on, but you hope
things are going to be okay. There's definitely _something_
funny going on, but a girl like you certainly won't be able to
get to the bottom of it.

You should probably go home. Sunset's coming. The white
marble wall at your back is turning to the palest red rose; the
red rose mural on it is slowly darkening to crimson. But you're
just sitting here, like you don't have the will to move, and you
can still faintly feel those lips, that hot breath against your
skin.

"You're Tenjou Utena's friend, aren't you?"

She moved up quiet as a panther stalking prey; you didn't
even know she was there until she spoke, maybe because you were
so wrapped up in your own thoughts. For a second, you don't
recognize her; then you do, and you're a little scared, and you
don't scare easily.

Arisugawa Juri. You've heard stories about her. Rumours.
Everyone knows someone who has a friend whose older brother was
there when she reduced a teacher to tears in front of an entire
class--and after that day, the teacher was _never seen or heard
from again_.

"Uh-huh. Shinohara Wakaba. You're Arisugawa Juri."

She doesn't actually seem all that scary close up. She's
even kind of smiling at you, almost hesitantly, like she's trying
to reassure you she isn't going to pull off your arm and have it
for a snack. "You've heard of me?"

You can't tell whether she's being ironic or not, but you're
not scared any more. Maybe she's someone to be scared of under
the wrong circumstances, but, then again, your best friend
probably is too. You certainly wouldn't want to be in President
Kiryuu's shoes right now. These aren't the wrong circumstances,
though; you've always had a good sense for people, right off the
bat. She's lonely, although she hides it incredibly well, and
there's something hurt about her. You're not scared at all; in
fact, you almost feel sorry for her, because whatever wound she's
carrying behind those blue-green eyes, it hasn't even come close
to healing yet.

"Yeah. I've heard of you. Is it true you bit the head off
a middle school freshman once?"

"No."

Inwardly, you wince; it didn't have the desired effect at
all. The opposite, in fact, because her smile goes away.

"It was only an arm."

So deadpan, you don't even know what to do at first. Then
the instincts kick in, and you just throw back your head and
laugh, and she smiles again. That's how her sense of humour
works, then; you make a note of it.

"Is Tenjou okay? I'd heard she was a little depressed."

And the warning flags go up. There's more here than just
concern, although you don't know what. You can't help but glare
at her. "If you're looking for someone to gossip with about
Utena, go look somewhere else. I'm not interested."

Suddenly, she's very cold, and very calm, like the smooth
top of an iceberg. But down below the surface, there's something
jagged and very, very dangerous, and you, you're just a little
wooden boat with a patchwork sail.

"You do know exactly whom you're speaking to, don't you?"

But you don't care, because suddenly it's as though she's
the focus of it all, like she's Kiryuu Touga and Himemiya Anthy
and Saionji Kyouichi all rolled up into one curly-haired blue-
green-eyed icily beautiful package. "Yeah. I know who I'm
speaking to. I just don't care. Maybe yesterday I would have,
maybe I will tomorrow, but right now... nope. So go somewhere
else for your gossip." Midway through, the brain kicks in and
tries to apply the brakes, but the anger and the words have too
much momentum. "I'm not saying _anything_ about Utena to you,
because it's none of your damn business, even if you are on the
Student Council and even if you do eat middle school students for
lunch." You have the pleasure of actually seeing her look a
little shocked, and finish with an upturned nose, a haughty
sniff, and, "So there!"

For a moment, she just _looks_ at you, like you're from
another planet. Then, softly, she begins to laugh; it's gentle
and appealing, and you're quite certain it's entirely out of
character for her.

"My goodness," she says, through the laughter, "you are a
spunky one, aren't you?"

Something in the way she says that startles you, though you
can't say what. She's still looking at you, although she's
stopped laughing. And now you're feeling a little nervous,
because, of course, there's rumours, because she's the captain of
the fencing team and she's beautiful and it's well-known that
she's never had a boyfriend or even gone on a date.

You start fiddling with your hands. Your face feels hot,
the heat centred around the spot where your best friend gave you
that chaste, totally meaningless kiss. "Look, I don't mean to be
rude, it's just I've had a really tough day. I kinda want to be
alone right now."

"I'm just concerned about Tenjou. You're her friend, so I
thought you might know something."

That's true; you can tell that much. Even though there's
more than just concern, concern is a part of it. "I don't really
know any details," you say finally. "She had some kind of fight
with her roommate, and that big jerk, the Council President, is
wrapped up in it somehow... sorry, I guess I shouldn't bad-mouth
him in front of you."

Behind her eyes, humour dances with awkward, amateurish
grace. "No, that's quite all right." She seems to consider it
for a moment. "He _is_ a big jerk, after all."

"Like I said, I don't know much. But..." Suddenly, you're
rising to your feet. "I think things are going to be okay." You
clasp your hands to your breast, right over you heart. "Whatever
he took from her, she's going to get it back--I know she is!"
You're filled up with pride, and you know your eyes are probably
shining in a really embarrassing way. "Because there's nobody
cooler than my Utena-sama!"

Light clapping. You look down, face going a bit red.

"When do you burst into song?" she asks.

You glare, but you're not really angry. She stands up
slowly; you can sense the lethal grace in every movement. The
panther simile occurs to you again, because that's what she's
like, beautiful and deadly and aloof.

"Tenjou's lucky to have a friend like you," she says.
"You'll always stand by her, won't you?"

"I love her," you say, suddenly, simply. She raises an
eyebrow, and your blush deepens. "Not like that. I mean,
because she's my best friend. All that stuff about her being my
true love and my boyfriend isn't true."

"Not even a little?"

"Not even a little," you reply firmly. Perhaps too firmly.
"It's just a game." And it is just a game, you don't care about
that stupid gossip, they're just jealous because _they_ don't
have an awesome best friend like you do.

"I'm glad to hear you think she'll be okay. I was a little
worried when I heard she was wearing a regular uniform. I've
been looking for her for a while, to see if it was true...
something like that really wouldn't suit her at all."

You giggle. "You know, that's _exactly_ what I said."

"Was it?"

"Yeah."

"How odd."

The sun is almost entirely gone behind the hills now, and
everything is red, red like the rose, red like blood. Some
complex angle of the light catches Arisugawa Juri, and seems to
bathe her in fire; she becomes, for a moment, a burning angel.
Then it's gone, and you're immediately thinking how silly it was
to think of her like that.

"You ought to go home," she says, commandingly but not
unkindly, "loitering on the grounds after sunset is prohibited to
those not on the Student Council."

"Yeah. I know," you mutter. "Nice to meet you, Arisugawa-
sempai. You're not nearly as scary as all the rumours say."

"Oh?" The corner of her lip curls a little, showing white,
white teeth.

"But still pretty scary," you say quickly, hurrying away,
as another soft laugh follows you. After a dozen paces, you turn
and wave. She doesn't wave back, but merely nods her head.

Yeah, interesting day. You head home with the sincere hope
that tomorrow will be very, very boring.

* * *

"I'm telling you, it was just... weird. I'm trying to get into
the fencing hall--I was thinking I could borrow a foil, or
something, I would have put it back when I was done--but it's
locked up tight, just like the kendo hall. I'm getting kinda
desperate, you see, because I don't want to have to fight a duel
with a tree branch from the forest or something, which is what it
was looking like it was going to come down to. So, umm... I
start looking around for something to break a window with--I was
desperate, okay? And then she shows up, just walks out of the
darkness; I didn't have any idea she was there until she spoke to
me. And she's like, 'What are you doing, Tenjou?', and I'm
pretty surprised, so I say back to her, 'Trying to get into the
fencing hall', and she looks at me kinda funny, and says, 'Why
exactly are you trying to break into the fencing hall?', and I
say, kinda automatically 'Because I wasn't able to break into
the kendo hall.' And she shakes her head, and looks kind of
disappointed. Then she says, 'If you wanted to borrow a sword,
you should have just asked.' And she takes the keys out of her
pocket, and smiles; it would be nice if she'd smile more. 'Wait
here,' she says, and she unlocks the door. And I'm thinking,
wow, okay, here's a spot of luck for once, because I think she's
going to go get me a foil or maybe a sabre--I think those are the
stronger ones. She's gone a little while, I'm getting kind of
impatient, shuffling my feet, wondering a little if maybe it's
some kind of trick. Then, just when I'm starting to think of
leaving or going in after her, she comes back out, and she's got
_her_ sword. And I'm kinda worried for a moment, and then she
holds it out to me. 'Use this.' Real casual, like it's a normal
thing to lend your own sword to someone who's kind of your enemy,
I guess. 'You'll need it to set the last act properly.' Weird
thing to say, isn't it, like we're just a bunch of players on a
stage? There's a Shakespeare line about that, I think. 'All
Ohtori's a stage...' Sorry. Getting silly. Anyway, so I'm
like, 'Thanks', and she just nods. Then I'm about to walk off,
but I stop, because she's kind of watching me, like she expects
something more, so I say, 'Why?' So she says, totally seriously,
'That uniform doesn't suit you at all.' Which is exactly what
Wakaba said. Isn't that weird? Anyway, you know how it went
after that--hey, do you know where the blade went? I'm pretty
sure it went over the side, but... man, I hope it wasn't a family
heirloom or something. I bet she received it from her beloved
grandfather on his deathbed or something, so I'm going to feel
really awful that it got broken. I'll have to tell her
tomorrow... I hope she's not too mad, she's pretty scary when
she's mad. Hey, are you even still listening to me? Guess
not... guess you had a long day. Don't blame you for falling
asleep--yeah, I hear you, _you're_ listening to me, but you can't
talk, so... oh, don't get so annoyed, you _can't_ talk. Geez.
G'night."

* * *

Ring.

"Mister President. How was your duel?"

//"Don't pretend you don't know. Why did she do it?"//

"You know, that's exactly what Tenjou asked her."

//"How odd."//

"Going to challenge her again, Mister President?"

//"I have... matters to think upon before deciding my next
move."//

"I await it with interest. Goodbye, Mister President."

//"You haven't answered my question yet."//

"You're right. I haven't."

Click.

He throws his head back and laughs softly; at the end of a
comedy, one is supposed to laugh. The act has come to a close.
Let fall the curtain. Down the lights. Lower the prop--careful
now! It's a complex piece, even if it is just a trick of the
light. Time to go backstage and make sure nothing's out of
place for the next act.

Who is he? He's waiting in the wings. He's waiting in the
shadows. He's waiting at the ends of the world. This is his
stage, and she's just another one of his players. The last act
shall be his, and his alone.

"Sweet fallen angel," he whispers, "wounded chick, do you
realize that even in this, you have served me as well as ever he
did?"

END

Notes:

This will be remembered by me for a long time as the Story That
Would Not Get Written. I began it in a completely different form
shortly after finishing "What Is Done" (with which it shares a
continuity), scrapped that version, wrote another one completely
different from this one, scrapped that as well, and finally
completed this, the third version of the story, and the one which
finally satisfied me.

I hope to complete more stories in this continuity in the future.