Hidden Heartstrings

Life is fueled by compulsion and Juri is compulsive. It is that straightforward.

The first duels felt like practice. They were nothing quite so loaded and painful as they are now: walking up the steps to the dueling arena feels like knives underfoot, like crystal roses smashing and grinding their sharp little fragments up through her shoes, working their way into her soles.

But life is like that, too. Minor irritations get through her skin, worm their way to her soul. (Why are we still playing this game if we know we'll never be the victors?) Juri does not want to be anyone's playing piece. But she does not let her impatience show. Her compulsion is simple, her compulsion is this: Juri's life is tidy, and her heart is painstakingly protected.

In these last days, for that is surely what they are, with the air so full of that bizarre bouquet-- sickeningly sweet rose scent mixed with blood and fabrications and electricity's sizzling-- Juri wills her feet to keep walking, one step at a time; she wills her heart out of her throat and speaks with flawless inflection; she wills her hands to stop shaking and they are still.

There is a girl she has seen, though, rumored to be engaged to the acting headmaster. Juri can sense the way that wind blows, has heard the talk around campus, and through the crevices chiseled into Juri's heart by those that she doesn't allow herself to think about, she can pity this girl, with her childlike eyes the color of new leaves, sweet wet lips, and a comet-colored corona of hair.

Her name is Kanae, and one day, seeing her alone at a bench outside the observatory building, waiting for her fiancée, Juri's compulsions lead her to break a cardinal rule of her existence: Juri is gracious, but never familiar (Juri is gifted but never a braggart. Juri is princely, but never the prince. Juri is carrying a rulebook in her head). Despite her misgivings, and the strange look in those leaf-green eyes when Kanae looks up at Juri, her tiny face tilted like a flower receiving sunlight, Juri invites Ohtori Kanae to have tea with her.

Predictably, she is sociable and open to this invitation, and on the walk to the cafeteria (as if life were so simple that Juri could merely eat lunch with a friend like the world itself wasn't trembling and readying itself for an earthquake) she chatters idly, as if she cannot hear the thunder in the distance or scent upheaval and discontent in the air, like an animal does. Juri quells her anxieties and speaks amicably, expresses her condolences that Kanae's fiancée is not more forthcoming with his attentions to her.  (What must it be like, to care so little for someone that you could tell your complaints against them to a stranger? Under the guise of caring worry?)

No, she has not met him, (quashing qualms of a man with a smooth talk and a smooth car) but how fascinating, that he studies the stars. (Anxiety back in her throat, why would you watch the stars, are they going somewhere?)

Impulsively, her eye caught by Kanae's gestulations, long pink fingernails and warm, real hands so unlike Shiori's moon-white skeleton fingers or Ruka's fumbling too-large man-hands, she reaches out, and touches the other girl, takes her hand. It's electric, just like the dim crackle of anticipation you can feel in the currents of the air, and Kanae stops in mid-sentence, and stares hard into Juri's face. Juri watches Kanae scrutinize from across the table, feels her warm pulse beating through the thin skin of her wrist, and analyzes right back.

Dissecting someone's heart is easy to do, from watching their intent eyes and the makeup over top of the bruise shadows underneath. There is something familiar here, an ache for true happiness, unlike these lives they fake so well, but also similar is a façade that each carefully cultivates like a flower gardener. Both have fears and wishes-- Juri is dignified to the point of pain and never voices hers; Kanae is chaste, an innocent who never can determine exactly what hers are.

When lunch becomes dinner and the conversation has turned far away from men who drive cars along bright-light highways and stargaze, Juri finds herself inviting Kanae back to her dorm. She says it assuredly, acting as if it doesn't matter either way, but something in the pit of her stomach tightens when Kanae replies that she would most certainly like to spend the night with her new friend. 

The pulse of the world is a strange impetus leading to the birth of foreign desires birthing and shaping themselves between the spirits of two girls-- one who has built a blockade between society and her heart; another who is busily tearing down a barricade she never asked for as she begins to fit the puzzle pieces of her dreams and learned knowledge together.

Their lives are led by the tugging of impulses. They are both compulsive creatures; they recognize that in each other, and it is a kind of kinship. Sleeping curled around each other, all Juri can hear in the face of catastrophic thunder is Kanae's consistent, even heartbeat. She can still taste Kanae's milky sweet kisses, disrupting her bedsheets and her life, making her believe that life could be something other than straightforward. Having Kanae's body wrapped around her own, it feels like nothing can worm its way through her skin.