A change of POV in order to transition into somewhat darker events. The first chapter was enormously long, and I don't feel like replicating such a length consistently.
The story isn't left hanging after the last chapter. It was Shishido, by the way, and an interaction does happen between the two of them, but it won't be covered until later.
This interlude takes place some time after that, Choutarou now being a first year. It ties up loose ends, so the story can go speeding on without consequence.
She's always wondered ever since she was little, she's always been curious. Why doesn't the witch, who can use her magic to transform a shabby girl into someone lovely, into someone who can be loved, cast a spell on herself? If she uses her magic on herself, she can become lovely, too.
It's what she believes.
As a young girl, she's always looked out for him. She became his unconditional love, his one and only hero. She's the magical fairy who made his life wonderful, the only thing in his life that is wonderful and beautiful.
Yet she has never grasped that happiness for herself. That love. She's never believed it to be possible.
So, why doesn't the witch cast a spell on herself? The witch able to bring deep, all consuming happiness onto another? The hideous, ugly witch unable to understand happiness, only forced to cast spells for others?
To be accepted...that's what she's always wished for, to have a place where she's needed. She wants to have people who want to be with her.
But what if she can't have even that...? What does that mean? Where will she go?
The cross she bears is so heavy. Please, Kami-sama—
No. Not Kami-sama.
She is fiddling with her necklace when a co-worker runs into the office. "Ootori-senpai," her co-worker breathes, horror-stricken. "Is it true? I've heard it was true...
"I heard that Ootori-sama is leaving the company!"
"Father," she murmurs. She kneels at his side, at his stricken bed, and her necklace flashes in the light. He is prone and ill. He has deteriorated so quickly...
Nobody at the firm knows, maybe only few. He has too much pride for that, her poor father. Her lovely father.
Her stupid father.
"Daughter," he says, voice carefully controlled. "Daughter, listen to me..."
She stands. "I won't."
"I am not your heir, remember? I am not your precious son."
His eyes dim. "Choutarou...where is Choutarou? Where is my son? Where is my boy?"
Her voice grows colder. "Don't you remember, Father? You sent him away. You sent your son away."
"Choutarou!" he cries weakly. His voice is a whine. "Choutarou..."
She never forgets.
Beautiful amber eyes that look yearningly at her face. What does he see, that Choutarou? What does he see? God. God, please...if I believe, I will be saved. That's what was said to me all those years ago, at the school I so loved. Those who believe will be saved.
But those times are gone now. She no longer believes.
She is too much like her father. In looks, perhaps, and more. Maybe that's why he turns away from her every time she enters the room. She is his daughter, is she not? But he is not proud of her. He doesn't want anything to do with her.
He funds her university enrollment. He is the patron supporting her as a pillar should. She will inherit his position—the time has come. Now. He is dying. She will inherit.
Not everything. She doesn't have everything she wants, everything she desires. She doesn't have the faculty for memory, anymore. She cannot remember her father's face.
But he is right before her...isn't he?
This pitiful being?
She snaps. She cannot help it. She slams a hand upon his bed and screams into his eyes. "Choutarou is at Hyoutei! Where he should be! Your successor, your heir! You're pushing upon him everything I want to be. You mold him for your own purposes, blind to your own son's feelings! Ignorant!"
And even now he looks away. Look, see how his head turns!
Fuming, she pivots, necklace swinging. She no longer wants anything to do with him. Deathbed or not, let him call for her, weakly, and see if she hears! This man who is no longer her father—has he ever been that simple, soft man?
Where is the father she adored? Salaryman! Pathetic, simplistic, but she'd been proud of him for working so hard, for loving them so much despite trying so hard to express it. His failure at showing his feelings, at overcoming his aloofness with his own family! That effort she adored! Where is that father now? Where is her father?
A groan stops her at the door. Her hand freezes upon the doorknob as she stares at the wooden panel.
"Father," she says, trembling. "Father. Enough of this farce. You selfish, selfish man. Forcing me to become like this, what have you done? I am not you."
"Daughter..." Unseen by her, he reaches out with a distressed hand.
She slams closed fists against the door. She screams, "It's not my fault your wife died! Stop treating me as if I were you! Enough with this guilt! Choutarou is not anything like Mother, Father. Stop treating him as if he were Mother! Stop...it. God, God, stop it...stop..."
Her voice trails into a plaintive whine. Her dry, heaving sobs make her collapse to the floor. Her father says nothing.
She lifts a heavy head and gazes in his direction. "...Father, listen to me. It's—"
A sob catches in her throat.
"Father! Father—God, oh God. My God."
She crawls to his side, to that godawful western bed. Clutching his unmoving, slack arm, she cries out, "Because I did not believe, it did not come. Those who believe will be saved. Because I did not believe, it has not come...!"
A smile stretches, in cracked disbelief, across her face. And suddenly everything's gone.
She is falling. She can't...she is falling.
The room swings open. "Ootori-sama. Ootori-sama, I heard a noise—?"
A tray crashes to the floor along with a shriek. Shattered porcelain scatters across the floor. The maid pays no heed. "Ootori-sama?! Ootori-sama! "
She vaguely realizes other have come into the room, but she cannot see. She knows that someone is at her side, trying to pull her away, but she cannot hear. What are they saying? Why are they screaming?
Or is she the one who's been screaming all along?
It's been a year since her little brother entered Hyoutei. He is...a first year now? A boy in junior high? She laughs, a half sob—she can barely remember anymore. Everything is so dizzyingly disproportionate from her memories. She can no longer trust her own mind.
A lawyer who does not even trust herself! Yes, that's who she is. The play-heir. The fake heir. The child supposedly doted upon by an ambitious father...that is who she is!
She is not so calm as Choutarou likes to believe. Her mask isn't so perfect. There is a sliver of a crack in her china porcelain face.
It's growing. She wonders if her beloved brother can see.
"Father is dead, Choutarou, as you've heard. We've not yet read his will, but we both know who is his heir."
She can see it, the dimming. The breakdown. His eyes are dying. Something in him is breaking—the crash, so beautiful, only makes him look tragically fallen. Like their mother.
"Mother's succeeded, after all," she whispers. "Her grasping hands have clasped onto Father all along."
His words are said strangely flat. "What are you talking about, Sister? Had Father said something to you?"
"You do not know? Why Father loved you the most?" Her laugh is hallow. "He thought you as Mother! He's heaped all his expectations and love on you on the hopes that his sins will be forgiven."
He stands abruptly, and the chair crashes to the floor. She stands up, too. "Don't say that. D-Don't say something like that! That's not true!"
"Choutarou, Choutarou...you've always known how much he means to me. You know that."
Choutarou's panting eases a bit. His head hangs with his despair. "I...I know. I..."
"Stop. Don't. If you say it, you can't turn back."
He looks up. His face is open, wide, and lost. Confused. "When have you shown your face to me? Why are you like this? Why do you care? You hate me. You hate me, don't you?"
She says nothing.
His face, stricken and wild, forces out, "Ever since we were young, you've hated me!"
When she leans forward, he jerks back. "No! No, don't. Sister, no...!"
"Mother told me once," she says, a hand cupping his cheek, "that you are her most beloved child. Whenever you were sick, when you were young and ill, Mother told me to stay by your side. I listened to her not because she is our most honorable mother but because she made Father so happy." Her hand falls, her voice breaks. "...He was so happy."
Choutarou stares at her. "Sister," he breathes.
Her eyes, dull and absent, traces her brother's face. "Father loves you, maybe. Eventually. He loves you for yourself. It's why he sent you here, to Hyoutei. In his heart, maybe he realized how sickening he's become and decided to send you away before he can do anyone any more harm. He pushed you to become his heir. He had eyes only for you."
Those absentminded eyes, so detached, suddenly form with tears. She clasps her wretched face with trembling hands. Her necklace glints. "...Why is it you? Why did Father turn to you after our mother's death? I don't understand. I was his beloved. I was the loved one. He always made time for me. Even with Mother, he always spent time with me. Why you? Why—why is it you...?"
His mouth slacks open in his surprise. Disbelieving, he takes a step forward. "Sister...it's a lie. Father's always loved you. He never cared about me! You—you are the true heir! You're successful! You've always had his support! You're going to succeed him..."
"That not fair, Choutarou."
Heavy tresses of hair had fallen in front of her face, but when she lifts her head they part away. What Choutarou sees frightens him. "Sister?" he says tentatively. He reaches out a hand, hesitant. "Sister...?"
"I don't hate you. I've never hated you. I've resented you at times while loved you at others. Sometimes, I wish it would all stop. Our lives have never been normal, and they will never be normal. What is normalcy, anyway? Steadiness? Love, maybe. I'm sick and tired of this..."
Choutarou eyes widen, startled. He looks as if he's realized something, but she does not care. She doesn't care for understanding or love or compassion. She hasn't been able to find it because she herself didn't believe that something good will come. She probably won't be able to find it if she doesn't believe...
God can be so cruel sometimes. Offering her hope if only she'll reach out her hands and grasp happiness for herself when He knows full well she can't.
Is Choutarou happy here? she wonders. Is Hyoutei doing any good for him?
So she asks. She asks him if he's happy here.
Such turbulence in that one answer! He doesn't say a word. There is no need. He's intensely unhappy, but he won't allow her to see. It's his expression that gives him away. Choutarou has always been so transparent.
"Do you want to leave?"
She wonders if he'll listen to her, take her offer. She wonders if he's the same and will follow his beloved sister wherever she goes like puppy. But now she feels a strange sort of obligation that's not entirely bad. It's not the stifling obligation of her youth that had so suffocated her, but neither is it entirely lovely.
She doesn't know what she feels towards her little brother anymore. But his answer shocks her to the core.
"I will stay at Hyoutei. I am going to listen to Father's last command. I refuse to be the heir."
Everything is so dizzyingly disproportionate from her memories. She can no longer trust her own mind.
Isn't that what she said to herself not too long ago?
And yet that same broken mind cannot accept the answer. She seizes his arms and screams, "Listen to what you're saying! Father is dead, Choutarou! His will is for you to follow his lead, not to stay at Hyoutei! Become his heir! I cannot do it, so why aren't you? You hate this place! You hate it, don't you? Don't you? So why do you stay? What aren't you telling me?"
Her breath catches in her throat. His face, that babyish, innocent face...
Her grip falls slack until her hands fall off him. She stands, stricken, frozen, as he brushes past her.
"...Ch...Choutarou...?" Her voice is a plaintive whisper, but he pays no heed.
"You're wrong," he says, pausing at the door. His voice, minute, nevertheless echoes in the great hall of the room. But something in him has changed, she can tell. He is now..."You're wrong, Sister. Father pushed me to become his heir, I agree, but check his will. Go and see for yourself. In the end, even he on his deathbed would not have faith in me."
Cold. He is so cold.
The knob is turned.
"Excuse me, Ootori-san," he murmurs. "But I have class now and it's not good to be late. Please close the door behind you when you leave."
He leaves. The perfectly oiled door closes silently after him. It is instead slammed in her mind, and she flinches at the imaginary sound.
Perfect. Everything here is too perfect. A door never creaks, a light bulb never goes out.
She blindly collapses to the floor, stretching out arms wide across the floor. Her fingers fumble to feel the tiles, slick and cool, and she starts choking out gasps.
Clean. The floor's too clean. The walls too high—closing in...!
The piano. Beautiful. Startlingly black against a background of pristine white, marble.
The contrast brings tears to her eyes; she begins to crawl.
The witch does not use her magic on herself because she knows the emptiness that follows when the spell breaks.
Is that what this is? she wonders dimly, eyes closing as she rests against a piano leg. Is this the price for tailoring to others' needs? To mold herself so that other can be happy? She's wanted to be accepted by her surroundings, and to change herself for that reason. But, she doesn't care if she's disliked. She doesn't care if she doesn't have a home to go back to.
Her father ultimately treated her as a burden, an obligation. Like a particularly demanding pet, he distracted her by giving into those demands all the while crooning and cherishing and grooming another.
She's tried, again and again, to rationalize it to herself. Father is giving me what I want, she thinks. Father loves me and wants me to be happy. Father needs me.
But Father had set her up to be his proxy, his fake heir. She is confined to the trappings of a lawyer, to his legacy, and it clings to her. She can never let go. She cannot escape.
She will glorify his name and bring to his family unimaginable prestige. She will be the silent force protecting the family name, designed to support the true heir, her brother.
She is acting as his proxy now that he is gone. She is the proxy for his son.
Choutarou is wrong. Father's will does not say anything of the sort. This isn't something he flippantly decided on a whim. He does not give this generational burden to just anyone with careless thinking.
Choutarou will be the heir. Most definitely, he will be the heir. But he will not come to inheritance immediately.
You are the proxy, the fake heir. You are the pedestal in his place, carved from marble floor so that you are rooted and cannot leave.
What does that mean? What does a pedestal do? Lift and support a grand ceiling that stretches across the skies...
The next day, the daughter takes a leave of absence from work to attend the hearing of her father's will. In front of the eyes of God and her father's trusted companion, the family representative chosen to bear this duty, the will is read right before her eyes.
It's just as she thought. All the properties and all the money and all the power and prestige is to come to her. For now.
Until Choutarou leaves for Hyoutei University. And graduates.
Those who believe will be saved.
The siblings do not look at each other. The reader of the will coughs, fussing with papers of legalities to avoid looking at the two of them.
"It happened so fast," he says slowly. It is obvious to her that he is being careful with his words, as he should. She listens, heart cold. "The illness. Months before, the symptoms started to become obvious at work. He'd been hiding it before because Ootori-san refused to believe. He'd risen so high, of course he didn't want to think he would die."
She absently strokes the necklace resting on her chest. A cross gleams. "...Does the will mention anything else? About what my brother should do now?"
The man shakes his head. "I'm sorry, Ootori-san. There is no mention of St. Loyola in the will." He hesitates. "Ootori-san. It's stated clearly that Choutarou is to remain at Hyoutei. There is nothing here to imply his return to his last academy. Nothing about a transfer."
Choutarou watches her from under heavy lidded eyes.
"I see," she says, looking down. "If that is what he wishes, what can a daughter do but follow?"
"And you will take Father's place at his firm?"
She stills. Choutarou had been the one to speak..
But the man is delighted. "Is this true, Ootori-san? Of course you are young and you haven't the experience...but maybe, maybe in five, ten years time you can truly succeed your father become the head of the firm!"
That isn't what she wants.
"I should have known! Your father had high hopes for you. High hopes, indeed."
She sees what her father wants for her, but that isn't what she wants. She doesn't want to continue the Ootori lawyer legacy. She is afraid. Terribly, horribly afraid. As if the floor suddenly has become a yawning, gaping chasm ready to consume her.
She can never escape.
You must be an Ootori.
It is only a name. It is...only a name. Just a name.
Just a name!
In her panic, she turns blindly towards Choutarou, eyes stretched wide for help.
She can't breathe.
He regards her with such careless ease. Such cruel, gentle eyes...
She can't breathe.
He is smiling at her.
Thanks for reading! I really liked writing his sister, who I never name. Choutarou's heading into another unhappy chapter of his life, I'm afraid, and his transformation from his first chapter despair becomes something...more.
A twisted family. Originally traditional (like the implied traditional funeral for Mother), right now the Ootori family is very much western. Choutarou isn't supposed to be bothered by this cultural upheaval very much, but his sister is different.
Choutarou once mentioned that Hyoutei is much worse than the private school of his childhood, which was a private Catholic academy. Catholicism was introduced into Japan by the Jesuits around the 16th century, the Society of Jesus being founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Religion isn't a big plot point because his sister isn't a regular POV.