Showerbrooding, part three
Jon Carp

I was extremely late for the council meeting, a fact that would have embarrassed me had I the capacity for embarrassment. I had never been late before.

As I approached the elevator, I saw a figure leaning against the wall, studying the sky with bemusement. I knew who it was immediately. Only Touga can turn an everyday stance into an alluring pose. Only he can make boredom seem erotic.

I couldn't see his features as I approached. His body was bathed in red light, the same color as his hair, and he almost didn't look real at all. "You're late," he said amicably, still gazing up at the sky.

"I had business to take care of," I replied formally. "I apologize."

"That's all right, it gave me the opportunity to watch the sun set. It's beautiful."

"I suppose it is," I replied after a moment. "Are the others already up?"

He turned to look at me for the first time. He was grinning. "No, the meeting was canceled. Kyouchi never showed up, and Miki-san didn't seem to have his heart in it tonight."

I nodded silently. "He'll be all right in a few days," I said eventually. It really was a gorgeous sunset.

"Probably. My sister... excuse me, Nanami-san... walked him home."

I raised an eyebrow, invisible in the now-orange light. "Nanami-san?"

"Yes," he replied, as uncomfortably as possible without actually being uncomfortable. "She insists that I call her that now."

I didn't reply. What could I say? Fortunately, he spoke again before the silence became awkward. "And I stayed behind to wait for you. I still do need to hear the name of your replacement for next year."

"Has Saionji-san chosen his?"

"No. But I'll beat it out of him later." Touga grinned. I chose to ignore any hidden implications of that statement and just assume he was kidding.

"You don't have to," I said. "I spoke to the chairman today."

Touga's grin vanished, and his body tensed noticeably. For a moment I thought he was going to strike me, but I didn't flinch. "I can't understand it," he growled, both fists balled in rage. "It's not enough for him to mock me, he has to do the same to you. What did he say? Did he try to convince you he was only doing good all along? Did he say that what happened to her was all her own fault?"

I simply reached into my pocket and removed the slip of paper. It glowed in the sunlight. "He gave me this. It's a message for you."

"I don't want anything to do with that," Touga spat. "Not if it came from him."

"I wouldn't have brought this to you if it mocked you," I said angrily, thrusting the paper at him like a dagger. "That's why he gave it to me."

Touga paused a moment, and then snatched the paper violently from my hand. Growling, he unfolded it and read the words... and his features softened, like a wilting flower.

"Her friend," he murmured plainly.

He turned away and I think he wiped a tear away from his face, but it was hidden by his radiating hair. After a moment he turned back and he was tucking the paper lovingly in his breast pocket and he looked different than I'd ever seen him before. Calm. Not languid... calm.

"I respect Shinohara-san," he remarked softly. "She stands up for her friends. Not all of us are strong enough to do that."

I didn't say anything. I hadn't known that he was in love with Utena.

Touga chuckled softly and leaned back against the wall. "This is turning out to be a very interesting collection of people." He fixed me with his gaze, but there was nothing malicious, or seductive, about it. "Well, what about you, Arisugawa? Who do you want to send into the arena?"

I leaned against the wall too, and looked out at the sky. I knew exactly what name to say, what name I HAD to say... but actually saying it was a different matter.

"We both know who it is," Touga said flippantly. "You don't have to say it out loud if you don't want to."

I turned and glared at him. He looked back with an expression I couldn't quite read. "I apologize if this is still a sore topic for you," he said, "but I remember last year. Ruka was just as tongue-tied when he had to say your name."

I don't really know if I was angry or heart-broken or ecstatic, but some strong emotion ran through my body right then and I opened my mouth and I said it: "Takatsuki Shiori."

Touga smiled. "I'm glad," he said, turning to look back at the sky. "She'll do well on the council."

We stood there in silence a few more moments as the last rays of sunlight slowly disappeared from the wall. Eventually, I pushed away from the wall and looked sideways him. "Well, I guess we finished our business," I said.

Touga looked back. "I suppose we have." I started to walk away, but he called after me. "Arisugawa."

I turned back. "Yes?"

"Before I graduate, we must have a match."

I found myself smiling. "Very well. Fencing or kendo?"

"Neither. A duel."

"I look forward to it, Kiryuu." And then I walked away from him. A few steps away I turned to look back, and he was still leaning against the wall looking up at the sky as the few brightest stars began to appear.

It was dusk when I left my room and began my long and arduous journey across campus to the fencing hall.

I knew she would probably be surprised when I arrived. She had most likely thought I was just making fun of her, or I had decided during the day that she wasn't worth my time. It's sad; why do only the wrong people hate themselves?

I walked slowly to give myself time to think. That old question weighed so heavy on my mind it almost hurt; what the hell *WAS* I? I had to decide before my rendezvous, obviously, but no answer seemed to be in sight.

I did know one thing: despite being surrounded by Miki and Touga and all the rest, I had never, ever had romantic or sexual thoughts about any man. Ever. Even when Ruka and I were in the car, I just closed my eyes and thought about Utena and it's like it never happened.

On the other hand, Utena had quite a bit of Shiori in her, and Ruka didn't have any.

I could never hate Shiori, but I almost did right then, for making me so confused. I despise not understanding things. If it hadn't been for her, I'd have known for years now already, I'd be able to live like a normal human being.

I quickly regretted those thoughts. Self-pity is just as childish as being confused. I thought I'd outgrown them both.

I was quickly deciding that this whole thing was more trouble than it was worth. I was just about to turn around and go home...

But just then I saw a beautiful young woman walk out of the darkness towards me, and as I looked at her, I knew. I can't explain why, but for some reason when I caught sight of those sparkling brown eyes, I just KNEW.

"Hiii, Juri-sempai!"

"Good evening, Wakaba-san."

I want to make it clear that I did not have any romantic feelings for Wakaba that night. There was just something about her life, her openness. I finally understood.

"You look nice," she was saying, "where are you headed?"

"Oh, I'm just meeting a friend of mine. What about you?"

"I've got rehearsal. For some reason, the other members of the club always..." she trailed off, and sniffed the air. Then she looked at me with a mischevous grin. "You're wearing perfume, aren't you?"

She was probably expecting me to blush, but I did not. "Yes, I am."

She raised an eyebrow. "And who is this 'friend' of yours?"

"That's none of your business," I replied, though I wasn't mad and couldn't make myself sound like I was.

"Humph." She pouted for a second, then grinned again. "Miki-san..."

"It's not Miki-san!" I snapped, my cheeks very slightly reddening. I sighed. "I really need to put a stop to that rumor."

Wakaba giggled. "I'm sorry, Juri-sempai. I know how it feels for that kind of rumor to spread about you."

I smiled. For some reason I wasn't upset about losing my composure in front of someone. "Utena, I suppose."

She nodded. "I hate how people always jump to that," she said sadly. "We were just best friends. There was never anything more going on."

Inwardly, I winced. It was obviously a sore topic for her, and I was sorry for bringing it up. "It's very frustrating," I said simply, hoping to steer the conversation back to my problems.

"Besides," she continued as if she hadn't heard me, "even if we were... you know... gay... she wouldn't have wanted to be with ME. She would have been with Himemiya-san or you or somebody. Not me."

She sounded like her heart was breaking, and truthfully, I had no clue what to say. In half a second, though, she laughed nervously. "Sorry, I'm making you uncomfortable, aren't I? I didn't mean to, I just still miss her."

"That's okay," I replied, smiling wistfully. "We all still miss her. We talk about her in council meetings sometimes, wonder where she is, what exactly happened to her."

Wakaba's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "I know where she went!" she near-squealed, hugging herself. "She told me before she left!"

I blinked. "She did?"

"Yep!" Wakaba leaned close with mock secrecy. "Now, Juri-sempai, I'm going to tell you a BIG SECRET, okay? Promise you won't tell a soul!"

"I promise," I replied, smiling.

"Okay. This happened the very day she left. I found that out later. That's what makes this story so creepy!

"I was looking around campus for her. I don't remember why; I think I wanted to study math or something. I hadn't seen her in a long time, what with all the time she'd been spending with the chairman and Himemiya-san, and doing... whatever it was she'd do with the council. I really just wanted to be around her, y'know, just spend time with her."

"I understand. What happened?"

Wakaba looked for all the world like she was ten years old. "Well, I was looking and looking and I couldn't find her. I just decided she was spending time with Himemia-san or something, and so I gave up. But as soon as I did... there she was, standing in the middle of the hallway, looking at me. I ran up to her and said where were you, but she wouldn't say anything! Even when I asked her if she wanted to study math, she wouldn't speak. And I got mad and yelled something, and she..."

Wakaba trailed off. He face was bright red all of a sudden. "What happened, Wakaba-san?" I prompted.

Her blush deepened. "Um, nothing, never mind. Anyway, she told me she had to leave. I said okay, we'll study later, but then she said, no, I have to leave FOREVER.

"I didn't understand, I asked her why. I was really upset, Juri-sempai, but now I understand that Utena-sama wouldn't do ANYTHING without a good reason. If she had to leave, then I know it was to help people or make people happy or something like that."

"Maybe she was forced to leave," I remarked, almost to myself.

"Nuh-uh, she's too strong for that!" Wakaba protested. "I KNOW she went to help people. I asked if I could come with her, and she said my place was here for now. I was squeezing her and sobbing... I'm surprised we didn't collect a crowd, but there wasn't anyone around for some reason.

"I asked her if we would ever see each other again, and she said yes. I asked her if she was sure, and she said yes again. Then I asked if she was absolutely positively sure, and she laughed. She said, 'I promise, Wakaba-chan, in eleven years we'll be drinking tea together."

"Why eleven years?"

"I don't know, but it made me feel wonderful! But I still didn't want to let her go. I squeezed her tighter, even though she kept saying she had to leave. Eventually I let go and she started walking away, but I called after her, 'Wait, you left out one thing! WHERE will we drink tea?' And she turned around and laughed and said...

"'In the Onion Kingdom.'"

I had absolutely no idea what that meant, and I guess my facial expression betrayed me. "It was kind of an inside thing between us," Wakaba said sheepishly. "But trust me, it was the most perfect, most wonderful thing to say."

I smiled. "Then what happened?"

"I don't know. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in my room. But it WASN'T a dream, Juri-sempai, I know it. She wouldn't do that, she wouldn't just appear in a dream if she had to leave. She'd really say goodbye."

"That's probably true," I mused. "I must admit, I regret not being kinder to her while she was here. I wish I had known her as well as you did."

I didn't mean to imply any kind of hidden meanings with that statement, but Wakaba blushed again. "Um, sempai, remember when I said we were just best friends, and nothing more ever happened between us?"

I raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"

"Well... that wasn't exactly true..."

"Really?" I asked, desperately hiding a smile.

"When I was yelling at her, remember, and she wouldn't say anything, she just kind of leaned close to me and... kissed me. Right here." She pointed at the soft, white space directly between her eyes. "She did that once before, actually, and it just kinda confused me then, but this time... I-I wanted..."

"It's okay, you don't have to say it," I interrupted. "I understand."

"But... do you really? I mean..."

"Yes. I do."

We just sort of looked at each other for a moment, then. "It's a little frustrating," I said eventually. "I certainly don't regret having those feelings, but it's sad to want something that's not meant for me."

"Oh, I don't think so at all!" Wakaba replied, all smiles and exuberance again. "Everybody only desires things they can't have, that's the whole point! No one ever REALLY gets what they want, but it's okay. Everything always turns out all right anyway!"

I gave an ironic little half-smile. "I guess that's true. That reminds me, Wakaba-san, we just finalized our decisions for next year's council." I bowed slightly to her. "Congratulations, vice-president."

Her mouth hung open, and she just stared at me. "Are you making fun of me, sempai? 'Cause that's mean, and I thought you weren't really like that, and..."

"It's not a joke," I interrupted, vaguely insulted. "You were chosen to be the vice-president in next-year's student council. You have impressed a lot of people in the past few weeks."

Wakaba's face glowed, literally GLOWED as she looked at me. "He remembered," she whispered. "I thought he'd forgotten all about me, but... he didn't."

I blinked. "Who?"

She had her hands clasped just over her heart, as if it'd jump out of her chest and fly away if she wasn't ready to beat it back in by force. "Saionji-sama," she replied, voice still tinged with awe. "You all choose your own replacements, right? So he... he chose me."

Suddenly I understood, and it made things very awkward indeed. Wakaba looked different to me now; the idea of... truly loving Saionji is so distasteful to me, like a punishment. Such a cruel, weak, ugly man... I had Wakaba pegged as an intelligent person, despite her general exuberance. This put a cloud over her.

Though, the rational voice in my head said, the way I see Saionji is just the way most people see Shiori.

"Wakaba-san," I said hesitantly, and the change in my demeanor caused her to look at me with confusion and concern, "you misunderstand. Saionji didn't choose you. It was an order handed down directly from the chairman."

The change was immediate. She was devestated, I think, but looked oddly okay with it, like she expected it to be the end result anyway. "Oh," she said.

"I'm sorry," I said lamely, not sounding like myself at all. She didn't reply.

I was slightly annoyed that a future member of the student council would mope so about something she couldn't change, but I realized the irony of that and didn't say anything. Besides, Wakaba is a good person at heart, and I didn't want her mad at me.

Wakaba sighed. "Oh well," she said eventually, giving a tired little half-smile. "I guess there's no point in moping about it. You knew about that letter I sent him and everything, right?"

Of course I did, the whole school knew about that. It's how I first heard of Wakaba, before I'd even known Utena. "No, I try not to meddle in other people's business."

She smiled in thanks, then looked oddly serious a moment later. It put me off how drastically and quickly she was able to shift her facial expression and still manage to always look sincere. "Oh, before I forget, how did things turn out with Shiori-sempai? Good?"

Damn her and her musical name! but I kept my cool and nodded stoically. "Yes," I replied, "Everything turned out okay."

And suddenly all was relief and happiness and eagerness again. "I'm glad. I was so worried about you and Miki-san! I knew you'd work it out!" She smiled widely, and I suddenly realized that she considered us friends, and that Utena had, too.

"Thank you, Wakaba-san," I said. I had been acutely aware of how late I was going to be for my... date... and was about to say something now that our conversation had reached climax and balance, but it seems she realized it too.

"Ohh, I'm making you late for your... meeting, aren't I? Sorry sorry sorry, I babble sometimes. I'm late too; the girls are going to give me 'UFO duty'."

"Well, you don't want that," I said, smiling. "I will see you later, Wakaba-san."

"Bye!" She started to walk away, but turned quickly and looked at me with flashing eyes. "You sure you weren't lying about the whole vice-president thing?"

"It's an easy job," I replied. "Don't worry."

She beamed, waved, and skipped off happily into the darkness. I stood behind for a second or two before going on my way.

I didn't realize it then, but from that moment on, I only thought about Shiori when I had reason to.

When I returned home later than evening, I immediately took a shower, because I was in need of one.

I turned on the water, washed myself, and then turned the water off. Humming to myself and feeling very clean indeed, I put on my nightgown and went for a stroll.

The fountain was quiet and solemn as I approached, but it seemed to welcome me with soft, soothing words as I sat down. There was no moon, but there was a lot of light from the stars.

I sat, feeling only the warm air around me and seeing only the night sky above me, as I waited for her to come.

She never came. I don't even know who I expected her to be, really. Maybe Utena, so I could apologize for my behavior when we first met. Maybe Shiori, young and small, grabbing my hand and pulling me off toward some new game or adventure. Maybe someone else entirely, someone I'd never even seen before.

I waited there all night, but she never came. The sky remained clear and the air remained warm, and she never came. I grew slightly older and my fountain kept flowing, and she never came.

I was sixteen years old, sitting alone by a fountain on a beautiful, moonless night, and it felt like it would be an eternity before I turned seventeen. She would never come. I was so happy.

I closed my eyes and stretched back my head and waited for her to come.