Chiaroscuro: Of Light and Shadows
Chapter One: Prelude to Embrace
By Gabi-hime (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A/N: This is set post series, after graduation, if you will. It's an extended fanfic with and extended plot, so don't expect everything to be obvious from the first chapter. And yes, just in case you're curious, that last line is heading somewhere. It wasn't just added in to be unexpected and mysterious. Everything will come to head in time.
There are some people who are known only by their titles, as if these titles have come to represent them more than their own personal names have. Or perhaps these people have lost their personal names and are called by their titles not out of deference, but rather, out of lack of something better to call them. Still, there are others who so purely define their title that it seems that no one else is quite so worthy of it.
For her, he was always "the Professor." This was regardless of the fact that they'd met during her first coaching job at a university full of like-established degree-hounds. For some reason, from the moment that they formally, or rather, informally met, she had found him quite worthy of the sometimes irreverent nominative.
She couldn't help but be somewhat aware of his position in the university even before they met. He was the university's most prized derby stallion, the celebrated lecturer who was the center of the academic community's own critical little renaissance. He was cold, aloof, and to those who did not revere him enough to not recognize his faults, he was elitist, unpleasant, and very nearly antisocial.
His fellow professors did not like him. Oh, they respected his brilliance and they knew when to tip their hats, but they did not invite him to lunch, except when was absolutely necessary as decreed by department head. Even then he blessedly declined, preferring his own company to theirs. He always ate alone.
Still, he had a strange sort of chill charisma. Those who attended his lectures swore by him and he had many converted disciples, none of which he wanted, if one could trust his personal assertions. He was just as standoffish with his students as he was the faculty, but they seemed to accept this and worship from afar. They spoke his name with reverence, and his cult became as close to a personal religion as was possible among the college students in those days. For them, he was far too busy on higher planes to worry about them.
He had a
rather unpleasant reputation at the university outside his circle,
this she was aware of, although she, by perverse nature, was not one
to trust rumors. In fact, she had been on occasion heard to say
"Piss on rumors. If people don't have anything better to do than talk about other people, then they probably aren't talking about anything worth knowing."
even came into each other's acquaintance completely through chance.
On any other day, he would have had his lunch on the ground common,
under a hemlock tree. This was well known as "Nemuro's Spot"
and no one dared approach him there, which was how he liked it.
However, today the rain was heavy, a freak thunderstorm that forced most of the assorted faculty now taking refuge in the faculty cafeteria to shield themselves with whatever they had handy as they raced over flooded sidewalks to classes that they themselves were tardy for.
Nemuro was displeased with himself. He hadn't had the presence of mind to pack a lunch for himself, and now he was forced to stay in the crowded and noisy cafeteria until the rain slackened enough for him to make it back to his office without arriving like a drowned rat, despite the ebony-handled umbrella that leaned against his chair.
He drummed his fingers on the stained carnival colored Formica of the small table and looked out at the downpour. As much as he hated noise and confusion, he hated the rain more. He would stay until it finished, drinking as many cups of tea as it took to weather out the storm.
Thankfully, he had had the sense to bring his briefcase with him, so at least he had something to distract himself from the riot of mundanity that chorused all around him. He passed the time by carefully and measuredly lining out a seal on a spare sheet of graph paper. It was not the seal of the university, and he could not himself quite place why he was drawing it, only that it amused him for the moment, and that he had perhaps glimpsed it once, long ago.
He was not aware that someone was watching him, standing quite over his shoulder, until she spoke.
"No, it's not like that. It's more alive . . . it's more . . . "
He didn't bother to look up, to see who was criticizing him. His being criticized was unusual, but not that unusual. It was likely one of the more ambitious graduate assistants, hoping to impress him by criticizing something that they couldn't possibly have any clue about. It happened from time to time. He supplied his own dry word, used to finishing off other's sentences when their own vocabularies were not up to the task.
This did put him a little off guard for he was not used to people refusing the words that he put into their mouths.
"It's not that," she continued and then he heard the sound of rummaging behind him. He was about to turn and face his latest critic when suddenly she leaned over his shoulder, quite invading his personal space. For a long, slow moment, all he knew was a cascade of worrisome pink hair veiling his face and the scent of roses, which haunted him for reasons he could not place. Then the spell was broken, as he heard the familiar scrape of lead over paper and leaned out from under her to see what terror she was wreaking on his precise rendition.
She had discarded his own preferred pencil, a steel mechanical shaft with a sharp, hairline precision lead. What she'd pulled from whatever bag she'd rummaged in was a blunt stub of a yellow number two pencil, which she was furiously and boldly using to have at his line drawing.
From this position, leaning out from under her serious work, he could place her somewhat. She was wearing a hooded athletic sweatshirt and runner's pants in the University's colors. Since she was in the faculty lounge, she had to be either a new professor of kinesiology or some new sports coach, neither of which he wanted the pleasure of meeting.
But still, her eyes were fierce and focused, the blue of cornflowers, or perhaps, he decided as he looked more closely, the blue of cobalt. Her mouth was generous, given to smiling, her chin was strong, and the only lines on her face were ones of determination and of frank bafflement, not of anger or hatred, disdain or pride. For a moment, without further dissecting her personality, or even wondering why, he was honestly and openly interested in her.
Then she shifted suddenly and her wet hair grazed his cheek and he looked at her again, this time behind his own personal rose tinted glasses, which did anything but make the world more pleasant. She was wet almost through to the bone, having obviously run to the cafeteria with no protection against the weather other than the clothes she now wore. She was wearing cheap athletic tennis shoes and she was dripping all over the floor and all over him. He wondered idly if he could get security to remove another professor. But still, there was that scent of roses, half drowned in the drench of an autumn downpour that made his mind skip momentarily, made it attempt to revert to a former process. IF this THEN this, ELSE this, but the process hadn't been there for him to complete and he'd been left idling.
He adjusted his glasses again. She was what he considered an intellectual vagrant, someone who flitted from topic to topic but stayed not long enough in any field to learn anything other than what might be useful in a board game or on a quiz show, he could tell from her stunted vocabulary. What right did she have to come and criticize one of his drawings that had come, as far as he could tell, from his own fancy?
And then she leaned back thoughtfully, surveying her own work critically as she chewed on the end of her pencil,
"It's more sensual."
He looked down at the seal she'd scrawled on his carefully lined graph paper and he was forced to concede. Their joint effort was more correct, he knew without knowing why. It just looked right, the lines more powerful and sweeping, not quite so confined and barren.
When he looked up at her, he found that she had taken the seat across from him without asking and was now busily searching through the sports bag she carried.
"It's weird," she murmured, apparently to him, as she dug, "It's so weird that you're drawing that."
He was about to query exactly what made it so "weird" when she found what she was searching for and offered her own slightly rumpled slip of paper across the table. He opened it and laid it against the other and found another seal very similar to the one he'd drawn. This one was messy and had been gone over several times, presumably by the same stubby pencil that now lay on the table. Much like his original sketch, it was also not quite right, too meandering and unrestrained, too organic and alive, almost cancerous.
"See," she related, pointing at her own sketch, "Mine's not right either, and I couldn't figure out what was wrong, but that one," she indicated the drafted one that lay atop his briefcase, "That one's right."
She nodded as if to reinforce this statement, and suddenly he knew that she had come to this knowledge as instinctually as he had. She paused for a moment and there was an awkward silence and then she blanched as if suddenly remembering something and put a hand behind her head and laughed nervously.
"Oops, I'm Tenjou Utena. Sorry about that. Pleased to meet you," she offered her hand across the table good-naturedly.
He stared at it for a long second. He was not in the habit of shaking hands with anyone, in fact, he wore black leather gloves most of the time to curtail the number of times he would have to actually physically touch others. It was yet another eccentricity of his that his disciples allowed and revered. But these gloves were now tucked into his coat pocket, as he didn't want to wear them while having tea, and he couldn't exactly fish them out and put them on without appearing exceedingly rude. If he was going to be rude then he wasn't going to shake her hand at all, not go through some farce with gloves.
But then he looked at her. He really looked at her without the shroud of bitter, disdainful, loneliness and in those full, deep cobalt eyes, he saw some lost reflection of himself and without meaning to, without consciously making any sort of decision at all, he had taken her hand.
She did not shake it vigorously as he had expected, nor did she test grips, as he suspected was also likely, just gave his hand one simple friendly squeeze, as if they'd know each other for a long time.
Then he realized that it was he who was now being rude and cleared his throat before speaking slowly, as one does when not used to personal communication, "I'm Professor Nemuro."
He almost felt like adding the obligatory list of letters after his name that was justification for his title, but he didn't. He felt an odd kinship with this girl now that he'd glimpsed himself in her, or perhaps, seen her in himself.
Now that they were properly introduced, she seemed much more relaxed, and leaned back in her chair, attempting to wring some of the water out of her hair, "Hey Professor, I hope you don't mind me asking, but why were you drawing that thing?"
He folded his hands one over the other and regarded the sketch absently even as he answered truthfully, "I don't know why I was drawing the sigil."
"It's a rose seal," she responded quickly, automatically, and then blinked at her response.
He nodded slowly as he looked at her, as if suddenly coming into this realization himself, "It is."
The awkward silence descended upon them again and he found himself looking at her hands. They were long fingered and strong, able and ready. She had a healthy tan, except around her right ring finger, which had a curiously pale band.
"Are you married?" he asked abruptly, without meaning too.
She was apparently not offended by the sudden and unwarranted question because she shook her head and nodded back to his own hands, pale, sensitive, and slender, yet with their own telltale band of paler flesh.
It was his turn to shake his head. He sipped his tea and without knowing why, confided in her as if she were an old acquaintance, "I don't know where that came from. It dates from my curiously amnesiac period. There are fifteen years of my life that I cannot place. I don't know what happened during that time, but I feel confidant in saying that I wasn't married. Some record of that would exist. There exists no record of my time lost," here he paused and realized that he had offered a great deal of his personal self up for close inspection, and he curled inward protectively, "You probably think I sound like a lunatic."
"No," she seemed to speak the word sharper than she meant, for she repeated it almost immediately after in a softer tone, "I'm missing a year."
"What?" he asked, quite taken aback inwardly, although little showed on his cool exterior. He had yet to meet anyone who'd had a similar experience to his own, and this girl across from him, with only four and a half words, had set his careful balance to swaying precariously.
"I'm missing a year at the end of junior high and the beginning of high school," she repeated and clarified, holding up the hand with the phantom ring on it, "That's where I got this. It hasn't gone away yet, no matter how much I stay in the sun. It's like some kind of scar."
He stared hard at the mark on his own hand and his lips were set in a thin line, "Or like some kind of brand."
She seemed to wonder at his strange harshness, but she did not press him, and for that, he was thankful, because he could not explain it himself, and he did not like to be on the receiving end of anything that he could not explain. It was then that he realized that perhaps the cafeteria was not the best place for this conversation, as there were likely many ears out to hear the celebrated Professor Nemuro actually having a private conversation with someone. He glanced out the plate glass window and noted that the rain was slacking up a bit and perhaps might bear him to brave it, provided he kept the umbrella close.
"Miss Tenjou, perhaps it would be better if we continued our conversation in my office," and forever after that, it was always 'Miss Tenjou' until circumstances warranted more intimacy. Even then he was hard pressed to abandon the honorific in favor of a diminutive, but such was the nature of Nemuro, who many found to be more like a computer than a computer is itself.
She nodded and they rose together, he startling both her and himself by offering her refuge under his own soot-black umbrella.
The long talk they had on the way to his office, and then later over dinner was the first of many that would pepper their often rocky relationship. He was a difficult man to get along with, but she learned his patterns and wants, and he began to wonder how he'd ever gotten along without her. He learned exactly how far he could push her before she'd explode in a fury and declare that she never wanted to see him again. He learned that she was not an intellectual vagrant, but rather a very intelligent young woman, in a sort of fiercely innocent dream. She lived by her ideals and often pressed them upon him, and it took her a while to realize that he had already passed through the stage where he could be stirred to fire by a good enough oration. She wanted to slap him often, for his sharp tongue was quick to cut the legs out from under her ideals, and he was often snide and hurtful without realizing it, but she held herself back, if only because that even then she was aware that she was physically stronger than he was, and she would not attack someone weaker than she. She learned that behind his facade of arrogance and disdain, he actually a very lonely man who was at a loss as to how to say it and unwilling to admit weakness to her. In a few short months, they learned each other better than they had known themselves previously, and although still volatile, he learned to control his acidic tongue and she learned to control her often violent temper.
One night, after a particularly strenuous philosophical debate on the nature of good and evil, she lay against him, curled with her cheek on his pale chest and asked, "Do you think absolute power corrupts absolutely, or do you think that absolute power attracts crackpots?"
He murmured something noncommittal into her hair and then answered drily, "That's interesting bedroom conversation, even for you. So who do you think holds this absolute power? I'm assuming it's not me, otherwise the conversation wouldn't have drifted this far so soon. I beg pardon, my lady."
"Nemuro," she grunted, because in this particular situation she did not use his title, not liking the power connotations it tainted everything with, "Be serious or I'll kick you out of bed."
"All right, all right," he acquiesced knowing her threat to be quite genuine, "Then I suppose that in most circumstances, they're both true. Power corrupts and it also attracts the corrupted, more often than not. You shouldn't be so mutually exclusive, Utena, it's one of your greatest problems. You refuse to realize that something can be both one thing and another."
"I asked for your opinion, Nemuro, not an analysis of what you consider to be my faults," she muttered into his chest before turning her face to the open air to continue, "It doesn't matter at the moment anyway, as 'absolute' and 'power' are probably both as far away and mindful of us as we are of them."
With this, she pulled the blanket over her head and up to his chin and feigned sleep, functionally terminating their conversation. He allowed himself a rare chuckle before loosely curling an arm in the small of her back and turning his own mind to sleep.
At Ohtori Gakuen, a ruined dynasty was finally coming awake.
To Be Continued . . . Wow, surprising, huh, considering there's a 'Chapter One' up there and all.