Author's Note: Very old fic, from 2008, edited slightly for cohesiveness though unfortunately I think it still dates itself. Thank Nozomi's rerelease of the series for reminding me I still had this.
He takes her out, in his mind's eye, like a doll from an armoire, meant to look at, to carefully comb the long red hair and smooth the pinafore, before returning it to the cabinet. He takes her out to restaurants, expensive ones with a maitre d'hôtel and fresh roses in vases on the table.
He takes her out to concerts, too, and during intermissions they stay in their seats as everyone else leaves to get mundane concessions: overpriced boxes of nuts and plastic cups of wine. She's regal as ever, cool in her evening gown. They talk about the music, about the composer—who is either Beethoven or Debussy, depending on his mood.
He takes her out, but in the end he always wakes up to a new IV stuck in his arm and another in a series of nurses checking his vital signs.
Ruka isn't sure how long it's been since he was put in the hospital. For all he knows it's been a week. For all he knows it's been two years. His hospital window always has the blinds drawn so he can't tell if the seasons are changing.
The nurses all look the same even though he knows that can't—shouldn't be.
And even when he asks, no one tells him the time.
(he has the dim feeling it's not just the medications)
(it's the duels, the duels that crippled him so, that flung him into this world where nothing ever happens)
(the bride standing there at the edge of the arena, perfectly empty smile wide on her dark face)
A nurse hands him a glass of orange juice and a straw, and he thanks her with all the faded courtesy of an ancient knight, never mind how badly his fingers shake.
He starts to nap more often as the days progress. He knows Juri would be upset by it, if she knew, if she remembered to think about him. Dimly he knows he should be upset by it, too, should realize that it's only another sign that his condition is getting worse.
He wakes up from a dream about blue roses only to wake up to see a dozen of them in a huge glass vase upon his tiny bedside table.
"Someone sent them earlier this morning," explains the nurse before he even has a chance to ask her as she gives him his pills, her face blank as a peeled potato.
He sits up in bed as best he can. Relatives send cards sometimes to break up the monotony, when they remember, but he never gets flowers.
"There's a card, too," the nurse continues, handing it to him, casual, almost uncaring.
"I—may I read it alone?" he manages under the blurred haze of painkillers, and as soon as the smiling nurse steps out he opens the envelope, cursing his shaking fingers.
It isn't Juri. He knows that instinctively. The handwriting's all wrong, too flowing, too maddeningly perfect—even for her. There's only one sentence on the first page.
"Define a miracle, Ruka Tsuchiya."
Ruka nearly chokes.
"You have a visitor."
Touga saunters in, resplendent in his uniform, while Ruka in his hospital gown tries to finish off a cup of pudding.
"How are you feeling?" he asks, tone casual, smirk on his face. There's only one chair in the room but Touga doesn't sit in it, preferring instead to lean slightly against the nightstand, thankfully careful not to knock over the vase of flowers.
Ruka sets down the pudding before he answers, studies Touga's face as well as he can under the effects of the medications, as though there's something important he can discover, something he missed.
Nothing. Touga's the same as always, the swaggering fake cavalier come, probably, to hover over his bedside like some hated demon, grinning over the hand of fate.
(it could be you in this bed, touga)
(could be you could be anyone at all)
"Like I'm dying," Ruka replies, and tries to match the smile but comes up short.
"I'm sure it'll pass." Touga reaches over to touch one of the roses, half-wilted with the span of time (three days? a week? eternity?), and casually breaks off the stem. "The flowers are lovely."
"Maybe there's a gardener among my well-wishers," he says smoothly, wanting nothing more than to smash the vase into Touga's skull.
"I think you know better than that. Ends of the World—"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Ruka says the lie far too quickly, and he sees Touga's eyes flicker from the roses to the IV in his arm.
"Do you even know what they're giving you?"
"Fluids," Ruka tries to sound as convincing as possible, but there's a slight break in his voice, "some painkillers—"
"It's pure morphine, Ruka." Touga breaks off another stem. Delicately he plucks off the petals, setting them in a neat pile next to Ruka's nearly untouched meal tray, right in front of his face. "And I think you knew that just as well as you know about Ends of the World. Best estimates put you at another month. It's a shame—"
"The only shame is what you're doing to my roses," he manages. "Get the hell out of here, Touga."
"It's a shame," Touga continues lightly, "because last year, you had the Bride, didn't you? Almost made it to Revolution?"
"Revolution won't come," Ruka snaps. "I know that now."
"Not for you, it won't." Touga shakes his head. "But Ends of the World is offering you a curtain call."
Ruka stares again, and then he laughs, too long and too hard. The laugh turns his breaths into wheezes, making his world spin slightly (roses spun didn't they?), his world, the world he's consigned to, not Touga, this world with its packets of pills and long syringes and death the grand finale. Touga belongs to tainted fantasies and castles full of rot, to short-skirted schoolgirls and empty duels.
"Save it for someone else. I'm finished, Touga."
Victory. Ruka takes satisfaction in the look of annoyance, irritation full on Touga's angular face, the way he shakes his head, rolls his eyes (pick another pawn, Touga, another dying waif in the hospital), the way he's turned his back to walk out the door—
Except Touga turns around as though it was his intention all along.
"But Juri's not."
Ruka falters, and it must be visible because Touga's smiling again, as though Touga could know all the bright dreams Ruka's ever had of her, ethereal Juri, Juri of tournaments and finesse and grace. Like Touga sees his love and has the nerve to think it childish when it's more than he'll ever get out of any of the girls he's fucked at school.
He makes an angry move for the vase to throw it at Touga, but can't reach anything past his tray, lacks the strength to do more than put a spoon to his mouth in dazed attempts at forcing life into his body. Touga watches in mild amusement, arms folded against his chest, enjoying the spectacle.
"So define a miracle."
When the nurses come back they find that Touga's left a signet ring on the nightstand.
After that, time goes from being on pause to a desperate fast-forward. The faceless nurses all congratulate him on such a speedy recovery from what should have been fatal. He receives piles more roses, dark blue now, and a letter from the Academy that his single suite from last year is his again.
He finds himself expecting to somehow be stopped.
(like Faustus with the devil)
(but the blood doesn't congeal, not when your signature's the acceptance of a ring, and not when you've made the deal before)
When they wheel him out of the hospital for the last time, it's only a formality. He climbs into the taxi on his own without the slightest stumble, makes pleasant conversation with the driver.
But his eyes are always on the road ahead, the school rising out of the hills.
(the phoenix rising out of the ashes)
(only to burn itself up all over again)