Part Three: For the Answers
Keep looking for the reason high and low to let it go
Keep losing my mind looking for the peace that I'll never find
I wanna know how it feels to be the sunlight in your hair and dancing everywhere
I wanna shout about it, but I keep quiet about it
I wanna laugh about it, but I don't joke about it
I wanna live without it, but I can't do without it
She occupies my thoughts a lot lately. Even more than Ruka-sempai, despite the fact that at the time, it felt like he hurt me worse, and how I still felt awful when he died.
He did use me, but I guess I used him too... I needed someone to care for me, protect me, because I thought Jury never would any more. He came when I thought I was all alone, because I had lost her.
Which just brings us back to the fact that it was all about Jury all along.
I don't know why I can't let go of her. It's obvious she's trying to let go of me.
But she's trying to let go of me because I betrayed her. Because I tried to betray her. I destroyed our friendship. I pushed her away.
And now, like a child that's lost or broken something due to her own negligence, I want her back.
The irony on top of that is, of course, that I did it all to prove I could be strong without her. Independent.
The cold spell that's hit the area hasn't lifted yet, and I wish I had worn a jacket. This damn sailor-fuku does little to hold off the wind, which bites into me and laughs.
I had to get off from campus awhile... just get away far enough to enjoy the more lively comforts of a cemetery. Half-naked trees wave their arms over the tombs, as if to protect them without actually touching them.
"I wish I could say I've come here just to talk about you," I say to a certain headstone, "but I've really come to talk about her too."
The stone is cold and doesn't answer me. It's sort of like talking to Jury.
"I did want to say that I am sorry for using you, or trying to use you, anyway. You have to understand, every girl when they're little hopes for some gallant hero on a white horse to take them away from the horrors of the world and protect them forever. And I really wanted you to be my prince charming, wielding your shining sword. You were strong, and confident, and protective, and Captain of the Fencing Team. And... you were a... a guy. And safe. And you seemed even stronger than she was." I pause as if waiting for an answer. The wind blows my hair into my eyes. "My mistake for thinking you were trustworthy because you were all those other things. My mistake for trying to make you stand in for my childhood prince. I wanted the miracle power. And I'm sorry.
"I know you're not sorry for what you did to me, but that's okay, because you're dead. And dead people can't change."
I begin to pace around to keep myself warm.
"You probably don't believe me, but I want to change, I really do. But... I guess, I still want the same things. I mean... not the prince thing. That's just... naive. I want to be happy. Is that so wrong? Is it really awful and selfish to just want to be happy? And the last time I was really happy was when I was with her.
"But it freaks me out, honestly. Did you know her true feelings for me? Is that why you treated me like you did? But what would you..."
I trail off, as a thought hits me, and I start to laugh.
"Were you jealous of me, Sempai?" I ask the stone. I shake my head. "No, that's silly. Even if Jury loved me once... I don't know. They said, they said you two had a fight before you left. Some people said there was something going on between you two. And quite frankly, even though what Jury might feel or have felt for me is disturbingthat's just... I mean, everyone always tells you it's not right. But what's really not right is the fact of some tricky liar like you being with her that... disgusts me. She should be above that. So I hope she had the sense not to succumb to your charms. Jury is much smarter than I am.
"But then, I am a liar too, right? So why would Jury care? Why does she care, and then avoid me, that's what I want to know." I shrug. "Maybe she likes liars, I don't know."
I point at the stone, accusatorily, still needing to lecture the dead on their mistakes. "But one thing you don't know about her or me, you don't know how much we... we loved each other when we were children. A different love, a child's love. Does that die or does it grow?" Two trees drop their leaves on Ruka-sempai's grave as tribute, same species, different type. "You don't know her, and you don't know me. She was the best thing that ever happened to me. And what really sucks is..."
Tears sting my eyes and I act as if it's the wind, even though there is no one else to see me. "What really sucks is the fact that she still is the best thing that ever happened to me. And I hate her." I fall to my knees. I can't pretend not to cry anymore. "I hate her, Sempai..."
I am facing off against her once again. She gloats about her skills, she is convinced she will win. I am determined I will defeat her. I will not be weak.
With a shout, we jump and lunge at one another. My eyes zero in on the black-petaled rose on her chest, I point the sword, and with a lurch against my hand, I feel the blade plunge, with a sharp, soft, sliding crunch, into the rose and through her chest.
The problem is, the Duelist has done the exact same thing to me.
Another lunch time by myself. I sit up against a tree, staring at its twisted roots coming out from under me. A purply leaf flits and flutters ever so delicately down to land on my bento box, next to half-eaten salad.
My eyes scan the quad. Gaggles of girls sit and chatter about nothing, gangs of boys poke at each other and brag. Over in the corner, a flash of white and blue and orange stand out against all the ordinary teals. Miki-san is standing over a seated Jury, saying something with a shy smile and then leaving. Even though he is the one erect, somehow she still seems taller.
She is alone.
Maybe she likes being alone. I'm sure she prefers it to most people's company. My company?
This thought stirs my pride and anger and it's time to face her again and yet... At the same time, a memory fades into my mind's eye.
A little six-year-old girl, a big ostentatious bow in her orange hair that would look horrid on anyone but hereven as a child, she could carry just about anything with grace. Sitting by herself, because although as a big-name Trustee's daughter she was respected, she was also untouchable. And I, who didn't know any better, went over, sat down right next to her, and asked her why she looked so sad.
"I'm not sad," she said defiantly, setting her chin.
"You looked sad," I said. A moment of silence. "I'm new, and I'm lonely," I admitted to her freely, because I knew immediately by looking at those sad green eyes, wide as the sea, that I could trust her forever and ever. "Would you like to be friends?"
"Why do you look so sad?" I ask her as I sit down next to her, my lunch box in hand.
"I'm not sad," she replies, staring stubbornly at her food. I think she's trying to let her bangs shadow her eyes, but her curls are too well-trained to fall, and I can see the sea in them nonetheless.
"You looked sad." I scrutinize her pensive frown and start to laugh, which makes her look at me, startled. "You haven't changed at all, Jury-san."
She doesn't really know what to say to this, I guess, so she looks at my bento. "There's a leaf in your lunch," she observes.
"It's pretty, isn't it?" This is a new game.
She sighs, and she actually looks at me. "What do you want, Shiori?"
I sigh in imitation of her. "I don't know, Jury. I want a lot of things. I want the usual things, I guess, friends, someone to love, my mother to fall off some place high"(but not too high) "a successful career, and a more interesting lunch than this one." I feel the venom suddenly summon itself to my teeth. "I'd also like you to get off your high horse for once."
"Do you just do this to torture me?"
I give her a mock-innocent smile. "Do what?"
"Play innocent one minute and cruel the next."
"Cruelty is usually a component of torture," I agree. "But innocence?"
She closes her eyes and lets out a strange sort of choked laugh. "You have no idea."
We sit silence a moment, not really moving. The wind blows the leaf out of my lunch.
"To answer your question, Jury-san, I don't know."
"I don't know what I want. I want to understand..." I start to say, but I can't finish. I can't hear my thoughts for the pounding in my ears, the idea of telling her all that's on my mind is so overwhelming. The idea that this time she might listen.
More silence. I hope the bell rings so we can leave, and I pray this moment lasts so we can finish it.
She tries to end it instead. "I have to go," she says and stands up.
She's about to walk away, and the idea of her leaving me once again, having gone nowhere, launches me upward. I grab her wrist, choosing at random one of the many questions I have wanted to ask her. "Why did you stop wearing your locket?"
She looks at me, and then away. Her eyes are hard, cold jewels again, but I see a ripple behind them that is something else. She does not yet try to move.
"It was broken in a duel," she answers quietly. "Tenjou-kun struck it instead of the rose."
I was in love with you. Was?
She tries to pull away and I pull back. "So... if she hadn't broken it?"
"I wouldn't have had to buy a new one." After her initial tension, she has managed to pull the mask all the way on and remain perfectly calm. It's driving me up the wall, because of course once again she's answered my questions without answering anything at all.
"But... you're not wearing it."
"I can't decide what picture to put in it." She's almost smiling.
Damn her damn her damn her! Who is torturing who? Fire runs through me. I want to hit her, grab her face, make her look me in the face and say it.
She tries to pull away again, slips away, but I manage to regain hold, this time of her hand.
The touch, palm to palm, flesh to flesh, triggers a flash. My heart seems to stop a moment. A million memories surface all in this one moment, happy memories of little girls holding hands, anguished memories of her pulling away and telling me in strained tones that she hoped I'd be happy with him, doors slamming, swords flying out of chests, and the words, "I was in love with you," over and over again.
She turns her head, granting my wish of looking me in the eye, and I wish she'd never done it. Her eyes are wide, sunlight playing with facets of blue and green, pulling me into their depths. They looked like they did that one night, almost in tears...
God damn her, she's so beautiful...
And then as if Medusa had stared at her, her face turns to stone. She rips her hand away, and with it the fear and warmth that the touch brought.
"I have council business to attend to."
She walks away quickly. The lunch bell rings.
I've got to understand why she does this dance with me. Why I am doing it with her. One step forward, two back. And for that, I've got to find a way to keep her from running away from me. Even if I could get in the same space with her, some place neutral. Nothing to do with anything. Make her endure my presence long enough that she might come to find it at least vaguely tolerable.
And then maybe I can find a way to talk to her, and get this sorted out once and for all. We can become friends, we can become strangers, but we can't drift in this twilight forever. I can't imagine she enjoys it any more than I do.
"Captain!" Another breathless voice sounds out behind me and then a young man zooms past out of nowhere, running after Jury. "Captain, I need to talk to you about the next meet..."
He catches up with her and they disappear down one of the walkways crisscrossing the quad.
I spend half of the afternoon after school trying to find her. Finally, out of breath from running around the campus, I pause to look inside the music room, where I hear piano music, too lovely to be no one but Kaoru Miki-san playing it. It's a pretty piece, kind of lighthearted, not the usual sad dreamy piece he plays that he and his sister are famous for writing. I carefully peek in.
He cuts off abruptly. "That's all I have so far."
"I like it," Jury replies; she's leaning against the piano. "Although maybe it's a little too... perky... in parts."
"She's a little too perky sometimes," he laughs, but asserts, "And the song is going to be about her." Though I've usually seen him defer to her on most things, this is his art, and like most artists, I guess he gets slightly on the defensive when it is threatened. I wonder who he's talking about? I somehow had gathered he had a crush on Himemiya-san, and she's not perky at all.
"I guess so. I think you could tone down that one part though."
"She's not toned down! Look, do you want me to write the Arisugawa Song instead? Fine..." He begins to play a slow, gloomy set of chords that sound as if they're intended to intone doomsday. I see her shoulders go up and down; she's trying not to laugh.
My god, Arisugawa Jury laughing at herself. Isn't that the first sign of the Apocalypse? I bite back my own laugh, clapping my hand over my mouth, although I am too slow to hold myself back. They both turn and look at me. Jury immediately dons the mask.
Bravery. Must summon bravery.
"Sorry to bother you," I say, giving them a little smile. "I wanted to ask you something."
"Jury-sempai? I could le-"
"No, both of you, actually. Well, I might as well since you're both here. I know it's getting on in the semester, but... I've been thinking... I took it a little at my other school you see, and..." I take a breath, praying for coherency. I focus my will. "I want to try out for the fencing team." I let a little smile of triumph cross my face, just for having the guts to ask.
Jury's eyes widen, although otherwise she forces her face to remain passive.
Miki-san has no trouble looking surprised. "You fence, Takatsuki-san?"
I nod. "I was on the fencing team at my other school. I've been told I have a lot of potential." I manage another smile, hopefully self-deprecating. "I'm not sure if that's true, or if the person who told me that was just trying to flatter me. But I did enjoy it." And that is the truthit's quite a release, actually. You can "attack" someone all you want and never actually hurt them. You can engage in heart-pounding, fast-paced combat with someone and then shake hands afterward and go out for a sandwich together.
All this... and if I can prove I belong on the team, Jury's too much of a professional not to let me join. Meaning there's at least one place she can't run away from me. I know I'll have to endure Jury defeating me on a regular basis, but maybe it will give me the time and insight I need to learn to get past her other defenses.
Besides, I've always liked watching her fence.
The silence starts to chill the air. I'm just about to imagine I can see my breath when I exhale, when Miki-san looks at Jury, slightly sheepishly, and says, "Well... we do have a team member still out due to injury..."
"Fine," Jury says after a breath. I think I detect a waver in her half-frozen voice. "We'll see what you can do."
She looks down at Miki-san. "Why not now?"
Miki-san looks up at his sempai. "Sure, why not?"
Jury gives me a business-like cordial nod and a smile. "Get your gym clothes out of your lockerI doubt you want to try out in that skirt. Come to the fencing room and we'll lend you some gear. See you in a few minutes?"
My god, I think there's a slight chance this might work. The smile that works its way onto my face is real. "Sure."
Miki-san and Jury wait for me in that long room. God, so much has happened in that room in my life over the years, so many wonderful and horrible things. I remember once handing Jury a rose to reward her for winning a match with Mitaro. "Believe in miracles," I told her, repeating something she'd once said to me when we were even younger, so long ago she'd probably forgotten. I remember at that moment wanting nothing more than for her to be happy. It was just before all my stupidity began.
Believe in miracles, and they will know your true feelings.
I am believing as hard as I can. If I can impress Jury... that's what it'll take.
After the vest and mask are on, I am put through a gauntlet of lunges and jabs from Jury and Miki-san, each while the other one watches. It's been awhile, and I try to remember what I've been taught, and what I've learned from watching the experts over the years, Jury, Mitaro, Ruka... all while trying not to think too hard... Mitaro taught me when we were at Serian High School.
"Trust in your instincts, your heart," he said. "It knows what it needs to do. It will lead your hand correctly."
Sometimes, I think, it's a shame we never worked out. But our hearts were, and are, and always will be, elsewhere.
Parry, riposte, feint, parry. Feint, lunge.
I drive my foil towards her, flicking it past her blade toward her chest, aiming for the score...
She's faster. The tip of her foil drives itself into my shoulder just a breath before I strike her. "Touché!" I announce for what seems to be the millionth time in the last few minutes.
Jury pulls off her mask, shaking loose her curls. "You're right, Shiori," she says. "You have a lot of potential." She looks at me and then down at the foil in my hand. "Lesson number one: don't be so set on your offensive that you forget yourself."
[Part III Notes: This is TV Shiori. She doesn't see dead people, but maybe she still talks to them. The epigraph is from Beth Orton's "Someone's Daughter," copyright 1997 Dedicated Records.]
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