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Reaching
Part Four: For the Questions

[NOTE: Contains spoilers for Episodes 37 and 39]

Do you see–do you see–do you see
How you hurt me baby
So I hurt you too
Then we both get so blue
I am on a lonely road, and I am traveling
Looking for the key to set me free
Oh the jealousy, the greed is the unraveling–it's the unraveling
And it undoes all the joy that could be
I want to have fun, I want to shine like the sun
I want to be the one that you want to see

It's just a little while after classes, and I've just seen Kyoko off to a first date with her crush. Leaving my locker, I make my way down a shadowy hallway in one of the main academic buildings. It's long enough after school no one should be around, but I can hear voices in the distance. It sounds like an argument, I think one moment, and then it sounds like laughter and fun the next. The voices of friendship pull me towards them, down through the shadows and into the near-blinding sunlight beyond the arches that lead to the courtyard. The light of the afternoon dazzles and wraps itself around the comrades outside. They're playing lawn tennis.

The sun draws my eye to the player nearest me, tall and graceful and shining as always. Jury. She absently swings her racket, her usual companion–when she deigns to have one–Kaoru Miki-san, the genius from the middle school, about 15 feet away from her. Both watch with apparent amusement to the other side of the lawn, where two girls I recognize as more middle schoolers are bickering. One is Student Council President Kiryuu's little sister; I don't really know her well, but enough that I know the yelling and whining coming from her isn't unusual. She doesn't have a racket, but seems to have joined the others, apparently, solely to complain.

The other I recognize easily, with her slender athletic frame and innocent blue eyes, as Tenjou Utena-kun. Not too long ago I helped Tsuchiya-sempai challenge her to a sword duel.

When I first came back to Ohtori, she was the first person to say something kind to me.

She's smiling even now as Kiryuu-chan is berating her for something, even as the little blonde walks right past her. Can't look her in the eye?

Then I realize Kiryuu-chan's voice is shaking, and maybe she's not so much angry as something else. I wonder what they're talking about.

Tenjou laughs and says something about "Type B" as she launches the birdie into the air. Something about not being able to let go of things.

I'm a type B.

Miki-san volleys Tenjou-kun's serve, mentioning that he's worried about her. The pink-haired girl laughs and says something about "Himemiya," her friend, returning the birdie.

"I can change my mind, can't I?" Miki argues, volleying again. They laugh, even Jury. I haven't seen that look on her face in ages. It's so beautiful, and I hate Miki-san and Tenjou-kun at that moment for being the ones who can make her look like that.

Then Jury speaks up as it's her turn to hit the birdie, asking Tenjou-kun for a photograph.

My stomach twists.

For her locket.

Fire surges through me, and my own face folds itself into a jealous scowl. How dare you, I think at both of them, and I don't even know why.

I never wanted to be the one in that stupid locket. I never did. My lip starts to tremble.

I never...

Miki laughs and, head twisting back to catch the birdie in his racket, his gaze almost toward where I'm cowering by the archway. "It looks like another rival has appeared on the scene," he jokes.

They all laugh. Even Jury.

I step back into the shadows, still feeling my face contorted into some dark stormcloud, daring only to look back to see if he... or she... really knows I'm there.

I only hear Kiryuu-chan, who is speaking loudly enough from the opposite end of the courtyard that I can clearly make out the fact she's calling them all morons. Above her, I see movement by a window, and I wonder if I'm not the only witness to this.

Jury is still smiling. The sun is dancing in her curls. She looks so free.

Why am I jealous?

I dig my fingernails into my palms. Why do I have to feel jealous of her? For her?

God, how can I figure out what Jury wants when I don't even know what I want?

Maybe... she's changed her mind. That's good, isn't it?

The face I saw at the window is gone. Maybe it wasn't there. Maybe it was, and I should get lost too, as it sounds like they're finishing up.

I go the far way down the hallway, trying to guess the path they won't take away from the courtyard, and I start as I hear footsteps. Sighing in relief, I see it's not any of the four from the courtyard, but another girl with a somewhat short, perky haircut, probably in seventh or eighth grade. Yes, I recognize her now: Kaoru Kozue, Miki-san's sister. She leans up against the wall, looking at me appraisingly.

Miki-san, from what little I've been able to get to know of him, is a nice and utterly innocuous boy. His sister has a somewhat different reputation, involving strings of boyfriends (at the age of thirteen!) and teachers being pushed down stairs. She eyes me appraisingly, hips swung to one side in an exaggerated posture of "coolness."

"Something bothering you?" She abandons her pose and walks toward me. I edge toward the other side of the archway I was standing near. Peeking beyond into the courtyard, I see that Tenjou-kun and Miki-san and Jury have moved far, thankfully, to the other side of the courtyard, leaning in the shade of the archways, chatting. Kiryuu-chan follows behind, nagging.

"Kozue-san, you startled me," I breathe. Widen eyes. I'm just here, minding my own business, there's absolutely nothing interesting about me whatsoever. "Wh... what are you doing here?"

She widens her own eyes slightly feigning her own innocence, but there's a tautness in her mouth that conceals a smirk. "You looked angry. It's not at my brother, is it?" Damn, it must have been her at the window.

I shake my head and easily tell the truth, not wanting to be the next denizen of Ohtori to be found in a heap at the bottom of a steep stairway. "I hardly know him."

"Tenjou-kun?"

"She's a very nice person." I dare to peek past the archway again, where I see the others still safely far out of earshot and not looking anywhere in our direction, packing up their things, getting ready to leave.

"Ah, so it's Jury-san." She continues to talk to me, joining me in looking out my window. The slightly sing-song tone of her voice indicates that she knew that's who it was from the start.

"What would you know?" Has her brother told her something? What has Jury told Miki-san?

She smiles, her deep azure eyes glinting in the sunlight that manages to wend itself into the corridor. "I heard them talking about you."

"Me? Who?"

"Jury-san and Oniisama and Utena-kun."

I'm not interested I'm not interested I'm not interested... "Oh?"

"Don't you want to know what they said?"

Yes, of course I do. But I have no reason to bleed my fears all over this gossiping middle-schooler I hardly know. "Was it something bad?"

"Do you consider love bad?"

I shrug. "It depends." I can't think of anything else to say, I'm trying too hard to will my heart to stop beating so fast. I feel dizzy.

"Do you think that she perhaps... has feelings toward you?"

"Jury doesn't feel at all," I spit. I know it's wrong, but it feels good to say it. "I don't know if she has feelings." I look at her. "Why is it any of your business anyway?"

She backs off a little from me, though shrugs nonchalantly. "Call it friendly interest." She cocks her head over to one side. "Call it... I feel jealous of that group too."

I stare out the window. Jury and Miki-san have disappeared into the other side of the building, Kiryuu-chan not far behind. Tenjou-kun waves good-bye.

I can feel Kozue-san awaiting my response. There's no reason I should give in to this... little psychopath. (Okay, that's too harsh, but I did hear she pushed teachers down stairs.)

But then, what harm could it do? She could spread rumors about me. Big deal: vicious rumors have circled around me ever since Ruka's public breakup with me. Heck, as far as I know, everybody thinks I'm a psychotic slut, too.

Who knows, maybe she could understand? The idea of confession feels good, anyway. Maybe it would work better if I did it with someone who was actually alive.

"I am haunted, Kozue-san." Oh, that sounds cheesy. Oh well.

"Oh?" Her voice rises, hoping for some juicy intrigue.

"I am haunted by my past. Jury-san haunts me... and my self haunts me... what I used to be, everything that's made me and hates me, haunts me." I sigh and allow silence to fill a few breaths. "I have known Jury so long it's like she's a part of me, and yet I have no idea who she is at all. Her ghost hovers over my mind, reminding me of all the wonderful things she's done for me and accusing me of the horrible things I've done. But no matter how hard I try, how hard I try to separate us in real life, it just gets worse in my dreams..."

"There are some bonds people can't break, no matter how hard you try," Kozue-san said, her voice suddenly soft.

"So what do you do when you can't stand to be attached anymore?"

"I don't know." She pauses and adds, "Do you really want to be detached from her?"

I purse my lips, staring out into the courtyard to avoid her inquisitive gaze. Across the way, Tenjou-kun stands alone, her usual smiles faded from her face. She seems to be very seriously pondering her left hand, as if it were missing something. I suddenly find inside myself a truth I still don't want to admit, and admit it anyway. "No."

She leans her hand on her chin, apparently thinking. Her face is quite serious, now. "Maybe you should find a different way to be attached."

I shrug. "Yeah." Sure, that's easy.

She shrugs. "Maybe I should try to find another way to be attached to Oniisama."

I shrug. "It's a little different, I mean... Miki-san is your brother, not..."

She leans close toward me, and I feel her smirk through the breath on my neck. "Are you saying your feelings for Jury-san are more than sisterly?"

Heat rushes to my face. "What the hell are you saying?"

"You're blushing," she says, pulling away to look at me, smiling as if to say she was right all along.

I don't need to take this. I turn, and noticing Tenjou-kun march off into the shadows of the building, I head for the open air of the courtyard without fear.

"Shiori-sempai!" Kozue-san calls out to me, and I pause and turn back a moment, mostly because I am surprised by her sudden choice of honorific. "What she said was... ‘Why can't I be free with my feelings?'" She smiles wryly. "Sounds like she wants to be free too... but maybe not in the way you think."

*****

The battle is intense. Parry, riposte, feint, parry. The ringing of the swords sound like funerary bells. Or wedding bells?

The Duelist's sword scrapes my hand. I pull away, circling around the other side of the arena.

The Bride watches impassively as usual, but as I circle, I near her, and I hear a concerned whisper behind me, "Be careful."

My opponent catches the brief interchange, and her sneer twists more deeply into an infuriated snarl. "No!" she cries. "She's MINE!"

She lunges toward me, fast, a blur of dark fuchsia. I turn and face her. If she succeeds, she'll stab both of us. And there's no reason for this innocent girl to be suffering from this fight any longer. I thrust out my sword, just flicking my opponent's blade away from my rose at the last moment.

The Duelist stares at me in disbelief. "I-Impossible..." The sword suddenly refuses to cooperate with her hand.

"You are weak!" I accuse my opponent. "You cannot destroy us both!"

Her eyes widen in fear, and the sword she holds clatters to the ground. "Do it, then. Get it over with. I am weak. You can destroy me easily."

All of her bravado gone, she is trembling like a captured bird. She is not wearing her Duelist's uniform any more, but an ordinary teal sailor-fuku. She is a scared little girl, and that's all she ever was–desperately masking her fear with the power she got from someone else's sword. The thrill of victory rushes over me, and I grin, poking the tip of the sword just a little into her chin... and then I notice my wrist is adorned by the cuff of a Duelist's jacket. The sword in my hand has an intricate gold hilt; it is a fine, slender French dueling sword.

No.

"No!"

I force myself to turn, a pivot that takes a hundred years, and with aching arms I hold the sword out to the Bride. "This is yours."

She frowns a mechanical frown. "Why? I am yours."

"No. I cannot win with someone else's sword. You have to... you have to let me fight by myself," I insist. I hold it out to her again.

She reaches out, but at the last moment, her hand falters, and the blade falls from both our grips. As it falls point first, it strikes precisely a golden chain wrapped around the Bride's ankle and breaks it, and she and the sword waver and fall away into blackness below.

"You idiot!" "I" scream behind me. "How are we going get a miracle without her?" I turn around. She is on her knees, shaking, sobbing with her head in her hands.

I walk toward her and reach out, taking the rose pinned to her chest and handing it to her. "Believe in miracles, and they will know your true feelings."

Then the entire arena crumbles, and we slip...

 

Into consciousness.

I feel warm and cold all at once. My heart is pounding. Did I do it? Did it work? Will she come back? Will the Bride be okay? Is the power of Miracles safe?

Well, not that I'd be the one to find out. But somehow, I reached out to it, just for a moment, before I awakened...

That makes no sense. I shake my head, clearing the confused fog of sleep from my thoughts. I am shaking. Even as the vivid images from the dream wear off, all of the fear, love, anger, joy I felt still swim through me.

I know I'm not going back to sleep for awhile. I'm almost afraid to, in case I have the dream again and learn my victory was simply a ruse.

Yet a warm spot in my heart promises that won't happen again. My mind is less easily convinced.

Time for another walk.

 

The air is much warmer than the last time I did this, and wetter. It smells green; the ground is soggy and sloppily snuggles my feet as I trudge through the yard. Apparently a thunderstorm has come and passed by, cleansing the campus of its tense, heavy atmosphere.

I am starting to feel good, up until the point I reach the fountain, because she is there again.

And she looks utterly miserable. Her sea-colored eyes are searching the water in the fountain for an answer she can't find. Her shoulders are slumped. She looks... weak. And every thing I have ever been–innocent, inadequate, proud, a misfit, a star, strong, weak, controlling, lying, earnest, determined, confused, compassionate, and cruel... everything inside me shouts that Jury should not feel weak. She can do better. She should do better. Even if I have to make her.

How, I don't know yet.

Part of me observes I should feel happy that she looks so miserable. The more horrible thought is the idea that I don't feel happy because I don't think I caused the misery. I close my eyes, and hand a mental rose to those ugly voices in the back of my mind. You will not get the better of me this time. It's my turn to be the strong one.

I will not have her walk away from me again. I clench my fists, and let out a deep breath. But I will not hurt her again, either.

Not... the feeling/thought rises like a welcome explosion through my brain... not while she needs me.

She needs me.

I don't think anyone in the world has ever needed me before.

She looks up startled, when I sit beside her–she didn't even notice my approach.

"Shiori..." is all she says. Her eyes are wide. Sad? Frightened? The mask is actually down, but it's still hard to read her.

"What's wrong, Jury?"

She blinks at me for a few minutes, her lips pursing, then opening slightly like she's about to speak, then pursing again. She looks down at the waters of the fountain. "Tenjou-kun... Utena... was taken to the hospital." She speaks very quiet, controlled, but I can hear her voice the pressure of her emotions threatening to detonate her cool.

"My god!" That's two people now I once thought invincible proven otherwise.

"Someone stabbed her–completely ran her through–Shiori," she said, her voice wavering just a little more. "It's hard to tell... but as a Duelist... as someone experienced with a sword... I think... someone stabbed her in the back."

I realize Jury must have found her, or was at least one of the people who found her. I try to imagine Tenjou-kun, the one who gave me that genuine and sympathetic smile my first day back to Ohtori, smiling on as people tell her she's a fool, always fiercely defending her friend–I mean, she's been up against Ruka's sword, and Jury's, not to mention all those other Council members– crumpled to the ground like a rag doll, bleeding. And Jury finding her friend in that state. Jury... who despite all her coldness and her pride... does care about her friends.

Jury clenches her fists, but then starts to laugh, a desperate wounded laugh. "But the damn rose was intact." She bites her lip. "So what the hell does that mean? Did she win or lose? If she dies, does that mean she didn't get the power of Miracles? Or did she?" She hits the edge of the fountain with her fist. The garden lights are enough to show that she's struck the cement hard enough to lacerate her hand.

"Beating yourself up isn't going to help, Jury."

"Well what the hell can I do?!" she shouts, and I involuntarily scoot back from her fire. She sees me back away from her, and stops saying whatever it is she's about to say. "Sh-Shiori..." She looks down and shakes her head. "Why am I telling you this?"

"Because you wouldn't let anyone else see you like this," I hazard a rough guess. "I've already seen you angry and sad, even if it's been quite awhile. And you need... to talk to someone, Jury. You can't just hold it inside."

She blinks at me, and seems about to retort something, and then visibly slumps again. She knows I'm right, I think. I hope I'm right.

I move back toward her.

"She's not dead yet, Jury. So don't kill her off in your mind before her time comes. Tenjou-kun is strong. In body and heart, she's strong. So you just have to believe-"

"There are no such things as miracles!" She turns and shouts–no, snarls is more like it. The mask is off, and there is more pain than I ever wanted to see in those gorgeous turquoise eyes.

Did finding Tenjou do that to her?

Or did I?

She is breathing heavily, anger and anguish and fear bleeding off of her in the form of trembling heat. Her jaw is clenched. The "panther," as some people call her, has come out, trying to protect her. I should be frightened, but suddenly, I'm not.

Because this isn't some felinid ice queen, terror of the faculty. This is Jury, with the sad, lonely eyes I can trust forever and ever.

And at that moment, I can only think of one thing to do. Had I thought of it yesterday, it would have frightened me. Had I thought of it a month or more ago, it would have repulsed me. Had I thought of it a year ago, it would have seemed an impossibility. Had I thought of it ten years ago, it would be the most natural and easy thing in the world to do.

Now it's hard... and the only thing I can do. She may well throw me across the quad if I try it.

I scoot close to her and reach around her shoulders, trying to pull her into my arms.

She tenses, of course. She tries to push herself away from me and I just try to hold on, and then suddenly she just seems to let go of herself, lets herself slide to the ground. Somehow, my hands are still on her shoulders.

This wouldn't work, of course, so I start to pull my arms away–

And then she leans her head against my side. I place one hand on the other side of her head, and she does not resist. I start to smooth her hair, the way people do, friends and lovers and sisters, when they are trying to comfort someone and don't know what the hell to say.

"Why?" the question is barely breathed out of her mouth.

"Because you used to do it for me," I tell her. "And because, I think, if I really needed it, you'd do it for me again."

Under my hands, I can feel she's shaking a little. Probably, I think if I were the one in her position, somehow I'd be crying my eyes out. But Jury never cries. I stroke her hair a bit. It's slightly damp, either from the rain or taking a shower.

She lets out a deep breath, and says quietly. "I don't understand you, Shiori."

"That makes two of us. I don't understand me at all."

Her shoulders abruptly go up and down, perhaps in imitation of a laugh. We sit, not speaking for a few minutes. The air is filled with Jury's pain and my nervousness, but it still feels less tense than it has been with her for ages.

"God, I am so selfish," she suddenly says.

"Wha- why?"

"Tenjou-kun is in the hospital and I'm thinking about you and me."

I'm not quite sure what I should say to this. I remember what Kozue-san told me earlier today, but that's... that's not what I'm worried about. For once. In fact, that whole scene I completely forgot until now, and it just seems... stupid, all I was feeling then. The only bad thing I really feel is frustration in trying to think of something actually helpful to say. "What would Tenjou-kun want you to be thinking about?"

"I..." She looks up at me and then down again, and starts to laugh without much sound. She shook her head. "She always yelled at me... when I tried to ignore you..."

"Oh?"

"She reminded me... how important friendship was."

And I didn't? Pride asserts. Shut up, I tell it. I destroyed our friendship, Guilt says. Shut up, I tell it. I'm here now.

"Tenjou-kun... struck me as the kind of person, who would be a good friend. She was the first person to show me kindness when I came back here," I tell her. "I was jealous of her... when I saw her make you smile. I missed being able to do it."

"Why'd you try so hard to hurt me then?" Her voice thins to a whisper.

I shift myself off the edge of the fountain and join her on the ground. She lets me slide my arm around so I can wrap it around her shoulder.

I laugh and shake my head. "‘Cause I hate you, Jury. I hate that everyone looks at you and they see you shine, and I thought for a long time that the best I could hope is to be a shadow that's cast by the glare that you let off... that the only thing that made me something was you. And mostly, because I'm afraid of you... afraid somehow I'll fall apart when I'm around you..."

She shakes her head, and looks at me like I'm speaking a foreign language. "Do you know how ridiculous that is?"

I shrug. "Maybe. Do you know how ridiculous we've both been to each other?"

She nods. "Yeah."

"Maybe we should try stopping."

"And then what?"

I shrug. "I haven't got that far yet."

A few more moments of silence, as I pray to the gods and the stars and the fountain and Tsuchiya-Sempai and the Miracle Power everybody fights for to come up with the right thing to say. "You know what I think?" I ask her.

"What?"

"Tenjou-kun is going to make it."

"Why?"

"Because she was fighting for her friend, right? Himemiya-san?"

"How'd you know that?"

I shake my head. "I just remember... her looking very protective when she fought, I guess."

Jury nods. "Yes, she was fighting for Himemiya Anthy."

"And friendship makes you strong. Tenjou-kun is strong, Jury. I think she'll make it."

Her face begins to descend back into that hopeless scowl. "Then why did she get hurt at all?"

"I didn't say it made you invincible," I say, maybe too defensively. "She is human... But..." I shake my head. This is going nowhere, fast. "I don't know, Jury. But I just don't think you should confine Tenjou-kun to a coffin before her time has come."

"I just wish I could do something. But... I guess, it's still her Duel to fight."

"Just believe in her, Jury. You have to believe. Sometimes... that's all you can do."

There's a long pause, her face seeming to descend in the shadows a moment. "I guess so," she says, finally, sighing. She turns her head and looks at me. Her eyes are wide. By a small miracle, the mask is still gone. I see the friend I loved years ago in childhood and a young woman I'm only just starting to get to know. Her eyes lock with mine, their ocean-colored depths pouring into me. Her face moves a centimeter closer to mine, and my heart jumps to warp speed.

She closes her eyes and pulls away from me. Her fists clench. "I don't know if we can be friends, Shiori," she mutters, not looking at me.

"We have to become friends before we become anything else," I say, words falling out of my mouth before I think about what they mean.

She sits there, eyes closed, not looking at me.

"Come on Jury, do you think if we get close again the world is going to end?"

Suddenly, she starts to laugh. I mean, really laugh. Almost hysterical... well, for Jury at least. I mean, she's someone who usually lets out a brief chuckle responding to the height of hilarity. After a few moments of wired laughter, she looks at me, eyes glassy, and says, "You know, Shiori, I think it already has."

[Part IV Notes: This episode's header comes from "All I Want" by Joni Mitchell, copyright Warner Brothers Records. This chapter has been the most extensively updated since its posting on fanfiction.net in 2002–specifically, I finally fixed the beginning so that it actually meshes with the actual lawn tennis scene in Episode 37. I hope I've managed to do the changes in a way that further improves the narrative.]

Go to Part I ++ Part II ++ Part III ++ Part V


Death Quaker's Realm All original materials © 2003 R. Pickard. Revolutionary Girl Utena and all related concepts belong to Chiho Saito, Be-Papas, Shogakukan, Shokaku, TV Tokyo
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