Withered Roses Don't Always Die
The odds looked grim for Utena and Saionji as they faced the three Duelists from Amsterdam. Not only were they outnumbered, but they were up against opponents who obviously didn’t mind cheating.
Utena broke away from her thoughts as she heard Saionji say her name. “Uh, yeah?”
“I can take care of the those two, and if I can’t get Aion as well, you’ll have to be ready. Do you understand?” the Green Rose said, not looking at Utena while he spoke.
“What do you mean? You can’t beat them both yourself,” Utena replied, “Now’s not the time to be rash, Saionji. If you do anything reckless, it’ll cost us the Duel.”
Saionji turned and glared at her. “Don’t you dare belittle me, you stupid girl,” he hissed. “I know what I’m talking about. So just shut up and stand back.”
Utena’s protests fell on deaf ears as Saionji charged toward Reiji and Li. They once again tried their double teaming tactic. As they closed in on Saionji, he suddenly sped to the left. He looked like a streak of green lightning as he darted out of the way of their attack.
Saionji reappeared where the lightning had stopped, standing prepared for their next try. While Reiji stood stunned by Saionji’s movements, Li charged him on his own this time. Saionji smirked.
Instead of blocking, Saionji dodged Li’s sword as the boy swung wildly at him. He made sure to dodge just enough to miss the blade, but stayed within proximity of him. When the time was right, Saionji knocked Li’s blade aside with his own and grabbed hold of the shorter boy’s uniform collar. He then lifted his knee and jerked the boy forward, landing a direct blow to Li’s crotch.
Li cried out in pain and every other man in the Dueling arena flinched at the sight. “Wh-What are…you doing?” Li wheezed, trembling in pain as he fought to stay on his feet.
Saionji made no reply as he released him. Without Saionji holding onto him, Li could stay up no longer. He dropped to the ground with a thud, groaning with pain. He gasped when he caught sight of the stray petals from a dark blue lotus laying on the ground in front of him. Weakly, he cast his eyes up to Saionji.
Saionji smirked at him, the blue lotus that had once been on Li’s uniform was now clenched tightly in the Green Rose’s fist. He’d snatched it when he let go of his collar. Saionji threw the rose to the ground and Li soon disappeared from the arena.
‘One down… Two idiots to go,’ Saionji thought.
Utena was shocked, as was Aion. They couldn’t believe that Saionji had gotten rid of one of them by himself. It was fairly easy to do now that he knew what he was up against and knew to be careful.
Reiji was very angry, just as Saionji had been when Touga was transported from the arena. Saionji hoped that the boy’s anger would make him vulnerable. They engaged in swordplay for several minutes, each seeming to be equally skilled with a blade. They both even fought with a Katana.
Saionji frowned, unable to find any immediate openings for attack. Finally, he saw one. It was a slim opening that occurred every so often. He’d have to be quick to strike. Reiji was confused when he saw his opponent’s eyes begin to glow green light. When the opening happened again, Saionji blocked with his sword and placed his free hand on Reiji’s shoulder.
Reiji cried out as Saionji delivered a mild electric shock to his body. While Reiji was dazed, Saionji ducked down and sweep kicked the boy’s legs, causing him to fall onto his back. Saionji removed the boy’s lotus with ease.
The Green Rose turned to face Aion, a little winded, but ready to take him on as well. Aion was smirking, “I must say, Miss Tenjou, you chose your fighters well.”
Utena wasn’t sure what to make of the whole situation. She’d never given Saionji much credit as a Duelist since he’d never been able to beat her, but now she was realizing just how talented he was.
‘Saionji…’ Utena thought.
“You’ve fought well, but you’ll lose now,” Aion said to Saionji as he took on a fighting stance. Both Duelists charged one another, yet both were evenly matched. Saionji was actually impressed with Aion. So far, he could spot no openings in his onslaught.
“Yahhh!!” Aion yelled as he gave a powerful swing of his sword, which forced Saionji back several feet. The Green Rose staggered a bit, but quickly regained his balance. Aion was upon him again in mere seconds. Saionji held him back with his Katana.
Aion’s plan was to tire the green-haired Duelist out, and he was doing just that. Saionji’s blocking was growing weaker and Aion would soon be able to make his move. Aion was soon able to break Saionji’s guard and, with an upper slash of his sword, he removed the green rose from Saionji’s uniform.
In the process of removing the rose, he’d cut through Saionji’s uniform and put a shallow slice in the skin underneath. The Green Rose winced as he staggered backwards, Aion no longer advancing on him. There was no need to.
Saionji’s hand went to his chest as he panted, his fingers getting stained with blood as it seeped through the cut cloth of his uniform. The Kendo captain sighed as his body began to glow green light. He closed his eyes as he vanished from the arena in a whirlwind of green rose petals.
Utena looked to the wind as the petals were carried away, ‘Saionji…thank you,’ she thought sincerely. She then focused her eyes on Aion as he wasted no time in his advancement on her. She blocked quickly. Anthy stood silently at the end of the arena, waiting for the winner to be decided.
Duplicates of Akio’s snazzy red automobile began to zoom around the ring, increasing the level of difficulty of the Duel. Not only did Utena and Aion have to keep their eyes on each other, they had to make sure they weren’t run over.
The cars soon began to speed up as the Duel raged on. Utena had to put more space between Aion and herself, though it was extremely hard to do. As one of the cars flew past at close range, it made Aion jump, briefly losing his concentration. Utena didn’t let this chance go to waste. She couldn’t lose now.
The lights from the castle twirling upside-down above the arena began to shine, as well as the lights from Akio’sars. The ghost of a young man who was clad in white fell from the castle and seemingly merged with Utena’s body.
“What?! What’s happening?!” Aion yelled, eyes wide.
“Haaahh!!” Utena cried as she sped forward, her sword gleaming. All Aion saw was a blur of pink as she swiftly removed the lotus from his breast. The bells began to toll as the winner was declared.
Utena and Anthy found Saionji and Touga waiting near the front gate of the Academy when they returned. Touga smiled and gave a wave. “I assume everything went well?” he asked.
Utena smiled lightly and gave a nod, “Yes, weon,” she said, before glancing at Saionji who merely stood silently at Touga’s side. “Saionji, thank you for all your help. I couldn’t have won without you. Is your cut very deep?”
Saionji looked down at the light wound on his chest. He scoffed, “It’s nothing at all. Nothing…” he trailed off, seeming disturbed by something.
Utena noticed this, “Is there something the matter?” she asked.
The Kendo captain closed his eyes and turned away, “No,” he answered simply before he headed off into the Academy.
Utena watched him leave, per pupils trembling. She, Anthy, and Touga looked to their right when they heard footsteps drawing closer. It was Aion and his friends. They were heading toward the exit.
Aion paused for a moment and looked at Utena. “I have to say that was a fine match, Miss Tenjou. I see now why Ohtori remains number one. When you graduate high school, I hope that you will consider our University as your college. Farewell,” he said with an honest smile.
Utena smiled a bit in return, “I will. Thank you.”
Aion, as well as Reiji and Li, gave a slight bow and then the three left Ohtori Academy.
Several Days Later
Three days later, the weekend had finally arrived and most of the students were either going home to their families for the two days, or enjoying what the Academy had to offer without having to worry about homework and classes.
Bright and early as always, Saionji, dressed in his Hakama, was quietly making his way to the Kendo Hall for morning meditation and practice. He absent-mindedly raked a hand through his wavy ponytail as he slid open the Japanese style door to the Kendo room.
He blinked in mild puzzlement as he saw Utena, of all people, waiting for him inside the large room. She was dressed in her usual clothes, and had an unsure smile on her face.
“What do you want now?” Saionji asked, already sounding annoyed as he stepped into the room. He closed the door behind him and slowly approached the pink-haired girl.
Utena looked down at the polished floor almost guiltily, “Well, I…I wanted to talk with about something, and… I was hoping to join you for morning tea…” she said, knowing from several students that Saionji had tea before practice every morning.
“What is it? Another outrageous favor?” Saionji asked dryly, stopping several feet before Utena.
Utena finally managed to look up and meet Saionji’s cold plum gaze. “Saionji, I-I know that you and I aren’t exactly friends…In fact, we’ve been at odds ever since the first day we met…”
Saionji raised an eyebrow, “And?”
“I admit that, since you’ve never been able to beat me in a Duel, I’d never given you much credit as a swordsman. In other words, I judged you,” Utena said, sounding honestly guilty. Her eyes left his for a moment and went back to the floor. “When you helped me defeat Aion, you showed exceptional skill. I was dumbfounded. It was at that time that I realized that, in this entire school, I know the least about you. I have absolutely no idea who Kyouichi Saionji is. I felt horrible when I understood that I had passed judgment on a person I didn’t even know.”
Saionji was silent, not quite sure what to make of this whole thing. He decided to let her continue.
“This isn’t a declaration of love or anything… I’m not even sure if a friendship between you and I is possible, but…if you’ll allow it, I’d like to get to know you, Saionji. So, may I please have tea with you this morning?” Utena asked, looking up at him with pleading eyes. Though she was hopeful, she was fully prepared to leave if her request was rejected.
Saionji remained silent for several more moments, seeming to be thinking a few things over. Soon enough, he gave a slight frown and closed his eyes with a sigh. “Do as you like.”
Utena smiled with relief, “Thank you.”
Saionji sighed once more as Utena thanked him, “Come on,” he said with slight annoyance as he started walking.
“Uh, where are we going? Aren’t we going to have tea?” Utena asked as she followed.
“Just be quiet.” Saionji replied as he brought her to an area near the rear wall of the room. What she thought was just shoji walls, was actually another Japanese-style sliding door. It was a hidden room. It was a traditional Japanese room with shoji screen doors, tatami mat floors, and toconoma alcove with a ikebana flower arrangement and scroll. There was no source of light inside, other than a few unlit candles sitting around the space. The light was coming from a window in the corner, as well as through the sliding screen doors. There was a pink cherry tree outside the window. Its petals were brushing against the closed window.
In the center of the room as a small wooden coffee table with two seating cushions on either side of it. On the coffee table was a small maple bonsai tree, less than a foot tall, and a tiny toy figure of a katana. Saionji went into the room and lit a scented stick, before he began to prepare the tea. He glanced at Utena who still remained outside the room, looking around in awe.
“If you’re going to just stand there, then leave.” Saionji said.
Utena was brought back to reality and stepped into the room, slowly sliding the door to a close behind her. She came over and sat down on one of the cushioned seating mats. “This room is beautiful, Saionji. I never knew it was here.” Utena said, still in awe.
“Most people don’t know about it,” the Green Rose replied as he made the tea. He poured two cups, one for Utena and one for himself. Before serving it, he went over to the window and opened it slightly. He picked a few of the cherry blossom petals from the tree outside and closed the glass again.
Utena blinked as she saw Saionji drop a couple of the petals into their tea, “What’s that for?” she asked, curiously.
“It adds decoration to the tea,” Saionji said as he placed the small cup in front of her. “It’s also supposed to bring luck, or so I’m told…” he added as he took a seat across from the pink-haired girl.
“I see,” Utena said before taking a sip of her tea. It was delicious! She could almost taste the sweetness from the cheery blossom petals. “This is great…” she murmured absent-mindedly.
“Mm,” was all Saionji said in reply, taking a sip of his own tea. When he lowered the cup from his lips, he looked down at the floating petals. “My grandmother used to make this tea for me every morning...” he recalled, seeming to be lost in thought.
This caught Utena’s attention quickly. “Saionji…I noticed that you never go home on the weekends, or when we have school breaks. I can’t go home because…because I don’t have any parents, but why don’t you?” she asked softly.
Cold plum eyes glanced at her. She gasped lightly. He didn’t even have to speak for her to understand. “S-Saionji… Are your parents…?”
“Dead?” he finished for her, “Yes,” he added, taking another sip of his tea.
“Oh…” Utena whispered, looking down. She felt bad for him, but didn’t offer any words of pity. She knew it would only make him angry. “H-How did it happen?”
“A plane crash… eight years ago,” he answered, not even knowing why he was telling her this. “After that I went to live with my grandmother.”
“Then why don’t you go and visit her? I bet she’d enjoy it…unless…” Utena trailed off, watching him carefully.
“All I could do now is visit her grave. She passed away two years ago, and I don’t have any other family…” Saionji said, looking down at his tea.
Utena’s eyes trembled and she felt like crying. She had figured out quite a lot about Saionji in this mere chat. ‘Is that why you’re so angry, Saionji? Your staggering anger and attitude is just a ruse…to hide how lonely you are… You’re so lonely… You push people away because you don’t want to get close to them, so you won’t feel lonely when they’re gone. That’s it, isn’t it? ’
Saionji looked up at Utena when he realized how quiet it had gotten. His eyebrow arched, seeing that the girl was staring at him and appearing to be close to bursting into tears. “What?” he asked bluntly after a moment, starting to feel uncomfortable.
Utena blinked back her tears and took another sip of her tea, trying to compose herself. “I-Is that when you met Touga? You two were good friends, right? When you were younger?”
Saionji gave a light shrug, “I guess…” he said. Utena knew that actually meant, “Yes”. She wanted to know what happened to break them apart, but she decided not to pry too much in one sitting. She was amazed that he’d told her this much about his life. It was almost as if he’d been wanting to tell someone…
Utena’s eyes soon settled on two pictures sitting on another small table, which was located in the left rear corner of the room. There was a woman and a man in the first picture. The woman was beautiful and had hair identical to Saionji’s. The man was tall and handsome, with dark hair and dressed in a business suit. Utena smiled softly. She knew who those people were without having to ask.
The second picture was obvious as well. It was a young Touga and Saionji, both dressed in their Kendo uniforms and smiling happily for the camera. The image captured in that photo was the first true smile she’d ever seen on the Green Rose’s face.
An annoyed sound from Saionji caught her attention, “What in the world are you spacing out about, you stupid girl? It’s creepy,” he said, glaring.
Utena could only smile at him. “It’s nothing.”
After about an hour, Saionji stated that he was about ready to go and start practice. Utena smiled softly and nodded, deciding that she hadhered him enough for one day, but she wondered if it was a bother…
Just as she was about to stand, Utena noticed something else in the room that she hadn’t seen before. It was near the back of the room, leaning against the wall. It looked to be an instrument of some sort. “What’s that, Saionji?” she asked.
Saionji glanced at the object in question. “It’s called a Guqin. It’s a seven-stringed Chinese silk instrument. It’s said to be from ancient times,” he answered.
“Wow…” Utena murmured, “You really take your culture seriously, huh? Wait…Chinese? Aren’t you Japanese, Saionji?” she asked, a bit confused.
“I am,” Saionji said, “But I always enjoyed the sound of the Guqin, so I learned to play it.”
Utena smiled, “Really? Would you play some for me?”
“If I do, then will you go?” Saionji asked blandly.
“Yes,” Utena said, chuckling.
Sighing, the Green Rose stood up and went to get the instrument. He brought it over and sat back down, the Guqin laying across his lap.
“It looks kind of like a mix between a harp and flat guitar,” Utena said as Saionji turned the metal pegs to tune the instrument.
“Hm,” Saionji murmured in reply.
“You said that the Guqin was a silk instrument. What does that mean?” Utena asked curiously.
“Traditional Chinese instruments comprise a wide range of string, wind, and percussion instruments. They were classified according to the materials used in their construction. There are eight categories, and they’re called the Eight Sounds,” Saionji said, plum eyes focused on the Guqin.
Utena listened intently, impressed with how much he knew about it. “So silk is one of the categories, then? What are the other seven?” she asked.
“All together there is, silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and hide,” Saionji said as he slightly rubbed his slender fingers over the strings of the Guqin. “Silk instruments are mostly string instruments. Since the very beginning, the Chinese used silk to make the strings. Though today, metal or nylon are more frequently used.”
“I see…” Utena whispered, “You really do know a lot, Saionji…”
The Green Roses silently ignored her comment. Utena smiled a bit. ‘You’re not used to genuine compliments, are you?’
After a moment, Saionji stopped fiddling with the metal pegs on the side of the Guqin, and gently plucked one of the strings. “Sounds ready,” he murmured. Utena smiled and became quiet, waiting for the start of his play.
Saionji situated the instrument on his lap and then began to play. The music he made was truly beautiful. The Kendo captain’s fingers plucked the strings with expert skill. It seemed his hands were talented in more than just holding a sword.
Utena smiled softly as she watched him play. The calm and soothing music made her feel relaxed and comforted. It was amazing that the ever-angry Kyouichi Saionji could make such gentle and pleasing music. Utena had truly known nothing about him. Though she still didn’t know everything, she now knew enough to know who Saionji really was.
‘You’re not dueling because of Anthy at all, are you? You wanted to bring the Revolution so that you wouldn’t be alone anymore…’
Utena held back a giggle as she saw Saionji’s eyes close. The Green Rose continued to play even without sight. His music did not falter. In fact, it seemed to become even more lovely. ‘What are you imagining?’ she thought quietly. Though she wondered, she had a pretty good idea.
Saionji’s song lasted about five or six minutes before he stopped playing and opened his eyes again. “Happy?” he asked in his usual irritated tone.
“Very,” Utena answered with a smile as she stood up, “I’ll go now so you can get to practicing. I really enjoyed our tea, Kyouichi. I hope we can do this again soon.”
Saionji frowned, “What did you call me?! How dare you speak to me in such a familiar manner!” he said, sounding offended.
Utena jumped as he raised his voice, “I-I’m sorry…” she said, giving a bow. She hadn’t meant to upset him. Why did she call him that anyway?
“Hmph,” Saionji huffed as he sat the Guqin aside, the Green Rose standing up as well.
“I don’t want things to end on a bad note,” Utena stated honestly, “I’m sorry.”
Saionji sighed and turned away, “Whatever,” he said as he began to put away the teacups and teapot they had used.
Utena smiled. ‘You’re not used to people apologizing either…’ she thought.
“You know, Saionji, you should get out more. You’re always cooped up in this Kendo hall. You’re never at any school plays, dances, or trips. You never even come to any of Nanami’s parties. You really should become more social…” Utena said, standing near the door.
“What are you, my life counselor? I’ll have you know that I enjoy being by myself,” Saionji spat, his back turned to the pink-haired girl.
Utena chuckled and shook her head, “Are you sure about that?” she asked, letting the question remain as she made her exit. “See you later.”
Saionji turned around after she was gone and stared at her back as she crossed the Kendo room, soon going out into the hall and disappearing. The Green Rose lowered his eyes to the photo of Touga and himself.
‘”Are you sure about that?”’ he thought, Utena’s words lingering in his mind. The Kendoist gave a small sigh as he exited. He’d postponed his training long enough.