You know what? I hate html.I wish I was doing almost anything else.Like getting laid. I could be having sex right now, but noooo.I watched Utena lose her virginity again this weekend.That scene is so hot.The fine line between obsession and madness is... what was I saying?GIRL ON GIRL ACTION!!!I want that outfit. I like red and black. What a surprise.This layout took forever to get just right. But that was because I took so many breaks.I never ate glue in kindergarten. Hard to tell, huh?Gio keeps talking about food. What a bitch.LEGS.See, I'm being productive. Now if only I could do this at work, where productive is just a dream...GODDAMMIT STOP TALKING ABOUT FOODYou know, those are the only important things in life. Food, sex, and sleep.Everything else is just window dressing.I have to clean my house still. That sucks.I hate cleaning. I should buy maids.I want to go to a museum, but I don't want to get out of my jammies.I suck at being energetic.Funny, you don't look Druish.


If I Could - Chapter Eleven


Kiryuu Nanami was a big question mark in Kohana’s strategy, as were she and whomever it was that Touga meant when he'd spoken to her of 'Ends of the World'. However, Kiryuu Nanami was not a subject she wanted to broach with anyone just yet, and she had a feeling that Ends of the World was another secret of the Seitokai. That left only her, and the only one who might know something more and actually tell her at this point was Kaoru. After the school day was over and he hadn't approached her, she decided to stop wasting time and go to him.

Finding him wasn't hard; all she had to do was review the music room schedule in her mind and wait inside just before his time came up. She knew the schedule like the back of her hand—after all, the music room wasn’t just for playing music.

Kaoru seemed startled to see her; his big blue eyes widened as he realized he wasn't alone and he ran a hand distractedly through his short blue hair. "Hoshigawa-sempai, did you need the music room for something?" The door was left half-open, the knob under his hand.

Someone who liked to please others, then, and he definitely didn't trust her. She laughed, moving away from where she'd been leaning by the door. "You don't need to be so formal. Can I call you Miki?"

"If you like." He glanced toward the piano and back to her. "Is there something you need?"

"Not really. I was hoping to hear you play, if that won't bother you, and I thought I might like to talk to you a little. Get to know my fellow Council member, so to speak." Now, if Touga had spoken to him already—

Kaoru blushed the tiniest bit. "I don't know what you think, Hoshigawa-sempai, but I'm not interested in a private concert."

Exactly as she'd thought. She stared at him blankly for a moment, and then started to laugh. "Oh, I'm sorry. I must have given you quite the wrong impression. I really did come here to talk, Miki, and to apologize for the little show I put on at the meeting."

He left the door open, crossing the room to the piano bench and arranging his music. "I'm not sure whether to believe you."

"I hope you will. I've already managed to get on Arisugawa's bad side, and I'd hate to have a strained relationship with all of the members of the Seitokai." Kohana pulled up a chair, leaving it a decent distance away from the piano bench. She had to put him at ease. "Anyway, I do want to apologize, because I was just playing around. You have nothing to fear from me—I like older guys."

"Oh." Ruffling his papers uneasily, he started to play something. Chopin, perhaps. After a while, he stopped and said, "That's not what the Seitokaicho said."

Of course it wasn't. That would make things too easy. "He was wrong. But you can judge for yourself." Flattery combined with a change of subject— she’d let that sit for a while for him to think about. "You do play beautifully, Miki. I've never had any talent for the piano. With music, my only passion is listening."

His face brightened a little, but the wariness was still in evidence. "Do you have a favorite composer?"

"That would be Mozart. I adore his twenty-fifth symphony." Giving him a gentle smile, she continued, "It's so whimsical, passionate at times and dark at others. I enjoy its changeable nature."

"I agree. It's precise, and it can be almost obsessive in character..." He glanced from the keyboard to her. "What key?"

"G minor."

He nodded in satisfaction. So, he'd been testing her. Of course, she was too good at what she did to be caught out that easily, and she wouldn't have mentioned music at all if it hadn't been a subject she knew a little about.

Kaoru's fingers began to fly across the keys, the opening to the symphony adapted beautifully to piano. The shivery, silvery notes danced in the previously silent room, and Kohana could only stare in awe. Watching Kaoru play was eerie—his fingers were almost a blur, each movement coaxing life and song out of what would for her be a jumble of discordant notes and strange sounds, and no matter how fast his hands worked, he never showed anything more than gentle enjoyment of the music. Rapt, she let the music enfold her; she could almost feel the tones lighting delicately on her skin.

After a long while, Kaoru stopped. The symphony was too long for her to expect him to play it all, she supposed, and she wistfully listened until the last reverberation of the piano strings had died away. Shaking herself, she breathed, "That was beautiful."

"I adapted it long ago. It's still not perfect, but—“ He gently tapped a key.

"Not perfect? That can't be true. I know that symphony like the back of my hand, and I never thought that anyone would be able to play a true piano adaptation. You just did." He'd played the first movement perfectly, within the limitations imposed by the instrument. It took a lot to impress her, but this time, she was truly impressed.

"It really needs two players to be done properly. I was teaching Nanami to play, but Touga doesn't often let her come here." He sighed, letting his fingers wander over the keys before choosing another piece of music to play.

So, Nanami really is a friend of his—I'll have to remember that. I'm not sure I even want to think about her now, though.

Kohana shook her head. "If I had any talent, I would learn the piece by heart for the chance to create such beautiful sounds. 'Music is the meditation between the intellectual and the sensuous life'," she quoted.

"Beethoven." For the first time, Kaoru smiled at her. "There's more to you than I'd thought."

"I'm glad." Suddenly, the name of the piece he was playing came to her mind. "Piano Concerto number twenty-seven, right? I'm not as familiar with Mozart's concertos—I tend to like the symphonies better."

"I can't play you a symphony, only my version of one." Kaoru's mouth quirked up at the corner.

Kohana chuckled. "And I didn't mean you should. How long ago did you arrange that?"

Kaoru said evenly, "When I was seven years old."

Her eyes widened in shock. "You're kidding." Seven years old, and adapting symphonies to piano?

Kaoru shrugged and continued playing. After a few moments, he said, "You didn't come here to talk about Mozart."

"I didn't know you liked him."

He shook his head, and took his fingers from the keys. "You remind everyone so strongly of the Seitokaicho, and he doesn't seem to care about music at all."

"Dvorak." Kaoru looked inquiringly at her. "He listens to Dvorak. He likes the romantics." They'd had several amiable disagreements about what music to listen to during her stay. Kohana had let him win about half the time. "But there was something that was bothering me, and you seemed the most approachable about it."

Kaoru raised his eyebrows skeptically. Perhaps he wasn't a total innocent. Good. It made him more interesting. "Really."

Kohana wrapped her arms around herself. "The girl. Her. No one remembers her name. I don't understand why no one will talk about her very much—it seems like she did something special, and everyone who's spoken about her seems grateful to her, but they also seem... sad, as if she died."

"The Seitokaicho remembers her the best." Kaoru shuffled his scores, apparently looking for one, but Kohana could tell she'd rattled him a little.

"You know how he is." An obsessive manipulator under a prince's exterior, and no one ever saw the inside of the manipulative shell—except Kohana, only twice.

"And you're the same, aren't you?" There was now open distrust in Kaoru's gaze.

"Sometimes." Admitting that could only help her. Everyone took an admission of being manipulative as proof that they weren't going to be manipulated. "But I'm only asking a question."

Kaoru sighed heavily, and began to play once more. This time it was his composition, The Sunlit Garden, and the movements of his hands and the set of his lips told her that he was thinking sad thoughts. "What do you want to know?"

Success. Kohana restrained her eagerness, keeping the sad tone of the conversation intact. "What was she like?" she asked softly.

The song continued for a few moments, and then Kaoru finally said, "Generous. I remember that. I used to help them study..."

So Kaoru had been closer to her than Touga had—she hadn't liked him much. The nobility would account for that; someone who was truly noble would see how hollow their games really were at the center.

But we can't let go. We've already been torn apart, and this is the way we healed.

And generous... she seemed like a perfect example of what Touga portrayed. It would make sense for him to fall in love with someone who was what he wanted to be.

Kaoru was still talking. "We studied together, I think. I wasn't there because of her—I was there because of someone else." A wistful smile grew on his face for a moment, and then vanished.

Someone else? "You liked her a lot, didn't you.”

"Himemiya Anthy. The Rijichou's sister." He shook his head, smiling. "I did. She was always so calm, and she seemed to have—music in her, music that no one else could hear. The other girl was like her protector."

Ohtori's sister... "Where is Himemiya now?" She was definitely what Touga pretended to be. Noble, generous, a protector, probably kind, and just to give the story a little more romance, she probably had some tragic past that she still wondered about.

Okay, so she was perfect. There's no need to be so cynical about it.

He sighed. "Does it matter?"

"If I could talk to her—"

"She's gone." He shut the lid over the keys abruptly. "If you don't mind, I'd like to practice alone."

She kept her tone soft and sympathetic, and even a little nervous. "Have I said something to offend you, Miki?" He would start to get cold feet about telling her now.

Kaoru paused for a moment, staring down at the sheet music on the ledge of the piano. When he glanced back up to her, his eyes were sad. "I'm sorry. You can't understand what it's like, to have these holes in your memory. Once, my mind was perfect—and now, I try and try, but I can't remember the face of someone I literally spent hours with."

"And your mind was always perfect before, wasn't it?" He nodded, and Kohana continued. "You're right. I can't understand, and I shouldn't have pushed myself on you. I'll let you practice in peace." All Kaoru really needed was a little sympathy. Kohana rose from her seat, pretending to intend to leave.

"Wait." Kaoru's voice sounded sheepish. "I'm sorry. It's just hard sometimes..."

Kohana hesitated. "Are you sure?" A decent length of time after he nodded, she sat back down. "Why don't we talk about something else, then? My curiosity isn't any reason for you to go through all of this. I'm sure you were much more comfortable when we were discussing composers." Giving him a reassuring smile, she decided that she'd learned enough about her for the day. She had a name—Himemiya Anthy. There would be yearbook pictures. All she had to do was go through the yearbooks, find out whenever Himemiya had left, and work backward from there.

Himemiya—that name sounded familiar somehow.

As Kaoru started to chat a little more easily with her, Kohana reflected that she'd soon have to start on Nanami—and the best place to start was with the girl herself. Restraining a shudder of unease, she chuckled at a small joke Kaoru had made and tried to convince herself that her reaction to Nanami was not the reason she had decided to put it off.

The library was crowded at this time of day, most classes having a study period of some sort, and Kohana was constantly looking up from her research to answer a greeting or two. It didn't make things any easier. At least she'd finally found a picture of Himemiya. Strange, though, that she didn't remember the girl, because they'd apparently been in the same math class.

At first glance, it was hard to believe that the girl on the page was related to the sinfully sexy Ohtori. Glasses, hair pulled up in a dowdy-looking roll... and that smile. It had given her the creeps, until she realized that it was almost the exact twin of the smile Kiryuu Nanami was always wearing. Then, it had really, really irritated her. Apparently, lobotomies were free in this school and Kohana just hadn't noticed.

But, just to prove that she could be charitable, she tried to imagine Himemiya in a different setting, without the glasses and the abysmal hairstyle. That purple hair did look like it would be soft—it would probably be long... and those big green eyes... well, all right. So the girl had potential. With her exotic coloring, she would have been noticeable anywhere. So why hadn't Kohana noticed her?

All right. Enough fooling around.

Flipping through the pages rapidly, Kohana scanned the pictures, trying to find one with Himemiya in it. She was almost to the back of the book before she found one—but Himemiya was alone. Sneering at the uncooperative book, she tried again, looking harder.

Ah! There was one she'd missed. And no wonder—it was nearly hidden in a corner. Himemiya was with two other girls, one of them a brown-haired girl Kohana had seen around the school—quite popular, but not in Kohana's court—and the other...

Pink hair. Rose petal pink. She had the blue eyes Kiryuu had spoken of, and something in her smile suggested a generous nature. The way she had her arm around Himemiya was protective.

This is her. This has to be her.

And that uniform! It wasn't a girl's uniform, and now that Kohana thought about it, she could vaguely remember one of the girls being in trouble a lot because she wore a boy's uniform—but hadn't that girl moved away?


This was her. And no one remembered her. No one was supposed to remember her—she'd done something important that needed to be kept a secret. The magic or whatever it was hadn't liked it. And it wasn't just the Seitokai whose memories had been wiped away—it was everyone, Kohana included.

Naturally, there was no caption at the bottom of the picture. That would have made things too easy.

Now she had something to work on, however, a painting to paint while she tried to figure out the rest of the mystery. Quickly sketching the girl's face and uniform, she tried a few different poses in her mind and settled for one that seemed to reflect her personality. Hands on hips, feet planted in an almost defiant stance, and head held high, this girl would be the picture of bright nobility.

For a moment, Kohana found herself wishing she could speak to her. She brushed it off as quickly as she realized what she was thinking.

So... this girl had shared a dorm with Himemiya. That would mean she'd been in the same homeroom. Flipping back to the page that she'd first seen Himemiya's picture on, she looked over the pictures of other students.


Oh, wait—she would probably have disappeared before the classes took their pictures. After all, there was most of a school year there. But she'd disappeared—died, Kohana supposed. Her name wouldn't be on the missing list either.

There should be a memorial page if she’s dead, but there isn’t. Did she really die?

Well, then, who was the other girl? Wa... something. Kohana scanned the pictures once again, and found her near the end. Shinohara Wakaba. With any luck, Touga wouldn't have thought to try his wiles on her; if Kohana was really lucky, he wouldn't even think of her at all. And this girl might have some more information, though she wasn't a part of the duels.

But… why had no one simply checked the yearbook before? Kohana stared down at the book in her hands. It had been easy to find the picture—someone else had to have found it before. She opened the book again, flipping to the page where the picture was.

The bell rang, signaling the end of school, and Kohana closed the yearbook and stuck it back on the shelf. It was silly to think the picture wouldn’t be there, pictures didn’t appear and disappear. As she walked down the halls to the entrance, the normal crowd of worshipers began to gather, all eagerly trying to show off their wit, intelligence, style, or other quality that might impress her. Living such a glamorous life certainly had its advantages, but those advantages were sometimes not all that conducive to thought.

She gave it up for the day. It was easier just to let it sit for now.

“Oh, that is lovely. Turn, let me see it.” Pause, while her follower turned. “I do like it. I’m not really one for hairthings, but if I were, I would definitely buy something like that. Yellow is your color.”

“You’re so sweet to think of me. I’ll read it later.” A pause while her admirer stammered something. “Of course not. Just between you and me. I’m sorry, though—I’m not looking for a boyfriend.” Sympathetic smile. “I promise, if I ever change my mind, I’ll think of you.”

“He is sweet—I think the ones that write love letters always are.” A pause. “No, I’m not going to read it to you! I told him I wouldn’t—be nice!” Laughing. “Yes, I really will. It’s a shame, though. I sometimes wish I actually wanted to go out with someone, because they always look so disappointed when I say no. I can’t really help it if I don’t want to go out with anyone, and I’d rather not hurt someone’s feelings by saying yes and then dumping them when I found out that I didn’t love them.” A pause. “No, not waiting for it exactly, but I don’t feel that way about anyone. It’s kind of weird, isn’t it? You guys have all gone out with someone, but I haven’t even been on a date.”

“No, Kiryuu-sempai doesn’t count. We talked business. Besides, he has a whole crowd of girls around him all the time—I wouldn’t put up with anything like that!” Laughing. “I know, I’m such a selfish person. But if I couldn’t spend a few moments alone with my boyfriend, I would definitely dump him!”

“I guess, but that’s only to be expected. We sort of have to spend time together—we work together.”

“I said no! How do you think up things like that?” Shaking her head with exasperation. “No, it’s fine—just don’t bother me about it, all right? I’m not even his friend, really, I’m just someone he has to work with.”

The sweet scent of the rose garden reached Kohana before the sight of it did. Rich, full, roses in bloom spreading their voluptuous scent everywhere—it was a delight. As she rounded a corner, the birdcage wrought iron coming into view, she saw Kiryuu Nanami within. Her conversation lagged for a moment—something niggled at the back of her mind...

Suddenly, a realization slammed into her mind. Covering up her halt with a little shake of the head and resuming her conversations, she examined this idea carefully. Himemiya—the Rose Bride?

The Rose Bride lives with her fiancée. I'm to make sure of that when I become Seitokaicho.

That meant that not only had the girl been in the duels, she'd been the Champion for a long time. Kaoru had spoken of going to their dorm like it was a regular habit.

She did something special, something important. Only the duelists knew what it was—and they don't remember.

That meant that her disappearance had been a direct result of the duels—not just that she'd done something the magic hadn't agreed with. She'd harmed the magic somehow.

It reacts with a will of its own; it wiped her from everyone's mind, when it only had to erase the duelists' memories to be safe. It wanted to eradicate her. Revenge.

That meant that there was a mind controlling the magic, someone that had a particular interest in these duels.

I'm in big trouble if anyone finds out I know this.

Who was Ends of the World? Who would hide themselves in the shadows if there was no reason for them to hide? Touga had said that the decrees of Ends of the World were to be obeyed when he had offered her the ring, and she’d thought it was just a bit of nonsense, but it was seeming more and more like that was a very important restriction.

Did Ends of the World control the magic?

Take that further… and it makes sense. Ends of the World controls the magic, she hurt it somehow, and even her memory was eradicated. Take it just a little bit further…

Ends of the World was forcing the Seitokai to keep choosing replacements, even though they didn't want to. Kohana was sure of that. Was that what she had done? If she’d died, had her death warned them about the danger of the game?

...No. Even if someone died, that didn't stop Kohana from wanting to win the game. Then what was it? What had she done?

...No one remembered. Just that it was important.

Who was Ends of the World? Exactly how dangerous were they?

Maybe no one knew that, either.

A hand came down on her shoulder, startling her badly. Kohana jumped back, colliding with someone else, and glanced up. Some of her followers glanced knowingly at each other, and others glared at them.

"What's the matter, Kohana?" Touga looked too self-satisfied for words. If he knew all of this, how could he look so calm all the time?

But he didn't look calm all the time. He knew. If he found out that she knew, what would he do? "You're always sneaking up on me. Don't do that," she said irritably, trying to cover up her momentary startlement by concentrating on something else. It seemed as if her group was evenly divided as to whether they were business acquaintances or more than that.

"All you have to do is ask." Holding out his arm for her to take, he escorted her toward the parking lot. Her group followed eagerly, his own admirers melding easily into it and swelling it so that it seemed almost like a parade. Kohana spoke lightly and easily about business matters, pretending to be unaffected by the jealous and meaningful glances and by the feel of Touga’s warm skin under the material of his shirt. At the edge of the parking lot, he suddenly grinned and said, "I have a surprise for you."

"Oh, and what's that?" They wove through the parked cars toward the far end; Kohana quickly pulled her jacket on. It was awfully cold out right now.

There was a large crowd of students at the far end of the parking lot, all of them in various stages of awe. Whispers rippled through the crowd as they approached. "I thought, since winter was coming on, and I'd have to put my motorcycle away soon..."

The crowd parted to reveal one of the sexiest cars she'd ever seen. Long, low, sleek, with rounded curves and a predatory air, the car was a match to Ohtori's in sheer style. This, however, was a hardtop. Saionji leaned against the side, his disdainful manner fully intact and functional. No one came too close, not even the girls that usually flocked around him.

"Gorgeous..." Kohana breathed. She had to set aside her worries for the moment—there was a new toy to play with, and if she didn't exhibit the right reaction, Touga would become suspicious. Walking up to the car, she noted that she could see her reflection in the starry black paint job.

"The car, or your reflection?" Touga teased. "Personally, I'm not sure which I prefer." Both his and her admirers murmured meaningfully, but no one dared to contradict what Kohana had said out loud. When she glanced at Touga, she saw him watching her carefully.

We think so alike—he can tell that I'm upset about something.

She slammed a lid on her thoughts, kicking them to the back of her mind. Hopefully Kiryuu would just think things had been going badly with the other members of the Seitokai.

"Are we going to stand here all day, or are we leaving?" Impatient and brusque as ever, Saionji stood up, glaring all around.

"The car, Touga. I was talking about the car," Kohana said dryly, dispelling some of the murmurs, and then shivered. It was getting colder by the second, and the wind was rattling dry leaves past them.

He noticed instantly, and opened the door for her. "I apologize. I shouldn't keep you out in the cold like this. You can take a better look at it later, when we're out of the wind." He handed her in, stroking the back of her hand gently. "You'll have to move over. Saionji's coming for a ride."

Saionji got in the car immediately, and she was glad of it when she felt his warmth. "You're like ice," he said, scowling. Kohana wasn't entirely sure whether he was scowling because she was cold or because he didn't want her touching him in public. He dispelled her doubt when he took her hands in his, holding them lightly and letting the warmth seep into them. Kohana sighed happily.

Touga gracefully sat in the driver's seat, waving to his followers as he started the car. Everyone scattered out of the way as the throbbing, vicious rumble filled the air, and Touga slowly pulled out of the parking lot. Kohana was glad of the nearness of their bodies; it gave her extra warmth, and the fact that Touga's hand was resting lightly on her thigh when it wasn't on the stick shift started a distant quiver of lust.

Once her hands were somewhat warmed, she pushed the button on the cd player. The energetic, soothing sounds of Mozart's twenty-fifth symphony filled the car. Touga glanced at her; the complacently seductive look that could be so annoying now made her smile. "You're sweet," she said, leaning her head on his shoulder.

"I knew you would like it." He smiled at her, and then turned his eyes back to the road.

"Won't your parents complain about its taking up garage space?" Saionji asked uninterestedly, wrapping an arm around Kohana's shoulders. He didn't seem very impressed by the car, but then, he was like that. Probably he was the tiniest bit jealous, but it wouldn't interfere with his friendship with Touga. He was like Sakura that way, except argumentative and disdainful rather than teasing and caring.

"I was going to ask if I could keep it at Kohana's while they're home. With the amount our parents are away, it's not likely they'll all be home at the same time." He glanced at her again. "Would that be all right?"

"Fine," she said. "What are you going to tell them when they see it?"

He laughed shortly. "They forgot my birthday again this year. They only remember when Nanami bothers them into it. I'll just tell them it's their birthday present to me, and they'll leave me alone."

Kohana shrugged. "I guess. Mine don't care when they forget either. My dad just gives me extra money, and my mother says 'oh' and goes out to find whatever guy she's screwing that night."

Saionji looked distantly angry, but he said nothing. Likely he was used to hearing things like this.

"Which reminds me, your birthday is coming up next month, isn't it?" That silky purr again. He had something planned.

"In a few weeks." Birthdays were something Kohana had learned to do without long ago. "What does it matter?"

"I was thinking of having a party for you. Care to attend?"

"I'll think about it," Kohana teased, laying her head back on Saionji’s arm and watching Touga through slitted eyes, silently accusing him of outrageous flattery.

Saionji shifted irritably and said, "Childish." As she’d expected, he didn’t like it when she said one thing and meant another—he was generally a straightforward person.

"Me or her?"

"Me or him?"

Kohana and Touga glanced at each other and burst out laughing. Saionji growled, "Both of you. It's pathetic."

"Is it?" Kohana chuckled. "I don't know."

Further thought on the question of who Ends of the World was had been useless. All trails ended there, and anyone who might have known had probably had the memory erased. It was trying to protect itself, no doubt about that; the way no one remembered her was eerie, especially since Kohana herself had been affected. The only thing that comforted her at all about this whole thing was that she realized what it was that had triggered the revelation. The sight of Nanami tending the roses had released a memory: Himemiya, the exact same smile on her face, holding the watering can in exactly the same way.

Kohana had noticed her. Had thought she could have potential if she'd ever take off those glasses and let her hair down. After all, her coloring was exquisite—so exotic.

Whenever Touga was around, she repressed these thoughts most carefully.

Things went back to as near normal as they ever got. Kohana resumed her pranks, using them as an outlet for her nervousness, and they became more and more vicious as her tension increased. One of the teachers had left the school crying after she'd found her desk drawer full of white mice. It hadn't been hard to find out that that was what she was the most afraid of—Yamato shuddered whenever she saw even a picture of a mouse. She wasn't even Kohana's teacher, so no suspicion was placed on her.

Kendo was coming along well—Saionji had said that she was making remarkable progress. Of course, he'd only admitted this after she'd ravished him in a way that left him breathless. That adoring look he gave her when they had sex was absolutely perfect. It made up for all the condescension beforehand. Her relationship with Kaoru was less strained—they often whiled away an hour in the music room, Kaoru happy to find a person on the Seitokai who he could talk about music, duels, and other things with, and Kohana concentrating on gaining his trust and finding weak points that could be exploited. The small affection she had for him didn't matter; all that mattered was that she had a weapon against him if she needed to use it.

As for Touga, their game hadn't died down at all. The school was rife with rumors about the two of them, from one that said they were planning to elope to the ones that stated that either Touga was using Kohana or Kohana was using Touga, and of course, none of them touched on the truth. Some of the barrage was cruel—most girls would have died after the rumor that Touga had been rejecting her advances from the very beginning because she was unhealthily obsessive about him. Kohana just laughed. They still met for sex as often as possible.

There were two things that were never touched on in the rumors; out of respect, Touga hadn't broken her silence about her illness, and Kohana hadn't spread it around that the only girl he'd ever loved had rejected him. Some things were sacred, after all, and it wasn't as if they were trying to utterly crush each other. They were just playing.

Of course, that respect didn't stop a rumor from spreading that Touga had tried to sleep with his sister. Only some things were sacred.

On the surface, no one would ever have known anything more than that he was possibly her boyfriend, but more likely they were just friends. They were careful not to show much more than that; neither the game nor the sex ever came out into the public eye. But Kohana did, occasionally, spend the night at his house.

Inevitably, she met his parents. They were distant, much like her own, and they generally seemed not to care what their son did as long as he didn't bother them too much. They also looked nothing like him. Not 'resembled him only faintly', they looked nothing like him. Neither of them had red hair, neither of them had blue eyes, neither of them were quite as tall as he was, and neither of them had a blood type that was compatible with his. She hadn't really meant to go searching through their wallets... she'd just been bored. Whoops.

So he was adopted. That explained a lot about his parents' treatment of him. He and Nanami had been the passing fancy of a couple rich enough to think perhaps that adopting a child would gain them more respect; after all, starving children in the world, poor motherless things, a benefit to society, all that bullshit, and then when they realized that raising children was actually work, they’d stopped being parents and started being landlords. She respected them about as much as she respected her own parents, and didn't bother to hide her disrespect when his mother cornered her as she went downstairs to get some warm milk after a shower.

"Are you a friend of my son's?" Mrs. Kiryuu looked at the towel wrapped around Kohana's head disdainfully. It was strange, how people with money seemed to radiate authority even when their own lives were more screwed up than anyone else's. Kohana could easily picture the way this dignified woman would chat lightly at a social gathering with her 'friends' or the way she would order around a secretary in whatever high-powered job she had. She didn't like it.

Give her a lower neckline and she'd be my mother's twin.

Kohana laughed softly. "Sort of," she said, turning to walk into the kitchen.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

I hate you. Honestly and truly, from the bottom of my heart, I hate you more than anyone else on the planet.

Glancing over her shoulder, Kohana said, "It means you might have had the answer to that already by the fact that I've just had a shower, am wearing pajamas, and that for the last few weeks I've practically been living here." Much as she wanted to scream at the woman, she kept her tone light and humorous. It wouldn't do any good at all to get angry; this type never gave a thought to the people they hurt. At least Kohana had that over them; she considered most carefully who she hurt before she did it.

Mrs. Kiryuu followed her into the kitchen. "I think you should apologize to me. You have no right to criticize me in my own home." The woman fingered the strand of pearls at her throat like she wanted to tear it off.

I hate you.

"That's interesting," Kohana said, and walked to the fridge. During the silence that followed she poured herself a glass of milk, stuck it in the microwave, and turned the thing on before turning around to look at Mrs. Kiryuu.

"Well?" the woman demanded.

Leaning back on the counter, Kohana smiled a little. "What?"

Scowling in a way that almost marred the perfect makeup job that she had on, Mrs. Kiryuu said, "Your parents should have taught you better manners than that. Apologize now, please, and then you may leave this house."

I hate you.

"I'm sorry, I'm afraid my parents weren't around very much to teach me better manners. You know. Business. Travel. Social engagements. Perhaps you know them? Hoshigawa Ken and Hoshigawa Takara. They live three blocks away." Oh, but this was fun. Touga's mother certainly didn't like having her shortcomings rubbed in her face—and Kohana was deriving great enjoyment from sweetly doing so. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of red hair. Touga.

While Mrs. Kiryuu stared, taken aback, the microwave dinged and Kohana took out her milk, turning her back to Mrs. Kiryuu and ignoring her completely. After a few moments, she heard, "I should give them a call. My children would never be so disrespectful to their elders, not to mention the parents of their friends."

"Go ahead. It's not like it will make a difference." Kohana smiled and blew on her milk to make sure it was cool enough to drink, and then sipped it carefully.

"Mother, don't bother." A warm hand took her by the shoulder and Kohana relaxed into it. She sincerely doubted that Mrs. Kiryuu had heard the tiny ripple of anger underneath Touga’s exasperated humor. "Kohana, will you apologize to my mother? I hope that we can forget about this."

Kohana instantly turned around, giving her best imitation of Nanami and Himemiya's smile. "I apologize, Mrs. Kiryuu."

I still hate you.

Touga's fingernails dug into her shoulder the slightest bit, but he said nothing. Finally, Mrs. Kiryuu turned and walked from the room, her shoulders still squared as if she expected to be able to tear someone to shreds rather quickly.

"That was the most insincere apology I've ever heard." Touga looked down at her, his features set in lines of amused disapproval. It was an act—Kohana could still feel his fingers, a little too tight, on her shoulder.

"Why should I waste my effort on her, especially when I only apologized so you wouldn't have to ask me to leave?" Kohana grinned at him, and then gave him a quick kiss.

"You're going soft, Kohana. I think you need to sleep." He smiled and wrapped an arm around her, pulling her close for a moment, and then made his way upstairs. Kohana followed, pulling the towel from her head and draping it over her shoulder. As she shook her hair out, she saw Touga's father walking up the stairs as well.

Touga slowed when he saw his father, taking Kohana by the hand. Kohana had met Kiryuu-san already; the man looked at her like he could burn through her clothes with his gaze, much like her mother had looked at Touga. It was truly annoying. She laced her fingers through Touga's, coming up beside him and sneaking a peek at his expression.

Something wasn't quite right about it. He'd been irritated when his father had so blatantly looked Kohana over before, but he'd never looked overly protective. To tell the truth, he didn't look overly protective now—just a hint of it, in the way his fingers tightened on hers and his mouth drew down at the corners. Interesting.

Thankfully, they passed by Kiryuu-san without incident other than a soft, "Nice to see you again, Kohana." which she answered with a cool smile. It was one of the unspoken rules of their continued association that neither of them encouraged the other's parents to think they might be interested. Neither of them wanted to deal with the mental pictures. Although Kiryuu-san wasn't bad at all for an older man, with those wide shoulders and even teeth and that thick shock of dark hair...

Bad Kohana. No sleeping with Touga's father.

As they walked into the sitting room, Touga locked the door behind them, something he'd never done before. And then he also locked the bedroom door. "Are you afraid he might come in after us?" Kohana set her milk on the nightstand and sat down on the bed.

"No. He doesn't come anywhere near my rooms. It's my mother I'm worried about." Touga glanced at the painting she'd done, still covered in its drop sheet, and then asked, "Did you have fun?" He seemed almost—not sad, not amused, not angry, but a little of all of them. It was strange to see that kind of openness on his face; he was usually so guarded, and so was Kohana.

"Don't tell me you're actually angry about it. It's not like they care about us at all; why should we care about them?" She leaned back, bracing herself with one arm. Telling off Touga's mother had been fun, but she was too suspicious of that openness to admit anything she could possibly avoid.

A cascade of red locks hid his expression from her as he let his head fall. For a long time he just stared, presumably at the floor, and then he brushed his hair back from his face. A hesitant smile quite unlike any she'd seen before slowly turned up the corners of his mouth. "Kyouichi's wanted to tell them off for years." That soft, wondering tone in his voice told her plainly that he was surprised at what she’d done. And grateful.

Something about Touga's vulnerability at that moment made it impossible for Kohana to even think about using this in their game. Her heart jumped painfully. She looked away and said, "If you ever want to do the same, go ahead. Mine stopped hearing me a long time ago." If she reached for her glass now, her hand would be shaking. Tears she thought she'd finished with long ago were making themselves known again.

They were supposed to love us.

The moment stretched out, a forlorn and awkward thread of connection between them that refused to shrivel up and die the way Kohana wanted it to. It wasn't supposed to be this way. They weren't supposed to ever really connect, and the things that they really felt were supposed to stay beneath the surface where they were safe. Kohana knew that they were thinking the same thing.

Maybe it wouldn't hurt so much if I could only bring myself to hurt them back.

Touga finally looked up, mask back in place, and said, "It's late. We have school tomorrow."

Drinking her milk in a few long swallows, Kohana rose and walked into the bathroom. At his questioning glance, she wrinkled her nose and said, "I have to brush my teeth again. Milk breath."

His laughter sounded a little forced, but he left her alone after that. Understanding so much about him was a blessing; she should be able to prepare herself emotionally for whatever was going to happen next. No one ever needed to see the weakness within. No one should protect them from the things they couldn't protect themselves from. But the worst was that Touga had been grateful for both of those things. She was going to pay dearly for it.

I'll accept that, for now. But I hate you for what you're going to do to me.