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 Five


Somehow everything seemed different at the school. The shadows cast by the setting sun seemed menacing, and small noises seemed much louder in the absence of the motorcycle's rumble. They made their way silently to the forest behind the school, Kohana easily picking up on Kiryuu's disinclination to talk.

When they arrived at the gates, through the long entrance hall, Kiryuu said, "Open them."

"I can't. I've tried."

"Try again." He glanced knowingly at her, and then looked straight ahead at the gates again.

Well, if he wanted to just stand there all night, sure. She walked up and wrapped her fingers around the smooth stone handle of the phoenix-topped door, pulling gently at first. It didn't move, so she pulled harder. Something grated, and the handle moved a bit. For a moment nothing happened.

I told him I couldn't

A drop of water came out of nowhere and splashed on her ring, splattering her fingers. She jerked back in surprise, shaking her fingers to be rid of the icy coldness. "What the—"

All of sudden, the roar of gallons and gallons of rushing water shattered the mystical silence of the place. Sluice gates opened, and Kohana and Kiryuu were cut off from the entranceway by torrential walls. How interesting. What the hell was going on? Keeping her face carefully neutral, Kohana watched the proceedings with uncertainty. Was this supposed to happen?

Mist rose from the water, obscuring the gate. There was a rumbling, grating sound and Kohana stepped back. If this place was going to come crashing down around them, she was getting out first. Kiryuu could get crushed by whatever big rocks sounded like they were avalanching down. But no, he was completely calm when she looked at him. It looked like he hardly knew she was there.

The mist and the water soon cleared, leaving the path open behind them, and when she looked back at the gate, it had transformed itself into a stone rose, hovering above the open arch. Beyond was a walkway through the misty forest, lined with pedestals around which roses twined. And at the end of the walkway—

Kiryuu brushed past her, ending her silent staring. Kohana’s self possession abruptly reasserted itself—she shook her hand irritably, as if the freezing water that had splashed her fingers was the only thing that had bothered her, and began to walk. She followed Kiryuu to the end of the walkway and up the spiral staircase. It seemed endless, each loop around the central column topped by another. The everlasting walk up the stairs soon began to take its toll on Kohana, but she determinedly trudged on, following Kiryuu’s back. He neither spoke nor looked back at her. Near what had to be the top, it began to curve wider, the column growing into a kind of impossible support for—something. Something big, whatever it was. Glancing at Kiryuu gave her no clue.

It seemed like eons before they reached the top. As Kohana came through the stone archway at the top of the stairs, she saw a large flat area that seemed almost like an arena, the rose crest on the ring she wore duplicated in red stone on the white floor. Over the arena hung an upside down castle, seemingly anchored in the sky, its fairy lights twinkling in every color of the rainbow and flags flying from its heights. Depths, from her point of view, but her point of view didn’t appear to make much of a difference at this point.

Suddenly the absolute unreality hit her all at once, and she began to chuckle softly.

Kiryuu didn't say anything. He just watched her until her laughter died down. "I don't blame you for not wanting to talk about this. I doubt anyone who hadn’t seen it would believe you." Throwing a charming grin at him, Kohana glanced back up at the castle for a moment. It hadn’t disappeared, though she privately decided that it would have been purely disturbing if it had.

He smiled and glanced around, as if he knew that someone should be there. "We must be early. I can answer a few of your questions, if you like."

Bowing mockingly, Kohana said, "Thank you ever so much. The castle's not real, is it?"

"I don't know. I've heard that it is, and I've heard that it isn't. I prefer to think of it as a mirage of some sort, but I suspect that it has some small reality." He looked up at it, and his face became sad. "I've heard that the castle holds miracles, eternity, life itself. Everything that glows. One day it will come down, for one person, and grant them the power to have all of these things."

Grant them the power to have—eternity, miracles, life?

Kohana’s mind reeled in shock, and she spoke before she could stop herself. "You can't be serious." The words fell frostily out of her mouth. "You're talking about magic. A great big castle in the sky I can understand. Projectors. Smoke and mirrors. But miracles? Magic? I don't think so."

"You'll see soon enough. I believe in it, whatever it is." He smiled and said the words she'd heard Saionji say. "For the revolution of the world."

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"It's what we work toward. One of us, one of the chosen few, will gain this power." He glanced at her, and then said, "Ah, my opponent has arrived. And the Rose Bride. Stand aside, Kohana."

Kohana glanced behind her and was surprised to see Kaoru walking up, escorting Kiryuu Nanami. The girl was wearing a yellow dress, like a ball dress. This got stranger and stranger by the moment. Walking briskly out of the way, Kohana considered the options. She could be insane. The strain of knowing she was dying by inches could have snapped her mind. But she didn't think so—she could think clearly enough, and she'd heard Saionji speak the same words earlier on, before the strange things had started.

That left two possibilities. This could be some sort of elaborate joke. It was tempting to believe that, but she doubted that even with Kiryuu's money he could afford to build an enormous castle upside down in the sky, not to mention the unfeasibility and the fact that someone would have noticed. And if someone noticed, she heard about it.

That left only the last possibility. That she was sane, fully in control of herself, and standing at the top of an endless stairway underneath a castle floating upside-down in the sky.

She didn't like that possibility much more than the others.

Kaoru and Kiryuu were facing off, and Nanami walked ceremonially between them, pinning roses to their chests. Kohana idly wondered why as Nanami walked between the two Seitokai members, her hands fluttering up to the level of her breasts. "O rose of the noble castle," she intoned. The sky seemed to grow dark, and Kohana gradually had to look away from the girl because of the bright light that was emanating from her chest. The wind picked up, whipping everything, pulling it towards Nanami. "Power of Dios that sleeps within me, heed your master and come forth!"

Kiryuu caught his sister, letting her drape gracefully over his arm. Through the lattice of her fingers, Kohana saw something in the light. It looked like—it couldn't be!

The light disappeared and it was, naturally, a sword hilt. Kiryuu drew the sword out of his sister's chest, held it in the air and cried, "Grant me the power to revolutionize the world!"

From somewhere, bells tolled.

A feeling of numbness began to descend over Kohana as she watched Kaoru pull out his sword. Thankfully, it hadn't come from anyone's chest. He waited for Kiryuu to approach him, countering fiercely when he did, and attacked. The duel was equal enough, though they seemed to be fighting in different styles. Kaoru was good, she noted absently, but he didn't have the endurance or the strength to beat Kiryuu. Kiryuu would eventually wear him down.

Something prickled the hairs on the back of her neck, and an electric bolt of realization shot through her. This was all real. The castle, the sword, the light, even the goddamn stairs—real.

All of it’s real.

If I beat them... If I could win... I could live. I don't have to die.

If I take the power, I don't have to die!

Practicality had told her that it wasn't a duel to the death, and it ended with the blue rose on Kaoru's chest being cut off. A warning peal sounded with the tolling of the bells; Kiryuu himself had said to trust no one. The truth in that moment had been undeniable. Should she believe him when he talked about miracles, eternity, life itself?

There was something else here, something she felt she was missing. It had been in the way Arisugawa had smiled, so full of secret sadness. Whatever it was, it was the reason Saionji hadn't wanted her to join the council. And most of all, it was Kiryuu Nanami. There was something about her, the reason she'd changed, some mystery. Kohana suddenly felt sure that she'd known about the illness, and that was the reason why she'd spoken of death and offered her the black rose.

They all knew too much. Why hadn't she noticed Kiryuu shadowing her? Had he even been shadowing her at all? How had he connected the bits and pieces of puzzles about her so easily, unless he already knew there was some secret there?

She'd made it hard, if not impossible, for anyone to tell if there was something wrong with her. And if someone found out, she had the migraines to blame. But he hadn't accepted it. Anyone else would have.

What did the Student Council really want from her?

She didn't know. But it was so tempting to think that it might be true... She might live. If she could win this game, she might be able to live a normal life, not a pitifully short span of years, wasted and dried up by the time she was twenty. At the pace her life had been going, she was more experienced in many ways than most adults. In bed, definitely. She'd turned her play into an art by the time she was fourteen. Painting, playing tricks on the unsuspecting, gently swaying and twisting the opinions of others around her... everything she did with regularity had been perfected. But not to have to pack a whole lifetime into ten more years at most...

Kohana had thought she'd accepted the idea that she was going to die. It appeared that she hadn't.

In any case, there was no way to tell if Kiryuu had lied to her or not—unless he himself told her, that was, and she knew he wouldn't do that. So she had to win the game, however that was done. And when she did she would have her proof. Even if it turned out the castle was full of nothing but hollow lies, it would give her life some meaning besides sex and power, for a while.

And so when Kiryuu approached her after winning the duel, she smiled at him. "You fight well. I'm being groomed to take your place in this as well?"

He seemed a little thrown by the way she accepted everything so calmly, but he didn’t hesitate to answer her. "Yes."

"I've never even held a sword. But I'll learn."

He almost appeared to flinch at this. It could have been her imagination. "I'm sure you'll do well. We'll discuss that with Saionji or Juri tomorrow." Turning, he walked toward the stairs.

Kohana followed. There was something he didn't want to talk about, she was sure of it, but he wouldn't talk about it to her even if he had wanted to. Maybe if she could find out if he had any close friends—but he didn't, not if he was the person he seemed to be. To people like them, others were only tools to use when needed and ignore the rest of the time. Maybe one friend as close as Sakura was to her, but even that was unlikely. That was better than nothing, though, and if she could get them to open up to her...

Who would it be? Not Kaoru. He was too young and innocent. It had to be either Juri or Saionji, and from what she knew, Saionji would seem the best choice. He was on the council, a male, and about the right age. Tomorrow she would confirm it by asking Naoko—the girl was a fan of both she and Touga. She would know.

Organized thoughts and the beginnings of schemes filled her mind until they were in the parking lot. Kiryuu Nanami was nowhere to be seen. Briefly Kohana wondered where she was—didn't she live with Kiryuu? It had certainly seemed that way when the girl had interrupted their afterglow.

Dismissing it as unimportant, Kohana almost missed Kiryuu's question. "... like to stay at my place tonight?"

"If it won't put you out, I'd be glad to." For many reasons.

"Not at all." A car was pulling into the parking lot. Strange; no one should be here at this time. Kiryuu saw it and sped up his pace.

"What's wrong?" Kohana asked, catching up to him.

"Nothing," he said. "I'd rather not speak to the Rijichou right now, though."

The infamous dean of Ohtori Academy. Hardly anyone ever saw the man. It figured that Kiryuu had, though. He seemed to know everyone.

Ohtori certainly drove a nice car. A convertible. A red convertible, to be precise. It pulled up alongside them and into the spot beside Kiryuu's motorcycle. "Seems like we can't avoid it," Kohana murmured. In truth, she didn't really want to. Any man who had that kind of taste in cars had to be good for something... and the fact that the car screamed of pure sex gave her a pretty good idea of what.

The door opened, and a tall, long legged man got out. He had the most beautiful milk chocolate skin and tied back silvery hair, though he didn't look to be much more than twenty-seven or eight. That was awfully young to be the Rijichou, wasn't it? In any case, he understood exactly how to flatter himself. Those long legs were encased in tight black pants that made them look even longer, and the unorthodox contrast of the purple tie and the red shirt invited the gaze to crawl up his chest and to his elegantly featured face.

"Hello, Touga." Oh, he had a beautiful voice. Deep, more of a rumble than a purr. It reminded her of the feeling of raw silk.

"Rijichou." Kiryuu continued walking up to the motorcycle, and leaned on the seat. Kohana was sure it was by design that the only two places she could stand near Ohtori were blocked off by Kiryuu. She decided that she would stand at the end of the bike. It was further away, but it gave her the best view of Ohtori.

"I see you've chosen your assistant. Will you introduce us?" Beautiful manners. Along with that beautiful voice and that beautiful body, he was a stunning creature.

It seemed that a flicker of annoyance passed over Kiryuu's face. "Rijichou, this is Hoshigawa Kohana. I was just going to take her home."

What would it be like to have both of them at once? Kiryuu didn't seem to like the Rijichou much... but she could dream, couldn't she?

Ohtori stepped easily past Kiryuu, taking her hand in his. The contrast between their skin colors made her bite her lip. "Wonderful to meet you, Hoshigawa Kohana." He said her name like he was savoring it. Prickles of delight raced up her spine.

"The same, Rijichou." His sea green eyes pinned hers, and she saw the corner of his mouth quirk up in an inviting smile. No wonder hardly anyone ever saw him. He was probably kept in a cage somewhere to keep him from molesting the entire school populace. Lucky for her, someone had forgotten to lock it tonight.

"Please, call me Akio. After all, the Rijichou should have a good relationship with the Seitokaicho, don't you agree?" There were layers upon layers of innuendo in his tone, and the soft stroking of his fingers on the back of her hand was driving her insane. He knew it too, the sensuous bastard. If anyone could bring her to orgasm just by talking to her, this man might be able to do it. And wouldn't she love to see if he could.

"Of course, Akio-san," she purred. "But I'm not the Seitokaicho. Why don't you work on having a good relationship with both of us?" Oh, if only.

His eyes widened in appreciation of her counter-suggestion, and he laughed. The sound of it made Kohana's fingers momentarily close on his. "I'm sure Touga doesn't want to share any more of you than he has to. I wouldn't." His tone called up images of the two of them locked in a bedroom for days on end, sweat and twisted sheets and all the things they could do to each other while not sharing her with anyone else. "I think he might be jealous of your time."

Laughing quietly, Kohana leaned slightly toward him, catching a whiff of rose cologne. "Jealousy’s not a part of his nature, Akio-san. Besides, why should he be jealous? I’m not his girlfriend. I’m free to spend time where and with whom I choose."

Ohtori's eyes flicked up, over her shoulder, so Kohana wasn't much surprised when she felt Kiryuu's hands encircle her waist. He stepped up behind her, pulling her back ever so slightly to lean on him. It was almost more than she could take. Both of them needed to have their clothes ripped off, right now. "Speaking of time, Kohana, I think we should be leaving soon. I did make you a promise, remember?"

The Rijichou answered before she had the chance. "Of course, Touga. I shouldn't waste your time." A slow grin spread over his face, and his eyes moved back down to Kohana. "I'll be seeing more of you now that you're a member of the Seitokai. It's a pity we didn't meet sooner than this—I have the feeling I've been missing out on a lot." He brought her hand up to his mouth and pressed a deliberate kiss on the knuckles. Keeping his eyes on hers, he slowly lapped at the crevice between her fingers before pulling away. "You seem like a very sweet girl, Kohana."

Kohana could only lick her lips in reply. Kiryuu, however, said, "She is." His hand moved from her waist to her belly, stroking it gently through the silk of her uniform.

"Soon, then," Ohtori chuckled, and then walked over to his car. As it peeled away, Kohana let herself lean more heavily on Kiryuu.

"What did you think of him?" Kiryuu asked.

"I wonder why you don't like him," she said honestly. "He seems—not harmless, but like he only has one thing on his mind. We have that much in common, I suppose." The words made her think. Kiryuu seemed like he only had one thing on his mind most of the time. She knew there was a lot more to him than that. And Ohtori?

The first chance she got, she was going to sleep with him. Other than that, she didn't know.

Kiryuu chuckled, though it seemed a bit uneasy. "Let's go." She had a feeling she never would be able to get a straight answer out of him on the subject of Ohtori.

The Kiryuu mansion seemed almost deserted. There was only one light on, upstairs. Was it his parents, or was it Nanami? No matter. If his parents were anything like hers, she knew how to handle them.

As they walked inside, a ginger colored cat twined around her legs. Cats were wonderful creatures; they were self-reliant, they were soft and clean, and they were just as selfish as Kohana was. She got along well with them. Picking him up, she nuzzled his fur and set front paws on her shoulder so he would be comfortable in her arms. It appeared that he appreciated that comfort; he began a loud purr, pushing his face into her hair and his cold nose into the side of her neck. She gasped, and then giggled.

"I see you've met Tanrei." Kiryuu had glanced at her and seen the cat, and he turned to stroke him. It was evident by the look on his face that he enjoyed cats as well. "He seems to have taken to you rather well."

"His name suits him. Is he your cat?"

"Yes. A friend of mine gave him to me." His face didn't change, but Kohana got the impression of sadness. This friend must no longer be a friend, and if not for the sadness, she would have bet it wasn't a friend in the first place. So, Kiryuu did have a little more depth of feeling to him than she did. Wonders would never cease.

"I've always wanted a cat." That was the one hard and fast rule of her house: no pets. She could have anything else she wanted except a cat. She'd tried taking one home once, but her mother had thrown him out into the street. Afterward, she'd given him to Sakura, hoping that her friend could find a home for him.

He glanced at her face, his eyes inquiring. "You can't have one?"

"My mother's allergic. I think she wouldn't like them even if she wasn't." Kohana nuzzled Tanrei once again, enjoying the feel of his fur on her face. He reacted ecstatically, rubbing his cheek against her ear.

"I see." Kiryuu scratched Tanrei under the chin, his fingers grazing her ear. "Do you want anything from the kitchen? The cook probably has something put away for me."

"I'm fine. A glass of water, maybe."

It seemed like normality had reasserted itself completely, aside from the fact that she was actually staying over at Kiryuu's house. That, however, seemed almost dreadfully normal after the night she'd had. She followed him into the kitchen, Tanrei's purr and whiskers tickling her ear. After Kiryuu had finished in the kitchen, she followed him upstairs to his room. The light on his answering machine was blinking; he pressed the button, and sat down beside Kohana to pet the cat while declarations of love and adoration poured from the speaker.

"The hordes sound like they're getting restless without you. Have you been away from them for too long?" she teased.

Smiling, he stroked Tanrei a little too far, letting his hand run off the cat and onto her arm. "Not yet. When they start to cry, I'll consider coming back."

"Cruel. How can you do that to people who love you?" Kohana dislodged the cat from her shoulder, setting him on her lap. He settled in and began to knead her leg.

Unsurprisingly, he changed the subject slightly. "Have you ever been in love?"

"No." It would never happen. Not even if her life depended on it. "I've never had anything worse than an acute case of lust."

"Like tonight. When you were talking to Ohtori." A tiny smile curved his lips. "Your whole body was tense, and your eyes seemed to lighten."

"I'm going to sleep with him." Was she ever. It was only fair, after all, that Ohtori kept the oblique promise he'd made.

Kiryuu didn't seem surprised at all. "I know. He has that effect on almost everyone." At her speculative glance, he smiled seductively. "He's as good as you are."

"I'd hate to be disappointed. Ever care to try him again?" Maybe Kiryuu would agree to join she and Ohtori.

"With you, you mean." Weighing the idea, he finally said, "No. Some things aren't worth the trouble."

Now, that was out of character. Suspiciously, she asked, "How do you mean?" Kiryuu turning down a night with not one but two fantastic lovers? The world had been turned inside out. Trying to think of a situation where she'd do the same stumped her.

"It wouldn't mean anything to you. It's personal." He was petting Tanrei again, and that inexplicable sense of sadness was back. It was strange to see—Kohana never allowed herself to feel sad, and from what she knew of Kiryuu, he seemed not to allow it either.

What is going on here? It takes a lot for someone like him to even feel sad, let alone show it.

"Were you... Did you love him?" It was impossible, wasn't it? People like them always had a reason not to fall in love.

He looked at her as if she'd suddenly dropped down out of nowhere, and then burst out laughing. "No. No, I don't think I could ever allow something like that."

She wanted to ask why not, but decided against it. This was only leading her in circles. "Well, I suppose for tonight I'll have to try my best to make you forget I ever asked about it." Leaning close to him, she ran her finger down the front of his uniform, stopping just above the waistband of his pants.

He caught her hand easily, sliding closer to her. "And tomorrow night?"

"Who knows?"

As she lay quiet, letting the afterglow fade, she felt Kiryuu shift restlessly. Her cigarettes were in her jacket, on the floor in the sitting room. It was too much effort to get them. There was definitely more to Kiryuu than met the eye—at first glance, he was a perfect gentleman. Second glance showed that he had an appetite for sex as voracious as hers, and a matching appetite for power and manipulation. But that sadness bothered her—it shouldn’t have been there. It felt wrong. What in the world did it mean? Was it a result of different experiences? She had to pinpoint exactly where his personality differed from what she expected it to be or else she'd make mistakes in using him. It would take time, but she knew how to distract him for long enough. Letting her voice go soft and almost vulnerable, she said, "Touga..."

"Yes?" he asked. His guard was up. But he had a weakness for women in general, and if he was anything like she was, he was comfortable around her specifically. Now was the time to exploit that, and if she did it right, he would never know.

She rolled over, lying with her back to him. The silk sheets whispered around her. "Have you ever wondered what it's like to be in love?"

He laughed softly, after a long pause. "Strange question for you to ask."

"I can be curious, can't I? It's just one of the things I'll only ever be curious about." This was going to take some delicacy, and something real would have to be shown. No lie ever had the same feel as the truth.

"And why is that?" He sounded mildly curious. Good. Now came the bait.

With it came real, actual emotion. The logical side of her mind was suppressed; real feeling came spilling into her voice, tightly reined in. "You know why."

"No. Tell me." Now he was trying to play with her, trying to get her to say the words out loud.

A tear rolled down her face. Another followed it. She waited just long enough, and then said, "Forget it. Never mind." Her voice wasn't tear fogged. Just misted.

She felt the bed shift and the sheets rustled as he sat up. That had certainly gotten his attention. "What's the matter?" he asked softly. Now he would be hoping she would confide in him, giving him a better handle on her mind and her objectives.

"Nothing." She curled herself into a ball.

"Kohana, don't. It'll help to talk about it." He stroked her cheek gently, wiping away one of her tears, but, of course, making no mention of it. "I'm listening, if you want to talk."

She forced a laugh after a long pause. It came out exactly the way she wanted it; slightly bitter and full of pathetic bravery. "We act so tough all the time, don't we? Nothing ever bothers us. Never let anyone see us hurt, because they'll use it against us. But we aren't like that inside, deep down, where no one knows about it." She sighed, hugging the sheets to her. "I've just had a weird day."

He didn't respond for a long time, so long that she thought he might not after all. Had she misjudged it?

The bed shifted again, and then his arms were around her. They lay quiet for a while, Kohana wondering what more she could do to convince him to take the ‘opportunity’ she’d offered him, but just as she was about to say something more he began to speak. "I didn't know I was in love for a long time. I thought it was just the challenge of a girl who was different, who didn't fall for me instantly.

"And when I knew it, it was horrible. She didn't trust or like me. I tried harder. If she'd believed me, I know it could have been wonderful. The best feeling in the world. I started to think that maybe, if I could just let go for a while, really try to be what she wanted in a lover, that things might turn out all right for us.

"But something happened. There never was any 'us'. She disappeared." His laugh sounded bitter, as hers had. "It's the strangest thing. I can't remember her name at all, no matter how hard I try."

That was more than she'd hoped for. It even seemed like he might tell her more if she said the right things, acted the right way. "She must have been a very special person," Kohana whispered, carefully concealing the triumph she felt. This little feint had offered up a bonus.

"I don't remember much about her. What I do remember was her nobility. In that, she was truly unique." She could almost feel him wavering, hesitating. He almost trusted her... "Tell me why, Kohana. Why now? Why ask me?"

This one was tricky. She could only hope she didn't screw it up. "Do you know, I’ve never even had a crush on someone? I’ve never even had that small taste of it, and… you understand why I’m asking. You said you chose me because I was like you, and I’m starting to believe it, so… maybe, if you knew what it was like, it might be close to what I would feel."

Silence ruled the dark room for a few moments. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. "Just because you're sick doesn't mean you won't find love."

"If you were dying, would you let yourself care about anyone?" Her voice managed to put forth the idea that while she implied she wouldn't, she desperately wanted to. "You had her, and you have the rest of your life to love whoever you want. There's a reason I have nothing, not even a goldfish."

He pulled her closer to him, giving her a comforting squeeze. What she'd said edged on her real feelings enough that she was actually upset. "It doesn't have to be that way," he murmured.

"Yes, it does." A surge of mixed emotions filled her. On one hand, she was still upset. All of the emotions she'd shown him were real, to a certain degree, and she didn't often let them out to play. On the other hand... she had him. He'd spend part of his time and effort trying to make her fall in love with him now. The thought was gratifying. She'd won this round. "There's no other way," she said softly, her tone hinting at sadness.

When he kissed the back of her neck, she shivered. Kiryuu's mistake had been underestimating the very abilities he had chosen her for. It was understandable, really; in his place, she would have done the same. After all, no one was as good as she was.