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 Fourteen


It wasn't long before Kohana and Ichida were sitting in a coffee shop near the school. It was one of the trendier places—sleek modern furniture, couches, bits of strange art and quotes hanging on the walls. In other words, not the kind of place Kohana usually frequented, but Sakura liked places like this. She wanted to keep Sakura first and foremost in Ichida's mind.

"So, this is private?" Ichida was glancing warily at the nearer patrons, trying to figure out between glances what it was that he wanted from the menu.

"Private enough. No one will listen to what we're saying, and if they did, they'd think it was some sort of game we were playing. Adults are usually so dense about things like that." Kohana smiled. A waitress came over, smiling insincerely, and Kohana said, "Black coffee, one sugar."

"Cappuccino," Ichida said, and then waited until the waitress had gone. Once she was a safe distance away, he said, "I'm still not sure of what all of this means. Kiryuu said something about the Rose Bride, and he was talking about his sister—and that castle..."

"One question at a time, Ichida. Let's start with the castle." Kohana chuckled softly. "That's the key. The Castle of Eternity. One day, that castle will come down, and then everything is within the reach of the Champion of the duels."

"So it's real? It wasn't just some joke?" His eyes widened, and he absently brushed his hair out of them.

Such a pretty boy, those beautiful warm eyes and that deep purple hair…

Without the barrier of Sakura, Kohana could now truly allow herself to appreciate how innocently handsome Ichida's face was. He looked like a younger version of the angel she'd painted. "To tell the truth, I'm not sure. It's a point of contention amongst the Seitokai. Some say it is real, and that it will literally fall. Some say that it's not real, that it's just a trick of the light, but everyone agrees that when it comes down, the Champion gains the power to revolutionize the world." Ichida was so earnestly trying to understand it all. It was important to keep him believing that she would have the answers. In truth, she would make them up if she had to.

"I heard Kiryuu say that. What does it mean?"

There was something about Ichida that radiated his good intentions the way Touga radiated sex, and though she didn’t especially want that for herself, she could appreciate it. It was as if his inner strength was in his hazel eyes for anyone to see. Too bad he had a weakness she knew how to exploit. "Miracles. Power. Everything you want, right in the palm of your hand." Kohana let that sit for a moment, and then said, "The way to be a true prince, rather than the shadow Touga is."

The determination in Ichida's face increased. Obviously he didn't like Touga very much, and the unflattering comparison she'd made only increased his desire to win the duels. "And the Rose Bride?"

"The power of miracles belongs to the one who holds the Rose Bride when the castle comes down. She'll obey you in all things. I've never been the Champion, so I'll let her explain her part. She knows it better than I do." And soon, Nanami would be within her grasp. Then, perhaps the mystery would unfold a little more.

"You've never been the Champion?" A tiny frown marred Ichida's lovely face. "I wasn't sure what your part was in all this—you seemed like you were apart from the duels, kind of a teacher."

Chuckling, Kohana said, "Oh, no. I only found out about all of this when I joined the Seitokai. I haven't dueled yet because I don't have the skill." A silence drew out between them as Ichida pondered that. Letting her face grow serious, Kohana said, "Yes, we will probably fight each other. I just hope that you won't let it get in the way of our friendship. I need you, Ichida. I can't trust Touga, Arisugawa doesn't like me, and Saionji can be a real jerk when he wants to be."

For a moment, Ichida looked surprised. "What about Kaoru? He's a nice guy."

"I like Miki, but he was a duelist before he was a friend. Neither of us can help that now, even though we might want to." The waitress was walking toward them; Kohana glanced at her and fell silent, nodding as the girl put their coffee on the table and walked away. Pulling an ashtray toward her, Kohana took her cigarettes out of her pocket and lit one. "I realize that I sounded like I was asking you to jump into a pool of sharks to save me there. But if I have one person on the Council that I can trust—"

"Wait a minute. On the Seitokai? Me?" There was a thin foam from the cappuccino on Ichida's upper lip, just begging for Kohana to lick it off.

She grabbed a napkin instead, wiping it off gently. "The Seitokai is always made up of duelists. I was considering you for my Fukukaicho, and Saionji agreed in one of his rare amiable moments. I wasn't planning on springing it on you like that, but..."

Of course I was. Take you by surprise and beat down your arguments, and then all I have to do is hand you the ring.

"You think I'd want to be on after what Kiryuu did?" He was indignant at the suggestion. "I'd have to take orders from him, and see that smirking face of his every time I turned around..."

"You're just angry at him right now, and you have every right to be. But think about it. You already have at least one ally on the Seitokai—possibly Arisugawa and Miki as well. It would give you almost the same status as he has—he wouldn't be able to throw you off the campus if you annoyed him enough, and it’s hard to expel a member of the Seitokai for any reason, unless you cause someone else bodily harm or miss a duel." Kohana exhaled, letting the smoke drift upward in lazy curls. "And besides, it's the council's ring that gets you into the dueling grounds. I'd hate to see you expelled for missing a duel because you couldn't get in."

"So it's a package deal. Duelists are part of the Seitokai." Ichida leaned back. "I'm in, then." A small smile played at the corners of his mouth. "And when she sees me in that uniform..."

"She'll know that Touga doesn't have anything you don't." Kohana smiled at him, silently congratulating herself on a job well done. Pulling the ring out of her pocket, Kohana examined it for a moment; it was exactly like hers. Reaching out, she dropped it into his upturned palm.

Ichida studied it, comparing it with hers, and then slipped it on his finger. "There was one more thing I wanted to ask you..." His warm eyes flicked up, regarding her steadily from under his long lashes. "Why do you duel?"

Of course she couldn't answer that honestly. "Because nothing's really real to me anymore. I have almost everything I could ever want, and I go through each day looking for the next distraction. I barely ever feel anything anymore. These duels are the only thing that's really interested me in forever." She chuckled grimly. "Why do you think I run off for sex every chance I get? It's the next distraction, the only one that interested me to any degree, until the duels."

Ichida nodded. "I think I understand. You want your innocence back."

"Someone's not innocent?"

Kohana shivered, glancing over her shoulder. "Ohtori-san. I don't know how you people manage to do that to me every time, but you always sneak up on me." Ohtori grinned at her, a devilish smirk, and then strolled closer. Aside from his normal red and black attire, he had a coat slung over his shoulder, no doubt due to the chill of the night.

Ichida grinned wanly. "Good evening, Rijichou."

"Hello, Ichida. You don't look very happy. Is something wrong?" Ohtori slid into the seat beside Kohana, displaying only concern for Ichida.

Oh, that skin, that hair, that rose cologne... even the way he sits is absolutely sinful.

"Long day, I guess. Kohana just offered me a position on the Seitokai." Ichida sipped at his cappuccino, and Kohana was sure he didn't notice the sudden flicker of interest in Ohtori's eyes at the way he licked the foam from his lips.

"It's her prerogative to choose. I hope you accepted; I was curious about you after I met you, and I pulled your file. You have an excellent record." The way he could talk about school so easily while every inch of Kohana's body was on alert was absolutely infuriating. It was as if he didn't even remember what had happened in the art shop.

"Thank you. The Seitokai is a wonderful opportunity for anyone, and I did accept." Ichida didn't even hint at the other activities of the Seitokai, for which Kohana was glad. She'd exacted his promise, after all, and he had to keep it. Promises to her were meant to be kept; promises she made were another sort of animal altogether.

"Good, good." Ohtori looked to Kohana, and she felt a quiver of lust that was echoed in those sea-green eyes. "You're proving to be a very acceptable replacement. I hope you'll continue to meet my standards." That smile was just a tiny bit wicked. "In any case, I was hoping to see you, Kohana. You haven't been home much lately, and Touga's notorious for never giving phone messages. Which makes the subject of my visit rather pertinent."

"Oh, really? And what's that, Ohtori-san?" If only Ichida weren't around...

"Please, call me Akio. I hate to have all these barriers between us." The slight ripple of desire in his voice made Kohana very, very aware of exactly how many barriers were between them at that moment.

"Akio-san, then." Kohana smiled, only a sliver of the fiendishness she felt coming through.

The waitress stopped at their table at that moment, and Ohtori ordered his coffee. "To go, please. I'm not staying long, though it’s a pity." The girl blushed at the devilish grin Ohtori gave her and trotted off. "Now close your eyes and hold out your hand," he said to Kohana, turning that grin on her.

"A surprise, even. I must be very lucky." Kohana closed her eyes, holding her hand out toward him. Something plastic was placed in her palm, and Ohtori's fingers delicately folded hers over it, the nails scratching ever so lightly.

"Now guess," he commanded, his warm hands still enfolding hers.

"I have no idea," Kohana said, chuckling softly. "It's not flowers, and it's too small to be chocolates... Jewelry? What else do men get women?"

"I can see who it was that wasn't innocent," Ohtori said, though she could hear the secret enjoyment. "All right, open your eyes, and don't get too excited. It is school property."

A white cell phone with the rose crest embossed in the plastic sat in her palm, her pale hand still framed by Ohtori's milk chocolate ones. "I was wondering where Touga got his. Thank you so much, Akio-san, this will be very useful."

Laughing, he folded her fingers over it again. "Don't lose it, and don't break it, or you'll have to pay for it and its replacement, and I'll have to learn the new number."

"We won't strain your poor brain then. I'll be careful with it." So he knew her phone number now, and could reach her at any time of the day or night... perfect. Maybe they'd finally be able to set up a rendezvous.

He leaned back, his face becoming more serious as he said, "If you ever need anything, my number is on the speed dial. And my offer is still open."

There was another weapon she had against Touga. Shaking her head, Kohana said softly, "Thank you for that, but I don't think I'll need it. I'm fine."

The waitress returned with Ohtori's coffee, and he reluctantly let go of her hand to rise. "I hope you'll at least consider it if you're in trouble. I'd hate to see you hurt like that again." Picking up his coffee, he slung his black leather coat over his shoulder and turned away, tossing a glance over his shoulder at Ichida. "I'll see you in school."

After Ohtori had left the restaurant, Ichida shook his head. "Did I miss something? You two were practically drooling over each other, and then all of a sudden he was all concerned."

"Normality returns," Kohana said, drinking the last of her coffee. "Yes, we were flirting. He's gorgeous. And as to the other part, I got in a bit of a fight, and I ended up with a few bruises. Akio saw one of them and assumed that it was Touga who'd done it. I haven't been able to convince him out of it."

"Maybe you should just let him go on thinking that..." Ichida said darkly, and then shook his head. "No, the guy may be a jerk, but he wouldn't hit a woman. I don't think. He’d better not, anyway." Oh, and there was another seed planted—Ohtori had certainly done a good job of helping her with Touga, though he didn't know it. "What was this offer he was talking about?"

"He said I could stay with him if I ever needed to."

"Now that's a recipe for a broken marriage if I ever heard one," Ichida teased.

"As if! Do you think I have no sense whatsoever?" Kohana asked indignantly, crushing her cigarette into the ashtray.

I would never be that careless!

The next day saw Ichida in his new uniform, though Nanami was nowhere to be seen. Kohana had made certain, for her own amusement, that the news of his breakup had circulated before school had even started. It was important to keep him away from Sakura, so that they couldn't reconcile; a horde of admirers and the rumor that he wouldn't take her back would make it impossible for Sakura to swallow her pride after Touga decided he was through with her. And, just to be safe, Kohana spent most of her free time with him, offering emotional support and using Sakura's anger at her to keep the girl at bay.

Even though they were my friends, they can't be allowed to interfere with my plans.

By lunch, the rumors she'd so innocently started had taken on quite a different spin; now, Sakura was an arrogant priss who'd cruelly and callously broken poor Ichida's heart just because he hadn't been perfect. Add that to the fact that a few days before, Sakura had been complaining that Ichida didn't appreciate culture—such as the trips to the art gallery and the museums that Kohana had arranged—enough, and the girl was cast in a very unfavorable light.

And to think I only said that Ichida was heartbroken over the breakup—amazing what people will read into a few sentences that are properly put.

For now, Sakura was safe from the girls who so eagerly leapt to Ichida's defense. She was constantly on Touga's arm—thin protection, at best. He'd tire of her once she began to love him.

The whole situation was made abundantly clear by a tiny incident, not really an incident at all. Kohana and Ichida were walking down the vaulted entrance hall, surrounded by the usual cloud of followers, Kohana idly replying to their conversational sallies, her arm protectively around Ichida's. He was doing his best to appear unconcerned, though everyone could tell that he was miserable.

At the other end of the hall, Touga and his admirers appeared, Sakura on his arm. Kohana could tell that he'd been beguiling her with his princely demeanor—she was all smiles, brushing her blonde hair back flirtatiously as he gazed down at her with those melting, liquid eyes. And Sakura was too blindly infatuated to see the hint of smugness to his smile.

Ichida's spine stiffened as he noticed them, his eyes lingering on Sakura's smile and then taking in Touga's calm chivalry. "Kohana," he whispered, almost too softly for her to hear.

"I see them," she said, not quite as softly.

Their followers instantly were on alert, and excited whispers rippled through all of the watchers. Perhaps some of them were hoping for a fight, or a screaming match. Kohana knew better than that; neither she nor Touga would ever let an incident go that far unless it suited their purpose. They were the ones in control here.

"Just keep walking," she said. "You don't even need to look at her if it's upsetting you." There, now more rumors would spread. It was astounding what people could read into a few words; likely these would be twisted out of proportion by the time lunch was over.

"I'll be fine," Ichida said. Kohana squeezed his arm reassuringly; he didn't sound very confident.

I should have taken drama—it feels like the entire school is watching. I like this.

Both groups continued to the center of the entrance hall, muted whispers tracing paths along the watching students. Even the single teacher passing through stopped, aware that something was going on, unable to reason out what it was.

Kiryuu Touga, undisputed king of the twelfth grade, Seitokaicho, and charming ladies' man.

His eyes moved up from Sakura to flicker over Ichida and the rest of their group before resting on Kohana. Lazily smiling, he stroked Sakura's arm with possessive tenderness.

Hisan Sakura, impudent and fun-loving princess of the tenth grade, now the favorite of the king.

Sakura's eyes moved over the crowd and rested on Kohana; drawing herself up, she clutched Touga's arm, her bearing exuding wounded indignation. She ignored Ichida completely.

Toyomatsu Ichida, wounded prince of the tenth grade, assistant to the Fukukaicho, and new favorite of the female population of the court.

Ichida's arm stiffened under Kohana's, his back straightening as he stared at Touga. Everyone could feel the anger and pain in his gaze. Touga pretended not to notice it; Kohana could practically hear the girls around Ichida hissing at Sakura and the girls around Touga hissing at Ichida.

And Hoshigawa Kohana, undisputed queen of the tenth grade, assistant to the Seitokaicho, and glamorous guardian angel to those who deserve it.

How she acted would set the tone for the rest of her followers. Touga was allowing her the first move. Deciding to ignore Sakura, she laid her other hand on Ichida's arm, keeping her demeanor warmly defensive of him but relaxed. As expected, her followers glared silently at the others, and then turned up their collective nose and walked past without pausing.

Just after Kohana had walked past Touga and Sakura, she heard his voice. "Kohana..."

Stopping to glance over her shoulder, she answered, "Yes?" Everyone was listening to see what exactly would be said, both her fans and Touga's fans stopped in their tracks, heads turned to see what was going on. Ichida did not look around; neither did Sakura.

"I've decided to postpone the meeting tonight. It will start at five rather than directly after school." The purring seduction was completely gone from his voice, though not from his eyes.

With a hint of a smile, Kohana said just as gravely, "I'll be sure to remember that."

As one, they turned and continued walking down the halls.

Kohana could barely rein in the laughter that wanted to escape. Something so absolutely normal had been made almost freakishly tense just by the silent behavior of the main players in the games of the school. Everyone had felt it. And everyone thought they knew what was going on, though really only two of them did. It was like some giant joke.

I never really understood before how much power I have in the school. If either Touga or I had acted differently, we could have started a feud. As it is, we've only helped one along.

Unsurprisingly, later on in the day, there was a message from Sakura. Ayame caught Kohana between classes in the hall. "She wants to meet you in the dance classroom when school is over," she said hopefully. She was always upset by any altercation in the court, always the mediator and the person who smoothed over little spats. "She wasn't very nice about it, but at least she asked."

What do you have planned, Touga?

"If you'll tell her I'll be there, I'd be grateful. I hope she actually wants to talk instead of fight." There was no chance of that. Sakura was probably angry that Kohana had ignored her utterly, and she would want to rub it in Kohana's face that she was gaining Touga's 'love'.

And Kohana knew exactly how he'd maneuvered her into doing it—could reconstruct the conversation perfectly. 'I hate to see you two so at odds,' he would have said. 'I hope you can be generous to her. She was in pain and upset about what happened. Just because she was petty about it is no reason to sink to her level.'

Sakura would have nodded. 'I'll do my best,' she would have said, while deciding to be as confrontational as possible to prod Kohana into saying something she could use to show Touga how unreasonable and spiteful Kohana was.

'Thank you. I'm so glad you'll try. And I truly hope it doesn't bother you that I still spend time with her—she is my assistant, after all, and I like her quite a bit.' The bastard—he would have done it exactly that way. That little hint of a threat that he might go 'back' to Kohana, couched in completely logical terms. Kohana briefly considered telling Sakura that they'd made love this morning, just before her practice with Saionji, but decided against it. Sakura wouldn't believe her anyway.

It would be best to bring backup, so that she could prove that she hadn't done anything wrong. Not Ichida, not until the distance between he and Sakura had hardened into an unbridgeable rift, and not Ayame, because Kohana would eventually get tired of her mediating and placating and either scream at her or ask her politely to leave. Most likely the latter, but one never knew. Saionji was out too—he wouldn't give a damn what had or hadn't been said, and even though he was Kohana's pet, he was still Touga's friend. She knew better than to think his first loyalties were eradicated.

The only other person was Miki, and that meant she would likely encounter Kozue sometime during the day. And she'd have to direct any conversation away from what might or might not have happened with Miki—oh, how interesting it all got. This was a genius of a plot—she would have to commend Touga on it afterward. Sakura was still only a distraction, as were Kozue and Miki... but she couldn't quite see what it was leading up to.

Naturally, as Kohana walked up to the music room, there was a slim, blue-haired figure leaning by the door. Kozue looked toward her, eyes narrowing, and stood away from the wall. Music drifted from behind the closed door; Miki was inside, probably unaware that his sister was guarding the door.

"Kozue." Kohana nodded and walked past her, laying a hand on the doorknob. Audacity made the wound deeper.

"What do you think you're doing?" she hissed, knocking Kohana's hand away.

"I was going to..." Kohana hesitated, as if choosing the right word. "...speak to your brother."

That had to hurt.

"Leave him alone. My brother doesn't associate with people like you." There was a glint of dangerous anger in her eyes. "I know all about you, Kohana. You act so angelic, but you're just a whore who doesn't bother to charge for it."

Chuckling softly, Kohana stepped back, as if actually noticing her for the first time. "That may be, but I've got the style to pull it off, whereas you're losing that innocent look that makes you into something more. How does it feel, Kozue?"

I could crush you if I wanted to. I won't, because Miki wouldn't like it, but I could if you pissed me off enough.

Kozue stared for a moment, shocked that someone would fight back. She'd probably been depending on the rumors about her part in a few 'accidents' that happened to people who got close to Miki, and she didn't like it when Kohana disregarded them completely. Finally her mouth snapped shut. The rage in her eyes growing with every word, she said, "Stay away from my brother. Stay far, far away from him. He doesn't need girls like you hanging around him when he has me to take care of him."

Exactly as she’d suspected. Kozue had some sort of obsession pertaining to her brother. How amusing! "Oh, so you want to be his lover, then? Believe me, Kozue-chan, it's not going to happen." Laying a hand on the other girl's shoulder, she smiled gently and said, "He's not your property, Kozue-chan. He's his own person and he doesn't want to go on taking care of you forever." The smile grew into a bright grin. "You see? You're not the only one who can find things out."

Clamping her hand down on Kohana's arm, teeth bared in a hiss and nails digging in, Kozue snarled, "Miki is my brother, and you will leave him alone." The barely leashed fury in her eyes sparked and flared, promising extreme pain for anyone who defied her.

Kohana glanced almost absently at the spot where one of Kozue's nails was sinking in, drawing blood that rolled down her wrist in a slow trickle. It was painful, but there was no way she was going to let Kozue know that, especially not now. "Are you trying to hurt me?" she asked, a chuckle in her voice. Quickly, Kohana's hand tightened on Kozue's shoulder in a viselike grip, and she dragged the younger girl forward so that her mouth brushed against Kozue's ear, whispering, "Listen, little girl, your brother is a very sweet boy and I like him, and I will do whatever the hell I please with him. So go play with Touga and forget about it; I'm not afraid of you."

She pulled slowly away, staring into Kozue's rage-filled blue eyes. Kozue's hand suddenly flashed upward, moving as if to strike, but Kohana caught it in time.

Thank kendo for those reflexes... I'll have to be very nice to Saionji when I see him next.

"Bad move, Kozue-chan. If I'm hurt in any way, your brother will ask about it, and I'll have to tell him the truth about this little conversation. As it is, I'm going into the music room now and he won't hear a thing." Shaking Kozue off, Kohana brushed past her and opened the door. Kozue didn't bother to follow her inside.

Wise decision, little girl. If you’re smart, you’ll leave me alone after this, because you'll get hurt if you don't—but then, that would be more fun.

There was a short blond boy seated at the piano bench, Miki seated beside him and almost blocking Kohana's view of him. Both of them were playing the piano. "Good job, Mitsuru. It's coming along well, but you have to remember the dynamics."

The little blond boy nodded, glancing at Miki for a moment, and then noticed Kohana and started. A discordant jangle came from the piano. "Oh, I'm sorry, Miki. I didn't mean to interrupt anything." Kohana said lightly.

"It's no problem," Miki said, standing up. "Tsuwabuki Mitsuru, meet a friend of mine, Hoshigawa Kohana."

"Do you play the piano?" The boy was amazingly self-possessed for someone so young.

Widening her eyes, Kohana stared at him as if he were insane. "Not a chance! It'd probably slam itself shut in horror the moment I touched it. I just listen to music."

They laughed then, Miki shaking his head. "I think you're just afraid of it. You could probably play well if you ever really tried."

"We've been over this a million times, Miki. I can't hammer out a tune to save my life." Kohana grinned, walking over to her chair and resting her arms on the back of it. "Am I interrupting a lesson?"

"Sort of," Miki said. "But you can stay and watch, if you want." He seated himself on the bench again.

"Hoshigawa-sempai, you have a cut." Tsuwabuki dug in his pocket, pulling out a handkerchief. "Do you need a bandage?"

Glancing down at her arm as if in surprise, Kohana frowned. "I thought that had stopped bleeding... You're sweet to offer, Tsuwabuki, but it's just a little thing." She carefully wiped the blood away, covering the crescent with her finger to stop the welling blood. "Anyway, I can't stay long. I just wanted to ask you a favor, Miki."

"What's that?" All traces of distrust had vanished from his tone. If he'd ever been wary of her, no one would be able to tell now.

"I sort of got into a fight with a friend of mine—she broke up with her boyfriend because of another guy and now she thinks I'm trying to steal this guy away from her." At Miki's questioning glance, she said, "I'm not, but it's really complicated. I just wanted to ask if you'd come with me to the dance room after school. She wanted to meet me there, and I'd like to have someone else there for support."

"I heard something about that. You'll have to explain what happened later, on the way there." Miki's eyes told her that he knew more than she'd said about it, but didn't want to say anything in front of Tsuwabuki.

I've done some good work here... now I just hope I can counter whatever Touga has planned in time to save it.

"Thanks. Sakura's really angry with me, and I really need someone who can be impartial if she starts to scream at me or something." Kohana flashed a winning smile, and then stood up. "I won't hold up the lesson any more. Nice meeting you, Tsuwabuki."

"Goodbye, Hoshigawa-sempai." He smiled brightly at her, green eyes sparkling.

That boy's going to be a charmer in a few years.

She nodded and walked out of the room. Now, there was nothing to do but wait. Everyone was in class right now, either that or they were Seitokai members, and Kohana didn't really want to speak to anyone else right now. Especially Touga. He'd know she'd caught on to his plan as soon as they spoke, if she wasn't very, very careful, and she didn't feel like putting forth the effort of keeping up that tight of a facade when she could be figuring out exactly what he'd done.

The best way to stay undisturbed was to find something to do. Like sketching. Kohana headed toward the art room, waving to the teacher once there and snagging some supplies from the back. The painting of her was nowhere near finished, but Kohana didn't have the time to work on it right now—and she most certainly didn't want anyone to see it. Likewise with the self-portrait; that had been coming along nicely until the last few days.

Oh, just pick something and do studies. It's good practice, and I haven't worked with pencil in forever.

After walking around outside and trying to pick a suitable spot, Kohana finally found a nice shady place under a tree. There were some students playing tennis, and Kohana idly sketched them out until she realized that this was the girls' gym period. How wonderful—the girls’ gym period, and she was sitting on the grass sketching it. At least she'd arranged it so that she got credit for it with the kendo training.

Wait a minute—Shinohara was there, paired off with another girl to play tennis. Kohana scowled. That would have been the perfect opportunity to meet her. She'd been so busy lately that she hadn't had time to find an approach. Of all the bad luck—

No use. Just draw, and forget about it for now. There's nothing you can do—

Besides asking the girl if she minded being sketched.

A hint of a smile on her lips, Kohana gathered up her things. It was a good thing she'd brought a drawing pad rather than just a few sheets of paper; she flipped the page and tucked it under her arm, approaching the fenced off tennis courts near to where Shinohara was practicing. Practicing very energetically, too—the girl seemed to exude energy the way Touga and Ohtori radiated sex.

It'll be an interesting picture, quite a change from my normal material.

Shinohara's partner noticed Kohana leaning against the fence post first. "Hoshigawa! What brings you here?" What was her name—Kitabashi Tsuki? No, Tsukiko. It was hard to remember the name of everyone she ran across. There were just too many people in the school.

"Nothing much, just cutting class." Kohana grinned crookedly and held up her sketchpad. "Lazing around, feeling sorry for you poor fools who're stuck in gym." Shinohara had turned, looking Kohana over with bright interest.

"Right, right! Everybody knows you're getting extra credit for studying all morning with Saionji-sama. Guess being on the Seitokai doesn't really get you more privileges at all, does it? You deserve the rest." Kitabashi laughed, bouncing the tennis ball in her hand. "I tried to study kendo with him. He's a real slave driver."

Kohana shrugged. "Once you get used to it, it's not so bad. Kind of refreshing." She chuckled. "As long as you've got deodorant and a shower handy after, that is." Shinohara didn't join the laughter. For someone who was so evidently cheerful, this was very strange—perhaps she didn't like Saionji? At any rate, it was time to get to the point. "I was just wondering if you girls minded if I sketched you. I need more practice with my action scenes, and you two looked as if you were doing pretty well."

"Sure," Kitabashi chirped.

"As long as we get to see it after," Shinohara put in. She grinned and struck a pose, tennis racket at the ready. "Draw me like this?"

"Girls! What are you doing? You're supposed to be practicing!" The gym teacher had finally noticed that there was a conversation going.

"It's my fault, Kamiguchi-sensei. I was just asking if I could sketch them." Kohana smiled coolly at the teacher. This one was one Kohana had never really liked, but she'd been prevented from pranking her for that very reason. People knew she didn't like Kamiguchi.

The teacher angrily opened her mouth to say something, but wisely reconsidered. "Don't interrupt my class any more than you have to, Hoshigawa," she said in a calm tone.

"I won't." Kohana kept the cool smile pasted to her face until the teacher had turned around and then rolled her eyes. "So uptight," Kohana marveled.

"You said it," Shinohara giggled. "All right, is there anything you want us to do?"

"No, just practice. Ignore me." Kohana moved back to a little hill where she could see more clearly and put pencil to paper. Eventually the girls almost forgot about Kohana; she could see it in the way Shinohara became unselfconsciously excited after an exceptionally good shot. She even squealed once—it was almost disturbing how cheerful she could get.

It was a long time before Kohana found a pose that suited her, and her pencil had to fly to capture each small sketch she tested. Once she found one that was good enough, she took extra care with Shinohara in the picture, subtly flattering the girl's already-pretty face and figure and trying to capture the bubbling spirit in the way she leapt for each shot. By the time the students were told to pack up their rackets, it had turned out quite well.

"Come show us before Kamiguchi notices us dawdling!" Kitabashi was holding on to the chain link fence, her eyes eager.

Rising and dusting off her pants, Kohana chuckled. "There are some privileges to being on the Council. You won't get in trouble." Nonetheless, she walked quickly over to where the girls were standing, holding the sketches up where they could see them easily. "This, and this, and this one... I didn't like that one... but—" She flipped the paper over to where she'd drawn the largest sketch. "This is the one, I think. I really thought it captured your energy, especially yours, Shinohara."

"You're so right! That's her, perfectly! I didn't know you were such a great artist, Kohana."

"Awesome..." Shinohara breathed. "Oh, wow. Hey, can I see it when it's finished?"

"Of course. You guys are the models; you can see it whenever you like." Kohana smiled, tucking her pencil into her pocket. "Mind if I come again? I don't often get to work with live scenes."

"Hear that? We're models now! Everyone's going to be jealous." Kitabashi giggled and twirled.

That's so nauseating.

"Yeah, sure, come again tomorrow if you want." Shinohara glanced around and noticed Kamiguchi walking out. "We should get going. See you later, Hoshigawa-kun."

Kohana raised her hand in a wave, grinning to herself. She had time to cultivate Shinohara. Touga would have made his move already if he remembered the connection to her.

It wasn't much later that Kohana met Miki in the music room. Classes had only been over for about five minutes, and Kohana had dropped off the sketches at the art room. Tsuwabuki was just leaving; he grinned at Kohana as he left the room, shutting the door behind him.

"You wanted to know what happened with Sakura," Kohana said as she seated herself on the piano bench beside Miki.

"I heard that she was with Touga all day." He glanced at her inquiringly, taking her hand between his. "Are you and the Seitokaicho—"

"Is that something you really need to ask?" Kohana sighed. "The whole thing gives me a headache. I walked in on them after I left your house. Sakura thought he and I were finished with each other. I tried to tell her what he was really like, and she got angry and accused me of a whole bunch of things, including not returning his feelings. Her proof was that he was nice to me because I had a headache." She laid her head on Miki's shoulder. "He doesn't have any feelings for me. I wouldn't want him to."

"Why not? You get along with him well enough, even when you're fighting." At her flat gaze, he said evenly, "Of course I know that. It's usually hard to tell when he's angry about something, but all of us can tell now. And it's easiest to notice when you're around."

"I hope this is over quickly." Shaking herself, Kohana stood up, pulling Miki up from the bench. "Let's go. If you have any more questions, I can explain on the way."

They made their way down the rapidly emptying halls to the dance room. It was quite the hike; the dance room was far away from the music room, so that neither's music would interfere with the other class. Kohana pushed the door open almost reluctantly, glancing around at the empty corridor. Touga had something planned. What was it?

Sakura was nowhere in sight. "Strange," Kohana said. "She did ask to meet me here..." The only other people there were their reflections on the mirrored walls, bisected by the bar that ran the perimeter of the room.

"Maybe she's just running late," Miki supplied helpfully. They wandered over to the wall and Kohaha leaned on the bar, waiting impatiently.

The minutes ticked by until she was fed up enough to want to leave. She took a few steps away from the wall, myriad reflections following her moves perfectly. "Sorry to waste your time, Miki. I guess—"

The door opened behind them, and Sakura walked in. Tightly suppressed anger surrounded her like an aura—it was enough to make Miki take a step back as she approached. "Why is he here?" Sakura asked, politely enough, though the anger was clearly audible.

Levelly, Kohana replied, "I want somebody other than us two to know exactly what was said in here, Sakura. You didn't come here to make this up."

"Oh, you're so sure of that, are you? Well, yet again, you're right. I want to know how it feels to be given up for me, Kohana. I bet you didn't think that would ever happen." There was a smirk on Sakura's face that Kohana would have liked to wipe off. Fortunately for Sakura, she couldn't sneer quite so well as Saionji.

"Sakura, I honestly don't care. If you want Touga, you can have him. I just hope he doesn't throw you away like all the rest." It was strange—normally she would have been accepting the anger, not defending herself, because that was the way to win an argument with Sakura. Wait it out, and then calmly point out how she was wrong. This time Kohana had to keep her angry—it would make her look better to Miki, and it would keep Sakura hating her enough to stay away from her.

Laughing, Sakura flipped her pale hair behind her shoulder. "You're always so much better than the rest of us, aren't you. You always have the most fashionable clothes, the most money, the handsomest guys in school drool over you, people that would just about kill themselves to get your attention—well, for once I've got what you wanted. He won't throw me away."

Kohana sighed, crossing her arms over her chest. "I hope not. This is really strange, Sakura. You didn't care about all those things when we were friends. I gave you all I have—it's not like I need it. I honestly thought you didn't care about all that."

"So noble," Sakura mocked. "Where's that nobility when it comes to how you treat Touga? Where is it when you pull a prank on someone? Where was it when you lied to me about your parents, and your doctors' appointments? I'm tired of the way you put on one face for me, and different ones for everyone else."

"I have never treated anyone any differently than they've treated me." Kohana laid a hand on Miki's shoulder. "Miki is kind to me, and treats me like a friend, so he gets treated the same way. You understood more about me than anyone else, or so I thought, so I did my best to understand you in return. As for Touga, half the time he treats me like a child who can't tie her own shoes, and the other half he treats me like his own personal playground."

Not that I mind either, when in the right context.

"So you just return what people give you? I don't think so, Kohana. What did I ever do to you that you had the right to say those things to me? You never think of anyone but yourself until after the damage is done. This time, you're not going to fool me into thinking that you're in the right here." Sakura’s delicate features hardened in determination.

"I only told you the truth. People never like to hear the truth when it's bad news, but I thought you had more sense than that. Think about it, Sakura! How many other girls have sobbed their hearts out over Touga? How many of them heard the exact same things he's said to you?" Kohana shook her head. "Believe me when I say that the only reason he still thinks about me at all is that I didn't fall for it. I know that type."

So, if Sakura remembered the conversation they'd had in the rose garden, Kohana had just given herself away. It was safer for the girl to know that both she and Touga weren’t what they seemed than for her to be drawn any further into this game. It could get dangerous if it was pushed too far.

But she didn't remember. "Right. Of course. You know everything, you're always right, and the rest of us mere mortals should look to you for guidance."

If you would, it would be a lot easier on everyone.

Sakura turned to Miki. "What do you think? Is Kohana a god? Is she infallible?"

As Miki glanced from one girl to the other, trying to think of something to say that would defuse the situation, Kohana snapped, "Leave him out of it. I only brought him along because I didn't want us at each other's throats and I didn't want anyone spreading lies around about this." Turning to Miki, she said, "I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have asked this of you, and it's not worth the trouble it'll cause for you. You should leave." Giving him a reassuring smile, she gently stroked his cheek.

Miki began, "Don't worry—"

As Kohana heard the door open, Sakura hissed, "What, are you fucking him too?"

Kohana caught a glimpse of orange curls, and suddenly it all came together. Arisugawa was supposed to confront her now, upset by something Touga had said, and the tenuous trust they'd had would dissolve because Kohana would be busy trying to deal with both of them at once. There was no way she could deal with a screaming Sakura and an icy Arisugawa at the same time. Likely he had meant for Saionji to be there as well—he hadn't thought she would choose Miki after what Sakura had heard, knowing that she would likely bring it up. All three of them would stop trusting her after that, and Miki would fall as well once he heard what had happened. It would be the ruin of all she’d done.

In the split second it took to understand his plan, she realized a way to counter it. Painful... but what was a little pain? She’d been living with pain as long as she could remember. A small tendril of fear uncurled at the thought of a hospital, but she quickly banished it. Smirking at Sakura, she let her fingers linger on Miki's cheek and said, "Would it make a difference if I was?"

Arisugawa was on her before she'd even had a chance to move, hauling her forward by the throat of her uniform, eyes blazing with hatred. "Your promise means nothing?" she snarled.

Feigning fear, Kohana stammered, "I—"


Juri's arm tensed, drawing her forward and then throwing her backward. As Kohana felt her fingers slip away, she pushed off with her foot, adding a little bit of extra force. She flew backwards into the bar, feeling a distinct crack and a shooting pain in her ribs as the thin wood splintered beneath her. That bit of resistance was enough to slow her chest, snapping her head backward into the mirrored wall. She clearly heard the cracking of glass through the raging agony that bloomed in her head.

Oh, shit, it was too much! This is going to hurt—cover my eyes cover my eyes—

Blackness exploded her vision, but her head had rebounded hard enough that, by the time the large shards of glass rained down, her eyes were safe. Dimly she could hear horrified cries, and someone calling her name, but the dizziness and the dazed feeling blocked out most of it. Even the pain she felt as a chunk of glass impaled itself in her thigh seemed unimportant. Straining, she tried to open her eyes and found a blur of color, but her legs collapsed under her and the blackness boiled up again.

She couldn't have been out for long. The next thing she knew, someone was patting her face, calling her name in a choked voice. Awareness clarified, the confused jumble of sensations dulling into icy pain and something warm and thick trickling down her face. Dazed, she tried to bat the hands away. There was a strange buzzing noise in the background.

Leave me alone. I don't want you helping me.

"Kohana? Kohana, wake up!"

Go away! I can do it on my own.

"Kohana, please, wake up! Open your eyes!" Whose voice was that? She recognized it...

No, no, let me be! I can do it!

"I think she said something—Kohana, please wake up, talk to me!" The hands on her face became more insistent, slapping lightly. "Fuck, Kohana, don't do this! Somebody get a teacher, something!"

The dazed feeling was steadily receding, Kohana's efforts to push whoever it was away from her growing stronger as it fled. This time when she tried to speak, she actually felt her lips move, "No…"

"Oh my god oh my god oh my god—" Somebody was having hysterics. That's what the buzzing noise was.

"Kohana! Come on, just a little bit more—you've got to wake up all the way! Please!"


Suddenly, she felt herself grow rigid. A scream built in her throat; it released itself in words, tearing at her throat.


The room was instantly filled with shocked silence and the hands jerked away from her face. Kohana slumped forward, her hands feeling behind her for the remnants of the bar she'd broken through. Everything was clear now—she'd have only a few moments to pull herself together before she fainted from blood loss.

No weakness, not even now... oh please, it hurts...

NO! No weakness. None.

Grabbing a hold of the bar that slanted up behind her, Kohana forced herself to open her eyes. Even that tiny movement sent spiraling starbursts across her vision.

I didn't mean for it to be this bad. Oh, well... It only makes me look better.

The thought was somehow less comforting than it should have been.

Ignoring the pain in her body as she'd had to do so many times before, she gritted her teeth and took a firm, agonizing grip on the bar, dragging herself upward. Every time she moved, blood gushed out around the glass shard in her thigh. It was actually quite fascinating. Even her hair was turning red—not quite the same red as Touga's, but close enough. There were footsteps racing down the hall toward them.


Pulling herself into as close to a standing position as she could manage with shaky knees, bits of glass stuck in her, probably a broken rib or two, and one hell of a headache, Kohana opened her eyes, looking where she thought Touga might be.

He was kneeling, a stricken expression on his face, and apparently he didn't even notice that his knee was bleeding where a smaller piece of the mirror was stabbing into it. "Kohana..." he began.

She would have laughed; it came out sounding more like someone had knocked the breath out of her. With what she knew was a very crooked grin on her face, she said, "I'm still standing," and then let go of the bar with one hand. Straining just to get her hand to obey her one last time, she pulled the chunk of glass out of her thigh and dropped it on the floor. It shattered; she could see out of the corner of her eye that the sound made Miki jump. His eyes were wide with horror.

"What's going on—" Ohtori's voice entered the room before he did, and his eyes widened when he saw the chaos. "All of you are coming with me," he said, decisively striding toward Kohana. As he drew near and saw Touga's expression, his silvery brows drew together in a scowl.


Kohana let herself fall forward, and Ohtori rushed to catch her before she hit the glass-covered floor. As he picked her up, he murmured, "It's going to be fine. I'll take care of you."

"Thank you," Kohana said. The blackness was swelling upward once again, a peaceful place that promised no pain, and Kohana dimly heard Ohtori's heart and the sound of his voice giving orders to the others. A single tear escaped from her eye before she let her mind go to meet the blackness. It was so very cold in here...

I hate you all. I hate you all so much.