If I Could - Chapter One
"It's been a while."
"I was here last week."
"Time seems so funny now. I don't remember you being here
"I was. Remember, we talked about the garden. You wanted me
to bring you some seeds."
"I remember now. You were sad."
"Why are you always so sad?"
"I'm not sad."
"How are you?"
"I know. I'm sorry."
"You don't need to be sorry. I have what I wanted."
"Is this really what you wanted?"
"Please... talk to me."
"Tell me, is it really what you wanted?"
"If you want to leave, I'll take you out of here. I promise."
"It isn't really what you wanted, is it. Please, come with
me. I'll take you away. Anything you want. Anything."
"You really were my prince."
It’s easy to have sympathy for a hero. Heroes are what everyone
wants to be, even if it is only for a short moment. We’d like
to think that we have the potential to be as bright, to be as noble,
to sacrifice ourselves for the greater good. Some of us, however
much we may wish that it were different, cannot be heroes. It is
also easy to have sympathy for those who try to be heroic and fall
short, because at least they try. The intent was there, even if
it was too little too late. Villains, too, get a certain amount
of sympathy, because they can be admirable in their aims even if
they go about those aims the wrong way. Even if their goal is not
admirable, they still garner empathy because of their determination.
How do you sympathize with those who haven’t chosen what
they will be, hero or villain? How do you love someone who can turn
on you, betray you, or cherish your most secret of secrets and keep
Listen to me, and I will paint a picture with words of a sight
that I came upon one day. If I had any talent with the brush, I
might attempt to finish the painting that she started, but since
I do not, you will have to imagine her with me.
Kneeling in the hallway, almost at my feet, I saw a girl who appeared
a few years younger than I was. I had seen her in the school before;
no surprise, as she was quite popular, but this was the first time
I had taken the time to study her. Curly hair framed her angular
face, a face that was perhaps a shade too thin, her elegant hand
reaching out for the small yellow tube of glue that was currently
underneath my foot. I didn’t see her eyes at first. When she
turned them up to me, there was a calm, mocking look to them, as
if she couldn’t quite bring herself to care that I had caught
the infamous prankster that had been plaguing Ohtori Academy. A
small smile played about the corners of her full lips.
We spoke. I don’t remember exactly what was said—eight
years is a long time to hold unimportant words in your head. I do
remember that I took her chin in my hand at one point, turning her
face up to mine, and I remember the shock of recognition that went
through me as I saw beneath that scornful façade. I’m
sure I hid it well; she did not seem to notice my turmoil. That
was when I knew that the coming months would be far harder for me
than expected. This girl would become important to me, and I had
already lost much that was important to me in the duels.
I couldn’t allow any hint of the sudden kinship I felt to
show through my cool exterior. Instead of being honest, as I so
desired to do, I had attacked her with the suggestion that I might
betray her secret. This set the tone for one of my greatest rivalries.
This pale, pale girl in front of me, with her winning charm and
her hunger for pleasure, watched me with eyes that were full of
cynical amusement even when I held the advantage over her. I’m
sure very few people saw that amusement, but to me it was clear.
It was the same detached humor that I felt. There had been very
few times in my life when I had lost that aloof humor, and they
were invariably the times when I was completely honest, whether
it was with myself or with someone else.
I remember thinking that here was a kindred spirit, and then I
cursed myself for the things I was going to do to her.
Her name didn’t suit her at all. Kohana. She was no one’s
little flower, no shrinking violet to be coddled and cared for.
If she had been a flower, she would have been a rose that did not
allow its blooms to be plucked without first wounding the person
who would take them. There was such malice in her, spite and hatred
that never seemed to fade, but there was softness to her that showed
itself when she knew she had no pain to fear by it. Like me, she
had come to expect that the people around her would only do their
best to hurt her if she showed a weakness. Is that not why we create
such airtight façades? To an outsider, we look as if we enjoy
being the way we are, and in a way, I suppose we do.
But, I stray from my purpose. It’s impossible, I suppose,
to truly describe someone you care for—I will never be able
to see her as less than beautiful. Even now, after eight years,
I still see a sixteen year old girl. Sometimes I wonder if that
will ever change.
I still visit her every week. Ohtori will never let me escape from
its thorny clutches. Don’t mistake my intent—I did not
love Kohana. I would never inflict such pain upon myself, and my
heart had already been stolen by someone else, someone whose name
I can’t remember even now. She is a half-remembered
melancholy, a night when I can’t stand the thought of company
other than my cats and a bottle of wine to drink to what little
memory I have of her.
Still, sometimes I wonder… If I could have loved anyone else,
I think it would have been Kohana. And I thought, for a while, that
she might have felt the same.
It doesn’t matter now. Even if I had loved her, it would
have ended badly.
Kohana walked between the columns to the Academy building, responding
languidly to the cries of adulation from the groups of students
that flanked the path. She was used to it by now, the popularity,
but it didn't really matter. Nothing really did, except the next
distraction; traveling, the occasional foray into the modeling world,
the shopping sprees in expensive stores, they were all a means to
an end. Even pranking the teachers and other authority figures in
her life was just another distraction. Hence the popularity. The
other students provided some relief from boredom with their adoration
of her glamorous lifestyle and their easily swayed opinions. Meaningless,
unless they entertained her, and she was not in the mood to be entertained.
She supposed, once again, that they thought her life was a fairy-tale.
They didn't know that it could never be as enjoyable as they thought
it was. At fifteen she was already as jaded and cynical as any adult—definitely
not the gilded social butterfly they so loved to admire.
But knowing that wouldn't make her any less what she was, or more
what they took her for. Better to consider only the next distraction
and forget about the rest. After all, she was only fifteen, her
parents were rich and willing to do whatever it would take to keep
her out of their hair, and she was the undisputed queen of the tenth
grade. Surprising, some had said, that she wasn't on the Student
As if she could bring herself to waste her time on school duties
any more than she already did.
Another group called out to her, and again she raised a hand in
an indifferent wave. It was only the polite thing to do, after all,
and polite gestures were the glue of society. The thing that kept
people from tearing each other apart. Someone made her way over,
meaning to walk with her, and she neither shook her head nor nodded.
They could stay or go as they pleased.
"Kohana, where have you been? I've been looking for you all
Hisan Sakura, then. One of the few who could be called Kohana's
friends. "I've been at the doctor's, Sakura. Another appointment."
"Again? It seems like if you're not missing school for being
sick, you're missing school to go to the doctor! Honestly, I don't
know how you stand it. Are your parents really that over-protective
that they'd make you miss school because of some weird hypochondriac
"Hypochondria is when you think you're always sick,
Sakura. It’s Munchausen’s Syndrome when they do. And
yes, I've told you a million times, I only go because they make
me." Sakura was a nice girl, and she didn't really deserve
to be lied to like this, but it wasn't really a lie. If it had been
anything else, Kohana wouldn't have gone to the doctors. They always
said the same thing anyway.
Later on in the day, Kohana finally finished pasting sticky notes
on the outside of the Literature professor's door. The hallway was,
thankfully, deserted. It was an essay she was rather proud of, and
Watanabe had a good sense of humor. He would grade it based on its
soundness rather than its interesting presentation. He wouldn't
dock marks because of a little thing like an essay being on 143
sticky notes instead of normal sheets of paper.
The thought of his face when he saw all of the notes made her chuckle,
a bit, anyway.
Much better. And for my next performance...
Checking the tiny pocket she'd sewn into the hideous teal school
uniform, she found that her crazy-glue had gone missing. Damn! She
didn't have any others here right now, and that annoying guidance
counselor was next on her list for the day. After last week's session,
she deserved a little payback, and putting it off might mean it
would never get done.
Ignoring the footsteps that she heard echoing down the hallway,
she glanced around, searching for the tiny yellow tube in case she'd
dropped it recently. Ah, yes, there it was! Right by the corner
where the footsteps were coming from. She'd have to be quick.
Darting down the tiled hall, she dropped to one knee and grabbed
at the tube just as the footsteps neared. Too late! A foot came
down on the tube just as her searching fingers skidded toward it.
"The infamous prankster, caught in the act? I thought I would
never see the day." The voice was deep, purring, and entirely
too rich to belong to anyone ordinary. Glancing up, Kohana first
saw the snowy uniform reserved for the members of the student council
and then the lustrous red hair that reached down to the figure's
"Kiryuu-sempai. I have no idea what you mean. I'm only picking
up something I saw Watanabe-sensei drop." Kohana’s stomach
clenched in an agony of nervous enjoyment.
If I'd known that getting caught was better than the pranks,
I might have done this a long time ago!
He chuckled at this, a throaty laugh, and the little worry lines
that no one else seemed to notice disappeared. "You know very
well what I mean." He leaned down and took her chin in his
hand, turning her face up even more. "But you don't have to
worry. Tell me what to watch for. Even if you don't, the fact that
I saw you with crazy-glue in your hand just before it happened will
remain our little secret." The last words were said softly,
almost caressingly, and Kohana wondered if he even knew how much
his charming act affected her. Probably he didn't... but only because
she had quite a bit of self-control. If she hadn't, the feel of
his fingers on her chin and the faint sharpness of the long fingernails
that brushed her skin so lightly would have made her blush.
"Take your foot off, and I'll tell you." There was only
one way to come out of this dispute with her skin whole, and that
was to give in to what he wanted. It didn’t matter. She could
still win a tiny victory.
He removed his foot instantly, and she silently congratulated herself
for winning even that small battle. Glancing up at Kiryuu, however,
dispersed the small amount of self-satisfaction she’d felt.
It didn't matter to him that she was the victor, it only mattered
that he knew he had power over her now.
So he doesn’t care about the small victories—just
the larger ones.
Biting back her impulse to snarl something cruel at him, she said,
"The guidance counselor." The glue was secreted away,
palmed and apparently tucked into the waistband of her skirt before
she stood up and brushed off her clothes. Her curiosity had reared
its head, but without a word, she turned and walked away.
Surprisingly enough, he began to walk alongside her. Why was he
even noticing her, when he hadn't for the whole nine grades before
this? Not that she wanted his notice, just that she would have taken
an oath that he didn't know of her existence.
"I've always thought you would be a good addition to the Student
Council, Kohana. Perhaps you might bring to it an element of vitality
that is currently lacking." He said it emotionlessly, as if
he didn't care whether she joined or not. So that was how it was.
The only personal interest he had was to see if she would sleep
with him or not, and other than that, it was all business. Her mental
estimation of him went up a few notches.
"I don't think so, Kiryuu-sempai. I'm not interested in what
promises to be another dull school activity." That and she
didn't think there was any way she could possibly bring 'vitality'
to anything. Outsiders would think differently, of course.
He laughed softly. "Don't discard the idea on that basis.
It's not as dull as you might think, and you would have the Student
Council's protection if a teacher ever should discover the nature
of the most elusive prankster of the school."
Glancing at the clock, she realized that he was going to make her
late for her next class. She had to get rid of him quickly. "If
you'll forgive my candor, Kiryuu-sempai, I have a question."
"Of course. Anything for a lady." That little smile was
incredibly sexy. On the basis of that alone, she'd definitely sleep
with him, even if she hadn't known that he was experienced. Very
experienced. But he was still wasting her time!
"What makes the Student Council so interesting? Do you have
drugs, or orgies, or is it just the thrill of having people sleep
with you just because you're on it? I manage well enough without
the last, and I can do without more meetings with teachers and more
schoolwork to ignore. And besides, Kaoru's too young for me."
Being rude was an art form.
His eyes opened wider, and he began to laugh. If any other rich,
purring laugh had ever sent shivers racing up and down her spine,
Kohana didn't remember it. Everything about Kiryuu radiated sensuality.
"Perhaps we should discuss this later," he finally said.
"I'm sure you must be busy—"
"So kind of you to notice," she interjected.
"Come to the rose garden after classes. I promise you, it
will be worth your while." He laid a hand on her shoulder,
his fingers tightening meaningfully and his eyes making more intimate
"Even if I refuse?" she asked, finally allowing herself
the luxury of a smile. A few moments of bliss in another's arms...
always a good idea.
"Even if you refuse." His grip tightened once more, and
then he turned away, walking down another hallway.
Class was about to start. Math. Not that math would matter much
to her in the long run. She sped up her pace, reflecting that she
would probably spend the rest of the day looking forward to her
prank and her little rendezvous.
The inexplicable gluing of the guidance counselor to her chair
did not go unnoticed by the school populace, and an announcement
was made that the prankster would be expelled if caught. If the
unknown trickster turned themselves in, however, they would only
be suspended. Kohana had to laugh at the sight of the annoying woman
screeching orders at students while wheeling herself down to the
teachers' lounge where she had an extra change of clothes.
Kiryuu caught her eye as the woman disappeared into the lounge,
giving her a tiny, seductive, conspiratorial smile before turning
away. As if they were partners in crime. She almost became angry
about that; he'd had nothing to do with that prank besides letting
his knowledge of the prankster remain a secret. But it didn't matter
much. She'd meet him in the rose garden, which she'd never been
in before, they'd talk a bit and she'd refuse to join the Council,
and then with business out of the way, they'd retire to someplace
less open and the real reason she'd agreed to meet him would commence.
After, she'd go home and hope she didn't have another migraine before
she could finish the essay she was writing for History. She was
actually having fun with this one, a dissertation on why the fall
of the Roman Empire was caused by a lack of capable botanists. Total
trash, but she'd done her research on it, and it made sense when
one actually read the paper.
She was still pondering the question of whether Constantine could
have benefited from a botany course when she opened the door to
the rose garden. The birdcage shape was unnerving, as was the young
girl inside. Kiryuu Nanami, Kiryuu's younger sister. She was in
the ninth grade, and she kept to herself and tended the roses. Kohana
hadn't expected to see her here, not when she was basically meeting
Kiryuu for sex. How annoying.
"Has your brother been here yet?" she asked, wondering
if Kiryuu Nanami would leave soon.
"No," Nanami said, and then went on rather agreeably,
"but I'm sure he'll be here soon, Hoshigawa-sempai."
"I see. Thank you," she said, and then put her books
and jacket on the small bench. Nanami was busily watering the roses
at the far end of the garden. Kohana didn't want to go anywhere
near her; the girl made her nervous, especially after the weird
personality switch she'd undergone last year. Kiryuu Nanami had
been vibrant, an up and coming prankster herself, and fiercely protective
of her older brother. Everyone knew that, and Kohana had paid special
attention to her because she showed such promise. Briefly Kohana
wondered if she'd been given a lobotomy, but then dismissed the
idea. Whatever her psychoses were, they were no trouble of Kohana's.
As she waited, she fingered the petals of a rose that was so deep
a purple it was almost black. Actually, it was black. Kohana had
never seen a rose of that color before. She'd never thought one
could exist. But apparently they did, because here they were.
"Do you like it?" Nanami asked. Kohana had to control
herself, or she would have been startled. The girl had come right
up behind her without her noticing.
"It's pretty. I didn't know there were black roses."
"Roses come in many colors. In the West, black is the color
of death and rebirth. Would you like one?" The girl smiled
sunnily, her violet eyes narrowing in tranquil happiness.
Biting the inside of her lip, where it wouldn’t show, Kohana
drove back the desire to shiver at the girl’s strange words.
Why in hell would she mention death and then ask if she
wanted one? "No, but thank you. I like them where they are."
"What a shame. I think black suits you, Hoshigawa-san."
This encounter was growing a little too strange for Kohana’s
tastes. There was something about Kiryuu Nanami that didn’t
sit right with her, as if she had some way of knowing what was going
on inside Kohana’s mind. The very thought made her angry.
Kohana wished for a moment that she had a volatile temper, because
then she'd have the release of giving this little bitch a smack.
Unfortunately she didn't. Instead, she walked over to her books
and picked them up, slinging her jacket over her shoulder. "If
your brother ever does stop by, tell him I'm not very patient. He'll
have to speak to me another time."
"Oh, I'm sure if you just wait a few moments he'll be here.
He's usually very good about keeping his appointments with pretty
girls." The same sunny, blank smile. Kiryuu Nanami pulled out
the pruning shears and began to snip away at one of the bushes of
"That's quite all right. I have other things to do, and—"
"I see him now, Hoshigawa-sempai." Nanami gestured to
the door with the shears. Indeed, Kiryuu was coming towards the
rose garden, his usual flock of admirers conspicuously absent.
"Thank you." Nodding to Nanami, Kohana had to bite at
her lip again to dispel the eerie, hair-raising feeling that the
girl’s smile evoked. She quickly turned and walked to the
door, opening it perhaps a little more forcefully than she usually
Kiryuu caught the door as it swung open and held it for her. "Ah,
"This school can be such a boring place after hours. Shall
we go someplace else?" Smiling graciously, a hint of promise
in her eyes to remind him of which part of their meeting she was
looking forward to, she brushed past him and stopped a few feet
down the walk.
"Of course," he purred, and then called to his sister,
"I'll see you at home, Nanami." His voice seemed a little
sad, though Kohana couldn't reason why. Maybe he'd liked his sister
better when she was chasing away all of his girlfriends.
"Of course, Onii-sama," she said serenely. Kohana waited
for a few moments, listening to the metallic snip of pruning shears
until they were cut off by the sound of the door closing.
As Kiryuu joined her, she asked, "Where shall we go?"
"I know of a place with delicious teriyaki, if you're hungry."
His tone suggested that he might be hungry, though not for food.
But there was something off about it... Shaking away her uneasiness,
she decided that it was because of Kiryuu's sister. The girl was
disturbing. It was no wonder everything seemed a little off.
Kohana turned her thoughts away from the strange girl, back to
the little game she and Kiryuu were indulging in. It wouldn't be
too much longer. "I don't have much of an appetite for teriyaki
right now. Maybe someplace where I can get hot chocolate."
With a bemused little smile, Kiryuu looked around at the bright
late summer day. "It's warm for hot chocolate," he said
"I'm always cold. I need to turn to hot chocolate and other
things to keep me warm." She smiled at him, glancing innocently
at the jacket. They both knew that he would be keeping her warm,
for a little while, anyway.
"I know just the place," he said, smiling devilishly
at her. "Let me carry those." At her nod, he took her
books from her, and began to walk toward the students' parking lot.
He had a car? She'd never really paid attention to who went to
the parking lot. Walking suited her, and there had never been much
reason to take notice of the people she occasionally saw when she
was there. At least Sakura would be there at this time of day. Her
boyfriend had a car, and Kohana decided that she would leave her
books with him. She didn't want Kiryuu to carry them around all
day, and she didn't really need to finish that paper anyway.
Instead of the normal rations of 'Good afternoon, Kohana' and 'Hi,
Kohana', there were muttered conversations and worshipful looks
from her fans as she and Kiryuu made their way to the parking lot
in silence. They weren't touching, quite, but he walked close enough
to her that it spoke rather loudly of whatever small attachment
they had. This earned her several jealous looks; she did not return
them, preferring to walk on normally and let the jealous ones pass
Soon they were at the edge of the parking lot, and she was instantly
spotted by Sakura. Sakura's hand rose, but both her intended greeting
and the wave went limp when she saw Kiryuu walking alongside Kohana.
How interesting. He had an effect on everyone, it seemed. Sakura
had been going out with Ichida since the fourth grade; they were
the Romeo and Juliet of their grade, destined to be together forever.
Kohana tugged Kiryuu's sleeve and started walking in their direction.
He followed without question or comment. As she neared them, she
called out, "Ichida, can I leave my books with you?"
"Skipping homework again..." His voice trailed off as
soon as he looked up from the book he was flipping through. Ichida
was a stereo buff; he was always spending money on his car stereo,
whatever he didn't spend on Sakura. "Good afternoon, Seitokaicho."
"Good afternoon, Seitokaicho," Sakura echoed.
Kohana figured that she'd better at least make introductions. Manners
were very important. "Kiryuu-sempai, this is Hisan Sakura and
her boyfriend, Toyomatsu Ichida."
"Good afternoon." He smiled at them, very much the immaculate
Kohana held out her hands for her books and he gave them to her
with a warmer smile. She handed them to Sakura, and said, "Don't
bother calling tonight. I'll call you when I get home."
Sakura took them, and then, seeming to shake off her amazement,
she said, "You're always in such a bad mood after one of those
visits to the doctor. You should really get over it. Tell your parents
She was always so caring. Kohana wished for a moment that she hadn't
lied to her, so she had someone to really talk to, but she knew
it would only make Sakura pity her. Her cold logical mind reasserted
itself. "You know I can't do that. They'd flip. I'll be fine
tomorrow, I promise."
"You better be." Sakura glanced nervously at Kiryuu,
and then said, "I'll keep my cell on so you won't wake my roommate."
Kohana smiled, then said, "Talk to you later. See you tomorrow,
Amidst a chorus of goodbyes, Kiryuu offered her his arm. They walked
over to a motorcycle, ignoring the people watching them, and as
he took out his keys, Kohana heard someone say, "I suppose
it was only a matter of time... Hoshigawa and Kiryuu are two of
the most popular people in the school."
If only they understood. Smiling secretively, she waited for Kiryuu
to start his motorcycle.