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 Seven


Saionji really started in on her the next morning. When he saw her, his eyes widened, and anger instantly flared in them. "What exactly do you think you’re doing?"

"I’m waiting to practice?" Kohana asked, puzzled. Suddenly she realized what he was angry about and frowned, gesturing to her outfit. The loose white tank top and the red shorts were nothing to get excited over, not by her standards. "There was nothing else—"

"Your disrespect does not go unnoted. The traditional outfit of the hakama and keikogi is all that my students wear in this room." Turning away, he said, "You obviously cannot show the required respect for tradition. You may leave."

Kohana grimaced at his back, her hands clenching tightly into fists before she made them relax. "Saionji-sensei, I—"

"I am no longer your teacher. Your pathetic attempt to make me into one has failed. Goodbye." He placed his shinai in the bin.

"But Saionji-sensei—"

"I said leave!" he snarled, his ponytail whipping as he turned to face her. He looked much angrier than he had a right to be.

"Won’t you at least—"

Stalking toward her, he spoke slowly and menacingly. "Obviously your hearing has failed you prematurely. If so, read my lips; you are not welcome here."

That was just too much. Kohana squared her shoulders, ready to tear him into shreds if need be. "I’m not wearing this out of disrespect, Saionji-sensei, I’m wearing it because I thought it would be more disrespectful to fall out of the practice outfit every time I moved! Do you really think that any of them would fit me? They’re made for guys!"

"You’re rich. Have one made that doesn’t have that particular flaw." He still advanced on her, scowling fiercely.

"And how would I get one this quickly? You can’t blame me for something that’s not my fault!"

"No?" he asked, now standing mere inches away from her. "I can say, however, that you have no talent for kendo. You’re slow, you tire too easily, you’re clumsy, and you have no strength at all. The way you go through your kata is painful to watch. If you want to be a Duelist, I will not help you. Find someone else to teach you!"

Kohana glared up into his fiery purple eyes, trying desperately to keep herself under control. It was holding, for now, but only a thin thread remained. "You can’t expect me to learn everything flawlessly after the first day! Of course I’m slow and clumsy—I’d never even held a practice sword before yesterday! You’ll have to let me stay on—I know I’ll improve. I spent two hours last night practicing!"

"Practicing what?" he sneered. "I very much doubt it was your kendo. Your appetites, though the idiotic fools in this school refuse to notice them, are quite well known to me. The only practicing you did was likely on your back."

Kohana smirked, narrowing her eyes at him. "And after yesterday’s lesson, I doubt you even do that much. Tell me, who did you sleep with to get this position? Kiryuu?"

Before she could dodge it, his hand whipped up and connected with her cheek, snapping her head around with force enough to knock her onto the ground. "Dispense with your feeble insults and leave my kendo room," he said coldly, standing over her and shaking his hand as if he’d hurt it.

There was no doubt in Kohana’s mind that he’d hurt her; her cheek throbbed, and she knew that she’d have bruises from landing on the hard wooden floor. She glared murderously at him and pushed herself up from the ground. "Do you think that proves how manly you are, Saionji-sensei?" she taunted, her fists clenching. "Do you think I respect you now?"

He stood silently and watched her as if she was an insect.

"Do you think your little outbursts frighten me at all?" Kohana asked, her voice low and dangerous. Abruptly, she lashed out with her fist, aiming for his cheek. "Well, they don’t!" she snarled, her fist hitting him squarely and jarring her.

He looked almost surprised as he stared at her, his eyes wide and his hand flying up to cover his injured cheek. As quickly as the surprise was there, it was gone, and he grabbed her by the hair. Kohana lashed out once again, her fist catching a glancing blow on his chest, but due to her surprise it held no force. What had she gotten herself into?

"I told you to leave!" he growled, shaking her by the hair. "Get the fuck out, NOW!"

For an answer, Kohana grabbed his arm and sank her fingernails into the flesh of his wrist. "Let me go!" she snarled, feeling her nails dig in and wetness on her fingertips. She’d drawn first blood. She squeezed harder, and then tried to drag them down the length of his arm. Blood dripped into her hair.

Instead of dropping her, Saionji yanked her forward and then threw her into the wall. Kohana ducked her head to try to protect it, but it wasn’t enough. Stars briefly sparked in her vision; she shook her head, trying to drive away the sudden fuzziness. Saionji’s hand clamped down on her shoulder, and he began to drag her toward the door, Kohana fighting the whole way. A few lucky kicks landed on his legs and abdomen; one of them winded him, and his fingers loosened momentarily. Taking advantage of that brief opportunity, she flung herself forward and felt his grip slide away. Running for the back of the room, as far away from the door as possible, she could hear his footsteps behind her, gaining on her. Despite her efforts, Saionji caught her again just as she’d reached the corner and just before she whirled to face him. His fingers dug painfully into her arm; instead of trying to escape him, she lashed back with her foot, desperately trying to fight him off.

All of a sudden, she felt his fist smash into her back, just over her kidney, and she doubled over in pain, clutching her back. Saionji snarled, jerking her around to face him, and his expression was a mask of anger. "What does it take to get you to fucking leave?"

Instead of speaking, she lashed out again and caught him in the stomach, still holding her injured back with her other hand. Scrambling wildly, she managed to get a few steps closer to the wall, but Saionji grabbed her around the wrist, his fingers locking around it like a handcuff. The small momentum she’d gained was overrun by his; she only had time to turn her head before she crashed into the wall, pain exploding in her chest.

Jerking her wrist up forced a small cry of pain from her, the first she’d given. Saionji’s body pressed hers into the wall, his breath hot on her cheek. "What do you want from me?" he growled, jerking up on her arm again. "Do you expect me to—" He suddenly stopped.

"I want you to teach me," Kohana gritted out, a tear rolling down her cheek because of the pain. "I want to learn kendo. I don’t expect anything else from you, and I don’t care if you decide I’m a better punching bag than a student, so long as I learn something! I can’t duel if I can’t fight!"

"I don’t want anything to do with it!" he snarled. "I don’t give a damn whether you beg or plead or play mind games with me, I don’t want to teach anyone to duel!"

"And why not?" Kohana shifted as much as possible with him still holding her to the wall, trying to ease some of the pressure from her wrist. "Who gives a damn whether there are more Duelists? Have you ever thought that there might be a reason I asked you to teach me?"

The tension in her arm abruptly lessened as Saionji stopped pulling up on it, and when he spoke his voice was a low whisper. "What do you mean by that?" he asked, and then suddenly asked something that made no sense. "Have you heard from Ends of the World?"

Kohana couldn’t cover up her surprise. Her mind stuttered, trying to find some explanation for it, but all she could come up with was that Saionji was insane. "What?"

"Ends of the World," he carefully repeated, as if to a very small child. "Have you gotten a letter?"

"What are you talking about?" Kohana snarled, angrier than before. "You’re fucking insane!"

Strangely, Saionji stepped back, slowly letting her arm down and making no move to stop her when she turned. "You can stay on," he said abruptly, and then turned away. "Get a shinai from the bin."

Rubbing her aching shoulder, Kohana complied without comment. The seething anger inside of her would have to wait.

That night, she got a call from Kiryuu. "Are you busy?" he asked, without any sort of preamble whatsoever.

"I’m doing my homework," Kohana said, slightly irritated but covering it with her usual warm graciousness. "What is it?"

"I’m sure it can wait. I wasn’t able to find you at lunch or after school today, otherwise I would have asked earlier, but I was wondering if you’d like to come over tonight."

She’d specifically avoided him all day, so that he wouldn’t see the bruise on her cheek, but it was safe enough now that she had some makeup to cover it up with. Frowning and rustling some of her papers, she said, "I’m not sure… I have an essay to write, but it’s not due until Friday…"

"That’s plenty of time. I’ll pick you up in a half-hour." He laughed softly. "Unless, of course, you decide that your essay is a better conversationalist."

This might be a problem… but it would look worse if she didn’t go. Kiryuu would realize that she had decided he was unimportant at present if she didn’t go, and she knew well that an ego like that had to be placated. And he was an absolutely delicious lover… "How could I possibly think that?" Kohana smiled to give her words more warmth, stacking her books neatly and putting the papers in order. "Are we going out to dinner?"

"If you like. I’ll see you soon," he said.

After she hung up, Kohana darted to the bathroom and began to apply her makeup. She’d have to figure out an excuse for the bruises—and, of course, she had a perfect one. "I had to leave a little bit early today," she recited to the mirror. "I had a horrible headache, and Saionji was nice enough to let me go home early to rest when he saw that there was no way I could continue. Thankfully, I got home before I fainted, but I was on the stairs…"

Smiling, she finished dabbing concealer on the bruise and revised her lie. It was way too transparent. "Saionji was a jerk about it, of course, but even he saw that I couldn’t practice any more. Honestly, how do you manage with him on the Council? He threatened to kick me out of the kendo room again, but just before I left, he said that I could come back tomorrow…"

It took less than five minutes before she was disturbed again; instead of a phone call, Akiko was at the door. "Kohana—there’s a package for you."

"I’ll be there in a minute. Just leave it on the table." Finishing with the last of her makeup, she carefully inspected her work and pronounced it good enough. Kiryuu would be able to tell, of course, but even if he didn’t believe her lie, he would still pamper and coddle her. That was just the kind of person he was; he liked to be needed, even if he wasn’t always there to provide whatever it was that someone needed.

Just as I like to at least pretend to need people. It’s strange—we fit together so well.

She stepped out into her sitting room, glanced at the box that lay on one of the tables and recognized it instantly. It was a florist’s box. "Such a thoughtful man," Kohana murmured to herself, a wry smile on her face. "Roses, of course, but what color?"

The scent wafted out as she opened the box, the heady perfume filling the air. They were bright and rich red, of course, and the card lying on them said, ‘Rose petals are the softest things on earth’. Grinning, she flipped it over, and as she’d suspected, there was another line of Kiryuu’s writing on the back. ‘I have more at home’.

"Fiend," Kohana chuckled. Interesting. If he’d wanted to entice her, he couldn’t have picked a better way. Even after only a few days of knowing him, she felt as if he’d been there her whole life. Shaking her head, she went to put them in water, dropping the card in the garbage. In only a few days, she knew him almost as well as she knew Sakura or Ichida. Aside from the history she knew about them, there was hardly any difference. It was strange to meet someone who could put her at ease so quickly—usually there was a period where she had to test them, to figure out what they wanted and what she could get from them, but with Kiryuu it was as if she already knew.

And interesting, the way I can never quite stay irritated with him when he exerts his charm. I’ve got to be more careful about this.

"I wonder why he’s spending so much time with me?" she asked herself, arranging the roses carefully. "I know it’s not because he trusts me. He doesn’t trust anyone."

He was right not to, of course. Just as she was right not to trust him. But it made no difference—even if she didn’t like him, as she reluctantly admitted that she did, she would still have spent the night at his house. He was interesting.

After meeting her for the first time, I held on to the preconceptions I’d formed even before I met her. I didn’t want to think I might be consigning a kindred spirit to the unprofitable struggle I’d faced, so I decided not to think that. I had assumed that after our first meeting, she would be flattered and fascinated, the way my meaningless admirers were, and she would put up some ineffectual resistance before ‘allowing’ herself to be seduced. After that, she should have fallen in with the others, a pretty face and a heart laid open for me to toy with. I assumed that I would become bored and that I would serve my time educating her to be the Seitokaicho, finding out her weaknesses with ease and speed and sending her on to whatever awaited her with no regret. She was just another toy, no matter how much she reminded me of myself, and I had more than enough affection and admiration already.

It’s frustrating when things don’t work out the way you expect them to.

Instead of convincing her and flattering her into submission, I found myself in bed with her so quickly that I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d gotten there. It seemed like I knew her, and I kept noticing that when I would normally have met with some resistance, she would encourage me. She would drop little hints, sly innuendos, promising smiles and almost, but not entirely, plain words to the effect that in my bed was where she wanted to be. I couldn’t help but be startled afterward—for once in my life I’d been the seduced as well as the seducer. It was almost as if we’d come to an unspoken decision that the preliminaries were mostly meaningless and carried out only by habit. Halfway through our date, if that was what it could be called, I wasn’t sure that I could have prevented sleeping with her even if I hadn’t wanted to. It seemed so easy, so natural. That, I think, was one of the strangest things about our friendship—no matter how cruel or perverse or affectionate our later games seemed to anyone else, they were always natural to us.

Surprise number two: she was the most experienced girl of her age that I’d ever been with. Due to my previous experience with girls in her grade, I hadn’t expected all that much, and that low estimate was disintegrated by her obvious skill. The time and talent she hadn’t invested in her schoolwork was being invested elsewhere. I shouldn’t even have to mention that this pleased me immensely. That was when I began to think that perhaps training her to be the Seitokaicho wouldn’t be completely boring after all.

Afterward, I surprised myself by actually bantering with her, at least until Nanami bothered us. Talk after sex had never interested me much before; I replied to it as a matter of habit, but to actually pay attention? Ridiculous. But I did, with Kohana. She intrigued me. And then, after a short period of rest and silence, which, unlike most, she seemed quite happy to keep, she got up and began to dress, as if it had been just another night and just another lover.

I have to say that I was faintly offended by this. I was not just another night and just another lover. It was as if I’d been used—exactly the way I used other people. And I could hear the laugh in her voice as she said she would let herself out. My mind stuttered blankly for an explanation for a moment or two, and then it suddenly smoothed into place for me. I’d been right. She was like me, more than I’d suspected, and certainly more than I wanted. I was seeing myself at that age—female, but from what I’d seen, the motives and the methods were exactly the same. I didn’t even realize that I’d almost completely disregarded my main objective until we reached her house.

A girl. A girl younger and (supposedly) less experienced had somehow managed to completely evade giving me what I wanted from her, instead diverting me into pursuit of something pleasurable but pointless. I hesitate to think what would have happened if Saionji had been the one to speak with her—I don’t think I would have had an assistant at all, and I probably would have found Saionji collapsed in his dorm. I’m exaggerating, of course, but I’m not sure that anyone else would have been able to handle her.

It was like standing in a dark room, absolutely sure that I was alone, and then turning to find someone else standing beside me so closely that her arm brushed mine. Startled, interested, and wary, I requested more information about her—of course, I had already found out about her illness before I approached her, but that wasn’t what I was interested in. I was told that I would have to find out about her on my own.

Even then, I couldn’t help expecting that she would eventually fall into place and do as she was told. Namely, fall in love with me and be my willing slave. That was what almost everyone else had done, and that, I assumed, was what Kohana would do.

She kept adamantly refusing to do it.

There was always that hard look in her eyes, as if she was saying to me, ‘You can have this, but not this. You can be my lover, but I won’t love you. You can be my superior, but I won’t listen to you if it doesn’t suit me. You can keep things from me, but I’ll find them out even though you don’t want me to.’ She only went along with something if she decided that it was in her interest to do so. It was like all of the power I had, all my skill at manipulating people and all the admiration that I received from everyone else, all of that was nothing. I was a toy, to be used when her appetite demanded it, and thrown aside when I had no further use at the moment. Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy it.

So, after her first clash with Saionji, I made myself intrusive. The only way to capture more of her notice than passing interest was to be in a position of power when she was around—I tried to make sure of that, while keeping it as subtle as possible so that I would feed her ego by showing her that she was valuable enough not to be one of the people I lorded over. At first, I fell for the display she put on about wanting to be loved, and concentrated my efforts on that, but I’m sure that it had very little effect on her. She already knew that I used girls who loved me.

I ask myself, sometimes, what it was that interested me so. She was, after all, just a pretty girl, and I could easily have gone without seeing her other than at Seitokai meetings and the occasional quick liaison in a secluded spot. The answer?

That was what she wanted. She wanted me to leave her alone except when she had a use for me. As determined as she was to show me that she only went along with the things I wanted because she wanted them too, I was equally determined not to let her think of me simply as a tool to be used. I wanted to create a situation where she would find it more advantageous to have me around. I wanted her to want me; not only with her body, because we both knew that was unimportant, but with her mind and her heart as well. Even when I first met her, she was anything but another pretty girl. She constantly upset my expectations, just as she had done, though in different ways and for different reasons. Where she had been noble, Kohana was a lying, backstabbing fraud. Where she was kind and caring, Kohana was cold and unmoved by anything but her own desire and her own anger. It shames me to say so now, after eight years of growing away from the person I was, but I could relate to that. I could even admire it in a twisted way. She was a beautiful deceiver, armed with lovely lies and sweet seduction, and unlike the other girls, she was an important star in the constellation of Ohtori. Charming, witty, sensual, intelligent—she could have been a great ally. Even I had to recognize worth when I saw it.

The hard pace of the next days was increasingly frustrating. Not because of the kendo—although the exercise was unfamiliar, her body was slowly adjusting to the demands that were made of it.

The problem was the men in her life.

In fact, most of her problems stemmed from Saionji and Kiryuu. No matter how hard she tried to stay calm during Saionji’s thinly disguised attempts to force her to stop learning kendo, almost every day there was a fight of one kind or another. Thankfully the brawls didn’t happen every day… but they did happen often enough that Kohana had started to carry makeup to cover up the bruises she couldn’t pass off as marks from the shinai. There was no way she was going to give up.

And Kiryuu was almost as bad, with his insinuations that she might do better in fencing and his constant pestering. It was true, she did find him interesting, and she liked him, but he was entirely too present in her life. She didn’t want a boyfriend, she wanted a lover. It was truly beginning to trouble her that he wouldn’t let a day go by without stopping her to speak to her. It seemed as if he wanted a part of her. She didn’t like it. He’d already gotten too much for safety’s sake when he’d pried the ‘confession’ from her.

There was nothing she could do to drive him away, however… and when she was with him, she didn’t really want him to leave. He was intelligent, interesting, a wonderful lover… and she liked all of those qualities about him. He interfered a great deal in her life, however—she would be simply walking through the halls, minding her own business, and he would appear out of nowhere to flash his charming grin at her and distract her while she was trying to concentrate on how to pry what she wanted out of Saionji. It didn’t make life easier for her in any way… and it didn’t make it any more comfortable that all he had to do was smile and flirt with her to distract her.

The secrets were more important. Not Kiryuu, not Saionji—the secrets of the Dueling Arena and the secrets that the Seitokai were keeping. Kiryuu knew them, she was sure, but he wouldn’t volunteer any more about them whenever she spoke to him, no matter how subtly she pried. And Saionji…

He was impossible.

He was maddening!

It was as if she’d hit a dead end. All Saionji would ever do when she even touched on them was make snide remarks about her performance, or if she’d pushed him too far, explode. It didn’t make for very pleasant days. Worst of all, she hadn’t made any sort of progress with him. None. She, who had considered herself as near to irresistible as humanly possible, had failed to make any sort of headway whatsoever with the incredibly stubborn Saionji. It was as if all the skill and all the care she took to make sure that she was the closest thing to a dream on earth had no effect on him.

Well, perhaps it had some effect… but not nearly enough. He should have been begging for even one night with her, and all she got was the furtive slide of his gaze over her body when he thought she wasn’t paying attention.

In an effort to convince him that she was most definitely available, she finally decided to try stronger measures than the subtle hints she’d been dropping. She had graduated to free sparring with Saionji once in a while, and all she had to do was wait for her opportunity.

When it came, she was in the middle of a mock-battle with him, her shinai clumsily reaching to strike at him while he easily flicked her strikes away. It was more than frustrating, more than maddening—she’d never failed at anything she’d tried so hard at before, and here she was, failing at both kendo and seduction! Her temper almost got the better of her before she saw her chance.

Saionji stepped to the side, effortlessly blocking another of her strikes and sending her shinai flying out of the way. She was quick, but he was quicker and he had years of practice to back up his speed. She could feel his eyes on her, not only watching what she was doing but also the way she moved and the way her thin and sweat-soaked tank top stuck to her skin. It was the only reassurance she had that he actually even cared for women. "Move faster," he snarled, anger and desire mingling in his eyes. "You can’t expect to win if you can’t hit anything!"

To prove his point, he swung the shinai at her in a flurry of blows. Blocking desperately, Kohana managed to catch the first few on her shinai, but he quickly overcame her awkward defense and landed stinging blows on her arms. They were more of an insult than anything else; he could have ended the match there, but he’d chosen to make her fight on even though it was the end of the day and they were both tired. "I’m trying," she panted, swinging her shinai back up into a defensive position. "I can’t help it that I first picked up a sword less than a month ago!"

"You’ll have to try harder," Saionji sneered. "You’ll never win a duel at this rate." Launching himself forward, he battered her shinai down.

Kohana’s developing instincts and her anger demanded that she dodge to the side, but her logical mind suddenly froze her in place. Now was her chance. She let one hand fall from the hilt of her shinai, as if Saionji’s blow had wrenched away her grip, and relaxed the tiniest bit before his shoulder crashed into her chest.

It worked exactly as she’d hoped; inelegant, crude even, but the only way she could think of to force him to act on more than his contempt for her. Her legs tangled with his, and she reflexively grabbed at his shoulder, trying to steady herself. Saionji was shocked into seizing her to keep them both from falling, dropping his shinai as they staggered and holding her tightly. His forward momentum had carried him a bit too far; Kohana couldn’t move without falling, her arm locked around his neck, her body pressed tightly to his and her cheek lying against his chest. Winded because of the blow to her chest, she stayed still, feeling the light sheen of perspiration on the smooth skin of his chest. His arms tightened around her and she felt him take a deep breath.

Finally! Some sort of reaction!

Very, very slowly, Kohana pulled her feet under her, her body sliding along his until she was standing upright, still clinging to him. He didn’t seem to be inclined to let go of her either. Perfect. Carefully lifting her head, she brought her gaze up to his eyes, her lips gently parted.

Those pretty purple eyes were darkened with hunger, the pupils dilated. Kohana didn’t smile, didn’t do anything but watch him. Surely he could feel that every inch of her was completely willing. Surely he could feel how much she wanted him to just give in. It was almost painful to be this close without actually having him.

You have to kiss me, or I think I’m going to die…

It was as if he heard her thought. Leaning down, his arms tightened around her, his lips tearing at hers in an ardent, angry kiss. The aching want she felt was quickly stripped away; Kohana dropped her shinai, wrapping her other arm around his neck as well, and returned that kiss with ferocity that almost surprised her. Her anger was shredded, replaced by a growing sense of triumph. Still out of breath, Kohana clung tightly to him, gasping for air and digging her fingers into his shoulders as his hands began to press and knead at her sides. It was as if he was trying to decide whether to tear her clothes off right then.

In all her frustration, Kohana had never considered that he might want her exactly as much as she wanted him. The thought was gratifying. Mouth locked on his, she moved with him as he took a step forward and then another, until she was pressed up against the wall of the kendo room. All of her self-control was involved in not ripping off his traditional hakama and keikogi right there—she wanted to feel him all over her, to take him and make him hers. But if she knew anything about him, she knew that he always wanted to dominate. He had to make the first move.

And he did, finally tearing the thin cloth of her tank top out from under her shorts, his hands roaming her skin. Divine, calluses just rough enough to be pleasant and fingernails just long enough to bite gently. His hand slid up to her breast, molding it with delightful pressure.

And suddenly he pushed himself off of her, turning his back and walking a few steps away.

Kohana almost screamed at him. Clamping her jaws shut on the absolute rage she felt, she took a few deep breaths to calm herself and then stepped away from the wall. She carefully kept her voice low and even as she asked, "Saionji?"

She barely saw him turn before her head was rocked to the side by the backhanded slap he threw at her. Crumpling to the floor, she again gritted her teeth over the snarl that wanted to escape and then held her injured cheek.

"Don’t," he said. "Don’t ever try that again. I have no interest in a whore like you."

Stunned, Kohana could only watch his back as he left the room. Then, pushing herself up from the floor, she chuckled, still holding her injured cheek. "Bad move, Saionji. You shouldn’t insult people who like you." Her eyes narrowed in enjoyment.

Once her heat and frustration had cooled into icy anger, Kohana found it much easier to analyze and plan. Taking all factors into account, she began to see patterns she hadn’t before. Saionji had an overriding need to dominate that could be used against him, and though she couldn’t be as vicious as she liked and still come out looking like the victim, she could still keep him on a short leash if she simply used the tool he’d finally given her.


His last words to her had sounded angry, yes, and he had sounded disgusted, but underneath that, he had been ashamed of himself. It explained a lot of things. She’d been too angry with him to see it before, but every time he’d gone a little bit easier on her, it had been after he’d hit her. Every time she’d caught him looking at her body, she’d seen the shame in his eyes as he quickly looked away, even though she hadn’t understood what it was. It was as if he knew he shouldn’t look at her or want to touch her… and he definitely knew he shouldn’t hit her.

But every time he did, he grew angrier with himself, which in turn made him lash out at her for being the source of his problems, which made him angrier…

He had already caught himself in a neat little trap. All Kohana had to do was use it to her advantage.

The only question left was the person who would punish him if he were caught, and that one was easy enough to answer. Kiryuu. He was the only other lover she had with any connection to Saionji, the only one on the Seitokai that could expel a student without a lengthy teachers’ hearing, and it was easy to make the assumption that he knew about Saionji’s violent nature. It wasn’t as if Saionji was careful to hide it, which led to other assumptions, all neatly interlocking in an arrangement she felt to be true. Kiryuu had told Saionji that he would tolerate no more abuse toward Kohana; Kiryuu had either warned Saionji about her manipulative nature or had made clear that he thought he had some sort of claim on her; Kiryuu was as interested in her future as Seitokaicho as she was. And he actually was a friend of Saionji’s. This was gratifying. She could take Kiryuu’s friend away from him and hurt Saionji badly, and still come out looking like the innocent.

All she had to do was brave a little pain. And what did a little pain matter anyway? She’d been dealing with headaches that would knock grown men down since she was ten years old.

For a few days, Kohana let her plan wait. Saionji needed to get over his current spell of guilt, more severe than any before, and Kohana had other things on her mind.

The rest of the Seitokai were her problem now. Though she hadn't seen them all together again, she'd caught glimpses of Arisugawa and Kaoru around the school, doing whatever it was that they did, and she'd managed to unobtrusively turn the gossip to them whenever she could. So far she'd gathered quite a bit of information—most of which was useless except as a measure of their outside personalities. Arisugawa was one of the most private people in the world, it seemed. Kohana was only able to find out three useful pieces of information. She was friends with a girl named Shiori, had never gone out with any of the guys, and she apparently hid a bad temper underneath her elegance. An intensely reined in personality like that was always likely to hide a softer core—Kohana would have to find out where the weak spots in her control were.

And Kaoru... he had a twin sister who was quite the man-chaser, though without the finesse that Kohana had. Apparently Kozue was quite possessive of Kaoru, chasing other girls away from him in subtle ways, and generally keeping him on a short leash. Kaoru himself seemed to be exactly as she'd pinned him; an innocent, though his genius gave him great strength that wasn't readily apparent. She actually felt a little bit of affection for him, despite the fact that he was a member of the Seitokai and thus party to the secret they were keeping from her. Kaoru might be the easiest to crack about it... but then again, he might not be if it was personally important to him.

After long thought, she decided tentatively that the reason Kaoru had dueled Kiryuu was that he objected to Kiryuu's possession of the Rose Bride. Yes, Kiryuu had explained to her a little more about the duels and what it meant to be a duelist in between amusing themselves in other ways. Possession of the Rose Bride was all. The rose on one's chest was more important than life itself. And the Rose Bride was sworn to do whatever the current Champion asked, otherwise treating them exactly as a fiancée. It was no small stretch to think that Kaoru would be disgusted at Kiryuu's control over his sister. Already being in a relationship somewhat like that would lead Kaoru to abhor it in others, and it helped that she'd heard that Kaoru was a friend of Nanami's.

Now, if only she could prove it to her satisfaction, as she’d proven Kiryuu’s involvement in her feud with Saionji… but that could wait. There was so much going on that she needed to know!

At least no one had really commented on her bruises. The only one who ever questioned her was Kiryuu, and he at least pretended to believe the lies about how she got them. Things were progressing quite nicely with him, though she was careful to watch him more closely than ever. He sometimes offered her little attentions, like a velvet ribbon for her hair so that it would stay out of her eyes during her sword training, or taking her out to dinner on a day that neither of them were busy. Of course, she reacted to this as she naturally would have if she hadn't been the one who instigated it; cautious, a little confused, but gradually accepting of them. He still hadn't caught on, and it kept him occupied. He wouldn’t have a chance to interfere in her plans.

As Saionji’s shame lessened, Kohana began to stay on the alert, waiting for the fight that would set her scheme in motion.

It came as a blessing when Saionji told her that he was going to leave her alone to practice for a while. She had a few moments alone to add up facts about the Seitokai and what they seemed to want from her, and the castle. She hadn't been back to the duel grounds yet—a pity, as she would have loved to see it during full daylight. It had come to hold a kind of fascination for her—as she practiced, she reviewed everything she had seen and done on the night of the duel.

If only she could see some kind of proof that she wasn't just working for nothing. Hope wasn't an emotion she felt often, but Kiryuu had given her hope. A hope of a hope, anyway. The cruel bastard. Hoping for hope was painful.

It took a lot of effort to turn her mind away from that thin hope. She'd already decided that she was going to win the duels, if only for that slight chance that it might be real, and there was no point in dwelling on it further.

An hour, two hours passed, and Saionji still hadn’t shown up. If he’d had a test, it should have been over by this point. Kohana wondered vaguely if he was going to come back at all, but dismissed it from her mind, concentrating on forcing out just one more perfect strike. Her whole body ached from exertion. It wasn’t the last of her exercises—there were always more—but she couldn’t hold the shinai up properly any more. Tired, she let her trembling arms rest.

Saionji's voice came from the doorway. "I had begun to hope that someday you might be a creditable duelist. Thank you for showing me that I was wrong before I wasted any more time on you."

"How long were you standing there? Because if you just got here, let me fill you in on what happened while you were gone. I practiced. I practiced as hard as I ever have." He was absolutely intolerable! "Just because you weren't here doesn't mean I was slacking off."

"I highly doubt that. I should never have taken you on. Now that you've proven to me that you haven't the discipline to learn, you may leave." The utter contempt on his face was almost enough to make her angry instead of cold. He walked over to the back of the hall, ignoring her completely.

"Saionji. I put the shinai down for a few moments because my arms were trembling. I haven't even let go of it yet. I don't care if you want me here or not, I will come here and I will practice with or without your help."

He didn't bother to turn around when he answered her. "I won't have an undisciplined weakling sullying my hall. Leave."

Kohana stalked over to him, disregarding the weakness in her legs. It was time. Grabbing his arm, she hauled him around to look at her. "I'm staying here and I'm learning. Teach me or not, but I won't leave either way."

Saionji threw her backward, her feet skidding over the polished wooden floor and nearly going out from under her before she caught her balance. Snarling, she rushed him, trying to remember what he'd taught her. It felt good to give in to the anger, because this time it was useful. It would get her what she wanted.

She connected with a couple good strikes on his arm and chest before he managed to evade her. He hadn't expected that; he was off guard. Quickly she threw herself to the side before he could grab the sword from her, landing another hit on his back. He growled and grabbed for her again, missing by a hair.

"What's the matter, Saionji? Can't catch a girl whose body is rotting around her?" she taunted.

When he grabbed at the sword again, she rapped his knuckles sharply. The pain only made him angrier, his face twisting in rage, and the gaps between his fingers and her body began to lessen. He was catching up to her. For a moment she wondered at the wisdom of allowing a murderously angry swordsman to attack her in a kendo hall, easily within reach of many sharp objects, but she tossed it off. This was actually fun, in a twisted way.

Until he caught her hair. She let out a yelp of pain, feeling some of it come out by the roots as he dragged her backward. Her feet tangled together and she crashed into him, dropping the practice sword, fighting and clawing at him to let her go. They hit the floor hard, rolling over and over in a tangle of limbs.

Thrashing wildly, she fought with every ounce of strength she could muster. It was no use; they were pressed together so tightly that his weight alone would have pinned her down, and naturally, he had landed on top of her. So she did what she could to enrage him further as he fought her down, even going so far as to spit in his face.

That did it. Something in Saionji snapped, some vital connection between his anger and his actions had been made, and for the first time, Kohana vaguely felt a sense of fear. He grabbed her head and slammed it into the floor, pulling it up by the hair and slamming it down again. Stunned, Kohana went limp for a moment. It was long enough for him to pin her arms to the ground, holding the rest of her with his weight. As her head cleared, she began to fight again, forcing her exhausted body to comply. His eyes were wild with sheer fury, his teeth bared in a snarl. "You've been the bane of my existence since the first day I heard about you," he panted. "You’ve been nothing but trouble for me—your pathetic attempts to learn the sword, your arrogant words and your disgusting displays—I won't put up with it any longer!"

There was no way she could give in, even if she was a little afraid. It might be giving up her only chance to control him. He had to be so angry that he didn’t know what he was doing anymore, and she knew exactly what to say. "You're nothing to me, Saionji. Only a means to an end. And once I'm through with you, I'll throw you away like all the rest." She smiled ferociously.

"You little whore!" Pulling her arms above her head, he clamped one hand around her wrists and slapped her across the face with the other.

Disregarding the blood taste where her teeth had cut the inside of her cheek, she grinned at him again, her heart quickening as her fear grew more real. His eyes held nothing but animal wrath. This would be painful—if she didn’t keep herself relaxed. Just a few more words, and a little pain, and then it would be her victory over both Saionji and Kiryuu. "Only to those who are good enough. And you aren't." She undulated against him. "Enjoy this, because it's all you'll ever get from me. You don’t deserve any more."

As she’d hoped, he latched onto her meaning—probably he could only think that it was the best way to hurt her. Tearing the cotton tank top down the front, he snarled wordlessly, too enraged to speak.

It was searingly painful in the beginning, but she forced herself to relax despite the pain. It was easy enough—she’d had to ignore pain since the very first time her bad migraines had started, and they were harder to relax through. Deciding that it was just rough sex helped quite a bit. She’d had experience enough with that. He didn't seem to notice at first when she began to thrust her hips up to his, the friction turning delightful as she grew wetter, but he did when she began to moan, though it was soft. It snapped him back to himself, the mostly rational Saionji that would never dream of raping a woman. Kohana locked her legs around his hips before he could pull away. His eyes were wild with horror at his actions, but he began to calm down as she smiled, though he still tried to pull away. Slowly, carefully, she loosened one of her arms from his grasp, his pretty, confused purple eyes moving to her hand as she brought it up to his face. Those eyes turned unbelieving as she laid her finger across his lips, puckering her lips in a silent "Shh."

Saionji would have said something anyway, but she was moving again before he could. Snaking her arm around his neck, she began to push her hips upward again, urging him to respond with little strings of kisses placed across his chest and up his neck. In moments it had turned from quasi-rape to heated passion. This was much more enjoyable, and Kohana let him know it with little purrs of delight and sucking kisses along his neck. Ripples of bliss flooded her limbs; his forceful thrusts had her gasping. The confirmation, the crowning glory of her victory, came when he hesitantly placed a kiss on her temple.

That's right, give in. You don't need to be afraid of what I'll do to you afterward. You’ll at least survive it.

The fabric of the keikogi he was still wearing was a delectable abrasion on her nipples; the feel of him pounding inside her and the knowledge of her triumph kept her at the edge of orgasm for a long time. Saionji rained kisses down on her face, his free hand no longer pinning hers to the floor, but wandering the length of her body. Only her concentration on pleasing him kept her from her climax.

And she did please him. It was easy to tell. His little growls of pleasure were absolutely adorable, much more agreeable than the contemptuous tone he affected. Surprisingly enough, he was also an attentive lover, and quite skilled, though he was a little unrefined. That could be changed easily enough.

Before long, both of them were straining to reach their peaks. And such a wonderful strain it was, pressure coiling in Kohana's middle, Saionji's warm breath teasing her ear as she scratched lightly down his back. With a last desperate thrust of her hips, the urgency burst, her climax flowing through her in torrents of rapture. She was forced to stifle a loud moan in his shoulder. Not long after that, his cock drove into her one last time before he shuddered in sensual delight.

After a few moments of rest, he slowly moved off of her, as if he were trying not to frighten a wild animal. It must have been a fair comparison, from his point of view.

Some sort of conversation should follow this.

She was too tired to care. Days and days of unceasing practice, never a rest in sight from all of the work she had to do, her only recreation as strenuous as any work already, and the most recent indulgence of said recreation, not to mention the fight beforehand… she was completely worn out. Saionji was silent beside her, no doubt waiting for her to open her eyes so that he could stutter out some sort of apology. That didn't make her any more inclined to put forth the great effort of speaking.

The floor was just hard enough to be annoying. Using the last of her strength, she rolled over, curling herself up to Saionji's side and using his shoulder as her pillow. He stiffened, no doubt surprised. Cracking an eye open, she glanced wearily at his face. He was watching her as if he didn't quite know what to do with her. Satisfied, she closed her eye and huddled closer to him, shivering a little. She was very cold.