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 Sixteen


The dimness in the room was only disturbed by the light shining from the door; the nurses were going about their rounds, and Kohana knew that one of them would soon be in to check on her. Familiar routine. The hospital. The lowest points of her life were always the hospital, the antiseptic halls and the dusty smell, the underlying scent of disease and decay. White-robed people wandering around, caring for the sick, the weak, the dying. It made her nauseous.

She supposed she might have slept for a little while—the sedative seemed to have worn off, and she could still feel the dim fuzziness of her body that told her she was under an extremely mild anesthetic. If only there was a way she could trust in them to put her mind under as well—it would have helped. The hospital was the only time in her life she ever wished she didn’t have to think.

And what else is there to think about, except the hospital? I’ll be spending the last of my life in a place like this.

It wasn’t something she ever wanted to think about, but here in this sterile, unfeeling place, with the mindless doctors and nurses scurrying around like ants over carrion, it was something she couldn’t help thinking about. The day of her death. Another day in the hospital. Her thoughts had danced around it ever since she was brought here, edging closer and closer, and she could do nothing to stop them. All she could do was wait, struggling as hard as she could not to think about it, her thoughts moving inexorably toward it.

The headaches grow worse.

She knew what to expect. She knew, and it was the only thing she could actually admit frightened her. Four years old, and she’d been in the hospital because of chicken pox. They hadn’t found anything but a few anomalies then—she’d been released, but the yearly checkups had been increased to three times a year because of the strange reactions of her body and the small headaches that a four year old child had no earthly reason to have.

Decreased muscle control, first symptoms: loss of fine motor control, trembling hands.

At six, she’d fainted while on a swing. The teachers had called her parents, frantic, because she wouldn’t wake up. She had a hazy memory of this event—her head had hurt all day, and then suddenly the pain had sharpened and stabbed through her so fast that she couldn’t even slow the swing before she felt herself fall. She didn’t remember hitting the ground. The hospital was what she remembered, waking up to the pale, strained face of her mother, her father looking anxiously down at her. She’d been in the hospital for a week while they ran tests, ruling out viruses and tumors and rare forms of anemia, although they’d known she was slightly anemic since she was four and nothing seemed to help it. They’d sent her home, puzzled.

Physical deterioration accelerates. Muscle mass begins to decrease, and confinement to a wheelchair becomes necessary.

The tests had gone on. For a year, her parents hadn’t told her anything but that she had to go see the doctor. Confused and scared at first, she’d soon found that there was no point in asking what was wrong with her—no one would say anything, and they all insisted that she was fine. Looking back, perhaps they’d insisted a little too much. At the time, however, she grew accustomed to it and bored with it. Her head hurt sometimes. She grew accustomed to that too.

Internal organ degradation. I won’t be able to breathe or eat properly because it’ll be too much strain on my body.

The next time she had a bad attack, she was sent to a different hospital. She’d read her files; the doctors who had worked on her were among the best in Japan. Some of them were the best in the world, called in to consult on her case and paid great amounts of cash not to reveal the name of the patient who had been of such interest to the genetic researchers in the medical community. At the time, she knew none of this. She’d wanted to go home—her head hurt and she wanted to rest. She wanted to be left alone, without the needles and the prodding and the questions, they always asked the same questions over and over… She wanted her own room instead of this white room that her parents tried to make friendly by buying her flowers and balloons and stuffed animals. Could she have a kitten? Kameko had a pretty little silver kitten with a little white bib on his chest… Her mother had smiled and kissed her and said that they would have to wait and see.

When it gets bad enough, I’ll need machines to help me live.

The ride home was strange. For once, her parents hadn’t been with her. The driver had picked her up, and they’d silently traversed the streets to her house. There had been nobody waiting for her except Akiko, and the house was deathly still. When she asked where her parents were, the smile had slid from Akiko’s face, and she was told that her parents were busy. And the next day, when she was in the garden, paying no attention to the way her head throbbed and pounded because it always did now, her mother had come to her and coldly said that she was dying. If her condition progressed as it had been, they didn’t expect her to live much longer.

The pain—I’ve been living with it all my life. What would pain so bad that even I need painkillers be like? I don’t want to be addicted to them, but Sato said it would probably happen…

Kohana shuddered. The memory of her mother’s face and the cold, dead hurt in her eyes wasn’t enough to start her crying any longer—her parents were nothing to her now. Genetic disorder. That was the best term they’d been able to find for what was wrong with her, and there was no way to fix it. She didn’t remember much of the next few weeks. She hadn’t gone to school. The house had been silent. They thought she didn’t understand, but she did, and she made a decision. She wasn’t going to die. And since they’d abandoned her, she wasn’t going to need them anymore.

I don’t need anyone.

She began to study her illness. She knew the effects and she knew the terms they used, and she scheduled her own appointments with her doctors. She fought it off every way she could. Her health, never really a problem before, became excellent—she made sure of that. For years she fought, doing everything she possibly could to stave off the death that inched closer and closer with every passing day.

I won’t be able to eat anymore… they’ll have to feed me with IV’s. I’ll look like some sort of drug addict, with all the holes in my arms.

And she won. There was a marked improvement in her condition. By the age of twelve, she was as healthy as she would ever be, except for the constant headache. Mentally, however, she was exhausted. Depression haunted her every movement, her silent house filled with it, and the infrequent intervals where she heard her mother’s yelling coming from the study sent her shaking to her room. Intellectually she knew that it wasn’t her fault her parents were on the verge of divorce—she’d studied them too, and found that they weren’t the wonderful people she’d thought them when she was still a child.

Will my muscles fail before or after I can’t eat? Before, I think… does that mean that I won’t have the strength to feed myself even while I can still eat solid food? I’ll be stuck in a bed…

When a twelve-year-old girl tries to commit suicide, it often fails. Kohana came close to succeeding.

I won’t even be able to bathe myself then—I’ll get bedsores because I won’t even be able to turn over without help.

The realization that she would never be healthy again was too much. Even though she won, she would still lose in the end. Her parents had never told her that they expected her to die at the age of ten at the earliest—she found out that she had a few more years to live. She could see twenty. Perhaps even twenty-five. And she’d wasted four years of her life, hiding her illness, fighting it off, worrying only about it and about how long she had left.

Senses begin to fail. I’ll go blind. Will I forget what colors look like?

That was the end of her worries when it came to death. Why bother anymore? Why not enjoy life, so that she had something to look back on and remember with fondness? Why not have fun? She wouldn’t save up her life, always fearing, always wondering, always careful and watchful for any sign of weakness. Who could live like that?

Will I be able to remember music clearly enough to listen to it when I can no longer hear?

So she carefully folded up her worries and put them away. She had a choice—she could die, never having lived, or she could die knowing that she’d seen more than just the insides of hospitals and lived more than some people would live in fifty or seventy years.

They think I might go insane from the isolation.

And it was better, as long as she wasn’t in the hospital, where she was sharply reminded of the things that faced her.

I wonder, how long can a mind stand being cut off from everything? How long will it seem? I won’t be able to move or feel or talk—how long will it be before the deterioration interferes with my thoughts?

Kohana stared up at the ceiling, unblinking. Fear paralyzed her, cold and dry, as if she’d been completely frozen. The thin blankets they provided in the hospital were never enough to warm her. The ceiling was shadowed, white and speckled with black.

I should just kill myself when it starts to happen. I’ll do it right this time. Sato’s said that it’s impossible to predict when it’ll happen—I could go on like this for years, or my body could fail tomorrow.

Brisk footsteps in the hall outside her room alerted Kohana to a nurse. Closing her eyes, she carefully made her face blank and tried to pretend that she was sleeping. She had a lot of practice doing that—the nurse didn’t disturb her. She didn’t want to talk to anyone right now.

Softer footsteps approached her room, hesitated outside the door, and then entered. Kohana heard the nurse stand up straight; it wasn’t someone who worked in the hospital.

Touga, is that you?

She didn’t open her eyes. He would know that she was upset.

He moved around for a few moments, setting things down in places where Kohana assumed she would be able to reach them. Finally, something soft and comfortingly heavy was drawn over her with the greatest care for her injuries. A blanket. She was still cold, but it started to get a little better after that.

“She looks so sweet when she sleeps,” the nurse said, and Kohana could hear the smile in her voice.

“I know,” Touga murmured. A rustle of cloth from the chair beside the bed told Kohana that he’d sat down. “Angelic, even.”

“Are you her boyfriend?” the nurse asked.

What does it matter?

"What?" Touga sounded surprised that she would ask. After a moment of thought, he said, "I don't know. It's complicated."

That was strange. Why wasn’t he flirting? It was what she would have done if she’d been in his position.

Laughing, the nurse replied, "You know, that's exactly what she said. You must know her very well." Kohana decided that she was going to strangle her if she laughed again. That was far too loud with her head the way it was.

There was a sudden amusement in Touga's voice. He must have noticed that she was awake. "I suppose."

Not yet. Please don’t make me talk to you yet.

The nurse continued, seemingly unaware of Touga's silent amusement. "I wanted to ask if her parents really were as bad as she said. She seemed alert enough, but we have to be sure she wasn't just reacting badly to the sedative and imagining things. We would really like to contact them if at all possible; they have a right to know that their child was in an accident."

"What did she say about them?" He kept his voice even and disinterested, even though this was almost like asking him if his parents were as neglectful.

The nurse hesitated before answering, but evidently decided that it couldn't hurt to tell him. "That it would cause more trouble than it was worth if they even bothered to come see her."

"She was telling the truth. They're not parents. They're a place to live and money to spend." Only Kohana heard the undercurrent of bitterness in his tone.

There was a short pause before the nurse replied. "That's so strange."


"You two must be very close—that's what she said, too." Now that was amusing. If the nurse knew even half of it, she'd probably bar Touga from coming to visit in case either of them decided to continue their feud.

Naturally, Touga decided to steer the conversation away from how alike they were. It wasn't something either of them wanted others to discuss. "I know enough about her to know that she's awake and has been for a while."

Kohana forced a grimace, keeping her eyes shut. “I was trying to sleep.” It was a mixed blessing. She didn’t want to hear about how similar they were, but she still didn’t want to talk to Touga just yet. There was no help for it, though… and somehow, she felt a little better now that there was someone with her. “Touga…” she said, her eyes fluttering open.

"What is it?" As she'd expected, he was seated beside her bed. The uniform was gone; in its place was a black silk shirt and black pants. Along with his pale skin, blue eyes, and that beautiful scarlet hair, he looked absolutely edible.

Smiling to let him know that she appreciated the way he looked, Kohana asked, "What did you do with Sakura?"

"I drove her home." Kohana waited for him to say something more, to indicate somehow what he had said, but he only smiled at her. "Everyone else is gone, now."

Arrogant bastard. Another thought made itself suddenly known, demanding attention. "What time is it?"

He seemed surprised that she would care. "It's eight o'clock. Why?"

"I think Ichida and Saionji must have wondered where the rest of the Seitokai was." Poor Ichida—stuck with Saionji while the rest of the Seitokai was skipping a meeting. Saionji couldn’t have been pleased.

"I talked to Saionji at five thirty, but I didn't tell them how badly off you were. I could hear Ichida demanding to be put on the phone, but Saionji wouldn't let him speak to me." It figured. Saionji was probably just being irritating to alleviate whatever concern he might have. "I'll call them later on to tell them exactly what happened."

Kohana chuckled weakly. "Saionji's a moody bastard. Tell him that if he doesn't come to see me, I'm going to break his katana."

"You're starting to get irrational. Go to sleep." Touga pulled the blanket up to her chin and adjusted the bed so that she was lying flat.

"Yes, Touga-sama. Don't forget to tell them which hospital this is." Kohana relaxed again, allowing herself to become limp. It was easy to relax when someone else was there. She might even be able to fall asleep, as strange as that was. Even the chirping of the ECG didn’t bother her much.

"I will." Leaning back in his chair, Touga picked up a book from the nightstand and began to read, seemingly absorbed in it. Kohana continued to watch him, fully aware that he knew she wasn't trying to sleep, smiling slowly as she saw a smile growing on his face. He continued to read until his cell phone rang, when he glanced at the number and shut it off. The nurse checked the instruments once more and rustled some papers, filling out charts.

Finally he gave up. "What is it?" he asked, blue eyes still turned to the book.

She hadn’t really had anything to say, but before she thought about it, soft words had leaped to her lips. "You don't have to stay here, you know."

"I know." As he glanced up at her, his eyes seemed weary. "Do you want me to leave?"

They really were much older than they should have been at fifteen and seventeen. So old and suspicious of each other than Kohana found it impossible to say what she wanted to. "I didn't say that. I just said you didn't have to stay."

"I know," he said, and looked back to his book. Kohana continued to watch him for a long time; this time neither of them smiled. Eventually the nurse left the room, nodding to Touga as she closed the door behind her. After a moment, he asked again, "What is it, Kohana?"

"I... Thank you for bringing my things." Again, it was impossible for her to say what she meant.

She wasn't sure whether to be grateful or angry when he replied. "I'll stay as long as I can. Get some sleep."

It was too hard to look at him any more. How could he calm her so much just by being there? Part of it was because someone actually cared enough to keep her company… but she knew that wasn’t all of it. Kohana shut her eyes, trying to push away the waking world, and found that the harder she tried, the more elusive sleep became. Instead, she settled for lying with her eyes closed, listening to the steady beep and hum of the machines. Pages turned near her every so often. In time, her ruffled thoughts began to fixate on a point somewhere between them, the tiny connection that seemed to be slowly growing no matter what she did to stop it.

I don't want to care. I hate you.

It didn't fill the empty air, but it was something to concentrate on aside from her weakness. Endless silent moments passed before the nurse opened the door, saying softly, "Visiting hours are over."

There was a rustle from where Touga was sitting, and Kohana's eyes popped open. "Thank you," he said, gathering his keys and his book and rising. The nurse shut the door again.

Touga looked down at Kohana, smiling apologetically. Kohana sighed, ignoring the rivulet of pain that ran around her right side. "I suppose I should sleep now."

"I'll be back tomorrow." The look in his eyes was almost soft, for once, not the cold steel buried under the prince's facade that she usually saw. It could have been a trick of her mind. She might just want to believe that he was there because he cared a little and not just because he wanted to watch her fall apart.

"Good night," Kohana said, letting her eyes flicker shut. If she couldn't trust them, she might be able to trust her ears.

"Sleep well, Kohana." That purring voice was tender, and she knew it wasn’t just her imagination. This didn’t amuse him any more than it amused her—and he did care, at least a little. It wasn’t just that he felt guilty.

That thought, as welcome as it was, frightened her.

Oh, Touga, don't sound like that when you talk to me. We’re still enemies.

The next day saw Kohana able to walk around without much pain. 'Without much pain' by her standards, not the doctor's. It wasn't the crippling, faint-inducing pain of a migraine, though, so it was endurable. And walking around meant that she could have a shower—cleanliness was paramount. She could swear that she still felt dried blood in her hair, though they'd washed it once already. It didn’t matter. Concentrating on normal things was the only way to drive back the claustrophobic fear that had held her that first night, and if shampooing her hair again to get rid of the imaginary dried-blood feeling would help, she would do it.

Naturally, Touga had brought everything she needed. Shampoo, her favorite scented soap, toothbrush, a few changes of clothes, the little makeup she kept at his house, a towel that was much bigger and thicker than the hospital's towels, and, of course, the blanket. He could be so considerate—everything was approximately where she kept it at home or at his house. It was so normal that she unthinkingly reached out for a chocolate while she was reading and startled herself when she'd decided they weren't there and found that they were. She could almost forget that she was in the hospital—the last time anyone had ever cared enough to bring her an extra blanket was when she was seven.

Flowers started to come in; bouquets of all sizes came from almost everyone she knew. Obviously someone had told her admirers that she was in the hospital. There were probably rumors flying around that she'd been attacked, that she had a terrible disease, that she'd saved a child from an oncoming car—who knew what those people would think up without her to guide them and keep them straight?

Probably whatever Touga wants them to think—he's on rumor control today.

Touga had called, leaving a message that said he would be a little bit late because he had some people to speak to at the school. That meant that he was a) going to find some willing girl to waste an hour or two with, and b) going to start some new plot. If it was against Kohana, she didn't care. She couldn't do anything about it until she got out of the hospital anyway.

At any rate, the flowers made the room look like a bower, mercifully hiding the jungle of medical machinery with a jungle of greenery. There was a modestly-sized arrangement of pink roses from Miki—Juri's name was signed as well, but Kohana could picture the way she would toss back her curls and sign abruptly, dropping the pen on the table and turning away. The only reason she had signed it was that Miki had asked her to. Touga had sent a large arrangement of red roses; the romantic streak in him had prompted him to have them delivered before she'd even woken, so that the first thing she'd notice was the scent.

Ichida, too, had gotten her flowers—carnations in different colors. Had he even found out, yet, what had happened? Kohana was forced to assume that Touga had kept his word and told him about it, otherwise he wouldn't have written that he'd always known that she was soft in the head and the skull fracture only proved it. Saionji, of course, sent nothing. Kohana didn't expect him to.

She had just gotten out of the shower again when the first of the visitors arrived, and was seated on the bed, one of her black silk pajama sets on and a towel around her head, brushing up on her Italian. The language was so fluid that it was hard to get her mouth around; she was more used to the staccato sounds of Japanese and the modest knowledge of English she'd gained while traveling. Kohana had ordered a few books from the bookstore nearby; there was no point in being completely idle while she was in the hospital. That would only give the fear an edge again.

"Awake already? You usually sleep until the afternoon when you're not feeling well." Touga was carrying another flower arrangement, irises and greenery in an elegant vase, and dropped the card in her lap before finding a space to set it down. "From Naoko—all of your friends wanted me to pass along their hopes that you'll recover soon. Everyone at school knows that you were in an accident."

"It's so nice to be admired. Will you tell them for me that the flowers are beautiful, and that I'm glad that they thought of me?" Kohana set her book down, taking a chocolate from the bowl and letting it slowly melt on her tongue.

Touga nodded. "The Rijichou's version of what happened is the prevailing version, though Sakura is trying to promote a version where you were actually fighting Juri. No one is listening; your angelic nature is known far and wide, and I've told others that I was there as well and that it didn't happen that way."

What would he have told her? Kohana looked sidelong at him, noting that he was again wearing his uniform, and then decided to ignore the question. He wouldn't tell her anyway. "No doubt she's trying to smear my good name in other ways as well. That's so disappointing. I'd thought her better than that." Smirking at Touga, she tossed a chocolate at him. He must have said something particularly nasty to Sakura.

I'll repay you for that.

He caught it easily, savoring the taste with a small, triumphant smirk on his face that had nothing to do with the chocolate. "I can't accuse you of looking for the best in people. If you thought her above that sort of thing, she probably was." Picking up the book she'd been reading, he looked it over, seating himself near her on the bed. "Traveler's Italian? Are you planning a trip?"

"Of course. I think I'll go there for winter break. I haven't seen the Sistine Chapel yet, and I'd like to try to get a tan this year. There's no point in putting off learning some of the language." There was so much that she wanted to see, and so little time left—she would have to leave school early to be able to visit all of the places she wanted to see in Italy.

"Are you going alone?" he asked, raising his eyebrows at her. When she nodded, he continued, "You'll only be sixteen by then. Is it wise to take a trip like that alone?"

"Are you looking for an invitation, Touga?" Strange, that. Kohana had some vague idea that most people didn’t toss around invitations for trips overseas, but it wasn’t as if she didn’t have the money. And if Touga wanted to come with her, she had no objections to his presence. After all, their feud would probably be well over by the time winter break came.

"Maybe I'll join you, if the invitation is open. I'll have to think about it." He put the book back down on the table, most considerately making sure it was within her reach, and then said, "Speaking of invitations, we might have to put off your party. Depending on how long the doctor keeps you, you might not be able to have it on your birthday, and I had planned to have the invitations sent out by the end of this week."

"Thursday is an awkward day to have a party anyway. There's school on Friday and Saturday." There was a slight pain in her right arm. Checking it, Kohana found that the IV needle was loose, and she adjusted it properly, ignoring the sting. She wasn't especially interested in birthdays, not even hers, and this one was likely to be especially annoying. Touga couldn't be touched at this one; he was the one throwing the party, and she didn't want anything to happen that he could turn to his advantage. Ungratefulness was something she couldn't afford to have the populace of the school know about.

"Stop playing with that and look at me." Waiting until her amused gaze was on him, he continued, "Saturday would be a better day, I suppose. That's Halloween, and everyone likes costume parties. Do you think you can convince the doctor that you'll be well enough to leave the hospital by then?"

Rolling her eyes, Kohana said, "I convinced him that I was well enough to walk this morning." It had been almost easy, too. Aside from the obvious, there had been no sign of complications, and the young doctor she'd had wrapped around her finger yesterday had been assigned as her doctor for the day shift. It wouldn't take much to get his consent if there weren't any complications at all.

She'd made a bit of a mistake—Touga was watching her suspiciously. "Are you well enough to walk?"

That protectiveness was something she could understand—he didn't like to see a woman hurt, and someone who understood him was doubly precious to him. If it had been Touga who was hurt, no doubt she would have been as protective of him. Despite all this rationalizing, Kohana heard the tiniest note of shrillness in her voice when she replied. "Of course I am. I can walk, can't I?"

I am NOT weak!

"But it's still very painful, isn't it?" He sighed and took the book away from her reach, standing and pulling the covers that had been crumpled at the foot of her bed up over her legs. "I should have noticed that—you're paler than usual, and your movements are slow."

"Touga—" There was no reason to treat her like an invalid. She wasn’t helpless. She didn’t need to be fussed over like she couldn’t do anything for herself.

Muscular deterioration, resulting in confinement to a wheelchair and eventually, a hospital bed.

Fear rippled through her, but she didn’t dare fight him. That would show him that she was afraid if he hadn’t noticed already.

"Don't argue. You’ve been hurt badly enough as it is—I won’t have you hurting yourself further by trying too much too quickly." If there hadn't been a flash of satisfaction in his eyes, she wouldn’t have obeyed. She couldn’t let him know how afraid she really was. Once she was safely tucked back into bed, he sat down again, continuing as if they hadn’t just reached another stalemate. "Now, what would you like your costume to be? I know of a few seamstresses that would be willing to make one for you."

I have to answer normally. I have to pretend.

Shoving away her fear, she concentrated on what she would normally have thought if she wasn’t in the hospital. It helped a little. "I have no idea. If this hadn't happened, I could go as a belly-dancer, but I think the stitches might be a little too obvious." Why was he so set on having a party at all? He had something in mind—but it would be pointless to try and embarrass her publicly. She didn't get embarrassed that easily, and it wouldn't make any difference how many people were there to see it. She vaguely remembered a party where some girl's dress had fallen off or something; that sort of thing wouldn't work on her.

After a little thought, he smiled wickedly at her. "I thought I’d go as a devil, so why don’t you go as an angel? I’m assuming you’ll want Ichida on your arm—your closest friend should be your escort, since you’re not currently attached. See that he has an appropriate costume."

He was trying to elicit some sort of reaction from her, to see how sensitive she was to a sidelong reference to her illness. She banished the thoughts she could feel stirring at it—it would never have bothered her at any other time, and she was determined that it would not bother her now. "I do hope you won't dress in red. It would be too much with your hair."

"Of course not. Black. I'll have to find a place that will make wings for you that are light enough to wear with your rib the way it is." There was a tiny frown on his face, enough to deepen the worry lines and make them more noticeable. She could tell from the way he carefully did not look at her that he was thinking about her—and that his thoughts weren’t pleasant for him.

Don't. Just don't. I don't want you to care. Hurt me if you must, but don’t truly care, because I will not stop hurting you until I have what I want.

She had to take a short breath before she spoke, to help clear her mind. "I'm sure you'll figure something out. I do like the idea—you'll actually be what you are for once." He did look so delectable in black—he would be a perfect devil. And as for herself, she would look the perfect angel. Their admirers would swoon.

"Devilishly handsome?" The smile on his face told her that he enjoyed that idea immensely. Slowly bringing her hand up to his mouth, he kissed it softly, sending a little shiver of desire through her.

"That too," Kohana purred, smiling in return. When he acted normally, it was most reassuring; she could almost forget that once he had been in love, that he was still different from her in a way she hadn't entirely grasped yet and therefore dangerous.

"You do look angelic, as long as you don't smile that way. Ichida will be the perfect counterpart to that." Leaning down to kiss her, his eyes reflected only the spark of desire that he felt at her seductive tone. She'd known she affected him in the same way as he affected her; it was good to know that it hadn't faded any even though he felt guilty for hurting her.

I'll let you know soon enough that it was my doing. You won't underestimate me after that.

Almost possessively, he bit at her lips, tracing the line of them with his tongue. Kohana gave in to it completely. In its own way it was almost as intense as the kiss from Ohtori had been, though with Touga she knew that it wasn't only her body he wanted to own. It was her will, her mind; he wanted to make her into an extension of himself. Their personalities were so similar that the matching desire in her only felt like a desire to control a part of herself. Without hinting at the satisfaction she felt, she let him take control. If he thought she was weakening he'd only be underestimating her again.

Long, slow, and sweet, it nearly had Kohana shivering with need. Just as she thought he was about to go further, however, he drew back. "You're not even well enough to walk yet," he said, as if reminding himself.

Not well enough? I’m FINE!

Scowling, Kohana snapped, "I'll be the judge of what I can and can't do. If I can walk, I will, and if I want more than just a kiss, I'll have it, from you or anyone else I take a liking to." Suddenly she realized that her retort had been a mistake—he had a better idea of how much being in the hospital bothered her.

The smugness resurfaced, and he smiled down at her, though she could tell that it wasn’t entirely real. "Kohana, don't. You're in the hospital for a reason, and I don't want to make it any worse. Just rest for now."

Smiling nastily at him, she threw his mistake back in his face. "I'll have you know I managed quite well before you started interfering in my life, Touga. I don't need you to take care of me—you’ve done quite enough already.”

His eyes widened slightly, and the smile faded a bit. It soon hardened, becoming almost cruel, and the look in his eyes was cold, though it couldn’t hide all of what he was feeling "You obviously didn’t take very good care of yourself before I came along," he said smoothly, satisfaction and guilt and hurt mingling in his eyes. "Anemic, undernourished—it's a wonder you haven't been for a long stay in the hospital in the last few months. You should be grateful that there’s someone willing to care for you, as you can’t do it yourself."

Can’t? CAN’T?

Nerves strained to the breaking point, Kohana forced her mind to stop whispering to her of hospital beds and intravenous feeding. There was no point in yelling at him—it would just be proof that he’d gotten to her. Instead, she said quietly, “Have you ever thought that I might not want you taking care of me?”

For a moment, she thought he was going to retaliate again, but he suddenly looked away. “If you ask me to leave, I will,” he murmured.

As desperately as Kohana wished she could force those words out, she couldn’t do it. Instead, she sat silent, staring at her hands and thinking of how good it could be if they weren’t so close. If they’d been different…

Touga silently took her hand, holding it for a moment, and then said, “You’re still so cold… I’ll bring another blanket from the house.”

Kohana felt a crooked smile appear on her face, and glanced up to him. “That would be nice of you. Thank you.”

A small smile touched the corners of his mouth. She knew he was feeling the same relief she was—everything was safe beneath their façades again, for now. They could pretend it was all right. “It’s no trouble at all.”

They passed the time idly chatting after that, Touga making plans and phone calls about the party, and Kohana giving him ideas. He really was superb at organizing things like this—an area that she hadn't concentrated on, being too absorbed in the pursuit of pleasure in solitude or groups no larger than two. Three, now. The nurses checked on her once in a while, and one of them commented on how sweet it was that her boyfriend spent all this time with her. Touga and Kohana had displayed the appropriate reactions, and once the nurse had left, glanced at each other and chuckled. People could be so naïve.

Starting after school, there was a steady stream of visitors. The 'one visitor only' rule had been lifted; Touga supervised all of her conversations. Miki had made the tape and shyly gave it to her; Ichida made some disaffected remark about how she was never going to learn kendo if she slacked off, trying to cover up his very evident concern, and had agreed to go to the party with her; Saionji looked her over disdainfully, grudgingly saying that he hoped she would be out of the hospital soon and threatening to put her back in if she so much as touched his katana; and even Juri had unexpectedly shown up, asking how she was feeling and glaring at Touga. It seemed she'd decided that it was his fault after all, and most likely she’d wanted to speak to Kohana alone. This supervision was annoying, but she couldn’t allow Touga to see her reaction to it. He already knew—if he knew exactly how much it bothered her, he would only try to increase it. She’d had enough of his torture for the day, and she suspected he’d had enough of hers.

The only time that Touga annoyed her to the point of sharp words again was when Ohtori strolled into the room. By then it was late, nearing seven o'clock, and Kohana was exhausted. The visits throughout the day were as wearying as any kendo practice, only without the sweat, and the nurses had woken her up once an hour all the previous night. She absently listened to Touga’s deep purr while he talked to someone on the cell phone and contemplated adjusting the bed so that it was flat and taking a nap. As long as they weren’t at each other’s throats, it was good to have him around, even when the only attention he paid her was the distracted stroking of his thumb on the back of her hand.

To tell the truth, that was all she wanted at the moment. Just to know that he was there.

But when Ohtori entered, closing the door behind him, Kohana's interest was piqued, and not only because of his unspoken promise. Her exhaustion began to fade away as she saw him. The soothing air congealed into tension as Touga's eyes landed on Ohtori's lean frame and he began to excuse himself from his phone conversation.

"Is he ignoring you?" Ohtori asked, his smile implying that he would not ignore any of her wishes.

Kohana glanced back to Touga, frowning. "He's good company, in most ways."

Uninvited, Ohtori seated himself on the bed. Touga was using the only chair in the room—lucky for her. That delightful raw silk voice set her skin tingling as he asked, "Do you think he would leave if I asked him to?"

Snapping the phone shut, Touga said, "Of course not. Kohana needs her rest if she's to heal quickly, and I already know that what you have in mind won't be restful." The ice in his eyes also reached his voice, and he watched Ohtori warily.

Well, that was confusing. Touga had attacked her earlier with her weakness, and now he admitted that it was only temporary? It was a bad move, and he wasn’t usually that clumsy. Frowning, Kohana said, "I'll make my own decisions, Touga. I—"

His eyes met hers, and she had the curious feeling that again there was something he wanted to tell her. He seemed protective—that meant that there was something to be protected from. Even she knew that he wasn't protective for no reason. Her suspicion concerning Ohtori had been correct, then; he was dangerous. "And I'll make mine. I'll stay here."

What was so dangerous about sex? It wasn't as if she wanted anything more from Ohtori, and she’d assumed all three of them were accustomed enough to it that it was meaningless apart from the pleasure it gave. It wasn't like she was going to allow Ohtori anything more than her body.

"Have you appointed yourself her guardian? You're doing a poor enough job." Ohtori's eyes were narrowed as if he were amused. "Perhaps you should have been more vigilant yesterday, when she was being thrown into the mirror."


This was what she had wanted, Touga's guilt to eat at him for a short time, while she held the knowledge that would end it. The pleasure wasn't entirely unadulterated, though; she was careful to keep both it and the slight dismay she felt from her expression. It was good to see Touga being attacked, but… "If there was any way I could have prevented that—" Touga began.

"And the last time she was hurt? It seems strange that you should be so concerned when she is hurt, but that you never manage to be there in time to stop it from happening." Leaning back, Ohtori braced his arm on the other side of Kohana, apparently utterly relaxed. He was enjoying this. Sea green eyes turned to Kohana, flicking over her body though it was covered by the blankets. "I'm surprised you let him around you at all."

Now that was a little too much for Kohana's façade to bear. She would have to defend Touga. "He's been nothing but kind to me, Akio-san, and most of the time I appreciate his kindness. It's only my bad luck that he hasn't been there to rescue me, as I know he would."

If anything, that only thickened the tension. Oh, this was wonderful; she'd just managed to balk Ohtori, and needle Touga at the same time as she absolved him of blame. Poor Touga wouldn't know whether to be satisfied or hurt. None of this was betrayed by his eyes, which had gone as blankly reflective as pools of water: impossible to read. "If there's nothing else, Rijichou..." It was a plain request that Ohtori leave.

"But there's always something else, isn't there?" Chuckling softly, he turned to face Kohana. His long silvery hair, restrained by the green clip, dangled invitingly over his shoulder. The hungry feeling Kohana always got when he was around intensified as she reached up to toy with the ends. There was no harm in teasing Touga a little bit—she wasn’t going to sleep with Ohtori now, but she could let Touga know that he didn’t have any sort of authority over whom she slept with.

"Of course there is, or you wouldn't be here." What would he look like with his hair down? She had a feeling that he might look even better, but she'd always had a preference for long haired men. The lock of hair slid through her fingers easily, soft-rough and thick, and she tugged it gently. "I don't expect that you'd come without a reason."

Full lips slowly parted in a smile. "Of course not. But I suspect you're more than enough reason, and I'd dearly love to find out." The prickles on her skin were definitely caused by the look in his eyes; they looked as hungry as she felt.

Touga's voice snapped her attention back to him; the ice in his tone had hardened into glacier cold. "Find out some other time, Ohtori. Skull fracture. Multiple lacerations. Concussion. No matter how they came about, she still has them. If she's not well enough to get out of bed, you certainly shouldn't be tempting her into anything more strenuous than conversation."

Thank you for shattering that moment for me. I honestly and truly appreciate it. Really.

Ohtori too had glanced at Touga, faint annoyance in his eyes. The annoyance dissolving into a grin, he chuckled, "I wouldn't let any harm come to her." Lightly running his fingernails down her cheek and the side of her neck, Ohtori leaned toward her, and Kohana looped his ponytail around her finger. "Would I?" he murmured, obviously sure of her answer already.

"Leave her alone, Ohtori," Touga snarled, his voice low and dangerous. It shocked Kohana into losing her grasp on Ohtori's hair. She could only stare at him while the anger smoothed out into calm again, wondering when he'd grown so possessive. This hadn't been a part of her plan.

Ohtori, however, only glanced at Touga, and then looked back to her. "You see?" he said, drawing her attention back to him. "Jealous. I can't blame him." Tilting her chin up, he gave her a long and melting kiss, though nowhere near as intense as the first one had been. When he broke away, he said, "I hope next time your chaperone decides not to join us." Tossing a smirk over his shoulder at Touga, Ohtori quickly stood and left the room.

After she was sure no one could hear them, Kohana hissed, "If he's right, kindly keep it to yourself. I'm not your girlfriend."

"And if he's not right?" Touga was slowly relaxing, as if he didn't quite care that she was angry with him.

"If he's not, I don't see your problem. It's not like I want anything more than sex from him." Glaring, Kohana rearranged the blankets and sighed irritably. Either he was jealous or he was worried about her. Either way, it was bad.

The machines whirred on, oblivious to her anger. Finally, Touga said, “It doesn’t matter.” With a small smirk on his face, he picked up his book and opened it, adding quietly, “You should get some rest.”

I really hate you sometimes.

The week continued on much in this way; Kohana healed slowly, though her doctors seemed amazed at her progress. Doctor Sato had been in to see her a few times, each time commenting on her remarkable resilience, and had held murmured conferences with the doctors who were attending her. Knowing her sensitive hearing, he'd been cautious; she did not hear a word of these conferences.

As for her visitors, people came to see her every day, and always, Touga was there. He wanted to make sure that she didn’t hear anything that wasn’t already approved by him. As irritating as it was, she kept her mouth shut—she had a feeling that she could use her passivity to hurt him more. She just needed the opportunity.

There were a few times, however, when they were alone, that made her regret the whole business. The feud was necessary, but… there were times that it seemed prudent, for a while, to be careful with each other. It was too easy to get caught up in arguments that furthered neither of them, that only increased their tension without actually gaining them anything. And so they would back off, warily making sure that all of their masks were in place, and treat each other well for a while. When they did, it was almost as if they were friends.

Near the end of her stay, Touga could no longer use Kohana’s weakness as an excuse to keep her in bed—and that was a great relief. She was obviously strong enough to be up and about, and her doctors encouraged it. The hospital didn’t seem so bad when she was allowed to walk around. She didn’t feel so helpless as long as she could stand.

Alone on an outdoor walkway, on the third floor of the hospital, Kohana shivered as she lit her cigarette, staring down at the cars below. They came, they went, oblivious to her. Sato had snapped at her earlier on; it was one of the rare times Touga had left her alone, as he’d gone to get their assignments from school. “You should quit whatever foolishness you’ve gotten into at school. In fact, you should quit going to school altogether. It isn’t helping your health,” Sato had said.

Kohana had just laughed and told him that she wouldn’t be an invalid until she was one. As much as she hated him, Sato was a good doctor, and he was more concerned about her than her own parents. She could have gotten along well with him if he hadn’t reminded her so much of her sickness. For his bluntness and his honesty where other people would have wavered, he had her respect, even though she didn’t always listen to him.

Leaning on the rail didn’t hurt too much. Her chest ached all the time, along with her head, and both pains were easy to shut out now that she’d grown accustomed to them. Even breathing deeply was all right—she felt the familiar rasp of the smoke in her lungs and slowly exhaled.

Footsteps sounded behind her; she paid no attention. It was probably a couple of doctors or nurses going to the other building.

A familiar voice behind her startled her, almost making her drop her cigarette. “Hello, Kohana.”

For a moment, she felt six years old again, turning to face them. “Mama?” she asked, and instantly regretted it.

Her mother’s eyes hardened, and she looked away. Behind her mother, her father watched her dully, tiredly, a cigar between his lips and his hands shoved in his pockets. “You’re costing us quite a bit of money,” her mother said, looking back at her with a tiny and malicious smile. “Maybe you should get a job.”

The six-year-old feeling was gone, banished as quickly as it had come. “I’m paying for it,” Kohana said quietly. “I have more money than I need.”

Glancing back at Kohana’s father, her mother smirked at him, and then looked back to her. “We only have a few minutes—there’s a charity dinner we’re attending, and we can’t be too late. I suppose you’ll be back at the house sometime. When you are, you can make sure that the Tokyo apartment is cleaned and aired for us. I’ve decided to accompany your father on an overseas business trip, and we won’t be coming back here afterward.”

“I’m not your secretary,” Kohana said dully, lifting the cigarette to her lips and taking a long drag. “She can do it.” Smoke puffed out with her words.

“You might as well be useful for something, while you’re alive. My secretary is overworked as it is—she doesn’t need to be bothered with such trivial things.” Her mother’s smile grew a tiny bit wider, more malicious.

“Hire another one,” Kohana said, turning away. “I’m not your employee, and I don’t have time for your ridiculous little chores.”

When her mother spoke again, her voice was ice. “Turn around and look at me. As long as you live in my house, you’ll give me the respect I deserve as a—“

“A parent?” Kohana chuckled, feeling her eyes sting and her breath shorten. “Maybe you were my parents once, but you haven’t been that in a long time.”

“After raising you as best we could, this is all you can say to us?” her mother asked, feigning hurt. “I wish you’d never been born. All you ever did for me was ruin my figure.”

That was almost comforting. That was what she was used to—with a little shrug, Kohana answered, “You made me what I am. Don’t be surprised if you don’t like having me around.”

There was a long pause; Kohana watched the cars below, coming, going, oblivious. Finally her mother spoke, and her voice was glacier frost. “Then we’ll have to fix that. Find somewhere else to live. Have your things packed within the week, or I’ll have them sold.”

Sharp grief arrowed through Kohana; she had to force herself not to turn and… what? Ask them to take her back? Tell them she didn’t mean it? She waited a moment to make sure her voice was steady, and then said, “Sell my things. I don’t want them.”

You were supposed to love me. I’m your child.

She shut her eyes tightly, forcing herself not to move. She couldn’t give herself away, not when her parents were there… and not when she knew that somewhere, Touga knew this was happening. He was the one who had set this up.

You’re killing me.

Distantly, she heard her father say in his flat, unemotional voice, “I suppose that’s over, then. We’ll be late for the dinner if we waste any more time.”

Somehow, that hurt more than anything else. Kohana bit her lip hard as she heard their footsteps receding, so hard that she tasted blood, and she forced herself not to look at them as they walked away. The cigarette burned down and went out, still between her fingers.

When the pain had subsided into a dull ache, she turned and began to walk to the hospital doors. Touga stood beside them, watching her with apparent satisfaction; she walked past him as if he wasn’t even there, and ignored him when he began to follow her inside.

After a long while of silence, he said quietly, “Lovely people.” Underneath his calm, almost flippant tone, she could hear the effort it took to say the words.

Kohana couldn’t think of anything to say to that. She just continued walking until they came to her room, and then began to unbutton her shirt as she walked toward the bathroom. “I’m going to have a shower,” she said, and it sounded to her like she was speaking from far away.

“Kohana,” Touga said, laying a hand on her shoulder and trying to draw her backward. She paused and looked back at him, clear-eyed. It was easy to see what was beneath the surface now—he was worried, upset, and she knew he wished he hadn’t done it. Gently but insistently, he pulled her back, trying to make her lean on him, if only for a moment. “I…”

Mustering up the last reserves of her self-control, she forced a smile. It came almost easily, perhaps due to the numbness she was feeling, and a tiny part of her gloated over the surprise in his eyes. “I suppose I’ll have to apply for a dorm room now,” she said, and felt his hands slip away. Before he could answer her, she walked into the bathroom, continuing to unbutton her shirt.

Once safely inside, she locked the door and turned on the shower, ice cold. Then she leaned over the sink, staring at her reflection and forcing herself not to feel. She stayed that way for a very long time.

By the end of the week, the doctors had made the decision to let her go early, as long as she had supervision for the next few days and transportation to the hospital if anything should go wrong. With Touga's assurances that he would stay with her night and day, they released her. Kohana stayed passive, not reacting to anything he did, too wounded to fight back even though she could tell that Touga was beginning to believe that he’d won.

He hadn’t won yet. She just needed a little time, and a little rest, away from the hospital. When the day came, she gave her flowers to the nurses—she doubted Touga would care if she took them with her, but it would be too much trouble to keep them around. A few of the nurses came to see her off when she was wheeled out of the hospital in the wheelchair she'd graciously acceded to, admiring Touga's car and fawning over both him and her like they were adoring fans from school. It was pathetic, really, and both she and Touga knew it. She’d waved politely as they drove away in his car.

Once she was safely ensconced in his bed, they'd sat for a long time in silence, Kohana relaxing in the comfort of his room. She was out of the hospital now, and she felt much better. The doctors had firmly impressed on her that she was supposed to have two days of bed rest, and that she wasn't to have anything more than light exercise for at least a month. That she could disregard; kendo was important, more so than breathing. Two weeks at most, and she would have to pay careful attention to how her body felt, something she wasn't used to doing outside of sex. Ignoring her pain was habit. The days of bed rest were mandatory, however, and she didn't think she was strong enough yet to flout Touga's obvious intention to force it on her. She had a feeling that he would tie her down if need be.

"Welcome home, angel," he finally said, the words mocking on the surface, sharply biting underneath that, but there was a subtle undertone to his voice that Kohana could identify. He truly was glad to have her out of the hospital.

“It’s good to be back,” she said quietly, not allowing herself the luxury of anger or sadness. He was only making sure that she was too broken inside to fight against him; he was wrong. She wasn’t broken yet. “Are you going to school tomorrow?”

Glancing toward her and then away, he started to undress and said, “I’d thought to stay home, if you want the company. There’s no real reason for me to go to the school.”

“I’d like that,” Kohana said, smiling at him. It was easy to make it seem like she’d given in—too easy. She shoved back the worry that she felt. “But if you don’t mind, I would like you to pick something up from the school for me.”

He knew what she was talking about—the dorm application. When he looked at her this time, he seemed strangely amused. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll arrange things however you like, but you’re welcome to stay here for a while.”

The hidden order in the statement irked her, but she paid it no mind. It would be far preferable to live with him for a short time than to live in the dorms, and though she no longer had a permanent address, she had income from various investments her father had made for her and she still had her bank account. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t leave whenever she wanted. She had to consider him, now, however. “I’d like to, but if it would cause trouble…” She glanced meaningfully toward the door.

“You know they’re hardly home,” he said, shaking his head and stepping out of his pants. Sliding underneath the blankets, he carefully gathered her close, his movements slow and gentle so that he wouldn’t cause her any pain. Once he was satisfied that they were both comfortable, he reached up to set the alarm and turn off the lamp. As he wrapped his arm around her again, he shivered. “You’re always so cold,” he said softly, and she could hear his amusement.

“I can’t help that,” she replied, letting her head rest on his chest and closing her eyes. There was no reason to miss a chance to sleep—he would wake her in an hour. He’d already told her that he’d follow the doctor’s advice to the letter.

The silence in the room deepened until she drowsily wondered what was bothering him. He wasn’t asleep; his breathing hadn’t changed. Just as she was dismissing it from her mind, sliding further down into dreams, he murmured, “Neither can I.”

A flare of mixed emotion burned through her; she sighed softly to cover it up, and moved closer into his side. “I know.”