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Shiori Takatsuki was never the kind of woman who could put feelings into mere words; always some double meaning, an underlying message masked in either faux confidence or a bashful front, never honesty. Of course, the girl couldn't be her true self. That meant vulnerability, weakness, being overshadowed by others...a specific other, especially.

"Quite the popular one, aren't you?" She sits at the back end of the gym, staring at the floor as her friend jogs toward her belongings after the day's fencing practice and the hoards of squealing girls and adoring young men alike.

"Ah... Am I?"

Shiori has to resist the urge to scoff, feeling the bile rise in her throat as Juri took a towel from her bag and proceeded to wipe her face. Lucky was she, getting attention from so many. From girls that were clearly lacking in both self esteem and self respect, and men she probably thought she was too good for; what a priss. Shiori would hit her if she wasn't so good at being passive.

"You seem distant lately." Shiori says, glancing up at her almost immediately regretting it; seeing Juri with pink tinted cheeks and slightly disheveled hair gave her a sensation from the bottom of her stomach, something like excitement mostly overcast by anguish and disgust. This wasn't the first time, though, and it certainly wouldn't be the last.

"Is everything alright?"

"...It's fine." Juri responds.

It's been like this for weeks, Shiori thinks she might actually lose her mind. Would it be so hard for her to just admit she thought she was too good for her? It wouldn't surprise her. After all, it was only a matter of time, what with her getting so big on the fencing team and all. Cool girls like her and nobodies like herself weren't meant to bond. Just like the movies.

"I have to shower, but I'll walk you back to your dorm after if you'd like."

Such a kind tone, she'd always been concerned for Shiori's wellbeing, be it sharing umbrellas when she'd forgotten her own back in grade school or walking her across campus once the sun went down. Disgusting; she probably thinks she's being chivalrous. Some kind of selfless prince despite her barely being able to even look Shiori in the eye like she used to.

"...No." She finally responds, standing up and dusting off her skirt, secretly hoping that heat in her cheeks had vanished.

"I'll be alright, we're not 10 anymore Juri."

"Of course. See you tomorrow then?"

Shiori could swear she could hear a bit of disappointment in Juri's voice.

"..Maybe."

--------

Release comes with a soft sigh, and once the aftershock of orgasm wears down the mood is almost immediately replaced with shame.

Shame and guilt.

She'd lay there, only for a moment or two before slowly curling up, what started as slow, deep breathing slowly became sniffling, and what was sniffling slowly became soft sobs. This was an every night occurrence, and it never got easier to deal with, knowing what she'd done. It started the same: thoughts of some boy, any boy popping into her head, anything to help. Needless to say it was fruitless; it always came back to her.

Always her.

She pressed her face against her pillow, trying her damndest to stop the tears from falling. "Stupid." she mutters to no one in particular; it was times like this where she was grateful she'd scored a singles dorm. "You stupid, stupid girl." a moment or two more of wallowing in her shame before muffled sobs fill the pillow; she wasn't sure who she was referring to at this point, herself or Juri.

"Dammit Juri." Tears are staining the pillow at this point; not that she cares, it's what she deserves for being such a useless coward.

A useless, filthy coward.

"..Why does it have to be like this."

Chapter Text

Once more Shiori found herself in the stuffy middle school gym in the same stupid fencing attire with the same stupid practice sword, hearing the same stupid shoes squeak against polished wooden tiles. A slight shift of the foot; guard. Wait for an opening- Ah.

She'd lost. Again.

She sighs from exhaustion, both mental and physical, before removing her mask and wiping the sweat off her brow.

"That was good," a masculine voice emits before removing his own mask and letting that one stupid strand of hair fall across his face. The lad was a handsome pne, Shiori wouldn't lie, with those beautiful blue irises and toned upper body. Shiori felt a familiarity with him, like she'd seen and known this setup before, on something more accustomed, more delicate with a personality that wasn't so goddamn forgetful.

"You're getting better! If I may offer some criticism though, maybe try to go at your own speed. Everyone's different, everyone has a different way of movement that works for them. Don't try so hard to copy or keep up with others, it'll only hurt you in the long run."

He offers her a smile that sends her ears from pale to a faint shade of pink.

She could swear there was something familiar about this boy; of course, she'd known him for at least 2 years at this point, but there was something else there. Something deeper.. Before about a month ago she'd barely acknowledged his existence, only speaking to him during one on one practice and to ask for the occasional pen or slip of paper in whatever class they shared that required such things for the day, but now..

"Mm. Yeah! I'll. I'll keep that in mind, thank you!" Why the chipper attitude all of a sudden? She raises a hand slightly as he jogs off towards the showers, her own awkward way of saying goodbye.

Maybe she really was losing it.

-----

"I told you yesterday, we're not children anymore. I can walk myself to my own room."

Shiori keeps her arms crossed, rubbing her hands against her goose bump ridden arms. She had the feeling she should've brought a jacket.

"And I know what you're thinking," Shiori starts, feeling her friend's glances at her smaller form from next to her. "I don't need your jacket either, I'll be fine."

Juri keeps quiet, lowering her hand and stuffing it back in the suede pocket. Shiori could feel the embarrassment radiating off her.

Serves her right, thinking she could play prince all the time. Shiori knew she was pathetic, but at least she didn't try to overcompensate by trying to show off in front of others; if not for Shiori herself it was one of the girls begging to refill her water bottles at practice, or for the girls who laughed at jokes that clearly weren't funny, or even- god forbid- those despicable troglodytes who were left absolutely flabbergasted if Juri so much as blinked, blushing and asking for hugs like stupid 3rd graders with juvenile crushes.

Just the thought of it all made Shiori want to slit throats.

"Surely you have better things to do than follow me around, you practically ignore me all day anyway."

Juri looked a tad hurt at that.

"I'm sorry...I've been so busy, with regionals and midterms coming up, I don't have much time for anything these days."

Shiori scoffs. "Of course, but you have all the time in the world to be messing around with girls."

"...What?"

"You heard me."

She's quiet for a minute. "I don't fool around with girls. I barely remember half their names."

"Oh, I'm sorry, it must be so tough having groupies kiss your ass all the time. Poor, perfect Juri with her hard knocks." There's a venom laced in Shiori's words, a kind that can be sensed from miles away.

"I'm not perfect."

"Mmm. You tell yourself that, little Ms. Regal."

Juri stops in her tracks. "Where is this even coming from?"

Shiori stops just a few centimeters ahead, turning towards her friend with what could only be described as the beginnings of a bitter smile.

"Don't worry your pretty little head about it."

"Shiori."

"Juri."

A sharp exhale leaves Juri's nostrils and Shiori knows she's won. The walk from there is a mostly quiet one, silence only replaced with grade schoolers shuffling past and the sounds of their own shoes on the carpet. Shiori reaches into her bookbag for her key as she nears her own dorm, sticking it in the in the lock and turning.

"...I can feel you staring." She says.

Juri averts her gaze, stuffing her hands in her jacket pockets once more.

"What is it?" Shiori opens the door, turning her body and crossing her arms over her chest.

"I know that look, Arisugawa."

Shiori can practically smell the hesitation as silence fills the space around them once more.

"..Try to get more rest tonight," she says. "I can't keep covering for you in class when you're late." Her tone was apathetic yet spurned; Body facing the direction opposite of Shiori's own, she left without another word.

Shiori bit her lower lip, clutching her book bag and slowly pivoting, walking into her room and gently shutting the door behind her.

Chapter Text

Months pass; Winter became Spring and Spring became Summer. Finals were just around the corner, and a certain dysfunctional duo found themselves sitting in the shade beneath one of the many trees on their school campus. With the AC broken in their building and the need to study growing more and more prominent, they'd decided maybe studying with another person with the occasional breeze was better than rubbing sweat from your eyes every 10 minutes trying to focus on Biology...except there was a problem.

Shiori couldn't focus regardless.

Her cheeks were flushed a light shade of red, both from the heat and the...situation in front of her.

A situation which involved a certain someone's body in a certain tanktop; a situation with someone's slightly toned arms and breasts which Shiori could swear weren't...there before. She felt sick, from her own disgusting vices and habits or thinking way too long and hard on why said habits were probably securing her spot in hell in this murky, heavy heat she wasn't sure, but it was too loud and almost suffocating. She fights the urge to puke, instead covering her face with her hands in an attempt to relax.

"Are you alright?" Juri asks, taking attention away from her book. "Do you need some water?"

"Shut up." Shiori groans, face pressed against the palms of her hands in an attempt to calm down. Still so damn naive and calm even in a situation like this; Shiori envied her, her perfect, darling Juri who probably never had to worry about a thing in her goddamn life.

"I'm only trying to help."

"I don't need help. I don't know why you keep taking me for some fragile kitten or whatever, and maybe your squealing little cronies make you feel like a big tough girl when you go out of your way to make yourself look like a good person in front of them, but it doesn't work on me."

Juri frowns a tad.

"I..I don't do that. Shiori, I want to help you because you're my friend."

Friend. The word made Shiori's heart drop, for reasons she wasn't entirely sure of.

A friend. That's all she was. Nothing more.

Shiori bit her lower lip a tad, sitting quietly for what felt like an eternity before glancing over at her friend. "Hey Juri?"

"Yes?"

"Look at me."

Shiori notices the confusion on her face.

"I am looking at you."

"No. Look at me. Look me in the eye."

No response; not even a turn of the head. Shiori giggled bitterly.

"You haven't looked me in the eye in months, have you noticed that?"

Juri crosses her arms, a sharp, quick exhale leaving her nose. "I think the heat is getting to your head."

"Don't." Shiori starts. "Do not change the subject. You know, when we first met you had proper posture and had no qualms about looking at me, now you barely sit up straight when I'm near you and- if I didn't know any better- I'd think you were going out of your way not to look at me!"

"I..I'm sorry."

"So you admit it then, that you're basically avoiding me?"

"Y..yes." She looks beyond pitiful and all Shiori can do is stare. Stare and stare at the girl who'd made her feel like some socially inferior, disease ridden flea for the past 7 months; the girl who'd reduced her to a state of muffled moans alone in her room one minute and could have her sobbing in the next.

It took everything she had not to scream, instead wondering why she'd decided to idolize this...this stupid girl who was too big of a coward to admit her true feelings, too big of a coward to admit she'd finally come to terms with being better than Shiori was, or could ever be.

"Some fucking friend you are, Juri." Shiori says with a bitter, hostile tone that could be felt from miles away. Flinging her own biology book at the other girl and barely missing before getting up and storming off.

Juri didn't bother following, she knew it'd be pointless. Instead, she simply watched before covering her face with her own hands with a deep, shaky sigh.

-----
Four knocks on the door before Shiori heard footsteps and the turning of a knob.

"Ah!" It was the boy from before; the same boring, plain idiot from every fencing lesson from the past 2 years.

"Are you alright?" He asks, in a tone that makes her feel safe. Even if he was the most lackluster person on the face of the planet, he'd do. "You look like you've been crying!"

She blushes a tad as he wipes her tears, sniffling.

"I'm fine...I've just...had something on my mind for a bit and. I don't think it's fair of me to withhold it from you."

He quirks a brow. "Well I'm all ears. Whenever you're ready, I'm here to listen."

She looks up at him, brushing hair out of her face like some kind of bashful schoolgirl. She takes a step closer, pushing up against her tip toes and pulling him closer.

It was her first kiss; and with it, she'd come to terms with two things:

His kisses were like his personality: just as boring and nothing like the stupid high school chick flicks she'd spent hours at a time watching alone in her room. In no way was this idiot boyfriend material, but he'd have to do for a while.

While in the midst of that shitty kiss, for a moment, just for a moment, she'd caught wind of his eyes again. Those eyes she thought were oh so mesmerizing...

They were just like hers.

Chapter Text

Rumors spread, as they do on a school ground with just over 1,000 or so teenagers, so it wasn't long before people found out about Shiori's current romantic status; and of course, it'd be some kind of cruel joke if Juri wasn't the first to know.

In fact, it was somehow even crueler that she was the first to know.

"And then," Shiori continues her rambling, her head in Juri's lap and Juri's own fingers playing with short purple mane.

She's barely listening, just nodding at appropriate times and giving the occasional chuckle when called for; as of late she'd been a bit too caught up in her own thoughts, to the point where any mention of...him. Would make her heart sink and her stomach a bit heavy.

"Hey." Shiori gives her a gentle smack to the gut. "Are you listening? You're gonna miss the best part."

Juri jumps a tad at the sudden contact, closing her eyes but only for a moment, just to recollect her thoughts.

"Yeah. Yeah I heard you. I'm glad you finally...um. Got to second base."

Shiori huffs.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing." She's staring at Shiori's forehead now, fingers still grazing strands of hair ever so gently. Juri remembers, back when they were children and Shiori was frustrated cus she could never quite get the natural flamboyance and bounce with her hair that Juri's seemed to have..she still never understood why she'd want it.

She'd always loved Shiori's hair as is.

"I don't know where you think you'll get sneaking around me. We've been friends since we were 4, I know when something's up with you."

A pause.

"You can't lie to me, Juri."

It was just like Shiori to be so naive; an innocence that was almost cruel. In all honesty, things had only gotten slightly better between the two since Shiori's arm candy came into the picture. Juri should be happy; happy for her friend, and happy for what could be with all the drama coming to an end..

But she wasn't. If anything, she felt worse.

And she hated herself for it.

"...It really is nothing Shiori. I swear it."

Shiori shifts slightly, staring up at her friend for a moment or two and Juri was praying to whatever cruel god was out there that her face wasn't as warm as it felt like.

"..Ok. Just. Know you can tell me anything. We're still best friends, remember?"

That's right. Shiori was Juri's friend; Her best friend. Nothing more.

As was appropriate for two girls.

"Of course."

"Good." Shiori sits up and Juri has to resist the urge not to whine, like some kind of 13 year old that hasn't had this much contact with the girl she loved in a long, long time.

This was defintely some kind of fucked up joke.

"Anyways...I have something to tell you." Shiori says. "And you actually have to listen this time."

"I always do."

It's quiet again.

"I'm...I'm transferring Juri. For high school, I mean. We um....we won't be going to school together anymore."

There are rare moments Juri is actually quite thankful for her aristocratic upbringing; one that involved speaking unless spoken to and not emoting at "inappropriate" times. This was one of them.

"I see." Juri responds. "What about him. Your boyfriend?"

"Oh...He's coming too."

"I'm glad. I've just seen how much he's been doing for your mood, it'd be such a shame if you left that all behind." Lies. "...Even your face has been looking, what's the word..dazzling."

All lies. The reality was Juri didn't give two shits about the bastard before and she definitely didn't now. If anything, and may God forgive her for being so cruel, she wished him death on him in the most hostile way possible.

But Shiori was happy; blushing even. Giddy at the false encouragement Juri had put in her head.

It meant the world making Shiori do anything but yell, cry, or lash out. Even if it wasn't because of her herself, Juri thought it was good enough.

"You're too kind, Juri." Shiori brushes a bit of hair behind her ear and Juri's heart skips a beat. This was beyond a joke now, it was practically a tragedy.

"You'll write me, won't you?" Shiori asks. "Just because I won't be here doesn't mean I won't want to hear from you every now and then."

"Of course."

Shiori smiles. "I'm glad." She stands, doing a twirl of sorts and Juri watches, half slouching on her own bed.

"I should be going, before it gets dark. Want to come with?" Her voice is the happiest she's heard in a while, with those big bright eyes and soft pink cheeks.

Yes, Juri was jealous. Jealous that some boring, blend-in-the-background idiot could do more for the woman she'd loved than she could herself.

"..No it's alright, I have things to do around here."

"Oh. Alright....Hey Juri?"

"Hm?"

"I love you."

Whatever cruel, unjust god was out there they knew just what the fuck they were doing, and Juri was making a mental note to set aside some energy to kill them for it later...

But at the same time, she deserved this. She deserved this fate, for hurting Shiori and trying to corrupt her with her own perverted, disgraceful vices....after all, Shiori was her friend; her best friend and nothing more.

As two girls should be.

"...I love you too, Shiori."

Chapter Text

"Did you hear? Did you hear? We're getting a transfer student today!"

"Really? at this point in the year? How odd."

"Apparently she went here for a couple years before? Must've been before we started here, either that or all this studying really is frying my brain."

Juri wasn't the type to eavesdrop, she had better things to do than fixate on conversations involving people she didn't know with talking about things she couldn't care less about. Every now and then though, a group or two would speak way too loud for her to ignore, and there were rare occasions where she couldn't deny she was interested in the topic.

This was of course, one of those times.

The topic of transfer students always reminded her of an old friend; an old friend who'd left for another school about 2 years ago. Juri still found herself sitting up at night, sighing at the thought of everything that went wrong, what she could've done differently, all the chances she could've taken back then when she had the chance all that time ago..but she'd try not to dwell on it too long. Times arrow can only move forward; no use on dwelling on the past.

That's what she would say, if that wasn't all she ever did.

It wasn't long after Shiori left that Juri had no choice to admit it: she was in love. Juri Arisugawa had fallen in love with the girl who was her best friend; a dear friend from childhood, and even now she couldn't forgive herself for it. Often there were times where she'd regretted not admitting her feelings, reliving scenarious in her head from the day she left, the gentle "I love you." Echoing through her ears even now as she sat in class. Should she have said more? Should she have taken the offer to walk back with her, maybe even giving her a hug? Should she have told her not to leave? It was ridiculous; pathetic even, living in the past like this, she really was no better than those squealing, hyper fan girls that Shiori hated so much.

On the other hand, perhaps it was for the best she didn't say anything. It was highly unlikely the feelings would've been mutual after all. Shiori was pure; an angel she'd say. Feminine, untainted, and more virtuous than anything this god forsaken earth had to offer, and Juri knew all too well that liking another girl was the opposite of all that...she'd never forgive herself if she sullied her, sullied the friendship they'd had and scared her off with her selfish desires.

If she couldn't love Shiori as a lover, she'd love her as a friend. She had that going for her, at least.

She was snapped from her pining and barely noticed the faint hint of pink spreading across her cheeks as the bell rang, slowly getting up from her seat and putting her things back in her book bag. She was about 80% sure she'd missed something that'd be important on the homework later, but she also didn't care; the only good thing that came from being smart was you could afford a few missed assignments and half assed reports from time to time.

A couple steps out of the classroom, still lost in thought and she's met with a soft 'thud.'

"Ah. Excuse me."

"No no it's alright! I should watch...where I'm going."

Juri holds her breath. "I wouldn't suppose... You were the new transfer student?"

"..Juri, I know you can be a little dense, but surely it hasn't been that long."

Juri lets out a soft breathy "Hah." A laugh that hasn't quite made it.

"Nice to see you again, Shiori."

Chapter Text

Shiori would never forget how discouraged Juri looked the day she left Ohtori. It was pitiful really, seeing someone who was usually so dignified, so regal and proud in such a pathetic state, one that Shiori could only call rock bottom. It pained Shiori seeing her friend in such conditions, though she'd sooner swallow razors than admit it...on the other hand it brought her a sense of pride. As awful as it was, there was something fulfilling about seeing someone who typically had Shiori wallowing in her own grief and self loathing in a state that was no better; it was almost like a power fantasy.

A twisted, voyeuristic power fantasy.

She walks the halls with her friend, book bag in her hands, eyes wandering the halls before finding their way back to Juri.

"..Your hair. It looks different now." Shiori says.

"Yes." Juri responds.

"You're wearing pants too."

"Yes."

A pause.

"Do you not like it?" Juri asks.

"...No. It suits you, I think. Better than before. When we were younger, you used to hate skirts. I thought you’d outgrown it in middle school but.”

Shiori pauses.

“I guess not.”

“No. I guess not.”

——

Shiori hangs from one of the tree branches on the very same tree her and Juri would study under, feeling the other girl’s gaze on her as she did so. Protective as always, Shiori thought, probably trying to ensure she didn’t slip or something.

Pathetic.

“...He dumped me.” Shiori says.

“Who?” Juri asks, arms still crossed over her chest.

Shiori gives her a look.

“Oh! You mean...”

“Yeah. I figured you were gonna ask, that’s why I’m back here.” Shiori says, swinging her legs a tad.

“He was a jerk, actually. A boring asshole, I’m not sure what I saw in him.”

“Sometimes we look at red flags through rose tinted glasses and the lines blur.” Juri says. "All we see is flags."

Shiori sniffs. Always nice to know that passive aggressive, holier than thou attitude was still intact even after all this time.

"I am sorry, though." Juri says. "If I were to be honest, I wouldn't think any man were worthy of you."

She sounds genuine. Tender, almost. Shiori's already cursing herself internally as she feels the blush creep up on her cheeks, cursing herself for still letting Juri have her in a state of vulnerability even after three years.

"Don't say stupid stuff like that."

"It's not stupid, it's the truth. I..."

Shiori looks at her.

"You what?"

"Mm. Nothing."

She has a look in her eye; one of hesitation that Shiori was all too familiar with in recent years, but this time she wouldn't push for at it. She'd matured, surely; she wasn't the girl who got worked up so easily over such trivial quirks.

That is what she'd say, if it were true.

"Juri." She looks the other girl in the eye, facing her fully now. "What is it?"

"It really is nothing, Shiori."

A step closer; not that they were too far apart anyway, one can only stand so far away when playing on a tree.

"You've always been a bad liar." Shiori's only a few inches from her friend. "Just one of the rare flaws you've always had, being otherwise perfect."

"..I'm not perfect." Juri averts her gaze, Shiori's face so dangerously close to her own.

"Shiori-"

"He loved you, you know." Shiori says, turning on her heel. As ideal as the concept of contact seemed she was not in the mood to be hiding a face that's 3 different shades of pink like a grade schooler while trying not to vomit again.

"In a way, maybe I should be the one apologizing....for stealing him from you. I don't blame you for being hurt that day."

Juri stares for a moment or two, an expression that was anxious only a moment ago becoming one that was teetering on disappointment.

"There's. No need to apologize. If anything, I should be thanking you. I never once cared about him...If anything, I cared about him even less once the two of you got together."

Shiori was taken aback; she wasn't entirely sure why, she doesn't recall Juri ever showing interest in the boy outside of vague amusement and acquaintanceship.

Come to think of it, Shiori can't recall Juri showing interest in anyone.

"..You're kidding?"

"I'm not."

Shiori frowns.

"Then. Then why! why were you being so distant before I left? Why were you so upset whenever I spoke of him?"

"Who knows. Just be glad you can rest easy, knowing our friendship of 12 years wasn't ruined over some boy who's name I can't be bothered to remember."

Shiori felt like she was half imagining that spiteful tone in Juri's voice, but the other half of her didn't care. Of course, beautiful, amazing Juri didn't have to worry about things like relationships. She was too good for them after all, too good for the men who threw themselves at her feet. Never would she have to resort to jumping into the arms of the first person who gave her a sliver of affection like Shiori did; and why would she! Juri was pretty, chivalrous, charasmatic; the type of person to stand out in a crowd; The exact opposite of Shiori, who got average grades on tests and could only play half the music on piano in their 6th grade music class while Juri could go the extra mile; she'd always been a natural, the pride and joy of every school sporting event and every Japanese History Teacher's wet dream.

The word envy didn't even begin to describe it. This was hate.

A burning, passionate hatred somehow overshadowed by a sick, disgraceful admiration.

Shiori almost regretted even coming back here.

"Anyways." Juri says. "I should be taking my leave...I have homework to do."

She pivots slightly before pausing.

"Oh...and welcome back, Shiori."

Chapter Text

"Hey, you're Juri's friend right?"

Shiori turns, books hugged close to her chest with one arm and the hand opposite to it clutching her bookbag.

"Eh...something like that! Who might you be?"

She'd made it a habit to be kinder to strangers; docile and innocent even. She couldn't afford to make a bigger fool of herself than she already was.

"Utena! Utena Tenjou." She says, smiling that dopey, kindhearted smile of hers.

"I'd seen you around, and it's in my nature to make new people feel welcome, I just thought I'd say hi!"

How pleasant, Shiori thought.

"Utena... I'm Shiori. Shiori Takatsuki. I actually went here years ago, I just transferred back recently." Shiori smiles a tad.

"Ohh, I see! It's cool to have you back! Would you like to go to my dorm for some tea? You seemed kinda sad when I called out to you." Utena says, rocking the balls of her heels.

In the seconds she'd known this girl Shiori gathered enough information to make two conclusions: She'd probably never had a deep thought in her life, and probably never faced any issues beyond leaving a grilled cheese on the stove for too long.

Kind of like someone else Shiori knew.

She wasn't complaining of course, she appreciated the girl’s kindness. It'd been a while since she'd interaction with another person outside of Juri and the local slack offs who seemed to forget their textbooks every day.

"...Yes, actually. That sounds lovely."

-------

"Himemiya! I told you you don't have to keep doing this!" Utena squeals.

"How many times have I said it, just sit back and relax! You don't have to go out of your way to do all the housework!"

"My apologies, Miss Utena." Anthy replies, setting the teapot down.

"A force of habit, I suppose."

Utena sighs.

"It's alright. I'm sorry I yelled but...jeez, just cus you call yourself my bride doesn't mean you have to act like it, ykno? You're my friend not my slave!"

"Of course, Ms. Utena." Anthy says, smile plastered on her face.

Shiori could only watch, chin resting in her hand. The two girls were cute in a way that only girls that age could be, it reminded her of two girls she used to know.

Utena huffs as Anthy sits, turning toward Shiori with her cheeks slightly flush.

"Sorry Takatsuki, we don't get visitors often. It's not too polite to bicker in front of guests." Utena sits in her own seat at the table across from her.

"So, what were you saying earlier? You transferred here?"

"Ah. Yes! Yes, I was here for 1st year. Junior high, I mean." Shiori moves her hands toward her skirt, playing with it a bit.

"Juri was my best friend during those days."

"Was?" Utena asks.

It's quiet.

Anthy slowly takes a sip of tea.

"Yeah. We're not really friends so much now. I asked her what was in that locket she always has, and she hasn't said a word to me in a couple of weeks." Shiori replies.

Utena frowns.

"How cruel."

"It's my own fault, I suppose. I shouldn't pry in other people's affairs." Shiori glances out the window via peripheral.

"Juri was always so kind to me. We were childhood friends but. More than that. We really grew up together...she always...she always protected me."

"You really love Juri huh?" Utena asks.

Shiori continues staring, not realizing she'd been holding her breath until she spoke again.

"....Something like that."

----

"She sure is nice huh? Shiori I mean." Utena asks, helping Anthy with the dishes from the previous night.

They'd decided to compromise, Utena would wash and Anthy would rinse.

"Quite." Anthy responds.

"I sense there's more to her than she lets on, though."

Utena quirks a brow.

"Whaddya mean?"

A pause.

"Have you noticed the surplus of finches lately, Ms. Utena?"

"Ahh. You're real cryptic sometimes ykno?"

"Thank you, Ms. Utena."

----

Shiori makes her way back to her own dorm, giving familiar faces a wave or two and moving aside for the shuffling grade schoolers, Utena's words replaying in her head. Yes, she loved Juri, but as a friend! She'd had a boyfriend after all, so of course there was no way she was...well. Not straight. She was too feminine, to soft in features and mannerisms. Gay girls were usually obnoxious and perverted and dressed like boys! Yes, surely there was no way these feelings were platonic. Surely all girls thought about their friends holding them to sleep easier at night, and thought about holding their hands, daydreamed about intertwining fingers. And surely, truly other girls cried over their friends even when they had boyfriends, feeling slightly ill whenever their boyfriends leaned in for kisses but imagining their friend in his place once their lips touched made all their worries melt away, right?

Surely Shiori was a normal girl.

A normal girl who was ripped from her thoughts when she saw her dorm door halfway open. Surely she'd remembered to lock it before she left this morning?

She walks over, peaking inside the room to make sure no one was inside before shutting the door behind her, looking around fully to see that nothing was stolen.

"Hm. Maybe it was the wind?" She still looks around, glancing at every little detail to make sure everything was still in place.

"Doesn't seem like anything's been touched." She sets her bookbag on her desk, something small and shiny catching her eye as it glints against the sun's rays.

A locket.

Juri's locket.

"...How did this get here?" She picks it up, drying it off.

She should return it, that would be the good thing to do.

Too bad she's not a model citizen.

She feels around it with her finger for an opening; if Juri wouldn't tell her what her deal was, she'd find out herself.

click

20 seconds pass. 35. 40.

Shiori pukes in the garbage can.

-------

"If you'd asked, I'd've given you a better picture." Shiori says, arms crossed over her chest and a bit of a smirk on her face.

Juri jumps slightly, nearly dropping the fencing equipment she'd been polishing. A small sigh escapes her lips.

"Don't scare me like that. What're you doing here anyway?"

Shiori saunters over, tossing the item to her friend.

"....Where did you find this." Juri asks.

Shiori could swear her eyes got a little bigger.

"What's that thing you always said? No such thing as miracles? You babble on and on about how stupid being sentimental is, but you're not much better."

Juri's quiet. Shiori giggles.

"You're a freak you know, sitting alone staring at my picture like that, like some kind of pervert with his eye on some pretty young thing."

Shiori moves closer, placing a hand on her friend's cheek.

"I love the look in your eyes when I hurt you, Juri."

"Don't test me, Shiori."

Shiori giggles again.

"Mmm...if only you'd told me sooner, you miserable fool."

She places a hand on Juri's chest, giving it a gentle kiss before stepping back.

A blood curdling scream echoes throughout the gym.

Chapter Text

It's funny; Juri doesn't remember falling asleep.

Probably because she didn't.

Juri slowly opens her eyes, rubbing them tenderly as sunset casts it's way through the gym's large windows. She sits up, a soft clink against the floor as she does so. Her head feels a tad light, like her chest, unlike the atmosphere and every breath she took. She puts her face in her hands, releasing a soft groan in an effort to relax. She moved them once more when her ears ceased that god awful ringing and glances at the floor, looking for the source of whatever dropped moments prior....oh.

A locket.

Her locket.

She smiles; a bitter one. Melancholic, even. Slowly reaching out to grab the trinket, grazing her finger against it's bottom half, staring at the picture inside.

"If you'd asked, I would've given you a better one."

Juri takes a deep breath, exhaling and planting a gentle kiss on the locket's image before closing it and wrapping it back around her neck. She sits, for a moment or two, only to gather her thoughts. She stands up slowly, careful not to lose her balance, holding her hands behind her back and slowly walking toward her dorm.

"I could've asked." she thinks to herself, "But she's always at her best when she's not trying so hard."

------

"...What." Juri says, more bluntly than intended.

Shiori snorts.

"Hello to you too, your highness."

She has her arms crossed, leaning against Juri's door.

"I've told you not to call me that."

"Well it's what you are."

Juri pauses, closing her eyes slowly and sighing before sticking the key in its lock and turning.

"I'm really. Not in the mood, Shiori."

"Are you ever, Juri?"

A sharp exhale; Shiori always knew how to push her buttons.

"What is it."

Shiori's face softens a tad.

"....I've just had a weird day is all. I don't....remember anything."

"Oh?" Juri says, gently rubbing her thumb against her key.

"Yeah." Shiori says, moving away from the door so Juri could unlock it.

She wasn't lying, all she could remember was finding Juri's locket on her desk earlier that same day.

"I'm just kind of freaked out. I was wondering if I could stay...for a while. Like old times?" Shiori asks, glancing up at her friend.

Juri swallows, glancing to the side.

"I...I don't think that's such a good-"

"Juri."

She's pouting a little.

"Please?"

Exactly, which buttons.

"...Fine."

-------

Juri pours tea into the first cup, gently setting it in front of Shiori. Red with 3 scoops of sugar, milk, and 4 spoons of honey, like she'd always liked it. She sets the teapot down, sitting in her own seat and resting her hand on her chin.

"...Don't watch me, creep."

"I wasn't."

"Well you were probably thinking about it, so don't."

Shiori watches Juri close her eyes, expression oh so calm as she does so.

"...I can only wonder what else you've thought about."

Juri opens them again, slowly.

"What do you mean?"

Shiori sips her tea, slowly setting it down.

"Do you think about me a lot Juri? Surely you must, if you keep that...thing around your neck."

There's a venom in her voice.

"And now you have the real thing, right here. It must be torture, hm? To want what you can't have?"

"Shiori."

"Is that why you couldn't look at me in those days? Why you're still not doing it now?"

"Shiori."

"Are you worried? Worried you might sully me like the freak you are? You should be. It's a sick game you're playing."

Juri's quiet, clenching her fists in her lap. Shiori smirks, slowly getting out of her chair and sauntering her way to Juri, gently sliding her hands on the other girl's shoulders. She leans a tad closer, just a hair's breath away from Juri's ear.

"I used to adore you, Juri. You were everything I wanted to be...perhaps more."

She can feel Juri shiver as she speaks, giggling quietly. She begins to rub them, slowly and tenderly, massaging her.

"It feels so nice. Being the winner, I mean. No wonder you've been so high and mighty all this time, it really is bliss."

"...I've never done that."

"Whatever." Shiori rests her chin on Juri's head, just barely taking in her scent.

She'd always loved that scent.

"You know, you can probably throw that stupid thing out. I mean, now that you have the real deal."

She feels Juri tense slightly.

"Oh, sorry, are you that obsessed with me?"

"I'm not obsessed."

Shiori scoffs.

"So you don't sit in here hunched over staring at it in the dark? Like some kind of ghoul? Don't act like I don't see you grabbing at it like a life force in class, you freak."

A pause.

"Do you look at it when..you know."

Juri turns toward her. How fitting, that the first time she'd look Shiori in the eye for the first time in three years would be out of spite.

"Don't push me."

"Everyone does it, it's just a little more...fucked up in your case. I'm just curious is all."

Silence.

Juri slowly turns away.

"....Is that a yes?"

Juri groans, Shiori snorts.

"Gosh, and all this time I thought I was pathetic! You're even worse off than me Juri!"

Silence again, aside from the rubbing of Shiori's palms against Juri's, which comes to a slow stop. She leans in again, planting a gentle kiss on Juri's ear.

"We're even now, you and I."

Juri turns in her seat, bewilderment plastered on her face as Shiori's hands slowly fall off her shoulders and she heads toward the door.

-----------------

Utena stares out the window, rays warming her cheeks on what was a beautiful spring day.

"I'm really glad Shiori's back to normal, aren't you Himemiya? Hehe, maybe now her and Juri can finally make up!"

Anthy watches beside her, eyes following the two girls, noting Shiori's own body language and comparing it to Juri's.

"Just because a snake's shed its skin doesn't mean it's become a different breed, Ms. Utena."

Utena glances at her.

"...What's that supposed to mean?"

Silence.

"I've never seen so many finches in one place."

"Ahh! You're doing it again!"

Chapter Text

Juri remembers, when she and Shiori were children.

"So." Shiori would ask, licking popsicles on the balcony of Shiori's own apartment. They were 11 at the time, only home for summer break.

"When are we gonna go to your house and play for a change?"

Juri would slow her licking.

"Uh. Maybe next time?" She'd answer.

"That's what you always say! I'm starting to think you're embarrassed of me!"

Juri would cringe, just a tad, thumb pressing harder on her popsicle stick.

Snap.

"N...No! Of course I'm not! We've been best friends forever!"

"Then what's the problem?" Shiori would ask.

Juri stayed quiet. Shiori scoffs.

"Please don't be like that. You really are my best friend Shiori, I'd never be embarrassed of you."

Shiori faces her now, half sulky.

"I love you, Shiori. Best friends forever, remember?" Juri asked.

Shiori stares, just for a moment, pout slowly becoming a small smile.

"I love you too, Juri."
-----------
The loud clang of ball against pin echoes through the alley, Juri taking her seat and unbuttoning the top button of her shirt. Yes, those days were but a memory now. A kinder, more charming time for sure, but time's arrow only moves forward. She closes her eyes, slowly leaning her head back in her seat just to catch her breath, if only for a moment or two.

"I love you too, Juri."

Twice, Juri realized. In the entirety of their friendship, Shiori told her she'd loved her twice.

The things she'd do to hear it at least a thousand more.

"I had the feeling I'd find you here."

Juri slowly opens her eyes, feeling warm, masculine hands over her eyes, a voice in her ears that was vaguely familiar.

"Ahah, Perfect score. You always were rather sound with this sport, if I recall."

She doesn't respond; just who could this be?

"It was the one thing you could actually beat me at."

Oh.

Oh.

Juri slowly raises her own hands, removing his from her face and slowly opening her eyes, staring at him.

Dread, was the only word that could describe that current feeling in her gut.

Dread and annoyance.

"It's nice to see you too, Ruka. You seem well."

---------

Amongst all the classist, homophobic drivel Juri's mother provided her, Juri found one statement of hers that always rang true:

Men are dogs.

She'd resist the urge to roll her eyes at every kind wave and wink he'd pass at the poor, giggling girls who'd had the misfortune of making eye contact with him, resist the urge to scoff each time he'd rubberneck for a nice eyeful of-

No. Saying it made it all the more real and she wasn't in the mood to be sick.

"You're looking lovely as ever." He says, breaking the silence between them.

She glances up at him.

"Thank you. Your affliction is all cleared up I see? And so quickly, I can't even tell you were ever sick."

Ruka chuckles.

"Quickly you say? I was gone for 2 years!"

Not remotely long enough.

"Were you? Time flies I suppose."

Juri's habits of noble birth always did have a tradition of swooping in when she needed them most; she was 90% positive if she were any less composed she would've used him to knock down those pins the minute he felt he could touch her in that bowling alley.

She notes all the other girls ahead, giggling and flustered and whispering like children- whether at her or Ruka, she was unsure.

She didn't even wanna think about the third option, she'd had enough anxiety this week.

----
"Who's your friend?" Shiori asks, rolling one of the tangerines Juri had packed with her around in her hands.

"He's cute."

Juri drinks her water slower, trying not to choke.

"....I'd prefer you stayed away from him. He's nothing but trouble, always has been."

Shiori snorts.

"Aw, are you jealous? Or just trying to play white knight again."

"Shiori I'm serious, I don't wan-"

"Don't want what? Me to be happy? Just because you're satisfied crying alone and jerking off to your weird late night fantasies with some picture perfect, immaculate ideal of me doesn't mean I'm the same." Shiori sets the tangerine down, standing and dusting off her skirt.

"I'm not your daughter, Juri. Some of us want to be happy for once."

She doesn't see Shiori again for three days, and when she does, it's not without an arm around that bastard.

Chapter Text

It wasn't like she meant to watch them; it was her dream to do the opposite actually. Watching them was like spotting a train wreck: an ugly disaster that you just can't bring yourself to look away from. Except, it wasn't a train wreck.

Just an average tragedy, watching the woman she'd loved for 3 years getting her face sucked on, his disgusting, calloused hand atop her breast, his free one rubbing her lower back with nothing separating them but the fabric on their bodies, and....

She could've sworn she just saw Ruka wink at her.

"Senpai?" Utena pipes up. "You've barely touched your food."

Juri jumps a tad, snapped out of her daze and noticing the broken chopsticks in her hand and slowly setting them to the side.

"Is everything ok?" Utena asks, cruelly virtuous and bright eyed as usual.

Juri inhales slowly.

"Yeah." she says, once again more blunt and callous than intended, trying to focus on lowering her blood pressure.

Utena frowns a tad.

"Is it....is it Takatsuki-san?"

"......."

"Y'kno, you wouldn't be so upset if you'd just talk to her or something."

"......."

"I don't know why you are though. She seems pretty happy at the moment senpai, I think it's kinda selfish for you to be upset over that. I mean, she is your friend, and she's been nothing but miserable lately. You should be happy she's happy-"

Juri slams her fist on the table, causing a squeak from Utena, a momentary silence from the nearby tables and a couple of awkward stares. Juri turns toward her, making direct eye contact as she does so.

"Mind your own." She says sternly, pushing out from her seat and leaving the cafeteria just as the chatter starts up again.

Utena sits for a moment, mouth slightly agape before she realizes she's not breathing and exhales slowly.

".....What was that all about?"

------

Juri couldn't put her feelings of frustration into mere words; she was angry, yes, disgusted and angry; but with whom? Herself for obsessing? With Shiori....for what? She wasn't wrong before; Shiori was her own person, not Juri's daughter or her sister, and unfortunately not her lover.

That didn't stop her from seeing green, though.

She exhales sharply through the nose, leaning against one of the lockers with her arms crossed and her eyes closed.

------
"Are you stalking me now?" Shiori asks, shutting her school bag with a gentle click, standing but a few feet away from her friend in the empty classroom.

"Last I checked, you already took Biology! Gosh Juri, you should really consider getting your own life, maybe then you wouldn't be so obsessed with mine."

Juri sighs.

"Shiori.....I really. I really don't think Ruka's good for you."

"This again?"

"I know how he is ok? He's not good for you, he'll only end up hurting you."

The small smirk Shiori has on her face slowly drops.

"....What?"

"I...I know it's hard, hearing the truth, but I just want what's best f-"

"Just who are you to talk about me getting hurt, Juri? You of all people wanting to spare me from cruelty? If this weren't so funny I'd probably cry!"

She giggles; it's bitter and laced with hostility.

"You're so clueless it's comical.....you really are the worst, Juri."

Shiori picks up her bag, pivoting and taking large steps toward the door, making a point to shove past Juri as she does so and slamming it behind her.

Juri stands alone, gently clutching her own bag and biting her bottom lip as the sun sets behind the large classroom windows, the harsh shades of orange and red casting down on her.

"Ahah! Hey Shiori!"

"Was that Arisugawa-san I heard you talking to in there? She's kind of scary."

"Mmm....you think so?"

------

A soft moan escapes Shiori's lips, hands slowly unclenching her bed sheets. She pants softly, running her fingers through Ruka's hair as he rests his head on her stomach.

"Good?"

"Mmm. Perfect."

He shifts slightly, lying next to her now.

"....Correct me if I'm wrong but, all that whispering you were doing?"

"Yeah?"

"It was Juri's name, wasn't it."

Silence. Ruka chuckles, slowly getting out of bed and throwing his shirt back on. Shiori almost whimpers.

"Where are you going?" She asks.

"Does it matter?" He responds, slicking back his mane.

She notes his huge forehead and faintly receding hairline.

"Ah, Ruka?"

He pauses, hand on the doorknob.

"...I love you."

He chuckles again, bitter and smug, slowly shutting the door behind him.

-----

Utena shuts the door of her and Anthy's shared door behind her, tossing her bag to the side and plopping down next to Anthy in front of the small tv, wiggling her toes in her socks.

"I was wondering where you'd been all day."

"My apologies Ms. Tenjou, I'd just gotten so caught up in my drawing I hadn't even noticed the time."

Utena laughs breathily, resting her chin on her hand.

"It's alright, just as long as you've got a hobby! I worry about ya sometimes, Himemiya."

It's quiet for a moment.

"....What even is that, Himemiya?"

"A panther and a butterfly."

"Oh!" such an odd combination. Utena squints.

"Why do they look so sad?"

"Because they're a separate species, Ms. Utena. They love each other and enjoy the other's company, but they're too different and keep making silly mistakes because they don't understand things outside of themselves; they're both selfish and keep getting hurt."

Utena frowns.

".....That's kinda depressing, Himemiya."

"Thank you, Ms. Utena."

Chapter Text

"....What?"

"What do you mean, what?"

"I mean, what. What do you want, freak?" Shiori's sure to put a little emphasis on that last word.

Juri huffs. "You know what I want."

"Oh," Shiori starts, standing up from her seat. "Buzz off already will you? I've already told you a thousand times, I'm not your damn daughter so stop acting like it!"

"N...No, Shiori, just listen to me will you? I've known Ruka for years, I know how he is-- better than anyone, I just don't-"

"You don't what Arisugawa? Want him to hurt me? Because that's your job and yours alone, right? No one can hurt your precious Shiori except you? God you're pathetic!"

Juri cringes a tad. "I'm just....I'm trying to get through to you, Shiori. I....I do care about you, even if you don't believe me."

"I don't. Not for a second." Shiori says, grabbing her bag, turning just a tad to look Juri and the eye.

"And just know....whatever he does to me, cannot possibly be any worse than what you've done already." She turns again, making sure to slam the door to the classroom as she leaves, once again leaving Juri alone with harsh words and her own thoughts.

----

"...I don't like them, you know."

Ruka shifts slightly, his chin atop Shiori's head as she sat in his lap-- and she swore to God he was making sure his stupid chin was pressing against her scalp as hard as possible because she was suddenly hyper aware of every bone he had in his jawline.

"Who?" He asked, his hand resting on her thigh. It was warm and kind of clammy; disgusting, almost. She was worried it'd begin to ooze.

"Those fangirls of yours, the way they fawn over you." She says. "It's disgusting. Pathetic."

He snorts, slowly running his fingers up the side of her thigh. "Is that jealousy I hear? You know, you were the same not too long ago."

Shiori frowns. "...That was different."

"Mmm....was it?"

"Yeah. And what we have, it's different from what they want."

Ruka adjusts himself, removing his chin from her head and giving her hair a whiff. "....Is it?" he asks, still trailing his fingers upward, getting closer and closer-

She smacks his hand away, just hard enough to emit a soft 'smack'.

"Yeah, it is." She says.

"Alright alright, no need to be a bitch about it, I'm only teasing." He says, raising his hands like some sort of helpless victim.

She frowns, shifting slightly to face him. "I'm not being a bitch, you're just not taking me seriously!"

"Don't get hysterical!! It was only a joke! Of course what we have is deeper than idle flirting, my darling."

Shiori's features soften a bit. ".....You mean it?"

"Why would I lie to the most beautiful creature to grace this Earth? What would I gain from it? Shiori, you're my world." He says, that chivalrous smile of his playing onto his face.

She shifts her gaze to the ground, guilt setting in. "....I'm sorry. I just....I get insecure. I mean, you could have any girl you want, but you've settled with little old me."

Ruka laughs. "I wouldn't call it settling, more like.." He raises a hand, tracing it down the side of her jaw before gently gripping her chin and raising it slightly to make eye contact. "More like....smitten."

Shiori flushes as the word leaves his mouth. "....Really?"

"As real as the stars in the night sky, sweetheart." He says in a manner that can only be described as disgustingly sweet, planting a gentle kiss on her forehead.

"I'm sorry, Ruka. For being so hostile." She says. "Can you ever forgive me?"

He rubs his chin, feigning indecisiveness. "I'll consider it....but only if we can go someplace private."

Shiori huffs. "Again?"

"You did ask."

"....You're lucky you're so handsome."

“I am, aren’t I.”

——-

“Are you stupid? There won’t be a next time.” Ruka says. “We lost because you’re too weak...honestly, I really thought you were something special. What a waste.”

Shiori stares at him. Surely this was some cruel joke.

“I....It’s not MY fault we lost, sometimes these things just happen! You knew Utena was a formidable foe, everyone’s been telling you for weeks!” Shiori says, trying to fight back the tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.

Ruka scoffs. “Typical, can’t take responsibility for your own actions....you know, that wasn’t even my sword you were polishing the other day.”

She cringes, just a tad.

“You’re annoying, you know that? You’re hypocritical and a bad, bad liar. I can tell you were only using me, you’re no better than I.” He says, crossing his arms over his chest. “And don’t try to lie, don’t act like I didn’t notice how you looked at her, how you only wanted to be PDA with me when she was watching. You’re so pathetic.”

Shiori can hear the emphasis on that last word....pathetic, that’s what he’d said. A word she’d become all too familiar with in the past few years, except now it was actually confirmed; by a man of all people.

“I....It’s not true!! I do love you Ruka, I really do!”

At least, she thought it was true. Had she really been doing that? Been using him to get back at Juri? No....she loved him. She knew she did. This was nothing like what she’d had with that idiot from middle school, surely. Ruka was actually nice to her. Yes, he was nice and....and....

“Whatever.” He sighs, turning and walking away. “Typical of a woman, getting hysterical for getting what they deserve.”

——-

“Did you hear Takatsuki got dumped?”

“Dumped? I didn’t even know she was taken.”

“Right? She’s so shy and quiet, it’s such a shame. Poor girl’s really torn up over it.”

“Ah....well, on the bright side, at least Tsuchiya is on the market agai-“

The two girls jump at the loud slam of a book on the floor.

“Gah....Arisugawa-san you scared us!”

Juri slowly reaches over, picking up the book and placing it back in her bag.

“......Sorry. My hand slipped.”

Chapter Text

It took a lot to get Juri upset, let alone angry, but the Ohtori student body was really pushing it as of late. It seemed every other day she was flinging erasers at boys who had the gall to let Shiori's name and the words whore, slut, crazy, or any variation and/or combination of the words leave their putrid lips, or scaring off the poor girls who had the misfortune of being in the presence of Ruka "the man" Tsuchiya via standing an earshot away from whatever maiden he had wrapped in his filthy clutches.

And Ruka would only chuckle.

"What's with you lately?" He'd ask, his voice disgustingly smooth, tilting his head slightly as the most recent girl squatted to pick up her school bag, only continuing to watch as she scurried out of the gym. "You're scaring all my business away."

Juri resists the urge to gag. "Just saving a few women their time...." she glances at him. "And their social value."

Ruka snorts. "Ooohhh....is that what it's about? Darling Takatsuki?" His voice is laced with sarcasm and Juri has to resist lacing his face with her fist.

"Ruka." She says, repressing violent impulse, "y...you have to take her back.....please. You have to date Shiori again."

Ruka notices her expression soften, just a tad.

"....You can't be serious." He says.

"As a heart attack." She replies, crossing her arms.

He pauses; once again feigning indecisiveness. "...What's in it for me?"

She quirks a brow. "Excuse me?"

"I mean," he says, sauntering closer to her. "What's in it--"

She slowly walks backwards, away from him, only to bump into a wall she forgot was there with him practically on top of her. Great.

"--For me?" He repeats.

Juri was suddenly hyperaware of every layer of overpriced cologne he'd put on this morning.

"How about....you get the satisfaction of not hurting my...friend, and I don't have you leave this gym a tooth short?" She replies, trying to keep her breathing even.

Ruka laughs. "Fiesty! Just like I like em, playing hard to get."

"What?" Juri says, visibly annoyed; the facade of apathy and composure was gone now, it was officially fight or flight. "Don't be disgusting, you insulted me the minute you hurt Shiori's pride. You're already on thin ice, don't make it worse for yourself."

He laughs again. "You know Juri, I was considering dating you this time around."

What.

"What?" She asks, her blood running cold and her voice stern.

Ruka leans in, nuzzling her neck slightly. "You're not...like other girls, Juri. And that's so...enticing to me." He says. "I've seen how you look at me, you can't lie anymore." He giggles.

"You're in love with your old fencing team captain." He whispers against her ear.

Juri punches him in the gut on sheer reflex, kneeling after he's keeled over for a moment on the ground.

"I told you," she says, "Don't insult me." she should've known better than to expect a man of all things to be sympathetic. She slowly stands, turning to leave until she hears what sounds like a trinket skittering across the gym floor.

A locket.

Her own locket.

She quickly turns back around, anger and disturbance plastered on her face. ".....How did you get this?"

He merely chuckles, still holding his gut, his bangs covering half of his face as they slowly fell to the side.

"I challenge you," he says, "to a duel. If you win, I'll date your...favorite heinous bitch. But if I win," he shifts slightly, standing slowly. "You'll do whatever I want. Got it?"

She stares at him, expression cold and harsh, unsure if she wanted to acknowledge him having the gall to call Shiori such ugly words or acknowledge his offer first. A feeling of dread overcame her as she knew, in her heart of hearts, dueling him would be a challenge; a real challenge. However...

Shiori she thought to herself, slowly kneeling to pick up the locket, gently rubbing it with her thumb before putting it around her neck once more.

"...Alright." She says. "It's a deal."

---

"Ah! Oh." Utena says, putting her hand to her chest. "Juri senpai you scared me!" She chuckles breathily, turning back to her locker to put the last of her things away before heading to her dorm. "You know, you and Himemiya both have a habit of sneakin' up on me! I don't know how you both do it, but-"

"I challenge you--" Juri interrupts.

Utena turns her head to face her, looking surprised and vaguely insulted at being interrupted.

"--To a duel. Meet me in the arena at sundown." She says, turning on her heel. "Don't be late."

"What? A duel?- Hey! Juri, I thought we were friends! I don't wanna fight you again! Senpai!" Utena watches her leave, groaning and shutting her locker.

"What is everyone's problem lately?"

---
Shiori figured today would be as good as any for a walk. After being holed up in her room for four days straight, and after a nice hot shower, she figured she ought to treat herself, just this once. She walks with her arms crossed, watching the underclassman play basketball on the court and chuckling at the grade schoolers as they threw rocks at each other. She continues on a while longer, closing her eyes as the wind blew, taking in the breeze. She opens one eye slowly. It was funny, really. Somehow, no matter what happened or where, her thoughts always rounded back to Juri, somehow.

There, under the tree where her and Juri used to sit, now there were two other girls there, holding hands, giggling.

Shiori was hyperaware of how dry her lips were and how much her heart sped up as she watched the girls lock lips. She merely watched, only snapping out of her daze once they stopped, wiping her sniffling and rubbing away the tears she hadn't realized were welling up until just now.

She exhales sharply-- through the nostrils-- turning back toward the direction of her dorm.