Nanami felt uneasy as soon as Touga started going off with their father to look at high schools, but she didn't really start to feel scared until the day he came back from Ohtori Academy. He was indifferent to the other schools, but after a single tour of Ohtori he came back with eyes shining, chattering exitedly about the beautiful buildings, the gardens, the fencing. And the dormitories.
"Why do you have to go to a boarding school?" Nanami said. She knew how childish she sounded and she didn't care. "Why are you going away? It's not even that far from here, you don't need to stay there all the time."
"Oh, Nanami," He patted her hair, and laughed in that irritating way he had lately, like going to high school made him so much smarter than her. "It's only for a year. Then you'll be all grown up and you can come to Ohtori too. And besides, if it's so close to home it's not so far for you to visit, is it?"
It was so much more than that, Nanami thought. A year was forever. A whole year when she would hardly even see him, he'd meet new people, new girls, and she wouldn't know a thing about them. A year was more than enough time for her to lose him.
And there was another feeling she couldn't articulate, a bad feeling about this beautiful school that she hadn't even seen. She had the strangest sense that it wasn't just going to take him. It was going to consume him, and she would be stuck here at home, helpless to stop it.
But she didn't want to prove his condescention right and act like a child. Nanami was a grown-up already, despite what Touga said, and though she'd fight tooth and nail when she had the slightest hope of winning, she could see that this fight was lost before it even began. So she hugged him and told him of course she hoped he'd have a good time at Ohtori.
Ohtori Academy was okay. There were a lot of things about it that were really nice. Nanami liked the beautiful buildings and the grounds immediately, and she could see why Touga would like it so much more than the other schools around just based on the beauty of it alone. It didn't take her long to make friends, either, even though some of them only seemed to be interested in her because she was Touga's sister. And there was nobody else where she could go to school and see her brother every day, in a dorm room right next to hers so she could just walk over and see him any time she wanted.
But the place still bothered her.
Touga had other friends now, people with whom he shared secret smiles and whispers in the corridors. He had fans, too, many of them Nanami's friends, who pushed her aside when they walked through the school together, leaving her standing to the side fuming. How dare they treat her like being Touga's sister means nothing, when it means everything. When she's his and he is hers in a way that none of them will ever be.
There was something else about the place, too, beyond the frustration of Touga and his fans and being away from home. Something seemed just a little wrong about the entire school, something she couldn't name but was always there, a sinister current of weirdness that seemed to run behind every sunny afternoon. It just seemed to be her who sensed it, though. Her friends had looked at her oddly when she asked, so she never mentioned it to them again, and her brother... When she tried to talk about it to Touga, he laughed and told her she was being silly, there was nothing sinister about Ohtori at all, and she knew that for the first time she could remember, her big brother wasn't just brushing her off. He was lying to her.
She didn't ask him again, either.
Touga started wearing the ring halfway through Nanami's first year at Ohtori Academy, and the first time she saw it she felt sick. It was a girl. It had to be a girl. He'd gone and gotten a girlfriend without even telling her. She wanted to stake out his room and see who it was, to confront him, scream and cry until he told her everything because they weren't supposed to have secrets and he wasn't allowed to just cut her out like that.
He laughed when she confronted her about it, though, and for once it didn't sound fake.
"I'm not supposed to tell you what the Rose Seal means, but because you're my sister..." He smiled, and she leaned closer, still as helpless in the face of his charm as any other girl. "It's just for members of the Student Council."
She thought of the tower that loomed above the school, beautiful but somehow grotesque, and strangely felt a little sick. "You're on the Student Council."
"Indeed I am," he said, indulgently. "It has a lot of... benefits."
"It's just a student government," she said, feeling suddenly spiteful. "It's not that special."
"That's what you think," Touga said, a faraway look in his eyes. "It's so much more than that, Nanami. It's another world."
And despite the sense of foreboding she felt at the mere mention of the group, she said "Can I be on the Student Council too?"
"Maybe." He patted her on the head, like he often did, but this time his hand slid down almost unconsciously to the back of her neck, making Nanami shiver in a good way this time. "One day."
Nanami followed Touga to the duelling arena one night.
She didn't know it was a duelling arena then. She didn't know what was going on except that her brother was acting strangely lately. He barely looked at her, barely spoke, completely fixated on Anthy Himemiya, the strange girl who who barely spoke. So when she woke in the night and saw him stealing across the lawn away from their dormitory, of course she thought it had something to do with the way he'd gone quiet lately. She was sure he was going off to meet that girl, no matter how many times he told her he didn't have a girlfriend, and she was determined to catch him in the act and prove him wrong.
She saw him walk through the forest in the brewing darkness, walk up to the gate with no handles, saw his Rose Crest ring shine brighter than any ring should. Then she saw those seamless doors dissolve and open him up and swallow him whole, and all she could do was stuff her hands in her mouth so he didn't hear her scream. But she couldn't leave either, couldn't make herself move until she knew he was safe, so she crouched there in the forest, shivering with the cold and the damp seeping into her slippers, until he came back. After an age, the doors opened again, more subdued this time, and Touga walked out looking more tired and defeated than ever
Nanami had never trusted Ohtori, but this was the first time she ever really, deeply hated it, when she watched her brother walk away defeated from that horrible, unnatural place that made her skin crawl worse than anywhere else in the school, and she thought This place is going to kill him.
The next year he became Student Council President, sinking further into the twisted mysteries of the school. And worse than that, he met Utena Tenjou. To many of the others at the school, it looked like Touga just being himself, flirting with a fairly disposable girl like the playboy he'd always been. Nanami knew differently though. She knew her brother like they never would, and this time, she knew, he was in love.
It was bad enough that he was in love with a girl, that there was another girl he loved more than Nanami now, but even worse that she wore the Rose Crest too. She was one of them, one of that awful shadowy world she wasn't a part of, and she was going to drag him deeper into it, too. Utena could act as innocent as she liked, but Nanami knew what she was, and she could see Himemiya's carefully blank but knowing gaze at Utena's side as well as anyone could.
Nanami didn't realise how right she was until Touga got injured trying to defend Utena, and she couldn’t even take the satisfaction of knowing she was right. She just raged, at herself for not doing anything to stop it, and at fucking Utena Tenjou for getting Touga hurt like that. She didn't care that hurting Utena wouldn't achieve anything. Nanami couldn't achieve anything until she felt... well, until she made someone pay.
She was furious when Touga stopped her, defending Utena again, and she ranted and raved as he dragged her away. But she stopped short when she suddenly realised where they were.
"This is the tower," she said, her throat dry.
"If you want to fight Utena, there are proper channels to do it," Touga said, and led her out into the council balcony by the hand. "If you want to fight her, you have to duel her."
Nanami whipped her head around, certain that she could feel someone watching her, but she couldn't see another soul anywhere on the balcony. "Duel?"
"That's what we do, in the Student Council. We duel for the hand of Anthy Himemiya, the Rose Bride."
"I don't care about Himemiya. I'm just angry that Utena hurt my big brother."
"Anthy is the prize. We all have our own reasons."
"What's your reason, then?"
He looked away. "It's a secret."
Nanami looked at the table and started again at the sight of a teapot and what looked like a dog bowl. "Those weren't there before. Where did those come from?"
"What are you talking about?" Touga asked, looking at her strangely again, and Nanami wanted to scream. She hated this creepy place, she hated that he was drawing her into it instead of her pulling him out. She felt more and more like there was nothing she could do to stop either of them getting lost in it.
"I hate this place," she said, standing up suddenly. "It's creepy and it's wrong. I hate it, I hate the duels and I hate what it's doing to you."
"Nanami!" Touga cried, as she stalked away. "This isn’t the last chance. You’ll join us. You’ll change your mind."
She did, of course, despite all her bravado. She couldn't watch Anthy giving him that kitten without storming over there in a rage. Utena might think it was just a gift, but Nanami knew a seduction when she saw it. She knew when she had to throw away her inhibitions and make a challenge. For Touga’s sake.
The cold of the ring sliding onto her finger, making her one of them, felt like a manacle, but the warmth of Touga's hands around hers almost made it worth it.
"You already hurt yourself protecting her," Nanami said, uncharacteristically quiet. "Now you're sending me in to fight her when I've never even held a sword before. Didn't you even think to protect your own sister?"
He laughed, the loud, true laugh that Nanami remembered from a time that seemed a long time ago now. "Of course I want you to be safe, Nanami. But I’ve never had any doubt that you can protect yourself."
Touga came with her up to the duelling arena. She was on edge the whole way up that strange staircase that went on forever, and she almost fell over at the sight of the sight of the castle hanging over them. This place was impossible. This duel was impossible. Her hand closed tightly over the hilt of her new sword, until she thought her fingers were going to go numb.
"How am I supposed to win?" She whispered, fearfully, when Utena appeared at the arena's gate looking completely unruffled.
"Utena had never duelled before until she won," Touga assured her. "Just remember the rules of the Rose Seal..."
Nanami tuned him out even as Anthy was tucking her rose into her pocket. She didn't care about the rules. The Rose Seal was taking her brother away, and she was going to take him back. When Touga had decided to come to Ohtori, she hadn’t fought him because she had no hope of winning. Well, not any more. Even if there was no way she could win the duel, or take Touga away from here, she was going to fight it until the end.
She felt like she'd been standing at Touga's door for hours, urging him to come out.
"No," he said, simply, when she stopped hammering his door to catch her breath.
This was what she wanted, wasn't it? No more Student Council. No more duels. Just Touga, being her big brother, being himself. But he finally cracked open the door and pulled her into a hug, and it was all wrong. Touga wasn't better now, and he wasn't happier. He wasn't the President or her brother. Right now he was nothing.
"The Student Council needs you," she whispered. Anything that could get him out of his room was better now, even if it felt like a surrender. "You have to come back. You're the President."
"I can't," he whispered. "Not now. You can do it."
"What?" She pulled away. "Me? I can't be President. What about Juri and Miki?"
"You're my sister. You're a Kiryuu. You'll be a great President." And he smiled, truthful and sad.
She didn't flinch when she stepped into the elevator. She ignored the prickling at the back of her neck, stared straight ahead when Miki and Juri appeared alongside her as if out of nowhere, and walked straight through the revulsion that came over her when she looked out on the balcony. She hated this place, where she felt constantly watched and things seemed to appear and disappear every time she turned her head. She was deeply creeped out by the fan that appeared on the table today, turning every time she turned her head. She wanted to pick it up and throw it over the edge. She hated this place more than anywhere else, and it felt like the worst of betrayals that she had taken Touga's place here. But no matter how much she hated Ohtori, she loved Touga more. If he needed her to do this, then she would.
She still couldn't help jumping a little when she heard a sudden flurry of noise as Juri spoke, like the flight of a thousand paper planes, or thousand pinwheels spinning at once. But when she looked around there was nothing in sight.
"What was that nosie?" She asked, trying not to look too concerned as she glanced around.
"What noise?" Miki and Juri replied.
"Nothing." Nanami clenched her teeth and looked out over the balcony, towards the duelling arena. She knew they didn't think she was up to the task, that she didn't understand the Council or the duels, but she was sure she was the only one of them who could see.