The One You're Looking For
by Erin Griffin
Fandom: Shoujo Kakumei Utena
Summary: After the series takes place, Wakaba and Juri can't remember Utena, but they both still feel the absence of her presence. Together, they try to figure it all out and fill that emptiness Utena left behind.
Disclaimer: Shoujo Kakumei Utena belongs to Bepapas and other people who aren't me. Even the idea of Juri and Wakaba being together wasn't mine, it came from Fractured Tales of the Rose Bride, found on ff.net. (I highly suggest you check them out if you haven't already read it.)
I felt warmth on my face as I sat there, leaning against 'our' tree as I waited for her. though I had my textbook in my lap, my eyes did not read the words splayed across it. I focused hard to keep my eyes there even as my mind wandered. I found my ears tuning in to the guys and girls all around me who chattered about their weekend and summer plans. I hoped that one of those voices belonged to her, but she didn't really talk to people. If anyone were to see Wakaba or myself lately, they'd surely be confused. We were somewhat of an odd couple, with me being so tall and practically towering over her. Being a student council member, I'm quite intimidating and stand off-ish, often seen as mysterious, where Wakaba was always a smiling, bubbly girl who saw the good in everything.
Like many good stories out there, our story begins with a ring. An earring to be precise, a golden little hoop that glinted in the sun during a fencing match, which had caused me to lose for the first time since Ruka left. Once the amateur's foil tapped my chest, I wanted to rip off my mask and ask what was the big idea. I knew even then that it was difficult to keep anything from reflecting in the sunlight that day, but that didn't stop my eyes from searching for the source. It was so bright in the arena that day, I had to squint to look in the stands until my eyes rested on Wakaba. She wasn't looking at the matches. Instead, she was looking at her shoes. She clapped politely along with everyone else, but absently, as if she hadn't even seen who won. Something about her intrigued me. She didn't seem to be there to cheer any specific person on. She seemed to be there just to be there, to fill up space and time.
I went over to the bench with the other people who lost their matches and continued to watch this girl. She looked like any other girl in school, but she looked off for some reason, like she should be happy. She seemed sad, lost, maybe even a little lonely. It was her earring that had distracted me, and she didn't even seem to realize it. Throughout the match, I watched her as she watched her shoes, waiting for something, anything to make her look up and cheer, but nothing. She continued to clap along with everyone else, and when the matches were over, she quietly left, not congratulating anyone. All of the usual girls had come up to me, just as they always had, only this time I heard a lot of 'That referee was really tough' or 'Don't let this get you down Juri. We know you could've beaten him'. Though they were nice words, I didn't really pay attention to any of it. I kept my mind on that girl. When I thought back, I knew she'd spent a lot of time with... somebody. She had a friend she used to hang out with, someone she was often seen hanging on, but that person wasn't around her anymore. The harder I tried, the harder it was to figure it out. It made familiar feelings I'd fought off a couple of months prior to that come back, and I tried to fight it back again then. That girl, Wakaba, seemed really different then. I always remembered her smiling back then, but... But it wasn't there anymore.
The next day, I was trying to force the nagging feelings away from me when I saw her sitting against a tree as she read a book. From where I stood, it looked like one of those romance novels that cost no more than eight or nine hundred yen. At lunch that same day, she was there again, eating slowly as she read from her book. She was near the end of it and I couldn't seem to look away from her. I mean, what was so fascinating about some girl reading a book? I just couldn't look away. I waited, hoping to find some sort of emotion as she read. I was curious to see what her smile looked like. It became somewhat an obsession, I have to admit. I came back everyday at lunch and watched her. No one seemed to notice, least of all her. Everyday, she sat under that tree as the weather got better and better with a new book every two days. All of the books seemed to be from the same publisher. As I watched her, I always wondered about her friend. Where did they go? Were they sick? Did they transfer? Was that why she was so sad? It all seemed so odd, as she never acted like she missed anybody, though it was plain to see that something was missing from her life. It was as if she had always been alone and she just accepted it. But I could have sworn deep down in my gut, deep down in my soul that there was someone there. In my mind, I could always see that shadow of someone, and Wakaba is so happy. Maybe it was just me, wishing that someone on Wakaba because I wanted her happy, I don't know. No, she used to hang out with someone, that much I was sure of. I could see her arms around their neck, but it was as if I couldn't say their name, though it was always at the tip of my tongue.
Every afternoon, Wakaba came to the practices. Sometimes she would actually watch with a listless stare, watching as people trained under me. Again, she would clap with everyone else, and in the end of the session, she would slip out quietly. No one said hello or even waved to Wakaba, as if she didn't exist. I noticed. I don't know why exactly, but I did... and I am glad now for it.
One day, I watched Wakaba as I had been all that time, and was surprised by a look of emotion on her face as she read her book. It was at first a look of pure confusion, then it shifted into one of recognition before it went back to it's usual boredom. Still, she read on after taking a quick look at the cover of her book, and slowly, she began to scowl. I packed up my own lunch from one of the picnic tables where I sat and slowly walked over to where Wakaba was. My shadow hovered over her and she looked up to see who was invading her space. When she saw who it was, she looked surprised. "Good book?" I asked. She looked as if she wasn't sure what to say, or what to make of me being there. Finally, she nodded.
"Yeah, I think so. I liked it," she said. She stared at the cover again before she shrugged.
"So you read it before?" I asked. At first, she didn't speak, her lips pursing. I just stared at her, waiting.
"No. I haven't. It's... It's quite hard to explain, Juri-san," Wakaba replied softly. My curiosity was peaked. First the gold hoop, then the missing friend, and now a book she liked but never read before.
"Oh?" There was no response, as she didn't elaborate. I tried again after looking from my lunch to hers, both half eaten. "Well, would you mind if I joined you? You've got the most beautiful spot on campus, and maybe you could tell me what you mean." Wakaba thought about this for a second and looked around as if to check and see if she was being set up.
"Yeah, you can sit here if you want to," she finally said quietly. So I sat next to her under the shade of the cherry blossoms (leaving about a foot and a half of space between us so she would feel more comfortable in my presence), and unrolled my lunch as if we'd been eating together all year. I took my first bite in silence as Wakaba stared at me in the corner of her eye, pretending to continue reading her book.
Finally I asked, "So... You think you read that book before? You don't know for sure?"
"Again, it's hard to explain," Wakaba said. She brought the book up and her wrist twisted, showing me both the cover and the back as she spoke. "I could have swore I've never read it before when I bought it at the book store last night... But then I read the first couple of pages and I know exactly what is going to happen to every character. This book is brand new. It was published a few months ago." I thought things through.
"Do you think maybe your friend had it and told you what happened? Maybe you just forgot the title of the book he or she read when you bought this one."
"What friend?" Wakaba asked. The look she gave me almost broke my heart. She was confused, but hopeful too, as if I had answers to offer her.
"Weren't you with a friend a few months ago?" I wondered. Now I was confused. Wakaba shook her head before she looked down. I watched as she swallowed hard, the same way I did to fight off tears. "Are you okay?" Again, she shook her head, and a tear fell down her cheek. I wanted to comfort her, but we didn't know each other well enough for me to do much.
"I'm not imagining it," she whispered after another moment. "They're real?" Wakaba asked, pinning me again with the hopeful look. She bit her lip before she looked down again. "No. It's crazy."
"What's crazy?" I asked her. She bit her lip again before she looked up once more, her eyes redder and glittering.
"I've not felt right lately. It's like I woke up one day and had the feeling something's missing. I've done all I could, I started a sport, but that didn't work out. I dated Tatsuya for a bit, and was even happy for a little while, but... But that wasn't it. That wasn't what was missing. I'd wake up from dreams, hear songs on the radio or see something and want to tell... Somebody- not... Not just anyone, but a specific person. But I can't seem to remember. If I want to tell them first, then they had to have been important to me. At first I thought I was just lonely, but there is someone and you just mentioned them, but if they were so important to me, how...? How could I have forgotten them?" Wakaba's tears fell twice as fast.
"I thought maybe your friend transferred-"
"I never had a friend!" she said loudly, making a couple of boys passing by stare at us for a second. Softer, she continued, "I've been alone all year." She stared at her skirt. "At least... that I know of. If it's true that I had a friend like you keep saying... I'm not the type of person to just... forget somebody like that. I'm not!" she insisted.
"I know you're not, I said quietly, though it was unclear to me just how I knew.
"I told you it was crazy," she said with a sniffle. I leaned so that we were closer together.
"Don't cry, Wakaba. Don't cry," I said as I touched her cheek, taking the tear onto my thumb. "Maybe it's not just you who feels this way," I said slowly, unsure if I wanted to share this with her, but she had shared so much with me at the risk of being laughed at and ridiculed.
"What do you mean?"
"Myself and all of the council members have been having some of the same feelings you just told me about, that feeling that something's missing or just not right with the school anymore, but nothing's changed, right?"
"I've been looking around the school for someone, but I never find them. Even if I did know who it was I was looking for, I doubt I would recognize them if ever I saw them. Its like there's a presence that was here once, but isn't anymore and now we all feel weird in its absence." Wakaba took in a deep shuddering breath, which sounded to me like dozens of tiny gasps, and then she let it all out.
"So it's not just me?" Wakaba murmured.
"No," I reassured her. We were quiet for a while after that. Wakaba stared ahead of her, and I stared at the strand of hair that fell from her ponytail. Surely we were thing the same thing: Was Wakaba's friend the same person I looked for in the hallways? Or was it even a person to begin with? I wouldn't let my thoughts go down that road, as I didn't want to think about the possibility of spirits, mainly because I didn't really believe in spirits.
I wondered what else I could say, what I could do to let Wakaba know that she wasn't going crazy and that she was just fine. I wanted to ask her why she didn't try to make new friends. She was a really nice girl and seemed like a happy girl when I remembered seeing her around with the 'friend' from before, bit now I'm not too sure about anything. Before I could speak, the bell signalling the end of lunch sounded and I cursed in my head. I slowly packed up my lunch and began to stand. Wakaba jumped up as well. She looked like she wanted to hide away. She didn't say anything, so I broke the silence between us. "Can I eat with you tomorrow?" I asked her.
"Uh- yeah, if you want to," she said again.
"Of course I want to. Will you meet me here?"
"I'm always here," she replied. Of course, I knew that, but she didn't know that I knew. I nodded.
So that was how I spent my lunches for the following weeks. Often times I felt eyes upon us, but I didn't care. Wakaba was a delight to be around, and we had a lot to talk about. Though sometimes we spoke about the presence that seemed to be missing from both of our lives, we also spoke about other things, families, hobbies, Wakaba's uncertainty about her future, and I was even able to open up a little bit about my past with Shiori as well as a new uneasiness I felt around her despite what I previously felt for her. Wakaba didn't see me as disgusting for loving other girls, as I thought she might be. She listened to it all as if I was talking about a boy. Everyday she was under the tree as usual, and sometimes, she'd look around as I approached as if she was expecting me. I didn't want to disappoint her, so I found myself slowly packing my bag so that the teachers didn't catch me, and I was usually the first one out the door. Wakaba was often still at those fencing practices and matches, and I was always glad to see her there.
"Are you going to the fencing match tonight?" I asked her one of these afternoons. She nodded, but I knew that she was always there. "I'm glad. I'll need you to cheer me on," I told her. Wakaba had her mouth full, so all she could do was smile. After she took a drink of her water, she smiled again.
"You don't need me to cheer you on. You're the fencing captain. You'll do great. But I'll be there, Juri." I leaned back against the tree and watched her open her text book and start to study. I knew I should have been doing the same, but I knew it was futile. With her so close to me, it was impossible to concentrate. I had never been one to be comfortable with another person in silence, always preferring to be alone in it, but with Wakaba, it didn't seem too bad. We could spend a whole lunch hour in silence except for out initial 'hello' and 'see you later', which was pretty much what we did that day.
It pleased me to notice that gone was the sadness and boredom from Wakaba's face, although at that moment there was a look of deep concentration. She seemed as if she was happier now; a glint was in her eyes like I was so sure it had been when she was with this unknown presence, and she smiled more. Oh, did she have a beautiful smile. She has dimples in her cheeks and I died almost every time I saw them. I hoped that I was the reason for her smile, just as she was the reason for mine. People often asked me if I was dating her, and they didn't know how much I wanted to say yes, but I was to scared to show her how I felt. Though Wakaba's different from Shiori, the rejection and hurt would feel the same.
That night Wakaba was at the fencing match. I saw her climb the bleachers and watch as we warmed up and got our masks on. As I waited for my turn, I watched her, hoping she'd catch my eye, but she didn't. This worried me a little bit. Was she alright? I wondered if perhaps the happy Wakaba only emerged when we were at the cherry blossom tree. From there, I had to focus. After my foil touched my opponents' chest in under two minutes, I looked up and she was smiling softly at me as she clapped. I smiled back.
After the match, I tried to meet up with Wakaba at the bleachers, but was stopped by a group of girls who came to congratulate me like they usually did. I couldn't be rude, so I thanked them as I tried to signal for Wakaba to wait for me. She didn't get it. Just when the small crowd thinned, I was about to pass when I heard, "Juri?" I looked and saw Shiori. "You were really great out there," she said softly. She looked to be blushing. I swallowed and looked away.
"Thanks. I, uh... I can't talk now. I'm sorry." I stepped by her with an apologetic smile and hurried outside. I looked around the outside of the fencing arena and started to panic inside when I couldn't spot Wakaba. I then went to the tree, where she leaned against it, deep in thought. I wondered why she chose to go there, but I was grateful she had, for it helped me find her. "WAKABA!" I called. I saw the quick movement of her hand flashing over her eyes at the sound of my voice. Was she crying? I hurried to her side, and Wakaba hid her face from me. After a moment of silence, I asked, "So... Aren't you going to congratulate me?" I tried to smirk in a mostly fake arrogant way to get her to smile, but it didn't work.
Wakaba sniffled a couple of times. "Oh, you don't need me to congratulate you with all those girls around, Juri," she said. This made me stop. Was that why she was crying? Didn't she know how much I wanted to plough through those girls to talk to only her? Her hand went to her side and I took it.
"I won't feel like a true winner unless the most beautiful girl in school congratulates me," I told her. "So?" I prompted when she didn't move. I stood there in my expectant silence.
"Congratulations, Juri. I told you that you'd do great," Wakaba said with another sniffle. Then she looked up at me, her eyes glittering from her tears, not unlike the first time I talked to her. My head lolled to the side as I considered her.
"Nn-nope, still don't feel quite like a true winner." I swallowed. I was nervous. I'd never made a move with Shiori, but I wanted to so badly then with Wakaba. I kissed her. The kiss was gentle, and I pulled away, scared she'd slap me or something, like you'd see girls do on TV if they didn't want you to kiss them. She didn't. Slap me, I mean. "I- I- thank you," I said, feeling my chest getting tighter.
"Um..." Even in the dark I could see Wakaba's blush. I heard a shuffling and looked up just in time to see Shiori retreating around the corner of the building nearest us, and I felt bad. I looked again at Wakaba.
"That person you subconsciously look for, the one you want to share things with. Let it be me," I said. Let me be your prince. Your... Onion Prince that you told me about. Let it be me," I said again. Wakaba's eyes widened, and we were quiet again. I swallowed again, then jumped when Wakaba's arm wrapped around my neck, pulling me closer to her. My neck was warm and wet after a moment. I heard more of her sniffles as I wrapped my arms around her middle.
Finally, I felt her nod against my shoulder and she said something that surprised me, something I wish I'd thought of first. "I won't hurt you, Juri," she whispered in my ear.
At first, I couldn't help comparing Shiori and Wakaba. I often found myself thinking about how being with Wakaba was compared to how being with and around Shiori. I knew that there's no comparison; Shiori and Wakaba were totally different girls. For one, Wakaba gave me her heart freely, as if she'd never been hurt before, though I know she had. She just picked her heart off of the ground, dusted it off a few times, and tried again, whereas Shiori and I had been friends long enough that I knew how much she'd been hurt. She probably believes that love doesn't come without pain and mind games, and now she is so jaded. This may have been why she hurt me so much, and why I let her.
Wakaba kept her promise to me. She never hurt me. On the contrary, I feel like I am so messed up sometimes that I'd end up hurting her. But she knows my secrets. She knew them before we'd become a couple, and I don't feel like I need to hide anything from her. She knows how weak I really am even though she proudly calls me her prince. Still she wants to be with me, and she tells me she loves me every day.
A sudden weight on my back and a small puff of air in my ear interrupted my thought process. "Whumph! Wuh...Ka...buh...." The arms around my neck loosened a little bit, but her hold on me was still strong.
"What're you thinking about?" she asked, sliding down so her knees sunk comfortably in the grass.
"Why, you of course," I told her once I regained control of my lungs, which was in no way a lie. She giggled.
"Good answer!" She kissed the top of my head and I was glad she couldn't see my face. "Have I told you lately that I love you?" she asked me, and I tried not to turn pink, as I always did when she said she loved me.
"Not since lunch," I replied, trying to sound sarcastic but not quite making it. She swung around so that she was suddenly in my lap staring up at me.
Before I could warn her that we'd get detention for public displays of affection, she said, "Well, I do." I smiled and held her to me.
"So I take it your good mood has something to do with your final test scores," I said, which made her giggle again. She went on to tell me about how scared she was but then how easy the test had been to her ever since I'd explained things in 'Wakaba speak'. As she spoke, I couldn't stop a certain thought from coming to me: Maybe she will be the one to convince me that miracles are real. I'd never say this out loud, as Wakaba would make it her mission statement, but it scared and pleased me to know that I was willing to let her try.