Blossom Under Heaven
“Believe in miracles and they will know your true self,” Shiori had promised, proffering a russet rose the exact color of Juri’s hair and that smile, so full of sweetness and affection. And Juri had, and allowed Shiori to cover her eyes, and when she opened them, it was to discover that she had been betrayed.
Juri lunged at her opponent with a ferocity which would have shocked her classmates in fencing class. Over the strident music of steel on steel, she challenged, “Show me the miracle you talked about! If you can summon a miracle and win, your egotism will be justified!”
And armed only with her spirit-sword and her damned presumptuous faith in herself, Tenjou Utena retorted, “Even without a miracle, I won’t lose to you!”
Juri forced Utena to give way, steering her around the dueling ground almost easily. Utena’s raw talent with a sword could not defeat Juri’s skill… but Utena’s spirit, that was another matter. The stupid girl, brash and naïve, believed in miracles.
And Juri was going to prove that she was wrong.
The point of Utena’s sword came within a centimeter of Juri’s rose – russet, just like the roses she used to give me, back when we were happy – and Juri’s blade knocked it away.
“Isn’t your miracle going to happen, ‘Prince’?” Juri taunted. She turned for another attack. “There is no such thing as miracles!”
And under her attack, Utena was forced to her knees, on the defensive. Her pristine white rose waited on her lapel, Juri’s for the taking. Juri drew back for the thrust.
“It’s over,” she hissed.
An abrupt wind whisked by, descending on her from above, and was gone. And there was a soft slicing sound.
Juri blinked. In front of her, driven point down into the ground, was a sword. Not hers, not Utena’s – it appeared to have fallen out of the sky.
And it had pierced her rose, slicing it neatly off her lapel.
Utena was staring upward, awed.
Juri gasped before she caught herself. “No!” she exclaimed. “That was just an accident! Not a miracle!”
Utena spoke in a whisper. “Could it have been…?”
Juri was standing frozen, groping for some sort of explanation. Anthy stepped up to her, holding out a fresh, intact russet rose, smiling in a way that was too familiar for examination. “One day they will know your true self,” she promised.
Juri’s eyes widened, and then she turned on her heel to stalk out, disdaining the proffered rose. “Mind your own business!” she snapped, and fled.
* * *
Juri went through her evening routine as if no miracle had happened. She showered and sat down to study, not looking at the photo on her dresser. But after an hour, she could ignore the furtive emotions inside her no longer; she stopped, put her face in her hands, and sobbed.
And in her heart, which had been cold and arid for so long, ever since she had realized that the power of miracles was not going to rescue her no matter how hard she believed, something blossomed. Something warm and loving, and painful after so many years of loneliness.
“Oh, God,” she whispered. “Oh, God.”
* * *
For the next few days, Juri basked in it. For so long she had felt only pain and pride and fury, as if she were facing a hostile universe entirely alone. Now, it seemed that she could feel the wounds on her heart being soothed and mended by… she didn’t dare to name it, even in her inmost thoughts, except as “the power of miracles”. But it felt like pure love, melting her heart which had turned to ice.
Slowly, almost coyly, she welcomed that power into her heart after its long absence.
Her schoolmates noticed no difference in her carefully maintained façade except that she was calmer. The members of the fencing team were used to their captain having sudden bursts of temper, but this week, their fumbles elicited only patient correction. And when her algebra teacher made a thinly veiled advance to her, instead of using her famous basilisk gaze to reduce him to jelly, she had simply declined his offer as if it bored her.
With the power of miracles glowing in her heart, nothing else really mattered.
It’s a feeling I could never put into words, that just keeps whispering to me….
* * *
Only the knowing look in Ruka’s eyes as he met her gaze over Shiori’s oblivious head shattered her personal idyll.
She hadn’t thought he knew she was there, an unintentional intruder watching as he kissed the girl she…. But then he had raised his head and looked at her in triumph, and she had gasped.
“He knows!” she whispered aloud, horrified, watching the two of them walk away arm in arm. Feeling suddenly cold despite the warm night, she added to herself, “He knows… everything.”
He knows my true self.
And the next day during classes, she realized, everybody knew. It was clear in the way they looked at her, the way they said her name. She had tried so hard not to show any sign that would give her away, never realizing that it would be the things she didn’t do that would reveal the truth. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so very decisive in turning down the heartthrobs of the Student Council or the male teachers whose prudence and common sense couldn’t outweigh their reaction to her.
Long before the power of miracles had crept into her heart, everyone had known.
And that still little voice continued to whisper to her:
Take the power of miracles in your own two hands. Prove it to yourself once and for all.
So she challenged Tenjou Utena to another duel.
* * *
Clouds were gathering overhead when they met in the dueling ground. Juri watched as Anthy drew the spirit-sword from Utena’s heart, forcing her own expression to remain aloof from long practice. None of her envy of Tenjou Utena, of her naïve indomitable faith or her devoted Bride, showed.
But then, everybody probably knew about it anyway. Everyone knew her true self.
Juri and Utena squared off, swords gleaming in the dull light, and then set upon each other in a cacophony of clashing steel.
As they battled, she strove to keep her focus narrowly on the contest, but the feeling ticklishly warming her heart, whispering to her, would not be still. And neither would the questions she had been unable to quell.
Even without the power of miracles, everyone had known her true self all along. And she, what did she know of the true selves of her classmates? A great deal more than most would have willingly revealed, certainly. And usually it was no accidental revelation that made their inmost hearts known, but a gradual accumulation of a thousand little facts that added up to a final sum. Miki’s hopeless crush on the serenely indifferent Himemiya Anthy was obvious enough, but over time it had become clear that the crush did not cause him nearly as much pain as his twin sister’s coldness towards him, after they had been so close as children. And seeing how useless were his efforts to bring her back to him did not seem to instruct Nanami that no amount of scheming would make her brother love her again for as long as he did not care to. And Nanami was hardly the only girl whose heart Touga was breaking, but he kept right on collecting new conquests, new girls willingly casting their hearts at his feet to be crushed under his heel. And there was Saionji’s frantic infatuation with Anthy, and Wakaba’s for Saionji, and unless Juri missed her guess, Anthy was secretly dying of love for her own champion, who was, typically, utterly clueless. So many hearts breaking every day, just in this one little school. So many apocalypses in so many individual worlds. So many lives turned upside down and mangled and left in shreds, to be carried on as best as possible. So many walking wounded.
And did they not all raise their voices in supplication? Did not all of them appeal to the power of miracles to save them? And how many were answered? Why should Juri be singled out? It couldn’t be because she alone had asked; manifestly, all of them asked. Even if all she had gotten was this warm embracing certainty in her heart, why had she received it when no one else had?
And more, why hadn’t she received it sooner? The first time she had asked, or the tenth, or the hundredth? It felt like pure love cradling her soul. If it was, why should it have stolen in only after she had given up?
What good was the power of miracles if it couldn’t be trusted?
Juri failed to parry Utena’s thrust swiftly enough, but Utena’s swordpoint did not reach her rose. Instead it caught in the chain around her neck, breaking it. Juri dodged out of her opponent’s reach, and behind her she could hear her locket shattering on the ground.
As her heart had shattered, breaking into a dozen bleeding pieces, as she had cried to… to the power of miracles… and it had remained stonily indifferent to her cries.
I’m here now, it seemed to tell her now, nudging her heart with its warmth, drawing her gaze to the rose on her lapel. Turn around and defeat your opponent, for this time I am with you.
Juri spent only one second making her decision. She reached up with her free hand, crushed the rose in her fingers, and tore it from her lapel.
As she let it fall to the ground, that enigmatic warmth faded from her heart. She thought it felt wistful. Or maybe that was her.
She heard Utena’s sharp intake of breath. “Sen-pai… why?” the champion whispered.
Juri did not answer.
A moment later, the rain began to fall.