[Illustration (spoiler)]

The Ohtori Academy campus mall thronged with students on lunch break. Spring was shifting to summer, but the heavy heat had not settled in yet. The students could hardly wait for release from classrooms to get out and embrace the fine weather.

Utena Tenjou and Anthy Himemiya strolled along the mall, bento lunchboxes in hand, looking for a suitably comfortable patch of lawn. Utena lifted her bento to her nose and sniffed. When Anthy packed their lunches, Utena liked to see if she could guess the contents before she unwrapped it.

"Pickles," Utena said.

"Yes," Anthy confirmed, smiling. "What else?"

"Come on, Anthy, you know I'm not going to be able to tell by scent alone, not over pickles." Her head snapped up as her ears detected the sound of pounding feet fast approaching from the rear. Utena sighed.

"Here, hold this, would you?" she asked as she handed her bento box to Anthy. "I'd hate to drop this and be out a lunch." Utena stopped walking and shifted into a braced stance. Just because Wakaba was lighter than her, didn't mean she couldn't knock Utena off balance at the speed she usually attained.

Smiling indulgently, Anthy carefully gathered the two bento boxes into her arms. She stepped away from Utena and looked back at the figure rapidly approaching. Her eyes widened, disbelieving.

"Miss Utena, that's not—"

"UUUUTEEENNNAAAA!"

Utena barely had time to register that the cry of her name wasn't nearly as high-pitched as it should be, before a large form cannoned into her from behind. Prepared for being grabbed, Utena's arms were out in front of her and were the only thing to save her face from the concrete as the unexpected mass smashed her forward to the ground.

"Wa...Wakaba," gasped Utena, painfully pushing herself up on her forearms. That was as far as she could move, as the person who had run her down was still firmly seated across the small of her back. The person, who was unaccountably much larger and heavier than Wakaba could possibly be, bounced once and Utena squeaked for her abused ribs. She carefully, warily, looked back over her shoulder...and tried to blink away what had to be a hallucination.

Her eyes took in the pert teal-and-white Ohtori girl's uniform, the bright blue eyes, the long scarlet hair pulled up into a high ponytail...blue eyes...red hair?

Again all Utena could manage was a squeak. "Touga?"

"Who else," bubbled Touga Kiryuu in an uncharacteristically chirrupy voice, "but your bestest friend in the whole world." He looked to the side, "Oh, not excluding you, Anthy." Touga giggled.

Utena shifted to look at Anthy, who was now kneeling next to her and staring ashen-faced at Touga. Realizing Utena was watching her, Anthy turned to her, extending a hesitant hand to Utena's shoulder. "Are you all right, Miss Utena?" she asked.

"I think I will be," growled Utena, "once somebody gets off my back."

Touga giggled again, and hopped off of Utena. Utena carefully stood up, scowling as she brushed dirt off of her skinned knees. Anthy also stood, unobtrusively keeping Utena between her and Touga.

Utena studied Touga, trying to make sense of what her eyes were telling her. Touga just stood there, his own lunch box clasped in front of him, rocking back and forth on his heels like Wakaba tended to do. He indeed was wearing an Ohtori girl's uniform, complete with scarf, puffy short sleeves and flippy pleated skirt. Utena noted that it seemed perfectly tailored to fit Touga's larger frame. Lace-trimmed ankle socks and black strap shoes, again sized to Touga's build, completed the ensemble. Exactly how Wakaba would normally accessorize, she realized. Touga had also affected Wakaba's high ponytail. But not having Wakaba's bouncy curls, his long silky hair instead draped engagingly over one eye and floated in an elegant streamer down his back. Touga smiled brightly under Utena's scrutiny, completely at odds with the sly, knowing smile he usually wore for her.

Even in drag he's kind of sexy, thought Utena. Gah! What am I thinking? This is Touga, albeit a very ... disturbed ... Touga.

Utena finally found her voice. "Was—" she squeaked. She cleared her throat and began again. "Was there something you wanted, Mr. President?" Be polite, Utena reminded herself, let's not rile him.

"I just saw the two of you and thought we could eat lunch together." Touga held up his wrapped bento box. The cloth wrapping was printed in bright yellow fuzzy chicks hopping out of broken eggshells.

"Lunch," repeated Utena. She turned to Anthy. "Is that okay with you?"

"Of course, Miss Utena." Anthy had resumed her characteristic composure, but to Utena her gaze seemed a bit too fixed, and her smile a bit too stiff.

Utena looked about for a shady spot that was still in clear view of the mall. A nearby maple tree filled that bill. Leading her companions towards the tree, Utena surreptitiously glanced around. Why weren't they attracting a crowd? Every time Utena's gaze met that of another student, that person quickly turned away. Everyone was keeping a careful distance. She wondered if Touga's reputation as the Student Council President, and arguably the most powerful student at Ohtori Academy, was enough to keep people from making a scene at his expense even if...no, she corrected herself...especially if he had finally lost it.

The trio was about to take seats on the grass when Utena again heard her name being called. Looking around, past Touga, she saw that this time it was truly Wakaba, in the company of Tatsuya. Seeing that Utena saw them, Wakaba grabbed Tatsuya's arm and hurried him towards the group at the tree.

"Hey, you two," called Wakaba, skipping around to face Touga. She stuck a hand out to him. "Hi! I'm Wakaba Shinohara and this is Tatsuya Kazami. We're friends with Utena and Anthy. Did you just start at Ohtori? I'm sure I'd have remembered you..."

Touga broke in, giggling, took Wakaba's hand and pumped it. "You're being silly, Wakaba. I've been at Ohtori longer than you have. But join us for lunch."

Wakaba snatched her hand back as if he'd bitten it. "T-Touga Kiryuu?" she stammered, inching back next to a staring Tatsuya.

"Who else?" said Touga, with a head toss to flip his ponytail back over his shoulder.

Wakaba slowly examined Touga from toe to head, paying particular attention to the footwear and the skirted uniform. Was he wearing mascara to give him that wide-eyed look?

Utena was sure that Wakaba's scream was audible to the far corners of the campus.

Thirty yards down the mall, Kyouichi Saionji dashed out from around a building. He paused to focus on the sound and he saw them. Even at that distance, Utena saw his jaw drop, and he raced towards them.

"Touga", gasped Saionji as he approached, "what in the world are you doing?"

"We were about to sit down for lunch," replied Touga.

Saionji looked around at the others, clearly shock-stricken. He spoke quietly to Touga, "I'll just be a moment here. This time don't go anywhere."

"Okay," agreed Touga.

Saionji stepped away from Touga and considered each of the others in turn: Anthy, holding the two bento boxes; Utena, by now standing with hands on hips and one eyebrow raised inquiringly; Tatsuya looking utterly confused; and Wakaba hovering wide-eyed and nervous behind him. Saionji bowed deeply to them and said, "On behalf of Touga, I apologize to each of you. This shouldn't have happened."

Utena's jaw dropped. She turned to Anthy, saying, "Now I get it. I'm still asleep and this is all a dream. That—" and she pointed to Touga, "was weird enough, but Saionji apologizing? Can't be real."

"Well, excuse me for being considerate!" he snapped. "I trust no one was hurt."

"Oh, no, sir," Tatsuya finally said, but kept a protective closeness to Wakaba. "Touga seems, well, not quite himself today. But he doesn't seem dangerous. To anyone else, at least."

"Unless you count my knees," said Utena, extending one leg to show the abrasions.

"How did that happen?" puzzled Saionji.

"The big ape jumped on me! Just like Wakaba does, but he's ten times heavier."

"Am not," pouted Touga.

"Sure felt like it," snapped Utena.

"But that's the extent of your injuries?" said Saionji, glaring at both Utena and Touga.

"Thankfully, yes."

"Then I really should get Touga home," said Saionji and started to turn back to Touga. Utena grabbed the front of his jacket and yanked him down to her eye level.

"No," she said, low and dangerously. "You said 'this shouldn't have happened.' Meaning, you know how he got into this state. And now you're going to explain it all to us."

His eyes locked with Utena's, Saionji angrily brushed her grip from his jacket and stood back, straightening it. The staring match continued until Utena prompted, "Well?"

Saionji dropped his gaze first and muttered, "I suppose I do owe you an explanation. Maybe you've noticed how withdrawn Touga has been lately?"

"Not really," said Utena. "He's been so withdrawn he hasn't even shown up on campus. And his sister won't say anything."

"Um, yes. I finally convinced him to come and spar with me at the kendo hall. As I'd hoped, the activity and competition started to perk him up. Unfortunately, instead of concentrating on the match, he started drifting back to his latest obsessions." Saionji glared at Utena, "Do you know how obnoxious it is when he starts blathering about you?"

Utena held up her hands, palms out, "Hey, don't blame me for his little dominance fantasies."

"Anyway, I warned him to keep his mind on the fight, but he just kept going on and on about 'how can I get her attention?' and 'how can I win her?' and 'she lets that friend of hers jump on her and grope her why can't I?' and—"

"Hold it! Wakaba does not grope me, you idiot."

"His words, Tenjou. But that's when I...it..."

"You what?"

"I...um...I really thought Touga would parry." Saionji wouldn't look Utena in the eye now.

"You didn't..."

"Cracked him right across the skull. Dropped him in his tracks. I called Nanami and we had him taken back to the Kiryuu estate. She really let me have it, let me tell you."

Utena almost made a comment comparing this incident to the time Touga had taken Saionji's blade while shielding her in the Dueling Arena. But seeing the look on his face, she stopped herself. Saionji was clearly sick with guilt, and mocking him for it would serve no purpose, no matter how much they disliked each other.

"And so," concluded Utena, "he now is acting out his last 'complaint' about me."

"So it seems."

"But why is he here? You said you took him home." That was Wakaba, who had finally calmed down enough to venture a question.

"He was still unconscious when we got him home, and Nanami called a doctor in to examine him. No concussion, thankfully. So we put him to bed intending to let him wake up on his own. But then we were downstairs and by the time we went to check on him, he'd vanished."

Utena muttered something about "incompetents".

"Don't start with me, Tenjou," warned Saionji. "I've got enough to deal with here. As soon as we realized he was gone, both Nanami and I came to the campus to search for him."

"But where did he get that uniform?" asked Wakaba. "It doesn't look brand new."

Saionji shook his head. "I have no clue. Frankly, that's the least of my concerns right now." He returned his attention to Utena. "Can we go now, Miss Tenjou?"

Utena's mouth twitched in irritation, but she bit back a retort. Touga may be a complete jerk, but he was unwell and shouldn't be running around. "Yeah, you better take him home."

Saionji nodded to each of them. "Then good day to you all. Um ... thanks for finding him."

"He sort of found us," said Utena.

"And if anyone sees Nanami, could you let her know I've got him and am taking him home?"

"Of course," said Anthy.

With a resigned sigh, Saionji turned back to Touga. "All right, old friend, time to go."

Touga smiled at him and linked arms with Saionji. "I'd wondered where you were, you know."

"You did?" asked Saionji, startled.

"Mm-hm. I missed you." Touga turned to face Saionji and laid his head against Saionji's shoulder. "But it's okay now," he murmured. "You're here."

Saionji's eyes flew wide open, and for some moments kept shifting a shocked gaze back and forth between Utena and a contented Touga still cuddled against him. Finally Saionji smiled and experimentally slipped his free arm around Touga's waist. Touga sighed happily and cuddled in closer. Saionji spoke quietly with Touga so that Utena couldn't hear, but Touga was nodding and running his fingers along the decorative cords of Saionji's jacket.

A low strangled noise was coming from Wakaba, and she turned to Tatsuya. "I think..." she began, glancing back at Saionji and Touga, "that I've been under some severe mistaken assumptions about certain men around here. And...and...I think I've been ignoring someone else and that was really stupid of me."

Tatsuya blinked, disbelieving. Then he smiled and took Wakaba's free hand in his own. "Maybe we should have lunch by ourselves and discuss this?"

"Yes. Yes, we should," said Wakaba, squeezing his hand in return.

Tatsuya looked to Utena and Anthy. "If you two would excuse us, we have a lot of talking to do."

"That's great," said Utena, "but what are we going to do about Touga?"

Tatsuya stepped next to Utena and dropped his voice so Wakaba couldn't hear him. "Do we have to do anything about him? Those two seem pretty happy, and Wakaba's finally looking at me instead of Saionji." His eyes were pleading.

"Well, yes, but..." stammered Utena.

Anthy finally spoke up, "Mr. Touga hardly seems inclined to pester you in his current state."

"That's true," mused Utena, "aside from jumping on me, that is."

"Tenjou." Saionji was suddenly at her side, his face hard again. "If you make the slightest move to interfere with Touga, I will kill you."

"Wh-what! Your threats don't scare me!"

"So you really want him chasing you again?"

"Of course not!" Utena threw up her hands. "I give up. Just get that loon out of here."

"I was about to." Saionji returned to Touga and slipped an arm around Touga's shoulders. "Oh, about Nanami," Saionji called back. "Do you think you could wait, oh, a couple hours before you tell her that Touga's been found?"

"Sure, sure," said Utena to their retreating backs. Tatsuya and Wakaba had already departed.

"Miss Utena?" prompted Anthy. "Perhaps we should eat before we have to return to class."

Utena took her own lunchbox back from Anthy. "Great idea." She decided she didn't want to dwell on why Saionji had made that last request.

 

Anthy finished describing the events of the previous day's lunch break to her brother, Akio. She calmly sipped her tea and watched him over the rim of her teacup. He'd been pacing restlessly since she'd begun her tale, and didn't seem inclined to stop.

"Damn!" he growled. "Anthy, this is intolerable. How are my plans supposed to proceed if I lose my—"

"Boy toy?" suggested Anthy.

"Assistant, I was going to say."

"I don't know that anything can be done about it," said Anthy, with a shrug.

"You could do something."

"No, I cannot. As the Rose Bride, I must follow the wishes of my Victor. Utena explicitly agreed to not 'interfere with Touga', as Saionji put it. Therefore, I must not either." She smiled at Akio. "Your rules, dear brother. And besides, they make such a charming couple."

Akio's face was turning an unusual shade of purple. Made a nice complement to his hair, Anthy thought. And it would solve a number of problems if he had a stroke right then and there.

"And you should be thankful, brother, that no one asked me where Touga acquired his darling uniform. I would have had to answer truthfully, don't you think?"

"Urgh!"

Anthy finished her tea. She gathered up the cups and saucers onto the tray, and took the implements to the kitchen. Returning to the main room she recovered her book satchel and moved towards the elevator.

"I assume you'll be coming to visit on Saturday evening," asked Akio, "that not everything around here has been turned upside down?"

"Of course," said Anthy, stepping in to the elevator. "But I'll be late. We're having guests for dinner and I'm cooking."

"Who?"

"Saionji and Touga. They both have become much more pleasant people, and Utena thought it would be a good chance to re-establish relationships with them." Akio snorted in disgust as the closing elevator doors separated them.

As the car descended, Anthy pondered her menu plan, working out which herbs and spices would be most amenable to cementing the new-found relationship. She was sure that no one could possibly construe such as "interference".

-END-

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