Pale Reflection
                        a Hime-chan's Ribbon fanfic
                        by Scott Schimmel

	"I do."

	I almost cried, hearing those words.  It was the perfect
wedding, really.  Replete with yards of white lace and pink silk
and red roses.  The vaulting cathedral bedecked with stained
glass, filled by the grand, joyous rhapsody of the pipe organ.
Like a storybook come to life, it was.  Like a dream.

	A Western-style wedding, yes.  Naturally.  As little
girls, we'd always thought they were more romantic than the
traditional Japanese kind.  I'd been no different.

	No, that's not true.  That little girl was another
person.  But I still feel that way.  I'm sure anyone who'd been
there would have thought the same.  It was... beautiful. 
There's no other word that could do it justice.

	So I almost cried, almost.  And instead, I half-turned
to glance at him.  Daichi.  He hasn't changed a bit.  He looked
quite dashing in formal wear, although he didn't seem entirely
comfortable.  He'd been constantly tugging at his bow tie
earlier -- thankfully, he'd refrained during the ceremony -- and
his expression was almost one of boredom.  But that's just the
way he is; he always has been a little reluctant to face his
feelings.  That doesn't matter, because his eyes give him away. 
I didn't notice that for the longest time, but I think it's
always been true, if only I'd known to look for it.  I think
Daichi was on the verge of tears himself.

	If it had been Daichi, saying those words, to me...

	I turned back, but not, I'm ashamed to say, without
reluctance.  Not that I'd needed to worry about being spotted by
the happy couple.  Tetsu-kun and Manami were still kissing.

	That was a surprise.  No, not the kiss; that Manami
would ever be so serious about one man.  It wasn't that she
didn't like Tetsu-kun; quite the contrary, obviously.  She just
liked Daichi, too.  And Hiroshi-kun.  And Morita-sempai.  And...
I've forgotten his name; the sempai on the soccer team.  And 
Sei-sama.  And dozens more.  She was rather infamous for it.

	Anyway, I guess she and Tetsu-kun finally had bounced
off of each other often enough that they decided to try holding
onto each other instead.  And they're a cute couple.  I'm sure
they'll be happy.

	They always have been, at least as far as I know; I'll
admit I hadn't paid that much attention to them at first.  But
I'm pretty sure that they always have been.  Especially Manami. 
And I've seen how their emotions feed off each other, when
they're together.

	Just like I've often thought that Daichi and I... 

	Afterward, Manami lobbed the bouquet practically right
toward I-chan and me.  I stretched like everyone else, but I
wasn't the one who caught it.  Always the bridesmaid, never the
bride, I guess.

	Well, maybe next time.

	I'm pretty sure I-chan only made a token effort.  She
hasn't so much as dated anyone in... nearly a year, now.  Manami
used to tease her about it, but she didn't mind.  She just
smiled.  And said she hadn't met anyone worth the effort, yet. 
I can respect that, but she was so... blunt.

	Of all of us, she's the one who's changed most, I
think.  Even more than I have.  She was the most practical, 
down-to-earth one, but now she's become more cynical, even
acerbic.  That sense of humor is as strong as ever, though, and
much more strange at times.

	There are times when I'm not entirely sure how I ended
up becoming friends with any of them, but I-chan is the one I
question most.  Not that she's not also a good friend; she is,
in her way.  I saw that when she, Manami, and Hime-chan banded
together to prove the strength of "women's friendships."

	They proved the strength of theirs, anyway.  I was
impressed, and I wasn't nearly as credulous or naive as 
Hime-chan was.  It must have been that day that set the stage
for my later friendship with the girls.

	Daichi surreptitiously grasped my arm, and I blushed,
realizing that I'd just daydreamed through most of the
reception.  I rose along with him.  And we danced.

	The clothes, the music, the dance; it reminded me of
long ago.  But that had been a dream to me; this was real. 
Daichi was real.  His arms around me, real; his steps smoothly,
gracefully, guiding my own so that they seemed as natural as
walking.  Real.  I melted into his embrace and prayed that it
would never end.

	But end it did; the spirit was willing, but the hours of
dancing had taken their toll.  I practically collapsed into a
chair.  Manami took a moment to corner me, a grin of innocent
malice playing across her lips.  "What, tired already?" she
teased.  "And you were always so energetic, too.  I practically
expected you to dive for the bouquet."

	"I'm just as energetic as I ever was," I protested,
returning the smile.  "The problem is, my body is twice as big
now, so it's only half as concentrated."

	Manami giggled, rolling her eyes.  "Perfectly logical,
as ever."

	"Oh, and you're one to talk about logic."

	She arched an eyebrow.  "Daichi, which of us is more

	"There's no way I'm going to even try to answer that." 
Daichi made a valiant effort to hide behind the floral
centerpiece; Manami and I both laughed.

	"Well," Tetsu-kun chimed in, walking up behind Manami
and enfolding her in his arms, "Manami had the sense to marry
me, so she's the winner."

	Manami smiled smugly.

	"At least," he added with a grin, "until you two
finally-- oof."

	Manami gently elbowed her husband.  "Hey, you're
supposed to be on my side."

	"Sorry, dear," he replied contritely.

	She beamed, a sweet smile.  "I forgive you."

	"Gah," Daichi interjected.  "If marriage makes everyone
this sickeningly cute..."  But he trailed off as he glanced at

	I tried not to blush.  Failed miserably, judging by
Manami's sudden giggling fit, but tried nonetheless. 
Marriage...  Could it be?  I'd dreamed of the day when Daichi
would ask me...

	Would he?  No, surely not, but if there was even a
possibility...  It seemed like I'd been waiting my entire life,
and yet... there had been days when I'd thought there was no
longer any chance for us.  Or even that there never had been. 
Okay, maybe I didn't ever admit it, but I wasn't delusional...

	He glanced away, suddenly uncomfortable.  Relief and
disappointment waged a struggle within me, but Tetsu-kun made
some innocuous comment, and I was able to let it distract me
before I had to decide which had won.

	I didn't forget Daichi's reaction, though; I knew full
well what it meant.  Once Manami and Tetsu-kun had drifted away
to speak with other guests, I tried to think of a subtle way to
bring the matter up.

	I settled for reaching out and touching his shoulder. 
Subtlety, it's true, was never one of my virtues.  But it
worked; he turned to look at me again.

	"You're thinking about her, aren't you?"  It wasn't
really a question; like I said, his eyes give him away.  But I
asked anyway, and he nodded.  My poor Daichi.  Still in mourning.

	Not that I blamed him.  It's that compassion that had
attracted me in the first place, and besides... I felt the same
way.  No matter that I'd wished Daichi would pick me.  As
desperately as I'd wanted that to happen, I never wanted it this

	I'm sure he knew that.  I'm sure.

	"Let's go see her," I suggested.  It had been a few
weeks, after all.  Slowly, he nodded.  I forced a small smile.

	We did wait until the day after the reception,
naturally.  Neither of us wanted to be so rude as to leave, and
it was already late.  Besides, Daichi was the best man, and
there was still a speech to be made.

	He didn't go nearly as hard on Tetsu-kun as I'd
thought.  They must really be close friends.  Tetsu-kun sure
looked nervous, though.  I guess he wasn't expecting Daichi to
go easy on him, either.  Naturally, Manami loved the whole thing.

	It was a wonderful day.  If only it hadn't led directly
into this.

	Now, we stand before a wooden door in a sterile hallway;
even the lighting seems pale and antiseptic.  It's a stark
contrast to the frivolous decoration of yesterday.  He is beside
me, and takes my hand; seeking or offering comfort, I cannot
tell which.  Perhaps both.

	I dread these visits.  Not because of her, although I
still feel a little shame each time I enter her room.  Because
of myself.  Every time we step through that door, I hope to see
her sitting up in bed, smiling that carefree grin.

	Almost ten years, and still... every time.

	I step through the doorway, feeling the familiar pangs
of disappointment and sorrow when she doesn't greet me.  He
steps forward first, purposeful, and I see that his fist is
clenched as he struggles to keep himself from betraying
emotion.  I quietly circle to the other side of the bed, looking
down at it rather than up at him.

	She hasn't changed at all since the last time; there's
no sign she's so much as moved.  Her body is still, a fly
trapped within a web of medical equipment and monitors, slowly
wasting away -- she looks pale and thin, though no worse than
she had.  At the same time, somehow, she looks almost angelic;
wrapped in sheets white as clouds, white as wedding dresses, she
seems utterly at peace.  I find myself profoundly thankful for
that as I whisper, "Hime-chan..."

	"Nonohara," Daichi murmurs, stroking her gaunt cheek
delicately.  "Nonohara..."  It's almost a sob, and I turn away
just a little, offering him what solitude I can without leaving
her side.

	"I'm sorry," I say softly, as Daichi quietly cries.  I
take her hand, careful not to disturb the IV lodged in her arm. 
"I'm so sorry..."

	"Don't."  Daichi's voice is ragged, but I force myself
not to look; he doesn't want me to see him like this.  Perhaps
if I were Hime-chan, he wouldn't mind so much, but I realize
that I can't offer him as much comfort as she might have.  Even
now.  He may have come to love me, but it looks like I'll always
be in Hime-chan's shadow.  "It's not your fault."

	"I know," I answer.  "But that doesn't help.  And I... I
miss her, Daichi."

	He simply nods; there's little more to say about that.

	So I give him something to say.  "Daichi... I'm getting
tired of living this way."  He looks like he's about to protest,
but I forge ahead.  "I think we should take the risk."  We
should have a long time ago, I think, and it's my fault that we

	Now he does protest, vehemently.  "We don't know what'll
happen!  She-- It might not work!  And then... and then, what if
you've given your life for nothing?"  There is anger in his
voice, but also fear.  He doesn't want to lose me, and that
knowledge makes me feel warm inside.  I even manage a small,
forlorn smile.

	"Daichi," I tell him, smiling, "I'm dying."  He stares
at me, horrorstruck, and I continue; it's taken me weeks to find
the courage to do this, and I'm not going to back down now.  I
guess a little of Hime-chan's determination has rubbed off on
me.  "Daichi, it's been ten years.  I-- I didn't want to try
before, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I was so scared... still am
so scared..."

	"Then don't," he pleads quietly.  "Don't do this."  I
ignore him -- one of the hardest things I've ever done.

	"No... I know... I've been so selfish, for ten years. 
Because I was scared, and I wanted so much to live.  But...
Daichi, I'm going to die.  You know I'm not as strong as I was. 
But I've been thinking.  Maybe, if I can give her a chance, even
a chance... it won't have been for nothing.  Hime-chan...
she's... it's because of her that I was able to have these ten
years, with everyone... with you.  I-- I just..."  If only I had
her courage, this would be so much easier.

	He fixes me with a solemn, unwavering gaze, and my words
trail off into thin air as my mind blanks.  "You don't have to
do this," he repeats again, like a mantra.  In his eyes, I can
read the question:  Are you sure?  And I want to scream no, I'm
not; I want to let myself fall into those eyes forever, until I
drown.  I want to live, but I've been getting weaker almost
since the day that Hime-chan fell comatose.

	I nod.  "I... owe it to her," I say.  I owe her my life.

	"Now?" he questions, still reluctant, but a little bit
hopeful.  "What if Erika--?"

	"Today," I affirm.  "We both know that Erika can't help,
as much as she wants to."  She'd given Hime-chan half her life
once already, and had offered to do so again.  But that, her
grandfather had revealed, was simply not possible; they were
already sharing, and it couldn't be done a second time.  There
were no third chances.  And though Erika had continued to search
for a solution, it seemed that the realm of magic had held
none.  None that wouldn't endanger my life, at least, and
neither Erika nor Daichi would allow that.

	Quietly, I continue; each word is a struggle, but I feel
much better for finally saying them.  "And maybe-- I hope you'll
have Hime-chan back."  Taking a deep breath, I try to hold back
tears.  "You'll remember me, won't you?"  It isn't really a
question, but I ask anyway, in a sudden fit of vulnerability.

	"I love you," he says.  Answer enough.

	I stare into her face one last time, willing her eyes to
open, her lips to form a smile or a greeting.  Again it fails to
happen.  Yet still I manage a smile as the memories of her play
out vividly in my mind's theater.  I had wanted to live so much,
even resented her for a time... but here I am, ready to risk
what remains of my life for her.  Hime-chan certainly has an
effect on people.

	"Daichi... my love... whatever happens..."

	"Yes?"  He still sounds worried.  He'd never have asked
me to do this, I know, and in that moment, I love him wholly,
completely.  The way I once thought I had.

	"Try not to have any regrets," I conclude.  An
expression of confusion passes fleetingly across his face,
followed by a comprehension, of sorts.  I sigh quietly; I can't
help it.  "I don't."  It's a small lie, but an important one. 
"Except one.  That I wasn't even half the woman she was.  No,
don't talk," I add quickly.  "It'll only make this harder. 
Let's do it."

	He nods, slowly, tears rolling openly over his cheeks
now.  "I'll try," he promises.  He leans forward; his lips brush
lightly against mine.  Then he whispers once again, "I love
you... Himeko."

	I hesitate momentarily; I've been avoiding an answer for
nearly ten years, after all.  But I'm resolved; I don't run away
this time.

	"Hai," I whisper back, embracing the magic as it crashes
over me.