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A Man’s last step is another man’s first 

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Seigfeld was a draconian school. But it was also one of the best schools in Japan for the theatre, the people who graduated from Seigfeld became renowned throughout Japan and sometimes the world. So when Mahiru got the scholarship to join after being scouted at a Baton Competition, Mahiru couldn’t say no. Why would she turn down the opportunity to be part of Seigfeld? The answer to why came a few months into being part of Seigfeld. Seigfeld was a draconian school. 

 

And it wanted her gone. 

 

At first, it wasn’t bad, Mahiru managed to get through the lessons no matter how hard it was, she didn’t complain at her aching backs and muscles. Sure when she saw how everyone else performed, how the infamous Edels of the school performed she felt like she didn’t belong. Everyone else was shining brilliantly, the fact that a common talk was how hard the entrance exams were didn’t help since she skipped all of that with a simple letter. 

 

Though it was weird not being part of the main stage, to be constantly fighting for smaller roles in smaller plays helped in some ways. She didn’t need to be the very best, she could help others instead. She was content with being some part of the background, helping those to shine better. Everyone else thought otherwise. 

 

She said it once to someone she considered a friend. How she didn’t want to reach the top with everyone else, how she wanted to help other people shine. That person called her ideals stupid. That person spread it around the year, her ideals became lies after her words became twisted with every ear it went through. 

 

Before Mahiru could know it, Seigfeld wanted her gone and Mahiru had to agree with them. She didn’t belong here, she didn’t want to be here. Everyone judging you, not letting you even reason what you meant. So here she was, in front of the teacher’s office, not even fully coherent with the way her head dropped so low to avoid everyone’s eyes. She was ready to say goodbye, maybe apologise to the staff member who gave her the scholarship since she couldn’t live up to their expectations. 

 

Holding back the tears and the regret in her throat, Mahiru knocked on the door before entering. “Pardon the Intrusion.”

 

Only to suddenly freeze at the lack of teachers in a spacious room with one long table and desk at the top. What made it worse was that someone was here, only one person but someone else all the same. The person was asleep, resting on a small sofa near the door which made Mahiru feel even worse that she was in the wrong room. 

 

“Ah,” she said, panicking. “Sorry I got the wrong room.”

 

“No you didn’t,” said the person who sounded very awake for someone asleep. Mahiru didn’t know why she stopped midway through closing. Maybe it was the surprise, maybe it was the confidence of her voice. Maybe it was the way those sleeping eyes shot open and how without any effort the student sat up with an easy smile. “The student council doors are usually open for students who need help, so what do you need help with Tsuyuzaki-san?”

 

“Ah…” Mahiru couldn’t just leave now that she was addressed. Reluctantly, Mahiru stepped in fully in the student council room and closed the door behind her. By the time she turned around, the sleeping student— Edel, was in front of her and Mahiru blinked. She was so small… 

 

Mahiru quickly shook her head to get out her thoughts, this wasn’t the time for this. “I uh… how do you know my name?” She asked, fiddling her hands together as the edel grinned, ahoge swaying on her blond head. 

 

“Why wouldn’t I not know your name Tsuyuzaki Mahiru?”

 

“Oh I uh—”

 

“You’re one of the few people in Seigfeld history who has been offered a scholarship you know,” the Edel explained, taking Mahiru back once more with a simple easy smile. The girl walked further in the room and somehow Mahiru felt obligated to follow her. “You know not even Yukishiro Akira got a Scholarship, though she did join in middle school and worked her way up.” 

 

“I uh… I didn’t know,” Mahiru stumbled as she sat in front of the Edel, still smiling comfortably. “Oh I’m so sorry but I don’t know your name…”

 

“Oh silly me,” The edel chuckled as she did a small bow that made Mahiru giggle before quickly covering up her mouth. “My name is Ootori Michiru, an Edel and the Frau Sapphir.” 

 

“Ahh…” Mahiru couldn’t help but wilt, a part of her wanted to be happy that someone as amazing as the Frau Sapphir was paying attention to her. But she couldn’t see it underneath all the voices in her head and the reason why she was here to begin with. She was planning to leave and the guilt ached her heart knowing at the end of the day... The person in front of her would be one of the many voices being disappointed in her. 

 

“Tsuyuzaki san?” Michiru asked, jolting Mahiru out of her thoughts. When Mahiru looked back at Michiru, the girl had a worried frown on her face. “Is everything okay?”

 

“No no I’m—uh...” It was easy to say she was fine but Mahiru never liked to lie, and somehow lying to an Edel someone who told her to come in if she had problems made Mahiru feel worse at the prospect of lying. “Have… have you not heard of the rumours?”

 

“Oh is this what it’s about?” Michiru hummed, a finger to her chin as she looked at Mahiru. “Well of course I heard them but I don’t pay much attention to them,” She shrugged her shoulders like the reason was obvious. “Time spent gossiping can be better spent practising.”

 

“Oh…” Mahiru blinked, this was the first time she met someone who knew the rumours but didn’t treat her any differently. It caused something warm to bloom in her chest. It felt like gratitude. “That’s a good way to see it.”

 

“Right?” Michiru said with that easy smile like she could solve any problem. “So what’s the problem with the gossip?  As a student council member I can’t show any favouritism but if it’s borderline bullying Seigfeld doesn’t tolerate that.”

 

“Nothing much—” Mahiru said before wincing at the lie. She then started to shrink into herself, a worried look in her eyes as she struggled to get out the words. “Well… I. It’s not going to be much of a problem Ootori san.” Michiru’s smile faltered and Mahiru looked down at the table in shame. “You see I didn’t mean to interrupt you I just knocked on the wrong door, I was uh… I was planning for the teacher’s office.”

 

The implications of the words were already dawning in Michiru’s eyes before Mahiru could look up and face her. “Oh…”

 

Mahiru gave Michiru a weak smile, “Sorry to disappoint you Ootori san.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Michiru said, quickly recovering much to Mahiru’s surprise. “You haven’t done it yet so you haven’t disappointed me.”

 

“Oh but I—”

 

“Before you listen to everyone telling you to quit,” Michiru interrupted, flashing that calming smile again. “Why not listen to the one voice that tells you to continue.”

 

“I…” Mahiru opened her mouth, Mahiru closed her mouth. She looked at Michiru like she saw a ghost before a stance stumbled out of her trembling lips in a small voice of disbelief. “You want me to continue?”

 

“Of course!  Mahiru san, can I call you Mahiru san?” Mahiru nodded, taken aback by the sudden informality and the fact someone out there, a stranger, an Edel was supporting her. “Mahiru san, I know I said as a student council member I shouldn't show favoritism so if this gets out of this room I will deny it, but you have talent.”

 

Mahiru’s eyes widened as she stood up from the sheer shock, the chair scraping the ground as she stared at Michiru. “Me!?”

 

“Yes!” Mahiru chuckled as she too stood up. “Ignoring the scholarship you have so much brilliance Mahiru san.”

 

Did she? How did she? Everyone here had brilliance, everyone was shining. Even now with no stage and where the only light was from the sunlight in the windows... Michiru was shining with brilliance. Still, a part of her just wanted to hope, to just believe in that confident grin Michiru wore. “I... do?”

 

“Of course, Seigfeld doesn’t accept just about anyone y’know?” Michiru walked out of her chair, pushing it in as Mahiru hurried to do the same. “Besides the trophies under your belt are nothing to scoff at.”

 

Now, this at least deserved some confusion, as far as Mahiru was concerned she didn’t win anything worthwhile in her short months of Seigfeld. Not unless it was the quickest to be hated by most of the year group. “My Trophies?”

 

Only replying with a smile, Michiru grabbed a feather duster leaning against the cabinet and tossed it up in the air. Out of instinct, Mahiru stepped forward and caught it, twirling the duster like it’s a baton as she spun before landing in a pose, the duster pointing towards Michiru. “See,” Michiru laughed as Mahiru’s eyes widened in panic, quickly putting the duster on the table near them. “Not everyone can just do that technique out of the blue.”

 

This person just kept on surprising her. “You know what I was doing?” 

 

“Well I did baton twirling before but I didn’t take part in any tournaments,” Michiru explained before doing a casual wink towards Mahiru. “I did watch them though.” 

 

Mahiru blushed from the implications, goodness she can’t believe an Edel had seen her perform before. She could consider the idea that Michiru was a fan but that wasn’t good for her already flustered and embarrassed heart. “Oh.”

 

“See if an edel and a staff member can vouch for your skills, what is the use of the other people doubting your skills?” Michiru asked as she shrugged. “All you need to do is just prove them wrong.” 

 

Mahiru gave a wry smile in return, “It’s not the skills they’re doubting…”

 

“Oh?”

 

“It’s my drive,” Mahiru explained, struggling to keep Michiru’s gaze as the fear that all of this goodwill will suddenly disappear when Michiru learnt the truth. “Apparently I don’t belong here because I’m not like everyone else.”

 

Michiru frowned slightly, crossing her arms in thought. “What is your drive?”

 

Mahiru looked up at Michiru, holding her hands together in a mesh of anxiety. “Promise to not call it stupid?”

 

Michiru smiled at her calmly, “Of course.”

 

Mahiru closed her eyes and tried her best to relax. Inhale and exhale. “The star at the very top would still shine bright, even from a different angle,” Mahiru stated like she’s quoting a line from a play. “It doesn't need to shine alone.” Mahiru opened her eyes, despite the fear that held it before, her feelings about her ideals were full of passion and was resolute in its decision. “That is my belief.”

 

“So…” Michiru said as she pondered out loud, a calm expression on her face that Mahiru couldn’t read anything from her but neutrality. “You think two people should be at the top together? Like a duet?”

 

“Not really, but I won’t be offended by it.” Bit by bit, Mahiru’s voice became clearer, it became calmer. It didn’t hold the fear that it had when Mahiru walked in, it didn’t hold the fatigue and the ache of giving up. It sounded confident, it sounded resolute, it sounded like a stage girl that was full of brilliance. 

 

“What I mean is… everyone is focused on being the very best and I really admired that, I also want to be the best but not as wild as everyone else. Everyone is so focused on what they want to be they forget to take care about themself. In the rush to the top they forget about the burnout. I don’t dream to fight Yukishiro san to take her place as the Frau Platin like everyone else wants to do. I just wish to help her and everyone around me to become better.” 

 

By the time she was done Mahiru was partially out of breath and Michiru was doing nothing but staring. “Ah—” Mahiru said with a slight bow, the confidence slowly seeping away to her usual worry and panic, “Sorry I got too passionate didn’t I uh—”

 

“I get it.”

 

Mahiru looked up. “Eh?”

 

“I get your dream,” Michiru nodded, a smile on her face. “It’s admirable but right now it’s out of reach.”

 

“Oh…” Well, that was a quick way for Mahiru’s happiness to plummet. Mahiru looked back to her feet, feeling so out of place that her dreams were crushed once again. “ I um…”

 

“It’s out of reach because you planned to leave Mahiru san,” Michiru explained. “How can you help if you’re not around to help?”

 

Wait what? Mahiru looked up, timid in fear that her dreams will be brought back down again. But all she saw was Michiru’s calm smile, comforting her as Mahiru started to find pieces of hope again in Michiru’s glowing brilliance. 

 

“Also keeping an eye for the edels? I speak for everyone when I say that I’m grateful for that help but it’s nothing when you dedicate your entirety to it,” Michiru chuckled as Mahiru started to stand up straighter, facing Michiru head-on. “The stage doesn’t need fans or stage hands— there are plenty of that to spare here. What it needs stage girls to support each other in ways the fans or the backstage will never understand.”

 

Michiru’s grin widened and to Mahiru’s surprise, Michiru reached out her hand to Mahiru. “If you want to help everyone become an Edel. Ignoring other stuff, it’s literally our job as the student council to facilitate those under us. Also, if you are an edel you can help the edels more personally in ways the student body can’t do.”

 

“Me? “An Edel?” Mahiru stammered, a hand to her chest feeling like this was a dream. Yet it wasn’t a dream. The ache in her chest, the way her heart pounded against her ribs proved that it wasn’t. The powerful stare Michiru had, the way it compelled Mahiru’s doubt to silence and her will to believe, proved that it was real. All of it was real. An Edel wanted her to join her stage and become an edel. 

 

“Of course you need to work for it,” Michiru grinned as she retracted her hand to cross arms against her chest. “There isn’t a scholarship to become one but I think you’re up for the challenge.”

 

“I…” Mahiru’s voice fell silent, still struggling to digest the moment that was happening. To think minutes ago she wanted to do nothing but leave, believing that she didn’t belong. Mahiru looked up at Michiru. “Are you sure Ootori san?”

 

“Shall I throw the feather duster back to you again?” Michiru laughed, even began reaching for the duster on the table between them.

 

“No no I get your point,” Mahiru laughed nervously, shaking her hands. She looked at Michiru, saw the brilliance that surrounded her and felt the gap between them grow. Did she really belong up there? “I just… that’s so far away.”

 

“Is it?” Michiru hummed. Before Mahiru can explain herself, Michiru stole the words from her mouth, bridging the distance so that Michiru was right in front of Mahiru. Too close, Mahiru thought as her cheeks burnt red. The only thing that separated them was the height difference, had it not exist Michiru would be right against her face. But still, the impact was the same, all Mahiru could see was Michiru’s confident smirk. “I’m right in front of you aren’t I?”

 

Silence followed the question as Mahiru stared, trying to find a lie in Michiru’s concrete belief in her. When she couldn’t find anything all Mahiru could do was sigh, voice so small and teeming with disbelief that Michiru wouldn’t have heard it if she wasn’t so close. “You really think I can do it don’t you…”

 

“Not many people think like you do Mahiru san but I believe the stage will be better with you there,” Michiru said as she stepped back, giving Mahiru space to breath. Once again, Michiru brought out her hand, this time Mahiru was in reach to grab it. “Next year, meeting in the student council room can be the norm between us, not to mention you get the benefit of proving everyone wrong whilst helping other people just like you wanted. It’s a win win scenario don’t you think?” 

 

Hesitantly, Mahiru reached for Michiru’s hand. “I…”

 

The door opened before anything could happen, causing Mahiru to squeak and retract her hand to her chest. “Michiru it’s time to wake—” Yukishiro Akira said before blinking at the scenario in front of her.  “Oh. Was I interrupting something?”

 

“Of course not Akira,” Michiru said as she gestured to Mahiru. Mahiru, in turn, bowed slightly out of respect. This was the first time she was meeting the Frau Platin after all and the energy she held even out of the stage was overwhelming. “I was just wishing luck to Mahiru san, she’s the scholarship student I told you about.”

 

“I see…” Akira mused as she walked straight up to Mahiru, staring her down with her domineering presence. Mahiru tried her hardest not to shake under her gaze. “Michiru’s intuition is never wrong so don’t break it.” 

 

“Ignore her,” Michiru said, slapping Akira’s arm gently. Akira took the message and stepped away, walking behind Michiru to give Mahiru space. Once again Mahiru found some sense of comfort in Michiru’s warm smile. “That’s her way of saying good luck Mahiru san.”

 

“I see,” Mahiru said, stumbling a bit as she bowed once again to both Michiru and Akira before heading to the door. “I’ll be going now.” 

 

“See you around Mahiru san,” Michiru called as Mahiru’s hands reached the doorknob, Mahiru turned around to hear her one more time. “Remember I’m keeping an eye on you and I look forward to seeing your growth.”

 

“I—” Mahiru swallowed down the hesitation, she looked directly in Michiru’s eyes. Yesterday she planned to leave, today she found her resolve to continue. “Yes. I won’t let you down Ootori san.” With that, Mahiru opened the door and left the room, leaving the two edels alone. 

 


 

“That’s the girl that’s surrounded with rumours isn’t it?” Akira asked the second the footsteps were gone from the door. 

 

“I’m surprised you even knew about the rumours,” Michiru replied. A hum left her lips as she moved the feather duster away from the table, going to the cabinet to get the paperwork they need to get through. 

 

“I have ears,” Akira deadpanned, helping Michiru get the files from the top shelf much to Michiru’s small frown. “It picks up on things even if I don’t want to listen.”

 

“Well pay attention to her a bit more Akira,” Michiru said ignoring the slight pain to her pride as she thought about Mahiru. She wasn’t lying when she said those words to Mahiru. That girl had potential, it was only up to her to use it. “Those rumours are going to change soon.”

 

“How do you know?”

 

“Didn’t you say how my intuition is never wrong?” Michiru laughed, “Besides…”Michiru recalled the look in Mahiru’s eyes before she left and the grin on her face widened. There was a fire burning there, a brilliance ready to explode. “There’s that look in her eye, Seigfeld isn’t going to beat her just yet.”