Author's Notes and Disclaimers: Battle Athletes Daiundokai/Battle Athletes Victory is the sole property of AIC, TV Tokyo, and Azuma Kiyohiko. No copyright infringement is intended.

The real title of this little piece is "Why BAV and PMS don't mix."

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Bittersweet Chocolate


The photo album lay heavily in her lap. She knew it was silly, but she could almost imagine the weight of the memories within, pressing upon her, filling the pages with love, laughter, tears and hope. She pulled the cover back, listening to the creak of the old binding, smiling at the antique pages simply for their own sake. Her children made fun of her for this one fancy, this item so retroactive that it hadn't existed for many thousands of years even when she was young.

Her fingers brushed lightly across the first few pictures, pictures she knew well, but could not remember. A beautiful face, with warm, happy eyes, beaming down at a child she knew to be herself. She flipped past holofilms of her childhood, past stills and scraps of media until she reached a specific page. Her hand lingered over a picture, then slowly fell to caress it. There she was, dear, kind Ichino, who had meant everything to her although she had never really understood. Akari laughed bitterly at her own lack of understanding. What was that saying? "Youth is wasted on the young." Oh, Ichino, if only I had realized. I wasted so many years.

If only she had realized so much - but then, it wouldn't have been a childhood, would it? She laughed at her own naiveté. She lifted the finger and took in the face that smiled back at her - cheerful, yet piercing and intense. Gazing at the photos on the two pages spread open before her, she noticed something she had never noticed before. There was Ichino running, swimming, jumping - every picture in action, a wild deer caught for a fleeting moment in mid-flight. Ichino was always in motion, waving, laughing, running...Akari smiled. And she had never changed, had she? Even as she waited for Akari to return, Ichino had been active, even when Akari returned as Cosmo Beauty, and after all too short and painful a time, had left again to be married. Ichino, who had waited for her for a very long time, never once stopped moving. Even after she took her vows, even after she abandoned them. Akari felt her chest clench. Spirits, why was she so stupid that she had to lose everything before she could see its true worth?

More pages, more faces. Akari smiled at Tanya's hijinks in a short holoclip, and laughed out loud at Ling-Pha's mishaps. Life had been good to both of them, Akari knew. Tanya had eventually returned to Africa, and become a running coach to her enormous brood there, while Ling-Pha, having at last outgrown her own need to succeed at others' cost, had focused on her far more impressive entrepreneurial skills on building her family's company. By all accounts she had been brilliant at doing just that. When Akari had last seen her, she was self-assured, confident and a little tyrannical, just as the matriarch of such a powerful family should have been.

Another face. Ayla. She was the first to drop out, Akari remembered. It might have been the best thing in the world for her, but it was always difficult to read Ayla. After she was forced to leave the competition, Ayla turned away from sports, married had a child, but in the end returned as a coach in the Antarctic training facility where they had met. And thus far, three of the girls she had trained had gone on to the title of Cosmo Beauty. No, Ayla had done very well for herself, unlike Jessie.

Akari's eyes filled with tears even as she gazed at the next picture. She had never been able to reach Jessie - not ever. After they had defeated the Nerilians, all those many years ago, Akari had never seen the woman in person again. But she had seen her face nearly everywhere. Jessie Gurtland, golden and shining, had turned her talents towards being the number one fashion model in the solar system. No one who had known her was surprised that she had taken the system by storm. But everyone was shocked when she disappeared shortly thereafter. When they found her, dead in a hotel from an overdose of pills, Akari had mourned deeply knowing that Jessie had never managed to see the light she dreamed of. Later, Akari learned that all of Jessie's not inconsiderable wealth had been left to a small church and orphanage in her hometown. In that moment, much of Jessie's life and death made sense. A tear fell onto the album and Akari brushed it away gently. Maybe Jessie had been able to see the light after all.

She flipped past pages, until her fingers stopped flipping of their own accord. A small still photo, in black and white caught her attention. Three figures, her in the middle. The tears filled her eyes and made it hard to see now, but she did not move to brush them away. Today was a day for memories, and tears. To her left stood little Anna, smiling bashfully. Akari shook her head in wonder at the manipulative mother who had made something horrible out of an innocent desire. She wondered at Anna's innocence all over again, and all over again, forgave herself for not seeing the obvious. She had been an incredibly stupid child, hadn't she? She smiled sadly. How many people had she watched suffer and not really moved to help them? Anna, after her horrific defeat at Mylandah's hands had bounced back at least. Akari thought of the little girl and the cake shop she eventually opened. Seeing Anna truly happy had been a wonderful thing. Slowly, painfully, Akari tore her eyes from Anna's face and turned towards the other figure in the photo. Her chest felt both heavy and light as she regarded the large emerald eyes as they smiled happily at her from the album

"Oh, Kris," Akari said softly. "I'm so sorry."

She shook her head. If she had known more cliché for the book. What she had done to Kris was unforgivable, Akari thought. But Kris had argued with her, and forgiven her. Still, for Akari, their friendship had a bittersweet taste. Even as she thought this, the priestess' voice swam into her mind, along with a vision of Kris, as she knew she was now. For all the time and space between them, that special bond Kris had given her had never faded - a source of great joy and strength and, at times, a source of intense pain.

"Don't be silly, Akari. First love is always painful. Haven't you forgiven yourself yet?"

"I'm sorry, Kris!" Akari shouted and buried her face in her hands. "I'm sorry we couldn't be together."

The image of Kris in her mind smiled, the lines in her face deepening with the motion. "Don't be. It's so long ago, now. You're happy - I'm happy. What's left to be sorry for?"

Akari sniffed, and looked up. "You're right. I'm acting like a child." She gave the other woman a small smile. "Thank you. you always know how to cheer me up."

Kris smiled happily and waved as she faded from sight, but Akari could feel the other woman's presence within her heart. Whatever Kris might say, Akari knew that she had been hurt deeply. She had sacrificed everything she believed in, everything she wanted, for Akari's sake. And for Akari, she had almost lost everything forever. When Kris had returned home to the moon, she had been called before an ecumenical council, investigated as a heretic and told she would never become a priestess. After their defeat of the Nerilians, when she had once again returned, she was allowed, with some reservation, to take her vows as a priestess. Akari knew that she was happy, that Kris had been happy for many years, but the pictures brought it all back again.

More memories. Sadness and pleasure mixed inextricably in her thoughts. Another picture stopped her. A clipping from the year before she had gone to the satellite - how had this gotten in here? Two figures, watching other with intensity. Mylandah and Lahrri. Akari wondered that she had never seen it before - the hunger, the loneliness, the *need,* in that shared gaze. They had remained at the satellite for several years, after she had become Cosmo Beauty the first time, after it was repaired when the Nerilians left, but when it was apparent that neither one of them would ever rise again to the top, they had left. Living together - though never lovers, as some would have made them out to be - they had opened an athletic training facility of their own. And together, had produced several Cosmo Beauties. Then the fire had broken out. Lahrri was stuck inside - for all her strength, she was trapped by something as simple as a ceiling caving in and smoke. Mylandah was last seen alive making her way through the wreckage shouting Lahrri's name. When the fire was put out, and the ruins cleared, they were found, Lahrri's body held by Mylandah until asphyxiation had taken them both. Akari nodded to the memory of those two noble women. This past year a new wing had been added onto the University Satellite and named in their honor - a fitting remembrance to two of the finest athletes the system had ever seen.

Pages passed by and memories floated to the surface. The bizarre time after she had won Cosmo Beauty, when the Nerillians attacked, demanding that the System defend itself in a series of athletic events, learning that her coach and her father were one and the same, meeting, and defeating her mother at her peak of performance...the even bizarrer times when she left home to be married, have children, and retire from sports, almost exactly like her mother before her.

Another picture. This one a holograph of a golden statue, as radiant on the page as it was in real life. Her mother, the magnificent Tomoe Midou, glowing with the light that had profoundly moved thousands of people...and that she, Tomoe's own daughter had never seen until she was forced to compete against her.. For the millionth time, Akari wondered why her mother had never run when she had been a child. And she wondered why she had never resented this woman, this memory, this icon, when she had shared so much of herself with everyone else in the solar system, but not with her only child. For the millionth time, Akari came to the conclusion that it was she, Tomoe's daughter, who had seen the real woman...and that running was just something that she...did.

Akari nodded. Just as she had come to realize for herself. Cosmo Beauty was not what she was - just what she did. It had taken her years, decades, in fact, to understand that and to come back once again to teach that simple fact to others. So there would be no more Jessies, no more Mylandahs, no more broken girls dashed on a dream of perfection. Akari lifted her eyes to the screen in front of her, remembering the arguments that had broken out when Grant Oldman reappeared after years of absence, when he had argued that the title of Cosmo Beauty should not die out with the threat of the Nerilians gone. She smiled as she remembered her father - and her resurrected mother, then pregnant - arguing forcibly for the renewal of University Satellite. And the smile spread when she remembered Ichino and herself, Kris and so many of the others standing before the board and insisting that the training for Cosmo Beauty had made them appreciate everything they had ever had, everything they had ever accomplished and everything they had lost. The Satellite had been rebuilt on one condition...

There was the noise of the door opening behind her. A voice spoke harshly, its accent not at all dulled by time and distance. "Hey, Akari! Aren't you ready yet? The ceremony's about to start."

Akari closed the album and laid it on the desk. She spun the chair around and looked up into a face hardly changed by age. Ichino's short hair was now more silver than black, but her eyes were still bright, although softened with many experiences. More than ever, she reminded Akari of a deer running. Ichino stared back, her head cocked. "What are you thinking?"

Akari smiled ruefully. "About what an idiot I was as a child. Why didn't you hit me more often?"

Ichino held out a hand to help Akari up from her seat. "It wouldn't have were a total blockhead," she laughed.

"You're right." Akari reached out and took the hand, not letting go of it when she was on her feet. Stepping close to Ichino she said quietly, "Thank you for waiting for me to figure it out."

Ichino laid a hand along Akari's cheek. "I always did - and then, you always surpassed me. Every time." She leaned forward and kissed the other woman lightly on the lips. Pulling away, Ichino grinned. Without the trace of an accent, she said formally, "And now, Headmistress, it's time for you to welcome the new students." Ichino backed away and gestured towards the door.

Akari took a moment, breathed deeply and nodded. "Right! Are they energetic this year?"

Ichino laughed. "Oh, boy are they ever!"

With a shake of her body, the Headmistress of the University Satellite stepped out to greet the newest class in the quest for the title of Cosmo Beauty.


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