Chapter 1: The Way Home
My first solid memory after the last duel is of Anthy. I heard a voice, her familiar voice calling my name as I rose up through jagged points of darkness.
“Utena-sama? Utena-sama, can you hear me?”
I opened my eyes. My vision was blurry at first but as I stared up I found myself staring into her deep green eyes. Long purple hair swirled like fire about her head (I said my eyes were blurry!) as she leaned over my bed. One small hand was pressed to my breastbone in that most familiar place.
“Utena-sama,” she whispered. “Can you hear me?”
“Himemiya?” I gasped.
Her smile was like the rising sun.
“Utena,” she said and her eyes filled with tears.
* * *
Anthy took me home from the hospital in her little green car. I remember looking up at a rickety apartment building with some surprise.
“I thought you’d be rich,” I joked.
Anthy laughed primly behind her hand. She was wearing a pale blue skirt-suit made of some kind of soft material - I'm not really good with clothes' names. I knew it was soft because I'd reached out to touch her arm for reassurance during the drive. I was wearing jeans and a soft blue t-shirt that both fit surprisingly well, considering I was seeing them for the first time today. I wondered how she'd known my clothing size. Then I sighed. She had been the rose bride after all.
“Can you walk?” Anthy asked.
“Hey Himemiya, what do you mean?! Of course I can walk! I’m a champion athlete. You know that!” I vaulted over the passenger door to prove my point, and promptly crumpled on the pavement. I was still sitting there in shock when Anthy calmly walked around to bend over me.
“Let me help you,” she said softly.
Still aghast over my own weakness, I accepted her pulling my right arm over her shoulder quite docilely. Together we made our way into the building and up its steep and winding stairway. I tried to walk mostly by myself but found my knees were liquid, and I kept stumbling over my own feet. I was leaning with practically my whole weight on Anthy's narrow shoulders but it didn’t seem to bother her. Somehow, she felt as steady as a rock. She seemed to have no trouble half-dragging me along.
"You're, uh, a lot stronger then you look," I commented.
Her response was thoughtful. "Things aren't often what they seem."
By the time we finally arrived at Anthy’s unit (naturally it had to be at the very top of the building) I was covered in sweat and breathing hard. Anthy by contrast seemed as fresh as the proverbial daisy. I felt unusually weak and dizzy as I watched her gracefully retrieve her keys and open the door, all with me draped over her like some deadweight. My helplessness was embarrassing and inside I boiled with frustration.
"Sit over here," she suggested, all but carrying me over to the centrepiece of her lounge room, an antique-looking russet couch.
"What's wrong with me?" I groaned. I sank onto the couch with utter relief. Putting my arms over its back I arched my torso into a stretch.
"Better," I sighed. "Uhhh."
Dimly I noticed Anthy was leaning over me again, her fingers rifling through my bangs unsticking them from my sweaty forehead.
"You need tea," she decided.
I couldn't help but roll my eyes. That was always her solution to everything.
"I don't like tea," I lied grumpily but she was already disappearing into the kitchenette I could see to my right.
"Figures," I sighed. She sure could move fast when she wanted to.
Taking the time to look around myself I thought that perhaps Anthy was rich after all! The outside of the building might not be much, but the insides of this unit were extravagant. I looked in wonder at hanging wall-length tapestries and well-stocked intricately carved bookshelves. Squinting I tried to make out a few titles.
"The Rose of Versailles", I read aloud. "Legend of the White Snake, The Cask of Amontillado, Grimoire for the Green Witch."
I blinked. What lousy taste. Where were the trashy manga I liked to read so much? These books looked so serious!
"The Kingdom of Slender Swords, Enheduanna Priestess of Inanna, The Kama Sutra."
I couldn't help but yawn. Anthy's book collection looked very boring to me, not my taste at all. And these were only the Japanese versions! The grand majority of the books had titles in foreign script...just how many languages did Anthy know anyway?
Bored with the books I looked around some more. The general colour scheme consisted of deep reds and greens with furniture of old dark wood. Very Anthy. I then noticed the coffee table in front of me resembled a giant chessboard without any pieces, with a vase of blood-red roses at its centre.
I suppressed a shudder without really knowing why. Anthy picked that moment to glide back in, bearing a silver tea-tray holding a rose-china set. She sat next to me and poured my tea while I admired her delicate gestures.
“Did you decorate this place?” I asked.
“Yes,” she smiled, “it was fun."
“It’s very you.”
She looked around her. “You think so, Utena-sama?”
“It couldn’t be more so,” My tone was dry. I thought about reminding her to call me just Utena, but I was so tired it just seemed like too much effort.
“Chuuuuu!” A familiar funny-looking monkey-rat-thing leapt onto my lap from out of nowhere, brandishing a cookie.
“ChuChu!” I exclaimed. “Where’ve you been? Is that cookie for me?”
"Chuuuu!" he squeaked, and promptly started stuffing the cookie down his greedy little gullet.
"Well that's disappointing," I said, glaring down at him.
"You want a cookie?" Immediately Anthy's soft hand pressed a cookie into mine. I shivered at her touch.
Like so many things between us it was fraught with meaning, while simultaneously meaning nothing at all. I think it was just the tiredness but I grew reflective.
I don't understand her, I thought while looking down and munching on the cookie. I never have. Maybe I never will.
But somehow it didn't matter on that sleepy afternoon, as her thigh pressed up against mine on the couch.
My breathing slowed, the cookie crumbled pleasantly in my mouth, the tea was sweet.
ChuChu bounced on my knees, and Anthy drank her tea while staring at my face with luminous green eyes.
I gazed back and felt happy.
Chapter 2: What Not to Talk About
That first night Anthy helped me get ready for bed. She provided me with pajamas of blue flannel, while she wore a long nightgown of palest violet. My hands trembled with weariness as I pulled my pants on. I struggled with pulling my tshirt over my head. Gracefully Anthy slipped behind me to help. I sighed at the sensation of warm hands ghosting along the chilly panes of my back. Then her hands lingered for long moments over the raised scar on my lower back. I froze.
Ever so slowly one hot hand inched around my waist to cover the exit wound under my right breast. A wave of some indefinable emotion pulsed through me. Helpless to control my reaction, I tore away. Pulling on my pajama shirt I took a few steps toward the wide white bed.
ChuChu was bouncing up and down on the pillows.
“ChuChu! You naughty thing!” I exclaimed, glad to pretend that nothing had happened. I sensed Anthy unmoving behind me, but I kept focused on ChuChu. I dived at the mouse-monkey but he slipped right through my hands, the crafty beast. He bounced over to the dresser where he chattered cheekily at me in the mirror. I flopped down and rolled onto my back, all of a sudden too tired to chase after him. Instead I watched Anthy as she slowly crossed to turn off the lamp, before hopping into bed next to me. Her face was inscrutable.
As always she wore her long hair loose for bed, and her glasses were still conspicuously absent. She turned onto her right side to gaze at me, and just like in the Chairman’s tower the night sky was laid out behind her in glory. (Wall-length windows leading to a slight balcony were responsible for this effect – this was some ritzy apartment!) As always she was beautiful.
“Himemiya,” I breathed wonderingly. She looked so mysterious in the dim light, with stars about her head. “Who are you?”
“I asked you that once,” she said. “Do you remember?”
I searched my mind.
“Ah, you said you were watching my face as I slept. That I seemed familiar to you, right?”
“Yes.” Her hand reached over to hold mine in that old familiar way.
The ritual had always calmed me, but now it did more. It was getting hard to think clearly.
“Are you sleepy, Utena-sama?” Anthy’s fingers slowly stroked mine.
“I…I guess I am,” I admitted. I yawned and my eyes began to drift shut.
“Does the scar hurt?” she asked so, so softly.
My eyes snapped open and I stared at her in silent horror. How could she ask me that?
“No,” I snapped. I deliberately closed my eyes. Yet I could still feel her looking at me. Her hand had tightened on mine. Now slowly she began to stroke my fingers again. I felt my stomach flip-flop.
“Sorry Himemiya”, I whispered, unable to bring myself to look at her.
Was there a catch in her voice when she answered? “There is nothing for you to be sorry for."
I sighed and tightened my hand on hers.
* * *
I woke to Anthy with a breakfast tray, sitting cross-legged facing me with a smile that was somehow both demure and devilish.
“Time to wake up, sleepy-head,” she said. “Or ChuChu will eat all our breakfast.”
I sat up in double record time.
“He better not,” I grumped, rubbing fiercely at eyes gritty with sleep. “Oi Himemiya, I’m so hungry.”
“That’s a good sign,” she noted passing over a plate of western-style scrambled eggs. They looked delicious.
“Reallysh?” I mumbled, my mouth already full as I started shoveling it down. “Hey, these are really good! How come these taste really good?”
“What are you saying?” Anthy looked slightly put out.
“Oh nothing,” I lied, shuddering inside at the memory of Anthy’s usual breakfasts. “Just, thank you. This tastes great.”
“It’s no problem.” She began to eat.
Her long-ago voice echoed in my ears adding to that sentiment, ‘I’m the rose bride.’ I closed my eyes.
“I should cook from now on,” I decided.
Anthy smiled at me and her eyes were very gentle.
“Alright,” she allowed. “You can cook…sometimes.”
Later that morning after Anthy had left for work I discovered the takeout containers in the trash.
“Hmph,” I muttered to ChuChu. “She could of just said.”
* * *
Still weak after the hospital for no particular reason that I could fathom, I spent the next fortnight loitering around the unit. Accordingly I grew exceedingly bored. I would grow weary so quickly there was no use in trying to exercise (although I did make quite a few abortive attempts. When I failed after a measly two sit-ups ChuChu would come and bounce on my chest). Besides Anthy had explicitly forbidden me to leave our new home.
“Why?” I asked her one morning, lounging on the bed and watching her dress for work. She still hadn’t told me what her job actually was.
“You need to rest,” she said firmly. “And it’s not…safe out there.”
“It’s not?” I absently poked ChuChu as he played on my stomach. It seemed to be his new favourite place. “Why not? How come you can go out but not me?”
Anthy looked exasperated, which was a wholly new expression for me to see on her face. Like all these new expressions, she masked it quickly which I attributed to long habit.
“It’s not safe for you,” she modified her original statement. “Just…believe me, Utena. It’s not safe for now. You need to stay here and get better.”
“I’m not sick,” I grouched. “I’m just…very unfit.”
One slim eyebrow arched at me.
“Fine,” I gave in. “But I can’t stay here forever. I feel so cooped up.”
“I know,” her voice was soft as she came to sit on the edge of the bed and pet ChuChu along with me. “Don’t worry, it’s just for a little while.”
“Okay, Okay.” My fingers entwined with hers of their own accord.
And then, like moving in a dream I brought her hand to my lips. I heard her startled intake of breath and dropped her hand in a hurry. We stared at each other. Then she dropped her eyes.
“Work,” she murmured, “I’ll be late.” She rushed from the room. It was rare to see her flustered…I stared after her feeling flustered myself.
My lips burned where they’d touched her.