Chapter 3: A Time to Leave
By the beginning of my third week of incarceration, I was going crazy. I paced the apartment restlessly. I even had a route.
Bedroom. Circle the bed. Pause to finger the soft material of Anthy’s folded nightgown.
Bathroom. Stare helplessly into the mirror. Think that my eyes looked somehow different. Often pull up my shirt to check if that raised scar was real. Turn around to look at its twin on my back disbelievingly.
Bedroom. Pace restlessly. Avoid looking in the dresser mirror.
Balcony. Lean on the railing while staring down at the city. Had things really changed? They looked the same… Stare up at the sky. When it was very blue I would feel a sense of deep unease begin to eat away at me. I would retreat quickly.
Hallway. Pause and stare mindlessly at the two lonely photos on the wall. I knew them by heart. On the right wall was the photo of Anthy and I, with ChuChu on her shoulder. On my shoulder rested a masculine arm in a long red sleeve…cut off at the elbow. On the left wall hung a photo of the gates of Ohtori…from the outside. It didn’t look right to me. Unreal.
Loungeroom. Stalk around and around the russet couch. Eye the books. Perhaps flop down on said couch and make a cursory effort of reading one. Give up after about two minutes. Throw it down in frustration.
Kitchenette. Peer into the fridge for food. Decide that my roiling stomach couldn’t handle any. Collapse at the table and stare down at it with my head in my hands. Stare at ChuChu tugging futilely on my wrist. Leap up and shove chair to floor, not sure why my emotions were reeling.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat with minor variations.
Hear Anthy fumbling with lock. Race to return abandoned books to bookshelf and chair to table. Plonk down in chair just as she entered kitchen.
Smile artlessly and ask how her day was.
Avoid her knowing gaze.
* * *
When she returned home on Friday evening there was a strange light in her eyes.
“It’s time,” she told me, sitting down across from me.
“Eh? Time for what?” I asked. I noticed vaguely how her red blouse hugged her curves. Then I blushed.
I looked up to see her amused eyes watching me.
“Time for us to leave this apartment. At least long enough for me to take you to dinner.”
“Oooh really?” I was beside myself with excitement. “Gee Himemiya, that’s fantastic! I’m dying to go outside; I can’t stand it in this rattrap.”
“I know it’s been hard,” she acknowledged, “but you’ve needed the time to grow stronger. Your energy has returned, right?”
I thought about that. If energy counted as restless pacing…
“Where are we going?” I followed her into the bedroom, bouncing lightly with excitement.
Her smile was coy. “It’s a secret.”
* * *
We walked to the “secret” which turned out to be a cosy restaurant only blocks away. I found my hand of its own volition slipping into Anthy’s. We strolled in companionable silence. The air was fresh, if a little cold; it emphasized the warmth of our clinging hands. I found the unbearable tension that had been mounting in me start to slide away.
After only two blocks my breath began to shorten. Once again my weakness filled me with irritation. I didn’t notice I was growling under my breath until I felt ChuChu’s soft paws stroking my neck, from his sudden perch on my shoulder. Anthy had also slowed her pace to match mine.
“Don’t worry, Utena”, she said softly. “It’s to be expected.”
“I can’t help it,” I said, in a rare moment of self-insight. “I have to be strong. I have to be ready. Who knows who’ll come after you next? I have to protect you!”
She had stopped walking now and was turned to me, her eyes wide in the moonlight.
“Is that what you want?” One dark hand reached up to cup my cheek.
I leaned helplessly into her touch.
“Yes,” I whispered. “More than anything.”
“That’s funny,” she whispered back, “it’s what I want for you.”
I stared down at her, suddenly at a loss.
“But why? I don’t need protecting…do I?”
Her eyes seemed to darken, and her hand fell away.
“More than you know.” She wouldn’t say anything more. I sighed. She could be annoying like that.
In the restaurant we sat at a secluded corner table, hidden behind a large potted tree. Anthy ordered a very old red wine, which made me wrinkle my nose at its bitterness. I appreciated its warmth though as it slid down my throat. We were gazing at each other over our glasses when the unexpected happened.
A man pushed past the potted plant and stood towering over us.
“It is you!” Touga pushed his long red hair out of sharp blue eyes. His voice lowered to almost reverent tones.
I blushed. Anthy grimaced. ChuChu leapt onto Touga’s designer shoe and started biting his ankle. Touga hopped around in pain.
“Get off me, you foul…demon…monkey!”
I got to my feet, intending to pull ChuChu off his victim and the second surprise crashed past the plant.
“Kiryuu, where the hell have you gotten to?”
Saionji stopped and stared at us, his jaw dropping.
“You!” he growled at me. Then he saw my tablemate. “Anthy-san”, he muttered sounding like a man drowning.
“This is bad,” I murmured just as the third and final surprise flicked the plant aside and stood there in smart white slacks and shirt.
“I see,” said Juri, her voice quite calm. But her eyes didn’t look calm at all.
* * *
Now we all shared the corner table, staring surreptitiously at each other and downing too much wine. Our meals came and at first we ate in silence. Touga obligingly ordered more of the expensive red. He winked at me over his glass. His long fingers stroked the rim. Saionji glared at me. Juri stared at me and fingered her locket. I felt a hand stroke my knee and threw a startled glance at Anthy who was now seated to my right. She smiled in what looked suspiciously like gentle amusement. ChuChu sat on my lap and growled.
Juri was the first to break the awkward silence.
“So Himemiya-san…you found her, I see. How fortunate. How long ago was the happy reunion?”
To my surprise Anthy actually looked slightly uncomfortable. Her hand stilled on my knee. A pause. Finally as though the words were torn out of her:
“Three weeks ago.”
I looked up to see three jaws fallen open and three identically shocked expressions. A piece of spinach fell out of Saionji’s open mouth and onto the table. ChuChu pounced on it with relish.
“Charming, Saionji,” said Touga, recovering himself first. Saionji glared at him.
“Three weeks,” repeated Juri faintly. “That’s all?”
“Why?” I asked, wondering at the strange reaction.
“Still not the brightest bulb in the lamp, are we Tenjou?” smirked Saionji. “Well some things never change, no matter how much time passes.”
“Time?” I muttered, glowering at him while feeling a little lost.
“Look at me, Utena-san,” commanded Juri. I did.
“How old do I look?” asked the redhead. I was surprised by Anthy’s hand tightening suddenly on my knee.
“Um,” I said, glancing at Anthy out of the corner of my eye. She looked worried.
“Um, you look…” I felt confused as I looked, really looked at Juri for the first time that night. She didn’t look the same, that was for sure. Her hair seemed shorter, and merely wavy where once it had held tight curls. There was actually a light sprinkle of freckles dusted over her nose. That was new. My eyes trailed down past the locket (was it the same?) to sinuous curves. Was Juri…bigger?
“Utena-san,” prompted the object of my attention. I blushed.
“Uh, I guess you look different. Older.”
“The idiot has eyes,” muttered Saionji.
“Beautiful eyes,” amended Touga.
I frowned at both of them. Then I noticed they both looked older too. Taller. Broader shoulders. Saionji’s hair not quite as wild, although his intense green eyes still held the same crazy light. Said eyes were fixed dreamily on Anthy. I contemplated hitting him.
“It’s been five years,” said Juri quietly. My attention whipped back to her. I felt my own eyes growing wide as a sudden chill snaked down my spine.
“Five years, Utena-san,” she repeated. “Five long years since that godforsaken duel of revolution.”
Chapter 4: Enter the Swords
Five years… Juri’s pronouncement rang in my head.
My eyes went automatically to Anthy. I stared at her bowed head, searching for answers, searching for the truth. For some reason, I would believe it only from her.
“Himemiya?” I asked. My voice shook.
At that she turned to face me. Her hand lifted from my knee to my clenched forearm. It hovered there as though uncertain of my reaction.
“It’s true,” she said.
I stared at her uncomprehendingly. I stared back toward Juri who was biting her lip. Touga was watching me carefully. Even Saionji looked strangely sympathetic.
“Five years,” I repeated faintly. I looked down at my hands, and for the first time noticed their thin tracery of scars. They looked newly healed…surely it couldn’t have been five years? In my head I was suddenly back at the gate to eternity, prying at it desperately. Warm blood was leaking down my stomach and back as I strained with all my might. My hands slipped on the door. They were rubbed raw but I had no choice. All my life had been leading to this single moment. I had to open it…no choice…had to…
“Utena!” Anthy’s voice was surprisingly firm. I felt her warm hands clasping my cold ones. I looked up into green eyes shining with unshed tears. It was enough to rouse me.
“Sorry,” I muttered. “I don’t know…I didn’t…” I trailed off uncertainly.
There was an uncomfortable silence at our table. Finally Juri broke it.
“Well I want to know,” she declared. She stared aggressively at Anthy.
“What happened at that duel? Where has Utena-san been?”
“What makes you ask me, Senpai?” Anthy’s voice was like ice.
“You were there!” exploded Juri, bringing her fists down violently on the table. “And now you are here, the only one of us to find Utena-san after all this time! What are we supposed to think?”
“It’s suspicious, isn’t it?” noted Touga, undisturbed by Juri’s obvious rage.
“Is it?” said Anthy. She had become very stiff beside me.
“Tell me!” hissed Juri leaning forward and getting right in Anthy’s face. “I demand to know. We, the rose duelists who were trapped in that crazy game demand to know.”
“It was you and…Akio-san,” put in Touga. “You were behind the insanity there. Weren’t you.” It wasn’t a question.
“You played with us,” Saionji spat bitterly.
“You used us!” said Juri.
“Stop it!” I cried, leaping to my feet.
They all stared up at me uncomprehendingly.
I felt myself blush, but was angry enough to continue. I put a shaking hand on Anthy’s narrow shoulder.
“The past is the past. Everyone here has secrets I’m sure, secrets they’d rather not share.” I glared at Touga meaningfully. “Don’t let Ohtori spoil this world too.” My eyes went to Anthy’s and my next words were just for her:
“This world where we met.”
Hesitantly she smiled up at me.
“Still playing prince, Utena-san,” said Juri as I sat back down. Her tone was half-derisive but her eyes had softened.
“Hardly playing,” said Touga admiringly. “We’re all here aren’t we? Somehow…”
They all looked at me again, expectantly, hoping for explanations I didn’t have.
“I, um,” my voice faltered. “I don’t really remember much. I mean, for me I just woke up…” I trailed off as Anthy cut me off.
“I found her in a hospital,” she revealed. Her hand was back on my knee and I knew she was only speaking now to save me from having to.
“Three weeks ago,” Anthy continued to enraptured looks. “After five years of searching. The years have been…very long.”
“You couldn’t find her?” wondered Juri disbelievingly. “With all your…resources?”
“No,” admitted Anthy. “It was…confusing. I half suspected…”
“Akio-san,” guessed Touga.
“Yes,” said Anthy.
“End of the World,” hissed Juri.
“That bastard,” put in Saionji, glancing scornfully at Touga for some reason.
“Really?” I felt so confused. “But after the last duel…”
“He was still at Ohtori,” Anthy told me, her hand stroking my knee. “Planning on re-running the duels.”
“Oh.” I looked down. So much for me revolutionizing the world…a sudden thought jerked my head back up. “But you left?”
Anthy smiled at me tenderly. “I’m here aren’t I?”
That reassured me. Around me the conversation went on, as the others discussed Akio’s probable motives in-depth, and exchanged insults. I however was lost in the hazy past, struggling to remember. My mind fumbled through the jagged pieces:
Anthy taking my hand as we ascended together. The shock of seeing Akio revealed as my prince. A moment of wanting to rest in his eager arms, to rely submissively on his strength. Then…remembering Anthy. Seeing only deadness and pain in her eyes. Wanting above all things, to make that pain go away. To see her smile and be convinced of the smile. To save her!
I remembered the sword. And I skipped past it as always. For some reason my mind refused to settle, refused to believe what had happened. Instead I rushed forward to the cloud of angry swords attacking Anthy in the sky. My heart tore in two and was the only pain I was aware of as I stumbled forward, screaming her name. My will was the sword to beat against the rose gates – nothing could hold me back. I pried them open. I saw eternity…and it was Anthy. I reached…but…she fell. My world fell with her…and the castle of eternity rained down on me from the bluest of skies…as did the swords…
“Utena-san!” Juri’s voice broke me out of my stupor.
“Uh, y…yeah?” I blinked at her. Somehow I still saw a swarm of hungry swords descending on me...reflected in her piercing eyes.
“What do YOU think that bastard is doing?” she asked expectantly. I swallowed…the swords were rushing closer…Juri’s mouth opened again and more words came out, only this time I couldn’t hear them. A buzzing kind of clanging was filling up my mind. Metal on metal; no it was more like a mob of jeering voices. Juri’s mouth moved and I could see the words didn’t match up but it seemed like the mob was speaking through her.
“You’ve already failed,” she said, her eyes filling with swords. “Go home, little girl. That’s all you are, a girl playing dress-up. Pretending to be a prince. Ha! You can’t save the rose bride. You can’t save anyone. You said it yourself. Didn’t you? Didn’t you?!”
“No!” I cried.
“What?” I heard Juri ask. Then with new urgency: “What is it? What?”
“Swords,” I muttered pressing my fists to my eyes. My head was pounding in time with my heart. I felt sick to my stomach. It was hard to think.
“What’s wrong with her?” I heard Juri ask, as Touga said, “What does she mean by that?” I felt Anthy’s (surprisingly strong) arm go around my waist and she was urging me to my feet. I wrapped an arm over her shoulders and let her usher me out of the restaurant. I could hear the others clamoring behind us.
We were halfway down the street, when Touga and Juri caught up with us.
“Saionji’s paying,” Juri said with a slight smirk. “Here,” that to Anthy, “let her lean on me.” She tried to take me.
“No, let me carry her,” said Touga to Anthy. I could feel the heat of Anthy’s glare without even looking at her.
“No, no,” I said somewhat disgruntled at all this unnecessary attention. “I’m fine.” I pulled away from Anthy to demonstrate, although I immediately missed her warm support.
“Really,” said Touga disbelievingly. “That’s why you almost fainted into your soup? Or did Juri-san scare you?”
“Enough,” said Anthy, taking my hand and attempting to drag me down the street. “We have to go.”
“Why?” said Juri, “and what about us? You can’t do this, Himemiya-san. You can’t control events just because you desire to.”
“You understand nothing,” said Anthy. She dragged at my hand and I went with her. Touga and Juri followed, still protesting.
Before we could get very far, a car roared up beside us, as green as the shocking-green hair of its driver.
“Hop in,” said Saionji. “You want to run home for some secret reason? Well, this will be faster.”