Chapter 7: Feel No Pain
I woke up in a strange bed, in a strange dim room, with a dry mouth and pounding head. My back throbbed fiercely where it pressed against the mattress. My stomach ached too, and my hand moved reflexively to clutch it. I rolled onto my side and peered under the sheet. I was wearing only an unfamiliar pair of pajama bottoms, with bandages swathing my torso.
Hmm, it didn’t hurt before, I thought fuzzily. Grunting with effort, I managed to push myself up against the headboard, where I leaned weakly. I felt hot. The cool air was nice on my bare chest. There was a glass of water on the bedside table, which I drained eagerly. Gradually I realized the bedroom door was slightly ajar, and voices were floating quite clearly through it.
“How did you get rid of him?” I frowned. That sounded like Juri.
“Oh…there was a lucky accident.” I recognized Anthy’s calm voice immediately.
“An accident?” A light male voice, also familiar. Who was that?
“A freak storm,” said Anthy. “Lightning struck a tree that fell right in front of his car.” A pause.
“Lightning,” said Juri, in clear disbelief.
“Yes,” said Anthy.
“That was lucky.”
“Yes, Miki-san,” said Anthy. Another pause.
“What happened to Utena-san?” Juri’s voice was tight. “And don’t spin me some story. You’re never going to get all that blood out of your carseat.”
“Will she be alright?” Miki sounded worried. “Shouldn’t we take her to a hospital or something? That wound looks pretty bad…”
“She’ll be fine.”
“I agree with Miki-kun. She looks like she was impaled. Hell, she was half-dead when you got here! She probably needs a transfusion.”
“She’ll be fine.”
“Uh, Anthy-san…what if she’s not?” Miki sounded very young and scared.
“She’ll be fine,” Anthy’s voice was strained. “We can’t go to a hospital. He’ll be looking there.”
“The Chairman?” asked Juri harshly. “I thought you said his car was crushed.”
“I did. That won’t stop him. Not for long.”
Long silence. When Anthy spoke again she sounded distant.
“He has Kaoru-san and Takatsuki-san with him.” Gasps.
“Kozue,” cried Miki at the same time as Juri murmured, “Shiori.”
“Well,” continued Juri rather dryly, “I can’t say I’m surprised. Or even disappointed.”
“We’ve got to save Kozue!” demanded Miki.
“Why?” asked Juri. Her voice lowered, became kinder. “Miki-kun, I know she’s your twin, but she wouldn’t be with him if she didn’t want to be.”
“That doesn’t matter! I can’t let her do this. And you shouldn’t let Takatsuki-san.”
“Why not? She’s her own person. I’m not involved in her life.”
“But…you love her.”
Silence reigned again. Finally…Juri, expressionlessly:
“Past tense. And I was freed of all that, five years ago. The same goes for you.”
“We can’t save them,” put in Anthy. “It’s too dangerous. Arisugawa-senpai is correct. They’ve chosen to be with him.”
Miki sounded desperate. “Yes, but you chose to be with him too!”
A strangled noise escaped me. Inadvertently I cried out:
“Don’t say that!”
Three voices responded in shock. (“Did you hear that?” “Utena!” “Utena-san…”) The door burst open, and light streamed in. My eyes went automatically to Anthy, searching for signs that she was okay. Her eyes were fixed on mine with mysterious intensity, which usually would have made me blush and look away. Now I only stared back hungrily. To my surprise both Juri and Miki froze in their tracks, staring at me with identical blushes. Anthy reached my side and sat on the bed, demurely reaching out to lift the sheet and cover my breasts. I realized what the problem was and flushed more hotly than my audience. After long moments of embarrassment the other two moved into the room. Miki took the bedside chair. Juri switched on the lamp then sat on the end of the bed. Her face was still red.
“How do you feel?” asked Anthy. Her cool hand stroked my hot cheek. She frowned and felt my forehead.
“Hmm okay, now you’re here.” I smiled up at her.
“Liar,” she accused gently. “You’re burning up.”
“Doesn’t matter,” I murmured. “We made it.”
“You always had a funny way of looking at things,” noted Juri, rolling her eyes. I grinned at her.
“Yeah, you never liked it.”
“No,” said Juri, “I liked it. I didn’t agree with it…but I liked it.” One hand came up unconsciously to play with her locket. I wasn’t sure what she meant but I kicked her teasingly with my foot. She smiled at me, albeit a bit sadly. I looked over at Miki curiously.
“Do you live here, Miki-kun? Um, where is here anyway?”
“Juri-senpai’s apartment,” said Miki. “I was visiting for dinner.”
“Oh.” I thought about that. I looked to Anthy who was now holding my hand. “How did you know how to get here?”
“I gave her the address when I invited you for dinner.” Juri’s voice was heavy with irony. “You don’t know about that, do you?”
“Um…” I glanced up at Anthy uncertainly. Why hadn’t she told me?
“Well, it’s good that you came here,” said Miki nervously. “We want to help. After what you did for us all, Utena-senpai…we need to stick together.”
I nodded, but I didn’t really know what I had done that was so great.
“Is it safe here?” I wondered aloud.
“For now,” said Anthy. Juri and Miki exchanged uneasy looks.
“You look pretty bad,” noted Juri, nodding at me.
“I’m fine,” I said, raising a hand to brush away the sweat forming on my temple. “Just hot. Can we open a window or something?”
“It’s too cold.” Juri rolled her eyes. “You’re sick, you idiot. No doubt from the, I don’t know, gaping sword wound through your chest?!”
I scowled at her.
“You’re crazy. It’s not cold.” Under the sheet I pressed my other hand tentatively against the bandage. It did feel like…well, like that other time had. That is from what I could bear to remember of it, which wasn’t much. But Akio hadn’t stabbed me…had he? The wound throbbed under my touch, and the room swam in front of my eyes. I slid down the headboard a little, and Anthy exclaimed and reached out to guide me back into a lying position on my side. I was unable to suppress a moan.
“Pain-killers,” said Juri briskly. “I’ll be right back.”
“Please get the first-aid kit,” Anthy said to Miki. “I want to change these bandages.”
“Of course.” He rushed out.
“Don’t need pain-killers,” I managed to get out from between clenched teeth.
“You’re such a bad patient.” Anthy started stroking my hair. My hand was resting near her knee and I reached out and touched it for comfort.
“Am not,” I said, but even I noticed my voice was slurring a little.
“Yes, Utena-sama,” intoned Anthy dutifully. I looked sharply at her just in time to see the smug smile flitter over her features, and I sighed. She was actually playing with me. How rare and wonderful. And just a tad annoying.
Her hand was tangled in the hair at the nape of my neck now. Her melancholy eyes watched me as though I might vanish given half a chance. Wasn’t that how I was supposed to feel? When had everything changed?
“Himemiya,” I asked, then forgot what I was saying, then remembered and started again. “Uh, where’s ChuChu? Did we just…leave him there? Is he okay?”
“Let me check,” she closed her eyes and for a moment I wasn’t hot anymore, for the room got very cold and dark. I shivered in the blackness and reached out to Anthy, groping for her arm. I found it but it didn’t help…her skin didn’t feel like skin. My heart started to pound; I levered myself up on my elbow, feeling her hand fall limply from my head. Breathing heavily, I managed to roll out of bed, but lost my balance and landed hard on my hands and knees. I knelt there for a long moment, trying to get the strength to call out for the others. Before I could, the room lightened, and a blessedly familiar hand smoothed my shoulder as Anthy knelt beside me.
“What are you doing?”
“I uh, I uh…” My head whirled. “Where’d you go?” I pushed my head against her nearby chest and closed my eyes in relief. In our awkward position she was only able to half hug me. When she answered she sounded uncertain.
“I was looking for ChuChu. Come back to bed.” She helped me back beneath the sheets.
I was shivering. “Is he okay?”
“Yes. I told him where we are and I’m going to…get him soon.” Somehow in my feverish state this strange Anthy-saying made perfect sense. With her warmth beside me the shaking stopped.
“Oh. Good. I miss him.”
“He misses you. And he’s hungry.” She giggled.
“Poor ChuChu. He’s lucky he’s got you for a friend.”
“I don’t spoil him like you do.”
“No, you spoil him worse,” I griped.
“That would not be possible.”
“That’s weird, because that’s what happens.”
“Go to sleep, silly.”
“Na…you…go to sleep.”
“You’re sleepy. I can tell.”
“Yeah, yeah. I guess I am. But I don’t…spoil him…like you…do…cos…”
Chapter 8: The Sword of Logos
I awoke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, with pain burning a laser-hole through my abdomen. It was unbearable. Groaning, I curled up in a ball. The pain filled up all my awareness. Hazily I felt Anthy curve around my back and heard her sleepy voice call my name. After I don’t know how long, I became aware that my head was somehow now in her lap, and she was half-forcing me to drink down some cloudy liquid. After another incalculable passage of time, I came back to myself as the pain faded to manageable levels. I was still in Anthy’s lap with her hands stroking slowly through my long hair. I sighed and snuggled closer.
“Better?” she asked softly.
“Yeah.” I sighed again. I felt safe, a feeling I had come to associate with her.
“Can you sit up? I didn’t want to disturb your rest by re-bandaging.”
“Yeah sure.” It was actually quite the effort, but I managed it with her help, and some huffing and puffing on my part. During the effort I realized my breasts were still bare, and I felt my cheeks warm. It wasn’t that Anthy hadn’t seen me naked before, for various reasons. It was more that it felt good to have her see me this way, although that was stupid because I was sick after all, and there was no way she would even be looking because…my feverish thoughts didn’t make sense, even to me.
“Lean forward,” she said, so I did, resting my head against her shoulder for support. Very carefully her hands reached around me and started unwrapping the bandage.
“Does it hurt?” she asked for the second time that night.
“It’s alright,” I said. But I was unable to suppress a whimper when her hands brushed my back. They stilled immediately. I waited for a wave of pain and nausea to pass, breathing into her neck. She waited with me.
“Ready?” she asked. I clenched the sheets in my fists and nodded slightly against her. Very slowly she unwrapped the bandage, waiting several more times for me to manage the resulting pain. My fists were clenched so tightly they were starting to ache.
Finally the bandage was off, and Anthy’s gentle fingers moved over my heated skin, checking the area around the puncture.
“Is it bleeding?” I managed to choke out, my voice muffled by her neck. I spit out a bit of her hair. I trembled, half afraid she’d say yes.
“No, it’s stopped.” Her voice was anxious. She pulled back, holding me in place by my shoulders as she studied my stomach.
“How is it?” I asked, sneaking a gaze downward. I saw a barely healed scab, positioned exactly where the scar had been. The skin around it was inflamed. I heard someone whimpering, a pitiful weak sound. With some shock I realized it was me, and that I couldn’t stop. Anthy’s hands tightened on my shoulders.
“Utena!” she pleaded. “It’s alright. You’re alright. You’re here now, with me. Not there. Not there. Never again.” The whimpering subsided, and then to my horror I began to cry. At this Anthy pulled me forward into her embrace, and I sobbed into her soft hair. I wept for a long time. The volatile combination of pain, fear, past and fever overtook me, and I barely knew where I was anymore. Anthy was stroking my upper back, her hands blessedly cool on my bare skin. When I had calmed somewhat, she wrapped new bandages. I watched her hands, as I alternated between sniffling, and concentrating on breathing past the pain.
My half-formed thoughts were chaotic. I didn’t recognize myself. Where was my strength, my spine? What was wrong with me? I had always comforted Anthy, hadn’t I? Yet now she was always the one to comfort me. It felt so wrong. I hated feeling weak, and utterly like a girl. But I couldn’t hate Anthy’s closeness, or her cool hands brushing my body. We were together somehow, and that was all that really mattered. Wasn’t it? I silently watched her finish, put away the kit, and guide me back beneath the covers.
Lying on our sides face to face, with one of her hands resting lightly on my hip, I began to feel better.
“Sleep,” she told me. “I’ll stay with you.” It was hard to answer honestly but I made the effort.
“It hurts too much. But stay with me anyway.” She smiled a little.
“You’ve got a fever,” she noted.
“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know why I’m always the sick one lately. When are you gonna need taking care of?” Her hand slid up over my side, and then moved to my face, cupping my cheek.
“You always do that,” she said. I finally smiled back.
We lay in silence for awhile. She stroked my hair some more. It helped me move past the lingering pain.
“Hey Himemiya,” I said eventually. “What did he do to me? How did this…” My voice trailed off, but she seemed to know what I meant.
“I don’t know,” she said carefully, “but I think he…stabbed you.”
“With a sword?” I asked.
We were silent again.
“It must be how the swords work…in this world,” Anthy mused, her eyes very bleak. “Words of hate, working like invisible swords.” Her hand stilled. “My words. He used my words. He used the sword I gave him.” I stared at her. There was no point in denying it. Although I had denied it up to now, those words still hung between us. It cost me a lot not to change the subject.
“H…Himemiya,” I started hesitantly, “I know you didn’t mean it.”
“Do you?” she looked at a point somewhere over my shoulder. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem like that.” My breath hitched. I felt like crying again.
“I’m sorry,” I said helplessly. “I couldn’t be your prince.” Her eyes snapped back to mine with something like shock.
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing,” I mumbled. My head was aching now, pounding in rhythm to my heart. I was so hot. With her eyes on me, it was too hot for comfort. “I don’t know what I mean.”
“You are a prince.” Her hand was suddenly hard where she gripped my chin and forced me to look at her. “Utena, you are my prince. We wouldn’t be here if that hadn’t been true all along. I’m shocked, you’re shocked, everybody’s shocked. But we’re here. What will it take to get that through your thick skull?!”
I stared at her incredulously. I didn’t know how to respond. Aggression was so rare for Anthy, and name-calling was rarer still.
Finally I muttered:
“Thick skull? Uh, doesn’t that seem a bit harsh?”
“It seems appropriate,” she snapped back. I realized with a jolt that she’d lost her temper. It was a first. I’d certainly never been on the receiving end. The revelation sent me from miserable to ecstatic in a few crazy heartbeats.
“Okay, okay, you win,” I told her, smiling conciliatorily. “I’m thick, and you’re right.” She narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
“I know I’m right.” We stared intensely at each other and then…
She flashed a sudden grin, in that new and especially shocking fashion of hers.
“I suppose ‘thick’ is a little harsh. Since you realize I’m right.”
I grinned back. I reached out to entwine my fingers with hers.
“I think we just had our first real fight,” I murmured.
Anthy blushed. It was cute.
“Oh we’ve argued before,” she murmured back. “Just not so…overtly.”
“I like it,” I told her boldly.
She just sighed affectionately.
“Have we really argued before? Really?”
“Oh yes.” Her eyes twinkled as she assumed a demure expression. “I won then too.”
Another long while passed of lying in the dark, trying not to dwell on the constant aching. Anthy was humming something under her breath as she played with my hair. It was wildly pretty. Like her. I thought to ask:
“Is this…what it was like…for you?”
Her hand stilled again, before slowly starting to smooth back my bangs.
“I don’t know,” she said, “what is it like for you?”
I fiddled with her nightgown where the skirt draped over her thigh.
“Um, like fire I guess. That burns me and won’t stop burning.”
“Yes,” she said her voice a little distant, “and eventually it burns so much that your body shuts down to it. You become numb.”
I felt my breath catch in my throat. Silence stretched between us. Slowly I said:
“But you had the million swords to deal with. I only have one.”
“For now,” she reminded me gently. “We don’t know what happened to the swords.” A slight pause. “Do we?” I felt myself tense. Given our position, it was impossible for her not to have felt it too.
“Himemiya,” I said, and my voice broke disturbingly on her name. “I…I can’t bear to think about…that. Not yet.”
“Okay.” Her voice was so gentle just then. “Okay.” More silence.
“I’m sorry,” I said, clutching at her skirt, “so sorry. That I didn’t see. That I didn’t pay attention to your pain. I was so selfish…”
Her fingers moved to graze my lips, stopping me.
“You saw what I wanted you to see,” she told me. “And you saw a lot more than any other, without even knowing it.” Her voice was thoughtful. “You sometimes saw more than me.”
“I did?” my voice was wondering. My lips tingled where they brushed against her fingers. I could hear the smile in her voice as she answered.
“Yes, Utena. You still do.”
“But I was still selfish,” I told her.
“So was I.”
I managed a smile against her teasing fingers.
“So we’re both bad?”
“Only if we’re both good.”
“Okay, okay, you win.”
“Like always,” she said with deliberate calm.