Chapter 19: For Friendship
I woke before Anthy and just lay there, enjoying the sensation of her body cuddled up to mine. She was warm, and smelled like our cotton sheets mixed with…ChuChu. Wrinkling my nose I realized that was because ChuChu was carked out on my chest, emitting disproportionately loud snores. I didn’t want to wake Anthy (or ChuChu for that matter) after what we’d been through. In fact I felt so weary myself that I drifted back to sleep, oddly soothed by the snoring.
* * *
When I woke again I sat up, pulled the sheet back, and just looked at Anthy. I mean I really looked, drinking her in like I hadn’t seen her for 5 lonely years. She opened her eyes and gazed back serenely, not surprised at all.
“I don’t understand,” I told her, eyes lingering on her cheekbones, her eyelashes, her slightly parted lips. “I don’t care,” I added, and pressed my body to hers, knee between her thighs, our breasts sweetly brushing. My hands on either side of her body held me up so she didn’t get crushed, but lowered me enough that she could feel all my burning body. She gasped but didn’t say anything, just lifted her hands to frame my face as I lowered my lips to hers. Our kiss was fierce: possessive on my part and filled with her surrender.
I thought about her on that god-forsaken rock clutching me to her, getting blood all over her pretty pink travelling outfit. I remembered her in armor plate the color of her bridal gown, leading the way to and then through the castle of eternity. I thought about her making up a new ritual, and reaching into the thorns to pull out the sword she’d pretty much pushed in herself.
She was the catalyst, and I was the effect. I didn’t really understand the first thing about…anything. But I understood one thing with every atom of my being: we were meant to be together. Anthy had saved me. Just like I’d saved her.
“My prince,” I whispered against her lips, testing the taste of those words, causing her to gasp and arch under me.
“No,” she protested weakly, “I’m not a…”
I cut her off, kissing away her dissent. My knee moved against her center purposefully, and she moaned, sending shudders through me. I found myself flushing as I kissed the corner of her lips, the softness of her cheek, the delicate shell of her ear. Did I even know what to do? God, I’d never been with a woman; I’d barely been with a man. Yet I knew I wanted to be with Anthy…to possess her, to become the world for her.
It didn’t matter that I didn’t know; it wouldn’t stop me figuring it out. I nibbled the curve of her left ear, causing her to giggle and buck slightly beneath me. Glancing over I caught her wondering eyes, which seemed entranced by whatever was burning in mine.
“You’re mine,” I told her, and it was an arrogant affirmation and a desperate question all in one. Her eyes widened, and her hands twined about my neck. I bent to kiss the pulsepoint at her neck: it was hammering out of control.
“You’ve never said that before,” she whispered. Her voice was trembling. “I always wished you would.”
“Everyone else said it,” I murmured between kisses, trailing a line of them down her throat. “I wanted you to be free, to be your own.”
Yet sudden doubt crept into me. Had it been wrong to say it? Why had I?
Tentatively I licked the hollow at the base of Anthy’s neck. She moaned again, a low and husky sound. Her hands entangled in my hair, holding me to her, to that spot. Obligingly I kissed her there again. My fear faded as her head arched back helplessly at the contact. Surely the rose bride did not show her desire. I licked and nibbled and pressed kisses to this newly discovered spot, enjoying how Anthy gasped and tensed against me, then writhed against my knee. It made me dizzy to see her helpless like this…
I gasped and tried to pull away. Immediately her hands trapped my wrists, and her bedroom eyes found me through her thoroughly tousled hair.
“Don’t stop,” she pleaded, and it was strange to hear her voice fairly ache with need, when she’d always been so self-contained.
My eyes moved to the hollow of her neck again, than flickered away as the sense of power made me hot and guilty all at once.
“I am my own,” she insisted, looking oddly frustrated. Once again I wondered how she could read me (most of the time) so very easily. She tugged at my hands (futilely), and sighed when I still didn’t follow. “I am my own,” she repeated, “and I choose to be yours.”
“I’m yours too,” I murmured but I hid my eyes from her, feeling shame as I thought of her helplessness beneath me. The memory of her writhing there made me burn, made me pulse inside and out with wanting to make it so again. Yet I didn’t, I held myself in check. It wasn’t right, it couldn’t be right. Anthy had been the rose bride for so long, with everyone taking and being above. She couldn’t want that now…
Silence stretched between us, my wrists trapped in her hold as I knelt over her still half-trying to rise, my eyes hidden beneath my bangs. I knew she was thinking, desperately scheming. I knew that much about her now.
“I know,” she admitted finally and I darted a glance into her guileless green gaze, so like Akio’s in this moment.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I burst out, scared suddenly that she would trick me, and this was too important for her to be doing that. She blinked up at me, and I dared to meet her eyes head on. “I don’t want to hurt you,” I repeated, “I want to protect you. I know other people have…hurt you…”
“That’s over now,” she said, quietly, firmly.
“Yes,” I agreed.
“You want to protect me,” she murmured, eyes growing crafty in a way that made me cringe. “But you also want to make me yours. To take me.”
“To possess me,” she continued relentlessly. “To make me yours, forever, only yours. Princess to your prince. Bride to your victor. Sheath to your sword.”
“No,” I protested weakly, my arms trembling in her vine-like grip. “No.”
“Yes,” she whispered, “and it’s what I want too.”
“What?” My eyes moved to the hollow of her neck, than guiltily tracked back to hers.
“Take me,” she purred seductively, her voice curving all around me like smoke. There was magic to her in that moment, magic in her voice and in the heat of her eyes. Everything she said was true. Everything she said was a lie.
“I can’t do this,” I told her, trying again (unsuccessfully) to draw back. “I want to but…” My voice fairly shook. She still wasn’t letting go.
“What?” she pressed, looking a little less seductive and a little more confused.
“This is the way it’s always been,” I told her, hands clenching convulsively. “For you. Isn’t it? It doesn’t matter that it’s different now, that you really want me, it’s too close to before, to what you’re used to. I want to, Anthy, believe me, I’ve never wanted anything more.” My voice shook with passion as Anthy blinked up at me, looking very much like she didn’t understand.
“But I don’t trust myself,” I admitted, avoiding looking at her at all now, at any of her temptingly supplicated body (like a goddess on a sacrificial alter. Begging you to take up the knife). “I don’t trust…what I want.”
“You want me.” She said it like it was simple, like there was no question whatsoever. I took a deep breath.
“Yeah, of course I do. But I love you too.” Our eyes met and clashed, and slid off our warring viewpoints.
She blinked, and let me go. I scuttled back, moving my knee from between her legs, and perching on the end of the bed. Hesitantly I reached out to touch one of her feet. Slowly I raised my eyes to meet hers, and saw she had her arms crossed and was glaring at me but not with any real heat. Turning red I looked down.
“You’re wrong about this,” she told me, sounding resigned. “It isn’t about right and wrong. It isn’t about strong and weak and being the prince.”
That was very direct for Anthy. I flushed hotly and tried not to look too apologetic. Who knew, maybe she was right. I only knew that it had felt like something was wrong and I’d always followed my instincts. And that I needed a cold shower.
* * *
After my shower I didn’t see Anthy until I found her in the dining room with everyone else. In what felt like a parody of a normal day I sat down next to her and accepted the steaming cup of tea she poured me. We had breakfast: Saionji had fried up eggs that he’d discovered in the kitchen. They were rather good – he was a much better cook than say, Anthy. I studiously avoided looking at Touga…I knew that it would only make me want to leap up and challenge him to a duel. It was easier than I expected since he was distracted by Nanami’s constant demands for attention. She seemed more whiny than usual, almost nervous.
Once I glanced over to find Juri watching me not watch Touga. She arched one fine brow at me. Glancing over to catch Anthy’s covert head-shake, I shrugged at my friend. Her other eyebrow arched, even higher. Miserably I flushed. Juri opened her mouth (no doubt to fire questions), but fortunately ChuChu raced across the table to dance in her food. Stifling swearwords (not very successfully), Juri was up and trying one-handed to catch him. Anthy was apologizing in her sweetest tones. Saionji was roaring with laughter and then screaming obscenities as ChuChu turned to race across his plate. A disgusted Juri left to search for uncontaminated food as Saionji upset the table in his efforts to trap his arch-enemy.
Needless to say, breakfast was normal. Disturbingly normal.
Shouldn’t something be happening?
* * *
That afternoon I sunbaked facedown on the roof in a tiny pink and white striped bikini. Don’t ask me where Anthy had found it…she’d been smiling smugly when she handed it over. I’d never worn such a thing before: yet it seemed the thing to do when tanning. I felt weird though, what if someone attacked while I was wearing it? And why hadn’t anyone attacked?
The roof had been Anthy’s mild suggestion when I’d started pacing with boredom. At first I’d refused, thinking of the last time we were there. But she’d pointed out that we be alone, which was incentive enough. And hey, since nothing was happening (why?!), we might as well take advantage of the hotel’s facilities. You could only spend so long in the gym.
So I sunbaked, trying to forget my impatience. Nearby Anthy played cards with ChuChu, kneeling by the sunlounge.
“Why haven’t we told anyone about Touga-san?” I asked her finally, noting absently that the lime-green sundress she wore suited her very well. I’d wanted to ask her what the holdup was since breakfast, but things were a little awkward between us.
“We’re waiting,” she told me, and from the corner of my eye I watched her lower her cards a little so that ChuChu could cheat more easily. The crafty little beast always cheated.
“For?” I wondered aloud.
“Akio-san,” she told me. “We know he’s coming.”
“Shouldn’t we er…tell the others?” I asked, flipping onto my side so I could see her better. “Juri & Kyouichi should definitely know about Touga-san.”
Her eyes flickered toward me at the familiar forms of address. I couldn’t tell if she was surprised or not, her face was poker-like courtesy of the card game. Or maybe it was just poker-like.
“And what about Nanami-san?” I fumbled on. “She’s his sister! And Wakaba and Miki-kun…”
This time Anthy favored me with an openly curious look.
“Why what?” I wondered, swinging myself up into a seated position.
“Why should we tell them?” she murmured, carefully laying out a card on the pavement between us. “Their likely reactions will not serve us.”
“Huh?” I said, staring down at the card. It didn’t look like a regular card to me…it showed what was either a beggar or a jester being chased by a dog.
Anthy’s voice was patient. “Arisugawa-senpai would confront Touga-san. Saionji-senpai would lose his temper. Nanami-san would become hysterical. Wakaba-san would…overreact. Miki-san would worry, and stop thinking clearly.”
I blinked at her in amazement. Her predictions sounded accurate and I hadn’t thought of any of that myself.
“How do you know?” I persisted weakly. “Anything could happen really…”
Anthy shrugged. “I know,” she claimed, studying a second card in her hand before laying it beside the first. Her eyes flickered to mine and away in an instant. “I know people.”
“Did you…” I took a deep breath, uncertain as to why the question burning on my lips disturbed me so. “Uh did you…know what I would do? When Tsuwabuki-kun er…told me?”
Silence. We both looked at the second card for something to do. Two figures fell from a burning tower, which had just been struck by lightning. I shuddered. Anthy’s lips pursed. ChuChu stopped playing cards and ambled over to sit on her knee. He studied the cards too as for all the world he understood them.
“No, Utena,” Anthy said finally, favoring me with a small smile. “You…surprised me.” Again, said the soft look in her eyes. I blushed and looked away feeling oddly relieved.
“Oh,” I said, “hmm good. Er, I thought you were playing poker?”
“No,” she corrected, “Italian Tarocchini.”
“But now I’m reading the tarot,” she continued calmly.
“The what?” I asked, leaning closer to peer over her shoulder.
Clever fingers selected a card (seemingly at random to me), and smoothly placed it beside the others. We both stared at a spoked wheel, surrounded by four winged beasts.
“Tarot cards can be used to divine answers,” Anthy explained, before flashing a sudden smile. “I asked the cards about you.”
“When?” I asked, filled with curiosity (I often felt that way around her). Getting up I moved to kneel beside her, our bare thighs touching. She smirked just a little, and setting the deck aside brushed one hand briefly along my cheek. I sighed with relief, realizing she wasn’t going to hold the morning against me.
Her voice was playful. “I didn’t ask them aloud.”
I knew I was blinking at her again, but I couldn’t help it. Instead I decided to look at the cards. More for reassurance than anything, I reached for her nearby hand.
“Tell me what they mean?”
Her fingers curled through mine.
“The first card is the past,” she said softly. “The fool.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” I muttered. To my surprise she giggled.
“No, it’s fine. “He represents the childlike search, knowing beyond reason, and appreciation of beauty.” Her voice slowed, became thoughtful. “He is standing on the edge of a cliff, about to step off heedlessly into something new.”
“Sounds exciting,” I decided. Unexpectedly Anthy leaned over and kissed my cheek.
“You would say that,” she murmured.
“What’s the second card, this burning tower?” I asked, my eyes skittering nervously over the flames. Anthy’s hand tightened on mine.
“It’s the present,” she murmured. “The tower can mean many things, as can all the cards.” She sighed. “Here I read it to mean a crisis and a revelation.” She turned to look me head on. “Realizing the truth.”
“Sounds like last night,” I said without thinking, and my mouth dropped open. “Er, is it, do you think?”
“Yes,” she said simply, squeezing my hand again. “It fits.”
Simultaneously we gazed at the last card.
“Is that…the future then?” I wondered, stretching out my free hand toward it.
“Yes,” said Anthy simply.
“And?” I asked.
“It’s the wheel of fortune.” For the first time she sounded uncertain. “It means…something is about to happen.”
“We knew that,” I grumbled. Anthy ignored me to explain.
“It could be a turning point. Yet when I ask the cards for our meaning they favor destiny, the superior force of fate.”
“Uh…” I didn’t know what to say. Put like that, I had absolutely no idea what the cards were supposed to be saying. I glanced sidelong at her, noting that she looked worried. That wasn’t good. That wasn’t good at all.
“Oh well,” I said finally, wanting to cheer her up. “I don’t know if I believe in this tarotic stuff anyway.”
“Tarot,” she corrected me automatically, looking vaguely shocked. Maybe saying something like that was a kind of blasphemy to her.
“We make our own destiny,” I stated firmly. Now it was her turn to blink at me.
“We need a plan,” I went on, suddenly sure of the right way forward. “And we need the others. We have to tell the others.”
Anthy blinked again.
“They have a right to know,” I told her, “even if they’ll react in a silly way. We’ll just talk them out of it, so we can all plan together what we should do. We’re in this together.”
“In what together?” Juri’s clear tones rang through the open air as she and Miki stepped out the elevator and onto the roof. I grinned at her superb timing and waved, pleased to see them.
Beside me Anthy frowned. ChuChu leapt down to gather up the cards which he shoved desperately under Anthy’s skirt. Her hand tightened on mine, and I placed my free hand comfortingly on top.
“It’s okay,” I told her quietly, as Juri and Miki came toward us.
She nodded but her face was carefully blank.
“Trust me,” I whispered. Her eyes shifted off to the side for one second, and then fluttered back to mine. She gave an almost imperceptible nod. I can’t be blamed for grinning like a fool.
* * *
Clouds skudded across the sky, blocking out the sun. We had retired to sit around a stone-table in one corner of the roof garden. Even I couldn’t miss the appreciative looks the newcomers gave my bikini. A poker-faced Anthy had retrieved my old uniform jacket (from where I wondered), and helped me put it on. Now that we were sitting I saw that Juri looked as serious as I had ever seen her. Miki just looked nervous.
“Anthy-san,” he began tentatively, “I need your help.”
She inclined her head inquiringly.
“I have to see Kozue,” he explained, his tone taking on a tinge of desperation. “I kn…know that you have…er, abilities, and I wonder if there is a way you could help me…go to her. I have to see her! I have to know she’s alright!”
I gasped. Juri scowled. Anthy looked mildly surprised.
“She’s with Akio-san,” she told him, as though that should settle it. Miki looked like he was about to cry.
“Yes, I know, but…but, I just have to make sure she’s okay. She’s my twin. My twin. Please. Please will you help?”
“He can’t stop worrying about her,” put in Juri, now scowling directly at Anthy. “And since this damnable hotel doesn’t have a piano…” She shrugged. “Or a stopwatch…”
A long pause. Feeling sorry for Miki’s obvious misery I looked over to beg Anthy with my eyes. She merely looked confused. A pause.
“It isn’t wise,” she said finally.
Shockingly tears began to run down Miki’s cheeks. Juri put her uninjured hand on his shoulder, while simultaneously gazing into the distance so he wouldn’t feel embarrassed. I think he was past the point of noticing.
“Screw wise,” she muttered furiously. “Either you can help or you can’t. Or you won’t.”
“Anthy,” I broke in, “can you help Miki-kun?”
She focused on me, easily brushing off Juri’s icy rage.
“It’s not safe.” And then, “I need to…conserve power."
“Well maybe we could try something er small, and not too dangerous,” I tried, feeling awfully sorry for Miki. “Like uh…just look in on Kaoru-san wherever she is.”
Anthy blinked at me.
“If he’s there,” she finally murmured, “he’ll see us.” I knew she meant Akio. We all knew that. I shivered.
“Please,” I said anyway, Miki’s tears making my own eyes damp. “I think Miki-kun needs this.”
Anthy looked down.
“What if it was me?” I asked her, and she looked up again sharply, and suddenly her heart was in her eyes. In that instant it was clear to me: if it was me Anthy would have already been there.
Juri watched us both, obviously biting back an angry tirade. Anthy blinked again and I saw the beginnings of compassion dawn in the very edges of her expression, as she started to understand. ChuChu suddenly rushed out from under the table to climb sobbing on Miki’s lap. It reminded me of the nights back at Ohtori I’d found him weeping in his sleep.
Miki was so surprised he managed to stop crying himself.
“I’ll scry for her,” said Anthy, and that was that.
* * *
We all peered down into a small stone bowl filled with pool-water, which Anthy had placed at the table’s centre. Vague images flickered therein, but when Miki leaned closer Juri pulled him back gently.
“It’s just reflections,” she told him, suspicion burning bright in the eyes she fixed so intently on Anthy. “Himemiya-san hasn’t started yet.”
I looked to see if that was true then gasped as I caught a silvery glimpse of metal. Anthy’s hand clutching my bicep pulled me back.
“It’s just reflections,” she repeated Juri’s words firmly, though with a slightly different emphasis. I stared at her. She ran her other hand soothingly up and down my arm. Taking a deep breath I nodded, and tried not to look in the bowl. After all, Anthy hadn’t done this scrying thing yet. It wasn’t time to look.
Letting go of me she carefully folded her palms in a prayer-like gesture, then turned them down and swept them apart. The graceful motions reminded me of when she dressed me for the duels. More clouds scudded across the sky. Tension began to fill the air. Anthy was whispering, some kind of mantra that made my skin crawl with energy and which I couldn’t quite hear no matter how close I leaned to her. I only caught the words “Kaoru Kozue” and “aspectus”, “visum”, and “oraculum”.
Then Anthy’s hands moved again and the wind blew wildly around us, sweeping my long hair into my eyes so I could no longer see what she was doing. Frantically I brushed at it, wanting to see, and…
“Kozue!” Miki’s voice was shaking.
I brushed my bangs aside and stared at the scene. We were standing all of us in a dingy hospital room, between 2 beds. The curtains were pulled aside and it was easy to make out the sleeping occupants. With a glad cry Miki stumbled to his sister’s side, and clutched her limp hand in his. At the other bed staring down at Takatsuki Shiori stood Juri, her face a porcelain mask of pain.
I gasped and clutched for Anthy’s hand without looking away from Juri. But by the time Anthy’s hand was nestled safely in mine Juri’s expression was contained again. She looked perfectly composed and in control of the situation. In contrast Miki was bending over his sister and begging her to wake up. I turned my head to gape down at Anthy.
“We’re there,” she murmured distantly, weakly. And then, “this wasn’t mean to happen.” Her hand was cold in mine.
“Are you okay?” I asked her, suddenly more concerned by the barely discernable pallor of her cheeks, than by whatever the heck was happening now. She swayed a little and I moved instantly to support her, wrapping my arms around her waist from behind. Sagging back gratefully, her eyelashes fluttered closed.
“Yes,” she murmured. “Just need to…rest…a moment.”
I bit my lip, unhappy at the vulnerability I suddenly perceived in Anthy, and in the situation. Why the hell hadn’t I listened to her reservations?
“Wake up,” cried Miki, one hand wrapped in his sister’s, on hand stroking at her cheek. “Kozue? Can’t you hear me?”
“She’s in a coma,” Juri told us, not that Miki was listening. She’d moved from Shiori’s bed to Kozue’s and was examining her chart. “Head trauma apparently.”
“And Takatsuki-san?” I asked, holding Anthy tightly.
Juri looked at her feet. “Broken wrist,” she noted in almost a monotone. “Left, the same as mine.” She looked up harshly. “I’m sick of these damn coincidences.”
I gaped at her not sure what to say. It did sound like a rather big coincidence. But I didn’t like the way she was now glaring at Anthy.
“We have to get out of here,” I told her, wanting to distract her rage, and also wanting to act. “Anthy said earlier that Akio-san would be here.”
“Yes,” said Juri coldly. “Yes she did.”
I glared at her, the insinuation making my skin crawl. But before I could say anything the tension was broken by a weak whisper.
“Shiori!” Juri took a few steps toward her friend’s bed, as though pulled by an invisible chain.
“Juri-san? What are you doing here?”
“I…” For the first time I saw Juri at a loss for words.
“We’re here to rescue you,” I said into the glaring silence, aware of a sudden tension in the body I held so closely. Juri’s shoulders stiffened, and Miki looked up from his twin, his eyes huge with hope.
“Rescue?” gasped Shiori, her own eyes so wide they seemed to fill her childlike face.
“Yes, I answered, or decided really even as my hands smoothed soothingly at Anthy’s hips. “You need to be rescued too.”
“What?” mumbled Shiori, actually clutching at Juri’s nearby uninjured arm in her shock. “Juri-san? You came…for me?”
Juri stared down at her former friend for long icy moments. I saw her shoulders firm again, and knew she was about to answer cuttingly. I leapt in again before she could.
“Of course,” I told Shiori. I turned to Juri. “Can you help her up?” Juri was staring at me, expression unreadable, hands shaking slightly. But there was no time for hesitation now, only time to move.
“Miki-kun, you’ll have to carry Kaoru-san,” I told him apologetically.
“That’s fine,” he said eagerly, turning to his friend. “Help me get her on piggy-back?” With something like relief Juri left Shiori’s side to help him. Shiori managed to sit up on her own.
“Utena,” murmured Anthy, lithely turning in my arms to gaze up at me. “What are you doing?” She was still a little unsteady for all her grace, I could see it in how her lashes brushed her cheeks a moment too long. Once again I smoothed my hands over her hips.
“What needs to be done,” I told her gently. She blinked at me.
“They went to him of their own accord,” she told me softly, pleadingly. “They’re with Akio-san.” Her hands lifted to clutch my elbows. “This…isn’t wise.”
“But it’s right.” I was passionate, and unsure why, heedless really. “Anthy…we both know your brother only tells lies. Whatever he told them, whatever he promised them to get their cooperation…it’s all lies.”
“They chose,” she repeated weakly.
“They didn’t know what the were choosing,” I declared.
“Oh really?” Shiori’s voice wasn’t weak anymore. She was sitting up in bed, with a most disturbing smile on her pretty face. More disturbing than that by far was the pistol she held pointed at Anthy’s back.
Chapter 20: The Way We Were
I stared wide-eyed and open mouthed at Shiori and her pistol (just like the tea house…), being cocked by a hand that didn’t shake for all that it was in a cast.
“Damn,” swore Juri softly, from where she stood by Miki’s side, helping him support his unconscious twin on his back. I gasped again as Kozue’s eyes unexpectedly opened, and she winked at me from over Miki’s shoulder. I was the only one in the room who could see her face.
Anthy had tensed in my arms although her face remained calm.
“What do you want, Takatsuki-san?” she asked politely, without so much as turning her head.
“Just this,” purred Shiori, and without further ado her finger squeezed the trigger.
“NO!” I screamed, exploding into action.
There wasn’t time, not the time needed to save Anthy, or to stop a bullet. There wasn’t time to do anything but scream and move against all reason in a futile effort to stop the inevitable. To stop fate.
With everything I had I moved. I threw Anthy to the floor bodily, the force of my own body knocking her down and covering her up. Reality whirled confusingly, a sickly blend of blurring colors and harsh jangling screams. I tasted blood, and smelled burning steel. White light filled my vision, effectively blinding me. Beneath me I felt Anthy, soft warm Anthy and I held to her like she was the only thing that was real. She was real, with me, the only one who mattered. I held her there; I wouldn’t let her go.
Gradually the light faded. I blinked, trying to clear spots from my tearing vision. The acrid smell of metal faded somewhat, drowning in the sudden scent of crushed roses. I wrinkled my nose and lifted my head, glancing all around, trying to make out what was happening and who was where. Beneath me Anthy coughed weakly and stirred; I felt her palms pressed against my chest. I blinked furiously, finally able to make out blurry shapes. Was Anthy…lying in rose petals? Were we? Where were the others…I couldn’t see them anywhere.
Warily I pushed myself up with my forearms, then staggered up onto my knees. Nope. Nobody in sight. Where was Shiori? Desperately I looked all around. I didn’t understand what I saw, mostly because it was impossible. The hospital room, gone. The others, non-existent. Instead I saw what appeared to my untrained eye to be a platform of a billion roses, suspended in a sunny blue sky. A…garden. Relieved and flabbergasted I sank back on my heels.
Anthy took the opportunity to sit up in one graceful motion. She appeared just as shocked as I was, also gazing around in awe. I watched dumbly as she plucked a nearby rose and held it aloft, studying it carefully. Thoughtfully she lowered her head to breathe its scent. Just as thoughtfully she offered it to me.
I took it automatically, and then smelled it too, because really, what else did one do in a bizarre scenario like this? It smelled like Anthy. Roses always smelled like Anthy to me now.
“Amazing,” she was saying, studying me and not the rose. “How?”
I stared at her. There was nothing to say. I didn’t know how…I didn’t even know what. She seemed to take my silence as the answer it was, because she nodded slowly. Then she cocked her head and patted the ground next to her. Perhaps sensing my jarring sense of displacement she didn’t reach for me. Carefully she watched me, and waited for me to act on my own.
After a pause I did. Scooting over to sit by Anthy (in the crushed rose petals), I reasoned that being close to her was always better anyway. Her hand was turned up, resting on her knee: waiting for mine when I was ready. I took a steadying breath, noting that I didn’t feel too good. My hands were clammy, and I could still taste blood. Swallowing against the bitter tang I wiped my damp hand on my jacket. For the first time I noticed it was white, tasseled in gold and jewels. My clothes were that of the prince. I wasn’t surprised, nothing could surprise me right now. Gratefully I gathered up Anthy’s waiting hand.
“Where are we?” I asked, knowing implicitly that she would know that at least.
“Another Ohtori Academy,” she answered just as calmly. “This is the rose garden.”
“Oh,” I said, gazing blankly at the carpet of roses which seemed to be blurring into a sea of blood, no doubt due to my fogging vision. Or maybe that’s what it really was. Maybe that was why I didn’t like roses, no matter how much Anthy did. “It’s not a bird cage,” I murmured absently.
“No it’s not,” agreed Anthy. “It was different here.”
“But kinda the same,” I guessed, even as I wondered what on earth she could be talking about.
“Yes,” she said. Her hand squeezed mine slightly and her voice became distant. “You were…different. Hurting.”
At that I turned my head to gaze at her. The wind picked up and her hair cascaded back from her face in a beautiful wave. Rose petals whirled around her profile. I reached over with my free hand and pushed a stray strand behind her ear. She regarded me solemnly, a hint of a smile playing on her lips.
“I was?” I said, still not knowing what the hell she was talking about. But I wasn’t upset, or disturbed, or confused. Those things took energy, and all that mattered was that we were safe and together. Somehow.
“Yes,” she whispered, “but I…I don’t really remember it. Or I only remember it now while we’re here again. A little.”
“Like a dream,” I agreed, thinking that it was true I’d seen this all before, sat in this very spot with my head pressed to her soft lap. It had been night, hadn’t it? Yes, a starry night. Simultaneously I’d never been here; we weren’t even here right now. We were…where were we?
“You stepped between worlds,” she said, as though she knew what I was thinking. “I think you’re also the reason we went to the hospital, instead of just looking in.”
“Hmm,” I murmured because I had the strangest feeling she was right, even though I didn’t know myself how I’d done any such thing. “The power of Dios?” I guessed a second later. Her hand tightened on mine.
“The power of Utena,” she decided, and then she actually grinned. I smiled back automatically, such was the power of a true smile on her face. They were still rare enough that each one seemed a miracle. My insides warmed and I began to feel better.
“It’s hardly a power if you have no clue how to use it,” I mock-grumbled, getting to my feet and hauling her up too. She actually laughed.
“I’ll tell you a secret. Dios wasn’t all that sure either. But he liked to act sure.”
I stared down at her thinking that she’d never actually talked about her brother with me. Everything I knew about Dios was gleaned from Akio’s whispers in my ear, and memories wrapped in dreams. She was smiling now as we clasped hands, looking over the edge of the garden and into the sky. This was a good memory, I could tell. Well, she’d loved her big brother, right? She’d sacrificed everything for him, including her own self. He must have been…remarkable. It made sense. He was the prince, my prince even.
Her eyes flickered back to mine and she stepped into me, moving our hands so mine were on my hips with hers over them, pressing them in place.
“I think I like uncertainty better,” she mused aloud.
I attempted a weak smile. “I can do that.”
She fairly beamed at me. I didn’t understand why she was suddenly ecstatic, but it made me happy too.
“How do you feel?” I asked her, allowing her to keep my hands where she’d chosen, wanting her to be in control when she wanted to be. “Are you okay?”
Her smile faded and she regarded me softly, seriously.
“I’m weak,” she admitted. “He was right about my…power.”
I didn’t have to ask who he was.
“Where can we get you more power?” I asked instead, thinking that it would be a very good idea indeed. With what we’d left behind at the hospital, and Akio looming on the horizon, we needed something up our sleeves. From the way Anthy’s eyes grew huge and her hands stilled on mine I realized she hadn’t considered it in quite that way herself.
“I…” her eyes turned down. “I don’t know.”
She did know, or else she had a suspicion. I figured this out instantly, from the uncertain set of her shoulders, and the hesitation in her voice. Taking my time I thought about it, trying to work out why she was evading. Akio had said she got her power from being the rose bride, right? That she was running out by using it up in magical attacks and defenses, and that soon there wouldn’t be any left…
If she got her power from being the rose bride, then it had to be connected to the power of Dios. We now knew the power rested in his sword, or was at least symbolized by it in some mysterious fashion. Anthy as the rose bride had been the sheath of that sword, its catalyst and carrier.
She was no longer the sheath though. Now that sword was housed in my heart.
But I wasn’t the rose bride (was I? But what about the million swords of hatred?!), I was the prince. So really the sword should be in my hand (shouldn’t it?). Hadn’t Anthy had any power when she was only Dios’ little sister, the only girl in all the world that the prince couldn’t save? The girl who had no choice but to become a witch (he had said), because she couldn’t be a princess (why not?).
My head hurt.
Anthy was looking up again, and studying my expression closely. I realized I never did this, never mused silently on what was going on or what to say. I just acted. Anthy obviously didn’t know what to make of my newfound reticence. Neither did I. I guess what had happened to me would be enough to change anyone.
“Anthy,” I said slowly, before the worry in her eyes could bloom into panic, “can you draw my sword?” Her hands slipped away from mine as her eyes widened.
“Why?” she asked unhappily, and I thought very uncharacteristically.
“Can I?” I asked instead.
Her mouth formed a small o.
“I…I don’t know.”
“Please draw it for me,” I asked again. “I want to try something.”
“Try what?” she queried, hands twisting in front of her.
“It’s okay,” I told her cupping her cheeks very gently. We were close already, it was easy to lean forward and press kisses to her forehead, her nose, her chin. “We’ll work it out together.” I pressed my lips to hers. A moment of hesitation and then her mouth opened to mine, and I felt her relax a little.
A moment of warmth, of wetness and I felt her hands unclenching from each other where they were now pressed between us. As her tongue moved against mine I felt her hands creep up my stomach, and come to rest over my chest. Over my heart. She kissed me passionately then, fiercely. I moaned into the kiss and her hands pressed firmly over my heartsword’s resting place.
Light blazed in my peripheral vision. There was pleasure entwined with pain, a sharp tugging sensation. The sword wanted, no needed to come out; if it came out I would feel a tremendous release, a rightness. It was time, the sword was needed. I arched helplessly underneath Anthy’s questing hands. Her lips drank in my fading kiss, my gasp of reaction. With a graceful motion she drew forth the sword. I stumbled back, and would have fallen if Anthy hadn’t grabbed my hand, then my waist, holding me up and against her warm body.
I trembled in reaction. Anthy’s lips pressed against my neck, and my eyes drifted shut at the sensation. The sword of Dios hung pointed down, held carefully in her left hand.
“Utena,” she murmured against my collarbone, pressing the hilt into my nearby hand. My eyes opened as my hand closed over it. Power and purpose rushed into me, heady and distracting. I no longer felt weak: I felt strong. Raising the sword I kissed the jeweled hilt, noting that my eyes reflected in the gems like gemstones themselves, piercing blue and ready for anything. They were the color of the summer sky, of possibility.
“My prince,” murmured Anthy, awed and sad all at the same time. I turned to her, noting the way she was watching me watch the blade, and began to wonder what that evoked for her. I was more than just Utena to her now (I finally realized). I was the culmination of a long and painful history, the ending of a nightmarish fairytale, or the beginning of a myth into perpetuity. I wasn’t just Utena, I was Dios’ second incarnation, or I was Akio’s fall (quite literally). But she was always Anthy. Always bound to the prince.
It made me sick.
With a stammered curse I threw the sword down at my feet, into the bed of roses. Anthy cried out in sheer reaction. I stared at the sword and she stared at me.
“I’m just Utena,” I muttered, not looking at her, looking very hard at the metal under the red. “I’m not meant to know any of that, it’s not meant for me. It’s not me to think about that stuff, you know it’s not like me.”
“Um,” she said, and it was the first time I’d ever heard her say that. Shocked I glanced up into her equally shocked face.
“W…why,” she cleared her throat and started again. I saw that her hands were knotted in the material of her sundress. “Why did you do that?”
I blinked, seeing that she had absolutely no clue as to why I was acting the way I was. Well, I barely knew myself.
“I…I don’t want to be a prince,” I told her, struggling for the answer, looking at her hands then her lips then her searching gaze. She gasped, a tiny shaky sound. But I stumbled on.
“I mean, I don’t want to be the prince if I have to be the prince…he was. If that’s…the only way to be the prince. You know?”
“Um,” she looked down at the partially hidden sword and then up at me. “B…but…what other way…to be the prince…is there?”
I stared at her, my eyes begging her to understand what I didn’t really understand myself.
“I don’t know,” I admitted, “I want to keep my nobility, and I want to…help people, but I do know I don’t want to go around saving everyone until someone has to save me. The pr…price might be too high to pay. And I don’t want to be Dios! I’m not him, don’t you see that, Anthy? I’m me, whatever that means, whatever that turns out to be. Don’t you see?”
She blinked once, twice. Her eyes were on mine again and they were filled with sudden tears.
“I…yes. Yes, I see.”
I opened my arms, and she came, no rushed into them willingly. We clung together, drowning in this field of roses, in each other. I knew she was crying but I wasn’t.
“Anthy,” I whispered, “the sword holds the power, and I want you to take that for your magic. Do you…know how?”
“I…” she sniffled into my white jacket before drawing back hesitantly. “I think so, yes. But the power is not in the sword.”
“It’s not?” I was shocked.
Anthy wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me down for her fervent kiss. I went willingly. When our lips drifted apart she regarded me with an expression I didn’t recognize but that made me shiver all over.
“It’s your heart,” she said, “my prince. And you truly are a prince.”
“Anthy, I told you…”
“The prince,” she corrected with such certainty that I trailed off uncertainly. “So with your help I’ll borrow power from the sword. Your sword.”
“Uh yeah,” I said, hooking my fingers into the white princely pants of this new uniform, watching as she bent to retrieve the sword. I was still uncertain but Anthy was leading the way now. She came back to me bearing the sword, lifting one hand to wipe blood from the corner of my lips. She peered up at me gravely.
“Are you okay?” It was an echo of my earlier question.
“I think so,” I told her, “just weak y’know, and hmm a little out of it. I…I really don’t know how I did any of that.”
“The power is…new to you,” she said slipping the sword back into my hand. As though it was the most natural thing in the world my fingers curled around the hilt. Her head tipped to one side as she regarded me with sudden concern. “And besides you’re…different to Dios and I.”
“Different?” I murmured, raising the sword and sighting along its narrow blade.
She looked stricken suddenly, in a way that I couldn’t understand. As though she’d just thought of something horrible, something she’d been trying not to think about for a very long time. She stopped talking and looked down. For once I let her evade. I had the strangest feeling that this was something I couldn’t fix, something that should be avoided at all costs.
“Close your eyes,” I told her instead, “I’m going to give you back the sword.”
Startled her eyes flickered up to mine. Then with perfect trust she closed them and waited. I bit my lip in concentration. It was a sudden inspiration; I didn’t know if it would work. But Anthy’s power had come from her role as rose bride, and if she wasn’t that anymore, well she had been for who knew how long, and was a witch besides (whatever that meant). Maybe there was a way to trick the power. To…share it.
I didn’t know Anthy’s incantations, there was really no ritual I could say. Instead I carefully placed the tip of my sword at her heart and whispered to nothing in particular, maybe even to myself:
I closed my eyes and concentrated. The sword. I wanted Anthy to have the sword. She needed it. I wanted her to have it, to be made strong again. Was it my imagination or were my hands growing warm? Slipping an eye open I was delighted to see the familiar glow of power building around the sword hilt. Made confident I slid the sword down, just a little, not wanting to cut Anthy.
I needn’t have worried: the blade slid into her flesh like there was no barrier. In one smooth motion the sword of Dios was buried back in Anthy, where it had been housed for longer than I liked to think. The light faded and I leaned forward to kiss the spot at her breast where the hilt had disappeared.
I felt Anthy’s hands cradling my head to her chest, Anthy’s lips pressing against my hair. I sighed against her skin. As I straightened her arms slid around my waist. She held me tightly.
“Thank you,” she said quietly. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“I wanted to,” I said as I smoothed my hands down her back. “This power…it should be shared, Anthy. For all sorts of reasons.”
“Yes,” she said wonderingly, “I suppose you’re right.”
“How do you feel?” I asked anxiously, stepping back to look her over. “Better?”
“It will take awhile to recharge,” she revealed, but I thought she did look better. Her skin had lost its almost imperceptible pallor.
“Like a battery?” I grinned at the image.
She arched an eyebrow at me.
“You know I’ve never done this,” she told me in faintly chagrining tones. “To bear this sword without…bearing the million swords…it’s unheard of.”
“But surely Dios…”
“He was the prince.” She cut me off. “The sword was his. For me to hold it now without holding it for him…and without the curse that trapped the power…it’s like…” Her eyes darkened. “Blasphemy.”
“If the sword is my heart like you say,” I told her just a little craftily, “then it’s already yours anyway.” I stuck out my tongue. She stared, then slowly smiled. It felt better than winning any duel.
* * *
Reality whirled confusingly again as I focused on the hospital. Anthy had reassured me that the passage of time was different between realities (which made a strange kind of sense), trying to calm me when in panic I remembered the probable fate of my friends.
Holding her hand I found enough connection to the power to step back into the apparently real world. Don’t ask me how I did it. I don’t think I could do it on demand…it was more picturing Miki’s terror and Juri’s cold acceptance of Shiori’s betrayal that made it possible.
Once there I stumbled to my knees while Anthy moved to pick up the only thing of interest in the empty room: a note left on Shiori’s hospital bed.
“He has them,” she told me, choosing to crumple the note rather than read out the contents. Normally I would have questioned her, but my head hurt too much. Instead I waited as she moved back to my side and helped me to my feet. “They’re back at the hotel,” she added.
“It was a trap,” I muttered, tasting blood again. “Damn it. I brought us into a trap.”
Anthy didn’t deny this, but she did run a soothing hand down my cheek.
“Are you able to take us there?” She peered over my shoulder at the bullet wedged in the plasterboard behind us.
“Yes,” I said thickly. Her fingers moved to brush new blood from my lips and I felt the weight of her concern. “No choice,” I added, biting back the urge to cough and trying to straighten up a little more. “Geez, if I have the power, why the hell is this so hard?”
Anthy was silent, and I was pretty sure it wasn’t because she didn’t know the answer. She shifted a little to hold me up better, and placing my arms on her shoulders for balance I closed my eyes and thought about the hotel. It was even harder this time, only the second time I’d made the attempt consciously. I found again that it helped to think about Juri, and the way her hands had trembled as she looked at Shiori in a hospital bed. It helped to think of Miki crying because he needed to find his twin. But it was hard to concentrate properly…I kept thinking about how I’d ignored both Anthy’s and Juri’s protests and insisted on rescuing Akio’s henchwomen. I was such a fool…
When the lobby finally did whirl into being around us, I was dizzy and sick to my stomach.
“He’ll be on the roof,” murmured Anthy, as she helped me, indeed half-carried me to the elevator. Her hands were cool against my over-heated skin. “He likes vantage points and always takes the high ground.”
She knows him so well, I thought morosely.
We gained the lift and I was grateful to slide down a corner into a sitting position, practically sprawled on the floor. Anthy pushed the button for the roof. At a snail’s pace we began our ascent. Sinking down beside me, Anthy curled up with her head on my shoulder and her arm around my waist. I felt her body shake.
“This is it,” she whispered. “The wheel of fate.”
“Rubbish,” I told her weakly, “it’s in our hands.” I twined my fingers through the trembling ones she rested on my stomach. “I hope the swords don’t come,” I muttered almost as an afterthought. “That would be the worst possible timing.”
Anthy froze against me. Hadn’t she thought about that? Suddenly it was all I could think about. Obviously I would have to duel Akio when we got to the roof. I couldn’t see any other way forward. He must have planned this…the hotel was so much like his tower-setup, and the roof was practically made to be an arena. How could I help but lose my focus in the heat of a duel? The million swords of hatred hovered on the outer edge of my fraying awareness, just awaiting their next opportunity.
“They…can’t,” she whispered.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “they better not.” And then, to distract us:
“How are you feeling now?”
“Stronger,” she said in a voice that fairly shook with something like fear. Anthy afraid. I’d never seen her this obviously afraid. I wondered what she was scared of losing. “And you?” she asked me.
“Lousy,” I admitted, “but I’m sure it will wear off soon.” We lapsed into an uncertain silence.
“What do you want to wear?” she finally asked. “This prince’s uniform?” We both looked at the replica of Akio’s dueling costume that I still sported. “Or the armor plate?” she wondered, and I realized she was asking because I’d declaimed being a prince. “Your old uniform?” she guessed next.
“What are you wearing?” I asked. It was so innocuous that I giggled suddenly. I felt her shivering begin to subside.
“This,” she told me, and we both looked down at her green sundress, smeared as it was with crushed rose petals.
“Very pretty,” I complimented her, and she smirked just a little. “This is fine,” I decided, fiddling with the golden tassel adorning my jacket. “Maybe it will make him think twice, or something.”
The look she gave me was hungry and possessive.
“Or something,” she agreed huskily, and leaned over to crush her lips to mine. I wrapped a hand around her neck, and held her to me, and tried to kiss our fears away.