The rest of the papers that Anthy gave me had information, incidental or otherwise, on the Duelists. Miki appeared on several personal websites as this or that friend, mentor, tutor, helper... he did so much for so many people. He'd graduated the year before from the University of Tokyo with a Master's degree in mathematics and had gone to Oxford for his doctorate. Juri was a detective in the National Police Agency; Saionji, a pilot in the JASDF; Touga, a vice president in the Hong Kong divison of his father's company. Nanami was taking a few years off, apparently travelling, before attending college. Kozue, Tsuwabuki, Shiori, and Wakaba had dropped into obscurity so dense that even Anthy couldn't find mention of them online.
I finally finished rifling through the papers and sat back on the couch, thinking. What would we do? The best thing I could think of was to storm into Ohtori and rescue whoever he was using. But somehow, we had to make sure that he couldn't get anyone else to take the vacant position of the Rose Bride. I knew that whatever we did, it involved walking into the dragon's mouth.
It had been six years since I played prince. A prince faces things herself, protects other people, saves the day and the world and everything else all by herself.
I'm not a prince any more, I thought, because I want someone to watch my back.
When I put my key into the lock, I could hear the wailing strains of David Bowie through the door. I smiled, even as I worried. Labyrinth became Anthy's favorite movie when we came to the States. Even though she'd seen it hundreds of times since then, she was sitting forward eagerly to catch every word from the time that Sarah begins her "Through dangers untold..." speech. I watched Anthy's lips follow every word, and at the end, her voice spilled out to join Sarah's:
"You have no power over me."
The phone calls were exhausting and exhaustive. I managed to track them down to their general locations: Yes, Detective Arisugawa was in the United States right now, involved in an exchange program with the Chicago Police Department. No, Lieutenant Saionji is on maneuvers right now, but I can give you his address here so you can write him. Yes, Mr. Kaoru is in Oxford right now, you may write him at Holywell Manor. No, Mr. Kiryuu is not available right now, but the business address is sufficient to reach him.
Nanami remained elusive, but I managed to send her an email via her website, and I could track her movements in a general fashion through the travel accounts there.
I didn't think that Juri or Miki would have been Akio's choice for his ersatz Rose Bride. No, Touga and even Saionji had been much deeper into his schemes, according to Anthy. Judging by who was readily available and who wasn't, I wasn't very hopeful about getting responses from the ex-President and Vice President of the Student Council. But I wrote to them all anyway.
Anthy took me into my room and closed the door, shutting out all the strident voices of doctors, nurses, and patients alike. I was still staring at her. It was like I hadn't seen another human being in my life until I saw her, like there wasn't a color in the world except her, like there wasn't a scent in the world except that of the roses she carefully set on the nightstand. And yet, I'd known that humans and colors and scents existed, and I'd been starving for them all along.
I sat on the bed and watched her, feeding on the vision of her.
She turned and smiled at me. Her dark hair was long and caught back from her shoulders. She wasn't wearing her glasses. "Utena," she said again, and the name that I hadn't heard in so long dragged at something deep inside me.
Her hand was warm and soft against my cheek, smelling faintly of roses. "Do you remember, Utena?" she asked. "Do you remember anything at all?"
Something broke inside, somewhere near my solar plexus. It hurt, made an audible (I thought) snapping noise, and there was a rush of sensation that made my legs tremble. In a hoarse voice that wasn't mine, yet was, had been before, I replied, "You."
I didn't have to grope for her more than once before she pulled me against her and held me. I think she was saying my name over and over. I think I cried.
Anthy held out an envelope to me as I came in the door from school. "Wha-?" I asked, looking at it. "Already?"
"No return address," she said. I took it from her and examined it. She was right; no return address at all.
I opened it. Inside was a single sheet of paper, and written in large characters was, "Leave us alone!"
"What the hell?" I exclaimed, turning it over, vainly hoping for more identification.
She peered over my shoulder. "I wonder who 'us' is?"
"Hell if I know," I muttered. "Posted from Japan. So it's probably not Nanami." The kitten chose that moment to pounce on my foot. I yelped and danced aside as the tiny needle teeth and claws dug into my toes.
"So... Saionji?" Anthy suggested.
"Or," I said in what I hoped was an off-hand voice, "Akio."
There was a leaden silence.
"That seems unlikely," she said in a strained voice. "Since he's the one seeking us out."
"Agreed," I replied, and things relaxed again, a little. "Let's assume that it's Saionji. 'Us'?"
"Could be talking about all the Duelists."
"True. But how would he know that I'd written everyone? I was very careful in my wording."
"What exactly did you say?"
I thought about it. "Just... asked him to contact me about discussing a matter in our mutual past of utmost importance."
"Perhaps you were too circumspect."
"Possibly." I stared at the writing again. "Or... could it be that he doesn't remember me and has me confused with some other matter?"
Anthy scooped up Nanami and allowed her hand to be seized and gnawed upon. "It could be," she admitted. "It could also be that he's the one involved with... with him." Even now, she was reluctant to say Akio's name, as if it might summon him. "All you can do is try again."
I nodded. "I'll try to be less vague this time."
Luckily, neither Anthy nor I are short of money, thanks to Anthy's financial wizardry (possibly literally) during the two years she was searching for me. When Miki's letter came, we made a few hurried arrangements by phone, then flew to England.
It was easy to spot Miki across the quad. Still slender, he moved with his accustomed athletic grace and a self-confident stride I think he learned from Juri. His black academic gown fluttered in the breeze, and his hair was a little longer than seemed fashionable at Oxford. When he got closer, his thoughtful face opened up. "Tenjou-san!" he called, breaking into a wide smile. "Himemiya-san!"
"Mi... Kaoru-san!" I caught myself.
"Utena," he said fondly once he reached us, taking my hands and looking me up and down. "I'm so glad you wrote." He hugged me, which startled me, and then let me go to gaze adoringly at Anthy. "Anthy," he said, forcing the familiarity which was so hard for him before. "You look lovelier than ever." He quickly stooped over her hand and brushed it with his lips. When he stood up, he looked a little startled, then blushed.
"It's good to see you too, Miki," she said, pressing his hand warmly with both of hers.
The initial awkwardness slipped past. "Your letter said you needed to talk in person, and privately," Miki said. "I've been worried, wondering what it was all about. Though," he added, with a quick sideways glance at Anthy, "I have some vague guesses. Why don't we go back to the Manor? There's a lovely garden out there, and no one will be around this time of day."
We assented and followed him. A few people he knew called his name and waved to him as we walked on. "I'm reading for my DPhil in mathematics," Miki replied when Anthy asked him what he was doing these days. "And I'm one of the Blues in the Fencing Club. And those two things pretty much take up all my time."
"Yes, they certainly do. I'm in a position to say," a deep voice interrupted from the side, in English. We all turned to face the tall, broad-shouldered man striding to intersect our route. He had short auburn hair that tossed a lock into his eyes, and wore the academic gown with a rakish style. "These the ladies you said you were to meet today, Miki?" His glance slipped sideways to Anthy and a brief flash of fear passed over his features.
"Ye-es," Miki said, blushing slightly. "Ah, Anthy, Utena, this is Robert Denver, my..." His blush went deeper.
"Boyfriend," Robert helpfully supplied, extending a hand to me. I shook it and was pleased by the warm, firm grip.
"I'm Utena Tenjou," I said. "And this is my partner, Anthy Himemiya." Miki and Anthy traded startled looks. There was relief behind Robert's grin as he shook Anthy's hand.
"Miki's still getting used to having a boyfriend," Robert confided with a wink that brought a wry smile to Miki's lips and (mostly) drove the blush away.
"Anthy and I never go anywhere, so I never have the opportunity to introduce her," I replied, getting a playful elbow-jab from Anthy. I looked over at her and we both laughed.
Robert fell into step with us as we followed Miki. "Miki and I have been together for a little over a year," he told us. "Just enough time for me to pick up some small amount of Japanese."
Miki rolled his eyes. "Robert has a natural knack for languages. I have no idea why he's a literature man rather than a linguist."
"Because I prefer to read while others speak," the Englishman said sagely.
Miki's raised eyebrow indicated that he didn't believe a word of it.
We walked on, chatting amiably, until we came to the massive stone edifice that was clearly the Graduate Center at Holywell Manor. Robert stopped at the front door. "Well, I'll leave you two in the capable hands of Kaoru of Balliol." He smiled and bowed. "Shall I come back later for less serious socializing? Shall we perhaps take a punt out on the river? Or will you come with me in the car and fly to the world's end?"
I had, fortunately, been turned away from Robert and my body was blocking Anthy from his view. I felt ice form in the pit of my stomach and watched her face freeze. Miki's voice held just the faintest trace of quaver as he said, "Ah, thank you, Robert. Come back for dinner, I think."
Anthy caught my hand furtively and gripped hard as Miki and Robert said goodbye. When Robert was gone, I turned my head, finally, to look at Miki. He was pale, and his hand shook as he reached for the door. "It was a quote," he said. "That's the kind of voice he uses when he quotes something. I don't know what it was. And I don't remember why it... scared me."
We nodded, and the three of us passed silently through the building into the garden behind. Miki removed his academic robe to reveal a blue sweater and matching tie underneath. Under a massive horse chestnut tree, Anthy and Miki settled on a bench while I sat cross-legged on the flags. We sat, letting the breeze ruffle through our hair and the leaves overhead, lessening the visceral blow that Robert had inadvertently dealt. "Miki, how much do you remember? About me? About my time at Ohtori?" I finally asked.
He leaned back, staring up into the branches for a long moment. Without looking at us, he said, "I remember being fond of both of you. I... remember duels. They're very... vivid. I don't remember what for. No, I do." He looked sidelong at Anthy. "For you. We fought for you. But why?" Miki gnawed his lower lip thoughtfully. "A car. A man in a white uniform. Kozue..." He blushed suddenly, then shook his head, averting his eyes to some distant object in the garden. "I can't put it all together. It's all in bits. Juri-sempai was there. I was in the Student Council. I had... I had a stopwatch?" He swung his gaze back to me. "Why the hell did I have a stopwatch?"
I shrugged, smiling. "No one else ever knew either."
He laughed and rubbed the back of his neck. "One does strange things in high school sometimes." Another long moment as he stared at the flagstones under his feet, and then he shook his head again. "I'm sorry, that's it. I can't make any sense of it. I left Ohtori not long after you did, to go to college and live with my mother."
"What happened to Kozue?" I pressed.
"Kozue... Kozue stayed at Ohtori because she wasn't going to college yet, and our father wouldn't hear of her transferring. He wanted to stay there, even after his engagement fell through."
I shot a look at Anthy at this comment, but her face was perfectly composed. She had told me about that particular little scheme of Akio's after she'd woken screaming three times in the same night. Something in one of the dreams had reminded her of it.
"Where is Kozue now?" Anthy asked.
Miki looked up at her, as if surprised that she'd spoken. I suppose that knowing Anthy, rather than the Rose Bride, takes some getting used to. "She and I lost touch. Well. That's not true. I stopped writing to her. And opening her letters. They were just so... persecuting. Painful to read, really. She blamed me for everything that had gone wrong with her life, and I... and I..." His head dropped into his hands. "I wasn't sure whether she was right or not. She was having so many problems at Ohtori. I thought that maybe it was because she'd gotten dependent on me or something, and I'd let her, and she didn't know how to live by herself. I mean, our father was never home when I was there, I don't suppose he was there any more after I left..." He stopped, aware that he had lapsed into nervous babbling. When he raised his head, his brow was drawn tight with his feelings and he looked appealingly to first me, and then Anthy.
Anthy and I traded looks, took deep breaths, and started at the beginning, doing our best to knit his fragmented memories back together.
Anthy took me out of the "care facility" where I'd spent the last year and a half of my life and brought me home with her. "Home" was a tiny, one-bedroom flat in London. It was immaculately neat, and the furniture nearly nonexistent, but there was a vase filled to bursting with white roses at the center of the card table in the kitchenette.
I walked into this place in my thrift-shop pants and sweatshirt and too-small ski jacket. "Himemiya?" I said, faintly afraid that she wouldn't be there anymore and the door would slam shut behind me with a clang.
"Yes, Utena?" she asked, perfectly at ease as she passed into the little place, pulling off her coat, gloves, and scarf, dropping them onto a straight chair.
I watched her hungrily for a moment, then remembered I was going to say something. "I... I won't have to go back there, will I?"
She shook her head. "Not ever again."
Relieved, I looked back at the roses. "Why roses?" I asked after a moment.
Instead of answering, she retrieved a large, thick envelope from the kitchen counter and started to pull things out of it, scattering them onto the table. Fragments of clothing: black fabric, gold braid, a red sock. A tank top with ragged holes and old bloodstains. Lastly of all, a ring.
Without knowing it, I had drifted to her shoulder, raptly watching each object as it emerged. She didn't look at me, but stood, examining the rose signet in the palm of her hand. "These things were all yours, Utena. They were taken from you at the hospital."
"I remember the hospital, a little."
"You'll remember more when the drugs cycle out of your system." She turned the ring over and over, not looking at it. She was looking at something far, far beyond it.
"Himemiya," I said again, savoring the flavor of that familiar name.
Her green eyes flicked back from gazing on eternity and she smiled at me. "Make yourself at home, Utena. This is where we'll be living for a little while, until I can make other arrangements."
There was something in the way she said the last word that made me cock my head. "Where are we going then, Himemiya?"
"Eventually," she said, dropping the ring back into the envelope, "the real world." She flashed another smile at me, but this one was sad. She ran a gentle hand along my jaw. "But first, you need to find any world at all that you remember."
The End of the World (said Anthy) is the boundary at the limit of his power. Inside those bounds, he can give anything to anyone, and he commonly does. Suddenly, the quest for a shining thing isn't so paltry - it takes on the shape of legend and myth. The desire for miracles is not some pathetic, childish wish - it is the essence of the heavens and the earth. Grasping eternity is not a pipe dream - it really can save the life of one's dearest.
Everyone wants to be important. Everyone wants, in some way, to save the world. Everyone wants to think that they will achieve every dream. But at the End of the World, everyone realizes they aren't, they can't, they never will. At the End of the World, the immensity of the universe and the puniness of oneself is borne in upon you. At the End of the World, you meet despair.
@---Go on to Part Three---@