"No," said Juri.
I glanced over at Anthy, feeling guilty for bringing the subject up at all. Anthy's eyes were on the Boston skyline, several miles south of us. Juri was looking north out of the tower, over the fiery autumn foliage of the Winchester Fells. The air was crisp. My legs still tingled from the flush of hiking up here and, without thinking, I began to stretch.
Juri glanced over her shoulder at me. "You still have that nervous habit, do you?" She smiled, and it froze me with such bitter sadness that I stayed in my lunge for several long seconds until she looked away.
I straightened up, rubbing the back of my head. "Why not?" I managed to ask after a moment.
"Because, as I told Hi... Anthy the other day, I live in the real world now. To go back... it's unthinkable."
I stared at the floor. My throat ached with a suppressed cry of frustration. I couldn't figure out why it mattered so much to me that Juri come with us. I wouldn't have been so unhappy if it had been Miki.
"Utena," she said in a surprisingly gentle voice that drew my head up. "The things that happened... you had help... processing. But I had to do it alone, and, unlike Miki, I'm far too much of a control freak to forget." A corner of her mouth twisted up. After another second, she turned back to the view.
We stood silently in the tower for several long minutes. Then I heard Juri gasp.
My head snapped up and Anthy spun around. There, jutting out of the treetops a mile or so off, was the Ohtori Academy tower, the late afternoon sun gleaming on its western face. The three of us gaped for what seemed an eternity before it faded from sight, leaving a purple after-image on my retina.
Juri swallowed hard and clenched her fists. Just before she did, I saw that her hands were shaking. Her voice was surprisingly steady. "Was that... what I thought it was?"
I nodded. Anthy frowned at the place the tower had been, but I saw the sheen of perspiration on her forehead and the way that her hands still clutched the window sill.
Wind lashed at us from the north suddenly and a whirlwind of leaves whipped into the open tower. I raised my hands and closed my eyes against the dust it carried, but opened them again when I heard someone - Anthy, I think - make a noise like a small animal in pain.
The floor was strewn with red rose petals.
The pathetic red sock. I examined it and found a spot that had been mended in the heel. I remembered, suddenly, Wakaba darning it for me, smiling and chatting the whole time. We were sitting under our favorite tree.
The remains of my uniform, cut to ribbons. That poor uniform. I sorted through the black fabric. The cuts reminded me of a time when I had been tempted to give up the uniform by defeat. Nothing was as crushing as losing Anthy that time; it changed my whole perspective on the duels.
The uniform looked different than it did when I usually pulled it off the hanger. The gold braid... I realized that this was my "dueling uniform," which I'd never actually seen clearly. It had always reverted to my regular uniform before I took it off.
The ring. The Rose Signet that started it all for me. It had acquired no tarnish in the time it hadn't been on my hand. I turned it over and over. It felt strangely heavy.
The front door popped open and Anthy slid through it. She slammed it shut behind her and threw all the locks. Then she turned to face me. She was breathing hard, but she smiled. "Here's your passport." She handed over the little book. When I just stared at her, she said, "We're leaving on a noon flight."
I took the passport from her slowly. "Um. Where are we going?"
"Oh, I thought Cairo might be nice. Have you ever been?" she asked, moving toward her room. She stopped, realizing that I was holding the ring. She gently it took it from me and examined it, turning it this way and that so the sunbeams struck it in various ways. Then she tossed it back to me. Startled, I fumbled briefly before getting a grip on it. It felt heavier than before.
"Are you going to put it back on?" she asked. "Do you still want to be a prince? It is a hard habit to break."
I stared at it. "I... remember what it is now. And what it was. And what it meant." I looked up. "Why are we leaving?"
Anthy's face shifted through several different emotions before she finally looked away. In a voice heavier than the ring had become, she said, "You sent them home."
We drove back to town in silence, Anthy demonstrating her driving at its most aggressive for Juri's edification. Juri, for her part, clung white-knuckled to her shoulder belt and stared straight ahead for a long while before asking, "Anthy, what's your job?"
"I'm a courier in downtown Boston."
"Ah," Juri said, as if this explained the mysteries of the universe. "So you drive. In downtown."
"Ah," Juri said.
After Anthy managed, in her inimitable and unexplainable manner, to intimidate a speeding tractor trailer into the slow lane, Juri asked, "So, have you had much anger-management therapy since leaving?"
Anthy grinned aside at her. "Just a model mugging class."
Juri cast a glance back me with a raised eyebrow. I just smiled and shrugged.
It was a subdued afternoon around the apartment. We talked of inconsequential things, read newspapers or books, or read email. Finally, Juri asked, "So, what's that contraption in the back yard?"
I blinked and thought. Realization came to me. "Oh, you mean the greenhouse!"
I smiled, remembering the day I came home to find the living room knee-deep in metal tubing, with Anthy curled up on the sofa in the middle of it all, reading, "How to Assemble Your Dome." She'd ordered it online. It was a beautiful, clear-paneled geodesic dome with plenty of ventilation and exposure to the sun and such, but it was a nightmare to put together. We managed it in the end, though I suspected that we may have gotten a few of the pieces exchanged here and there. (The passage in Jane Wagner's "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" that talks about building a dome home made us howl.) Most importantly, it looked nothing like the rose garden at Ohtori.
I led Juri through our bedroom, where she eyed Anthy's O'Keefe posters on the walls. As I struggled with the latch on the door to the back yard, Juri picked up the book on the nightstand. "We Have Always Lived in the Castle?" she read with a tone of horror.
The lock opened. "Shirley Jackson. Anthy's book. I haven't looked at it yet."
We went outside, into the clear dome that was Anthy's garden. Juri stared. She reached out and touched one blossom. "But blue roses don't exist," she said, dazedly.
"Really?" I asked. I knew that. I'd mentioned it to Anthy when I found out. She admonished me not to believe everything I heard.
There were roses, all kinds, all colors. A riot of irises and calla lilies and pansies and tulips filled the air with scent. There were dozens of other flowers and plants I didn't know. It was warm and humid in here, as always.
Juri stared at one corner. "Himemiya... grows tomatoes?"
"Purple heirloom tomatoes," I confirmed. "They're awfully good."
"And other vegetables and herbs, I see," she said, bending to read the neat little signs at the front of each row.
"It makes for some great meals. I do most of the cooking these days," I added, bending to sniff my favorite lavender rose bush.
"So I gathered," she replied, pausing in front of one of the largest rose bushes, with enormous blossoms just the color of her hair. Gently, she cupped the nearest flower in her hands and stared into it. She stood very still for a long time. At last, she asked, "Did she take clippings when she left?"
"Not that I know of." I passed a reflective hand over the green roses that Anthy had trained over and around a concrete garden gnome, then winced as I speared myself on one of the lengthy thorns.
"I suppose she didn't need to." She laughed softly. "People keep finding these roses, you know. Shiori gave me one once. Himemiya offered them to me around the time I first dueled you. Akane, Junko, Tama... they all found them and somehow knew to give them to me. Every time I see them, I think of the locket. And again I'm grateful to you for breaking the chain that bound me." Juri cast a smile over her shoulder to me. "Who knows what depths I would've sunk to without you and those damned duels?"
I shuffled. "You would've realized sooner or later, Juri."
"Would I?" She released the flower finally and stepped back to regard the entire plant. "Or would later have been too late?"
"It's never too late."
Juri grinned at me. "The unbeatable optimist. Here, let's go back inside, I can't possibly argue pessimism while surrounded by beautiful things."
I took her to the airport that evening. "Be careful of your carryon bag, Juri," I grinned. "I put some tomatoes in there."
She gave me a mock-horrified expression and made a show of carrying the bag gingerly. Then she slung it over her shoulder. "Thanks. They'll come in handy for my own cooking experimentation."
We looked at each other for a very long time. The flight announcement came while we were still feeling awkward.
"Thank you for coming, Juri," I said, feeling subdued and regretful.
"Thank you for having me," she replied. "It's been a nice little vacation, really, despite the weirdness."
We hugged for a little longer than we ought to have, I think. I felt a little flushed when I stepped back, and my eyes were threatening alarming, embarrassing things.
"None of that," Juri laughed. "We'll see each other again, Utena."
"But you said..."
She tossed me a smirk over her shoulder and boarded the plane.
I went out for a morning run at one sunny Greek resort after spending a restless night. Although my conscious mind had sketched itself an outline of my memories, my subconscious was still turning up unexpected things at the least convenient times. Anthy had, at last, fallen into an exhausted sleep, but my head was still spinning in tight little circles. I crept out of the room carefully in the predawn dark, not wanting to wake her after keeping her up for most of the night.
It was a beautiful dawn, pink and gold light reflecting off a light mist and the ocean. I was running along the beach, my feet thudding on the wet, white sand of the lovely, lonely beach. It's never quiet near the ocean; the crash of the waves and the calls of seagulls filled the air.
And then, another sound - the roar of a car engine.
Cars are not so unusual around Greek resorts, but the sound seemed awfully loud. I turned around and saw a red convertible racing towards me along the coast road.
Adrenalin surged into my bloodstream, setting my heart hammering. I lengthened my stride and pushed my muscles to their utmost. The car gained on me inevitably.
The beach club. I'd detoured around its high fence earlier, but now I leapt at the chainlink and levered myself over it, flinging myself at the ground on the other side. The gate to the private drive was still firmly shut and locked. Too early for beachclubbers to be about, I guessed.
I sprinted madly along the wet sand of the beach. After a moment or two, I managed to look behind me, only to see the red car speeding along the private drive. I spun away and ran for the other side of the beach - a jetty of piled boulders - and scrambled up it.
On top of the jetty, I paused to glance back, only to see the car idling at the beachward side, facing me as though about to drive over the rough stones and run me down.
I leapt off the top of the jetty and landed on all fours in the sand on the other side; I don't know why I didn't break something. Pain shot up all my limbs and I hovered there, gasping for a moment. Then I pushed myself to my feet and started to run again, angling over the dry sand (panting with effort, the sand slipping and sliding underfoot) towards the town.
Damn it being too early for other people - except for an elderly couple with a small dog - to be on the beach. I ran as hard as I could. It had been a long time since I'd run flat out, and my chest hurt. My side was threatening me with a stitch if I didn't stop soon.
The mist had lifted and the scoured white buildings of the Greek town fairly glowed in the early morning sunlight. The sky beyond the buildings had deepened to an impossible blue. One stray vine of green leaves crept over the corner of a wall, and I slowed involuntarily, staring. White, white walls, with the blue sky arching overhead. My steps stumbled to a walk.
A skinny black cat, one of the strays which were so common in the town, leapt down from a roof to the top of a wall and sat down there, in the sun. It turned its head to look at me curiously, then it raised a paw and started to wash.
The daydream - trance, whatever it was - shattered on the yellow eyes of that scruffy cat. This was Greece, and there was someone I really didn't want to meet behind me. I sprang forward in a dead run towards the main street of the town as I heard the engine roar again behind me.
The fruitsellers and other market stalls were absent or closed. Apparently it was still too early for business. There was almost no one around. I heard the car scream around a corner and dashed at random down a narrow alley to the left. Anything to get off this wide open street.
At the end of the alley was a small, expensive-looking hotel. I looked briefly at the shallow steps and the huge glass doors leading into the lobby and shuddered. I darted through an archway into a small courtyard instead, and leapt for an ornamental balcony covered with some kind of purple flowering vine. I kicked for a moment, then managed to haul myself up.
Fortunately, the patio door was unlocked, so I slipped into the cool darkness of the room beyond. No time to wait, I bolted through the room, startling awake the sleepers there. Shouts followed me - conveniently announcing my passage - as I left the room and sprinted down the hall.
Where to go? Where to go? I ran for the elevator first, then changed my mind and headed for the stairs, which I hoped might lead to some to back rooms and kitchen areas. Instead, I emerged into the lobby.
I threw a terrified glance at the big glass doors - easy enough for a car to drive through - and then my gaze was caught by the mirrored wall. There was Akio, looking down at me with a pained, disappointed expression. Clad in that white uniform I'd only seen once, he stood with one hand extended, his expression falling easily into wounded nobility. For some reason, the family resemblance between him and Anthy was especially strong just then, which made the reproach in his eyes all the more pointed.
I turned and fled blindly, away from the mirror. I passed through a surprisingly busy kitchen and burst through a back door accompanied by a medley of shouted Greek exclamations. I felt a brief wave of gratitude as I saw that the back alley was far too narrow for a car to negotiate, and started to weave my way around overflowing garbage bins.
I got lost, mostly because I was determined to use only the narrowest of alleyways, but I finally recognized a side-alley Anthy and I had taken a few days earlier and ended up on the doorstep of our small bed and breakfast a few minutes later.
My hands shook as I fitted key to lock and staggered through the door into our room. "Anthy!" I rasped, falling to my knees at the foot of her bed and gasping for breath.
She was up in an instant, examining me carefully for damage. There was a bloody scrape on my shin that looked worse than it was, and my hands were raw from my various climbs. I managed to get my breath back while she cleaned me up. I told her the whole story in one long sentence, stopping only when her fingertips touched my lips, gesturing me to be quiet.
Anthy's eyes unfocused for a long moment, and then she hugged me. "He hasn't pinpointed our exact location. We just won't go out again today, and tomorrow we leave town. I'll change our next reservations this afternoon."
"Damn," I muttered, pettily hating to be cooped up in the room. "I didn't realize that this was what we were running from."
"He'll do this for a while. Then he'll try something new. We just have to keep running."
"When will he give up, do you think?" She looked down at me and I caught a glimpse of sadness and terror in her eyes. I pulled her into my arms. For the first time, really, she slumped against me, and I knew that she hadn't any plans beyond running. All of her plans, in fact, had been geared toward running. And running. And running. "Oh, no, Anthy. No, no. We will have a real life, in the real world. I'll be damned if I'm going to keep running." She shivered slightly, but didn't reply.
I gently tilted her chin up to me. A tear trickled down her cheek. "I promise," I said. "I'll do my best to keep that promise."
"Utena," she whispered. A shiver shot down my spine. "I'll try to believe."
When I kissed her this time, she didn't push me away; she returned it with a ferocity that surprised me. We tilted backward onto the bed. Her skin was hot and smooth under my hands, and her nightshirt fell away as if by magic. She very nearly clawed my clothes off.
We didn't go out for the rest of the day. I didn't mind.
"Yes, speaking," I replied, even as the familiarity of the voice tugged at my memories. It had been only a few days since Juri left.
"Saionji here," he said, slipping into Japanese. "What do you want?"
After a moment, I regrouped successfully. "I wanted to talk to you about something regarding Ohtori Academy."
"As I have said before, I've no interest in talking about or seeing that place."
"Has someone else tried to contact you regarding it?"
A pause. "Yes. Aren't you calling regarding the alumni event?"
That was interesting news right there. "No, I'm not. I'm not an alumna, remember?"
Another, longer pause. "No, I don't remember you at all, actually. Should I?"
Time for me to pause. "I knew you when you were Vice President of the Student Council."
He laughed. "Ah, that explains it. There were an awful lot of drugs that year."
I blinked. "Drugs?"
"Yes, the entire Student Council spent most of the year high," he said. "It was a bad year."
"I'm sorry to tell you that you're so forgettable. No one likes to hear that."
Jerk. "No, no, it's quite understandable. I've talked to others who don't remember me well either, like Kaoru Miki."
"Ah, you've talked to Miki then? He always was a good kid. A shame he got caught up in all that trouble." Saionji's voice was flat-out jovial now. He really didn't remember me. Or he was hiding something.
"Yes, it certainly is. Do you know anyone else who might recall me from that time?" I was trying to think of how to bring the conversation back around to the alumni event, or how I might jog his memory without having him hang up on me.
"Well, if you've spoken to Miki, I suppose you've talked to Arisugawa-san, then? Yes? Well, that's about it, really." He paused, and then spoke in a far less cheerful tone. "Unless, of course, you're interested in speaking to the Kiryuus."
"You don't think much of the Kiryuus?"
"Well, the brother was the source of the trouble that year, and the sister isn't much better than he is. But my wife could tell you more about her."
"Sonoda Keiko. Do you remember her? Spent a lot of time around the Kiryuus. Let me see... ummm... no, sorry, she's sleeping now. She's not been well recently, you understand. It's been a hard pregnancy."
Anthy wandered into the room and regarded my face with a bemused smile. I suppose the bug-eyes were funny. "Well, I'm sorry to hear that. I certainly wish you both well, Saionji-san." I suddenly had an idea, and without tilting my face away from the phone, said, "Oh, Anthy! Would you like to speak to Saionji-san? He was good enough to call..."
There was a pause from the other end of the phone while Anthy peered at me suspiciously. Then Saionji exploded, quietly. "Anthy?!"
"Yes, do you remember her? Himemiya Anthy? I think you two dated for a while."
Harsh breathing sounded in my ear. "Anthy is there? I want to speak to her."
"Certainly." I pressed the "privacy" button and extended the receiver to Anthy. "He's married to Keiko, she's pregnant, and he was contacted about an alumni event recently. And he doesn't like either Kiryuu. Can you get anything else out of him?"
She glared at me - if looks could maim, I would've been hauled away in a basket - before reluctantly taking the phone, turning the mute off, and saying, with forced cheer, "Saionji-san, it's good to hear from you..."
I tiptoed out of the room.
Later, she stubbornly refused to discuss it until I offered to take her out to dinner and dessert to make up for the dirty trick of handing her the phone. I deserved that, I supposed, but necessity is the mother of invention. So we were having an evening in Harvard Square: a Vietnamese dinner, followed by oodles of chocolate down the street at Anthy's favorite coffee/chocolate shop.
"He was so appalled when I told him that I had a girlfriend." Anthy laughed into her hot chocolate. "When I told him it was you, the silence was almost worth the rest of the conversation."
I grinned, imagining Saionji's face on the other end of the line.
She toyed with the apple pastry on the plate in front of her. "He's been in the Air Defense Force since he graduated, and he's a pilot. Based at Chitose, in the 2nd Air Wing. Very proud of what he's accomplished. I suppose he may have some reason to be proud." There was a trace of warmth in her smile. "I think the military is probably good for him. He always was very honor-bound. I never could see him as a salaryman."
"Like any of the Student Council would really be on that path," I commented, sipping my own hot chocolate. It's quite bitter and powerful at this place. I knew I wouldn't be sleeping much that night.
"No, that's true," she replied. "But if any of them could have been, it would have been Kyouichi. He's just not very... bright? Creative? Imaginative?" She sought for the correct word, and finally shook her head, giving up. "His family has never been very present. So he really had to make it on his own."
"Or on Touga's coattails, if either of them permitted it."
"Yes. And he's very bitter about Touga." Anthy took a long drink of her chocolate. "Somewhere along the line, he became convinced that most of his junior year was one long, drug-induced hallucination. Whether that's the doing of... the natural effects of Ohtori, or the result of some time in the care of a psychiatrist, I'm not sure. He told me that he'd been seeing someone for his 'difficulties,' but didn't elaborate beyond that."
"However did he end up with Keiko?" I wondered.
She shrugged, running a hand through her ponytail aimlessly. "I think it's another reason he doesn't care for Touga. Apparently, Keiko dated Touga for a while, and Touga eventually dumped her."
I blinked. "And Saionji was there to catch her?"
"Something like that." She soaked a fragment of apple in its white-and-dark chocolate sauce and ate it. "Madly in love. Married her a little less than a year ago. She's eight months pregnant."
"Fast work," I muttered unkindly. Anthy just quirked a smile at me, impelling me to explain, "I have problems envisioning a little Saionji running around."
Anthy shrugged again. "Anyway, that's pretty much it for the conversation. He brought it around to me, I told him, he went into shock, and the phone call ended awkwardly."
"Well." I couldn't think of what to say. "Well, I guess that he and Keiko are out of reach of any machinations. Which shortens the list of unknowns." I sighed. "I wish..."
"You could think of what to do?"
"Yes." I stretched. "Listen, you said at Oxford that you had an idea. Have you thought about it any more?"
"Every day. But I don't know... if you and Miki are enough."
I frowned. "What do you mean?"
She shook her head. "I can't explain. Not yet. Maybe not ever."
We settled into an uncomfortable and unhappy silence. She finished her pastry and chocolate. I couldn't. After a few moments of staring at our cups, we got up and left.
It was a short walk up the street to the T station. Both of us stopped short as a heavy scent of roses hit us full in the face. I spun around, looking for the source. I spotted the nearby florist shop, but it was closed and there were only green plants in the window, no roses visible at all. Anthy was stock-still beside me. When I turned back to her, a trickle of blood came from where she'd bitten her lip. I roughly turned her toward me and dabbed the blood off with a tissue.
"What happened?" I asked in a low voice.
"Didn't you see it?" Her gaze drifted back to where it had been locked for such a long moment. "Utena, didn't you see it?"
"No, Anthy," I said gently, pulling her chin back toward me. "No, I didn't see it. What was it?"
She let her forehead fall onto my shoulder. "But you smelled it, didn't you?"
"Yes. Roses. A lot of them." I put my arms around her and glared down an idiot who was sneering at us.
"I want to go home."
She still wouldn't tell me what she saw. I suspected that it was a view of the birdcage, just for her.
"Because he wants you," Anthy said, sipping her coffee. "He can tell where you are."
I stared at her. "Why?"
She shrugged gently. "You're the Prince."
"What?" I exclaimed. "I'm no prince. And besides, this is the real world, Anthy. That sort of thing doesn't make any difference."
"It does, real world or not. And you are."
Anthy paid the bill and we walked out of the restaurant. "So how do we hide me?" I growled finally.
"That's a good question. I've been thinking about it."
"How do we know he's not following you? You're the one he really wants, aren't you?"
"He can't follow me. I know how to hide myself." She looked thoughtful for a moment, then grabbed my wrist and pulled me toward the Metro station. "Let's go to the Smithsonian."
I resisted briefly, then followed her. When she got these tourist notions, it was nearly impossible to change her mind. Her enthusiasm was infectious most of the time. But it was a hot day and I was cranky.
The escalator was unbelievably steep and long. I saw people looking up, sideways, backwards - anything to avoid staring down that incline. I privately thanked my experience with the dueling arena stairs for steeling me against heights like this.
The station itself was humid but not particularly hot. And it was crowded, so crowded that we couldn't hear each other to speak for the hum of conversation around us. A train pulled into the station and we decided to wait for the next one after watching people cram inside like sardines in a can. Anthy was peering closely at one of her guidebooks. I let my gaze drift randomly along the platform as the train rolled out.
Then I was moving, leaping without knowing why quite yet. My arm caught the old woman around her midriff while my other hand gripped her cane. I spun us both away from the train, and our combined weight tore the trapped end of the cane loose from the closed doors of the train car. My shoulder took the brunt of our fall and I rolled us both back to my feet.
"Are you all right?" I asked her, setting her on her own feet. She barely weighed anything, a tiny bird of a woman, and there was a loop of cord on the cane that was wrapped around her wrist. At that moment a middle-aged woman and man ran up, exclaiming over her. With adrenalin making me lightheaded, I did my best to fade into the background.
Anthy caught my hand and pulled me into a side passage, where we hurried along for a short while. Then, when we were far enough away, she turned to me.
"Do you need any more proof?" she said, after kissing me hard. "That kind of thing doesn't happen to everyone. And when something like that happens, most people can't move. Motion is the quality of a Prince."
I stared down at her and shook my head slowly. "I... just did what..."
"Comes naturally," she finished.
"'The Prince is the most mobile piece,'" I quoted thoughtfully.
Anthy looked at me sharply. "Yes." She lay her hand on my chest. "This is the key. This is how he follows you."
"My heart-sword?" I said, disbelieving. "But I thought that was an illusion."
"Were the swords an illusion?"
I was silent. Then I said, "But, Anthy, it broke. He broke it. I remember the pain when it happened. Doesn't that mean I don't have one any more?"
"Oh, you have one." She turned to start walking again. "Come on, Utena. I changed my mind. Let's go back to the hotel."
I went along willingly enough. I had some questions that needed answering.
I was in a bar with a stage. There was someone playing guitar really badly, but everyone applauded her anyway. Then she got off the stage and someone else came on. She was wearing black and a beret, but I couldn't see her face, if she had one. She stood at the microphone with an open book in one hand.
"Welcome to poetry night," she said in a husky voice.
Everyone applauded again.
"'The Friend' by Marge Piercy," she said.
"'We sat across the table.
He said, cut off your hands.
They are always poking at things.
They might touch me.
I said yes.'"
As if I were watching a television set or movie screen elsewhere, I saw Anthy at the center of the circling, predatory swords during the duel called Revolution, and watched them pierce her in slow motion, watched the blood run into a lake at her feet.
The poet was reading again.
"'Food grew cold on the table.
He said, burn your body.
It is not clean and smells like sex.
It rubs my mind sore.
I said yes.'"
Anthy, lying across the couch, looking dead. Rising from the couch and looking at me with eyes so full of pain I had to flee and yet couldn't. Lying under a dark man whose scent I knew, both watching and in that body trapped there. A shimmering, iridescent butterfly with her hair spread around her, pinned dead under glass.
"'I love you, I said.
That's very nice, he said.
I like to be loved,
That makes me happy.
Have you cut off your hands yet?'"
Anthy screamed and woke me then. She was wild-eyed, tears streaming down her face, screaming hoarsely and flailing. I had a bloody nose and a split lip before I managed to get hold of her, to shout her name, to remind her of where she was and who I was. Then she dissolved into screaming, shaking hysterics, speaking in a language I wish I knew.
I didn't ask what she'd said. I never did.
When we were better hydrated, we climbed into the shower. Despite my determination to ask her about things, one thing led to another and it was a few hours before I remembered to bring up my questions.
"Anthy," I began, wrapping myself in one of the hotel's monogrammed robes against the fierce air-conditioning.
"Yes?" she asked, stretching lazily.
"You said I have a sword. But..."
She smiled and chuckled at me, then sat up and reached for her one frivolity: a silver hairbrush. "You have a sword, love. What do you think we spent six months in England doing?" She winced as the brush hit a tangle, then gave me a pleading look.
I took the brush from her. "What were we doing, then?" I sat down on the bed as she sprawled face-forward and nearly purred. I began to carefully sweep bristles through one handful of the dark, silky mass.
"Reforging your sword. Giving you time to recover your health and memories slowly, before re-exposing you to the Swords." She winced, then reached up to hold the very base of the handful I was working on.
"Is it really so easy to remake a heart-sword?"
"Goodness, no," she smiled over her shoulder, her bangs tumbling forward into her face. "But handled well, the individual shouldn't ever realize what she's doing for herself."
I laughed and moved on to brushing the next section. Anthy's hair is surprisingly fine for such length. "Okay, I'll concede that you handled it well. I didn't know what was happening. Did it really take so long?"
"Do you think I spent six months living with you in perfect celibacy for my health?"
"I wasn't too happy about it, as I recall."
She sighed, a combination of the brushing and the comment, I think. "No. But it was necessary. If... if you'd started a new life, with new emotional commitments... a whole new history, a new life... you would have continued to be broken. You would have heaped all that on top of the work that needed to be done, that should have been done immediately after the duel. But wasn't. So I did my best to keep you in that limbo state you were in all that time in the hospital and the institution." Her voice went very soft. "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done."
I didn't know what to say, so I just kept working. We were silent for a few minutes, and when I got to the next handful of her hair, I had to say, "Anthy, this tangle is the size of both my fists."
"You wouldn't wait for me to braid my hair last night."
"Oh." A few more minutes of patient untangling with my fingers as the brush failed. "Anthy, do you have a heart-sword now?"
That gave her pause. "I... I don't know."
"I mean, you always had the Sword of Dios, so I assumed that there wasn't really room in there..."
"Did you lose it?" I stared down at the ragged scar next to her spine that had just become visible as I shifted her hair. "Or is that where..."
"I don't remember." Her voice was thick.
I finally worked the rat's nest loose with my fingers and changed the subject. "So, if he's tracking us by my sword... what do we do? Break it again?" It was a very feeble joke.
"I think," she said slowly, "that a disguise is in order."
"I'm finished." I sat back. "What do you mean?"
She rolled over to smile up at me from the ocean of her hair. "Like in all the stories," she explained. "The Prince hides in plain sight."
"Tenjou-san?" Saionji hissed when I answered. I confessed that it was, in fact, me. He whispered, "I hate you, Tenjou-san, you know that, don't you?"
"I'm not exactly fond of you, either." I looked at the clock. It was nearly 2 pm here; a quick calculation brought me the realization that it was nearly 4 am there.
He exhaled sharply. Or maybe it was a laugh. "As much as I hate you, you've never lied to me. So I have to ask you something."
I wished Anthy were home.
"Do you remember the dueling arena in the sky?"
"And the duels?"
"And the... the time it all fell apart... on top of the two of us?"
There was a long pause, during which he breathed in ragged bursts. "Damn." He took a long breath, and I heard the sobbing shake to it. "Damn. Keiko denied it all, she said it never happened, that I must be mad. I had... I was almost dismissed from service... I had to say it was all drugs... hallucinations... I..."
I didn't know what to say. He sounded so different from the man I'd spoken to a few weeks before. Worn. Exhausted. Broken. As much as I disliked him, he didn't deserve what had been happening to him. "No, Saionji-san," I said as gently as I could. "It all really happened. The duels. The arena. The castle in the sky. You were expelled, do you remember that? Because Touga got between you and me when you were trying to kill me."
He laughed bitterly, his voice catching on some sadness. "I remember that. Yes, I remember. It was so devastating. You'd beaten me before, and I had to... I didn't mean to kill you... I don't think... but Touga..."
"Who is that?" a woman's voice broke in behind him. "You're on the phone with him, aren't you? Aren't you?" The pitch was rising, the volume rising. "Touga-sama! I hear you calling him at night, when you think I'm asleep. You're telling him how his baby is doing, aren't you? Giving him reports? TOUGA-SAMA!"
"Keiko-san! Stop that! I'm not speaking to Kiryuu! Go back to bed! This is none of your business."
I clutched the receiver, frozen to inaction as I heard the crack of open hand on face, right next to the phone. Some tiny part of me laughed, remembering how I'd first seen Anthy and enjoying the reversal. Most of me felt sick. The phone crashed to the floor.
"This is all my business, Kyouichi-san," she said dangerously, so low I almost couldn't hear. "Why should you be the only one to speak to him? You won't let me, will you? You're keeping him from me so you can keep him to yourself. I've held his heart in my hands, and you can't change that he loves me as much... more!... than he loves you. I won't be left alone while you take him away. All you ever talk about is Touga-sama, Touga-sama, Touga-sama... you call him when you think I can't hear... talk to him about the things you'd never talk to me about... You only married me as a replacement, a substitute. But this is his child... HIS... never YOURS... all you love is that damned plane... you don't even return Touga-sama's feelings, couldn't, can't, never, not if you WANTED to..."
There was another slap, and from the gasp, I gathered it was him striking her this time. I felt guilty for not hanging up, for not refusing to witness this domestic exchange. But I couldn't set the phone down. I couldn't stop listening.
"I took you in when he left you, a weeping, sopping little tramp," Saionji hissed. "You vowed to be mine for all time. Not six months ago, you swore to me that our love was eternal. You were so pathetically grateful. I made you special again, but I was never good enough, was I? This is my child, mine and no one else's, and I won't hear any more lies about Kiryuu from you."
"Lies?" she shrieked. "Lies? I'll tell you about lies... I'll tell you about the great macho man, Lieutenant Saionji, lover to Kiryuu Touga-sama for years and years and years. His pathetic shadow. Even if your wilting manhood did father this child, it is Touga-sama's because he's the man behind you, holding you up, supporting you, you impotent freak. You could no more father a child than a woman could."
A frozen second, during which I heard two people breathing hard: angry, rasping inhalations and exhalations.
Finally, Saionji's shaky, exhausted voice. "You're wrong. You're ill. I haven't talked to Kiryuu for four years. Neither have you. And you know it. Go to bed, Keiko-san. Please."
"You're drunk again," she spat. "I don't believe you. You've spoken to him. You've slept with him. I know. I hear, despite anything you do."
"You hear wrong," he said. "I haven't been drinking. I don't talk to Touga. Please go to bed. You'll feel better in the morning."
There was a rending animal noise and Saionji yelped. I heard bodies hit the floor with furniture. From the ensuing seconds, I gathered that Keiko had leaped on him. I heard struggling, and Keiko cursing him, and Saionji pleading with her to think of the baby. After a minute, maybe more, all was quiet again.
"Why did you lie to me about the duels, Keiko-san?" he asked.
"I didn't lie," she snapped. "I didn't know. But I know now. I know about Touga-sama. I know about the Chairman."
A long moment. "What?"
She laughed, a high, thin laugh that made my teeth hurt. "We have so much in common, Kyouichi-san. Touga-sama was the end of both our worlds."
Keiko kept laughing as Saionji hung up the phone.
I wandered the house for a few hours afterward, feeling nauseated, restless, and distracted. I couldn't finish my homework. Anthy found me staring into space when she got home.
Anthy was staring at one of the giant rose windows with a kind of fixed attention when my patience finally broke down.
"About hiding me," I began in Japanese, trying for a modicum of privacy among the trickle of other tourists.
"I'm thinking about it," she replied.
"What did you mean about 'hiding in plain sight'?"
"We'll hide you in plain sight, just like in the stories. Oh, look, there's the moonrock window!" She began to move away.
"I don't care about the stupid moonrock window!" I exclaimed. I suppose I was being whiny. Anthy stopped, facing away from me. "I'm tired of being chased. I'm tired of going from tourist trap to tourist trap on a day like this. And I'm so damned tired of your elliptical crap I could spit!" I don't know whether I've gotten more tolerant of her tendency to be elliptical over time, or whether she's gotten less elliptical - probably both. "All you'll say is 'hiding in plain sight.' It doesn't make a damn bit of sense." I started to draw some disapproving glares for the noise. "You have such a talent for hiding things in words. I feel so bloody stupid, like I should be picking something up that I'm missing, but then I realize that you haven't told me anything. Or I think so. Tell me the plan. Tell it to me in plain words, dammit."
She still didn't turn around. People moved away from us and drifted on out, talking and pointing as they went. After a long moment, in a voice I fancied was ever-so-slightly strained, Anthy said, "There is no plan. It's just a vague idea. Let's go back to the hotel so you can stop being tired." She turned toward the entrance.
I followed, feeling angry at her for no good reason - I guess I'd wanted to stay angry and the energy was all dispelled. I was also frustrated by the lack of plan, embarrassed for the outburst, and my head was starting to hurt.
We didn't talk.
"Utena, this is Miki."
What a relief. "Miki! How're you doing?"
"Fine, just fine. Say, I got a mailing for some alumni event today."
Ah, the alumni event Saionji mentioned. "Really? What's it about?"
"Some building dedication or other. And asking for money. All schools seem to ask for money."
Wasn't it grand that I'd never actually graduated from anywhere? "I suppose so. You going?"
He laughed. "Not a chance. They can dedicate away. But it's in a week or so. I thought you'd want to know in case you were thinking of anything to, you know, do."
"Have you thought..." A door opened in the background. My gut clenched, thinking of Keiko, then relaxed. Certainly not Keiko. I started dangling a cat toy for Nanami to stalk.
"Miki, darling, you aren't dressed!" Robert's voice in English.
Miki turned from the phone. "Robert? What do you mean?"
"Don't you remember? We're going to the opening of the show!"
"What show? Oh, Miki, your memory is getting worse every day. I asked you about this three or four times in the past month! Eric's new show, Pygmalion. He'll just die if I'm not there for the first time he plays the lead!"
Miki paused. "I don't remember that. Or, well, maybe I do. Um, I'm on the phone though. Why don't you just go ahead?"
Robert's voice dripped with sarcasm. "Because I'll just die if I have to face him without you on my arm. I'll just wait in the hall for you to finish up your call, and you just see if you can get into your good suit quickly enough. Really, Miki, perhaps you ought to see a doctor about your forgetfulness. It's happening an awful lot." The door shut again.
Miki sighed quietly and spoke back into the receiver. "Sorry about that. He always gets like this when he's going to see an ex anywhere. Anyway, I saw Nanami the other day too."
"Nanami?" The kitten pounced, landing on the phone and very nearly disconnecting me. There was a brief scramble as I scooped her up, determined that Miki could still hear me, and deposited her on the sofa.
"Yes, she invited me out to tea."
"Did she tell you anything interesting?"
"Oh, yes," he said, sounding pained. "A great deal. I could barely get a word in edgewise. But she sounds really happy. She said this 'world tour' thing was her 'self-therapy' after too many years at home. Not sure what she meant by that."
"Ah. Anything about Ohtori?"
"No, nothing. I asked her point-blank, and she brushed it off, saying she hadn't been back to Japan for years now."
"Well, I suppose that leaves her out of it, anyway."
"I suppose." We both fell into silence for a moment. "I've not heard anything back from Kozue. I sent her a letter, via Mother, right after you left."
"Well, maybe she's busy," I said.
"Or Mother can't locate her," he suggested glumly.
"When will you hear from your mother?"
"I'll try calling her tonight."
"But you're going to a show...?"
"Uh, damn, not tonight. Tomorrow, then. Listen, have you or Anthy thought any more about what to..." Someone knocked loudly on the door. "What?"
"Miki, hurry up! We'll be late!" Robert bellowed through the door.
"All right, all right," Miki snapped, then turned back to the phone. "Listen, I'd better get going. The natives are getting restless."
"That's okay. Drop me email sometime. I've got things to tell you, and you forgot to give me your email address."
"All right, I'll do that." He paused. "I'm really sorry about cutting this short. It's been good talking to you."
"It's good to hear from you."
I hung up gently.
But there's more to it. Oh, yes.
Ohtori was... is on a cusp, a border, a boundary. It bridges the world of dreams and the world of "reality" and acts as a kind of sink for the essence of both. Things spill in from both worlds. Sometimes there is mutual annihilation. Sometimes there is a mingling of substance. Usually, they pass by and back out, each touching the other and leaving marks.
So, in entering Ohtori, the wall between you and your dreams was gossamer-thin, but tough. It took effort to get you to expend yourself enough to breach that gap. That's why so many could enter there and exit apparently unchanged: they didn't have the drive, the desire to cross the bridge, leap the gorge, meet their hopes and fears head-on. But the Duelists were different. To you, the swords of the heart were real and sharp. Each rose had a meaning. The Prince existed.
But it works both ways. Ohtori is a sink, but can also slide sideways into one realm or the other. It can dive into dreams, and in dreams, there's both less geography and more. We're not vulnerable to it. We're just closer. And farther. That's all.
@---Go on to Part Six---@