The small, tinny tone was unexpected, the name at the top of the window even less so. "Anthy!" I exclaimed over my shoulder. "It's Nanami!" The kitten, discomfited by my sudden turn, leapt off my lap, leaving sixteen perfect bloody punctures in my thigh.
Anthy came into the living room, stretching sleepily. "What?" she asked.
I patted a tissue over my leg briefly. "Messaging me. Online." I pointed at the window where "PRINCESS_00001" had just written, "Utena Tenjou?"
"Ah," Anthy said, taking the tissue from my hand and gliding into the kitchen. Chu-Chu chased after her, hoping for food.
PRINCESS_00001: You sent me email. What do you want?
BSKTBL_ace: I wanted to talk to you about Ohtori.
PRINCESS_00001: I'm on a three year world tour and you want me to talk about -that- place?
BSKTBL_ace: It's important.
PRINCESS_00001: I left Ohtori after my freshman year. I don't know what I could tell you about it.
BSKTBL_ace: Do you remember me?
PRINCESS_00001: How could I forget? You were all over my brother all the time. But then, so were all sorts of other girls. You couldn't stay away from him.
BSKTBL_ace: I didn't write to ask you about your brother.
PRINCESS_00001: What do you mean?
BSKTBL_ace: Do you remember the duels?
PRINCESS_00001: Yes. A stupid game, played by stupid children.
BSKTBL_ace: How much do you actually remember?
PRINCESS_00001: What does that have to do with anything?
BSKTBL_ace: Some people can't remember some stuff.
PRINCESS_00001: So? I remember it all.
BSKTBL_ace: Do you know anything about Tsuwabuki?
PRINCESS_00001: I haven't heard anything from Mitsuru for some time now. We parted on bad terms.
BSKTBL_ace: I'm sorry.
PRINCESS_00001: Whatever. Anything else?
BSKTBL_ace: I also wanted to know if you were in contact with the Chairman.
PRINCESS_00001: NO. Goodbye.
[PRINCESS_00001 just hung up]
I sat back, running a hand through my hair. "Well, that was abrupt," I mumbled.
"What happened?" Anthy asked, carrying her hot chocolate into the room. Chu-Chu sat on the kitchen counter, overlooking us all happily, drinking hot chocolate from his own mug. He squawked as he burnt his tongue and ran to the faucet to run cold water into his mouth.
I shrugged. "She hung up on me."
Anthy peered at the screen. "Interesting."
I shook my head and shrugged again. "Well, she said she didn't have any contact with him. She's probably telling the truth."
She sipped her cocoa. "Probably."
I twisted around in the chair. "What do you know?"
She frowned at the screen, then smiled at me. "Nothing. I suspect it will be interesting what you hear from Touga."
"Anthy..." I began, dangerously.
Her grin was disarming. "No, I have nothing to tell you."
I sighed and pulled her into my lap, ignoring her yelp of protest. "You are such a difficult woman." With her face in my neck, she just nodded.
Anthy threw herself onto the big bed as I drifted around the bedroom, examining old Mardi Gras masks, furniture, shutters, and the ceiling fan. She smiled at the ceiling dreamily. "You'll get used to the heat."
The toaster-oven and microwave in the little hallway distracted me for half a moment, and when I turned to peer into the bathroom at the claw-footed bathtub, I finally thought to ask, "Have you been here before?"
She bounced to her feet and moved past me into the first room of our suite, pointedly failing to answer my question. "Oh, good! They do have chocolate croissants," she exclaimed on examining our "pick list" of breakfast treats.
The next day, we got up early, had our croissants and orange juice, and headed out. It was a fine, hot morning, with clear blue sky showing before the humid brass of day set in. Palm trees and ferns waved in the breeze in every garden. Explosions of color - in the form of flowers - poured over the ironwork of balconies all along Bourbon Street. Anthy started pointing to rainbow pride flags and pink triangles all along our route, and for the first time, she and I walked hand-in-hand in public. It felt really good to exchange knowing grins with a pair of middle-aged men walking in a similar fashion in the opposite direction.
As usual, I'd left the itinerary to Anthy, and this time, I was more surprised than usual. Our first stop was a coffee shop for caf╚ au lait and beignets, and then on to the Voodoo History Museum. I wasn't sure what to make of what I saw there, though I did find it interesting. Anthy spent a long time peering in at the snake on display, and bowed to the altar in the back. I got absorbed in watching a video on voodoo while Anthy went to talk to someone. I emerged from the museum a little weirded-out, but she was exhilarated.
"Let's go get something to eat and then walk a bit," she suggested.
Anthy wanted to window-shop at all the antique stores along Rue Royale. We only stopped in one store, where she sorted through and bought some old coins. I felt like I was melting in the mid-day heat, unable to appreciate the street performers or the antiques. Finally, she steered me back to our rooms. Both of us fit into the tub for a cold bath, and with a quart of Gatorade in me, I felt nearly human again.
Out again into the late afternoon heat, which wasn't so bad as earlier without the sun directly overhead. We walked up to Rampart, a big boulevard that's one of the boundaries of the French Quarter, crossed it, and wandered into St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
"Uhhh, Anthy? Didn't our guidebooks tell us not to go here alone?" I asked, staring around at the crowded miniature city. I couldn't see beyond the first line of mausoleums, which stood raggedly shoulder-to-shoulder along a more-or-less straight path.
"Yes," she said, turning left and walking to the next intersection. I hurried after her.
"I don't think anyone will bother with us," she said, after considering her options and turning right.
"Ooookay," I said hesitantly, and then stifled a yelp. We rounded a hitch in the path and came full on to a tour group. We couldn't hear them twenty feet earlier at the intersection, nor could we see them. Anthy looked annoyed.
The group gathered around a simple mausoleum like many others, but it had flowers and other small items left in front of it. Red "x" marks marred its surface here and there. The guide was talking about Madamoiselle Marie Laveau, a woman renowned as the "Voodoo Queen of New Orleans." It was an interesting little spiel. Unfortunately, the thing I noticed most was the glaring heat of the cemetery; there was what seemed like miles and miles of blazing white marble and concrete, and absolutely no trees.
Anthy watched with narrowed eyes as a trio of women our age took turns posing in front of the monument for each other's cameras. When the tour group had moved off completely, she turned back toward the entrance. "This is no good. We'll come back later." We passed another tour group that was just coming in.
I was just as glad to leave and follow her into a park with trees, where I spent some time boggling at the huge, voluptuous live oaks that circled the place. Anthy sat on a patch of grass to drink some water from the bottle she'd brought in her pack, and I flopped down next to her.
"Do you like it?" she asked after a few minutes.
"The square? The trees are amazing."
She shook her head. "No, the city."
I shrugged. "It's nice. I wouldn't mind coming back sometime."
"But you wouldn't like to live here?"
I blinked at her. "You mean, you're actually thinking of settling somewhere?"
Anthy ducked her eyes away from me, but her voice was casual. "Have you noticed that since we came here, we've had no encounters?"
I hadn't realized. "That's weird. We usually have at least one little one, where we spot the car early. It's like he's letting us know that he knows where we are."
"Yes." She examined a blade of grass for a long moment. "He likes to do that. But he can't reach here."
She gazed around the square a little wistfully. I looked around with her and caught my breath. The square was full of people, people of all colors, shapes, and sizes, wearing clothing a hundred years out of date. And then it was empty again of all but a few tourists in modern gear. I turned to ask her about it.
Anthy smiled and laid her finger across my open mouth. "History," she said, and got up to move on.
Kiryuu Touga leaned gracefully against the porch rail, one hand in the pocket of his immaculate chinos, the other carelessly set against one of the uprights, showing off the perfect line of his jacket. His sleek profile, backlit by streetlights, came into full view as the yellow light of the hall fell over it. The blue eyes turned upon me, peering through a lock of red hair. "Tenjou Utena," he breathed.
I looked at the bundle of cash in my hand, then back at him. "Not enough to bribe you to go away, is it?" I sighed. "You'd better come inside, Mr. President."
He straightened up and smiled. "Not very hospitable. After all, you contacted me." He entered the hallway as I gestured him in. "And, sadly, it's only Vice-President these days. My father is the President of the company."
I made sure the outer door closed and led the way to our apartment, slipping into Japanese. "Didn't expect you to show up on the doorstep. How the hell did you find us, anyway?" I paused to examine his face.
"You're very hard to miss at the post office." He met my gaze evenly, still smiling. I sighed, and opened the door.
"Company!" I bellowed irritably, although Anthy could see him come through the door clearly enough from the kitchen. I closed the door after him, then stooped to shove my gym bag further under a table.
"Ah, Anthy, what a pleasant surprise!" he said in a tone that clearly indicated it was no surprise at all.
"Kiryuu-san. I wish I could say the same," she replied, pushing the sleeves of my old flannel shirt further up her arms and continuing to do dishes.
"What a charming apartment," he said, looking around. His gaze fell on a vase of roses and stuck there, transfixed.
"So, what brings you to Massachusetts, Kiryuu-san?" I asked, recovering some of my hospitality if none of my good grace.
He shook himself, and smiled at me. "You and your letter, Tenjou-san."
I gestured for him to sit in an armchair while I folded myself into the sofa. "So you flew to the other side of the planet just to answer my letter. A note or phone call would have been equally effective."
"But I always enjoy a good, dramatic entrance."
"So you do," Anthy commented from the kitchen.
He paid no attention to her. "I happened to be in New York for a meeting, and thought I'd just buzz up."
"I see," I said, trying to gather my scattered wits. Damn him and his charming smile and his devastating charisma. It seemed to have only gotten more refined in recent years. I guess I'd hoped that he wouldn't be quite this much of a devil. I mean, the night before that duel with him, he was so... nice. Decent. Sweet. Sad. Dammit. I had wanted to free Anthy, yes, but if I'd revolutionized the world while I was at it, it would've been nice. Juri seemed to think I had. Here was evidence that I hadn't.
"So you wanted to chat about old times?" Touga smiled. "Why don't I take you to that dinner I was always offering you in high school?"
I glanced at Anthy, but she seemed engrossed in the dishes. Some of her hair had come out of its braid, making a fuzzy halo around her face. "Keep it platonic... Kiryuu-san. I'm involved."
He stared at me for a moment with several emotions trapped on his face, including something like anger. Then it vanished and he laughed. "Of course, of course. After all, I have a fiancee." There was a sharpness to his voice that set my hackles up. I saw Anthy's head snap up from the sink, so I knew I wasn't wrong.
"Besides," said Anthy in a penetrating tone, "we're waiting for our pizza. You're welcome to join us, of course, Kiryuu-san. For dinner."
He paused for a moment before laughing uncomfortably and saying, "Certainly, certainly, thank you, Anthy. It's been a long time since I had pizza."
"I'm sure it has." I heard her return to doing the dishes.
I felt like I had to try to salvage the conversation, though I didn't really want to. "So, I gather from what you've said that you remember a great deal of your time at Ohtori?"
Touga's eyes settled back on me. "I have no gaps in my memory, Tenjou-kun. Is this not what you have found in your contacts with the other Duelists?"
I tried not to grind my teeth at his familiarity. "What makes you think I've talked to other Duelists?"
He smiled. "I remember you."
I reached down and removed the fork from Chu-Chu's paws. He made a disgusted noise and ran back to the kitchen. "It depends on the person," I admitted.
He resettled himself in the chair and sprawled one arm along its back, looking at me. "Exactly. And I am a dependable person. What do you need to know about the past, Utena?"
Kiryuu Touga was a very beautiful man in that instant, and he knew it. My eyes, however, didn't want to stay on him. Something about him disturbed me deeply. Maybe it was memories. Maybe it was guilt. Maybe it was something else. I found myself looking elsewhere, anywhere, especially while he fixed me with that attentive gaze. I reached down and removed the chopstick from Chu-Chu's paws. He jumped up and down, squawking with such frustration that he disturbed Nanami from whatever secret corner she'd curled up in. "I don't need to know about the past," I said, and saw him startle very slightly from the corner of my eye. "What's happened to you... since?"
He smiled and leaned closer. "Such interest in me. Should I be flattered? Hopeful, even, that you recall that last evening we had together?"
Once upon a time, Touga was better than Juri at flustering me. Years later, he still had a great facility for it. Lesser than in the old days, perhaps, but still significant. My fourteen-year-old's feelings surged up, remembering that evening when, somehow, I had moved through despair and confusion to a new resolve. The clarity of the feeling was still there, a peculiar rightness that pushed aside all the obfuscation laid over me in the previous months.
But, dammit, I was blushing.
"Did you attend college then?" I asked, fighting the blush down.
"After you transferred, I continued my senior year and graduated on time. How was Seiran Academy for high school, anyway?"
It took me several long seconds to process what he'd just asked me, trying to remember the name. Then I glared at him, recalling that Anthy had somehow gotten me listed as a graduate of that school. "What did you do? Walk through my school records?"
He smiled. "Why, yes. Did you expect anything else? Physical education? Really, Tenjou-san, I thought you had a knack for mathematics..."
"Have you been in contact with Ohtori since graduating?" I pursued doggedly. I watched, silently and vindictively, as the kitten stalked and attacked his ankle. When he yelped, I scooped her up and said, "Bad Nanami."
That seemed to give him more pause than I expected. "You named the cat... Nanami?" He rubbed his ankle above the trendy loafers he affected.
I looked up at him, putting as much innocence into my face as I could. "I found her sitting in the rain, in the middle of the street, howling her lungs out one night. I brought her home and, as I was saying that I could call the shelters in the morning, Anthy picked her up, toweled her off, and said, 'We'll call her Nanami.' And that was that."
Touga peered at the little gray and white face and shook his head. "She's very... cute."
Nanami spat at him. "Yes," I agreed. "Have you?"
He cocked his head. "Of course. I am one of the wealthier alumni, so I've donated a scholarship, monies for buildings, that sort of thing. You know how schools love that sort of thing. They invite me to all the soirees and Chairman's dinners." I looked up involuntarily at the mention of the Chairman, and he leaned toward me to say, "He looks just the same now. His voice is the same. He and I, we've been friends for a long time, you know. He's very lonely without Kanae-san, and when we're all alone together, he sometimes mentions you..."
My face burned and my throat tightened. He knew. He knew. Everything.
"Stop it," Anthy snapped.
"Ah," he said, laughing over his shoulder at her. "Gotten all protective, have we, 'Aunt Anthy'?" His voice was mocking and had a strange edge to it.
My own discomfort slipped away as I looked over his shoulder at her. Anthy was angrier than I'd ever seen her. The muscles of her neck stood out, fine cords of indignation, her mouth a thin line of suppressed rage.
My hand drifted down of its own accord and removed the hatpin from Chu-Chu's paws.
Anthy growled, "Get out."
Touga glanced over at her negligently. "I'm not done speaking to Utena," he informed her peremptorily, then stood up and walked to the door. He paused there, confused.
Anthy advanced from the kitchen. "I remove my permission. I revoke my hospitality. I do not want you in my home."
"But..." They were only a couple of feet apart, a tiny slip of a woman in baggy sweatpants and an old, paint-stained flannel shirt, staring down an extremely tall man in expensive, tailored clothing. It should have been ridiculous. It wasn't. It was as if she'd grown somehow, her shadow looming over Touga so that he looked like something I'd never imagined him being: a terrified schoolboy. He tossed a silent, desperate appeal toward me.
I shook my head. I didn't know what had set Anthy off, but I certainly wasn't going to defy her wishes for him.
Anthy followed him to the front door and shut it firmly behind him without a word. She returned a few moments later, shaking with the aftermath of her anger.
"What was wrong?" I asked, making her sit down and going to make tea.
She shook her head and bent forward to lay her forehead on her knees.
The doorbell rang.
As I picked up the money and started for the door, she said, "Make sure you only bring back pizza this time."
I only brought back pizza. We ate in silence for a while, giving our crusts to a disgruntled Chu-Chu. Finally, bitterly, I said, "I wish I'd really revolutionized the world."
Anthy turned my face to hers, one hand under my chin. "Oh, love," she sighed. "You did. You just didn't revolutionize all the people in it."
"But... didn't our hostess say we shouldn't walk after nine...?" I asked, elbowing past a mob of drunken men to keep up with her.
Anthy reached back, seized my hand, and dragged me bodily into the Bourbon Street mob.
I was suddenly surrounded by people who had no notion of "personal space." All of them seemed to have a plastic cup in hand, usually filled with beer, but sometimes filled with substances of more questionable color and identity. They bumped into me, belched in my face, and occasionally remembered to say, "Excuse me." I could feel my temper rising.
The neon signs smeared an orange glare over Anthy's dark hair and skin. We wound through the crowd, passing behind a bikini-clad woman standing outside a sex club. She was flipping a sign that said, "Topless women," on one side and, "Bottomless men," on the other. I've never seen someone so bored. The blast of cigarette smoke and music from the open doorway nearly bowled me off my feet. Anthy glanced back at me, an enormous grin lighting her face, and kept us moving fast.
Blocks and blocks of people, packed elbow to elbow. Some were removing clothes, some dancing, many smoking, most drinking. Then, suddenly, it ended. We broke through the crowd into another street, and this one was well-lit, but empty and quiet. I sighed with relief.
Anthy was breathing hard and her eyes were a little wild. Her hair was snaking out of its braid of its own accord. She turned to me and threw herself into my arms. "I have it, Utena. I know how to hide you now."
Before I could do more than hug her, she was running down the street, towing me behind her.
We didn't stop until we had crossed Rampart, six or more blocks later. Anthy lay her hands and forehead against the wall of the cemetery while I gasped for breath. I kept looking along the street, expecting a horde of muggers at any moment, or at least a police car. Despite all the traffic in the French Quarter, here it was nearly silent.
"All right, come on," Anthy said, walking resolutely around the corner to a side gate and opening it.
I hurried after her. "We aren't supposed to be doing this, Anthy. What are we doing? We can't go in there..." I trailed off, realizing we were inside, and the gate had swung closed behind us.
It was like we'd just walked into a black-tie party where no one knew us, and we were dressed in pajamas. Everything just stopped and stared at us. In a not-particularly-friendly manner. I could feel the pressure of this cold regard across the back of my neck. I felt like I should smile awkwardly, wave, and apologize, but I was too busy keeping up with the pale flash of Anthy's shirt.
I tripped, and something tickled at the edges of my perception, like a wave of titters around a room. I recovered my feet and kept moving, but I'd lost Anthy.
I couldn't see the walls of the cemetery or hear street noises. All I could see was the maze of dimly lit tombs. Everything was weirdly quiet. Clenching my jaw to keep it from chattering, I walked ahead as confidently as I could and turned the way I thought Anthy had gone. It was a dead end.
Then I started to hear things. Muttering voices. Breathing. Hollow knocking. Something scurrying. A sharp hiss of indrawn breath - no, wait, that was me.
The air suddenly felt like ice. Cold, clammy ice that groped at my skin, drenched my clothes and hair. I tried to walk calmly out of the dead end and find the turn that Anthy had taken, but I found myself running, throwing looks over my shoulder, caroming off marble monuments, tripping on the uneven pavement and displaced brickwork. Shadows flitted along beside me and across my path. I heard a thin wail, like that of a small, bereft child.
I stumbled on Anthy a few hours - no, it was actually only minutes - later. She was standing in front of the monument from earlier that day, speaking to it in a low voice. I leaned against a nearby mausoleum to try to catch my breath and quiet the shaking of my hands and knees.
"I know we never really got along, Mam'zelle," Anthy was saying, "but I need this favor badly. I've brought you the usual payment." At that, she slid a stack of coins onto the upper ledge of the crypt. "We may want - or need - it back someday. But I'll owe you a great deal." The entire attention of the place centered on Anthy now. The tension gripped my stomach, the back of my head. I held my breath. Silence reigned.
Anthy extended her fist, turned it to face up, and opened it. My Rose Signet lay in the center of her palm.
"Will you?" she asked.
There was a long, considering pause, and then a single sigh of warm breeze played over our faces. Anthy nodded. She turned her hand to let the ring drop. It flashed in some stray beam of street light as it fell into the darkness. I never heard it hit the pavement.
Anthy gripped my elbow hard and guided me unerringly to the gate through which we had entered. The gate fell open as we approached and drifted closed behind us after we reached the street. She turned to face it and bowed, gesturing me to do the same. I gave the gate as respectful a bow as I'd ever given anyone in my life.
He was so polite, so careful of his English enunciation. His voice was hoarse, like he'd been spending a lot of time screaming recently. The tone was one of someone who'd been beaten repeatedly. Even Anthy was sympathetic. So sympathetic, in fact, that we went over and above his request for discretion in our reply. I called a Japanese-speaking man I knew from school who owed me a favor, and he called back with our affirmative message, doing his best brusque, impersonal, military voice.
Anthy and I were extremely suspicious, to say the least. One Duelist happening to be in the States and convenient for consultation is one thing. Three of five Duelists just "happening" to be in the States is quite another. When he called back, we agreed to meet him in a park along the Charles. Touga's visit had left us feeling very invaded; our home was therefore not an option.
He was sitting on a bench, watching the flock of white geese that frequents the river edge there. We spotted his crisp blue uniform from a block away. As we drew closer, he noticed us and stood, removing his hat with precision. His hair was cropped quite short, although its distinctive waves still showed in the shock of hair on top. He wore mirrored Ray-Bans.
"Saionji-san," I said, offering my hand.
"Tenjou-san," he said, not taking it. His head turned slightly. "Himemiya-san." To her, he bowed.
"Saionji-san," Anthy replied, not offering her hand or bowing.
"What a pretty picture." We all spun from our little formalities. Kiryuu Touga glided toward us from wherever it was he'd been watching. "Kyouichi, it's been a long time."
Four years? I thought.
"Ah, Kiryuu. I wondered if you would show your face." Saionji betrayed no emotion, no surprise. As if he expected Touga to show up all along. Maybe he had. I wondered if maybe Keiko wasn't as crazy as she'd sounded, and Saionji did call Touga to give him periodic reports.
They stood face to face, only a few feet apart. Saionji had turned out to be the larger of the two men: more muscular, more vividly athletic, with broader shoulders and more capable-looking hands. Touga retained his adolescent grace of body and features, a more stylized figure than the solid Saionji.
Mirrored Ray-bans looked into red-lensed John Lennon sunglasses. Touga smiled. Saionji's lips pressed into a thin, pale line.
"And how is Keiko-san these days?" Touga inquired smoothly.
"Couldn't be more radiant," Saionji replied flatly. "She's expecting, you know."
"Are you married yet?"
"No, no. I'm afraid that the lady I was engaged to when last we spoke went her own way," Touga breezed, finally turning from the face-on confrontation. "I am engaged, though."
Saionji smiled grimly. "Does this one look like Nanami too?"
Touga froze, just for an instant, then swept a bow to us. "I'm sorry to interrupt. Is this a private meeting?"
"Yes," Anthy replied without too much acid. "But I suppose I can't be rid of you this time."
He smiled sweetly. "No, I suppose not."
She looked away, toward the flock of geese. "It's a shame you don't have the same problem your sister does," she said, almost wistfully.
He chose to ignore that and looked at me. "Shall I take you to dinner then, while Anthy and Saionji talk over old times?"
I asked, with forced cheer, "Why don't we all go together?"
"I'll treat for you, then," Touga informed me.
"I'll pay for Anthy," Saionji said.
"Now, hold on," I began.
"I," said Anthy in a ringing voice, "will take us all out to dinner."
The three of us stopped and stared at her. I shrugged and grinned. "Okay." And started to follow her as she stalked toward the street.
Both men took a step after us and immediately stopped, looking down at the ground with dismay.
"You should watch your step," Anthy said. "Geese wander all over this park, you know."
The District contained huge houses, surrounded by live oaks, ironwork, and an even thicker atmosphere of history than I'd already felt, though it wasn't as... alive as the air of the Quarter. At an old chapel, Anthy stared in at the delicate lattice of an ironwork gazebo. It resembled the rose garden of Ohtori in a general sort of way.
"Our Lady of Perpetual Help," I read from the iron sign over the gate.
"A very Catholic city," Anthy said. "I love the feeling I get from the devotion here. It's almost enough to make me feel the religion as it was first intended to be experienced."
"Not me." I shook my head and she smiled at me. "But I guess it is... special somehow. More alive. I'm sorry we didn't get to Rome, to compare."
She laughed and leaned against the enormous trunk of one of the live oaks. For an instant, she looked like a queen on an ornate, living throne. Then it passed, and I saw Anthy with her sunglasses pushed up onto her head, flirting at me with her eyes and the curve of her mouth.
In front of a house with Gothic windows, we stepped aside for an extremely dignified, well-dressed, elderly man who leaned heavily on an ebony cane with a crystal head. His close-cropped, curling, silver hair contrasted with the wrinkled mahogany of his skin, and I thought him very handsome and striking. He looked up from watching his step on the uneven pavement and stopped, transfixed, staring at Anthy.
"Akycha," he breathed.
Anthy looked up and smiled kindly. "I'm sorry?"
He shook his head, as if to clear it, and said, "I apologize, Mademoiselle. You remind me of someone most... she would be quite old by now... but you are her image as a young woman. Do you happen to have a grandmother by the name of Akycha Sagrario?"
She grew very still and I thought I detected a very slight emotion in her voice as she said, "Yes. Yes, Monsieur, I am related to her."
"Really?" His face broke into a beautiful smile, and it was suddenly easy to see the young man he must have been. "I attended school with her... was engaged to her, actually..." A cloud passed over his face, leaving the smile troubled. "Perhaps you are a niece? She had a brother..."
I felt a combination of sinking and elation in the pit of my stomach.
"Henri," Anthy murmured.
His ears were sharp. "She has spoken of me then? But of course, I no longer resemble the portrait now."
She summoned a smile with effort. "She has spoken of you, yes."
"Might I impose upon you - and your friend, of course - by inviting you to lunch with me?" he asked hopefully. "I would like to know more of her, if you can tell me. I lost touch with her after the Academy closed."
Anthy looked to me inquiringly and I gestured that she should choose. "We would be honored, Monsieur." I managed a smile and a bow.
Instead of a restaurant, as I'd rather naively expected, he led us around the block, into one of the sprawling, sumptuous homes. It was yellow with a great deal of black ironwork around the first and second story. Yellow and white flowers spilled over large pots hung along these porches. The front door was of dark wood and stained glass, and the foyer matched. I saw more antiques furnishing this gallery and the adjoining rooms than I'd seen in all the antique stores of Rue Royale.
A maid in a crisp black uniform greeted us. "Two guests for lunch, Consuela, please," he said, indicating the two of us. She nodded and ushered us into a cool, shuttered parlor. Ceiling fans turned lazily above us. The room was filled with mementos: stuffed antelope heads, books, strange, foreign knick-knacks. Several antique swords graced the mantel.
Henri gestured for us to sit, which I did carefully in the newest-looking chair I could see. He moved to a rolltop desk in the corner and opened it. "I keep my old photographs here."
Anthy sat on the edge of her chair and shot me an unreadable look. I smiled at her reassuringly.
He retrieved a thin leather photo album of significant age from a drawer and moved to a well-worn chair near Anthy. "As I said, I was engaged to Miss Akycha for a time, Miss..." He looked at Anthy inquiringly through his bushy white brows.
"Himemiya," she replied. "Anthy Himemiya. And this is Utena Tenjou."
He nodded to both of us. "Henri Trepagier. What nationality are your names?" he inquired as he turned the pages of the album.
"Japanese," she replied. "After leaving here, Akycha and her brother moved to Japan."
"Times must have been difficult there for Americans during the War," he said. "I assume she married there. I hope he was worthy of her."
Anthy remained silent.
Henri frowned. "I cannot seem to find the portrait of the two of us. I know that I've never removed it. Where can it be? Ah, well, here is a photo of me in the rose garden, anyway." He offered the album to Anthy. She took it, and I got up to look over her shoulder.
The black and white photo showed him as a very young man in a dark suit and tie, a straw skimmer tucked under his arm. His cheekbones were high, his nose straight and fine, his jaw a clean, sharp line. Black eyes looked out hungrily from the photo. The rose garden of Ohtori stood just behind him.
"That was, of course, not the school uniform," he explained.
I felt dizzy as I placed the age of this photo.
Anthy turned the page. Young Henri and five other young men in dark, brass-buttoned, high-collared uniforms looked out grimly from the page. Anthy's hand trembled.
Henri leaned forward. "Ah, yes, the..."
"Student Council?" I finished.
"Yes," he acceded, eyeing me with some interest. "I was the treasurer. I had a great rivalry with Antoine." His finger indicated the tallest man, who was devilishly beautiful, as Kiryuu Touga could only dream of being. Dark hair waved, shining and sleek, back from his face, his uniform somehow hung more interestingly on his graceful frame, and his black, black eyes pulled the gaze to them like magnets. Henri's voice filled with deep sadness and old pain.
"You were good friends," Anthy said softly.
"From boys," he agreed. "Like with Daniel." He indicated a smaller man who I quite took to. He stood out from the rest not only because of his spectacles, but his skin was several shades darker than the other men. He stood just a little apart from the men on either side of him and his eyes were sad and dreamy. "Daniel, he died in the War. They say he saved his men. I would not have believed him a soldier, much less an officer, but there it is. Antoine... Antoine did not see the War."
Consuela came in to announce lunch at that moment. I cursed mentally, sure I'd never hear more about Antoine.
Monsieur Trepagier, as Anthy addressed him, apparently employed a chef of remarkable quality, because we had a truly phenomenal lunch made up of items I couldn't name. Our conversation derailed for a while, as Anthy asked about a certain antique and he waxed eloquent about its history. I think she did it on purpose.
"So," he said when we retired back to the parlor, "you said that Miss Akycha went to Japan? Is she... is she still alive?"
Anthy looked up at his hopeful face. "No, Monsieur, I'm sorry. She passed on many years ago."
He sighed. "I should not have hoped. I am very old myself. And I should not keep you ladies here with an old man's maundering on such a beautiful day. You have been very kind to humor me."
"No, Monsieur," Anthy replied with a small bow, "it has been an honor... and very educational."
We made polite conversation for a while longer, laced liberally with appropriate expressions of gratitude. Finally, he escorted us to the door.
"Thank you for an afternoon's pleasant company, Mademoiselles," Monsieur Trepagier said in farewell. "I wish I could have found that photo. You would see the resemblance is truly remarkable."
"So, what brings you to Boston, Kiryuu-san?"
"So formal, Kyouichi? You don't need to be. I came because of Utena, of course."
"Don't look at me," I said, anticipating Saionji's glare. "I wrote him a letter, just like I did the rest of the Duelists, but I didn't invite him to - or tell him about - our meeting."
Saionji swiveled his suspicious gaze between Touga and me for a long moment, then said, "So what were the letters about, then?"
"I wanted to ask you about Ohtori," I said, then bit down on a yelp as Anthy pinched my thigh under the table. Hard. I rubbed it surreptitiously and darted a questioning glance at her. She studied the menu serenely.
"What about it?" Saionji growled.
"What use could our fond memories be to you?" Touga inquired simultaneously. After smiling at Saionji, he continued, "Although I'll share them willingly."
I groaned internally. It would have been so much easier to talk to Saionji without Touga around. Not that I had expected the interview to be hearts and flowers, but I certainly didn't need Touga to raise his hackles even further than I did normally.
"Um, I wanted to... a lot of people have trouble remembering some of the things that happened there..."
"Including you?" Touga, concern dripping from his voice and expression, leaned across the table.
"No, I..." Dammit, what to say?
Anthy interposed, so smoothly I'm not sure anyone even heard my response, "No, Utena recovered her memories without problems. We wanted, though, to see what might be correlated with other people's memories."
They both stared at her. Well, I suppose she does take some getting used to, especially for people who only knew her as the Rose Bride. I hid a grin behind my menu.
Anthy continued, "Some of the memories seemed so unbelievable, we felt we needed confirmation of some events."
They were both still gawping, though Touga showed signs of recovery. I felt I ought to put my own two cents in or Saionji, at least, was going to be staring openmouthed at my partner all night. "For closure," I said.
Touga turned to me, almost gratefully. "For closure?" he drawled, and I wondered for a moment just what I'd said to make him sound so self-satisfied. "But you had each other, didn't you?" Damn him, he had no right to say things in that tone of voice! "Surely, you could compare..."
"My memories are not like those of other people," Anthy said flatly, her tone of voice indicating that his line of reasoning was ended and that particular discussion was closed.
Saionji leaned forward, eagerness showing in his voice despite his obvious effort to remain detached. "I would like confirmation as well. And closure, if what you mean is not needing to think about that place ever again." He glowered at Touga. "I got out, and I mean to stay out."
Touga leaned back gracefully in his chair, the menu held negligently in one hand. Saionji's gaze was pinned fast. "Yare, yare," he drawled. "Aren't we vehement? Was it so bad, after all? To be so important..." He trailed off meaningfully. "Ah, here is our waitress."
I fumed internally while we ordered our food. It was pretty clear that Touga's presence was going to sabotage any possible help from Saionji. Damn! And Saionji didn't deserve this, either.
As the waitress left, Touga said, "Well, I remember the duels. I recall that Utena began her career as a Duelist by fighting Saionji over some love-letter or other."
Wakaba. The memory of her tears hit me hard, somewhere around my solar plexus, and I decided that I needed to find her.
"And," Touga continued, "Utena beat you, Kyouichi. That time and every other time you fought."
Saionji sipped the glass of wine the waitress had just brought him. "As I recall, you only beat her by trickery."
"You remember correctly," I put in before Touga could deny it.
He sighed and smiled down at the table through his red hair. "Ah, Utena. Trickery is in the eye of the beholder."
"Exactly," I said.
An awkward silence fell that even Touga couldn't evade. Finally, Saionji asked, "So what has become of Nanami?"
Several emotions flitted over Touga's face before he could get a grip on them. "I don't know," he said with far less assurance than he'd had previously. "She left... went to a boarding school in France. I don't... contact her."
Saionji glanced at him sharply. "Why not? Could it be that she's outgrown her beloved oniisama?"
Touga remained silent, taking a long drink of his Black Russian.
"Ohhh," Saionji pursued, smiling coldly. "Could it be that little sister has managed to pierce your armor, Kiryuu, and actually do some damage?"
"Shut up!" Touga exclaimed, glaring at Saionji. "Yes, things have happened. And they're none of your business, Kyouichi. Not since you decided we were both demons and hid away with your blushing bride."
"I decided that long before I found Keiko weeping in the snow outside your door, Touga," Saionji snapped. "The way you treated her only confirmed it for me."
"You watched me treat dozens of women the same way, Kyouichi," Touga purred, back on his own ground. "Why was Keiko-san any different?"
Saionji shifted uncomfortably and finished his wine.
"In fact, shortly after I discarded Keiko, I dated and discarded Aiko and Yuuko in turn, Nanami's other henchmen. Why didn't you rescue them?"
I glanced aside at Anthy. She was folding her napkin into a floppy origami shape of some sort.
"Could it be that you felt a certain kinship with Keiko at that moment, Kyouichi?" Touga had leaned closer to Saionji, was murmuring nearly into his ear. And he just barely managed to pull back in time to avoid Saionji's fist.
Diners around us stared and Saionji subsided quickly, glaring sullenly at the centerpiece. Touga tossed back the remains of his drink. Anthy set a sagging white origami rose next to my plate. When I glanced at her, she gave me a small, reassuring smile, and a moment later, I felt her hand on my knee. I sighed and settled in for a very long dinner.
This graveyard was far less claustrophobic than the one we'd been in the night before, and certainly had less of a sense of Presence. There was grass, trees laying shade over the back and sides, and long, straight, wide lanes of traffic. A few tourists wandered here and there. Anthy headed for the less-populated rear of the cemetery. When I caught up to her, she was sitting on a low wall that surrounded a family plot and staring at the ground between her feet. I sat down too.
"You okay?" I asked finally.
She nodded slowly, distracted.
There was a long pause, but then she quirked a small, sad smile at me over her shoulder. "He was very sweet, wasn't he?"
I nodded and laid a hand on her lower back. "Wistful. Sad." Then, "Why didn't you tell him the truth?"
She shrugged. "Truth? Why make his life more difficult? He's lived sixty-odd years of believing that everything that happened was perfectly normal, that Akycha was a normal girl, that her brother was a normal man. What good would it do to tell him that he's wrong?" She laughed softly. "Besides, do you think he would've believed me?"
"No, I guess not." A light breeze lifted some of the humidity and made the shade quite pleasant for a few moments. "I wish he could've found the photo, though."
"Why?" she asked, almost angrily, and my hand retracted from her tensed back as if it had been shoved away. "So you could have some proof?"
"No. Anthy." I was hurt, and there was a pleading tone to my voice that I hated at that moment. "I believe you. I believe everything implicitly. Don't you know that?"
Her shoulders slumped. "I'm sorry, Utena. I was just... he took me by surprise."
I slid my arm around her waist and pulled her against me. "It's all right. I was just... curious, I guess."
"You have every right to be. I haven't told you very much at all."
"No, you haven't." We enjoyed another breeze and each took mouthfuls from my water bottle. "What happened to Antoine?" I asked as casually as I could.
She sighed. "He," and I could hear Akio's name underlying the pronoun, "thought to try an... experiment. With the duels. Reverting to a more barbaric past."
I blinked and tried to understand, then took another mouthful of water to cover my distress. "The duels... were to the death?"
Anthy's shoulders shrugged, but I could see her hands trembling. "Just that one. It cost him the school here. I'm sorry that Henri remembers it so clearly." She looked away, squinted at the tomb across the path. "The dress was white there. I always hated the places where the dress was white. The worst things seemed to happen."
There wasn't much I could say to that. After a few moments of silence, I said, "If one were to look up the school in the records..."
"You would find a small Catholic boarding school where the nuns failed to manage the secular side and therefore employed a man of the world to keep the books and administrate and deal in local politics. He had a younger sister who informally attended some classes there among the young men." Anthy stretched, lifting her braid off the back of her sweaty neck. "They liked to hear her play the piano."
I nodded and leaned over to kiss her cheek. She turned her face to meet me halfway, and we sat there in the cemetery, making a spectacle of ourselves.
A few breathless moments later, Anthy pulled away and stood. "Let's go eat. They'll be closing soon."
We walked up the street to the streetcar and had to stand, uncomfortably, the whole way back to the French Quarter. She'd made reservations at our restaurant of choice that morning, arranged with her inimitable sense of timing, so we just limped off the streetcar and up the street a bit for dinner.
Feeling much more human, we left the restaurant and strolled back toward our b&b along Rue Royale. The sky was star-speckled above the city lights. Sounds of revelry began to drift down from Bourbon Street, and we passed several late street musicians playing jazz and blues. Anthy dropped a ten into the cup of a wheelchair-bound woman who was playing an electric keyboard and singing energetically in a voice made of gravel. We exchanged grins with her and kept going. The sounds of activity faded behind us. A few people still moved along the street, but quietly, in pairs or small groups. Gossamer-winged insects - termites, we'd been told - drifted up to cluster around the streetlights and periodically, bats would swoop through the clouds.
Some movement that wasn't a bat caught my eye. I looked up at a large, grey, square, surprisingly unattractive building to see a dark-skinned little girl wearing grimy scraps of fabric appear at the edge of the roof and teeter on the very edge. She looked back over her shoulder in apparent panic, heaving sobbing breaths.
My hand tightened on Anthy's, my body coiling, and Anthy said, "You know there's nothing for you to do, Utena." The girl leaped off the roof, the tattered rags around her fluttering in the breeze. Her mouth opened in a silent scream as she plummeted... and never reached the ground. Anthy didn't even look. "It happened a long time ago." My heart pounded with adrenalin that had no vent.
I exhaled sharply and kept looking over my shoulder at the building. I caught a glimpse of a group of sullen-looking men in very old-style clothing, standing around in front of a house, smoking pipes. They stared at me and vanished. "Can we move over to Bourbon?" I asked, turning my face forward again.
Anthy smiled. "We should be past the crowd now. Come on."
We cut up the next street. The crowd was a block or so away, and there were more people moving along this street, including an elderly couple. We strolled, more relaxed, enjoying the cooler air of the evening. Dark alleys led to slightly lit gardens where I could see the palms waving in the breeze. A full moon broke over the rooftops.
Anthy's hand tightened on mine this time and she quickened her step. "What?" I said out the corner of my mouth, glancing around for the Car.
"Don't you feel it? Don't run, just walk. Faster."
There was... something. Yes. A cold prickle across my back, a sense of something heavy moving behind us. Following us. Malignant, aggressive. I heard a footstep. Another. I thought, It mustn't catch us. I walked faster.
Faster. Faster. We weren't quite running, but it was closing. I cast a glance over my shoulder. There was nothing there. I heard another footstep while I looked. Suddenly, I didn't want to see. I turned my face forward and tried to lengthen my stride just a little more.
We gave up appearances and broke into a run. We bolted across Esplanade, the border between the French Quarter and the Marigny neighborhood... and it was gone. Anthy stopped and looked back, and a moment later, so did I. Bourbon Street was empty of anyone or anything. Nothing. No feeling. No footsteps. Not even a shadow out of place.
She shook her head. "Enough," Anthy sighed. "Let's go home."
Finally, Saionji interrupted Touga's "humorous" retelling of the party that Nanami had thrown for him and the "clever" things he'd said to me when I showed up. "Kiryuu. I was readmitted to school..."
"Yes," Touga cut him off smoothly, "After spending the duration of your exile in the room of a younger girl."
Saionji's lips thinned and his hand tightened on his fork, but he fought the anger down. "How did I get readmitted? I don't remember the details."
Touga barely missed a beat. "My intervention, of course."
"You were permitted to return," Anthy put in quietly, "to further the game." She didn't speak loudly or with any particular emphasis, but both of the men were silenced. "You were a necessary catalyst. You were impulsive. Your choices worked to impel the more cautious Duelists into the arena."
They both stared at her, Saionji in amazement and Touga with annoyance. Saionji finally looked down, finishing his glass of wine, and said, "We were all no more than pawns. I'd forgotten. Important? Kiryuu, your head's in the clouds if you think we were important."
Touga made a graceful gesture of dismissal. "Well, perhaps some of us were more important than others."
Saionji glared, but remained silent as the waitress replaced his empty glass with a full one. Then he seized it and drank half of it. "Perhaps some of us have delusions of grandeur."
Touga simply smiled.
I glanced aside at Anthy and found that she was staring hard at Touga, as if memorizing every line of his face. She was concentrating so intently that I couldn't draw her attention and, in defeat, I returned to the last of my pasta. What had happened to Touga to change him so? When last I'd seen him, he'd been so completely changed and I had sat with him under the stars in the dueling arena, almost comfortable. When he challenged me the next day, I felt my first qualm, but he seemed so intent on "saving" me and "being my prince"... It had been moving, almost charming, though six years later, I could be angry about the fact that he had utterly dismissed me as an equal, and had, in fact, wanted to shove me (pound me, crush me) into the same passive role, that same damned pink dress that Akio had prepared for me. Only he hadn't been as good as Akio at convincing me that the dress was what I (and every girl) truly wanted.
They could all take their pedestals and shove...
We were done with dinner, Anthy was paying, and we were all getting up to leave. Touga seemed blithely unaware - or uncaring - of the glares of hatred coming his way from Saionji or the intensely considering stare of Anthy. He smiled beautifully down at me. His charm rolled off him in waves. I felt nauseated suddenly in looking at him. There was something very, very wrong. I wondered why Nanami had left for France.
"So, Kyouichi, can I drive you home?" Touga inquired once we got outside, out of the way of passerby.
Saionji looked askance at him, then sneered. "I can walk, thanks, Kiryuu. I don't trust your driving. What sort of car did you get? A red convertible?"
Touga smiled unflappably. "You trusted my driving for many years, Kyouichi. Perhaps being married has made you more assertive, though."
I blinked as Saionji turned on him with a snarl. No time to wonder why, because Saionji had him by the lapels of his designer jacket. Anthy's hand held me back as I moved forward. When I looked at her, she just shook her head slightly, eyes fixed on the men.
"You bastard," Saionji hissed in Touga's face, and Saionji's hands were white-knuckled with rage. I fancied there was a hint of fear under the fa┴ade of amazement Touga had plastered on his face. "Traitor. Bastard. Go home. Go home to your pathetic little trophy wife-to-be. Go home to your mistresses. Go home, Touga. No one wants or even likes you here." With visible effort to tame a raging temper, Saionji set him back on his feet. "You're not worth my disgracing my uniform over."
Touga twitched his jacket free of wrinkles. "No, you do that quite well enough on your own. Your poor wife."
Saionji very nearly turned again. I could see the vein bulging in his temple as his face passed from livid to pale. In a tight voice, he said, "Keep away from my wife. Don't even mention her name again."
"Oh, I don't go near Keiko-san, Kyouichi," Touga said deliberately. "I don't need to."
The lapels again. "Who has been calling her?" Saionji snarled. "Who has been telling her stories then?"
Touga effortlessly removed Saionji's hands from his jacket and took a step back. He raised an ironic eyebrow.
Anthy had been staring off into the distance, and said, sadly and with deep compassion, "Akio."
Touga's fa┴ade of calm shattered with sudden violence. There was a flash of motion that I couldn't follow. Then Anthy was standing over Touga, holding his right arm in an awkward and painful position. He was face-down on the ground, his long hair trailing into a puddle, his left arm bracing his face away from the cement.
"You never struck me at Ohtori, Mr. Student Council President," Anthy said calmly. "Something I can't say for Saionji-san." Saionji had the grace to look somewhat uncomfortable, even as he was digesting Anthy's revelation and action. "But no one will do it-" she shifted her grip on his arm slightly "-ever-" she twisted until he made a sound "-again."
He made an abortive attempt at escape, then thought better of it and lay still.
"Do I make myself clear?" Anthy inquired.
Touga just nodded, and she released his arm. He stood and dusted his slacks off. His Italian leather boots were scuffed. He resettled his jacket and gently flexed his arm, rubbing it at the shoulder.
Saionji looked away from him and turned to Anthy, face serious and calm again. "I will be in touch, Himemiya-san." His voice carried a new respect. He glanced aside at Touga once, and I thought I saw pity there for just an instant, and then he turned his steps toward his hotel.
Kiryuu Touga had mostly resettled his dignity back on his face in the interim. He smiled, but it was colder now, indicating that there was a burning humiliation behind it. Perfunctorily, he inclined his head to Anthy, then extended a hand to me. Reluctantly, I shook it.
"It has been a... valuable evening, Tenjou-san," he said. "I, too, will be in touch. And tell Nanami... tell her that her brother misses her, no matter what she thinks."
With that, he turned and stalked off into the darkness of a side street.
We hadn't gotten much sleep the night before - we had a tradition of celebration on our last night anywhere - so I was tired and not very interested anyway. After we'd checked our luggage and gotten our boarding passes, I went to the bathroom. When I came out, I went to find Anthy where I'd left her. Gone. Of course.
Cursing quietly, I stomped around, looking for her. Usually, I have no problem knowing where to look, but I failed to get my usual hunch, and she wasn't in any of the bookstores, newstands, or coffee shops. I sat down, annoyed, in one of the hard, uncomfortable chairs, and watched as Anthy emerged from a coffee shop I'd just checked.
"Where were you?" I asked irritably.
"Meeting a friend," she grinned, and produced Chu-Chu from a pocket. He gnawed happily on a giant cookie and grinned a cookie-crumb grin up at me.
Until that moment, I'd forgotten his very existence. He hadn't been around in London, and we certainly hadn't had him traveling. "Chu-Chu!" I exclaimed. "But... but... where has he been?"
She shrugged. "He's had things to do. Helping."
I shook his paw and he went on eating. He no longer wore a long tie or a gold hoop earring; they'd been replaced with a spotted black-and-purple bow tie and a small amethyst stud. Otherwise, he was still the strange, ugly-cute monkey-thing he'd always been.
"Helping?" I asked.
He nodded. "Chu."
Anthy smiled down at him fondly.
"How are we going to get him on the plane?" I wondered.
"Oh, don't worry," Anthy said. "I always manage."
Nanami, who had been drowsing in the hammock of comforter stretched between us, landed, of course, on her feet on the foot of the bed and immediately licked her left shoulder. Her tail flicked ominously. Anthy opened her eyes and regarded me with some concern. "What?"
"Touga," I said, staring uncomprehendingly at the weird shape that O'Keefe's "Calla Lily" took on in the dark. "He realized. He knows. He's going to tell... him."
I heard Anthy sigh, and she rolled towards me to lean on her elbow. "Yes," she agreed calmly, while the kitten bit my toes.
"He probably already knows where we are," I said, shivering. I reached for the sheet and pulled it up over my chest, making something of a tent.
"Yes," said Anthy again. I looked down, but her face was shadowed by the sheet.
"We'll need to move fast," I said weakly, feeling inadequate.
Anthy sighed again and sat up. "Love," she said, as she pressed against my breastbone and pushed me back down onto the bed, "worrying about this in the middle of the night is not going to help." She pulled the comforter back up over both of us, eliciting a squeak of protest from the kitten attached to it, and snuggled up against my shoulder.
"But..." I said, not really sure why I was protesting.
"Go to sleep," she said to my shoulder. I sighed, kissed the top of her head, and did my best to take her advice.
When I woke the next morning, the apartment was filled with dim, watery light from an overcast sky. Anthy was standing at the window of the living room, staring out at the rain, one hand flat against the glass.
"Anthy?" I asked, pulling on my bathrobe and padding out to her. "What's wrong?"
I peered over her shoulder at a world made curiously two-dimensional by a dark curtain of steady rain. As I put my arms around her waist, Anthy rested her head on my shoulder, still staring out at the bare trees and gloomy street. She didn't answer, but then, we both knew the answer anyway.
"I'm glad it's Saturday," I said inconsequentially, thinking of the walk from the T to my classes. Then: "What shall we have for breakfast?"
Anthy made a sound then, somewhere between a sigh and a laugh, very quietly. Emboldened by this, I continued: "I could make French toast, if you didn't want rice. We have some eggs."
Anthy let the curtain drop, turned, and buried her face in the front of my robe. I hugged her hard. "Look, love," I began. "If you really can't... I mean, we don't have to..."
She put her hand over my mouth to stop me. "Don't be silly," she said, and kissed me, standing on tiptoe. "I'll make the tea and you can make French toast." She pulled me toward the kitchen by the sash of my robe.
So we had breakfast, with all the lights in the kitchen on. Chu-Chu upset the syrup onto his plate and we laughed.
I was in a rose garden that was the dueling arena and Dios was there, standing on his monument. He scowled down at me and said, "You can't be a Prince. You're a girl. Only a boy can properly wield my Sword." He pointed. I looked around and saw that Touga and Saionji were in the garden with me. They opened their pants and out sprang these swords. They started jumping around each other, exchanging witty repartee and clashing the swords together. Then Dios turned into Akio and he told them that they could only duel while doing this intricate little folk dance step. So they started dancing; it was a seven-beat step that Touga managed easily, but Saionji couldn't keep up.
Juri and Miki made disgusted comments next to me. Then Kozue showed up and yanked Miki's pants down and stuck his sword hilt there. Despite his protests, she dragged him off and pushed him into the fight with the others. After just a few crashes of blades, his sword fell off and he ran away, zipping up his pants. Juri ran out and tried to fight too, holding her sword in her hand, but she came back to where I stood, looking exhausted, and said, "I just can't take it anymore." She had two lockets that were also brooches and used the pins to tear her eyes out. Then she dropped the lockets because she couldn't see them any more and staggered away. The lockets shattered on the roses without any sound.
Akio stood over me and pulled my sword from my chest, which both hurt and was pleasurable. He opened his fly and affixed my sword there. Then he smiled at me, said, "In the end, all girls are like the Rose Bride," opened his arms, and came for me.
I don't like to remember what happened after that.
@---Go on to Part Seven---@