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Gougai! Gougai!

HOLY SHIT PEOPLE, IT'S NOT BAD ENOUGH WE'RE GETTING AN UTENA EXHIBITION RIGHT NOW

THEY. ARE. MAKING. A. NEW. MUSICAL. NEXT. YEAR. START LOSING YOUR SHIT RIGHT NOW

#1 | Back to Top10-04-2009 12:59:13 AM

sharnii
Pharaoh of Phanstuff
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: 08-10-2008
Posts: 2416
Website

[fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Thorns Wither
by sharnii

This is the sequel to Roses Grow, [find that here: http://forums.ohtori.nu/viewtopic.php?id=1518&p=1] (a Revolutionary Girl Utena fanfic set post-series from Utena’s POV). It takes place directly after Roses Grow leaves off, and is told from Anthy’s POV. Once again the focus is Utena/Anthy, but with plenty of input from Ohtori’s other denizens, including some faces from the past…
The genre is the same combo of drama/romance/angst/humor/symbolic-wtf. This will be another novel, and comments and constructive criticism are more than welcome. As are fans of Utena raving about the fandom…as are fanfic-artworks which I drool over!
I reply to all reviews and will include complete Author’s Notes at the very end.

* * *

There is no such thing as part freedom.
~Nelson Mandela~


Chapter 1: Home is a Garden

I remember falling.

Utena asked me about that the other day, if I remember falling. I do. I remember my hand slipping from hers, and desperation fairly screaming from her big blue eyes. I remember falling away from her, and crying out, and losing her in the moment I had found her (and found myself).

Naturally I avoided answering. I don’t want to remember, to think of it in waking life when I have to linger upon it in nightmares. I don’t want to talk about it and awaken the pain of her own memories, so thinly buried beneath her guileless smile. No, Utena has more than enough pain now, and I am the cause. I won’t allow her to shoulder any more.

I remember searching.

I remember five long years that seemed longer than the last five millennia. Five years awake and in possession of my soul, five years awake to the pain of being separated from my meddlesome hero. The only thing that got me through (that stopped my well-beaten path back to him) was her hope. Yes, her hope blazed within me, setting my heart on fire that had never burned before. I knew I would find her.
I had to find her.
I would die before I didn’t find her.

When I did find her we would be together. We would have our happy someday together. It would happen. It had to happen. It was all that there was for me, all I wanted. All I had ever even known how to want.

I remember the hospital room.

I remember staring like a dead woman resurrected at its achingly familiar occupant. Utena-sama, no…Utena, lying sprawled on the bed. I didn’t know how I got to that room, to that bed. Not until much, much later.

Back then (the first time), it simply didn’t matter. All that mattered was my lost prince, found. I’ve always been good at focusing on what counts, or what can’t be changed. Leaning over Utena, pressing my hand to her breastbone, I whispered her name. The taste of it on my tongue was sweet after all the waiting.

“Utena-sama? Utena-sama, can you hear me?”

Slowly she opened her eyes, blinking sleepily up at me. I watched her closely, drinking in every expression, every beloved feature. Slowly recognition blossomed in those innocent eyes. My heart blossomed in answer.

“Utena-sama?” I whispered again, leaning closer. “Can you hear me?”

“Himemiya?” she gasped.

My smile filled my face, activating muscles I didn’t know I possessed.

“Utena,” I murmured and my eyes filled with tears.

The second time I knew how I’d gotten there, but it mattered even less. That time is my favorite because of what happened next. Utena’s shaking hand rose to brush at my tears. Her other hand reached to crush me to her and willingly I went.

“A…Anthy,” she gasped. “What happened? This already…”

“Shhh,” I said, because it didn’t matter, all that mattered was the fervor she held me with and the way my heart ignited. I leaned in to press my lips to hers.

It was only what I should have done five years earlier, instead of sending her out with flowers. It was only what I should have done in the planetarium, as we ate so-called poisoned cookies and drank so-called poisoned tea. Or the correct course of action on the windy balcony, as I sobbed in her embrace. Or what I should have done as we rode the elevator to the last duel.

But I’d never done it then (despite wanting to), never believed there was a point. So I did it now.

Because now I believed.

* * *

We were having breakfast with Juri and Miki, a breakfast which had been Utena’s idea and at her cheerful invitation. Unfortunately there had been no avoiding it.

“More tea?” I asked Juri, hiding behind a sunny smile.

“Thank you, I will,” she said coldly, and I could tell it pained her not to refuse me outright. No doubt she was determined to tolerate me civilly, courtesy of her friendship with Utena. Well, I understood toleration. I’d been tolerating arrogant pre-adults for the better part of my tortured existence.

“This tea is really good,” Utena said from where she knelt beside me. She flashed her trademark grin and briefly touched my thigh under the table. My heart thawed and Juri faded from my vision. For all intents and purposes Utena was the only one in the room. I smiled back and sipped my tea. The way that Utena’s lips met her teacup’s rim was absorbing. Vaguely I heard the conversation still going on around us.

“So what do you think of our idea?” Juri was asking.

“I think it’s great,” said Utena, digging into her ranmen. I assumed this strange breakfast menu was a nod to another breakfast they’d shared together, else I couldn’t imagine why we were eating such a thing.

“What do you think?” Utena asked me, the hand without her chopsticks back on my thigh.

I hesitated. The truth was I wasn’t in the least bit interested in seeing Juri on a daily basis, not that I would mind seeing Miki so much. Their plan (if you could call it that) involved setting up an investigative agency that could continue what Miki termed Utena’s princely duties. As far as I could tell it meant that Juri and Miki would bring their skills (and more importantly Juri’s funding) to the table, and help Utena save poor unfortunates.

It was a charming notion, if a tad naive. Classic prince fare, I suppose. But whatever Utena wanted to do with her time was fine with me, as long as we shared our time together. At the same time I suspected Juri and Miki of suffering a bad case of hero-worship: thus their poorly concealed attempt to live with their idol. It was a regrettable development dating from just before the Duel called Revolution, involving a game of squash.

Sometimes I wished that Utena didn’t play squash.

“Whatever you think, Utena,” I settled on finally, watching ChuChu deliberate over which bowl of food to steal from first. He was poised in the center of the table, utterly unable to express a preference. Utena glanced at ChuChu, frowned, and turned back to try and catch my eye.

“But what do you think?” she pressed, nibbling at her lower lip. I sighed. I hated to worry her, and I knew she had a phobia of behavior she considered to be rose-bride-like. At the same time I didn’t see how to gracefully get out of this agency business, and it was easier to just go along in life. I’d make do, as long as I had Utena. Making do was what I did.

“It sounds fine,” I told her, nudging my bowl closer to ChuChu, so that he would come and steal from it first. With a chirrup of relief he did. Utena was still frowning, but an exultant Miki started bombarding her with set-up strategies. Luckily she was easily distracted. Across the table Juri scowled at me. With a small smile I raised my teacup to her. Her scowl deepened. I felt a little like giggling but that would never do. Quashing the desire I shifted closer to Utena, pressing our thighs together. Her eyes were on Miki, but I could see the slightest flush bloom in her cheek.

I smiled again. This was going to be a good day. Any day with Utena was.

* * *

The next week we moved in with Juri and Miki.

Juri had used her negotiating skills to obtain bottom price for a veritable mansion that was supposedly haunted. For my part I was relieved the property came with a wildly overgrown garden, which was largely because Utena had pressed for there to be a garden. I proceeded to show her how grateful I was in what was left of the broken-down gazebo.

“This is spooky,” she protested, screwing up her nose as I drew her inside and pressed her down on the wrought iron bench. It already hosted a tangled vine of largish purple flowers.

“It’s perfect,” I corrected, sitting on her lap and weaving my fingers through her hair. Her eyes unfocused with pleasure and she made a humming sound. Half-amused I leaned down and kissed her. The moan she stifled against my lips satisfied me that I’d lost none of my lauded technique. We exchanged more kisses, soft, then passionate, then gentle again. I drew her head against my neck and enjoyed the brush of her lips against my throat.

“Thank you for my garden,” I told her, also enjoying the blush tinting her fair skin as her eyes rose to meet mine.

“Oh well, y’know, it was Juri who bought it,” she said all flustered. I giggled, resting my hands on her shoulders.

“Yes, how silly of me. Arisugawa-san is a most considerate host.”

Utena winced a little. I smiled down at her. Of course I knew that she’d insisted on the addition for my sake; she still seemed to have an aversion to gardens, and especially to roses. I understood why, while regretting that it was so. Gardens were my freedom before I met Utena, but for her they were a thorny reminder of a schoolgirl treated like a slave.

She had never seen things the way I did. She never would if I had any say in the matter.

“Do you miss our old place?” she asked me worriedly. “I mean, you decorated it so beautifully, and now we just up and leave it…”

“You liked the decorations?” I cut in, pressing a kiss to her nose. She had the decency to blush.

“Well…”

“We can both decorate this place,” I teased. “I know you want to put up your tasteless sporting trophies.”

Her mouth dropped. I couldn’t help myself: I kissed her. It took awhile for her to extricate herself enough to answer.

“They’re not as bad as your spooky chessboard. Do you even play chess?”

I traced her cheekbone.

“Who would I play it with?” I gazed at her meaningfully and she shifted beneath me, a motion which I think we both found pleasurable. Her cheeks flamed.

“Uh…I don’t know…”

“Let me teach you,” I purred, stroking the back of her neck persuasively.

“You haven’t answered me,” she said, eyes half-closed with pleasure and far more seductive than she knew.

“No,” I murmured. “I don’t miss it. I lived there far too long without you.”

She nodded and bit her lip.

“Home is you,” I told her, “wherever you are.”

“Yeah,” she whispered taking my face in her hands and studying me intently. “I know. But I just wanted to make sure you were okay with this.” My hands stilled on her neck and I smiled at her warmly.

“I am.”

“Okay. Okay then, that’s good.” She sounded relieved. My hands slid up to tangle in her hair and we went back to kissing. After a satisfying interlude we caught our breath, my forehead resting against hers.

“I feel bad,” she told me out of the blue. I sat back.

“That Arisugawa-san spent money on us,” I guessed correctly. Utena nodded, looking faintly surprised.

“Yeah. It’s not like we can repay her.”

“We can.” I shrugged. “If you would like.” It didn’t matter to me one way or the other.

Utena looked at me for long moments, her hands fiddling where they rested on my hips. Her eyes were so guileless, so easy to read. I could see practically every thought she had telegraphed in them. First she was surprised, then she realized I had money even though she didn’t, then she wondered where I’d gotten it from. Next she fretted about what I might have had to do to get it, which tangented into wondering if it was right that she accept money from me as though it was hers (which was silly. Money meant nothing to me. And everything I had was hers). Finally she stopped to realize that I hadn’t offered Juri anything so far and was perfectly aware she was buying a house to double as the agency and communal home.

“Do you mind living here, with them?” she asked, choosing not to speak her thoughts. This was something new about Utena, something I still wasn’t used to. It seemed to be connected to the Duel called Revolution and changes it had wrought in my prince herself. But I didn’t really understand the changes, and I don’t believe she did either.

“I…” I had to catch myself before I slipped into an easy lie. Utena also had an aversion to lying, and some lies were too obviously lies.

“We’re living upstairs,” I stated instead, “just you and I.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, winding her arms around my waist.

“Then it’s fine,” I said, knowing that she’d also insisted on this condition. Juri and Miki had separate bedrooms downstairs. It was a testament to how much Juri wanted Utena close that she’d accepted giving up the master bedroom in her own house. That knowledge disturbed me…

Utena hugged me close and I wound my arms around her neck, clinging to her like the vine did to the bench.

“Only pay her if you want to,” she said, and I could practically taste her desire to ask me where I had money from, or to insist that I do what she considered to be the fair and right thing. But she didn’t say it.

A tendril of something uncoiled in my stomach, grew up and stretched out as though reaching for the sun. It’d been a long time since I felt this, a kind of happiness I almost didn’t recognize, a sense of freedom that made me want to run naked through a forest to music only I could hear.

Because I was free. Her claims of wanting it weren’t just empty words; the proof was in this innocuous moment in the gazebo, in Utena holding her tongue. She’d meant it.

I was free to be me.

* * *

It was our first night in our new room and I’d made a special blend of tea to celebrate. Naturally Utena made cookies. We sat side by side out on our balcony, legs dangling through the bars and out over the side. Utena was gazing up at the stars whereas I preferred to gaze down at the moonlit garden. For a long while we were quiet, except for the crunch of cookies and sipping of tea. It was peaceful. Utena’s hand rested on the small of my back and rubbed lazy circles. Contentedly I leaned my head against the bars.

“What are you thinking?” she finally asked.

“It’s a very high balcony,” I told her, “higher than I thought.”

Her hand stilled.

“What does that mean?” she asked and her voice was suddenly anxious.

I blinked at her.

“Nothing.”

For a moment we gazed into each other’s eyes as we tried to fathom what the other was thinking. Then I realized what she was getting at.

“Exactly what I said,” I told her gently. “Nothing more.”

Her hand left my back to trail down my cheek.

“Nothing ever means just nothing with you,” she protested. “I’ve figured out that much.”

I stared at her, wondering if she was right. After all I hadn’t known myself for a very long time, hadn’t cared to know myself. Had been utterly shocked at caring for this particular victor.

“Kiss me,” I whispered, wanting to distract her, to distract myself. It worked (as I’d known it would), her eyes immediately heating, her pale skin flushing. Her eyes tracked from mine to my lips, then flickered back. I leaned into her hand. A small sigh gusted past her parted lips. Leaning in I captured those lips, not willing to wait.

It occurred to me as I kissed her that in all our time and with all our opportunities, I had yet to make her my lover. I, Himemiya Anthy, rose bride to whoever won me (with so many lovers against my will) was finally willing and longing to win this victor.

Strange urgency filled me, a trapped bird beating its wings against my ribcage.

“Utena,” I whispered against her lips, entwining my hands in her long hair and pressing my mouth more insistently to hers. She gasped and melted against me. Her hands wrapped tightly around my waist as she turned toward me. Our torsos pressed together. I slitted my eyes open and saw that hers were shut, as she kissed me with all her remarkable passion.

It made me so wet.

I kissed her back, hard, moving my hands to encircle her neck. Briefly I saw her in a collar, a golden slave’s collar with a rose seal stamped into the metal. I blinked back the image and concentrated on seducing her with hands that knew the exact pressure to run nails down her back. She arched helplessly against me.

“Take me,” I asked, no demanded, trailing my nails down the juncture where her back met her buttocks. I relished the way her eyes snapped open, shocked. I ate up the way her scent grew stronger, arousal no doubt staining her thighs, arousal that she tried to hide from me.

“Anthy,” she tried to plead with me, “you know I c…can’t, you know how I feel about that…”

I was tired of this particular conversation.

“If you don’t take me,” I said calmly, pressing my nails into the soft flesh I could feel through her pajama pants, “I’ll take you.”

She simply stared at me, her lips making a small o. But her scent grew thicker.

“Is that what you want?” I purred, moving so I was pressing my breasts to hers, pressing her back against the bars. “What you need?” I nipped playfully at her collarbone. She whimpered, and moved restlessly beneath me. I moved back a little and saw her eyes were closed and she was biting her lip. She looked…impassioned. Confused. Indecisive. As innocent as only she could be and as wanton as I knew she was. I loved her in that moment, loved her even more than I had in the moment before.

Her eyes drifted open and gave me a look that was half begging, and half something else.

“Please Anthy,” she whispered, and her voice was slightly strangled. I found that suddenly I wasn’t sure anymore, suddenly I couldn’t read her. Uncertainly my hands slid up her sides, my touch no longer so knowing. My lips hesitated over her collarbone, hesitated, then moved away.

Utena’s eyes were closed again and she was fighting to control her breathing. I sighed, feeling old and tired and very much alone. I pressed a final kiss to her forehead. Then I extracted myself from our tangle of limbs and went inside, leaving her alone so she could regain the control she held so dearly.

I could hear her ragged breathing from all the way where I curled up in our bed, hiding myself under the covers. ChuChu wrapped himself around my neck and under my chin in a vain attempt to comfort. Stroking his fur I tried not to listen as Utena came inside, as she paused in the doorway and stared at me for long aching moments.

It was impossible not to be aware of her.

“Anthy,” she said at last, her voice strained with worry. “You’re not…mad, are you? With me?”

“No,” I told her, honestly surprised, turning to look at her while ChuChu stumbled over groggily to hug her ankle. She picked him up and resettled him on her shoulder. He promptly went to sleep.

Utena sighed with relief, and came over to slide under the covers with me.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I’m just…”

I watched her, my face carefully blank.

“Don’t do that,” she said suddenly, rolling onto her side and cupping my cheek tenderly.

“Do what?” I asked cautiously.

“That!” She blinked, then chewed her lip in evident frustration. “Shut down on me, close up inside.”

I just stared at her, not really knowing what she meant, while she looked as though she might cry.

“I do want you,” she insisted, “I don’t think you can know how much.”

I blinked.

“I do know,” I told her. And I did. Utena did everything she did obviously, and her desire for me was no secret to me or anyone else. Except perhaps herself.

“I just…” Her hand stroked my cheek, and she looked like she was wrestling with herself. “Well, I can’t just t…take you. You know why.”

I did, because she’d told me the last time I’d tried to seduce her. A frown cracked the masklike planes of my face and I saw her eyes soften with relief.

“And I?” I asked, grasping that her fear was over perceived rose-bride-behavior. Honestly I didn’t even realize when I was doing it. The habits of lifetimes of hiding myself remained the habits of a lifetime. I turned my head to kiss her palm, happy to see her eyes soften all the more. Keeping my voice soft I finished the question.

“Why can’t I take you?”

That thick heady scent filled our bedroom once more; Utena was wet for me. Didn’t she know that I knew? Her face was red, her hand was trembling on my cheek. Her breath was hitching again.

“Y…you can,” she whispered, “but I’m scared. I’ve n…never been with a woman, and I’m scared of hurting you, and…” Her face grew redder. “Of hurting me.”

“Hurting?” I asked, arching up onto one elbow so I could run my free hand down her trembling side. She was wearing a tight t-shirt and I could see her nipples standing out against the thin material.

“It hurt,” she muttered, and she wouldn’t meet my eyes. “With him.”

I stared at her, my hand stilling. For an instant the world stopped, shifted. My heart broke, what was left of my dead and rusty heart broke for my prince. Innocent and naïve, this prince, too trusting by far. She’d brought it on herself. Or rather we’d brought it on her, Akio and I, with our plots and devil’s bargains.

“Did he force you?” I asked, and my voice was calm, calmer than it should be. Utena’s eyes flickered to mine immediately, looking alarmed at what she saw.

“No,” she said, “He was gentle. And I’ve heard the first time is supposed to hurt.” Her eyes searched my face with apparent trepidation. I didn’t know what she wanted to see, so I couldn’t show it to her.

“But he took you,” I guessed accurately. “Made you his.”

Her face flamed and she looked down.

“It’s my fault,” I said, and my voice was strange to my own ears, jagged like broken glass. I didn’t recognize it. Utena’s eyes jerked back to mine yet again.

“Don’t be silly,” she warned, a little too sharply.

“I asked you to deliver the roses.”

“You couldn’t have known…” she pleaded. Her heart was in her eyes.

I forced myself to meet her gaze dead on. My voice was dead.

“He asked for my help with the roses.”

“But…” She blinked furiously, no doubt trying to deny my underlying meaning.

“Utena,” I said softly, brokenly. “You were the roses.”

I watched the comprehension dawn slowly in her eyes, and make her sick to her stomach. “Oh,” she said. She rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. “Oh…” she whispered, and it was a pitiful sound.

I turned out the bed light, then rolled onto my back too, and stared blindly into darkness. I was uncertain as to why I had told Utena, as to what I’d been thinking. I’d certainly never intended to tell her, although there was every chance she might have figured it out on her own by now. But no, I knew there was little danger of that. Utena believed the best about people, and tried not to think about things she didn’t like.

She had to be told the harsh truths of life.

We lay in the dark for a long time, not talking, not touching, certainly not sleeping. Finally Utena’s quiet voice broke the tableau.

“Did he force you?”

I froze. Suddenly I was grateful for the darkness, grateful that I had that as an additional layer of armor to hide behind. Perhaps I could pretend to be asleep; Utena was easily fooled (or she had been once). Perhaps I could say nothing, and she would say nothing more. Would not ask again.

“Anthy?” she whispered, rolling toward me and taking my hand. I was still frozen, wanting to pull my hand back but unable. I couldn’t believe she was talking to me right now, much less about this.

“Anthy?” Her voice grew anxious. She reached over me, trying to turn on the light. Suddenly my hand found strength and I reached up and caught her wrist.

“Don’t,” I begged, and my voice was strange to my own ears. A pause, and then she was shifting closer to me, ever so slowly, moving her body until we lay touching all along our sides. I couldn’t help my reaction: I turned away from her. Another pause. Then slowly, surely, she pressed her warm body to my shivering back, and wrapped an arm about my waist.

“Tell me,” she whispered into my neck. She struggled with the next words, her voice raw with pain. “I’ve earned the right to know.”

I couldn’t deny that.

“Yes,” I said, my voice quite calm for all that I was shaking uncontrollably. “Yes, he forced me. Many times. Many different ways. But…not every time.”

Utena was quiet. Her arms gripped my waist tighter. When she finally spoke again her tone was indecipherable.

“Did he…hurt you?”

Shadows whirled in front of my eyes, shadows made of blood-red mist and an eternity of suffering. There was a shadow-prince in a cage, and a shadow-witch leered down at him, cackling manically. That was how he said it was. But then why hadn’t the prince been the one in the cage?

“Anthy?” she prompted again, voice oddly rough.

“Yes,” I whispered distantly. “For longer than memory. For longer than pain.”

“He was your brother!” Her anger exploded out of the darkness, shining and self-righteous and appalled that anything could be the way I said it had been.

“He was more than that,” I murmured, because it was true, the tarnished truth dripping with my tears and blood and shamed arousal.

“No,” she groaned, and I felt her head shaking against mine.

“Yes,” I said. And I closed my eyes as a single traitorous tear escaped. It had been a long time since I had cried over this. A very long time…

More silence. Utena’s tears on my neck, her shuddering breaths warm against my icy skin. Utena’s hand holding me tightly around the waist, fist clenching sporadically.

And then a trail of fire as Utena lipped and licked away the tears she’d left, kissing her way along my neck, burying her face in my hair and breathing in deeply. My breath hitched in my throat.

What was she doing?

Deft hands unzipped my nightgown, and then her lips were burning soft patches against my back. Her hand moved from my waist to slip inside my nightgown, to encircle my ribs, to trail up and over my aching breasts.

I gasped, arching up into her fingers. Desire curled in my belly, smoky and demanding.

“What…are…you…doing?” I managed to ask, shivering violently, but no longer with cold.

“Shhh,” she whispered. She started to lay kisses down my spine and I bit my lip. Her fingers played insistently with my nipples, causing me to twist and turn.

“Anthy, you never deserved that.” Her voice was as determined as I’d ever heard it. Her hands started to help me out of my nightgown, pulling it up and over my head. She cast it away and hugged me close, still pressed to my back as I lay trembling on my side. “You deserve this.” Her hand smoothed over my belly, teased at the waistband of my panties. I shifted again, gasping in unison with her. She moved to pull them off, and threw them carelessly aside. Then she was behind me again, stroking the curve of my thighs, before entangling her hand in the wiry hair of my mound. She moaned louder than me.

I couldn’t help it. I started to cry. Only one tear had leaked out for a past that was too awful to remember. Yet many tears came for a present that was too wonderful for one such as I.

“You deserve it,” she insisted, somehow understanding. Her fingers traced my outer lips, as she bit down lightly on my shoulder. I arched back into her mouth and moved down against her fingers, and was unable to keep from crying out:

“I don’t!” I was sobbing as her fingers dipped into my cleft, caressing my inner lips. Cleansing heart-wrenching sobs that came from the same place where desire coiled in my gut.

“You do,” she corrected tenderly, and then she moaned against my back, her lust unmistakable. Her fingers slipped inside me tracing and exploring my core, finding the flood that she had created.

I wept and shook and let her take me away from everything I associated with this act, had always associated with it. There was no seduction here on my part, no power game, nothing but Utena unexpectedly exploring me. Nothing but Utena and I, nothing but her fingers inside.

Her fingers.
Her fingers.
Her fingers.

And now her thumb, brushing over my clit, causing me to jerk and cry out.

Her fingers within and her thumb without.
Her lips coasting along my back.
Her breaths hot against my skin.

“Utena!” I cried out, my body bucking violently against her hand for an instant of nothing but joy.

Nothing but her.

Afterwards I curled into myself, my body shaking with the aftershocks of my orgasm, Utena’s hand sliding wetly out of place. She trailed it up my belly, then encircled my waist. I felt my own desire dry stickily against my skin.

“What is eternity?” she said dreamily, and I turned over to tuck my head under her chin and clutch at her like a lost child.

“It’s you,” she whispered a second later, bending to kiss the tears from my closed eyelids. Closed because I couldn’t bear to look at her just yet, to look into innocent blue eyes. To see forgiveness, absolute absolution, unswerving belief in things I didn’t believe in, for all that I believed in her. To see love.

I had meant to make her my lover. Instead she’d set me free all over again.

TBC in Chapter 2: Cost & Consequence

Last edited by sharnii (10-11-2009 04:51:30 AM)

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#2 | Back to Top10-04-2009 09:53:56 AM

The_A_Man
Someday Shiner
From: Canada
Registered: 02-22-2009
Posts: 9107
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

That was hot etc-wankdude. Hope the next chapter is as sexy as this.

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#3 | Back to Top10-04-2009 12:52:50 PM

Malacoda
Sunlit Gardener (Finale)
Registered: 07-26-2009
Posts: 180

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Ah Sharnii, you spoil us too much. And that last scene was wonderful in so many different ways. Though I wonder, how truthful is Anthy in her narration? I'm assuming mostly truthful at this point, but she strikes me as a slightly unreliable narrator.

Either way, I hope for an awesome next chapter.

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#4 | Back to Top10-06-2009 03:05:30 PM

Itsuke
Pathtracer
Registered: 12-08-2008
Posts: 341

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Malacoda um..unless Anthy is lying to herself, which she has no reason to be.

and sharnii, reading your story is like taking drugs! I WANT MORE!!!

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#5 | Back to Top10-07-2009 03:03:18 PM

Arthkael
Wakaba Wrangler
From: Somewhere in Italy
Registered: 08-09-2009
Posts: 19
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Anthy and Utena eventually understood each other's motivations... that was nice and wonderfully written.
And now I think I will go drooling on the last part of the chapter.

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#6 | Back to Top10-11-2009 03:16:03 AM

sharnii
Pharaoh of Phanstuff
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: 08-10-2008
Posts: 2416
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

A_Man: That was hot etc-wankdude. Hope the next chapter is as sexy as this.

I knew you'd say that. emot-tongue And luckily for you it is.

Malacoda: Ah Sharnii, you spoil us too much. And that last scene was wonderful in so many different ways. Though I wonder, how truthful is Anthy in her narration? I'm assuming mostly truthful at this point, but she strikes me as a slightly unreliable narrator.

Thankee! I think your comment about Anthy as an unreliable narrator is very perceptive by the way. *applauds*
I wouldn't even call her truthful so much as 'truthful after her own fashion'. You don't even know how much fun it is to write as her. school-devil

Having said that, Anthy isn't deliberately deceiving the audience, and I hope to write in such a way that we can see when her pov is warped. After all Utena's pov was pretty biased at times too...all pov stories are. Which makes me sometimes wish I'd started writing in 2nd person (as I've mentioned before) but at the same time...gives so much room to reveal a deeper (or darker) side to the characters... Yay! *somewhere close by ChuChu faints*

Itsuke: Malacoda um..unless Anthy is lying to herself, which she has no reason to be.
and sharnii, reading your story is like taking drugs! I WANT MORE!!!

That's true too - Anthy doesn't deliberately lie to herself. But she doesn't necessarily tell the truth to herself either. On that deep and incredibly profound point emot-wink I don't think I like to tell myself the truth either. Or any of us do. Self-awareness is for shadow play girls!

Having said that, Anthy is probably more self-aware than Utena was.
And thanks re the drug comment, Itsuke. Here, take the drugs of chapter 2!

Arthkael: Anthy and Utena eventually understood each other's motivations... that was nice and wonderfully written.
And now I think I will go drooling on the last part of the chapter.

Thanks re motivations! Drooling yes, yay. Writing it made me hot, but tell no-one. That's a shameful thing for an author to admit. school-devil

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#7 | Back to Top10-11-2009 03:20:55 AM

sharnii
Pharaoh of Phanstuff
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: 08-10-2008
Posts: 2416
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: No sex without angst! How evil I feel. emot-redface And on another note it was a relief to develop Miki a little more.

Pain is no evil,
Unless it conquer us.
~Charles Kingsley~


Chapter 2: Cost & Consequence


The next morning I was retrieving my nightgown from the floor when Utena woke. She sat up and stretched sleepily, glancing around for me. Seeing me crouched and naked she froze. Her sudden blush was fierce and I smiled to see it.

“Good morning,” I said innocently, “how did you sleep?”

Her eyes moved from my breasts to the night-colored brush at the juncture of my legs. Her breathing grew strained. I couldn’t help it - I giggled. Her eyes snapped to mine then studied the sheets in bemusement.

“Utena,” I purred, abandoning the nightgown in favor of crawling across the bed. Her fascinated gaze moved to the sway of my breasts as I stalked her, then to my smiling lips.

“I…er…” She looked down again, fidgeting with the sheets nervously. “That is, not so good. I feel…” She blushed.

I smirked as I reached her, leaning forward to steal a kiss. So easy to read. Far too honest for her own good.

“That’s my fault,” I husked, enjoying the way she melted when I kissed her, unresisting as I slid her down the piled-up pillows and onto her back. “I should have taken care of you last night.” Her startled eyes moved to mine and I found my own moment of uncertainty. My next words were a confession I didn’t have to make, but did anyway. I wanted her to know.

“You…undid me.”

She smiled shyly up at me and I found myself smiling back. Really, she made it easy to smile. Easy to shine. Amazingly her blush was growing more pronounced.

Expertly I began to undo her pajama top, enjoying the way her wide eyes drank in my naked body straddling hers. For all her earlier prowess she was childlike still. With that thought my fingers paused on her third button.

“Is this…alright?”

She looked up at me with her heart in her eyes.

“Pl..please.”

Apparently her earlier reservations had been burned away. I smiled my satisfaction and bent my head to undo her next button with my teeth. Her eyes were very wide as she watched me. Her heart was pounding so loudly that I could hear it without pressing my head to her chest. I nuzzled inside the gap in her shirt and licked the valley between her breasts.

She arched her head back on the pillows. Her hands were sliding along my sides but not in any coherent fashion. Part of me wanted to still those hands, to hold them down above her head.

But I didn’t. Not this time. Not after what she’d revealed.

I licked a line down her belly, my hands reaching down to undo the last few buttons. Now her shirt was open, and her naked breasts were topped by hard and rosy nipples, a few shades lighter than her hair. She wore no bra to bed, a habit which I had made my own, although truth be told I enjoyed lingerie now that it was my choice to enjoy it. But I was saving that for a special occasion…

“Anthy,” she moaned, no begged, meeting my hungry gaze with a pleading one of her own. Working together we managed to get her shirt completely off. I smiled at her, and she smiled back, anticipation building between us. Willingly I bent my head to her breasts as my hands started to shift her pajama bottoms downwards. My tongue found one nipple that clearly needed attention and I tried swirling my tongue around it. Every atom of my being was conscious of Utena, waiting to learn her reactions to each thing I did, her preferences.

Which was how I noticed her body go taut as a bow strung back.

I sat up, and studied her and so was able to see the change in her (unlike the last time, when I’d been lost in my own passion). Her head had arched back again, but this time the lines of her neck were too tense, and the way she bit her lip looked painful. Her eyes were closed as I crawled up her body to get a better look, and when they snapped open she stared right through me. They were wild, terror-stricken, and filled with falling swords.

I gasped. Then I slapped her, unable to think of anything else to help.

Her head snapped to the side and stayed turned that way, but her body remained rigid. An angry spot of color filled her cheek.

“Utena!” I hissed, taking her chin in both my trembling hands, and turning her back to face me. She still stared sightlessly.

“Utena!” I cried, taking her shoulders and trying to shake her into awareness. It was no good, the only thing she seemed conscious of was the curse she’d taken from me. I stopped shaking her, watching helplessly as she began to twitch under an invisible onslaught, rolling her head from side to side in evident agony. Keening started in the back of her throat and her fists were clenching and unclenching spasmodically, nails biting into her flesh each time.

It was unbearable.

With immense effort I tore my eyes away: I’d never be able to concentrate if I saw her pain. And I had to concentrate.

Pressing my hands to her naked chest and closing my eyes I muttered an incantation for sight, for seeing the unseen. Another second and I opened my eyes again, studying the swords impaling Utena, slithering through her fragile skin, severing tendons and muscles, rasping along bones.

I assessed the situation.

Clearly Utena had lost her focus. That remarkable focus, her willpower combined with the power of Dios, was how she normally held back the million swords of hatred, and held them back more than I’d been able to manage as the rose bride. Although I’d taught a version of it to her on the plummeting rock where I’d found her, I’d never explained it. Only now did I realize that my hands and tongue on the hotel rooftop had heralded the swords falling from the sky. Likewise my attentions to Utena this morning had shifted her focus once more. Shifted it dangerously.

I had to help her regain herself. Closing my eyes I gathered my awareness and took a breath. Then I slipped into that other reality, ever the haven of witches. It was as natural as taking off my clothes, almost my second home. (This was the reality I’d watched behind blankly gazing eyes whenever life was unbearable, which to tell the truth, had been very often.) Immediately ChuChu leapt to my shoulder and closed his eyes too, lending his strength to mine.

In this place the swords could take many forms and did, or had before. Right now I was back in the barn where I’d tended my sick brother, while outraged fathers and farmers pounded down the door. Looking around desperately I couldn’t see Utena, although I could hear the shouted accusations from outside.

“You’re not a prince!”
“You’re a girl!”
“A girl!”
“A naive idiot of a girl!”

“You stole an innocent woman’s fiancé. Whore.”
“I can’t believe someone can be this stupid…”
“She’s a girl! Of course she’s that stupid!”
“So easily tricked, thinking that the witch loved her.”
“Thinking that the prince, the true prince, loved her.”
“She’ll learn now, now that she’s become a witch.”
“All girls become witches in the end.”
“Rose brides.”
“Never princes.”

“You’re not a prince!”

I hissed through my teeth, guessing Utena’s probable location, and pushed open the barn door, stepping out into the angry mob. Their hatred was thick and palpable, like a wave of heat from a bushfire, and I felt terror melt my limbs.

But I stood as steadily as I could, mostly suppressing my shaking, mostly hiding my fear. It was a good thing I was practiced at hiding what I felt, it was coming in handy. I stared at the murderously angry faces of the patriarch’s from the beginning of time. Such a dreadfully familiar sight…

Then I looked back, following their ravenous eyes to where Utena was pinioned to the barn-door, which swung a little from my opening of it. A pitchfork impaled her through the stomach (no great surprise in the positioning of that symbol), and although her arms remained free they hung by her sides. She slumped forward, and though her legs remained free they dangled in the air a good four feet from the ground.

I ground my teeth. This. was. unacceptable.

“Utena,” I said, loud enough to be heard over the mob, ignoring them in favor of crossing to Utena’s side. I stretched out a hand and stroked her calf soothingly, all of her that I could reach.

“Anthy,” she said tiredly, the words coming wetly as blood dribbled down her chin. Unlike the real world she could see me here, this place where her attention was temporarily suspended.

“What are you doing here?” she mumbled, before coughing up some blood. It stained her prince’s uniform, and I winced at the red-black marring pristine white.

“Finding you,” I said calmly, still ignoring the shouts behind us, which if anything had increased in fervor. This was not the time to get emotional, to get distracted. Fortunately I was good at separating my emotions.

“Remember what I told you on the rock?” I said gently. She squinted down at me.

“Um…” She blinked rapidly, obviously struggling to concentrate. Her breaths were horribly ragged and I wanted to do something to hold her up better, to help her breathe. But I didn’t have power here, or rather my power was superseded by other ancient power. I was fairly sure that Utena could supersede that in turn as the rose prince, if I could just remind her how to try.

I was almost certain that was the answer. If it wasn’t…well, I’d saved the prince from himself before. I could again, and would if it came to that.

“F…focus on you?” Utena finally mumbled, and I could see her trying to do just that. “And r…remember…”

“Yes,” I told her, ignoring the trail of blood that had oozed down her leg to cover my hands. “Remember, you’re a prince.”

“A prince…” she whispered.

“You’re not a prince!” shouted the swords.

“You are a prince,” I insisted. “The prince.”

“I am?” She looked from the swords to me, then back to the swords, not really able to lift her head. I could see confusion in her clear blue eyes, mingling with disbelief and despair. But I couldn’t see the swords inside her irises anymore.

That was a good sign.

“My prince,” I said firmly, deciding it was time to play dirty. “I need you. I’m in… terrible danger.”

Her eyes snapped back to mine.

“You are?”

“Utena-sama,” I said beseechingly, putting my heart in my eyes, using the honorific deliberately for its impact and the way she hated it so. “Come back to me. Save me.”

She stared at me with something like horror.

“Anthy…” she moaned. And then her hands were lifting, clenching on the pitchfork in her gut, pulling at it, while her head arched back and she screamed. It was actually impossible for her to be pulling it out while suspended on it, or from that angle. But that didn’t seem to stop her.

Her screaming filled the air. I bit my lip and bore it. This wasn’t about me. This was all on her.

The swords fell silent; I said nothing more, knowing that she was on her way back. The pitchfork was wavering, dissolving, even as Utena scrabbled at it awkwardly, and then she was falling, knocking me to the ground, and we opened our eyes and…

…we were back in our bedroom.

With an inarticulate cry she leapt off the bed and whirled, clearly looking for the danger I’d claimed. I hopped out of bed after her, and retrieved my panties and nightgown for the second time that morning. They were on by the time she turned back to me, questions brimming in her eyes.

I shrugged at her, strangely uncomfortable under her frank assessment.

“I’m sorry,” I murmured, forcing myself to meet her gaze. “It was necessary.”

She looked at the bed, at our tousled sheets that smelled like us, then at ChuChu snoring exhaustedly on the pillow where he’d conked out as soon as we fell out of the other place. She looked at her belly (unmarred other than the healed scar), then back to me, and absently took the pajama shirt I handed to her. Just as absently she started to button it up.

“Okay,” was all she said, and I could see her hands were shaking. Mine were too, but I hid that from her, crossing instead to stand behind her and wrap them tightly around her waist. She leaned back a little, and put her hands over mine, and we waited together as she steadied herself the best she could.

“I stopped paying attention,” she mumbled finally.

My hands tightened around her waist.

“I don’t want to…” her voice was faint; I had to lean forward to hear. “…Go back there. Again.”

“I know,” I told her, but there was nothing more that could be said than that.

Because whether she went back was out of my hands.

* * *

Utena was abnormally quiet for the next few days, going for runs that lasted too long, prone to leaning on windowsills and gazing out at nothing. She had never handled weakness well, and this was no exception. I kept an eye on her, and kept her company when she would allow it. I worried and toyed with possible (but not possible) arcane answers, but I didn’t try to impose upon her personal struggle.

Juri was a different story.

We were in the greenhouse, Utena doing aimless lunges while I considered my new collection of bonsais. I loved them almost as much as roses, indeed sometimes the birdcage had been one of bonsais. I’d decided that this greenhouse would combine them both, roses and bonsais in a wholly new design.

There was something about the beautifully stunted trees that sang to me, and as for roses, they were a part of me. Utena of course hated the roses but put up with them, and interestingly enough was fascinated by the bonsais. I’d suggested she try the artform but she was reluctant.

She was probably right to be. I didn’t really think she’d have the knack.

Juri strode inside, spotted the brooding Utena, visibly sighed, and threw an icy glance in my direction. Then very deliberately she turned her attention back to Utena.

For all appearances I concentrated on the bonsai at hand.

“Want to go for a walk?” Juri asked.

Utena looked up in a daze.

“What? Oh hi, Juri…no thanks, I’m keeping Anthy company.”

If she chose to see it that way, it was fine with me. I started to carefully wire one branch of my current project (a Japanese White Pine) to another.

Juri cleared her throat.

“What’s wrong, Utena?” she asked directly, turning her back to me. I grimaced. This branch was a sturdy one: it didn’t really want to tie itself to the other. I might have to clamp them.

“You’ve been strange for days now,” Juri went on, “Miki-kun and I are worried about you.”

“It’s nothing,” muttered Utena, staring at her feet. “I’m just…I have some things I need to figure out is all. But you shouldn’t worry. I’m fine. Anthy’s fine.”

I couldn’t see it but was certain Juri was gritting her teeth. I smiled as the branch was successfully clamped. Now for the cutter.

“I didn’t ask about Himemiya-san,” Juri said, “I asked about you.”

A startled glance from Utena.

“Oh yeah, well, uh…it’s pretty much the same thing, right? I mean, if Anthy’s upset I am, and if something’s bothering me then…”

She looked my way and affection warmed her eyes. Naturally I looked up and smiled at her, enjoying the easy return smile on her lips. If I also enjoyed the foul expression on Juri’s face it was only…human.

“How sweet,” said Juri in a tone that said she felt like throwing up. “Well then, if I’m not wanted…” She turned on her heel. I mused to myself that for all her ice Juri had rather a temper. She should really do something about it. Of course she probably didn’t want emotional tips from the former rose bride.

“Wait!” cried Utena grabbing Juri’s arm to stop her. “I’m sorry, Juri, I didn’t mean that I don’t want your help, uh, in general. We’re friends and friends help each other.” She smiled appealingly at the older girl. “But I don’t need help right now.” She nodded to herself and tried to look convincing. “I’ve got this handled.”

Something in the slump of her shoulders told me otherwise, and I could tell Juri knew better too. Still she softened, and unbent enough to put a hand on Utena’s shoulder.

“Alright. But remember…if you need help…or to talk…” For a moment they gazed into each other’s eyes, Juri all fierce intensity, and Utena with classic confusion and pink tingeing her cheeks.

My cutter sliced.

And then the moment was over, and Juri was leaving and Utena was staring after her while rubbing at the back of her neck. I looked down at my bonsai and stifled a curse word. (Curses definitely weren’t ladylike, my brother would have slapped me.)

It was ruined. I’d sliced off the primary branch, instead of pruning its edge as I’d intended. I couldn’t believe I’d been so careless.

Utena was at my side, alerted by some sound I’d made, or something in my posture, I don’t know which. She peered over my shoulder and frowned.

“Geez, that’s too bad. Wow, Anthy, I didn’t know things like that happened to you. You’re usually such a perfect gardener.” Consolingly she rested her chin on my shoulder, arms sliding around my waist.

I allowed this, leaning back into her warmth.

“Yes,” I murmured. “Usually.” I thought it best to put the cutter down.

* * *

The next day Juri coaxed Utena into jogging with her, and I watched them leave from the sunroom window. Then I turned and surveyed the room, wondering what plants I should fill it with. The furnishings were already complete, courtesy of Juri: white wicker chairs and table, orange wicker folding screens, assorted ivory statutory including the requisite Cupid. I frowned at the chortling angel thinking I’d rather replace him with Pan. But Juri would probably see that in poor taste. I smiled.

I envisioned this particular bonsai there, that bamboo over by the door. Perhaps roses on the table, white and orange? No…orange didn’t belong in here. White though, that was acceptable, beautiful. Perhaps some jasmine on the trellis, climbing up the wall-length windows? If I grew the variety that bloomed at night it was said to be an aphrodisiac…

“Anthy-san!” Miki had entered suddenly, his face lighting up to see me. I smiled back automatically, and watched him cross to sit at the white grand piano.

“Play with me?” he asked shyly, his hands already hovering over the keys. I nodded and joined him. Why not? I enjoyed playing. Not as much as he did it was true, but I’d been called on to play many duets throughout the years. They’d been pleasant interludes to my other duties, although each and every one had ended on a tragic note. But the music itself had been the stuff of dreams.

Miki started to play The Sunlit Garden. I started, then stopped; he looked at me enquiringly.

“Why not play another song?” I asked, feeling a twinge of sympathy for this innocent boy, another Dios after his fashion. Miki flushed and set his lip stubbornly.

“I like this song.”

“Yes,” I said, giving in and beginning to play it with him. I waited until the first verse had passed then added softly:

“A little too much.”

His hands trembled on the keys and he missed a beat. Then he was back, playing as perfectly as ever. Easily I played the counterpart, flowing around where he directed the music.

“You’ve changed,” he said softly, not looking at me. “Sometimes I forget that you’re not the Anthy-san I always knew.”

I said nothing. We played on for awhile. It was pleasant, pleasant enough that the slight tension dissipated, easing the air between us.

“Actually,” he added, glancing at me from the corner of one big blue eye. “That’s not true.”

I looked at him calmly, fingers never faltering, flying over the keys.

“I never knew you,” he murmured. “I n…never really tried to, did I?”

I smiled at him and added an embellishment to the song, taking it in a slightly different direction. Fascinated his eyes flickered back to the keys and he followed me, his talent such that he found it easy.

“Y…you’re changing it,” he murmured, and he sounded simultaneously upset and thrilled to the core.

“No,” I told him and my voice was gentle but firm. “It can never be changed.” Gradually the music petered out as the song came to its conclusion. Miki turned to sit astride the piano bench, and stared at me.

“No?” His voice was pleading.

I turned to study him, to peer into his soul. I saw a sweet young man on the edge of 18. The eyes of a child. The heart of an untried hero. The mind of a genius, and the cruelty of a twin who couldn’t let his other half be something he wasn’t.

“It can never be changed,” I told him, “because it’s over.” I stared through him then, stared at that faraway time and place, that garden that was always in his mind. My voice grew distant too.

“The garden gate is closed,” I whispered, while he leaned forward to catch my every word. “The flowers are withered on the vine, the butterflies are dead and eaten by ants. It’s night, and coldest winter, and the piano’s keys are cracked.”

“No…” he whimpered.

“Yes,” I said softly. “And nobody’s there. Not anymore. Not even you.”

“B…but…” His upper lip trembled.

“She’s not there,” I told him, turning my inward gaze outward and back on him. “She’s not there, Miki-san.”

“How can you say that?” He said angrily. “How can you say such things to me?!”

For tense moments we stared at each other, Miki clearly upset and I as calm as ever. Then he took a deep breath and steadied himself.

“Let’s play it again.”

I simply nodded. Why not? After all I wasn’t Utena. I wasn’t trying to save anyone, it wasn’t my role.

Still. Just for a moment I’d seen something in Kaoru Miki, something that could have been changed for the better. Not like shaping a bonsai. More like unwiring a branch and letting the bonsai reach maturity. Become a real tree.

But I grew bonsais. I didn’t unmake them.

We turned back to the piano. The too-familiar notes of The Sunlit Garden trickled through the sunroom and the strain between us calmed.

ChuChu found us and leapt to the piano top, where he lay on his belly and nodded his head in time to the music. His tail swung over the side, ticking from side to side like a metronome. I giggled at him, and Miki smiled at me. His eyes were hazy and I knew he wasn’t really seeing me, not as Himemiya Anthy anyway.

I was there in lieu of someone else.

* * *

The first client came a week later. I glided into the foyer to find an older woman meeting with my three housemates, and stopped short. There was something about the stranger’s sun-hat…

She turned toward me and I was unable to stop my eyes widening. I knew her. I was the only person present who did, and she wouldn’t know me, but the fact remained. I knew her.

Chida Tokiko.

She stared back with an odd look on her face. I noted calmly that she was as beautiful as she’d been in her liaisons with my brother, many of which I’d been forced to watch from the shadows.

I watched her suspicious gaze track from my features (so like Akio’s) to my bindi, and shoot startled back to Utena.

“You know each other?” wondered Utena, glancing between us in open curiosity.

“Nooo…” murmured Tokiko, while I contained my response to a tiny headshake. Technically it was true.

“Are you? …that is…” Tokiko coughed uncertainly.

“Is she related to Ohtori-san?” Juri guessed. “Naturally.”

“Oh! How interesting.” Tokiko’s look became speculative, and my distrust heightened.

“Chida Tokiko-san, meet Himemiya Anthy-san,” said Miki by way of introduction. “Anthy-san is Ohtori Akio-san’s…ah, younger sister.” He looked rather nervous, clutching his stopwatch in hand. I was surprised it had survived all these years, or perhaps it was a new one.

Smiling insincerely I offered Tokiko a polite bow, the smallest one possible. She arched an eyebrow, which I contrived not to notice.

“I didn’t know he has a sister,” she purred.

“Really?” Juri’s tone was a tad too bland. “I thought that was common knowledge.”

“Well as I was saying before, I didn’t attend Ohtori Academy at any time.” Tokiko smiled at us all, and if the smile was a trifle condescending, I’m sure she didn’t mean us to notice. “I just…knew a Professor who did research there. We had very close ties, in fact you might say we were practically family. And well, we somehow lost touch when he left, and I was wondering if your business might track him down for me.”

She glanced innocently all around.

“Being that you’re all ex-students yourselves, and that you advertised as a personal detective agency.”

“We’re not just a detective agency,” protested Miki. “We help people and…”

“Yes, yes,” interrupted Tokiko, far too smoothly for my liking. “How lovely. And I hope that you shall help me.”

“Of course!” Utena smiled at her, leaning forward sincerely. “Anyone who needs our help has it.”

I noticed Juri’s annoyed and Miki’s chagrined looks, and highly approved of them. Anyone with an iota of self-preservation would be suspicious of Tokiko, or at least tread cautiously around someone with unclear connections to Ohtori Academy.

Anyone but Tenjou Utena. She was all about helping other people, and helping them until they left her bleeding in a gutter. I sighed to myself. She had to be protected…

I sat down next to her. A family of mice I’d been feeding picked that moment to scuttle out from under the couch and run past Tokiko’s chair. She shrieked and pulled her legs up. The mice kept going, finding a new hole to scoot into by one by one, all sixteen of them.

“Y…you have rodents?!” yelped Tokiko, watching the mice disappear with terrified eyes. When they were gone she took off her hat and started fanning herself with it.

Juri rolled her eyes while Miki stifled chortles as best he could. Utena laughed so hard she was actually slapping her leg. I folded my hands primly in my lap.

“They’re Anthy-san’s pets,” said Miki. “I think it’s cute. Really, Chida-san, they’re harmless.”

“Totally harmless,” snorted Utena, who always found the strangest things funny.

Juri frowned discouragingly at them and turned back to Tokiko who was tentatively sliding her legs back down. I noticed maliciously that she had a run in her stockings.

“How did you say you know Akio-san?” Juri prodded.

“Oh I didn’t really,” lied Tokiko, not quite as polished as before. Her hand had started tapping nervously on her armchair, revealing dark red nails. “I knew of him of course, and I believe I attended a meeting once with the Professor where we had the honor of meeting the assistant chairman.”

Juri’s eyebrows arched.

“But of course,” continued Tokiko, looking away from Juri to study me again, curiosity burning in her eyes, “the family resemblance is so striking.”

“Of course,” muttered Juri.

“Do you see your brother much?” Tokiko asked me and Miki stifled a gasp. I felt Utena’s hand unobtrusively grab mine and squeeze it. It was a horribly inappropriate question to be sure, but a stranger wouldn’t know that. Still I stared at Tokiko silently, discarding various answers, not in the least worried about the possibility of making her nervous.

The silence grew awkward. ChuChu plopped himself down on the table in front of Tokiko and stared too. She gave him a perturbed look and Utena scowled and shook her head minutely, trying to tell him to quit it. Of course he ignored her. Miki clicked his stopwatch on and Juri glared at him. I don’t think he was really conscious of the habit.

“No,” I said finally.

Utena breathed again. Miki clicked his stopwatch off. ChuChu flopped onto his back and kicked his legs up in the air, for no apparent reason. Tokiko nodded at me politely and flashed a small secretive smile. I smiled back insincerely.

I didn’t trust her.

The kettle whistled; someone must have already put it on. Taking that as my cue I escaped gratefully into the adjoining kitchenette to start putting together a tea-tray.

“Tell us about this friend you want us to find,” suggested Juri, clearly wanting to move the meeting somewhere constructive.

“His name is Professor Nemuro,” said Tokiko. In the kitchenette I stiffened, glad I was alone. Although I’d been prepared for her to say it, waiting for her to say it, the name conjured up so many memories.

“Oh!” said Miki in surprise, “that name sounds familiar.” He rubbed at his forehead. “But I can’t quite remember why.”

“I can.” Utena’s voice was faintly wondering. “It was the name of that hall where the Mikage Seminar was held. Nemuro Memorial Hall.”
“The Mikage Seminar?” asked Juri. “What was that?”

I was wheeling the tea-tray in but faltered at Utena’s words, faltered and stared at her.

She remembers that? She shouldn’t remember!

And then…

Is it because of the power? What else does she remember?!

My hands shook so hard the china cups rattled on the tray. The others were staring at me but I was having a hard time regaining my vaunted composure. Leaping up, Utena reached me in a few long strides and placed a supportive hand on my shoulder.

“Anthy? What is it?” She kept her voice too low for the others to hear.

I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say. After a moment my hands steadied and I wheeled the tray over to the coffee-table. Utena trailed confusedly behind me.

“Tea?” I said, doing my best to avoid Tokiko’s knowing gaze.

For the next few moments the only sounds were the polite murmurs of people setting up tea to their liking, and the less polite sound of ChuChu swimming in his teacup. Then:

“You see, I’m worried about him,” said Tokiko, looking at me from beneath her lashes although she was talking to Juri. I looked away.

There was more meaningless babble in which Tokiko claimed the Professor had gone missing under mysterious circumstances and the erstwhile duelists agreed that yes, there had been some truly mysterious circumstances at Ohtori.

I wasn’t listening anymore, sipping tea which I couldn’t taste, and thinking very hard about what I knew of Mikage Souji’s fate. My brother had graduated him: Mamiya had watched the debriefing from the shadows of the planetarium.

“What’s wrong?” Akio had asked me afterward, playing at concern. “Are you sympathizing with him? But now…he doesn’t exist in this academy.”

I had stared out at the empty view as Akio placed a possessive hand on my shoulder.

“No,” he purred, “he never has from the beginning.” I could almost hear his smile as he delivered his final line. “In the same way you haven’t.”

And knowing it was expected from me, and since it was all I knew to do I dropped the illusion (which would not be needed again) and returned to being Himemiya Anthy. Turning my head I smiled at my brother; the empty smile that he liked best, and hated most, and sometimes after our Saturday evenings get-togethers would berate me for.

The smile that said I hated him as much as I had ever loved him. Or that I was beyond his reach to touch, now that the swords had carved out my soul.


Utena’s hand on my arm awoke me from my stupor. Only then did I realize I was staring into my teacup, that somehow the others had all gone, and that we were alone. When she saw me look at her she smiled in relief and wrapped her arm around my shoulder.

“Anthy,” she murmured as she pulled me back against the sofa and her warm body, “tell me what’s wrong. Please.”

“Nothing,” I said automatically, and I heard her sigh into my hair.

“Nothing’s ever just nothing with you,” she said, her line from the previous night. I started against her then relaxed.

“Sorry,” I said, not knowing what else to say, and not particularly wanting to say more. It was habit, survival, the correct way for a perfect Japanese fiancée to be. More than that it was my own taciturn nature.

A pause during which she chewed on her lip. I rested my head on her chest and tried to stop scheming for a minute. There would be time to deal with Tokiko later; right now I needed to reassure Utena. But how my head ached.

“Please?” she tried again, sounding a little lost.

“I know her,” I said quietly, deciding the truth was best, even if it was partial by necessity. Utena gasped. I kept my head against her chest, glad she couldn’t see my eyes.

“From Ohtori?” she finally asked.

“Yes,” I whispered, “she used to visit my brother.” I felt Utena’s flinch. I stroked soothing fingers down her side, and picked my next words carefully. “She may be connected with him…in some way.”

“Like she’s trying to trick us?” wondered Utena, “or he is? I don’t get it… Why does she want to find this Professor guy then? Or um, why does Akio-san want us to find him? Is it a trap?”

“I don’t know.” Again the truth. Another pause.

“Did she know you?” asked Utena worriedly. “She looked at you funny…”

So Utena had seen that much. Curse her for being so much more perceptive these days. She’d always had a knack for seeing things the way they really were, or at least in the best possible light. But it was getting to be practically an extra power. A rather perilous power.

“I don’t think so,” I said slowly.

“I don’t like the way she looked at you,” said Utena fiercely and her arms tightened around me. I found it comforting.

“Are you going to help her?” I asked and I felt the battle within her in the way she tensed and struggled with her reply.

“I…don’t know,” she said finally. “I think…I think I’ll try. Everyone needs help, Anthy. Everyone. Do you…understand?”

“No,” I said.

Her sigh was a gust against my hair.

“I know,” she said softly. “I know you don’t.”

That was the end of our conversation about Tokiko. It was only later that I had the presence of mind to wonder what Utena meant about me.

* * *

Since Utena had decided to help Tokiko find Professor Nemuro, she also made plans for the agency to re-find Kozue and Shiori. In my (unvoiced) opinion we knew where they were already (and good riddance), but Utena insisted they needed a different kind of finding.

Miki thanked her profusely, manfully reigning back tears. Juri said nothing but there was something I hadn’t seen in her eyes before where Shiori was concerned. A kind of…unwilling hope. She believed in Utena, I realized with a small pang of I-don’t-know-what. They both did. My prince had knights in her court, ready to vow allegiance to her.

I didn’t know if I liked it. I certainly hadn’t seen the old prince have such. Besides I wanted Utena all to myself.

Then again, maybe help was good. Maybe if Dios had help back then…but no…best not to dwell on the past. It couldn’t be changed. These duelists were here to stay, determined to prop Utena up. So be it. And at least Saionji Kyouichi was nowhere to be seen. Thank the gods for small mercies.

I contented myself with staying out of the would-be-detectives’ ways, molding the garden to my scope, filling the sunroom, and exploring the property. More importantly whenever I was certain Utena was suitably occupied I did my own form of detecting, carrying out magical researches into the Tokiko problem. Mostly I liked to do these in the Castle of Eternity, ever the haven of my brother and I.

I must admit I sometimes (stupidly, insanely, fearfully) hoped I might see him there. But he never came. When we were younger (much younger), we’d rested in the castle between the games, taken our leisure in the overgrown gardens. When we were older he’d gone there to rant and rave at Dios’ mausoleum, for all the world as if Dios had ears to hear him (and considering what happened later, perhaps Dios did). In those latter times he didn’t like me to go, except at his bidding. I think he no longer wanted me to get any pleasure out of our childhood home, any possible comfort that could be gleaned from memory.

He needn’t have worried.

After spouting at Dios he would tell me his newest darkest plans and issue his commands. I always did what he said: reluctance led to worse tortures than the ones he devised as a matter of course. Although I had grown used to pain I didn’t court it, at least not at his hand. The one exception were moments when I forced him to lose control. They were my only pleasure and any pain was worth them.

Now I glided through the library of the castle, aptly named the Library of the Witch. This room had always been mine, always. Even before, when it might have been called something else, and had held only fairytales to delight and amuse a young princess. But I couldn’t remember its name from back then. Or mine for that matter.

Somebody saying my name, softly and with real surprise.

I gasped and whirled, my long scarlet rags and longer hair whirling all around me. Utena, standing framed in the giant archway, staring at me, my rags, the golden cuffs at wrist and ankle.

She gawked. I blinked, and then my regular clothes were back, the pair of overalls I’d been wearing in the garden (as unfeminine as I got) and a kerchief binding back my hair.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, moving away from the scrolls I’d been looking at before she could see them.

“Looking for you,” she murmured, still staring at me like she’d seen a shadow. In a way I suppose she had. “I was looking in the garden, but I couldn’t find you anywhere.”

“How did you come here?” I asked, although it struck me (finally) that of course Utena could come to the castle now. It was the seat of the power of Dios.

“I er don’t really know,” she admitted bashfully. “I just really really wanted to find you. And I was thinking about you, and I guess I was sorta worried. And then…” She gestured around us. “I was here.”

“Hmm,” I said, thinking to myself that such an ability could prove inconvenient. I clapped my hands and ChuChu rushed out from where he’d been napping under a bookshelf to hop onto my shoulder. I glared at him. He was supposed to be keeping watch…for Akio-san…but still…

“Anthy,” she said, stepping toward me to stroke a stray tendril of hair off my cheek. “What are you doing here?” Her eyes were unusually intent, and I suddenly thought it wouldn’t be wise to lie to her in this place.

The seat of her power.

“Doing research,” I murmured.

“Oh,” she whispered, stroking my cheek. And then: “Why do I feel like we’re drifting apart?”

I stared at her, honestly surprised.

“Don’t you feel it?” she asked me. “I have this awful feeling, eating away inside. Something’s gonna happen…something bad…”

“A premonition,” I said, and because I never wanted her to feel bad I did the only thing I knew to distract her. I slid my hands up her cheeks and pulled her head down and kissed her.

She came willingly. The kiss calmed my thudding heart, then sent it racing again as her tongue sought mine. We broke apart but only part way, our foreheads leaning together.

“I could help,” she told me.

“With research?” That made me giggle. She grinned back.

“Hey c’mon. I’m not that bad at…school-type stuff.”

“Of course not,” I said primly and kissed her again, not primly at all. More passionate soul-devouring kisses in the dusty looming room. I’d never kissed him here. Thank all the gods that I’d never kissed him here.

Finally we broke again.

“Stay with me,” she begged and she meant more than staying in the room. I stared at her, not knowing why she was asking, especially when she had to know I had nothing to live for without her.

“All your days,” I vowed, and it was the best I could do, the actual literal truth.

She smiled, but it was sad, and her eyes were so fierce I could swear they were shining with light.

“And all your days too,” she said, “just you wait and see.”

And if I didn’t believe her, I certainly didn’t say.

TBC in Chapter 3: Black Rose Blooms

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#8 | Back to Top10-11-2009 09:08:51 AM

The_A_Man
Someday Shiner
From: Canada
Registered: 02-22-2009
Posts: 9107
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Ya, more sexiness. emot-rofl Hope it continues.

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#9 | Back to Top10-11-2009 11:24:04 AM

Itsuke
Pathtracer
Registered: 12-08-2008
Posts: 341

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Wow, very interesting chapter!

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#10 | Back to Top10-11-2009 02:25:24 PM

Malacoda
Sunlit Gardener (Finale)
Registered: 07-26-2009
Posts: 180

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

...You're never going to give us an angst-free sex scene are you? Either way, that was epic. I love the bonsai symbolism. It's so Anthy-like without being clichéd. And you brought Tokiko into he picture emot-biggrin She's such an interesting character (mostly because she actually understands C-ko) but I haven't seen a fic with her in it until now.

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#11 | Back to Top10-12-2009 01:37:08 AM

Itsuke
Pathtracer
Registered: 12-08-2008
Posts: 341

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

one note about the bonsai though, but isn't this particular garderning is always related with old people? Than again, who can tell how ancient Anthy is...emot-rolleyes

Last edited by Itsuke (10-12-2009 01:38:59 AM)

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#12 | Back to Top10-21-2009 03:10:29 AM

sharnii
Pharaoh of Phanstuff
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: 08-10-2008
Posts: 2416
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

A_Man: Ya, more sexiness. emot-rofl Hope it continues.

You're incorrigible. emot-tongue

Malacoda: ...You're never going to give us an angst-free sex scene are you? Either way, that was epic. I love the bonsai symbolism. It's so Anthy-like without being clichéd. And you brought Tokiko into he picture emot-biggrin She's such an interesting character (mostly because she actually understands C-ko) but I haven't seen a fic with her in it until now.

Hmm I wonder I wonder. Angst-free with Utena and Anthy is pretty hard, tis true. I mean, I found all their intimate scenes (not even sex, just deep words/looks/hand holding etc) during the anime to be angst filled, each and every one in subtle ways. But hey, they should be happy some time...

*wonders how to write good fluff* emot-redface

Thanks Malacoda! And yeah it's pretty useful symbolism. That's a great point re Tokiko understanding C-ko, lol. She is a very interesting character. When I watch Nemuro Memorial Hall I always find myself wondering if she meant even one word. And when Nemuro opens the door and sees her in the chair kissing Akio...I always doubt it. What a masterful villainous.

But presumably she loved her little brother...

So yeah, lotsa food for thought with her. She makes me scratch my head. She deserves some fanfic exploration!

Itsuke: one note about the bonsai though, but isn't this particular garderning is always related with old people? Than again, who can tell how ancient Anthy is...emot-rolleyes

Not as far as I'm aware...bonsai enthusiasts can be any age. Actually I think it's better to start young myself, since you're looking at 10 years to get one right. Don't want to die or anything in the meanwhile. school-devil

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#13 | Back to Top10-21-2009 03:14:31 AM

sharnii
Pharaoh of Phanstuff
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: 08-10-2008
Posts: 2416
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Time to explore one of my favorite characters. The dark side of the moon as it were.


It's not true that life is one damn thing after another; it is one damn thing over and over.
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay~


Chapter 3: Black Rose Blooms

“We have a new client,” Utena told me excitedly, as I scripted out an ancient poem in painstaking calligraphy. To the uninitiated it looked like a beautiful wall-hanging, done all on papyrus. Ostensibly I was making it as a thank you gift for Juri. This would please Utena and irritate Juri, a win-win in itself. But its true and hidden purpose was as a protection spell for our home.

I didn’t want to see the dead walking here.

“That’s pretty,” Utena said as she hung over my shoulder. “You’re so much better at this kinda stuff than anyone I know. What’s it say?”

“The language has been lost.”

“Whoa,” she murmured wonderingly. “But you can read it, right?”

“Yes,” I said, and then quickly: “Who’s the new client?”

“Another former student!” She forgot her questions and moved to flop into the chair across from me. “His name’s Mikage Souji. He seems familiar, but I’m not sure why cos we never had much to do with each other. He’s older and…”

She continued happily while I stared down at my calligraphy, doing my best not to lift the quill mid-stroke. This had taken hours and one error would damage its perfection. It must not be damaged. I was sick of damaging things.

Finally with great effort I was able to move my hand again, finish the stroke, and put my quill away safely. My hands were shaking so I folded them tightly in my lap. Utena hadn’t noticed; she was too caught up in her vision of saving Ohtori.

I’d never been so grateful for her childish idealism.

She stopped for breath.

“Didn’t you do a seminar with him once?” I asked mildly, watching her closely.

Did she remember the black rose duels? I didn’t think she would…the duelists themselves hadn’t, and Akio had wiped the memories to do with Mikage from the entire school after he had…graduated. Utena hadn’t even remembered the name of his Memorial Hall back then.

Come to think of it, neither had Miki, and hadn’t he said it sounded familiar just the other day? So I couldn’t be too careful.

“A seminar?” Utena blinked. “Me? You mean the Mikage Seminar that he used to run? I dunno. That doesn’t sound like something I would do...”

“No it doesn’t.” I hid my relief. “What does he want?”

“To find another student,” she said, “Somebody I never met actually. A boy named Mamiya.”

“Ah,” I said faintly. “How interesting.”

How horrifying.

If Utena was to find out about Mamiya…about what he had done to so many of the duelists, to vulnerable Wakaba her very best friend… If she was to realize what I really was, what I was capable of…

She can’t find out.

It was amazing she’d forgiven me as much as she had. Inhuman really. I don’t know what she was thinking when she did forgive me, it was so clearly the wrong choice, an impossible choice, which was why no victor had ever opened my coffin. Not in ten thousand victors, and a hundred thousand duels.

But she’d opened it.

Yet…everything she’d consciously forgiven me for…it all had extenuating circumstances. Or at least it did when you looked at it from her strange logic. This didn’t. There was no forgiveness for one such as Mamiya (one such as I). Not even Utena’s brand of forgiveness could bury what I’d done in his guise, and other guises like his.

So I couldn’t be him, not to Utena’s knowledge. It was as simple as that. I’d never thought it all the way through before, but it was obvious now that necessity forced me to. As obvious as the ink from the spell staining my hands.

Juri and Miki had come in.

“What do you think?” Juri asked Utena, ignoring me as per usual. “Are we going to take this Mikage on as a client? He should be back soon to hear our answer.”

“Hi Anthy-san,” said Miki, blushing a little as he caught sight of me. “Oh wow, your calligraphy is so pretty.”

“Thank you,” I told him, but my attention was focused on getting out of there as quickly as possible. I rose and attempted a smile. “Excuse me,” I said politely, “there’s something I just remembered I have to do.”

Utena looked like she might call after me, but Juri was asking her another question.

I left without further ado.

* * *

I stood in the greenhouse, the place where I thought best.
I stood there staring at the black roses.

Unnatural colors wouldn’t grow in this world, thus I’d never been able to grow a black rose. They were technically impossible: the ones marketed as black were actually a very dark violet.

Yet here they were. Blooming as though they had always been here (when they never had before), as though I had planted them (I hadn’t), sending me their message.

A dire warning.

“Hello.” The voice was smooth and light, a male tenor. It was almost as familiar to me as Utena’s, and almost as unwelcome as my brother’s. I turned stiffly, knowing already who I would see. I shouldn’t have left the others. That had been my first mistake.

Mikage Souji stood in the doorway, or more accurately, Professor Nemuro did. His hair was the same pale pink, perhaps a little messier, his eyes as probing as ever, even through his glasses. He was a scientist to the core and it was the scientist who looked at me now, aloofly assessing.

We stared at each other.

Suddenly I realized that he didn’t know who I was, of course he didn’t know (how could he?), and I didn’t have to deal with Souji after all. I was being irrational, thinking this was a shadow from the past. But it was just a lonely and coldly logical man.

I sighed with relief.

His eyebrows went up and I realized I had better hide my reactions better.

“Hello,” I murmured back. “Are you lost?”

“Yes and no.” His gaze remained sharp. “I’ve found what I’m looking for.”

My heart stood still.

“Arisugawa-san mentioned that Akio-san’s sister lived here.” He looked at me over his glasses and slipped one hand into the pocket of his well-cut suit trousers.

“I see that it is so.”

I felt like sighing again but kept my face blank instead. Saying nothing I watched him narrowly, wondering what he wanted with me. He’d never met Himemiya Anthy, although he’d certainly been aware she existed as the rightful rose bride. He’d wanted to kill her after all…at Mamiya’s urging…

He watched me right back.

“So,” he said finally, taking a step inside the birdcage (no the greenhouse, why was I suddenly thinking of it as the birdcage?). “What are you doing so far from Ohtori Academy?”

I stared at him over the black rosebush and considered how best to answer.

“I’m with Tenjou Utena,” I said quietly, settling on the answer most likely to hold him at bay. To show him that the thing he was depending on (Utena’s goodwill) was under my influence. My words were like moving a knight (the knight) out onto the board as the opening move in chess, and I could see from the appreciative flicker of his eyes he understood that.

Understood my faintest of warnings. Well of course he did, Professor Nemuro was an intelligent man. A genius. That was why we’d selected him.

“How interesting,” was his mild reply. “You were with her back then too.”

I didn’t have to ask to when he was referring.

“You were the rose bride,” he continued, looking me up and down, “and she was your victor, correct?” Another pace forward.

I stared at him. Clearly he remembered a lot, perhaps even everything. That made sense, given that Akio would have thought it funny to make this man suffer on with his beautiful memories. Just as amusing to strip them from everyone else, so that neither Professor nor upperclassman had ever existed.

“Yes,” I said. “She was the duelist with the right qualifications.”

He paused mid-step. I could see my words had cut him, exactly as I intended them to. For a moment he glared at me, then his face smoothed and calmed.

“I see,” he said. “And what did you know of the dueling games?” His eyes flickered to the black roses and softened for a moment, then inexplicably hardened again.

“What I was told,” I said, which was technically true. Except that I’d been told everything.

“And what…did Akio-san…” Mikage paced forward again. “Tell you exactly, about me?”

I couldn’t help it. I took a step back, keeping the rose bush between us. There was something faintly menacing about Mikage, there always had been. It was what had made him so perfect in his role.

“Nothing,” I lied backing away further, backing into the glass wall. There was nowhere else to go if he passed the rosebush. When he passed the rosebush.

“Oh, I doubt that,” he said drily, stepping around it. “As the rose bride, the prize if you will, of the game, you must have played a key role. It’s only…” he paused and smiled down at me, tight-lipped. “Logical.”

I stared up at him, longing suddenly for the protective barrier of my old glasses, my hair up in pins, the rose bride’s role. At least then I’d know exactly what to do. Twisting my hands in front of me I wished I was somewhere else, anywhere else. But as I knew all too well, wishing did nothing. Wishes were for fools.

Mikage’s pale eyes took everything in: my skittishness, the way I was backed into a corner, my long unbound hair and clearly civilian sundress.

“We’re alone here,” he told me and I recognized a threat in his phrasing. “No more games, Rose Bride. I know you have valuable information that I must have. I know you will give it to me…eventually.” He put his hands on my shoulders and gripped them hard. “It is only a matter of time.”

I tried not to cringe away.

“What do you want to know?” My voice stayed quiet.

Something in me cried out that I was being ridiculous, that this was my home, that Utena had shown me how to be strong and free. But my reality was Mikage, much stronger than me, a ghost from the past demanding answers and demanding them now. No Utena in sight. No prince coming to the rescue.

Just like it used to be, had always been. Really was.

Mikage’s hands were tightening even more as he took a deep breath, struggling with the question he wanted to ask. When he finally did his voice came out raw, bursting with powerful emotion. It was so unlike his slightly monotone manner of before that I gaped at him.

“Where’s. Mamiya.”

My jaw dropped.

“Where’s Mamiya?!” He shook me then, hard. “Damn you, woman, tell me what that bastard did to him!”

“M…Mamiya?” I managed to get out, around the shaking. My imitation ignorance only enraged him.

“Don’t pretend you don’t know!” He was shouting, and shaking me so hard that my teeth rattled in my head. “Tell me! Tell me where he is!”

I said nothing, there was nothing I could say. Besides he would believe me more if he had to force the next lie out of me. Pain was part of this game. Pain was usually my winning move.

“TELL ME!” He screamed and distantly I wondered if he would hit me. He never had before…never hit Mamiya that is… He wasn’t really the kind of man who dealt in physical force.

His burning eyes glared into mine, like the funeral pyres of a hundred dead duelists. I remembered this: his passion, so alien in a computer-like man as he’d once termed himself. His passion had stirred to life when he met Tokiko, but roared into an inferno when he met Mamiya.

So familiar to me, he was so very familiar.

I blinked up at him and suddenly he looked confused. He stopped shaking me and peered deeply into my eyes instead. I closed them. Now he was shoving me away back against the wall, and stumbling back himself into the rosebush. I opened my eyes and watched as he pricked himself on their thorns and cried out sharply.

One finger was shoved into his mouth and he sucked at the hurt. He whirled back to me and gazed wildly for a moment. I said nothing, did nothing. Merely watched and waited. If there was an axe it would fall. If there was smoke there would be fire. It was useless acting, better to wait and see.

Mikage calmed himself, sticking his bloodied finger into his pocket, attempting composure.

“Forgive me,” he said finally, stiltedly. “I don’t know what came over me.” He laughed shortly. “Coming here like this…the things I said to you. I can’t imagine how I could be so uncouth.”

I nodded silently but stayed where I was. This was his move and I was trying to discern it.

“I can only plead in my defense,” he said, “that I…felt strongly for the boy. More strongly than I’ve felt for anything or anyone in my unnaturally long life.” He studied me intently. “Surely you can understand that.”

“Can I?” I said, trying hard not to eye the door and my way back to Utena. I didn’t want to be here. I did not want to be having this conversation.

“You know…” he said suddenly, turning to pluck a black rose and hold it aloft. “…Mamiya-kun is dead.”

“Is he?” I said faintly.

“Yes,” he said sadly. “He died many years ago. And yet…” He put the rose in his top pocket. “…He didn’t.”

“Oh,” I said.

“There were two Mamiyas,” he revealed while a shiver slid down my spine. “I didn’t think about that at the time of course, I was far too distraught. Your brother told me he’d exploited an illusion I cherished in my memory, and that was true…after a fashion.”

“Really,” I said, beginning to edge along the wall. “How interesting.”

“Yes,” he said, “it is. The real Mamiya died decades ago.” He looked at his feet. “I spent the last few years grieving for him: a special boy, a unique and priceless boy. My one last link to his loving sister, the lovely Tokiko.”

“My condolences,” I said, not meaning it in the least. The door was closer.

“But not the boy I knew for even longer than I knew him,” said Mikage. I looked up and he nodded his head to himself, as though I’d confirmed something he suspected. “The young man I fell in love with.” He stepped back between me and the door.

“No,” he continued, voice and eyes intent, trapping me in place. “That Mamiya is very much alive. He was far too real to be just an illusion. Akio-san may be powerful but I realize now that he couldn’t be that powerful. Not if he was still trying to harness the energy of eternity.”

I hid my shock behind a mask of bland civility.

“You’re very sure of your…theory,” I said, folding my hands behind my back and steeling myself to fight fire with fire. A defensive game would not win for me now.

Mikage shrugged.

“I’ve had plenty of time to refine it and…”

“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “Why are you telling me all this?”

His eyes narrowed.

“My apologies for boring you, Himemiya-san. After all, this is nothing you don’t already know.”

I fought to keep my expression blank and succeeded, but only just. He knows my name… But that meant nothing in and of itself. Anyone might know my name, and he had known of me. Of course he knew my name. It meant nothing. Nothing at all.

“I came here to find this second Mamiya,” Mikage continued when I said nothing for long tense moments. “You see, he is real to me and beloved besides, even more real than the first and therefore technically real Mamiya.”

He straightened his glasses, peering ever closer at me.

“After all, what is reality but a construct we build for ourselves, made of cherished illusions that shape the way we see everything? Everyone.”

“Utena will be looking for me,” I said, no longer caring for politeness.

“Others are looking for you,” he said. “You know…Himemiya-san, I knew this was the place to come to find the truth. I remembered Tenjou Utena, I remembered that she was the only one strong enough to defeat me. That means she can see through illusions you know, that she saw what mattered and used it to win.”

“I have to go,” I said, moving forcefully toward the door.

His unexpectedly strong hands caught me, held me in place. He gripped me by my wrists and held me and I froze, not quite daring to struggle. Yet.

“I knew Tenjou-san could help me and I knew the knowledge of the rose bride would be an asset.”

His eyes burned as they stared down into mine, how they burned.

“I knew all this,” he whispered, “but I didn’t know that I would find you here.”

I tried to pull away then, using all my scant strength to make a break for it. Of course it did nothing against him: if I’d been thinking straight I never would of made the attempt. Mikage pulled me roughly against his chest, wrapping his arms around my waist to pin me to him, still holding my wrists in an iron grip.

“When I looked into your eyes,” he whispered, “I knew you. Through the illusion, I saw you. Oh Mamiya-kun. Did you think you could fool me?”

I froze against his chest, absolutely flabbergasted.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!” Utena’s voice was outraged, and blessedly close to us. Over Mikage’s shoulder I saw her framed in the doorway, looking like she was about to punch someone.

I felt faint with relief.

Mikage whirled, letting go of me in the same second. He raised his hands placatingly as I stumbled away from him and over to Utena. Her hands were on me in an instant, checking me anxiously for injuries. She growled when she saw the bruises on my wrists.

“Forgive me,” said Mikage from where he watched us by the black rosebush, a considering expression on his handsome face. “I didn’t realize I was being so…strong in my affections.”

“Y…you’re affections?!” Utena could barely spit the words out she was so mad.

Mikage glanced at me meaningfully and in one horrific instant I understood that this was checkmate, and I’d lost the match. I hadn’t even seen it coming… He really was a genius.

“Yes,” I said weakly, grabbing Utena’s arm before she could fly over and hit him, beating my black secret out of him. “We actually know each other.” My voice trembled on the lie. “We’re friends. Good friends.”

“What?!” she cried, clearly disbelieving. She pushed me behind her back and made an abortive move toward Mikage, abortive because I grabbed her by the waist and pulled her back.

“Anthy!” she cried, trying to tug free without hurting me. “Let me deal with this…”

“Stop it!” I yelled, and she stiffened, shocked to hear me raise my voice. “Listen to me,” I pleaded. “Mikage-san really is my friend.” In my desperation I thought of a better lie, one that might actually stay her hand. “He helped me once,” I temporized, searching for the right words and just the right tone. Across the greenhouse Mikage watched us carefully. He was enjoying this I was sure.

“When Akio-san h…hurt me once,” I murmured, “Mikage-san…helped me.”

“He…helped you,” repeated Utena, and I couldn’t tell if she believed me or not. Once again I was grateful she couldn’t see my face.

“Yes,” I whispered.

“Oh,” she muttered, and her shoulders slumped, and I realized with shocking relief that she had taken the bait, believed the lie.

“I’m er…” She rubbed the back of her neck and glanced over at Mikage in embarrassment. “…Sorry about that, Mikage-san. I guess I er, jumped to conclusions. I’m kinda hot-headed like that.”

“Understandable,” he said smoothly, “I can’t imagine what Anthy-kun and I looked like, especially from where you were standing.”

“Yeah,” Utena muttered, looking at the ground. “Sorry.” She glanced at me and I could see she was surprised at his familiar form of address. I could also tell she didn’t suspect me of lying, not in the slightest.

Oh Utena…when will you learn…

I took her arm and huddled close to her, smiling falsely at my supposed friend. He smiled back triumphantly and I knew he had plans of his own. My heart sank. This was even more of a problem than Tokiko. Wait…Tokiko. Mikage. What if…they were to meet each other? After all Tokiko was looking for Professor Nemuro.

I brightened at the idea. Then my problems might be taken care of…

It took me a moment to realize Mikage was gone and Utena was holding me close.

“Are you alright?” she asked me. “From where I was standing it sure looked like he was hurting you. I know he’s your friend but…” She grunted softly. “Damn guys, don’t always know their own strength.”

“He was a bit rough,” I agreed cautiously, after all, she’d already seen the bruises. “He was excited.”

“You didn’t recognize him?” she asked. “From my description?”

“No,” I murmured, “I’d forgotten his name. There’s been so many names.”

That seemed to satisfy her, she pressed a kiss to my head and stroked my back. Normally it would make me feel better but right now it was almost as much a trap as Mikage Souji back from the dead. I needed to be alone, to take the time to think.

But I didn’t need Utena to know that. So I accepted her consolation and consoled myself that there would be an opportunity soon.

* * *

I chose to hang my finished calligraphy directly across from the front door, thinking it best served its purpose there. I was straightening it when a cawing sound got my attention. I turned around and looked down. There. On the doorstep. A massive raven, its glittering black eyes fixed directly on me.

I was glad the scroll was already in place.

The raven cawed, then dropped something from one talon, a tiny roll of paper onto the welcome mat. Then it flapped away, not waiting to see what I would do. I looked at the mat. I looked around - nobody in sight. I picked up the note and unrolled it.

A phone number.

I went to our bedroom to make this call; I already knew who it would be. I even remembered the raven, albeit vaguely. Was its name Hugin? Or Munin? Oh well, they both looked the same. I had an affinity for animals but those two had never really been on my side. They were better off avoided.

Picking up the cordless phone I went out onto the balcony. It seemed an appropriate place to call from. Twilight was gathering, the violet sky was filled with wispy scarlet streamers backlit by the setting sun. The air was peaceful, the garden sweet-smelling, and nobody was in sight.

I dialed the number.

“Hello Anthy,” he said on the other end, his voice warm and rich with welcome. “I knew you’d call.”

“You gave me your number,” I pointed out reasonably, as he’d surely known I would.

“Yes,” he laughed and the sound caught at my heart it was so much like the boyish laugh of Dios.

A silence in which we both listened hungrily to the other’s breathing.

“Do you miss me?” he asked plaintively. “I miss you.”

I paused, trying to find my depth. He sounded so much like Dios now. Still Akio to be sure, but his voice was that of the beloved big brother of memory, the tall white prince whose shins I’d clutched with baby arms.

The small crying boy, lying tired unto death in the barn.

“Yes,” I said finally, wishing I wasn’t admitting to it. But it was the truth.

“Good,” he said, and he sounded so relieved. “That’s good, Anthy. I knew you did. I knew, but I was scared…”

“It’s alright,” I said gently. “It will be alright.”

“Will it?” His voice was tearful now, and I could imagine how he would look, all brave and defiant, and knuckling back the tears with one white gloved fist. Determined to spring back onto his charger even though I was pleading with him to rest more, to not save this one (only one. Was it so wrong to let one go?), save the next one instead.

But of course he wouldn’t look like that anymore. He looked like Akio now. He…was Akio. If only Utena hadn’t done this, performed a veritable miracle and given Dios back to Akio. And yet…what else could she have done? And still be Utena? I put my head in my hand, supported by my elbow on the balcony rail. It was just too hard to understand. To know how to feel.

I was so used to feeling nothing.

“Are you happy?” he asked me suddenly, and his voice was more like Akio’s now, thick with filthy insinuations. I stiffened.

“Yes,” I said.

“Of course you are,” he purred. “You have her after all.”

I said nothing. There was nothing to be said.

“You were never happy when you were with me,” he said bitterly, and I found it in myself to be surprised all over again. I stared out over the horizon watching the very last of the sun sink into its grave. Just like I had. That’s how it had felt when we started our game, how I had felt, back when I still felt something about any of it. No, not our game, his game. The dueling game, according to the rules of the rose seal.

Although back then it hadn’t been with swords, but the jawbones of animals.

And it hadn’t been roses, it had been some other plant, something exotic long since extinct. Something blood-red and wiry, scratching at the skin.

“Roses are acceptable,” Akio said when he first switched to a rose crest. “I like their thorns.” I had nodded meekly at his side.

“What do you think of them?” he asked me, as we stared out at another sun, over another desert, from the vista of a cave filled with the bones of the latest round of duelists.

“They’re fine,” I said, and my tone said I didn’t care one way or the other. He smiled at me, well pleased, and subtly offended all at once.

“Rose Bride,” he said. “That’s what we’ll call you now.”

“Yes,” I said, looking at my feet. “Onii-sama.”

But we hadn’t used those terms exactly, and we didn’t speak in Japanese. The equivalents meant slightly different roles and relationships, none of which I bothered to remember years later when the language no longer existed.

The Rose Bride (or whatever she was then) was a slave wearing the mask of a princess. Dirt under the powder on her cheeks. Blood under the conservative dress, always high society (when there finally was society). And Akio was my master wearing the mask of my kin. God of his glittering domain, breaking his devotees like toys he was tired of. Breaking me just because he could.

“What are you thinking?” Akio/Dios husked into the phone. The sun had disappeared and it was night. I heard stirring in the house below and knew the others were back from wherever they had been.

“About us,” I said softly.

“Oh yes,” he said, and I wondered if he was looking at the stars wherever he was. It seemed like something he would do. They were just coming out now, winking into existence.

“I think of us too,” he added slowly. He sighed. “About when we were the world.”

“You were the world,” I whispered. “I was just…”

“What?” he wanted to know. “What were you?”

I stared into the darkness between the stars, wondering that myself. What had I been? What was I now?

There was a sound in the hall.

“I need to go,” I said, clutching the phone a little too tightly.

“Will you call again?” he wanted to know, and I caught a tinge of desperation in his otherwise smooth voice.

I didn’t answer; I wasn’t sure.

“Little sister,” he pleaded. “Call me soon.”

I stared into the night. I felt like I was falling, like I would fall if I agreed to this one soft demand.

“Anthy!” called Utena, bursting into our bedroom. “Hey, are you in here, oh, there you are.” She joined me on the balcony.

I hung up.

Utena gathered me into her arms, hugging me exuberantly. I went willingly, wanting to be distracted, wanting to lose the past in the present. Long moments were spent pressed together, as I breathed in her scent (something floral spiced with sweat) and enjoyed the lithe planes of her body, all within my grasp.

Finally she released me and favored me with a smile, leaning easily against the rail at my side.

“I’ve had such a good day,” she said, “We played tennis doubles, Kyouichi and Miki-kun against Juri and I.” She grinned again. “My God, Saionji Kyouichi’s a monster on the court. He almost brained Juri.”

“How did you play?” I asked, resting my free hand on her back. Then I moved it to her backside. Her grin gained heat and turned on me.

“Great,” she purred. “Miki-kun was scared of me.”

“Probably with good reason,” I told her, stroking lightly while she watched me with eyes that burned.

“You like my butt,” she said, then blushed. “I mean…”

“It’s your own fault,” I said, “for wearing those tight little red shorts.”

She giggled. “You liked those things? When I look back I reckon I looked weird.”

“Your legs were…” I sighed at the memory, and stood on tiptoes to gently bite her neck.

“What?” she asked me, as red as her shorts had been.

“A sight to be seen,” I husked, laying the phone on the rail so I could use my other hand to tease at her tennis skirt’s waistband.  She rested her hands lightly on my shoulders and smiled at me, all open happiness, her desire obvious and as untainted as a pure white rose.

I’d never known anyone quite like her.

“Did you have a good day?” she asked me, gently tilting my chin up so our eyes met. I didn’t realize I’d lowered my head…

“Yes,” I said automatically and her eyes darkened a little. Dismay filled me, dismay I fought to hide. Damn damn damn. She was getting far too good at reading me, reading between the lines. And I was getting far too lax around her, unable to playact like I used to.

She watched me now, alerted by something in my tone, or in my eyes, or something missing from them, I don’t know what. I don’t know how she read me, and I didn’t like that she could. She glanced at the phone and her brow furrowed. I moved my hands from her body and twisted them behind my back.

“Someone called?” she asked, her voice a little too steady.

“Yes,” I said because that much was obvious. Utena waited. Tension filled the air, tension that I hated and didn’t want between us. Why could nothing ever be easy? Why was life one pain after another, even in the midst of happiness? Why did roses have thorns?

“I need a shower,” she said after an uncomfortable pause in which I couldn’t decide what to say. “Come join me.”

I looked at her again (I’d been avoiding her eyes) and stared as she winked. She smiled at me, tenderly, although I saw worry buried just beneath. I smiled back sadly. She took my hand and we walked back inside.

TBC in Chapter 4: Her Brother’s Keeper

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#14 | Back to Top10-21-2009 01:03:27 PM

Itsuke
Pathtracer
Registered: 12-08-2008
Posts: 341

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

What is Anthy doing by calling Akio!?!? She shouldn't have done that...
...and how can Mikage outwit Anthy like that? emot-gonk

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#15 | Back to Top10-31-2009 05:19:59 AM

sharnii
Pharaoh of Phanstuff
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: 08-10-2008
Posts: 2416
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Itsuke: What is Anthy doing by calling Akio!?!? She shouldn't have done that...
...and how can Mikage outwit Anthy like that? emot-gonk

Yeah she shouldn't have. I think it's very natural that she did though. Poor Anthy.
And as for Mikage and Anthy...well he is a genius. emot-tongue And strangely enough Anthy can be very short-sighted about certain things. Or long-sighted depending on your view (consider her stabbing Utena at the end of the anime). Basically my version of Anthy is a flawed character. Just like my version of Utena in Roses Grow did some very stupid things. I so much prefer my characters to be human and fallible (like all of us), even not-so-human ex-rose-brides. school-eng101

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The middle of the first part had me cringing as I imagined an onslaught of emotion hitting someone who'd always been closed off to emotion. In fact this whole chapter was hard to write from an empathetic pov. My poor readers...



He who believes in freedom of the will has never loved and never hated.
~Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach~


Chapter 4: Her Brother’s Keeper

Once inside I left Utena’s side to return the phone to its cradle, while she sat on the bed watching me. Then she went to pull her tennis singlet over her head.

“Stop,” I said, crossing to her. “Let me.”

She stopped. Her eyes met mine, heavy-lidded with lust. Slowly I pulled the singlet up and over her head, enjoying the way it caught against her breasts on the way. Her breathing became heavier. Next I slid her sports bra off by the same route. Her breasts were heaving with her breaths, the down between them slick with sweat. I smiled, and bent my head to lick that sweat away. She gasped reflexively. Her hands fiddled meaningfully with my silk blouse but I batted them to the side. She’d just have to wait.

I knelt on the floor, and spread her knees open with insistent hands. Her panties were red and I smirked up at her, only surprised they weren’t her superman ones. She had such strange tastes sometimes… She grinned back.

“Hey,” she protested softly, no doubt knowing the direction of my thoughts. “Just take them off, will ya?”

“I will,” I said, and reached under her skirt to tug them down. My fingers may have tangled briefly in the pink hair covering her mound, an agreeable ‘accident’. Her head was arched back now, her breathing a tad more strained. I gazed up at her and ached inside with something that felt very much like the swords of old.

Why couldn’t I take her?
It wasn’t fair!

I’d waited all my life, my lives, to have something like this, someone like this – I hadn’t even known I’d been waiting. And now I had it, had her, and I couldn’t touch her like I wanted to. I couldn’t push her past the point of reason, show her all the reasons that people fought and died for love. That she herself had fought, and worse-than-died for.

If I did the swords would come.

The irony of our predicament did not escape me. The cruelty stung like thorns and it came to me that this was exactly what Utena was to me, whether she knew it or not. A rose, the most beautiful rose, forever protected by the thorns that were the million swords of hatred. Protected from love, my tainted love. Protected from me.

I wanted her anyway.

“Utena,” I whispered, sensing she was on the edge, one I daren’t help her past. “Utena, take your skirt off.” Her eyes snapped open and she sat up straight, staring at me in lust-fogged confusion.

“Why?” she asked, then came back to herself enough to realize. “Oh yeah. Yeah. G…good idea.” Slowly her legs slid closed, hiding my goal from my hungry gaze. I rocked back on my heels giving her space. Slowly she pulled the skirt off and sat there naked, still a little out of it. I waited while she fought to calm herself.

Finally she rose and came to me, pulling me to my feet.

“You realize,” she murmured, “there’s absolutely no reason I can’t undress you.” That surprised a smirk out of me.

“Yes Utena-sama,” I intoned dutifully.

She grinned and arched an eyebrow.

“Such sauce! Just for that I order you to take your blouse off.”

I eyed her, intrigued by this new game, one we hadn’t played before. It was a dangerous game considering my past and her orientation about it. But she had initiated it…and I was a game-player…

“Yes Utena-sama,” I whispered, and took a step back from her. Slowly, seductively, I stripped the blouse from my body, button by pearl-seed button. I made sure she saw the deftness in my fingers, the way I stroked each button just a little too long. Her eyes half-closed and I knew I had her again.

I let it slide to the floor.

“Beautiful,” she whispered, her eyes on the lace of my bra and the hint of dark purple aureole showing where one cup had pushed partway down.

“Would you…” she cleared her throat and started again with some difficulty. “Would you mind taking that off please?”

“You mean?” I teased reaching behind myself. She nodded, eyes wide. Slowly I unclasped the bra. My breasts bounced softly free. Utena made a soft noise in the back of her throat. Just as slowly I peeled the bra completely off.

She reached forward, stroking at a red mark where the wire had dug into my skin. I shuddered, twice as stirred by the soft sensation of her fingers against my gently throbbing skin.

Her hands slid leisurely down my torso, almost worshipfully. Her eyes were filled with wonder as she studied my night-dark skin, then suddenly dark with pain as they caught on the paler patches of my many and various scars.

I stilled and watched her looking. And looking. She swallowed, hard. The lamps in this room were a little too bright. I should have dimmed them, or better yet, turned them off. She’d never noticed the marks before; each time we’d been naked she was way too distracted.

I’d forgotten them myself. Why was it I always remembered what I’d forgotten through Utena’s too-seeing eyes?

“Anthy…” she whispered, and I realized there were too many marks, more than she could possibly understand or cope with. I didn’t even know why they were showing: I usually hid them beneath the mask called perfection.

“Wait,” I said. Closing my eyes I concentrated, shifted just so. I opened them again and my skin was like polished ebony, not a mark to be seen. Utena stared at me, eyes very wide. When she spoke again her voice was ragged.

“No.”

And she closed her own eyes, and I felt it in the air between us, Utena concentrating, using her formidable will mixed with power to… do something… shift something. My jaw dropped.

Utena’s eyes opened, fiercely finding mine.

“This,” she said, holding my eyes with hers, “is real.” Gently she reached forward and stroked at the deep burn beneath my left breast, then further down along the knotted and raised scar twisting between my ribs. I stared at her silently. I was so surprised I think I forgot to breathe.

“These are really here,” she whispered, “even if you magic them away. I’d rather see them.” She lifted her eyes to mine, took my cold cheeks in her warm hands. “I’d rather see you.”

“Oh,” I said faintly, still too surprised to think.

She bent her head and kissed me, so softly I barely felt her lips caressing mine. I just stood there, feeling like I was in a dream, one that was much too marvelous to understand. I didn’t understand. I was used to understanding.

She drew back and stroked my cheek again, then moved her hands to my turgid nipples.

“Anthy,” she murmured, “say something. Are you…alright with this?” She paused uncertainly. “I mean…would you rather hide them? You can if you want. I didn’t mean to say that…” She stopped, fumbled for words and started again. “I mean, I want you to do what you want. What you feel comfortable with.”

“I know,” I said, much too overwhelmed to say more. I didn’t change my skin back though, and Utena bent forward to lightly kiss my neck. Then she wrapped her arms around me, burying her face in my hair. I let her. Slowly my own arms came up to entangle round her waist. I felt her sigh with relief.

We stood there together, she fully naked and I only half, yet feeling more naked than I ever had in my life. More naked than the night she saw me rising from the wide white couch I shared with my brother. More naked than the day she opened the coffin and I finally opened my eyes.

I didn’t know how to feel about it. I didn’t know how to feel so much. Emotion was an alien thing, a threatening thing, something I was beginning to grapple with in ways I didn’t understand.

Once I’d thought I understood it all. Had sneered at Utena, at people like Utena.

How wrong I had been.

“Shall we go shower,” she whispered, “do you still want to?”

“Yes,” I said, because I didn’t want to be without her. I didn’t want to be outside of her arms.

She stepped back and together we removed my skirt, stockings, and underwear. Then she took my hand (or I took hers) and we went to the bathroom. Under the spray I started to relax, comforted by its warmth, by Utena’s equally warm presence. So this was what it felt like…

…family…

…to be loved…

…to be clean.

“I’ll do your back first,” she said, “if you do mine second.”

I smiled at the tiles.

“I want to do more than that.”

“Okay,” she said a little too eagerly. “Whatever you want. Hey, want me to wash your hair too?”

“There’s a lot of it,” I warned, but her fingers were already combing through it almost reverently. I gathered this was one of her fantasies. I smirked to myself, beginning to regain my equilibrium. Obviously I should have let her wash it before this.

“It’s so long,” she said wonderingly, “there’s just so much of it.”

“Yes,” I said serenely, rather proud of myself. The hair was a nice touch. Everyone liked the hair, men and women alike. Even Akio couldn’t rival it. (Although he’d tried his best.)

“How do you keep the knots out?” she wondered. “How do you afford enough shampoo?”

I smirked again. Such questions.

“Oh,” I said vaguely, “it gives me something to do.”

I felt her disbelieving eyes on my back. She smoothed my now wet hair back behind my ears, moved it carefully over one shoulder and pressed a line of kisses down my neck.

“I thought you were washing my hair,” I murmured, hands going to the walls to support myself against this new assault.

“I’ll get to it,” she murmured back. “Believe in me.”

My spine arched. Such words.

“You taste so good,” she whispered against my skin, lingering where my neck met my shoulders. “You taste like…”

“If you say eternity,” I said drily, “I’ll get out of the shower right now.”

Utena froze, then relaxed and nipped playfully at my shoulder. She was getting used to my emerging humor. Her voice became seductive.

“No, that’s what I say about making you come.”

I gasped, and felt moisture on my legs that wasn’t from the shower.

“You taste like…” she continued, “roses.”

“You eat roses?” I teased her.

“No,” she mumbled and I could tell she was grinning as she licked a line beside my spine. “You smell like them too.”

“It makes sense,” I said primly.

“Does it?” she wondered. “Does anything about you? About me? About what’s happening to us, and what’s already happened?”

I turned in her arms, propping my back against the wall. I studied her, wondering at her mood tonight, her frankness and unusual insights. She was bursting with being the prince, I could practically see unearthly light shining through her skin. That wasn’t on the physical plane of course: In reality she was gazing at me, lust and love co-mingling in eyes that seemed equally fascinated by my eyes and my breasts.

“You have a lot of questions,” I said carefully.

She didn’t answer for a moment, stroking instead at a massive scar that made a ragged V just above where my abdomen met my thighs. My own eyes found the scar on her belly, the one I hated while being utterly fascinated by it. My handiwork.

“I only have one really,” she said, as her eyes crept up to mine, filled with indefinable emotion, begging me for something but I wasn’t sure what. She took a deep breath, suddenly as tense as I’d ever seen her.

“Who was on the phone?”

I gazed at her, seeing in her pleading eyes that she already knew the answer. Had known since the balcony, since she saw the phone. But she wanted me to say it. She needed me to say it.

So I said it.

“Akio-san,” I whispered and hung my head.

“How dare he,” she muttered, and her hands tensed briefly on my hips, then moved away to a safe location at her sides. “I told him to leave us alone.”

I looked away, up into the spray raining down on us. My admission was a quiet one, tearing from my throat almost against my will.

“I called him.”

Silence. I looked at Utena. Her head was bowed now, long wet hair hiding her face from me. Her fists were clenched at her sides.

“Why?” she asked tonelessly, and I shivered at the implicit pain in her posture. I thought about how to explain it to her. I didn’t know how to explain it to her.

“He’s my brother,” I said slowly, because it was all I could really say.

“So what?!” she yelled, exploding into action out of nowhere. She glared at me, hurt narrowing her eyes, arms folding defensively over her chest.

I looked away.

“No!” she yelled. “Stop that! Tell me the truth, damn it, damn him. Don’t look away from me!”

I looked back.

She glared at me, then her lip wavered and she crumbled, burying her face in her hands and starting to cry. I stared at her, not knowing what had taken her from anger to pitiful sobbing in a few weighty seconds.

“I hate it when you do that,” she mumbled through her tears.

When I did what?

“Sorry,” I said cautiously, “I’m sorry Utena.” Tentatively I put my arms around her and felt a rush of relief as she came to me willingly, collapsing against my chest to bury her face in my shoulder. Her arms wrapped around me desperately and she continued crying, but silently now.

“You don’t even know,” she moaned into my neck. “You don’t even know, do you.”

It wasn’t a question. And I didn’t have an answer. I held her instead, waiting until she calmed, until her sobs leveled off.

Then I attempted an answer to the earlier question.

“Akio-san is…” My strangled words came to a halt and I struggled to breathe properly. It was so hard to talk about. Harder to make her understand. But clearly I had to. She needed me to.

“He is…was…the reason for…everything.” My voice cracked, but I kept going. Utena was frozen against me, hanging on every word.

“Dios was… the world. And Akio was the… end of that world. B…but he was still the world. All that remained of anything. Of everything.”

“What are you saying?” whispered Utena, pulling away from me, staring down at me like a little-girl lost.

“I turned my back on him,” I said, astonished at how raw my voice was coming out. “You showed me how. And that I sh…should. But Utena…”

I took her hands in mine.

“He’s still my brother.”

She stared at me, disbelieving.

I stared at her, appealing. Finally her shoulders slumped, and she bent her head to press a kiss to our joined hands. I knew then she’d forgiven me, at least for now.

“I don’t agree,” she told me. “I don’t really understand.”

“I know,” I said, and I did. How could she (an orphan) know what it was like to have a sibling who was so much a part of you that you began where he ended? Akio and I were closer than twins, as connected as the constellations. There was more history between us than truth in history. Our blood couldn’t be denied, anymore than hatred could, anymore than love.

Yes, Utena was my world now. But Akio was the end of it, and Dios was the beginning. It was just how it was. How it had always been.

“Are you gonna call him again?” she asked, the hurt in her eyes begging me not to. The very question revealed she knew she couldn’t stop me. But it still surprised me that she wasn’t trying to. I was used to being controlled.

“I don’t know,” I said, which was the truth. She nodded and bit her lip.

“Here, let me wash your hair.”

I turned and allowed her to start massaging shampoo into my scalp. We were quiet, intent on our divergent paths of thought.

“Utena,” I whispered finally, “I wish it didn’t hurt you.”

“Yeah,” she murmured, “it’s alright, Anthy. Really, don’t worry about it. Just let me know about it, okay? We gotta deal with this stuff together. Even when we disagree.”

“Yes,” I whispered, but I knew it would be better if she’d never known. There were some swords a prince shouldn’t have to bear.

* * *

The next day I woke with an awful headache. I sat up on my elbows, looked at the peacefully sleeping Utena whose head was pillowed on my stomach, then looked at ChuChu who had taken her actual pillow (again).

Where are my hairpins? I wondered fuzzily, thinking for a second that they were still in. Surely I couldn’t have such a headache if my hair was loose. I shifted out from under Utena doing my best not to wake her, and sat on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands.

What am I going to do?

I needed a plan. A good plan, a plan worthy of my brother, a plan that would put that upstart Professor in his place and put Tokiko off the map.

How dare they challenge me?!

I blinked and tried to reign myself in. So. This was what anger tasted like. Metallic on my tongue. Slightly reminiscent of the swords but directed outward instead of in. Did others feel like this all the time? How inconvenient. My thoughts were all cloudy: it didn’t seem like a wise emotion.

I reached over and patted the nightstand searching for the box that held my hairpins. It was wooden, shaped like a leaf, and covered in a series of etchings depicting a satyr catching a nymph and taking her on the forest floor.

A gift from Akio on one of my birthdays.

I fumbled with the hidden catch and then ChuChu was hopping up onto the table, clever paws opening it for me.

“Thank you,” I told him and he cheeped. He started to hand me the pins, one by one and I started to pin up my hair. It was soothing, natural, an old well-remembered ritual. I thought better when I did this, thought along the lines of ancient mantras, and prayers that never got answered. I couldn’t count the times I’d done it, bound my hair so tightly that not a strand escaped.

(It had been my time to plan the day, to play out my moves before I made them. Or my time to recover from the ravages of the night before, putting them behind me, forgetting them on the misty plains of what was past and couldn’t be undone. And so didn’t matter.)

“You’re putting up your hair?” Utena sounded confused. She moved over to sit next to me, yawning and stretching mightily. “I thought you liked it down?”

“I have a headache,” I murmured, and took another pin.

“And that will help?” She still sounded uncertain as she placed a tentative hand on my thigh. “Won’t it just make it worse?”

I put the pin down and stared straight ahead.

“I don’t know. I thought… I don’t know.”

Utena’s hand flexed a little on my thigh and she cleared her throat.

“Are you…are you alright, Anthy?” She slipped one strong arm around my shoulders and pulled me against her chest. “You seem…I dunno. You seem sad.”

“I feel strange,” I whispered, my head aching too fiercely for me to dissemble. Utena stroked at my hair but caught her hand halfway on the pinned up part. She stopped and ran her fingers lightly down my back instead.

“Strange how?” she asked finally, and I could tell she was worried.

“I think I’m getting a migraine,” I told her. “Maybe I should stay in bed today.”

In that instant I realized I’d solved my own problem. In bed I wouldn’t have to confront either Tokiko or Mikage, not when I wasn’t ready yet. Was I sick deliberately then? Could a body do that for its owner? I stared down at my knotted hands in something like fascination.

“A migraine?” Utena sounded at a loss. “Er, yeah, stay in bed for sure. Geez, I’m sorry, I don’t know what to do for migraines. I never get sick you see.”

That was true. She was the picture of health when uninjured. But I didn’t really get sick either. Or at least not without good reason. I suppose I had a good reason now. But I wasn’t making this happen…was I?

I wasn’t really a witch. Was I.

“I’ll ask Juri and Miki-kun,” she was saying. “Maybe they’ll know what to do. Should I call the doctor?”

“No,” I told her, “I’ll be fine. I just need rest.”

“It’s probably my fault,” she mumbled, “cos we argued last night and all.”

“That was an argument?” I said mildly, still finding it in myself to tease her.

She smiled tenderly at me.

“Do you want something to eat? Soup maybe?”

“No,” I said, “I’m not hungry.” I hugged her briefly then let her go and started removing the hairpins.

“Okay,” she said, and got up to start dressing. “I’ll keep the others out of this part of the house so you can sleep.”

“Thank you,” I said.

When the pins were out I lay back down and huddled under the covers. Utena had pulled the blinds down so the room was dark. I put an arm over my eyes and tried not to think about my aching head. I heard the soft sounds of her moving around getting ready for the day, then the equally soft click of the door as she left. I heard her footsteps going down the hall. I heard the faintest sounds of activity downstairs as breakfast started.

I sat up.

ChuChu chirruped enquiringly at me.

“Go be with Utena,” I told him. “Keep her busy.” For a moment he hesitated, studying me with strangely disapproving eyes. Then with a little huff he obeyed, jumping off the bed and scurrying under the door.

I sighed, and picked up the phone. I needed advice. I needed advice from someone who would understand, and who already expected the worst from me. I needed him.

“Hello Anthy,” he said, voice warm with approval that I still craved. “How did you sleep?”

“Fine,” I lied, putting a hand to my throbbing head. “And you?”

“Not as well as I used to,” he said sadly. “It was a Saturday night you know.”

“I know,” I said.

“And what is Utena-kun up to on this fine Sunday?” He laughed shortly. “I suppose she doesn’t go to church.”

“No,” I said. Utena would likely fall asleep in a church service, then fall off her chair.

“I thought about going,” he said, “for old time’s sake. Remember when we were Roman Catholic?”

I sighed. Of course I remembered. Akio had found penance an amusing and incredibly useful concept.

“Or when we were Hindu?” he laughed again. “I don’t suppose you’ve performed the Vedic Agnihotra today?”

“Only a few hundred people still know those sacrifices,” I reminded him.

“Really?” He sounded sad suddenly. “How time races on without us.”

“We’re out of our time,” I whispered.

“Every time is ours,” he argued, “and will be again. When you come back to me.”

“Please,” I sighed, turning on my side and bringing my knees up to hug them to my chest. “Do we have to have this conversation again?”

“Yes.” His voice was petulant. “It’s necessary. You may have forgotten your duty, Sita, but I haven’t forgotten you or your many obligations.”

“I have no duty,” I said. “Don’t call me that.”

“Kali then?” he laughed, a disturbingly beautiful sound. “Or do you prefer to think of yourself as Parvati?”

“Don’t do this,” I whispered.

“A witch by any other name,” he reminded me, voice turning harsh. “Remember the Li Ki, little sister: Faithfulness is requisite in all service of others and faithfulness is especially the virtue of a wife.”

“I’m not your wife.”

“No?” His voice turned amused. “You are my bride if you are anyone’s. And your vows to me cannot be undone by some arrogant girl-child.”

I was silent. There was no point in arguing with him when he was like this. There was never any point in arguing with him. Why was I even talking to him?

“Anthy,” he whispered, changing tacks with startling grace. “It wasn’t all bad, was it? Remember when you tricked Amun-Ra into giving you his secret name?” He sighed. “That was fiendishly clever, a triumph of magic. You were the snake who bit him,” he laughed again, “and only you had the cure.”

“You told me to,” I said and he laughed.

“But it was your idea.” He sighed again. “We enjoyed ourselves didn’t we? Our endless games. The whole world was ours…”

“Yours,” I repeated stubbornly. “It was yours.”

“Tell me why you called me. I know you have a reason.”

“It’s nothing,” I murmured, suddenly reluctant to trust him, even a little. He wasn’t like Dios this morning, not at all. I had needed him to be.

“Nothing’s ever just nothing with you,” he said and I stiffened. Out of the mouths of those who knew me best.

“Tell me,” he said compellingly and my head ached like a poker had been stuck into it. I whimpered.

“Are you…alright?” His voice took on the strangest quality, concern (how long had it been since he’d been concerned for me?) mixed with intrigue.

“It’s nothing,” I whispered, “just…Chida-san showed up here the other day.”

“Tokiko?” He paused and I could almost see his long fingers tapping on his knee. “What does that whore want?”

“Did you send her?”

“Why would I do that?” he purred. I pinched at the bridge of my nose as my migraine grew. My stomach roiled.

“And Souji-sama is here,” I said shortly. “Did you send him?”

“Really? The good Professor made an appearance?” Akio chortled. “I thought he’d be dead by now, faded away completely.”

“He’s strong,” I said, “An unusual mortal.”

“It means he has vision,” said Akio. “Well well well, how interesting. I may have misjudged him. I wonder what could be fueling his…quest?”

“You already know,” I hissed, pain pushing me past the point of politeness.

“Yes of course,” he murmured, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “Who else but you, my beloved sister? You’ve inspired many such quests before.”

“I don’t want to!” I cried. “I don’t want him.”

“It is your nature,” said Akio, “to tempt our duelists, and lead them to their ruin. It’s only natural, Anthy, you know it is. You are a witch, an evil witch. It’s why you must also be the rose bride, why I was right to cage you.”

I moaned. Akio made an echoing sound of pleasure, deep in his throat.

“How I’ve missed your pain.”

“Stop it,” I said weakly. “I called you for advice. I n…need your help.”

“No you didn’t,” he corrected. “You called me because you belong to me and it’s what I wanted you to do.”

“No!” I cried.

“Yes,” he insisted. “Stop your foolish fantasies. Come back to me.”

“Utena has defeated you,” I muttered, but it was getting hard to argue with him. His words sounded…like what normal was. They sounded right.

And most of the time Utena sounded wrong. Shockingly wrong.

“It’s a temporary setback,” he growled, and his anger fairly seethed through the phone. “She’s an imposter; she stole my power! I don’t know how she did it…but now that I’ve rejoined with Dios there must be a way to…” He trailed off meditatively.

“A way to what?” I interrupted, suddenly terrified for Utena.

Akio laughed.

“Never you mind, little bird. Unlike your darling prince-girl, I know not to trust you with my secrets.”

I moaned and fought for air. Through the growing muzziness that made it increasingly hard to think I bit out:

“Just tell me. Did you send them or not?”

“No,” he purred. I had no idea whether or not to believe him but I knew I would get nothing more that was useful. Only pain.

Calling him had been a mistake. One I couldn’t seem to stop myself from making.

I hung up. Then I hung over the side of the bed and was sick on the floor. I felt like crying. I felt like going to sleep and never waking up. I felt like gliding out onto the balcony and falling off the edge.

I settled for crying.

TBC in Chapter 5: Unchosen Angels

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#16 | Back to Top10-31-2009 06:44:59 AM

Itsuke
Pathtracer
Registered: 12-08-2008
Posts: 341

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

...um...Anthy wears a bra....something I thought she never did.

Powerful chapter~ Love how you describe Anthy wanted to take Utena but she couldn't, oh the pain must be great. Didn't expect to see a scars ridden Anthy though...but it actually made sense that she should. And Akio, even with Dios merged back in him, is still such a prick; Anthy is no White Goddess! emot-mad

Last edited by Itsuke (10-31-2009 06:45:25 AM)

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#17 | Back to Top10-31-2009 10:19:44 AM

Arthkael
Wakaba Wrangler
From: Somewhere in Italy
Registered: 08-09-2009
Posts: 19
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Wow... thank you for this amazing chapter! And about Akio's behaviour, I thought that Dios could bring balance to his personality. Instead, like Itsuke said, The End Of The World is still the clever, smug bastard we'd known in the series...emot-confused
That's intriguing.

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#18 | Back to Top12-06-2009 02:08:44 AM

sharnii
Pharaoh of Phanstuff
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: 08-10-2008
Posts: 2416
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Itsuke: ...um...Anthy wears a bra....something I thought she never did.

My lovely version only doesn't wear a bra to match Utena's preference for not wearing one much herself. But she likes lingerie and does wear it. emot-redface Wow making up this stuff is a little too fun.

Powerful chapter~ Love how you describe Anthy wanted to take Utena but she couldn't, oh the pain must be great. Didn't expect to see a scars ridden Anthy though...but it actually made sense that she should. And Akio, even with Dios merged back in him, is still such a prick; Anthy is no White Goddess! emot-mad

Yep, poor Anthy. The scarred thing was pretty moving to write...I realized it would make sense that there would be so many in the sense that the swords are figurative of Anthy's horrible experiences (of course the swords can mean more than that too). Yep Akio does seem like a prick, at least at the moment. No real surprise there...

As for Anthy being a "White Goddess" - that comment really intrigued me. What do you mean?

Arthkael: Wow... thank you for this amazing chapter! And about Akio's behaviour, I thought that Dios could bring balance to his personality. Instead, like Itsuke said, The End Of The World is still the clever, smug bastard we'd known in the series...emot-confused
That's intriguing.

You're welcome. emot-keke And yes it is confusing regarding Akio. But all will be explained...very very slowly! school-devil

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#19 | Back to Top12-06-2009 02:14:58 AM

sharnii
Pharaoh of Phanstuff
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: 08-10-2008
Posts: 2416
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The first part was heaps fun to write. You'll see why. I've been itching to have a scene like this, and what better way to showcase a certain secret...

The second scene was also fun to write. Mostly because of the 'voice' of a certain Professor. Putting myself in his head was...confusing but also...strangely illuminating. emot-tongue

A mighty pain to love it is,
And ’t is a pain that pain to miss;
But of all pains, the greatest pain
It is to love, but love in vain.
~Abraham Cowley~

Chapter 5: Unchosen Angels

Hours later I managed to clean up the floor and myself enough to venture out the bedroom. My headache had faded to manageable levels. I’d decided to pin my hair up after all: I was in dire need of control. Briefly I thought about wearing my glasses but decided against it. It would be stupid to scare Utena out of her wits.

Going to the kitchen I made myself soup. Then I went looking for the others, fueled by a strange need for company - I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to be somewhere where Mikage could confront me, or my brother’s messengers could taunt me with the mere fact of their presence.

I found Miki in the sunroom playing his favorite song. Utena and Juri were there too playing cards over sake. Gazing out the windows I saw that it was evening; I’d sobbed the day away.

“Anthy!” cried Utena happily. “Come join us.”

She patted her armchair, seemingly intending me to squash in beside her. I looked at Juri and chose the armchair next to Utena’s instead, patting her arm on the way down. I didn’t need tension right now, I needed peace.

“Are you feeling better?” said Juri, and I looked at her sharply. What did she care what I felt like? I saw she was looking at me warily, but with seeming sincerity. Perhaps she’d noticed my choice of chair? Or perhaps she wanted to impress Utena? Oh, who cared what her motive was, I was too tired to puzzle it out.

“Much, thank you,” I said quietly, starting to sip my soup.

“We have painkillers if you need,” said Utena. “Here, I put them on the table in case you came down.”

“Thank you.” I took them willingly.

“Sake?” Juri offered.

“No thank you,” I said. “I better not.” I took up the water-jug instead.

Juri and Utena grinned at me in tandem, as though I’d said something funny. I stared at them bemusedly.

“How much have you two had to drink?”

“Too much!” called Miki. “I’ve been counting.”

Oh. Well that explained Juri’s amicability.

“It’s ChuChu’s fault,” accused Utena. “He’s the one who found it. Dunno where.”

She raised her cup at the naughty creature, who was presently staggering under another flask that was three times his body-size, weaving his way across the sunroom.

“It’s very high grade,” Juri told me. “Not that shit they sell down the road.”

I goggled at her, unused to friendliness in her. Or profanity.

“You should taste it,” suggested Utena. “Here, drink out of my cup.”

She leaned over the short distant between us, proffering it with a very focused expression on her face. I realized she was trying not to spill it.

“No, that’s alright,” I told her, pushing her back gently. “It would make my headache worse.”

“Oh yeah.” She rocked back in her chair, draining the cup instead in one loud gulp. “You’re so wise.”

“To Himemiya-san!” toasted Juri, raising her cup to me before downing it. I shook my head in amazement.

“How much have they had?” I asked Miki, who was grinning as he listened in on the conversation.

“Well that’s the third flask,” he said, nodding toward ChuChu. “I wonder where he’s finding it. The basement?”

I sighed at ChuChu. He was inventive to be sure. Utena was good and distracted. But I hadn’t exactly meant he should get her drunk…

“So is three queens good?” she was asking now, holding her cards so close to her nose it was a wonder she could focus. “Or bad?”

“You have three queens?” said Juri. “You shouldn’t tell me that, silly!”

“What are you playing?” I asked.

ChuChu had arrived at the table. I took the flask off him and he flopped down on his back under the table, huffing and puffing. I picked him up and put him on a cushion on the next chair over. He waved his arms and legs around luxuriantly, peeped with approval, and fell asleep.

“He sure sleeps a lot,” said Utena. “Like a cat.”

“Yeah,” said Juri, “like a cat. Poker,” she added as an afterthought. “Strip Poker.”

“No no no!” corrected Utena. “I told you Anthy would kill us if we play that.” She glanced sidelong at me then back at Juri meaningfully. “So don’t tell her you suggested it, okay?”

“Oh right,” said Juri. “Yeah we’re playing Secret Poker, cos Utena’s too wussy to play Strip Poker.”

“What?!” yelled Utena, “I’m not wussy!”

“Are you scared?” taunted Juri.

“No way,” insisted Utena. “Why would I be scared? I have a great body.” She pulled up her shirt and examined the sculpted lines of her belly.

We all looked at her eyebrows raised and she blushed.

“Wha-at? I do.”

“So how does Secret Poker work?” I asked, wondering if this was really the place to be if I wanted my headache to vanish completely.

“You win a round,” explained Juri, “and then the loser tells you a secret. And I win this round!” She slammed her cards onto the table (a full house), “because Utena only has a triple.”

“Fuck,” said Utena. “What a jip.”

“Language!” hissed Juri. “Your girlfriend’s present.”

Utena looked sheepishly at me and rubbed the back of her neck.

“Oh yeah. Right. Sorry Anthy.”

“It’s alright,” I said demurely, fascinated by the proceedings despite myself. I’d never seen Utena drunk before. Or any of the others.

“So, tell me a secret,” chorused Juri in an annoying singsong voice. I noticed Miki’s piano-playing stopped as he leaned in closer to hear Utena’s secret.

“Thank God,” said Juri, “that song makes me feel like being sick.”

“I think that’s the sake,” giggled Utena.

“Hey!” said Miki indignantly, pouting just a little. “It reminds me of my sister.” He picked up a cup on the piano lid and I realized he’d been drinking too, albeit less than the others.

“That’s why it makes me sick,” said Juri. “Your twin’s a bitch.”

“Hey!” yelled Miki, standing to his feet with his fists clenched at his sides. “Take that back!”

“It’s true,” said Juri, batting her eyelashes at him. “And you know it, Miki-kun.”

“You’re the bitch,” he muttered, swaying and sitting back down on his bench. “I don’t feel so good.”

“You can’t hold your sake,” said Juri, nodding sagely. “Be a man. Learn to drink.”

“I don’t have your reasons to drink,” muttered Miki and my eyes widened. Was that…true?

“What reasons?” wondered Utena aloud, saving me needing to.

“Shiori,” said Juri, sniffling loudly. “She’s such a bitch. She hurts me every single time.”

“Every time what?” said Utena, pouring herself another glass and getting half of it on the table.

“I dunno,” said Juri, “every time I even see her. Or talk to her. Especially when I talk to her. I think she has it in for me. I think she…” She leaned closer to Utena and whispered with her hand by her mouth (only the whisper was two times louder than normal speech), …“knows.”

“Knows what?” said Utena, hefting her cup.

“That Juri-san lurves her,” sang Miki from his bench. “That she carries her picture in her loc-ket!”

“I do not!” hissed Juri.

“Yeah!” agreed Utena. “We already cleared that up last time Juri lost. It’s MY picture now.”

“Yeah!” said Juri.

“Oh yeah, that’s right,” said Miki. He started playing again.

I grimaced. I’d suspected as much. I wondered if any of them would remember this in the morning.

“It’s your turn,” reminded Juri, “to tell us your secret, Utena-kun. So hurry up, will ya.”

“Yeah yeah, I just gotta drink this first.” Utena pinched her nose and downed the sake. Juri laughed at her.

“It’s not a shot, Utena. You aren’t meant to shoot it.”

“It’s my sake and I’ll drink it however I want.” Utena sighed and flopped back into the chair again, then twisted and dangled her legs over the side nearest me. She started kicking the side of my chair in an offbeat rhythm, which was irritating to say the least.

“Well I do got a secret.”

“You do?” Juri leaned in close while simultaneously draining her cup. Sake spilled onto her white blouse. Miki’s playing petered off again.

“Yeah,” said Utena and I was interested in spite of myself. Her voice quieted and she stopped kicking my chair. “You see…”

“What?” asked Juri.

“What?” repeated Miki.

They all looked expectantly at me.

“What?” I repeated dutifully.

“Well,” said Utena, “my secret is…”

Juri and Miki leaned in.

“That I ain’t got no more secrets!” Utena’s giggled triumphantly. Juri and Miki stared at her like she’d grown two heads.

“What?”

“That’s not possible!”

“Yeah it is,” said Utena earnestly. “All my dirty secrets are out in the open! Honest! I told em already. Letmesee…” She started to tick points off on her fingers.

“I cheated on Kanae-senpai with her fiancé, I slept with the chairman…”

“Damn it Utena,” interrupted Juri, “all your secrets are about sex.”

“I almost kissed you,” continued Utena, sticking her tongue out at Juri. “I…”

“Wait, what?” I interrupted. They both looked at me, Juri smirking while Utena paled.

“She almost kissed me!” repeated Juri smugly.

“No, no,” said Utena, “you almost kissed me. I got that one wrong.”

“When?” I demanded. “Where?” I couldn’t hide the hurt in my voice but (luckily) they were too far gone to notice.

“Oh a long time ago,” said Juri vaguely, “back in high school.”

“By the fountain,” said Utena, “we were having a fight, about the prince I think, or something like that…”

“Yeah,” said Juri. “You said you wanted to be a prince. And I said you were an idiot. I was gonna kiss you but,” she shrugged, “I shook you instead. And challenged you to a duel.”

“Yeah,” said Utena. “You shoulda kissed me.”

I frowned at them, unsure why my heart was twisting in my chest. What did it matter if Utena had some kind of schoolgirl crush on Juri? (Beautiful, perfect, self-possessed Juri. A rose bride of a girl, but without any of the taint, and serving no master but herself. A prince of a girl, much like Utena herself.)

Utena was mine.

“I should have,” agreed Juri, her voice unusually intense.

“Ladies!” hissed Miki, “Anthy-san is sitting right there!”

They both jumped and looked at me, apparently remembering my presence.

“Woops,” said Juri.

“Woops,” repeated Utena.

I fought to keep my face blank.

“Well it don’t matter,” said Utena, “cos it never happened, right? And now that I got Anthy it will never happen.”

I frowned at her choice of words. Miki’s playing started up again.

“Maybe you won’t always have Himemiya-san, ever think of that?” said Juri, pouring another drink for both of them. “I don’t got Shiori no more.”

“You never did,” called Miki unhelpfully. The Sunlit Garden had never had so many discordant notes.

“I’ll always have Anthy,” said Utena, “or she’ll always have me. I’m not sure which…” She turned her head and gave me a soppy grin. “God, I love you.”

“You’re drunk,” I said, stiffly because I was hurt. Hurt for no reason that I could fathom and angry at myself for feeling that way. Feeling such weakness.

Of course she didn’t notice.

“You and me are friends,” she was telling Juri, accepting the new drink. “Friends.”

“I know,” said Juri, staring into her drink. “You remind me often enough.”

“Let’s play again,” said Utena, “I wanna know another secret.”

“I don’t feel like playing,” muttered Juri. She threw back the sake. “I feel like drinking.”

“Okay,” said Utena amicably, throwing her own cup back.

I got up and took the jug away, ignoring their outraged protests. They were drunk enough as it was. I wasn’t looking forward to the hangovers.

* * *

Thanks to said hangovers I was the only one awake the next morning, all alone at breakfast when Mikage Souji walked in.

“Mamiya-kun,” he purred, taking the seat next to me. “How delightful. I hoped we might have the opportunity to speak alone.”

“What do you want?” I asked, not bothering to hide my bitterness. Barely hiding my fear. Didn’t we lock the front door? Of course not, the mansion was virtually in the middle of nowhere.

“Don’t be like that.” Mikage picked up a slightly-burned croissant. “Hmm, did you happen to make this? Your culinary skills always did leave something to be desired…”

“What do you want?” I repeated. ChuChu had fled under the table and I wondered if there’d be any point in fleeing the room. Probably not. Mikage would just follow me.

“I want you of course,” he said meaningfully. “Mamiya-kun.”

“Don’t call me that.” I looked away.

“Change,” he ordered, voice low and intense. I looked back, startled.

“You heard me.” Mikage’s fingers drummed on the table. “It’s what I want. Oh I know you’re the same person. Himemiya Anthy is just another construct, and Mamiya just a beautiful illusion. But he’s my illusion. My Mamiya.” He picked up my hand and pressed a delicate kiss to the pulse-point of my wrist.

“My heart,” he husked.

I stared at him stonily; there was no reason to hide my true expression.

“I don’t want you,” I said. “Not now. Not ever.”

His face crumpled for a moment than regained its frosty smile.

“Now, now, that’s not true.” He leaned in to press another kiss, a little further up my forearm. My hand twitched as though to pull away, felt the strength in his deceptively gentle grip, thought better of it.

“What we had,” he continued with yet another kiss, “was real.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes.” Mikage peered into my eyes, then let his own run appreciatively over my body. “You’re very beautiful like this,” he noted. “Even with your hair pinned up.” I grimaced at him, at his eyes dancing over my cleavage.

“I could grow to like it,” he said, “because I know the inner workings are what I’m truly interested in. The clockwork of your heart, the chick inside the shell.”

I sighed wearily. So many lines over so many centuries. So many suitors thinking they knew what they wanted and swearing it was me.

But he’d said it himself: I was just an illusion, one that had been re-made in the image of his deepest darkest desire. He had to know that. He was a genius. He had to know I wasn’t what he wanted. Maybe he just didn’t want to know it. Couldn’t bear cold reality as opposed to rose-scented fantasies.

Well, who could?

His lips pressed to the crease of my elbow. His tongue darted out to flicker across the delicate flesh there. My arm jerked.

“Change,” he said as he hovered there, voice like steel. “Or I will find your beloved Tenjou right now, and I will tell her exactly what you are.” His head tilted to the side and his eyes slanted up at me, glittering with triumph.

I blinked. My heart twisted in my ribcage.

And I changed.

Mikage sat up and stared at me incredulously, drinking Mamiya in rapturously.

“Glorious!” he cried. “How I’ve missed you… my dearest one…”

I stared at him coldly but in this form he didn’t seem to notice it. His eyes were feverish, his hands suddenly warm where they gripped my arm. I trembled as his eyes raked my new and much slighter body, as his hands shifted to seize my shoulders.

“Tell me,” he hissed, “tell me, Mamiya-kun. You know you can tell me. Anything. Anything at all…”

I knew what he wanted me to say. I’d always known what victors wanted me to say.

“I’ve missed you,” I murmured. “Souji-sama.”

With a sharp cry, half-rapture half-pain he fell on me. He kissed me, ravaging my mouth, gripping my body with hands that bruised. I went limp, letting him do what he liked. I knew he was too far gone to notice. His threadbare sanity filled in all the details for him, just the way he liked them. I didn’t have to do a thing. (This was also familiar.)

Time drifted.

“What the hell is this?” Juri’s sounded angry and suspicious, and Juri herself looked worse for wear. Mikage sat up straight, let me go, brushed at his creased suit. I didn’t move - couldn’t really think at that point.

Instead I watched silently as Juri watched us, taking in my ripped purple shirt and Mikage’s tilted glasses that he was just setting straight.

“Mikage-san?” she prompted, “I repeat, what the hell is going on here?! Who is this?” She glared at me.

“Oi, you’re being way too loud.” Utena traipsed in, then stopped dead on Juri’s heels and gawked over her shoulder. “What’s going on?”

Juri folded her arms and tapped her foot.

“That’s what I want to know.”

I glanced at Mikage who was staring at me with a dreamy expression on his face. Yes. Insane. I don’t know why I hadn’t fully realized it until now. Stark raving mad, but brilliant still. The first one ever to figure out this particular secret.

Perhaps it took insanity to see some realities?

Damn my brother and his arrogant self-assurance. It had been a mistake to toy with a mind this analytical and not wipe it clean. Now I was left to pick up the pieces…it was my secret at stake here, not Akio’s. I had to ensure Mikage didn’t reveal it to anyone else.

Or maybe that’s what Akio had intended all along…

“Who are you?” asked Utena, plopping down in the seat across from me and glancing curiously between Mikage and myself. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me, Tenjou-san,” murmured Mikage, evidently getting a grip. “Allow me to introduce my guest; I hope you don’t mind the imposition on your generous hospitality. This is Mamiya-kun.”

Juri was sitting down across from Mikage, still staring suspiciously.

“As in the Mamiya you hired us to find?”

“Yes,” said Mikage. He picked up his burned croissant. “As you can see I’ve found him myself. So I came to tell you that I won’t be requiring your services after all.”

“Wow,” said Utena smiling happily at him. “That’s so cool. I’m real glad you guys got reunited.” She turned her smile on me. “I’m Tenjou Utena by the way.” She stuck her hand out, western-style. “Nice to meet you.”

I didn’t take her hand, but bowed politely, the best I could from my seated position.

Her smile widened.

“Hey, you remind me of Anthy. You even kinda look like her.” She turned to Juri and nodded at me. “Don’t you think so?”

“What, because they’re both…” Juri’s eyes flashed to my bindi than looked away quickly. “…Whatever they are?” She frowned. “What ethnicity is Himemiya-san anyway? You must know by now.”

Utena blushed and played with her food.

“Er…I uh…I never asked her that.”

Juri rolled her eyes.

“Well you should.” She looked at me, and smiled remotely. (I wondered if she was cognizant of how she came across to strangers.) “How did Mikage-san find you?”

I looked down, not really wanting to talk. It was bad enough just being here like this. Wearing this form yet again, and against my will besides.

“It was a miracle,” said Mikage, beaming at me as he took a sip of tea. He took one of my unresisting hands in his.

“Oh?” pressed Juri.

“A miracle of modern science and rational thinking.” Mikage was preening. “A little like an equation. You see I wrote down all the possibilities one by one, and then I wrote down all the impossibilities alongside them.”

Juri arched an eyebrow in polite disinterest. Utena hid a yawn (poorly) behind one hand.

“You see,” continued Mikage, “When you look at life and death through the eyes of logic, you are able to see that the grains of sand in an hourglass are more than what they appear to be.”

“Uhuh,” said Juri, reaching for the sugar-pot. Utena wasn’t even pretending to pay attention. She had found ChuChu hiding under the table and was trying to coax him out. But he wasn’t coming.

“They appear to be sand,” explained Mikage, “but they are actually time. Yes! Time itself. An allegory of time if you will.”

“Of course,” said Juri, sipping her tea and reading a fashion magazine she’d managed to grab from somewhere, who knew where.

“Eh? An allegory-whatsit?” muttered Utena, head still under the table.

Mikage didn’t appear to notice their inattention, he was too busy waxing poetic. It was a good thing he’d never worked as a lecturer. Personally I was beyond grateful that Juri and Utena weren’t listening; they might learn something if they did. Covertly I pulled my hand from Mikage’s and reached for the teapot, since tea was comforting. Besides at this point, even I was bored.

“This means,” said Mikage with the air of one revealing the secrets of the universe, “that what is logical must be the truth, whether it is possible or impossible. That is the only possibility left. Inasmuch as anything can be true.”

“Certainly,” murmured Juri, turning the page. “Inasmuch.” I saw that she was looking at a lingerie add. Or perhaps she was looking at the model, a petite brunette.

“These croissants are burned,” moaned Utena. She took three anyway. “Hey, does that mean Anthy made them?”

I frowned at her.

“When you strip away illogic,” intoned Mikage, “you are left with a lie, an utter impossibility. But making excuses about it is suited only to adults who cling to age-old children’s fairytales.” He raised a finger and waved it remonstratingly at his audience of none. “Fairytales!”

“Fairytales,” repeated Juri, leaning in to get a better look at the model.

“Mmm,” said Utena, mouth full of croissant. “Notsh bad for a burnedsh one.”

“You must accept the impossibility as the answer!” declared Mikage. “The logical answer! The pieces all line up, the nature of the game has been shown to be entirely different from what lesser men call possible. All you have to do then is believe, and I do believe…even if I just want to believe.”

I was lifting my tea to sip it but Mikage forestalled me, reaching across to cup my chin and tilt my face up toward his. His voice was soft.

“Unchosen angels, not unlike ourselves, have no need for heaven’s wings.”

“Ish that a poem?” asked Utena mouth still full, watching us curiously.

“It’s gibberish,” muttered Juri under her breath.

Miki picked that moment to stumble in and Juri and Utena chorused hellos at him, clearly glad for the interruption. Mikage let my chin go. Hurriedly I drank my tea.

Miki was holding his head, protesting the noise, which prompted Juri to retrieve painkillers. Then Utena started a new round of introductions and caught Miki up on the situation, glossing over Mikage’s wordy explanation of how he’d found me.

I just sat there, saying nothing, eating a withered piece of toast so as not to draw unnecessary attention. If I did think, it was to wonder how I could salvage this miserable situation. It was like something out of one of my gentler nightmares.

“Well we must be going,” said Mikage prompting me to look up in horror.

“Really?” protested Utena. “But surely you want to wait for Anthy. Introduce her to your friend.” She smiled at me again, a friendly smile, an ignorant and unknowing smile.

“That’s unnecessary,” said Mikage, dabbing delicately at his lips with the lace handkerchief from his top pocket. “Anthy-kun already knows Mamiya from days of old.”

“She does?” Utena’s forehead crinkled. “She never said anything…”

“She keeps her own counsel,” said Mikage, offering the handkerchief to me, then wiping my face when I made no move to take it. “You must know that about her.”

Juri was staring at us, an uneasy expression on her usually composed face.

“Excuse me, Mikage-san,” she broke in, “but just what is your relationship with Mamiya er”, she stumbled over the honorific and erred on the side of caution, “san, anyway?”

“Relationship?” said Mikage blandly. “He is my bride of course.”

Three shocked faces goggled at him. Utena’s jaw dropped and a piece of croissant fell out. Miki knocked over his tea. He didn’t clean it up.

I felt my world start unraveling, but could only sit there in silent anguish. Watching helplessly as it came undone. Screaming silently but saying nothing. Not even daring to move.

“Br…bride?” muttered Juri, eyes re-assessing my uniform, taking in the leaf-like embroidery, the golden epaulets and green tassels, finally contextualizing it, recognizing it. Seeing it as the garb of a rose bride. I could see the others doing the same, Utena’s eyes focusing on the rip in my shirt and a frown creasing her forehead.

“Of course,” said Mikage, leisurely wrapping an arm around my narrow shoulders, pulling me close. “The black rose bride.”

“Bl…black roses?” whimpered Miki. His fists clenched on the table.

“I think black is more beautiful,” purred Mikage, “don’t you?”

Ever so easily he was slipping into his old Ohtori role. I didn’t know for what purpose. He had to be insane, or else why would he be revealing this? I tried not to cringe away from him, least he feel it and grow angry.

“Black roses…” muttered Utena, looking down at the table, and then pressing a hand to her head. “That’s so familiar…”

“Shiori dueled you with my heart-sword,” said Juri, glancing over at Utena, her eyes flickering with her own buried pain. “Don’t you remember?”

“I do,” said Utena, staring at Juri and blinking slowly. “I do now…”

“So do I,” said Juri grimly, rising to stand over Mikage in a slightly threatening manner. “Or at least I’m beginning to.”

“Kozue dueled,” said Miki, standing to join Juri. “This man,” he spat the word, “had something to do with it I’m sure. He hurt them.”

“They wanted to kill Anthy!” gasped Utena, leaping to her feet beside them. “I remember now! They wanted to kill her and make some imposter the bride.” She glared at me meaningfully. “You!”

She turned on Mikage. “And you! You’re the reason they all dueled, aren’t you? Whispering lies in their ears, turning their own darkest emotions against them! You tried to turn me!” Her voice was simultaneously angry and excited as the rush of memory poured forth.

“You called me T…Tokiko! Oh my God, you’re…you’re him, aren’t you?! The Professor Nemuro she’s looking for? What the hell, is she in this with you? Is this some kind of sick game, a trap for Anthy?” She looked around frantically, realizing my absence.

“Where is she anyway? Have you…have you…done something to her?! I swear, if you’ve so much as hurt a hair on…”

“Utena!” Juri grabbed her arm and shook her a little. “Get a grip. We’ll deal with this one thing at a time, okay?”

“Okay,” muttered Utena, taking a deep breath and resettling herself. “You’re right.” But her fists remained clenched.

Mikage’s arm tightened around me where we sat and he smirked up at them all, not in the least put out.

“I’m impressed, Tenjou-san,” he purred. “Your temper is slightly better than it used to be.” 

Utena glowered, and looked like she wanted to hit him. Juri kept a cautious hand on her arm, and I was glad of it. The situation was bad enough without outright violence.

“What are you going to do?” Mikage asked them mildly, logically. “The black rose duels…they’re all in the past. All I wanted was to find my Mamiya. And I have. So you can just let us go on our way.”

“Wait a second,” said Miki, sitting back down, mind clearly whirring. “You called Mamiya uh, san, your rose erm…bride. So he…works for the assistant chairman?” He looked at me curiously. “Still?”

“I thought there could only be one rose bride,” said Juri, looking me up and down distastefully. “This one’s a little young, don’t you think? It’s practically obscene.”

“But that’s why they wanted to kill Anthy,” said Utena slowly. “To replace her.”

“Are you…also related to the chairman?” Miki’s voice was nervous as his eyes flickered over my bindi. I remembered that like Professor Nemuro he was a genius, albeit a musical and mathematical one. Everyone waited for my answer, including Mikage, who was smirking down at me.

“I’m Chida Tokiko’s younger brother,” I murmured so softly that they had to lean forward to hear me. Not even Mikage could disclaim that. And it was better than the other version of the truth.

“Oh,” said Miki blankly. His nose wrinkled as he stared at me. “But I don’t see how that’s possible.”

“If you’ll excuse us,” said Mikage, getting to his feet and dragging me up with him, “clearly we have nothing to do with the assistant chairman, anymore than any of you still do. Our business is personal and between we two alone. So I’ll thank you to show us the way out.”

Miki said nothing. Juri scowled and sat back down. Only Utena moved to stand between Mikage and the door, staring at me with a strange expression on her face.

“Are you okay with that?” she asked me gently. “Mamiya-kun?” My eyes widened at the familiar form of address, and I looked at her quickly. Our eyes met, hers kind, mine questioning. Then I pulled my gaze away, but hesitated, unable to stop myself. Mikage’s grip on my arm tightened. I heard Utena’s influx of breath and knew she’d seen it. We stood there for long uncertain moments while I tried to think past the role, past the constraints of this identity. Tried, and failed miserably.

“Souji-sama?” I said finally, looking up at him instead. I heard Utena’s gasp at the sama.

“Let’s go,” he told me firmly, and I nodded complacently.

And we left, arm in arm.

We got as far as the garden path and then he pulled me behind the maze wall, and took me by the shoulders to stare down at me intently.

“I’ve thought about this a great deal,” Mikage told me. “If I take you with me even that stupid Tenjou girl will soon realize the truth of our…situation.” His lip curled. “She’ll track me down and take you from me. And she’ll win, because she’s really Tokiko and I’m just a computer-like man.” His face distorted with pain and I gaped at him, barely able to follow his flawed reasoning.

“That’s why she left me,” he hissed, “but I’ll never leave you, even with that horrible thing that…” he glanced around nervously “…you did.”

He bent to press a kiss to my forehead, a surprisingly soft and loving gesture.

“So you’ll have to stay here with this duelist, and pretend to be her bride, but you and I will know the truth, won’t we? You’re my bride; you’re as black as the ashes of that fire, the fire you set because you understand what’s needed to succeed.” He nodded to himself. “Sacrifice is always essential to obtain eternity. And that will be your sacrifice, Mamiya-kun. To be away from me until we can…fix this problem. And then we shall obtain eternity together.”

I stared at him more blankly than before, feeling a bit like falling over. Fortunately he took this as acquiescence. He pressed more kisses to my forehead, my nose, my lips. He lingered there and I closed my eyes and tried to block him out. I didn’t love him. I didn’t want this, any of it, any of him.

This was madness.

But it’s your fault, isn’t it? hissed a voice from somewhere deep inside, a voice that made me start and wonder at my own thoughts. If this is madness you’re the one who drove him to it.

I shuddered against the chilling truth. (How much better to never hear your conscience. To be a doll without a heart.)

“I’ll be back,” Mikage told me, finally straightening. “And when I return we’ll rid ourselves of Tokiko once and for all. I just have to figure out how to do it - the perfect plan. But I will. Never fear, my heart, I will.” He kissed my hand. “Be ready.”

He let me go, and stepped out from behind the hedge to stalk down the driveway. I just stood there, watching through the leaves as he hailed a cab and roared off. I stared after him for a long time, and wiped my lips with the back of my hand. Then slowly, woodenly, I shifted back to normal.

* * *

“Where have you been?” cried Utena, finding me an hour later in the attic.

“Nowhere,” I said vaguely, allowing it as she rushed over to gather me in her arms. I made myself hug her back, although I really didn’t feel like touching anyone. (Even her.) I wanted to be alone, which was why I was in the seldom-used attic in the first place.

“I was so worried,” she told me, stepping back to look me over carefully. “That weird Mikage guy was here and aw…awful things happened.” She looked down at my easel. I had been pretending to paint since I knew she would find me eventually. It was far less suspicious than sitting balled up in a darkened corner. Unfortunately I hadn’t managed to paint anything: just stood there and stared at the blankness of the canvas.

“He found Mamiya-kun, you know, that boy he was looking for,” she told me, still looking at my blank painting. Her voice sounded strange. “Mikage-san said he was the…black rose bride. He also said you knew him. From before.” She hesitated.

“Is that true?”

“Yes,” I murmured.

“Oh,” she said. “But you…never said?”

“No.”

We stood in silence and both looked at the canvas, which was ironic, because neither of us was really looking at it.

“Why?” she asked after a pause in which a telltale bead of sweat had time to slither down my neck. I looked at the canvas, harder than before.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said. “About…back then.”

She said nothing, just stared at the canvas too. Then she reached over and took my limp hand in hers and held it. Slowly, so slowly my hand curled around hers, our fingers entwining.

And it was okay to be touching, it felt right.

We stayed there till the shadows came.

TBC in Chapter 6: Once Upon a Time

*In this chapter I quoted (in the voice of Mikage Souji) from Anthiena’s wonderful Truth Dub Cover  (a possible English translation of the song Truth, from the ending credits) which can be found on fanfic.net at: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/3111662/1/Truth_Dub_Cover

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#20 | Back to Top12-06-2009 12:59:37 PM

Anthiena
Egghead
From: ...the space between your ears
Registered: 10-21-2006
Posts: 1107

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

What an interesting way to use Truth. So freaking ironic. The honor is all mine.


I stopped seeking to be sought after. That wasn't being true to myself.
I want to become someone who can exercise power. I want to become a prince. - Ikuni

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#21 | Back to Top12-06-2009 11:41:43 PM

Melancholic_Soul
Dancer Romancer
From: VA
Registered: 04-28-2009
Posts: 1513

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

=_____= it's 1:40 AM where I am, and I've just finished reading chapter 5... it's brilliant, everything from characterization to subtle (and some non to subtle) metaphors.... Good job emot-keke


http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v476/anthy_utena/rukasan.gif Believing in the power of Love and Justice since 1999
Red Lobster CGM- Burning Shrimp since 2013
Amazon FFC fucking shit up since 2015
Best Buy Warehouse - Tech decks on deck since 2016

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#22 | Back to Top12-07-2009 04:47:46 PM

gpink
Eternal Castellan
Registered: 11-21-2009
Posts: 265

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Wow this is really good I await more.

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#23 | Back to Top12-07-2009 11:00:00 PM

Itsuke
Pathtracer
Registered: 12-08-2008
Posts: 341

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

It's been two days since I had any sleep, but sleep could wait while I read your story

and...

emot-gonkemot-gonkemot-gonkemot-gonkemot-gonk
Anthy...when are you going to fight back?????



===========================================================================

As to my earlier statement about Anthy not being Akio's White Goddess...I do not believe the worship of this so-called goddess ever existed; in my opinion it is nothing more than Robert Graves' brainchild. Having said that, how you described Anthy in the story according to Akio's perspective reminded me of how Graves described his concept of the White Goddess. Anyhow, I am sure wikipedia can do a better job at explaining what the hell is the White Goddess~  That's all.

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#24 | Back to Top12-08-2009 03:34:59 AM

Arthkael
Wakaba Wrangler
From: Somewhere in Italy
Registered: 08-09-2009
Posts: 19
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Mikage insane? Wow, this makes sense. He lost so many things during the black rose duels, I'm not surprised his mind got damaged.
And Anthy... she is so submissive because she still considers herself guilty. Uhm, right?
I think that the sentence 'Domine, non sum digna' occurs to her a least 10 times, everyday. I don't know if I've explained myself clearly...

Last edited by Arthkael (12-08-2009 03:36:31 AM)

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#25 | Back to Top12-08-2009 04:08:09 AM

sharnii
Pharaoh of Phanstuff
From: Melbourne Australia
Registered: 08-10-2008
Posts: 2416
Website

Re: [fanfiction] Thorns Wither (Anthy/Utena, sequel to Roses Grow)

Anthiena: What an interesting way to use Truth. So freaking ironic. The honor is all mine.

I'm glad. emot-keke And I think Mikage means what he says...and in a sense it is true. And of course as you suggest the very fact that he's the one saying it is intensely ironic. And it's a lie that traps him. Yay!

Mel: =_____= it's 1:40 AM where I am, and I've just finished reading chapter 5... it's brilliant, everything from characterization to subtle (and some non to subtle) metaphors.... Good job emot-keke

How awesome of you to say...I appreciate. Especially re my characterization and metaphors.

gpink: Wow this is really good I await more.

And you shall have it.

Itsuke: Anthy...when are you going to fight back?????

Poor Itsuke... /comforts. If it helps you it's quite painful to write this stuff as Anthy. I think her pov is very painful during SKU itself and it makes me sad too as I write her continuing struggles. I feel for my readers, I really do. emot-gonk And myself of course.

As to my earlier statement about Anthy not being Akio's White Goddess...I do not believe the worship of this so-called goddess ever existed; in my opinion it is nothing more than Robert Graves' brainchild. Having said that, how you described Anthy in the story according to Akio's perspective reminded me of how Graves described his concept of the White Goddess. Anyhow, I am sure wikipedia can do a better job at explaining what the hell is the White Goddess~  That's all.

Thanks for explaining that! I had not idea about Robert Graves' idea and enjoyed reading up on it. And yeah you're right - the way I describe Anthy in that chapter does remind me of that. And I guess in a way that is what I'm having Akio suggest...that he and Anthy share a long history that dips in and out of history itself, and myth, and religion, and is a part of all of those. So while Akio and Anthy may be none of the actual historical/mythological rulers/gods/characters I allude to, they may have played a part in beginning/being those stories. Or more than just a part.

I wonder if that makes sense...I guess it does as much as anything in SKU. emot-wink Of course it's only one possible interpretation. It's been tossed around the forums here a time or two.

Arthkael: Mikage insane? Wow, this makes sense. He lost so many things during the black rose duels, I'm not surprised his mind got damaged.
And Anthy... she is so submissive because she still considers herself guilty. Uhm, right?
I think that the sentence 'Domine, non sum digna' occurs to her a least 10 times, everyday. I don't know if I've explained myself clearly...

I lean towards Mikage being insane during the black rose arc itself. At least as much as insanity is one being able to believe a false reality because they need to so much. At the same time I suppose Akio and Anthy were actually creating the unreality for him. So he wasn't really insane at all! Trippy.

You're right that I have Anthy considering herself as guilty at this point. Very guilty. In fact I've never seen a character as motivated by guilt as Anthy. And guilt can be a horribly powerful and invasive thing. As to her continued moments of submission, she's submissive because she's always been submissive and part of her believes this is right. Hmm let me illustrate...

Say you're 21 years old and you've lived 1 year of your life thinking you were beautiful and then 20 years being constantly told that you were ugly. By everyone. By yourself. When you're 21 someone comes along and tells you you're gorgeous.
Do you believe them?
Do you suddenly feel gorgeous?
Are you able to act as someone who is gorgeous?
I think that's what Utena saving Anthy is like from Anthy's point of view. Like trying to believe that the last 20 years and your whole identity is a lie. But it's the only truth you know, and it involves hundreds/thousands/millions of years rather than 20...

Ooh what does the sentence 'Domine, non sum digna' mean? I'm sorry I don't know that one... Is it Latin? Or something else?

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