The ride home was bumpier than the ride to Houou. Japan at night whizzed by dizzyingly and I started to feel a little sick, watching the lights blur beneath me. I was glad to land and stand upon solid ground again. I decided to take a cab to my place, despite the extra cost. I was tired and needed some sleep.
The first thing I noticed was the light on in my apartment window. The second was that two figures were silhouetted by the light, standing casually – like they belonged there. I trudged up to the door and slammed into the room, trying to startle them senseless.
It half worked. Kaoru Miki looked like he had just been shot, but my client was not in the least perturbed. At the moment I didn’t much care. I wasn’t very happy to have guests after my day. Hell, after my week. I thought hard about turning around and going to stay in a hotel for the night, but changed my mind after I saw the look on Miki’s face. He looked years younger than when I saw him in his office. Like a weight had been lifted from his soul.
It was obvious that the two had been talking, but Miki still stood, one hand raised in a gesture, as he had been when I burst in. Surprised, he had forgotten to lower it. As he recognized me, it sank to his side.
“At the risk of being rude, I did not plan on guests tonight. So, Mr. Kaoru, please say what you have to say to me, without preamble or digression. I will give you ten minutes.”
He looked abashed, but Anshi stepped between us. “It was my fault. I apologize. I was standing outside when he came to your building. I convinced the doorman to let us in here.” She shot me a look and I knew enough not to ask for further details.
I turned to Miki, who was still looking a bit hangdog, and waved him into one of the chairs. Anshi offered to make tea and I let her. I sat facing Miki and waited for him to speak.
“When you left my office,” he started a bit hesitantly, “I must have given you the impression of being a very unhealthy person. That wasn’t quite true. I am, except for those spells, in exceptional health.”
I cleared my throat and he jumped slightly.
“Yes, you said without preamble, my apologies.” He arranged his thoughts for a moment and began. “When I graduated from Ohtori, Utena had been gone for years, you know. Ten years is a long time to see clearly the events that one has experienced. Even life-shaping ones.
After you left me, I was unconscious for several days. When I awoke, I had most of my memory of those days in Ohtori returned to me. For the first time in years I could see Utena’s face and Miss Himemiya’s here,” he nodded to Anshi who had returned bearing a tray, “and I thought I would come here and try to help you. You know, see if I could remember anything significant.” He looked from me to Anshi and back.
I took a cup and drank the tea. It was strong and bitter. “Thank you, but I don’t think that will be necessary. The case is almost complete.”
Miki looked disappointed. “Oh, well, then I guess I’ll be going.” He stood and smiled at Anshi. “You’ll come to the university to visit me one day I hope?”
She put out a hand and they clasped hands. Smiling, she assured him that she would. Miki said that he’d let himself out and without digression, he did. Nice kid. I bet he was a good teacher.
I drank my tea in silence. Anshi said nothing, either. The two of us sat in that companionable quiet, where two old friends can just be themselves with each other. At last the tea was finished. And so was I.
I cleaned up the cups and tray and returned to my chair. Anshi sat, her head down, her hands linked in her lap. I didn’t know where to begin. Or how to end this game.
“I found her.” My voice was harsh and Anshi’s head snapped up. She looked into my eyes, for a moment a ray of hope lighting her face, then the guards fell once again and her eyes went blank.
“You’ve found Utena?” She asked quietly, her eyes searching my face.
“Yes, but I need your help. I know where she is, Anshi…but I can’t get to her. Please, help me?” I reached out and put my hand over hers. She took my hand in her own, her brown fingers intertwining with my paler ones.
I stood and pulled her up with me. We kissed for what seemed like hours. When we finally pulled apart, I said softly, “This is goodbye, isn’t it?”
She nodded, then laid her head on my shoulder.
“The last time I’ll ever see you.” I said, then lifted her face to kiss her once again.
Our lovemaking was frenetic, desperate. We both knew that this would be over as soon as it started. We had no future together, just as we had no past.
Anshi had made more tea. We lay in bed, eating cookies and drinking, while the night wore on. Our words were few; there was really nothing to say.
Looking out into the room, Anshi asked me if I’d ever heard of a drug called Cantarella. I hadn’t.
“The Borgias used it to poison their political enemies.”
“Really?” I asked, not at all interested. Time was ticking down for us.
“Yes.” She said. “I’ve put some in the tea.” She continued.
“That’s funny…” I looked at her and thought how strange she was, how mesmerizing. “Because I poisoned the cookies.” We both laughed at that.
Then the cup she was holding fell lifeless from her hand and the cookie I held in mine slipped to the bed. As tea slid across the bedclothes, numbness spread over me, and my heart slowed, then my breath. My last thought was of something that Touga had said. “It could have been good between us. Only…it wasn’t.”
I awoke. That alone should have surprised me, but it didn’t somehow. The sun wasn’t yet up, but Dawn’s rosy fingers pried their way through the windows to turn the room pink-gold.
Anshi was asleep. I stroked the hair away from her face and waited until she moved to kiss her eyes. They fluttered, then opened. The look on her face as she saw me was the most amazing thing I have ever seen, joy and disbelief warring with each other, neither quite taking the field completely. She lifted a hand to my face and stroked my cheek.
I smiled down at her. “Can I tell you a story?” I asked. She nodded, and brushed a few small tears away from her eyes.
I took her hands in mine and kissed them. “Once upon a time, there was a girl, who wanted to be a Prince. There was also a Prince and he needed, desperately needed, someone with Princely energy to help him, because he had lost his power. But he wanted it back. It was partially his doing that the girl wanted to be a prince anyway, so he felt he had some claim on her. Years passed and she was a pretty fair princeling, so the Prince brought her to where he was, in order to take her power and become a prince himself, once again.
“But too much time had passed, and too many people hadn’t been strong enough and the Prince no longer really believed that he would ever be a prince again. But he kept doing this, because somewhere in him, it made sense and the rest of him just liked the game.
“The Prince had a sister, who was as powerful as he, but she had sacrificed himself for him, using all her power to protect him. And it hadn’t worked, so she was nearly powerless and in constant pain. When the Prince told her he’d regain the power and free her, she consented to be used in the game. As time passed, she too began to despair of ever being saved, and eventually gave up altogether, until she had no hope at all.
One day, the girl who wanted to be a Prince did something strange, something no one had ever done before. She treated the Princess with kindness, and became friends with her. But this was not a good thing, because it rekindled hope, however small, in the Princess’s heart.
As the game approached its conclusion, the Prince gave up because, you see, he no longer wanted to save his sister – he had forgotten that her pain was on his behalf. And as he turned away, the girl who wanted to be a Princess refused to realize when she was beaten and she saved the Princess after all.”
Tears flowed freely down Anshi’s face, but I held her hands close in mine.
“But the story doesn’t end there. Because the Princess, angry that her brother had forgotten her pain, used what magic she had and made a spell. She worked on it for a very long time, so her brother wouldn’t learn of it. She had to be careful. If she gave it away, then everything would be ruined, or worse, the girl who wanted to be a Prince would be killed. It was a powerful spell, so powerful it might affect everyone at the school – if it worked.
“And it did. One night, under the pretense of a joke, the Princess gave the girl who wanted to be a Prince an herbal concoction. It was a magical potion, if you will, one that would make her forget what happened to her. Not everything, but just some things – things that would hurt her to remember.
“But the rest of the spell was to save her. Because the Princess didn’t believe the Prince’s promises anymore and didn’t believe she’d be saved. But the girl who wanted to be a Prince did believe. And at the last minute, the Princess believed too – just enough to make it happen.
“The spell worked. The girl who wanted to be a prince disappeared from the school and people began to forget about her. They could remember her a little, or that she was there, but not much else. She simply faded, like a dream.
“The Princess was saved, and she left the school too. So they forgot about her, as well, because it was her magic that made so much happen there.
“The girl who wanted to be a prince had a very strange thing happen to her as a result of that spell. Because the Princess wanted to protect her, the girl couldn’t remember anything that happened, but she also didn’t remember who she was exactly. The spell was even stronger than that. The girl didn’t even look the same, because someone might want to find her and that would trigger memories that might hurt her. So the spell gave her a new appearance, so no one who knew her might recognize her.
“And that’s how it stayed, for ten years, The Princess looked for the girl and, because she had focused all her remaining power into the spell, was able to find her, after a very long time. But she still couldn’t come out and say anything or the spell might collapse and the girl get hurt. She needed to give the girl the antidote to the magical potion. Even then, it might not work, or they might both die from the poison. – or the girl might not remember anything. So the princess sent someone to find the girl and bring her memories back…to bring the girl home.
“And now I’ve found her.” I looked into Anshi’s green eyes. “Anshi, I’m home.”
Anshi collapsed against my chest, her words blurred by her tears, murmuring over and over against my chest as we embraced. “Utena.”
I could feel the winter chill seep in through the window as I brushed my hair. It still seemed strange to me to see it. For ten years it had been black and short. I held up a lock of pink hair, as long as my shoulder and stared back at the face in the mirror.
“Maybe I should cut it.” I said out loud.
“I think you will look beautiful no matter what length it is.” Anshi came in with a newspaper and handed it and a cup of coffee to me.
“Did you see this?” I asked her, pointing to a small article in the business section. She looked over my shoulder. “It says that Kiryuu Touga has been sent to a spa in Switzerland for rehabilitation…and Nanami has resigned, pending her move to New York.”
Anshi took the brush out of my hand and began to brush my hair. “Poor Nanami. I always felt bad for her, you know. She set herself up for disappointment all the time.”
“Maybe she’ll finally work it out this time.” I drank the coffee and hummed with pleasure as Anshi brushed.
“Juri called.” Anshi said. “She and Miiko will be coming to Kyoto for a shoot later this month. She was wondering if they could meet us for dinner.”
“I’d like nothing better. Do you think, ” I asked a little hesitantly, “we should invite Miki?”
Anshi smiled at me in the mirror. “I think that would be a nice idea.”
She brushed my hair a little longer then handed the brush back to me.
“Anshi?” I looked at her reflection and our eyes met. “What do you think the next ten years will be like?”
“I don’t know, Utena, but they’ll probably be interesting.” And she grinned. An honest-to-goodness mischievous grin.
“Yes, I said, grinning back. “I guess they will.”
End notes: Wow. That was a lot of fun to write! Probably the most fun of all of them so far. I have so many people to thank; I hardly know where to start.
First, let me say that this story began germinating at the moment I first watched the “poison” conversation in the TV series. I knew there was a story there…and I wanted to be the one to write it.
Then I read “Ten Years After,” by Chris Davies and I knew that Juri was a lawsuit waiting to happen. So Miiko is for him. I hope he likes her.
Finally, I decided that writing a “hardboiled” mystery story would be fun – and I was right. I think I may just have to write more of them.
All the places I mention in Kyoto are real. It sounds like a lovely city. Moti is real too, and does have a Shinjuku branch. I’ll let you know how it is if I ever get to Tokyo. 1/23/03 Note: I ate at the Roppongi branch – the Shinjuku branch seems to be closed, but it *was* good Indian food – the curry was very hot. I recommend it highly…but you might want to go to a different branch, maybe the one in Akasaka…Roppongi is really grim.
I want to thank the members of the “Fanfic Revolution” who so carefully comb my stories for mistakes and inconsistencies and who never get tired of challenging me to defend my interpretations…thank you all. I cannot possibly thank you enough, for the help, the support and the chitchat.
And I want to thank Pattie, because she means everything in the world to me.