Notes: Positive feedback is always greatly appreciated and will be responded to. (There is no reason not to split infinitives in English, btw – its impossible in Latin, however, and therefore, proscribed in English. But I digress.) Negative feedback will be consigned to the oblivion it richly deserves. :-) Positive feedback should be sent to email@example.com, where it will be responded to with great pleasure.
This story is completely innocent and no groceries were harmed in the making thereof.
This story contains characters from Shoujo Kakumei Utena, copyrighted Be-Pappas, Saito Chiho, and Flower Comics. I have absolutely no right to use them whatsoever. Oh well.
This story is dedicated to Revolutionary Boy Ed, even though he’s unlikely to ever read it. :-)
1/10/00 – I’ve decided to add this little note, since the end of this story seems to confuse everyone. This is all the story there is – there is no second part, continuation, next chunk, nada. Just like the show itself, this story has no definitive ending.
Over your surface
A spider’s web of cracks spread
Magic will follow
It was the roses, of course. Even after all this time, a sudden glimpse of roses could strike her dumb and senseless. It was much less difficult now than it was at the beginning, but still…she would get a sight of a garden, or the whiff of a florist’s and her face would cloud, her eyes would become veiled. Now it lasted but a moment, then she would energize her lifeless limbs and reanimate her face through sheer force of will. But it never failed to remind her of her real reason for being there.
This time it was a pushcart. She hadn’t seen it at first, her view had been blocked by a truck. But the truck had pulled out and she saw them, the roses. They were separated by color; red, white, pink. Her heart grew cold within her, as it always did. Such a stupid phobia, no, not a phobia, not even an aversion. Instead she almost perversely longed to touch them, to smell their fragrance, but she could not allow herself that liberty. They brought too much with them, their scent was too loaded with images, emotions, memories…
Reminding herself to breathe, she glanced once again at the cart full of flowers, and she once again paused, this time not observing the flowers at all. A grey-clad figure approached the cart, leaned over to smell the roses, then pulling one small white rose from the bunch, proceeded to pay the flower seller. They exchanged a few words and the figure continued down the street.
Her eyes followed the figure, and she allowed hope to blossom within her. She knew it was hopeless, as it always was, futile and frustrating, but never again would she deny hope a place in her heart. Too much had been lost to allow her that one thing.
She crossed the road, following the figure at some distance, not seeming to follow at all. Why she should choose this person, this drab, loose-limbed creature, to be a receptacle of her now threadbare dreams, she could not say. But she had faith that her journeys were not in vain. She had been given back her faith, and she kept it now, when she had nothing else.
The figure entered a shop, a stationer’s, she could see as she approached it. Ah, well, she thought, I could use a new pen and some pads for my journal. She watched the door for a moment, then stepped up, her hand hovering over the handle and thought of her long journey to this place.
She had left the Academy, what was it now, 14 years ago? She had left to find something that had been taken from her. And if it meant that she had to travel the world to find it, then so be it. She realized how like him she sounded now, and a grim smile crossed her face.
At first, the journal was to keep her company on the road. In the form of a letter (although she had specified no recipient,) the journal was a diary of sorts. Rather than face the turmoil within, she chose rather to describe the chaos without. Every place she visited was cataloged in colorful and dramatic detail. She had kept her journal notebooks, transferring them eventually to the laptop she now owned. She preferred the simplicity of writing out the letters though, the sheer act of putting pen to paper was therapeutic, almost a daily mediation.
Where had it been? London? Nice? Salzburg? She couldn’t remember the place, but the day had been a cold one, somewhere in Europe, when she had struck up a conversation with a woman. A woman who was starting a travel magazine. Her journals would be just the thing, the woman had said. And they had been, to her great surprise. The past decade had seen her become one of the leading travel writers on the globe. She couldn’t complain, her writing paid her few expenses, and maybe, maybe it would be seen by the eyes for which it was intended.
With this thought she raised her eyes to the door, placed her hand on the doorknob and began to open it. There was the pressure of another hand on the other side and she pulled back, receiving the other’s push gracefully. As she stepped back from the doorway, a form clothed in grey passed her. She could see a pale, gaunt face, but the eyes and features were shaded. The clothing was shapeless, a hat covered the hair. Nonetheless, she knew. Hope had not betrayed her after all. She was almost immobilized with joy that filled her as music fills the vaulted spaces of a cathedral.
The figure in grey passed her by, not even glancing up, while she stood, slowly turning, watching the figure retreat. When it had stepped past her, she took a deep breath and called out softly, “Utena? Tenjou Utena?”
The figure slowed, stopped, turned. The pallid face looked at her without the slightest trace of recognition. Hope wavered within her.
“I used to be Tenjou Utena.” The woman paused, gazing levelly at her. “Do I know you? Have we met before?”
The woman’s words caused her heart to bleed, but still, she did not give up hope. After all this time, she couldn’t afford to. “I’m Anthy. Himemiya, remember?”
The woman’s pale blue eyes, almost grey with the weather and the clothes she wore, did not change their expression. “I’m sorry, I don’t know anyone named Himemiya.” Once again she paused. “It’s an unusual name, I expect I’d remember it.” Even her voice was unusually drab, almost toneless.
“From Ohtori Academy.” Anthy could barely get the words out, her body braced against the wave of anguish that those two words always brought.
“No, I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Utena turned slightly, glancing at her watch. Her eyes met Anthy’s once again, then she smiled apologetically. “I really must be going. I’m sorry I’m not who you were looking for…” her tone held no apology, no emotion at all. Utena turned, and walked away, not looking back at the dark-skinned woman who stood still, watching her leave.
“But you are the person I’m looking for.” Anthy spoke quietly, watching the grey back disappear.
It was no good following her. But Anthy had spent fourteen years looking for Utena, she would *not* lose her now. Anthy stepped off the curb and followed Utena once again, her easy gait belying the maelstrom of emotion within her. Today it would be enough to find out where she lived. That would be enough. Tonight she would decide how to approach her. After all these long years – she had found her Prince.
Utena locked the door behind her. She wasn’t worried about a break-in, it was more a feeling of internal peace she craved. When the door was locked, she was in her haven. Her quiet, peaceful place of refuge. She took off her coat and hat and walked into the kitchen to make herself tea. The water, the tea, each in its orderly place, each with its own comfort of the predictable.
Who was that woman today? She wasn’t a homeless person, nor a beggar…maybe she was crazy? Utena had to admit she hadn’t seemed crazy, just confused. No, not even that. Determined. And there was something about her, a conviction that almost made you believe….
Utena sat at the table, clasping her cup in her hands. The warmth of the porcelain seeped into her chilled bones, and she relaxed slightly. Wrenching her mind away from the stranger who knew her name, Utena turned her thoughts forcibly to her plans for the week. She jotted a few lists and notes on a piece of paper and sat quietly, drinking her tea, contemplating the strange event that had intruded itself into her regulated life.
Her thoughts wandered, however, into the past, and she thought, as she often did, of the Aunt she hadn’t seen in years, not since she had moved to Amsterdam. Once a year on her birthday, Utena received a card and a letter, but aside from a new snapshot every once in a while, her Aunt was no longer part of her life. Neither were the parents she had lost so long ago, or the husband she had left. Not one to make many friends, Utena had built a simple life, one that was predictable, regular. A unaccustomed wave of loneliness surged through Utena and she lowered her head, her eyes moist.
The cup of tea was less than half full and the liquid slopped against the sides of the cup as her hands shook. The light over the table was reflected and distorted by the motion, making it hard to see the pattern on the cup’s bottom. Utena focused her vision in confusion. Pattern on the cup’s bottom? This cup had no pattern, this set had no decoration of any kind.
She pulled her hands away as if the cup had suddenly become scalding. As the tea settled, she could clearly make out the stylized image of a rose on the bottom of the cup. Picking the cup up as though it might further metamorphose into a fanged serpent, Utena carried it into the kitchen and emptied its contents into the sink. Holding the object up, she was startled to see that the cup itself was shaped to be reminiscent of a rose. Utena stared in horrific fascination at this unfamiliar cup, into which she had poured her tea and from which she had drunk. Placing it on the counter, she threw open the cabinet with something like desperation, and found herself staring at the neatly organized rows of white, unadorned, cup-shaped tea cups, coffee cups and glasses from which she had removed this aberration only minutes before.
Utena looked once more at the strange cup then, leaving it on the counter unwashed, walked to the entrance, put on her coat and hat and shoes and left the house.
Anthy had taken a position across the street at a small cafe’. She smiled a little at the cliché of her actions, but it still was the best position from which to observe her quarry. Quarry? It had such a desperate sound. Target? No, well what then? She could not bring herself to say Utena’s name, nor to even think the word that had sprung unbidden last night into her mind. Prince. That word had brought them both so much pain…
The site of Utena leaving the store forced Anthy to interrupt her circular and pointless contemplation. She had been over so much of the same territory during her quest. And she had never found any answers.
Dropping a few coins on the table, Anthy smiled at the waiter, grabbed her journal and headed for the intersection where Utena would have to wait for a favorable light.
Anthy placed a polite, noncommittal smile on her face and confronted a slightly put out Utena. Three heavy bags of groceries were too much for the slight form to bear comfortably and she was muttering at the long light that kept her from proceeding. Anthy reached out a hand and took one of the bags. Utena glanced up startled, but rearranged her features into a thankful, if cautious, smile.
Anthy began with an innocuous remark about the weather, while sizing up the woman for whom she had searched for so long. Her hair was paler now, most of the color bleached from it, and her eyes, once a vivid and lively blue, were weak and lackluster. Anthy could not help but think that time had not at all been kind to her friend, and wondered at what the last 14 years had brought her. In contrast, she knew, she looked the picture of health. Constant traveling had given her an excellent constitution and her skin, though slightly darker from exposure than it had been in school, showed no signs of aging. Behind the glasses, her eyes were bright and green, with a world of experience in them. She could feel heat build behind those eyes, and she turned her face away from Utena’s colorless form, before the other woman might notice.
As they walked, Anthy and Utena chatted inconsequentially, keeping the conversation general, nonthreatening. Anthy’s heart alternately soared and plummeted, as she listened to Utena’s familiar voice, locked up so tightly in topics of no meaning. She held herself back from asking the questions that had torn her apart for the past 14 years.
When they reached Utena’s home, Utena shifted nervously as she opened the door. She recognized the necessity of thanking this stranger who had helped her, but the thought of an unknown person in her sanctuary…she took a deep breath and invited Anthy in.
“I don’t want to be any trouble, so I’ll be going…” Anthy’s soft voice demurred politely.
Perversely, Utena now felt that she did not want this unusual woman to leave so soon. “Please. It would be no trouble.” Why? She wondered briefly. Why did she care at all?
Forcing the smile on her face to remain placid, hiding the delight she felt, Anthy agreed. So many years she had spent disguising her emotions, this was all too natural for her. Anthy loathed the years she had spent perfecting this art and she reviled herself for perfecting it. She longed to have Utena’s natural animation. Reining in her thoughts, Anthy glanced at the Utena who now stood before her, a wraith of her former self. What price had she paid to give Anthy freedom?
They stepped into the foyer. While removing her shoes, Anthy took stock of the photos that neatly lined a shelf on one wall. Utena and a man with dark, short hair and dark eyes. The two of them at a beach. Utena alone in a college gown. Anthy reached out a delicate finger towards the picture of Utena and the man.
“Your husband?” Her steady voice did not give away the turmoil within.
Utena paused. “My ex-husband. I left him several years ago. We keep in touch.”
Anthy’s fingers slid away from the photo’s frame, as Utena continued. “The first time I met him, he looked so handsome. He was riding a horse and he looked like a Prince.” Anthy’s heart stopped. Stricken, she turned to face Utena, sure she was pale under her coffee-colored skin. As she turned, Utena’s face grew grey. She moaned, then lurching unevenly, fell unsteadily into Anthy’s arms.
Anthy supported Utena, waiting for the taller woman to regain her balance. Utena wavered, then leaning heavily on Anthy moaned again. “What just happened to me?” Her eyes were dilated and wild.
Anthy gripped Utena’s sleeves, until she felt sure Utena would not slip to the ground, then answered. “You were telling me about your husband looking like a Prince, riding a horse.”
Utena frowned and stood up shakily, pulling herself once more under control. She turned, still frowning, and picked up the sacks of groceries. “My husband has never ridden a horse.” Her back was stiff as she entered the kitchen. Anthy looked again at the picture, then followed, carrying the last bag with her.
Utena busied herself emptying the bags, then set about preparing tea. After refusing Anthy’s help, she set some fruit in a large metal bowl, brought it to the table, then returned to the counter for the tea tray. Anthy glanced past Utena to where the single rose-shaped cup sat on the counter, untouched and unacknowledged, and almost, not quite imperceptibly, she smiled.
Tea was, as it always is, a comfortable medium for talk. Anthy learned that Utena married in college, and was divorced a few years after. She talked of her school years, and Anthy asked, conversationally, where she had attended school. Utena declared she had graduated from a local high school, moving up easily from a junior high in the area. She made no mention of her year at Ohtori and Anthy did not bring it up.
Utena asked about Anthy’s occupation, drawing the conversation away from herself. Anthy spoke of her travels and the journalism they spawned.
“How fascinating.” Utena spoke in that tone reserved for only the most uninteresting of things. Anthy thought it best to leave at this. Thanking Utena politely, she bowed and declared she must leave. Utena did not protest. Walking Anthy to the door, Utena thanked her once again, but did not invite her back.
Anthy left, never looking back, and headed once again into town. She had some errands that needed to be taken of. There would be time for the rest. The first steps had been taken, and the first locks had been broken. The chain was becoming unwound, the chained becoming unbound.
Utena turned away from the door after locking it behind Anthy’s retreating form. Sighning with relief, she leaned upon the door, letting her head rest momentarily against its cool solidity. She stepped back into the kitchen, and still ignoring the aberrant tea cup, she heated more water. She turned to bring the water to the table and found herself suddenly shaking. Shaking so hard that she dropped the hot water with a crash. The large metal bowl that she was sure she had filled with fruit a short while ago, was now full of lush, fragrant, red roses.
Utena dreamed that night. It was almost a relief to do so, for it gave her a context for her recent experiences. It was that old dream, the one from her childhood, the one that had been so dear to her. Bells and lofty towers, the scent of roses, and the flash of swords. And her Prince. She could feel herself begin to weep as she stood in the deserted castle, while all about her crumbled.
Even as she dreamed, Utena knew this dream. When her Aunt had moved, this dream had come to her often, she could practically remember the names of those that peopled it. Red hair, then blue, then orange tickled at her mind, then silver made her heart stop with fear and excitement. She stood on the top of a stair and a rose was placed onto her chest – she could not see whose hand placed it there. Blood rushed through her veins as she fought. Then her sobs became cries of agony and thousands of stab wounds filled her with grief, once again, just as it had done, so long ago, when she had been a child. And she woke, as she had done, those long years ago, and wept with loss and humiliation.
As the sun lifted it wan head over unforgiving, grey clouds, Utena lay in her bed, while streams of tears flowed down her face, but could not wash the pain away.
“Its small, but I’ve always kept it clean. I hope you’ll like it.” The landlady was typical of her kind, Anthy thought. Penurious, but not overly so, and kindly, in a pinch.
“I’m sure I will.” Anthy put forth a reassuring air. “I don’t need much and I’m quiet, usually. I’m a writer and I like quiet.”
“Really?” The landlady was not overly interested in her new tenant’s career choice, obviously. “Well, here’s the keys. This one’s for the front door, and here’s the key to your apartment. I do have an extra for emergencies…” Anthy let her attention slip as she was shown around the small apartment, while each facility was lauded and her own proper behavior ensured.
They once again reached the front door and the landlady turned to refresh her image of the room. “Now,” she began, glancing at Anthy sidelong. “How long did you say you’d need the room for?”
Anthy smiled beatifically at the women, who smiled back, without really knowing why. “As long as it takes.”
Still smiling, the landlady bustled out and Anthy closed the door behind her. Still smiling, she opened the window to let the storm-laden air enter the room.
The hardest part was over.