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Jaquemart VI - Walls

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JAQUEMART
by
Alan Harnum

Utena and its characters belongs to Be-PaPas, Chiho Saito,
Shogakukan, Shokaku Iinkai and TV Tokyo.

This copy of the story is from my Archive of Our Own page at http://archiveofourown.org/users/alanharnum/pseuds/alanharnum.

 

VI. Walls

* * *

These three shadows, of them then should I speak?

There are five double yous.

Do you know them?

Do you, do you, do you?

The old lion yawned, showing toothless gums, but when she
extended a hand to stroke his head ("nice kitty"), he swiped at
her with hooked claws sharp as razors.

Shadows, I fear you do offend.

We do, do we, we do?

Begone!

Red, red eyes.

Utena started and woke to the sound of someone quietly
sniffling, as though just finished crying. For a brief moment,
she had the utter conviction that Himemiya was weeping in the
bottom bunk, and then she remembered who, when and where she was.
Disjunction.

"Nanami, are you crying?" Very softly; the noise might only
be in response to some dream.

But, an answer from the other bed: "No."

Quiet for a moment, then, "Were you?"

"Just leave me alone."

"Did you have a bad dream?"

Silence.

Utena rolled over onto her side and peered towards Nanami's
bed. With the curtains drawn over the windows and all the lights
out, the hotel room was almost utterly black, with only a thin
crack of light from beneath the door. "I think I had one," she
said quietly. "I'm a heavy sleeper, you know, and something woke
me up, and I don't think it was you crying. But I don't really
remember much."

(Red, red eyes)

"You were crying, right?"

"Yes, fine, I was crying," Nanami suddenly snapped, no more
and no less than a voice in the darkness. "Are you happy now?"

"I'm just worried about you," Utena replied defensively.

"Well, don't be. I can take care of myself."

"I never said you couldn't."

"Then why are you bothering me about it?"

"Fine," Utena sighed, exasperated. I don't even know why I
try sometimes, she thought. She lay quietly in the darkness for
perhaps two minutes, listening to Nanami breathe short, tight
little breaths.

"Hey, Nanami?" she said finally.

Nanami's voice sounded as though it were muffled by her
pillow. "What?"

"We're friends, right?" She nervously clasped her hands
beneath the sheets. "I mean, we didn't get along too well at
Ohtori, most of the time, but we're both older now, and things
have changed, so..."

"Friends?" Nanami said slowly, as though studying the word
from every angle. "I don't know. Are we?"

Utena smiled, even though she knew Nanami wouldn't see it.
"I'm willing if you are."

"Whatever."

"Hey, hey," she said joshingly, "don't be too enthusiastic."

"It's three in the morning. I'll be enthusiastic after the
sun rises, okay?"

"Okay."

"But I'm not going to jump on your back and call you 'Utena-
sama', got it?"

Utena laughed quietly. "I can live with that." She paused.
"All I really want to say... if you've got something bothering
you, don't be afraid to talk to me, okay?"

"You're exactly the same," Nanami said, somehow with both
respect and disdain. "Trying to be like a prince, trying to help
everybody, even if they don't want you to."

"Everyone wants to be helped," said Utena, surprising
herself with the force of it. "Some people, well... they just
hurt so much, for so long, I think, that they get scared of being
helped. Does that make sense?"

Nanami stayed silent for a while, then replied, "That makes
a lot of sense."

"Want to tell me why you were crying now?" Utena prompted
gently.

"Last year, I took a course on European folklore," Nanami
said, as though she hadn't heard Utena at all. "There's a story
that recurs quite a lot. A knight or a prince, well, a hero of
some sort, meets up with a really hideous woman. A witch, maybe,
or an ogress. But she turns out to be a beautiful woman who
was... I don't know, testing him, somehow. Seeing how he'd
treat her if he didn't know she was beautiful."

Utena felt pained as she listened to Nanami talk. It would
have been nice to go to university, but there had been no money
for it. "Like Urashima Taro, right? Guy saves a turtle, and it
turns out to be a princess?"

"Kind of. The example we used in class was 'The Wife of
Bath's Tale', from Chaucer, which the professor said was just a
recasting of a much older story."

"Don't know it."

"It doesn't matter. Anyway, right at the end of the
lecture--it was only one class where we talked about it--the
professor read a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke. You know who
that is?"

"I think so. A poet, right?"

"Yeah."

"I've heard the name before. That's all."

"Anyway, I really liked the quote. I'm trying to remember
how it went again... I used to know it by heart." Nanami sounded
annoyed with herself as she struggled to remember. "Oh, yes; I
remember now: 'Perhaps the dragons of our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps
everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless
that wants help from us.'"

Utena slowly smiled as she silently repeated the words to
herself. "'Once beautiful and brave,'" she murmured. "I like
that. I really do. Thanks, Nanami."

"I've never told anyone else about that before," Nanami said
sleepily. "I mean, I suppose everyone else in the class wrote it
down too, but... I always sort of felt as though it were
especially mine."

"I think everyone likes to feel as though they have at least
one thing that's especially theirs," Utena agreed, closing her
eyes.

"You know what the problem with these three A.M.
conversations is, Utena?"

"What?"

"In the morning, after you've actually had a decent amount
of sleep, you realize you sounded like a total fool."

Utena yawned. She almost wanted to say that she thought
Nanami had sounded about as far from a fool as you could get,
but instead, all she said was, "Goodnight, again."

"Goodnight, again," Nanami echoed.

(Red, red eyes)

* * *

She watched the water splashing over her hand, running between
her fingers, and remembered another day before this: a hot, muggy
jungle day, near a waterfall spilling from high above. A tree
had fallen across the foaming basin, and the spray glittered on
the dark green limbs.

Live long enough, acquire enough memories, and each new
experience recalls older ones. Inescapable. You came to
consider living as a familiar book, reread countless times, with
nothing new under the sun. Occasionally, a certain passage holds
what seems a surprise, but you were always aware that you had
known it once before.

Hot enough now. She shook droplets from her hand and pulled
the knob to plug the bathtub. Water beat gently upon the floor
of the tub as she waited for it to fill.

The last seven years had held more surprises than all the
centuries before: friendship, freedom, choice, love. A normal
job, an almost-normal life.

A new coffin, built to new measurements.

The tub was filling quickly. She straightened from her
crouch beside it and began to strip. The water already in the
tub frothed and bubbled as the water falling from the tap joined
it.

Normal; as though that could ever be. She smiled, and
drifted her bare toes through the water to test it. A witch she
was, a witch she would be forevermore. What was a witch, then?

"Girls who cannot become princesses must become witches,"
she murmured, and slipped into the tub with a sigh. But that
wasn't true, was it? Maybe it had been true long ago, when the
Rose Prince had been in full flower, but it was true no longer.
They could be other things. Princes. Heroes.

But could one be a witch, and be other things as well?

She lay down and let the water cover everything but her
nose and mouth. Her hair, buoyed upon the water, floated like a
cast-off veil about her face and shoulders and breasts.

The time was almost seven-thirty in the morning. Saionji
Kyouichi had left to ask permission of his wife for the journey
shortly after seven. Himemiya Anthy hoped it would be granted,
for she feared making the journey entirely alone.

This journey, by contrast, she had no choice but to make
alone. Only a witch could make it. An easier journey if in
water--it conducted better than air. Easier still if nude--
clothes only got in the way.

Utena would still be asleep, if things were normal. And if
things were not, she would know. She had not sent her familiar
along without reason.

She traced a circle, using the index finger of her right
hand, around one breast, and then the other, and then upon her
stomach. The dull echo of the surrounding water in her ears grew
to a fevered hum, and, even with her eyes closed, the light from
the glow filling the room reached through and turned the
blackness into a field of almost solid white.

An image. A message. She formed them both: Herself, hair
flowing, clad in Utena's old uniform (but white instead of
black). "I'm coming. Wait for me."

She smiled, slipped the shackles of flesh, and sent herself
and the message hurtling like an arrow. The whiteness reaching
through her eyelids faded to pinpricks, as though she were
heading down a long tunnel towards the faintest of lights.

As soon as the simile occurred to her, she was in a tunnel,
ivory-bricked, vine-wreathed. The light at the end grew brighter
as she hurtled towards it at a vast speed, as though she rode
aboard a bullet train--

And she did.

Details began to fill in. The vines sprouted white roses
with white thorns. The headlights of the train swept over them,
and they glowed, and she saw they were of white crystal.

She pushed the throttle up to full speed, and watched the
walls blur into striated bands of white and green. Smiled.

And saw red eyes. Far ahead in the tunnel, glowing like
the heart of a forging-fire.

"You're not welcome here," a voice pronounced, like the
quiet sentence of a god.

The train shuddered as though struck a great blow upon
each side, and began to slow. Wheels screeched; sparks flew,
white-hot, and lit the vines afire down the entire length of the
tunnel. Crystal roses began to melt and run like wax, covering
over the track before the train and rising up into a wall a short
distance ahead of her.

"Who are you?" she snarled, and shoved the throttle forward
again, intending to smash through the wall. Arrogant thing!
Whatever or whomever it was--some dweller or intruder on this
plane, or a traveller like herself--she would teach it the folly
of impeding her on this particular task.

"Mama doesn't like you," the voice said, a peal of thunder,
shaking the world. "I don't like you. Go away."

The train hit, the wall gave not even a shudder, and her
body hurtled out through the windshield to break against the
sheer crystal surface like a china doll.

She awoke in the bathtub, lungs and throat full of water.
Choking, she burst upright and vomited it back out into the tub.
Her eyes felt slightly too large for their sockets, as though
they were about to burst from the pressure upon them. Shaking,
she clambered out of the tub and huddled nude upon the bathmat
beside it, hugging her knees to her chest.

The feeling of pressure upon her eyes went away shortly, but
she sat there until she heard a key turning in a lock. Slowly,
she rose and began to let the water drain from the bathtub. She
heard light footsteps beyond the door; they paused for a moment
outside, then began to walk on.

"Kyouichi?" she managed to call.

"Yes?" he answered after a moment.

She numbly took down a towel and began to almost
mechanically dry her body. "I'm just getting out of the bath,"
she said. She hoped her voice sounded normal. "What did Wakaba
say?"

"She granted me her permission."

Bless her, Anthy thought vaguely. "That's good. I'd like
to leave as soon as possible. Are you ready?" She took another
towel and dried her hair, then twisted it into a rough turban
around her head.

"I stopped by my place to pack. That's why I took a little
longer than I said I would." A pause. "You must have been in
the bath for some time. I called from my place, but you didn't
answer the phone."

"Oh," she said softly. "And what time is it?"

"Just past eight-thirty," he replied. Pause again. "Are
you all right, Anthy? Or do you still need time to rest?"

"No," she replied quickly, pulling on a complimentary
bathrobe and trying to stop herself from shaking. "I'm fine. A
hot bath does wonders. But I'd like to leave as soon as possible
for Daisetsu."

"I'm ready to go whenever you are."

"Good," she said. "That's very good."

* * *

"So... just what are we going to do next, anyway?"

Utena looked up from her cross-legged seat in the middle of
her bed, sections of the morning paper arrayed around her like
fortifications. "Hmm?"

Nanami, seated in the desk chair, had put down the magazine
she'd been reading. "You know what I mean. Even with all these
new complications, our objective is still the same."

"Like I said last night," Utena replied evenly. "The web
doesn't go away just because you get rid of the spider."

"So? All you need is a big stick to clear all the webbing
away. One time, when I was six, I found this huge spider web in
one corner of my closet--I was really scared of spiders when I
was young, you see--so Touga got a broom--"

"I think this metaphor is breaking down," Utena said,
turning her attention to the Sports section again.

"Metaphors tend to do that if taken far enough," Nanami
agreed. Utena heard her turn a page in a magazine. "Ooh, that's
a nice design."

Utena read summaries of intercollegiate basketball results
for perhaps two minutes, then spoke. "Basically, I want to
figure out what's going on before we go rushing into Akio's
office with our swords drawn." She paused, and a vision occurred
to her: Akio, pinioned by a million swords as Anthy had been.
Too cruel; too cruel a fate for anyone. "You know what a deadman
trigger is?"

Nanami looked up from her magazine. "I think so," she said
uncertainly.

"They have them on subways," Utena explained. "The driver's
got to keep the switch pulled down at all times, or the train
stops running. So, if they have a heart attack or something else
happens to them, there's no risk of an accident; the train just
stops." A million swords, cutting from every angle...

"So... Akio might have his own deadman trigger..." Nanami
murmured. "That would be just like him."

Utena nodded. "He's a planner. Wheels within wheels." A
million swords; too cruel. Why was she even thinking of it? "I
don't even know how deep we've gone beneath the surface yet. I
think there might be consequences if we do manage to... eliminate
him." What punishment was right for one such as him, who'd
condemned his own sister to undying suffering, who'd hurt so many
others? "And, I'm willing to accept them, if I have to... I just
want to know what they are."

And what gives you the right, Tenjou Utena? The voice of
the thought did not seem her own. Is your own conscience so
clear that you can be judge, jury and executioner?

Nanami flipped to the next page of her magazine. "That
makes sense," she admitted grudgingly. "Although a simple plan
does have a certain visceral appeal to it." Her voice softened.
"I need to try and find a way to help Tsuwabuki's friend, Mari,
the one I told you about... Tsuwabuki, too, if I can." Pause.
"I need to call my brother and find out if I can see Tsuwabuki
somehow." Her distaste for the notion was clearly audible.

"Hey, Nanami, what do you think?" Utena asked. "I told you
about meeting your brother again." Most of it; not about the
kiss, of course, that wouldn't have been a good idea at all. "Do
you think he's on the level?"

"I think my brother hasn't been on the level for a long
time," Nanami said with fierce, brittle bitterness.

"I don't know," Utena replied after a moment's thought. "He
seemed sincere... I'd like to believe that he doesn't remember...
that he's really changed. And those drawings he had..."

"There you go again, Utena," Nanami said, almost
affectionately. "Believing that everyone just needs to be given
a chance to do the right thing and they will, and that people are
only bad because they don't know how to be good."

Utena winced. "I do believe that," she murmured. "Most of
the time."

"Has it ever occurred to you that some people might actually
like being bad?"

"It has," Utena said quietly. "But I'd like to believe that
most people don't. It's like that quote you told me about; maybe
everyone who seems terrible only really wants to be helped."

"Akio?" Nanami said, a bit smugly.

Utena's face hardened. "Akio isn't human. He's different."

"Then his sister would be the same way, wouldn't she?"

Utena opened her mouth, shut it, then turned her eyes to the
back page of the front section without making any reply.

"All I'm saying," Nanami said, suddenly surprisingly gentle,
"is that you shouldn't be too quick to trust anyone. Don't ever
believe in anyone completely, because if you do, and it turns out
you were wrong..."

"You think I haven't had this conversation with myself a
hundred times before, Nanami?" Utena muttered, low and harsh.
"You're not telling me anything I haven't thought about myself,
okay? So just drop it."

"I'm just worried about you," Nanami said, wounded. "But,
fine, if you don't want to listen to me, that's your business."
Flip, flip. "Oooh, that's a nice one too..."

They read in silence for a few minutes, and then Nanami
said, "What time is it?"

Utena looked at the bedside clock. "Ten past ten," she
answered.

"How long has it been since Juri and Shiori left?"

"About half-an-hour," Utena replied. They'd gone into town
to kill time before their lunch with Miki.

"I'm bored," Nanami said.

"You think I'm not?"

Someone knocked on the door, and they both started.

"Who's that?" Nanami hissed, laying her magazine aside.

"How am I supposed to know?" Utena whispered back. "You go
check; the room's in your name."

Nanami slowly got up out of the chair and crossed to the
door. Whomever it was knocked again before she reached it and
put her eye to the peephole.

"Oniisama!" she cried, with effervescent and apparently
genuine delight. "Just a minute, let me open the door." She
rattled the unhooked chain and glanced desperately back at Utena.
"Oh, it seems to be stuck." Rattle, rattle. "Just a moment,
oniisama..."

Utena rolled off the bed to the floor, lifted the sheets
hanging down over the side, and scooted underneath just as she
heard the door opening.

"Good morning, Nanami," Touga's voice said. "What, no hug
for your brother?"

Beneath the bed, with only dust bunnies for company, Utena
winced. This might not be pleasant.

She heard Nanami's skirt rustling, and, almost inaudibly,
cloth against cloth. "Good morning, oniisama."

"Oniisama..." Touga mused. Utena could almost see them now,
petite Nanami with her arms delicately twined around her much
taller brother's midsection, Touga with one hand on his little
sister's hair... they'd look almost fitted together, like two
puzzle pieces... "Why is it almost always that, Nanami? Why not
just 'Niisan'... you're not a child any more."

Nanami giggled. "Oh, you'll always be oniisama to me, no
matter how old the two of us get." Utena winced again. Good
acting, Nanami, she silently complimented. Some of it had to be
acting, didn't it? She had only guesses for what had happened
between them on the road to the Ends of the World, but none of
them were good, and Nanami had clearly been changed by them. If
she remembered, and Touga didn't...

"What's wrong?" Footsteps, two pairs, one pair lighter than
the other--assumedly, brother and sister breaking apart.
"Something about the way you embrace me feels different... and
why didn't you call me or come to visit me yesterday? I know you
were in town then."

"Well, I could ask the same of you," Nanami replied, a
little testily. "Why didn't you call ahead?"

Utena could almost picture Touga shrugging casually. "I
wanted to surprise you for once, like you always do to me. I was
fairly certain you'd come into town after I told you about
Tsuwabuki." An audible pause. "Is that why you're upset?
Because of what's happened to your friend?"

"Yes," Nanami said, a little too quickly for Utena's tastes.
She shouldn't sound so eager to latch onto an explanation. "Yes,
that's exactly it... it's why I didn't call you or come to see
you yesterday, when I got in... I was so upset... you know, it's
such an awful thing."

"Yes," Touga said sadly. "Truly terrible."

"Anyway, let's not hang around this stuffy hotel room any
longer than we have to. Why don't we go for breakfast? Or just
some coffee?" Too eager again, Nanami, Utena thought.

Touga's footsteps moved across the floor again. "Nanami,
are you sharing this room with someone?"

"What makes you ask that, oniisama?" Too innocent, this
time.

"Well, it's a double, for one thing."

"Oh, that's because I like one bed for sleeping, and one bed
for reading the newspaper on in the morning," Nanami said with a
giggle.

"Hrm. Well, it's your trust fund." But Touga sounded
dubious.

Utena tried to think of things that might give her away.
Her shoes and boots, quite obviously a larger size than Nanami's,
were in the closet across from the bathroom door, which was
closed. Her dirty clothes, also obviously sized for someone
else, were in the bottom drawer of the dresser. Her clean
clothes were in the drawer above, with the sheathed sword from
Saionji's shop hidden beneath them. No, there was nothing...

Chu-Chu.

Where was he? Where had he been when Touga had knocked on
the door? Still asleep in his box, if she remembered correctly.
They'd brought him back tidbits and leftovers from breakfast, and
he'd woken briefly to eat them, then fallen back to sleep.

The box would be hidden from Touga's sight by the TV, so
long as he didn't come too far into the room. If he stood under
the familiar crack in the ceiling, though...

Her stomach twisted, and, lost momentarily in the memory of
staring up at it in another time (and asking, childishly, for she
had really only been a child then, what eternity was), she
imagined the revulsion she felt was much like what Nanami must be
experiencing being in the presence of her brother again.

"Chu." Very softly.

She blinked, and looked down. Barely visible in the
darkness beneath the bed, Chu-Chu raised his finger to his lips.
Utena nodded, slowly, and raised a finger to hers in reply.

Touga spoke again. "Anyway, yes, let's go out. We've got
lots to catch up on."

At that moment, Utena's next inhalation of breath caused a
dustbunny to dive up into her left nostril as though into a long-
sought home. Instantly, her lungs and throat began to tremble
with the oncoming sneeze. Inescapable.

"Yes, oniisama."

She clamped a hand over her mouth and tried to resist. Her
face began turning bright red.

"Where do you want to go? I had breakfast early today... we
could go to brunch. Or just some coffee. What do you feel
like?"

"You're always so considerate, oniisama, letting your little
sister choose... why don't you choose today?"

"Well, all right... let's see..."

Get out, damn it, Utena snarled silently. Holding in the
sneeze was like trying to hold back the ocean. The door opened.
Footsteps moved out into the hallway. The door closed.

Utena sneezed, and dustbunnies scattered before the blast
like sheep before a marauding wolf. She crawled out from beneath
the bed with them adhering to her hair and clothes, and frowned
sourly.

"Would it have been _that_ much trouble for him to call
ahead?" she muttered.

* * *

Utena hung the phone up and flopped back on the bed wearing only
a towel. Her eyes itched with tears that she was _not_ going to
shed.

"She could at least have said something."

She sat up and began to brush her hair, hard enough that it
tugged at her scalp and made her wince. She paused, took a deep
breath, and began again with gentler strokes.

"Why did she even pick up the phone, if she wasn't going to
say something?"

The towel slipped down to her waist, but she didn't bother
to pull it back up. It wasn't as though anyone was going to walk
in on her suddenly.

"Why would she do that to me?"

After a half-hour of reading the paper, itching, and trying
to brush dustbunnies and under-the-bed grit from her hair, skin
and clothes, Utena had simply given up on the matter, stripped
down and got into the shower for the second time that morning.
Beneath the streaming water, she'd reflected that she was going
to need to go to a laundromat soon (you couldn't fit that many
clothes into a gym bag, even a big one), and upon other things,
as she had a tendency to do when in the shower. It had occurred
to her that it would be good to give Anthy a call.

Four rings. She decided to let it go to ten. The phone
was picked up on seven. Nothing on the other end, not even
breathing.

"Anthy?"

Her own voice echoed faintly back in her ears, but nothing
from the other end of the line.

"Anthy, won't you say something?"

Apparently not.

"Anthy... please."

Nothing.

"I know I said some really terrible things to you, but--"

Click, and the dial tone.

She'd dialed again, but, this time, there had been no
answer.

"Damn it, Anthy," she murmured, giving one last stroke of
the brush through her hair. That hadn't been fair. That hadn't
been fair at all. Wasn't Anthy at least worried about her?

Maybe it would have hurt too much to talk. She could see
that. Sometimes, what you wanted to say could get caught in your
throat like a bone, and it was less painful to say nothing at
all.

She got up off the bed and crossed to the dresser.
Underneath her clothes, beneath the handle of the sword, she
found the picture of her and Anthy. Taken last year, on one of
their hiking trips, by a nice older woman who'd been hiking the
same trail with her husband. She'd said how nice it was to see
such good friends as she snapped the picture, and had given Chu-
Chu a piece of cheese from her satchel before going on.

Anthy, in her jade skirt and black blouse; Utena, in her
blue jeans and white button-up shirt. Anthy had always worn that
skirt when they went hiking, even though Utena had always said
she'd be more comfortable in jeans... not that she ever had any
trouble keeping up, but...

"I lied to you," she said, sniffling and fighting to keep
from crying outright. "When I said I wasn't happy. I was
always happy, with you... it wasn't the kind of life I imagined
I'd lead, but you were the best thing in it... but this is
something I have to do." She smiled, and swallowed.
"Sentimental fool," she murmured. "Nanami's got your number, all
right."

After putting the photo away again, she tossed the towel
into the corner and began to dress. She'd nearly gotten her
pants on when the door opened and Nanami walked in, looking
downcast. When she spotted Utena, she blinked. Utena blinked
back, and reached for her belt.

Nanami moaned. "Oh, God, you've got no decency at all."

"What?" Utena asked, pulling on a dark blouse and slowly
buttoning it up. "I'm a girl, you're a girl."

Nanami threw up her hands, walked into the bathroom, and
closed the door behind her. Utena heard water running.

"Weirdo," she murmured, shrugged, and finished dressing.

...crying?

Hesitant, she knocked on the bathroom door. "Nanami?" No
answer except faint, choked sobbing; she tried the handle, and it
rattled in her grip. Locked. "Nanami?"

"Go away." Nanami's voice snapped through the door like a
muffled gunshot. "Can't I have some privacy?"

Utena gave up. "If that's what you want." She shrugged and
moved back to sit on her bed. Moments later, the bathroom door
opened, and Nanami walked stiffly out, dabbing at her eyes with a
tissue. Utena didn't even look up as the blond sat down on the
bed across from her.

"Why does it hurt so much?" Nanami murmured.

"Your makeup is running," Utena said, still not looking up.

Nanami sniffled.

"Want to tell me what's wrong?"

"As long as I'm away from him, I can pretend," Nanami
blurted. "But as soon as I'm around him, even for a few minutes,
I start to forget, and he's just my oniisama all over again,
and... and..." She blew her nose into the tissue and wiped at
her eyes with the back of her hand. "It's just like at Ohtori...
even though I know... I still love him."

Utena listened in silence, trying to maintain her uncaring
expression.

"I just don't understand it. How he can seem so sweet and
charming and... good, and at the same time, I know he did all
those things: helping out Akio, manipulating everyone, and... and
what he did to me."

Trying, and failing. "What did he do to you on the way to
the Ends of the World, anyway?" Might as well ask straight out,
subtlety wasn't her thing.

"Tried to kiss me," Nanami replied, apparently without
thinking. Then her mouth clamped shut and she turned her head
away from Utena.

"Oh." Utena pulled her legs up onto the bed and leaned
forward, studying Nanami carefully. "That... doesn't actually
sound so bad." Nanami's scowl made her hastily add, "I mean, as
things go."

"It wasn't the kind of kiss you're supposed to give your
little sister," Nanami whispered.

"Oh."

Nanami, still presenting her profile to Utena, sniffed. "Go
on. Say it. I know you want to."

"What?"

"'Wasn't that what you wanted?'"

"I didn't want to say that."

"That's what he said," Nanami snarled, wadding the tissue
into a ball and throwing it to the floor. "After it happened,
that is. He didn't understand. No one understood."

"Oh." Utena watched Chu-Chu pounce upon the tissue and
wrestle it under the bed. "What did you want, then?"

Nanami didn't say anything at first. Then she sighed,
almost with relief, as though she had just put down some heavy
burden. "I don't know," she admitted. "All I wanted was for him
to love me, to stop looking at you, at all the other girls... but
I don't know what I wanted from him, really." She shook her
head. "It was so long ago. And I don't want it any more."

Utena lay down and stretched her legs out, resting her chin
one her forearms and staring at the wall, only able to see Nanami
out of the corner of her eye. "You know, people have all sorts
of different sides to them. It's not as though your brother has
to be either totally perfect or totally bad. People can be noble
and strong and good, and, at the same time... they can be weak
and foolish and bad." Focus on the wall. Don't think. "And
it's okay to keep on loving your brother. You don't have to stop
just because you've seen some of his bad side; you didn't at
Ohtori. Didn't you duel me one last time because you realized
that you did love your brother?" She rolled over onto her back
and stared at the too-familiar ceiling. "I mean, he's your
brother. He'll always be your brother."

"You don't understand anything at all," Nanami said quietly.
"But... thanks for trying." She swallowed audibly. "I mean
that."

"Yeah, I know."

"We just had coffee for a little while."

"Yeah. You weren't gone very long."

"And talked. I told him about my classes, he told me about
work." Pause. "Oh. And he said he'd try and get me in to see
Tsuwabuki."

Utena turned her head to look at Nanami, who was staring
fixedly at the bed. "That's good," she said eventually. "He
could probably use a friend to talk to right now."

Nanami nodded. She looked as resolutely miserable as Utena
had ever seen her.

"Hey, cheer up." Utena smiled, hoping it would make Nanami
do the same. It didn't. "Everything will be okay. We'll win."

"Do you actually believe that?" Nanami asked softly.

"Of course. We're the good guys."

As Nanami opened her mouth to reply, the phone rang. Utena
reached for it automatically, but stopped when Nanami frantically
shook her head and picked it up herself.

"Hello... Oniisama! Really? That's great... thank you so
much... what... oh, yes, thank Akio-san for me too..." The
grimace on her face didn't show up in her voice at all. "So
soon? I'd better hurry, then... yes, call me this evening...
maybe we can go to dinner tomorrow, it will depend on my plans...
bye, oniisama."

She hung up and turned to Utena. Smiled, just slightly.
"I'm going to go see Tsuwabuki-kun now."

"That quickly?"

The smile faded. "He told me he called Akio. Akio has a
lot of influence in this city."

Utena suppressed a wince. "How are you getting there?"

"I'll take a cab," Nanami replied. "I gave the car to
Shiori and Juri."

Utena blinked. "I didn't see you hand over the keys."

Nanami shrugged. "I made sure you didn't... I didn't want
them to think that I was only doing it because you were watching,
so I waited until you went to get the paper." She walked towards
the bathroom. "Anyway, I have to fix my makeup. It's all runny
from crying."

Utena sat on the bed and listened to the soft sound of water
running in the bathroom. Chu-Chu crept out from underneath
Nanami's bed, draped in shredded tissue and with a triumphant
grin on his face. Utena shook her head at him and grinned;
leaning down, she held out her cupped hands, and he leapt into
them with a happy sound. She placed him in her lap and began to
pull scraps of tissue off him.

"Hey, Chu-Chu, do you think Anthy's okay?" she asked softly.

Chu-Chu looked up at her, and, for a moment, his eyes were
clear and bright. He nodded, slowly, and said, with utmost
solemnity, "Chu."

Utena hesitated, then said, "Do you know that she's okay?"

She wasn't very good at reading his expressions, but he
looked perturbed. He closed his eyes, said "Chu" softly, and
opened them again. Utena frowned. They were horribly bloodshot,
hideously red. He blinked, and they cleared. "Chu," he said
again, yawned, and fell asleep with his head pillowed on her
knee.

"Weirdo," Utena murmured discontentedly.

* * *

Highway before them, winter landscape to either side. Kyouchi
drove, and Anthy sat beside him in the tilted passenger seat,
staring out the window. They'd left Sapporo's suburbs behind
long ago, and would reach Daisetsu shortly after noon at this
rate. After that, they would have to hike to get where there
were going.

Music on the radio. A song in English, with piano
accompaniment. Melancholy.

o/` Home no more home to me, whither must I wander?
o/` Hunger my driver, I go where I must.
o/` Cold blows the winter wind over hill and heather:
o/` Thick drives the rain and my roof is in the dust,
o/` Loved of wise men was the shade of my roof-tree,
o/` The true word of welcome was spoken in the door--
o/` Dear days of old with the faces in the firelight,
o/` Kind folks of old, you come again no more.

"Anthy?"

"Yes?" She watched grey birds soaring over a snow-draped
forest.

"Do you remember what you promised me, if I came along?"

She said nothing for a time, and watched the forest retreat
into the distance behind them.

o/` Home was home then, my dear, full of kindly faces,
o/` Home was home then, my dear, happy for the child.
o/` Fire and the windows bright glittered on the moor land;
o/` Song, tuneful song, built a palace in the wild.

"I do," she answered at last. "I said I'd give you
answers."

o/` Now when day dawns on the brow of the moorland,
o/` Lone stands the house, and the chimney-stone is cold.
o/` Lone let it stand, now the friends are all departed,
o/` The kind hearts, the true hearts, that loved the place
of old

"And?" The road began to rise to crest a hill, and they and
the car rose with it.

"I'm trying to think of where to begin," she said, trying to
decide what pretty guise to cast the story in. "It's such an old
tale..." Story and fact had become so contradictory and
intertwined within her memory that she couldn't say which was
which. Whatever story she told, she'd put enough in to satisfy
him.

o/` Spring shall come, come again, calling up the moor-fowl,
o/` Spring shall bring the sun and the rain, bring the bees
and flowers;
o/` Red shall the heather bloom over hill and valley,
o/` Soft flow the stream through the even-flowing hours.

"Why don't you just tell me why we're going to Daisetsu
first?"

"Because to tell you that, I've got to tell you other
things."

He sighed. "Then just start at the beginning."

"At the beginning?" she mused. "Very well... once upon a
time, when the world was young, there was a brother and a
sister, and they lived in a palace in the wild..."

o/` Fair the day shine as it shone on my childhood--
o/` Fair shine the day on the house with open door;
o/` Birds come and cry there and twitter in the chimney--
o/` But I go for ever and come again no more.

* * *

They meet in a sunny room with high arched windows, two women
older than they look, and greet each other with the meaningless
cheek-kisses of former friends.

"Tokiko-kun."

"Hoshimi-kun."

Bow, break apart, to sit across from one another in high-
backed chairs. Tokiko takes her hat off and puts it in her lap.
Hoshimi pours tea.

They sip.

"It's been a long time."

"Hasn't it?"

"I knew that you came back annually to visit your brother's
grave. I always meant to invite you over for tea before."

"I never stayed more than a day."

"So hostile."

"My nephew is dead."

"He and his sister were your wards, were they not?"

"Their parents died shortly after I was widowed. It seemed
the proper thing to do."

"You never did have children of your own, did you?"

"No."

They sip again.

"You've aged well, Hoshimi-kun."

"You've aged better, Tokiko-kun."

"I really do think your hair looked better when it was
longer."

"And I think yours looked better when it was shorter. Very
chic."

"I could have mine short again easily enough. But you'd
have to wait some time before yours would be as long as it was
when we were younger."

"So I would."

And again.

"How goes your work?"

"It nears completion."

"And how is... he?"

"Different."

"Different, you say?"

"You should have stayed, Tokiko-kun."

"After what happened, I lost my stomach for advancing such
work."

"They had a contract."

"And it was in their contract to die like that?"

"It was implied that was a possibility."

And again, in perfect unison, they sip.

"Implied possibility. How vague."

"Contracts are often vague."

"And yours?"

"Mine is very specific."

"No fine print?"

"None that concerns me."

"And do you sleep well at night?"

"Very well."

Again. Teacups, nearly empty, rattle against saucers.

"I think sometimes you were more upset by the vehicle than
by the fuel, Tokiko-kun."

"Fuel... That was what he called them, too."

"And was it not what they were?"

"I don't sleep well at night, Hoshimi-kun. Not lately. I
have dreams. I dream about a lot of things. I dream of a statue
with a hundred arms, each arm bearing a sword. I dream of
something made of pure light, so beautiful it makes me weep. I
dream of a woman in a shroud, with blood upon her lips. I dream
of a warrior made of wire with a stone for a heart. I dream of a
hole in the air in the shape of a man. I dream of an old lion
with no teeth whose claws are yet terribly sharp. I dream of a
skeleton holding in one hand a woman's mask and in the other a
beating heart. I dream of a woman suspended from a gibbet by her
hands from a rope of gold. I dream of red, red eyes. I dream of
a black angel holding in his hands a shaft of sunlight."

"Have you tried sleeping pills?"

The teacups are empty now.

"It saddens me that these walls have come between us,
Tokiko-kun. However did it happen?"

"I am uncertain. Perhaps it was when you became an evil
bitch willing to sacrifice even your own daughter for your own
selfish dreams, Hoshimi-kun."

"Such harsh words. They wound me. But it's merely that you
can't understand. You've never had any children to call your
own."

"I had two of them."

"And yet so confident were you that you sent them here, even
though you knew what awaited them."

"I did not think that he would dare. Perhaps he has
changed, as you say, to dare so much. But I have not."

"Indeed, you have not. More tea?"

"No."

Tokiko stands and places her hat back upon her head.

"I am going now. I have other matters to attend to.
Believe me when I say that if Hasuichi died to suit his
plans or yours, there shall be a reckoning."

"Such callow threats. You're not used to making them, are
you? You must remember, Tokiko-kun, I have not been your
student for many years. I've been learning things without you
all that time."

"And I have not been your teacher for many as well. I've
learned things as well."

Tokiko is at the door now, ready to leave.

Hoshimi smiles.

"When shall we two meet again, in thunder, lightning, or
in rain?"

Tokiko, after a moment, smiles back. It is no nicer a
smile than Hoshimi's.

"When the hurlyburly's done, when the battle's lost and
won."

And she's gone.

Hoshimi pours herself another cup of tea, and drinks it
down. She lowers her head into her hands. She does not weep,
but thinks merely of red, red eyes, and shudders; with fear, but
also with something of ecstasy.

End of Jaquemart - Part VI