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Jaquemart XII - In A Gallery of Shadows (ii. gloaming)

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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.

 

XII. In a Gallery of Shadows

ii. gloaming

* * *

"It's so nice to see you again, Tenjou-sempai. I hope you're not
having trouble with math anymore."

"Huh?"

Miki's smile was still boyish, almost shy. "I tutored you a
few times, if I recall correctly. That was how we met."

"Oh. Oh yeah." She looked around the second story of the
gallery, really no more than a wide balcony which overlooked the
ground floor, with paintings hung on the walls. "I was so sorry
to hear about your sister, Miki. If I'd known..."

God, she thought even as the words left her lips, did that
ever sound lame. He probably thinks you barely knew each other.
Who are you to be offering him condolences so many years after it
happened? You used to hate that: Oh, and what do your parents
do? My parents are dead. Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that.

"It was a long time ago," Miki said softly. Some distance
away, Juri and Shiori stood looking at one of the paintings
amidst a group of other guests. "And it's not as though I've
lost her completely. I've got my memories, and..." He gestured
with his hands as though to take in the entire gallery. "Now
I've got this, for her."

"Yeah," Utena said, silently cursing the total ineptitude of
her conversation. Now she knew how all those distant relatives and
friends of the family had felt trying to deal with her. "It's
nice."

"Come on." He touched her elbow, lightly, and led her away
from Juri and Shiori, towards one of the corners of the gallery
where the balcony curved with the shape of the wall. "Let me
show you one of her pieces."

"What?"

"My sister's. Her sketches." He looked a little
embarassed; Utena found herself relaxing in spite of everything.
He was still cute as hell, and the years had only refined his
good looks to a higher state; glasses suited him, emphasizing the
soft blue of his eyes. "After she was gone, I found them while
looking through her things. I never knew she did that kind of
thing. When she was younger, she used to play piano with me, but
then she stopped. I think it was a very private aspect of her
life that she didn't let anyone else see."

The sketch was framed behind glass, and looked rather
insignificant on the wall compared to the larger paintings. It
was geometrical, almost to the point of looking like an
architectural draft sketch, but had something queerly organic to
it. Something like a serpent crossed with a subway train, twined
around something that was either an apple or a globe or maybe the
sun. Utena found it vaguely disturbing, but tried not to let
that show on her face.

"I wasn't sure if I should ever show them to other people,
you know, since Kozue never even showed them to me. So I carried
them around with me and only looked at them in private. Then,
when I came back to teach here, Akio-san--the Chairman--and I got
to talking about Kozue, and the sketches came up somehow, and..."
He smiled, a bit forced. "You can see the results around you."
The smile vanished. "Kozue and Ohtori Kanae, Akio-san's fiancee,
passed away within a few months of each other."

"Yeah. I heard from Juri. Really sad," Utena said vaguely,
eyes trying to decipher the tangled symmetries of the sketch and
discover some coherent meaning to it. Funny how he didn't seem
at all bothered by the fact that Akio had been the one driving
the car in the accident in which Kozue died. Into the sea; the
body never found. That was what Nanami had said.

"The wisdom that brings an end to peace."

Utena started and looked at Miki. "What?"

He indicated the sketch. "That's the title. The Wisdom
That Brings An End to Peace."

"Oh. Because of the snake and the apple?"

Miki looked cutely confused. "Snake? Apple?"

"You know. Tree of knowledge of good and evil? Adam and
Eve?"

He seemed to think upon it for a moment, then laughed
softly. "Kozue's sketches are like that; I remember Akio-san
noting it when he first saw them. People see very different
things in them; he said that what they see tells more about
themselves than about the sketch."

"Oh? What do you see?"

He touched a finger to his lips. "Well, usually, it looks
like an egg to me."

"You see an egg, I see a snake and an apple. What's that
say about us?"

Miki shrugged. "I don't know. I teach math and physics,
not psychology."

Utena smiled, and turned her gaze at last away from the
sketch, suspecting that its inexplicably disturbing lines had
burned themselves into her brain and would follow her even into
sleep. "I guess even a genius like you can't be good at
everything, huh?"

He coloured a little, but looked pleased. "No. I guess
not."

"Good acoustics in here." The Ohtori Quartet had stopped
playing Schubert and switched to another piece; something without
the same dark sense of melody, more dissonant, acerbic to the
point of sarcasm, and bitter, bitter. She guessed Shostakovich,
but wasn't sure.

"Yes." Miki moved over to stand at the railing beside her,
resting his arms on the smooth polished metal and gazing down at
the milling crowd and the players on the stage. "They're really
an incredibly talented group for a student quartet. Aiko-san has
a beautifully pure tone."

Utena blinked and, for the first time, actually made a
careful study of the quartet. "You don't mean--geez, it is."

"Wakiya Aiko, Suzuki Ichiro, Yamada Jiro, Tanaka Saburo.
The Ohtori Quartet. I understand they asked Akio-san's
permission to take that name when they formed in their first year
at the Osaka College of Music, out of gratitude for the fine
education they'd received at Ohtori."

"Wow. Small world." Utena listened carefully to the music,
then nodded. "They are good. Really good."

"I've never heard anyone play in unison as well as Suzuki-
san, Yamada-san and Tanaka-san. And Aiko's perfect as the first
violin." He smiled, very distant for a moment, as though he
perceived something in the music that she did not, some
intimation of a higher world in the string-tones. "They'll go
far." He crossed his arms on the balcony railing and glanced
over at her. "Did you know Aiko-san well?"

"Not really. I mean, she was a friend of Nanami's, but
Nanami and I never got along too well when I was here. I knew
Suzuki and Yamada and Tanaka, too; they were just kind of...
there."

"Nanami-kun was often a difficult person in the days when
you were here," Miki said quietly.

"No kidding," Utena couldn't avoid muttering. Then, shamed
at even that minor act of bitterness, she added, "But she's
changed now."

"Oh? You two know each other? How is she doing?" he asked
eagerly, his expression softening. "I haven't seen her since
shortly after our graduation."

Utena cursed herself silently for the slip, then simply went
with it. "Yeah, we see each other now and again. In fact, she's
in town right now. Visiting her brother." She cast her gaze
upon the crowd on the floor below as though searching for Nanami.
"I know she's here tonight; I saw her when I came in."

"Nanami-kun has such a close relationship with her brother,"
Miki said. His smile took on a sad edge. "She's lucky. I made
so many mistakes with Kozue that I was never able to try and
fix."

"Miki..." Utena hesitated, then put her hand on his
shoulder. Wasn't that too familiar, given how they were supposed
to have hardly known each other? But it was hard, so hard,
especially when she could see that he was hurting.

He shook his head. "Forgive me for laying my burdens on you
like this, Tenjou-sempai; we didn't know each other well enough
when you were here for me to take such liberties."

"Hey, I don't mind." Sick at heart for all the lies, she
squeezed his shoulder through the dark fabric of his suit jacket.
"Any burden you want to lay on me, go right ahead."

She found his own warm hand laid suddenly atop hers on his
shoulder, to her surprise but certainly not to her displeasure.
"Thank you. That's very kind of you."

An agreeable warmth came into her cheeks. Miki had
certainly been cute when she'd known him seven years ago, but
always kind of in the way that she imagined a younger brother
would be cute. Now he was grown up and very handsome, and it
occured to her suddenly just how intimate a gesture like this was
from someone whom she remembered as quite reserved with physical
gestures. He must be lonely, she thought.

"Umm," she said intelligently.

Careful, Utena, some smarter part of herself told her.
Remember that there are about a half-dozen good reasons that
you're not all jumping to try and give Miki his memories back.

"It's just that I find it hard to share my feelings with
people I feel really close to," Miki said apologetically. He
took his hand off of hers; Utena removed her hand from his
shoulder with both relief and regret. "With Juri-sempai, or
Nanami-kun; it's easier for me to talk about Kozue or other
things close to my heart with people I don't know so well.
Shouldn't it be the other way around?"

Aching in her heart for all the things she'd ever left
unsaid to Anthy, Utena answered, "It should be. It isn't,
always. It's an imperfect world."

"Yes," Miki half-whispered, with a certain note of darkness
to it, "an imperfect world."

Anthy; she'd kept her deliberately past even the fringe of
her thoughts all day. Now all the questions surrounded her
again, jabbing like a swarm of mosquitoes: Where has she gone?
Why did she go? What has she become? Is she coming here? What
will you do when she arrives?

She realized the quartet had stopped playing; that a
silence, contemplative and icy, had settled over everything. No
conversation; no sound of walking; not even a stray cough.

Akio was walking through the crowd towards the stage,
parting it like a blade sliding through a silk tapestry. He
looked exactly the same (but then, how else had she expected him
to look?): tall and perfect, clad in black and red, he moved with
a smooth, stalking grace. All light and every gaze seemed drawn
to him.

She had forgotten. How beautiful he was. Beautiful enough
to make you forget. To make you ignore. All your better
judgement. All the signs.

The Morning Star. Also known as Lucifer. The star that was
originally an angel. But chose. To become.

The devil.

Chose.

He strode like a lord. Like a prince, and the crowd gave
him silent fealty. Her blood felt hot. Molten. Even after
seven years, the remembered taste of his dark, slim lips came
upon her like the ache of a scar. Such scars he left upon her.
Upon them all.

The dream. The falling tower. Poor oysters, ripped and
bloody.

("I weep for you," the Walrus said: "I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out those of the largest size,
holding his pocket handkerchief before his streaming eyes.)

Chose to become the devil.

How many times over the past seven years had she dreamt of
him, remembering the feel of his body naked atop hers, waking
sweaty and ashamed and aroused, hating herself so much that she
wanted to die of it?

Oh, why hadn't she _seen_? Why hadn't she seen before it
was too late to do anything more than go on, to play his game to
the end?

He ascended the short flight of steps leading up to the
stage. Heads turned to follow him, hers and every other one.

Because she hadn't wanted to, of course. She'd been so good
at lying to herself, at not seeing. Not a fool, unless you could
be a willing fool. That had been her; shoving the needles into
her eyes with her own hands, for what? For those dark
smouldering lips full of gentle burning, those long-lashed eyes
that carried some old sadness, the mouth that curved so
appealingly when he smiled? For a precious memory that had
been nothing more than a lie?

There had, as he had said, never been any such thing as a
prince. Never any such thing at all.

Miki touched her elbow. He was thousands of miles away. A
handsome young stranger in a suit and silver-framed glasses, eyes
wide and innocent and blue like the sky; a soft, apologetic
voice.

"Tenjou-sempai? I have to go make my speech now. It was
nice to see you again. Maybe we can talk further afterwards."

She said: "I'd like that." Automaton. Her body and voice
belonged to someone else, some other Utena from another universe.

His hand withdrew. He walked away, the sole moving figure
in a statue gallery. Blind stone gazes fixed upon the fallen
angel on the stage.

Miki descended the stairs to the first floor of the gallery.
His steps were uncommonly loud. They echoed in the good
acoustics.

Two people. Behind her. Look back and smile.

Juri and Shiori. A hand on either of her shoulders:
Shiori's small, light grip; Juri's strong, gentle fencer's
fingers. She realized, feeling the touches, that she was
trembling, her hands gripping the balcony railing so hard they
ached.

"Well," Juri said softly, "there he is."

"I hate him so much," Utena whispered. "I want to... I
don't know. Run down there and stab him. Right through the
heart."

"Really? You think he still has a heart?" Shiori said. She
squeezed Utena's shoulder. Smiled. She had a very gentle smile.
Old, somehow, and fragile. Like an antique vase, paper-thin
china decorated with flowers.

Utena managed soft laughter. "I don't know. We'll have to
see."

Shiori looked away, eyes half-closed, shyly pleased at the
laughter. Utena was beginning to see just why Juri could love
her so much: there was something delicate about her that could
draw a strong person like Juri. Something that made you want to
guard her and keep her safe against the monsters of the world.

Miki had reached the stage. Akio, who had been speaking to
the members of the Ohtori Quartet, turned to greet him. They
clasped hands briefly. Miki moved to the standing microphone and
spoke into it.

"Good evening, everyone. I'm Kaoru Miki."

His soft voice, amplified, reached every corner of the
gallery, as though he were whispering directly into everyone's
ear. Intimate. Like a friend sharing a secret.

"Thank you all so much for coming."

With hands still on her shoulders, Utena looked down. Faces
in the faceless crowd: Mari and Akami, Tokiko standing with them
but slightly apart. Ohtori Hoshimi, with the real Chairman's
brother--the priest, she couldn't remember his name--beside her,
his sour expression visible even at this distance. Nanami, by
herself. Touga, by himself--no. Close enough to Nanami to watch
her, probably without her realizing he was doing so. Utena
smiled faintly, wondered if she should, wondered at his
motivations; wanting to trust him, knowing she shouldn't.

"I'll be brief. I'm not fond of listening to long speeches,
so I shouldn't be fond of making them, either."

Polite, automatic laughter swept through the crowd like
quiet gunfire.

"This gallery has my sister's name on it. At the eastern
end of it, there's a small exhibit about her life. It wasn't a
very long life. Perhaps not a very exceptional life, as the life
of a young girl goes. But she was important to me; she was my
twin sister."

He paused and took off his glasses, dangling them in one
hand at his side as he covered his eyes briefly with the other.
The soft, sharp intake of his breath was caught by the microphone
and carried to everyone.

"Pardon me." He put his glasses back on. Utena felt Juri's
hand on her shoulder tighten briefly, probably involuntarily, and
fall away. Shiori's remained. "This gallery is located in a
building with the name of another young girl on it, one who
passed away at an age not much older than that of my sister.
Ohtori Kanae, the daughter of the Chairman of the Board of Ohtori
Academy."

Utena looked down into the crowd, seeking the faces of
Kanae's mother and uncle. Hoshimi had her head bowed; the
chairman's brother was awkwardly patting her on the back, sour
expression gone, replaced by a gentle grief.

"People can sometimes become symbols. Sometimes while
they're alive, but more often after they're gone. For me, my
sister and Kanae-san are symbols of just how fragile each
individual life is. How precious it is. How beautiful it is.

"How easily that beauty can be taken away."

His voice had dropped low, almost sepulchral. It seemed a
great effort of will for him to speak. The faces in the crowd
were appropriately sympathetic, sad along with him. She could
imagine the thoughts: poor boy, to lose his sister so young. But
doesn't he look brave up there, speaking like this?

Her own thoughts were like unwanted guests: What does it say
in that exhibit about how Kozue died? Does it mention the car?
Does it mention that the one driving the car was the man
_standing_ on the stage behind Miki, a tall and silent presence
who seemed to be lending his radiance, lending the beauty that
usually drew all attention to him, to the smaller, younger (but
how much younger?) man at the microphone?

"But not entirely."

The note of hope was in his voice, sudden as a slap. Utena
actually started; Shiori did the same. Juri just stood there,
lips narrowed, face tight, green eyes showing unhappiness that
revealed itself nowhere else on her body.

"Not entirely taken away. 'Non omnis moriar'--Horace wrote
that in one of his Odes. 'I shall not wholly die'. He was
speaking--singing--in that Ode of the enduring power of the
artistic creation. Poetry, in his case, but I think it has
broader applications than that. Art is an act of creation--
perhaps more accurately, an act of transformation, of the making
of one thing from many things. And what we create outlasts us.
It lives on."

He paused. The crowd as a whole hung upon his words.

"It lives on." He let out a breath; the crowd let out one
along with him. He smiled, wearily; the cadence of his words
became relaxed, less urgent. "We've got a lot of art in here.
Much of it is modern, donated by the Ohtori family from their
private collections. There are some pieces from other eras. An
extremely minor Michaelangelo. A slightly less minor Giordano.
I believe there's a Rossetti or two around here somewhere, but
I'm not sure exactly where--they're rather small, you see."

Again, the laughter; it stopped when he stopped his smile.

"There are also some pieces by my sister and Kanae-san.
They both had artistic potential that never got to be fully
realized. Look around. Enjoy the art; enjoy the wine and food;
enjoy each other's company. As promised, there will be dancing.
Memorials need not--should not--be entirely solemn.

"But first, I'd like to introduce Ohtori Akio-san, the
Trustee Chairman of Ohtori Academy. He'd also like to say a few
words."

Miki stepped back from the microphone. Akio touched his
shoulder briefly, and stepped up.

He said more than a few words.

Or perhaps he said very few. It was hard to say, in the
end. He opened his mouth and words came forth; beautiful words,
slippery as fever dreams, impossible to hold the shape of in the
mind. Words like the most delicate soap bubbles, full of
shimmering rainbows, collapsing if you even dared look at them a
little too hard.

He opened his mouth, and the only thing heard clearly was,
"Good evening", and then the rest of it was only one long smooth
flow in the mind, like a single word, a brief middle section of
the longest (long to infinity), most beautiful word in the
lexicon of human speech.

He spoke of transience. Of eternity. Of shining things,
miracles, hope. He said things of seeming profundity which
revealed themselves as paradoxical or nonsensical if actually
thought out to their logical conclusions. He quoted Basho and
Whitman and Auden. Tennyson and Takuboku. Plato and Confucius.
At one point, he quoted something he claimed was from one of
Mishima's novels, but almost certainly wasn't, and if it was, it
was taken out of context and meant nothing of the original
meaning.

It was cliched. Utterly predictable. Hackneyed, even. And
yet, all the same, it moved the heart. Perhaps merely because
his voice was so beautiful, so deep and strong and musical;
perhaps because he genuinely seemed to believe all the things he
was saying. The crowd fed upon his words, and then upon each
other. One woman began to cry; then many of them were crying,
men and women, boys and girls. Openly and unashamedly.

Utena's heart ached. Actually ached, as though it were
bruised by the want to weep that she was forcing herself to keep
under control. She wasn't going to let him do this to her.
Wasn't going to cry for his false, lying words, no matter how
beautifully he could speak them.

Next to her, Shiori had her face in her hands, and was
sobbing like a lost child. Juri looked helpless, utterly
helpless, trapped and hating to be trapped.

Just put your arm around her, Juri, Utena urged silently.
As though Juri could hear her. As though if she hoped it enough,
anyone could hear a silent plea. Down in the crowd she saw
Nanami. Fists clenched at her sides. Face frowning. A clear
circle around her. _She_ didn't look moved at all. Nearby,
Touga--he'd moved a few steps closer to her during the speech--
looking calm but moved enough by the speech not to seem
suspicious.

Mari was crying too. Akami had her arm around her, almost
possessively. She couldn't see Tokiko. Come on, Juri, she
thought--come on.

All right, then. One arm around Juri. One arm around
Shiori. Draw them both in, Shiori trembling like a leaf, Juri
stiff and hesitant; both of them. Her dear friends.

Then, slip away; leave them with one another. Move, down
the stairs, with Akio still speaking; try to ignore him. Block
out the beauty. Build up a wall. Many walls. Think of the
swords, savaging Anthy. How you pleaded with him (stupid, so
stupid...) to save her. How he didn't.

The words were hollow and empty now. He was finishing up.
Reaching a crescendo. An empty gesture. Finish with a
quotation, of course. Some poet whose name she didn't catch.
Step off the last stair.

"He gazed at the flowers with tearful eyes,
He kissed their drooping leaves;
It was for the Lord of Paradise
He bound them in his sheaves."

Towards the stage. Crowd parting before her. A blade
through silk.

"O, not in cruelty, not in wrath,
The Reaper came that day;
'T was an angel visited the green earth,
And took the flowers away."

Stupid lying sentimental bullshit, made even worse by the
fact that he didn't believe a word of it.

"Thank you all. I see I've upset some of you. I'm very
sorry for that. There is a time for grief, and a time for joy;
let there be dancing now. Let there be no more tears."

The crowd assented. Obedient vassals all. The Ohtori
Quartet struck up a waltz. Utena moved determinedly towards the
stage, as dancing couples spun around her like satellites, never
actually impeding her progress no matter how close they drifted.

Ten steps from the stairs leading up to the stage, someone
seized her arm, hard enough to hurt.

"What are you doing?" Nanami hissed. "You're moving like a
robot!"

Utena blinked. Shook her head. The rage settled. What had
she been doing? Why had she been doing it?

(Lying hypocritical bastard I ought to get up there and cut
your damn heart out not like you _have_ a heart any more damn
you damn you...)

She shuddered and bit her lip; a tiny cry escaped her. It
did not seem her own.

Nanami went on, still gripping Utena's arm tightly. "I
can't leave you alone, can I? If I do, you go off by yourself
and... and..."

"I'm sorry, Nanami," she murmured. "I don't know what I was
doing. What came over me. Thanks. I think you stopped me from
doing something stupid."

"Wouldn't be the first time," Nanami muttered. She let
Utena's arm go, leaving the white marks of her clutching fingers
behind on the flesh. "Be careful. I can't always be looking out
for you."

"What'd you think of the speeches?" Utena asked. Her mouth
felt very dry. She very much wanted something to drink.

"Miki's was nice," Nanami said reflectively, smiling a
little. Then her expression hardened. "Akio's was a bunch of
sentimental, hypocritical crap, although he said it nicely."

"My opinion exactly," Utena said, nodding.

Nanami sighed. "Type Bs."

"Who get stuck on things easily."

"Wrong ideas."

"Bad thoughts."

They laughed, softly, together.

"Here they come," Nanami said.

Miki leading, Akio a step behind, then a few steps, then a
few more, as he stopped to exchange words with various people.

"Hello again, Tenjou-sempai. Hello, Nanami-kun. It's been
a while."

"Hello, Miki-kun. I liked your speech," Nanami said, a
little shyly.

Miki smiled and held out his hand to her. "Thanks. Want to
dance?"

"Okay," Nanami said, looking slightly shocked.

"See you later, Tenjou-sempai," Miki said, as he led Nanami
towards the central part of the gallery, which was serving as the
dance floor.

Utena watched them go, grinning slightly. They looked cute
together.

"You," Akio said from behind her, "look as though you could
use something to drink, Utena-kun."

She turned. He had a glass of wine in either hand. He was
smiling.

Oh, God, how much she hated, loathed, him.

* * *

Out in the dim, quiet, empty hallway, the woman took off her
glasses and wiped at her eyes with her fingers. She wished she
had something better. The nearest package of tissues she knew of
was in her car. In the glove compartment. Under the rental
agreement. The car was olive. Such inconsequential details.
Yet they insisted on coming to her.

She put her glasses back on. Her vision was still a little
blurred. To one side of her stood a big rectangular window,
taller than it was wide, with two dozen individual panes of
square glass in its wooden frame, each a separate gazing into the
night.

She wasn't sure what to do about her fingers. They were
damp with her tears. She couldn't wipe them on her outfit; the
fabric was pale enough that it would leave very obvious stains.

Her teeth ached, as though she'd held an ice cube between
them for too long. Behind her, through the door, she could
feel the rapt adoration and sympathetic grief of the crowd like
the heat of a bonfire, but fading; he was finishing up his
speech.

It approached obscenity, that a speech so full of trite
sentiment and mawkish poetry could bring anyone, particularly
her, to tears. She had returned yet again to take care of her
own. To revenge, if need be.

Why, then?

(This time, I will go only to his grave. I will leave the
flowers there. I will depart. I will go back to Kagoshima.
Back to my kind, rich doctor husband. Back to luncheons with my
friends and compliments about how well my looks have preserved
themselves. Back to the elegant smoking of thin cigarettes on
white verandahs. This time. I will not. Visit. Him.)

The sin, of course, was that Hoshimi was right: the vehicle
had been what broke her. Not the cause. Not the fuel. How
could she condemn the cause? How could she condemn the means, no
matter how awful, if they were the only means? What right did
she have to judge and pass judgement, coward and hypocrite that
she was? Everyone was always willing to believe in "any means
necessary", until those means touched what they loved, treasured,
desired.

Before he had raised the lights, she had thought them
spiderwebs. She hadn't even been to Mamiya's grave yet, since
her arrival. The two thoughts came in sequence, incongruously;
she thought them incongruous. A moment of reflection assured her
they were not. Graves.

She took her glasses off again. Wiped her eyes again.
Wondered again what to do with her fingers. With her hands. Her
teeth ached.

Someone softly cleared their throat. Not close. Not far.
She looked up, replacing her glasses. She hadn't even heard
footsteps.

The tall elderly man in the long grey coat, who stood down
the hallway from her to the other side of the window, looked over
at her with politely feigned casualness. "Would you like a
handkerchief, madam?"

"I'd appreciate one," she replied after a moment.

He crossed the floor. White marble; a red rose pattern,
geometric. His footsteps were barely audible. A quiet mover.
Long white hair, thick for such an elderly man. He was dark.
Caucasian. Handsome in youth, some of that still retained in
age. Thin, thin as though the fine blade of the years had
sliced the excess of his flesh from his body.

Silently, he offered her a handkerchief. Grey. A monogram:
CLC.

She accepted it and dabbed at her eyes. "Thank you."

He shrugged self-deprecatingly. "A gentleman offers a
crying woman his handkerchief. It is merely the way of things."

She folded the handkerchief into a neat square and handed it
back to him. Their hands touched, briefly. The tips of his
fingers were warm and dry and faintly callused, like soft old
leather. He returned the handkerchief to the breast pocket of
his white dress shirt.

"Thank you," she repeated. "You're here for the opening of
the gallery?"

"I appear to have arrived late," he said. He sounded rather
apologetic, as though he had done her some personal offense by
doing so.

"You might catch the last part of the Trustee Chairman's
speech if you hurry," she said, indicating the closed side door
leading into the gallery were a faint wave of her hand.

He smiled. He had small, neat, white teeth. "I think I'll
appreciate your company more than his at the moment."

She mirrored the smile--not too small, not too big--and held
out her hand to him. "Akino Tokiko."

"Leo Cano." He took her hand; for a moment, she thought he
might stoop and kiss it, but then he merely shook it. A strong
grip. There was power in him. He was very dangerous.

As their hands detached, his eyes caught upon the gold glint
of her wedding band; it winked dully in the soft lighting of the
hallway. The night-lighting. In the day, the hall would be
brighter. Filled with students. She had been here before, in
the day. Here before, in the night. Another hall had stood here
before this one. And another before that. Perhaps another;
perhaps he carried them with him. An infinite causal chain of
burnings, linked back upon itself like a fiery bracelet. Each
one born from the ashes of the last, born to burn and in burning
give birth to the next.

Spiderwebs, in the darkness, they had seemed to be.

"Your husband is here tonight?"

There was a certain disapproval in the question. If your
husband is here, why are you crying alone in an empty hallway?

"He's dead."

"Forgive me. That was inexcusably rude of me." He bowed
his head, but did not close his eyes. Dark eyes. Profoundly
dark, or perhaps it was only the lacking of the light.

"Yes, it was."

He turned his head away from her and stared out the window
at the inky night. The panes of the window were cut glass,
translucent rather than transparent, and the view through them
showed only black night without details.

"I apologize."

She smoothed her ruffled feathers. "I'll accept it. I
assume you merely wondered where he was. Why I was alone. Why
he wasn't here to offer me a handkerchief. Or a shoulder."

"The rudeness was the questioning, not the wondering.
Please don't try and mitigate the offense."

"It's all right." She studied his thin, graceful neck; with
his head turned to the side, muscle stood out like a column
beneath the skin, vanishing down into the open collar of his
shirt.

"Are you only recently widowed?"

You must be, of course, for after an appropriate and
respectful amount of time has passed, it is time to take off the
ring and move on.

"Nearing seven years now. Recent enough, for me."

He didn't say anything. She heard, faintly, the sound of
the string quartet beginning to play a waltz tune. Something by
one of the Strausses. Too sumptuous a piece for a quartet,
really; it sounded thin and plaintive to her ears.

"I never married myself. Not something I really regret.
Even if I had found someone, business always took me all over the
world. I don't even really have a place I would call a home."

"Where are you from, originally?"

"Havana. Cuba. But I haven't been back since I left.
Shortly before the revolution."

She had guessed beforehand, from his accent. Something
about the way he said "revolution" sent a chill down her back,
like a sliver of cold steel. Yes. Very dangerous.

"What business are you in?"

Down the hallway, from around a corner lost in shadows, she
heard playful, ancient childish voices, speaking with deadly
seriousness.

careful now!

are you watching your end on that curve?

i said _careful_!

sorry, sorry... it's just very heavy...

can't you do anything other than complain?

stop chattering, you two--we've got to have this in place in
time!

i know, i know...

what are you shouting at me for?

The voices faded like the trailing tendrils of a dream.

Had he answered her, and she had missed it, wrapped up in
listening to shadows? Or had he not answered at all?

He stepped away from her and seized the brass handle of the
thick wooden door leading back into the gallery. "Can you waltz,
Akino-san?"

"I can."

He sketched a half-bow, smiled faintly (not showing his
teeth), and held out his thin, long-fingered, powerful hand to
her. "Will you?"

She placed her hand in his, lightly; he closed his fingers
over it in a warm cage. "I will."

He pulled the door open and they stepped back inside.

* * *

"Who are you?"

Said the girl.

In the hospital bed.
Wandering in the dark forest.
Wearing a long-skirted uniform of soft greys and browns.
Lying in the coffin.

Said the woman.

Walking through the flames.
Standing amongst the stones.
Bearing a sword.

"Himemiya Anthy."

She replied.
She replied.
She replied.
She replied.

"Himemiya Anthy."

She replied.
She replied.
She replied.

"Do we know each other?"

Asked the girl.

With the tube in her arm.
Who wore a skirt of leaves and had mud in her hair.
Demurely and shyly.
In a dry whisper, stirring the roses upon which she lay.

"I remember you again."

Said the woman.

In white.
In white.
In white.

"Remember me."

She.

Pleaded.
Begged.
Commanded.
Demanded.

"Utena."

She said.

With relief.
With joy.
With desire.

THIS THEN IS

THE WISDOM OF THE SERPENT

WHICH BRINGS PEACE TO AN END

Now you shall know the depths of what you have done, that
you have done it once again, and you shall grieve for it and be
sick in your heart for your sin; you shall wish for your death,
but it shall be denied to you. Your cries shall rend the air
like the talons of the hawk, and there shall be no peace in any
place for one such as you.

That is how it shall be.

Separateness cohered into singularity. A stained-glass
window assembled itself from lead-edged blades of colour. A
single possibility became the only reality.

Calmy, coldly, she drew the dagger of silver at her waist
and aimed it at her own heart. A hard blow to her wrist from
the edge of Kyouichi's hand struck it from her grip and left it
glinting on the grass. He seized her tightly and pulled her
against his chest, pinning her arms with his.

"What are you doing, Anthy?" He sounded incredulous and
scared, shocked to the point where the speed of his response was
even more surprising.

"Better I had died then and there," she said. "Better that
I had never been born at all." No room existed at all for tears
or grief; self-loathing pushed them, pushed everything, aside.
"Nothing," she whispered. She did not struggle against him;
there was not enough in her to struggle.

"What did you see? Why did you do that?" His voice was
gentle, but by numbness rather than any calculated act of
kindness. "I don't understand... I don't understand any of this
at all."

You're running away again?

Clear, cadenced, vivid as though Utena stood next to her.

"I'm sorry, Utena. So sorry." She closed her eyes and
simply let her body go limp, let Kyouichi's tall, strong body
support her like a wall. "Nothing at all. I learned nothing at
all, through all the long and anguished falling of the years,
through all my time of pain; what was the point of any of it, if
all I suffered while Bride to the Rose taught me nothing?"

He could not stand here forever, like a statue, holding her
to him fom fear she would wound herself if he did not, holding
her tight as though she were a part of himself. If she waited
long enough, he would think her done. He would think the
impulse passed. But it was no impulse, no rash act of the
moment. He would let her go and she would snatch up the blade
lying aglint upon the grass at the edge of the circle of stones,
and plunge it into her heart.

You're running away again?

She had forgotten how much bigger than her he was. It was
easy to think of him, think of any of them, as small, as though
age and power had somehow made her into a giant. But now, as
though perceiving it for the first time, she realized what a
small woman she was, what a large man he was; his body hard and
flat, sharp angles and smooth faces, hers soft, rounded...

("What shall we do, brother; how shall we go on living,
after all of this?" / "How shall we go on? We have never
lived before this, unless a flower can be said to live when
it is only a seed." / "If we are flowers, then, what of our
soil?" / "Adversity has been our soil, watered with your
blood and the blood of your murderers, and the sun upon us
was the light upon my blade when I slew them." / "But how
shall we live, if we have never lived before?" / "We shall
find a way, somewhere in the world, and if not in the
world, at the ends of the world." / "I understand. From
now on, you and I will help each other to go on living.")

"The prince," she murmured against Saionji's chest,
breathing in deeply the sudden, startling, profoundly masculine
scent of him. Sweat from his exertions in battling the Knight; a
faint cologne; aftershave; plain soap.

"What?" He was not holding her so very tightly any more,
embracing her rather than restraining her. Until she had spoken,
he had been saying things to her, awkwardly, the kinds of things
you would say to comfort a child. Now he stiffened, suddenly
conscious of her body against his, their shared living heat in
this dead place.

"The prince mustn't love anyone," she said softly. "He
can't. If he's to love everyone and fight for everyone, he can't
love anyone. Can't remember anyone. From one deed to the next,
endlessly. There is no happily ever after for the prince. Only
a fall, if he ever stops long enough to love anyone."

"I don't understand," he repeated. Despaired. "I've never
understood any of this... I just went along, wanting something
eternal. Wanting to compete with Touga. I remember the last
time I saw her before she went to face the final duel. How she
said she was a fool. So proudly. How could she be proud of
something like that? I knew in my heart I was a fool, and I was
ashamed of it. _What did she know that I didn't_?" The last
sentence, so full of confusion and pain that it seemed torn from
him, pierced her like a blade.

"Don't speak." She raised her arms through the cage of his
embrace and began to unbutton his shirt. He went rigid, and
though his arms remained around her, he was now beyond any doubt
the captured one.

"What are you doing?" he whispered, as she slipped a hand
inside his now half-open shirt and caressed the smooth flesh of
his pectorals. "Anthy..."

The circle of stones was gone. The hillside was gone. They
were in a meadow of green spring grass, with dew on the blades.
The silver dagger nestled amidst wildflowers. Dew on the blade.
Tree branches spread above them. Green leaves, and green grass
soft beneath her bare feet. Night sky overhead. The Dioscuri.
The Twins. The twin lovers. His skin under her hands, warm; the
beat of his heart, the flow of his blood.

"You want this, don't you?"

Lips. His lips, her lips, coming together. Who had moved
first, him or her? Did it matter? It did not. No longer, as
soon as one had responded to the other. They would forget
together who had been the one to begin.

"I'm tired of being alone."

They lay down together on the green grass. Lips on lips.
Her hands caressed his strong young chest. His palm on a
breast, the fingers moulding, shaping, a gentle sculptor's
touch. Dew against her bare back. He was above her, she was
beneath him; the sky and the sea, and no land, no land in any
place at all.

"I love you, Anthy," he said, hating himself for it, voice
raw and inflamed. "Oh, I'm so sorry, but I do."

Is this truly what you desire? If it is, should you desire
it?

She began to sob raggedly and pulled her hands away from
his body. Confounded and suddenly as conscious as she was of
what they were doing, Kyouichi shoved himself away from her and
staggered to his feet, murmuring apologies and fumbling with the
buttons of his shirt. One popped off and fell amidst the long
bedewed blades of grass; he swore and dropped to his knees,
searching frantically and futilely for it and still apologizing.

Tears running down her face and almost choking on grief,
Anthy sat up and searched about for the dagger. She found it
nearby, looking almost innocuous amongst the grass. Kyouichi was
still looking for his button. With slow movements, like a cat
stalking a bird, she picked it up. Held it, for a moment,
examining. Forged all in one piece, it was, handle and guard and
blade. The pommel was a fanged, snarling, wild-eyed face. She
had not remembered that. Quietly, she resheathed it at her belt.

"I can't find my button. I can't find my damn button."

"Don't worry about it," she said softly, rising.

"Don't worry about it!" He turned on her, still on his
knees, and a manic glint was in his eyes. "'What happened to
your button, honey? Mom bought you that shirt last year on your
birthday, right? I can sew a new one on for you.'" He slammed
his fist against the earth. "That's what she'll say. But she'll
_know_. I'll see it in her eyes. Whenever I look at her face.
But she won't say anything. I--"

"Nothing happened," she said stiffly. "If anything had
happened, it would have been my fault. I started it."

"And I let you," he snapped. The anger drained away from
his face, and a kind of weary self-disgust rose in its place.
"I... I can't deny how I feel. About you. Still. But...
Wakaba..."

"Do you think that's it only allowable to love one person at
once?" she murmured. "Perhaps for some, that's possible."

He gave up looking for his button and, standing up, fixed
his shirt. The vanished button was the first one down from the
collar. Not immediately noticeable. She wondered what had
happened to his sweater. To the mirror of gold. To the car,
white like pearl.

"You don't understand," he said softly. "Wakaba... I love
her. Because she's so good and so kind and so loving, and she
deserves my love so much. She reached out to me and found a part
of me that I didn't know was still alive. But... you. I look at
you and it's like I'm on fire. I _burn_ for you."

"I don't love you," she said. He did not look surprised.
With calmness perhaps born from a profound striving not to break,
he began to comb his hair back into place with his fingers. "I
was selfish. In need of comfort. Of someone else's touch on my
body. A lover's touch. I'm sorry."

"Shall we simply agree that we're both sorry, then, and
leave it at that?"

She smiled humourlessly. "I think that will do."

"I find myself hoping that none of this is real," he
murmured, taking a single step towards her. "That we're only
dreaming. You're not responsible for your actions in a dream,
are you? You do things, see things, that aren't real?"

She nodded. The stars turned, or the earth turned beneath
their feet and created the seeming of star-turning. The Twins
sank into the darkness of the west. The Double-Headed Axe hung
overhead, surmounted by the Scales.

"Things that aren't real," she said.

"But if this is a dream, how do we escape it?"

"The hope of escape still exists. So long as some light
comes through, even if it be only through the smallest crack."

"What?"

"Do you hear that?"

There came a sound like the hooves of the thousand horses
who draw the chariots of the sun. The eastern sky began to turn
pink and gold and crimson. Stars began going out as the first
edge of the sun appeared and the light went rushing over the
fields, the hills, the rivers, the circles of stones, the burning
houses, the girls with the starving eyes, over the trees, over
the blades of grass so that their dewdrops hung like spangled
jewels. The Double-Headed Axe was washed away in a blazing
torrent, the Scales carried with it into the blue sky-sea
unrolling above them.

"That sound..."

Engines.

end of gloaming