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“How does your story go, Miss Utena?”

“Hmm, let’s see.” Utena glances to the side, bites her bottom lip, and then looks up. “I save Himemiya!”

X.

Let’s start again.

“How does your story go, Miss Utena?”

“Hmm, let’s see.” Utena leans back in her chair, crosses her hands behind her head. “I save Himemiya!”

X. X.

Let’s start again.

“How does your story begin, Miss Utena?”

“Hmm, let’s see,” Utena says. She stares off into the distance for a second, before smiling bashfully, a light pink coloring her cheeks. “You know, it’s hard to pick a point to start at!”

A puppet leans its head to the side.

You see, there once was a princess.

No, skip that part.

You see, there was always a prince.

No, that part’s not real.

You see, there’s always a rose garden.

A puppet sits up straight and then leans forward, and nods its dark, blank head enthusiastically.

Yes! Yes!

There was a rose garden. The door before her opened slowly. Petals were falling in the air. And something turned to look at her. It grinned at her. It reached out and captured her heart in a vice. It smiled so sweetly as it closed its fist, and ground her heart into its most basic pieces.

And? And?

And her palm was wet. Himemiya’s palm was wet, first. Then her fingers were wet, and then it was running out between her fingers, across the bumps and lines of her hand. She was smiling. Utena wasn’t smiling. Down in a dribble, down her wrist. She was smiling. A drop trembled on her skin and fell, and the droplet splashed back up and lingered in the air.

“Miss Utena…”

Utena is laying on her back. Her hair is spread out like a fan beneath her, pink ribbons curling against the dull greyness of their standard-issue sheets. She’s staring straight ahead, like a broken doll, over a dark skinned shoulder. Their shadows are shifting, a silent movie, indiscriminate hands moving lower, and her breath seizes in her throat.

“Himemiya,” she says, and her voice wavers. Their shadows stop. Himemiya pulls away, and looks at her, eyes narrowing behind her glasses. Looks at her, and smiles, and pulls away. Utena sits up and fixes the collar of her shirt. “I don’t…”

“Yes, Miss Utena?” Anthy looks like nothing has ever touched her. She smiles. Utena doesn’t.

“I don’t know.” Utena can’t look anymore. Her gaze is fixed on the floor.

“Of course, Miss Utena.”

But did that really happen?

X. X. X.

Let’s start again.

The lunches Wakaba made her were always extravagant. This one was so beautiful that Utena didn’t even want to pull one morsel free. But when she hesitated, Wakaba pouted, and so she shoved some in her mouth, and didn’t have to feign her reaction as the food melted in her mouth. Wakaba cheered, throwing her full weight on her, her arms cinching like a vice around her upper body, shaking her side to side.

“Ahhh, Utena, I just knew, I just knew you’d love it!” Wakaba rubbed her cheek against Utena’s. Utena struggled not to choke.

“It’s-” She was interrupted by a coughing fit that did nothing to discourage Wakaba’s grip. “It’s fantastic, really,” she was finally able to gasp out. “But don’t you think it’s a little much?”

“Nothing is too much for my most beloved! My most stalwart prince!” Wakaba declared. She dropped Utena like she was old news, standing up heroically. Her arm straightened out, her finger pointing resolutely towards the horizon. “Nothing is too good for the girl who isn’t a princess!”

What?

“What?”

What?

Wakaba turned to look at her, the sunlight behind her radiating outwards like an aura.

“Oh Miss Utena, didn’t you know?” They both looked to the side in surprise, and Himemiya was there. A cone of shaved ice was in her hand, melting in the summer heat, and pink lines of water and flavoring dripped down her hand. “A girl who cannot become a princess, is doomed to become a witch!”

But did that really happen?

X. X. X. X.

Let’s-

“This is where I dueled you,” Utena says. The wind whips her hair around in wild array, the petticoats of her dueling jacket ruffling. She turns around and there he is, smirking and oppressive.

“Yes,” is all Touga has to say. He comes forward and suddenly there’s a hand resting at the small of her back, a hand cupping the curve of her jaw, and she finds herself arching, leaning forward. Petals are falling in the sky.

And her blade doesn’t stop at his rose. It jabs into the soft meat of his chest, slips between the hard, firm armor of his ribcage. A cat is yowling in the night somewhere, in the distance, and she can hear wedding bells ringing.

“But you can’t be my prince,” she says. She’s saying the wrong lines. She wants to wrench her blade free but she can’t, it’s stuck, and tears prick the back of her eyes, burn brightly and well in the corners, and she-

X. X. X. X. X.

Let’s-

“This is where I dueled you,” Utena says. The wind whips her hair around in wild array, the petticoats of her dueling jacket ruffling. She turns around and there he is. Her heart beat quickens in her chest.

“Yes,” is all Akio says, and she tries not to think of Anthy when her gaze rests on his lips. Anthy…

“I don’t…” A clattering sound startles her, and she jerks, staring wide-eyed at the ground where her weapon has fallen. He comes towards her, his cape billowing out like a prince’s, like a real prince’s, and when he cups her face in his hands she finds herself arching, leaning forward.

Petals are falling in the sky.

“But you can’t be my prince,” Himemiya says, and bright pain is pulsing in her heart, is echoed by the physical pain lancing through her shoulder.

“Didn’t you know?” Akio says, his lips brushing against hers with every syllable. “A girl who cannot become a princess…” His fingers wrap around the shining point of the blade pushed through her chest, and pulls it closer. The handle of the blade sticks at her spine, and drags her closer as well. “Is doomed to become a witch.”

X. X. X. X. X. X.

Let’s start again!

You see, there was once a princess, and she wanted to see something eternal. And that eternal thing she saw was suffering and love, woven together in a never-ending pattern. She wanted to do something about it.

Did she want to own it?

Did she want to stop it?

Did she want to experience it for herself?

But was leaving her coffin really such a good idea?

X. X. X. X. X. X. X.

She saw something eternal when Anthy smiled.

X. X. X. X. X. X. X. X.

You see, there was always a prince.

No, that part’s not real.

X. X. X. X. X. X. X. X. X.

The room was dark. Utena knew there was a world outside this place, but here it was easy to pretend. When she looked out the window, all she saw was the moon and the stars, and there was something strangely comforting in the idea that their light was a billion years old. Her gaze dropped from the window, and fell to their clasped hands, their intertwined fingers.

“Himemiya,” she began. Anthy’s eyes opened in the darkness, emerald pools glinting the scant lighting. “I was afraid of the dark.” Anthy’s lips part. “When I was little, I mean.”

“Oh?” In anyone else, Utena would take it as a dismissal, as a sign that they weren’t interested. After all, who wasn’t afraid of the dark when they were little? But with Anthy, but with Anthy…

But with Anthy, the way she sighed it, the way her voice lilted up at the end, the way her eyes peered so intently, so intelligently at her, like Utena was being unraveled to her core…

“My parents…” They died. “My parents wouldn’t give me a night light, you know? They wanted me to get over it. They knew…” They would die? “They knew there wasn’t anything to be scared of.”

“So what happened?” Anthy’s fingers twitched between hers.

“Well, to be honest, I had tons of nightmares. I would run into their room all the time, and beg them to stay there until it was morning.”

Illuminated only by the moon, Utena could see Anthy smiling. Her eyes flicked over her face, again and again, and she wanted to remember this moment forever.

“But you know something? It’s silly, but…” Utena watched the even, rise and fall of Anthy’s chest. “I was always, kinda, a little afraid of it after all.” The hollow of her neck held a teardrop of dark shadows. “But when I’m with you…”

Anthy’s eyes widened.

“When I’m with you, I…” Their hands tightened, and Utena’s knuckles were almost white with exertion.

“When I’m with you, I’m not afraid anymore.”

X. X. X. X. X. X. X. X. X. X.

“When I’m with you, I’m not afraid anymore,” Anthy says, and the gates of Ohtori swing shut behind them.