Actions

Work Header

Archimage

Chapter Text

Part One: Salvage

For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.
"The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" by Audre Lorde


Anthy stirred the tea in her cup, the spoon clinking delicately against the sides. I fell back onto the floor and stretched.

"Do you work today?" I asked, staring at the cracks in the plaster ceiling.

"No." C-clink. C-clink. C-clink. Clank. "Your class today was cancelled?"

"Yes." Nanami, our large, round, mostly gray cat, glanced at Chu-Chu with some irritation as he fell asleep on her flank. She slithered out from under him and hopped heavily off the sofa onto my stomach, where she dug for a moment with small, white-gloved paws, then settled. Chu-Chu remained asleep in his new position. The room was silent, except for his snoring, all of us motionless. It was a soft day outside, gray and drizzly and just a little chilly, which made the pinks and reds and magentas of the cherry blossoms at the window glow.

The phone rang. I jumped, Anthy jumped, and Nanami levitated off my stomach. While Nanami licked her shoulder, Anthy and I gazed at the clanging thing with loathing. She resigned herself more quickly than I did, and answered.

"Hello?"

Even now, it was jarring. The shift from Japanese to English, I mean. Anthy had lifted the ban on Japanese at home years ago, during college, once she decided that my English was good enough. It was spring then, like now. Maybe she did it because she knew I felt homesick. Spring always does that to me, with the cherry trees in bloom.

"Yes, I am Himemiya Anthy." That in Japanese. I sat up hurriedly and watched Anthy's back. Her shoulders were back, trembling with tension under my t-shirt.

She murmured some other agreements and a single, "I understand," and then she hung up. I swung myself to my feet and stepped behind her, laying one hand on her shoulder.

"He's dead." Her voice was very flat. She said it in English.

I pressed myself against her back and felt her lean into me. She drew my hands around her and held them at her waist.

"The flowers are very lovely, aren't they?" she asked after a moment, staring at the petals that were snowing down from the branches of our ancient cherry tree.

 


If I'd been a genius, like Miki-kun, or good at everything, like Juri-sempai, our lives would have been a lot easier. Fortunately, I was a jock, and that saved things. Sort of. For a while. Maybe.

Going to college in the US was hard in many ways: I had to learn the language, I had to catch up on the academics I claimed to know already, and I had to learn the culture. For the first couple of years, I wanted nothing more than to go home. I didn't care about consequences.

But I got through it, because that was the least I could do.

 


It happened first six years after Ohtori, while I was on the T. I was enjoying the view as the Red Line briefly surfaced to cross the Charles River. Outside, it was a bright fall day with a gem-like clarity to the sky. The river reflected that vivid blue, and the trees lining it were just beginning to turn yellow. I could nearly feel the brisk breeze flowing over the water and I was consumed with a longing for it. The car was overheated and very crowded. Some jerk was holding onto the bar over my head, and only my backpack was keeping him from pressing up against me. Most everyone else was reading or drowsing.

And I saw it. Where the Science Museum had been yesterday, there was a tall, white tower, gleaming in the sunshine. A familiar tower. I could see the balcony that used to be the site of the Student Council meetings. I could see the tall windows at the top, those windows that slid shut to hold in the stars. I gaped, I guess. It was reflecting in the river, too.

Then the train slid into the station and I couldn't see it any more. I shoved through the crowd, throwing an incidental elbow into Mr. Rude as I went, and leaped off the train as the doors shut. I ran to the edge of the platform.

The Science Museum's friendly, familiar dome shone in the autumn sunshine.

I think I sat down and shook. I know I missed the lunch appointment I had with a professor in town, because I walked down and around and back up to the other side of the platform, and got on the train going back to Davis Square. I sat with my back to the Science Museum, staring out at the sailboats that speckled the river on the other side. I did have to look over my shoulder, once, just before the train plunged back into darkness.

 


My memory of the time after that last duel is very fuzzy. I remember pain, and the smell of antiseptic, and playing clapping games with a group of gray, lifeless people. There were restraints and needles. Hazy, nightmarish days and screaming nights filled with too much lucidity. The constant sound of clanging, slithering metal.

 


Anthy came home from work and found me in the dark. She knew that I wasn't asleep as I lay on the couch with kitten Nanami curled in the crook of my elbow, pink nose tucked under a feathery gray plume of tail. The floor lamp by the door went on. I heard her shoot the deadbolts, put away her keys, and set her things down on the piano bench. Then she knelt at my side. She'd been sweating, hurrying home I guess, and her scent, always very slightly floral, but with an acrid edge now, drifted over me. Anthy was afraid.

"You saw it too," I said.

"Yes."

"Where?"

"Downtown. Over Faneuil Hall."

"Science Museum."

We sat silent. Nanami stretched and recurled herself in a new position that was just as impossibly cute as before.

"What does it mean?" I asked after a few minutes.

Anthy didn't answer. Her hand slid into mine and she lay her forehead against my shoulder. We breathed together.

After a little while, she got up to make us dinner. I stayed on the sofa until Nanami decided I wasn't comfortable enough for her to ignore dinner-in-the-making anymore. Her mistake. Anthy may have somewhat expanded her menu options beyond the days of takoyaki and shaved ice, but I still did most of the cooking.

I got up and did some aimless lunge-stretches to uncramp my calves. "Anthy," I said, watching her in the tiny kitchen. When she finished breaking the noodles into the pot and looked at me, I asked again, "What does it mean?"

She dropped her gaze back to the flavor packet in her hand. "It means that he's regrouped enough to be searching for us again." Her voice was nearly inaudible. "It means that we have to decide: move or stay."

I froze. I guess I'd known that all along, but it took Anthy and her inimitable courage to say it. "But... you said..."

"I said that I didn't *think* he could find a way to extend himself so far. But he has, that's clear. And we have to decide."

My brain stopped grinding gears. "He stole two years of my life, Anthy. More than you'll tell me about from you. I'm not going to let him steal any more."

She nodded, and then remembered to pick up a fork and stir the noodles before they permanently adhered to the bottom of the pot.

 


My first coherent thought, after the last duel and all the time in the hospital, was, "What am I doing here?" A man with a needle showed up shortly after, and that was my last coherent thought for a long time.

 


Fear and desperation operate strangely on me. Fortunately, Anthy often has the same reactions I do. Late in the night, when we'd finally exhausted ourselves, she lay with her head on my shoulder, tracing gentle fingertips over the old scar on my abdomen. I enjoyed the cooling of my sweat.

"So we aren't leaving," Anthy said, not questioning but stating.

"We have one more year of college, love," I said, examining the outer edges of the ceiling for water stains. "I'm not transferring now."

"What will we do when he sends for us?"

I wondered if she would have nightmares tonight. It had been a while since the last one. "I... I'm not going to wait for that."

Her hand froze, then crumpled onto my sternum. She looked up at me, wide green eyes full of alarm. "Utena, you can't!" she exclaimed.

 


I heard a loud, overbearing voice. I didn't really take especial note of it, because I heard a lot of loud, overbearing voices all the time. What the voice was saying caught my attention, such as it was.

"See here, Miss..." Flustered pause. "Himmee-MAI-ya, the patient is not receiving visitors."

"Himemiya," I muttered to myself, annoyed.

"... can't take those in there, Miss Himmee-MAI-ya..."

"Himemiya," I muttered, louder.

"... regulations, our treatment plan, Miss Himmee-MAI-ya..."

I leapt out of the chair I was curled into and ran into the hallway, gown flapping. The pig-faced doctor stood there, astonished, as I screamed, "HiMEmiya, HiMEmiya, HIMEMIYA!" I started to go on, but then I saw her and my legs folded under me. "Himemiya?" I asked.

Floors in those places are hard and cold.

 


Over the next week, I saw the tower twice more: once replacing the domed building at MIT, and once in Harvard Yard. Anthy couldn't tell me what she thought he was doing. I suspected that he'd discovered some sympathetic link between Ohtori and other academic institutions which made it easier to "project." She mentioned that Faneuil Hall could hardly be considered academic. I chose to ignore logic, not that it made a difference one way or another.

What the hell could he want? Revenge. To reclaim Anthy.

We hadn't been so sleepless and wanting since our first year together. When we slept, we held each other tight. Half the time, Nanami poked us with cold little paws, trying to get us to move out of the way so she could sleep. The other half, she thought we'd left half the bed just for her.

Anthy hadn't mentioned my intention to go on the offensive since that first night. It was all I could think about. I nearly failed one of my exams because I was so distracted, which is when I realized that I needed to pull myself together, finish the semester, and *then* worry about Ohtori Akio. It would not do to help him ruin my life again.

 


I've gotten to like some US television shows over my time in the States. My favorite is an old series: the wife is a witch who has married a mortal man, and she has promised him that she'd live like a mortal woman. Except she can't. And her family keeps coming around.

I feel like Darrin Stevens sometimes.

 


Anthy has a surprising knack with computers. Search engines always manage to find exactly the things she queries. Online newspaper archives always carry the articles she wants. Newsgroups just happen to be talking about the things she needs to know.

At the end of the week, she came home from school with a stack of papers and dropped it on top of my homework. The top sheet was a printout of an obituary from a newspaper online. "Ohtori Kanae, age 24, wife of the chairman of Ohtori Academy," I read. Then I looked at the date. A week before. I frowned and looked at Anthy, who cast herself into our single, battered, overstuffed chair. Nanami leaped into her lap. Chu-Chu contentedly munched a cracker on her shoulder.

"He's desperate," she said, answering my unspoken question. "She was his last defense, inadequate as she was." Anthy's face rarely held anything as powerful as the panoply of emotions that skidded over it now. "He's got someone as a stopgap, but he using her... or him... up very fast. To be able to search so far."

I had just been reading my psychology text. I had an exam the next day. "Dammit," I muttered. "Couldn't this have waited till the end of the semester?"

Anthy smiled sympathetically and I sighed. "I guess that was selfish," I admitted. "I wonder who he's gotten?"

She shrugged. "One or more of the kids at the school. Or..." She stared out the window at the bare cherry tree, waving its branches against a sky of iron. "In his situation, I would find someone who... I was familiar with. Who had borne some of the burden before. The sympathy would already be there. That's why..." She shrugged, losing the words, and gestured mutely at the stack of paper.

I frowned again and began to flip the pages of Anthy's printouts over. "Juri-sempai?" I asked, stunned. There was Arisugawa Juri, older and more mature, marching and shouting with a group of women on Daiku no Hi. From a webzine article. "Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised," I said, rubbing the back of my head. Next page. "Miki-kun." He'd grown and filled out some, but was still a lean whipcord of a man. He was wearing a graduation gown and stood solemnly with a group of much older men and women for the photo. From someone's personal website. I stopped flipping and looked a question at Anthy.

"The most recent group of Duelists," she said by way of explanation, offering a slight shrug as well. "They were much more involved in the game than most previous groups."

Saionji Kyouichi, hair cropped short, in a uniform, one hand resting on the side of an airplane. From a JASDF site. Kiryuu Nanami in a high school graduation that looked like Ohtori but wasn't. From her own web page. Kiryuu Touga in suit and tie, apparently involved in difficult business negotiations with a group of other men. A corporate website.

I looked up finally from the array of photos in front of me. "Who?"

Anthy shook her head. "I don't know."

I sighed. "Then I guess I have to start hunting."

"Utena."

I looked at her. "What?"

"We..." She paused, licked her lips, started again. "We could take a year off. Travel. Come back here after... after he's stopped looking."

I set the papers down carefully and knelt in front of her, taking her hands. "Anthy, if I don't face him, we'll be running for the rest of our lives. And a lot of other people will be hurt. I want a life with you, my love, and I don't want Akio's whims to determine where our home will be and when we move on. We can't keep running."

Tears slid down her cheeks and her head fell forward. She wept silently, even when I gathered her against me and held her. Chu-Chu patted her ear sympathetically. Nanami squalled a complaint and escaped from between us, taking up residence on my warm spot on the couch.

Anthy started having nightmares again that night.

 


The nurses in the hospital had discovered that the scent of roses sent me into a frenzy, and that information had followed me to this place. It was anyone's guess which one I'd choose that day: fight or flight. They did their best to keep me away from other patients' rooms, where people got flowers fairly regularly, or the main doors, where those flowers came in, but it just wasn't possible all the time. Once they couldn't find me for an entire day; I eventually emerged, nearly dead of hypothermia, from the refrigerated pantry of the kitchen.

Yet there Anthy stood with an armful of roses, and all I did was fall over and whisper her name. The first "appropriate" verbal reaction I'd had in two years, according to my records. Maybe they just couldn't understand my Japanese.

She said something softly to the doctor, who reluctantly withdrew. She waved off the orderlies and helped me to my feet one-handed. "Hello, Utena," she murmured.

 


Think of the swords as symbols (said Anthy) of "karma" in the simplified Western sense: when you send bad energy out, bad energy comes back to you. Dios spent untold years, defending the princesses of the world. One could consider the princesses to be symbols as well, but that gets too complicated. The important thing is that Dios attracted to himself negative energy intended for the princesses. When he became weak and ill because of it, I interposed myself, taking on the burden of his "karma." But when someone doesn't receive punishment for doing something bad, he doesn't learn not to do the bad thing -- he learns that he can get away with it.

And so it began.