The bride could not wear white, and so she wore red. At first her fiancé was disturbed by her insistence, partly because she rarely insisted on anything he objected to, partly because he would have preferred to pretend he did not understand what she meant. But he gave in quickly, because arguing about it would have required talking about it, and talking about it would have required thinking about it, and thinking about it might have permanently stained the picture of her that he carried in his heart. It was better that his princess wear red for one night, he decided, than be in his eyes forever tainted with it.
Sitting in her bridal chamber, looking herself over in the mirror, she wondered for the first time whether she should have picked a different color. Even knowing as little as she did about clothes and fashion, she might have recalled people saying that redheads should never wear pink and deduced that it worked the other way around as well. But the steel rattling between her ribs had rattled off red, and she wasn't foolish enough to defy it on a matter of so little importance.
The bride was currently very grateful for matters of little importance. She'd been blessed with an abundance of them. Fretting over the color of her dress kept her from dwelling on her dismay at having to wear a dress of any color. Then there was her hair, which refused no matter how she coaxed it to be confined to a tidy bun. And the flowers. She was starting to genuinely worry about the flowers. They should have been there by now. How could she think of frivolous things, like her childish desire to kick off her toe-pinching shoes and run barefoot through the streets until that monstrous dress was torn to shreds and the wind plucked the pins from her hair, when the big moment was less than an hour off and she didn't even have her bouquet?
The door opened, startling her. Just a crack at first, but that was all it took for the scent of rose petals to come wafting into the room. The fragrance took hold of the bride gently but irresistibly, like a lover's embrace, and reached down through her lungs to stir something hidden deep within the hollow of her chest. The something fluttered — briefly, before steel talons closed around it and cut it to ribbons. The bride brought her fist to her mouth and bit down on the diamond of her engagement ring to keep from crying out.
She got herself together and looked up to see, in the reflection of the shadows behind the door, a sliver of a face peering in at her, its one visible eye wide and shining with terror. The bride smiled into the mirror. "Come on in," she said. "I'm fine, really. You must be the florist."
The figure opened the door just wide enough to slip through it, then closed it behind her. "I'm sorry I'm late, Lady Utena," she said. "I did the best I could to find you." Her arms overflowed with multi-colored roses, and she was—
"Beautiful," Utena Tenjou breathed.
The bride grit her teeth and clutched at her old wound. "The flowers are beautiful. Thank you."
"You're welcome, Lady Utena."
The bride cringed. "You don't have to call me—" But suddenly the florist was beside her, laying the roses down on the vanity, and the scent of the flowers and the soft warmth of the other girl's hand as it brushed against hers set her chest rattling so violently that she had to bite her ring again. When the pain would not subside, she grabbed the picture of her fiancé from where it lay propped against the mirror and buried her mind in thoughts of him. Her eyes, frantic to scrub off the fantastic, frightening images that had risen behind them — images of castles and towers, flashing swords and galloping horses, and a dark skinned prince and princess in a coffin full of rose petals — traced over his familiar features. Here the curl of his rust-red hair, here his comforting, almost apologetic smile…
"He reminds me of Touga," said the florist.
"He's nothing like Touga," the bride snapped, feeling suddenly defensive. "Touga was—"
"Touga was..?" the florist prompted her.
But the bride could only stare helplessly at the photo before her. It was a long moment before she could gather back the strength to speak, and by that time whatever memory she'd managed to stumble onto had fled. "What was Touga?" she asked, glancing briefly down at her bouquet. One of the roses was red, and a shadow of a thought flitted across her mind. "Didn't I go to school with him?"
"Yes. He was the president of the student council."
There was more to it than that. The way the steel thorns had reacted to her almost speaking ill of him, the way they had crowded out her lungs and strangled off her voice, made her sure of it. Just for a moment, she wanted badly enough to remember that she was willing to risk their wrath. "Were we in love?" she asked. It was a wild guess, and yet…
The bride realized that she was still holding her fiancé's photograph and felt suddenly ashamed of herself. She tried to set it down, but found there was no room; the bouquet had taken over the dressing table.
"Oh, Lady Utena," the florist said. Her voice, already ethereally soft, was now little more than a whisper. "Don't you remember me at all?"
"But roses can't grow once they've been cut!" the bride objected, ignoring her. She watched, mystified, as the vines spilled over the edges of the vanity, wound down its legs, and crept their way across the floor, pausing every few inches to sprout a vividly hued bud, which then unfolded into bloom in a matter of seconds. The colors, the bride realized, were almost as impossible; she was fairly certain that roses were not supposed to be green, or blue, or quite that shade of orange.
"Lady Utena, look at me!"
There was such a ringing urgency to the other girl's tone that the bride tore her gaze away from the flowers. She searched out her image in the mirror, but when she found it saw that the florist's expression was perfectly placid, as smooth as the glass it was reflected upon. Such a soft, sad smile. It reminded her of —
No, the bride thought as she doubled over. Not this time. The picture slipped from her convulsing hand. This time it's important. She fell forward into the tangle of thorns and landed on a pillow of fragrant petals…
once upon a time there was a little princess and she was very sad because her mother and father had just died so she laid herself down on a bed of roses like this one and vowed to never ever get up but before the princess there appeared a prince on a white horse and she told him she needed something eternal so he showed her a
Witch-bitch! rang out the swords inside her.
"Lady Utena!" the (Witch! Bitch!) florist called to her. "Lady Utena, stay with me!" The bride felt a pair of arms wrap around her waist and pull her back up into a sitting position. She saw herself in the mirror. She was pale as a ghost. The abominable dress burned a hotter red than ever against her bloodlessly white skin.
"I'm glad that you haven't given up fighting yet," the florist said. "But I can't stand to see you hurting yourself so pointlessly." She had not let go her embrace now that the bride had steadied herself. If anything, she was holding her tighter. "Oh, Lady Utena. What have they done to you? What have I done to you?" She buried her face in the other woman's shoulder, and as she did the bride felt something like an electric shock stab through her back and come out somewhere just above her stomach.
"I remember you now," the bride said. "You're the one who gave me that scar." She felt the florist's breath hitch and her head move up and down in apparent affirmation. "You were…" How had it happened? "I was…" Why couldn't she recall it? "We were…"
Clashing sabers and ringing bells and fighting arenas and misplaced trust and…
"We were in the fencing club at school," the bride said slowly. "We were good friends, and we trusted each other too much, so one day when we were dueling we got sloppy, and—"
"No, Lady Utena."
…roses and kisses and sex and jealousy and a man with lavender hair and…
"We were fighting over a boy," she tried again. "Your brother. I was in love with him, but you couldn't stand me and didn't want me to have him, so one day you snuck up behind me and—"
…a princess locked in a tower and a castle in the sky and a thousand, thousand swords and a broken promise and a broken hold and in the end I couldn't be a prince after all.
"No," the bride agreed. "I didn't love him. I was fighting him, because he had hurt you. I was trying to protect you, but I failed. And I couldn't stand to live with myself, so I knelt down before you and offered you my sword, and you raised it up over your head and—"
"No! That isn't what happened." Just a hint of desperation was creeping into the florist's voice. "You know that isn't what happened. You're alive, Lady Utena. We both are." She had yet to let go her hold on the bride, and in fact seemed to be trying to nestle even closer to her. "You didn't fail. That's what I came all this way to tell you. You won the Duel called Revolution. You saved me, my prince."
"I can never be your prince," the bride replied automatically. The words, stirred up by the whirlwind of steel inside her, rose in her throat and spewed from her mouth like bile. "I can never be your prince, because I am a girl."
The florist at last let go of her. She staggered backwards trippingly, as though struck off-balance by a blow to the face. "I'm sorry, Lady Utena," she said. "I shouldn't have said that. I'm just so used to lying. I'm used to telling people what I think they want to hear. You deserve better than that. So, you're right. You can never be my prince."
The roses had covered the floor and were now climbing the walls. It smelled, the bride thought, like a funeral. The bridal chamber was a petal-lined coffin, she was dead within it, and she wished the little murderess would leave her to her rest.
"But don't you think," the (Witch! Bitch!) other girl continued, "that I've had enough of princes? Don't you think we've all had enough of princes?" And just that once the bride caught a glimpse of the anger churning beneath the surface as it spilled over into her voice. The witch-bitch hesitated a moment, as though about to apologize, but changed her mind and plowed recklessly ahead. "I never needed a prince, Lady Utena. I needed you. You were the only one who could have saved me. Because you were so brave, because you understood me, because you were a girl."
Duels like dances and dances like duels (It was all coming together!) and swords drawn from the scabbard of another girl's breasts and dark hands hovering over her naked skin (At last, all the pieces of her shattered memory were falling into place!) and standing under the archway with her Bride, announced by a flurry of rose petals and a clamor of chapel bells…
But the bells had gotten free of her memory, and now they were striking the hour of her marriage.
With a cry the bride sprang from her seat at the mirror and, without sparing a sideways glance for the girl she was growing increasingly certain was not a florist, made a mad rush for the door of the chamber, only to find it barricaded by a tangle of thorny vines. In despair she sank to her knees on the rose-carpeted floor, where the fabric of her hated dress caught fast in the briars. "Open the door," she pleaded softly.
"I've seen what you're like when you want something, Lady Utena," came the dark, velvety voice from behind her. "This isn't it."
How dare she? What did she know? "Witch, open the door now!" the bride shrieked.
"Why?" Damn her, damn her, always so infuriatingly calm! "I don't believe you love him. If you loved him, you'd be clawing at those vines until your fingers bled."
"What do you mean I don't love him? I'm marrying him, aren't I?"
"At the moment it doesn't look that way, no." And damn her feigned innocence! If she was going to be snotty and sarcastic, she could at least sound it, the bitch.
"He loves me!" the bride said. "He swears up and down that he couldn't live without me."
"That isn't what I asked you."
"Open the door! Open it, you damned whore bitch!"
"I think I know why you want to marry," continued the witch-bitch-whore-tramp-trollop-harlot-cunt. "It's because of what's in your chest."
The bride let out a wordless cry of frustration. "Because of my heart? Fine! It's because of my heart! Just let me through!"
"Don't lie to me, Lady Utena. I know that you don't have a heart."
In the frozen, razor-filled hollow of Utena's breast, the million screaming metal voices ceased their cursing and went still. "How..?" she tried to ask, but her voice had broken from screaming.
"You think that if you just do what they want you to," the other girl continued, "they'll go away and leave you be. But they won't. Not ever."
"Please," the bride tried again. "I'm sorry I called you names. But if you somehow know about them…" How could she know? No, it didn't matter. "If I don't get there in time, I'm sure they'll kill me."
"Do you really think they'd let you go that easily?"
No. Of course they wouldn't. She felt ridiculous for not seeing that. "What do you want?" she asked, defeated. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Look at me." The bride turned back to the vanity, but the mirror was covered by vines. "No, Lady Utena. At me."