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Jaquemart II - My Old Friends Don't Much Come Round No More

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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.

 

II. My Old Friends Don't Much Come Round No More

* * *

The boy, slender and rather small for his age, sat with his back
almost touching the concrete wall. Hands folded calmly on the
table before him, he stared unblinkingly up at the room's single
bright light.

"Tell us exactly what happened. Your own words."

"How is he?"

"That isn't relevant."

"Then I won't talk."

The two men exchanged glances. A few seconds passed, during
which the boy continued to gaze intently at the light.

Finally, the bigger man began to open his mouth.

"I'll know if you lie," the boy said sharply.

"Sure you will, kid," the smaller man muttered. Tired did
not even begin to describe how he was currently feeling.

The boy's eyes narrowed. "I will."

The bigger man coughed. "He died in hospital last night."

"Good." The boy nodded. "Now what?"

"Good?" The smaller man almost snarled the word, and took a
step forward. His partner stopped him with a hand on his arm.

"Easy," he said softly. "Now tell us what happened."

"I'm sort of glad he's dead," the boy said. "I guess that
means he can't hurt her any more. That's all I wanted. I
challenged him; I killed him, though I didn't start out intending
to." He stood up and held out his hands to them, wrists upward.
"Could you put me back in jail now? I'm tired of talking."

* * *

"Chu-Chu, please. Things will be all right."

The little animal lay in a huddled ball on the edge of the
bed, shuddering in silent paroxysms of grief, occasionally
letting out a small, wounded-seeming cry. Anthy reached out and
hesitantly stroked his head with one finger.

"Come now, little friend; wasn't it just the two of us for
so much longer than seven years?" His short fur felt rough as
sandpaper to her skin. "The hurt should not be so much."

Chu-Chu's sobs only grew more wracking, and he shrank away
from her touch. Unable to do anything to console him, Anthy
returned to the destroyed kitchen. Broken dishes turned the
floor into a dangerous wasteland of jagged shards, with ruined
food flung from the gaping fridge scattered liberally amidst it.
Only the residual light from the hallway let her see; the
overhead bulb--even the smaller bulb in the fridge--had shattered
during her display of power.

"I... did this?" she murmured, gazing around at the
wreckage. "Yes. I did this." So long since she'd last lost
control of her power like that. No wonder Utena left. It must
have been terrifying.

Anthy interlaced her fingers over her abdomen and bent
forward, pressing hard with the heels of her hands as though it
would expel the lump of cold, hard pain deep down in her stomach.
She pushed until her eyes threatened to tear up from the pain;
but that wasn't the kind of crying she wanted to do, so she
stopped.

A wave of her hand could fix all this, just like it had
fixed the dorm room when she'd first been engaged to Utena. Time
would fly backwards in the small kitchenette; the dishes would
become whole again and the cupboards would close over them, and
the food would be restored, completely edible, to the sealed
fridge.

She closed her eyes and envisioned it. Hundreds of shards,
all rising up to cleave to one another again... the overhead bulb
reforming, the light coming back on...

"No." She clamped her left hand down on her right wrist.
"It's not going to be done like that."

Power had torn this place apart; now her hands, working only
by themselves, were going to clean it up. She went to get the
broom and dustpan from the hall cupboard.

It took a long time. She had to haul in the wastebasket
from the bathroom after the kitchen's plastic garbage bin ran out
of space. As she swept and mopped and scrubbed, she didn't think
of anything, falling into the pleasurable monotony of a simple
but necessary task.

When she was completely finished, she hauled the two bins of
broken glass and ruined food to the garbage chute in the hall and
poured them down, remembering only near the end about the rules
against dumping unbagged garbage--especially broken glass.

A momentary guilt assailed her, but then she shrugged; no
one would know that she had done it, so why worry?

Returning to the apartment, she spent a long time looking
around the bare, gleaming cleanliness of the kitchen. No food,
no dishes--even the cutlery, every single piece, (as she'd
discovered upon opening the drawer) had been warped and bent to
the point of uselessness by her wild expenditure of power.

Tomorrow, she would go shopping for groceries and the few
dishes she would need for the near future. Beyond that, the
future did not bear thinking about, so she would take it as it
came.

She was tired and hot and sweaty from the work, and was
precariously balanced--so she thought--just upon the edge of
breaking down. In the bedroom, she stripped out of her clothing,
and glanced sadly at Chu-Chu, who now appeared to have fallen
asleep. The bathroom tiles, blue with green flecks, were cool
beneath her feet. She closed the door and locked it, then
spotted one of Utena's blouses lying in a discarded heap on the
floor.

Slowly, almost with exaggerated care, she picked it up. As
she did, a small rag-edged rectangle of newspaper fell from the
breast pocket and fluttered to the floor.

Anthy plucked it up and glanced at the headline:

PRIVATE SCHOOL TRAGEDY

Then she crumpled it into a ball, threw it into the toilet,
and flushed. She watched the water spiral down into the depths,
and tightly embraced the empty blouse against her bare skin.
Water hummed in the pipes, a dry, hollow sound.

She leaned back against the sink counter and pressed her
face into the abandoned blouse. Utena's scent--soap, skin,
sweat and a vague odour of roses, even though she knew Utena
didn't like to wear perfume--clung to it like a memento.

Roses? No; Utena would never buy rose perfume.

"Oh, phantoms of my past," said Anthy, shaky voice muffled
by the blouse. "Why must you haunt me still?"

She hung the blouse on the towel rack and stepped into the
shower. As the hot water ran down her cheeks in rivulets, she
closed her eyes and tried to imagine that she was crying the
tears for Utena's leaving that she had been unable to shed.

* * *

The address Utena had been given was in one of the nicer areas of
downtown Sapporo, nice enough that the security guard in the
foyer of the apartment complex called up to make sure she had a
legitimate reason to be there, even after Wakaba buzzed her in at
the front door.

Not that she really blamed him; he was just doing his job,
and she wasn't exactly inconspicuous with her enormous beat-up
gym bag. The suspicious stare got old pretty quick, though; he
seemed to be trying to bore a hole into her back with his eyes as
she walked to the elevators.

Inside, the walls of the elevator were all mirrored; so was
the ceiling. The procession of her images in the facing mirrors
stretched to infinity in either direction. Awkwardly balancing
her gym bag against her hips as the elevator rose, she tried to
give some semblance of order to her hair, and failed. The long
day had run her ragged as an old shirt.

The Saionjis (funny to think of Wakaba that way; she was
going to have to adjust) had their apartment on the second-to-
last floor of the building. She walked down the richly-carpeted
hallway leading off from the elevators, past wallpaper covered in
soft-hued splashes of colour, and turned the corner at a t-
junction. The apartment was all the way at the end of the hall;
Utena approached the door almost hesitantly, and knocked.

She barely had time to study the brass numbers and make a
last worried confirmation that she had the right place before the
door was flung open and she was practically dragged inside and
into Wakaba's arms.

"Utena-sama!"

"Hi, Wakaba."

The outpouring of perky joy was almost stifling, and yet
somehow comforting. Familiar. Wakaba was one of the few things
she'd had before going to Ohtori, and one of the ones whose loss
she'd missed the most.

"Seven years," she murmured, embracing the other woman
awkwardly back. "Seven years." Over Wakaba's shoulder, she
could see Saionji seated at the head of a small but solid oak
table near a picture window, curtains currently closed, that
dominated one entire wall of the apartment's living room.

"Let her at least put her things down, Wakaba," Saionji said
quietly.

Wakaba let go and scampered back a few steps into a clumsy
half-bow; she wore a high-necked blouse with long sleeves and an
ankle-length skirt. Her hairstyle was still the same. "Sorry,
Utena."

"It's all right." Utena put her gym bag and purse down on
the floor, near a spidery wire-frame display stand holding a bird-
themed decorative vase. "Thank you for letting me come by on
such short notice."

"You didn't tell me you intended to stay the night."
Saionji steepled his fingers and looked pointedly at the bag
containing Utena's hastily-packed clothing.

"I left rather abruptly." An inward frown that she kept
from her face grew; maybe Saionji hadn't changed as much as she'd
thought after their earlier reunion. "I can leave after I talk
to the two of you. I have enough money for a hotel." For a
single night, maybe, if it was cheap.

"Don't be silly, Utena-sama," Wakaba said, looking almost
pleadingly at her husband. "You can sleep on the couch. Right,
Kyouichi?"

"I suppose."

Wakaba grabbed Utena's hands and led her towards a seat at
the table. "Kyouichi said you lived with Himemiya. Did you have
a fight? I remember that she was a very strange girl. Didn't
you date her for a little while, Kyouichi?" She sat Utena down
and hurried into the semi-detached kitchen of the apartment,
still talking. "I suppose I should be jealous or something, but
I'm not; it was so long ago. How do you take your tea, Utena?
I should remember, but I don't--no, wait, two sugars, no milk.
That's right."

Utena tried to relax against the cloth-padded back of the
heavy oak chair, and half-succeeded. "Wakaba's just like I
remember her."

Saionji smiled, and his face softened into that of the man
she'd met earlier in the day. "Yes; she hasn't changed much.
She's always been a good balance for me."

The living room was tastefully decorated with a few
antique vases similar to the ones Saionji had in the store. In
the far corner, near a closed door leading to what Utena guessed
was their bedroom, a three-section silk-painted Chinese folding
wall depicting a pastoral landscape stood half-unfolded.

"Nice apartment," she said wistfully; the distance between
this tasteful place and the cheap dwelling she and Anthy shared--
had shared--was wide as the gulf between ocean and stream.

"Thank you." Saionji looked around as though he too were
experiencing the place for the first time. "I chose everything
myself. Even the wallpaper." Stark, hard-edged black geometric
shapes against a white background; not a good match for the
elegant old antiques, in Utena's opinion, but she wasn't going to
say that out loud.

Wakaba returned with a tray containing teapot and cups and a
plate of tea biscuits. She placed it carefully in the centre of
the table, then sat down facing Saionji, perpendicular to Utena's
left-hand side.

"Everyone wants tea, right?" she asked, then began to pour
without waiting for an answer.

Saionji took his cup without putting sugar or milk in it,
and held it without drinking from it. "Now what is so urgent,
Utena? You said this was about Anthy." Something about the way
he pronounced Anthy's name... Wistful? Sad? Angry? Utena
couldn't tell.

"More than Anthy, but she's important to it." Utena sipped
her tea and let it rid her of the last lingering remnants of the
winter chill. "Saionji, you were a member of the Student Council
the last year I was at Ohtori, weren't you?" It wasn't only a
matter of what he remembered, but how he remembered it, and she
didn't know either of those very well.

Saionji nodded. "Yes, I was. What of it?"

"Do you remember what you did as a member?"

A thin smile, slightly sharp-edged, came onto his face. "I
remember we had an exclusive headquarters, and that we spent a
lot of time playing cards."

Underneath the table, Utena rubbed her right foot against
her left ankle, a nervous gesture that neither Saionji nor
Wakaba could see. How to approach it? Hey Saionji, do you
remember how we used to all fight those duels for possession of
Anthy's body and soul, and how it was all just the plot of a
fallen prince to regain his full power so he could revolutionize
the world, which basically meant twisting it into whatever shape
happened to be pleasing to his diabolic mind at the time?

No; that wouldn't work. Too blunt.

"Do you remember the Rose Bride, Saionji?"

He licked his lips and stared at the table thoughtfully.
"That was Anthy's... nickname, right? I don't remember why,
though."

"How about the Rose Signets? The duelling Platform? The
Ends of the World?" Once she began, she could not seem to stop
herself; the names came pouring forth as though from a wound deep
within her. "The Sword of Dios? The Revolution? Do you
remember the car? It was red."

"Red car," Saionji muttered. "Ends of the World." His face
suddenly twisted into a snarling mask. "I have no idea what
you're talking about. Is this some kind of joke?" He slammed
his cup down heavily on the tabletop; tea splashed over and
puddled on the polished wood. "Ends of the World... no." His
eyes suddenly went wide and fearful. "I don't remember. I
should, something about Ends of the World... a red car."

"Black roses," Wakaba interjected quietly. "I remember
black roses."

Utena experienced one of those full-body shivers supposedly
associated with someone walking over your grave. Black roses?
What was Wakaba talking about? There hadn't been any black
roses.

Had there?

There was a word on the tip of her tongue that would, if
spoken, render all things clear. But she could not remember the
word, could not be certain if the word existed at all.

"Red car," Saionji said in a raw, ragged voice. "The Ends
of the World. Something about a red car. I remember there were
lights, a procession of lights. Touga--"

The phone rang from the wall beside the kitchen. None of
them moved.

Wakaba leaned over and grabbed Utena's left hand in both of
hers. "Utena-sama, what about the black roses?" The desperation
in her voice was almost heartbreaking.

"I don't know, Wakaba." The truth, the only answer she
could give. "I don't remember anything about black roses." But
no; there was something there, she knew there was--

Ring.

"Answer it, Wakaba." Saionji almost growled the words.

Wakaba got up and walked shakily to the phone. "H--hello?"

Closing her eyes, Utena pictured a black rose in her mind.
A long green stem, covered in thorns as long as a finger-joint,
with silken petals the colour of starless night...

"Hello? Who's there?"

...one by one, she peeled the petals off and cast them away,
dancing her fingers around the twisted thorns, moving from
peeling to tearing as the petals began to resist their
plucking...

"Hello? Hello?"

...sought the core, the secret heart of the rose that grows
in darkness...

"Hello?"

Not black, no, but rather red, arterial crimson, beating and
full of fire. The blaze washed out through her mind, down her
spine and into her limbs, coated her heart with molten lead. And
she remembered.

She opened her eyes, and said, "Mikage."

Saionji started. "What?"

Wakaba hung up the phone and began to walk back to the table.
"Nobody there."

"Mikage." Utena felt drained of all vitality, and wracked
with an inexplicable grief. "Seven years; you all forgot me, but
I forgot too, I forgot too. Monster. Dreams, nightmares,
reality, it's all the same to him, he doesn't even care..."

"Who's Mikage?" Saionji asked. "The name is--"

The door broke off its hinges as someone kicked it in from
the outside. A masked male figure, white-clad and dark-cloaked,
stepped in and raised the gun in his hand.

A surge of adrenaline rid Utena of the weariness the moment
she heard the door splintering. She seized the tea tray,
dumping biscuits and shattering the teapot upon the floor, and
threw it like a discus at the intruder's gun hand as she leapt
from her chair.

A perfect hit, but not in time. The muffled bark of a
silenced bullet echoed in the apartment, and Wakaba cried out
and fell. The gun spun from the attacker's hand to skid across
the carpet, and as Utena came at him with full intention of
killing him with her bare hands, he unsheathed a long katana
from his belt.

Utena ducked under his first swing, avoiding decapitation by
a narrow margin. Her heart was beating so fast it seemed to be
trying to escape from her ribcage, and her eyes were full of
tears. As she rose from her crouch and hammered her fist into
his stomach hard enough to stagger him, she noted that his mask,
a black executioner's hood emblazoned with a white diamond, had
no eyeholes.

His sword fell in a downward cut; she leapt aside, and her
foe recovered before his blade hit the floor. Hilt gripped in
both hands, he drove her back with a series of lightning-fast
thrusts. Saionji, she saw, knelt down next to Wakaba; blood
stained one side of her blouse. Wakaba-chan, she thought
vaguely; oh God, please be all right.

"Tenjou Utena," the attacker said, as she dodged away from
his thrusts. "It's been a while, hasn't it?" His voice was
cold, laconic, vaguely familiar, but she could not put a name to
it.

"Who are you?"

In answer, he tried to remove her legs; she hopped over the
cut, grabbed a nearby chair--they were near the table now--and
upended it just in time to catch his next slice against the
bottom.

The sword bit deep into the wood, but did not catch; as he
pulled back for another swing, Utena twisted the heavy chair and
tried to entangle the blade between the legs. He laughed,
slipped sideways to free his weapon, and nearly eviscerated her.

"The Knight of Pentacles," he said. Utena backstepped and
awkwardly threw the chair at him, forcing him to dodge and giving
herself a moment of breathing space. The curtain-covered picture
window was right behind her, and she was running out of room to
avoid his attacks.

And yet she wasn't frightened. She felt calm and strong
and in control. If it weren't for the fact that Wakaba was
possibly dying on the floor, she might even have felt good.

"You're mine!" the Knight shouted triumphantly, darting
forward with a wide waist-height sweep, nearly impossible to
avoid in the cramped conditions. Her death reached out for her,
riding two-and-a-half feet of tempered steel.

It could not end like this. It _would not_ end like this.

She dropped to her knees, keeping balanced on her toes and
the balls of her feet, and arched backwards until her head nearly
touched the floor. The blade howled over her head in a glint of
light on steel.

Using only the muscles of her hips and waist, she bounced
back up from the floor before his swing was even fully completed;
it felt rather like doing the hardest sit-up in the world. Her
hands shot up and seized one of the Knight's wrists in a tight
grip. She rose, shoving with the strength of her unfolding legs,
gaining leverage but not really needing it, filled up with an
impossible strength that would have let her rip his arm straight
out of the socket if she'd wanted to. In little more than an
extension of the motion initiated by his swing, she hurled the
Knight of Pentacles through the curtains and out the picture
window in a tangle of white cloth and a spray of glass. The last
sight of him was his black cape, fluttering flaglike as he fell.

Ten stories down. She drew a deep, gasping breath, and then
turned away to hurry to Wakaba's side. "How is she?"

Saionji was holding one of Wakaba's hands while staunching
the blood flow with a white linen napkin. "Call an ambulance."

"Utena-sama, I'm okay," Wakaba whispered. "It doesn't hurt
much. It just grazed my side." It looked like more than a graze
to Utena, but she was immensely relieved to see that it looked
like a comparatively minor wound to all the nightmarish scenarios
she'd imagined during her short fight with the Knight.

"Lie still," Saionji commanded. "Don't try to talk." He
squeezed her hand.

Utena hurried to the phone and called the emergency number.
In a calm voice that belied her own internal turmoil, she told
the operator that her friend had been shot, and gave her the
address and apartment number. Then she hung up before any more
questions could be asked.

"I have to go," she told Wakaba and Saionji.

"What?" Saionji snapped. If he hadn't needed to tend to
Wakaba, Utena thought he might very well have got up and attacked
her, so angry did he seem. "You can't!"

"I have to get back to Ohtori as soon as possible. I can't
get caught up in a police investigation right now. Do you
remember now? I remember." The Black Rose Signets; all the
Black Rose Duellists, from Kanae to Mikage. Then, nothing. Two
different memories, and she could not tell which (if either) was
real.

"I don't know what I remember any more," Saionji said
blankly. "A car... the Ends of the World." He moaned softly as
though in deep and hidden pain. "What did they do to us there?"

"Black roses," Wakaba murmured. She began to cry: soft,
gentle sobs. "Utena-sama, I didn't want to fight you, I just
wanted to stop being so ordinary."

"What are you talking about, Wakaba?" Saionji let go of his
wife's hand and gently touched her hair. "Utena, what's she
talking about?"

"Picture the rose in your mind," Utena softly said. "That's
how I remembered." Was there more? If so, how much? Damn Akio;
damn him for this most awesome violation. "You have to tell me
quick. Where are the other Student Council members? Touga,
Juri, Miki, Nanami. Where?"

"I already told you that I haven't seen Touga since
graduation," Saionji said. "Miki and Nanami were still at Ohtori
when I left. Juri lives in Tokyo; she's been by the store there
a few times. We had lunch the week before Wakaba and I left for
Sapporo." He had her bring him a notepad and pen from the
kitchen, and scribbled Juri's address--rather awkwardly, as he
had to keep the napkin pressed against Wakaba's side while he did
so.

Tokyo, then. "Thank you, Saionji."

"Don't mention it," Saionji said bitterly, looking down at
his injured wife. "The Chairman was responsible, wasn't he?
I... remember something about him, but..."

"Acting Chairman Ohtori Akio," Utena answered, unable to
keep a snarl out of her voice. "It should come back to you in
time, now that you're starting to remember." She hoped so; she
didn't know if Saionji or Wakaba could manage a thunder-clap
revelation like she had, considering how much more of their
memories they'd had twisted by Akio compared to her. Or so she
thought. There was no real way of knowing if Akio had done any
more manipulation of her mind, was there?

The ambulance and the police would be here soon; she had to
go. "I'll call you if I get a chance, but I may not. Tell the
police what you can; I know they'll be looking for me, but I'll
try to stay out of their way."

Saionji nodded. He looked pale and sick. "I don't know
what I'll tell them. I don't even know what's real and what
isn't. Maybe this is just a dream."

"It's not a dream," Utena said firmly. Whether she had
proof for that was another matter; she had to act as though it
was in order to act at all. "Listen, you can try calling Anthy
and asking her. Maybe she'll help you, maybe she won't. It's
worth a try, though."

"Do you need anything?" Saionji asked. "Money? I have some
in the apartment."

Utena bit back her immediate denial. Money would help; but
no, she wouldn't take what she didn't need. "I need a key to the
store."

Saionji blinked. "Why?"

"You have swords there," Utena explained. "I need a sword.
I'll slip the key through the mail slot after I'm done."

Wakaba, who had kept on softly crying during the whole
conversation, suddenly spoke up: "Good luck, Utena-sama."

"Thank you, Wakaba. I'm sorry I can't stay longer."

"Here." Saionji reached into his pocket and tossed her a
ring of keys. "Be careful."

"I will." Faintly, she heard sirens. "Goodbye." Grabbing
her bag and purse, casting a last angry glance at the discarded
gun and the broken picture window, she slipped out the broken
door.

* * *

The showroom of Green Rose Antiques was dimly lit by the
ambience of street lights when Utena entered, after finding the
key to unlock the rear delivery entrance on her third try.
Without the bright lights shining from overhead, the antiques
became sinister: the grandfather clock hulked like a giant's
shadow, and watches and jewelry glittered faintly within their
display cases like observing eyes.

Adrenaline was still gently coursing through her body, both
from the fight and from having to run down ten flights of
stairs. At the t-junction of the hallway beyond the Saionji's
apartment, she'd heard the ding of the elevators opening; unable
to risk that it might be the police, she'd ducked down the
nearby stairwell, and then through the emergency exit at the
bottom that led directly out into the streets. The antique shop
had been close enough to walk to, but even the trudge through the
winter streets of Sapporo hadn't calmed her down. She felt as
though she were fully alive for the first time in seven years.

Behind the counter, she took down the sheathed swords and
weighed them up and down in her hands. Smiling without realizing
it, she pulled six inches of one katana's blade from the sheath;
in the near-darkness of the shop, it shone with a dull, steely
sheen. She pressed one finger gently against the cutting edge
until it dimpled her skin like a lover's touch and a tiny bead of
blood welled.

"Sharp," she whispered, well-pleased. "You would keep them
sharp, of course." The katanas were beautiful weapons, but too
unwieldy for her tastes. Not only that, they were too long to
fit in her gym bag. She hung them back up on the wall, and
picked up the rapier from where it lay sheathed on the counter.

Perfect weight, perfect balance, even within its sheath.
The grip was a column of ribbed steel, with a bell-shaped pommel
and elaborately fretworked cross-guards that twisted like twin
serpents to practically embrace the hand of the wielder.

She wrapped her hand around it, and drew it with a gentle,
rasping ring from the leather sheath. Moving out from behind
the counter, she stood in the spacious floor at the centre of the
shop, sword in one hand and sheath in other, and did a few
experimental thrusts and swings.

The old muscles remembered; how could they ever forget?
She felt a little rusty at first, but that soon disappeared; she
lost herself in the song of the blade as it cut the air, and
duelled with shadows.

Thrust. Parry. She imagined invisible foes all around her,
recalled the different strengths of the Duellists she had fought:
Saionji's savagery and skill, Juri's grace, Miki's speed,
Mikage's...

Mikage. What was she doing here, wasting time, slashing at
shadows? The police would be looking for her by now. She
hastily sheathed the sword, packed it away in her gym bag (it
took some rearranging, but she eventually managed it without
making it bulge too conspicuously), left the same way she'd
entered (slipping the keys back through the mail slot after
relocking the door like she'd promised), and hurried away to find
some place to spend the night.

* * *

The phone woke her from a pleasant dream that was almost
completely forgotten as soon as it ended; only the vague memory
that she had been happy there remained, and she lay on the bed
savouring it as the ringing continued.

At the fourth insistent ring, she slid out from under the
quilt she'd fallen asleep beneath, and picked it up from the
bureau beside the bed. "Hello?"

//"Anthy."//

"Utena." She breathed a sigh of relief. "Where are you?
When are you coming home?"

//"I'm in the cheapest, smallest hotel room I've ever been
in, and I'm not."//

"Utena, please. Come home. We can work this out..."

//"I'm sorry, Anthy. I'll be quick. You have to be
careful, really careful; I think Akio's been watching us all this
time, I think he was just waiting to see if we'd ever become a
threat to him. Someone tried to kill me tonight. Called himself
the Knight of Pentacles. Ring any bells?"//

"No." Anthy swallowed and knotted one hand tightly in the
folds of her nightgown. "None at all. You're not hurt, are you,
Utena?"

//"Not me. Wakaba. She married Saionji. I suppose he was
trying to kill all of us."//

Wakaba; Anthy remembered her vaguely. Always cheerful, just
about the happiest person she'd ever known... she remembered a
wooden hair ornament, a leaf painted in green and gold.... "How
is she?"

//"Wounded. Be careful, Anthy. I threw the Knight out the
window, and it was a long fall. But where Akio's involved, you
never know."//

"Utena, I wish I could..."

//"You can. You just won't. Forget about it. I told
Saionji to call you; he and Wakaba are starting to get their
memories back, and if you're not going to help me, would it kill
you to at least tell them the truth?"//

Pause. Ashamed. "No, it wouldn't. I'll do that."

//"Thank you."//

"What are you going to do, Utena?"

//"I'm going to Tokyo. Juri's there; with time, I think I
can get her to recover most of her memories."//

Anthy sat down on the edge of the bed, cradling the phone
against her ear. "It's not hard. Akio's strength draws so much
from our own illusions, our own desire to be deceived... what he
builds is mighty, but fragile."

//"Yeah, well, I'm going to go give the whole damn thing a
good kick."//

There was something unsaid; Anthy could sense it in the way
Utena paused before each thing she said, in a tension that lay
baited like a hook in her voice even beyond the boundaries of
their fight. "What else, Utena?"

//"What?"//

"There's something else."

//"...No, there isn't."//

"Tell me."

//"Anthy--"//

"Please."

The sound of Utena drawing a long, shaky breath on the other
end of the line from wherever distant place she might be reached
Anthy's ears and made her heart tremble. She waited for an
answer. One second, two seconds, three, until nearly half a
minute of silence had passed.

"What's wrong, Utena?"

Brokenly, Utena replied, //"Why didn't you ever tell me
about Mikage, Anthy?"//

So, then, it was now her turn for silence. Anthy drew her
legs up beneath her on the bed and folded them into a seated
lotus position. As she tried to compose an answer, she reached
up and rubbed the bridge of her nose; it itched slightly, as
though some small, invisible weight were pressing upon it.

//"Anthy, answer me."//

Was Utena crying? She couldn't tell. "I... I just thought
it would be better that way. As though it had never happened."

//"But it did happen, Anthy. It did. Just because... Just
because you wanted to pretend that none of it ever happened, what
gave you the right to force that on me? Why didn't you tell
me?"//

Anthy couldn't answer.

//"Was Mikage all, Anthy? Or did Akio rip more memories out
of my head? Did he put some in?"//

"Mikage and the Black Rose Duellists were all," Anthy
finally managed to reply. "They were all that he made you
forget."

Poor, weak Mikage. Led astray by the doppelganger of a boy
years dead. Only one of many that she should but could not mourn
for.

//"Why didn't you tell me?"//

"You seemed so happy." She closed her eyes and freed her
mind from its body; it was as easy and familiar as removing her
clothes.

//"I wasn't happy."//

"Not ever?" Follow the voice, the flow and throb of words,
the humming of the wires... "Remember that hike we went on last
month? Chu-Chu got in a fight with that squirrel. You laughed.
I remember, you laughed so hard. You weren't happy then?"

There was a hard, wiry tightness in Utena's voice now.
//"It wasn't the kind of happiness I wanted."//

"What kind of happiness did you want, then?" Yes, there she
was...

The wire snapped. Utena's voice became half-choked,
defeated. //"I'm sorry, Anthy, I'm so sorry. I l--I'd love to
be able to live with you and Chu-Chu, to just be happy, but I
can't. I tried for seven years, but it never really worked. I'm
so sorry."//

"It's all right, Utena," Anthy soothed. "Come home when
you're ready. Come home when things are right again."

//"It's not too late, Anthy."// Desperate; Anthy felt it
sympathetically, and the tight ball of hurt in her stomach grew
heavier. //"I need you for this, we all need you. You know
about these things, you're smarter, wiser. I'm still in town,
please--"//

"I can't. I'm sorry, Utena, but I just can't."

Angry, bitter; such a sudden change. //"You mean you--"//

"Are we going to start this again?"

Defeated. //"No."//

"Be careful, Utena. My brother is more dangerous than you
can imagine."

Wry. //"I don't need to imagine. I've got experience."//

A stabbing pain in her abdomen, Akio's hands moving over
flesh that was not her own...

"Goodbye, Utena."

//"Goodbye, Anthy."//

Anthy laid the handset down on the bed, but did not hang it
up. Her eyes remained closed. Soon, the complaining beeps of a
phone left too long off the hook began. Searching with her
hands, she found Chu-Chu's small, sleeping form on the edge of
the pillows on Utena's side of the bed.

Sliding her hands beneath his body, she picked him up and
brought him into her lap. With one finger of one hand, she
gently stroked his head, not hard enough to wake him; the other
she passed thrice above him, as her fingers writhed like the legs
of spiders.

"Go, small friend, cheerful soul, brave heart; go to her for
me."

And then her lap was empty.

Anthy buried her face in Utena's pillow and finally,
cathartically, wept.

* * *

Utena put the phone down and lay back on the bed, crossing her
hands behind her head and staring up at the worn ceiling panels
above her head. They were a really hideous magenta, and looked
luridly bloody in the glow of the single bedside lamp that
currently served as the hotel room's sole illumination.

The TV remote, if there had ever been one, was no longer
present. Not that it mattered to her much; she and Anthy had
never even owned a television in Sapporo, and vague memories of
watching children's anime and sentai shows on a small colour set
in that brief interval of her life when her parents had been
alive were all she really had of the so-common experience of
television.

Now she got up and turned on the television, then rapidly
flicked through channels until she found what looked like a news
station. She hadn't been so careless as to check into this cheap
hotel near the airport under her own name, and the police
couldn't have gotten a photo of her by now to release. Could
they? She wasn't the one they wanted for the shooting, after
all--merely a witness wanted for questioning. So she assumed;
there was no way of knowing exactly what Saionji would tell them,
confused as he was by the patchy return of scattered memories of
the true Ohtori.

Had they found the body of the Knight of Pentacles? Had
there been anything to find? A ten story fall, but still...
No. This was not Ohtori, not Akio's domain; it was the real
world, and he would need to use things of the real world here,
not illusions. Agents on the outside? There had been something
familiar about the Knight's voice.

Tall, male, expert swordsman, katana... Saionji was
definitely ruled out, unless things were much stranger than she
thought... Which left...

*"I haven't seen Touga since graduation."*

"Could it be?" she muttered, hugging her knees to her chest
and leaning back against the head of the bed. "What have you
been up to these seven years, Touga?"

There was no news on television that she cared about. She
watched the flickering images and talking heads for a few minutes
longer out of the sheer lack of anything else to do--there wasn't
enough floor space to do some shadow-fencing--and then hopped up
from the thin mattress to shut it off.

Her extended finger was inches away from the POWER button
when her attention was suddenly distracted by a scuffling sound
from behind her. Rats? Mice? In a place like this, she
wouldn't be surprised. "Flophouse" would have been only a
slightly harsh appellation.

Well, it wasn't as though she was scared of rats or mice.
She turned away from the TV and got down on her hands and knees
on the thin, faded carpet. "Come on out." She beckoned with her
hands. "I won't hurt you."

Scuffling again, from under the bed. She crawled over to
the bureau beside the bed and picked up the packet of rice
crackers she'd bought at the convenience store beside the hotel
before checking in. She popped one into her mouth, then pulled
another from the packet and lifted the edge of the bedspread to
look underneath.

"Hey, come on--I've got a snack for you."

A dim shape turned, eyes reflecting ambient light in the
darkness beneath the bed. Too big to be a mouse; the wrong shape
to be a rat.

"Chu?"

Utena nearly choked on her cracker. "What?"

Chu-Chu scampered out from underneath the bed and held up
his small arms pleadingly. She handed him the cracker on
instinct more than anything else, and he contentedly began to
eat.

The cracker was gone before she recovered from her surprise,
which didn't take long. "How did you get here?"

"Chu! Chu!" He gestured at the cracker package. She set
it down on the rug with a harried smile, and Chu-Chu began to
inhale rice crackers.

"Hungry, aren't you? Like you've been on some big journey."
The animal's presence lifted her spirits to a degree almost
inverse to his small size. "How'd you get here? Smuggle away in
my bag all that way?"

Chu-Chu blinked, then nodded enthusiastically and resumed
devouring the crackers.

Utena laughed. "You're lucky I didn't poke you in the eye
when I put that sword in my bag." The crackers were almost
entirely gone now. "Hey, I need some of those for breakfast."
She took them away and put them in the bureau drawer, ignoring
Chu-Chu's clamorous protests.

She picked him up in her hands, climbed back onto the bed,
and sat with him in her lap. "You need to go back to Anthy, of
course. Can you make it back yourself? I... I'd rather not have
to bring you back. For a lot of reasons."

Chu-Chu shook his head.

"You can't make it back on your own?"

Another shake.

"You don't want to go back."

Nod.

"I'm going back to Ohtori. It's too dangerous."

Chu-Chu folded his arms over his chest, and made a good show
of laughing in danger's face.

Utena sighed. "Anthy will be lonely without you."

He shook his head again.

"You are a funny little thing." She touched his head with a
warm affection born of seven years; seven years in which Chu-Chu,
whatever sort of animal he was, didn't seem to have aged at all.
Odd, that. "I guess you know Anthy better than I do."

The television was still on. Utena was beginning to realize
why remote controls were popular. She began to ease herself back
up yet again in order to turn it off when the image of familiar
streets--familiar buildings--stopped her.

"...one of the city's poorer areas, and also one with one of
the highest crime rates. Two of tonight's three murders, an
unprecedented number in Sapporo, took place here." The
commentator was off-camera; the view panned across the front of
a building Utena had walked by hundreds of times. "Police have
released few details, but sources say that the two victims were
minors belonging to a street gang called the 'Black Sharks'. The
possibility then exists that the murders are gang-related."

Utena sat back down on the bed and watched, silent. An
alley, a familiar shortcut between home and the local market,
cordoned off by police tape. In the night (she'd never walked
through it at night) it resembled a dark and hungry maw waiting
to be fed. Flashing police lights from somewhere off-camera
striated the screen with a throbbing tinge of blue.

"The police say no connection is suspected between these two
murders and the third, a security guard at a downtown..."

She slowly got off the bed, with the voice of the
commentator dissolving in her ears into a wordless humming like
the surgings of the sea, and finally turned the television off.

"Following me," she said numbly, brushing at her sleeves as
though to rid them of some invisible stain. "All that time.
Since I left home? But why kill those two?"

Maybe she was simply being paranoid. There was no... well,
not a lot of reason to... it might be entirely coincidental. Not
the guard; she didn't doubt that the Knight had taken care of the
guard before coming up, but...

Three. Not four. No body for the Knight. But maybe they
just hadn't found it yet. A ten story fall...

Hell. Oh, hell, she knew, she felt it like a solid blow to
her stomach that made her feel as though her scar were about to
tear itself open. It hit her then, very suddenly, just how
deadly serious this was. The Duelling had seemed somewhat like a
game to her back at Ohtori, but it had been serious as well, and
she hadn't realized how serious until it was too late.

Three people dead already. Wakaba injured. She looked at
the bedside clock. Nearly eleven. This time last night, she'd
been lying awake in bed with Anthy asleep beside her, worrying
about doing well on the interviews the next morning. Twelve
hours ago, she'd just been going into the first interview, the
one that went so badly.

She was exhausted and scared, and she missed Anthy so much
already. But she was determined, as well. No half-measures.
Tomorrow, she was going to draw what was left of her trust fund.

Her parents hadn't exactly been royalty, but they'd been
well-off, and the money left to her after their deaths had paid
for years of good boarding schools--Ohtori was only the last.
Then it had paid the expenses of setting her and Anthy up in
Sapporo, and allowed them the time to get their high school
diplomas at one of the local schools.

What little was left was seed money, something put away for
the future, for emergencies. Or had been; tomorrow, she would
draw from it in order to pay for a plane ticket to Tokyo--which
wouldn't be her last stop, either.

Had she felt much more grief at this symbol of her last
severing of the life she'd led for seven years, she would have
cried. But there was not quite enough, so she simply lay down
under the sheets, cuddled Chu-Chu against her chest, turned off
the light, and went almost immediately to sleep.

* * *

The weekend, and she had the day off work. Having neither food
to eat, nor dishes to eat it from, nor utensils to eat it with,
Anthy ate breakfast at a small restaurant near the apartment.
Then she went shopping for the bare minimum of food and dishes
she would need for the near future. The shopping was pleasantly
free of any depth or thought, and she returned home feeling much
better than she had when she'd left.

She put away noodles and vegetables and spices, plates and
cups and utensils, and tried not to think about Utena going off
to face Akio. She arranged everything very precisely. Then she
cleaned the entire apartment. It was important to have things to
do, routines to follow; those were what let you bear up, what
gave your life structure, a skeleton upon which to drape the too,
too solid flesh of life. Certain times to do things, certain
ways to do them: which corner of the bed to tuck in first when
she made it, which order to chop the vegetables in when she made
dinner. Such were the things she thought about.

The voice came as she was rearranging the cushions on the
couch in what was theoretically (if you didn't mind being cramped
and uncomfortable) a combined dining and living room semi-
detached from the kitchen.

anthy?

A little boy's voice. That was the most painful to hear, of
course; her memory went back very far, and she could remember her
true childhood as though through a thick, dark fog of time.

anthy, where are you?

How long, now, since the last time? She counted on her
fingers. One, two, three, four... Four months. Always like
that; just when she nearly forgot about it, it would happen
again.

anthy, it's dark and i'm scared. come home. please?

"Leave me alone."

Even if he--Akio or Dios, whomever it was, it didn't
matter--could hear her, he never responded as though he did.

anthy, i'm so lonely.

As she had every time before, she tried to close her mind
off. But that wasn't possible, not to her brother.

anthy, please come home. i'm sorry.

"Liar."

i can't make him stop, anthy. help me.

She let out a single throat-tearing sob, and dug her nails
into her palms. Pain, she had discovered, was the only thing
that could make the voice recede.

This was another thing she had never told Utena. Then
again, it was none of Utena's business. Not that it hadn't
played a role in her refusal to even consider returning to
Ohtori; it simply was not something she was willing to share.

She had been her brother's slave and puppet for so long.
If even at this distance, his voice could reach her and bring her
the same kind of sorrow that had led her to first don the garb of
the Rose Bride, what might it do if she returned to the seat of
his power?

Akio had been of Dios once; it was no wonder he could speak
so well in imitation of him. She would not be fooled, though.

anthy?

Drops of blood welled up on her palms where she had driven
her nails deepest.

anthy?

The voice went away. Anthy walked into the kitchen and
washed the blood off her hands at the sink. The cuts were
shallow, not at all serious.

What was done was done. No more princes, princesses or
brides. No more fairy tales. The blood spiralled down the
drain, turning the water crimson for a moment until it was
completely washed away.

Someone knocked on the door. Utena, she thought, in a
moment of wild hope, before reason killed it; Chu-Chu was with
her now, and she would know if Utena intended to return. Who,
then? She put her eye to the peephole.

Two men, both in their late thirties: one tall and thin in a
long overcoat, the other short and stout in a bulky winter
jacket. Even as she looked out, the thin one knocked again.

She checked that the chain was on, then opened the door a
crack. "Yes?"

Her eye was no longer to the peephole, but she guessed by
the voice--a rough-edged, nicotine-scarred rumble--that it was
the short one who answered. "I am Detective Omekki, of the
Sapporo Homicide Squad, and my partner is Detective Osenbi, also
of the Sapporo Homicide Squad. You are Himemiya Anthy?"

"Yes." She had to force a tremble of fear out of her
voice; had something happened to Utena? No, she told herself;
again, Chu-Chu was with Utena, and Anthy would have known. This
was undoubtedly about what had happened at Saionji's.

"May we please come in and speak to you for a few minutes?"

Anthy looked through the crack of the chain-held door. The
thin cop was holding up his badge; behind him, his partner
scuffed the hall carpet with his boots and looked bored.

She unhooked the chain and opened the door. "Please come
in."

"Thank you." It turned out that the rough smoker's voice
belonged, in spite of her earlier presumption, to the thin
detective.

The two detectives stepped into the apartment. "This way,
please." Anthy directed them into the tiny living room and
seated them on the couch; the short detective hopelessly
disarrayed her carefully-arranged cushions with his casual
descent. "Would you like some tea?"

"No thank you," the thin detective--Omekki, she believed--
said. His partner--Osenbi--shook his head. "Please sit down,
Himemiya-san."

Anthy resisted the urge to Watch them; it was an unfair
intrusion under any circumstances, and they were both
undoubtedly good men, merely doing their jobs. She sat down on
a small padded wooden chair, the only other seat in the room
other than the couch. "What is this about?"

Omekki reached into the pocket of his overcoat. "Do you
mind if I smoke?"

"Yes." She had minded when Utena did it, after all. Thank
God she'd finally quit.

No change of expression passed across Omekki's narrow face.
He took his hand out of his pocket and returned it to his lap to
keep company with its mate.

"It's a horrible habit, isn't it?" Osenbi asked suddenly,
almost sadly; he had a sweet, clear tenor voice. "I've been
trying to get him to quit for years."

She received the distinct impression from their conversation
was that this was not even close to the first time this sort of
exchange had occurred.

"We will be as brief as possible," Omekki said, pointedly
glancing at his partner. "Last night, a security guard at an
apartment building was shot to death, and a woman who lived there
wounded. Your roommate, Tenjou Utena, was reported to be
present, but we have been unable to locate her."

Osenbi took out a small spiral-bound notebook and poised his
pen to take notes.

Omekki cleared his throat. "When did you last see Tenjou
Utena?"

"Last night. A little before seven."

"She left the apartment?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"We had a fight. She took a bag."

She stared at them challengingly, as though daring some sign
of disapproval. None appeared forthcoming. Omekki rearranged
the positioning of his hands in his lap; Osenbi tapped the top of
his pen on the pad.

"Have you heard from her since then?"

"No."

She would be as honest as she could be without putting any
undue danger of being tracked down upon Utena.

The questions continued: Do you have any idea where she
might have gone? Does she have any friends she might go to?

No, no.

Anthy almost felt sorry for them. She had been deceiving
smarter people for longer than both of them had been alive. They
would leave, and not return; so she hoped.

"Thank you, Himemiya-san." Omekki concluded his questioning
with a brief nod. "There is only one thing further. Do you have
a recent photo of Tenjou Utena that we may have? It would be
helpful to us."

"I do." She stood up. "It's in the bedroom."

Osenbi put away his notepad and pen, and rose from the couch
with surprising grace for such a bulky man. "I'll get it."

She led him down the hallway and into the bedroom, retrieved
the large photo album from the top drawer of her bureau, and
found a recent photo with only Utena in it. Taken on a hike last
summer: Utena, posed between two tall pine trees in a half-
crouch, both hands one her upraised knee. Smiling.

Had she really been so unhappy? She'd hidden it well. Then
again, Anthy knew very well how deeply things could be hidden.

The stout detective took the photograph from her and slipped
it between two pages of his notebook. "Your friend is not a
suspect," he said quietly, as though he did not want the
possibility of his partner hearing him. "We only wish to talk to
her to clarify some things. The statements from the other two
witnesses are rather unclear."

"Thank you," she said after a moment, genuinely surprised by
the gesture. Osenbi nodded once, and followed her out of the
bedroom.

At the door, Omekki thanked her again and bowed slightly,
followed a moment later in doing so by his partner. They left;
Anthy closed the door behind them, bolted it, and chained it.

"I shouldn't," she muttered, pacing the kitchen and wringing
her hands. "I really shouldn't."

She swallowed, and folded her hands in front of her breast.

"O spirit of wind and whirlwind... O gentle power of air...
Harken unto my call..." A light breeze that could not have
existed within the sealed confines of the apartment stirred her
hair. "To my service you are bound."

The sylph, visible only as a mild disturbance in the air,
like the ripple seen when looking over the top of a hot grill,
danced about her head in blissful stupidity. The minor air
elementals were cheerful as puppies, and nearly as smart; merely
being able to exist in this plane, even for a brief moment, sent
them into an almost incapacitating ecstasy.

"Go."

It went, literally quick as the breeze, and she abruptly
began to hear the voices of the two detectives as though she
stood right next to them. From the acoustics, she judged them to
be descending in the elevator.

"...foreign extraction." Omekki, rough and gravelly.

"I think she's Indian." Osenbi, silk smooth.

"The call last night from that hotel to the apartment was
almost certainly Tenjou."

"Shouldn't you have pressed her on it?"

"Not yet."

"What about the roses?"

"I highly doubt she has any knowledge about them that could
help us."

"Serial killer, maybe?"

"A red rose in the mouth of all three? It would seem a
signature."

"What about..."

She unbound the sylph, ignoring its pitiful cry as it was
banished from this fascinating world back into its own dull plane
of existence, staggered back, and slumped down into one of the
kitchen chairs.

"Damn you, Akio," she murmured.

How redundant a curse, some part of her whispered; and she
almost laughed.

* * *

Her plane touched down in Tokyo shortly after noon, descending
through a thin but pervasive cloud cover that lay over the city
like a veil. As the plane coasted to a stop on the dark tarmac,
Utena looked out the window and saw that the gentlest of
snowfalls rested upon Tokyo, a shallow dusting of white upon
everything.

She rested her head back against the seat as the plane came
to a stop next to one of the airport buildings, and put her hand
into her jacket pocket where Chu-Chu lay asleep. She'd smuggled
him aboard inside the rather cramped pocket, and he had,
remarkably, remained quiet the whole time.

From her window seat, she watched the ground crew work to
extend the short, flexible bridge between the plane and the
building, and unbuckled her seat belt. The flight had taken a
little over an hour from take-off to landing; good time.

Once the captain announced that they could disembark, she
quickly made her way off the plane and hurried to collect her bag
(which had been too large for carry-on luggage) at the luggage
carousel two floors down. Back at the Sapporo airport, she'd
been worried about security taking issue with the sword, but her
gym bag came down the carousel's track as expected, and a quick
check seemed to indicate that everything was in the place she'd
left it.

At a tourist shop in the Arrivals terminal, she bought a
street guide and a city map with the subway lines on it, and sat
down at a table in a crowded airport cafe to plan out the route
she would take to Juri's. She sipped poorly-brewed coffee that
she'd put too much sugar in to numb the taste of the too-bitter
beans, and made marks on the map with a stubby pencil she'd had
in her purse. Chu-Chu sat in her lap (out of sight--no reason to
raise any fuss the presence of such an animal might cause without
necessity) and nibbled almost delicately on the cookie she'd
bought for him.

Juri's apartment building--probably a highrise, the
apartment number was 1017--was in Shibuya district, near the
University of Tokyo. She guessed Juri might have gone there;
might still be going there, if she were doing graduate work.

Should she call ahead? She considered it, then decided
against it; easier to explain things face-to-face. Easier to
make Juri remember in person, now that she had an idea of how it
might be done from Saionji and Wakaba, and, for that matter, from
the sudden, shocking recovery of her own memories of Mikage and
the Black Rose Duellists.

She consulted the marks she'd put on the map, then wrote
down the subway route she'd have to take on the inner back flap
of the street guide. Best get moving; she hastily gulped down
the last of her coffee and left the cafe, Chu-Chu again riding in
the pocket of her jacket.

The airport was full of people; as she left the terminal,
she saw so many embracing friends, lovers, family, all come from
afar. It made her feel very lonely.

A small shuttle bus ran frequently between the airport and
the nearest subway station, free for the use of anyone who could
present a ticket stub from an incoming flight. Utena got into
the line of people waiting for a spot outside the terminal; the
air seemed too cold for the small amount of snow that had fallen,
and she huddled into her coat and puffed on her gloveless hands
to warm them. Two buses came before she managed to get aboard,
and even then it was standing room only. At the back, a thin and
harried young woman tried futilely to quiet the crying of the
baby she held, looking terribly embarrassed and receiving numerous
glares from the other passengers.

The baby's wailing filled the small bus from one end to
another, worsening the already claustrophobic press of bodies.
Despite the cold of the outside being almost as present within
the confines of the bus, Utena saw sweat on many a scowling face
as the bus left the grounds of the airport.

She had to make two line changes to get to the Shibuya stop,
awkwardly dragging her bag around beneath the tiled ceilings and
bright lights of the stations. The Tokyo subways were always
busy, but Utena had been lucky to get out of the airport just
after the lunchtime rush, and a few hours before the trains would
begin to fill up with hundreds of thousands of workers returning
home.

Upon finally reaching Shibuya station, she climbed up from
the underground into the bright, crisp winter day. Shops and
restaurants predominated in the area around the subway station,
and the sidewalks were filled with people going about their daily
business. She consulted the street guide again, then set out
across a small tree-filled park that lay like an oasis in the
middle of the crowded urban desert; that was the quickest way to
get to Juri's apartment.

Halfway across the park, she realized she was hungry--her
last meal had been a light snack served almost immediately after
the plane took off from Sapporo--and paused to buy two yakitori
skewers from a vendor's cart. She ate perched on the edge of a
park bench next to two chattering old ladies. Chu-Chu had begun
to grow fidgety in her jacket pocket, so she took him out, sat
him on her lap with one of the skewers, and ignored the odd looks
the passers-by occasionally gave her.

Juri. She'd always had trouble getting a handle on her, and
it probably wouldn't be any different today. Back at Ohtori,
Juri had worn her elegant reserve over some deep and lasting
scars that Utena had only hints of.

As with Saionji and Wakaba, there was the trouble of
approach, and even if she could make Juri remember, what then?
Hey Juri, now that you remember about Ends of the World and the
Rose Bride and the Duels, why don't we go back to Ohtori together
and kill Akio?

Appealing though the direct approach might be, it might not
be the most successful. Killing Akio; the first time she'd
really consciously thought about it, but there was really nothing
else to do. This wasn't going to be a formal little duel where
winning was just a matter of cutting someone's rose off.

That which was left unburied would not bury itself. With
the realization that the only conceivable end to things was
Akio's death came another: she had no idea at all how to
accomplish it.

You always rush into things, she chided herself gently, as
she finished off the skewer and licked meat juice from her
fingers. She picked up Chu-Chu, set him on her shoulder, and
walked the rest of the way across the park. Juri's apartment
building was on a street one block north of here; she waited at
the lights with a dozen other pedestrians, then crossed once it
turned green and the rushing cars halted.

The building was a big, modern, steel-and-glass edifice that
towered against the skyline and loomed over several smaller
brownstones. She was fortunate enough to arrive just as an older
man in a rather rumpled suit was leaving, which meant she didn't
have to buzz up to Juri and try to explain who she was and why
she should be let in over the intercom. The man looked at her
suspiciously as she caught the door, his gaze lingering on
Chu-Chu.

"Visiting a friend." She gave him her most winning smile.
"Thanks." He shrugged, and walked away down the street.

This time, there was no nosy guard to question her presence
there. No nosy guard to end up dead, either; she winced, and
stabbed her finger hard at the UP button of the elevator, then
rode it in silence to the tenth floor when it came.

Apartment 1017 was a few doors down the hallway, to the
right of the elevator bank on the tenth floor. She breathed
deeply, steeled herself, and knocked. No one answered.

"Stupid," she muttered, shaking her head in self-derision.
In the middle of the day like this, of course Juri wouldn't be at
home.

Then the door opened, and Arisugawa Juri was on the other
side. "Yes?"

"Juri-sempai." The words had a comfortable familiarity in
her mouth; after seeing Saionji and Wakaba again, the impact of
meeting another old acquaintance--friend?--from Ohtori was
considerably lessened, but it still brought back the pain and
triumph of old memories. "It's good to see you again."

"I remember the monkey more than anything else for some
reason." On Utena's shoulder, Chu-Chu puffed up slightly with
pride. "Didn't he belong to Himemiya Anthy?"

Utena's smile threatened to waver. "I'm kind of borrowing
him at the moment."

Juri shrugged. "You were on the fencing team?"

"Sort of."

"Seven years now. I guess you were in the neighbourhood,
and just decided to drop by?" Juri smiled, an edge of suspicion
to it.

"Saionji gave me your address."

"He did?" The suspicion seemed to ebb a little; Juri
stepped away from the door and pulled it a little wider. "Come
in; easier to talk that way."

Inside, the apartment was nice, though a bit cluttered in
places. The wall left of the large overstuffed couch that
dominated the central area, was entirely devoted to fencing gear:
a selection of foils, two suits of different sizes, and two wire-
mesh masks. That and the faintly audible sound of a shower
running made Utena guess that Juri had a roommate.

"Do you want tea? I was making some when you knocked."

"Yes, please."

"Have a seat. I'll be back in a moment." Utena sat down on
the extremely comfortable couch, and watched Juri's back as she
walked into the kitchen, red-gold ringlets bouncing against her
back. Juri woman looked much the same as she had the last time
Utena had seen her, albeit slightly taller and more filled-out;
her hair was still so tightly curled as to almost resemble a
helmet.

Utena put her bag down on the floor, as Chu-Chu scampered
off her shoulder and took a seat in the middle of the cushion
next to her, sinking almost halfway down into the plush fabric.
From the kitchen, she could hear spoons clinking on china and
cups rattling; moments later, Juri reappeared with a tray, a tea
pot, and four cups.

"You should have called ahead," she said, as she poured tea
for both Utena and Chu-Chu. "We don't get a lot of visitors."
She poured a cup for herself and sat down in a hard-backed chair
to the right-hand of the couch. "So, what brings you to Tokyo?
If Saionji gave you my address, that must mean you were in
Sapporo."

"Did you hear about what happened at Ohtori?"

"The boy who was killed in the duel? Yes, a terrible
thing." Juri half-grimaced. "These amateurs, waving swords
about, no idea what they're doing... no wonder someone
event--someone got killed. Amateurs." She looked suddenly
disconcerted, and put her teacup down on the saucer too hard; hot
tea slopped over the sides, spilled onto her hand, and pooled in
the saucer. "Ow; damn."

"Are you all right?"

Juri wiped the tea off her hand with a napkin. "Just a
little scalded. Let me get a cloth to clean this up."

As she rose and started to return to the kitchen, Utena
realized she could no longer hear the shower. Juri seemed to
notice something as well, and paused. Chu-Chu lapped
indelicately at his tea, face stuck into the cup like a cat's
into a bowl.

The door to the bathroom opened, and Takatsuki Shiori
stepped out, towelling her damp hair and clad in only a silk
bathrobe belted slightly too loosely. "Juri, what--Oh. Hello."
She dropped the towel on the floor, and turned away from Utena to
belt her robe so it was decent above the waist as well as
below. "I didn't realize we had a guest."

"She just showed up a few minutes ago," Juri explained,
almost apologetically.

Utena very carefully sipped her tea, and tried to keep any
expression of shock off her face. They were old friends, after
all, and would have forgotten everything that happened between
them--the Black Roses, Tsuchiya Ruka--so it wasn't especially
surprising that they'd end up as roommates after graduation.

"Hello, Shiori-san," Utena said, as the woman turned back to
them. "Nice to see you again."

"Tenjou Utena? You're still dressing like a boy?"

Juri, who in slacks and a long-sleeved turtleneck wasn't
dressed much more femininely than Utena, frowned. "Shiori..."

"I'd stay to chat, but I have to get dressed and get to
class." Leaving the discarded towel on the floor behind her,
Shiori walked to the closed door at the far end of the apartment,
directly opposite the couch Utena was sitting on, and opened it
up. Beyond it, Utena could see a dresser with a mirror, the
edge of a bed, and a chair upon which some clothes were draped.

Juri, a resigned look on her face, walked over to where
Shiori had left her towel, picked it up, and tossed it back into
the bathroom. Shiori, meanwhile, slipped out of her robe without
bothering to close the bedroom door. Utena almost choked on her
tea, and had to cover it up with a few discreet coughs.

"Just ignore her." Juri sat back down, shaking her head,
and seemingly trying to keep a smile off her face. Utena turned
her head almost a full ninety degrees to look Juri, but could
still see Shiori standing before the mirror to pull on her
panties and do up her bra out of the corner of her eye. "Now,
what were we talking about again?"

"Well, umm..." Avoiding blushing was simply not possible.
Utena gulped tea again, as it gave her an excuse to close her
eyes; when she opened them again, Shiori was sitting in the
chair pulling on pantyhose. Utena could almost certainly see her
smirking. "You see, Ohtori..." Shiori finished with the
pantyhose and began to comb her hair in front of the mirror, body
turned in such a way as to present her profile to Utena.
"Killing. Duels. Just awful. Student Council?"

Juri obviously was having difficulty not bursting out
laughing. "Yes, what about the Student Council? I was on it the
year you went to Ohtori, as the Treasurer."

Shiori was done with her hair now, and began to put on a
complimenting jade skirt and green blouse; it was actually quite
a modest ensemble, but Utena was so embarrassed by this point
that it wouldn't have mattered if Shiori had been putting on a
snowsuit. She simply couldn't find any words to say; they all
seemed to have been consumed by the hot, undoubtedly obvious
flush that had engulfed her face. Chu-Chu, who'd had just as
good a view as Utena, was passed out face-down into his empty
teacup.

Juri leaned over towards Utena and whispered, "I'm sorry,
Utena. I shouldn't find it so funny, but..." Her words trailed
away as she smiled broadly.

"It's okay," Utena muttered, even though it wasn't. She
stared at Juri's smile, and felt some of her own embarrassment
begin to leave; she had never seen Juri smile like that at
Ohtori.

Shiori came back into the main room of the apartment,
closing the bedroom door behind her. "Bye, Juri. See you at
dinner tonight." She leaned down and, quite casually, kissed
Juri on the mouth.

Juri looked surprised for about half a second, and then
closed her eyes. Shiori did not; her gaze turned almost
challengingly upon Utena.

Utena tilted her head back to drain the last of her tea, and
looked away. When she finally turned her eyes back, Shiori was
pulling on her coat and boots at the door, and Juri was watching
her preparations for departure with almost painful intensity.

"Goodbye, Utena," Shiori called sweetly--Utena could not
justifiably say merely from tone that it was mocking--as she
left.

"Bye, Shiori," she replied, too quietly for Shiori to
hear--and she'd already stepped out before Utena got the words
out anyway.

"Shiori's a little possessive," Juri said, as though it
explained everything.

Utena nodded and tapped her fingers on her knees. "I
noticed."

"She doesn't usually act like that. People from Ohtori make
her nervous." Juri frowned. "Bad memories."

"Lots of those," Utena softly agreed.

"Ohtori's what you came to talk about, isn't it?" Juri was
suddenly all seriousness again. "About that boy who got killed."

Utena nodded. "Juri, this is going to sound a little
strange, but... what do you remember about me?"

Juri pursed her lips thoughtfully. "You dressed like a boy.
Then again, I was always in my student council uniform, so I
wasn't exactly in regulation female dress either. I seem to
remember you were on the fencing team. Or was it the kendo team?
I think we had some matches together, but..." She shrugged
helplessly, and then scowled. "You know, I really can't
remember, but I _feel_ like I should." She shook her head. "No;
I _know_ I should."

"Once, when I needed it, you lent me a sword," Utena quietly
said. Something in Juri's eyes; a flash of recognition, or long-
hidden pain. "I didn't have one I could use, and, even though
we'd been foes before, you let me use your blade."

Juri stared at her in total silence. Utena went on. "It
broke; it broke, but I won anyway. It was a miracle."

"A miracle," Juri murmured. She closed her eyes; a single
tear, of which she was seemingly unconscious, slipped out from
beneath her left eyelid and slid down her cheek.

"Juri," Utena said urgently, "picture a rose. What colour
is it?"

"Orange. No, black. No, wait." Juri's voice was
somnambulant and entranced, as though she were hypnotized.
"Black and orange; black and orange roses, thousands of them.
They're all entwined together. A giant fence. Thorns."

"Is there a gate? There is a gate. Find the gate." With
no real idea of what she was doing, Utena improvised on the fly.

"A gate. Thorns. A lock of thorns. I can hear water.
Cold."

"Open the gate."

"There's thorns. I'll cut myself."

"Take the handle."

"I'm not wearing my ring!" Juri's voice had a note of
desperation in it. "I'm not wearing my ring, the thorns are
growing, they're going to rip my skin off, oh my God--"

"Draw your sword!" Utena snapped. "Cut them down! You're a
Duellist--fight. Fight your way through the gate."

Juri screamed a wordless battle cry; tears were streaming
down her face now. Her hands rose up, clawed once at the air as
though trying to scrabble up the slick walls of some sheer pit,
and then fell limply at her sides.

Utena leaned over and hesitantly touched her shoulder.
"Juri?"

"The Ends of the World," Juri said in a thin scrape of a
voice full of despair, "The end of my world. Ends of the world,
end of my world." She pronounced the last sentence in a childish
singsong; then her shoulders heaved once, convulsively, as though
she were attempting to shrug off some great weight, and a single
drawn-out sob wracked her body. "Ends of the world, end of my
world; ends of the world, end of my world." She buried her face
in her hands, and began to weep inconsolably. "Ends of the
world..."

"Juri-sempai, come here." With difficulty, Utena drew the
shuddering woman over to the couch, and wrapped her in a tight
embrace.

"...end of my world."

Utena had one arm around Juri's shoulders and the other
around her waist; Juri clung to her as though to a spar on the
turbulent ocean, half-huddled into her lap like child to mother.

"Ends of the world, end of my world." Over and over again,
chanted like a mantra, each word falling heavy as though graven
from stone.

"It's okay." Futile words and probably lies, but there was
nothing else to say. Guilt and shame threatened to consume
Utena; she'd gone too quickly, pressed too hard, and it didn't
seem as though Juri had been able to take it. "Let it out; let
it all out." All those painful memories, all coming back at
once... No wonder it could not be borne without breaking.

"Shiori? Shiori?" A pause to draw breath, as though for
renewed sobs. "Miki? Ruka?"

"No," Utena said; she gently stroked Juri's hair. The curls
were so tight, coiled like springs... how long would it be if it
were straightened? As long as Anthy's, once she'd begun to let
it down? "Utena."

"Utena," Juri whispered; the word seemed to soothe her. She
raised her head from Utena's shoulder and stared at her through
teary eyes. Then she kissed her, quite forcefully, on the mouth.

More shocked than actually repulsed, Utena shoved Juri off
her and onto the couch cushion beside her, nearly crushing Chu-
Chu in the process. She scrambled away, half-fell to the floor,
and finally ended up sitting back down in the hard-backed chair
Juri had formerly occupied.

"Juri!" she snapped; her heart and head were pounding like
twin drums.

On the couch, Juri hung her head miserably, red-gold curls
veiling her face. "I'm sorry, Utena," she said, half-choked.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to... no, that sounds stupid, I
obviously _did_, but... it all came back at once, everything,
and I... Oh God, I'm so sorry."

"For what?" Utena asked quietly, taking deep breaths to try
and slow her heart down. "For being attracted to me? Don't be.
That's nothing to be sorry for. You are what you are, Juri; you
don't need to apologize to me."

There was silence between them for a time, and then Juri
slumped down on the couch as though trying to submerge herself in
it. "Dear God, Utena, why didn't you come after me sooner?
Seven years of living with all those lies..."

"I was avoiding it," Utena said. "Well, Anthy was avoiding
it, and I was kind of tagging along--no, that's not fair. It
wasn't Anthy's fault, my choices are my own. Then I met Saionji
again, and he didn't remember me, and a little later I read in
the newspaper about the boy being killed. I realized that it
wasn't over, then, that Akio was still trying to..." She trailed
away, unsure what to say next.

"I'm going to make some more tea." Juri stood up, a little
shakily. "You can tell me about what you've been doing, and I'll
tell you about what I've been doing, and then we'll figure out
how we're going to stop Akio."

"Oh, I've got a good idea of how we're going to stop him,"
Utena said slowly, almost menacingly. "There's only one way I
can think of that's permanent--at least, I hope it is."

"Kill him," Juri said bluntly. She folded her arms and
looked down at her feet. "I suppose there's no other way."

"No," Utena agreed, glad to have it affirmed by someone
else. "I've thought about it, and I really don't think there
is."

* * *

That she'd expected the call did little to diminish its impact.

"May I speak to Himemiya Anthy?" His voice had almost
always been angry, but sometimes, so rarely, he'd been able to
speak her name with an almost unmatched tenderness... Now, seven
years since she'd last heard him speak, she could again hear a
faint thread of that rare emotion running through his voice, as
he spoke her name once more.

"Hello, Saionji-sempai."

"Tenjou said..."

"I know what you're calling about. Where are you now?"

"The hospital. Wakaba--my wife--"

"I know. I'll be there soon."

In the car, as she drove the winter roads, she listened to
Utena's station. Another early music program, songs for counter-
tenor with lute accompaniment.

o/` Lady, if you so spite me,
o/` Wherefore do you so oft kiss and delight me,
o/` Sure that my heart oppress and overcloyed
o/` May break, thus overjoyed?

He had been so many surfaces: a callous brute, a proud
warrior, a wounded boy. One of those rare ones whom she couldn't
Watch with her witch's sight, whom she could know only by his
actions and not by his soul.

o/` If you seek to spill me,
o/` Come kiss me sweet, and kill me
o/` So shall your heart be eased,
o/` And I shall rest content and die well pleased.

Perhaps that was why she had felt something for him; had
been willing, despite his casual brutality and cruelty, to put
even a little of herself into the exchange diary. Which had been
consigned to the flames; her knuckles whitened as she gripped the
steering wheel and turned into the parking lot of the hospital.

She got out of the car, zipping up her jacket as she did,
and made her way through the wind-scattered snow flurries to the
main entrance. At the reception desk, she signed her name in the
visitor's book, and asked for directions to Wakaba's room.
Sixth floor; she waited alone at the elevators, then rode up in
one empty except for herself.

There had been something in Saionji... a longing for
something he could not attain. He had truly been in Touga's
shadow: not quite so skilled with a sword, not quite so popular
with the girls, Vice-President instead of President.

Sixth floor. She stepped out onto white tiles surrounded by
white walls; the air smelt of disinfectant and, faintly, flowers.
Roses. Just a coincidence. People always brought flowers to
people in hospital; she should have brought flowers. Not roses,
of course, something else. Definitely not roses.

Halfway down the hallway to Wakaba's room, she stepped into
a public washroom, checked to make sure it was empty, then locked
herself in a stall. Minutes later, she emerged with a bouquet of
colourful flowers that hadn't even existed some minutes before.

The door to Wakaba's room was closed when she reached it;
she hesitated for a moment, then knocked. It opened; she looked
at Saionji Kyouichi for the first time in seven years.

"You cut your hair," she said.

He smiled, a bit nervously; he looked very tired, and his
eyes were ringed by dark circles. She wondered if he'd slept
much last night, or at all. "I got tired of it hanging in my
eyes."

Wakaba was sitting up in bed with an IV hooked to her arm;
she waved, and grinned brightly, although she looked a little
wan. "Hi, Anthy!"

Anthy stepped in and closed the door behind her; the click
of the latch in the silence seemed to impart an air of gravity to
the room. Saionji looked as nervous as she felt; Wakaba just
looked cheerful. The tension in the room was unignorable; so
many hidden things, so much unsaid.

"Saionji Kyouichi, Saionji Wakaba." She looked from one to
the other. "It seems appropriate." She walked over to the bed
and looked down at Wakaba. "How are you?"

"The doctors say the bullet missed puncturing an organ by
thiiiis much." Wakaba held up her thumb and index finger with a
bare half-inch separating them. "Isn't that amazing? It's like
a miracle. I guess the gods must really like me." Out of the
corner of her eye Anthy saw Saionji, still standing by the door,
wince.

"Utena says she hopes you heal quickly." Utena hadn't
actually said that, but Anthy knew she would have if there'd been
time. And it made Wakaba beam. "I brought you flowers." She
held them out a little stiffly.

Wakaba took them and inhaled their scent deeply. "Thank
you." She handed them back. "Put them beside the bed, would
you? I'll get Kyouichi to put them in water later."

"How is Utena?" asked Saionji. "When did you talk to her?"

"Last night," Anthy answered, after hesitating. "She said
you were starting to remember. About Ohtori."

Saionji's face suddenly looked even more drawn and weary
than it had when he'd opened the door. "Scattered bits," he
affirmed quietly. "Fragments; like picking up the pieces of a
broken stained-glass window, and then another piece, and they've
got parts of a figure on them--a hand, the side of a face--so you
know they were meant to go together somehow, but you can't..."

"Black roses," Wakaba said glumly. She rested her elbows on
her knees and propped her chin on her palms. "I remember black
roses. And I was trying to hurt Utena. But I don't understand
that; I would never hurt Utena." Her eyes suddenly widened.
"Hey, was Ohtori like some kind of secret medical experiment
facility? Or maybe they were doing hypnosis on us to turn us
into super-soldiers? Kyouichi, what was that movie about the guy
who got programmed to be an assassin, but he couldn't remember it,
well, not really, and he kept on having all those nightmares?
'The Albanian Candidate'?"

"Wakaba," Saionji said, a soft, steely voice; chiding, as
though he were speaking to his child rather than his wife.

"Oh! Sorry!" She glanced apologetically to Anthy, but the
focus of her gaze was still entirely upon Saionji. "I babble
when I'm nervous. When I'm not nervous, too. You probably
remember that, though. Do you? Or did your memories get--"

"Wakaba."

"Sorry!"

"Saionji-sempai," Anthy interrupted gently. He flinched a
little at the honorific. "This would be easier if I could talk
to each of you separately. Would you leave me alone with
Wakaba?"

He stiffened a little; suspicious. She supposed that was
good; he had reason enough to be suspicious of her. "I'll take
a walk," he said finally, reluctantly, and stepped out the door.

As soon as he was gone, Anthy reached down, grabbed the
wrist that didn't have the IV needle in it, and pulled the long
sleeve of the hospital gown up past Wakaba's elbow.

"Hey--what are you doing?" Wakaba protested.

On the pale inner flesh of her arm, fading bruises left by a
finger and a thumb, gripping too hard, digging deep into the
flesh; small circles, yellowing on the edges like old parchment,
deepening to a sickly blue-green in their centre.

Wakaba stared into Anthy's eyes; her expression was
agonized. "How did you know?" she whispered.

"I used to have them too," Anthy answered quietly. She
looked at the stark contrast of her dark fingers against Wakaba's
pale wrist. "Though they weren't so obvious, for obvious
reasons."

Wakaba could say nothing in response. She stared at the
bruises as though seeing them for the first time.

"What did you tell the doctors, when they asked?"

"They haven't yet; I think they were too busy taking the
bullet out of me. I hope they don't ask."

"I almost thought he'd actually changed," Anthy said. She
could not keep anger out of her voice. "I suppose he's just
learned to hide it better."

"No." Wakaba shook her head. "No, he's better; he...
After high school, he went to a doctor. They gave him a
prescription. It usually works really well, but sometimes, he
just gets so angry, and then I get scared, but he's always sorry
afterwards."

"Yes." Anthy let Wakaba's wrist go and walked away from the
bed to the window, where she drew the curtains. "They're always
sorry afterwards, but they hurt you all the same."

"No, you don't understand." Wakaba's voice was suddenly
very calm. "Kyouichi's got a problem; a mental one. A chemical
imbalance in his brain; I don't remember all the details. I've
got a book on it at home; several books, really." She sighed.
"He's a good man, Anthy, he really is, but sometimes, it's like
he's another person. I love him so much, but sometimes..."

"He scares you," Anthy muttered, not even sure if Wakaba
could hear her. She still had her back to the woman in the
hospital bed, staring intently at the drawn curtains. "You're
worried that some day, he's going to hurt you very badly. Every
time you're with him, you're just a little scared; you're never
completely comfortable. But you can't just leave; there's so
many reasons you need to stay, and... what would he become if you
weren't there to balance him? And you love him; that's what
binds you to him, despite everything, and even though--" She
stopped abruptly, and returned to the bedside. "I'm sorry. I'm
rambling."

"Others tolerate it in me." Wakaba smiled tenuously. "It's
only just that I tolerate it in them."

Impulsively, Anthy leaned down and kissed the other woman
lightly on the cheek. "You're much like I remember you, Wakaba,"
she said gently as she straightened. "You have a good heart."

Wakaba blushed.

Anthy reached into her jacket pocket, pulled out a small
wooden box, and pressed it into Wakaba's hands. "Open it."

"What is it?"

"Something that should have been yours." Old pains.

Wakaba flicked the box open and looked at what lay upon the
dark velvet. A wooden hair ornament; a green leaf, ribs
highlighted with gold. Confusion flickered upon her face; then
she began to cry, tears sliding down her cheeks in absolute
silence.

"Why does this make me so sad?" she whispered.

Anthy brushed her fingers against Wakaba's cheek and
gathered tears upon them. "Do you really want to know?"

"What? Of course I do."

"Do you, I wonder? I really wonder."

Wakaba took the ornament out and held it in trembling
fingers. "What do you mean?"

"A question. Merely hypothetical." Anthy sat down in the
bedside chair and folded her hands in her lap. "If you could
have all your memories back of what really happened, or if you
could just go back to living the life you did when you couldn't
remember what really happened at Ohtori--no hints at all, no
dreams or flashes of memory or deja-vu--which one would you
choose?"

Wakaba frowned as she thought about it. "I suppose I'd ask
Kyouichi," she eventually concluded. "I mean, it would be his
choice too, and I'd go along with--"

"No. Your choice. For both of you. Remember everything,
or forget it all again. You were happy, weren't you?"

Wakaba nodded. "Uh-huh, always. Well, no, not always
because sometimes Saionji got angry, but that didn't happen too
often, but I was happy. Really happy."

"And how are you now?"

"Well, I'm happy that I got to see Utena-sama again." She
stared down at the leaf in her hands. "Then again, I got shot,
and... I have all these memories of acting like... a bad person.
And this, this leaf--it makes me feel so sad, but I don't know
why."

"If there are no memories," Anthy said quietly, "then there
is no pain."

"But wouldn't I remember that I couldn't remember?" Wakaba
chuckled softly. "I guess that sounds stupid. But it would be
like a big gap in my head; though I've got one of those already,
or maybe more than one. A gap in my soul."

"New memories," Anthy whispered. "Not painful ones; happy
ones. And you'd never know."

"Can you fix what's wrong with Saionji? I mean, if you can
play around with people's memories..."

Anthy paused. "Yes," she concluded. "I could. It would
be..."

Abruptly, Wakaba snapped her arm out and grabbed Anthy's
shoulder. "D--don't you dare," she snarled. "Don't you mess
around with my head, or Saionji's head, ever again. I'll... I'll
kill you if you do! Even if I can't remember, I'll--"

Anthy shrugged away from Wakaba's grip and rose out of the
chair. "So," she said, "I guess that's your choice." Her hand
darted out and stroked Wakaba's brow; the lights in the room
flickered and dimmed momentarily, and a breeze without source
flapped the curtains. A thin line of light draw by the edge of
Anthy's nail shone on Wakaba's forehead, then expanded into a
circle like a sleeping eye awaking.

The wind died, the lights came back full strength, and
silence reigned over the room for a few long seconds. Wakaba
overthrew it by drawing a long, shuddering, sighing breath, and
replacing the leaf ornament back in its box.

"I see; that's why it made me so sad," she whispered.
"Thank you, Anthy. But there's still a lot I don't understand.
Who are you? How can you..."

"So many questions." Anthy smiled sadly; the glowing circle
on Wakaba's forehead flickered, and died. "I can't answer them
all; better if I don't answer any. Sleep, Wakaba; heal."

Wakaba yawned. "I am tired. But... what about Saionji?
Will you--"

"Yes. Rest."

"Thank you, Anthy." Wakaba closed her eyes, and almost
immediately began to snore. Anthy took the box from her hands
and put it on the table beside the bed, then left the room.
Saionji was waiting in the hall, arms folded and leaning against
the wall. Anthy wondered if he'd been listening at the door,
and, if so, what he'd heard.

"Let's go for a walk," she said. He nodded, and they
headed for the elevators together.

* * *

"So, you're doing your Master's now?"

"Yes. In Modern Japanese History. And there's been talk
from the university's fencing coach about my starting to train
to try and get on the Olympic team in the next few years."

"Wow."

Juri cradled her teacup in her hands in silence for a
moment, then looked at Utena pointedly. "So, when are you going
to ask about Shiori?"

"What?" Utena tried, and failed, to sound as if the thought
had never occurred to her.

"I know you want to ask," Juri said with a tiny, almost
melancholy smile. "If I were you, I would."

"Only if..."

"I'm comfortable talking about it? Don't be silly, Utena;
I'm me. I'm not comfortable talking about anything related to my
personal life."

Utena laughed. "Then don't."

"You deserve to know something after that performance Shiori
gave." Juri grimaced. "Where to begin... I suppose I have Touga
to thank, much as I hate to have to thank that bastard for
anything."

"Oh?"

"Do you remember how badly Shiori took Ruka dumping her?
Maybe you don't; I do. Now. Just believe me, it was bad."
Juri's mouth had become a completely horizontal line, with
narrowed eyes staring over it; Utena thought she could hear her
teeth grinding together. "She took Touga dumping her worse. We
ended up getting drunk together; don't ask why, it would take too
long to explain. Then we ended up sleeping together--stop
blushing, Utena, not like that. Just in the same bed; Shiori
didn't want to sleep alone that night."

Juri took a long gulp of her tea. Her hands shook a little
as she put it back down on the saucer. "You have to keep in mind
that we didn't remember anything about the Duels, or the Black
Roses, or Ruka, or... well, anything. We were roommates, just
two old friends. I was still... in love with her, but... God,
things are going to get complicated once we give her her memories
back."

Utena almost said, "We don't have to", but stopped herself.

"Anyway, I woke up the next morning, and Shiori was gone.
So was my locket." She reached up and touched her throat,
presumably to indicate where the locket lay beneath her loose
turtleneck. "Akio gave it back, of course; good as new. He was
very careful."

"You still have it?"

Juri nodded.

Utena blinked. "He was careful, then; he must have had a
duplicate made. If it was just an illusion, it wouldn't be able
to pass beyond Ohtori's grounds."

"Do you know that for certain?"

The thought troubled Utena. "Anthy basically said as much;
Akio's power is limited to Ohtori."

"Why?"

"It just is. What happened after that?"

Juri shrugged. "I really don't know. Shiori didn't come
back to our room until the evening; I was all ready to have to
try and explain about the locket. Make up some lie. That was
also the day Miki's sister died, so I had a lot on my mind."

"Kozue?" Utena pronounced the name slowly, slightly
shocked.

Juri nodded. "I can't say I was ever very fond of her,
but... well, Miki took it very hard."

"How is he now? Do you keep in touch?"

Juri shook her head; she looked more than a little
regretful. "We just kind of drifted apart. He changed after
Kozue died, withdrew a little more into his music and his
mathematics. He was still at Ohtori three years ago; that was
the last time I heard from him."

"And... you and Shiori?"

"We talked." Juri frowned; the memory was apparently
painful. "For a long time. Got a lot of things into the open.
And... it turned out she wasn't actually that uncomfortable with
it. Nervous, more than anything else." She gestured around at
the apartment. "You've pretty much seen how things ended up."

Utena smiled. "I'm really glad things worked out for you,
Juri."

"You're not the only one." Juri cracked her knuckles, shook
her head, sighed. "As I said, things are going to be complicated
once Shiori starts remembering the duels, Ruka... especially
Ruka." She laughed derisively. "It's complicating things for me
already."

"Anything you want to talk about?"

"No. I think I've shared enough. And unless you want to
get anything off your shoulders, let's figure out what we're
going to do next." Juri's tone made it clear the offer was more
symbolic than sincere.

"All right." Utena leaned back in the chair and tried to
think of where to begin. "What do you know about what Touga did
after graduation?"

Juri scowled at the mention of Touga's name. "Nothing.
I've made a studious effort to avoid contact with him ever since
he left Ohtori. Why?"

"The Knight of Pentacles," Utena replied. "Something about
him was familiar, but I couldn't say for sure. He used a katana,
though, and he seemed to know me."

Juri sighed. "There's a way to find out, although I was
hoping we wouldn't have to involve her."

"Involve who?"

"Who else would know what Touga had been up to?"

"Nanami. Do you--"

"She goes to a private university on the other side of the
city," Juri explained, cutting Utena off. "She's on their
fencing team. Not a lot of formal skill, but loads of raw
talent. Fast as all hell, too. Shiori had a match against her a
few months ago at the divisional finals." Yet again, Juri
scowled. "Shiori lost."

"I was going to track her down anyway," Utena said. "This
just makes things easier."

"Are you sure you want to get Nanami involved in this?"

"We need all the help we can get; once she gets her memories
back, I'm sure she'll have as much reason to hate Akio as we do."

"Think about it," Juri said, "if Touga's still working for
Akio--and this Knight makes it sound as though he might be--then
what guarantee do we have that Nanami isn't as well?"

"Ahh. Is she still, umm..."

"Obsessed with her brother?" Juri hesitated, then shrugged
her shoulders. "I suppose I have to be fair. Nanami's a lot
better than she used to be. She... I'll admit it, one of the
reasons Miki and I drifted apart is that he and Nanami started
hanging around together a lot more after Kozue died." She
sighed. "I'm not very close to my older sister, Utena; I guess I
couldn't relate nearly as well to losing a sibling who was that
important to me."

Utena blinked. "You have an older sister?"

Juri smiled, a bit sadly. "As I said, I'm not very close to
her. Not like Miki and Kozue were."

"How did Kozue... die?"

"Car accident. I never got any more details than that.
Miki didn't like to talk about it, at least with me."

"Have you got Nanami's number?"

"I can get it. I'll have to make a few calls; my fencing
coach to get the number of her coach, then her coach to get her
number."

"Good. Do that."

"Are you certain?"

Utena rubbed her temples. "Look, Juri, if you think we
can't trust her..."

Juri looked troubled. "I think the gains outweigh the
risks. After all, we don't necessarily need to restore her
memory to quiz her on what her brother's been up to; we can feel
her out, get a sense of where she might stand, before we make
that decision." She got up, walked towards the bedroom door,
pulled it open. "I'll be back in a few minutes." The door
closed behind her as she entered.

Chu-Chu, who had been gobbling cookies straight from the box
during their entire conversation, looked up at Utena. "Chu?"

She picked him up and craned her neck down until her eyes
were only inches from his. "I think this is going well, don't
you?"

"Chu." His beady black orbs glittered.

"Exactly." She gave him another cookie as reward for his
eloquence, then settled back into the chair. It really was going
well. Juri was so different from the person she'd been at
Ohtori, more whole. The only sticking points were Shiori's
hostility, which Utena couldn't really understand, and... the
kiss. That was even understandable, given a moment's thought;
she remembered Juri asking her, right before everything had come
to its end, for a photo to put in another locket. Seven years of
that attraction being repressed... no, it was understandable.
Forgivable, if there had been anything to forgive. Maybe even a
little flattering...

Juri returned, interrupting her thoughts, and sat back down
on the couch. "Well, I set up a meeting with Nanami for later
this afternoon."

"That didn't take long."

Juri shrugged. "She was surprised to hear from me; I think
she's curious." Juri looked at her watch. "The meeting's in
about an hour." She handed Utena a scrap of paper with an
address written on it. "That's where she's going to meet you;
it's a coffee shop."

"Meet me? Aren't you coming?"

Juri flopped back onto the couch and crossed her ankles.
"How you got me to remember. Do you think I could do that to
Shiori on my own?"

"Akio's illusions are mighty but fragile," Utena murmured.
"I think it's more a matter of realizing they're there than
anything else. Talking about things that happened that were
important to them--probably Ruka--seems to be the key. Oh, and
having them picture the rose."

"I was the first one you tried it on, wasn't I?" Juri
asked dubiously.

Utena's head drooped a little. "Yeah."

"Nice to be a test subject," Juri said with false levity.

"It worked, didn't it?"

"It hurt!"

"I didn't expect it wouldn't."

"No; I suppose not." Juri looked momentarily pained, and
then shook it off. "So, I'll help Shiori remember, and you'll go
to meet Nanami."

"How long will it take me to get there?"

Juri glanced at her watch. "At this time of day? About an
hour."

Utena made a small, panicked sound. "Ack. Better hurry.
Can I leave my bag here? And Chu-Chu? Nanami never seemed to
get along too well with animals."

"Go ahead," Juri said resignedly. "I suppose we have enough
food in the apartment to last him until dinner time."

"Oh, he doesn't have to eat that much." Utena poked Chu-Chu
in his pudgy belly. "He's just a glutton. Don't put up with him
if he tries to bully you into doing what he wants."

Juri reached over and took the nearly-empty cookie box away.
"I won't."

"Chu!"

* * *

Near the hospital, a winter-clad park stretched across several
city blocks. Anthy walked beside Saionji upon one of the
serpentine paths that had been cleared through the foot or so of
snow that still remained upon the ground. No one else was in the
park, which didn't surprise Anthy much; its naked trees and
frozen pond were not inviting to walkers.

They had come all this way in silence, which had begun to
wear thin on Anthy. Saionji seemed deep in thought, and she
wondered again if he had been listening at the door while she
talked to Wakaba.

"How long have you and Wakaba been together, Saionji-
sempai?" she asked finally, unable to stand it any longer.

He blinked, then answered, "Since my last year at Ohtori, I
suppose, although it was just casual dating then. After I
graduated, I kept on coming back every week or so to see her, and
things eventually just kind of clicked in my head that she was
the one for me."

"How nice," Anthy murmured. They walked along a little
further, and then he stopped; she looked back questioningly.
"Saionji-sempai?"

"Kyouichi," he said softly. "Call me Kyouichi. Please."

"Very well." She looked at him carefully. "Shall I do it
now? I suppose this place is isolated enough."

"What?"

"Your memories."

He nodded, once. "I want to remember." His tongue
nervously flicked out and moistened lips chapped by the winter
air. "I... we had something. I know that. But I can't
remember what. And a car, driving down the highway, but it was
like there was nothing else around me but the night, even though
there were lights burning everywhere... No grass or trees or
mountains or people... Just me, in a car, and... others, too.
And nothing else. As though we were driving right to the very
ends of the world."

As he'd spoken, his voice had become more and more shaky,
trembling as though he were speaking through holes in his throat,
holes in his mind. "And, at the end... eternity. Something
beyond eternity, outside eternity. So bright; so very bright."

Anthy extended her right arm perpendicular to her body in a
slow, continuous sweep; pale fire limned her fingers, then
gathered to a point upon the nail of her index finger. Saionji
closed his eyes as she reached up to stroke his brow; his mouth
opened into a small, silent, almost ecstatic O. The line of
light shone as though emanating from beneath the crack of a door,
then opened fully, and, with full opening, died.

Saionji cried out softly and stumbled forward, hands
grabbing her shoulders to support himself. He was much taller
and heavier than her, and the sudden extra weight made her
stumble back with him still clinging to her.

"Himemiya," he gasped. "Himemiya." His eyes were wild,
pupils dilated; his breathing came hard and heavy, and she could
feel his whole body trembling through his grip on her shoulders.
For a moment, she wondered just what the consequences of what she
had done would be; then she cast those thoughts aside. Wakaba
had made the choice for both of them, after all, and she was not
her brother.

"The Revolution, Himemiya; I forgot all about it." His
voice had begun to crack, approaching shrillness as he spoke.
"But it's not too late, is it?" She nearly cried out in pain as
his grip tightened on her shoulders. "We--you and I, we can
still bring it, and then--"

"It's too late," she snapped back, slicing his words short.
"It's seven years too late."

His handsome face turned ugly so quickly it was like the
donning of a mask. "Don't take that tone with me!" One hand
left her shoulder and drew back.

Anthy's eyes flashed green, and he froze. She stepped back,
leaving one hand clutching empty air, and the other raised in
preparation for a slap that would never connect.

Not a muscle twitched upon his body; only his eyes moved,
darting back and forth within their sockets with the trapped gaze
of a hunted animal.

"You see, Saionji-sempai?" she asked, cool and cold as the
air around them; at the same time as she saw the worst in him,
though, she had to fight back her pity. "Any time you touched
me, anything you did to me, it was because I _let_ you."

He did not, could not, respond. His body stood like a
statue.

"I am Rose Bride no longer," she hissed. The thought that
there might be people entering in the park now, people near
enough to see this strange tableaux, occurred to her; then she
realized, with a liberation of her heart like a bird flying free
of its cage, that she did not care. "And no one--not you, not my
brother, not anyone--will touch me again unless I allow it."

Her hand snapped out, almost of its own volition, and caught
him a ringing blow across the face; he did not, could not move,
but she saw tears of pain well in his frightened eyes. She let
her hand swing back almost to her shoulder, and then backhanded
him; the sound echoed in her head like the tolling of bells. The
tears began to run down Saionji's immobile cheeks like cataracts
down a cliff-face.

"How do you like it?" Her voice snarled in her ears like
a beast's. She hit him again, breaking a nail and drawing a line
of blood across his cheek. "HOW DO YOU LIKE IT?" A drum--her
heart--pounded in her head, and the world seemed covered by a
thin scarlet film.

Suddenly, she felt it like a cold chill. She was being
observed. Her head snapped from one side to another, but there
was no one in the park; the use of her power to paralyse
Saionji had also heightened her senses as a side-effect, but she
could spot no one... Wait. Distantly, atop a building, a glint
of light that was out place, as of the sun reflecting off a
lens...

Forgetting about Saionji, she hurled herself free from her
body like a bird taking flight from some dark cave, rushing
towards that glint of light like a falcon dives upon its prey...

Then, suddenly, she was snapped back into her body; that
would happen automatically if it was disturbed. Saionji was on
his knees before her, arms wrapped around her waist, face
pressed into the folds of her long skirt, sobbing.

"I'm sorry," he wailed. "I'm s-s-sorry."

Anthy looked down at him, and pity filled her to almost the
limits of her capacity. There was blood all over one side of his
face from where her nail had cut him; she felt sick with
herself.

"I see," she murmured; she reached down, and gently traced
her fingers through his hair. "It's not just who you are; it's
the power you have. If you have absolute power over someone, no
matter what kind of person you are..."

"I'm s-so b-b-b-bad, I'm s-s-so b-b-b-b..." His voice
dissolved into helpless, wordless stuttering; Anthy glanced
around to see if they were attracting any attention at all, but
no one was close enough to become curious. And the glint of
light on lens was gone.

"Shh." She knelt down and cradled him in her arms as best
she could; he was so much bigger than her. "Kyouichi, it's all
right. I'm sorry too."

"I'm s-s-sorry, M-m-m-mother."

"Shh." Suddenly she was very, very cold. "I'm not your
mother. It's Anthy. Himemiya Anthy."

He raised his head and looked into her eyes; there was no
recognition in his eyes. "Anthy. Himemiya Anthy." He said the
words as though testing them for authenticity; then the haunted,
agonized look left his eyes. "Anthy." He broke roughly away
from her embrace, stood up, and took a few steps back. "I'm..."

"Shh. Don't talk. It's all right." She sorted through her
purse and found a half-empty packet of tissues. Stepping forward
until she stood before him, she began to wipe the blood and tears
off his face. It was, undoubtedly, going to bruise; already
swollen, in fact.

As she dropped the damp, bloody tissue on the snow-dusted
path, Saionji reached up, touched his cheek, and winced. "This
is going to be hard to explain to Wakaba."

Unexpectedly, they both laughed.

Saionji closed his eyes, and took a deep breath of winter
air. "I'm trying, Anthy," he whispered. "I'm really trying. I
haven't got that angry since before Wakaba and I were married.
I'm on--"

"Medication. Wakaba told me."

He winced a little. "Oh."

She wanted to ask him why he'd called her "Mother", but
didn't. If only she could Watch him... no. She'd already
paralysed and brutalized him using her power. There really was
only a difference of degrees between her and Akio.

"Maybe you should put a little snow on your face," Anthy
suggested. "It might not swell up so bad, then."

Saionji nodded and scooped up a handful from a nearby bank.
They walked back towards the hospital in silence, and, all the
way, Anthy's thoughts were full of glints of light.

* * *

Nanami was late, of course. Utena should have expected that;
after all, this was Nanami. Touga's little sister; snide and
condescending and selfish.

Also necessary. At the very least, she could help to
confirm or deny Utena's suspicions about Touga; perhaps, if
things worked out, there'd be one more blade against Akio. Two
more, if Nanami could still fight a double-weapon style.

Utena waited in a booth in the back with a cup of coffee and
a biscotti, consuming both slowly and reading the newspaper. She
scanned the entire front section carefully, but there was no new
information on the Ohtori killing; plenty on the three murders in
Sapporo last night, but she avoided reading those articles.

Five minutes after the official meeting time, Nanami
breezed in the door of the coffee shop, dressed to the nines,
hair elegantly coiffed. She looked around the shop--Utena
couldn't tell if Nanami's eyes lingered upon her in quasi-
recognition or not, as the younger woman wore dark sunglasses--
then turned and walked back out the door.

People obviously waited for Kiryuu Nanami; she did not wait
for them. Utena scowled, and left behind the newspaper, a half-
inch of coffee and a few biscotti crumbs as she went after
Nanami.

She caught up with her outside just as she was about to
cross the street, stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Nanami,
wait."

Nanami looked back over her shoulder. "Yes? Who are you to
use my name in such a familiar way?" Utena could almost feel the
disdain radiating from behind the fashionable sunglasses.

"Juri couldn't make it, so she sent me."

The crossing light was green; pedestrians swept by the two
of them as they stood at the corner, some giving them annoyed
glances or muttering under their breath as they were forced to
divert around the obstacle they presented.

Nanami pushed her sunglasses down her nose and looked at
Utena over the top of them. "You do seem familiar. Are you on
Juri's team at U of Tokyo?"

"No. I went to Ohtori, though. Tenjou Utena."

The blond snapped her fingers, drawing Utena's eyes to them.
"As I thought. I didn't remember your name, but, then again, I
knew so many people at Ohtori." She cocked her head to one side
and looked at Utena. "Is something wrong?"

"N--no. Nothing."

"Really, you look a little pale. Shall we go back and sit
down? Whatever Juri wanted you to tell me, you can tell me just
as easily there."

"All right."

"Very well, then." Nanami linked arms with Utena in a
spirit of false, almost cloying familiarity, and began to walk
her back towards the coffee shop. Utena tried to relax, but it
was impossible: on Nanami's right hand lurked the terrifyingly
familiar shape of the Rose Signet.

Back in the shop, they ordered from the same waitress who
had served Utena earlier (who, Utena was certain, gave them
an odd look as they entered and reclaimed the table Utena had
minutes ago abandoned). Nanami ordered a large cappuccino, "Low
fat milk, please, and not too many of those chocolate sprinkles;
and the milk _must_ be low fat", and Utena, after a moment's
consideration, ordered one as well, although without the
strictures. She had to fight to keep her gaze from continually
falling on the rose-graved ring Nanami wore so casually.

"Do you like it?"

"What?"

"My ring. I couldn't help but notice you staring at it."

Damn.

Nanami removed her sunglasses and put them off to the side
near the napkin holder, then held up her hand with the fingers
spread wide in order for Utena to inspect her ring. "Isn't it
gorgeous? My big brother gave it to me for my birthday last
year. I think it's very expensive."

"Yes," Utena said; her words struggled up through the dry
desert of her throat. "I'm sure the price is one few people
can afford to pay."

"His job pays very well." Nanami put her right hand back
down on the table and folded her left over it, thankfully hiding
the distracting ring from Utena's sight. "You know, it's funny;
I only started fencing because of this ring."

"Oh?"

The cappuccinos arrived, and Nanami began using her spoon to
pick out what was apparently (despite her request) an excess of
chocolate sprinkles from the foam. "Well, it might just be a
coincidence, but as soon as I got this ring, I started having the
strangest dreams. All these people with swords, fighting each
other, and all of them were wearing a ring like this one. And I
was one of them." Apparently finally content with the number of
sprinkles, she put the spoon aside and looked at Utena
questioningly. "So, the very next day I went and signed up for
fencing, even though I'd never even done it before, or even
thought about it much. I used to practice kendo with my big
brother sometimes, but that was only so we could have something
to do together; I was never very interested. But I really do
like fencing, and all because of this ring. Isn't that funny?"

"Yes." Was she sincere, or acting? Utena couldn't tell.
But Nanami wore the Rose Signet, and the mere sight of it made
every part of Utena scream danger. What mattered was to remain
calm, though, and not give herself away; if there was anything to
give herself away to. Perhaps she was just being paranoid; Touga
might have sent Nanami the ring because it appealed to some
twisted sense of humour. After all, Nanami hadn't dipped nearly
as deep into Ohtori's shadows as her brother had; she might just
be like Saionji or Juri, completely amnesiac about what had
happened.

Nanami was staring at her, and Utena realized just how long
she'd been thinking in silence; flustered, she blurted out the
first thing that came to mind: "What does your brother do these
days, Nanami?"

A tiny smirk appeared on Nanami's face; Utena supposed it
was meant to be condescending, but the effect was ruined by a
moustache of cappuccino foam clinging to Nanami's upper lip. "I
was wondering how long it would take you to ask. I'd bet
anything that all the girls who ever went to Ohtori remember my
brother."

Utena nodded, playing along. "Yup; he was pretty
memorable."

"Well," Nanami said pridefully, "my brother is the Assistant
Director of Off-Campus Operations for Ohtori Academy."

"Oh," Utena said, smiling until she felt as though her face
were going to crack. "And what does he do, exactly?"

Juri had implied that Nanami wasn't still obsessed with her
older brother. Utena was observing a lot of evidence to the
contrary of that. She could almost see Nanami's eyes begin to
sparkle as she launched into a precise, lengthy description of
the minutiae of her brother's job.

"...and he travels all over the country--the world, even--to
recruit the top students and instructors..."

Much of it made it sound as though Touga was basically a
glorified secretary. Apparently, the job involved approving a
lot of things, and filling out forms.

"...but mostly, he assists the Chairman of Ohtori; not Akio-
san, the acting Chairman, but the real Chairman." Nanami's
babble stopped momentarily, and a bit of the sparkle left her
eyes. "That's such a sad story."

"What?" Utena responded a little later than she should
have; Nanami's extended monologue on Touga's job had made her
attention drift.

Nanami, apparently, didn't even notice. "Well, you know how
Akio-san was engaged to marry Ohtori Kanae, the Chairman's
daughter, right?" As she talked she twisted the Rose Signet
upon her finger, apparently unconsciously.

Utena nodded. "I met Kanae." A sick, cold lump began to
form in her stomach as she looked at Nanami's expression; the
younger woman seemed genuinely sad at whatever memories the
conversation had called up. "What happened?"

"I guess it would have been after you left," Nanami said.
"You weren't at Ohtori very long, were you?" At Utena's nod, she
continued: "Well, the year after you left--I would have been in
the eighth grade--Kanae got very sick and died. So... there was
no wedding, of course. We were going to hold the reception at
our house; my brother and Akio-san are such good friends, you
know." She sighed. "Akio-san stayed on as acting chairman;
there was no one else to do it, really. Chairman Ohtori got even
sicker after Kanae died."

The lump now felt roughly the size of a bowling ball.
"Excuse me, Nanami," Utena requested, trying to keep the
queasiness in her stomach out of her voice. "I have to go to the
washroom."

In the empty washroom of the coffee shop, she splashed cold
water on her face, dabbed it dry with a paper towel, and then
sank down to her knees until her forehead rested on the cool fake
marble of the sink counter. Someone might very well come in and
wonder what was wrong, but she didn't really care. All her
attention was focused on not vomiting.

Kozue dead. Kanae dead. Coincidences? It could be.
People die; Anthy had said that. Parents, sisters, friends...
yes, people died. A car accident, illness... a car accident?

She stood up, and half-staggered out of the bathroom.
Nanami looked up at with what might have been concern as she came
back to the table. "Utena, you look awful."

Utena ignored her, and slid back into the booth. "Nanami,
tell me how Kozue died."

"What?"

"Juri told me you got closer to Miki after Kozue died. You
have to know. It was a car accident. What kind?"

Nanami half-flinched at the mention of Miki; a thin flush
suffused her pale cheeks. "We weren't that close," she
whispered.

"Nanami," Utena prompted.

"Another sad story," Nanami murmured softly. "Poor Akio-
san; he took it so badly, and it was so soon after Kanae died,
a little less than year. He went driving with Kozue one day, on
the cliffs beside the ocean. Have you ever been out there?"

The sea, rich and vast like cloth to weave a god's blue
cloak; wind in her hair; Akio beside her, one hand on the wheel,
the other on the back of her seat; the staggered lines dividing
the highway into lanes blurring into a single line stretching off
into the horizon; a fan murmuring softly in a hot hotel room...

"Yes; I've been there."

"The brakes failed. On his car. And he took such good care
of it, too; they broke through the guard rail, and went into the
sea. They never found Kozue's body; it's a miracle Akio-san
lived." She paused, sighed, shook her head. "So sad."

"Nanami," Utena croaked, "can we... is there somewhere else
we can go to talk? This... what I have to say, it's too public
here."

Nanami looked very dubious. "I don't see what..."

"Please," Utena said, unable to keep a pleading tone from
her voice. "Please, just trust me."

Unexpectedly, she found her trembling hand clasped in both
of Nanami's. The smooth, cool shape of the Rose Signet was an
aberration against the warmth of Nanami's skin. "All right. Can
you walk? You look really sick, Utena. If you want to sit here
for a while, I can go and get my car and pull up outside..."

"No. I'm okay." She got out of the booth, took a deep
breath, and stood up a little straighter. "Let's go."

"Don't forget your purse." Nanami pointed to it where it
lay in one corner of the booth; as Utena picked it up, the blond
replaced her sunglasses. "Come on; it's not far."

Outside, Utena found her arm linked with Nanami's again, and
despite her almost profound gratitude for the kindness she was
being shown in the moment of her weakness, she could not stop her
gaze from lingering upon the Rose Signet that gleamed dully in
the winter sun as Nanami led her to the car.

* * *

Nanami didn't have a roommate, although her apartment was easily
big enough for one. Or even two. It looked to be almost twice
the size of the apartment Utena had shared with Anthy.

Sometimes, she really resented the rich. Maybe that was why
heroes were so often princes; they had the time to go out and
rescue princesses because they didn't have to work full-time in
order to feed themselves. Not fair; not fair at all.

Nanami sat her down on a plush leather chair in the front
room of the apartment, told her to "Sit right there and relax",
and went into the kitchen to get her something cold to drink.
She was being nice to the point of almost becoming saccharine,
even going so far as to let Utena choose the radio station on the
short drive to her apartment. Utena had chosen to leave it off;
on top of the queasiness, a headache had been threatening.

The car, a sporty little blue roadster, was nice as well.
It had heat that worked, and the radio's volume knob wasn't
broken, and there were power windows. Yeah, she really resented
the rich sometimes.

A few big oak bookshelves dominated the room, stretching
almost to the top of the ceiling. Utena glanced at the spines of
the books; most of them appeared to be children's books. Half of
them she remembered reading in her youth: simplified retellings
of mythology, translations of the fairy tales of the Brothers
Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen... she even spotted the same
translated edition of Steinbeck's "Acts of King Arthur and His
Noble Knights" that she'd read as a child.

"I'm doing my degree in literature," Nanami said as she
returned from the kitchen with a glass of water. "I want to
specialize in children's literature once I get far enough into
the program."

"Interesting. I used to read lots of these when I was
younger." Utena accepted the water gratefully, and gulped it
down in two swallows. "Mostly the fairy tales. I was always
sorry that I was an only child... it always seemed to be the
third, youngest brother who ended up becoming a hero."

"Oh, that's a traditional motif," Nanami said. "The younger
child supplanting the elder; supposedly, it represents the
triumph of youth over old age, innovation over stagnation... at
least, that's what my professors say." She stuck her tongue out,
looking remarkably childish for a moment. "But, then again,
they're silly old men. I'm sure there are plenty of heroic older
brothers out there."

Utena coughed, and tried to steer the conversation away from
that topic. "Anyway, what I wanted to talk to you about..."

"Yes?"

"Umm... was..."

Damn. It would have been a good idea to think up a cover
story with Juri to use if she decided it was better not to
restore Nanami's memories.

"Yes?"

Utena grasped at straws. "Well, did you read about that boy
who got killed at Ohtori?"

Nanami blinked. "What? No."

"It was in the paper yesterday."

"Oh. I don't read the paper on weekdays; I usually just
read the Week in Review section in the Sunday edition. Saves
time."

"When was the last time you talked to your brother?"

"A few days ago; why?"

"Well, Juri and I... we were wondering if you knew
anything about it."

Nanami finally sat down in the matching chair opposite Utena
and steepled her fingers under her chin. "Well, obviously not."

"We just kind of thought because of your brother..."

"So you knew what his job was before you came to meet me?
Why did you ask me what he was doing now, then?" Utena swore
inside her head; Nanami's voice had suddenly turned hostile and
suspicious at the contradiction.

"You see..."

"No, I don't see. Why are you asking me? If you want to
know, why don't you call Ohtori? Just because my big brother...
it's because of my brother, isn't it? I remember you now,
Tenjou Utena; you were always _looking_ at my brother." Her
voice was a dry hiss. "Well, he's too good for you; he's better
than you, better than all of you. Whatever that deviant
Arisugawa told you, whatever Saionji told you--"

"Don't call her that."

Nanami's eyes flashed; her right hand rose up and made an
empty gesture at the air. "What, a deviant? Why not, it's what
she is, isn't it? I'm _glad_ I beat her little... girlfriend,
whatever you're supposed to call--"

"Nanami, watch it."

"Oh, _do_ forgive me. Am I insulting you inadvertently as
well?" Suddenly, she tittered; all of the old Nanami from Ohtori
was in that snide, knowing laugh. "I see; so that's why
Arisugawa sent you. A kindred spirit."

Utena nearly hit her; only a shaft on sunlight, catching the
Rose Signet on Nanami's still-gesturing hand, stopped her; it
reminded her of how things had once been, and how they were now.
There was no need to hit Nanami.

"Good to see some things don't change," she said slowly,
icily, letting each word fall heavily before the next followed.
"Saionji's changed, Juri's changed, Shiori's changed, but it's
inexplicably reassuring to see that you're still the same
mean, selfish little bitch you were at Ohtori. I'm not surprised
you don't have a roommate; I've been with you less than an hour,
and I'm already remembering why I didn't like you at Ohtori."

She might as well have slapped her, given the effect; Nanami
seemed to crumple like a crushed origami bird, sinking down into
the chair and putting her face in her hands. You're not the only
one who can cut with your words, Utena thought triumphantly; but
the victory felt hollow.

"I'm sorry." Nanami's voice was suddenly calm again. "I
don't know why I said that. I didn't mean it."

"Then why did you say it?"

Nanami gestured helplessly with her left hand. "I don't
even know. Because I think it? Not like that, though, not so
nasty, but..."

"Juri makes you uncomfortable."

Nanami nodded, and drew her knees up to her chest until she
sat in an almost fetal position in the chair. "They all made me
uncomfortable."

"Who?"

"The Student Council; I used to help them out. I think. It
was so long ago, wasn't it? Kyouichi was Touga's old friend, and
he was always polite to me, but he didn't care one way or the
other about me, really... Miki was... sweet, but so much smarter
than me... Juri was just... Juri. And my brother? God, I used
to run after him like I was a little puppy. Even today, I hear
myself talking about him, and it's like it isn't me." She
hugged her knees tightly and stared up at the ceiling. "You know
I haven't been on a date, even a casual one, in eight months?
Every time I get asked, I start comparing... he isn't as tall as
my brother, he isn't as handsome, his voice isn't as nice... and
it's sick, I know it is, but I can't stop..."

"Nanami..."

"I don't know what's wrong with me," Nanami whispered, so
low that Utena could barely hear. "It's like there's this big
hole inside me, right through my heart."

What Utena did next was not based upon reason or careful
thought; even instinct told her it was stupid and dangerous.
There were still too many unanswered questions, and Nanami might
simply be a very good actress.

But it didn't feel that way to her, at that moment in time.
And even though it wasn't really fair to make the decision
without talking to Juri first... well, she had started this,
after all. This counter-revolution--yes, call it that--was hers,
and she had more right than anyone to make the choices.

"Nanami, close your eyes... picture a rose... what colour is
it?"

* * *

When Anthy got home, the phone was ringing. She hurriedly
slipped off her shoes and ran to grab it off the kitchen wall.
"Hello?"

//"Himemiya; I was about to hang up. Glad I caught you
after all."//

"Doctor Retasu; hello."

//"I just called to tell you that I've spoken to Yuri-san
and told her you'll be taking over for her during her maternity
leave. On Monday, go to her office when you get in in the
morning, and she'll start showing you your responsibilities. She
was scheduled to go on leave after two weeks, but we talked about
it, and she thinks you can probably get a handle on it after a
week, so she may go off early."//

"That would be nice for her."

//"Yes. Anyway, just thought I'd tell you."//

"Thank you, sir."

//"Goodbye, Himemiya."//

She hesitated, then stifled the almost automatic farewell
that rose in response. "Sir, about what happened in your
office..."

Total silence on the other end of the line; she couldn't
even hear him breathing.

//"Himemiya--"//

The phone cut off. No click of him hanging up, no dial-
tone. Anthy frowned, pressed and depressed the cradle button
once, twice; no Retasu, and no dial-tone.

She put the phone's handset down on the counter and walked
past the closed bathroom door towards the bedroom, where the
other phone was.

As the door to the bedroom opened inward, blocking the bed
from view as it did, she didn't see the man sitting there until
she had stepped inside.

"Hello, bruja," he said. He was very old and very tall,
with a weathered Mediterranean complexion. Shoulder length white
hair, still thick and full, brushed against the collar of his
crisp, well-tailored shirt. "Been a while." A heavy accent;
Latin, and something else.

And, just like the scent of roses could resurrect the ghosts
of her memory, so did that voice.

Havana. Nineteen fifty-eight. A dim bar. A hunchbacked
busboy, moving through the din and smoke, never speaking, mocked
and abused by the customers, clearing tables in total silence.

She's on stage, singing, very softly accompanied by a
guitar. Akio behind the bar, talking, serving drinks, making
jokes, dispensing advice. Pulling strings. What? No, he
doesn't own the place. He's just running it for a friend who's
out of the country; he doesn't really have the skills to run a
popular place like this very well, but he does his best. Another
drink? His own special concoction... first, a shot of tequila...

What? The singer. Yes, very beautiful. My sister, too.
Oh, no, don't apologize; we live in a modern age, and she is very
lovely. It is better that men of honour speak their minds, don't
you think, rather than hide behind masks and smoke? How
wonderful that you agree, sir. I may be frank, then.

You wish to court my sister? My blessing? Ahh, sir, you do
not need my blessing. Let me give you advice, though... the
courtship rituals of my family, they are most odd. From our old
country.

What country? Ahh, sir, I doubt you have heard of it, but
listen to me now...

He is rising from the bed. He is sitting at a table in the
corner, alone although surrounded by friends. Behind her, she
hears the bathroom door open, and remembers too late that it was
not closed when she left.

He is walking towards her across the room. He is fighting a
duel in a shadowy alley to first blood. He is screaming her
name. He is screaming a word at her. He is kissing what hangs
and glitters upon a golden chain. He is hanging a glittering
golden chain about her neck. Before her, there is a cloth in a
hand. The cloth is on her mouth. His lips are on her mouth.

He is running away into the night. She is falling away into
the darkness.

"Sleep, bruja. Sleep." Almost tenderly.

* * *

"How's your cheek?"

"It hurts. What do you think?"

"Well, I'm very sorry. But what do you _expect_, dumping
all of that on someone at once? First of all, you knew
perfectly well we never got along at Ohtori..."

Utena held the ice pack against her cheek, as Nanami drove,
hands tight on the wheel. "It was a lot easier with Juri."

The gates--as good a word as any, she supposed--behind which
the memories of Ohtori waited appeared to take a different form
for everyone when visualized. To her, Mikage and the Black Rose
Duellists had hidden themselves within the petals of a thorny
black rose; for Juri, it had been the fence and gate of black and
orange roses.

Nanami's had been a little odder:

"Yellow."

"Anything else?"

"Yellow roses. I'm wearing a dress of yellow roses. And a
belt of black roses. They're very pretty. They smell nice. I'm
going to a dance. My big brother will be there."

"Take the dress off, Nanami."

"What? Don't be silly. Then I'd be naked." A childish
giggle. "And I have to go to the dance. My big brother will be
there. I wonder what suit he'll wear? I'm sure he'll be very
handsome."

"The ball was cancelled. You don't need to wear the dress
any more."

"Why do you want me to take off my dress? Are you some sort
of pervert?"

"I, uhh... have another dress for you, right here? Isn't it
nice?"

"Well. All right. But don't look while I change."

"I won't. I'm turning my eyes away."

"I'm taking off the dress now. Don't look."

"Okay."

Nanami had screamed, sprung up from the chair, and given
Utena a right cross. It hurt as much as from surprise as from
actual force, and the Rose Signet's metal face didn't help any.
The two of them went down on the floor together with Nanami on
top screaming and trying to throttle Utena with one hand, while
slapping her with the other.

"DAMN YOU! God DAMN you, I wanted to forget, you bitch, you
bitch, you lousy bitch, I wanted to forget--"

Utena got a knee up into Nanami's stomach and shoved her
off, losing a little skin from her neck as Nanami's fingernails
were dislodged from their strangling grip. She sprang up and got
ready to defend herself, but there was no need. Nanami was on
her hands and knees, pounding the floor with her fist as though
it were a drum, and coughing as though she were about to dry-
heave.

"Nanami!" Worried she was going to hurt herself, Utena
leapt on her from behind and pressed her down to the floor with
her body, scrabbling to pin Nanami's flailing arms. "Nanami,
calm down!" A few more seconds of heated struggle, and then
Nanami went limp below her.

"Just do it," the younger girl whispered brokenly. "Just
get it over with. I know the way it goes. They may seem like a
prince, but then you find out what they _really_ want, and it's
no different from any other man."

Utena was panting hard from the sudden exertion; the left
side of her face ached down to the very bone, and a half-dozen
tiny rips stung upon the flesh of her throat. Pinned beneath
her, Nanami's body was a small, warm presence, like a tiny bird
trapped between her hands.

She scrambled off Nanami as though the other woman were
afire.

The blond just lay there. One of her high-heeled shoes had
come off during the brief intensity of the struggle and lay near
one of the chairs like a discarded toy. Her white blouse had
come untucked from its complimenting yellow skirt to show an
inch-wide section of bare midriff, and the long skirt itself had
been pushed high up on one side, exposing a considerable expanse
of pale leg.

"Just get it over with."

"Nanami," Utena whispered dully, sick with herself, "w--what
do you think I am?"

"Your own sister." Nanami didn't even seem to hear her.
"How could you? Bastard; your own sister."

Not what; who. Utena didn't really understand, though; a
reference to her own brother, or to Akio? Had Nanami perhaps
seen something during the time she'd spent in Akio's tower... but
no, Akio was too cautious to let that happen. And she couldn't
be talking about Miki. What had Touga done to her?

"Nanami, I'm the only one here."

Slowly, painstakingly, Nanami raised herself up from the
floor. She unconsciously tucked her blouse back in, smoothed her
skirt, and went to retrieve her shoe.

"God damn you, Utena," she snarled as she shoved her foot
back into the shoe. "I wanted to forget. You think I wanted to
remember all that? Why would anyone?"

"I had to remember it all," Utena said softly. "For seven
years, while all of you went on with your lives in blissful
ignorance."

"So now we all have to suffer along with you?" Nanami
snapped. "What gives you the right, Utena? What gives you the
right?"

Utena struggled for an answer, some recourse to a higher
ideal. And failed. "Nothing. I gave myself the right, Nanami."

"Damn you."

"Call your brother, Nanami."

"What?"

"Call him, then get ready to go back to Juri's with me;
we've got to get to Ohtori as soon as possible."

Nanami laughed shakily. "You're completely insane. You
honestly expect me to go _back_ there? Why?"

"To kill Akio."

"_Kill_ him? Oh, you are mad, Utena. Do you think
something like that can actually be killed?"

No answer.

"You know," Utena replied finally, "I hadn't even thought of
that."

"You're as much of a fool as you were at Ohtori."

"Maybe," Utena admitted. "But you're going to call Touga
anyway, and ask him about the boy who got killed. Then you're
going to come back to Juri's with me. Then you're going to help
us kill Akio."

"Why do you sound so certain of all these things?" Nanami
sneered.

"You haven't even thought about ordering me to leave yet,"
Utena replied coolly. "Now that you remember, now that you
know... you know this will never be over until Akio's dead."

Nanami glared at her, but said nothing.

Utena continued. "And there's your brother, too. What
about him?"

Shockingly, Nanami began to laugh again, this time not at
all shaky. "My brother." She threw her head back and giggled.
"Oh, yes, of course, my darling big brother. Can't forget about
him. You wait right there, Utena; I'll be back in a few
minutes."

She went into her bedroom to make the call with a mask of
clay, and came out with a mask of stone. Utena had waited for a
few minutes, not sitting, standing in the room, thinking of
nothing, staring at the books--full of the deeds of heroes who
could only be that heroic within a child's mind--upon the
shelves.

"Let's go," Nanami said when she came back out.

"What did Touga tell you?"

"Later," she replied tightly; Utena noticed that the Rose
Signet was missing from her finger, but did not ask about it.
"Let's just go. Damn it all, let's just get out of here."

So that was why they were in the car, and why Utena was
holding an ice pack against the Rose Signet-shaped bruise upon
her cheek.

"I do hope that doesn't leave a mark," Nanami said without
a note of sincerity.

"I suppose it would be appropriate if it did," Utena
replied, staring out the window of the car so as not to have to
look at Nanami. "After all, it would only put upon the flesh
what's already upon the soul."

"Goodness, Utena," Nanami quipped snidely, "you've become
quite the poet during the last seven years. Whatever have you
been up to while I was leading my happy, normal life that you
decided so casually to--"

"Shut up, Nanami," Utena muttered.

To her surprise, Nanami did, and began to drive faster.

* * *

"Yes; I see. I understand. Do not worry. I am prepared for all
of this. You sound so surprised; I am shocked you don't know me
better. Yes; good-bye. I will see you tomorrow at the usual
time."

The prince--it still entertained him to think of himself and
be thought of as a prince, despite what he had become--hung up,
locked his stationery away (a few letters had been sent today,
though only one of real importance) and left his offices. He
didn't often do so during the day; night was really his time to
prowl. Some days, especially cloudless winter days like this,
the sun seemed to shine just a little too bright for his eyes.

Perhaps he'd go driving tonight. Things had been very busy
lately, and he hadn't had much time to indulge himself. Tedious
but necessary interviews with the police, mostly. Why, no,
detective, Ohtori Academy does _not_ sanction duels between its
students as a means of settling conflicts; the students of this
academy are all free-spirited, in love with learning, and, above
all, do not fight. The kendo team and the fencing team? Only
formalized sports derived from combat. I'm not sure what you're
insinuating... Many sports have rather bloody origins...
Soccer, for example. Do you know that the ball used to
represent... oh, I'm sorry.

Fools; they were pitiable. He'd been deceiving smarter
people for longer than either of them had been alive. They would
come back, of course; and he would divert them again.

Outside, the winter winds blew hungrily along the paths
cleared through the snow by the groundskeeping staff to allow
students to get around the campus. For appearance's sake, the
prince wore an ankle-length coat of black wool so finely-spun as
to appear almost velvety, contrasted by long gloves of soft, pale
calfskin. As he made his winding way across campus towards his
destination, he could feel the eyes of every female student he
passed--many of the male ones, too--stroke his body like tiny
electrical lashes. The prince smiled knowingly.

His destination, the newest building at Ohtori, lay on the
north-western edge of the campus, near the great forest that was
also encompassed within the academy's walls. Despite its recent
construction--almost three years ago--it blended in perfectly
with the other buildings, done in an identical architectural
style despite the fact that the original architect who designed
Ohtori in the early 1950s was long dead.

Once, it had been merely another private school for the
children of those made newly rich in the economic boom after the
war. Now it was his. The feet upon Ohtori's grounds were the
circulations of his blood; the wind blowing over its forest was
his breath; the tower at its centre was his heart.

He looked up at the name of the building, smirked a little,
and ascended the long flight of stairs to the front door. There
were a few students in the halls; two girls, looking at the
wall-mounted display case near the front doors, and, distantly,
a figure of indistinct gender ducking through an archway.

As he passed the display case, the girls caught sight of his
reflection in the glass, and turned to look at him. Neither of
them had ever seen him before, but he knew their faces, their
names--would have known their inmost hearts, if they had been
anything other than unexceptional, and therefore worth his time.

"Terribly sad," he said politely. And smiled at them;
revelled in the knowledge that they were _his_, would have done
anything he wanted at that moment if he only gave the word.

He could take them for a drive. Show them both the Ends of
the World. But... they were nothing. Less than nothing.
Background scenery. Oh; they were finally getting up the nerve
to respond to him. How cute.

"Yeah."

"Sad."

He walked on, and heard them whispering behind him. Who was
that? Is he a student? He's _gorgeous_. He looks old. A new
teacher? What's his name? Dunno? Should ask around.

Inwardly, he chuckled, but did not allow it to escape his
lips. He reached the mid-point of the hallway, and ascended the
stairs to the second floor. A short walk, a turn, another short
walk, and he was there. The door was open a crack; light and
voices spilled out through it.

"Well... Isn't this nice?"

"Yes. It's a beautiful office; much more than I need."

"Don't be so humble. You should be proud."

"I'm happy."

"Not happy, _proud_. There's a difference, you know." A
woman's laughter, throaty; somehow both girlish and jaded.

"Well..."

"Are you blushing? How cute."

"I'm not blushing!"

"You are!" Again, the laughter; delighted, coquettish.
"Oh, Miki-chan, you're still such a child sometimes."

Silence, but for rustle of cloth, whisper of flesh, and
touch of lips to lips.

"But not _all_ the time, thank goodness."

"The door..."

"It's only a crack. And isn't it a little exciting? To
think that anyone could come by, anyone at all, and..."

"Please; the door."

The prince leaned against the wall, near the side of the
door opposite the crack, and silently mouthed the woman's next
words as she spoke them.

"Oh, all right. But only because I love you."

Light footsteps. Click. No crack, now.

In the hallway, the prince pressed back against the wall
and let out a deep sigh that hovered on the cusp of a moan; he
stroked the hollow of his throat, just once, with the feather-
soft touch of a calfskin-sheathed fingertip.

Then he walked away, smiling still, still laughing inside.

* * *

There's too many people, too many to recall
I thought some of 'em were friends of mine
I was wrong about 'em all
Well, the road is rocky and the hillside's mud
Up over my head nothing but clouds of blood
I found my own, I found my one in you
But your love just hasn't proved true
I'm twenty miles out of town, cold irons bound
Twenty miles out of town, cold irons bound
--Bob Dylan, "Cold Irons Bound"

End of Jaquemart - Part II