Anthy's hands ran along Utena's neck, following the line of her shoulders. In a gleam of red light, the epaulets appeared, followed by the rest of the duelist outfit.
Utena had complained about her muscles feeling sore because of the added weight pulling on her arms. However, it didn't seem to bother her too much while dueling. After her expected victory, Anthy went to her to remove the accessories and check her shoulders. Utena laughed and said she was fine, still full of adrenaline from the fight.
For all her mumbling about being a normal girl and the strangeness of the duels, she didn't ask much questions or tried to go against its rules. Underneath she certainly enjoyed playing pretend, being this shiny prince with great stature and rubies incrusted in her golden epaulets. She was so very bright that Anthy could almost be fooled for a second.
Would Anthy have to stop doing the clothing ceremony if Utena ordered it? She wasn't sure. It was an important part of the process after all, rituals after rituals being woven together like lies turned into truth to make history. She had to do it again and again whether she was tired of it or not, for it was her role and purpose. At least, this duty wasn't one she disliked. Utena was warm and still under her fingers, the faint smell of roses coming from her body reminding her of her garden.
Maybe Anthy was glad that she didn't ask about the epaulets then, like so many other things.
Anthy always attached the white rose carefully to the pocket on her chest. As her fingers softly brushed against her breast, she could feel her heartbeat, different each time. From the quick, angry and confused beat of her very first duel against Saionji, the perplexed tune of her duels against Miki and Juri, the faint sound before her predicted defeat against Touga, to the irregular mix of anxiousness and rediscovered confidence in her second duel with him. Anthy remembered them all, she just had to close her eyes and she could play them in her mind
They didn't have time for that in the fights against the duelists of the Black Rose, Anthy had to play the damsel in distress and this kind of serene, ancient tradition didn't fit the mood anymore. Still, Utena had to have a rose in that pocket for the fight to be fair and good so Anthy made sure to have it appears while no one was looking. Time slipped through her fingers as easily as air, it was child's play to make it without Utena even noticing.
Later, as she led her into the gondola, she would make her whole outfit change in one fell swoop of the wrist, without having to even touch her. Anthy disappeared, the bush of rose grew and bloomed from her clothes while Utena barely blinked at the strangeness of it all. Once you had seen castles in the sky, nothing surprised you anymore.
It meant that everything was going along nicely towards the End, yet a surge of regret somehow tingled in her chest for the times when she could directly put that rose on her breast and the goal was so far away that faking it all was so much easier.
The golden buttons shined on the black uniform as Anthy pulled out the sword from Utena's chest. It would have been easy to undo them and pull apart the layers of clothes separated by a thin red line. However, unfastening those buttons wasn't Anthy's job and the only time she would have to touch them from now on would be to take out that sword. The handle looked exactly like the one Dios had, yet it was made out of Utena's own soul. A very special sword that she could take out without hurting, a new sword that had never pierced her body. Yet.
And so she would shiver only slightly when pushing her hand against her chest, letting her nails graze against the cold, hard buttons before pulling the holy light out. Sometimes a finger would slip under the red line accidently and the feeling of her heartbeat underneath would stop her breath for a second. Not that Anthy still had any organs to breath with, squished that her lungs and heart were under all that iron. Yet it disrupted her all the same.
This was an exercice in getting closer, but not too much, in order to forge and shape her soul sword. Utena was so trusting in those moments, that ripping away the buttons and tearing off her heart with her hand would have been the easiest thing. But no, when their plans came to fruition, when time for the inevitable betrayal came, she would not be facing her, in the case where Anthy taking action was needed. It would be from the back that she'd have to pierce her with her very own sword. Maybe the thread keeping one button in place would break and the little golden piece would roll and roll, far away from Anthy, forever out of her reach.
A dress fitting of a princess needed frills, a prince's garments though, not so much. Or so Akio had once said but Anthy still added soft white frills to Utena's black uniform to give it a bit more flair. He wouldn't complain surely, she wasn't really a prince after all.
It certainly worked to give the clothes a more noble and dignified air. Plus it hid the clashing red shorts that were a bit too flashy for Anthy's taste. The close-fitting material left little of the area it covered to the imagination, as well as emphasizing Utena's thighs and long legs so very well that it was no wonder the adults would chew her out constantly about it. Anthy looked away, that was one of her qualities. Utena, ever the innocent, complained about them wanting to make her wear a skirt and calling her unladylike. Which they certainly did but not exactly for the reasons she thought.
Red wasn't Utena's color and shouldn't be. Would never be, hopefully, thought Anthy. Why did she care about that, she couldn't really tell. As she watched Utena dueling, jumping and moving around, the frills followed, flowing like a white cape. It was impossible to not think of Dios. That vision hurt, of course but it wasn't the cold pain of iron she was used to. Instead it felt warm and deceitful like hope.
She could have made some change to them, even thought of a few possible ones too. She didn't, maybe because it didn't matter. Princesses rarely paid much attention to a prince's boots, they could have been soiled with mud and that wasn't a pretty picture. Better to keep the focus on the shiny clothes. Her own feet had often been dirty and sore from the travels too, a long long time ago.
Utena didn't need any disturbance to her footing by forcing her into different shoes. Although more than physical prowess, the duels relied on the spirit of the sword-wielders anyway. As they fought, they stepped on each other's hopes and longing dreams, their fairytale wishes that would not get granted once they reached the End of the World.
Would Utena show disdain or pity once Anthy laid at her feet, her true nature revealed? She would not have minded too much, to disappear then on this cold floor, those shoes becoming the last thing she ever saw. It would have been like falling asleep.
Akio would have called that cheating, to flee before the final ceremony. His eyes would gleam, calling her vile and low. Right back at you, Anthy would have answered in her mind and with a smile. But Akio could have very well been the Devil that it would have not lessened her own sins.
She told herself it wasn't anything she wasn't already used to, she knew it. This time it would surely lead somewhere. She would simply have to shut off the last remnant of feelings inside her, leaving only an empty shell to be pierced the moment her feet would leave the ground.