Anthy searches the world for Utena Tenjou.
Utena is not in Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. She is also not in Beijing or Sydney. She is not in Delhi, Mumbai, Jerusalem, Baghdad; she is not in London, Paris, Rome, Madrid, New York, Toronto, Rio, or Cape Town.
Anthy divides the world into cities and goes city by city. She works through them searching for Utena the way she and her brother once walked the world searching for people who needed help; starting at the centre, spiralling outwards into the countryside, and then on to the next one. She sees many people who need help. She sees the lonely, the hurt, the helpless, the poor. If she were a prince she would stop for them. Anthy is not a prince. She does not see Utena.
It takes her a year to cover the world, which is bigger than she remembers it being and seems to have more people in it. Anthy doesn't sightsee and doesn't enjoy herself. She still doesn't like crowds. Luckily she's alone and doesn't have to waste time smiling and pretending to be normal. The birds and the beetles bring her news; the cats and serpents hiss suggestions in her ears. Anthy enjoys the luxury of her isolation, and animals, as usual, are sympathetic. It's no good. If Utena is alive anywhere in the world, she is hidden behind a curtain of magic. It doesn't make any difference that her brother would have cast the spell using Anthy's own power. She can't even find it, let alone find a way to break it.
It's also perfectly possible that Utena is dead. Most people would be, after what happened. Utena was only really a normal girl. Maybe there's no spell at all.
Anthy has that thought after a year of searching, and it makes her grit her teeth and hate herself. No prince would ever have that thought. A prince wouldn't give up. Utena wouldn't give up. She goes back to the first city and starts again.
She goes more slowly this time. It takes two years.
Utena is not anywhere. She never will be.
Anthy gives up. She goes back to Japan and makes herself a house in the country with a long drive and high hedges and a huge garden that will catch the sun. She tweaks the house until it looks nothing like anywhere else she's ever lived, coaxes the garden into a riot of life and colour, trains honeysuckle and wisteria over her bedroom window, and admits to herself that she's bored. She picks a university at random and does a degree in botanical science. It's a long way from the herblore she learned lifetimes ago. She enjoys it. She's good at it. She does another degree. She's asked to stay on and teach. The salary is generous.
Anthy says no, and goes back to her house.
The garden is still a riot of life and colour. Chu-Chu hops off her shoulder to investigate a large bee which is buzzing its way softly through the lavender. Anthy goes into the house and takes off her smart jacket and her hat. She makes herself a pot of tea. She pours out one cup. She sits down to drink it. It's been ten years.
Anthy's faint reflection in the dark window (she must cut back the creepers, they're blocking all the light to the kitchen) shows a young woman in an A-line dark skirt and a soft cream blouse with her hair loose around her shoulders and the first faint lines starting to come in around her eyes. In all her many lifetimes Anthy never imagined she would ever reach her twenties. Now it's been ten years. She's been free for ten years, and she gave up after only three.
Anthy tells her shame that she was never meant to be the prince anyway, at which point there's a series of loud knocks on the front door.
"Hello!" says the delivery girl. Her bike is propped up against the high hedge. Her hair is growing in dark at the roots. "Delivery for Doctor Himemiya?"
"Chu chu chu chu chu!" says Chu-Chu, dancing around her feet.
"Hello," says Anthy faintly.
"Anthy Himemiya?" says Utena.
"Yes," says Anthy, "that's me," and passes out.
When Anthy wakes up Chu-Chu is shrilling unhappily in her ear.
"I'm all right, Chu-Chu!" Anthy tells him.
Chu-Chu, comforted, proceeds to tell her off for fainting and frightening him.
"Hey," says Utena's voice, "don't shout at her, little fellow, she only just woke up."
Anthy struggles to sit up. She's been carried to the couch in her living room – she briefly thanks her lucky stars that she remembered to furnish the interior of the house before she absorbed herself completely in the garden – and there's a blanket over her. On the table next to the couch is a glass of water. Utena is hovering by the table, looking worried. "How are you feeling?" she says. "Don't get up, you might faint again! If you didn't wake up soon I was going to call the hospital."
"I'm sorry," Anthy says. "I don't know what came over me."
"You probably aren't eating properly," says Utena sagely. "There's practically nothing in the cupboards but tea. You should take better care of yourself!"
Anthy stares at her, drinking in the sight. Utena is not quite as tall as she remembers. Her hair is long and bright pink and tied back in a high ponytail, but the roots are showing in a way they would never have dared to do at picture-perfect Ohtori Academy. She's wearing denim shorts and a jacket with the delivery company logo on it, and there's a matching baseball cap tucked crumpled into one of her pockets. Her eyes are even brighter blue than they are in Anthy's memories. Anthy covers her mouth with her hand and giggles.
Utena looks at her like she's mad. "Shall I make you some food?" she says. "I've got my own groceries with me, I don't feel right leaving you here when you're fainting and there's nothing to eat."
"Chu!" says Chu-Chu enthusiastically when Anthy doesn't answer.
"Is he telling me yes?" Utena asks.
"I – yes," Anthy says, regaining her poise. "Yes, that would be very nice. Thank you."
"It's no problem!" says Utena, vanishing through the doorway to the kitchen. Her voice echoes down the hall, calling, "Eating's always better with company anyway, I think!"
Anthy drops the blanket on the floor and reaches for the parcel Utena's left on the coffee table. It's very light. There's nothing inside but a packet of seeds.
Anthy eyes them suspiciously, and then eyes them suspiciously in a slightly different way, but even to her magical sight they remain just seeds.
"You like ramen, right?" shouts Utena from the kitchen. "I have loads of noodles!"
"It's weird, Doctor Himemiya," says Utena, through a mouthful of noodles, "but I'm getting the most incredible sense of deja vu right now."
"Deja vu?" repeats Anthy.
"You know," says Utena, and gestures with a spoon. "Deja vu. When you feel completely sure somehow that whatever you're doing, it's happened before, even if you can't think where, or when. I get it a lot. That's how I feel right now. It's like I know you from somewhere."
"That's strange," Anthy says, and takes another mouthful.
"It happens to me all the time," says Utena. "Before I dropped out of college I had -" she hesitates, looking at Anthy sideways, and then goes on, "I had this girlfriend, and the first time we met it was like we had known each other for years, like we'd got all the introductions and getting to know you things out of the way ages ago and could just go straight on with the good bit of being friends."
"What was her name?" says Anthy.
"Wakaba," says Utena.
Anthy remembers Wakaba.
"Anyway," says Utena. "That's sort of how I feel right now. Like we've known each other before, really well, so there's no need to worry about being polite or careful, because we already understand each other. Is that strange? Maybe I'm being really rude and I don't realise it because I'm treating you like an old friend."
"Not at all," says Anthy carefully. "In a way, I feel the same."
Utena's grin is as bright as the sun. "That's good, then! We can be friends without wasting time. I think we're going to be good friends, Doctor."
"I do too," says Anthy. "But please, don't be so formal."
"Okay," says Utena, with her mouth full. "I'll call you Anthy, is that all right? And you can call me Utena or Tenjou or whatever you like, really, I don't mind."
Anthy remembers saying Mistress Utena in cold absolute seriousness. And the Utena she's been searching for, waiting for, regretting for these ten years isn't the woman sitting opposite her, who remembers nothing about princes and brides and seals and swords.
"I'll call you Tenjou, then," she says. "It's a nice name."
"Okay," says Utena, and swallows with a big gulp. "I ought to go now, but I'll come back and visit when I'm not on the clock, all right?"
"I'd like that," says Anthy, still a little disbelieving.
Utena is true to her word. She comes back two days later in the afternoon and rings Anthy's doorbell. Two days ago Anthy didn't have a doorbell, but Utena of course doesn't notice that. Anthy's also made some changes inside her house. Nicer furnishing. Food in the cupboards. Still no photographs anywhere, but Utena won't notice that either.
"Hello!" says Utena. She's still wearing her delivery girl uniform. Her bicycle is propped against the hedge again. "I was in the area and I'm all done for today, I thought I'd drop in?"
"Welcome," says Anthy happily.
Utena steps inside the door and looks around, slightly awed. "Wow, your house is so nice! I didn't remember from before, I was too worried about you. Are you feeling better now?"
"Much, thank you," Anthy says. "Would you like some tea?"
"Yes please, if it's no trouble," says Utena.
"It's no trouble," says Anthy.
Anthy makes the tea. She smiles at the teapot. She takes down two cups. She smiles at the cups. It's strange, this effortless joy. She can't remember ever feeling anything like it. She pours out the tea and breathes in the rich rising scent, smiling.
"Wow, and your garden is beautiful too," says Utena, poking her head around the kitchen door and immediately focusing on the view beyond the windows. Anthy remembered to cut the creepers back. The wisteria is putting out delicate spires of purple blossom around the kitchen door. "You really like flowers, huh?"
"Yes," says Anthy. "I'm a botanist, actually."
"So you’re a doctor of flowers?" says Utena. She sounds genuinely impressed. "Is that what was in the package I brought you? Seeds?"
"That's right," says Anthy.
"What kind of flowers were they?"
"I don't know," Anthy says. "I haven't planted them yet."
"I'd like to know," Utena says. "It's lucky I had them, really, or I wouldn't have been here when you fainted. They must be lucky flowers." Her eyes keep drifting to the window, the wisteria. "Can we drink tea in here? This is a nice room."
It's the only room in the house Anthy has ever really used. "Of course," she says, feeling warm inside from head to toe.
Utena lives in the nearest town. She shares an apartment with her boyfriend. The apartment is very small but they can only just afford it. The boyfriend is a chef. Utena dropped out of college but doesn't regret it. She likes her job. She says it gets her out and about and she gets to meet lots of people.
She's really only an ordinary girl.
Anthy sits opposite her through three pots of tea and drinks her in.
"Oh no, look at the time!" Utena says when the sun is beginning to set. "I'd better go, cycling home in the dark is a pain."
Anthy is tempted for a second to force the clock back a couple of hours, but restrains herself. "I hope you'll visit again," she says instead.
"Of course I will!" says Utena. "We're friends now, aren't we? Perhaps you can come to visit me too."
"I don't go to town very much," Anthy admits. "I don't like crowds."
"Really? That's okay, then, I'll come here. I like to see your garden, anyway. Will you show me the lucky seeds when they bloom?"
"Of course," says Anthy. "Shall I plant them now?"
They go out together through the kitchen door, under the arch of wisteria which moves slightly as the creeper recognises Anthy and leans affectionately towards her. It's too slight a shifting for Utena to spot it. Anthy lets her instincts guide her to a spot which will suit the seeds - she can always tell, somehow - up against the wall of her toolshed, a pleasant, secret little spot, green and raggedy, with a fence at the rear. There are cracked old pots stacked by the shed door, and the shed itself is peeling a little. Anthy could have made it freshly painted - she could have given it stained glass windows if she'd felt like it - but somewhere inside she feels that a garden shed should always be a little old and a little plain.
"This isn't the prettiest bit," says Utena, wrinkling her nose at the smell of the compost heap just across the fence.
"No," says Anthy, "but it's the most important." The seeds feel important. She goes to her knees in the dark soft earth of the empty bed next to the shed - why had she left it empty? was it for this? - and brushes the top layer aside. Utena watches her plant the lucky seeds as seriously as if it were a religious ceremony. It doesn't take long.
"There," Anthy says softly at last. The sun has set now, but the moon is rising.
"What will they be?" Utena asks, just as softly.
"I don't know yet," Anthy says. "We'll have to wait and see."
That night Anthy goes out in the dark and casts a spell under the light of the moon. She has one of Utena's long pink hairs twined around her fingers as she murmurs the words to herself.
"Chu," says Chu-Chu, meaning It's not working.
"I know, Chu-Chu," says Anthy eventually.
Utena comes back to visit three days later. She never leaves more than two or three days between her visits, Anthy discovers.
She still doesn't remember Anthy.
"I don't know," Utena groans a few months later, and flings herself backwards on the rug. The movement is fluid and graceful and spoilt by the wince at the end. Utena told Anthy that she had a pole vault accident in her middle school athletics championship and that's why her spine can't handle her full range of movement when the weather is cold. Anthy knows better. She aches a little inside every time she sees Utena hesitate before she moves.
"You don't know what?" she asks.
"Anthy!" says Utena. "I've been talking about my boyfriend for half an hour, don't you listen?"
"No," says Anthy, and smiles.
Utena laughs. "You've never even met him, you can't not like him. That's not fair."
"You're right, I've never met him," Anthy says.
"Ugh," says Utena. "Anthy, I don't know if I should break up with him."
"Do you want to?" says Anthy.
"I just said I don't know!"
"No," says Anthy. "You said you don't know if you should."
Utena glares at her, and then relents, sighing. "Well I don't," she says. "Maybe this is just a difficult time. All relationships have those, don't they? I feel like I ought to stick it out and it'll be worth it in the end. I do love him." She looks up at Anthy beseechingly. "Loving someone means you ought to stay with them, doesn't it? And then everything will be all right in the end. That's what the power of love is all about."
Utena loves so easily, gives of herself so easily. Chu-Chu has acquired a medium-sized spider from somewhere and is taking it for a walk along the coffee table on a lead made from plaited strands of pink hair. Anthy focuses on that and answers, "I don't know much about the power of love. But..."
"What is it?" says Utena, sitting up. Her pink hair with its dark roots is falling out of its ponytail. Her expression turns serious as she takes in Anthy's face.
"I think," says Anthy, and they're words she doesn't use often, so she pauses before she goes on. "I think," she says at last, "that everything in the world has its opposite."
"What do you mean?"
"You hear a great many stories about the power of love," Anthy says, "but not many people tell you about the power of leaving. It exists, though, all the same. It has to, if you think about it. Love is so wonderful, like saying yes with your whole heart to someone. But if it's impossible to say no instead, then the yes becomes meaningless. Even cruel."
Chu-Chu has given up on walkies and set his spider free. "Chu," he says sadly as he watches it scuttle away.
Anthy looks back at Utena, who's staring at her with parted lips. She finds more words rising up inside her, true words, words she didn't know she had. "The power of leaving is the dark sad power that stands back to back with love, just like night stands back to back with day. It's very important to give it its place. Otherwise love becomes poisoned."
Utena licks her lips and says, "That's the most I've ever heard you say at once."
"I'm sorry," says Anthy, looking away.
"No, don't...!" Utena reaches out a hand and then lets it drop. "I think you must be very wise."
"Wise?" says Anthy. Witches are wise. She was called a wise woman, once.
"Yes," says Utena firmly. "You understand things other people don't. That's wise."
"Perhaps," says Anthy.
"And what you just said, that's important to you, isn't it?"
"Very," says Anthy. "The most important thing I ever learned."
Utena hesitates and then says, "Do you not believe in the power of love, then?"
Anthy opens her mouth and says, "I do. More than anything." She stops, shocked at her own tongue.
Utena pulls herself up to sit beside Anthy on the couch, runs a hand through her dishevelled pink hair, and says, "Is there someone you love, Anthy?"
Anthy looks down at her hands in her lap. "Yes," she says. "A prince. Someone I met long ago."
"Huh," says Utena.
"What is it?"
"Just... I felt like I knew you were going to say that," Utena says. She grins.
They drink tea on the terrace next time. It's a lovely late spring day. As usual, Utena doesn't notice that Anthy never had a terrace before. "I broke up with him," she says, almost as soon as she sits down.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Tenjou," says Anthy. It's empty, a platitude, a way to fill Utena's silence.
"Yeah," says Utena. "The power of leaving. You were right, it's sad." She laughs awkwardly. "Not very sad, though."
"No," Utena says. "Maybe I didn't love him after all."
The tea is warm and slightly bitter. Anthy drinks.
Utena draws up one knee to her chest and looks out across the garden. When Anthy looks up there's something blank and awful in Utena's eyes. Anthy stares, horrified.
"Sometimes I feel like the whole world is empty," says Utena. "Just... empty. Even this," she waves at the garden, "I feel like it isn't there, not really. Really there's only dust and sand and the sky going on forever and ever. An endless desert. And even though I meet people and I like them they aren't real. Nothing's real, only the emptiness. Only the desert. I try to love someone or care about someone and I think I do, I think I'm doing it, but then it turns out that there's nothing. Just dust again. Me and the sand and the empty sky. Do you know what I mean?"
Anthy swallows hard. "I'm sorry, Utena," she says. "I'm so sorry."
"Why? It's not your fault," Utena says, and Anthy can't say but it is, it is. "Hey, you've never called me Utena before."
Before Anthy can say anything she dismisses it with a quick shake of her head. "Listen, it's all right, really. It's only sometimes I think that. And when you're around things are better. I'm glad we're friends, you know that?"
There's a hot painful feeling in Anthy's eyes that she only identifies later as the desire to weep.
"Why haven't they grown?" says Utena as they stare down at the dark earth of the flowerbed.
"I don't know," Anthy says. She frowns down at the place where she planted the seeds. They aren't dead. She can feel them alive under the ground. But they haven't put out even the tiniest sprout yet. Anthy tries to give them a little push, but they resist so firmly that she gives up. "They'll grow when they want to grow," she says. "Let's go back."
They walk back to the kitchen door together side by side. Every once in a while Utena's hand brushes against Anthy's and it makes her shiver, just a little, with memories. "Shall I make the tea this time?" Utena says, as they pass the threshold. "It's my turn."
"All right," says Anthy, and sits down to wait. Chu-Chu hops onto her shoulder, whispers in her ear about slugs in the vegetable patch, and informs her that he wants some tea too. Anthy absent-mindedly produces a tiny cup for him out of nothing. It's sheer luck, she realises a second later, that Utena was looking the other way.
"Hey, Anthy," says Utena as she pours the tea, "I've been thinking. Why don't you ever talk about yourself? It's weird! I tell you all about me, and I don't know anything about you. I feel bad using up all your time selfishly like this."
Anthy takes a sip of her tea. "You're not selfish," she says. "What is there to say about me? I'm a botanist, I live alone, I have a friend I drink tea with sometimes. Your life is much more interesting."
Utena makes a frustrated gesture. "That's not what I mean at all! Why don't you talk about you? Where did you come from? How did you get here?"
I was kissed by a handsome prince, Anthy thinks, and I finally woke up and realised I hated him. I unbound my hair and found I had a rope long enough to climb down from the tower. The glass slippers broke and suddenly I could run.
"It's a long story," she says primly, and sips her tea.
"Chu," says Chu-Chu, meaning Coward.
"I want to know," says Utena, looking at Anthy under her lashes. "Back me up, Chu-Chu, tell Anthy it's her turn to talk." She holds out a sugar cube to the little demon. Chu-Chu, treacherously, takes it and chitters firmly at Anthy before settling down on top of the teapot to savour his treat. Utena laughs and catches Anthy's eye. Anthy finds her heart painfully full, as it always is when Utena starts to flirt. She unfocuses her gaze and wonders idly how Chu-Chu looks to Utena. Most people think he's a mouse, a few recognise a monkey. She thinks Utena might be one of those who can see his true form, both and neither, an ancient little nature spirit keeping odd company.
"Chu!" says Chu-Chu again, this time meaning Now you're deflecting. Anthy sends a swift flick of irritation in his mental direction. He nibbles smugly on his sugar cube.
"Anthy?" says Utena.
Anthy sets down her teacup with a little clink, looks down at her reflection rippling slightly, and doesn't hesitate.
"I don't remember my parents," she says. "My brother brought me up. He was very rich, and the headmaster of my school. When I was little he was good to me, but when I got older he changed. He hurt me and raped me. I loved him so much I thought it must be my fault how he had changed, and I let him do anything he wanted. Eventually I made one friend at the school. At first she didn't know what was happening to me, but when she found out she was angry and wanted to help me. I didn't believe what she said was possible but she didn't give up. Then my brother arranged a terrible accident for her and I never saw her again. That was what gave me the strength to run away. I left that same week to look for her, and eventually ended up here."
She stops. She picks up her teacup and drinks some more tea.
Into the absolute silence of the kitchen, Utena whispers, "Anthy."
Anthy looks up, feeling quite calm and empty inside. Utena's blue eyes are wet with tears.
"What is it?" Anthy says.
Utena sets her jaw, though the tears are brimming over. "I'd like to find your brother and -"
Anthy smiles. "I don't think there's anything you could do to him worse than what I did when I left him," she says. "I was his reason for living. Everything he did, he did because he loved me."
"Chu," Chu-Chu points out.
"Quite right," Anthy admits, and corrects herself: "and hated me. Because he loved and hated me."
Utena swipes the back of her hand across her eyes, blinks hard, and does it again. Anthy is quietly fascinated. She has never wept. It has never occurred to her that what happened was worth crying over. "I'm so sorry," Utena says. "Anthy, I'm so sorry that happened to you. I'm – how long?"
Centuries, Anthy thinks. "From when I turned thirteen," she says.
"I'm so sorry," Utena repeats, and she is. Anthy can feel the tempered steel of her sorrow and rage from across the table. She could reach out and draw a sword of vengeance from Utena's heart right now -
But that way madness lies.
"...the girl?" Utena is saying. Anthy flicks her eyes up from Utena's breast, pulled back to reality.
"I'm sorry?" she says.
"Your friend," says Utena. "The one who had the accident. Did you ever find her?"
"You must have really loved her," Utena says, with a strained note in her voice.
"No," says Anthy. "I didn't."
"No?" Utena echoes.
"I couldn't, you see," says Anthy calmly. "In those days I couldn't imagine loving anyone but Di- but my brother." Her teacup is empty. She puts it down. "I think if I found her again I'd be in love with her now," she goes on, looking Utena in the eye. "She wanted to be my prince all along, you see. And she was my prince, in the end."
"The prince you love," Utena says, and swallows. "I hope you find her then, Anthy."
Call me Himemiya, Anthy thinks, just once, please. "I hope so too," she says.
"Chu," says Chu-Chu sympathetically.
Utena takes Anthy to town to go shopping. Anthy has never been shopping in her life. When she wants things, they appear. But Utena needs groceries and thinks Anthy must be running out too, so here they are on the high street. Anthy pulls her jacket tight around her shoulders and tries not to worry too much about how many people there are. "What?" she says, when she realises Utena said something and she missed it.
"I've been thinking about your friend," Utena says, "the girl who helped you escape."
"Yes?" says Anthy. Utena's expression is stubborn. This does not bode well.
"I think I should help you look for her," Utena says. "I think you ought to find her – no, I think you deserve to find her. You deserve everything good. So any true friend would help you look, and we're friends, right?" She goes on, more confidently, "Two heads are definitely better than one!"
"I already looked for her," says Anthy. "For a long time. All over the world."
"Oh," says Utena, deflating slightly, but she recovers fast. "But did you try looking on the internet? Everything's on the internet these days. It's worth a try, right?"
Machines don't make much sense to Anthy. She tells Utena so.
"That's okay," Utena says, "I'm good with computers, I can help you. I want you to find her. The power of love will help, you'll see!"
"The power of love," echoes Anthy softly.
Utena gives her a wide heartbreaking smile and says, "You said you believed, didn't you? You shouldn't give up, you have to find her."
"Aren't princes supposed to find you?" Anthy says.
"I think that's a silly old-fashioned attitude to have and it isn't going to get you anywhere," says Utena, putting her arm over Anthy's shoulders and steering her towards the electronics shop. "Princesses can go on quests too. Or if they can't, people should take it in turns to be princes."
"Perhaps you're right," Anthy says.
"Of course I'm right!" says Utena.
Inside the shop it's cool and shiny. Anthy has never been one for metal and made things - those were always her brother's domain. Of course Utena can do it too, she thinks, watching Utena argue with the clerk over arcane technological details. She is, after all, a prince. Anthy smiles to herself and waits patiently. Utena gets pink in the face with excitement, and there are cheerful crinkles around her eyes. There's no trace of the desert in her that Anthy can see.
They emerge with something called a Mac which Utena has thoughtfully selected in the same shade as Anthy's hair. "It's really simple," Utena says. "I'll set it all up for you and I'll show you how to do everything. Um." She stops. "Where do you want it?"
"My bedroom is upstairs on the left," Anthy says. "There's a desk. Shall I make some tea?"
"Sure, that would be great!" calls Utena, already halfway up the stairs with the big square box.
"Chu," Chu-Chu comments when Anthy comes into the kitchen.
"We are having a nice time, Chu-Chu," Anthy says.
Anthy ignores him with great dignity. She takes the tea up on a wooden tray, two porcelain cups and a pale green teapot.
By the time she gets to the top of the stairs the teapot is blue and the cups are decorated with a pattern of forget-me-nots. Anthy hasn't put out any thoughtless outbursts of unconscious magic like that since Ohtori. She smiles ruefully at herself. So Chu-Chu is right, perhaps, and she's not quite happy. It's an unhappiness she's pushing away, ignoring, in a way she knows is a little dangerous, but - it's Utena.
"Hey, it's hot up here!" Utena is saying as Anthy comes into the room. Anthy stops in the doorway and puts her head on one side. Utena has taken off her jacket and her t-shirt and is under the table fiddling with wires in just shorts and a bra. "How do you sleep when it's like this?" Utena says, sliding out and sitting up. There's the usual slight wince when she stretches. Anthy observes it, and the way her body curves around the movement. "Sorry I'm all," says Utena self-consciously. Anthy perhaps shouldn't stare so pointedly. She likes the way Utena flushes and smiles, though. She knows Utena wants her to look, that Utena's flirting is haphazard and half-conscious but not entirely innocent.
She turns away and sets down the tea.
"You're right, it is hot," she says, and pulls her dress off over her head in one smooth movement.
"Anthy!" says Utena, eyes wide.
"What is it?" says Anthy, tucking her hair behind her ear. She’s wearing a slip still. It takes actual effort not to let her mouth twitch. Utena is blushing.
There's a moment's silence. Then: "Stop laughing at me," Utena says petulantly. "It was hot."
"I'm not laughing at you," Anthy says.
"Oh yes you are," says Utena. "You're laughing with your eyes. I can always tell."
"Mostly," admits Utena. "Your eyes say things, but I can't always be sure what they're saying. It's often laughing, but sometimes I think it might be sad."
"You must be very observant, Tenjou," says Anthy.
"Oh, stop it," says Utena, disgusted. "Come and look at this."
Anthy crawls under the desk with Utena and they crouch elbow to elbow while Utena points at things Anthy barely registers and certainly doesn't remember. Utena doesn't bother putting her t-shirt back on. It's lovely. It's something like enough.
"Did the computer help?" says Utena out of nowhere a few weeks later.
"Sorry?" says Anthy.
"No - I mean - your prince. Finding your prince. Did the computer help at all?"
Anthy hasn't even switched it on. "Not really," she says.
"Oh," says Utena, downcast. "I'm sorry. I really wanted it to help." She bites her lip. “There must be some way, you – maybe you could get a detective, or go to the police, even, or – I really mean it, I really do. I want you to find her.”
"Don't worry about it," Anthy says.
“I do,” Utena says. "I can't help it. I worry about you, I - I think about you often."
Anthy takes a sip of her tea.
"All the time, really," says Utena distantly. She's looking through Anthy, not at her. Anthy can see the desert in her eyes.
"Come back," she says softly.
Utena jumps in her seat, only just stops her tea from clattering off the table, and laughs a little. "How is it you always know?" she asks. "You're like magic."
Anthy picks up her teacup and hides her smile in another sip. "You shouldn’t worry about me," she says. "In a way, it's enough just to know that she's out there existing in the world. I'm all right."
"But you're alone!" says Utena. "Well, I mean, there's Chu-Chu, but... you're so, I mean, you're Anthy. You deserve better, you shouldn't be all alone."
"We're friends, aren't we?" Anthy says. "I'm not alone at all."
"We're friends," Utena echoes, and then squares her shoulders. "Look, Anthy."
"I think - I'd like - maybe -" Utena splutters to a halt in the face of Anthy's questioning gaze. She flushes and looks away. "I don't know how to say this," she says. "I really really like you."
Anthy has heard those words many times and in many voices, from duelist after duelist after doomed romancing duelist. Hearing Utena say them makes her heart skip a beat.
"I like you more than I've ever liked anyone. I wanted to say that. And I think, maybe," says Utena miserably, "if we can't find your prince, maybe... maybe you could consider, um, me?" She hides her face with her hands. "Oh, this is stupid, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said anything. Forget it, please."
Anthy puts down her teacup. She stands up and walks around the table. She takes Utena's hands in hers and pulls them away from her face. She leans down and kisses Utena's shocked, opening mouth.
"Oh," says Utena, when Anthy stops kissing her. "Oh." She stands up and wraps her arms around Anthy, and Anthy puts her hands in Utena's pink hair and stands on tiptoe and kisses her again.
"Anthy," Utena says.
"Come to bed," says Anthy to this woman who is so very nearly her prince, her Utena, who is as close to right as anyone can possibly be. "Come to bed with me."
"Yes," says Utena, and Anthy takes her by the hand.
Utena looks younger asleep – not quite as young as she'd looked when they'd shared a room in school, but not twenty-five either. Her pink hair is spread out across the white pillow. Her long limbs are sprawled in every direction. She is taking up considerably more than half the bed. Anthy doesn't really mind.
She's never going to find a way to bring Utena's memories back, Anthy thinks. They're gone forever. And Anthy will never tell her the whole truth, will never be able to. Perhaps this is the best she'll get, this sweet normal version of Utena, a kind of normal life. Perhaps this is the best she ever could get. It's certainly better than believing Utena dead. It's much better. It's a good thing that Anthy is so used to resigning herself to situations, otherwise she might find this difficult when really she's lucky even to have this much.
She doesn't deserve everything. No one deserves everything.
Deep in her mind, a voice that sounds a little like Utena and a little like Dios from a thousand years ago and perhaps a little like her own as well says, Yes you do. You deserve everything good.
This is good, Anthy tells herself, and the voice of the prince in her heart answers, protests, cries out, But it's not right!
She finds she's crying.
She's never cried. She can't think of the last time she cried, truly cried, over anything. It's awful. It's horrible. Her eyes get sore and her head starts to hurt and her nose is blocked and though she clamps her mouth shut a strange, choked noise, the ghost of a sob, still escapes her. She can't wake Utena. Utena would want to know what was wrong and would never, never understand. Anthy holds herself as still as she can and tries to force back the tears with sheer willpower. She fails. They pour down her cheeks and drip off the end of her nose. One lands right between Utena's eyes, and Utena stirs. Anthy tries to pull away and finds that Utena's arms have come around her. She can't stop the tears now. They keep coming. Utena pulls her close and Anthy hides her damp face in the soft curve of her neck and cries against her throat.
"Himemiya?" says Utena, her voice sleep-soft but worried. "What's wrong?"
Anthy shakes her head, still crying.
"Himemiya?" Utena repeats, pulling away and trying to get a look at her face. "Hime-"
She stops short just as Anthy suddenly hears what she's been saying and freezes too.
"Himemiya," Utena repeats wonderingly, staring at her. Anthy can just make out the look on her face in the darkened room. "It's you."
"Utena?" says Anthy, choked and disbelieving.
Utena rolls over and presses her down into the pillows with a strong, certain kiss.
They barely sleep.
"I knew you," Utena says over and over. "I knew you - I had a photo of us in my bedroom for years and years - but I still couldn't see -"
"Magic," says Anthy, "it works like that. I looked for so long and I thought I'd never find you -"
"But you did," says Utena. "You found me in the desert."
Anthy can't answer because she's being enthusiastically kissed. Eventually Utena comes up for air and Anthy kisses her cheek and chin and nose and Utena says, "What happened?"
"I'm not sure," says Anthy. "After the revolution, once you stopped being a car -"
"I was a car?" Utena's expression is dubious. Anthy nods. "Is this a metaphorical magic thing?"
"No," says Anthy. "Well, yes, but you also turned into a car."
"I don't remember that bit at all," says Utena. "Okay. What happened then?"
"I don't know," says Anthy. "You vanished. I looked for you everywhere but -"
"How did you find me?"
"I didn't," Anthy says. "When you turned up with that delivery I was so shocked."
"It was you," Anthy says. "And it wasn't."
"It's me now," Utena says.
Anthy has to kiss her for that, and one kiss becomes another becomes a hundred. They lie curled together till sunrise.
The seeds Utena delivered months ago still hadn't sprouted last night, but by morning they've bloomed.
"Well, this is a little suspicious. Who sent them?" Utena says, looking down at the roses.
Anthy shakes her head. "There was never a name."
Utena licks her lips. "Do you think it was -"
They give each other a long look. Anthy looks away first. "Dios has been gone for a very long time," she says flatly.
"I've been thinking about that," says Utena. "Someone came to me when I was small and my parents died. Someone gave me the rose seal and inspired me to be a prince. Someone sent me to find you. I think that maybe - maybe the spirit of Dios is never really gone, as long as there's strength and nobility in the world."
Anthy kneels and touches the soft rose petals. They're the old-fashioned single kind, pale and sweet-smelling, nothing like the overblown hothouse flowers she once cultivated. Utena crouches down beside her and puts her hand in Anthy's long loose hair, and Anthy thinks perhaps she won't mind having these roses in her garden.