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Anthy prepared for bed that night as if it was a night like any other, but her instincts told her that it wasn't. She could feel Utena's eyes following her about the room with a kind of hungry urgency, drinking in each small, insignificant gesture, lingering too long on the sight of her bare skin.

So, she thought, resigned and suddenly weary beyond belief, tonight will be the night it happens.

It was impressive in a way. No victor had ever lasted this long against Anthy's allure, and Utena's self control had only been broken - at last - by the trauma of losing her to Touga. Did Utena suspect what had happened the night before between Anthy and Touga? Was that part of the desire Anthy could feel; the need for Utena to reclaim what she saw as her rightful possession?

No, of course not. Utena was too naïve for that. She would take Anthy thinking that she was the first, because she was too blindly stubborn to recognise the obvious implications of a girl who was a bride doing whatever her victor wanted.

If Anthy hadn't despised Utena for being so stupid, she might have thought it was sweet.

As lovers went, Touga could have been worse. Anthy knew very well that he didn't really want her, but he took her anyway because he could. He took her as an insult to Utena; to say, I have taken what it yours and made it mine. To say, I have taken her the way I want to take you.

Only he didn't make Anthy his because Anthy belonged to no one. Unseen by all she floated disembodied beyond the Rose Gate, safe and incapable of feeling the torments committed upon a body that was nothing more than illusion.

But she went along with Touga's fantasy because she was the Rose Bride and that was what the Rose Bride was for.

Utena showed no signs of going to bed. She was sitting now in a chair by the window, staring out into the darkness with an expression which, for once, Anthy couldn't read. For some reason it annoyed her. "Utena-sama," she intoned softly.

Lifting her chin from her hand, Utena turned towards her. Her eyes widened when she saw that Anthy's hair was down. This was the first time Anthy had worn it loose around Utena – surely Utena would know what that meant?

"Himemiya, your hair," she stammered, "it's so long."

"Yes," Anthy agreed calmly. "I wanted to wear it out tonight."

Utena returned her gaze to the window. "You look lovely," she said distractedly.

"I'm going to turn the lights out now and go to bed. Is that all right, Utena-sama?"

"Yes, I'll join you soon. I mean. I'll be going to bed in a little while. I don't need the lights."

Anthy turned out the lights and got into bed. She let her mind go blank, not thinking about what was to come. She wasn't excited. She wasn't afraid. She was merely waiting, like a passenger at a train station. Sensing her loneliness, Chu-Chu snuggled into her bosom beneath her nightgown. It was naughty of him; he knew he wasn't supposed to stay when a consummation was near.

A few minutes later Utena crossed the room and sat down on the edge of Anthy's bed. In the faint gleam of moonlight, Anthy could see she was frowning.

"Hey, Himemiya?"

"Yes, Utena-sama?" Anthy asked, adding just a hint of flirtatiousness.

There was embarrassment and a little bit of shame in Utena's voice. Exactly what Anthy would have predicted from her.

"Do you mind…If I stay in your bed tonight?"

"No, of course not."

Such a tedious duty. Another night of being possessed. Another night of fulfilling someone else's fantasies and pretending to make their dreams come true. Anthy told herself it didn't matter. It was what was supposed to happen. But what was this, this unaccustomed pain in the place where her heart used to be?

"Good. It's just…I've been so lonely since you went away. I feel like I haven't seen you in such a long time."

"You don't have to explain to me Utena-sama. It's all right." Reaching out, Anthy found Utena and touched her, placing gentle fingertips on her wrist. She slowly slid her hand up Utena's arm, bunching up the fabric of her pale blue pyjama sleeve. It was what she expected to be the opening movement in a much larger symphony, and she made the first move because she knew Utena wouldn't. By doing this, she was saying, It's okay. I want this. I want you.

Anthy didn't know whether it was true or not, but it was what the Rose Bride would do, and she was the Rose Bride. Utena leaned down over her and Anthy felt her free hand skimming beneath the neckline of her nightdress. She expected Utena to start touching her breasts, but instead the pink haired girl caressed the warm lump of Chu-Chu.

Chu-Chu gave a delirious little peep of happiness and Utena chuckled.

Blood pounded deafeningly in Anthy's ears. She felt suddenly afraid, no longer certain of what was happening or what was expected of her. It seemed she had misread Utena again; that she had no thoughts of passion at all and was merely lonely…As lonely perhaps as Anthy herself.

Slipping beneath the covers, Utena snuggled into Anthy like an affectionate kitten, prattling on about their time apart and had hard it had been. The warmth of her was strange yet vaguely familiar. It stirred some faint remembrance in Anthy's mind, a time of happiness so long ago she was no longer sure it wasn't a myth she had made up to comfort herself in the dark. But here, at last, as in that other time that might never have existed, there were no demands being made of her. No hands grasping possessively at her body, no selfish victor trying to claim her absent heart. Just Utena, with her sweet and foolish conviction of friendship.

It was as if Utena was the sun, and Anthy some far distant planet drawn into her orbit against her will. She was too far away to be touched by the warmth of her rays but couldn't help longing for that half-imagined light, reading the promise of it in the force of gravity she could feel tugging at her core.

"What did you do with Touga?"

The question jolted Anthy out of her drifting thoughts. She hadn't really been listening to Utena's words till now, just inserting soothing sounds of agreement or monosyllabic replies as appropriate. Appearing attentive whilst pursuing her own inner reflections was a skill at which she'd had much practice. This, though, was too direct to ignore. There was a hidden tremble in Utena's voice, easily discernible to Anthy's carefully trained ear. Anthy couldn't quite place what it was. It was a little like Saionji's fearful jealousy, but without the threat. After a few moments, she realised this meant Utena was probably worried. Worried for her.

That wasn't right at all.

"Nothing much," said Anthy, allowing her Rose Bride instincts of concealment to make the lie convincing. "We went to a Student Council meeting together, that's all."

Had Utena been anyone else, an opening like that wouldn't have gone to waste. Excluded as she was by the Council, Utena should have been as eager as possible to hear anything she could about their business. She should have ordered Anthy to tell her everything in the hopes of gaining that extra edge which would give her the power to revolutionize the world. But Utena apparently cared nothing for the secrets of the Council.

"He didn't hurt you then, like Saionji?"


Anthy felt Utena relax against her in relief. "Good, I'm glad," she murmured.

It was clear to Anthy that maintaining Utena's pure ideals about the world was part of the deception necessary to control this would-be prince. That was why she didn't tell her the truth about her night with Touga. It wasn't until long after Utena had finally fallen asleep that Anthy realised she'd been lying for another reason as well.

The truth would have hurt Utena, and Anthy didn't want to do that. It was a desire she found completely baffling. She thought that this must be what it felt like to care for someone but couldn't really be sure, because her emotions, such as they were, so rarely left the monochromatic range of indifference that she didn't know what to do when they did.

But Utena could do what no one had done in longer than memory. She surprised Anthy. With her stupidity, yes, but also with her warmth and her kindness and the shining purity of her spirit. She made Anthy forget she was doll without a heart. She made her forget that she didn't know how to love. Sometimes it terrified Anthy, how much power Utena was gaining over her. Because Utena could almost make her believe that the world was as she said and not as Anthy knew it to be. And that was not a delusion that Anthy could afford to have.

In the deep stillness of the night, Utena's breathing was quiet and steady, strands of her fine pink hair mingling with the purple mass of Anthy's unruly mane. Her head was tucked trustingly beneath Anthy's chin, eyelids flickering as the shadow of some dream passed over her face. Watching her, Anthy could feel something stirring within her own chest, something so wonderful yet so terribly painful she almost wished it wouldn't wake up. Something to do with the way Utena could believe in her like this, so foolishly, and how the day was fast approaching when all her beliefs would be shattered. It made Anthy long fiercely to be that normal girl Utena was always talking about; the one who could lie here peacefully with her friend and know that an apocalypse she had created with her own hands wasn't coming.

Moving restlessly in her sleep, Utena reached out and clasped Anthy's hand. Perhaps even in her dreams she sensed her agitation, that was probably the sort of thing Utena could do, Anthy thought. The sweet innocence of that embrace touched Anthy more deeply than the lustful force of a thousand victors ever could, and it prompted her to ever so cautiously edge her own sharp-angled arm around Utena's waist. She was surprised at how nice it felt. Anthy couldn't remember the last time she had felt this close to someone. Why was it not like this with him anymore? Why did she feel more at peace lying in the arms of an almost stranger than with someone who was closer to her than family?

A muffled clatter to the right made Anthy turn her head sharply. She clicked her tongue reprovingly when she saw it was Chu-Chu. He'd snuck out of her bodice and onto the nightstand, overturning a pile of Utena's schoolbooks in what was no doubt a quest for midnight snacks.

Awakened by the noise, Utena opened sleep befuddled eyes, her gaze colliding with Anthy's before she could feign unconsciousness. Caught with her defences in disarray, Anthy felt the moment of connection between them far more intimately than any crude consummation. The power of Utena's eyes was unmistakable, seeming to look deep into her soul and accept everything she saw there with a compassion Anthy didn't deserve.

"Hey you're still awake." The gentlest of kisses landed on Anthy's cheek. "I missed you, Himemiya. I'm glad you're back."

It wasn't until Anthy was absolutely sure Utena had fallen back asleep that she buried her face in her pillow and started to cry.