As she fell, the last thing Anthy saw was the sharp outline of Utena against the bright blue sky. A million swords of hatred coiled into a screaming snake, defiant of all human comprehension, and hurtled down to kill.
“Anthy,” her brother said, stretching out long elegant arms. “Come to me.”
Anthy approached cautiously, skittish. Akio must have known that, because his lips spread in a smile. It might have been meant to comfort her, or it might have been meant to have exactly this effect. Coldness, Anthy saw, and an alien hunger. With a shiver, she took a step back.
“I can’t,” Anthy said.
“You will,” Akio replied. As usual, he was right.
Who was the girl named Utena Tenjou? No one, and no one and no one. That was all.
“Himemiya,” Wakaba said, springing up from behind a tree. It was amazing and not a little suspicious how well she could conceal her presence, even from Anthy’s magic.
Anthy plastered the most pleasant smile she could manage onto her face. “Yes?”
“I was wondering if you’d seen Utena around?” Wakaba squinted around the area, as if Utena might be hiding somewhere. “It’s weird. I can’t find her anywhere.”
“My apologies,” Anthy said, her hands tightening only a little on the lunchbox she was holding.
“So you don’t know either.” Wakaba sighed, then suddenly perked up, her attention directed to the lunchbox. “Say, who’s that for?”
“Just for him? You’re not hungry at all? Say, didn’t you use to make lunches for Utena? So you’re hiding her after all!”
“Not at all,” Anthy said, somewhat weakly. If she recalled correctly, she’d only attempted her hand at a packed lunch once or twice.
Wakaba grasped her shoulders. “Don’t be like that,” she said, shaking Anthy with her typical enthusiasm. “Why is she mad at me now? Hey, you’ve got to—”
The sharp sound of impact carried through the open air. Wakaba put a hand to her red cheek, seeming astonished.
“Don’t touch me.” Realizing what she had done, Anthy added, “Please,” but the word sounded weak even to her. With quick steps, she walked away, shaking.
“You’re not at ease,” Akio said, rubbing his thumb in circles on Anthy’s forearm. “Don’t deny it. It’s true.”
Had he always been able to read her, as easily as this? “I can’t get it out of my head.”
“Tell me,” Akio urged, shifting closer.
Anthy repressed a shudder, breathing deeply in and out as she had learned to long ago. “It’s what she said. Utena.”
Akio drew away sharply, a snake recoiling from a fire. “That Tenjou girl?”
“Yes,” Anthy said, with a sudden strange feeling of certainty. “It was a normal thing she told me. I don’t know why it won’t leave.”
Akio’s fingers curled around her wrist, his touch light as it had been before but threatening more now. “What did she say?” His breath was hot on her cheek, almost painful.
Anthy looked at him. “She…”
“Tell me,” Akio said, slamming her against the hard surface of the couch.
He was angry. If she kept this up, he would become even angrier. Anthy came close to telling him, then, what Utena would have told him, but she couldn’t. She wasn’t Utena. This was all the courage that could be asked of her.
“You know what happened to her,” Wakaba said, the aftereffects of the slap still prominent on her cheek.
“I…” Utena wouldn’t have slapped anyone, the coward’s way, but gone all out with a punch.
Wakaba stepped forward, her hands clenched into fists. “Tell me.” The more her anger grew, the wilder her gestures became. “First you target Saionji, but that’s not enough for you? Now you have to get involved with Utena? What did you do to her? Why won’t she meet me?”
“Because she’s in the hospital,” Anthy said quietly.
Wakaba stopped short. “No way.” Her face contorted, seeming torn between tears and even louder shouting. “What are you talking about? That’s not the Utena I know! Nothing could have happened to her. She wouldn’t let anything get her down, and even if something happened, she’d tell me!”
“She’s in the hospital,” Anthy repeated. Her voice sounded dull even to her own ears.
“Liar!” Wakaba screamed, crying for real now even as she stomped her foot on the cobblestones. “Liar! Liar! Liar! Liar! Liar!”
The door closed, cutting off light from the room, and Akio was gone. Anthy lay in the darkness, breathing in and out. The icy wind from the cracks in the stained-glass windows clung to her skin, bare above what the blanket covered.
Anthy started at a squeak from below, then allowed her frozen features to melt into a smile. Chu-Chu hopped onto the couch, carrying a heavy burden on his back.
“This is…” Anthy’s eyes widened.
Chu-Chu chirped happily, then dumped the picture on Anthy’s lap. She sat up to take a better look at it, her hands rigid on the frame but careful not to harm it.
Whenever Anthy had tried to call Utena’s face to mind, all she could summon had been black cloth and long thin fingers, but here was that face now, smiling brightly. There was a warmth there that had been missing from her brother’s smile for far too long.
With a squeak, Chu-Chu made an elaborate gesture with his little arms. Anthy tilted her head, confused. Chu-Chu shook his head and pointed at the picture in exasperation.
Anthy had almost forgotten that too, in the same way Utena’s features had gradually slipped away. When Akio had been reaching over, glossy charm coming off him in waves, Anthy had gone over to the camera to stop his hand from meeting Utena’s shoulder.
Even then, the pangs had been strong. Anthy had assumed it was Utena she wanted to stop, from carving out more of Akio than she deserved. Still, that didn’t explain why the pangs were still here, long after Utena had left forever.
A loud crackle caught Anthy’s attention. Bright streaks of orange and yellow and red had sprung up in the fireplace, fueled by her agitation. It would be so easy to walk over there and drop the picture into those hundred hungry mouths. If she did that, Utena would be well and truly erased from the surface of the earth.
Chu-Chu mewled, seeming frightened. Anthy cast one last look at the fireplace, then smashed the glass over the picture. With bloody fingers, she picked it up, brushed off the shards and tore the picture in half.
“It’s no use bothering me anymore,” Anthy said, her voice colder than it had been in a long time. “If you want to see Utena, go look for her.”
“Are you afraid?”
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Wakaba snapped.
“Afraid that she’s dead.” The word made Wakaba recoil. “You wouldn’t be wrong.”
“Shut up,” Wakaba whispered.
“I checked the hospital records,” Anthy said, with a lightness that was almost carefree. “Utena Tenjou. A few weeks ago, she was cremated and had her ashes scattered in a lake, with no relatives to speak of to attend her funeral.”
“I won’t change my mind.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I know perfectly well, Big Brother. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Longer than you know.”
“You can’t stop me.”
Akio got up anyway. “Is it the Tenjou girl? She did something to you. This isn’t like you.”
Only after all this time had Anthy seen there was nothing left of Dios in him. “I should be the one saying that to you. If you have nothing of importance to tell me, then farewell.”
As he reached for her, she spun around, every nerve in her body wound tight. “Don’t touch me,” she said, voice frigid. As Akio stood there, shocked, Anthy took the opportunity to walk out of the room.
“Utena is not dead. Utena will never, ever be dead.”
There was no telling where this train was headed to. Anthy had tried to remember the name of the city a thousand times, but had never succeeded, partly thanks to the giddiness rushing through her veins.
Perched on Anthy’s hat, Chu-Chu accepted one of the brownies the serving lady had given her, chirping happily.
“Don’t worry,” Anthy said, pressing both hands to the stained window of the train. “I’ll find you for sure. Utena.”