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The Monster At The End Of This Fairy Tale

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It's seven-thirty in the morning, and Utena can't find her running shoes. She's gone in and out to the entrance hallway where she left them at least three times now, and they're not anywhere.

“Shit!” Captain Kanna wanted the whole team there at least an hour before class, and Utena's definitely, definitely not going to make it in time. “Shit, shit!”

“Is this one of your shoes?” Utena's roommate tosses something on her bed that's –

Well, it's sneaker-shaped. Utena blinks at it. It's early enough that the sun hasn't quite climbed high enough to reach their window, and she doesn't know if she can trust her eyes.

“Can I go back to sleep now?” says Mikoto, plaintively.

“Uh – sure.”

Slowly, Utena reaches down and picks up the shoe. It definitely looks like one of her running shoes – it's got the same laces, the same heavy treads and slight up-tilt to the toe, but …

“Glass?”

 

As practical jokes go, it's a weird one. She finally gets to practice, bringing the shoe with her as evidence, and her basketball teammates offer all kinds of suggestions: maybe it's a rival who wants to take her spot on the team, or maybe it's a boy that likes her. Maybe it's her weird American roommate playing a joke – who knows what an American might decide was a funny thing to do?

“I dunno,” says Utena, “Mikoto's always seemed pretty normal to me.” She's so normal it's almost a disappointment.

Utena picked the international dorm as the next-best thing to traveling herself. High school was fine, but Utena can't help feeling like she's spent most of her her life so far stuck somewhere small. It was easy to forget there was a whole big world out there, full of people who cared about all kinds of different things. Now she's in college, she ought to try and grow as much as she can, right?

But she hasn't done much, in the end. Plays on the basketball team, like she did in high school; does mediocre in class, like she did in high school; has a Japanese roommate, like she did –

– well, she didn't have a roommate in high school, she lived with her aunt. But same thing.

She can almost imagine a roommate who might think it was funny to replace her shoes with glass ones, but Mikoto's not that person. Mikoto doesn't think anything is funny if it requires her to get up earlier than noon.

“You can borrow my old shoes,” says Kanna, who, as captain, seems to feel it's time to take charge of the conversation. “You don't have super-big feet, right?”

“Nope,” says Utena. “Just normal ones.”

 

When she gets back home at the end of the day, she makes a complete search – closet, under the bed, under Mikoto's bed, in the bathroom cubbies – everywhere she can possibly think. No shoes. Mikoto walks in at the point when she's sticking her hand under Mikoto's pillow, just in case.

“I don't keep a diary under there or anything,” Mikoto says.

“No – I know, sorry! I wasn't prying, I just --”

She goes over to her bag to pull out the glass shoe. Instead, her hand closes around a sneaker-shaped lump with a rough cloth texture to it. She knows before she pulls it out what she'll see.

Mikoto raises an eyebrow.

She won't remember finding the glass shoe this morning. Mikoto never remembers anything that happens before ten AM. “I can't find the other one,” says Utena, defeated. “I've been looking everywhere.”

“And you thought maybe the tooth fairy left it to me?”

“Huh?” says Utena.

Mikoto tosses her math textbook on her desk and wanders off into the bathroom. “Good luck finding your shoe,” she says over her shoulder. “It's definitely not under my pillow, but if you happen to see fifty cents under there while you're looking, let me know.”

For an American exchange student, Mikoto's pretty normal, but a solid twenty percent of the things she says are still completely incomprehensible. Weirdly, there are ways in which Utena finds this comforting. You can't ever really understand anyone else anyway, so it's kind of nice to get that reminder in, before you start fooling yourself into thinking you do.

(She'd tried to explain that to Kanna once, during a four-hour bus trip to a basketball game at another university. Kanna said that in her experience all university first-years spent a lot of time trying to be deep, and she, Kanna, would try not to judge Utena too harshly until she outgrew it.)

“By the way,” Mikoto says, sticking her head back out of the bathroom again, “I totally forgot – did you hear the news?” She's put on her heavy eyeshadow, but not yet lipstick or blush. It makes her face look weirdly unfinished.

“What news?” says Utena, obediently.

“They finally put someone in Gabriela's room. Another international student, I think. Suki and I might take her out for drinks tonight, if she's up for it. Want to come?”

“Wish I could, but I gotta be up at six tomorrow for track, so --”

“So instead you'll stick around and wait for your prince to show up?”

“Huh?” says Utena, again.

“With your other shoe?” Mikoto waits, expectantly. Utena blinks at her. “Come on! Cinderella? Everyone knows Cinderella!” complains Mikoto and disappears back into the bathroom.

 

After Mikoto leaves, Utena does some more desultory searching, and then flops back on her bed to stare up at the ceiling. It's dark by now, and Mikoto's stick-on plastic stars are giving off a faint corpselike glow.

Utena's always hated those stars, though she's never been able to figure out why. It's a cute kind of a thing for a girl to do, making a little universe on her ceiling. You go to sleep and you see something shining – what's so bad about that?

Utena's not the kind of girl who's going to tell her roommate what she can and can't do, but she's started sleeping with her face turned to the wall, or down in her pillow, so she doesn't have to look at them.

She can't turn away right now, though, because any minute now there's going to be a monster coming into her room.

The monster comes pretty regularly. It's not like it's news. They've made a deal: as long as Utena keeps the light off, and doesn't look too hard, they can both pretend that the monster's pretty much just a person like anyone else. When the monster comes to share her bed – and sooner or later, the monster will come to share her bed – it seems like she's got pretty much everything you'd expect a person to have, so that makes it fine, doesn't it? Nobody could see much besides that, in the sickly light of Mikoto's plastic stars.

If Utena was smart, she'd let well enough alone. But smart's not a thing she's ever been, so tonight she's got a match, and when the monster comes, she's going to be ready.

She hears footsteps, and braces herself, her finger on the trigger of the flashlight and her heart pattering with fear and anticipation –

– but before she can flip the switch, a bright light shines in her face. She shouts, and flings a hand up to cover her eyes, but it's too late; someone's broken the deal. Someone's brought a light, and they're looking straight at her, seeing everything that's under her skin, and the pain of it burns right through her so that she has to scream –

“Stop shouting!” says Mikoto, and Utena opens her eyes. All the lights in her room are on, and all the clocks around campus are chiming midnight. She's still wearing her school clothes and house slippers, still clutching her single shoe. She must have fallen asleep.

Some dream, though.

She reaches up to rub her eyes, and then opens them again, and takes another look at Mikoto. Mikoto's eye makeup is smudged; she moves restlessly around the room, putting various things down from her purse in various different locations, then moving them again. This is much more activity than is usual for Mikoto at any time of the day or night. “How was your night?”

“It sucked,” says Mikoto, flatly.

“What happened?”

“Asshole at the bar.” Mikoto pulls a pin viciously out of her hair.

Utena tries to muster her thoughts around the lingering itchy discomfort under her skin. Her mind still feels sleep-clouded; she's not quite out of the twilight world where monsters wear human skin. “He still there? I could go hit him,” she offers. She's not quite sure how she would identify a random asshole at a bar, but it's the first thing that comes to mind.

Mikoto snorts. “No.”

“I could round up the women's basketball team and we could all hit him.”

“What's the point?” says Mikoto. “There's always going to be another asshole.” She kicks off her shoes and collapses facedown on the bed, still in her lipstick and eyeshadow. Her pillow's going to be smudged in the morning. Still, in a couple minutes, she's snoring, so that pretty much seems to be that.

It's a little anticlimactic. Utena wants there to be something more she can do, but there doesn't seem to be anything, so she gets into her pajamas and goes to bed. It takes her forever to get comfortable, and if she dreams about anything else, she doesn't remember what.

 

The basketball team remember all about the glass shoe. Utena isn't entirely sure why she'd expected this wouldn't be the case, but it's something of a relief all the same. They are also chock-full of possible explanations about how it got switched back. This is less of a relief, since none of the explanations offered are at all plausible.

Kanna lets the others chatter, but when practice ends for the others, she holds up a hand to signal Utena to stay after. “Do you think you're being bullied?” she says, bluntly. “I know it sounds very high school, but it's known to happen in college, too. If that's happening to you, we'll try to help.”

Utena shrugs. “Honestly, I can't think of anyone who'd want to bully me.”

“During my first year of college,” Kanna says, “I turned down a guy for a date. I didn't think it was anything, but --”

“You were bullied by him?” Utena feels like she should have a hard time imagining it – cool, competent Kanna, a person that all the girls look up to, doesn't seem like she could be intimidated by anyone – but in fact it doesn't come as any surprise. It seems like she's always known that everyone in the world is vulnerable.

Now it's Kanna's turn to shrug. “Something like that. Look – I'm just saying, if anything like that is happening, you can tell me about it. I'm your captain, OK?”

“I appreciate it,” Utena says, and she means it. Kanna wouldn't have told her that story if she didn't feel responsible for Utena in some way. “I haven't turned anybody down for dates, though.”

“I'm surprised no one's asked. You don't have a boyfriend either, Tenjou, do you?”

There's something about the way Kanna asks the question that gives it a weight that Utena doesn't quite – the phrase cruel innocence flashes an brief and inexplicable judgment in her mind, and she amends the thought before it finishes. She does understand, it's just easier to pretend she doesn't. “I guess I've just been keeping my head down,” she says. “Focusing on basketball.”

Kanna slides her an easy grin. “You're just saying what I want to hear.” She hesitates a moment, looking like she wants to say something else, and then finally shrugs once more, and lets her go.

Utena feels a little regretful as she leaves. Kanna's a good mentor, and she's pretty sure that hadn't been a come-on. But she's not sure what she would have wanted to say, or how she would have said it, and sometimes it's easier not to say anything at all.

 

In the cafeteria, someone on the radio is announcing that there are reports of a wild bear on the loose. Escaped from the zoo, the radio says. Young women, says the radio, had better watch out, or hope there's a prince around to rescue them.

 

She's not the only one who's late to class afterwards, which makes her feel a little better. She's also pretty clearly not the only one who hasn't done the reading. (She could've sworn they were assigned I am a cat, not some weird German novel. This isn't even an international literature class. But then, she hadn't read I am a cat either, so.) Tohru-sensei is busy grilling some unlucky exchange student in the front row about Gnosticism. She seems like she's going to be at it for awhile, so Utena lets her attention drift to the window. There's a rosebush growing out there that she's never noticed before. One perfect red flower wobbles on its stem. Utena blinks, and remembers suddenly that the classroom is on the fourth floor.

“It's not Freudian,” says Tohru-sensei, despairingly. “It's Jungian. Didn't anyone do any of the background reading I assigned?”

 

When Utena gets back to their room, Mikoto's got the radio on again. Apparently, the bear attacked a young woman in a bar. The radio announcer doesn't really think that the girl should have been out so late to begin with; still, he's very distressed to report that no prince appeared to save her.

“What a load of bullshit,” says Mikoto, switching off the radio.

Utena throws her bag down and starts pulling out her books. “It's weird, right? All the news today –”

“A bear, come on! Who'd believe something like that? It isn't bears that go after girls in bars. No one wants to say it's the head of the baseball team or the son of that vice-president, so they'll say it's a bear, that's all.”

Utena gropes for a tactful way to ask a question. Tact does not present itself. “So … was the asshole last night the head of the baseball team or something?”

Mikoto shrugs. “I don't really know. Some frat guy – no, I guess you don't have frats over here. Something like that, though. It's always the same, anyway.” She yawns, and flops out on her bed. “It's not a big deal.”

Remembering Mikoto furiously unpinning her hair yesterday, Utena isn't so certain of that. “You're not going out tonight?”

Mikoto's eyes are already closed. “Too tired.” She cracks one eyelid open, peers at Utena, and then lets it drop down again. “Hey – did you ever find your other shoe?”

“No,” says Utena. “It's not anywhere.”

“Maybe the bear ate it,” says Mikoto, and snickers, eyes still closed. Halfway through, it turns into a snore.

Whatever happened last night, she can't be that upset about it, if she can fall asleep that fast. Still, when Utena sits down to try and do her homework, she finds that concentration is harder than it should be. She tries to graph a set of vectors, but she can't make sense of them – they're just meaningless lines and curves, wandering off every which way into her neat squared graph paper. She's supposed to be spotting patterns, but she can't see them in the maze.

At the center of the maze, there's a monster. Utena doesn't know whether she's more scared to find her or to miss her, but at this point she's pretty much committed. They say the monster is very, very old, and very powerful, and very terrible. They say the monster has forgotten how to be human, but maybe she could remember, if someone only loved her enough to break the curse.

But you can't believe that kind of story, and anyway, Utena's only here to keep a promise. Or that's what tells herself as she runs through the maze, and braces herself to come face to face with a beast who shakes her body with terror, or something a little bit like terror –

– only now she's trembling at the center of the maze, crouched down like a bear in a trap. She's bleeding and scratched all over from hurtling blindly at rough-edged stone, and it hurts, everything hurts. She hears distant footsteps, approaching hesitantly down one of the pathways – she doesn't know which one, and though every muscle tenses, she doesn't move. Moving hurts more than staying still. She's the beast, and she's waiting to be found.

 

She wakes up at her desk, with her head resting on her math book. Her skin feels raw, and when she stretches, there's a sharp, stabbing pain in every muscle. “Should've stretched more at basketball!” she announces to the walls, and the ordinary sound of her own voice rings reassuringly through her ears.

Not just her ears. “Why are you shouting?” Mikoto wails, rolls over, and flops a pillow over her head.

 

Utena gets dressed as quietly as she can, pulls on her borrowed running shoes, and jogs to practice. The usual route to the school track seems more complicated this morning. The campus has developed dozens of half-built walls and proto-buildings, blockaded off with red tape and signs warning 'SIDEWALK CLOSED' and 'ALTERNATE ROUTE.'

When she finally reaches the track, she apologizes to Kanna for being late a second time, but Kanna just shrugs philosophically. “Construction,” she says. “They say it'll look nice when it's done.”

“Yeah,” says Utena, “but --” She breaks off; nobody else seems to be concerned about the fact that none of this was there yesterday, so maybe she's the one who just didn't notice the construction starting up. It's not like she's never been oblivious before. “It's not gonna be easy getting around until then,” she says, instead. “I'm already sick of getting lost.”

“You're an adult,” says Kanna, kindly. “Figure it out. Okay, we all ready to run? Four laps, no stopping!”

 

Utena's got her statistics class that afternoon. Suki, who lives down the hall, is in her same class. Utena sits down next to her. She means to ask about whatever happened at the bar with Mikoto and the asshole the other night. Instead, what comes out of her mouth is, “So what about this new exchange student?”

Suki makes a little bit of a face. “She seems nice, I guess, but she's quiiiiiiiiiiet. You didn't miss much – we dragged her out, but she hardly said a word. Whatever you said to her, she'd just look bland and go, 'Oh, is that so?'”

“Maybe she's shy,” Utena suggests. “Needs help coming out of her shell.”

Suki looks dubious, but says, “Well – maybe you'll have better luck. I hope you'll make her feel welcome, anyway.”

“Sure, when I meet her. What's she majoring in? Maybe I'll have a class with her.”

“Ummm. You know, she didn't say?”

At this point, the teacher arrives. He gives them a pop quiz, one question: a calculation of the statistical likelihood that any of the girls in the class are likely to be attacked by the escaped bear. It seems like a pretty weird test to Utena, who's not sure exactly what variables are supposed to go into a problem like that. She bombs it.

 

It takes her a solid forty minutes to find her way back to her dorm through all the new construction. Nobody's home when she gets there, but Mikoto calls her phone a little later. This is not usual – Mikoto's never bothered to update Utena on her movements before – but then, it hasn't been a usual few days. “Hey, Utena,” she says, “don't worry if I'm not home tonight, OK? There's a party at Kumiko's and I think I might stay over. I can't deal with finding my way home through all this construction, it's really ridiculous.”

“You think so too?” says Utena, flooded with a sudden relief.

“Japan is a weird place,” says Mikoto.

 

With Mikoto gone, Utena takes her time about undressing, and changing into her pajamas, and turning the lights off, and getting into bed. When she closes her eyes, she dreams about a girl in a glass coffin. The girl lies very quietly, face up like a dead person, hands folded neatly over the sweeping red of her gown. She's been lying there for a long, long time.

Everyone knows there's only one way to help a sleeping girl in a coffin. With a peaceful feeling of inevitability, Utena clambers down onto one knee, and braces her hand on the side of the open casket. A moment later, she realizes just how badly it hurts to move – she's scratched and bleeding all over, pierced by a million thorns on her way in. But that's the price you pay for rescuing a princess.

It's probably unwise to close her eyes at this juncture, given the geometrical problems posed by noses, glasses, still-bleeding wounds, etc. Utena does it anyway.

As a result, she's not entirely sure if she's managed to aim correctly all the way down, or if someone rises up to meet her.

She'd intended a courtly kiss, a light brush against passive lips. She could swear that's all she'd meant to do. Slender hands twine around her neck, brushing painfully across her torn-up skin, and wrap into her hair. Peaceful no longer seems like a relevant word. Utena's hand flails out, her fingers flexing helplessly –

– they hit glass. She's lying down. She's the one in the coffin. There's a cooling warmth on her mouth; her heart thrums wildly in her ears. She was always the one in the coffin.

Utena opens her eyes.

Through the glass sheeting of the coffin she can see the faint chemical phosphorescence of Mikoto's plastic stars. They're not at their brightest tonight. The moonlight-bathed girl sitting on the edge of the Mikoto's futon tilts her head and looks up at them, with a faint wondering air.

It's at around this point that Utena realizes that she isn't dreaming.

Her knees and elbows are all wound up in her red flannel sheets, and for a moment she can't tell if she's been bleeding – she's not, actually, though you couldn't tell from how much it hurts. She shoves the pain away to the back of her mind, as she always does, and tries not to think about it; it seems she's gotten awfully good at that. She manages to shake her arms free enough to shove at the coffin lid. It clatters easily to the ground, and Utena surges up, shaking the sheets away around her. She's shaking, in fact, all over.

“How many times do I have to get out of this fucking coffin! Himemiya – can't you just make a phone call or write a letter like a normal person?”

Himemiya regards her blandly from across the room. Chuchu is gnawing happily on what Utena recognizes immediately as her missing shoe, though she can't tell in the dark whether it's cloth or glass. “Is this an inconvenient time?”

“Inconvenient!” It's this Utena remembers now, more than anything else: that overwhelming feeling of just wanting to shake her. Of feeling suddenly convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she could be doing or saying something that's actually helpful, and that instead she's placidly chosen to do the exact opposite.

She would've thought that she was mature enough now not to feel that way anymore. Maybe she's just gotten mature enough to recognize and acknowledge the feeling for what it is, instead of shoving it down in a pile of guilt and shame.

Anyway, there's no way she's going to have this conversation while sitting in a coffin. She clambers out awkwardly, extraordinarily conscious of her ratty striped pajamas. There's no reason she should be; her pajamas hadn't been any nicer back in Ohtori. After a moment of hesitation, she settles herself cross-legged on the ground and leans back against the cold glass of the coffin to take a good, hard look at Himemiya.

Himemiya sits as demurely as always, hands folded neatly in her lap. She's wearing a neat skirt and top, the kind of thing a college student might perhaps wear, if she had money and good taste and could properly be called a young lady without anyone snickering to themselves, none of which is the case for Utena or most of her friends. Her hair is tucked behind her ears. By all rights, she should look ordinary.

She doesn't look ordinary, not by a long shot. But then, she'd always looked older in the moonlight. Not older like Utena's gotten older, not older like someone growing into an adult, but older like –

“I dreamed I was looking for a monster,” Utena says, abruptly, and then grimaces – it's not the word she'd meant to use – but forges on ahead. “That was you, right?”

Himemiya considers for a moment. “Did you ever hear about the man who wanted to kill demons?”

“Once upon a time,” Utena mutters.

“He fought and fought,” said Himemiya, “until he couldn't fight anymore, and all the while, he shouted, 'I must kill the demons!' Then he heard a voice, and the voice said, 'no, John. You are the demons.”

“What a twist,” says Utena flatly.

Himemiya regards her placidly. “And then John became a zombie.”

Utena blinks, startled out of her sourness. There's a giggle rising in the back of her throat, which she shoves down firmly. “Well – I guess you can't believe everything you hear.”

“I heard that story recently,” Himemiya says. She sounds weirdly proud of it. Well, Himemiya's the kind of person who can be proud of having shaved ice for lunch every day, or inventing a curry that makes people switch bodies; Utena's never really understood what makes Himemiya happy.

Though when you think about how long Himemiya and her brother have been in Ohtori, playing the same old games, maybe it's not so hard to imagine that Himemiya might be excited by hearing something new.

There's a little bit of a silence. Himemiya's hands are still folded serenely in her lap. Chuchu has tangled himself and the shoe up in a nest of Mikoto's sheets and is peering out over the top of them. Utena's going to have to apologize to Mikoto. She's going to have to apologize like hell to Res Lif Services, if her coffin never turns back into a futon – but even as she thinks it, she can feel that the batting behind her is made of normal cheap cotton.

“Is Mikoto real?” she says, abruptly.

“Real?” echoes Himemiya.

“Or Kanna – everybody else – they're not just shadows, right?” They feel real. She was sure she'd smashed her way out of that coffin, she really was, but – “This is the real world, isn't it?”

Himemiya tips her head. “It isn't Ohtori,” she offers.

“Right, but I mean, it's not just … you know, the inside of my head?”

“Mm.” Himemiya nods thoughtfully. “Everybody lives inside their own heads.”

Utena snorts. “Thanks a lot, Himemiya. That's really helpful.” Still, for no particular reason, she feels a little reassured. “It's just, I didn't think things like –”

Her fingers curl, as she gropes for the right words to describe things like shoes turning into glass, and beds turning into coffins, and monsters turning into princesses and back. Things that happen once upon a time, in stories told by shadows.

“-- all this could happen the same way here. In the real world.”

Himemiya says, “I didn't think a girl could be a prince.”

“Well – I wasn't,” says Utena, startled at this turn. It's surprisingly easy to say. An old wound that closed long ago. She really did break out of that coffin. “I never was, really.” Except maybe a minute ago, in a dream that wasn't a dream, bending over a casket to kiss a girl, or a monster, or something. She feels a flush rising up into her face, childish, and fights it down.

Himemiya reaches over to where Chuchu is huddled in his blanket nest. Carefully, she starts to unwrap him. “You were,” she says, her hands wound around in wrinkled jersey sheets. “And you weren't.”

Everything, apparently, is and isn't. Once upon a time, Utena's almost sure of it, there were easy answers, and things that were just plain true.

That's probably not entirely true either.

She wonders what Himemiya would do if she told her that she didn't want her here. If she said that all she wanted was reality, a world she understood, a world that let her keep on pretending there weren't any swords underneath her skin.

It's not true. But she's always hurting now, and it's tempting to say it anyway, just to be a little bit cruel, just to see what Himemiya will do.

“What's going to happen now?” she asks instead, after a moment.

Himemiya glances back up at her. “Isn't that up to you?”

“No! What? You're the one who came,” says Utena. Her hands fists at her sides. She really does want to go across the room and take her by the shoulders and shake her. She wants her to say, just once, plainly and simply, what she wants. Utena's already chosen; why does she have to keep choosing? “You're the one who found me. You're not the Rose Bride anymore, Himemiya! What are you here for? All these stories – the mazes and the roses and the fucking bear, and –”

Himemiya gives her a worried look. Kindly, she says, “The bear is just a metaphor.”

“I know that!” snaps Utena. Himemiya doesn't know how to communicate in anything but metaphors.

“There's a witch out in the world again, you see,” Himemiya goes on, patiently.

“But the bear isn't the witch. It's – all those assholes,” says Utena, which is unspecific in the extreme, but there's no way Himemiya, sitting in Mikoto's bed, won't know what she means. She goes on anyway: “Frat boys. The guy at the bar. That guy who bullied Kanna. The head of the baseball team or the son of that vice-president --”

“It depends,” says Himemiya, “on who you ask.”

It used to be, times like this, her eyes had been hidden behind glinting glass circles that reflected precisely nothing back at you. Utena had spent a lot of time trying to convince herself that wasn't creepy.

Somehow, without the glasses, it's even worse. There's nothing human about her right now, and it's impossible to imagine that she ever was, or ever will be, or ever would want to be, either. Her eyes are a million years old, and the stars that fall in them make you understand why someone would want the comfort of tame little plastic ones on their ceiling.

Out of the corner of her eye, Utena sees that Chuchu has found Mikoto's desk and is gnawing a face in her Physics homework.

Himemiya says, “What do you want, Utena?”

There's no honorific, no suffix of any kind. Just her name, and there's something tentative even about that. For some reason, it makes Utena remember the flashlight; Himemiya's been looking for her in mazes too.

Once upon a time, there was a prince, and there was a witch, and all the girls in the world were princesses. Then the prince was locked away, and the witch locked herself up with him, and all the girls in the world (Mikoto, Kanna, Suki; Wakaba, Juri, Nanami) were like Rose Brides.

And now there's a witch in the world again. Utena doesn't think anyone, even Himemiya, really knows what that means – except things are going to change, one way or another.

There's nothing that says Utena has to be a part of that. Nobody's locked into the choices they made forever. If she pretended hard enough that there weren't swords under her skin, that she'd never taken on a witch's burden, she probably could make it true.

“I want to see the world,” Utena says. “I want to change the world. I want my shoe back. I want Chuchu to stop eating Mikoto's homework, come on, Himemiya, she's going to be furious! I want you to stop sitting in Mikoto's bed – seriously, it's weird, isn't it? She'd definitely think it was weird, if she knew. So either sit somewhere else like a normal person, or --” She barely hesitates, and her voice barely trembles. She's spent the last three nights looking for her; it's no time to back down now. “-- or come on over to mine.”

Utena never could read Himemiya's face, never did understand what she was thinking. But Chuchu sets down Mikoto's homework and goes skittering up the window curtains, towards the dawning light; and as Himemiya slowly stands, and starts to come across the room, Utena almost thinks she can see her shining.