Utena could not remember how long it had been since the swords of hatred had run through her. She remembered what happened before it in perfect clarity. Anthy had cut through her flesh with her soul sword, and even so Utena had saved her. It could have been just moments prior that those events had transpired. It could have been centuries.
Her body twitched involuntarily and the swords twisted themselves deeper into her. How much deeper could they get? There were several through her heart, more than she could count. The others pierced her from every angle, covering her skin so that nothing was visible through it.
She wasn’t quite sure how she knew that.
Anthy’s face came to her again, a ghost of a memory that she was sure of. Was she real or just another dream, created to help pass time in this twisted reality? She was running, but was getting nowhere. If anything, it appeared that she was being pulled backwards.
She closed her eyes. What was the point of remembering her if she couldn’t even tell if she was alive or dead? Worse, what if she hadn’t rescued her from Akio? What if nothing had changed at all? Slowly, the feeling of cool steel against her skin subsided although the pain did not; it was replaced with the softness of rose petals and the bitter sting of thorns. She opened her eyes.
Anthy Himemiya held her up, her arms wrapped around Utena as if afraid that she might disappear. Her eyes were tightly shut, and her hand clenched the fabric of Utena’s dress with a death grip.
“Himemiya.” Utena breathed, as Anthy pressed a gentle kiss to her cheek.
Utena woke up beside her on an uncomfortable mattress, her pink locks intertwined with Anthy’s purple. She turned towards her, and met her eyes. They were different than they were before. Brighter. Less pained. Then her eyes became opaque again and Utena could no longer see into them.
She smiled and sat up, and suddenly the mattress became even more uncomfortable.
“Utena. You’re back.”
Utena sat up and wrapped her arms around her. As their skin touched, Utena felt the Swords of Hatred impale her once more. Her back arched back painfully and she screamed, only to remember that her vocal cords were cut too. Anthy pulled back, and they subsided.
“I’m sorry. I- I didn’t know.” Her hands hovered above Utena, afraid to touch her but unwilling to just leave her there.
Utena couldn’t breathe. She still felt them, pinning her to the bed beneath her, running through every fiber of her being. Her body shook as she tried to breathe; wherever she had been before this, she had not been aware of her need to breathe until now.
Anthy regained her posture and buried her fear. Taking a deep breath, she held her hands over Utena’s chest. Suddenly, the fear and hatred and pain subsided, drawing themselves to a single point in the center of her chest.
“I call upon the, Sword of...honor. Heed my call.” She hesitated, then continued, drawing the sword from her chest. Utena’s breathing returned to normal, and she sunk back into the mattress.
Anthy stared at the sword in her hand. Although it was not the sword of Dios any longer, it still looked like it. The only difference was that the pommel was a red rose instead of pink. Red, as for passion. As for love. She had expected it to be different, or at least for the differences between the two swords to be more obvious. Utena was nothing like Akio, so why were their heart swords so similar? Even compared to Dios, she was better. She stared at the sword and wished for it to change. It did not listen.
Utena continued to focus on breathing, on the sudden clarity that she had. She wasn’t free from the swords, but it was close enough. She wondered how long it would last. She lazily shifted her view to Anthy, who had yet to move. Her arm was extended still, the sword was still there and Anthy had yet to meet her eyes.
“What...What happened? How did you get me back?” Utena asked, her voice soft but still sounding too loud in the heavy silence.
Anthy frowned and dropped the sword to the ground with a clatter. She wondered if it scratched the wood floor, or if wasn’t part of the real world after all. She sighed and turned to face her, hands clenching and unclenching uncomfortably. After expending so much effort in getting Utena back, she couldn’t even touch her. And even that was half a lie. “I didn’t get you back. I simply prevented you from reaching your final destination.”
“What does that mean?” Utena asked, the question feeling strange in her mouth. Was it the feelings behind it that made her uncomfortable, or simply the act of asking? She wasn’t sure.
“Akio called you back. You would have reformed back at Ohtori, with a new set of duelists to fight over you and a new game unfolding in front of you.” Her voice was heavy and quiet. She picked her glasses up from the ground beside her and slid them on. Those she wanted to ask her to leave them off a second more, she refrained and stayed silent. “You would have asked already, if everything were back to normal. But I doubt you will unless I manage to free you, like you did me. Speak your mind while you can. Ask me. Say it.” Her voice grew forceful and perhaps there was some power in that force, for Utena was finally able to say it.
“Are you saying...that I’m the Rose Bride?” The title felt strange to say; it had always been directed to Anthy before now.
She didn’t reply for a moment. “You are. And I will duel for you.”
The day after, the swords began to impale her again. She supposed that she was getting used to the pain; that would explain why she could quietly endure it as another blade impaled her. Even so, Anthy still knew when it happened.
Anthy had told her not to leave the apartment, so Utena did not leave the little apartment that Anthy had procured for them. She mostly spent her time next to the radio, or lying on the mattress, thinking. That was all she could do. She thought about her feelings, for Anthy, for Akio, for everything that had happened to her. And the other duelists.
Before that last battle, she believed that they had finally become friends; she found that she cared for them, about what their futures were, but she refrained from asking Anthy. There were certain questions that she felt she couldn’t ask. She never attempted to either; she had a feeling that with their answers, they would bring with them the swords, in a quantity that she couldn’t deal with.
When Anthy left, they parted silently. Although she might have wanted to go on a walk or to have played with the basketball players beneath her window, she obeyed Anthy. With that obedience came realization.
She really was the Rose Bride.
Her thoughts were only half her own, and her body was always to be someone else’s. She carried the Swords of Hatred now; she supposed it only made sense.
The next day, she felt the call. It was an indescribable thing, one that she couldn’t fully understand beyond the directive it gave her; Return to Ohtori.
Sometimes when she was half lost in her thoughts or daydreams, she’d find herself approaching the door and it scared her. Not because she was unconsciously leaving, but because she was going to the wrong door. Normally the closet door, but occasionally the bathroom. Every Time that she snapped out of her trance, the smell of blooming roses, impossible roses, lingered behind the door.
She didn’t tell Anthy about it until she asked.
“Have you heard his call?” She asked as she stirred her tea, cooked over the radiator after they realized that the stove was broken.
Utena took a sip of her own. “Yes. I haven’t answered it yet.”
Anthy’s eyes grew wide. Her hand tightened around the cup handle. “Stop it.”
“Stop what?” Utena asked, confusion visible in her expression. As far as she knew, she wasn’t doing anything.
“Stop it!” Anthy yelled.
Utena had never heard her yell before. Anthy had never had reason to. A calm tone had always worked before, but now she found no other choice. Her magic was weak, and she was unsure if it would ever return to it’s original power. At the very least, it had allowed her to keep Utena there.
The Gown of Revolution, pink in this reincarnation replaced Utena’s simple attire of black sports shorts and a red t-shirt. She glanced down at it in surprise.
Anthy threw the cup, and it shattered behind Utena’s head. The tea spilled onto the wall. “Akio-san has found you. I thought we’d have more time before he tried to call you to him again.”
Utena blinked, about to say something when she felt the pull again, stronger than before and then she opened her eyes. The dingy apartment had changed to that of the chairman’s, rich and white and clean in contrast. Her eyes adjusted, and she found Akio, sitting on the couch, his shirt unbuttoned.