2017-10-13 - Falling Star

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Falling Star

In her final hours before dueling Kasagami, a desperate Utena gives her failing strategy to reignite her magical powers one last try, an attempt aborted by the unexpected addition of Anthy... and then sabotaged, thoroughly, by Touga.


Utena Tenjou, Anthy Himemiya, Touga Kiryuu

GM: Fate Testarossa (NPCing Touga)


Shinjuku Capital Ward

OOC - IC Date:

10-13-2017 - 02-24-2015

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Shinjuku Capital Ward +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+
  The skyscrapers are tall, the streets crowded, the nights bright with neon
  signs. This is Shinjuku, a densely populated district of Tokyo nestled right
  in the middle of its 23 wards. It is central in other ways, as well, as it
  contains Japan Rail's Shinjuku Station, a transportation hub that has the
  noisy honor of being the busiest train station in the world. The Station is
  surrounded, as might be expected, by hotels, stores, and restaurants that
  feast on the three-million-plus passengers that pass through daily, and many
  major companies have their headquarters in the commercial district nearby.

  Finally, Shinjuku is an administrative center as well. The Tokyo
  Metropolitan Government Building, a massive, modern-styled 48-story building
  that wears two jutting towers like a crown atop its 32nd floor, hosts the
  central government of all of Tokyo, including its suburban areas and smaller
  settlements in the surrounding area. Three entire blocks are devoted to the
  building (also known as Tokyo City Hall) and the smaller structures that
  attend it. The Japanese Ministry of Defense is also headquartered in the

  There is much to do in Shinjuku for those unconcerned with government and
  business, all within walking distance of the station. There are several
  parks, the largest being the Shinjuku Gyoen (which crosses into Shibuya),
  with traditional Japanese gardens and plenty of cherry blossom trees for
  viewing around late March/early April. The Shinjuku-ni-chome area plays host
  to the highest concentration of gay bars in the world, along with other
  businesses devoted to the subculture. For the artistically inclined, the
  Golden Gai area offers a lively social scene of bars and clubs focused
  around musicians and artists of various stripes.
<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> SOIL & "PIMP" SESSIONS - Storm https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tuLK6I4lgM

Southern Cross Island is breezy and open. The sea is big and so is the sky. The rooftops are white and so are the walkways. The plants are green, the flowers are legion. Voices are cultured, and if they run the gamut from demure murmuring to shattered-glass screeching, at least they are largely refined.

Utena flies from this cage not at all like a bird on the wing, and much more like a falling star... or a falling brick. She does not soar; she burns, more and more intensely, eyes straight ahead, sightless with emotion and the absence of emotion, all at once.

She keeps on keeping on, moving steadily, quickly. She knows where she is going. She's been there before.

She crashes into the throbbing heart of Tokyo.

It's dark in Shinjuku even before sundown, the skyscrapers casting great walls of shadow. But it's not before sundown by the time Utena gets there, and especially not after she's settled in for an evening's prowl.

In some ways it is brighter at night. The neon is overwhelming, crazed combinations of flashing colors that outstrip a garden like the sun outshines the moon. It isn't more beautiful or more breathtaking. It's just MORE.

It is both louder and softer, but the differences are far more extreme. The low whistles and the shouts of the drunks... both have their expressions in the sunlit garden, but not at all like this.

Elbows jostle, feet stomp heedless of those beneath. It is crowded. It is noisy. It smells like alcohol and salarymen who haven't gone home for a shower.

And Utena walks through it absolutely without fear. One foot in front of the other. Her cap tugged down so she doesn't look anyone in the eye. Nonetheless, she's able to walk in a straight line, to force her way through the crowds. She's not Moses with the Red Sea, they don't part at her mere presence, but she is a skilled sailor and a determined one, too, as she stalks foward, forward, forward.

It helps, perhaps, that people largely assume that she's a boy. In her winter uniform, with her haircut, and her rail-thin body, it's easier than ever. "Hey brat, shouldn't you be in bed?" calls a drunk, mockingly, while some local ladies look 'him' over with a mixture of come-hither opportunism and motherly concern.

Utena keeps walking, keeps falling. She hasn't finished crashing yet.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Anthy Himemiya has spent the lion's share of her impossibly long, corkscrewing lifespan following behind her Engaged -- not one person nor even a series of people to her, any more, but rather an oilpaint smear of faces in her memory. In truth, she remembers most of them by the hues of their roses. The Rose Bride has her constants she lives by, and one of them is thus: she is never far from her Engaged.

Utena's secretive sojourns and injured returns, more and more, leave her roommate sleepless and staring up at the bottom of her bunk. It eats at the purple-haired girl, gnaws at old hollow places, and she finds that she does not like being alone. Not like this.

Driven by desperation, Anthy slips a big shapeless red coat on over her Ohtori Academy uniform, hood and all, and follows her Engaged one afternoon. She lingers half a block back and generally has no trouble keeping sight of the tall thin frame she knows so well.

The places she follows Utena have Anthy clutching her coat tighter to herself, sure that she feels the eyes of the drunken men on her but not looking around to check. She just huddles forward and trots after Utena, staying closer to the shopfronts as she's able. It just feels... safer, there. Harder to be surrounded.

Anthy is short and slight and unmistakeably feminine, with her stockinged schoolgirl legs sticking out beneath the coat. She'd never imagined the need for more than the most perfunctory of disguises, only thought to keep Utena herself from recognizing her easily.

A shiny-faced man lurches her way from a dark doorframe, mumbling something indistinct but unmistakeable in its leering tone, and Anthy shuts her eyes tight and darts forward. She's in luck; he crumples to the curb behind her, overcome by his own extreme sottenness.

Heart in her throat, Anthy looks around for and finds that cap and its downward tilt further up, and she hurries to catch up to Utena.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

There are ways and means and times that Utena is always, instinctually, aware of the nearness of Anthy; she is a flower and Anthy the sun, a floating leaf and Anthy the wind. Her branches bend to Anthy's breeze without even noticing.

But, surrounded by darkness, and looking only forward, Utena walks down the tunnel of her life and does not feel the prickle at the nape of her neck, the catch of her own breath in her throat, the unidentified object in her own chest that might be a sword, might be a rose, might simply be a heart. She doesn't feel much right now besides desperation.

And so it is that Anthy takes her by surprise. It's the shoes that she recognizes, glaring at the sidewalk as she is, the shoes and the socks. Perfectly uniform, and yet perfectly... perfect. Perfectly...

"Himemiya," Utena chokes out, horror separating the name into four more separate syllables than her usual fond lilt. A stacatto, a snare, rat-tat-tat-tat. She looks up at Anthy and her eyes are wild, wild in a way they weren't in the gardens. Wild with urgency. Wild with fear. "You're... you're here. Oh god. It's not safe here..."

They're in front of an alley when this happens, casting long, slender shadows into that space between two skyscrapers. Utena's is blue, its owner stabbed by the blindingly intense light of a neon rendition of a martini glass. Anthy's is red; she stands in lights that require no shape, no words, to communicate their purpose.

Utena reaches out to grasp Anthy's hand with a surety and strength absolutely unrecognizable, compared to the girl in the garden, and totally recognizable, a song of a kingdom long past. That doesn't make her hale and whole, though.

"We have to go."

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Utena-sama!" comes the reply, piping and breathy. There is perfection, too, in the roundness of green irises, endangered and helpless and shining.

Anthy's arms are clutched up tight to her chest, and she unfolds one down and out to meet Utena's reaching hand with her own; her shadow-arm refracts and contorts between the lights that crowd it, but still makes that same reach and clasp.

Utena can feel tremors in Anthy's fingers, intermittent and rapidly subsiding. "What is this place?" The Rose Bride looks up into wild blue eyes and takes a half-step closer in, all vulnerable innocence and entirely out of place. A lamb come willingly to Wolf Alley.

Utena says they have to go and gets a nod of ready obedience. With that and a weak little squeeze of her hand, Anthy places her safety in Utena's keeping.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

It transpires that Utena's hand is shaking too. Or maybe it's her voice, and the tension in her body is pouring out through that conduit, making the shiver inferred.

She answers with her eyes. They're narrowed, not at Anthy but for her, and fear crowds aside a little to show a more humane, less instinctual concern. And shame. There's always space in her for that, now. It thickens her voice.

"I'm not, you know... doing so good, these days. Not since... you know." She looks down, looks at her feet. "I've been trying to work my way back up to, you know. Witches and stuff. Duels. And this place, it has... bad people. I thought maybe I could do some good here even if I'm not good enough for that kind of stuff anymore. The big leagues. But..."

She's been pulling them down the alley. It's a shortcut to the nearest train station. Realizing that her explanation is slowing them down, though, she shakes her head, which makes her pink chop crawl along her tight jawline, and starts walking more crisply, more rapidly.

"We have to go," she repeats, urgently. Ten meters, five...

"What's your hurry, brat?"

That wasn't the one drunk -- it's another. He, and his two friends, glare at Utena with both suspicion and familiarity from the far end of the alley. The speaker is the tallest and strongest of the three, coated with tattoos like a mighty warship is coated with barnacles. His bleached blond hair further inspires comparison to a sailor, though this is unlikely, given his loosened tie and rolled-up shirtsleeves.

To the left: green mohawk, mirrored shades. Whiplike. Whipcord.

To the right: short, squat, bald. Too-bright eyes. Too-eager breathing.

Utena's free hand instinctively drifts towards the spreading bruise on her shoulder, and all three men smile cruelly. In that instant they could be triplets; all other differences are immaterial.

"You have a lotta nerve showing up here... and with a woman, no less," drawls Blond Dude.

"Especially after how you've criticized us in the past," Baldie remarks, wiping his knuckles on his shirt sleeves.

"Now, I know you don't know when to give up, kid... what, is she your ally? She gonna help you police us?" Green Mohawk snickers at the very idea.

"Leave her alone," Utena spits back, drawing herself up, taller than she's been in weeks. She still has hold of Anthy's hand, but has stepped diagonally in front of her, a living shield. "She has nothing to do with this."

"I don't think so," Blond Dude rumbles, and his mates nod grimly pleased agreement. "She has to do with you, and you're the one who just made some unfinished business by showing back up here. Again. This is good, though. I think this time we'll be able to teach you a lesson you'll remember."

"Heh. Teachable moment," echoes Baldie.

Their eyes slide up and down Anthy hungrily, and that's enough for Utena -- she drops Anthy's hand and charges, her lips a razor and her eyes twice as sharp. She has to pre-empt this. She has to end this before it even starts.

The men are ready for her; sans magic, she is outnumbered, outweighed, and outclassed, really, her youthful brawling no match for three lifetime delinquents. Green Mohawk and Baldie, their stances open, loose, drift to her right and left, and in an instant she's surrounded. Blond Dude leans into her blow and simple physics takes over, the difference between them profound; Utena bounces off of him like a rubber ball off a wall, and goes sprawling.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Anthy takes in every stumbling word of Utena's explanation; she patters along behind her roommate, holding tight to that hand, and her face is a pretty mask of wide-eyed fear. She has all the practice in the world at concealing pain and anger and despair.

Utena explains as if it makes sense, but to Anthy it does not. Utena leaves her alone at night to be among these awful people, to waste her sweat and blood and precious waning energy on thugs and drunks. She leaves Anthy alone to worry into the night, and that has an awful familiarity that stirs ancient terrors.

The buildings cast shadows made jagged by the many light sources, and in them Anthy Himemiya sees the grasping branches of winter-bare trees.

'What's your hurry, brat?'

Ugliness interrupts horror, less of a reprieve than it first seems to Anthy. The men's attention shrinks her, and for the second time that night her heart finds its way to lodge in her throat as Utena leaps forth -- valiant, beautiful, and tragically outmatched.

With horrific ease they knock the tall young woman to the ground. Anthy's hands ball over her mouth; her are eyes liquid with fear. "Utena-sama!!"

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The blows fall thick and fast. It is the only compliment they pay their enemy, that these men do not want to let her get back up. It is they, rather than she, who is ending this before it even starts.

"Utena-sama," Green Mohawk repeats with an indelicate snort, as he applies the toe of his boot to her ribs for a third time.

"Utena-sama," Baldie repeats, more thoughtfully, and he briefly stuns her with a blow to the side of her little pink head, then hefts her back to her feet by the scruff of her neck like a mama cat with her kitten. With two swift jerks, he's torn her jacket open.

Utena reflexively tries to fold her arms and backs straight into Mohawk, who is happy to hold them for her.

"Unbe-fucking-lievable," Blond Dude concludes, after surveying this heretofor unexplored territory. "All this time, all these scraps, and you were just a little bitch all along?"

The too-prominent ribs aren't attractive, nor the splotchy bruises down the torso from previous evenings abroad, but the gray sports bra has a certain intrinsic appeal no matter who wears it.

The toughs exchange bemused looks, and in this moment of distraction Utena is able to worm herself free. She sways, scarcely able to stand.

"Yeah, that's right," she spits, along with some blood. She cocks a hip. She sets her jaw. There's a terrible light in her eye as she realizes that this might be Anthy's only chance to escape. She's easy to read: 'pay attention, pay attention to me.'

She's easy to read, and they haven't forgotten that this sort of lesson hasn't stuck in the past.

It's over quickly; Mohawk gets a grip again, Baldie elbows her in the ribs, and Blond Dude clocks her in the jaw. She goes down like a potato sack, and watches but dimly as they step past her -- step towards anthy. Her blue eyes are dull, with pain, with a profound despair.

"Himemiya..." she croaks, and the thinness, the brokenness of her voice is as painful to hear as her body is to see. "Himemiya... please. Run..."

The men laugh as they pass her, turn their backs to the girl they've laid out on the ground. They laugh as they approach Anthy, as they close the distance in menacing steps rather than any sort of frantic gait.

And, paying attention to Anthy, they're not paying attention to Utena. To Utena, whose eyes are still empty, but whose hands have clenched into fists, who has somehow gotten to her knees, and around whom a wind is rising, a wind that smells, so faintly, so sweetly, so nostalgically of wild roses...

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Right now is a critical moment. It's in the air right now, in its rising currents and the scent of roses that Utena Tenjou might reclaim something of herself.

And that is when someone calls out, "Some say that the true measure of a man is in how he treats the fairer sex..." A man places his fingers upon a railing from an old open air pedestrian skybridge conjoining the two buildings, and vaults over the side like a prizefighter jumping out of the ring.

His perfectly tailored double-breasted suit transforming to become the military jacket of the student council as he descends, magnificently long red hair flowing behind him like the brightly burning tail of a comet, backlit by the neon red shining from the other end of the alley. "...but it'd be a wasted effort to try to gauge any of yours when you couldn't even distinguish boy from girl until just now."

Landing lightly with a clack of his boots, his rose signet gleaming in the bright light of the district, he puts up his fists as a boxer might, and takes off into a sprinting charge at the first assailant. Normally an outboxer, taking advantage of his height and reach for mind games, he still relishes the intimidation factor of inboxing.

He's crossed the gap between them so swiftly one might swear he teleported at point blank range he ascends into an uppercut straight to the leader's jaw, sending him aerial for a few moments before he lands with a thud. The others curse, he doesn't deign to grace them with the pleasure of hearing the sound of his voice further. They're inconsequential to him, their thoughts, their feelings, even their suffering is less than nothing.

Weaving to the side of a telegraphed hook from the mohawked man that clips through his silky red hair, he looks smug as he uses the opening created to whip his arm sideways into a devastating haymaker to the abdomen which scythes the next one to the ground.

It's clear even before the second man eats the pavement a full three meters away that it's a rout of the one against the many. The kind seen on the silver screen and very rarely in actual brawls. It's quite clear with the aid of his magic he's not even having to use every advantage his power and position affords him, but only a minute sliver of it.

The one that's breathing far too eagerly catches his attention in the way he's creeping up on his flanks. That one he just looks at out of his periphery sending the message quite clearly that he's noticed what he's doing and it won't work. As expected, the man thinks better of it, then breaks and runs.

By now Mohawk has picked himself up, and limping over to the blonde leader with a pained lope, has managed to wrench the concussed man onto his feet. Right now all of their energy is spent trying to see straight, they can't even send back a parting remark of sheer bravado.

Another time, another place, and Chu-Chu might be ringing a bell to signal the end of a fight...

His turn to face the pair looks like it could belong in an ad on TV, almost in slow motion, the little details highlighted. The nobility of this moment accentuated. There's not a singular smudge on his pristine jacket, and nary a wound, not even so much as a bruised knuckle and as always sickeningly handsome.

And in this moment that he walks over to Utena, and allows the first smudge to occur upon a knee, as he leans down and checks on her. He's sliding off one sleeve of his jacket, as if to allow her to cover herself if her own torn jacket isnt enough. Appraising her in a way that looks mostly clinical as he makes certain she isn't too injured. Normally he'd presume upon her space without even saying anything, but right now he's offering a hand rather than taking hers.

"Please. Allow me."

Before asking Anthy, in a way it's an afterthought given Utena's state, "Are you alright?"

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"No!" Anthy yells, like the word is some sort of barrier that can protect Utena from kicks to the ribs.

"Stop!!" Anthy screams when Utena takes that vicious blow to the head, and they don't.

"Please!!" Anthy pleads against their casual vulgar cruelty, as if adding a polite word will make a difference.

Wide eyes wince almost shut, but can't wrench away from Utena and the hurts she takes. Anthy knows herself to be helpless. She stands in the middle of the alley and watches, unable to look away and unable to do anything more useful. Revealed, Utena tries to buy a chance to flee for a girl whose learned response is neither fight nor flight.

The Rose Bride freezes in place, caught in the coming aggression like a fly in the web of a spider. Once Utena tells her to run, she starts an obedient halting stumble and falls back against a dumpster, its corner jabbing at her.

Beyond the men she catches sight of Utena again, the wisps of pink hair, the clenched fists--

And Touga descends upon the alley in full fighting form, making even shorter work of the toughs than they'd made of their earlier target. Anthy stares as he burns through the men without effort, converting their threat into a route as thorough as it is swift.

She watches him tender aid to Utena and the shivers smooth from her, replaced with something cooler and calmer. "Yes," she replies, "Thank you, Touga-san." She hurries up to join the two of them, keeping the wariness that fills her from her expression, and gives him only a grateful if quick smile before looking to Utena and her hurts.

"Utena-sama, are you...?"

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Will she or won't she?

No, that's the wrong question. The will is there. Whatever her complex feelings -- whatever her supposed desire for normalcy -- whatever has been stopping her, when the chips are down it is someone else endangered that spurs her in a way that her own harm's way never would.

Could she, or couldn't she?

They don't find out.

From Anthy's perspective, while Touga is taking out the toughs, Utena is trying to get to her feet. Struggling, with all her might, while all the while rose petals seem to pour from her, ripping from her, torn towards the ground at tremendous speed. They fade away the moment they hit the concrete. With each petal, Utena herself becomes paler, more delicate, more drawn. She had been empty to start, but something fills her in the place of the void, and that something is despair.

And Anthy sees the most; Touga, busy with his fisticuffs, doesn't catch any of that at all, only that whatever might have happened doesn't. That the girl he approaches afterwards is just another damsel in distress -- as helpless, as damaged, and as sad as ever.

What Utena herself experiences is a sense of nascent power, a nearness of feeling to something she once felt, something that was once as familiar as breathing -- something like her Prince --

-- and then she blinks, dazed, the men having been run off, and Touga offering her his hand.

Naturally, she puts two and two together and gets four, the truth instantly lost in a simpler narrative. One both easier and safer to believe.

She swallows.

Hot pins stab her eyes in the corners, but she blinks back the tears, pursing her bloodied lips, and also looks to Anthy.

"Himemiya," she whispers. "Thank god you're okay."

No -- not god. There's someone else to thank. Utena is prideful and upset but not absolutely churlish, and she swallows again before dragging her face upwards, upon a protestingly sore neck, to look her savior straight in the eye.

"Thanks," she murmurs, and means it, taking his hand up. Feeling it engulf hers is an acute reminder of how small she is compared to real men. For some reason she feels it more profoundly than she did at the hands, fists and feet of her actual assailants. "I... I guess I owe you one, Council Prez."

Once on her feet, she tries to reclaim her hand and stand on her own. Try is the operative word; she's very unsteady.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

The Rose Bride's thanks is already his due. He acknowledges it mostly with a nod as Anthy approaches the pair. As it becomes clear that Utena will not succumb to their cruelty, he allows himself a close-lipped smile that's perhaps more like the smug playboy that she remembers.

Rising to his feet, in a manner not unlike someone aiding a beleaguered princess in fairy tales. Normally he'd capitalize on her saying she owes him one... but right now it doesn't fit into the game he's playing, "There's no need for that. I'm an ally to all girls after all."

It's a line. And a line he's used many times, but now he adds an extra clause, "Especially when it's a pair of distinctly cute ones." He does release her hand initially upon Utena trying to reclaim her footing, but only long enough to take out his other arm from his jacket.

In a chivalrous show, he drapes it around her just in case her jacket does fail to function. In reality though it might serve as yet another reminder of how much larger he is than her.

"I'll escort you both home. It's the duty of the Student Council to see to the welfare of the student body."

Utena seems unsteady, so instead of asking, he hooks his arm around hers in a way that might seem gallant- like he's not trying not to call attention to her weakness and is instead covering for it.

Once his arm is over hers though, his eyes might still be smiling but now it's more the tone one might expect from him gently scolding Nanami rather than talking to Utena. A seriousness seldom seen in him outside of occasional discussions upon the rules, "By now you must agree, Utena-kun, that this recklessness of yours has gone on for long enough."

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Petals like snow fall in great flurries from Utena; goosebumps cascade down Anthy's arms and legs, a sensation so rare as to feel alien to the girl. In the whites of her eyes, the aqueous film left behind by fear reflects shedding petals around green irises that hold Utena's crouched form twice over. She does not blink, not until that heartstopping cascade ceases.

Touga assumes command of the situation as if it belongs to him, and perhaps it does if no one else claims it. Anthy makes no objections, and that is as good as acquiescence for many who interact with the Rose Bride.

Her eyes on Utena, she stands full heads beneath her taller classmates, the oversized red jacket combining with her stature to make her seem young compared to them. There is nothing in her demeanor to suggest anything other than a devoted, if shaken, Rose Bride resuming her attendant posture. She hears Touga's words without a flicker crossing her face -- a pretty, rescued doll.

Beneath the surface Anthy Himemiya pays keen, close attention. It is not likely that either Utena or Touga will notice that she is holding her breath.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Utena shakes her head, but more slowly than she might have at the 'cute' crack. As though she's clearing something from in between her ears. Something deep within her jars, just a little, but does not jar loose. Moving like that makes her dizzy, though, and when Touga puts his jacket and arm around her, she does not immediately protest.

She keeps looking back at Anthy, though. Anthy who was almost terribly harmed, just for coming after her to this awful place. All the dashing Council Presidents in the world can't make her forget Anthy, not in this moment. She offers a reassurring smile, but it's weary, so weary.

And becomes wearier by the second as Touga echoes Kasagami's favorite line, and then launches into a solemnity that she's never seen from him before... and does not like at all. She tries to share a look with her fellow girl, a put-upon one, but finds nothing but the Rose Bride's unflickering face.

That leaves her only herself to draw upon. Her jagged, miserable self.

Touga can feel her stiffen. Beneath his hand she transforms from pliable flower to roughshod rock -- or maybe something hard but brittle. She could be glass.

At first she tries to play it off, her smile fading into a pugnacious smirk. But she can't even summon a clever quip, much less a meaningful-yet-cool verbal counterthrust, and finally she stops moving, stops walking along with them -- stops going along with him.

Instead she starts to pull away.

"Nobody asked for your opinion, Prez," she wants to say coolly but says very hotly indeed. She can't quite look him in the eye. And her trembling, which had stilled as the adrenaline wore off, starts up again, as though a whole flight of birds are beating their wings against the cage of her body, trying to escape through her skin. It infects her gaze, her fingertips, her pulse -- her voice. "This is totally none of your business, okay?"

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Whether Himemiya is a doll that draws breath, or one that does not- Touga pays no mind to the attention she affords the situation. Right now she's a convenient prop in a lecture, her mere presence in Touga's eyes giving consent to her use.

Utena stiffens under his arm, and Touga expects it. In that moment he might have even smiled, in the same way he smiles after playing with her hair. A rough enough shove could shatter her, but right now he desires a more gentle touch. He wants there to be something left.

As she pulls away, it's clear that he allows it. He doesn't even retort right away.

"Are you saying it's none of her business either?" He says quietly with a gesture towards Anthy, "That she shouldn't follow you out here? The very act of you coming here placed her danger, didn't it? What would your desire to protect her amount to then?"

The way he stands now is quite straight and tall, towering in his intimidation, quite still. His hand is still facing Anthy but right now he's looking straight at Utena, "And if you're cruel enough to say that it's not her business either- that it's only your own. Then you need to ask yourself what you, a totally normal girl expected to do against grown men? This isn't one of your basketball games against high schoolers. What was your contingency plan if what was taken from you didn't return in one of these beatdowns?"

His eyes close, and there's even more condescension dripping off every word, "Beg for your life? Give them what they want, no matter what more they might demand from you?"

His eyes open, and there's no smile in his handsome blue eyes right now, instead even they're looking at her more and more like she's a child, "Or would you rather keep your pride and lose your life rather than suffer those indignities? Do you think there aren't people who would care if you went missing? If you perished ignobly? Or even just came back... with more of you missing than ever before?"

His lips become a thin line, "Would you have me tell them in their grief that it was simply none of their business either?"

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Utena doesn't see Touga's smile -- or its fading.

All she can see is Anthy.

It may be at his direction, but she's still the one looking.

She looks at Anthy and she sees her mysterious roommate, who stays up late watching the Home Shopping Network and gets up early to make lunch. She sees her increasingly precious friend, who sometimes she feels deeply connected to and sometimes recognizes that she doesn't know at all. Every fresh insight is like a glimpse at a legendary masterpiece. Every time she sees something totally different, totally new, totally wonderful.

And now, every time, she sees the feet of their assailants, walking past her face. Walking towards Anthy. She may never unsee them.

It comes over her expression slowly. At first, staring at Anthy, she was suffused with affection, with relief. Blue eyes aglow, lips slightly parted.

But, gradually, that light fades. It dims to sadness. Her lips purse, then thin, and finally twist, with anguish. In an eyeblink, her royal blues become instead twin chasms of hurt.

"I... I didn't ask her to come," she stammers, truthfully, but the truth fixes nothing. It doesn't make her feel even a little bit better. She's still looking at Anthy, rather than at Touga, but finally as she says that the shame overcomes her completely and she can't anymore. Her chin lowers. Her eyes threaten to overflow, and she inhales sharply through her nose in a vain attempt to forestall it.

"Jeez, stop looking at me like that!"

She turns away completely, folds her arms over her chest. Her breath hitches again, and she closes her eyes. Don't cry. Don't cry. She will not cry.

"You have no idea what it's been like," she says finally, absolutely raw, her voice naked of pretense. Unvarnished self-loathing bubbles to the surface, pops as her timbre breaks. "This is... this is what I deserve. All of this. It has to be, or else things would be different." Or else her powers would have returned, like everyone else's did.

She doesn't reopen her eyes, but all of her being is now keenly attuned to Touga's reaction, desperate for his approval -- or his guidance -- or something, anything, some kind of helping hand off the precipice she's standing on.

"I don't know what else to do," she admits, tiny in all respects.

The first tears start to spill forth from beneath her long, long lashes.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (4)] has posed.

Utena's tension increases gradually, like an overtaut cord which he himself is pulling upon mightily. He doesn't respond to her accusation that she didn't ask her to come. Saying that she's the Rose Bride and would come to her unless ordered not to would only increase Utena's defiance, especially right now when she's looking at her. Silence is more useful.

Instead his expression- softens isn't quite the right word, but some of the sharpness falls away when she tells him not to look at this. Her arms fold defensively and he takes a breath rather than a step. He let's her strip away some of her own defenses, some of the veils that he believes will lead him to the vulnerable girl within, seeking succor.

It's only once she cries, that he acts. Stepping forward, he's towering over her, but the first thing she might feel is his thumb upon her face, wiping away, blotting out every tear, "Shh. Don't cry." He murmurs believing Utena's grief in this moment will allow this casual intrusion quite easily. "I'm such a shameful gentleman, to have brought a girl to tears. I don't know how I'm going to forgive myself."

He lies, though it's not an obvious one, his tone is like one might hear in the bedroom from a lover, "It simply hurt, seeing you like this. Reduced to this. Your desire to be a prince- you've been trying so hard, for so long that you're even dueling the worst humanity has to offer. And now you feel trapped, trapped with nowhere else to go by your own yearning. It's brought you little but pain... and now it's bringing suffering to those around you too."

His opposite hand takes its rest upon her shoulder, "Hasn't it? It must be hard for you trying to bear everything alone... when you have such a tender heart." A girl's heart, a woman's heart he might have said instead but only alludes to- at least yet, "It's only natural that the strain would twist you up inside. Make you think you have to do these things."

He leans in close, his voice an even softer murmur, "There are so many people in your life that care about you so much. Don't you think that shutting them out is selfish? You're trying not to hurt them, but you end up only hurting them more. Wouldn't it be better then if you didn't do everything on your own?"

Up close his eyes are such a vivid, handsome blue. Up close it's hard to see the predatorial glint hiding behind them that's quite apparent at a wider angle to Anthy, "A woman's strength can come from being weak sometimes in the company of the people who care about them... you can rely on them sometimes, you know."

If Juri wishes to see a miracle, he should try using lines like these in her presence. If he keeps all his teeth she's witnessed one.

And then in a sotto voce, he implies something to her even though he doesn't outright state, "You can rely on me."

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> The Tale of Princess Kaguya -- Despair https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sPvg4Igt94

One could look back upon these moments, replay them in slow-motion, to study, to savor, the case of Utena Tenjou as her much-battered, much-beleaguered heart undergoes a beautiful, terrible transformation... from being broken to being shattered.

She's shaking, she's shuddering with pent-up grief as Touga approaches her, but with the simple application of his thumb he stills her perpetual motion completely. Poleaxed, she's a statue beneath his hand as he comforts her, berates himself. Her tears stop too, as though he's cast a magic spell, dried up the spring with nothing but a touch. The last of them pool on his fingertips. Neon light catches them, transforming them from diamonds to rubies, to sapphires, to a thousand other gems. They adorn him.

It burns where he touches her, and she burns too, but it isn't with the mottled red innocence of a schoolgirl taken off guard by someone older and wiser, telling her what to do. Completely incapable of dealing with his tone of voice -- his sympathy -- his suffering, and her own actions to blame -- the rest of the color in her, what little was left, drains away. Gooseflesh ripples across her, the only sign that she's anything but a marble maiden now in truth.

His suffering is Anthy's suffering. She can't look away from Touga now, not with her chin cupped in his hand, not with his other hand on her shoulder. She can't even try. But though the redness of his hair reflects in, infects the perfect blueness of her eyes, it's another red she's seeing. The red of the rose garden -- of a cherry tomato on an omelette -- of the gorgeous, almost overwrought gown that Anthy insists on wearing to the many funerals of her ever so carefully tended children...

His words drop into her like stones tossed into a perfectly still pool. She ripples.

She's such a shameful girl, to have brought Anthy to tears. She doesn't know how she's going to forgive herself.

He can sense Utena's distance, her dissociation from him personally; it's not the usual reaction. The ideal thing to do would be to swoon into his arms. But as his words fill her like a chalice, as he plants them like a bird plants seeds from an old world into a new one, she has withdrawn into herself instead. Into the cage of her memory.

Feeling alone -- reduced -- trapped -- twisted. Dirty.

A prince's hand, tenderly drying the tears on her cheeks. Speaking sweet, soft words in her ears.

Selfish. She's hurting them. Hurting him -- hurting the one she came here for? Hurting Wakaba. Hurting Sayaka. Hurting Kasagami. Hurting Kozue, Miki, Juri, Shizuru, Takeo, even Saionji, who would never have had to suffer as she witnessed in the ring if she hadn't...

...if she hadn't...

Hurting Himemiya... her thousand thousand worried glances, her sleepless silences, her painstaking care, all of it rips into her, every recollection a dagger as she internalizes that it was all because of her own, twisted selfishness. Her inability to be like all her friends. To rely on them. To confide in them. To draw strength from them.

Her lips part, her pupils dialate. She breathes for the first time in a while, not so much remembering to do so as reacting naturally, and it is the sound of someone being stabbed.

There isn't much space between her and Touga now, and he can feel the edge of her too-loose signet ring -- her engagement ring -- catch a little on the complicated edges of his pristine white jacket as she brings her hand up over her heart, unconsciously. Clutches herself there, as if she's trying to hold it in, to hold it together.

She can no more do so than she can hold back the sea.

Her too-still face crumples like a wad of trash. Her tears restart, but her lashes don't close to contain them -- instead they leak freely from too-wide, too-credulous eyes. Stunned eyes. Vulnerable eyes. The windows to her soul have been thrown open, and inside is only desolation.

She allows herself to be escorted in silence, her movements not jerky like a robot but empty like one, like a doll's, until they make it back to the East Dorm.

Touga doesn't get his answer. Which is an answer, in its way.

But, in the darkness of their dorm room, as they lie in their separate beds, Utena finally speaks. She says words she's said before, familiar words, magic words. Words she's meant -- but not like this.

"Himemiya..." she whispers, and it is the sound of a tiny death. Of a thousand such. The syllables spill from her like a pool of blood, in time to her heartbeat. They're carried on the same wind that brushes a silent battlefield, hours after slaughter.

"...I'm so sorry..."

There is no one to reply to. Utena the statue, Utena the doll, Utena the corpse lies in her coffin, and stares with sightless eyes at the ceiling for the rest of the night, seeing only her own mistakes.

<Pose Tracker> Anthy Himemiya [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Two dolls make it back to Southern Cross in the care of Touga; if anything the Bride is more of a ghost than usual, a shade in tow behind the shadow of her Engaged. Anthy says nothing as they dress for bed, though the quiet gets ruffled a bit when she makes wordless sounds of soothing at a disgruntled Chu-Chu whose sleep has been interrupted all too frequently of late.

She's far from sleep with head tilted on her pillow so that she can cast a distant gaze at the window when the whispered syllables of her name fill the silence. There's a flicker in the faraway pastoral fields of her eyes; they gleam in the spare light as their focus shifts.

Anthy stares up at the wooden bottom of Utena's bunk, stares hard, like she can pierce the board to gain direct sight to her Engaged. After the apology rosebud lips part; breath hisses past them and free without voice.

If Utena were not locked in her coffin she might hear those emptying lungs, or the shifting of nightgown and blankets as her roommate coils harder into herself after. Something squeezes deep in Anthy's chest, hard and tight and hot, and she squeezes her body around it like an animal curling around a wound.

Anthy closes her eyes and reminds herself that what is coming is no different from what has gone before. A gentle ball of a girl in her nightcap and gown, long lashes lidded, she projects peace and rest while getting exactly as much rest as the girl in the bunk above her.