Title: Fairytale Ending

Summary: Anthy knows a story. Slight shoujo ai.

Warning & Disclaimer: Mention of incest. Revolutionary Girl Utena and all characters belong to Be-Papas, Chiho Saito, and other luckier people.

Notes: Much thanks to Catt, Twig, and Flidget for the advice and comments.

Everything has changed
Absolutely nothing's changed
Take my hand
Not my picture
Spilled my teacher

~pearl jam, corduroy

Anthy is thinking about a story that has no name.

It's a story that the shadows did not tell her, about people who don't grow up. She gets most of her stories from the shadows but some of them come out of the books in the room and some of them come from her brother, and some of them come from Dios, and some of them just come right up out of her head like roses.

(There's something I wanted to tell you, Dios says inside her mind from where he is listening to the story. He sounds vaguely worried. There's something I don't remember.)

Dios likes to talk to her inside her mind and she closes her eyes to listen to him. When she closes her eyes, it's just the two of them inside her head, dark and quiet but with a glowing horizon. Things are bigger inside her head. She holds history there, she holds all her memories, so of course it would be bigger. It wouldn't make sense otherwise.

Her head swims with stories. They've all come from different places and she keeps them there because there's no real reason not to. Dios likes them. Some of them have names and some of them don't; some of them are long and some of them are short; all of them begin and end the same way, even if the names of the people in them are different.

This story without a name is about a princess. The story tells about how the princess was born and an evil witch cursed her birth and threw magic from her fingertips at the princess. So the princess grew up with a curse over her head like a storm cloud waiting to cry rain. And when the princess was still young, she pricked her finger on a funny spinning thing, but not a rose thorn, and fell asleep for a hundred years.

The roses grew high around her castle and the princess slept and the people of the kingdom slept. A wall of thorns as sharp and deadly as swords protected them and a hundred princes lost their lives in the thorns of the roses because they wanted the best rose of all, sleeping in the castle. It was their jobs, it was what princes do. They save princesses, except when they don't or can't.

But finally, a prince came and a miracle happened. The roses bloomed for him and so he got through, and his bones were not added to those hanging from the vines, even though blooming roses still have their thorns-- it's just harder to see them. The story doesn't say how he got past the thorns but it's probably not that important.

The prince reached the castle, climbed the stairs, and woke the princess. And when the princess woke up, so did the rest of the people and everyone was happy. The prince married the wide-awake princess and they lived happily ever after, the prince and the princess.

Dios likes that part the best.

She's never told him the truth, though. The story doesn't tell the truth and parts of it are fake. It's all wrong. Wrong, wrong, backwards-wrong.

There are things that are untrue in the story. It was never one princess and many princes but one prince and many princesses. It was never really the princess who fell asleep but the prince and it was never really the witch's fault. The hundred princes died in a fire, they were never looking for the princess herself. They just wanted to get into the castle where things were brighter.

The people never really slept that way either. That's a lie. They got tired of waiting for the prince to save the princess and they went to sleep because there was nothing better to do and they had to dream of swords and revenge.

But she knows the real part of the story, the part that isn't fake or a lie. The princess doesn't grow up. The princess sleeps for a long time and she exists for a long time, so she has to get older but she never grows up. She's always sixteen.

Prince and princess live happily ever after. The story says so. There's never a queen, just a princess. The prince didn't grow up either. Lies.

Her brother won't let her grow up.

She's thought about it before. Once, when she visited her brother and sat on the couch, she had surprised herself by thinking that she could just ask her brother why. But the surprise was so great that it had left her breathless and with eyes closed tight, and any way the question could have been voiced had been lost forever. So she just sat very still and smiled when he offered her some tea, his face behind her eyes.

She doesn't need her eyes to smile. She doesn't need her smile to see. She has glasses to use anyway, magic eyes. No one can see her behind them.

The question never made it out of her mouth. But it turned over and over in her mind after it slipped up as silent as roses, and it turns over and over in her mind now as she sits and thinks. It's not just the question; it's the question and the questions that fall off the questions like sparks off clashing blades.

Why doesn't she grow up?

She gets older, she thinks. Maybe. Just maybe. She thinks she remembers being small enough to have to throw her body against a door to close it, small enough not to reach the knob very well. And now the doors she goes through open easily and her hands can find the knobs without groping high, but that could be wrong. It could be that the doors have changed, not her.

This place that her brother made is very special, so it's very possible for doors to change. She can't trust them because they don't always go to the same place. So she tries to think of her birthday, because birthdays are when you get older. Utena said that. Utena says her own birthday comes when it is cold and snow is on the ground but she can't remember the last time it snowed here in this place of her brother's.

Her birthday comes in a month of… of… roses, of course, although no roses really bloom for real. People give roses to each other and they give their hearts and walk hand in hand like princes and princesses. But her birthday is tricky and it likes to disappear in the calendar pages for years at a time. She has to watch it all the time to keep it from disappearing.

Seven years pass between her birthdays. Seven years is an important number, like a seventh son. Princes are often seventh sons. That shouldn't make them special though, because all the other sons are princes too. Princes grow up and ride off on adventures. She thinks she'd like that, sometimes.

(You already have everything you get when you grow up, Dios whispers gently, reprovingly. You have a pretty dress with a long skirt, you wear your hair up high on your head. You have magic eyes and a sword and so many things. Princesses don't need anything else. Why grow up? You have these things.)

She does have them, Dios is right about that. She had short, pretty skirts and short, loose hair when she was younger. Her brother gave her these special things, the long skirts and crown, but he won't let her really grow up. It's like playing pretend.

The first thing she does every morning is to put her hair up. It's hard to do, because there's a lot of it and she has to pin it as close to her head as possible. Sometimes the pins dig into her scalp and they hurt. But Dios tells her about ladies and how they would pin their hair up high and it was a sign that they were adult, that they had come of age.

(The princesses, Dios says dreamily, they wear their hair long when they are young. But if they wear it long and loose, then their crowns fall off and they are not princesses anymore. So, they put their hair up to hold their crowns steady and they wear their skirts long instead.)

She remembers having short hair once, feeling the ends of it brush her cheeks when she turned her head from side to side, but it was a long time ago. She must have been younger then, not older like now. She wears her hair up.

Crowns are heavy and they can hurt also. She remembers wearing a real crown and feeling the metal cold against her scalp, the same way the pins feel. But she doesn't know where it went. Maybe Dios is right and it fell off and she lost it. Dios knows about princesses but she isn't sure how.

Put her hair up. That is what she does each morning, the first thing. But her hair is already up. She woke up with it like that. She woke up not in the half-moon bed, or lying on the couch, but sitting on the roof with her feet dangling off the edge and tasting the wind. The last time she was up here, her hair whipped against her back and her nightgown billowed around her legs like she was a kite.

The wind smells like damp leaves and the scent of straw that's been dried hot and gold in the sun, but it feels wild, like cold water. When she inhales sipping lungfuls of it, it takes her breath away as though it's trying to breathe her back.

She wonders why she's up there. She thinks it's probably important to figure out.

(It is a very long way down, Dios observes neutrally. Everything is very small.)

Whenever he comes to see her, Dios falls down from the sky, down from the castle, and she used to wonder if he would hurt himself. Or maybe he came down from her mind, but he never liked her body very much because she was the Rose Bride and not the Engaged. He never used to help her hold the sword right.

(Tell me a story, Dios says almost slyly. She would call it flirtatious but she can't think of the word. Tell me a story about a princess.)

"I don't know any real ones," she says, and the wind snatches the words from her lips as though it wants to hear too, and take the story all away for itself.

(You were just thinking of one, Dios says. Now he sounds fretful, like he doesn't feel well. I heard you. I'm tired of my own stories. I want to hear a new one.)

Her feet hover over empty space. If she swings them out just a little further and leans forward, she would fall like Dios does, too.

"Once upon a time," she says, because all her stories start that way, "there was a princess who lived in a castle. She lived in the castle because the garden in the castle had a rose in it and she had to take care of it because there were no other roses like it, even though flowers grew everywhere outside the castle. She never left."

There is just a spread of blue beneath her, nothing between here and the ground below but air. Her hands are cold and they look paler than usual, fingers splayed against the stone. She's never seen her fingernails that color before.

"There was also a prince, who didn't live in the castle, because he had to ride through the kingdom and take care of the flowers out there. He didn't ever get to go into the castle and see the princess, even though they were just alike. And one day, the prince came to save the princess because she could never come out of the castle and he couldn't go in."

Utena's eyes are blue, are just this shade of blue, and they looked like the sky filling up with rain when she cried. Cried, not wept, because weeping is what princesses do and Utena isn't one. And she had cried with her eyes squeezed shut and gasping--- Utena who never cries--- because… because…

"The princess was so surprised that the prince would come for her, that she wanted to give him her only real thing. She took a knife and cut the rose and ran out of the castle to give it to the prince. But the prince died on a pile of straw because the rose was his life and the princess had taken it away by accident. And besides, he couldn't save her because she came out of the castle herself."

Why is she out here on the ledge?

"So, no more flowers grew and there were no more roses ever and the princess went back inside and stayed in the castle after all."

(I am not sure I like that story, Dios says doubtfully, after a long pause. I don't think I do.)

She doesn't really like that story either, come to think of it.

With her magic eyes, she can see the people who live here. She can see her greenhouse blazing like a diamond in the morning sun. Inside, she can see her roses and which ones need to be watered and which ones need to be trimmed.

Different types are growing, different colors gleam like jewels. Red and green grow intertwined like fighting lovers, with yellow buds crowning the edge. Blue roses curl around each other and bend forward like the shy heads of birds. The peach-colored blossoms grow tall and alone, reaching towards the glass ceiling. Dark purple are also alone, and they are so tangled in the wooden latticework that cutting one free is hard to do. And everywhere, everywhere filling the air with their scent and spreading petals wide are the lavender roses.

All the white roses inside are dead or gone. She hasn't been to her greenhouse yet today but she knows. She doesn't even need the magic eyes to see.

Utena would laugh to know she hadn't been to the greenhouse yet today. Slacking off, Utena would say. What next? Will you forget to make tea for me when I come back? Should I teach Chu-chu to do it?

She knows how Utena's hands look, curled around the teacup. She knows exactly how Utena takes her tea, not too much sugar because it makes you thirsty but enough to make the tea sweet, and sometimes a little milk. Utena even likes to put sugar in tea that shouldn't have sugar in it, like the teas made of jasmine and chrysanthemum.

She doesn't have those flowers in her greenhouse. Anthy doesn't know where they grow. Outside the greenhouse, anyway, outside a forest, maybe even in Outside itself.

(A princess wandered in a forest once, Dios tells her, but she found no flowers. A witch hated her for being a princess because she herself was not a princess, even though she was a queen. So the princess fled her castle, but she fell asleep. She only woke up as a princess again when the prince came for her and she went back to the castle then.)

Sometimes she thinks it would be better if Dios didn't say what he remembered, if Dios didn't only want to talk about what he likes. But Dios's silence would be worse than anything Dios says. So she lets him tell his stories and she tells him her own to keep him satisfied.

Anthy wonders, sometimes, why Dios is always so sad. Then she remembers and she understands why he clings to stories. He can live through them, enter the place where everything is golden and glowing.

Sometimes she thinks he is forgetting and sometimes he mixes the stories until they're no longer recognizable, grafting a phrase or a detail into a strange hybrid of flotsam and jetsam.

(The princess watched the crowd watch her, Dios sings, because her trial would prove if she was a princess or not. She danced all night until her feet came off and danced away in her shoes. But the shoes were the downfall of an evil witch, so all was well and the prince gave new feet of glass to the princess and they danced on the castle tower roof.)

Sometimes, she knows he is getting confused.

It's all right, though. They all have the same basic pieces; they all have the same ending. Once upon a time, princess, witch, castle, prince, happily ever after. Sometimes there are even roses. Her brother used to give her roses. Now she gives them to him but he always cuts them to pieces.

"Happily ever after," she says, and the words taste light as clouds, as feathers, as dried petals, things not meant to be taken too seriously or for great purpose.

(Yes, Dios says agreeably, happily ever after. They danced and lived happily ever after.)

The Observatory is the place she goes to when her brother needs to be happy. When her brother takes her long-skirted dress off and her magic eyes lie on the table and she can feel the mingled texture of her loose hair and the material of the couch against her back, she sometimes thinks of stories while her eyes are closed. She doesn't need to see the stars because they're fake. She doesn't need to see her brother because… just because. She already knows what he looks like, she already knows who he is, so she doesn't need to see him. Need to. Want to. Whatever it is.

Sometimes the stories run together in her head too, and she thinks she's not herself. Maybe she's a boy with short hair and short breath or a woman with her hand on the shoulder of another man, or even Dios. She's been other people. She's lived a long time.

Anthy is old but she hasn't grown up yet.

She thinks of stories. But she doesn't tell them to Dios then. Dios is never around when her brother is, certainly never when her brother lowers his head to her breasts and raises her hips with his hands and says, Anthy, Anthy, Anthy while she stares at the inside of her mind and watches the horizon glow.

He comes back eventually and then they can fall back to their familiar routine. She never tells Dios a story without being prompted first, just as she never touches her brother, or anyone else for that matter, without being told to first.

She will do it, of course. Anthy is the Rose Bride, so that's what she'll do, but it's never seemed necessary or right to touch first. But she's never been out here in the day before, and there's always a first time for everything.

"Once upon a time," she says, "there was a prince and there was a princess. The princess was under a spell that caused her to take the form of something she was not. The only way the spell could be broken was if someone died for the princess, and it had to be someone she loved."

Anthy can almost feel the way Dios sighs, like wind on a spring day, warm and gentle.

"One evening the princess settled by a fountain…" Her voice trails off and here she hesitates, it wasn't a fountain, was it? It was a lake. "The princess settled by a lake and she took her true form. And a prince was watching her."

That, she knows, is true. Princes are always looking for princesses.

"The prince saw the princess shed her false form and take her true form and he fell in love with her. To keep her, he took her false form away and gave her a ring." Another mistake, there is no ring in that story. She is getting confused. There is a promise given, but she's no longer certain what the prince promised. This prince meant to return, she thinks. Some princes didn't come back.

"He promised to do whatever it took to free her, to promise her his life. And that would be good enough to help her and he wouldn't have to die and the witch who placed the spell on the princess would die instead…"

It was a sorcerer, not a witch. But she can't stop the words and they fall from her mouth like raindrops.

"So the princess was glad. The prince… returned to his castle…"

Her head hurts a little. Odd, to feel a headache in a perfect place. But she keeps telling Dios his story. "And that night, there was a dance where the prince would promise. And the princess appeared and the prince danced with her all night, until midnight. At midnight, he swore his life and love to the princess, forever and ever until the end of the world."

(Good, Dios says, and she thinks she can hear the slightest tinge of relief in his voice, good. That is the right thing. That is what princes do.)

She shakes her head and her hair feels looser than normal, not quite so secure in its pinned-up place on her head. "No. He was wrong. He made his promise to the wrong girl. He promised his life to the sorcerer's daughter who was pretending to be the princess and he never saw the real princess watching him through the windows."

The problem with princes is simply that they are princes. You never hear of a king going on a daring quest; it's always a prince because they don't know any better. Princes don't believe that they'll be killed by the very dragon or witch that they set out to rescue their princess from; they never think things out. They swear an oath to the wrong person and hurt the one they meant to protect in the first place. Sometimes their bravery carries them through, but sometimes it isn't enough.

And some princes aren't brave. Some princes don't do the right thing. They can feel wounds and suffering with their own bodies and they know the whole of who they love, inside and out. They know when things hurt. Sometimes, they make things hurt on purpose and they smile while they do it.

The problem with princesses is that they can only be saved by other people. They can't save themselves. It doesn't seem fair but that's the way things have always been. That's how people remember it, so that's how it is.

(But what happens? Dios asks, his voice thin with disbelief, what happened to the princess from the first story when the vow was made?)

"She flew away," Anthy replies, and she leans off the ledge and flies away herself.

Wind rushes past her and it sounds like swords cutting the air. Her eyes are closed but her magic eyes are open and she smiles to feel the wind. It's a well-made world. No one really dies here. They just disappear and go into the Outside.

The Outside is where you go if this world doesn't want you, or if-- but it's never really happened before-- you don't want this world. She knows of people who couldn't live here because the world decided that they didn't fit anymore.

There was a boy who talked about miracles and pushed hair the color of the sky out of his face, whose eyes never left the Duelist who was tall, pale, and gliding-aloof. There was a man-- mostly a boy still, though-- who had hair like roses and eyes a little like hers, magic eyes, magic windows over his eyes. He had scholar hands. But his windows became clouded, then they broke, and then he didn't fit in anymore either and he went away.

She wonders if they are happy, wherever they are. She wonders if they are sad that this world didn't want them. It's hard to find a place to belong to.

Utena wasn't on the ledge with her. She's pretty sure Utena isn't in the bedroom. She can't see Utena with her magic eyes, because she can only see what's in this world and…

And…

She remembers swords. The world didn't want Utena anymore. But did Utena want this world?

Didn't Utena want her?

She doesn't understand.

It's a well-made world but nothing in it is real. She's been falling and flying for a long time and she ought to have hit the ground by now.

Anthy opens her eyes and finds herself in front of a familiar door, skirt rustling gently against her legs and her hair not even mussed. She's at the entrance to the Observatory where things don't change.

Inside. Not Real. Not Real. Not Outside. She stares at the door for a long time before something finally surfaces in her mind.

"I don't like that story," she says after a long pause, and her own voice to her ears is very thin and small.

The grain of the wood swims before her eyes and she has to press both hands against the door to keep her balance. She closes her eyes because that's what she always does, staying safe behind her spectacles.

(It's all right, Dios says, and his voice is nothing but gentle. I remembered what I had to tell you. It's all right. Listen. Listen to me.)

And Anthy does.

(You have to understand, Dios says. That's what I remembered. You have to remember. There's only one real story.)

Once upon a time, there was a perfect world and it was where all the stories started. The world held only one prince and he was the perfect prince as well, because every day, he went out and saved the world's princesses. All girls were princesses because the prince saved them and a prince only saves princesses, that was the way it had always been and that was the way it would always be, now and forever, world without end.

Except there was one girl who wasn't a princess, even though she was the only real princess. Stories are strange like that. This one girl who was and wasn't a princess was the one girl that the prince loved most of all, his sister, the one girl who was closest to his heart and linked to him through blood.

A prince saves princesses. That's what princes do. But with only one prince and many princesses, the prince became weak and ill. This princess who was not a princess saved the prince and she did so by making him no longer a prince. A prince must save princesses; the princess stopped the prince from saving princesses because otherwise the prince would die, trying to fulfill his duty.

And then there was change.

But the world has no use for a prince who cannot save princesses and the world has no use for a princess who cannot be saved. The prince could not save her because he was unable to love her as a prince loves a princess, as a prince should love a princess. This hurt the prince terribly, for he did love his sister-princess but not in the way that things should be. Not in the way the world demanded it to be.

To stay in the world, things always had to be just so. A world needed princes and a world needed princesses. And of course, the princes and princesses were the bright and shining parts of the world, the parts which made it glow. But the light side is never alone, and there is always the dark to contrast the bright.

And then there was a witch.

The princess made the prince into something else. And the world's people, angry at this turn of events and frightened for their unsaved daughter-princesses, changed the prince's sister, no longer a princess, into something else as well. All of their hate and fear and anger ripped her apart and put her together into something else, again and again and again.

She became a witch, transformed by the world's hate. Girls who weren't princesses could only become witches-- that was the way things were in the world. She was the witch, dark against the bright, she who could have been-- should have been-- brightest of all the world's girls.

The prince was no longer a prince for he could no longer save princesses, not even the one he wanted to save the most. The prince was something else entirely, something that had once been the best thing in a perfect world and was now only the most useless. Even the simplest things were lost to him, he could no longer love his sister, for by her witch-shape she was what the world commanded he hated, even though he was not truly a prince.

Caught between these two extremes, he began to change further, trying still to save his witch-sister, trying still to make a perfect world. He twisted and strained to shape a new world, where maybe witches could be saved.

As time went by, what remained of the prince was fading and the world was not yet complete. There were gaps in the world, strange places that needed to be filled with certain people. The prince, though racked with pain over his loss of the perfect world and his sister, tried to hurry. It was all right if parts of the world didn't make sense. He wasn't making it for other people, it was for his sister, for the witch. He knew that people would be used, but he tried to give it no thought as the End of the World ran at his heels and roared in his ears.

He built rapidly, and some of the things he made were strange and wonderful and others were strange and terrible. He chose the people who might have the slightest chance to make the world complete; he moved them as carefully onto the world as figures on a chessboard. But the most important place, the most vital place of all was not yet filled because there was no new prince yet to replace the dying prince and to save the witch-sister.

And then there was a girl.

There was a girl who was exactly what she was and nothing more or less. Her grief for her loss made her complete in her resolve to die. When he showed her the plight of the witch, it was not the grief for his loss that made her complete in her resolve to live. She did not want to rescue heart-broken not-princes, it was the grief for the witch herself which brought the girl out of a coffin where she lay.

Save her, she asked the prince, and when he told her that he couldn't, the little girl who needed something to live for found what she needed. She would save the witch. She would be a prince, even though the sleeping world shivered in its eggshell at feeling this new thing that had never happened before.

And that was the important thing. That was what the prince himself could not offer. The old world of his creation commanded that his prince-self hate the witch, the new world of his creation commanded that his dark-self hate everything. Guilt and past-love was not enough anymore, it wore thin and ragged around the edges like a cloak dragged through brambles or a dress pierced by swords.

His grief could not be solely for his sister; he still grieved his own loss of self and that had been by her hands. The grief and guilt and blame and hope all wove into each other like a crown of thorns, possessing no more end or beginning than a rose-ring.

He gave the girl what he could and he hoped. But the new divided nature of the prince was too much for him to withstand, and the part of him that his sister had tried to save was already too weak to resist death. Nothing of him remained except a shade of memory within his sister, nothing more than a slight glow, a light and fragile slip that she stored as deep as possible to keep him safe. Now he only came out to save his sister from the little deaths of duels. Now he had a new name.

Girls that weren't princesses became witches. Boys that weren't princes became the End of the World.

And then there was darkness.

But it never really ends. No one has written 'happily ever after', no one has ever really thought it to be capable of ending, and that, perhaps is why so few leave the story. There's a strange comfort to it the way it's there; it's always there, even if it changes. At least it can be depended on to change. The story just goes on.

Once upon a time there was a castle, a witch, and a rose garden. The witch does not live in the castle and she has not lived in the castle for a long time, as long as anyone remembers and her brother doesn't bring her roses anymore.

Since memory is what makes up the world, it is easy to say that anything else does not really matter. Once it falls out of memory, it does not exist. That's the way things have always been. Only the witch knows who she is or who she is not. Life goes on. Things don't end.

Anthy considers this as she stands before the door to the Observatory where everything is fake and nothing changes that should and no one actually sees what's there.

(You are not a princess, Dios says, and his voice is tired and hurt in some fundamental way. You are not a princess, because you have no prince. You are not a witch because you have no princesses in this world. And you are not the Rose Bride because you have no Victor who is Engaged anymore. You need to find someone so you know who you are.)

"I thought I could stay alone," she says. "Even with you."

Behind the door, someone is typing.

(I'm hardly real, Dios says, and he sounds sane for the first time in a long time. You can be alone with me.)

She doesn't know if she wants to be alone.

(I'm very tired, Dios says, soft and thoughtful. I think… Now that I've remembered… It would be good…)

Inside, the typing ceases. It's a beautiful day outside.

(The time has come… Dios says wearily and with unmistakable relief. The time has come…)

He does not finish the sentence. The sudden silence in her ears is like the halting of a sword, as undramatic as a gust of air ceasing. Anthy waits and listens but hears no more. For some reason, this makes her think of dust and chaff floating in yellow bars of light, the smell of old hay and roses, and stroking skin that hasn't grown cold yet.

Behind the door her hands rest on is a room that holds or pretends to hold a prince's tomb. She thinks, finally, the tomb's purpose is true.

Rose Bride. Princess. Witch. None of those things are her anymore, Dios said. But Dios is dead. Her mind is quiet. Should grief feel this way, as light and disconnected as a balloon broken free from its string? The world has tilted, the shell has cracked. Something has changed and she doesn't know what.

The typing inside resumes. She opens the door to the Observatory like she always does and walks inside. She walks in a straight line to the sound of typing, still dizzy with the unfamiliar ring of silence. Always there has been Dios. If this can change, what else can?

This is a room. In the room there are stars that are not real and a man who is not real. He sits at a desk and frowns at his work and the face he greets her with is one that she knows better than anything in the world.

"She didn't cause a Revolution after all."

She listens to him with only half her mind, still marveling at the lightness, the feeling of her skin stretching around something inside her that wants to get out. With the loss of Dios she should feel empty and still. Instead, she can feel the elasticity of her skin tense and release as she breathes in and out, can feel air on the back of her neck, can feel like moving for the sake of wanting to feel this strange new body move. Her chest and that space right beneath her breastbone no longer cuts her when she thinks about it. Nothing comes out of there any more.

"I'm counting on you, Anthy."

Her brother has plans. He wants her to help him. This would mean many things, mostly that she would return to how things have always been, the familiarity of life. He wants to win, he wants her to help him win. She is the one winning now, she is alive and she remembers everything and she is not insane from remembering everything. That's good.

He wants her to do it all again. She knows she could. She's come through it all like a full circle on a carousel. She's won before, she can do it now.

Anthy thinks-- knows-- this is not something she wants.

The choice is hers. She doesn't have to give him anything, if she wants to. She is free and she needs none of this anymore. All the real people are dead or gone and she is not who she used to be and this world…

…If she herself has changed, this world doesn't need her anymore. This world won't want her anymore. And she doesn't want it. Not even with things like roses and crowns, magic eyes and swords, and not having to grow up or give up what she's used to.

How strange to know this has been true all along.

"You don't know what happened, do you?"

She speaks and it feels like words from her mouth. Not like rose petals or anything else. The time has come to break the seal. The time has come to open the door to a new world. She has heard that before.

"Farewell."

Then she leaves her brother among the false stars and doesn't look back. He doesn't follow her, but she hears him calling. Maybe he understands. Probably not, though.

Packing takes less time then she expects. After the door closes, she goes back to the room that isn't her room anymore and puts clothes in a suitcase, smoothing down the right blouses and the skirts that aren't part of a uniform. They were never there before but maybe she did not look hard enough for them. Utena left some of her clothes behind when she went away and those are the first to go in, the essential things.

Small things take longer to decide. A package of hairpins goes in and out of the suitcase half a dozen times before she leaves them out. Once she decides though, she feels better and it reminds her of something else, too.

Anthy picks hairpins out of the carefully pinned-up roll of hair at the back of her neck and combs through the loosened tresses with her fingers, since her brush has already been packed in the bottom of the suitcase. Walking in the sun has made her hair warm the way it has never felt while hanging loose, and she is used to touching it only at night.

The cluster of pins is the only thing that is not neat about the room. She leaves them scattered on the dresser top, she doesn't need them anymore, for putting her hair up or anything.

When her hair is undone and warm against her back, she unbuttons her blouse and steps out of her skirt, leaving a little drift of fabric on the floor. Too many people wear uniforms and if she wants to find Utena, she can't just be a face in the crowd. She has never liked the way faces blur together, anyway. Their eyes go away and they look too much like herself; when they do that she thinks that maybe they have magic eyes too, and they can see her all over. But she doesn't have magic eyes anymore.

The sun goes behind a cloud outside, and for a moment, she is cold all over. The suitcase creaks a little next to her when she sits on the bed and cups her elbows in both hands under her breasts. Closing her eyes doesn't make it any better.

(Don't leave me, a voice murmurs gently, and he sounds like her brother. The World will hurt you, the World is different from here. We love you here. I love you. Things will not change.)

Dios is dead, she knows, and this is just a remnant of her brother still pleading. But whatever he is, whatever he is not, the voice is right, in a way. The World will be different. The World will probably hurt, maybe even more than this one does. Maybe she will be even lonelier there, without her brother or Dios anymore.

Fear makes her chest clench tight in a cold knot and she has a hard time breathing, like riding too fast in a car, trying to draw rushing wind into her lungs. She doesn't even know how to find Utena, or how to find the World. Anthy guesses there isn't a real way to find it, she just has to walk as far as she can and think about it all the time. If she thinks about it hard enough, if she concentrates all her will on it, she can get to where she's going.

The Rose Bride has no will of her own.

But she will not be the Rose Bride anymore, ever again. That is a game that children play. She wants to grow up.

So she toes the discarded uniform aside, because she never went to school here anyway, and puts on a different dress, pink. She has never worn pink before. When she goes to hang up the uniform in the closet, there is a pink coat hanging in the corner that wasn't there before and it reminds her of Utena's hair, a little bit. She puts it on and she doesn't feel cold anymore.

The whole room is left neat and impersonal, as though no one has ever lived there before. It always looked like that anyway when she stayed in the Observatory and she wants her brother to look at it and be reassured. Maybe her absence will not hurt him as much if he has the room to stay in and remember; she wants to leave a clean coffin for him.

(Is this goodbye? Brother-Voice asks wistfully. Will you never return to me?)

Anthy feels a quiet ripple of air across her cheek, a caress from a world away that smells faintly of roses. "Yes," she says. "Goodbye."

And then she adds, "I will miss you," because it is the truth. She has always missed the brother for whom she sacrificed and hung on swords for. She will even miss the brother of now because of who he used to be and the fact that he was the only one who's known her forever. He always knew how she felt. He didn't always care or do the right thing, but he knew and no one else did or could. Maybe no one ever will again. Maybe not, though.

There are roses on the table by the window, a mixture of pink and lavender and dark purple. There is the urge to play with them a little, smooth the petals as though they are clothing or bed sheets. The lavender ones are mostly still in bud, furled as tightly as closed fists, while the pink ones are full blown and have dropped a few petals. But the dark purple roses are in between, caught in a transition of opening and just a little more time will have them open completely.

She thinks about separating the roses so that there are no lavender ones in the vase, but she decides that it doesn't matter. Anthy is glad, though, that she will not be here to see the petals of the pink roses fall.

The fear that makes her throat hurt and her breathing short is good, in a way. Feeling things, she thinks, is probably the way to get to the World.

There's something else that falls out of the closet, something that was on the top shelf. It's a hat, and it tilts at an angle on her hair, soft and smooth the way the crown never did. So now there's nothing left to put on and nothing to do except pick up the suitcase and walk away.

She can't help but feel reluctant when she goes, even if she is glad to be out of a lonesome place. Anthy walks over the threshold, turns to take one last look.

(Stay, her brother would have said. Stay and help me because you are the Rose Bride.)

(Go, Dios would have said. Go to the Outside and find new stories for me.)

(Suffer, witch, everyone else would have said. Suffer for us because that is what you do.)

She is none of those things anymore, Rose Bride, princess, or witch.

You should do what you want to do, Utena would say. Hey, what do you want to do? What do you like doing? Ne?

Anthy doesn't know but she can find out.

It is hard to leave but there is no joy in staying. She has been here a long time and it has grown into and under her skin, like deep-reaching roots looking for water. When she finally walks out, the voices fade behind her like the muted chime of a slowing bell.

Outside, the sun is bright again and she has to look carefully at first. She doesn't have magic eyes any more. She doesn't need them, they only see things and people in this place. She doesn't need them to see Utena.

The gate outside doesn't require a key. It yields to her hand smoothly and slides into two pieces because this is a well-made place, but not soundlessly. There's a small creak of hinges that have been in the rain. It must be because it has two sides, one for this place and one for… Outside, whatever is out there.

It doesn't need her to cut off her little finger or say a charm or batter it down with a sword. How funny, to have a keyhole but not need a key. Maybe all Outside doors are imperfect that way. But she thinks that all Outside doors go to real places.

Chu-chu runs to cling to her ankle and tries to climb her sock, scrambling all the way to her shoulder. The weight of him is real and he huddles contentedly in her hand when she picks him up.

Maybe it will hurt her to go Outside, like the little princess who could walk only by feeling like she was treading on swords and knives but--- no, she does not think in terms of princesses and what they can and can't do anymore.

If Utena's out there, then any hurt is worth it. So she breathes her last air here and says her last words here and then takes the first step of what could be many or could be a few, into Outside, into the World, into what's Real.

There are stories out there. That isn't the most important part. There are endings out there as well, ones that she doesn't know and ones that haven't been made yet. But first, there are beginnings to endings, and names for stories that need them.

She picks up her belongings and doesn't look back anymore as she leaves.

~owari~