"Maybe, Utena"
an Utena fanfic
by J. Random Lurker

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Author's note: This story is dedicated to the past.
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This time, I'll return in silence, in a whisper, like a ghost.
Oujisama, keep me strong. I know I'll be tempted. I know I'll want to
show my true face, especially to Touga and Miki... to all of them, my
friends.

Please, give me the strength to do what's right for them. Whatever that
turns out to be.

Life goes on.

The surest way to humble yourself is to look back on what you left
behind. When your friends and family realize you're gone and there's
not going to be a hope of your return, they get on with their lives.
Finding new meaning and hope in different things, other things. You
don't exist in their world any more.

Before, I walked through these halls and girls were lining the streets
three deep, crushed all along my path hoping for a chance to see me,
get an embarrassed smile or a wave.

Now those favors are reserved for someone else, someone who once stood
in the shadow I cast and hungered secretly to slash my throat, to
take back the chance to be special that I had stolen. Wakaba... now
that you're the special one, are you happy? They adore you, and your
face shines like the sun; you're the blessed one now. I'm not surprised
when I get near enough one day to see the rose signet on your finger,
a star of burnished silver. I'm not surprised to see a girl who was in
my lifetime a jeering nobody now clinging to your arm, with the
unmistakable look of passive adoration that marks the taint of the Rose
Bride. Hell, I can almost smell the roses from all the way over here.

I'm not sure if I'm jealous or not; it's a strange feeling to look at
you now, like walking on my own grave. It makes me sad, but I'm also
happy; it means you'll get out of here someday. You have the right kind
of heart; you're probably a great Victor.

The first week or so, I sit close to you at lunch and breaks, listening
in, trying to guess where you are in the game, what's happened. For
each of those five days, I bask in your smile and remember what it was
like back in the days before I knew the real meaning of the game. You
never notice me at all.

Ohtori is an easy place to disappear in. In the wake of the special ones
trails a cone of silence that you can slip into very easily. If you're
not Seitokai or a favored one you live in a weird sort of limbo.
It's actually incredibly freeing, and I take full advantage of it.
There's power in anonymity, here; more power than anyone realizes. I
see now why Akio stayed in the shadows, content to be the figure that
emerges from rare time to time, mostly invisible and unnoticed. In this
position, you can listen to anything, get close to anyone, and they-
those beautiful brilliant ones- they never notice you. How can they?
They're blinded by the spotlights shining on them all the time, blinded
by each other, reflecting each other's glow like moons around a
glistening star.

I never knew how it felt to be marginal. I was never marginal in anything.
I had my enemies and my allies, and my admirers; a court, almost. My life
and my death and my rebirth were all fantastic, superhuman things. I was
blinded by the stage lights, too.

Being like this is a lot better than I thought it might be, back then.
I have no friends now, and no enemies. I am no one... I simply am another
piece of set-dressing. And here, I can do so much more good.
When the girl in the dorm room down the hall starts to weep one evening,
and starts to put the razor to her wrist, I'm there. I can do something
about it. Free of the restraint of holding up a public appearance, free
of the clots of admirers, I can be there in her room, wipe away her tears
and hold her, and save her life. I can be the Prince I only pretended to
be while I was playing his role on stage.

And when I put her to bed and step away, I know she'll be definitely
better in the morning. That's assurance I never had as the Victor, either.

----

I'm not sure what the best move is. I spend the next couple of weeks
trying to figure that out. I don't want to interfere with the Game,
but my unimportance gives me some unique chances, and my memories urge
me in certain directions. I fit myself into the fencing club, into
the music club, into drama and dance. I want to be close to the
Seitokai again, but I want to retain my independence as well.

That means that just so often I'll turn my wrist the wrong way and let
Juri-sempai's perfect forward lunge knock my fencing saber out of my
hand when our feet are squeaking across the wooden floor of the training
hall. Sometimes I don't even have to do it consciously. She's gotten
so much better over time... she's so restless, I can see it in her eyes.
Even with Shiori snuggling her head against Juri's shoulder after the
last class drains out of the hall, Juri still isn't satisfied.

I'll play the wrong notes or pick the wrong key on purpose while in
music club, watching Miki tutor his star pupil Tsuwabuki.
Tsuwabuki-chan's shaping up into a fine man; he'll soon be ready for
the stage, tutored at Nanami's hands and now tempered in Miki's. I
imagine Akio is slobbering at the idea of using him, making him into
another Duellist. Miki.. hasn't changed a lot, which I guess doesn't
surprise me. But sometimes I see a rage waiting there. If I can play
the wrong note at the right time, I see a flash of it, like ball
lightning in those dark blue eyes. His politeness is starting to crack.

In Touga and Saionji I sense a ragged, constant tension. I see that
each has two kinds of smiles. The smiles that they give to others are
political and pleasant. The smiles they give each other as they drive
their boken into each other's chests in their duels are full of sin
and pain. I see their eyes tighten when the girls scream their names
or crowd around them. They never get a break, not for a moment. In
the kendo hall Nanami serves tea in her flower kimono. Her hands
sculpt ikebana, plucking single leaves with a fanatic devotion to
detail as she kneels, so politely, at the feet of her brother. Her
eyes are always turned low. She rarely speaks above a whisper.

I wonder if these are the true faces of the people I fought back then.
How did I manage not to see this before? Were they really like this
the whole time? Angry and mourning and frustrated and /miserable/?
Their sadness tears holes in my heart. They are bearing their pain
with as much nobility as they can, and it's still not enough to save
them.

If this is what my revolution did to them, I swear I'll never leave
this place again until all of them are free.

----

So one night, I can't sleep. My heart's been restless ever since I
got here. I have a lot of trouble sleeping, and when I do sleep my
dreams aren't good.

I usually end up sleeping a few hours, then getting up and moving
around. It started just in the dorm room, quietly, so as to not
wake up my roommate, a girl as plain and forgettable as me. We
haven't exchanged more than twenty sentences so far. After having
a rose bride and a huge empty hall to myself, it took me a little
while to adapt. Anyway, I've gotten good at slipping into my clothes
silently, and tiptoeing out the door.

Once I'm outside it's so much easier. The air is cool and clean,
and I can smell the sea in the distance. All of it faintly wound
up with roses and freshly cut grass... Ohtori's smells aren't unique
by themselves, but the blending of sea salt and sugar roses and
dark pine from the south makes it distinctive. I get lumps in my
throat if I think about it too hard. The smell blows cool through
the dark archways and open spaces, and I walk around circling my
arms, looking at the stars.

Every now and then in my walk, I'll see a couple furtively pressed
together against the shadow of an archway. It's not often, but
sometimes. I go by the covered swimming pool and breathe in the
chlorine. Sometimes I'll run around the track once, hoping to make
myself tired enough to want to sleep. Sometimes I can look up to
the tower and see a light in the student council chamber. I'll tell
you a secret: I've slept out here more than once. The nights aren't
cold at all, and as long as you don't roll around, the bleachers
are comfortable enough. Ohtori's a different place at night. Quiet
and serene, like I always imagined it would be like inside the
Illusionary Castle. If such a place had ever existed.

Tonight I'm tired when I start my walk, so I make my way pretty much
straight to the bleachers. I like the third one from the top. It's
smooth, wooden and indented just a little, which makes it comfortable
to lie in; sort of captures the heat from your body. Apparently,
though, I'm not the first person there this evening. Someone else
is there, sitting quietly, legs drawn up tightly together, sitting
on the fifth row from the bottom.

As I get closer, I see it's Shiori.

Oh, no. She must have had a fight with Juri-sempai or something. I
admit to a moment of hesitation before I walk over. Look, don't get
me wrong. I don't really dislike her or anything; I barely knew her
then, and I don't even have the flimsiest excuse to talk to her now.
And I'm not sure I'm in good shape this evening to be the smooth
Prince. I'm tired and I can feel the puffiness under my eyes, that's all.

She startles when I approach, and I can't blame her. It must look
like I just beamed in from another planet or something- the lighting's
not great out here. There's enough to see by, but it's hard to
see anyone coming until they're on you. I apologize for that, and
then take up my usual seat, stretching out along that third row.
She watches me and neither of us say a word for a while. A slight
breeze stirs a few cicadas to sing in the field.

The bleacher creaks as she leans on a hand, sideways to look at me.
She smiles, then asks me in that soft lilting voice of hers if I
do this sort of thing often. Sleeping on a bench. I admit that I
do, because I often have trouble sleeping, that I find it comforting
to fall asleep under the stars.

"You must be a very lonely person." she tells me. There's no trace
of anything mean in her voice. "Lonely people look to the stars for
comfort."

I think about that, and realize I don't have anything to say that
could contradict that. I know that oujisama is always with me,
always around me, and always within me... but... it's not the same
as what she means. I know that, too.

She goes on, with her kind small face and her lilting voice, to tell
me that tonight she and Juri-sempai made sugar cookies. Hers burned
a little, they didn't come out perfectly like Juri's did. She was so
afraid Juri wouldn't like hers- that she couldn't compete because
Juri's cookies were so elegant- that she trembled when she pulled the
tray out of the oven. But Juri told her that she liked the flawed
cookies better, because they showed the honesty of their making. And
after they were frosted, you couldn't tell the difference anyway.
Juri ate her cookies just as happily as if they had come out perfectly.

She reaches around to her other side, and holds out a plastic-wrapped
cookie to me, frosted orange. "I came out here to thank God for
Juri-sempai's love." she tells me, brushing her eyes again with her
free hand and fighting back tears I can tell are of real happiness.
"I hope you can make cookies with someone you love someday." she says,
and gives me the cookie. Then she stands up and brushes off her skirt,
and walks down off the bleacher, into the field, into the night. Just
like that.

And here I was thinking I needed to cheer /her/ up.

Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I can feel a square tea cookie
coated in sugar crystals grasped in my fingers, and the sweet taste
of the crystals dissolving on my tongue. Someone to make cookies
with, huh?

I close my eyes, wondering if I somehow read Juri wrong before.

----

Saionji comes to me out of the blue, in a way I never suspected. I
should have figured he would be the first to notice me, if anyone
would. One day he stalks up to me while I'm quietly eating lunch on
the lawn. He scowls at me, grimly grabs my arm. He demands to know
who I am, why I'm always lingering around the Seitokai so closely.
He's looking at my bare hands. I watch his eyes as he does it. I
see frustrated desperation in them. Clutching at me, as if clutching
at hope, his next question throws me for a loop. He asks me why I'm
deliberately failing in everything.

I'm so shocked by it I can't react. I guess I was getting sloppy in
my invisibility. While I'm dazed and openmouthed he roughly drags me
off toward the greenhouse, away from the other students. His grip is
almost crushing, I have to bite back a cry. Then I feel the concrete
of an archway crashing against my back, and his hands to either side
of my head, his hips pressing mine.

Frightening isn't a good enough word. I have to bite back the urge to
scream or kick him in the jewels to get him off me. I would, but I
can't- his eyes... his eyes are the eyes of someone in utter hell; they
hold me still and silent. I wonder if this is the same face he showed
to Himemiya. That time she and I switched bodies, things ended up a
little like this, but then he wasn't nearly so crazy. Time's made it
worse.

He's shaking me, but his voice is low and dark. My head rebounds off
the wall behind me, not enough to really hurt, but it gets my attention
sure enough. He demands that I answer him. He demands to know why I
always come just short of achieving what I'm obviously capable of. Why
I let Juri knock my foil away and why I play those bad notes sometimes.
Seems he's been watching me too. He says that there was only one other
person who so blatantly failed at everything, so obviously.

I gasp because he's right, and now I know what he's so upset about.

He thinks I'm Himemiya.

Well, great, now what do I do? I can't tell him the truth. Inside, I'm
panicking, just freaking out. I didn't figure on any of them noticing
me. I was so sure I was acting in a way that was just normal, just flawed
enough, just like everyone else...

He saves me the trouble of coming up with some brilliant answer when he
pushes his mouth over mine and kisses me. It's hard and angry, flavored
with sour unhappiness. His hands wind hard into my hair, to hold me in
place. I push him off, a burst of strength channeling through my arms. I
shove him so hard he falls off balance and lands on his butt in front of
my feet, his long legs all tangled up.

The taste of his tongue, iron-mean, is still in my mouth as I gasp for
breath and collect myself. He sits there blinking up stupidly at me a
moment, and then he starts to laugh. I don't know why he's doing it, at
first, until I realize that I've stuck my hand out to him. Then I start
laughing too.

From on the ground he says to me, and I'll never forget this, "Only you,
Tenjou, would knock someone down to protect yourself, then hold out a
hand to help them back up again."

He takes my hand, and I pull him to his feet. He brushes himself off.
Then he takes me to the Seitokai platform, and he makes me tell him
everything. He asks me if I've seen Himemiya, if I know where she is,
if she's well. I tell him the truth- I don't know. But I hope she is.

I asked him how he possibly guessed it was me. He crosses his arms over
his chest and says, with a turn of his head and this sigh that seems to
come out of his soul, "Anthy would not have pushed me away." It's so
/him/ that I find myself blinking back tears.

We talk for a long, long time.

----

But, Touga... Touga. It takes me many weeks before I can work up the
courage to deal with him. Time has only increased his beauty, and his
popularity has not waned at all. When I do make my move, it's easy
enough to turn it from a day to a week to a month to a dinner to an evening...

He's asleep, but I'm not. I can feel his breath washing against the
back of my neck while we lie under the warm sheets. I don't want to move.
I can barely breathe.

I'd wondered about it for a long time, back then. What it would be like
to fall completely into his arms, shed my clothes, let him into me. Back
then, I couldn't afford to do it. Now, I finally know what it's like.

It's horrible.

He was gracious and gentle and attentive, his hands were deft and delicate,
and his kisses were just the way I wanted. It felt great. Yet... it was
utterly horrible. It wasn't beautiful. It wasn't even powerful and
overwhelming, like it'd been with Akio...

It was just cold and empty. Mechanical. Spiritless bodies hollowly,
mindlessly fucking. So horribly hollow I wanted to scream.

I wish it'd been better, but how do you compete with yourself? It was
never harder than in that moment... the moment I saw the misery in his
eyes. The moment I saw that he wasn't seeing me. Not my body, this one
I'm wearing now, the one that he took to bed like he takes all the other
girls, one more page in the calendar book that's frantically filled so
that he never has a moment to himself, never enough time to think- no.
In his eyes, in his soul, while his hands were roaming my body he was
seeing /Utena/. Yearning, aching, helplessly searching for me.. her...
in a strange girl's face. And never finding me.

I hope he can't hear me crying.

I slide out of bed, away from the warmth of his chest and his light
strong arms. He moans, whispering my old name into the darkness. I grab
my clothing with shaking fingers and get out of there as fast as I can.

I don't go near him again. He keeps himself too busy to notice.

----

That whole mess with Touga upsets everything. Without his support, I
don't know if I can do this. Saionji's still backing me up, though. He
keeps my secret, though I'm not entirely sure why he does. We meet every
so often, in different places at scattered times. We talk about where
things are going. We plot. I'm not gonna say we get along perfectly because
we don't, sometimes. Still, there's something we both want that we try
to put our differences aside for. We're going to change Ohtori.

I once thought that Ohtori Gakuen was evil. I think I needed to think that,
in the days immediately after my destruction. It gave me purpose, and a
reason to hold on, something to live for- just to spite Ohtori's will.
For a long time the million swords had control of my heart, and I'm sorry
to say that I let it happen. At that time, I didn't care. The game was over;
I'd failed in everything I'd set out to do. Even if it was hatred, even
though hate seemed to be all I could feel, it was a real feeling so I clung
to it with all my strength.

I'd like to say that something romantic happened, a miracle. Some divine
manifestation of the Prince that gathered me up and healed me and took me
in his arms and made it all better. I'd like very much to say that, I wish
it had happened that way, but that wasn't the case. God doesn't work like
that. It's sort of a tough-love thing- if you won't fight for your life,
you must not really want it. That's true in any world you can name.

The hatred lasted me for a while, but then I had to let it go. I couldn't
really sustain it. The day I realized that is when my second life began. I
don't think Ohtori is evil any more. I'm a little stronger than that now. I
think that it's undirected. Its power is blind, born from blind people who
don't know what they're really doing. I think it's seductive, and it makes
it so easy to forget yourself, forget the truth and become blind. It offers
the illusion of power and the comforting lie that the more you devote your
love and life to the illusion, the better a place the illusion becomes, the
more -real- it is. Until reality itself looks like the rotten deal. Then
all those hopes and dreams turn into gears in the machine. And the castle
gets bigger and Ohtori gets more and more complicated.

If only I could find a way to free all the trapped dreamers here.
It's just.. that I'm not sure of my course any more. Is that dream itself
a trap?

----

One night I have a dream of my own. I see all of us standing in a dark room
full of stained glass windows around a box of fire, our swords in our hands.
We take our swords and all as one, tilt them up over the rim of the box,
letting them fall into the fire. The swords melt in the flame, and it becomes
golden, the fire burning more beautifully and brightly than any of us could
bear to look at. We take each other's hands, staring in awe at this thing we
made, congratulating ourselves on our achievement.

Then we suddenly see Akio, with his sword crusted in blood, tinted ash-black.
He staggers out of the shadows, looking terrible. His clothes hang from his
body. I can see his cheekbones standing out under the limp loose strands of
his hair. He looks as though he's been slowly wasting away. His smile is
skeletal, the kind of smile a rabid wild animal wears.

He stops short of us, and seems to be begging for permission to come close
to the fire.

We grant it, more out of fear than genuine welcome. He shambles forward and
tips his own sword into the flame. It turns from white to soot-black, and
we all gasp with fear. Our hands come apart. Touga and Juri start to curse
him, and I can feel the words coming to my lips too. Somehow, though, I look
down at the heart of the fire, and in it I suddenly see clearly that our
perfect light was going to go out anyway. There was a fatal flaw in it, a gap
we couldn't see, something that would have collapsed the flame from within
even without his presence.

He looks at me, eyes searing desert suns, redrimmed as if from crying endlessly.
I can't look away even though I want to. "How dare you come back." he curses
me in his low rasping voice. "Hypocrite." He fairly spits the words at me.
"I hate you. I need you to be gone. Don't you understand why?"

He rushes forward, upends the black fire, throws it at me, "If I destroy you,
it'll end ..." and I begin to burn, I throw my hands up to try and protect
myself but the fire is burning and I'm burning and my skin is beginning to peel
and my blood is boiling and I hear him screaming through the crackling "You're
/DEAD/! STAY DEAD! WE CAN'T GET OUT AS LONG AS YOU'RE HERE!" - screaming in rage and weeping for his soul...

I wake up on the bleacher, cold tears pouring down my face.

The next time I talk to Saionji, I mention the dream. And he mentions that
he hadn't thought about Anthy in years, not for years, until he began to notice
me.

----

I think about that a lot. Harder than I've thought about anything in this
whole life. Do I really want to do this? Do I really hate Ohtori that much?
Do I really want to tear apart Juri from Shiori, do I really want to break
Touga's heart again?

If I'm honest with myself, the answer is no. I can't bring more pain. They're
finding their peace where they can, bearing their suffering as best they can.

The next time Saionji wants to meet with me, I make some excuse, and say I
can't. After that first time, he just nods sadly once, and never asks me again.
He doesn't talk to me again after that. We drift apart. It hurts, a little,
because we were almost becoming friends. I thought... I've never lost a friend
like that before. It was always me who walked away.

Maybe he knows what I'm thinking. He's more perceptive than I ever imagined
someone like him could be.

Maybe the one who truly needs to escape Ohtori is me. Miraculously I've been
given a second life after death, a chance to cast away my sadness and pain,
my suffering and my illusions. I thought I could come back, the noble prince
on his white steed, and make it all better for everyone. I automatically assumed
they would be worse off than they were when I left. I thought they were sad
and bitter and unsatisfied...

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe those were really my feelings.

Maybe Juri's really happy, and maybe Touga will forget me if I stop haunting
him. Maybe Saionji can let go of Anthy if I'm not around to bring her back to
his memory. Maybe all I'm really doing here is reopening wounds that deserve
to be healed and closed. I should trust my friends enough to let them live
their lives in their own ways.

I prayed when I came here for the strength to do the right thing. Now I think
I know what that thing is. I did need to come back here, this one time. I don't
think that was a mistake. Otherwise... I might have locked myself here forever.

I don't have any bags to pack. I wouldn't want them anyway. As I walk across
the field against the flow of the other students walking to class, I turn and
look over my shoulder. The sun shines down over the tower, filling the field
with light. The soft smell of this place, a sweet scent I'll never forget,
fills my nostrils. The summer air curls down the hill, out of the gate, flowing
toward the sea.

I take a bite out of an orange frosted sugar cookie. The sugar dissolves in
my mouth, crumbling against my tongue. The taste makes me smile. I'm going
to make cookies like these with a certain someone, when we meet again.

Until then... it's just good to be alive.

----

jrandomlurker(at)yahoo.com