Behind the Wheel
An Utena ficlet
by J. Random Lurker


Night had fallen, and the road beneath the stars stretched wide before them. Summer air swirled and parted, split by the gleaming chrome and polished red waxed hood of their car.

They sat together, saying nothing to each other, each enjoying the experience of the weekend drive in their own fashion. The dark-skinned man pretended not to notice the pink-haired girl's shy blue-eyed glances. Her gaze would wander his way furtively, linger for a few seconds longer than was strictly polite, then jerk away quickly as if it feared capture.

His eyes only watched the mirrors, and occasionally his hand as he shifted gears. He could see her without looking at her. He could smell her, too- the sweetest hint of roses carried on the balmy air that circulated through the car. He doubted she truly understood the implications of the scent she chose to wear in reflection of an all-but-forgotten memory. He let one arm drape along the side of the driver's side door; he steered the vehicle one-handed, commanding the car with tiny strokes of his long fingertips. "Rides well, doesn't she? Ah… excuse me. I always forget. It's a custom of men to consider their cars as female. Odd way to think of it, don't you think?"

She rubbed the back of her neck, not sure how to respond. "I suppose so… I don't know that much about cars…" Her gaze moved outside the car, to the side of the road that spun by. "You'd think, as boyish as everybody says I am, I'd have picked up some clue about it by now. Uhm… about cars, I mean."

He eased the car around a turn. "But it never really interested you, mm?"

She laughed, softly. "Never had anyone to teach me. I'm still too young anyway."

"I can teach you. In fact, I'd consider it a privilege." He turned and gave her a pleasant smile. "Do you want to learn?"

"Drive /your/ car? I.... No way, I couldn't! I don't know the rules, I..."

He gave her the affectionate look of a benevolent father gazing on his most beloved daughter, as if he found her stammering protest adorably cute. "It's only scary the first time. Here, let me show you."

He reached for her hand, gently slipping his thumb along the back of her fingers- a sensual caress, slick as a snake's slither. He pulled her hand gently away from her side, and pressed her palm to the steering wheel. "Touch it. No, it's all right. It won't hurt anything. I promise. I'm in control."

Her small white hand slowly flexed, hesitantly closed around the molded plastic. It was warm where his hand had rested; her fingers fit themselves into the grooves his grip had worn.

He smiled reassuringly and patted her hand. "Good. Feel the vibration? It tends to pull slightly to the left. Just push back against it, but delicately... There, that's right. You're a natural at this."

She felt herself begin to blush. "... I... Well, I'm not really /driving/ yet... I mean, you're still..."

"I am, aren't I?..."

He grinned a devil's dark smile at her. In an effortless manner, he reached out to press his hand against the top of the black leather dashboard. There was a short grunt from the man and then… he was up, over, flipping himself onto the hood of the speeding vehicle...

Utena's heart stopped. "ahh... Akio-san!! S... stop that...! Don't!"

She tried to grab for him, but seized only air; his clothing slipped through her fingers like oil. He settled, and his weight warped the gleaming red hood just enough to produce a dull –whunk-. His long legs splayed out comfortably, his back resting against the glass.

The car pulled wildly to the left with a violent screech, and Utena scrambled to react through her panic, leaning her body sideways across the space between the driver and passenger seats. The hard plastic head of the gearstick pressed deep against her hip. Whimpering, she grabbed at the wheel and forced the car back to equilibrium, propelling herself into the driver's seat with a kick of her strong thin legs off the inside of the passenger door. She clutched the wheel in a panic, put her feet on the pedals and pressed them blindly, not knowing what to do with them. "What the hell're you /doing/, I can't drive this car...!"

He gave no sign of concern. Akio was sprawled along the hood, a bare-chested emperor in exile lashed by ferocious winds, heralded by fluttering clothing and whirling periwinkle hair. His shirt was undone, a billowing cascade of blood-red silk flying around his brown shoulders. All Utena saw was his back, and the lazy position of one raised knee.

She was panting, sweat building under her thin white-striped t-shirt, sticking the backs of her legs to her skirt. Lines of tension and fear were written in the parchment of her brow. She shouted against the wind. "How do I make it stop, tell me how to stop it! I can't control this thing!"

The road was painted with iridescent warnings, words glowing in the dark, whirling by under the wheels. Dead end ahead. Dead end ahead. Utena fought with the pedals, with the wheel, trying to get control of the car. There was no response at all. The girl's panic grew until it was a wild thing, choking her breath, contracting her heart and forcing her mind into frightened clarity. Her senses opened up, each passing second whipping by in razor's edged focus.

She felt horribly and keenly /alive/, aware of every molecule of air, every whirring stop sign they blitzed through, the color of the sky, the smell of her own fear.

He tilted his head backward, grinning down at her over the edge of the convertible's windshield. His eyes were mad sun-bright jewels. He held up a small black box. There was an antenna sticking out of the top, wavering in the wind. A red paddle-button on its front. It was so stereotypical and obvious it was easy to recognize, even to a distressed young woman.

"... A remote control? This car's on a remote control? .."

"Something like that. Relax."

She sagged back in her seat, breathing out a relieved gasp, her face flushed with fear and tension.

She pulled her hands off the wheel; nothing happened. She didn't /want/ to feel angry at him- but felt it, and felt guilty for feeling it at the same time. The car's radio came on by itself, the green oversized LED of the digital tuner display spinning through numbers, settling on a channel in the FM band. Soft music began to play, elegant and soothing classical music Utena could only vaguely identify. The vibrations of the orchestra's bass section carried through the entire structure of the car, and passed through her as if she were made of light instead of flesh. It made the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

Akio chuckled at her, watching the road with the motor purring beneath him, the heat of the engine warming his legs through the hood.

"That wasn't funny! We could have gotten... hurt..." Utena crossed her arms over her chest, embarrassed and confused. The steering wheel turned gently without her guidance, following the curve of the road. Streetlights blurred by overhead, disorienting streaks of light and shadow. In the far distance beyond the curve of the road a Ferris wheel turned, it's lights glittering like rainbow fragments in the dark. "Why did you do that?"

His sly smile melted away as he seemed to consider this. His answer did not come quickly, and when it did, he spoke with the sadness of a man fifty times his age. A world-weary man, too tired to be angry, too tired to be anything but bluntly honest. He was looking away from her into the indistinct hills in the distance. "To show you the way it feels to be an adult."

"... an adult? I don't understand..."

He twisted around on the hood, leaning over the windshield to peer at Utena. And then he reached to her. Touched her face with three fingertips while the wind screamed and the car rumbled onward, blindly barreled on along the indifferent and unchanging road. "Being an adult is a dangerous thing."

She thought about the sharpness of vision that the terror had granted her. About how tangible her senses had become, boiling on the edge. She felt her chest and groin begin to ache, and she couldn't pull her attention away from his eyes.

A series of traffic lights whipped by; she saw them out of the corner of her eyes.

They were all green.

Green and glowing, just like his eyes.

She didn't really know or understand what she was doing, or why she was doing it, but she pushed up from the seat, leaning over the dash, feet riding the locked-up gas and brake pedals. Stop. Go faster. She stood; the floorboards hummed under her feet. An eerie sense that she and the car were the same being, the same entity came to her. The vibrations moved through her skin, from her feet to her head, and she felt dizzy, light-headed.

Utena reached for Akio. Her fingers wove themselves through his hair. Her heart was beating so fast she could feel the blood searing through her neck. I'm not afraid …

They kissed, pressing against each other over the top of the windshield.

Unregarded, the car quietly shifted itself out of neutral into overdrive and sped on down the path to nowhere.