Set just after Utena delivers the roses. It was originally written for Seanan for the Yultide Project.

In Opposition to Roses

When Utena lifted her satchel, she found the white rose flattened underneath. She hadn't even noticed it on the pillow when she flung her satchel down... earlier. Before delivering the roses.

She wasn't quite sure what a rose was doing there. A gift from Anthy perhaps, because doing something both as sweet and as tactless as giving Utena her duel flower would be just like Anthy, and impossible to resent because it was... Anthy. It was a pity Utena hadn't noticed the flower, but then, Anthy hadn't been on her mind as anything more than a niggling guilt, hastily pushed away. Utena put her satchel on the floor, and picked up the rose.

It wasn't too bad, after all. A little worn, but still with a certain beauty. Utena folded down cross-legged onto the mattress and made a futile attempt pull the petals back into place, the faint spiciness of the crushed petals hanging in the air. She vaguely remembered having learned or imagined that white roses were scentless, but this rose certainly was not. After all, Utena had never paid much attention to things like flowers, not enough to be sure. The petals hung loosely on the damaged rose, the centre falling slightly open to reveal the yellow tendrils of the centre. Funny - it was the only ruined rose she had seen since coming to Ohtori Academy. Anthy's rose garden only produced perfect blooms.

Utena idly wondered how that was possible, as her fingers plucked vaguely at the flower. Surely there were imperfect blooms sometimes, or edges that withered and browned. She idly wondered what Anthy did with them. Utena supposed she took out sharp scissors and cut away any flawed flowers from her garden, her delicate fingers dealing death to any blooms that didn't come up to her ideals, were of no use to her. What, then, did a girl who kept old parade balloons do with the slaughtered flowers?

A petal came loose in Utena's fingers, and she hastily cast the rose aside before she could do any further damage. Not, however, before the obvious connection came into her mind.

Deflowered.

She idly put the loosened petal in her mouth and chewed it, the slightly sour taste, as unlike the scent of roses as was possible to imagine, rolling in her mouth. It was wrong, all wrong, to think of the rose on her pillow as, well, meaning something. It was only Ohtori and the ludicrous way everyone went around acting as if everything they did was significant, as if it had some kind of bizarre symbolic purpose beyond Utena's grasp, that made her think nonsense like that. It was just a flower, for heaven's sake. She was becoming infected by Anthy's odd ways.

If she really wanted to drag flowers into it, far better to think of Akio in terms of blossoming, of sudden sweet blinding intensity, rather than of petals falling from a once-beautiful rose. She wanted to feel she'd gained something, not lost it.

It had been beautiful. Truly beautiful. The slide of skin against clean cotton sheets, hands burning on her skin, the blissful intensity of pain, even the organic messiness of it something divine and incandescent. Most beautiful of all had been letting go, no longer fighting against the flow of events and her life, just allowing herself to feel and be. It wasn't
fair that it should melt into ugliness and emptiness only a few brief hours later.

Stupid and childish to feel regret over your first time. Even if there was nothing truly beautiful about - her mind shied away from the harsh words and then determinedly returned to them - fucking your friend's brother behind his fiancee's back.

She opened her eyes at the sound of footsteps, letting the remains of the petal slide down her throat.

"Where have you been, Himemiya?" She could hear the discordant accusation in her own voice. Where have you been, Himemiya, why weren't you with me, why didn't you stop me, why didn't you save me from yourself? Unfair, unfair of her, and speaking unkindly to Anthy was like shoving a kitten who was already kicked from pillar to post several times a day.

Anthy pulled a handful of pins from her hair, one long coil of violet escaping, inches away from being beautiful enough to steal Utena's breath.

"I was with my brother, Miss Utena. Is there a problem?"

It was all Utena could do not to press her hands to her burning cheeks, like the heroine in a romance comic. She shifted her gaze to the rose instead. She was no good at this kind of thing, and muscles unaccustomed to the use to which they had been put ached. Utena felt the almost overwhelming desire to flee the room for the basketball court, work it all
out into the familiar, wholesome ache of having run and leaped until exhausted.

Instead, she sat in a bedroom, looking at a damaged rose and talking to a Rose Bride. Exactly when had her life become such utter... nonsense?

"Before that." Utena knew very well that Akio had not been with his sister very long that night; the awareness made her stomach dip and curl.

"I was watering the roses."

Utena could actually taste the words All night? in her mouth, unless that was the dying taste of the rose petal, but she swallowed against it. She had no intention of making herself ridiculous, like a cuckolded husband in a soap opera.

I'm not the one with the right to be jealous.

She tried to tell herself that thought had something to do with Kanae, but she was oddly empty of feeling regarding Akio's fiance. If she was honest with herself, part of the feeling of being soiled was to do with Anthy, the feeling of having betrayed her; but how? Anthy was Akio's sister, not his lover.

There was something in that thought, but it flickered away.

"Have I done something wrong, Miss Utena? Have I distressed you in some way?" No hint of whining, just deference and almost impersonal concern.

Looking at the rose had become something past endurance, so for lack of anywhere else to direct her gaze, Utena turned back to her friend. Her already hot cheeks seared. For all Anthy's painfully apparent shyness, she had no real sense of modesty at all, at least around Utena. She had paused midway in pulling her nightgown over her head, the gown caught up over one breast, so that Utena could see the aureole almost black against the sap-brown of Anthy's skin, the childish white panties somehow making her look even more naked than the natural nudity of bathing together. Utena screwed her eyes shut like a little girl, and then had an even more aggravatingly immature desire to peek.

Anthy was so very pretty.

"Don't worry, Himemiya. It's nothing. Come to bed, will you?" And that was quite the wrong thing to say when she was trying not to react to the sight of exposed skin, but Anthy said nothing that showed any sign of recognising her friend's queer behaviour. Utena, sharply conscious behind her closed eyelids, heard the rustle of a nightgown falling into place, the click of spectacles being laid on a table. It would be safe to look,
now. But it was easier to lie with her eyes closed, let her hand reach out with the familiarity of long custom, the warmth of Anthy's hand enfolding hers.

Odd how much the ritual of sleeping hand in hand had come to mean to a girl who had never been particularly sentimental about her friends - no Wakaba, at least. When she had been lying in Akio's bed... afterwards... she had been painfully conscious of the fact that he didn't hold her hand. His hand would feel all wrong, though - too big, the fingers not long and slender enough. His hand was almost as graceful as a woman's, but that almost was significant.

Anthy's hand, on the other... hand... fit Utena's simply perfectly. It was utterly natural to have her fingers would around Anthy's, yet there was always the odd tender lurch she'd felt that very first time, waking with her head on the table to find Anthy's hand on hers, turning her own to link their fingers...

She would have done anything to keep and protect her friend at that moment. She needed to hold onto that thought, to the certain knowledge that looking after Anthy was somehow her job.

What would Anthy think if she knew Utena had crushed the white rose?

When she thought about it, she was almost sure that it would mean nothing to Anthy at all; that she would smile at with beautiful blank eyes and not care in the slightest. The thought was somehow horrible, like the memory of Anthy calmly watering her roses as Touga kissed some anonymous girl in
the rose garden. Utena thought she had killed that memory, but it still hurt, with the agonising throb of a wound infected by outrage and turned poisonous by confusion.

She opened her eyes at last, meeting Anthy's gentle smile, lips curving softly below sleepy eyes. It was so intimate, sleeping face to face like this, but their bodies stretched out in opposite directions, as positive a guarantee of virtue as sleeping with a sword between them. Not that they
needed anything of the kind, of course. Utena wasn't in the habit of molesting her female friends, no matter how lovely their lips looked gently pressed together, and Anthy...

...Anthy would probably cheerfully agree to anything Utena suggested, and in a way, that was precisely why a sword wasn't required.

Well, that and the fact that Anthy was a girl, of course. Because Utena might acknowledge girls were beautiful, kissable, aroused longing in her breast, but that was a perfectly normal stage of development, and didn't mean she'd
want to do anything about it... It was only the memory of Akio hanging over her that made everything seem so erotic tonight. Anthy's skin was the exact shade of her brother's, although it encompassed much more touchable curves...

"Himemiya?"

"Yes?" Anthy's impossibly long lashes, which had been dropping slowly, fluttered open again. It had to be a natural gesture, and not a deliberate pose of femininity. There was nothing false or calculated about Anthy. And it was unnervingly intimate, now Utena came to think of it, lying with her face less than a hand-span from someone else's. At least when the other person was looking at her with such an air of polite enquiry.

"Do you think it is... unforgivable... for someone who is engaged to sleep with someone else?" In the face of Anthy's purity it was easier, somehow, to ask if Akio had been wicked than if she had.

There was a long pause, and Utena couldn't read Anthy's expression at all.

"I am the Rose Bride. If you choose to be with someone else, as is your right, we are still engaged." Sweet and simple, like Anthy always was when she was - not arguing with her. Contradicting her, or offering a statement she fully expected to be contradicted, but never quite arguing. "As for me, I belong to you." Her lashes drooped just a little, the tiny movement somehow the most pathetic thing Utena had ever seen.

"I didn't mean that." Utena bit her lip in frustration. It was useless, in the face of that sad, passive green stare, to protest that she had been thinking of Akio and Kanae, that being engaged to Anthy was only a game played against her will and not something real. Two girls could never be truly engaged. "This has nothing to do with that Rose Bride nonsense."

There was no blame on the smooth brown face, only the same accepting suffering it wore when Nanami's friends raised their hands to her, and that turned her own sense of betrayal sour in Utena's mouth. No matter how often she swore that she wouldn't let anyone else hurt Anthy, she went and
tore her to pieces herself by blurting out all her questions without thinking how they would sound.

"Himemiya, I'm sorry..." She was awkward in the face of that terribly polite pain.

"I am the one who is sorry, Utena-sama. I didn't fully realise you suffered from the lack of sexual contact. It was careless of me - as your fiancee, I should have attempted to supply your need." The unhappiness shifted from Anthy's face as easily as the sun breaking out through clouds. As her free hand reached up to touch Utena's breasts through her pyjamas - as her brother had, oh God, not that thought - Anthy's expression was as open and happy as that of a child who has been praised by her teacher. She wriggled closer and twisted around a little, again childlike in the movement, so her face was not opposed to Utena's but at some queer half-angle as she leaned over, her breath warm on Utena's lips -

"Himemiya, stop it!" Utena dropped the hand in hers and pushed back, propelling herself away with two hands on the mattress. She scrambled to a sitting position. "Have you gone crazy?"

Anthy lay very still on the mattress, her hair fanned out in a dark shadow, although not as dark as the shadows in her eyes.

Utena was shaking. She was disgusted, she told herself, taken aback... and there was no way at all she would give into the impulse to stoop down and reclaim that dark, lovely mouth, not after having spent the evening with the girl's brother. The idea was sickening.

"I - I'm going for a walk." Utena grabbed a dressing gown and stalked out, belting it around her. Stupid to go roaming the schools at night in her pyjamas, but she wasn't going to get changed in that room, and any exercise was better than none.

The night air would take away the scent of roses.

At least she was fortunate enough not to meet Akio on the way. It saved... embarrassment.

She walked slowly at first, but her steps sped up to meet the distracted beating of her own heart and before she knew it she was covering the ground in quick, loping steps. The world began to resettle to something like normality as she ran; her legs stretched obediently, muscles moving under her own power, hair streaming in the wind she created with her own passing and lungs pumping air cleanly. The heavy scent of roses hung on the air, as it had done ever since she had come to Ohtori, but she had become so used to it that she barely registered it, certainly did not regard it as abnormal.

She no longer remembered what truly pure air tasted like.

At first her steps took her towards Wakaba's dormitory. As she came closer, a certain reluctance took hold of her. It wasn't that Wakaba would resent being woken by her best friend. It was that Wakaba was so terribly candid in her crushes, her attraction to Akio as straightforward and joyful as her infatuation with Utena herself. Utena found she couldn't go to her best friend with the new weight of all-but-adultery and her confused feelings for the siblings, any more than she was willing turn the mulch around a rosebush's roots over to expose the crawling things to the sunlight.

And that was a disgustingly ungracious way to think of two people as kind and important to her as Akio and Anthy. Utena was thoroughly ashamed of herself, as well as increasingly alarmed with how thoroughly roses had taken hold of her brain.

Nevertheless, she allowed her feet to turn her away from Wakaba's dormitory, and towards the courtyard.

tbc