it's only forever

The windows stand open, and the starlight slants slow paths of white and black across the floor. Fragments of dust twirl in the breeze and spin themselves to agony as they try to stay airborne, before tumbling to smear the floor again.

Anthy lies on the sofa as though she was waiting for a prince. One arm is thrown carelessly behind her head, long fingers spreading out to tangle themselves in the length of her unbound hair, and the other lies across her body, hand shaped around the curve of her left breast as though it touched her heart. The frills of her lacy nightgown are scooped across her legs in untidy folds, showing a pair of ankles, a knee, half a thigh.

Utena hesitates in the doorway. She is barefoot, her pyjamas stern and uncompromising, her straight hair hanging flat around her shoulders and dangling into her eyes. Someone once told her that it is dangerous to wake sleepwalkers; someone else once said that everyone should be allowed to sleep wherever they find a bed.

Perhaps she should leave Anthy here. If Akio finds her, then he will take care of his little sister far better than Utena could.

Anthy murmurs in her sleep. Her hand moves, tracing down her body, following lines of silk, and curls into the hollow between her legs.

Well, she can't wake Anthy now. Anthy would be so embarrassed. She'll just stay a moment longer to be sure that her friend is all right.

The machinery of the planetarium moves. Utena jumps, then catches herself, and would laugh nervously if she dared to make a sound.

Anthy sleeps on.

The starlight and the shadows play tricks with Utena's eyes. She could dream that there's a man with white white hair and dark dark skin and pale pale eyes sprawled across Anthy, that it is his hands that move across Anthy's body and peel back the silk of her gown rather than Anthy's own sleeping movements. Beneath the gown, Anthy is so painfully thin; her ribs are thorns, her spine a stem, the shadows of hunger and grief a pattern of interlaced leaves above the bones. There's nothing there but whiteness and darkness to shape a body, and roses that wear a woman's face, a petal and a thorn and a hank of hair.

The blossoms tighten, shiver, part, and the darkness waits there to welcome Utena. This isn't the castle where the prince and princess meet at the end of the day and live for happy ever after. This is the forest where the witch lives, and the witch always asks a price.

Utena touches her breast where Anthy always pins the rose. She is surprised to find that she is breathing hard, that her heart is trip-hammering. She leans against the doorframe, and it is cool against her cheek.

Anthy's asleep. That's good. Poor Anthy needs her sleep. Everyone wants so much from her.

It's like that story about the nightingale, Utena thinks, but can't remember what the story is.

She should go back to her own bed, but she leans there, watching Anthy, and watching the starlight stroke across Anthy's body with depthless fingers and ancient fondness.