"…so they found all the missing students in the Chairman's tower, and we all told them that the Acting Chairman had given us these rings and promised all kinds of things, and some of us talked about the castle, and they finally just put it down to us being kept drugged up. There were plenty of us who saw him with a sword, and the official story is that he went on a rampage and stabbed all his 'prisoners' before fleeing. No one was seriously hurt except for you and Touga, and he's already been released."
"How long have I been out?" Utena asked hoarsely, wincing at the pain in her throat and trying not to cough. She ached everywhere, and coughing would doubtless be agony - if she even had the strength to. The inclined hospital bed was the only thing letting her sit up, and even then, moving her head was more effort than it was worth.
"Three weeks," Wakaba said, eyes showing hints of worry. "They just took the feeding tube out this morning. We were afraid you wouldn't make it."
"Everyone. All the doctors, the school officials, and all of Akio's victims. Especially us. We all know what you did." There was a sound at the door, and Wakaba peered around the privacy curtain separating Utena's bed from the rest of the small hospital room. "Oh! You have another visitor, so I'll just go now."
Utena started to reach for her friend's hand, but stopped when she saw all the tubes attached to her arm. "Why do you have to go?"
Wakaba grinned. "You're still in a delicate stage, they don't want you to have more than one visitor at a time."
"But I just woke up! Whoever it is can wait, I want to talk to you some more."
"Sorry, Utena. I'll be back tomorrow. Besides, I have to get ready. I have a date with Saionji tonight."
That little tidbit was enough to ease the pain of her best friend leaving. "Alright. Have a good time, don't stay out too late, and tell him I said 'thank you'."
"I will. "Wakaba leaned in for a careful half-hug. "I'll tell you all about it tomorrow."
Utena watched wistfully as her friend ducked behind the curtain. After a moment, a bouquet of red roses entered her field of vision.
"I would have waited," a deep, velvety voice said mildly. Touga stepped forward where Utena could see him. "Anything for my noble prince."
Carefully, he laid the bouquet in her arms and took the chair Wakaba had been sitting in. Utena kept her eyes on the flowers.
"Touga...there's something I have to tell you."
The redhead held his breath, trying not to let his panic show.
"That time you told Saionji that the Playboy was gone..."
He swallowed. "Yes?"
"It wasn't Saionji. It was me"
She looked at him finally, the solemn apology in her eyes helping to kill the relieved laugh that bubbled up in his chest. Once, he would have been mortified to have confessed his weakness to her. But that was before he had broken his shell and been reborn.
"That explains why you were so patient with me," he murmured. "Now it's my turn to confess." That startled her out of her serious expression. "That last morning, when you stroked my hair...I wasn't asleep."
"Thank you," he said quietly. "You gave me comfort when I needed it most and expected it least. You taught me the value of dreams. You freed me, and everyone else, from the curse. And you freed the Rose Bride. You truly are a Prince."
"Is being a Prince supposed to hurt so much?" she asked dryly. "Because I sure don't feel like a Prince. I feel like I got used as a pincushion. I probably look like hell."
"You suffered multiple puncture wounds and lost a lot of blood," Touga said softly, one hand gently covering hers. "But you still look as lovely as a Princess to me."
"Flatterer," she said, but she was blushing again.
"I waited for you." His serious tone pulled her eyes up to his. "Everyone else was afraid you wouldn't make it, but I knew you would."
Utena swallowed painfully, wincing at her raw throat. "Why?"
"Because you said you'd come back for me."
She said nothing for a long minute, just stared thoughtfully at him. He wasn't hiding his feelings, but he didn't have that fragile vulnerability about him, either. He was calm, secure, confident. Strong.
Can't I be your prince?
"Yes," she said, smiling a little as he blinked in confusion.
"Yes, what?" he asked, completely lost.
"I never gave you an answer, that last evening, in the dueling arena." Carefully, she twisted her hand around until she could curl her fingers weakly around his. "I'm not going to be much of a prince for a while." Her eyes wandered over the impressive assortment of medical equipment in the little room. "So, yes. You can be my prince." She wanted to laugh at the dumbfounded look on his face, but that would hurt too much, so she gave him a teasing smile instead. "...at least, until I get out of here. Princess."
Touga felt like he was going to burst if he didn't find a way to let some of this happiness out. He knew he was grinning like an idiot, but he couldn't stop even if he wanted to. And when he saw Utena's dry lips spread into a weaker, but equally ecstatic smile...well, there was only one part of his dream left unfulfilled.
Slowly, he ran the tip of one finger down the length of her left ring finger, watching for her reaction, smile slipping a little as she realized what was missing.
"The authorities confiscated all the Rose Crests."
The keen blade of disappointment and loss bit into Utena. Even if the ring currently had some painful associations tied to it, it had still been almost a part of her for most of her life and her finger felt horribly naked without it.
"Utena…" Touga took a deep breath. "I know we're both a bit young still, and it will be a few years before I can ask the question I really want to ask you. But for now…" he released her hand and dug out a small black box, opening it for her and holding it so that she could see the simple gold band crowned with the open shape of a delicate heart rather than a gem. "Will you accept this small token of my love, and my promise to do everything I can to remain worthy of you until that day?"
Utena swallowed again, wincing as the tightness of her throat made the act even more painful. She nodded, hoping she wouldn't cry. At least, not without some serious painkillers. Touga moved the roses to a vase on the table next to her; she could just barely see it out of the corner of her eye, and wondered if he'd brought her flowers when she was still unconscious. He set the ring box next to the vase and removed its precious contents gently. Her heart pounded as he took her left hand slid the gold band onto her ring finger, somehow unsurprised that it fit perfectly. When he was done, he let go only reluctantly to sit down again and Utena cursed her weakened state for not letting her hold onto his hand.
Touga glanced into Utena's eyes and froze at the look of adoration there. Was this what she'd seen when he'd lowered his guard in the castle? If so, no wonder his confession in the dueling arena hadn't come as a surprise.
"I love you, Touga," she whispered.
He had to remind himself that if he pulled her into his arms the way he wanted to, not only would he be causing her pain, but the doctors would ban him from her room. Instead, he exerted the self-control he'd honed breaking out of the Playboy shell, and kissed her gently, tenderly, feeling her tremble beneath his hands. The reason for her trembling became apparent as the hand that wasn't tethered to the machines by tubes brushed his cheek briefly. He caught her hand in his and held it in place, eyes slipping closed at the pleasure of feeling her touch once again. This time, he did not release her hand when he sat down.
"I love you," he murmured, voice almost a purr.
Utena smiled – a gentle, brilliant smile that made him want to melt under its warmth – and then yawned, wincing at the motion. He reached out and smoothed her hair away from her temple the way she had with his, smiling at the way her eyelids fluttered closed the way his had.
"Sleep, noble prince," he said softly. "I'll protect you."
She gave him a tired smile and closed her eyes. In less than a minute, her head tilted limply to the side and her breathing slowed. Touga watched her sleep, marveling at how much his life had been improved by the curse. Maybe he should send Mikage a nice thank-you note? He chuckled to himself, remembering the sour pink-haired man and his quest for eternity. The laugh dried up as he remembered Akio and his all-consuming drive to gain the power to revolutionize the world.
Touga smiled and gently stroked the hair of his sleeping prince. Screw eternity and power, he had Utena.
A/N: If you're reading this, you likely just finished reading the entire story. Why don't you write a review and let me know what you think? Even if it's just an anonymous review, I'd love to hear from you. Tell me your favorite part, or something you wish I'd done, or even something you think I did wrong. Reviews are love.
Love the baby?