Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Lancer leaned absently against the doorway to the very empty room, surveying the sight of the rolled up futon, the neatly folded and torn boy's uniform, and the gleaming rose-crested ring on the small desk. Turning on his heel, he headed towards the kitchen, where he knew Archer would be making breakfast.
Archer making breakfast in a pink apron that wasn't at all suited for him, but that wasn't the biggest problem here.
"The kid's gone," he said, not even bothering with anything else as he sat at the table.
Archer blinked, his concentration on his food broken, and looked up. His gray eyes were cloudy and distant for a moment before he blinked again, and their usual sharpness returned. "Kid?"
Lancer gestured to the hallway. "Your latest project. The girl you brought home."
Archer blinked a third time, before the gears in his head finally clicked together; it seemed Archer wasn't much of a morning person, or wasn't capable of thinking clearly when he was interrupted from cooking. Either or.
"Utena?" He shook his head, turning back to the meal he was preparing. "She's still here. She's taking a shower."
Lancer blinked, then frowned, tilting his head to the side and closing his eyes, listening.
Huh. Yep, that's running water.
Shrugging it off, the blue-haired man turned back to his living companion and grinned, blood red eyes gleaming with malicious teasing. "So what's for breakfast, honey?"
Whoever had invented showers, Utena decided, was a god among men. It was as if the hot water soaked through her skin and was absorbed into her muscles, soothing every ache she'd suffered and healing every wound ever inflicted upon her.
Almost every wound, anyway.
Opening her eyes against the spray, the pink-haired girl looked down, ignoring the small, healing scars on her hands. No, her eyes were drawn immediately to the dark, neat, almost circular wound on her stomach, the place where Anthy had driven the sword home.
She traced her fingers over it, lightly. Too much disturbance would make it bleed again, or at least that was what Archer had said when he gave her permission to shower when she asked.
It was odd, really. She hadn't had a good look at it until now; hadn't even been aware of losing blood until she had woken in the apartment and seen the red stains on the bandages. It seemed almost impossible that it could be so small; how could something so small be capable of the pain she'd felt that had robbed her of the ability to breathe and walk?
Unless it wasn't the physical pain that crippled me…
Shaking her head grimly to dismiss the thought, Utena began to wash her hair with just a touch of unneeded savagery, distracted by how strangely light her left hand felt without its ring.
The shower ended almost too quickly for her liking, but Utena shook the feeling off and gingerly stepped out of the stall, moving slowly so as to not disturb her stomach. Drying off with the towel that Archer had given her was a quick job, and it only took her several minutes to work out how to reapply the bandages; not as well as Archer had, but the older man had accepted her request that she do it herself.
It was, perhaps, a tad immature of her. But it felt a little empowering, to be able to treat her wound herself. Utena would take as much of the feeling as she could get right now.
Done with the last of the bandages, she now set about to dressing. A pair of jeans and a yellow, striped sweater was the best the men had to offer, apparently a set of clothes left over from a female friend of Lancer's that had raided their fridge once, left the clothes behind, and never came back to get them.
Oddly enough, it seemed that Archer still didn't know the name of the woman Lancer brought home that night.
Brushing the thought from her mind, Utena trotted back down the hall towards her temporary room, wanting to make sure one last time that it was clean before she eased the hunger rumbling in her belly. The gleam of her ring caught her eye, and out of practiced habit she picked it up, preparing to slide it back into place.
"If you never lose your nobility, even when you grow up, then you may be able to save her from her eternal torment. … If so, that ring will lead you back here, one day."
Utena froze, shoulders stiff, as if someone had spilled a bucket of ice down her back. She stared numbly at the ring, suddenly feeling ill.
After a moment, she shuddered and put it back down, hastily heading out of the room.
The soft, hesitant sound of footsteps from the hall made Archer glance up as he folded his apron and set it aside. Swallowing a mouthful of eggs, Lancer looked up as well, and waved, fork still in hand. "Hey, sleeping beauty!"
Utena blinked, then smiled shakily and lifted her hand in return.
It wasn't much, Archer mused, but it was a start. When she looked at him, he smiled slightly. "Hungry? I just finished setting up the table."
"He's such a perfect wife," Lancer said with a grin, and barely dodged to the side to avoid the fist that was descending on his head, almost falling out of his chair in the process.
The sound made both men look at her—Archer with amused surprise, Lancer with his grin still in place—and the sound seemed to shock her as she paused, blinking, absently bringing her fingers to her lips. It was almost as if it stunned her, to realize she could still laugh so innocently and childishly.
"See?" Smirking in triumph, Lancer climbed back into his chair. "She thinks I'm funny."
"Someone had to," Archer muttered, pulling back a chair and sitting down.
Taking that as a cue, Utena's strides lost their hesitance in the face of her hunger and the delicious food that was presented in front of her, sitting across from the two men, murmuring quick thanks before she began to eat.
Turned out Utena wasn't just hungry, she was starving.
Lancer and Archer exchanged amused looks and returned to their own meals, not about to call the girl out on it. She had only had tea last night, so it made sense that now her hunger would be catching up with her. And really, to be honest, Archer enjoyed seeing someone else enjoying his cooking so much. It helped as well to see that she was relaxing now, even more than she had last night.
She wasn't, however, wearing her ring.
Interesting, Archer mused, and decided to push the point—gently, of course, but push it all the same. "Not rushing out the door to save your friend this time?" he asked mildly, ignoring the sharp, narrow look he got from Lancer in response to his probing question.
Utena winced then, just a little bit; sensing this was something she needed to address, she hesitantly lowered her fork, trying to find the words to justify her current actions. "I want to still save Himemiya," she said, and Archer saw the small flare of fire in her eyes, of steel and determination. All too quickly, though, it was gone, and her shoulders slumped a little. "I just…. I don't know if I can do it. Again." She looked at Archer, and in that moment, she looked vulnerable and young, much younger than her fourteen years.
"How can I say I'll save her a second time when I couldn't even save her the first time?"
Lancer glanced between the two of them and, for the moment, elected to remain silent as he continued to eat; but he was listening. He was always listening.
But there was no more speaking; whatever had pushed Utena this far seemed to have drained out of her for the time being, and she went back to what was left of her meal. Archer, for the moment, was content to let it be. She'd told him far more than she'd intended, he knew that much, and urging her any harder at this point would only cause her to retreat into herself and close him out.
It surprised him, in some small way, that he actually wanted to keep her from closing him out.
The moment passed for a long time in silence before finally Lancer cleared his throat, glancing at Archer. "What are you planning to do today, bowman?"
"Me?" Archer lifted a brow, sipping from his water. "I was planning to open my shop today, but I think I'll check on old man Raiga. He owes me some favors for the errands I've run."
At that, Lancer snorted, his eyes gleaming with amusement. "Good luck getting anything out of him, then." He turned his sharp red gaze to Utena, now. "And you, lass?"
Utena blinked, like a rabbit caught in the eyes of a hound and once again caught mid-swallow. Gulping hastily and somehow avoiding her gag reflex, she spoke up quickly. "I, uh, don't know. I was…" She trailed off as she realized she had absolutely no idea what she'd planned to do today.
Satisfied, Lancer nodded. "If you don't have anything you need to do, you should come into work with me."
Up went Archer's brow again. "Your place is hiring?"
"Hell no. I mean she can hang around the market while I work." Lancer glanced back at Utena. "It's an open place, so you'll be able to explore and at least get a feel for part of the city. Figured you needed a chance to breathe some fresh air and stretch your legs again."
The pink-haired girl was silent for a moment as she mulled the thought over, absently finishing what was left of her breakfast. "I guess it wouldn't hurt," she decided at last. "It seems better than just staying in the apartment, at least."
Triumphant, Lancer grinned. "It's settled, then." He chuckled when Utena gave him a look. "Don't worry, sleeping beauty, I won't keep you on a leash. Just try not to get lost."
"Yes, sir," Utena shot back in amusement, sipping from her water. Definitely relaxed, now, Archer mused; the topic had shifted away from her, and in spite of her nature, she seemed to enjoy having decision taken out of her hands for the time being.
He didn't worry when Utena grimaced and pressed her fingers to her temples, trying to soothe a headache that for some reason stung like the steel blades of swords, pressing mercilessly against her brain. He didn't understand the meaning of it then, the warning, and the pain faded quickly.
On her way out of the apartment, following in Lancer's footsteps and calling a farewell to Archer, she didn't even bother going back to her room to grab her ring.
Do you know? Do you know? Have you heard the news?
The prince has fallen!
Well, he isn't dead, obviously. She. She isn't dead. She's not a normal prince, you know, but even an unusual prince won't die at the end of the story. Fairy tales don't usually work that way.
But she has fallen?
She has! The brave hero falls, bloodied and bruised. She broke into tiny little pieces!
… How is she still alive, then?
But worry not, young fallen prince! A brave knight comes to pick you back up and put you together again! Except, well, he seems just as broken as you are. And yet still, he comes to your aid. What a loyal, heroic knight!
Maybe if we use superglue, we can put them back together!
I don't think it works that way…
But, noble knight! Do you think you should really be trying to fix someone else, when you yourself are still so broken?
I found some superglue!
… I keep telling you, I don't think it works that way.
Much to Lancer's relief, the weather for the day was beautiful; just a tad chilly, but not so bad that it justified a heavy jacket. The sun was shining and the sky was clear and blue, and in spite of her wound Utena was keeping pace with him easily enough, staying close to his side while practically drinking in every sight she saw as they walked, as if trying to imprint everything she saw into her memory.
It amused him, and he smiled a little. "Never been to a city before?"
She shook her head, looking up at him and brushing loose strands of pink hair out of her eyes. "Not one this big, no. I grew up out in the country, and we only had a small town a few miles away from Ohtori."
Lancer decided against telling her that as far as cities went, Fuyuki was actually still pretty small; it would seem like he was teasing her. He took the change in topic as an excuse to expand the opening she had given him. "Ohtori? Was that your school or something?"
Utena paused mid step, nearly tripped over her own feet, and hastily resumed her previous pace, trotting now to keep up with Lancer to make up for the ground she'd lost. He waited patiently, knowing she would either shut him out or appease his curiosity.
"… Yeah," she said at last, and she looked away from him now, absently playing with her hair. "I was going to Ohtori before I ended up here."
Lancer didn't say anything for awhile, after that. Utena didn't look at him. Finally, with a sigh, he lifted his hand and gently ruffled her hair. "Don't push yourself if you don't want to," he murmured. "You're just having fun today."
He went on ahead. Utena slowed down and stopped for a moment, studying him with unsure, surprised sky blue eyes.
After a second or two of thought, she shook her head and jogged to his side, easily keeping pace with his long strides.
Fujimura Raiga was a man who prided himself on how little he had changed; over the years his personality had remained intact, he had held on to his power, and he was still in many ways the person he had been from his younger years. He even lived in the same house, on the same street, and refused to move.
And if there was one thing in particular that never, ever changed about the old man, it was his ability to dig up information from places Archer had only ever dreamed of. He often chose, wisely, not to question how he got his hands on that information.
"You owe me a favor, old man."
Old eyes looked up as Archer sat down in front of him. Raiga exhaled heavily, blowing out a stream of smoke from his pipe, and grinned. "Several, in fact," he rasped. "But you rarely ever collect on any of them."
"I'm collecting on one now." Archer glanced absently about the room, his eyes missing nothing. "I need you to look someone up for me."
Raiga blinked, lowering his pipe. "You have a name?"
"I found her in the woods yesterday bleeding and unconscious. The most I know is she has a friend back where she came from, and that friend might be in trouble."
Raiga blinked again; a slow, small smirk curved his lips. "You want me to look into her past."
Archer returned the smirk. "You do owe me some favors."
"Indeed I do." He inhaled deeply from his pipe, thinking it over, then nodded to himself. "Tenjou Utena. I'll look into it."
"How long do you need? I can give you a couple of days."
Raiga's smirk widened.
"A couple of days? Archer, my boy, go make yourself busy for awhile. I'll have news on your little girlfriend within a few hours."
"…." Archer winced. "She's just a kid, Raiga."
He grinned now. "You like 'em young?"
The market was, in fact, completely open; something that impressed and dazzled Utena. While Lancer went to work in his small store she explored, taking in the new sights and smells, observing the people, and generally getting to actually act her age for once, even if the mild throbbing of her stomach from time to time reminded her that she bore a wound most unusual for a fourteen year old girl.
She'd almost forgotten what normal, clean air tasted like; she'd grown far too used to it carrying that taint of roses from her time in Ohtori.
She ended up going full circle in the end, returning to the store Lancer worked at and sitting on the curb, leaning back on her hands and watching the sidewalks and street. She didn't mind it, though. It had been quite awhile since she had simply sat back and watched the day go by.
Footsteps behind her made her look up. "Lancer?"
She almost added the '-san' just to be polite, but she'd already gotten one lecture from him when she'd done so while they were walking. Apparently, the man wasn't a fan of Japanese honorifics.
"Yo." He dropped down beside her on the sidewalk. "Enjoying the view?"
Utena shrugged, turning her eyes back to the crowd. "I haven't done this in awhile. It's nice."
"Never did understand the appeal of it, myself." He glanced at her. "You thirsty? It's starting to warm up."
Indeed, it was. The chill of the morning had faded away into a relatively warm afternoon, and while Utena wasn't feeling particularly hot at the moment even with her sweater on, her throat was still dry from all of the walking she had done. Even so… "I don't have any money," she said.
Digging into his pocket, Lancer felt around and retrieved a few coins, grabbing her hand and dropping them into her palm. When she stared at him, he grinned and got to his feet. "Buy me something cold and I'll consider it payback, all right?" And before she could respond, he headed back into the store, heeding the bellow of his boss.
Utena stared after him for several seconds, unsure of what had just happened. Sighing, she pocketed the change and got to her feet, stretching a bit before she set off on her hunt for a vending machine.
Lancer reminded her of Wakaba, in some ways. She still hadn't figured out yet if that was good or not.
Raiga had told him to kill a few hours, and so Archer set about to doing just that; he had some orders to fill, and the apartment was in need of a good cleaning now that a third person had currently taken residence within it, even if only temporarily.
That had ended far too quickly, though, and it was only delaying the inevitable. He'd missed his usual day of visiting her because he'd thrown himself into his work, and if Rin had to nag him about it one more time he knew for a fact that she'd come down and clobber him over the head.
So, bracing himself, Archer left the apartment and headed for the cemetery.
It was always too quiet for him there; the walk to it was empty and deserted, and even when he was inside of it, with the wind blowing gently and leaves drifting in the wind, he couldn't quite shake the feeling that the dead were watching him from the safety of their graves.
Grimacing, he shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and kept walking.
The first time he had come after the Grail War, he had bought flowers; obnoxiously pink, stupidly bright things that seemed like an empty, hollow offering. He stopped bringing flowers after that.
He hoped she didn't mind.
Finally, though, he was there. Kneeling down, Archer saw with some amusement that a few small red gems had been left at the gravesite; Rin must have visited recently. Absently, he reached out and brushed the letters carved into the stone.
"Hey, Sakura," he murmured. "Sorry I'm late."
Shaking her head in annoyance, Utena reached down and grabbed the bottle of Pepsi she had dropped. How odd; she distinctly remembered grabbing it when it clattered out of the machine, but her fingers had fumbled it when she felt a brief, stabbing pain throughout her arm. It had faded quickly, though, so she paid it no mind.
Tucking the bottle under one arm—she'd seen the bottles in the recycling bin back at the apartment, and figured Lancer was the soda drinker of the two—she twisted the cap of her own lemon tea and took a sip. It wasn't as good as the tea back in Ohtori or what Archer had made, but it would quench her thirst.
She darted back out onto the main street, moving light on her feet, and saw too late the person coming her way. She skidded and yelped as they collided, stumbling back and managing to brace herself from falling.
The person she ran into, on the other hand, fell like a sack of bricks.
"Ah, I'm so sorry!" Hastily she knelt down, offering her hand. "I'm really sorry, I wasn't looking where I was going. Are you all right?"
The man she had knocked over looked up at her with dazed, empty blue eyes. His hair matched his eye color, and might have been wavy at some point, but a long time of absent care made it now look ragged and limp. He simply stared at her, not processing her hand.
"Uh…. Sir?" She tried again. "Are you okay?" Hesitantly, she touched his shoulder.
It seemed to break the spell he was under; fire coming into his eyes, snarling viciously, he knocked her hand away and stumbled to his feet, glaring daggers at her. "Don't touch me," he snarled. "No one touches me!"
Utena pulled back and frowned, opening her mouth to speak; she never had a chance as, with one last hateful glare, the man shoved past her and kept walking, shoulders hunched and head bowed, muttering to himself.
"… Well, okay then."
Dismissing it, Utena readjusted her grip on Lancer's drink and headed back the way she had come, retracing her steps from where she had left the shop. Thankfully, the vending machine hadn't been too far away, so there was no chance she could get lost.
Looking up, though, she spotted him easily enough; Lancer was hard to miss, with his blue hair and his red eyes.
Equally hard to miss were the two women talking to him; one a smaller, blonde-haired girl with focused green eyes, and the other tall and slender, a pair of glasses perched on her nose and lilac hair pulled back by a black ribbon. They seemed to know Lancer well, judging from the air about them and the way they spoke, like old friends teasing each other.
Not bothered by their presence—Utena had seen plenty of unusual looking people during her time in Ohtori, after all—the pink-haired girl picked up her pace, lifting the hand that held her lemon tea to get his attention. "I got you soda, Lancer," she said. "I hope you don't mind."
He nodded and accepted the drink from her with a word of thanks, drinking from the bottle deeply. The two women stared at her for a moment, studying her intensely, before the lilac-haired one sighed and turned to Lancer.
"Lancer, isn't your new girlfriend kind of young?"
Lancer choked on his drink.
The day after the duel called Revolution, Himemiya Anthy woke up in bed and made a grand effort to ignore the missing sight of Utena sleeping across from her, setting about to making breakfast and dressing for school the way she had done many, many times before after countless other champions had fallen. She pinned back her hair, slid on her glasses, and left the room her brother had given her.
Chu-Chu didn't come with her, as he usually did. He had seen fit all morning to curl up on Utena's pillow, mewling heartbrokenly, and refused to move even when Anthy asked or comforted him. In the end, she left him alone; Chu-Chu had been fond of Utena, more fond of her than he had ever been of any champion, and he was allowed to grieve her loss.
She went to the greenhouse first, checking the state of her beloved roses; it had been several days since she had last tended to them, as she had prepared for the final duel that would decide everything. Seeing they would hold up awhile longer yet, she hurried off to class, not wanting to be late.
She hadn't worried about such things until Utena had been by her side, practically dragging her to class every morning and gently nagging her when her grades were lacking.
Anthy sat in her usual seat, near the back of the class, and tried to ignore Utena's empty seat; tried to ignore how no one else seemed to notice her absence, how another girl with curly black hair and brown eyes, one she had never seen before, flew through the door and tackled Wakaba, claiming to be her best friend.
No, you are not her best friend. Utena-sama was her best friend, where did you come from?
She got through classes mostly by zoning out, doodling little images of animals in the corners of her notes, and pretended not to hear Utena's voice echoing in her ears, scolding her for not paying attention. She was the first person to leave the classroom when the day ended.
Anthy returned to the greenhouse once classes were over and picked up her old watering can, paying special attention to the white roses for reasons she refused to think about.
It wasn't until it was dark and she set the can down, satisfied with her work, that Anthy finally realized: during the whole day, she hadn't heard the swords mutter a single hateful whisper.
Foreshadowing. Foreshadowing everywhere.
Also, huzzah! So far I have kept to a monthly update schedule! ... Mostly. But I bet none of you expected me to update this soon.
Read and review, please!