Disclaimer: As per usual, I own absolutely nothing. Anthy and Utena are not mine and shall never be mine, so please do not sue me for the small bit of emotional torture I put Anthy through.

To the Pain

"Oh! You're, uh, up."

Utena's voice amuses her; the mixture of timid uncertainty and hesitant apology makes something in Anthy want to chuckle, and she isn't quite sure why. It's not a funny situation really, when she thinks about it. Akio is spinning his web; his corruption is already grasping at the heart of the young girl-prince like claws, seeping their poison into her veins so that in the end she lays gasping and dying, and doesn't know how it happened.

But in that short moment she sounds so much like the Utena of old that Anthy can't quite resist the small, brief, bitter smile, even if the laughter never comes.

"Are you mad?"

It's sweet, in a twisted kind of way. How she cares, even now, about Anthy's opinion.

"About what?"

"Of course you'd say that."

There's a hint of amusement in Utena's voice as she speaks, a hint of exhaustion, of acceptance. An odd combination from someone usually so optimistic and full of boundless, vibrating energy. Anthy looks at Utena, and Utena looks out the window, at the stars just beyond her reach.

Utena speaks again, that same odd mixture of exhaustion and amusement in her voice; Anthy honestly can't tell if the pink-haired girl is speaking to hear her thoughts on the matter, or if she's simply saying what she thinks to get it off her chest, to lighten her heart and make the night easier to get through.

"I wonder if he was teasing me a little," she murmurs, and Anthy continues to watch her, not saying a word. Taking the silence as encouragement, she continues, absently pressing the palm of her hand against the glass. "You seem very girlish tonight. Akio-san said that to me."

Her shoulders slump after those words, just a little; her hand presses more firmly against the cool glass as she lowers her head, her forehead practically touching the panel. The amusement drops out of her voice then, and all Anthy can hear is exhaustion and just a hint, a drop, of frustration. Of confusion.

Of pain.

"Very girlish… Just what does that mean?"

Ah, a question. Granted, Anthy can't actually tell if Utena wants to hear her opinion or not on the matter, but it's something she can address, and she's oddly compelled to speak, turning her face back to the glass because for some reason, for some odd reason she can't name, she can't stand the sight of Utena—her Utena—looking so broken, so hurt, so confused.

So she speaks, even though she's not sure how helpful her words will be in the long run. Utena's fate is already determined; she knows this.

And yet still, she speaks.

"Girls are…" She pauses for a moment, fishing for the correct way to word her thoughts, to express her feelings in a way Utena will understand. How strange. It's been awhile since she's had to do something like that.

She thinks of a million swords of hatred. She thinks of pain, and can hear the shriek of metal ringing in her ears.

"In the end, girls are all like Rose Brides."

Utena doesn't respond, and she doesn't look at her; her hand is still pressed against the glass, her head still bowed. She seems lost in thought, and Anthy can't see her eyes with the way her face is hidden by her hair.

Anthy doesn't like it. She doesn't like that she can't see Utena's eyes; for her, Utena's eyes are the quickest and easiest way to gauge the mood and thoughts of her champion (friend?), and looking into those sky blue eyes, she can always feel an odd, soothing warmth in the heart she's sure she doesn't have.

She can't see Utena's eyes, and it scares her. Just a little bit.

She closes the distance between them silently; if the other girl hears her movement, she gives no sign of it. She reaches out, and there's only the slightest, smallest bit of hesitation before she rests her hand against Utena's, gently grips her skin and rests the tips of her fingers against the pale, warm palm.

Anthy has done this before, of course; she's seen countless would-be princes lose their way, become disillusioned and broken even before her brother needed them to fall. It has always been her part, her duty, her role, to keep the fledgling princes on the path Akio wants them to walk until the very end, to keep even a small sense of idealism alive in their hearts, right up until the last moment Akio draws their swords and leaves them broken and bleeding in front of the Rose Gate.

She's done this before, and it should come to her naturally. She opens her mouth and speaks, saying the words she knows Utena needs to hear. Saying the words that mean, You're so close now and you know it, just hold on a little longer. That is the message she must deliver.

"Did you get a letter from End of the World?"

A meaningless question into empty air, and one she already knows the answer to; the small, noncommittal sound Utena makes in response startles her a little bit, a sensation of being shut out by the one person who has always been so open to her. It startles her and rattles her inside, but she brushes it aside easily, trying to ignore yet another painful jab in her chest.

That's the second time tonight she's felt such a sensation.

Say what she needs to hear. Say what needs to be said to keep her on the path. You know the words, Anthy.

She speaks.

"If you go to that castle, you'll meet your prince."

It comes out wrong. She knows this is Utena's weakness, she's known it from the very beginning, but it comes out wrong, in a way she didn't intend. There's a hesitation, a gentleness, a softness to her voice that shouldn't be there, has never been there before when she's urged princes of the past to continue.

It comes out wrong and she knows this, and oddly enough, she doesn't care. Instead her mind is racing, thoughts tumbling end over end, and she can't think straight because she still can't see Utena's eyes, and she really wants to see Utena's eyes, and she's touching Utena, but Utena isn't responding like she always does, isn't smiling and happy and holding her hand back in response and all she can think is, What do I need to do to fix you?

But she doesn't say this, of course. She just waits in the silence that falls after she speaks, gently holding the taller girl's hand.

She waits, breathlessly, for the rejection she's certain is coming.

Utena speaks then, at last, after a moment that for Anthy lasts too long and ends too soon. She still isn't looking at her, and the exhaustion is still in her voice, but there's a small hint of something else, too, something that almost sounds like the Utena of her memories. "So much has happened since we first met," she comments, and she expects no response. "So much has happened…"

She lingers over the last words she speaks, possibly thinking them over; and in a small, absent gesture, her thumb slides down along the glass, presses gently and warmly against Anthy's fingers.

Anthy opens her mouth, intends to speak, but the words don't come; the words are blocked by a burning, painful lump in her throat as she realizes, sharply, that Utena won't reject her. Even at this stage, Utena won't turn away from her.


Silence falls again; Anthy isn't in the right state of mind to break it, and Utena seems content to let it last, another oddity from the girl that is always so loud and speaking whenever she feels she can or must. Finally, Utena sighs. "Ne, Himemiya?"

"Hm?" It's a safe sound, and the best she can manage at the current moment.

"Do you think I've lost my nobility?"

Anthy's mind short circuits and goes completely blank, an utterly new sensation for her.

In the meantime, as Anthy tries to process this, Utena continues to talk, clearly having more to say about the matter. "It's just…" She pauses, then chuckles quietly. "When I was little, I remember someone said to me, if I still had my nobility even when I grew up, the ring would bring me back. You know?"

Anthy nods, numbly, still trying to accept the fact that her mind has gone blank as a slate. Without even being aware of it her fingers gently massage Utena's palm, a small, absent gesture she doesn't think too hard about.

Utena tilts her head up, gazing now at the stars; the dark-skinned Rose Bride sees a brief, brilliant flash of blue before her champion's eyes are once again lost from her field of vision. "But lately, the more I think about it, the more I think I've lost my nobility," she admits at last, and she sounds oddly sheepish about it.

Anthy opens and closes her mouth several times, but once again the words don't come. Her fingers fall still, but now they cling to the small, warm, pale hand, the hand that is now faintly trembling in her grasp.

"Who knows, maybe I was never noble at all." Utena laughs now, and it's wrong; broken and pained and sad and so, so tired, not at all suiting her. "Maybe it was all just in my head, and I never had any nobility. That would be kind of sad, don't you think? That I was fooling myself all this time—"

"You're wrong."

She speaks at last, the words finally come, and they are sharp, short, heated words; words no one would expect to hear from the passive Rose Bride. Her fingers are digging deeply enough into Utena's palm to draw blood, and her emerald green eyes have gone dark and stormy, but she doesn't care.

Utena is finally looking at her, her eyes wide and stunned. Utena is looking at her, her jaw hanging slightly open in shock. Even to the girl who encouraged her to speak her mind and be honest, this is an unexpected outburst.

Realizing how she must look, how she must have sounded, Anthy tries to relax, to calm herself; her grip on Utena's hand loosens slightly, and her eyes all too quickly return to their usual, unreadable state, even if she can't quite suppress the spark of emotion that has now been lit.

"You're wrong," she repeats, and even if her voice is calmer, softer, it is no less sure. "That's what I think, Utena-sama."

And she waits. Anthy is pretty sure she's doing this wrong, because she's never done this before, at least not in this fashion; she's never tried to comfort anyone, never really tried to offer her support and opinion in such an honest, open way. She didn't even know she could until now.

Finally, after a moment, Utena's mouth closes with an audible click; she blinks once, twice, then shakes her head and giggles helplessly, bringing a hand to her mouth to try and muffle the sound.

"What?" Anthy mutters, feeling a small surge of annoyance; another new sensation for her, and she isn't quite sure she likes it. And even that small surge is tempered by the sound of Utena's laughter, a high, innocent sound that is like music to her ears. She can't recall the last time she heard the other girl laugh like this.

"Nothing. I just… no, nothing." Gamely swallowing the rest of her laughter, Utena smiles; a small smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes, but it's honest and warm. "Thanks, Himemiya. I'm glad one of us still believes in me, at least."

It's not quite the response Anthy hoped for, and it's another shock to her system that she actually wanted to completely cheer Utena up. She buries the sensation and gently draws her hand away, and she isn't sure what bothers her more; that she immediately misses the other girl's warmth, or that Utena's eyes briefly flicker with disappointment.

"I'm going to bed," she says, trying to pretend her outburst didn't happen. "Are you coming?"

Utena pauses for a moment, mulling it over, before she shakes her head. "Not yet," she decides. "I want to look at the stars for awhile."

The Rose Bride nods once, in understanding, and steps back, trying to clear her head and collect her thoughts, to begin to forget that this particular part of the exchange even happened. She meets the other girl's gaze, tries to look as impassive as possible, praying Utena won't see the cracks beginning to break through her mask. "Good night, Utena-sama."

The pink-haired girl snorts softly at the use of '-sama' attached to her name, but it's a battle she's long since given up on; she gazes into Anthy's eyes, studying her for a moment, before she gives in to an impulse, lightly grasping her hand.

Anthy goes deathly still, unsure of what is about to happen. "Utena-sama, what—"

Her eyes gleam impishly, an odd look from someone so young, so innocent; with lightning quick reflexes, Utena tilts Anthy's hand over, bringing her palm to her lips and pressing a soft, warm kiss there.

For the second time that night, Anthy's mind utterly short circuits and goes blank as warmth surges from the palm of her hand to her whole body, utterly drowning her in the sensation. While she's caught in the process of trying to reboot herself, Utena lets go and smiles again, and it's a sweeter, warmer smile than usual, a smile she's never given to anyone, not even Touga or Akio.

"Good night, Himemiya." Her voice is also warm, and oddly husky. It makes Anthy's head spin. "Thanks again."

Anthy nods dumbly, not trusting herself to speak; she's pretty sure her vocal cords have frozen over, anyway. She leaves Utena to her stargazing and makes her way to the bed, crawling under the covers and burying her face in her pillow.

She doesn't fall asleep as quickly as she'd like to. She keeps sneaking looks at Utena when she's sure the other girl isn't looking, and doesn't properly settle down and start to feel sleepy until the blue-eyed dueling champion finally comes into bed, curling into a ball under her covers and gently, lightly grasping at her fingers even now.

It isn't until well past midnight, when sleep continues to elude her and she still can't stop gazing at Utena's sleeping face, that Anthy finally accepts what the other girl's warm, sweet, bright smile means.

Anthy buries her face into her pillow again and weeps. She has a heart now; she knows this for a fact. She knows it because this painful, splitting sensation in her chest can only mean it's breaking.

Needless to say, she doesn't get much sleep that night.

The End

And so ends my first attempt at a pure RGU fanfic ("Fellows" being a crossover and thus, not counting.). Overall, I'm not entirely sure how this will be taken, but hopefully I didn't screw up Utena or Anthy too badly. This is mostly an Anthy piece, obviously, and the early part of the story is taken from the conversation she has with Utena in episode 37, because I've always found that small exchange utterly fascinating. This was simply my interpretation of what Anthy might have been like at this moment in the series, so hopefully I conveyed her well. The rest afterwards is utterly original, because who says the conversation ended there just because the camera cut away from it?

Utena is perhaps a bit darker here than she should be, considering her moment of truth/realization is in episode 38, but I think she might have been having doubts and thoughts even back in episode 37. I don't know if she would have spoken to Anthy about them, but eh, it seemed to fit the mood of the piece.

Read and review, please!