"We've beaten our swords into dreams."
James Gunn, Station in Space
The woman stood on one side of the bridge, gazing across it. She did not...*would* not look above her, to see what she knew would be hanging there.
A figure in a red dress.
The woman was dressed oddly, for a woman. She wore red armor, and her long hair flowed loose and unbound down her back. She stared across the bridge at the bound doorway. This was the end. The culmination of years of hoping, of searching. She had returned at last, had discovered this place again.
She strode confidently across the narrow bridge. She did not reach for the sword at her side, but instead, she cupped her hands before her breast. A light appeared. She arched back and, incredibly, a sword appeared from her chest, drawing out of her of its own accord and hanging before her.
"Dios," said the woman softly. She took the sword in hand and struck it against the stone door.
The metal rang like a bell, but the vibrations, rather than dying away, seemed to fold back upon themselves, double, quadruple, until the air and the door and the bridge all shook violently with the ringing.
The door exploded. Pieces flew around her, but none touched her. She peered into the dimness, knowing what she would find.
She sensed a change in the air about her, above her, and she knew that the figure in the red dress was suspended above her no longer.
Two figures lay huddled into opposite corners of the tiny, dark room. Her heart and soul screamed for her to run to the figure on the left, but it was to the figure on the right that she turned first. She reached out a hand to the young man, and he took it and let her help him up. For a moment, they embraced. Then the girl stepped away from him and said, "I'm sorry, brother." The boy smiled and shook his head.
"No. It is time I take up your burden, the burden that should have been mine from the beginning. If I had been willing to take it up then, you would not have suffered so, for so long. I'm sorry, sister."
She smiled at him sadly. "The world's anger must be appeased. However, it is not my desire to see you endure what I endured, brother. Together we shall end this cycle of suffering and pain."
She turned and stepped towards the doorway, but he hung back for just a moment, gazing at the other figure. His sister stopped and turned back to him. He looked up at her, saying, "Tell her...'thank you' for me, won't you?"
A flash of pain crossed the woman's face. "I will...if I have the opportunity to do so," she said, choking just a little on the words.
Together they stepped outside the doorway.
Above them a million swords whirled angrily, making a sound like a giant swarm of deadly wasps. The woman still held the sword she had drawn from her chest. She raised it above her head. Then, in a strange, grotesque parody of her earlier movements, she turned the sword so that it pointed downwards, wrapped an arm about her brother, and drove it downward into his heart.
The motion seemed to draw the attention of the swords above them. The boy began to be drawn upwards, thorny vines appearing from nowhere and binding his wrists, lifting him into the air. The swords followed him, surrounding him, swarming him...preparing to strike. The woman found she could not watch and turned her eyes away.
"Anthy!" called the boy. In spite of herself she looked up at him again. He tossed something down to her, just as the merciless blades closed in upon him. Something that gleamed, long and silvery and sharp in the light. She caught it neatly and smiled. It was not the sword she had held before; this one was far more delicately made. It was her own heartsword, which she had exchanged with her brother so long ago. She looked at it thoughtfully, remembering yet another blade. Then she said to it, and to her brother, and to herself, "I don't need you anymore," and smashed it sharply against the stone of the bridge. The blade shattered and fell into the abyss below, leaving the hilt in her hand. She stared at the hilt, smiling bitterly, and then tossed that in as well.
From above came an anguished cry, but she did not look up.
Far away, a tall man shrieked and arched back in sudden pain. The beautiful young man with him cried out, asking what was wrong. But the tall man, if he knew what was happening, could not answer. He writhed in agony and blood trickled from the corner of his mouth.
A fly flew in through the open window, carried casually on the summer breeze, and landed on the man's forehead. The beautiful young man tried to brush it away, but another landed a moment later. And then another. And another. More and more flies came in, until there was a black swarm surrounding the man, crawling on him, covering him. For every sword that struck the boy, another fly found its way onto the body of the man.
The younger man stared, paralyzed with horror, at the black, buzzing mass before him. He heard the choked cries of the other man, but he could do nothing.
Eventually, one by one, the flies began to leave. A few flew out the window, and them more and more, until there were none left.
The young man stared at the place where his lover had reclined moments ago. There was nothing there, no blood, not a hair, not a single scrap of clothing or a bit of dust left behind. He gazed about the room he found himself in. It was a giant planetarium, as far as he could tell, but it was a ruin. The dome had a large crack running through it, letting in sunlight and fresh air. There were couches and a table here, but they were falling apart and covered with thick layers of dust. The carpet on the floor was faded and rotted away completely in places.
The young man put a hand to his head.
"What am I doing here?" he asked.*
Meanwhile, the girl in red armor stood on the bridge before the doorway and waited. Gradually the hideous clamour of the swords began to abate, the gathering silence heavy with menace. Eventually she stopped hearing the whisk of swords flying rapidly up from below her to join their brethren. Only when the last rasping echo had faded did she look up once more.
She could no longer see her brother, impaled and bound. There was only the great, glittering mass of metal.
Then, quietly, one of the swords fell. It seemed a long time before she heard the clatter of it hitting the ground, far, far below. The sound of the metal on stone seemed to trigger something, and another sword lost its animation and began to plummet. Before it could quite strike the ground a third fell out of the bunch, turning end over end as it dropped. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster more swords began to descend, a deadly, sharp rain that fell all around her, but, as with the explosion of the door, did not touch her.
The vines collapsed, as there was nothing left for them to support.
When the last sword had had fallen and finally struck the ground, and it was again quiet, she turned back to the doorway.
The figure in the corner huddled around itself, seemingly unaware of the strange things that had been happening around her. It wore an odd costume, a jacket and shorts that seemed as though they must come from a different place and time. The woman in the red armor caught her breath and tears came to her eyes when she noticed a hole in the back of the jacket. She had reason to know that there would be a matching hole in the front.
She bit her lip and reached towards the huddled figure.
"Utena," she said.
At first the figure didn't move, gave no sign that she had heard, or was even alive.
"Utena," said the woman again, waiting.
Slowly, painfully, agonizingly slowly, the figure lifted its head. Recognition widened the still-bright blue eyes. "Anthy?" she whispered, a croaking, hoarse whisper. "Is this a dream?"
"No. I came back. I found you. Finally, I found you." Anthy stood straight, but, inside, she was trembling. All that had kept her strong for all those years was now in front of her, and she was rather afraid that she was going to cry.
Utena blinked. "But...but I failed! I wasn't able to save you!"
Anthy shook her head in vehement denial. "No!" her voice rang out. "You did not fail! You took my place and freed me from my burden as the Rose Bride. Your sacrifice freed me from it and from my brother's control. And now...I have come to free you."
Utena just stared at her. Finally, she spoke, "I succeeded?" Anthy nodded. "I succeeded!" An incredible joy suffused her features. "Anthy, you're free! I'm so glad! I'm so glad!" Suddenly her face contorted. "But...but how do you intend to free me? I won't let them take you back!"
The tears in Anthy's eyes began to stream down her cheeks. "It's not necessary anymore, Utena. The World's Anger has been sated. We are both free, now. We are all free, even my brother. There is no such thing as eternity, not even eternal suffering."
Utena looked up at her. There was a sad wisdom in her once innocent eyes that it hurt Anthy's heart to see. "The closest we can come to eternity is to love," she said softly.
Anthy began to sob. "Utena...Utena, how can I ask you to forgive me?"
The young woman looked confused. "Why are you crying? What do I need to forgive?"
Anthy only wept harder, and Utena rose slowly, awkwardly, and put her arms around her. "Don't cry, Anthy. Whatever it is, I forgive you. How could I not? I had thought I would be your Prince, but...you're my Prince, now, I guess," she smiled.
Anthy nearly collapsed at that. Finally, she put her hand to Utena's chest, covering the hole in the fabric. "How...how can you...forgive...this?"
Utena looked down and covered the other woman's hand with her own. For a moment there was pain in her eyes as the memory flared behind them. Betrayal...
But then she smiled. "I understood," she said quietly. "And I forgave you." She traced her fingers down the smaller woman's face, following the paths of the tears with her fingers. "I'm just glad you're free, Anthy."
Anthy buried her face in Utena's shoulder, weeping still, but now...tears of joy.
Eventually the sobs and the healing tears subsided. Utena cradled Anthy's head against her shoulder and looked around. They were in a tiny, dark room. Utena shuddered as she looked around. "Anthy?"
"Hmm?" Anthy drew her head up and wiped her eyes.
"Where are we?"
Anthy looked up at her. "Don't you recognize it? We're at the Ends of the World."
"Oh." She looked around again. "I see. Anthy?"
"Can we go home now?"
Anthy looked up into the taller woman's face. "We can try."
Each of them clutched the other's hand tightly as they stepped out of the room together. But no sooner had they crossed the threshold than a great vortex enveloped them. The wind tore at them violently, trying to tear them away from each other. They clung to each other, wrapping their arms around each other and holding on for dear life.
Neither of them could have said how long they were tossed about by the violent storm. Their arms were numb but still they clutched each other, refusing to let go. Finally, with a screech of fury the storm released them. And then they were falling...
The first thing that Utena realized was that she was warm. Very warm, and very comfortable. She sighed softly, and shifted a little under the covers and against the warm body next to her--
Her thought process came to a crashing halt, and she opened her eyes.
The first thing she saw was long strands of hair trailing over the coverlet. Hair that was too dark to be her own.
Utena blinked a couple of times.
Ok, she was in a warm bed...
Make that, naked, in a warm bed, with her arm around...
She moved her arm slightly and elicited a small sigh from her companion.
She sat up and pulled the covers down a little.
The darker girl smiled up at her sleepily. "Good morning, Utena."
Utena looked about the room, taking in her surroundings for the first time. It was a comfortable room with white walls and a soft blue carpet. Light streamed in through an open window, and a gentle breeze carried in the smell of the sea. Utena also noted (with a certain amount of interest) that a tray, laden with what appeared to be breakfast and a steaming pot of tea, sat on a little table on one side of the room.
Utena looked down at Anthy and was glad of her familiar figure in this unfamiliar place. "Anthy, where are we?"
Anthy sat up slowly and stretched luxuriously. Then, turning and meeting Utena's eyes she said softly, "We're safe."
"Welcome home, Utena."
Utena sipped her tea and then turned and met Anthy's eyes. "Well." she said.
Anthy nodded. "Well."
"What happened?" Utena burst out. She vaguely remembered a strong wind, pulling the air right out of her lungs, it seemed. Then a sensation of falling. Then, cold, deep and penetrating. And before all that...long, long before all that...pain...
She shook her head. All that was over now.
Anthy shrugged philosophically. "I don't know," she said. "Does it matter?"
Utena considered this, then slowly shook her head. "I guess not," she said with a smile. They ate in silence for awhile. "Anthy," said Utena finally.
"Hmm?" Anthy's mouth was full of toast and homemade strawberry jam. She was eating ravenously (but daintily), as if this was the first time that food tasted good to her in a long time.
"What do we do now?" Anthy swallowed and met her eyes.
"What do you mean?"
Utena sat quietly for a minute, looking into her cup of tea. "Well, each of us has been the Prince, the Rose Bride, and the rescued Princess." She looked up to find Anthy watching her intently. "So...what are we now? What do we do now?"
Anthy reached across the table and laid a hand over Utena's. "I think," she said softly, "I would like to try being Anthy, for awhile."
Utena caught her eye and smiled.
*Ed. note: The beautiful young man went on to lead quite a normal life...except that after that day, though he couldn't say why, he never could abide flies.
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