She Hath Flourished Verdantly
Shiori, nineteen, hunches over her laptop at half past three in the morning. Scratches her skinny elbow, bites her nails, slowly pecks out the email. Hi, I guess you went to Ohtori too, though come to think of it I don't know why I said that-- Backspace, rewrite. I just wanted to say-- Delete. I found your story on the internet, and it was beautiful, and you must have been very brave to post it, and I just wanted to say, I don't know why, that I had the same dream too--
She grits her teeth, hit send after three more drafts. Closes her email very quickly, loads up the story she'd found by pure dumb chance, reads it for the hundredth time. And then I saw it--the leaf he was making me--in her hair. And I felt--I can't even describe, how terrible I felt. Not just hurt, but like I could tear the world apart. And then I had a dream. In my dream, there was somewhere you could go, to get help. There was this guy who would talk with you. Only he wasn't with there, just talking over the loudspeaker, there was just a mirror so you were looking at yourself. And it was rather dark, and the interview room was an elevator, and by the time I hit bottom...
A day later, she gets the reply.
It wasn't a dream.
Two weeks later, they meet in a cafe. Shiori gets there too early, hunches in her chair like it's too cold, dings her coffee cup with a fingernail, over and over and over.
Wakaba comes in tall and bright and confident, with curls behind her ears and a spring in her step. She's two years younger, barely graduated, but there's something in her eyes that makes Shiori feel like a child.
There's a chain of leaves round her neck, green and black, dangling from a golden vine.
"Utena," Wakaba says quietly, three hours later, in her tiny flat, "saved me." She's peeling some big red fruit, bloody juice spilling over her hands. "She pulled the ring from my hand. I snapped out of it. And I remembered it all so clearly. I was aware of everything that had happened." She laughs softly. "Not that I wasn't already, in a way. I went into it so willingly. I stood up proudly when he welcomed me to his graveyard. I didn't fight it when that boy stabbed me with his rose. But then, Utena woke me up--and, oh, it took me years, to realize what it meant, to--to integrate it all, I suppose you'd say."
"I barely remember it," Shiori whispers. Wakaba tears the fruit open; inside it's row upon row of bloody rubies. "I was crying when the elevator stopped. I--I don't even remember the duel, not really--but what do you mean, integrate it?"
Wakaba is very still for a moment, licks the juice from her fingers with a few sweeps of her tongue, and looks intently at Shiori with eyes full of darkness and light.
"I had thought," she says at last, and pops a seed into her mouth, "that the only things worth having were light. You know?' She spits out a hard little core, drops it in a dish, and eats another. "I thought he was going to give them to me. My vice-president prince. I thought he would make me a shining person. And he nearly did. But then he went away." And a third. "And when I couldn't go up, I went down--and found there was just as much worth having there. The power. The courage to stand up for myself, to fight." And a fourth. "And then Utena did what she did, and I found another sweet boy who loved me, and there were the heights, kindness and love and the confidence that comes from that. And then I realized--if I took both, if I just stood up with my head in heaven and my feet in hell, I could be anything I wanted."
Shiori's almost shaking. Her memory--so faded before, so much like a dream--is coming clearer, and clearer. Knots of emotion tearing her apart, just as they had in that elevator--the envy, the fear, the jealousy, the revulsion, the hollow triumph, the need, the bottomless need, to have something, some shred of control over her life, over her--
"Why," Wakaba asks gently, holding out a handful of seeds, "did you go to him? Why were you a black rose?"
"I was afraid," Shiori whispers.
"Myself. No. I hated myself, sort of, but I couldn't get away from myself, but I wasn't afraid of myself. I was afraid of--"
Wakaba's fingers are at her lips. She takes the seed between her teeth; tart-sweet explodes on her tongue.
"Of--" Shiori shakes again. Her heart aches. She fumbles a hand down her own shirt--no blood, not even a scar, but she remembers it so vividly now. The stem of the rose plunging into her skin. Shadows blooming through her, black roots twining through her heart. Her body a garden of hatred--but strong, not destroying herself, but strong. She had done nothing to her on purpose, but she had still hurt her, and she had finally been able to hurt her back--it had been wrong and awful and one of the giddiest, most arousing moments of her life--
"Of this," Shiori whispers, and touches Wakaba's chin, and gives her a fierce, pomegranate-bloody kiss.