Author's notes: This story makes no sense at all unless you've seen second season Utena, and even then.
(Eventually, everyone who writes Utena fan fiction writes a story in which their favourite character takes a ride in Mikage's elevator; because to ride in that elevator is to travel down into the darkest parts of your soul).
Spoilers for Shoujo Kakumei Utena, seasons 1 & 2.
by !Super Cat
Touga's eyes opened. He came back to himself slowly, like a dreamy child waking in a comfortable bed. After a moment, his hand rose to push his hair out of his face. He wasn't in a bed, he discovered. He was in an armchair. And he could remember . . . something. Hands, sliding in under his uniform. No, not that. A sword, dragging itself out of his chest.
No. He pressed the heel of his palm to his temple. Something. A girl. Not the one with shoulder length hair curling to the outside. Not the one with her hair curling inwards around her cheeks. The one with her hair tied up and her bangs curled.
There were a few miscellaneous items scattered about the room. Touga's Student Council uniform jacket was lying in a heap in the far corner on the floor. The yellow umbrella that Keiko had left behind her was lying open to his left. Above the umbrella, the roof had sprung a leak. Drops of water were falling in an arhymthic pattern, breaking in tiny splashes over the yellow umbrella, drip, drip, drip.
Touga was becoming aware of the couch opposite his armchair.
On the couch was Akio, dressed to perfection in a thin black tie and an expensive red silk shirt. However, it was the powerhouse of Akio's shoulders beneath his elegant clothes that made the biggest impact. The hard evidence of masculinity that Akio languorously disregarded, like a sleepy lion who would do no more to demonstrate his strength than to stir and contentedly stretch.
He was watching Touga intently.
Instead of trying to stand, struggling to his feet as some might have done, Touga simply shaded his eyes with an arm and contemplated the various things that he could say. Who are you? would suffice, but it wouldn't be as interesting as, Trustee Chairman. We spoke on the phone.
Akio's voice was little more than a murmur. "I see that you're back."
"Mmm . . ." Touga let his hand drop, and was unsurprised to find that his shirt was all the way open. "You know, there's a sword in my chest. You can take it by the hilt and pull it out. Want to try?"
Akio leaned forward. "That's not what you really want to ask me," he murmured.
He was right. Touga wet his lips.
"Who are you?"
"That's not it, either."
Touga's gaze swung from the couch back to the umbrella, and from there to his jacket and beyond. He couldn't see the walls. He knew vaguely that they were there, but he couldn't see them, in the same way that he knew there had been a sword, and a girl, even though all he could remember was the feeling of . . . "What . . . happened to me last night?"
"Come now, an enterprising student like you, Mr. President."
It wasn't just the walls that were eluding him. Touga resisted the temptation to rub his eyes, or shake his head. "Was Keiko following your orders?"
"That's a question for Keiko."
"You won't mind if I ask her?"
"Well, she doesn't remember."
"I thought this game was about asking the right question."
"It is. You haven't asked it yet."
The couch was getting harder to keep in focus. It blurred and became two images that drifted first left and then right, overlaying each other but refusing to resolve themselves into one. Touga blinked, and his vision swam.
"Close your eyes."
"Trustee Chairman, don't you think that's taking things between us a little far?" Touga stalled beautifully and instinctively whenever he was taken by surprise, which was not very often.
"Close your eyes."
He did as he was told.
In the darkness, Akio's voice was tangible in a way that his image had not been. And it sounded . . . closer?
"Good boy. Now tell me. What can you hear?"
The question was unexpected. "I--don't--" Touga's eyes were closed.
"Can you hear that sound?"
There was the occasional tink, tink, of the heating. It was warm enough inside to feel drowsy, but the low roar of the rain was audible outside. A dark, wet puddle was forming under Keiko's umbrella, drip, drip, drip.
Touga said, "The air conditioning, the rain outside and . . . your voice."
"Listen more closely."
The rain was coming in waves. It got louder the more he listened. But focusing on sound was distracting. Other senses beckoned. Touch, for example. The voice was so close that Touga knew that if he just reached out, he'd feel the distinctive slithery texture of a red silk shirt.
"You don't mean the rain, do you?"
"That sound," the voice continued, "if you haven't given up entirely, you'll hear it. Running around the Ends of the World."
Touga tilted his head to one side, dutifully. This entire process was an indulgence. The rain and the air conditioning were the only things that he could hear. There wasn't any--
"I don't think you've given up. Or have you?" The murmured voice was so close now, it was sliding over his cheek and pressing into his ear. "Have you given up, Student Council President?"
And then there were new sounds: the slight rustle of a man drawing back from an armchair; the clip of his heels as his footsteps receded across the floor. The door creaked when it opened, and creaked when it closed again, and only when he'd heard the final click of the latch did Touga open his eyes.
The room was empty.
Rain was splattering against the windows. It was a cold, unwelcoming morning. The wintry grounds of the Academy were visible, but the view was dulled by the whiteness that pressed down intolerably from the sky. Tink, tink went the heating. Drip, drip, drip. Touga stretched, and his shirt fell further open. Yawning, he said the words half to himself and half in response to someone who apparently didn't know him at all well.
It was a beautiful day. The whiteness that had threatened in the morning had passed, the sky was clear and bright blue, there wasn't a cloud to be seen anywhere. Aiko, Yuuko and Keiko were walking in to school together, matching steps.
The three of them were easy to get mixed up. They each wore the same expression. They clasped their hands before themselves identically. They wore their uniforms and their schoolbags in exactly the same way.
Only a very observant person would notice that Aiko was the one with the shoulder length hair that curled to the outside. Yuuko was the one with her hair curling inwards around her cheeks. The one with her hair tied and her bangs curled was Keiko-chan.
"I hope it doesn't rain," said Keiko.
"I like the rain," said Aiko.
"I wouldn't like it if I didn't have an umbrella," said Yuuko. She and Aiko smiled at each other.
Keiko blinked and kept walking, her eyes fixed on the school buildings in front of her.
Umbrella handles were poking out of Aiko and Yuuko's schoolbags.
But Keiko had forgotten her umbrella.
Her heart was pounding. She hadn't just forgotten to bring it to school. She had forgotten it. Forgotten owning it. Forgotten using it. What did it look like? Was it large? Was it yellow? Keiko thought that she must own an umbrella. Surely she . . .
She could remember walking in the rain with her friends, and not getting wet. She could remember waiting in one of the school quadrangles for Nanami-sama, and looking up at a grey cloudy sky, fearlessly. She could remember the feeling of being unconcerned for her books in the rain.
She just couldn't remember her umbrella.
The threads of anxiety tightened around her. If she could forget an umbrella, she could forget almost anything. If she could forget almost anything, then there was no guarantee of what had happened to her on any given day, what she had done, whom she had met, whether her umbrella had been yellow, whether the person she'd talked to had had pink hair, whether there had been butterflies and a leaf on the wall, whether her ring had been--
She didn't remember a black ring.
She didn't remember a yellow umbrella.
Keiko started to panic internally.
So she didn't notice that Yuuko and Aiko had brought up short until she ran right into the back of them.
"Oh!" said Keiko.
"Oh!" said Yuuko.
"Oh!" said Aiko.
Then, "Oh," said Keiko, as she realized why the other two girls had stopped. Touga stood in their path, his Student Council uniform shining in the sunlight. He looked princely, his long, luxurious red hair falling all the way down his back, a rich contrast to the gleaming white and gold of his clothes.
The three girls stood rooted to the spot, staring at him.
"I have a question for you," said Touga.
"Um," said Keiko.
"I--" said Yuuko.
"That is--" said Aiko. All three girls were looking frantically around for any sign of Nanami.
"Just one question," coaxed Touga.
"Um--" said Aiko.
"I--" said Keiko.
"That is--" said Yuuko.
"As long as it's the right question, I'll only need to ask one." Touga leaned down to their height and asked, conspiratorially, "What don't you remember about yesterday?"
"Well, I don't remember what I ate for dinner," said Aiko, after a moment's thought.
"I don't remember where I left Nanami-sama's notebook," said Yuuko, nervously.
Keiko's mouth opened and closed. The anxiety hit full force. She found herself answering in a rush, "I don't remember my umbrella. Or the duel. I don't remember the duel or my umbrella or attending the Mikage Seminar at the Nemuro Memorial Hall."
Touga straightened and smiled at her.
In the warmth of the summer's day, Aiko suddenly shivered, thinking that Touga's beauty was scary when you stood close to him. His smile was thin. His eyes were filled with secrets and satisfaction.
And Yuuko shivered, thinking that Touga looked like a snake basking in the sunlight, its scales gleaming unpleasantly.
And Keiko smiled back, thinking that Touga looked dreamy. This was something to treasure in a secret place in her heart; something to relive during the long, cold nights in winter when she'd toil over Nanami-sama's homework; something to lift her spirits and make her feel warm and good inside . . . one of Touga-sama's smiles.
He was very observant. He noticed the leaf behind glass. He noticed the dead, pinned up butterfly.
The Nemuro Memorial Hall had burned down in a fire several years ago, but it seemed that everyone had forgotten that. Touga had reflected as he signed in for the seminar that a great many important things were being forgotten recently.
He signed in with his name, Touga Kiryuu, and his age, sixteen, and his position, School Council President, then he made his way to the consultation room.
Which was an elevator. The door creaked and slammed shut. There was a seat in the centre of the room but Touga scorned it, preferring to lean his shoulder against the wall.
A voice from everywhere and nowhere, distorted, said, "Please begin."
So he said, "Kiryuu Touga. Eleventh grade."
Then he said, "I'm the President of the Student Council, and a duellist who receives communications from a mysterious authority known as the Ends of the World."
And then, "Currently however, the Student Council is in disarray. Black Rose duellists are marshalling at the orders of an unknown power, and Tenjou Utena is still in possession of the Rose Bride. To date, I am the only duellist to have beaten her."
The voice said, "Deeper. Go deeper."
So he said, "Utena. As a duellist, she is unique. She was never a gifted fighter. Her swordsmanship is amateurish. The problem for her opponents comes when the power of Dios appears."
He said, "I solved that problem and won the Sword of Dios in our first duel. In our second . . . I made the mistake of thinking that because I held the Sword of Dios, the power of Dios would be on my side."
He said, "It wasn't."
He said, "And I lost."
He said, "I lost. But only once. Utena and I have both lost one duel. I count that as a draw. Besides, throughout, the progress of the duels continued, no matter who won or lost, every duel brought us one step closer to revolution. That means . . ."
He said, "That means that I don't have to win every fight."
He said, "I just have to win the last one."
He said, "And it occurred to me that someone growing black roses, hastening the progress of the duels . . . must have realized that too. "
There was a screech of breaks as Touga reached out with one finger and pressed the red button to stop the elevator. Red: it was the colour of danger; it was the colour of flashy convertibles and the colour of Touga's hair.
As the elevator door opened, Touga said, pleasantly, "This must be your seminar."
Mikage's hair was coloured a pale, faded pink, it just touched his shoulders. By contrast, Touga's hair was red, stop sign red, flashy new convertible red, it fell all the way down his back. Samson-like, it made Touga appear the more powerful.
"No one . . . has ever stopped the elevator before," said Mikage.
"Is that so."
"I don't know if there's a place for you in my seminar."
"You don't strike me as the type who is looking for something eternal."
"Maybe not," said Touga.
The elevator doors slid closed behind Mikage.
"But I am the President of the Student Council, and I take an interest in those who manipulate Student Council affairs."
"You haven't up until now," said Mikage.
Touga's response was to reach out to press the bright green start button of the elevator.
"Don't do that." Quickly.
Touga paused, shooting a sidelong glance at Mikage. Then drew back from the button display altogether and approached Mikage, with his head cocked to one side.
"You know, with that hair, and that black uniform, you look a little bit like . . . "
"Don't do that." Mikage pushed Touga's hand away.
Touga felt the silky brush of Mikage's hair against his fingertips for just an instant before he was pushed back. Mikage's manner was restrained, but there was a hint of irritation in his looks. A hint of something else, too. Touga was sixteen, but he had learned a long time ago to recognize those who liked boys even younger.
"Oh," he said. "Interesting."
"I said don't--"
"You could do it to me, if you'd prefer," said Touga. A murmur. A curved smile, leaning close. It was already close quarters in the elevator.
Mikage's breath hitched. Underneath the restrained exterior, panic. "This isn't how it works!"
"How does it work?"
"You're not in a position to--"
"I'm not?" Lazily. Mikage's cheeks blossomed rose pink like his hair.
"You're not in a position to be told anything--"
"And you are?"
"Of course. I take my orders directly from--"
There was the sound of grinding gears, and the figure in front of him was disappearing somehow, and a deep, soft voice behind him said, "The Ends of the World."
"Oh," said Touga, dizzily
"Are you enjoying this game?" said the voice softly.
"I . . . "
"I . . . don't . . . " The walls were growing hazy. He forced back the wrong questions, What's happening? What are you doing here?
Fingers were idly playing with his top button. Touga raised his hand instinctively, but he found that the urge to resist was fickle. The path of his hand slowed and became languid.
The voice said, "Did you know that the name Akio derives from the name of the Morning Star?"
"The Morning Star," said Touga, shivering as fingers stroked him through the material of his shirt.
"The brightest star. But it's a sad namesake . . . the Morning Star can never rule the heavens. While the sun is in the sky, not even the brightest star can shine."
Touga said, a little breathlessly, "If I were the Morning Star, I'd stop the world from turning."
"Yes, that's your nature. It's only people who think they can win who really enjoy playing games."
Touga's world was slipping. He said, "I win everything, all the time--"
"Yes, that's your nature," said the voice.
"It's only the idea of someone beating me that really makes me-- "
"Yes, that's your nature," said the voice, in the same tone as it had said close your eyes. "Turn around."
When the moment came, he thought of leaves and of pinned up butterflies. Of struggling and of uncaring butterflies. He thought of steel fingers encircling his wrists. The buttons on his shirt and pants seemed to undo themselves. He felt the push of something against him and he thought, no, not that, it's too much. He was so tightly resistant to the idea that his eyes squeezed shut and his body locked down with tension. But his breath was coming faster, the pleasure was building, a frantic, desperate feeling, until he wanted it, and he lost control of the sounds that he was making, and he pushed back--
Gears were turning, they were moving again. Speeding up.
Makes me . . .
A sword and a girl. Red petals lifting on the breeze then scattering. The shock of being on his knees, of losing. A sword and a girl, pink hair slipping away from his fingers, and just for an instant she'd looked like a princess even though she always wore boys' clothes.
The world exploded. The elevator hit bottom, the car crashing, screeching as it smashed into the last floor.
Touga's eyes opened. He came back to himself slowly, like a dreamy child waking in a comfortable bed. After a moment, his hand rose to push his hair out of his face. He wasn't in a bed, he discovered. He was standing, sprawled against an elevator wall. And he could remember . . . something. Hands, sliding in under his uniform. No, not that. A sword dragging itself out of his chest.
No. He pressed the heel of his palm to his temple. The moment was fading. His Student Council jacket was lying in a crumpled heap on the floor. On the walls, behind glass, a leaf and a butterfly winked at him. He remembered saying, this game is about asking the right questions. He remembered a voice saying, You haven't asked the right question yet.
His memory was hazy. But he was learning something.
He looked over at Mikage.
"I understand," said Mikage. "You have no choice but to revolutionize the world. The way before you has been prep--"
"Excuse me," said Touga, hooking up his jacket. "I think you'll find that we're back on the ground floor."
Stunned, as Touga walked towards him. As Touga paused beside him, stunned.
For a moment, Touga and Mikage stood side by side. Mikage wore a black uniform instead of Touga's white one, however, he wasn't a mirror image of Touga. He was much shorter, and had paler hair.
"It's nothing personal," said Touga. "It just turns out that you're not important after all. As for your interference with the Student Council . . . "
Touga smiled and began to walk away.
He was learning something. He was learning the way things worked.
He said, " . . . I'm going to forget it ever happened."
"I can't believe you forgot where you left Nanami-sama's notebook," said Keiko.
"I can't believe that either," said Aiko.
Yuuko was pleading with them. "I'll find it before tomorrow."
"I hope so," said Keiko.
"For your sake," said Aiko.
"I can't believe it," repeated Keiko.
"Me neither," said Aiko.
"I--" began Keiko, and then she stopped dead. They had reached the door to their classroom. There, next to the door, standing in the grey plastic umbrella rack, was a bright yellow umbrella.
She forgot the notebook. She stared at the umbrella.
"What is it?" said Aiko.
"Keiko?" said Yuuko.
Keiko barely heard them. The feeling of horror that had vanished with Touga's smile now returned, tenfold. There was a note pinned to the umbrella. She reached for it with trembling fingers, pulled it from the umbrella. Unfolded it. Looked down at the words.
The note said:
You may not remember the night you spent in my house, but you left your umbrella.
"I'm surprised to see you this late in the evening."
"Isn't it natural for the President of the Student Council to seek out the advice of the Chairman of the Board of Trustees?"
"Do you need advice?"
"No. Are you surprised to see me?"
Touga unbuttoned his jacket and threw it over the back of the chair. His question was not meant to be answered.
"Please. Have a seat. Tell me, what did you think of the elevator?"
"Well, it's such a long way up. You didn't tell me it was more than three floors. I found myself thinking, 'When it arrives and the doors open, I'm going to see the Ends of the World.'"
Akio gave Touga a long, slow smile. "You really are the most enterprising student at the Academy."
"I really am," said Touga.
Akio was seated casually on the couch. Touga stood before him, his shirt unbuttoned and his jacket gone.
"It turns out that I just have one question," said Touga, softly.
Touga slid his fingers over the taut muscles of his belly, and, watching the reaction through his lashes, said, "Tell me . . . what can I do for you, Mr. Chairman?"
A sharp tug forward, steel fingers encircling his wrist.
He lay in a bed, drifting beneath the stars of the planetarium, obedient to the smooth, familiar voice in his ear.
"Turn this way. What do you see?"
"Now open your eyes."