He hurt her, stifled her, took her for granted, and still wanted her to make him a better man. A look at Saionji and Anthy before the series began, and an attempt to answer the question "No, really...
- The Iliad
He hadn't been impressed, when Touga pressed the opera glasses into his hand. This wasn't his way of fighting, the cool-minded study that Touga practiced – he hadn't the head for it. Beyond that, it was wrong, even idiotic; a spy's domain, not that of an honest man.
You'll learn something, Touga had promised, with that devil-may-care smile on his face. That had sounded not a little like an insult, and Saionji had been ready with a harsh rejoinder before Touga's unruffled calm had taken his strength away. And aren't we all ready to learn, all the time? Dear old friend?
Then he'd left Saionji to his high place. The bells were ringing.
Saionji had watched through faux-binoculars as Touga and Arisugawa saluted each other with their swords, and the girl Touga kept back from the world pinned flowers to their chests. Himemiya. She had a strange walk. A strange manner. A strange... There was something to her, something Saionji didn't see in the writhing mass of Ohtori girls with their shrieks and cries and idolatory, and he kept the glasses on her for a moment after the Duel had begun.
He was sure she looked back at him.
Saionji was almost too distracted by the girl to learn the lesson Touga had promised, and perhaps not the lesson he had intended – Touga's bluffs and feints could not compare to Arisugawa's implacable counter, and his vicious grace was no match for her elegant ferocity. Her sabre struck a spray of red from his chest, and for a moment Saionji's heart was in his throat before he realised...
Rose petals. Just rose petals.
The bells were still ringing when he saw Touga afterwards, still sweating from the Duel, an incomprehending scowl almost showing through the pretty mask of amused condescension. Saionji thought for many years afterwards that he could have, would have, should have made a comment there... but hidden in his heart, he knew that no clever putdown could possibly match the feeling of seeing Touga try and fail to mask his disbelief.
A week later he'd received a letter, an unsigned letter closed with a Rose Seal. Easy enough to know the sender, and to know the purpose, and Saionji pulled it open with mixed excitement and suspicion.
Jan, ken, pon, it said, without salutation. That which overpowers a power is powerless before the power of another. There is not the strength in a woman's hand to open the door that precedes Revolution. As Musashi took a boat to Kojiro's island and bore a wooden sword in his hand, so shall you find a staircase and a green rose. The time is yours and yours alone.
The riddles had been plain enough.
When the girl – Himemiya – pinned a green rose to his chest, for a moment he saw nothing but the darkness of her hair. Heavily restrained, in its tight cap of curls, and yet so thick and rich a man might fear drowning. When she looked up, for a moment her eyes were hidden behind bright shields, and then he saw them; green to purple. She told him that to lose his rose would be to lose the Duel. He said nothing.
It was easy to forget the magic afterwards. Easy to ignore it, in point of fact. Wasn't important. What had been important had been meeting Arisugawa's implacable counter with his indomitable strength, all her shifting defences useless against a blow that brooked no turning. Her style had a certain irresistability to it, that her blows would come when least expected, from angles impossible to parry... but where Touga tried to meet sophistication with sophistication, Saionji simply bulled through.
She struck towards his rose. It was a perfect attack – dodging away from it would either ruin his stance or place his rose in an easy position for a second cut, parrying it would break the flow of his combat, and there was no sane way to avoid it without handing her the Duel in the process.
So Saionji took the insane way.
He twisted his body, rather than dodging, and the blow that would have taken his rose skittered up the right side of his chest, tearing his Student Council uniform and the skin beneath. Afterwards, thinking back, he would become sure he had heard a clatter of the sword tip over his ribs. He reached out, grabbed for her rose – she dodged – he caught her throat instead, some gritty texture under the high collar of her Student Council jacket. With brutal strength, he pulled her body one way, slashed the sword another. Orange petals fluttered up in the air.
Another blank, there. It wasn't important what had happened directly after the Duel, it had no place in his memory. Himemiya hadn't been on the platform any more. He'd walked down the stairs, stumbling, almost falling. At one point he slipped on a trail of his blood, pouring sluggishly from the tear in his chest. What happens to the Duels if the Victor dies? he thought to himself, and something that was not himself replied: Nonsense. How can you die without being born?
She presented herself to him at the bottom, her red gown replaced by white blouse, his white jacket becoming red. And once she'd named herself his, with a formality that pleased him, she offered to take him to the infirmary.
"No," he'd said, not knowing why. "You do it."
She had. She'd unbuttoned his jacket, slid it gently off his shoulders, washed the wound with something that stung and felt hot and cold at once, began to stitch his skin closed with a sharp needle and a practiced hand. He wondered why she had a first aid kit so close – remembered that she must have seen him injured, at the last – wondered how she could have gotten to it so quickly – wondered why he was wondering at all, when something in his life was going rightly at last.
"It is as well as I can make it, Saionji-sama," she'd said in a low tone, looking into his eyes. She was standing above him as he lay on the bench, and yet she wasn't looking down at him. For once in his life...
"Saionji-sama?" she asked, leaning her head forward so that her glasses caught the light.
"/Anthy/," he said, and led her home.
For days he was not seen without her. He was first out of his soon-forgotten classes, lurking outside her classroom to take her arm and guide her. During his kendo meets, she stood aside, shielded from the violence of the non-Duel duels by her blank-faced smile and light-shield glasses.
Touga had kept her in reserve – as a trump card, known only to the Student Council. Arisugawa had disdained her altogether, and Saionji didn't believe that she'd spoken to her even once. Saionji, and Saionji alone, all but paraded her around the Academy. Look at her, he proclaimed, and look at me, look what I have, look what I won, look what I took and keep for my own. He kept a gentlemanly distance from her, though; there were no burning kisses in the rose garden to be talked over in hushed giggles throughout the school.
They were the talk of the rumour mill, nonetheless. Student Council Vice-President Saionji Kyouichi, beloved fierce icon of a hundred girls who wanted to take him home and heal his heart; and strange, plain Himemiya Anthy, apart by her very existence. The kinder voices admitted that they looked good together; Anthy's darkness, purple hair, green eyes all an inversion of Saionji's colours, her small fragility fitting well with his size and passion. The more daring voices wondered at what happened in Saionji's dorm room after curfew. Most just spat quiet venom.
But he had her. Saionji Kyouichi was the Victor and the Rose Bride belonged to him. For the first few days, they were inseparable; for the first few days, it was good.
It took him a week to hurt her the first time.
It was getting towards evening, the sky painted in reds and orange by sunset, and Anthy was sitting demurely with her legs folded under her, watching a tiny portable TV. There was some fashion show on it, a Something Dior exhibition... Saionji hadn't been paying attention. He didn't care much for fashion and he had grander things on his mind. He had paced as he talked, voice flowing as readily as thought.
"...so now I'll keep you, against all comers, whoever chooses to challenge me, you needn't worry, I'll not let them take you from me. Touga. He thinks himself paper to my rock, like the letter said, but I know him as well as he knows me, I can teach him a lesson... Besides, I'm different now than I was then, I've got you behind me..."
He looked at her. Her attention to the Sebastian Whatever show was unblinking.
"Anthy, are you listening?"
"Yes, Saionji-sama," she'd said, with an easygoing irrelevance that suddenly and mindlessly enraged him.
Even his Student Council dorm room wasn't large, and Saionji – long-legged – could cross the floor in two strides. Far enough, anyway. Far enough to extend his arm, palm open, and bring it around with a force that knocked her off her chair, a sound that rebounded throughout his room like echoes in a cave.
And for a moment, he stood in silence, as she raised a shivering brown hand to touch her cheek.
Knew it wouldn't take you long, said the voice in his mind he supposed he could call the superego, the part of himself that insulted him and berated him and always sounded like Touga without the charm. How long does it take you to fuck up anything. really? A week and you've lost the perfect girl...
She turned to look at him. There was no accusation in those deep green eyes, no resentment, no hatred. They were empty of any such emotion, and Saionji found himself drawing strength from that.
"If you're listening," he said, and his voice barely quivered, "then /listen/."
"Yes, Saionji-sama. Please forgive me." A soft voice and lowered eyes, and Saionji felt something growing inside his chest, something hot and unwelcome but not entirely unpleasant. "I believe that you can defeat Touga, Saionji-sama."
He didn't answer, as the heat in his chest spread its wings and tightened its claws.
There were many steps to the masquerade waltz they indulged in, and most of them she taught him with no objections to the dance. It wouldn't do to have open scandal around the Student Council, so that the students could start to wonder if the Councillors were truly necessary, or should be openly elected rather than secretly appointed. So they danced, and Anthy danced beautifully.
For bruises on the face, there was makeup, dark foundation to match her skin, light powder on each cheek to make them match. Even the occasional black eye could be drawn down by a dusting of makeup, made less apparent. Long skirts drew attention at Ohtori, but not as much as would have met the even, angry, red-black slat bruises on her calves. (He had shoved her into a chair for trying to leave the room while he was still talking, her legs had hit the seat too hard...) Proper application of starch to her blouse in the laundry made the collar high enough to hide a purpling necklace around her throat. Beyond that, there were old standby excuses. There were always staircases that she could have fallen down, or doors that she could have walked into, and if she seemed more clumsy recently than usual, well, that proved nothing. If all else failed, he had been watching around her classroom long enough now that no one took it amiss when he told the class rep that "Himemiya Anthy will not attend class today, due to illness".
Though there was a brown-haired girl who kept watching him, brown eyes wide and lips slightly parted, whenever he was in the room, and it made him want to grab her by the throat and shake her and shout Don't judge me! Don't you dare judge me! I'm the Victor by Rose Seal law and I'm doing what's right, only what's right, always what's right!
But if he looked back at her, she averted her eyes, and that was good enough.
On his way to class, Saionji passed by an orange-painted wall, and without fanfare, two girls' shadows appeared upon it.
"Behold!" said one, raising her hands and forming her fingers into claws. "For the sin of inhospitality, I have been cursed into the form of a terrible beast! Only by the love of a pure maiden can I be saved!"
Another girl - "I'll give you the love you need!" And then, without apparent change, all that could be seen were the shadows of her open hands. "I love you, I love you, my heart is only love for you!"
"But will you love me when you see how hairy and warped my body is?"
"I will! I love you, I love you, my heart is only love for you!"
"Will you love me when I spend all day watching television and not paying attention when you speak to me?"
"I will! I love you, I love you, my heart is only love for you!"
"Will you love me when I go without showering for weeks and smell of rotting meat and sour onions?"
"I will! I love you, I love you, my heart is only love for you!"
The Beast-shadow reached her long-fingered hands into the maiden-shadow and quite deftly pulled out her heart, to the maiden's piteous wail:
"Oh, my love, you've killed me!"
The Beast sounded uncomfortable, but not contrite in her reply. "Well, I just had to make sure you were telling the truth."
There was a moment's tableau, as if the shadows waited for some acknowledgement, and Saionji found himself saying: "She probably never truly loved him, anyway."
Equally without fanfare, the lights went out.
For all the makeup and starch and imaginary doors, he only drew her blood once.
She had been asleep, and someone who didn't know better might describe her sleep as blissful. Saionji had been with her long enough to know differently. In the night, she moved against him as if avoiding a hundred different discomforts – or, he'd once thought blackly, like an insect impaled and wriggling its death throes. He wondered, sometimes, what nightmares she might be having, and repeatedly told himself that he wasn't the cause.
He'd grown to find her presence comforting. She was warm against him, her smooth back against his chest, and - when she didn't whisper those half-heard pain sounds - her quiet, steady breathing was reassuring. Saionji would disdain that idea, that he took comfort from her. He wasn't a /child/, still needing a soft toy to lull him to sleep. He couldn't deny, though, that he didn't take anything else. Both he and Anthy went to bed and woke up in nightclothes.
Touga had found this out, with the overt and candid questions that always set Saionji off-balance like a spinning top. You want to take your Bride to the altar in white, then, he'd said, with a sardonic edge hidden just at the end of his words, like the tip of a knife. Saionji hadn't been able to think of a response, besides spitting that marrying in white was a European idea. White for funerals. Ever since that, he'd dreamed of walking down the aisle in a Western wedding, but the Bride was in a coffin, and when Saionji reached the altar it had started to open...
One of those quiet whimpering pain-sounds from Anthy, and Saionji realised that his hand on her thigh was squeezing hard enough to bruise. He forced himself to relax.
He was not a virgin, and hadn't been for some time now - there had been stolen moments after half-meant Duels, clothing in disarray and Touga's body hot against his own, muffled male gasping from one or both of them... But even with those memories locked in iron boxes at the back of his mind, there had been girls swooning over him on a regular basis, and Touga's veiled references to his latest conquest to spur him on. All that had come of any such encounter was embarrassing disappointment, though; Saionji had come to realise that this was the case of any interaction with women, and as such he avoided it whenever possible.
But Anthy was different.
So why do you never touch her? The voice of his thoughts wasn't the disapproving Touga-like mockery of his superego, but a darker voice, coming from hidden places. It never restricted, always inflamed, moved him to perform great things that seemed more and more petty as time went by. The most horrible thing of all was that it sounded most like Saionji himself.
As if to deny that voice, he raised his hand, covered her breast with it. The squeeze this time was entirely intentional, and he didn't know if the pained little whimper she made was coincidental or a consequence.
For a moment, the room was quiet again, but for her breathing, and the beat of her heart through his hand – a steady, drumming patter, like a thief's footsteps. Too fast. A sleeping girl's heart shouldn't beat this fast. Saionji found some insane part of his mind wondering how fast his own heart beat.
He could almost get to sleep like this, with his Anthy in his arms, feeling her heartbeat, when that instigator voice spoke again.
Touga would have done a lot more than touch by now.
And that was all.
Her nightgown was made of some surprisingly sturdy fabric, but it ripped easily enough, the sound of the tear filling the room with shocking gunshot-volume. He didn't know if it was that which woke her up, muzzy at first but soon panic-aware, or forcing her by her shoulder onto her back. He looked down at her as he pulled off her nightcap, let too-long purple hair spread over his pillow, over his bed. Her eyes were so green, so deep...
Caves are deep. The superego-voice again. And pits, and chasms. Places where the land has been removed. So what do you mean when you say deep, Kyouichi? You mean empty.
It didn't stop him, it couldn't stop him, fumbling his own nightclothes away with an idiot-carefulness. Her heart was beating still faster now, not sneaking but running, and her breath came quick – fear or arousal? – but she lay under him quiet and submissive as she always did, waiting for whatever he would choose to do to her.
He buried his face in the side of her neck at the moment that he entered her, so that he didn't see her face. He heard her, though, a quiet birdlike cry not too distinct from the whimpers she made in her nightmares. The heat in his chest dug in claws again, set his whole body to trembling, moving atop her in a frenzy like a Duel. She lay still throughout, but Saionji barely noticed – when he came, feeling all his muscles lock in perfect tension and then release, he heard her quiet sigh. It was easy enough to interpret as pleasure.
He could taste copper and spices, some narcotic taste as exotic as her dark skin. He wondered if that was proof enough of his passion, to hallucinate as he took her, and then he noticed the animal bites on her neck and the blood that almost filled his mouth. It ran from those indiscreet, indelicate bitemarks in little rivulets, staining the bedsheets. The noises of her pain now were different, more immediate.
He supposed, later, that he must have swallowed.
"I'll get you a bandage," he murmured, in the beginnings of torpor.
And, amazingly, she balked his will – perhaps it was only the sexual high that kept him from hurting her more severely than he already had. "It will be all right, Saionji-sama," she whispered, and despite the noises she made in her nightmares, her voice was even and calm.
In the morning, the bite-marks and blood were gone as if they had never been there.
"You're a little late, old friend," Touga had said, sipping his tea as the builders laboured silently behind him. "The meeting is over for today – was it simply bad timing that kept you from the last three?"
Saionji didn't deign to respond, casting the Ends of the World's letter onto the table in front of him. Touga raised his eyebrow, picked it up, pulled it free of the already-savaged envelope.
"I'm surprised you would share this. Even with me."
"It's in English," Saionji replied, his voice abrupt. "I can get everything but one word. This one," he clarified, pulling the letter down to tap it.
"/Soon you shall reach the ceiling of your power,/" Touga read, in almost accentless English. "The word you missed is pronounced 'ceiling'. It means /tenjou/. And what do you think that our mutual benefactor means by this?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Saionji said, retrieving the letter. "The ceiling – the place above. We know how the Ends of the World uses wordplay in his letters. I'll simultaneously reach the height of my power and the literal ceiling. The castle. I'll beat you there. /Old friend./"
"Such a pleasant word to bear such venom," Touga murmured over his teacup, almost eclipsed by the sounds of the builders shouting as their construction toppled in upon itself.
"There's nothing pleasant about it." Saionji put the envelope back into his inside pocket, by the diary that still carried her jasmine-like scent.
"Then I suspect our next Student Council meeting will be to celebrate your victory and your Revolution," Touga said, without a trace of irony. "Will you pass by that one, as well?"
Saionji answered only with his back, as he walked away.
The forest has a hundred scents, of the plants that grow here, the air in the trees, Saionji wrote, leaning his back against the gate. But I can still smell your touch on the paper, through it all. It's your scent that drives me to ambition. It is as if I can feel you with me, looking up at the castle by my side.
He couldn't see it, of course, though he looked up instinctively. He wasn't beyond the gate – he wasn't in the Duel Arena. The Gates of Night wouldn't open for a Duellist alone. No matter. The time would come. The proper time, where he'd come not to gaze at the castle but to conquer it, with Anthy following behind him.
On that day/, he added to the journal, /no one will be able to stand before me.
He looked up. Through the forest, he could see the highway, and the bus bearing the new transfer students to Ohtori. There would be newcomers to his kendo club. He'd have to find someone to take over for him – he had more important things to worry about.
I see you there now, smiling as we walk through the doors. I see you there now, sitting a throne, finding the place that is made for you. I will dress you as befits a Princess and we'll find a happiness there – a happiness that lasts, that is enduring.
He made ready to close the book, stopped, and wrote one more word.
And the clump of page against page was very soft, as he looked up again. Past the fountain, past the trees, there – he knew it was there – the castle was suspended. It awaited only the proper moment, the proper person. And for once, the proper person was Saionji Kyouichi. He would ascend to a place prepared at last for /him/, and he would go beyond those doors. Everyone would only be able to follow where he led – like Anthy, who had followed him already, who had shown him for once in his life what it was to be /first/.
Saionji daydreamed of the castle, as the transfer students' bus passed out of his vision.