It's morning when the yacht arrives by the docks of Tokyo, with the smog-filled ocean horizons. Utena gets off, and she shows her forged passport to the clerical officers, who muster a pregnant, eyebrow-raising glance, before letting her through.
Once, she'd watched the fishermen reel in hordes of koi amidst the glittering waters, before she'd set off for Ohtori Academy. Though she recognizes the modernized piers, albeit faintly, the hallowed mood of the faint, overcast sunrise sets her mind upon this world which has progressed forth without her.
She picks the first double-decker passenger bus from the queue. Her thumb purses over the Nokia phone, like an uncertain lifeline – she catches eyes with another woman, a blonde model, who could easily pass for Juri with her fey features.
When the bus drives off, Utena lets her thoughts dawdle, her eyes gazing past the skyscrapers at the mountain, which once held so many mysteries to her..
Wakaba.. would you ever forgive me for the pain and sullen withdrawal I've pushed you away with over those years? I swore that I'd never break your heart, and leave you, like how my own family had left me.
But life happens.. it just does.
(and all that's left of your roses are those withered, barren branches in the winter's sun)
Suddenly, you're over thirty-years old, a grown-ass woman, while a vital part of you still clings onto remaining seventeen: young and aching, and so vulnerable on the inside. Realistically speaking, you wouldn't hold on to someone who stopped mattering to you anymore. So why do I still think of you? Why can't I let you go, even now, like you did over me – remorselessly dropping me off that misty cliff where all I am to you is something that's better left forgotten? An untouched, undervalued memory, gathering dust ..
I don't entirely trust Souji. I've dealt with enough nonsense to just know he's not being entirely straight over helping me find Anthy again. After all, he did prey on those poor students in his Black Rose cult, all those years ago, pressing upon their personal insecurities, to have them all hound me in those duels. Why would he be any different today? He's a manipulator. That's what he does.. and I've seen enough movies to know it never, ever ends well – complying with a dubious partner true to the end.
I don't know where his self-proclaimed benevolence for me ends.. and his self-interest begins. I don't want to find out by the point where it's too late. I'll have to find a way to trip him up, one way or another..
Wakaba, I need you by my side. I really need you to be my friend again. A familiar face, anyone at all besides this electronic ghost of Christmas Past who knows me.. because I'm lost, spiritually adrift in time and space. Once I find your sweet eyes again, which had once given out so much delight and kindness, I hope.. you' ll find it in your being to hear me out, at least.
To know that I bare my heart when I say.. I still love you.
Utena's legs chafe after wandering past the crowded Buddhist temples. She's checked on Wakaba's feeds, enough to know that she lives around, or at least frequents the Asakusa prefecture with her newfound family – when she'd take photos by the river with her two kids, or dine-out by Sometaro when it's a joyous occasion.
But not enough to know to a certainty if Wakaba would even be around, if Utena should look by the river or the general area.
Her Nokia rings that trademark tune..
"Utena!" Souji barks. "Just what do you think you're doing?"
Jeez, he's quite demanding.
"Oh, I'm admiring the area.." Utena goes. "I'm looking for Wakaba. What, is that any of your business?"
"This is no time for you to dally off! Need I remind you that you are being hunted down by INTERPOL agents? That forged identity isn't so you can relax off on memory lane, you know."
Utena sighs. "She can help us with finding Ohtori – you do know what friendship is, right? Maybe you can find out where she's at?"
"Perhaps you mean she can help you in reconnecting as a friend?" (She bites her lip; he's not exactly a mind-reader, yet..) "There is nothing in her social media posts which indicate she even misses you, let alone think of you."
While Utena presses the oversized phone over her ear, there's a family nearby who's letting their boys play soccer in the streets. The ball whizzes between her legs, but what especially arrests her eyes is the way the wife looks on adoringly over her children, before receiving her husband's kiss. Utena touches her own lips in kind; what she'd give to be kissed lovingly in return, in a city of millions..
"Utena," Souji goes, "whatever you might think of her, she's not relevant to our mission. You are to proceed towards the University of Tokyo – I've had my lackeys prepare you a little something, which will aid us in our eventual confrontation with Akio..."
"Oh blah blah blah!" Utena says, blotting out the earpiece with her hand. "Listen, Souji, if you want me to trust you, then all I ask for is a little trust in return. Can you tell me where she is?"
"Yes, I could.. even though it'll be most counter-productive."
"Will you tell me?"
"She's not anywhere on the streets, but at home."
The doorbell rings, and Wakaba's daughter, who had been giving her mother a back rub on the sofa, ends up answering the door..
"Hi, is err.. Wakaba at home?"
"Hold on – Mama! There's this lady who wants to talk with you!"
It's been raining for the past 10 minutes; Utena relishes being under the rainshade's relief, running her fingers through her sopping wet hair – dripping by the ends, squeezing out the moisture. She's dreamed of this moment, and with trepidation in her heart, it is happening..
"Hallo?" It's Wakaba. Utena glances over her former friend, who's in her bathrobe wearing hair curlers. Wakaba has settled into being a housewife. "Can I help you?"
She musters all the strength in her being to hide her swelling emotions..
"Do you remember Ohtori?"
"Ohtori.. I've studied there. Why? Are they having a class reunion?"
"In a sense, yes." Utena's acting instincts are kicking in. "I'm going from door-to-door, finding classmates who've graduated in 2000. Are you Shinohara Wakaba?"
"I don't go by that name anymore – it's Gwang-Jong Wakaba now. Oh, I know, my husband, he's a former boy-band singer from Korea, and he's just the best.. you've simply got to try some of his noodles!"
"Well, might I come in for a brief interview?" Utena gestures at the rainy streets behind her. "I really hate having to ask you this of all people – you're too nice, it's just I wasn't.. I didn't bring my umbrella."
Utena hovers over the family portraits, where Wakaba has married by the Shinto steps with her coquettish lover. And centre over the shelf of incense, it's a picture of her mother -
"She died three years ago from brain cancer," Wakaba goes. "God rest her soul."
Wakaba's Alexa blares out: "You requested – 'God Bless Our Soul'. I am searching-"
"Shaddup! Sorry. I need to get that thing fixed. I swear, it overhears every word out of our mouths.."
Utena sighs. "I wish I could have been there for you.."
"Eh?" Wakaba sips her tea.
"Ermm-" Utena says, "I'm terribly sorry about that. Even though Ohtori Academy is no longer offically around, we'd still like to honour everyone who's attended – and I'll be sure to put a word in so that you'll receive financial compensation for your loss."
"Really?" Wakaba's eyes glow, and Utena sees her old classmate emerging. "But.. I don't know if I could accept this.."
Then Wakaba pauses – spotting the ring upon Utena's hand. "Wait, that looks familiar – I've always told my old friend how pretty it looks on her. Can I see?"
Utena raises her hand out; Wakaba fawns over the little piece of jewelry, to the point where it slips off her finger, resoundly clattering onto the floor. "Oops." The housewife kneels to pick it back up, before catching a forlorn gaze from the visitor, out the corner of her eye.
"Wakaba," she goes, laying a hand over Wakaba's shoulder as they meet each other's eyes. "I'm Utena."
"It can't be – how'd- why'd you come all the way here?"
Utena rests her back upon the wall, trying to come up with a nice explanation. And it's weird – to think of a moment, and to actually live it are two different things entirely. In the end, she simply says: "Because I need your help."
Then Utena, warily looking at the Amazon Assistant that's perched on the table, walks over and grabs the sucker – tossing the thing out the window into the rain.
"What was THAT for!?" Wakaba goes, fuming. "You don't just go to someone's home and just- just do that! What's wrong with you, Utena! What's happened to you?"
"Wakaba.. I can tell you a million different ways how sorry I am – how I haven't been the person you've once fondly known, growing up, and all that's apparently left is this moody-ass, self-absorbed bitch who's just pushed you, and everyone away these past years. But he's listening.. Mikage Souji."
"Souji?! He's been dead, Utena, I think you might be off your meds-"
Utena pulls out the black Nokia and the fake ID. "He gave me these. He lives on as some.. spooky spirit on the internet. That's how I knew where to find you.. damnit, I can't even explain myself properly without sounding like a loon.."
Her thoughts race – would Wakaba even believe that she met Souji over Fortnite® of all things?
"Utena, why don't you try to calm down, and explain from the beginning what's going on?"
"I can't.. you wouldn't believe me no matter how hard I tried."
Utena sits upon the couch, her hands squeezing her knees as if her kneecaps hold the hidden answer to life. As she does so, Wakaba's daughter peeks around the corner – staring at Utena with heavy suspicion.
"What I can say is," Utena says, "I met him by accident online. Ever since I've gotten involved with him, the police are on my tail. Now he has me caught in a chokehold, and he wants me to head over to the University to receive some kind of gift.. because he's got this score to settle with Ohtori and Akio. I- I don't blame you if you decide to call all of this what it sounds like, utter lunacy."
Wakaba seems to soften, as if filled with pity over her former friend. "It sounds like you're sure in a lot of trouble."
"I am," Utena goes, while Wakaba's daughter sneaks over to poke her mom. "And now that I see you and your beautiful family, oh, it pains me with the thought of even getting you involved in my mess."
"Mami.." her daughter goes, tugging at Wakaba's dress. "You gotta see this-"
"Later! Go back to the living room, we're having grown-up talk!"
"Wakaba—" Utena says, her real emotions breaking out, "for as long as I've known you, you've always been a sweet, caring and supportive person. I just wish I had someone to be by my side again, like when I'd lost my parents, because now I'm rolling along this road.. all alone in the dark, and I don't know anyone else who'll pull me back from the brink when I fall off-"
"Utena, this isn't you!" Wakaba shakes her back to reality. "You're a brave prince! You stood up for me so many times in Ohtori – get a hold of yourself! I don't think you went all the way through.. whatever it is that's happened, just so you can end up feeling sorry for yourself on my couch!"
"Then won't you be my friend again?"
Wakaba is torn with paralyzing indecision. She turns her head aside to see her daughter run around the corner, before looking back on Utena, who is pleading.
"What do you need me to do?" Wakaba asks.
"Go with me to the University," Utena says. "Then the resting place where Ohtori once was. If anything happens, at least you can call the police and tell them what really happened.."
Suddenly, the TV is on full-blast. What you can hear is the news reporter, mentioning Utena by her full name..
"Mama! She's a pedophile!"
Like an entranced deer, Wakaba heads over to the living room, where the news is broadcasting a special bulletin regarding INTERPOL's newest fugitive: Utena Tenjou.
"It's hard to realise how a child predator, not to mention a hacker associate, could easily lurk among us, posing as a regular citizen. They could be your neighbour, your boss, your co-worker. Real monsters will never tell you what monstrous and vile deeds they've done in the dark. Upon scavenging the hard drives of Utena's personal computer, authorities have discovered shocking footage, depicting several children being ordered around in some kind of basement."
Utena herself peers around the corner, a mounting dread in her stomach, while she sees Wakaba frozen still in horror.
"One of the identified victims in the video, Raki, is now live with us.. Raki – what can you tell us about Utena?"
Raki is awkwardly caught in the camera's gaze. "Raki, do you have any words to share regarding your so-called friend?"
"Umm.. the last time I saw her, she told me she had to go away on a trip somewhere, and I just said goodbye to her, that's all."
"A trip. Well, thank you so much Raki, for being brave. Victims of sexual assault will occasionally repress their traumatic memories, but you can see it in Raki's eyes that he's endured quite a horrifying ordeal while in Utena's clutches-"
"Bullshit!" Utena screams. "That's complete bullshit! He- he planted that on my hard drive!"
In the living room, Wakaba's husband, who has just gotten off the phone, and is visibly rattled upon seeing Utena. "You were Wakaba's friend from Ohtori, right?"
Despite his slender K-Pop frame which has taken on a couple pounds since marriage, Utena is terrified that such a sweet, kind man who's been a loving husband to Wakaba – is already transforming into a homicidal maniac, out for her blood.
"No.." Utena backs away, feeling the last vestiges of family warmth drain from this home. Wakaba holds her daughter protectively, while it isn't anger or abject hatred which leeches out from her face, but sheer disappointment.
"Did you just come here so you can end up kidnapping our daughter?" The husband grabs the nearby bust of one Yukio Mishima, and wielding it like a cudgel, lunges for Utena. He misses, leaving a huge dent in the wall. "GET BACK HERE, you sick, demented child-obsessed freak!"
Utena almost stumbles, scrambling to grab the fake ID and phone off the table. The husband lands a glancing blow on her arm, which has Utena howling in pain.
"Get her, daddy!"
"I'm not a monster!" Utena cries out, as the husband lands a good hit on her back, keeling her over on the ground, crawling. "H-help.."
When Utena rolls over to see her attacker, he's about to land the finishing blow on her face – the coup-de-grace, when Wakaba intervenes, grabbing her husband enough to have him lose grasp on the heavy bust.
"Utena!" Wakaba struggles to contain her hubby's wrath. "Just run, run before the police arrive.."
As Utena picks herself up, she wipes the blood from her nose.
"But mama," Wakaba's daughter whines, "she'll get away!"
"She's my friend.."
Little does Utena realise, shutting the door behind herself, that she's left her rose signet behind in that house. She can hear the sirens coming around the corner – going back onto the street isn't an option. So she musters her last reserves of energy in clambering over the side fences, from home to home – knowing that the police are forming a perimeter. Soon, a helicopter would be called in, and by then it'll be too late for her to flee..
She is a fugitive.