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SCENE 10 – Awakening

The hiss and hiss of steam, and the whir of gauges. The blaze of a furnace, smelling like an empty barbeque. Utena feels someone pull her by the arm, one tug, and another – as she feels the coal rocks beneath her roll with the motions. Her cheeks feel the metal flooring.

"Wake up!" That is Shinji's insistent tugs feels like the alarm clock announcing a new day. "Utena, please, wake up!"

So opening her eyes, there is Shinji, leaning over her – his face verging on being intimately close with hers. He lets out a sigh of relief, and she can just taste his breath, and it stirs something in her.

The rocks are whooshing by on the sides in this claustrophobic tunnel, and behind Shinji are the levers and illuminated gauges of the train engine.

"You're alright," Utena says.

"The conductor figured that the train could use another assistant," Shinji goes, pulling Utena up. "I'm checking the gauges – making sure the steam pressure doesn't fall too low, while the assistants are having a break. If it does, I add some more coal into the furnace. Utena, how did you wind up in the tender?"

"I was looking for you. I thought he'd thrown you off the train, and I saw footsteps leading to the front." She wonders if she should mention the mysterious girl.

"I thought.. I wouldn't matter to you or anyone," Shinji goes. "I've already exhausted your kindest generosity as it is. I just want to tell you.. thanks for rescuing me."

Utena blushes. She is just happy to have found him, and her heart is fluttering now that it seems that they're alone wonders if he is noticing this – if she's embarrassing herself, or if he might be feeling the same way too, more or less.

Shinji offers her a handkerchief, notioning at her face. "You're covered all over." He's right; the silk robe Utena's wearing has been blemished with charcoal soot (Nanami's going to throw a fit!), and some of the soot is on her hands. Utena generously wipes her hands and face, before handing it back to him.

"Thanks," Utena says, smiling brightly.

The train whooshes out of the tunnel into a very opaque, electric mist – a mist that is hanging outside awareness. Suddenly the train passes through that, and it is seemingly flying in mid-air in a space of pink clouds scattered all over like bubbles, as far as the eye can see – you would look around for the light and you'd seea moon much bigger than usual; it is a kind of moon which you'd usually find in storybooks, a moon which radiates especially with the fervour of the sun.

An alarm goes off. Shinji rushes to the gauges and sees that it is the steam pressure gauge which is rapidly falling. "Oh no! Utena! Help me shovel the coal!"

But another voice chirps in, "It's not the coal, it's the air pressure that's different – you've got to pull the dampening rod!"

That is one of the engineers, popping out from underneath the tender car, and he is clambering up to the cockpit where Shinji is at a loss figuring out where the dampening rod is.

"Here, you pull this," the engineer goes, pulling what looks like a red rod beside the furnace, and suddenly the hissing of the steam seems to drown away. "There. That keeps the fires burning, since we're now in airspace. And since the air inside isn't equalised with the outside anymore, if it needs more fuel, you'll have to pull the rod back to be able to open the furnace door – and wait for a bit as the air equalises again."

He notices Utena. "What's she doing here?"

"Oh.. that's one of my friends," Shinji goes. "She um.. the conductor brought her here."

"I see. Funny, we weren't told about having another visitor." The engineer inspects Utena, up and down. "You weren't playing around with the coal, were you?"

"I got a little lost," Utena says.

"You'd best watch yourself. Everything here is a delicate instrument, and one accidental press of a button at this point could send the Boreal Express whizz-bang. Got it?"

"Gotcha," Utena says. "How are we flying in the sky all of a sudden?"

"We aren't – the railways are built just like that to bring us there without having to resort giving wings to the train engine."

The engineer checks the rest of the gauges. "Alright, everything seems tipsy-turvy, so I'mma finish getting my shut-eye. Peace out." He disappears under the tender.

The wind whirls and danubes all over.

"Is this.. where Santa lives?" Utena asks.

"Your guess is as good as mine," Shinji says. "Once we arrive, if we get to meet Santa, what do you suppose you want to ask him for Christmas?"

A prayer, an unanswered prayer. "Why he never brought my Mom and Dad back to me when they died."

/

This was to be her tomb. Her new cradle. The darkness was a welcoming parent, who held the most kindest compassion for her,and she embraced it fully as she lay inside the casket, resting her head on the soft silky pillow. She would be like a dying animal, who after giving up all hopes for living, would find a quiet, lonely placeand bury itself under the leaves, and eventually die. Yes. And the soul would drain out of the body, to meet with those faces long lost in time and memory, once more in a place where love could still endure. Are you stroking my cheek? Are you whispering in my ear? Are you with me now? May we never leave each other.

She wondered how long it would take for her to die. If she died, who would really miss her? Her grandparents, who would soon die? Her friends, who would forget her as they grew up? Spike.. who would never know about her fate? In the end, Time erodes all things, and that is the bittersweet truth underlying reality. Eternity is just wishful thinking, and Eternity is what she'll embrace.

She deserved to die.

(And will there be love for her afterwards?)

"Say goodbye, Utena," her Papa said, before he took her home.

"Goodbye.." Utena whispered.

Then she heard the door open from the distance, and some faint footsteps. She didn't stir. It must be those caretakers looking for her after she'd run off from the funeral rites. Their voices were young though. She could hardly hear what they were saying – their footsteps approached closer.

"Are you sure she's here?" a boy said. "She isn't in that coffin, Touga, please, let's look someplace else! We're not allowed in this room!"

"We have to look everywhere.." another boy said.

"Touga, what are you doing! Don't open it!"

Utena saw the first ray of light enter the coffin, and it grew more brighter as the coffin lid was opened. She saw the boy with red hair haul the lid away, with a loud and heart-shuddering thud when it landed.

"Leave me alone," Utena said, turning her face away into the pillow which absorbed her tears. "I just want to sleep."

"She's been hiding in a place like this?" the first boy said. "Who would've thought..?"

"Miss, everyone's been looking for you all over," the red-haired boy said.

"Are you going to tell them I'm here?" said Utena. She wished he'd put the lid back on; she was shrivelling under the light.

"Do you want me to?" the red-haired boy said.

"No. Because I belong here. I.. deserve to die."

"I.. see." the red-haired boy said.

"You don't deserve to die!" the first boy yelled. "Nobody deserves to die- because you always, always will have good things that come to you in the future! Believe me!"

"I'll never leave this coffin," Utena said. "I don't want to live anymore when everything I'll ever love will die. It's sickening. I'll never see anyone anymore, or come out into the sun anymore. It's alright now. You don't have to worry anymore, I'll be happy.."

When her parents' coffins had been lowered into their graves, Utena stood and watched, and all she could ever think about was when they'd given her the new skates, and she held them in her arms. And that memory of seeing her Mama, long ago, and she was held in her arms, and she could see her face in the night, as the moonlight shone through the windows. And everything was alright, she was content, and it was wonderful.

She would never see her Mama or Papa again, and that lock was turned in her heart when she'd bury away those memories, so they won't torment her anymore with that loss. Even so, they still come to her in her dreams and sometimes when she was awake, she could just hear them tell her, now and then, in her heart, "I'll always love you."

/

"I miss them so much," Utena cries, clutching onto Shinji with dear life. "When it's Christmas, I get so.. sad.. I feel I'm about to suffocate, and the only relief is to scream from out the very depths of my heart. But I can't. Because no one would want to hear me scream. So I cry alone into the pillow, holding onto it as if it would hold me too, granting me respite from the pain. And sometimes it isn't enough. It still hurts."

"I know.. how you feel," Shinji says, looking at her with the same look he had, when he stood outside, about to let the train pass him by – her eyes bearing sadness as his does also. "I'm sorry. I've lost my mother too, when I was little, and my dad.. my dad wouldn't give me anything for Christmas. I'm not good enough for him, I never was. I wish I could help bring your parents back somehow – if Santa will listen to me. I wish I could help take away all that pain and sadness.. I wish I could.. just.."

He loses his grasp of words; he's always wondered what it's like to kiss someone, maybe Asuka, and already it's so much more than he'd expected. He'd thought a kiss is reserved for romance, but a kiss too could heal the deepest wounds and bridge the loneliness between two souls.

The moment is just overwhelming, almost unbearable.

Utena can just taste his breath again, this close, and a mad fire is gnawing at her, setting her alight. "Shinji, I don't want to be alone anymore.. will you hold me?"

He is already willing; the look on her face is wonderfully sweet, the look of someone who has finally found another after so long, and she inches her lips towards his, wrapping her arms around him – they kiss, breathing each others' air, at first timid and hesitant and clumsy, and then resolute and poignant.

The haunting taste of love, and they hold each other in a long, passionate embrace, wanting it to never end. Utena just feels like her heart is also being kissed, and it starts pouring out of her, those emotions, and she holds him tighter, feeling his tongue in her mouth.

Their eyes are wide shut, blind to the world, aware of only each other. All Utena hears is his breathing and moaning, and all she feels is the warmth of his skin. When they long for breath and pull away, Utena sees him again, and she begins to cry, happily for a first time since a while, and her tears drip down her face and onto her chin.

(so vivid)

And Shinji, still retaining her taste, presses her towards him once more, in a hug that he should have had in his lonesome little life but didn't, a hug where he rests his face on her neck, her neck damp with hot sweat and thumping pulse, and feels an intense blush come across himself as he feels her living heartbeat alongside his.

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