Loveless: on gossamer wings he flies
“Oh look,” says Yuiko. “A butterfly.”
It rains all throughout the end of the month, and only on the very last day does the sun break through. It’s almost too late in the year for flowers, but a few sad bruised specimens remain along the side of the path, bowed low under their own damp weight. A pure-white butterfly rests on one, wings slowly moving as though for balance. In the sunlight, it glows like a dropped pearl.
Ritsuka crouches down to get a better look and it flutters away, its wings bright against the clear sky.
Even though it’s grown cold in the evenings, Ritsuka leaves his window open more often than not. It’s not like leaving it closed is any deterrant. Ritsuka sits at his desk with his shoulders hunched, and he’s somehow proud of himself by not jumping when Soubi’s hands settle on his shoulders. The fingers are long enough to almost reach his elbows.
“I’m doing homework,” he says. “Can’t you wait?”
“I missed you,” Soubi says. He leans in close; Ritsuka wrinkles his nose at the smell of smoke. He tolerates it for another minute before he wriggles and shrugs his shoulders. Soubi steps back almost before he completes the first movement, but then flows back in to resettle around him again. When he bends down, his hair tickles Ritsuka’s cheek. Closer now, he smells more like soap than cigarettes.
“Yeah, well,” Ritsuka says, and doesn’t shrug him off this time, “you can miss me somewhere else, right?”
Soubi’s lips press to his temple. They’re warm and dry. “I want to be here, though,” he says. His breath stirs Ritsuka’s hair. “With Ritsuka.”
“… Fine,” he says. He closes his eyes and thinks of the flutter of wings against his face.
“There, look,” says Yuiko. She points. “Ritsuka-kun, look!”
Ritsuka leans over to see; it’s blue with black banding across the wings, resting delicately on the railing.
Years later a woman stands on the harbor and watches the waves come rolling in. She is no longer young but not yet old: there are lines around her eyes and mouth and wisps of gray in her dark hair. Methodically she pulls each pin from her hair so that it slumps out of its tight bun, half-obscuring her face. She does not look up at the sound of geta on the stones behind her.
“Sometimes I think,” she says, and opens her fingers so that the pins fall away, into the ocean, “that this is all just the delayed reaction of the curse. Did you know Odajima-sama is dead?”
There is silence. She still doesn’t look. “They said I’m sick. Maybe I won’t last the year.” She tips her head back and shakes it so that the movement cards her hair into a long way around her. “Do you have anything for that, Mr. Medicine Seller?”
He sighs; his voice is no different than it once was. From the corner of one eye, she sees the flutter of his sleeve, the same bright blue as years before.
“Death has its own reasons,” he says. “Just like men. Just like ayakashi. Just like mononoke.”
She draws in a shaky breath. “But I don’t want to,” she says. Her voice shakes like it belongs to a much younger girl. “I don’t *want* to. I came to Edo to start a new life, to remake myself, and all I did was just *rot*–”
He remains silent, but she draws in a breath to cut herself off regardless. She presses her hands to her stomach and her palms feel hot, like she can feel the illness that festers inside her, already too fierce to be stopped. She swallows and finally turns to look at him.
“You really haven’t changed,” she whispers. It doesn’t surprise her, really: in her worst moments, she’s wondered if he’s any different from the mononoke he hunts. He’s still beautiful enough that it hurts. She thinks of her husband and all the things she’d wanted from him, everything he could never quite live up to. She raises a hand to the medicine-seller’s face, then stops at the sight of her hand, wrinkled and shaking.
He doesn’t blink, just stares at her evenly. “Everything has its own reasons,” he says. “Everything is bound by its Form, its Truth, its Regret. But you can only decide your own for yourself.” *He* reaches out then, and she holds still as he takes some of her hair into his hand; it slides easily through his fingers. “Kayo-san, what will you choose?”
She swallows down bitterness. “I would have chosen to follow you,” she says. “I think.”
Nothing changes in his cool eyes. He nods. “Then that is how it will be,” he says. He reaches into hs sleeve and presses something into her hand — a small paper packet. “Take this, for the pain.”
Her breath catches in her lungs. “Mr. Medicine-Seller–”
“Until next time,” he says politely. He bows to her, as one might to a lady, to a princess, to anyone higher-ranked than a tired and ill house servant. “Stay true.”
As presents, they brought strange machines made out of metal and stone and gears, all sharp edges and snug connecting pieces. The soft gods of Takamagahara cut themselves upon the blades and fled in terror at the sight of their own blood against the bright grass. Only Amaterasu stayed, with her honored brother Tsukuyomi at her elbow, and looked upon the offerings. She pushed at one with the toes of a bare foot; it left a black mark upon her skin. She looked up.
“We have no need for things like this,” she said. “They have no place here. Please take them and leave.”
The Emperor only tucked his hands into his sleeves and bowed low. His unbound hair slipped forward and curtained his face. “I beg Divine Amaterasu reconsider,” he said. “Great could things could come of an alliance.”
“There is nothing you can give us,” said Amaterasu. Her voice was bright and clear, like the first blade of spring sunlight cutting through the haze of winter. “And there is nothing we can offer you, for the gifts of the Celestial Plain only flourish by light of sun or moon. Your darkness swallows all and leaves not even the bones behind.” She crossed her arms and pushed the strange machine further away. The Emperor did not even pretend subtlety as he looked her up and down slowly, or how he licked his lips when his gaze lingered upon her throat.
“You might regret this, Divine Amaterasu,” he said. He glanced up at her through his lashes. “What happened to your generousity? Your all-loving heart?”
“If you made the offer in good faith,” she said, “I would accept them. But your hunger preceeds you, Emperor of Darkness. There is nothing for you here.” Her eyes narrowed, and the mirror at her hip flashed with reflected sunlight. “Leave this place.”
The Emperor put his hands together and bowed again, so low that his hair pooled on the ground by his feet. Grass withered at the touch.
The secret is: you dreamed for months before it finally happened. You remember the white hair and the red eyes, and the dark shadow that lurked just behind; you remember the hand extended to you, and the weight in your belly when you accepted its offer. You remember a kiss that sealed your deal.
You think maybe you’ve been expecting this all your life. Because when the moon hangs full in the sickly green sky and Takeba’s gun is sticky in your fingers, you’re not afraid — not afraid at all — to put it to your temple and pull the trigger.
“I want go to for a walk,” Kantarou says. He flops against Haruka’s back and draps his arms around broad shoulders. “Hey, Haruka, can we?”
Haruka drinks from his bowl and shrugs. “You can go by yourself,” he says. “I don’t feel like going.”
“Ehhhh?” Kantarou leans all his weight against Haruka. “But I want to go out, and I want to go with Haruka.” He presses their cheeks together and reached up to tug at Haruka’s hair gently, tangling it in his fingers. “Come on, it’s a nice night, it’s so clear you can see all the stars, don’t you like flying in this weather?”
“The cold makes my wings ache,” Haruka says. He leans back just slightly into the support of Kantarou’s kneeling body. “So what’s the point then?”
Kantarou traces lines down Haruka’s arm, signs of protection, symbols of power. “The point,” he says, “is that it’s a nice night and I think we should go for a walk, Ha-ru-ka.”
Haruka makes a vaguely disgruntled noise. “You’ll make that into an order, won’t you. Even though I said it makes my wings tired.”
“Well,” Kantarou says, in his cutest voice, “I don’t know.” He presses his lips to the soft skin under Haruka’s ear. “What iiiiif … what if I said I’d make it worth Haruka’s while, to go out with me?” He reaches to tug a little at Haruka’s collar, toying with his tie. “After all, I’m good with my hands, right? If Haruka’s wings hurt later, well …”
Haruka snorts and catches one wandering hand. He tugs it down and presses his mouth to Kantarou’s rapidly-beating pulse. “Why don’t we skip that part,” he said, “and go straight to the rest?”
“Ah! Haruka! That’s kind of perverted, don’t you think?” Kantarou mimes indignation, but not well enough to hide the laughter in his voice as Haruka pulls, and tumbles him forward into Haruka’s lap. “I really wanted to go for a walk, too.”
“I think we’ve lost them,” said Riku, glancing back over his shoulder. “At least, I don’t hear them any more.” He leaned his shoulder against the brick wall, taking a deep breath. “You two holding up?”
Sora tried to kick one foot through the sludgy water, then made a face. “We’ll be better once we’re out of here,” he said — though whether “here” meant the sewers or the city period, it was difficult to say. “We just gotta keep moving.” He looked back at them. “Kairi?”
She rubbed her arms again, and though she was obviously trying to control her shivering, it was still painfully obvious. When Riku touched her shoulder her head jerked up and she gave them both a bright, uneasy smile. “Oh,” she said. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m fine! Just a little tired, that’s all …”
Riku squeezed her shoulder. “We could probably find somewhere to hide and take a short break, if you need it,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with–”
“No.” Kairi shook her head. “I want out of here too, and the longer we stay, the longer we–”
“Shhh.” Sora held up a hand, turning; Oblivion reappeared in his hands. “Something’s coming.”
Kairi pressed her lips together and pulled back, hands shaking for a moment before she drew her own Keyblade. From the corner of one eye, she saw Way to Dawn appear, tilted just so that it was slightly before her — not obviously defensive, but Riku would be able to intercept anything that tried to come from the front, at least.
Then she frowned and tilted her head. “… Music?” she asked.
Sora rocked back on his heels, blinking. “Yeah, I hear it too.”
“That’s a stupid thing to do,” Riku said, narrowing his eyes. “Making that much noise is definitely going to call their attention …” He glanced back again, where they’d left the slavering rotten-skinned dogs. “We should–”
“Ahhh!” Kairi’s voice dried to a squeak, and his head snapped around again, staring at where she pointed.
The figure that came shambling up the tunnel towards them walked with the same jerky, disorganized gait of the other humanoid creatures they’d encountered, holding something in front of itself — a large, narrow blue instrument whose paint had rotted away in patches, its sound muted and damp. It wore the tattered remains of a long black coat, and the closer it came, more into the circle of light cast by Sora’s spell, the more familiar it became.
And then Sora made a stunned noise, Oblivion dropping from its aggressive position to dip into the sewer water at their ankles. “That’s–”
The thing didn’t really have a face as one might recognize it — half of it was swollen and shot through with veins, patchwork blue in color. The other half of it looked as though it had simply burst — everything from the high forehead down to the cheekbone was split, glimmering wetly in the light. A single round eye, filmed over in milky white, peered from the mess.
But its head turned towards them, and Riku saw its mouth spread into a wide smile, with oddly-perfect teeth.
“Rr,” it said, and brackish water spilled over its swollen heavy lips as it did. “Roooo–”
Sora backed up, shoulders set in a tight hunch, pale and wide-eyed. “What *is* this?!” he demanded, his voice more frightened than Riku had ever heard, even when all the forces of Darkness had closed in upon them. “That’s–”
“Organization Thirteen,” Kairi whispered, one hand over her eyes; in the light, her hair seemed to flicker between its normal deep red and wispy white-blonde.
“Roxasssss,” said the thing, and lifted out a hand — there’d been a glove once, but the same water and rot had eaten away most of it, and two of the fingers had been picked clean to the bone. “Come back to us.”
Sora’s Keyblade changed before he could summon the consicous thought for it, Oblivion’s black lines and sharp edges shifting into the hard white grids of Ultima. He stumbled back, and managed to drop into a defensive position, staring.
From somewhere deep inside himself, a voice that wasn’t quite his said, “Demyx?”
The thing smiled, its head tipping jerkily to one side. “Roxas,” it said, more water trickling from the corners of its mouth. “Roxas, come back. Come back to us, Roxas … Roxas …”
“Stay back,” Sora said warningly. “I beat you before, I can beat you again.”
His words didn’t seem to have much effect; the thing that-had-been-Demyx continued shuffling slowly forward, bone fingers frittering random discordant out-of-tune notes from the water-damaged sitar. “Roxas … Hey, Roxas …”
“I’m telling you, I’m not Roxas,” said Sora. “He’s part of me, but he’s *not* me. I’m not him. We–”
“Roxas,” it slurred, and to Sora’s dismay, the dirty water around its ankles began to stir.
“What’s going on?” Kairi whispered. “What–”
When it’s warm, they sleep with the windows open: bugs generally avoid them. Ginji’s sort of like an unconscious bug zapper, which makes up for the fact that he kicks in his sleep, sprawling and taking up too much room, or the way he attaches himself to Ban’s side and refuses to be pried off. Sometimes he drools, too, muttering about meat — Ban’s just glad the idiot hasn’t tried to take a bite yet.
Watanuki arrives at the shop and finds Yuuko already with a customer — a tall, thin, gaunt man who looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks. Yuuko’s face is smooth as glass and about as blank; nothing in her eyes gives anything away.
“I’m sorry,” she says. There is no emotion in her tone, but there is a terrible weight that reminds Watanuki of the inevitable fall of rocks. “That wish cannot be granted.”
Watanuki pauses in surprise. The man draws himself up taller. “But,” he says, in a voice like dry dust, “they said you could grant any wish–”
“There are certain requests,” Yuuko cuts him off, in that same quiet matter-of-fact voice, “that no one could grant for you. No matter how much you’re willing to pay, some things have no price.” She lights her pipe and presses the stem to her lip. Her eyes are flat dark chips in her white face.
Her guest staggers half to his feet; the chair topples from the force of the move. “But you’re–”
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I will have to ask you to leave.” She exhales sweet-smelling thick smoke, her eyes heavy-lidded. “Watanuki!”
Watanuki jumps and almost trips over himself in surprise. “Y– Yuuko-san?”
“Please see our guest out,” she says, and never looks away from the strange man’s pale face. Watanuki is fairly certain he doesn’t want to be alone with this person, but there is nothing lighthearted or playful about Yuuko’s face or tone, so he nods and says, “This way, please.”
“But you’re a witch!” the man cries, and slams his fist on the table. “You can grant wishes, so why — why won’t you –”
“Good afternoon,” Yuuko says, and turns her face away. The man gapes at her for a moment, and it almost seems as though he’ll argue — but then he slumps and nods, stumbling to follow Watanuki blindly through the hall to the front door. Before he leaves, though, he catches Watanuki’s sleeve and looks at him with burning eyes.
“You’d do it too, wouldn’t you?” he asks. “If you could — if there was even the slightest chance — to see your loved ones again, even after they’ve died …”
His eyes burn. Watanuki looks away after a moment and carefully pulls his arm free. To his relief, he manages it without a struggle. “I think,” he says slowly, “that … our loved ones who have died, they wouldn’t want us to pine or worry for them. Because if we worry about them, they’ll worry about us.”
The man stares at him so intensely that Watanuki wonders, for a brief moment, if he’s said the wrong thing. Instead, the man just spits at his feet and stumbles out, not bothering to close the door after him. The sunlight that comes through the cracked-open door is blinding. Watanuki turns to see Yuuko and the girls watching.
“I’m sorry,” he says, not sure why he’s apologizing. “I don’t know–”
“He can’t be helped,” says Maru.
“He won’t be helped,” says Moro.
Yuuko exhales more smoke. “He’ll learn,” she says. “You had the right idea, Watanuki.”
“I did?” He blinks. “The right idea about wha–”
She raises her free hand and snaps twice; he shuts up. “All right!” she says brightly, and all the grim seriousness of her melts away just like that. “Let’s have something to drink!”
“Hahhhh?” He stares. “Yuuko-san, it’s still the middle of the afternoon! It’s too early to be drinking–” he says, and glances over his shoulder at the bright sunshine outside. It feels cold; a chill runs up his spine like walking fingers.
The night is heavy with humidity and the smell of jasmine. No wind stirs, and all sounds are magnified. A man listening might go deaf or reach a state of nirvana.
Kurogane plans on doing neither, but it’s hard to focus on any other sound than the rasp of fingers across cloth. The mage — the vampire — *Fay* now, just Fay — sits at his feet, head on his knee, and strokes the fold of sleeve over his wrist, over and over. It feels like prayer; Kurogane cannot quite bring himself to ask. The skin is sensitive enough to hurt a little.
“Idiot,” he says instead, his voice worn low and gruff. “Go ahead and drink if you want. If you need it, you need it.”
Fay pauses for a moment. He laughs. It’s a low quiet sound; it reminds Kurogane of the wind through the grasses of Suwa. “But I don’t, really,” he says. He looks up, his one eye gleaming. “I just like being here.” He turns his head and presses his cheek to Kurogane’s knee again and begins to stroke his wrist again. Kurogane doesn’t need to see his face to know he’s smiling.
Princess Akiko is a talented singer: there is a confidence in her voice that’s lacking when she speaks, and it carries effortlessly with Masahiro’s flute. He can see Mokkun tucked in a ball against Masahiro’s hip, relaxed in a way he has never been, in all the long years of their friendship. It’s a good sound; it warms his bones against the winter that’s coming. He can almost forget the silence by his side: if he closes his eyes, why, her perfume is right there for him to remember.
On the worst nights Ingway dreams of Ringford aflame, and a tiny queen weeping for her people. She kneels in a slowly-closing ring, her crossbow lying beside her and her wings devoured by the heat. Their ruined splendor makes his chest ache, but when he reaches for her, it only brings the fire closer. She looks up — her flowers are burning — and there is only terror in her eyes. As he sweeps down, her lips move in his name.
Ingway awakens in a cold sweat with Darkova’s hunger twisting inside him. He almost reconsiders his path, though he knows it’s already too late.
What is more insidious are the good nights, when he puts out his hand and Queen Mercedes steps close to him, tucked small and precious against his heart. She smells like wind and flowers and trembles only a little when he runs his fingers along her wings, soft as gossamer and reflecting all the colors of the forest. He stands beside her as a man, not a cursed soul, and the sun is warm upon his face.
I was never part of the story from the start, the dark princess whispers with her shuffling feet. Her fingers tremble. I came in too late, and he cannot be mine.
But the light princess smiles. She takes her sister-princess’ hands in her own and kisses them with lips that are smooth and cool and sweet. Not so, she says with the graceful arch of her back. It is never too late to change the story; there is no true ending.
The chick’s really hot in a cold way — which totally makes sense, because she’s got bone-white skin and awesome dreads that are the icy blue of a new dye-job, matching his innuendo with casual ease. Dean’s pretty sure he’s going to get lucky tonight, and from the way she grins and bites her lower lip at him, he’s going to have a damn good time of it. This is the sort of thing he’s been missing for — fuck, months now, has it been that long? — and he’s feeling pretty damn good. The Winchester charm never fails, even if it’s masquerading as Jacob Starr tonight.
“You know,” the girl purrs, running her nails up Dean’s arm, “I was wondering … you’re pretty strong, aren’t you?” She leans close, and her breath is cool on his ear. She smells like spearmint.
He grins, saluting her with his beer. “I do okay,” he says, watching as she measures his biceps with her slim fingers. “Got something in mind?”
“I was hoping you could do me a favor,” she says coyly. One of her feet hooks around his, and even in clompy shitstomping boots it feels really delicate and small against his calf. “Just an itty-bitty one, hmm? Do you think you could?”
Something about the way she looks at him, big blue eyes under downswept lashes, makes the hairs on the back of his neck rise. She looks sweet and hopeful despite her punkrock look, perfectly staged and poised with her foot running slowly up and down his leg. Dean pretends to think as he finishes off his beer and slides his arm casually around her shoulders. He fiddles with his ring briefly, so that the charm is pressed inward, palm-up.
“I don’t know,” he drawls. “Depends on what’s in it for me.” He touches her bare shoulder with his fingertips; it takes a long time before her skin warms to the touch.
“Oh,” she breathes, and there’s a light in her eyes that’s beautiful and terrible, almost *hungry* in a way that has his instincts shrieking horror. “Oh, I think I can definitely make it worth your while. All you have to do is agree–” She leans forward, and he feels her cold breath on his mouth.
He graps her shoulder with his hand, pressing his ring hard against her skin.
And just like that she shrieks; her hand flashes out and smacks his wrist so hard it goes numb. It sends his beer flying, and the bottle crashes and shatters on the ground. People are turning to look as she rips away, clutching at her arm. Only Dean is close enough to see the steam rising from between her fingers, or the murderous rage that twists her pretty, perfect face.
“Whoops,” he says and holds up both hands, shit-eating grin fully in place. “Sorry ’bout that, darling.”
She draws herself up and the room suddenly is about fifty degrees colder; Dean can suddenly see his own breath. “You’ll regret that,” she snarls. “You — you –”
The door opens, and Sam walks into the bar, followed by a wiry little white-haired guy — tiny in comparison to Sam’s bulk, but with the same posture and confidence of a seasoned hunter. They stop and the white-haired guy looks seriously freaked for a moment, grabbing Sam’s arm and saying something in fast urgent tones. The girl’s noticed them as well and relaxes back, a snake waiting for the next opportunity rather than the immediate pounce. Just as well, too, because Dean’s pretty sure his lips were turning blue.
With a murderous glare, the girl grabs his wrist hard, squeezing till the fingers go numb, her expression unkind.
“Remember me, Dean Winchester,” she hisses. “I’ll freeze the marrow out of you for the insult.”
She lets go of him and stalks out; when he checks his hand later, there’s four thin white bands on his wrist that feel like ice to the touch.
“… Well,” he says, to Sam’s thunderous look, and the mingled horror and worry on the other guy’s face. “That kind of sucked. Pretend you didn’t see that, okay?”