butterfly in nine laps : mikage

Court: Don't ask. Utena movie spoilers. What happens to those game pieces that get tossed aside on the road? These two characters actually never show up in the movie, even though they do in the manga. With that in mind, take this section with a grain of salt.

Butterfly in Nine Laps was originally a nine-part Utena movie fic, with non-sequential sections meant to be read in any order. Because of FF.net's stricter guidelines, not all sections can be posted here in full, so only the finished non-explicit parts have made it up.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Memory is a cheap prop. I am unable to forget Akio's name only because it is difficult to forget a sound played in variations like an instrumental quartet. B Minor is cry of the Chairman muffled into the mattress. Mutate the sound further into an A Minor with a major 6th and you have Akio gasped against the plaster of the walls, white paint stained by invisible vocalizations of his name.

Cacophony of a full orchestra would means bruises in the morning.

Ohtori's side towers provide a tuning stage before the actual performance; in the regressed wings behind the main school, there is all the isolation I require for my work without being interrupted by the daily flow of students. The drawback is, of course, the payment required for this luxury. Every researcher needs his patron. Every actor, a backstage corner in which to pace and mumble couplets before they mangle their lines in view of the audience. I have no need of performing and so I remain in storage with the dropcloths, quite at peace save when rent comes due.

A singular hum in the faultiness of memory is all the noise I wish to entertain in these hollow rooms. Here, the world is too pristine for the Chairman to be allowed to sully on a regular basis. Colors might indeed be splashed across the sterility of the walls, but they are painted on through use of careful application of clear tape and processing paper. I prefer photographs that develop when plunged in timed chemical baths rather than having to mix and daub hues. The imprecision of brushes is thus avoided.

My pictures march in perfectly straight lines. I enforce this with a ruler.

They span the whole of both chambers that house myself and my companion, zig-zagging a continuous wallpaper of enrollees through the archway knocked out in one wall to join the two rooms into one. Even with the doubled area, I have had to climb up on a chair to find new places to pin the rectangular records. At this rate, I will need an entire wing before I am finished.

I had met my companion first when I ran out of space in my own quarters, and had gone rapping to the neighboring door in hopes that no one would answer and I would be allowed my solitude. A man was discovered there to me instead, but he gave up his privacy willingly once I determined that his window had a better angle to shoot from than my own limited view.

From the stranger, the only request had been that when the tripod is not assembled and ready for use, he could be allowed to move it so he could engage in spying on the fencing matches in one of the lower courtyards.

This was not a great sacrifice on my part. I agreed.

Once I asked my reclusive accomplice who he was, and why the other held such interest in that manner of hobby. There was no answer forthcoming, and I had no inclination to try a failed experiment again.

I know I am called Nemuro because that is the name printed on the business cards I receive. They are stapled to the top of the processed film packets. The syllables are possessions only by assumption; characters stamped black on a blush-tainted paper stock that arrived attached to the stack of lives developed in just one hour or a discount on your next order. Deliveries occur daily, or as much as I care to measure days passing. Hence I am able to safely remind myself of my own identity on a routine basis.

Sword matches grant no such bounty. No one ships foils engraved with a name to our door. By logical projection, no one bothers remembering the blue-haired watcher who traces windowpanes with the back of his fingers.

Nor does Akio shed light upon the subject during his visits. The chairman has no vested interest in identifying the man aloud when he visits to torment us both, stalking into the joined rooms to touch us both like pet cats before leaving with a smirk on his face. I consider these games noxious. Retaining a companion is a fortunate break, as the other's presence routinely diverts the Chairman from polluting my work by leaving fingerprints smeared on the photos.

I might suppose—upon rare, reflective occasion--that it might not be polite to tolerate my neighbor only because the fencer is a convenient device.

However, I haven't found an alternate use for the other man yet.

I dislike when the Chairman intrudes. To add the man into an environment is the same as inserting his name into a benediction; the sentence is irrevocably twisted with the conjugation of Akio. His is the inclusion of the organic, a messy, squashy state of being involved with the performances of living.

Once he mocked my categorization of class members upon the walls. They range in alphabetical order by year, and I work hard to maintain this so; it is no source to amuse someone as foppish as the Chairman, particularly when I can never seem to recall where I left off in the updating.

It is an exacting process to measure who is in which grade. Time is not my ally. There are faces which I dutifully copy over with each rotation of a roster change, but participating students always leap forward by too many years or remain in their same place. It is a disorder that smacks of Akio, and I suspect he enjoys how difficult my small achievements can be.

There is an atmosphere about Akio's skin that I can only categorize as loam, moist gravedirt given movement through the process of worms wriggling through it. Perhaps grubs would be a more suitable phrase.

Whatever it is about the Chairman, I would like to believe I am repulsed.

The image of fat, writing white backs is what I keep in my mind's eye when the click of the doorhandle turned one day interrupts all concentration. I glance up from picking through the latest stack of photographs to discover it is the company I hate most which has arrived as cheerfully as a plague-god.

"Have you come to bother us about something useful this time?" Akio has not even finished stepping into the room before I snap the query out. My companion is leaning against the window today—some afternoon duel between a random victor and their challenger, nothing worthy of note—and seems equally unwilling to leave his own task to deal with the Chairman.

My companion is obsessive.

"Me, bother you?" Akio concocts the words only so that he gains the full attention of both myself and my neighbor. Once we are both looking at him, he continues smugly. "I was only on my way to the music hall. There's going to be a recital I wanted to indulge in attending, performed by a rather talented young man." With each additional movement of his lips, Akio is oozing further into the room. His feet prowl fluid. "You do understand, don't you?"

"Did I play the piano?" my blue-haired companion mumbles. The stupor he is infected with upon arrival of the Chairman is like that of a drug haze. Such is how I confess to feel daily but there is no taste of medication in my meals.

Do I eat meals?

"No, that's someone else," Akio retorts patiently. I believe he speaks to my companion at the window, but then Akio's insipid eyes fix on mine, and I wonder if he includes me in that single answer to both questions.

Something about the color of my neighbor's hair is nagging at me. Blue hair. But this man is too tall, too formed into late adolescence to be the boy I think I am trying to remember. There is no precise date that I can mark to measure duration of his stay with me because there are no calendars here, regardless of the number of times I have tucked politely phrased demands with the rolls of film I send out with Akio for servicing.

Perhaps I should start saving the business cards, and count them out like stones.

I return back to sorting through my photographs rather than let the issue of faulty recollection distract me further.

Further revelations are granted on cue to my neighbor's sludge of thought. "Am I real?" It is a question dredged out of the murk of faulty synapses. My neighbor usually keeps to himself with his little ideas whenever the Chairman is not around. This is why I am generally able to ignore his proximity.

I wish Akio would leave quickly so that my companion would be quiet again.

"Don't move," Akio commands to him, walking around the corner of the bed to stare at my neighbor. Dark hands reach out to touch the chin of the paler man and turn it towards him, back again, then sliding a finger between his subject's lips. At first I do not know what the Chairman means to do to my companion, but I can envision how Akio must taste--the nub of his fingertip, its intrusion between my teeth with the sheath of the nail.

Then I realize what the Chairman intends when Akio pushes his finger up to expose my companion's gums. A racehorse on display. Akio is looking for signs of disease.

A pleased murmur confirms my guess. "Still in excellent shape," the Chairman comments, pulling his hand out of my companion's mouth. "Maybe I should call you Mikage this time when it's your turn."

At this noise, I give a start. "Isn't that a part of my name?" Not until I have spoken do I think about the validity of my own question. It was not real until it hatched from my mouth, but once it had, I am forced to study it exposed on the air like a pinned butterfly.

"Is it?" Now Akio's attention is on me. "I thought it was the word I gave you to be called."

Akio is lucky that I practice extreme self-control. Despite that, I find myself possessed by the urge to see him pushed under the wheels of the nearest motor vehicle.

"I don't want it." Rejection springs from the throat of my blue-haired accomplice. "You can keep your gift. I'll remember my own name eventually."

The Chairman is taken aback, quite literally in the bargain. He dances his feet to reverse a step, much like the surprise of a stag finding a grass snake before its nose.

"I should make you crippled when I let you go this time." Wounded pride turns Akio ugly and abrupt. "Just for that comment. How would you like that? I could have your foolish jury see you in a hospital bed and unable to move more than your littlest finger."

"Do what you'd like." Now the ocean-jewel is folding his arms. Watching him, I am possessed by the conviction that I have heard his real name before, but it was undoubtedly not valuable enough for me to retain on call. I will be reminded of it whenever it becomes important. Perhaps Akio will yell it out to both of us in his displeasure for my neighbor's rebellion. Myself, I am still puzzling why Akio believes my companion in need of a judge.

We are all saved from further juvenile jabs at one another with the creaking open of the door a second time. Slender fingers wind around the side of it before their owner peeks in; greeted with all three of our curious stares, she leans her head in further. The heavy locks of her hair drip an amethyst cast upon the white cloth of our faux-carpet. As brilliant as Akio, this living intrusion into our tightly-tended museum of glossy 5x6"s doubleprinted.

I look down to her feet to see if she is trekking in equal amounts of mud.

From the Chairman's expression, no other visitor could have brought him greater delight. "So you've come to join me, Anthy?" he smiles, flicking his hands to the side in a gesture grand. "I hate the dead. They're terrible conversation and repetitive beside."

"You are the dead," the woman replies sweetly, a melody of sound that ignores the meaning of her words. One step brings her fully into the room. She is barefoot, but her toes are clean. Layers of her skirt rustle, the noise much like the dried weeds of summer fields before they burn. The door swings closed. "I thought you knew that by now, brother dear."

"Is that who I am?" Akio replies, mock-bitter, splaying his fingers over his forehead in a gesture of long-suffering tolerance. His drama has always increased tenfold when there is a single addition of eyes to watch him do it.

"Are you here to let us out?" It is my blue-haired companion who says this. "It's just... there's someone I wanted to see. I thought I did, at least. Someone important to me. I can't remember. I don't know why I've forgot."

"The door is unlocked, Ruka," Anthy states patiently, ignoring the sudden glare her brother attempts to impale her upon. It is precisely when she speaks that the answer becomes obvious. I do not know why we did not recognize it before. The door is open. "Do you know where you need to go?"

Naturally he does not. Neither do I. Perhaps that is why we forgot the option existed at all, along with my companion's moniker.

Ruka slumps back against the window.

As for myself, I cannot take my eyes off our new arrival. The self-proclaimed sister of the Chairman has a build far more slight than Akio. Her height is incorrect, and she has far too many curves to have the proper figure, but somehow she reminds me of a person my mind decides to whisper is named Mami, Mami-something, Mami-thing. Mami-grub.

The irregularity in my memory forces my lips to purse hard. I turn away from the paired siblings to run my fingers over the glossy, frozen smiles of the photographs spread out for my surveillance on the table. Mami-thing. Where did the row of M's go? It was here only a moment ago.

No, I decide at last. The reason she is so familiar to me is because her skin is as dusky as her brother's, and I have been exposed to that so long that I think I will always be scarred by it.

"Your time will come later, Ruka." Dark skin and voice prone to going just as husky, I am sure, for all that Anthy speaks dulcet. "I'm only here for one of you this time. I need my Prince."

With that, the matter is decided. "Ciao," Akio grins to us, his teeth sharp as he gravitates to his sister's side. Once there, he bows his head towards her conspiratorially. "What is it now? Need someone to counter the competition's homunculus again? I do like Touga," the Chairman rumbles, and his hands go sliding around her waist with the same ease as boa constrictors. I have always hated the organic flavor he brings to these rooms. "But don't you think you could just capture him yourself?"

"You are my Prince, brother," Anthy replies, and in the cherub's choir of her voice there has entered a brittle note. "You can do anything."

Akio makes a dry laugh. But in his back, where I can see it, there is a tension wired into his spine now. It is the cruelty of that same stag before it slams a hoof down to crush whatever displeased its sight. Then the Chairman masters whatever urge gripped him, much as he does when I think he is about ready to forbid me my camera just to see if I will react, and everything is back to being a droll game anew. "Ta," he purrs towards me, flicking his hand through the air where I wait with my photographs.

I glare back. Socialite.

"Do you just not want Ruka near Shiori yet?" the Chairman muses to her while the pair depart. Gallant in holding open the door for his feminine reflection, he is not hasty enough to close it to suit my tastes.

"Brother dear, you know I--"

Irritated by the delay, I reach out and nudge the door closed with my foot. The remainder of Anthy's reply is lost inside the muffled thump.

The sterility of the room is a blessing once they have both exited, leaving Ruka to frown thoughtfully at the portal out.

"How pointless," I observe aloud to myself. Even saying those two words is a useless expenditure of energy, but the Chairman has always known just the right way to leave me unsettled.

Unexpectedly, I am granted a reply. "Not everyone wants eternity, you know."

"Pardon? Was that meant to be directed to me?" One of my brows arches before I think to halt it; I have grown so accustomed to Ruka's silences that, privately, I think of him much in the same way as an overgrown lamp. You position it at the window and let it become a conversational topic when the Chairman invades, but you do not traditionally hold discourse with the inanimate.

"I'm serious." Now he is leaning forward into my personal space and I am having trouble ignoring his existence. "Have you ever thought that there are those who don't want to live forever?"

Nor does the inanimate speak with you.

"Nonsense," I snort. The law is absolute. My fingers set a precise stack of frozen faces on the left side of the table. "All the students here attend to compete for that exact privilege. Statistics support my projections that the majority would indeed desire to win. As for those who lose," I add briskly, shuffling through the remaining photographs unsorted, "a picture is eternal enough for them."

"I didn't want eternity for myself." Ruka has returned to repetition of what we have already established between us, and thus I am bored.

"Should I shoot your roll next?" Dealing with how stubbornly ponderous Ruka is on this matter is urging me into impatience. "I could cause you to live again in a photograph whether you liked it or not."

"Something doesn't always want to be kept alive." My companion is ignoring all of my logic. This makes him almost as irritating as Akio. Almost. "Listen. A long time ago, I remember having chest pains whenever I would practice sports too long. It used to depress me, but I would always try to hide it. Now I feel nothing." He touches his chest as hesitantly as if he expects to find blood dripping there. Ridiculous. "I've felt nothing for a long time."

Ruka presents this case study as if I should care. "That's natural if you've overcome an illness," I snap back, tossing the empty wrapper of one of the packages aside on the table and peeling a second open. My fingers are too hasty and come in contact with the sticky cement they use to fasten it closed; disgusted, I try to clean them off on the tablecloth. If the fabric has not shown half of what has been poured onto it by now, it will not show being marred by glue. "You've returned to full health, without sign of relapse. I would advise you not to strain yourself unless you desire to encourage one. In other words, don't go out there unless you want to die," I conclude crisply, adding a young girl dressed in yellow to a second stack.

He gives way at last under my superior reasoning. "Maybe that's so." Standing brings him closer to me than I would like, but then he steps away. "I'll be back soon."

"What--"

"See you at the end of the world, Mikage."

With his departure, the room is quiet as a tomb.

At last.

There are still uncounted faces beneath my hands, demanding to be rightfully organized. Ruka's parting statement reverberates in my head like an improperly tuned cello. I do my best in ignoring it. There is work eternal to be done.