Court: Don't ask. Utena movie spoilers. Squick. Butterfly in Nine Laps was originally a nine-part Utena movie fic meant to be read in any order. Etc.

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butterfly in nine laps: juri

For his eleventh birthday, Juri gave him a kitten.

It had been more trouble than she'd ever imagined. Capture of a stray had been only the start, accomplished by setting out scraps of her dinner near the dumpsters night after night to lure any felines out. Bread didn't seem to work. Toast soaked with milk had only limited effect, and all her efforts had been fruitless until she'd started wrapping sausage links in napkins to hide in her pocket until later, their greasy juice seeping through her pants and causing her parents to cluck over the strange stains.

The bigger toms bullied anything weaker out of the way and Juri had not wanted to catch a cat who had enough fight notches torn out that their ear resembled jagged fanwings. She had resorted to rigging a garbage can with a stick and cord. It worked in stories, so Juri reasoned, and that was close enough.

Days went by before the cats overcame their curiosity of the lean-to, and then Juri had had to deal with them chewing up the string.

But she had earned results in the end. Even despite the raccoon, the neighbor's dog, and an overly large possum that hissed at her like a snake when she'd tried to free it. There had been a ragged kitten beneath her lure one day and Juri had snapped up the opportunity as if the feline had been made of the purest gold.

Unfortunately, a garbage can was not the best packaging. Even if she'd owned enough wrapping paper, the girl couldn't forsee Touga accepting that kind of thing into his father's mansion-house.

So it had been back to the task. Juri had scrambled to find a cardboard box sturdy enough to withstand the creature's confused attempts to claw free. Success required half a roll of packing duct. Fighting to pin the flaps closed while she frantically applied the tape had been a struggle monumental; Juri had accepted that success with relief when she'd finally pinned the whole construction down.

Each small step to her victory was so concrete. Juri loved it.

The tape kept the beast within quiet for exactly ten seconds. Then the struggles resumed, more wildly this time, hard enough to make the box rock fully onto its side. Straightening it back to normal didn't keep the kitten from thrashing, but it did reveal the problem.

Juri had completely forgotten to put in airholes.

In order to placate the miniature tiger, the girl had tried to poke gashes into the container, realizing after she'd started going at the thing with a pair of scissors that it might be best to remove the cat first.

Which meant peeling the layers of tape off and starting all over again.

Everything had been wrapped up in time for the birthday celebration. She'd smuggled the entire box upstairs to Touga's room with an effort that involved finding a spare towel to drape over the whole container. Birds went to sleep when it was dark, so she figured, and cats could too. The logic lasted until the kitten had jammed a paw out and hooked Juri's leg while she was balancing up the stairs; with a wince, the girl had bit her tongue to keep from crying out in pain, and then struggled the remainder of the way to Touga's bedroom.

Once there, Juri dropped the box on the floor and took a quick step away from it.

Touga stared.

"It's for you," Juri proclaimed. Then she remembered to add blithely, "Happy birthday, Touga," while they both watched the box inch across the ground with the force of its occupant's struggles.

It crawled towards Touga. He remained frozen in place, a look of pleasant horror on his features.

So naturally Juri had wanted to open the box and show off the gift. It was that or watch him be afraid of a box, and even then the girl hadn't liked Touga's odd avoidances of anything that moved too fast or crowed too loudly.

She'd come prepared with scissors. And a towel.

It had required leaning on the box itself to keep it still long enough for Juri to cut a careful line into the cardboard. She had been afraid of stabbing the cat. Especially while Touga was watching, Touga with his strange docileness and weird habits. Touga, who would draw away sometimes without explanation and then refuse to be coaxed back into a game.

Even at eleven, Juri had known that something was wrong, but she just couldn't fathom what.

The kitten had shoved its head out once it sensed an opening wide enough to give it purchase. Given more time, Juri had been confident that it would have clawed apart the airholes.

Watching its energy made her proud. She had chosen a good pet. Then something went wrong; the cat had pushed its way out too eagerly, pinning itself halfway out its own impromptu exit. It began to yowl.

"Stop it! Hold still!" Juri dove for the box. The towel in her hands caught the claws already extended to rake her, and then she was gritting her teeth and trying to wrestle the box further open despite the reinforcement of all that tape.

The single glance she spared to Touga's direction showed her a boy stricken pale. Something about the noise had frozen him in mid-step to help the cat. Now he stood, hypnotized by the sound into what looked to be a nightmare.

That was Touga for you, in a nutshell. Weird.

With grim practicality, Juri forced the box further apart, bracing her hands in the cloth to widen the aperture. The kitten launched itself like a furry ballista bolt. At first everything had been a confusion of yowl and hiss; then the cat fled beneath the nearest dresser, where its cries muted themselves down to a low growl.

Juri stuck her finger in her mouth to suck on the bleeding.

"Mf's juft fightined," she mumbled. Touga seemed unconvinced.

Once the violence of the struggle had passed, though, the boy seemed more willing to participate in his gift. He tilted his head. Looked for a glimpse of that cat-creature beneath his furniture, and then finally smiled, making no move to intrude on the feline's space. His face let blossom a hesitant delight of the creature.

Then it fell.

"My father will hate it."

"It's just a cat!" Angered at the thought that all her hard work would be for nothing, Juri folded her arms sternly. "He can't hate a cat. It's just a baby, how can you hate a baby, Touga?"

"My father is a surprising man." Touga's face had been carefully bland as he kneeled besides the ruins of the box and took the garbage into his hands. "Maybe I can convince him."

He'd refused to look at her.

Then they went downstairs for cake.

For his twelfth birthday, Juri had given him a scrape on his chin and torn seams.

She'd challenged him to meet him at the top of one of the trees in the studded orchards of his father; fresh fruit and vegetables were a favorite of his father's tastes, so Touga said, and the man often enjoyed the luxury that came from looking out over fields and saying this is mine, this is all mine and it is beautiful.

After Touga mimicked back the words of his parent, he'd looked down at the ground. Frowned. The expression had been too serious for Juri's tastes, so she had mockingly thrown a clump of clovers at him before daring him to a race.

He'd only made it halfway up when he'd lost his grip. The disapproving pursing of Juri's lips had followed him all the way down as she watched him tumble, tossed between branches that slapped the boy for his audacity to descend in such a crude manner.

The landing wasn't hard by Juri's standards. Touga was lucky enough to hit square on his back. Spread-eagled on the ground; the worst could have been grass stains on that prissy white shirt of his, or maybe his breath knocked out of him.

But by the time Juri clambered back down the tree, Touga still hadn't moved.

Arms wide, eyes wide, hair spread out like a red halo around his head, the boy had played dead underneath the sky. Juri grabbed him by the shoulders and screamed into his face. Even five minutes later, she had no real idea of what she'd howled; just sounds, maybe, or ideas of words that should have translated into, you can't die, you idiot, wake up.

Wake up, I don't believe in death.

This revived him. She was running her hands over him to check him for wounds, and this elicited from him a strangled yelping sound, like a coyote cub with its larynx crushed. His fingers spasmed. Rose into the air and then crooked themselves, fell back; Juri didn't know what he thought he was fighting against, but whatever it was, she didn't like it.

"Are you hurt, Touga?" At first Juri thought to shake him again, and then she thought against it. Touga's eyes were open far enough that the irises were small dots in twin seas of white. Weird Touga, weird habits, but now they were frightening and Juri was worried despite the safe insulation of her world invincible.

Footsteps crunching grass into so much green mulch finally caught up with her. All Juri's yelling had attracted unwanted attention. The shadow that fell over her and Touga seemed to blot out the sun; then the girl shaded her eyes and looked up to try and pick details from the silhouette above.

"You're Touga's dad." A flat accusation. Not a question.

"That I am." The man's voice sounded infuriatingly smug. His son twitched on the ground below and all he did was slide one of his hands into his pocket.

"Aren't you going to help him?"

"My son knows what he can and cannot do. Who are you, little girl?"

The diminutive had not won Touga's father any points for speaking it. "My name's Juri," she frowned. Tempting as the irrational urge to hit the older man might be, Juri had been raised to trust adults. Her own parents had always been reasonable. Surely this father of Touga's must be the same.

"I see." The man shifted his weight. Took that hand in his pocket out, folded it on the arm opposite. Languid and patient, the gesture; still he gave no notice to the shudders of his son, but only continued to stare down at Juri. "You're theā€¦ playmate that got my son that filthy creature, aren't you."

Recognition for her supposed did not come to Juri. She regarded the man blankly back. Then at last she remembered the kitten of the previous year.

Suddenly, Juri did not like the idea of that cat existing in the same house as Touga's father.

Unaware of the girl's mounting suspicious, the man continued his diatribe with a sigh. "I've already told my son not to associate with certain types. He'd told me he was going to stop nonsense like this." Now at last he looked down. Prodded Touga with the tip of his shoe. "Enough with your ridiculous antics, Touga. I know you're quite fine."

"Sir," Juri spoke up, sacrificing the title of respect in her concern for her friend, "if he's lying there, maybe he really is hurt--"

The man cut through her words. "What did I tell you about associating with others, Touga?"

"I did tell Utena, father," Touga mumbled softly as he finally got to his feet, rolling over and struggling gamely up as best he could. "Just not... everyone else yet." He kept his eyes down. His hair lapped itself in dark petals around his face, like the bloodshot wings of a butterfly dying. "I'm sorry. I'll do better. I promise."

Appeasement was a small coin to the older man. He exhaled a gentleman's snort through his nose; quiet, yet fully disdainful. "I've given you enough chances. Make certain to keep to your word this time. Now, come." With no further admonishment to Juri, Touga's father turned away. "You're to return to the house and clean yourself of all that grime. I'll see you in the upper parlor in twenty minutes. Don't be late."

Touga did not look at Juri. He did not raise his head; shoulders bowed, head respectfully inclined at a sharp enough angle that it looked begging for a beating, the boy only waited until his father disappeared over the hills back to the manor. Then at last he straightened.

"Juri.. ."

The girl firmed her lip. "I don't want to hear anything else from you right now, Touga." Talking further that day would only get the boy further into trouble. That much, Juri could see clearly. She faced him down, full of sternness and fire all her own, willing her friend away with every inch of her juvenile body. "You have somewhere else you need to go. Don't you?"

Touga had hesitated, but then finally left. Juri watched him go until he disappeared in the twin wirework gates of his family's manor. Then she resolved to find a way to speak to him safely, in a form that his father couldn't reach.

That was how she meant it, on his twelfth birthday.

For his thirteenth, Juri put flowers on his grave. She chose tiger's-eyes.