butterfly in nine laps : anthy

Author's Note: Remember the squick warning? I mean it. I really do. This is not smut, this is squick. The Utena movie is not nice. This section isn't either.

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"It wasn't that I'd been afraid of her. I'd simply had a tendency to flinch."

On the stage, the actors followed cues in time with Touga's voice in the darkened theater. The seats were arranged impromptu; chairs unfolded and sliced in rows to fit an audience that would never arrive. Soundroom B, 4 o'clock. Promptness was appreciated.

Anthy likes it better when no one else attends. Emptiness makes the sounds from the stage bounce off the fold-up pews, makes them echo like a spiritual choir murmuring back the actors' own lines. When the soundtrack plays during dramatic pauses, its tinny hum through the speakers harmonizes with the metal chairs.

The auditorium's air conditioning is perfumed with the smell of a garden lush in bloom. With Touga's head in Anthy's lap, he cannot see the shadow puppeteers on stage. His hips are twisted in a manner she is sure is uncomfortable, all so that he can stretch his long legs over the chair seats and yet try to keep from falling off. Vanity wars with comfort. The results will still be aches.

"She must have thought it was something else." Touga stirred, trying to keep his weight from grinding his own knee out of place. "That I didn't like cats. Or I didn't like her, which wasn't true. I just had that tendency. That's all."

Anthy runs her hand over his hair while he speaks. The therapy of fingers is a musician's ploy. She slides her fingertips up to the second knuckle in Touga's red strands to keep him tame as any animal, hypnotized. The strings coil themselves in a marionette's weave in her grasp. Anthy wants him to keep talking, but this is not so easy when Touga refuses to lie at any angle save the one which has his face buried in her skirt.

On the stage, the players dart back and forth behind the thin curtain set up to obscure their features. Lights shine up from below in staggered array. The performance artists have been working with various colors in an effort to influence contrast. This afternoon, the curtain is a deep red. The whole thing is frightfully garish when the actors shine too strong of a violet upon the stage; orange or white is a better companion shade, but it seems no one has told the stage crew yet to turn the purples down.

Some students do not like the shadow theater because of the effort involved in deciphering the vague blurs of shape, but Anthy prefers it this way. Admittedly, she is among those who believe that the narration could use some work. Mostly in terms of clarity.

Right away, the boy had known that would have been a problem. His father "...hated it." Touga nudged his head against the tickle of Anthy's school-tie as a slender child-shape staggered onstage. It wavered to one direction, and then another; wandering, it stumbled its irregular way almost to total escape before a larger form emerged to catch it.

Anthy is used to reading the truth in shadows. The darkness of back rooms never bothers her. Bedsheets neither, comforters drawn up over her head and limbs arranged in gesture art.

To the eyes of the Rose Bride, the shadows are much more than interruptions of light.

It helps, she decides, when the narrator behaves.

Touga has fallen silent again. This causes Anthy to sigh, run one of her fingers around his ear as if tracing the outline of a puzzlebox. "You'll tell me more? Touga," she added soothingly, "you'll keep talking, please?"

Newly taken into his owner's house, the boy had been caught up in learning the man's preferences in a flurry of desperation--if only he could learn how the rules went, he could master this game which seemed to turn every which way at whim and leave him with his shirt undone in back stairwells and the weight of secrets turning rancid in his mouth.

Touga obeyed Anthy's command, automatic. "My father... hated it," he continued, repeating his words without any acknowledgement of the fragments he was leaving unexplained. Broken. "No," comes the correction swift, "that's too blunt a word for him. Distaste. That's better. A refined distaste."

Actors shifted accordingly, the fabric of their black shrouds hissing with their movements.

Touga's father had grown to a refined distaste of the creature ever since he had laughingly tried to fondle the thing's ears and had received a bite to his thumb. Touga had been watching the interaction, frozen, torn between the terror of asking his father not to keep touching it and secret cheers for its protest.

The feline's shallow wounding of him had only spurred the man to greater cruelty. His father had reached out with a second hand, flipped the struggling thing over and splayed his palm over the kitten's stomach.

Fingers spread wide to keep the kitten-limbs apart, and then Touga's father dipped his first hand into the shallow presented underneath the second's wrist; as the kitten had mewled and squirmed, the man toyed with the softness of its belly while running his palm up and down to the rhythm of his laughter. Thin but sturdy fingers slotted the twin nubs of the testes between them, pressing the knuckles together to bring out the caterpillar fuzz.

Touga's father nudged the bend of a thumb in further exploration against the mound of the creature's immature genitals and then glanced up to make certain that his son had been watching before leaning down to coo platitudes in the uncaring cat's face.

The boy knew he could not leave until it was over.

"His hands touched it everywhere. He reached for its... parts and squeezed until it screamed. What a sound." Touga tried to make a laugh into Anthy's thigh and only succeeded in a dry cough. "Like... a banshee. Or a human being. I couldn't stop hearing it."

Now the actors were throwing what looked like confetti in the air, fragments of paper that were being reeled up by some curtain-pulley. The setting was meant to be a cabbage field. The scraps of nonsense must be moths, pretending to be butterflies.

Anthy frowned thoughtfully as she watched the faux-insects ascend against a backdrop of violet. Purple light. Much too garish. She would have to speak with the performers later, maybe give them some recommendations.

"Afterwards, I retched until I swore I could taste blood." Touga made a muffled sigh against her dress. The heat of his breath warmed Anthy through to her skin. "Wishful thinking."

Red, Anthy finally decided in complete detachment, just should not be combined with certain colors.

On the stage, winged things dipped and danced. Idleness directed Anthy's hand. "What happened to the kitten, Touga?"

The moths scattered. "I came home one day. I'd been playing with Juri out in the orchards--I'd just turned twelve, and my clothes were all ripped when I fell out of a tree."

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 through the scrapings of the branches before he had felt himself for once touching nothing at all in the world except the air.

As his arms had opened wide, the feverish image struck the boy's mind that he had been caught by the wind and was being broken against it like a vase shattered. Then he realized it was the ground that he had impacted. Awkward gasping of a fish, of a boy too stunned to inhale.

One crazy string of words together made itself into oh, this isn't so bad, I've done this before, lain back like this before, lost my breath just like this before.

Anthy's grip pulled deftly at Touga's hair, recalling him to the present.

"My father… he wanted to teach me a lesson."

The boy had learned all about his lungs and the ways they would not work. Shallow draughts were almost impossible when another's weight was crushing you down and pressing your chest into rain-moistened dirt. They were barely more manageable when it was panic compressing your flesh, leaving you shuddering against the bathroom door while you stared at the overfull contents sloshing inside.

"He took Juri's kitten and drowned it in the tub."

Earth became ocean. From there into air. Liquid overspilled its container and teased the boy's feet, dribbling like a secret sin over the bathroom tiles, painting the room wet.

Fur floated on the top of the water's surface like so much duckweed, congealing around the larger lump bobbing in the center.

Anthy's fingers kept running over the silky strands, petting, petting, petting.

"He held it under. It died."


"Then when--"

"Shh," the Rose Bride soothed. "Shh."

Touga's hands released her skirt. Fingers went lax, limp, spread in a sleeper's restless peace. They floated on the surface of her school uniform. Drifting.

The curtains came down.

House lights flickered on around them, revealing the empty theater and ghost-roses that seeped their perfume upon the air. Soundroom B had concluded the week's performance. Already the actors were beginning to scuffle away, no longer building stories behind the shadowcloths. One girl called out in search of her makeup kit. Fifteen minutes, and the stage crew would begin to collect the chairs back again, tabulating the metal corpses in neat stacks against the wall.

The Rose Bride leaned down over the body prone on her knees. "It's time to go, Touga. Are you ready?"

A peevish wheedle cut through the air before she received her answer. "Aren't you finished yet, Anthy?"

Clatter of a katana sheath was Saionji's second announcement of arrival; the green-haired teenager was swaggering down the informal aisle, turning his hips in navigation of the tightly-packed chairs. It was a misstep that caused him to strike one of the seats by accident. Giving not a single look back to see if he had knocked anything out of place, the duelist instead swept himself along through the theater.

He paused as he neared her row. Frowned. "Where in the world did you get that dirty thing?" the duelist snapped accusingly, twitching a finger up to point directly at Anthy's legs.

The object of the kendo player's disdain yawned long, revealing a tiny pink tongue that curled around ivory points of teeth before the scornful muzzle closed.

Anthy neatly set the kitten aside on the floor. It sniffed with some curiosity at the stickiness of dried soda and then proceeded to bat at a leftover piece of popcorn. "Please don't mind it, Saionji, sir. It's only a stray."

"Stray or not, I hope you don't make a habit of picking such creatures up. Damn!" This last exclamation came punctuated with a spasm of Saionji's leg. The kitten had set its claws in the kendo player's shin in attempt to catch the stray lace of the teenager's running shoes.

Saionji, predictably, had tried to kick it.

Anthy stooped as swift as any hawk, carefully disentangling the string out of the kitten's paws. It lost interest with the game as soon as she covered the potential toy underneath her hand. "There," she soothed, apologized. "All better."

Distraction achieved its desired goal. The feline's small nose poked at her wrist, and then tried to hunt invisible mice in the grasslands of her hair.

Saionji was not so convinced. "If it's shredded my shoelace..." he growled, letting the threat trail out unfinished.

The Rose Bride's blank smile curled smug as she regarded the feline. "It seems you don't have to worry about that, sir." Finishing her work with a pat, she shooed the cat away after a final touch to the creature's head. "In the end, he knew it would be better if he let go."