"Hast thou courageous fire to thaw the ice?"

-Satyre John Donne

Disclaimer: I do not own JO or Theodore Roethke's The Waking.

Reflections on chapter six:

I looked back, and there's some lyrics going on there:

We two seem to be in a competition,

To see who can work the longest without respite;

It would seem so,

Unless there's some other poor soul lurking about tonight.

Katsu, you rhyming poet, you!

Katsu: Word.

Also: You may have noticed that Tokiko-san was portrayed as a minister. YES. She was a minister before she married Shiba. That's why Caius calls her Minister Tokiko Arisugawa. The flashback was before she got married. Sorry if that confused anybody; I was just trying to build a timeline. It may have fallen on its face like a bad omelette.

A rather reasonable warning to all that are reading C.F: You know, I've been looking over the last chapter and asking myself about the realism of it and I've discovered that it falls short. (a.k.a. Was I on something illegal while writing it?)

Therefore, I'm replacing it with the alternate chapter six I wrote much more recently.

This is non-negotiable, for I re-read chapter and almost committed seppuku.

Cheers,

FM

A reply to: "Took you long enough, didn't it, FM?"

I talked on LJ about by chapter length and I've decided to chop up my poems and cut down my chapters so that I don't have to work on one chapter for like…months and now you lovely people can read them sooner.

So, the poem The Waking will be continued in another chapter.

-


I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

The first thing that woke him was the shrill stinging at his throat.

"N-Naoya?"

"Ungh," he groaned and tried to turn over but his abused forearm was pinioned between his torso and the mattress, and he recoiled with a smothered cry.

"Oh no." Haruna's cool hand was at his brow. Her fingers brushed delicately over his neck. "Well, at least this is finally stanched."

"Ha…Haruna?" It pained him. His cheek felt strange when he tried to speak.

"What happened to you, brother?" she demanded. "You didn't tell me you were so injured."

"I didn't think I was," he replied scratchily.

"Hmph." She helped him sit up and piled the pillows behind him. His eyes immediately lit upon a long ravelled trail of used bandages on the table; the thin ribbon-like tape was spotted brown with blood.

He raised his good arm and touched the side of his throat. His shoulder twinged.

"Mother helped me change the bandage there and at your arm," Haruna said, knowing what he was about to ask.

"M-Mother? Where is…she?"

"She was here with me, but she had to go to the E.G.O Institute on emergency call. She could not refuse."

"I…" A cough. "I see."

"Yes." She passed him a cup of water, which he drank gratefully. Greedily. He handed back the empty cup.

"Damn Patricius," Itsuki muttered, his voice clearer. He ran his tongue over the inside of his cheek; it felt swollen. "He could have told me I was bleeding."

"Perhaps he could not see- it was very dark."

"Yes, that must be i-" His eyes shot to her face. "What did you say?"

She reddened. "W-Well, Lady Kirihara was here to see you, and when she touched your arm, she asked me about the man you had talked to last night."

His eyes widened. "How could she-"

"-Mindbreaker." Haruna's mouth was in a thin line; she didn't care for Mindbreakers much. Too many of them had tried to gain control of her in the past. "Untapped too. Naïve. Who knows how much power she has?"

Itsuki shivered and clenched his fists. She had no right to pry into my…But Kirihara's smiling face came to his mind and he could not bring himself to think ill of her. Whatever she had done, she had done for his sake.

"What else…what else did she say?"

"She didn't stay for long. Only a few minutes, to ask after your health, hope that you had healed."

He couldn't fathom this for a moment.

"I don't deserve it," he whispered finally. "I don't deserve her kindness."

"No, you don't," Haruna agreed.

"And yet she gives it still." He marvelled at this. He marvelled at her. Such a kind gesture. Such a kind woman. Much better than him, to be sure.

Much better.

It disconcerted him. Better to talk and hope the sound blotted it out. He was so weak; his thoughts were so flimsy- a bit of noise would scare them away. He had to talk. Anything. "Haruna?"

"Hmm?"

"Did…did Kaname come with Lady Kirihara?"

"I think you know better than to ask such a question," she said stiffly. "And I know better than to answer it." Hesitation, then, "It would only hurt you."

"I deserve to be hurt," Itsuki said painfully. His fingers clenched around his arm. "I deserve to be hurt as much as I hurt him. I-" The crusting blood at his arm broke and warm wetness leaked out through his fingers.

"Stop it!" Haruna shouted and pushed him violently. The pillows slid out from behind him and he collapsed back onto the mattress, stunned. His backbone felt hollow.

Haruna squeezed her eyes closed for a moment. "Stop it," she said more quietly. "I won't ask you again."

"But I-"

She was already tying a fresh bandage around his arm. "Be quiet, Naoya! How can you stand to hurt yourself so? You'll suffer enough trying to win Lord Kusakabe back!"

"As if I ever had him in the first place," Itsuki muttered.

A heavy pause.

He looked up. "Haruna?"

She was looking at him curiously. "Is…is that what yesterday was about?"

"What?"

Her eyes had a kind of steady intensity he could not bear to meet for more than a few moments. How could he have known that he himself had worn the same expression many times? This expression, which made Kusakabe uneasy and unable to look away. "Is that why you attacked him in the Arena yesterday? He has not been a friend to you?" She touched the back of his hand with her fingertips.

"He is one of my closest friends," Itsuki replied defensively.

"He is close to you, and yet now he drifts. Isn't that what you think?"

She was beginning to frighten him now. "I think nothing of it."

"Of course you do. You think everything of it. You think everything of him."

"O-of course. He is my friend; I think of him quite highly."

Her lips quirked; it was an odd gesture. It did not fit her somehow. "Of course." Then, a sigh. "What a thing to have a steady friend."

A little shock jolted through his chest and his mouth tasted acrid and dry. Wasn't that…wasn't that what he had thought…yesterday, back in the Arena. Before he had attacked Kanam-

A stinging pain at the back of his hand made him jerk away. There were two round burn marks there, against his pale skin. Two marks the shape of fingertips. "Haruna!"

"Ah, I am sorry!" she cried. "I didn't mean to let my power loose-"

"-It it nothing," he reassured her. "It's not your fault. You're so tired- look, I can see dark circles under your eyes. Please get some rest, Haruna."

"How can I rest knowing you're in the next room in this kind of state," she protested, applying some salve to the burn marks.

He stretched his arms out above his head. She had to chase his hand with the dollop of salve on her fingertips. "Bah, I'm awake now; I couldn't stay abed if you tied me down." He swung his feet over the bed and looked for his slippers. "I think I'll go take a stroll along the walkway."

She stayed his arm. "I don't think you want to face the courtiers so soon," she murmured.

His smile still held, but now it was pasted on. "I have to deal with them sooner or later. I have to be held accountable and let them pass judgement on me. I want to have life go back to some sort of normalcy."

"They'll tear you apart like vultures on carrion."

The image made his stomach lurch. "Perhaps."

"Naoya, this is stupid. What will you-"

But his shirt was already covering up the bandages on his arm; his jacket was already around his slight shoulders.

Her mouth pursed. "Naoya…"

But he was already opening the door to the bathroom across the hall.

"I'll just clean up; you go on and rest," he said and tried to smile at his sister charmingly. "Come now, would you deprive me of my right to brush this horrible taste out of my teeth?"

"Hmph."

-

I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.

-

He closed the door and glanced up at the mirror, then froze. His reflection looked back. There, a bruise over one eye. His mottled cheek, ah. It had swelled to twice its size, the inflammation reaching almost to his jaw. He saw his own eyes, staring back in surprise.

Then suddenly, it seemed comical.

His throat throbbed raw as he began to laugh, but he paid it no mind. He was a clown, a buffoon. He could almost imagine his whole face puffed up, with circles of paint over each cheek and a bruise over one eye! He could imagine his bandaged fingers twisting flowers in whimsical circlets for young children. He could see himself cavorting and cartwheeling in gross parody with a tattered arm.

He laughed and laughed, leaning over the sink weakly. He could not stop. His shoulder and hand flared up as he grasped the lip of the basin. His jaw was aching and he felt giddy. Still, he laughed. He laughed until he cried.

And then.

And then he was truly crying. Leaning over into the sink, face almost buried in the basin like a child burying into his mother's comforting shoulder.

But the ceramic felt hard and cold against his cheek.

He tried to nestle his face into the curve of the basin to hide his noise, to hide it from Haruna, who was only a hallway apart.

It would not silence.

Haruna, she could never know. Haruna.

He cried harder, great gulping sobs. Mouth open, eyes burning and wet.

His chest felt as if it had collapsed in on itself. There was nothing there, anymore. The sternum was fragmented, his ribs had bent to impossible angles. He would have touched them, but he could not let go of the sink. His legs were too weak. He would have crumpled.

He opened his mouth to gasp, and…

And…

His lungs, what had happened to them? Perhaps they had flattened into paper; perhaps they had fallen into his stomach and withered in the wash of gastric acid.

Is that what had happened to his heart?

Ah.

It had been lost.

Lost? No.

It had been given away. He could not remember.

It had been thrown back like a fish onto land, where it lay there struggling and gasping.

How could it not? It had been used to the sea for so long.

What was it to do?

What was he to do?

He could not bear watching it flop and flail so pathetically. He had taken it back; he had eaten it. He had eaten his own heart and found the taste bitter and gritty.

And now, he was vomiting it back up.

And once he started, he could not stop. He could feel it surge from his stomach and splatter out into the basin- a sour acidic burning at the back of his throat. A gasp, and then a wet desperate coughing. Another heave. It reeked.

He was not even retching now- he was too weak to retch. It was simply flooding from his throat. Corrosive. His tongue was coated in it.

Splatter.

Metallic. Slippery with phlegm.

Cough. A half sob, but his stomach heaved and he ended up vomiting.

The mucus was dripping from his nose. Down into his mouth. Into the sink in long stringy beads.

Cough. A wipe at his nose, but now it was all over his hand. He turned on the tap and the vomit circled nauseatingly in the water before going down the drain.

He stopped the water.

He was fine. He was fi-

Another heave. It was not all out of his stomach. It was not yet done with him.

He was coughing as he vomited now. A good sign.

He could feel a crusting of vomit pulling tight the skin of his lower lip.

At last it came out. Hot and liquid and sour. It was the milk from yesterday's coffee. Gone. Gone down the drain and washed away.

He turned the hot water tap completely and splashed it onto the white ceramic. A hot purging would rid the sink of the smell.

He was next. He blew his nose till his ears felt strange whenever he swallowed, and he could hear his own breath too loudly. . The water was steaming now. His hands were becoming red from it. A harsh scrubbing for his face, water dashed against his swollen eyes. He rinsed out his mouth again and again A scoop of water into his mouth and he tipped back his head to gargle and get the acidic taste out of his throat. The torn skin at his neck pulled and stung.

Then suddenly, the water was too hot, and he had to turn it off hurriedly. He put his face into the towel and felt like the god Haesmondis putting his face into his mother's lap.

Itsuki pressed his hands into the towel. They were too tender and prune-like and stung from the hot water.

His shirt felt too cold against his skin and as he felt it, he saw that it was soggy with water. He would have to go change it. Surely he had other shirts that were not wrinkled or dusty.

Or bloodied.