A Darkling Plain
I thought I got rid of the urge to be melodramatic and dark and maudlin with my Kish/Ichigo story, "Eyes of Puppets Strangled," to which this is a thematic (although certainly not a literal) sequel. But here we are again. If you're reading this because you liked Tokyo Ew Ew and its related fic, be warned: This is nothing like that.
I started this fic a looong time ago, but I finished it (and by "finished," I mean "wrote everything but the opening flashback") for Kish's Kittie's one-shot contest, which can be found in her Free Imagination forum, www. fanfiction. net/topic/40530/3928087/1/. Check it out (without the spaces in the URL, obviously) and submit your own one-shots.
Disclaimer 1: I own neither Tokyo Mew Mew nor the opening quote, which belong to Rei Yoshida/Mia Ikumi and Matthew Arnold, respectfully.
Disclaimer 2: This story contains violence, language, and nongraphic m/f sex, both consensual and otherwise. It also contains spoilers for those of you who don't know who Deep Blue is.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And here we are as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
-Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach"
Mew Ichigo stepped over the prone bodies of her teammates, desperately firing attacks at the advancing Deep Blue. The other Mews didn't stir as the battle moved past them, either dead or unconscious—Ichigo couldn't tell which. The pink light of her powers thudded uselessly against the chest of the monster that was once her soul mate. The catgirl flinched as she backed into a tree, and in that instant, Deep Blue swung his blade at her head. Her reflexes were still sharp enough that she narrowly dodged the blow, but she was woozy from blood loss, and, thrown off-balance by her sudden lurch, she tumbled to the ground.
Being part cat, she caught herself fairly adroitly on fingers and toes, but Deep Blue slammed the hilt of his sword into her back and she dropped. Again she rolled to avoid a sword-stroke, and from her new position on her back she could see Kish, a look of frantic concern on his otherworldly face, being held back by the other two aliens. She sensed, in a way she couldn't quite fathom, that his worry was for her, that he loved her in his own sorry way, and yet she knew just as instinctively that there would be no help from him.
The strawberry Mew managed to hoist her tired, sore body into a crouching position, but Deep Blue landed a vicious kick to her stomach and she was on her back again. She sensed another blow coming, but there was a clash of colliding steel and then something was between her and her assailant. Slightly dazed, it took her a moment to realize it was Ryou, a sword in his hand, trembling underneath the alien's tremendous strength but holding his ground nonetheless.
'I didn't even know Ryou-san could use a sword,' Ichigo thought detachedly,
Her reverie was broken by a muffled cry of pain from Ryou. She couldn't quite tell how it happened, but suddenly there was a gash on his shoulder, bleeding steadily. "Ichigo! Run!" the blond boy bellowed at her. She scrambled to her feet but hesitating, not wanting to leave him. "GO!" As he ground out the word through clenched teeth, he managed to force Deep Blue back. It was only a tiny victory, but it gave Ichigo the courage she needed.
The first thing Ichigo felt was a jolt, and then the coolness of stone against her bruised face. Consciousness came to her slowly, hesitantly. It was a small eternity before she could lift her head, and even longer before the vague green shapes surrounding her solidified into trees.
Even before she could make out his form against the forest that surrounded him, she knew he was there. After a year on his Earth, she couldn't believe that he still reminded her of Masaya, but the resemblance was there, and for a second it left her breathless.
She pulled herself onto her knees and attempted to stand, but something thin and cold slapped against her back and forced her to kneel down again. It hurt when she turned her head, but she turned it anyway, looking up and up into another face that was familiar, save for the nausea that welled up in her when she saw those blank, purple eyes.
Zakuro. Zakuro, carrying a spear like some perversion of the cross she wielded back when she was Ichigo's ally. Zakuro, who didn't even glance downward as she forced Ichigo to pay homage to the monster she had once sworn to protect the world from.
When she first saw, she couldn't believe it. She had thought all her teammates had perished in that final fight. Occasionally she still had nightmares of being chased over their motionless bodies.
And yet here was Zakuro, somehow alive and well after more almost a year. She looked just as she had the last time Ichigo had seen her, save for that the fear and concern that had marred her lovely features during that desperate battle had been replaced by a look of placid calm.
"Ichigo-san, I know you didn't want to be disturbed, but this girl said she knew you and…" stammered out the young Resistance member who had brought Zakuro to Ichigo's chamber.
The pink-haired girl nodded and smiled, still in something of a daze. "Yeah, I know her, Noa. She's..." Ichigo couldn't think of a simple way to describe everything that seeing one of the other Mew Mews, alive and well, made her feel. Just seeing Zakuro almost made her feel like herself again, strong and hopeful for the planet's future for the first time in months.
Noa seemed to understand, though, and backed tactfully out of the room. As soon as the young girl was out of sight, Ichigo threw her arms around the wolf-girl, either laughing or sobbing. Zakuro, always somewhat uncomfortable with intimate contact, stiffened, but placed her arms hesitantly around Ichigo.
"Oh, God, Zakuro, I thought I'd lost you all for good!" Ichigo muttered into the taller girl's shoulder. "How did you escape? I was so sure you'd all died..." Ichigo paused, calming down enough to look back up into Zakuro's dead eyes. "What's... what's wrong?"
Silent and blank as ever, Zakuro extracted a small steel syringe from somewhere on her person and plunged it into Ichigo's neck. The catgirl didn't even have time to wonder why before the room swirled and she hit the floor before plunging into blackness.
"Thank you, Zakuro. You may leave her there. I'm confident she won't try anything." That voice sent little spasms down Ichigo's spine. It was Masaya's voice, but with all the warmth and love removed, replaced by cold and impersonal power.
Every inch the defiant resistance leader she had molded herself into, Ichigo stared the alien king down as he descended from his throne, eyes shining in a way that hurt Ichigo to remember. When he reached her, too dizzy and hurting and mad to get up, he cupped her chin and forced her face upward, an unnecessary gesture, as she was already staring murder at him.
Still, the gesture made her feel like a little girl, and the cool dryness of the hand that held her was repulsive. When that hand moved to pat her cheek, she was actually ill, retching violently all over his feet.
Deep Blue simply smiled, making no move to get away or clean himself off. "Yes, I think this will do nicely," he mused. "Zakuro, take her to a cell. She and I have so much catching up to do. Our world has changed in the last year, and I look forward to getting her perspective on things.
With what strength she could muster, Ichigo spat as her dead-eyed former teammate resumed her grip on her arm. Another pair of hands roughly grabbed her other arm, but it was, thank goodness, just a scowling, anonymous alien. Not someone who could hurt her at all. It was almost a comforting thought.
The thing that bothered Ichigo most, her first few months of captivity, was that she couldn't figure out where she was being kept. It had the gray-stoned, barred-windowed look of a medieval dungeon, but she couldn't believe such a place still existed. The year since she had failed to save the world had seen the destruction of many of the human-made structures, as the aliens apparently preferred open-air dwellings of living trees. Some of the first buildings to go were symbols of human authority; certainly any building containing an actual dungeon would have been razed long ago in the aliens' single-minded purge of any evidence that another species had once ruled the earth.
It wasn't so much that she needed to know where she was before she could plan an escape. She knew, or at least she hoped, that her resistance comrades would know better than to try to break her out of- wherever she was, it didn't really matter. She was being held here by Deep Blue himself (or at least she assumed she was; she hadn't seen him since she was first captured), and she prayed that the rest of the rebels weren't that suicidal. She would prefer to stay here forever in the rough scraps of cloth she was given to wear than let the others, the last hope for the few human communities in hiding around the globe, do something so monumentally stupid.
Rescue was out of the question, then. Escape... the barred window had been mortared over, and the stone door was resistant to even her Mew attacks. Trying to escape would only drive her mad, she realized one day as she awoke as if from a trance to realize that she was scrabbling desperately against the door, nails broken and bleeding and throat horse from screaming.
If it came to that, though it looked like she would go mad soon anyway. She hadn't seen another living thing since the day Zakuro (Oh, god, just thinking about Zakuro made her cell feel like it was closing in on her) had thrown her in here. Food was slid into her cell like clockwork, through a slit carved so cunningly into the door that she couldn't even see the crack in the crepuscular gloom, but there was never any evidence of whoever was bringing it to her cell.
She almost didn't know what to think. On the one hand, it was hard to believe that this was the worst thing Deep Blue could think up to do to her. Her battle with him was seared indelibly into her mind, and unless her memory was playing tricks on her, the alien-king hadn't been this roundabout, always preferring bloody, brutal force to accomplish his designs.
On the other, hand, though, being stuck in this cell was slowly driving her insane, she was sure of it. The room was always dimmed to twilight; there was nothing to indicate the passage of time except meals, and she couldn't begin to guess how often she was given food. It was like being buried alive, but she didn't even have eventual, terrified suffocation to end her torment. It was like living in a jar of formaldehyde, preserved forever in a single futile moment.
When he came for her, the first time, she couldn't muster up more than vague surprise. Surprise that the door could open, surprised at the appearance of a humanoid form, and, after the first two had faded somewhat, surprise that the mirage at her door was
"Masaya," she barely breathed the name, vocal chords protesting, atrophied from lack of use. She was sorry as soon as she said it. A smile blossomed on his face, but it wasn't the sort of smile she could ever imagine her beloved wearing. Eyes widening as the fog cleared from her vision, she backed into a corner of her cell and bared her teeth defiantly.
Deep Blue had cut his hair, she realized. His skin was tanner than she remembered it, and, save for the azure robe that swathed his body and his tellingly inhuman ears, he was the very picture of the boy whose body he had stolen.
He walked up to her, unhurriedly and almost gently, and laid a hand on her shoulders.
"G...get the fuck away from me!" the catgirl spat with as much venom as her weakened voice could hold. She shivered under his touch, such a perversion of the gentle boy she knew she'd never see again.
"It's me, Ichigo. He's gone." He pulled her into a soft hug which she couldn't return.
"Shut up! You bastard, how dare you use his memory like that!" Her eyes prickled dryly, but she was too dehydrated to cry. She shoved him away, with a roughness born of frantically confused emotion. He stumbled at the force of her blow, but didn't advance on her again.
"Please, Ichigo. I never wanted you to get hurt. You're... you're the only thing that ever gave me the strength to fight him, the only reason I was able to beat him, finally." His eyes were tearing up, now, and he took a tentative step forward.
Ichigo tensed visibly, but didn't otherwise move away. He took this as a positive sign and continued moving toward her, his hands raised in the universal nonthreatening gesture. Gently, almost hesitantly, he took her hands in his and kissed her fingers.
"You saved me, Ichigo... I love you." She quivered as he pulled her close to him again, and he tenderly brushed a strand of her unwashed hair behind her ear.
She didn't expect the punch to the face.
She stumbled backwards, clutching at her broken nose as blood gushed through her fingers. Deep Blue smiled cruelly and strode back to her, grabbing her wrists in a grip all the more brutal for the tenderness he had shown only moments ago. "It's true, Ichigo," he said in that same delicate Masaya-voice as he slugged her again, this time in the gut. "You mean more to me than anything on this whole precious planet."
Ichigo retched dryly, as much from shock as from the pain radiating from her gut. The alien-king grabbed her upper arms hard enough to leave bruises and slammed her up against the stone wall. She screamed, her vocal cords like sandpaper against her dry throat, but he covered her mouth with his hand.
Her eyes were sharp with impotent rage as she bit down satisfyingly on his fingers, drawing pinpricks of his odd red-green blood.
"You disgusting planet-killing bastard! If you touch me again, I will kill you, do you understand?" she spat, positively shaking with rage.
"Oh, Ichigo, darling," he said with a smile in his voice, like Masaya when he used to show her rare plants he'd found, "I'm sorry, but you really don't have a choice in the matter." He grabbed her chin with his bloody hand, forced her head upwards, and kissed her hard, teeth grinding against resolutely closed lips.
The alien kept her pinned against the wall with his body while his other hand divested her of the scant clothes he allowed her to wear as his prisoner, and then hitched up his own robe. She kicked out violently as he entered her, but he didn't seem to notice the bruises blossoming on his pale legs any more than he cared for the way her eyes filled to overflowing with rage and hate.
When he was finished with her, Deep Blue let Ichigo drop to the stone floor and walked out of her cell without a word. The door swung shut behind him, and Ichigo curled into a fetal position where she lay, not even bothering to retrieve her clothes, and sobbed aridly.
How long she stayed that way she couldn't tell, with the immortal duskiness of the room making it feel like one eternal moment, a broken dragonfly preserved perfectly in amber. She must have drifted off to sleep at some point, because when she looked up for the first time in what felt like forever, Masaya was in her room again.
It wasn't Deep Blue as she had last seen him, made up to look like the wonderful human boy whose life he had stolen. As far as Ichigo could tell, this was Masaya as she remembered him, dreamed about him. He was wearing the kind of dorky, human clothes she hadn't seen for months, even before she was captured, and he was surrounded by a faint golden glow that made him look slightly insubstantial.
Still, she knew now to be cautious, so she pulled her aching body into a defensive crouch, covering her nose that, with her Mew healing factor, was eons less painful than she remembered, and stared threateningly at him. He glided towards her and she realized for the first time that he was floating a few inches off the cold floor.
"Masaya?" she asked guardedly, her wary eyes never leaving his face. He smiled sadly, keeping a good foot away from her.
"Sort of. He's too strong for me; I can't get control of my body. But I get stronger as he does, kind of, and I can take myself out of my body entirely, for a little while."
"How can I trust you? If you're in that goddamn monster's head, you know what he did to me." The apparition lowered it's head, as if in shame or sadness.
"I don't know what I can say to convince you, Ichigo. He's got all my memories to pick through, and sometimes I think he's better at being me than I am. If it'll help, I'll stay over here." He drifted to the corner of the cell opposite where Ichigo crouched, putting as much distance between them as was possible in the tiny room.
"Good. Stay there." Ichigo didn't alter one atom of her defensive stance, but her sore, red-rimmed eyes relaxed a little. "Did you come to help me escape, whoever you are?"
Masaya's ghost, or astral projection, or whatever he claimed to be, looked down at his hands. "Ichigo-chan... I told you, Deep Blue's too strong for me. I can't really affect nonliving physical things when I'm like this, and I can't make my body come help you." He brushed semitransparent fingers through the air like he was brushing tears from her cheeks, although he was nearly ten feet away.
"What the hell good are you, then?" Ichigo fairly spat, her eyes freezing again.
"I just... I wanted to apologize, I guess," the apparition said slowly, moving his hands as if trying to paint an invisible picture of his intentions. "If I had been stronger, at that last battle- If I could've worn him out somehow, mentally, you could have beat him and none of this would've happened!" The words gushed out of him like a waterfall, tumbling over one another in their efforts to get out of his mouth.
"Oh, my God..." Ichigo breathed, "it really is you, isn't it?"
"Yeah, Ichigo-chan. It's me."
"You can't- you can't fucking blame yourself," she replied harshly, fighting back dry tears for what felt like the thousandth time that day. "I tried that, blaming other people, but it was my fault. All my goddamn fault-" She broke off, her mouth opening and closing in silent convulsions. Against all the logic she possessed, she crawled across the cell to where Masaya floated and pulled the ghost-boy into a desperate hug.
Hugging him was strange, like he was only half-there, but he felt more solid than anything in her life had for more than a year. He wrapped semi-solid arms around her and just held her, not moving except to murmur reassurances in her ear.
Masaya held Ichigo like that until she drifted back to sleep. He laid her down as gently as he could on the wooden cot against one corner of the cell, and then gradually faded away like mist at sunrise.
Later, Ichigo was roughly awoken by Deep Blue's foot connecting with her rib cage. She groaned blearily as he hauled her to her feet, no fake-Masaya words for her this time, and hit her until blood poured from her mouth and she could feel teeth coming loose. He took her again, but her mind was filled with nothing but Masaya, her prince who had come to her rescue when she needed it most, and the thought of him was enough to distance her from the horrible things happening to her body.
When he left her this time, all she felt was numb, but the pain from her injuries soon reasserted itself, and she dragged herself over to her cot and laid down, shaking now that she'd let the feelings through.
Masaya visited her again that night, and his mere presence somehow made her feel like maybe everything wasn't lost. His semi-corporeal hands settled gently over her wounds, and wherever he laid his fingers, Ichigo could feel blood vessels healing and bones reknitting themselves under his touch.
They kissed, that night, as sweet and unhurried as if they were still innocent, as if the last year had never happened. They kissed, but went no further, and Ichigo, who had been saving herself for their wedding until the world had crashed to a halt, knew that whatever Deep Blue chose to do to her now, she could face it because she knew real love.
Ichigo's captive life settled into a rhythm after that. Deep Blue did whatever he could to break her during the day, but Masaya came to her at night, healing her wounds and doing everything he could to ease her pain. The nighttime visits increased Ichigo's tolerance to the day's abuse, which incensed Deep Blue into ever more terrible actions. If he noticed how well she healed, he said nothing, but her placid tolerance of anything he chose to do piqued a dark curiosity.
There was no way for Ichigo to notice such emotion while she distanced herself from the pain, thinking hard about the boy she loved. Besides, she never looked at Deep Blue's face while he was with her. There was never anything in it that reminded her of Masaya any more, now that she was so filled with the true Masaya, but she averted her eyes all the same, not wanting to give the alien the satisfaction of seeing the emotion in her face.
As it happened, Ichigo would have been wise to pay more heed to the alien-king's growing suspicions. That night, the door burst open and Deep Blue stalked into the cell.
His royal eyes widened a fraction as he took in Ichigo and Masaya, holding each other in the twilight, and then narrowed. As the alien concentrated, Masaya's ghostly form evanesced like morning mist, his consciousness being pulled back into his stolen body.
Livid with rage, Deep Blue grabbed Ichigo by the hair and pulled her off the cot, then lifted her off the ground by the neck. As she struggled to breathe, he brought his face close to hers.
"How dare you?" the monster spat, "With him of all people? Filthy little whore. You belong to me, Kitten. Never, ever forget that." With that, he threw her to the floor. She glared back at him, forgetting her unwillingness to look him in the eye as she spasmodically massaged her bruised throat. "Ah. Is that what gets your attention, slut? That I know about your little boyfriend? Rest assured, my dear, you'll never see him again. He has always been my creation, my puppet, and I can uncreate him whenever I choose! But never mind that now. I have something special for you tonight, harlot."
He delivered a vicious blow to the side of Ichigo's head, and her world was slowly leeched of color, eventually fading to black.
When Ichigo came to, she was in a room she didn't recognize. It had the open, airy look and leafy walls of the aliens' dwellings, and she was lying on something soft. She tried to groan, but her throat was too sore even for that, and she managed to roll over only with a great deal of pain.
Once she was on her side, she saw Deep Blue, sitting next to the bed on which she was laying. She blinked.
"Ah, you're awake. Excellent. I didn't want you to miss this, you vile little slut." He gestured expansively to the room around him. "My private chambers. At the top of a tree in what used to be Tokyo, back when the planet-rapers controlled this beautiful Earth. I trust the accommodations are to your liking."
He climbed on the bed next to her and opened his robe. Ichigo realized just that moment that she herself was nude, and she cringed a little, knowing what was coming.
Deep Blue took her hard and fast, with inhuman stamina, until she screamed through her painful windpipe. He rained down blows like a sledgehammer, hissing epithets in her ear all the while. Eventually, she stopped moving beneath him, and when he made his way off her and examined her critically, he knew she was dead.
A golden light suddenly shone in the darkened arbor, and Masaya's astral form coalesced and picked the dead catgirl up gently, cradling her in his arms.
The two alter-egos stared silently at each other for a long frozen moment. Then, Masaya set Ichigo's broken corpse gingerly back on the bed and lunged. His incorporeal form merged swiftly back into his stolen body.
Masaya wiggled his fingers, his fury and grief at Ichigo's death giving him the strength to take control of his own body for the first time in over a year. Setting his face grimly, he summoned Deep Blue's sword and turned the blade on his own chest. It hurt more than anything had ever hurt him, but he hung on to the last, unwilling to let Deep Blue regain any control over their body. In his final moment, he was pleased to see that his blood was human.