015. Part of my 100 Songs Challenge.

Inspired By: Clair De Lune, Debussy

Disclaimer: I don't own HM or the song. Obviously.

A/N: I always notice how Mimi is always dressed up to perform some sort of acrobatic routine. But to my knowledge, she never does. I wonder why…?

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She imagines herself a swan in flight.

( she's not pretending, no, she never pretends because this feeling isn't make-believe - it's greater than that, an emotion that stirs from its slumber in the depths of her soul )

She takes to the air. Soaring, wheeling, gliding on wings of pearlescent white, far above the multitude of upturned, awestruck faces. They are captivated, she knows. Hypnotized by her winged waltz; entranced by her effortless grace.

For tonight ( just tonight, though there will be other nights after this one - ) she is beauty embodied. She is Aphrodite, goddess of love and desire, flying high above the wicked world, untouched by human cruelties and concerns. She is Artemis, goddess of the hunt and the moon, which on this night carves a waning crescent through the star-speckled sky.

There are feathers in her hair, plumage rich with dappled light, and wisps of delicate wind are caressing her skin as she soars. Her mind is elated and free, as if she is drunk on the euphoria that only flight can bring ( but drink makes one sluggish and slow, she thinks - flight is more like a drug, addictive and habit-forming until the need for it cannot be denied ).

She never wants to come down from this high.

But no swan is infallible. Eventually, gravity takes its cursed toll on all creatures, be they man or beast or somewhere in between. Eventually, every bird must return to the earth from whence it came to rest its weary wings. She is no exception.

( but she wishes, wishes with all her heart that she might stay in the air just a little longer, because the feel of solid ground, that terrible stillness, reminds her that she - )

She is but a woman.

Her feet touch down, and in an instant her swan self retreats back into her soul and she's human once more, a being with no wings with which to fly. The applause is raucous ( a standing ovation, she knows ) but her eyes are sad as she gazes upwards and outwards, beyond the striped tent that cages her, to a place where birds fly uninhibited by the iron bars of a trapeze.

She gazes toward freedom.

--

Once upon a time, her mother kept a white dove in a gilded cage by her bedside. Amongst all the silks and jewels and finery that decorated her mother's room, it was the purity of the dove that shone the brightest. Mirabelle ( for that was her name in those days, a name fit for ballrooms and operas and croquet in the topiary garden ) was not allowed to go near it.

"Don't touch Mother's prized pet, Mirabelle. She's not used to you, and she might nip at your fingers."

( the girl doubted this, for how could something so fragile and angelic do anything of the sort? )

The dove's name was Bianca. She had downy feathers of the most brilliant ivory, and her eyes were like little black beads that reflected the flickering candlelight. Mirabelle often found herself admiring Bianca and thinking how lovely she was, with her gossamer wings and delicate beak.

( if only she could pet those soft feathers, just once - )

Look, don't touch, for things are easily broken.

"Look, Mirabelle," Mother once said, as she sat at the vanity and brushed her dark hair that fell across her shoulders like a mourning veil. "See how beautiful Bianca is?"

And Mirabelle looked – really looked, not just a passing glance of envy and longing. And Mirabelle saw for the first time what she had missed before. Bianca's gossamer wings were clipped; she could not fly. Her empty eyes stared dully at the fanciful bars of her cage. And while her appearance was pretty, yes, there was an aching melancholy about her – a yearning, perhaps, for something she had never known – that made her seem pitiful.

"Yes, Mother," Mirabelle replied, ever the obedient child. "Bianca is very beautiful."

It was to be the first ( but not the last ) time that she would lie to her mother.

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She imagines herself an elegant crane.

( she's not pretending, no, she never pretends because these emotions within her are so hauntingly real that there's no need for fantasy )

She takes to the air. Bolstered by the flow of the cool north wind beneath her wings, she flies high above the throng of indefinite faces and sees their blind eyes glittering with rapture. They are spellbound, she knows. Bewitched by her sensual movements; ensnared by the friction of muscle against muscle as her white wings take her higher and higher and higher…

For tonight ( just tonight - ) she is divinity in avian guise. She is Nephthys, goddess of the night and the wild birds. She is Isis, goddess of love and immortality.

And this, yes, this is her temple, where spectators gather to worship her ethereal splendor. The awe in their eyes, their hushed murmurs, their gasps of pure wonder… Those are her offerings. The devout give her so much, yes, and she rewards them, soaring and wheeling with all the poise of a crane.

( revere me, she thinks, adore me so that i may fly again - )

Her hand slips.

Just an inch more to the left, and she would have had it.

Gravity takes hold. She plummets like a stone, and in a panic tries to extend her wings and catch the air beneath them, but she has forgotten that she has no wings to catch her because she is a woman, nothing more, not a swan or a crane or a winged deity…

The ground is rushing up to meet her. The wind is whistling by her. Horrified shrieks reach her ears.

Pain comes next.

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Once upon a time, her mother kept a white dove named Bianca in a gilded cage by her bedside. But Bianca eventually grew tired and sickly and passed away, as all creatures ( lovely or otherwise ) must do. They found her lying stiffly at the bottom of her cage one morning ( rigor mortis ), her deadened eyes closed to the world. Mirabelle's mother 'tsk'ed unhappily, gave Bianca one last fond glance, and then called a servant and told them to bury the bird out back.

And that was that.

For beauty, they say, is a fleeting thing - a spark that ignites and burns with terrific passion, and yet is doused just as its flaming heart begins to glow.

No, beauty never lasts.

Mother got a new dove soon after, but this one was not forlorn and well-behaved like Bianca had been. It cooed incessantly in the nighttime hours, driving Mother to lock the birdcage inside her wardrobe. It struck viciously at any stray hand that tried to touch it. It rattled the bars of its gilded cage at every opportunity, constantly seeking a way out, an escape.

( accepting a life of imprisonment is not an easy task, for one must throw aside every natural sensibility, every fragment of purpose and rationality they possess )

One day, a servant girl was assigned the task of cleaning this new bird's cage ( a name, no, it was never blessed with a name ). As soon as she opened the hinged door the dove darted past her outstretched fingers in a flurry of white. Its flight feathers had not been clipped in quite a while, and they were beginning to grow back, but the dove's flight was still impeded. Its wings flapped haltingly as it aimed for the open window, and it only made it halfway across the room before crashing to the floor in a pitiable heap.

The servant girl picked up the dove with cautious hands and held it out for Mirabelle and her mother to see. Its right wing was bent and twisted grotesquely like the trunk of a juniper tree, and yet somehow its gleaming black eyes still shone with life.

( the open window was just a few quick wing strokes away, so close, so close, so close - )

"Oh goodness," Mother murmured. "It seems as if it's hurt itself. How… unfortunate. Take it to James, will you Leila? Tell him to put the poor beast out of its misery."

Mirabelle's eyes widened in horror. "No! Don't kill it!" she exclaimed.

Mother's dark, unnerving gaze turned upon her then, surveying Mirabelle as if she was suddenly a stranger. "Pray tell, my dear. Why not?" Her sickly sweet voice trickled into Mirabelle's ears like syrup.

"… Well, you're just going to clip its wings anyhow," the girl said, desperation tingeing her tone. "It doesn't have to fly…"

( but birds are meant to fly, are they not? )

"I don't think you understand, Mirabelle," Mother said, her eyes like chips of diamond. "This dove is flawed; it is no longer beautiful. No one wants to gaze upon a bird with a broken wing."

She sent the servant girl away with a nonchalant wave of her hand.

Mirabelle watched from the window, eyes prickling with hot tears, as they buried the dove next to Bianca.

--

Dawn is tingeing the sky in pastel hues of orange and pink, and there is a nightingale in the branches of the tree outside her window. It sings a peaceful tune that soothes her soul, calming the tempestuous waves buffeting her fragile heart.

The doctors are speaking to her, but she isn't really listening. Occasionally, she picks up a phrase or two – "lucky to be alive," "could have been confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your life," "damage to your spinal cord, but nothing detrimental."

And then she hears something that gets her attention.

"I'm afraid that the trapeze will no longer be an option."

She turns her dark eyes ( so much like your mother's, people tell her ) upon the doctors for the first time, appraising them slowly. "What did you say?" she murmurs.

The younger of the two doctors exchanges a nervous glance with his superior. He clears his throat. "I'm sorry," he says quietly. "But you will no longer be able to perform on the trapeze… Or do any kind of acrobatics, for that matter. You might risk injuring your spine even further."

She stares at him, uncomprehending.

"…You mean… I can never fly again?" The words tremble tenuously on her lips, a ghost of a whisper. Confusion flickers across the faces of both the doctors.

"But… But I must!" she exclaims, voice beginning to escalate in volume and anxiety. "You can't clip my wings; I won't let you! I was always meant to fly – it's my purpose, my reason for living! I am a goddess, you hear!? A goddess! I simply won't allow this! Who are you to tell me what - "

The young doctor has stuck a needle in her arm. His eyes are cold as he injects the sedative into her bloodstream.

"You are tired, hurt, and delusional," he says harshly, pushing her back against the pillows. "Get some rest, and hopefully tomorrow you will be thinking a bit more rationally." He turns to his colleague and mutters, "A goddess! Honestly, have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?"

Her mind is already feeling fuzzy, as if a thick fog were swirling in between her thoughts. Her tongue feels heavy, and though she would like to speak up and reprimand the doctor for speaking so rudely of a divine being like herself, she cannot. Her eyelids are like lead, steadily drooping lower and lower as sleep overcomes her…

The last thing Mimi sees before she is embraced by unconsciousness is the nightingale. It extends its wings ( beautiful in their freedom - ) and takes off, each wing stroke like a knife slicing through the tinted air of morning. She watches it fly until it is naught but a speck again the sun-streaked sky, and then falls headfirst into the suffocating blackness.

--

The young doctor is remorseful for the way he treated Mimi.

He returns to her room later that day to find her still lost within slumber's grasp, tear tracks running down each cheek.

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The nightingale does not return.

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the caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.
-- maya angelou