Warning: This story involves two women together. If you're not fond of such things, you might not like this. There's also some light innuendo here, so proceed with caution, ye wee innocent underage readers. I'm not responsible for searing out your retinas—though I would be honored if you'd grant me the privilege.
Commentary: A Stradivarius is a kind of very rare and superlative violin. They are extremely expensive. Lostinhersong deserves one (and a private concert from Michiru) for staying up late to beta this for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
To all of you who read, review, message, question, critique, and encourage me: thank you so much. Please continue to do so.
As always, I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Disclaimer: I do not own the BSSM franchise. It belongs to the goddess Takeuchi Naoko.
Painted scenes, I'm up all night
Slaying monsters, flying kites
Speak to me in foreign tongues
Share your secrets one by one
Will you fly me away
Take me away with you
—Annie Little, "Fly Me Away"
They start as all children's terrors do, and she wakes in the night grasping at her sheets with small hands, her mouth wide open in a silent scream, her cheeks wet, her chest locked in a creeping icebox horror. Her skin crawls. Her heart claws its way up into her throat and the moonlight spilling in through the window is bright, so bright, like knives, and she thinks one thought before her voice comes back and her shriek fills every corner of her home:
She cannot remember the dream then. Kaioh Michiru is five years old.
It comes back with her mother's sickness the next winter, fleeting footsteps of demons in the dark. The evening after they see the elegant woman delivered beneath the snow in a silver box, Michiru screams herself awake and sobs her fear of the end of the world into her father's concerned embrace. He looks down into her tearstained face and smoothes her aquamarine hair away from her hot sticky cheeks, pearly drops clinging to the strands like dew, and he tells her sssh, sssh. He assures her that such dreams will go away with time.
He is wrong.
She dreams. Oh, she dreams.
Come springtime, Michiru's face is hollow and she carries the shade of seeping sorrow in her eyes. Her household's servants worry over her, combing fingers through her fine candyfloss locks. Her father notes in her slight form the same threat of death he saw in his wife, and he closes himself away from his daughter and her fathomless gaze. Against the better judgment of all involved, she enters primary school as April arrives and cherry blossom buds wink into life on the otherwise bare branches of the estate's trees. They must take in her sailor skirt so it will fit her, and under her starched white blouse her ribs glare, an accusingly inexplicable xylophone.
The other children avoid her immediately, instinctively. They thrust her to the outskirts of their groups as rabbits will force sickened individuals to the edge of an otherwise healthy warren. On that first day, at lunchtime, she sits by herself in the corner of her classroom and stares unseeingly from the window. Her food sits untouched on her desk; her hands rest in her lap, trembling, clenched. She imagines the world breaking apart before her, a red-riddled sea of death, the scent of decay in her nostrils, the silt of a thousand funeral pyres caked at the corners of her eyes.
She is aware enough to know the window is unlocked, and that her classroom is three stories above the basketball courts. Her thighs quiver. Her heartbeat throbs in her temples and she licks her lips, and she tenses, and her hands push the window open. She steps to it: she hooks her fingers over the sill. She sucks in a breath that's almost a sob and stiffens her knees when there is something, a searing sound that warbles to her on the spring's spritebrim breeze and brands itself boldly onto her brain. It shocks her, stills her, holds her fast.
Wait, it says.
She listens to it for a long time, such that she forgets to breathe again and black spots swim before her eyes. Her teacher, a kind old woman who thinks Kaioh Michiru a troubled child, notices her standing thus with her lunch uneaten and wanders over to ask, "Ah, dear, not hungry today?"
Michiru inhales for the first time in three minutes, wobbles, and asks what the sound is.
The teacher listens too and rests a careful hand on the child's shoulder. She is astounded to find it sharp as a blade. "That? The music class. They play in the gymnasium."
Michiru asks to go see it.
The teacher surveys the child. Normally she would say no: because there are over twenty other students gamboling shamelessly about the classroom, and she should watch them lest they spill their food, or throw it, or forget to clean up after themselves. But the girl with seascape hair at the window is almost shivering, and the circles under her eyes stand out like bruises—and this time, really, why not? She makes an exception. She takes Michiru's cold fingers and escorts her to the gymnasium, where she watches the child touch a violin for the first time. It is like seeing a drowning man's hand close over a life ring, and for a while, at least, Michiru is saved.
Michiru picks the violin because it is the first instrument she spots when she steps into that gymnasium, and because it is the one making the most wrenching noise. The trombones blare, true; the trumpets squawk and hack, yes; the flutes give tinny whistling shrieks. But the violin screams, screams like her soul is screaming, and when the music teacher shows her how to hold it, she taps the bow clumsily over the strings and the screaming stops: in both places.
Her heart leaps. She plays—without knowing how, or where the notes come from, or why. The class watches her, mouths agape; the teachers press their fingers over their lips as they witness the production of a prodigy. Michiru's performance is far from perfect, of course, but she is better than the school's entire orchestra even so. She spends the rest of the afternoon standing in a square of sunlight in the gymnasium, the violin tucked beneath her cheek, its bow sweeping to and fro in a melody the likes of which rivals the sum of all sweetness in the world. It stops only when Michiru's vision grays out and she slumps, exhausted, to her knees and next to the floor.
For the first time in nearly four days, she sleeps. It is blessedly dreamless.
She throws herself into learning the violin. Her fervor frightens her father, her estate, her peers. But as much as she would like to slow down to comfort them, to know them, to love them, she remembers the dream—an ending—and the music keeps it away. She falls into bed at night with her wrists throbbing, her fingers bleeding, her neck marked from the continuous pressure of the instrument thrust there. She staggers from her sheets in the mornings with her feet tapping the metered time of harmonies only she can hear, her fingers miming the manic movements of a bow in its limbo through scales. She comes to discover, through the insistence of her teachers, that she is good at other things: at swimming, at math, at painting. But the violin is her one true calling, and she answers it. It gives her peace.
Years pass this way.
Her father travels, remarries. There are other children, half-siblings who visit with a wary stepmother, first over the holidays and then not at all. They are all afraid of Michiru, and of the house she lives in by the sea, and especially of the music she makes with her violin when she walks along the beach at night, her toes in the surf, her body awash in moonlight. To them it looks strange and sounds like sobbing, the young woman and her whimsy: but to Michiru, even if it is lonely, it is sanctuary.
On her thirteenth birthday, her father sends her a Stradivarius. She lifts it from its case and runs her fingers along its polished surface, and when she brings it to her shoulder to play it, the sound is like sunrise. Its sheer beauty lights up life. Her heart trembles in ribald joy, and she laughs, laughs, laughs in the garden as the notes swell and sing and soar under her fingers. When she is finished—and oh, it almost hurts to finish!—Michiru turns, breathless, to beam at those listening, to ask them if it was wonderful, to share—
And she is alone.
She stands amidst the roses in silence, her lips parted, her cheeks pale. Her smile ebbs and quivers and her chin wobbles, and she places the violin back in its case and closes it, and tears patter over the hard plastic like raindrops. She presses her face into her hands, her weary, worn hands, and despite it all she thinks, An ending.
She is right.
That night and nearly every one following, she dreams.
In terms of her career, Michiru's next year is her best yet. Her fans whisper amongst themselves that her music has become bittersweet and sad, and that the young woman—because she is one now, true—must be pining after a boy. The romantic idea sells out every seat at her concerts, fills each auditorium to the rafters, and books her at private engagements across the globe. Her bank account bulges. Despite her fame and the inaccuracy of the rumors that fuel it, she maintains impeccable grades and a gracious humility. She smiles in pictures, signs autographs, and responds to fan letters: even the creepy ones. She yearns for companionship—and understanding—that never comes.
She rarely sleeps.
The afternoon the monster appears at her school in the courtyard, she blinks sluggishly at its waving tentacles, its gleaming serpentine eyes, its mouth full of serrated teeth, and muses to herself, I have finally gone insane.
She smiles. The thought is almost comforting.
Then the monster knocks her violin case from her hand.
She watches in something like horror as it skitters away from her across the concrete. One of its clasps breaks off. The case disappears over the edge of the stone stairwell that leads to the parking lot, and though she can't be sure, she thinks she hears the violin clatter free. She imagines it breaking into pieces, into shards, like a mirror like moonlight like knives, and she opens her mouth to scream but there is nothing, there is only silence—
The monster roars at her. She ignores it. Miffed at the inattention, it roars again.
Michiru turns her face slowly back to the thing that has possibly destroyed her life's single hint of solace. The ocean in her eyes seethes, and there is a flash of light nearby, brilliantly blue and blinding. They look to it together, girl and monster, and see a small metal rod hanging in midair. It is well within grasping distance.
Utterly insane, Michiru reminds herself, and reaches out to take the rod. She intends to use it to beat the monster's brains in or, if she can't manage that, at least gouge its eyes out.
Her fingers touch it. She drowns in her destiny.
The sun goes down in a flaming scarlet orb over the sudden battlefield. The monster: it dies, of course. Michiru stares down at her newly-gloved hands when it is over and they tremble, and all around her pools of saltwater glisten in the fading light. They are full of blood not her own. She retches: gently, weakly. Because she did not eat lunch—or breakfast, for that matter—nothing comes up.
Eventually she stirs herself and wobbles to her feet. Her heels, just as new as her gloves, click on the sidewalk. She staggers in them. She has so little strength left in her whole body that she nearly breaks her neck going down the stairs to the parking lot: but she finds her violin case at the bottom, her instrument still safely locked inside.
That night, she weeps. She dreams. And she prays: Please, don't let me be alone.
But she is. For six months, she is alone. She destroys demons and dirties her hands and she does it because the music does not work anymore, and the dream is no longer a dream, and the only thing between the whole world and
She does it too because the wind whispers to her after every battle as it did once when she was a child: Wait.
A hand in the dark, shaking her. She flails.
"Oi," a voice growls. It comes from somewhere over her head, and Michiru blinks her eyes open and looks up into Haruka's sleep-smudged face.
"Mmn. You were snoring." Haruka frowns at her accusingly.
Michiru is incensed. "I was not!"
"Yes you were." The woman's tone is long-suffering, certain. She shoves Michiru with a hip. "Shift over. You've woken me up twice tonight."
"You enjoyed it the first time."
Haruka grunts, noncommittal, and Michiru turns as requested, her back to her partner. The other soldier squirms, sighs, and slips back into slumber almost immediately. Her arm falls over Michiru in the dark and the violinist collects Haruka's long, lean fingers to her breast, where she cradles them and rubs the pad of her thumb along the woman's lifeline, again and again, until her eyelids are too heavy to hold aloft.
She dreams. And this time:
A happy ending.