In the Shadows



The jolt of the elevator starting grinds through his bones, shakes two long locks of hair into his eyes where he sits, head bowed, on the little stool, for his confession. Not by command of the End of the World, not by any sane decision; not blindly, either, for he knows who and what Mikage is, how and why this falling room was built. Still, he gives himself over to it, tall back and proud shoulders slumped with despair.

The butterfly: love. The greatest shield, the greatest lie, that thing which can never be defined, which he only gives as a name to other things. He loves her, he says. Has loved her for so long. Because she refuses to be loved. Because she is, likely, stronger than him. Colder. Driven by brilliance, so unlike him.

The chrysalis: lethargy. Deadening, humid, submissive lethargy. The laziness in his long arms; the refusal to challenge the Chairman's authority; the gray despair that swallows him where he lies wilting in his armchair. The fear of change; the fear, too, of stopping the change that wracks him now, letting words he never meant to say drop from his mouth as coffins whisk past the walls of the elevator.

The caterpillar: lust. The hunger that consumes him; the hunger that denudes and deflowers all those who cross his path, biting their lips and flipping up their skirts and scraping long fingers across their skin. The hunger that wonders--how would she scream, cold bitch? What does her skin taste like? Would she let him fuck her?

The leaf: desire. All he ever was: desire, blank, burning, unfocused desire, neither pure, nor free, nor cruel. Wanting. Not making or having or rejoicing. Just endlessly, eternally, wanting.

The elevator grinds to a stop. He does not remember speaking, but his voice is hoarse, and Mikage, standing behind him, is laughing at him; he must have, he thought, confessed.

"Go forth," says Mikage softly, scornfully. "She'll be waiting for you in the shadows."

"How?" Touga whispers.

"This is the time when the black roses overrun the End of the World. This is the time when shadows come true, and the light on the surface of things quails in the face of them. This is the time of the uncanny, the inverted. The time of impossible things."

Touga turns and leaves, his mouth watering like he has not eaten in days, and Mikage smiles, small and cold.

"She'll be waiting," he whispers, voice echoing and fading through the endless memorial halls. "Go to her. You fool."

Touga, wind from nowhere beating his hair like leaves, closes his watering eyes, hesitates, then walks off, slow, through the corridors at the end of the world.

In the shadows, she is waiting, abandoned, because she has forced herself to be abandoned. In the shadows, eyes half-lidded with an alien light, she has undone the clasps of her collar, just as he has; in the shadows, her naked throat is a column, a shining pillar, a caryatid bearing up the heavens, a sight no one before has ever seen.

"Juri, I love you," he whispers.

Her body seems smaller, out of the uniform, her shoulders narrower; the tight curls of her hair slide loose in the evening. Her eyes, half-closed, seem the color of rotting leaves, in shadow. Behind the shield of her sternum hides a gold-hilted blade, noble and vulnerable and forged in sorrow; Touga ignores it; Touga slides his hands to either side, cups her breasts, damp and heavy, kisses them. She sighs; she moans; she is desperate. Their hair clashes, two tones of fox red, as he levers over her, locks falling like a curtain and sticking to her sweaty temples. Afterwards, she plays with it, twining it round her elegant fingers.

"I love you," he whispers.

"Are you sure?" she answers, and does not look at him. But his long body is splayed out on the bed, limp and glowing and burning, still burning, all the withered leaves of shadowed gardens feeding the flame. She cannot speak; her words go unheard; only her moans and screams reach Touga's ears, when he lazes into motion and tangles his hair behind his back and dives between her legs. In the shadows, the only doubts heard are the doubts that feed them and wrap them round souls. The rest are swallowed in the darkness, broken by the enchantment, until the enchantment breaks.


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