"Like you'd understand."
Chinatsu's words fell and she could feel the thorns climbing out of her mouth - vines wrapping around her tongue - iron cresting against the back of her teeth with the violent clash of bitterness.
Roses would rise to outfit her, and Chinatsu didn't care to brush it aside.
Blood came green and fresh at the gentlest pricks, and people knew not to touch - they knew not to come, when they saw her face. The music still played. She sat from afar and allowed the leaves to make their way into her ears.
Bugs still bothered her. In studios and on a stage, in massive ballrooms and dinner affairs, there would never be something so unsightly. But in gardens, photo shoots, they were welcome. It was a fact of her new life. Wasps and bees found their way into the cracks in her defense, and she would jolt in secret horror, only out of sight. Growing hair became a place for nests to be made. She shuddered at the feeling of legs and wings, yet nothing would sting her anymore - as though they knew she was nothing to fear.
Insects wouldn't tell secrets. It was a poor consolation.
She sat in sun, eyes closed to the delicate veining of leaves hanging over her brow. Chinatsu would not throw this away. She took care of her thorns - they shone, without aphids or disease. Every chance to draw in another admirer, to prick and burn, was a delight. The red in her petals shone brighter at single drops of blood, and butterflies would come with the attraction.
They would learn with time. Everything did. But people liked the flash of a mysterious smile, deep within the dangerous maze of beauty. They spoke of the shame. How sad it was, for such talent to be untenable. Untouchable. Uncontrollable. Woven around her tighter, acrid flowers blooming out her mouth as she bit her tongue.
Gloves wove her hair into braids that sprung into new blooms with every band wrapped around it. Suits and careful sharp shoes tread around her like armor. Along her skin, tendrils threaded to a delicate mesh, jagged and fragile, flaring out like the familiar choking grace of a ballgown.
Of it all, people liked that the most. Judges loved the first sight elegance growing out of her in spades, for the men who put themselves on the line to bear it. They spoke of true nature like a dog to be obtained and restrained, a wolf carved down to a weeping statue.
They shouldn't have been surprised when Chinatsu would snap.
"They're doing you a favor," fell on her ears, blooming out in sharp roses. "It's hard for your partner, too. You don't need to make it worse for him."
Her picture sat in magazines as a prize to be won and a story to be feared and Chinatsu didn't care to give it time of day. Bystanders recognized her. Even day to day, different flowers blooming and wilting, pricked from her eyes to see if she deigned to look upon them, there was only one girl they remembered, fallen from leading to be tended to with shears and suits. Bystanders, and - other dancers.
"I think it's amazing."
Hair that shone like wheat. Diminutive and soft and everything she wasn't - Mako was reachable - touchable - skin so translucent, Chinatsu could have fallen through to find the girl was nothing but a mocking vision. Yet she sat there, glowing in the rays that escaped through clouds, color always too clear on her face.
"Chinatsu," she said, to trail off in her own questions. Tea reflected petal and sun and wavering wheat. "How long did it take to grow it out?"
Her vines could wrap around the cup when it was too hot to touch. "Years," she said. There was an expression that went with that. Chinatsu couldn't remember it, but the thorns spoke of contempt and pride. It was well enough. "Other people cut it down too easily." She didn't have that space.
But neither did Mako.
How she could be so soft - sometimes, with her that close, Chinatsu could feel herself spreading around her, and down - heavy and untenable. The men she danced with complained. Could not hold her, or even want to. Somehow, for all she had been told of the weakness in mesh and open hearts, Mako could stay straight-backed and calm through any torrent.
And when ladybugs would land to lose themselves among the maze, Mako would hold out a hand.
Never letting her face too close, lest the vines climb into her ears, her eyes, her mouth. Chinatsu imagined it sometimes. Letting it happen. Petals soaking into Mako's thin skin, till green pulsed vibrant in the hollows of her cheeks instead of red. Thorns cresting along her collar, evident in any dress. The same poison overtaking her. But it wouldn't let go, if Chinatsu let it. Not till she was just the same, with bitter juice setting through skin, enough to repel anything and everyone.
"Do you notice it much?" Mako would ask. Gentle. Careful. Trying to find a hint of skin to brush her hand against, like there was anyone left beneath.
Chinatsu scoffed. "They're everywhere." Keeping her head down - keeping her mouth closed - feeling the sharp sting all the more, as the thorns spiraled back down to settle in her gut.