And that, Yui thinks, is the problem with Miaka –- except she can't find quite the right word for it. Selfishness or stupidity or naivete might begin to get the idea across, but they're not it, not precisely: the problem with Miaka is something far more profound, something else, something -– and oh, the words won't come to her, the words elude her, the words slip back into the murky edges of her mind, and she's grasping blindly after them, anything. The problem with Miaka is-–
Yui realizes that her eyes are closed.
When she opens her eyes, she's in a strange room, and the reflexive surge of panic dizzies her. Not again, oh please not again, I can't make it through this again-– Her heart jackhammers against her sternum.
Except it's not a strange room after all, she realizes as she forces herself to breathe through the nausea (in out, in out): it's her room in the Kutou palace, a little hard to recognize in this anemic half-light, and she thinks somebody might have moved the table or changed the curtains, but it's nonetheless unmistakeably her room. Or, if not her room, one very much like it; it's a place she knows, and when did they go back to Kutou, anyway? And more importantly, why does Nakago never tell her about these things; why does he never think to ask?
That, certainly, is the problem with Nakago: he shepherds her, he keeps his secrets. But then, hasn't every adult she's ever known done just the same? Things are for her own good. She's too young to understand. (She shuffles down the stairs one night, towards the sound of voices, and her father is packing a suitcase, her mother is whispering urgently into the phone, nobody tells her anything.)
(Or this: Nakago kneels by her bed and strokes his thumb across her wrist where it's still tender, and Yui's never thought of herself as particularly fragile, but under the pendulum motion of that big pale thumb it occurs to her that he could crush her like chalk. And when she finally gathers the courage to demand what, just what were they doing to me when he looks very serious and tells her that he can't tell her, it's better that she not know but of course she does know, oh does she ever know.)
But Miaka: the problem there is something different, and unforgivable. Miaka is not an adult. Miaka has no excuse. Miaka is younger than she is and weaker than she is and okay, let's be brutally honest here –- there is no more tender sentiment between them to protect, after all –- Miaka is stupider than she is, too stupid to understand the magnitude of her own betrayal. And still, despite all this, despite all of her immense, indisputable inferiority, Miaka is the one here who is winning the game and Yui. Cannot. Let. That. Happen.
Maybe she'll never let anything happen again; maybe she'll hold her breath until both worlds lurch to a stop, and take that, Miaka. And maybe she'll win now, because now she has something –- she's done something, or rather she's doing something, something great and terrible, even if she can't quite remember what -– she's –-
She's in a room, and it's a not a strange room, it's her room in the Kutou palace, so that's okay then. She's slumped in a chair (obscenely luxurious for ancient China, but barely up to real-world standards). She's slumped in a chair across from Miaka. She's been listening to Miaka breathe all this time.
“Miaka. Miaka, wake up. Damnit, Miaka –”
Miaka makes a moist, mumbling sound that reminds Yui absurdly of the lid coming off of a jar full of something sticky.
Sometimes, way back when, Miaka would fall asleep in class and Yui would do her best to surreptitiously nudge her awake from across the aisle, though she probably shouldn't have because it always ended in Miaka raising some ridiculous din, moaning “I'm awake, I'm awake, stop it, I'm awake,” which is what she's doing now. A hard shake shuts her up.
“What are you doing here?”
Miaka blinks. Her eyes are glassy and unfocused. “What –- I, I don't know. Waiting for you, I guess. I think I fell asleep.”
“No, I mean –- how did you get here? Were you captured?”
“I came here for you,” Miaka says –- and this is what, the third rescue attempt? The fourth? Except she doesn't have that defiant, determined expression that she ought to – jaw set, eyes glittering, like she thinks she's some sort of hero. Her face is mannequin-placid. Maybe she's still waking up, but this is slow, even for her. Maybe she's concussed.
“Miaka. Did you hit your head?” And Miaka's all incoherent stammering, no, no she doesn't think she did, but she really doesn't remember anything, although her head does kind of hurt but it's more of a dizzy feeling, really, and Yui cuts her off as soon as she remembers that she doesn't give a damn whether or not Miaka's brain is swelling against her skull.
Either the door is locked, or she doesn't think to try the door at all; if you asked her later (and nobody will) she wouldn't be able to say.
“I feel weird,” Miaka says. “Like -- you know how you wake up feeling dizzy after you've slept too long? -- kind of like that -–”
“Well, I hope you don't need a doctor, because if you do, you're shit out of luck.” But then, because she's not the villain here, Yui adds, “Go lie down on the bed or something,” which Miaka does. All that pale blue silk is extremely unflattering against the ruddy complexion of a girl who's been trekking through tundras and deserts, from corner to corner of this nonsense world. Her upper thighs –- Miaka hasn't bothered to smooth down her skirt, which rides all the way up to prim white panties -– well, the thighs are more or less the color that the rest of Miaka used to be, but they're also muscular, which is something new. Once upon a time Miaka had a layer of pudge to her, a softening of all those angles which have now become so very raw that Yui can't stop staring at them: the turn of an ankle, elbow, knee.
Miaka accepts this scrutiny wordlessly. She might even be smiling.
“Miaka. Fix your damn skirt.” And Yui sees that she's definitely smiling now –- that smug little quirk of a smile that used to mean I've got a secret, or whatever it was that passed for secrets between them, once upon a time. “What is it?” Yui demands. She doesn't really expect an answer, and sure enough, Miaka gives her none. Her smile has widened enough that Yui can see the glint of very white teeth, regular as the squares of a windowpane.
“I think I'm awake now,” Miaka says. “Sit down with me a little?”
There are reasons she cannot and will not sit down with Miaka, and she lists them, breathlessly, getting to the end too soon and wishing there were more. You are a traitor. You are a liar. All the things that happened to me should have happened to you, and vice versa.
Miaka starts to apologize, with all the aching sincerity of a girl who may not be clever but is always kind and good, and in the face of that honest, ignorant contrition, Yui can do nothing but start to scream.
“You don't get it, do you? I mean, you just. Do. Not. Get it.”
“You were looking for me, ” Miaka says in a lost little voice, like she's the one here who's hurting. "You were looking for me, and I should have been there. I'm sorry."
“You make me sick. You and your complete and utter idiocy make me sick.” And she's gaining momentum, tripping down a mountainside that's just a few degrees shy of vertical. “You make me want to vomit. I mean, you used to sit there with this blank cow look on your face in math or history or whatever, and I used to think damn, she's stupid, except I look at you now and my god, you were like a radiant pillar of intellect back then, comparatively –- comparatively speaking -–”
“But I'm here now --”
“Because now you understand nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
Miaka has shifted onto her side, and Yui realizes disconnectedly that she must have gotten taller over these past few months, because her skirt is definitely too short. “I'm here now," she repeats. "I'm here, and I can help, I can make it better --"
“There is no better. You don't understand. I ran away and they chased me and they threw me down on the ground and then they raped me.”
Miaka's lips are moving, mouthing some sort of denial, but the drumbeat in Yui's skull pounds the sound away.
“They put their hands on my breasts and their tongues in my mouth and their penises –” She's gesticulating wildly, trying to find some configuration of her hands in space that will give this meaning; all of it sounds unreal, even to her. “They put their cocks inside me, Miaka, do you get it, do you understand?” And the truth is, she doesn't exactly remember this part (what, just what were they doing to me when) but she's capable of making some inferences, a good old-fashioned educated guess: they were pawing aside her clothing, kissing her, and in a hot convulsion of panic she'd tried to throw them off and then the one with the missing incisor – the one on her left, unless it had been the one on her right – had slammed her head down onto the cobblestones.
Months ago, when the scar on her wrist had still been a scab, something swollen and oozing, Nakago had suggested that it was a blessing that she had not been conscious for the rest of it, and she had believed him.
“They were filthy men, and they made me filthy, and I just wanted to die. All I wanted to do was die -–”
Because she'd never kissed anybody before they'd kissed her, let alone fucked anybody before they'd fucked her, and it wasn't like she'd suffered from some outdated chauvinist idolatry of virginity, but still. But they had reeked. Even the perfumed courtiers and concubines of this world would command a wide berth on a Tokyo subway, although Yui's gotten used to that certain ubiquitous rankness, mostly. But these men had represented stench on an entirely different order of magnitude: cloying and choking and rotting, panting sulfurous laughter into her face when she tried to reason, threaten, beg.
“–- I wanted to rip my skin off, find some cut and hook my fingernails deep in it and peel myself –-”
“You know, you have to know, that I'd do anything to make this better for you,” Miaka says, painfully earnest. Eager, almost. “That I'd do anything for you.”
Yui cannot remember ever hating her more.
The problem with Miaka is that she thinks things like this can be made better, or apologized away, or otherwise nullified. Yui knows better: for the rest of her life she is going to be the girl who was raped in an alley.
(Well, almost certainly raped, theoretically raped, but theoretically in the way that gravity is theoretical. Because she doesn't believe in fairies and she doesn't believe in UFOs, so why should she believe that they would do anything so genteel as refrain from fucking her after she'd blacked out, her underwear already around her knees?)
She wonders what sort of a pervert she is for wishing she could remember it better.
And it cannot be her who moves her mouth and says so you would do anything, and when Miaka bends one leg so that her skirt slips further into the juncture of hip and torso, when she says anything, absolutely anything, it occurs to Yui that this cannot be Miaka, either. But that thought is unimportant against the overwhelming rush of want, stiffening nipples and slickening cunt.
There's that old flash of mutual understanding, sparking down a connection she'd thought burnt out and past repair: Yui knows that they're talking about the same thing here, even before Miaka begins to unbutton her shirt.
So. Okay. So it seems more like mockery than atonement, the widening vee of skin as fabric falls away. But she's seeing Miaka's bra -– she's not glimpsing it incidentally at a sleepover or in the locker room -– she's being allowed to see Miaka's bra. Yui can't think why this excites her so: she wears a bra herself, for fuck's sake, and it's not like Miaka's is anything special. Plain cotton, no lace or leather, a little too loose. But there's the unmistakeable rise of a nipple, and oh, oh, oh.
She thinks that maybe she's been wanting to touch Miaka's nipples for a long time now, for forever, through the grind of lifetimes; she thinks can I, am I really going to, and then she does. And then there are breasts around the nipples, and she can touch those too –- and not just with her hands, with her mouth if she wants to. Anything, Miaka said, and she owes Yui at least that much, so why not take her up on it?
Miaka's eyes have gone unblinkingly wide, iris swallowed up by pupil -– and oh yeah, that's definitely the look of someone who's suffered some major neurological trauma but Miaka was fine –- well, more or less fine –- just a few minutes ago and she deserves all of this anyway and in the end, Yui can't be held accountable because Miaka's letting her do this, this being sitting down on the bed and pressing her face into the curiously cool juncture of shoulder and neck and, for a long moment, just breathing.
Miaka smells like nothing at all. There is only too-sweet musk of incense, thickening the air.
“Yui –-” Miaka's throat moves against her cheek.
“Yui, I'll never leave you again.”
“Liar,” Yui whispers, though she can't manage any real bitterness.
“Let me prove it to you,” Miaka whispers back, and brings her arms around Yui's waist.
For a long while, they lie just like that, like a pair of hands folded in prayer.
Later she remembers what she meant to do, why she laid herself down on this bed in the first place. So she presses her lips to the swell of Miaka's breasts -– the left, then the right, then back to the left, which, Yui knows, is ever-so-slightly nearer to the heart; she mouths the peak of a nipple until the cotton over it is wet with spit.
The bra is grayed, elastic fraying, and she fumbles stupidly with the clasps until Miaka helps her. The zipper on Miaka's skirt opens easily enough, as do Miaka's legs when she nudges.
And Miaka's mouth must be open, too, because she inhales noisily as Yui slips a finger into the gape of her zipper, then into her underwear, then into her. The angle is awkward; muscle nooses stubbornly tight against and around her. In all her many imaginings, Yui had never imagined this, that Miaka would be so unyielding that it feels like she's jamming her finger down into the marrow of living bone.
She supposes that if this were a cock she was pushing in, not merely a finger, the sensation would be exquisite. She supposes, also, that she's hurting Miaka: but then, isn't that the point of this whole exercise?
Except maybe it's not, because she's sweeping her thumb upwards in that familiar arc that leads to the clitoris. Yui wishes she could see what she's doing, but her hand disappears under the fan of Miaka's skirt, like a rabbit or a dozen long-stemmed roses into a magician's top-hat. She cannot work up the nerve to strip Miaka properly, or to move herself down where she could get a better view.
In the absence of sensory feedback, the motions of masturbation become a surprisingly cerebral exercise. How fast should this be, how hard, clockwise or counterclockwise? – Yui knows how she does it on herself, of course, but now she's doing it backwards and simultaneously straining to find some cue in Miaka's shallow, regular breathing.
When she does this to herself –- not that she has, for some time now -– but when she did, the urgency of her breathing seemed deafening, enough that she was always two-thirds thinking about how good it felt, and one-third thinking that her mother must be able to hear her, because she was being so damn loud.
Or maybe she'd be thinking about her hands –- her hand -– whichever one it was at work between her thighs, and how tomorrow, she'd see Miaka at school, how she'd maybe touch her shoulder or brush something out of her hair with that same hand. How Miaka would smile at her –-
If Miaka's smiling now (and she probably isn't, not while she's breathing like that) Yui can't see it. Her field of vision begins at the hem of Miaka's skirt and ends at the point of her tipped-back jaw. She really ought to move up or down, watch Miaka's face or her pussy, just pick one already.
But, of course, Yui's still staring at the folds of a blouse spread like the halves of a cocoon when Miaka begins to spasm around her finger. Yui presses her thumb down harder, and feels hips roll, thighs tremor; Miaka must be coming, hard, though you wouldn't know it to listen to her. She shakes silently atop the disarray of the sheets. Then, eventually, she stops shaking.
When Yui raises her hand to lick her fingers, she realizes for the first time that she's wearing bracelets on both her wrists: heavy claspless contraptions of gold, like manacles waiting for a chain. Apart from that, her arms are bare.
And as she's sucking herself clean of Miaka's wetness and all its bland anonymity of salt, she's looking down at her own sex-slick thighs and the billowy gauze skirt hitched up around them. She is dressed like a harem girl, or a virgin (ha!) sacrifice.
And forget whatever's the problem with Miaka (traitor, liar, and insufferable tease) what's the problem with her, that she's so blind, that she keeps stumbling down these alleyways –
Of course it's not actually, it cannot actually be, Miaka who says I said I would do anything and curls herself up to smooth a hand between the blades of Yui's consecrated shoulders, to tug at the nape of her anointed neck. And she desperately needs to pull herself away and think until all of this makes sense; she should not comply languidly with Miaka's equally languid urgings.
But of course she does, straddling Miaka's thigh and rocking in a too-smooth too-slick rhythm that isn't enough: nothing is enough, even though her cunt feels like it's been flayed down to the nerves and she's trembling so hard that the whole world seems to be trembling with her, cracking loose from its foundations.
Oh please, oh god, oh please, oh -- There's a name (a supplication, an invocation), welling up out of her chest like arterial blood, and she tries to smother it against Miaka's lips, but it's no use --
Miaka swallows the invocation, breathes it back as a covenant: “I'll always be with you, Yui, always, I'll give you anything you wish for --”
(if she could wish for anything, it would be exactly this, except completely different)
“No, wait,” Yui manages to choke out, and then she's there, convulsing through her climax, watching the thing that looks like Miaka uncoil into endless serpentine loops.
The problem with Miaka is that she's not the one to blame for this. The problem with Miaka is that she isn't even here.
And later, when she's spread out on some ancient altar that looks nothing like her bed in the Kutou palace (because everything is a lie here, everything), Yui thinks about Nakago, and how he flinched when she asked if he loved her but said he did anyway. How his lips had been dry and wholly unyielding; how they'd remained sealed shut even when she dabbed her tongue against the seam of them. How now she owes him that, as well.
How now she can repay him.
She counts two, three, four strokes of her own heart before she forces herself to open her eyes and look up at the beast-god looking down at her. It is smiling with a mouth that looks nothing like Miaka's mouth, a mouth full of sharp white teeth, a hungry mouth. (A mouth that has promised her anything she wants.)
The beast-god speaks, and Yui listens.