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The Sharp-Winged Bird in the Gilded Cage

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Aya hates her. Pornographer's daughter. A pornographer's legacy is pornography.

Shinobu Mariko, with her bright red lips and her pale, pale skin. Obscene. She's indecent.

She sees her across the classroom, talking to the Misono girl, that lying little cheater. The daughters of a whore and a pornographer. No wonder they're always together. Don't think that Aya can't guess what they do when they're alone together. It's obscene. She's obscene.

Aya does not feel inclined to be gracious and concede that Shinobu-san is below her notice. She would never admit it, but she is not having a very good week.

She is in disgrace at home. Her mother is not speaking to her.

Her mother had seen her in the drawing room, sitting poised and collected on the chaise lounge. The maid announced her like a visitor, backed out of the room, and shut the door behind her with a muted click. Aya walked the length of the room at a calm, measured pace. The graceful curves of rich wood, the gilt and the mirrors, and the plush carpets underfoot all made the protests that rose up like hot bile in her throat seem... inappropriate.

"You do realize this is inexcusable." Her mother carefully smoothed out a frown. Frowns caused wrinkles. It would not do to mar the deliberate, perfect artifice of her features. Appearances are very important in this house.

Aya resisted the urge to look down at her feet and stared stonily out the window. She bit her tongue to keep from screaming. The hot rage boiled up inside her, mixing with the sharp taste of blood in her mouth.

Her mother spoke in quiet, cultured tones for a very long time. It was made very clear to her that her failure to become a sorority member was unacceptable, and that she would have to do much, much better. She does not need to mention that Aya is the first daughter in the family in three generations who is not a member. How with their history, it is beyond her how her shameful daughter could possibly not qualify.

Finally, she stood to signal the end of the lecture, regal in her tailored skirts.

The slap across the face stung; the look of contempt on her mother's face was an all-too-familiar laceration. She had expected as much from her mother. She's always been her father's perfect little girl, but the older she gets, the more and more her mother's careful affection has cooled to tolerance, and then chilled to outright disapproval.

She walked carefully and deliberately back to her room, and resisted the urge to slam the door hard enough to rattle the windows. She bared her teeth and swept an arm across her dressing table, scattering the careful array of delicate bottles and jars across the thick carpet. Nothing broke. The books on her desk hit the floor with a more satisfying sound.

The dolls stared at her across the room. They lined the shelf seated with a military precision, all ribbons, lace, fine silk hair and blank, painted eyes. She picked Sadako off the shelf, a collectors' item and a bribe for perfect marks, swung her around, and smashed the china head open against the polished brass bed frame.

The crunch of breaking porcelain was louder than she expected. Cupid lips pursed disapprovingly at her below the jagged, black hole in the doll's head, and she could not get the image of Shinobu's perfect, red smile from her head.

She sank down to her knees, eyes burning. Her own hands, splayed flat against the carpet, were oddly unfamiliar and too far away.

The knock at her door whipped her head around so fast her neck ached.

"Your oba-san and cousins are here for tea. You will come and join us."

Aya wanted to throw something perfect and breakable at the door. She pulled herself to her feet, washed her face and straightened her hair, and trudged downstairs with the air of one expecting an execution.

Her aunt and cousins greeted her with careful exclamations of delight. Aya smiled, polite and pleasant, and sat quietly and sipped her tea. She took a perverse pleasure in the fact that it was hot enough to scald her tongue.

Keiko, her eldest cousin was recently married and newly pregnant. She smiled smugly, cradling her belly with manicured hands. Aya repressed a shudder. Babies. Squirming, messy parasites.

"Just think, Aya-chan, you have your whole life ahead of you," Keiko said fondly.

Aya's cheeks ached with smiling until she thought they would crack. She took a mouthful of tea. The heat made her eyes water, but the knot in her throat loosened enough to let her swallow. She felt the tea burn all the way down her throat, and was comforted by the pain.

Saiyuki, Keiko's younger sister, was engaged. They all exclaimed dutifully over the heavy diamond that sparkled sharply on her hand. The soft smile the ring brought to her face when she thought no-one was looking made Aya's stomach ache.

"It's never too early to start looking for a proper match for Aya-chan." Her oba-san raised a painted eyebrow meaningfully in her sister's direction. Aya's mother protested politely that her daughter was far too young. Her elder sister reveled in the carefully concealed jealousy in her voice.

No-one else had noticed that she had not spoken a word directly to Aya yet.

Aya's stomach lurched at the mention of her own inevitable marriage. The thought of spending the rest of her life seeing to the needs of her husband and children, becoming nothing more than a wife and mother, made her willing to throw herself through the bay windows that overlooked the manicured lawn below to escape.

Her cousins reminisced fondly over their own time at Seiran School. Keiko had been sorority president in her day. Saiyuki had been secretary.

Aya's mother's smile grew tighter.

Aya said nothing, and drank some more tea.

After her mother bid their guests goodbye, she turned and walked decisively away without even looking in Aya's direction.

Aya turned the other way, and retreated back to her bedroom. No-one came to order her down to dinner, so she didn't go. Her mother's silent disapproval rankled; her cousins' victories and complacency was nothing new.

It grew later. She had been hoping for the quiet knock at her door for hours.

"Aya-chan?" Her father swung the door open a crack. "I brought you some dinner." Her eyes teared up for the first time all day as she took the rice bowl from him. He smiled fondly at his daughter, and kissed her forehead. "Be patient with your mama. You know how she gets." He looked down at her apologetically.

She swallowed hard, and stared at her toes. "Yes, Papa." The remembered look of baffled disappointed on his face when she told him about the sorority made her stomach twist with nausea. She’s always been her father’s princess.

She left her dinner uneaten. Emotion drained away, leaving her bereft and hollow. Even the energy it would take for a hot bath before bed was impossible to find. She brushed her teeth, and scrubbed angrily at the traces of tears streaking her face.

She unbuttoned her blouse, fingers fumbling with exhaustion, and let it drop to the floor. Her bra followed, and she stepped out of her skirt, leaving it in a puddle on the floor. She reached for her waiting nightgown, the ruffled cotton neatly pressed and folded. Then she stopped.

Tentatively, she pressed her hand against the side of her face, wondering what it would feel like if it were someone else touching her. She remembered the soft wonder in Saiyuki's face, and knew that her father's fond regard, Furuta and Sonobe's giddy awe, even the crumbs of affection Miya-sama offered were not enough.

Shinobu looks at her with cool disinterest, if at all. The sorority sisters get her giddy admiration, and Misono is the recipient of all of her whispered secrets. Aya only sees her disdain.

She dropped her hand lower, her fingertips just skimming down her neck, across her collarbone. She cupped her own breast, shocked at her daring. The soft, budding nipple hardened against the palm of her hand. Her skin was hot, and her breath came shorter. Heat stirred between her legs.

The image of Shinobu's red lips swam mockingly behind her closed eyes. She pulled her hand away and dug her nails into her palms, unable to avoid speculating how soft Shinobu's lips feel against her fingertips and what her mouth would taste like, pressed hard against Aya's own. What her mouth would feel like, those wet, red lips at her breast. She can still feel Shinobu’s slim shoulders under her hands, and the stinging imprint of the slap against her left cheek, Kaoru no Kimi’s punishingly firm grip on her wrists holding her in place.

She pulled the nightgown over her head, and climbed into bed, yanking the blankets up over her shoulders with tight, fierce precision.

She told herself, this is wrong, this is dirty, this is all that bitch Shinobu's fault, and almost believed it.

She couldn't help but picture Shinobu and Misono whispering, heads together. Shinobu turned her head, murmured something into Misono's ear, looking slyly right at Aya the whole while. She nipped at Misono's earlobe, and her small, pink tongue traced the curve of her ear. Misono turned her face passively towards her, and Shinobu kissed her deeply. Aya knows. She knows what they do when they're alone.

Shinobu pushed Misono back onto her bed. She nipped at her throat, at her breast, and buried delicate fingers between her legs. Misono moaned like the little slut she is. (Aya's breath hitched in her throat.)

Shinobu turned to Aya, and pulled her head down for a long, fierce kiss. (Aya's hand crept surreptitiously between her slick thighs.) Shinobu's slender fingers twined through her hair, hard enough to pull. Aya raked her nails down Shinobu's naked back, feeling the welts rise up to mar the smooth, pale skin. Aya's fingers pushed their way into the slick, wet lips between Shinobu's legs, and slid inside of her. Shinobu's imagined cries echoed in her ears like a bird's, and she bit her bottom lip as she came, pushing her hips futilely into the mattress.

She tried to blame Shinobu. Really, she did. But the uneasy, lingering fear that she was one who was sick and twisted, a bad, dirty girl, would not leave her.

No wonder the sorority sisters chose Shinobu and Misono instead of her. No wonder Shinobu would rather whisper in Misono’s ear. No wonder her mother was angry and her father so very disappointed. Does it show on her skin like a brand? She only allowed herself these thoughts alone, at night.

It was a very long time before she fell into a sticky, sweaty, uneasy sleep. When she woke that morning, lingering dreams of soft white skin and graceful fingers twining hard into her hair made her flush.

Aya ached with sleeplessness. Her limbs were full of lead and her eyes burned. It took her forever to get downstairs, and the chauffeur had the nerve to comment. Aya threatened to tell her father to fire him, and they both knew he would, too.

Outside the school, she squared her shoulders, tries to push all of yesterday out of her head, and marched into the classroom. Shinobu is a liar and a slut and isn't worth the space in Aya's thoughts at all.

She had her homework sitting neatly in her bag, at least. Sonobe was always good at math, so Aya copied her work Saturday afternoon. She's got much better things to do than slot numbers into columns all day, even if Sonobe doesn't.

Futuba wouldn't shut up. She nattered on incessantly about exams, and grades, and after-school clubs. It's funny, Aya mused, that she'd never noticed before how much Futaba looked like a puppy begging to be kicked. With her floppy pigtails, upturned nose, and vacant eyes, she looked like nothing so much as an inbred spaniel.

Aya tapped her pencil against the desk and looked very deliberately past Shinobu. The object of her regard laughed, head tilted to expose the clean, pale line of her throat. For a brief instant, Aya wondered how it would feel to press her open mouth against that soft skin and mark it with her teeth.

Shinobu shouldn't... shouldn't be allowed to... to look like that. To move like that. To be the big sisters' darling.

Bitch.

Filthy bitch, to make her think such filthy thoughts.

Aya wanted...

She wanted to hurt her.

Aya wanted to hear her cry. To mark that white skin and feel that hair that falls like fine silk wrapped tight around her own fingers. For Shinobu to look at her with something more than cool disinterest, to look at no-one but her.

It's all Shinobu's fault. Making her want to touch her.

But Shinobu would see. Aya knew her secrets. She knew about her parents. The words rose hot and angry and burned her throat like bile.

She had something better, tucked away in her schoolbag, just waiting for the perfect opportunity.

She didn't need to touch that smooth, white skin. She had other ways to make her cry.