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A Thousand and One Papercranes

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“Do you still want me to save you?”

She shakes her head. “I can't keep burdening you. So thanks, but no thanks. Go back, this is no longer your battle—you don't belong here. Go back Yuri.”

He hesitates. “Are you sure?”

“I'm a strong woman.” She smiles, Spenta Minea Rod in her hand glistens blindingly in the sunlight.

And then she dies.

 

-

“If I became the Queen, I might fire you.” June says, smiling, the starry sky so bright and beautiful behind her. “Wouldn't you be happy?”

But all he sees is a rain of blood in the sea of snowstorm, and her frozen form half-buried under the white, white snow like discarded, broken doll.

He blinks. The vision fades away. “Tease.” He retorts at her, swallowing the rising bile caused by that particular vision back.

“Nah, you know I don't lie.” She keeps smiling, her hands clasped behind her back, her shoulder-length hair ruffled by the wind. “That's why you should choose me as the next Queen of Light.”

He raises his arm to cover his eyes and turns his face away from her. The image in his vision has burnt itself into his mind he's afraid if he looks at her now, her form would be foiled and he would only look at her cold, bloody corpse. He couldn't do that to her.

“But how could I do that when I couldn't even bear to look at you?”

She tilts her head inquiringly.

“You're just so bright I feel you're going to disappear—right before my eyes.” He tells her, eyes still hidden beneath his arm.

Without warning, she yanks his arm back forcefully, making him stumble after her in surprise.

“Silly Yuri.” She giggles, eyes as bright as the fullmoon in the sky. “I'm still here, ain' t I?”

And then she dies.

 

-

“Yuri...” she says, smiling. “Please just be happy here—that's enough for me.”

But there's no 'here' for me, he wants to argue. Not now, not ever. He's dirty, way too tainted by both light and darkness to belong to either side. See? I've done it again; my hands are once again drenched in blood.

He remembers Manuel saying the same thing (I just want you to be happy here), remembers he also gave him the almost same answer (Where is 'here'?), remembers he was the cause for the tragedy that happened in the Palace years ago (Please don’t die oh God you can’t die not now--).

“Close your eyes. Block your ears. Run and run until you feel your legs burn... Then come to me. I'll send you to the place you wish to go. If you have no such place, then I'll make you stay with me 'here'.” A smile in her voice, in her face, in her every word. She shines so bright it would be impossible not to trust her.

And then she dies.

 

-

“That time, if we weren't told to retreat, was Yuri going to save her?” June asks, voice unusually bland, face unexpectedly blank.

He casts a sidelong glance at her. “What do you want me to say?”

“Yuri... loves that woman?” her face is still as blank as before, but now there's a strange infliction in her voice, something that he couldn't identify, something that's not supposed to appear on a girl with an ego the size of a mountain.

Mayanne Senora is... many things, but love is too strong (too weak) an emotion to describe what he feels towards the Commander of the Red Knight Army. He doesn't even like her—not in the usual sense anyway. He wonders if that is what June means.

“No. No, it's not like that.”

Liar, June's eyes say.

And then she dies.

 

-

“June likes me?” Sejuru asks. His voice so flat and bland as a clear, white paper, his eyes as empty as a doll.

Yuri looks at him. “Don't you know that?”

Sejuru's expression doesn't change. “June likes me.” This time, he says it less like a question and more like a prayer, like he's forcing himself to grasp some foreign concept that he doesn't even know how to read.

Yuri takes his eyes away from Sejuru and watches the procession below them, noticing that three out of the seven Queen-candidates are already 'seen' while the rest are still being prepared.

“How?” He hears Sejuru ask, dark eyes trained on him.

“What?”

“How do you know June likes me?”

He gives Sejuru a disbelieving look, and then he notices the boy is actually serious and the look turns into incredulity instead. “Are you blind?”

Sejuru only keeps looking at him. “She never told me that.” His tone is not exactly accusing, but it's a close call.

Yuri isn't surprised. June rarely says what she really means directly, opting to just show it and make a big production out of it instead. He figures that Sejuru must have been so used to be treated as he is now by June that he doesn't notice it or think it weird at all, how June's eyes always follow his every move, how June's smile is always ready for him, how June's touches always linger a little more than necessary, how June always does anything to be by his side...

“I heard her sing, once.” Yuri says instead. He smiles at Sejuru. “Want me to sing it to you?”

Sezru doesn't react.

Yuri sighs. He closes his eyes and begins to sing. “Like poetry I used to know you... Near the tranquil lake, next to the weeds... The sun sets us on yearning flames... Like poetry I used to touch you... With fingers of the dew... Like poetry I bathed you... in a pouring morning...” He opens his eyes and looks at Sejuru, head tilted as he tries to remember the next verse. “...I've discovered you from another world...yet you disinclined to visit me in songs... in holy verses, in lines of poems... I'm so close to you... talking to your heart, and become your sleeping robe...”

He frowns and pauses. “You know, now that I look it over, that song seems awfully lonely. It's almost like it's...” He stops himself. Like an unrequited love. Of course. June isn't a stupid girl. Careless, yes, but not stupid.

“Er... Yuri-hyung...”

“Yes?” He snaps his attention back to Sejuru, and suddenly notices the silence in the hall—when before it was buzzing with the chanting of verses and prayers from the ceremony below. Suddenly he has a bad, bad feeling about this. “Hey, if I turned to look behind my back, am I going to regret it?” he asks of Sejuru, who is standing facing him and has a perfect view of the situation behind him.

Sejuru only looks at him a little more weirdly than usual, which in Sejuru-language, means he's frowning right now. “Well... June looks livid, Lucia looks as usual, and the rest of them are rather red in the face. And they all are staring at you open-mouthed. So I guess the answer is... yes?”

Yuri's eyes widen in horrifying realization. “Oh God. They thought I just sang to you, didn't they?”

“Er.” Says Sejuru, which is totally *not* helping.

“So. Yuri. I didn't know you actually could sing.” June says, apparently aiming for her voice to sound casual, but the fact that it's full of daggers and other pointy objects kind of ruins that. “And you used it to woo Sejuru, no less.”

Yuri gulps. He swears he could hear venom dripping from June's last sentence. He smiles winningly at Sejuru. Sejuru blinks and takes a step back.

“Please do excuse me.” Yuri says. “I need to run for my dear life.” And then he does just that.

This time, daggers and other pointy objects do fall raining on him, courtesy of one very furious June Narcieq.

“Yuri you pervert! Cradle robber! Just wait till I get my hands on your pale, dead ass!”

“I swear I wasn't trying to woo Sejuru! I was singing for him, not to him!” He shouts over his shoulder. “Besides, I'm only three years older than you!”

The raining of pointy objects suddenly increases.

He wisely keeps his mouth shut afterwards. His longer legs and faster speed might give him some advantage over June, but he would never underestimate the power of her will and the amount of stamina she has. He risks a glance over his shoulder, and sees her profile silhouetted by the sun behind her, making her look luminescent and just simply too blinding to look at.

Come to me. Come to me, and I’ll release you from pain and suffering. I might not be the one you want, but I certainly can be the one you need. Come to me. A gentle voice. A tender smile. The soft feel of her thin hand in his. The light shining off of her slender frame.

He blinks.

And then she dies.

 

-

“How long have you been mourning me?”

She’s dancing on the fountain’s ledge, her bare feet moving noiselessly to a rhythm only she can hear. She claps her hands once, twice, before spinning around a few times in a graceful movement he knows he can’t follow.

“Too long.” He swallows a lump in his throat. “Not enough.”

Her hands cease moving. Slowly, she straightens herself and turns around, a smile ready on her soft lips.

“A word, Yuri.” She says, voice no higher than a whisper, and he gets the impression like she’s trying to be gentle with him. For once. “That’s all I need. A word from you, and I can make all your pain go away.”

Hope is a precarious thing; comes too easily, yet so hard (impossible) to let go of. Like a flicker of light in the darkness. Like a bit of warmth in the cold. Once tasted, there would be no way back.

“Don’t be cruel.” He tells her, inflicting just the right amount of casualness and amusement into his voice to make it light. All the way, his nails digging deep into his bare arms he wouldn’t be surprised if they broke skin.

June laughs. A melodious little tone, her voice is. “Always a masochist, aren’t you?” She doesn’t sound fooled; not that he thinks she ever would be in the first place.

The sky is vast. Endless. With no limit visible in sight. Always so tempting; looks so close, yet constantly out of reach. Just like her, he thinks. If he tries to reach out, there’s no guarantee she wouldn’t slip out of his reach; there’s no guarantee she would still be there when he opens his eyes. It’s safer to think that she’s just a dream – something that isn’t real – rather than face the reality and see her what she really is: something mortal made by flesh and blood in a breakable container.

It’s safer that way.

“You can’t stop Fate.” June tells him, her eyes… full of mirth. Like she thinks he’s only being silly. Like she thinks he’s only playing around.

Yuri doesn’t look away. “I can always try, though.”

Her smile widens, even as her eyes dimmed. I pity you, they seem to say.

His throat constricts, choking him, making it hard for him to breathe. It’s not physical, though. He knows that. Still doesn’t stop him from reaching for his neck, though. From making sure that he’s not really choking.

“You should stop wearing masochism like a second skin. It’s so unbecoming of the goddess’ favorite child, don’t you think?” she tells him mildly, her tone slightly teasing—which is at odds with how serious her eyes look.

He’s taller and older than her by three freakin’ years, and yet it’s him who breaks apart, coming loose by the seams.

“Then stop dying,” he puts his face on his hands, trying to prevent his tears from falling, his voice no louder than a whisper. “Stop dying, dammit.” I can’t lose anyone else.

She seems to hear it though; because then she gives him a smile and a promise: “I won’t go anywhere, Yuri.”

Liar.

And then she dies.

 

-

“She’s right, you know. If this hurt you that much, than just let it go. It’s not like you like your ‘gift’ in the first place.”

Sejuru is, as usual, his emotionless self. Precise and always to the point, no time for self-introspection. Yuri would say unforgiving, but he doesn’t think Sejuru could gather enough conscience to summon the emotion.

“No,” he says, voice weak.

He’s huddled up on the corner of the room, curling up into a ball, hugging his knees to his chest and burying his face on them. Childish, yes, but he finds himself unable to feel ashamed for it. Just for a while, he tells himself. Just for a while, he wants to hide from the world.

Sejuru watches him impassively.

“Go away,” Yuri tells the other boy, voice no stronger than before. “Go away. It’s not like you’re really here anyway.”

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. The room is so devoid of sound he can hear him breathing—of all things. Right. Even Demons breathe. Yuri feels like crying from the absurdity of it all.

Because Sejuru has long since been gone. Forever.

“Doesn’t matter. So long as you can hear me like I can hear you, Yuri-hyung.” Sejuru finally says, quiet, quiet, quiet.

Yuri punches the wall on his side. There’s a horrible sound as his knuckle meets its intended target, like splinters and broken bones.

He does cry out then. Since the pain is a welcome distraction from the numbness he’s drowned himself in.

“You’re deader than dead, Sejuru. I know. I watched it happen with my own eyes.” He grits his teeth. “If anyone is to blame in this situation, it would be you. Since you were the first to rot away and all.” He tries to breathe slowly-- in, out; in, out--every single breath a measured action with the right amount of air. “You were the one who pulled the trigger on this one—you.”

“What do you want me to do about it?”

Yuri whirls around so fast he’s surprised he doesn’t slip. His eyes are on Sejuru, seizing in disbelief and hurt. Not because how uncaring and detached that statement is, but more because of the way Sejuru delivers it. He sounds sad (resigned?) and so completely unlike his usual self.

He sounds… human.

He sighs and closes his eyes, except he sees a vision waiting in the corner, waiting to catch him unaware, and he forces his eyes open again.

“Go back, Sejuru. To wherever it is apparitions go after they died. Go!”

Sejuru only looks at him impassively, taking in his slightly trembling arms and the expression on his face. Whatever it is he sees, seems enough to him, as he sighs. Then with a last long look at Yuri’s profile, he turns around and disappears.

Visibly shaking now, Yuri drops to his knees, clutching his head in his arms.

I don’t need protection, June says firmly, eyes blazing. I can take care of my own!

…and then she dies.

 

-

“I care about you,” Yuri says, “and that’s why I want you safe.”

June snorts. “You care about everybody, Yuri, equally. I’m no more different that anybody.”

“Except you’re not anybody. You’re the Queen of Light, and that makes a whole lot of difference.”

“In what?” June asks, eyes challenging.

I love you.

I love you.

I love you, dammit.

Yuri looks away, swallowing the bile that has jumped to his throat. “It’s already within sight,” he observes the buildings around him. “It wouldn’t be much longer, now.”

“And what, pray tell, are you talking about?”

He remembers her battered body, forgotten in the snow, buried in ice, and the procession that follows after. But he can’t See past that, even as he knows Lucia picks everything up and continues where June left off.

Strong girl, Lucia is.

But he’s nowhere near her, and he has never been able to see his own Future. Which only means one thing: he doesn’t belong in the Future.

He smiles at June. “The end of the world.”

And then she dies.

 

-

He’s always known he would never be able to save her (You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved). He thought he’s already accepted it, but he’s wrong.

Knowing it, and experiencing it himself is different.

After grieving for her for longer than he could remember, ever since that first vision of her that he got, he never knows that he actually still has some grief to mourn, some tears to cry, some despair to feel as he lets June slips away from him—for the last time.

And then she dies.

For real, this time.

 

-

“Yuri-hyung.”

Yuri looks up, and his lips stretch into a smile. “Hey Sejuru. Here for me?” he feels warm all over, like he has never been before. Especially in his side, where a warm liquid gushing out freely, despite the pressure he has tried to apply to it earlier.

“You can still be saved, you know. Use your last magic to call them out to you.”

Slowly, he exhales the breath he’s been holding. Carefully, he slumps onto the wall behind him, giving it more of his weigh to support.

“It’s enough, don’t you think?” he smiles again. “I’ve been punished enough. And besides, June is no longer here. I’ve done my duties. I just… I just want to be let go.”

Sejuru is quiet for a while. “Lucia needs you.”

“Lucia’s stronger than we think, Sejuru.” He lets gravity pulls his body onto the blood-drenched floor. “I’m sorry.”

He closes his eyes, and stops thinking altogether.

…and then he dies.

 

 

 

 

 

Fin.