Dedication: Von, of course. Happy birthday, gal~ Hope you don't mind the angst. *laughs*



Breathe
by Amsdia


Part 1: Gentle

From as far back as he could remember he had been protected. Wrapped up in a warm little cocoon, insulated from the rest of the world. Never exposed to the harshness of reality, and all for good reason.

Not many knew that he had been born with a birth defect - that information was reserved for those he considered family (and Sakaki-sensei, of course, but that was besides the point). A missing valve in his heart had almost led to an early death for him. It had restricted his physical activity for the longest time, too.

Wrapped up tight and snug you're safe here don't move don't breathe -

-

Breathe. Breathe!

His parents told him once, of the frantic race to save his life when he had been born. Just once, and then they refused to tell him more. But his imagination provided all the details they had left out. He could see himself, a small, frail body, slippery with blood and crying or worse - not crying. He might have been deathly still, not breathing, not moving, as doctors and nurses raced around, pumping blood, cleaning him, trying to start his stilled heart.

If you stay here you can't leave us and you won't be hurt -

-

I'm dying.

They tried to protect him after that. They wouldn't let him play with the other children. Truthfully, he couldn't. It took three operations before he was deemed well enough by the doctors to do so much as work up a sweat.

His parents still wouldn't let him out, though. They wrapped him up in a warm little cocoon and he might have been content for a while but it didn't last long. The cocoon had long since shattered, but the butterfly couldn't emerge. It was a wounded, crippled thing, with silver wings that were too weak to support its sturdy body. Or maybe his parents' love had turned into a gentle knife. Even now, the wound had not been staunched completely. He could still feel his life-blood slipping away, stolen by a blade of kindness.

It was ironic, really, that his parents' love was killing him.

But to their credit, they really had improved a lot. When he had entered Hyotei Gakuen, they had allowed him to join the tennis team. It hadn't been until his second year that they had allowed him to try out for a spot in the regulars - but the important thing was that they had.

Too little, too late, perhaps?

Or perhaps they had been right all along.

Not safe not anymore crawl back and hide away from the word -

-

Don't die.

He wasn't foolhardy, though. He wouldn't deliberately go against his doctor's advice. He clung to life in that desperate way only one who is perilously close to losing it can.

So he wouldn't throw away his life carelessly. He would do as he had been advised, and quit. He would obey his parents, and his doctor, and the people who ruled his life as they always had done, who had broken apart his chrysalis and forced him out into the world, un-matured, through no fault of their own, through a wish to help him. He'd hide away the fact that maybe it would be tantamount to killing him, anyway. Because after all that sheltering, taking away his brief taste of freedom would…

He wasn't sure what that would do to him. It probably wouldn't be pretty.

He'd found a way to live and now he'd have to give it up.

He'd found a reason to live.

He'd found…

"Oi, Choutarou."

He jerked back as a hand touched his shoulder briefly. Smiling weakly, he scrambled to his feet, drinking in the sight of chocolate-brown eyes.

Eyes that were cutting through him like a knife, like one of those hated knives that had destroyed him so utterly.

He didn't mind.

"Ne, Shishido-sempai. I have something to tell you…"


Part 2: Quicksilver

Butterflies.

He'd always been fond of them, though he never told anyone that. He was picked on enough for his long hair, and though those people invariably learnt just why they shouldn't pick on him, a love for butterflies would be enough to safely ensure he lost all his friends.

Because people were like that. Appearances meant everything, and he was expected to keep up those appearances too. Boys weren't supposed to like butterflies. Long hair technically wasn't supposed to be in the picture, but that was one thing he wasn't willing to sacrifice… and soon enough, it was part of the image, anyway.

It was funny, but he couldn't pinpoint the exact moment he'd stopped caring about his hair. Maybe that was why it wasn't too hard for him to hack it all off.

He used to enjoy taking care of his hair… his mother had always loved playing with it. He remembered her tying it up into a little ponytail when he was young, laughing as he squirmed in her lap.

"You're turning him into a bloody ponce, that's what you're doing!"

"He's my son, and I'll do to him what I damn well please!"

But that was a long time ago. These days, his mother didn't touch his hair. She hadn't for a long time. Mostly because she couldn't…

His mother reminded him of butterflies. With her own long, dark hair that somehow just shimmered in the light, which fluttered gently in the breeze. The way she seemed so delicate, ethereal, almost as if she weren't there at all.

He remembered when she had cut her hair. They'd had to cut off a good portion of her hair to stitch up the wound, so she'd decided to just trim the rest off. The new hair-style looked good on her, good but… unfamiliar.

He had short hair at that point, too short, all but a buzz cut which his father had insisted on. His mother had smiled ruefully at him when she saw him but not said anything, either to him or his father. His father had looked oddly triumphant.

"What did you do to him?!"

"I made sure he'll grow up into a man!"

He had thought it odd at the time that his parents were so loving towards him, but completely ignored each other. He still did.

When his mother had cut her hair, somehow she lost her appeal. She wasn't a butterfly anymore. Her wings had been broken, and she'd fallen to earth. She wasn't an angel anymore but then he'd never pretended she was. He didn't understand why it hurt so much.

He was old enough by that point to protest when his father tried to get his hair trimmed.

He hadn't noticed the oddly triumphant look in his mother's eyes.

So he'd grown his hair long, and maybe it was to remember his mother, because after she left, he found he couldn't remember very much about her. The only thing that remained clear in his memory was her hair, as it had been before she'd cut it. Long and flowing. Strangely, the scar was there on her face, standing out in stark relief. Her face itself was indistinct, surrounded by a haze of light that he couldn't penetrate, no matter what.

He wished he could remember her.

She was a fallen angel. Or maybe, just a butterfly that had died before its time.

Maybe butterflies were fallen angels.

"Don't do this, please, no!"

"Shut up! You're my wife, I'll do to you what I damn well please!"

He remembered once, when he'd seen a butterfly. He was only four at the time, but he remembered it vividly. It was an odd butterfly, with silvery-white wings, perched on a rose. Kneeling beside the bush, he'd discovered that for its apparent beauty, it was crippled. Its legs were a mangled mess. It hadn't been perched there at all, but rather, smashed against the soft red petals. Only its wings remained untouched, molten silver gleaming in the fading sunlight.

He'd never forgotten that butterfly.

And he'd recognised it the instant he saw it again. This time, he'd sworn to protect it, to teach it to fly.

He couldn't do that if the butterfly left him, still broken.

So he'd just have to get it back…

"Oi, Choutarou."


Epilogue: Angel

Knives are made to destroy… aren't they?

Cold steel and maybe the faintest hint of warmth beneath hard mahogany brown.

They carve out chunks of life, pieces of bleeding flesh.

Surgical precision and deft fingers threading through him but he feels nothing.

They can't possibly be used to heal… can they?

Icy bite of steel which he can feel now but it doesn't hurt so it's all right.

Butterflies were meant to fly… but some don't.

Quicksilver hair spread out on the pillow like a halo.

Life cuts them down, life and everything else.

Eyes glittering with pain and a tinge of resignation which he doesn't want to see.

How can you fly… with broken wings?




The End

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