[Author's Note: This is a Fushigi Yuugi fic set during episode 32. It's rated R for some adult material. I tried to be fairly subtle with it, but it may include spoilers; tread warily if you haven't seen through episode 33. Please see my disclaimer page for copyright information regarding this story.]
The Animal That Walks on Two Legs
By Natalie Baan
The tent flap scrapes open and the smell of snow sharpens: cold crispness, stinging and wet. Sun glare breaks in through the doorway--makes me squint, and the burns on my face pull and hurt when I narrow my eyes.
Damn the light....
"Ashitare." His voice...I twist and lower my head, looking up at him one-eyed. His shadow stands at the doorway, holding the tent flap, doing nothing else but waiting. So I crawl outside. Trees, rocks, tent roofs--everything's white and cloudy-looking. As soon as I'm off the dirt floor my feet sink into powder: a thick fall, easy to track in. I dig my claws in and bring up a handful to lap at, and the snow turns to water on my tongue, helping my thirst. The air tastes clean, and the stink of blood and fear-sweat starts to fade.
He stands there, watching me, the black leather whip coiled in his hand.
Always that same smile on his face. That or nothing...today he's smiling, though. Like with a lot of the things he does, I don't know why. Blue cloak and fancy armor float above the snow, shining...with that pale skin and yellow hair he looks like he belongs up there in the sky with the sun. He's not so big--if I stood up now I'd top him easy--but he looks down on everything.
He's the strongest. I don't even try to meet his eyes.
I crunch another mouthful of snow, stretch and scratch myself, sniff the air. He waits; no rush, like it doesn't really matter at all. He and I both know that's shit. When I'm done, I crouch there while he goes on waiting, looking at me for a long damn time. I don't go anywhere until he says so. That's strength. He wants me to be sure I understand it.
Funny, I hated his guts the first time I saw him, in that freak show back in Kutou country. Pretty, waxy-faced soldier boy, pale as a fish...weak, I thought, just another weak human that feels strong looking at my chains. Then he broke those chains and killed the men around me with just one thought. Except my handler. That guy he gave to me.
Back then I didn't know what to think. Now I'm smarter. Even then--he gave, I took. Freedom, revenge, fresh, dripping meat...there was never any question who had the power. He was a freak in Kutou too, but that didn't make the two of us the same.
If he'd freed me out of kindness, maybe I'd've licked his hand and followed him for love. Or maybe I'd've torn his heart out.
Anyway, it doesn't matter.
He broke my chains because he could use me. I followed him because he never doubted that I would.
At least he lets me hunt and kill....
I shift, rumbling under my breath as those whip welts twinge me. The sun's well up in the sky and even Suzaku's Seishi are on the move by now--why's it taking him so long to make his point? Oh, are we waiting for our Miko to decide to show up finally? She's a spook, that one: a snappish piece of ass that thinks she's Empress. I'd do her like Suzaku's Miko, her and that brat...I scratch again, digging at the place on my hip that itches under clothes and hair. And then I see /her/ coming....
She's walked around the side of a tent and into the sunlight. Now she stops. She's got a blue blanket hanging off of her, but her armor glints bare at her shoulders and where the blanket gaps there's a flash of long, white, naked legs. Her hair's up on top of her head in that loop that only a woman would think of, but her eyes are steady, quiet, and deep. She stands there just as solid as a man. I breathe her good, rich smells of salt, skin, and sex--there's no bath out here to wash them all away. And I feel that ache inside, just like before....
I'd failed him, and I'd known what was coming to me. Then, out of the shadows, her voice....
It didn't do any good. But that's not important.
In the middle of all this winter, I found just one warm thing.
And I want...I want her to do that again. To say my name like she means it, like she believes there's some limit to what he can do. To have her against him and with me, just for one moment--to have her speak up, someone else to say what I'm feeling like she knows it as well as I do...and like it makes some kind of difference to her world.
I want her to look into me with the eyes of a woman, looking deeper than the skin...I want her to rest her hand on my head, want it so much that my knees turn to ice melt, like they've never done before.
I want her down in the snow with her red hair bleeding around her and her body as soft as a baby rabbit's, her legs spread for me, only for me...I want her hot and wet and alive underneath me, shuddering to my hard, panting thrusts, my teeth closed on her neck like a wolf's on its cub and my mouth tasting her sweat, as salt as blood....
I want to hear her grunt and then cry sharply, like the sounds that I hear in the night when the smells of sex and power rise up from the other tent--the sounds that carry clearly to me as I whimper in the dark and hump the ground, trying to understand what's been ripped from me to cause this phantom pain, to make me feel like even less than half a man....
"/It's time,/" he says suddenly, and as he shifts and the blue cloak swings it draws my eye. His gaze catches mine and pins it fast. Still that same smile but somehow his look sees all through me, and a cold river freezes me to the bones.
It's all I can do not to belly to the ground in terror. Instead I sink onto my haunches and stare at the whip end trailing on the snow. It twitches like a lizard's tail as he draws the leather slowly through his fingers.
"Do you remember, Ashitare?" His voice is flat and deep, the same as always. "Suzaku's Seishi will find the Shinzaho's location. Go after them. Then, kill them." A pause, and he adds, "You understand, if you fail me this time...." No interest in the words, no emotion. Just that unspoken promise. He hangs over me like a blue cloud to make sure each word has sunk into my mind and gut. Then he tells me, "Go," and turns his back. He walks away, his boots crunching quietly in the snow, not even bothering to guard himself. When he reaches the tent, she steps toward him, looking up with a question in her eyes as he puts his hand on her armored shoulder, as he presses his mouth onto hers and the blue blanket slides to the ground at their feet. And it's the punishment he didn't give, the words he didn't say that fall over me until I'm numb and buried, staring after them emptily, put back in my place without a hand raised, without a tooth bared.
It's the things he doesn't have to say that make this wall between us.
Because there's nothing I can do about them.
As the two of them walk away together, I half-rise, turning to face the mountain. Slowly I lift my head and breathe the cold, clean air...through snow and ice, the faroff reek of Tohran town, and the musk of a forest of wild animals, I can smell the crackling, powerful scent of chi.
To kill the one who hurt me.
The one who defeated me....
I throw back my head and howl.
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