Disclaimer: The characters are not original and do not belong to the
author. Official enough?
Warnings: Depends on how open minded you are. Contains mildly graphic content, homosexual issues. 13+2, 13+6, 13+5
Comments: C&C of any shape, size or temperature appreciated.
Metamorphosis: met-a-mor-pho-sis - (1) a process in which something changes completely into something very different (2) a process in which a young animal changes completely into something very different.
-Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English
The crowds didn't come to gawk at him like they used to, anymore. The feverish excitement at having -My goodness, is it really him- around had died down, as it should, after the initial craze, where droves of people, old and young, male and female hung around under his window, pointing fingers at him, when he opened the windows in the morning, to catch the birds singing.
They loved to stand around and stare at him, whispering among themselves. It was their sole source of entertainment, while he was new, a stranger to their town. While he was still tan from the kiss of the sun on his skin, while it was still legal to possess something of his work.
While he was still sane.
That was a long time ago. Now, if he looked out, which wasn't often, at the rectangular slice of sky that was allotted him, or down where the common folk as they went about their daily mundane business, they ignored him, just as they ignored the suffering and poverty around them. He had receded to become part of the scenery now. They were oppressed, but uncaring.
Now, there was only he, the birds that learned to perch on his fingers and accept little titbits that he fed them with, and his degenerating mind. With the demons that lurked inside, occupying the spaces that his nightmares had missed. It was getting harder to distinguish between what was real, and what wasn't.
He didn't even feel real, nowadays. The two guards standing outside his room was more real to him than himself. Slowly, he began to forget. Who he was, what he had done, why he was here, and his name.
That was before the soldier came.
Treize was feeding the birds the last of his breakfast, a piece of toast made from bread so mouldy that it was still green under the scorch marks. He ripped off the less furry bits and held them up by his fingertips, so the sparrows could pluck them out of his grasp, the lumps visible as it slid down their crops.
Their claws, tiny and delicate, dug deep into his flesh. He didn't wince, because he couldn't care less. It was fun to see the little things, so soft and fragile, land on his fingers, trusting the same implements that could wring their little necks without so much as a thought.
A commotion below disturbed them, and they flew away, one of them pausing only momentarily on the windowsill before launching its body into the still air. Treize flung what was left of the bread onto the table, irritated. He looked at the guards standing at the entryway; chunky looking youths for a possible explanation, but found none. They were as puzzled as he was, the briefest glimmer of interest flaring in their dull eyes before it disappeared, leaving them dead again.
He moved to the windows, leaning over a little. The townsfolk were huddling around something, clucking in their rapid-fire tongue. He strained to see what they were talking about. Someone said something, voice too liquid with its accent, and the entire market fell silent. A few people gestured towards his window. He clutched at the vestiges of the broken frame possessively, as if they might take this run-down opening from him.
The crowd parted, and Treize got his first good look at the soldier.
He was sitting astride a motorcycle, a monstrous thing, all sleek black and with sensual curves that reminded Treize of an exquisitely beautiful woman. It seemed almost sexual, the way that young man gripped the vehicle tightly between his thighs, straddling it, though it was probably just because he was a tad bit too short to sit on the bike comfortably.
The younger men in the town were staring at the motorcycle, naked lust gleaming in their eyes, mirrored only by the women's, for the young soldier himself. Treize snorted, and made to turn back. That was before the young soldier's eyes met his, and kept them there. He set the bike on its kickstand with a fluid move that had him off the bike and walking toward him, head tilted so that his eyes never left Treize's.
They were ebony, black as night. Unusual that. Most of the people of his race had eyes the colour of chocolate, deep brown. Treize gripped the metal frames even more tightly, and the glass that was jammed in the rusty, hollow grooves cut deep into the pads of his fingers, and bled into the bumpy hollows of the rough concrete wall. Idly, Treize wondered if that would revive the withered vine that had struggled up the wall from a seed crammed in the crack, only to die after a street kid had maliciously severed the stem with his pocketknife.
The other parts of his tattered mind were trying to make sense of the person that had captured more of his interest in one moment than the entire six years of his incarceration. He shifted his hand, the pain finally registering faintly. A stray drop fell onto the ground below, right in front of the soldier, who tore his gaze away from Treize for a moment, while he stepped on it, as if to grind it into the dusty street with the tip of a black leather boot, the polish still evident through the thin layer of pale yellow dust from his travel.
His face was expressionless, but his eyes spoke of things Treize could not read. For the first time in many years, Treize felt the urge to pick up his pencil again. He dismissed it, looking down at his fingers. They were ruined, a shaking mess of flesh and weeping blood. He turned back to the soldier, who was still staring at him. Romeo looking up at Juliet at her balcony window.
Only the expression in Romeo's eyes had been one of starry-eyed adoration, something that he could pick out. And he wasn't exactly a Juliet either.
The soldier's uniform hung stiffly on him, as if dipped in starch, as it probably was. Nary a wrinkle in sight, though he must have travelled far. There wasn't a military outpost from here in miles. He was very slight, but from the way he stood, legs slightly apart, nose and chin pointed up, you would think that he was a giant among men. The soldier smirked, though it didn't quite reach his eyes.
Then, just as abruptly as he came, the soldier turned on his heel and walked away. Treize watched him leave. He had a small ponytail, something that wasn't evident from the front. It was pulled back severely, not a strand of hair out of place, a complete contrast to his own, matted lank mess that he kept in order by raking his hand back every time it got in his way. The soldier's hair was as black as his eyes.
Suddenly inspired, Treize turned back and fished out the piece of charcoal that he had sneaked under his bed. But only after wiping his hands carefully on his shirt. He didn't want his blood to drip on his work.
The soldier didn't come the next day, though his bike was still there, parked impudently outside the only motel in this little town. Nor the next, or the one after that. Treize got impatient, hanging around the window every day. He didn't know whether it was because he wanted to see him, or that the soldier had evoked his interest in the outside world again. Either way, it mattered little to everyone, even the birds who came in and found their friend sitting on a chair, staring out the window with their breakfast held limply in his terribly bandaged hands. They ate, pecked curiously at the bloodstained cloth every now and then, and left after all the food was gone.
He sketched them, his hand unused to drawing after being left alone to rot for so long, just as he sketched the soldier, from memory. He always tore up those pictures though, frustrated with himself because he could never get the soldier's eyes right. Those fragments, he threw out the window where they descended onto the floor outside, to be trampled underfoot. Occasionally, there were curses, but he had learnt to ignore them.
One day, he was trying to slash his wrists with the blunt razor that they had provided him with to shave when the soldier walked in, a disdainful glance to the guards who let him in, jealousy showing in their staid, ugly faces. They despised him, because they couldn't be like him. And it was obvious that he was much younger than they were, and would go far.
He stepped in, took one look at Treize, who dropped the metal blade guiltily, and made a sharp about face, snapping off his gloves and using them to slap the guards' faces. They stood stock still, not understanding the significance of such a gesture, silently hating him.
"You are a fool."
Treize shrugged, the blood from his wrists pooling in the bandages on his hands. He had been bleeding a lot recently, and didn't think the guards would get new bandages for him this time.
"Say what you want. I don't care."
He really didn't.
The soldier looked at him appraisingly for a long while, and continued,
"I mean you are a fool for not trying to kill yourself long ago."
"Whatever." Treize said vaguely. He was trying to remember whether he had eaten or not.
"So do you want to clean yourself up, or bleed to death?"
This conversation sounded distinctly morbid.
"Clean up, I guess."
"Do you have any bandages?"
Treize shook his head. The soldier didn't say anything as he moved forward, taking a pure white handkerchief out of his pocket, and dragging Treize to the small basin that stood at the far left of the room. The soldier turned on the tap, and rusty brown water spluttered out. He gave the pipes a vicious kick, and it ran clear. He held Treize's wrists under the tap, his bronzed hand stark contrast against Treize's pale, unnatural white.
The water ran pink for a long while, then finally dissipated. The soldier ripped his handkerchief into two equal strips, and bound the wound. Pain, hitherto an unknown concept to him, came crashing back and he winced, jerking his hands out of the soldier's grasp.
"You should have cut deeper. This would only have weakened you."
"I'll try to do better next time." He said dryly.
The soldier tied a dead knot on the makeshift bandage, and let go of Treize's hand. It fell limply back by his side.
"Do you have a name? Or do I call you by your regulation number?"
He saw fury burn bright, but only for a while.
"My surname is Chang. Chang Wufei. "
"So, Mr Chang, why are you here?"
"To interrogate you. About your ties with the enemy."
"I have no ties with them."
He was lying, and they both knew it.
"No matter, I will get what I want."
//You think so?//
He made a slight bow, and left. Treize stood up, and went for his pencil again. He worked through the night.
Treize woke up to find himself sprawled all over one of his sketches. He looked at it closely, grimaced, and ripped it up into a thousand pieces, flinging them out again. Someone from below told him in no uncertain terms that he was an illegitimate male descendant of a female canine. He shrugged, and emptied his dinner, a bowl of slop that he never touched, over the person. The words died down to a furious sputtering.
The guards came in with his breakfast. He took one bite, and consigned the rest of it into a pile of crumbs, which waited on a piece of paper until the sparrows came and collected it. He left a dish of water, in case they felt thirsty as well. The birds chose to bathe in it, spattering his desk with water, so he shooed them away gently.
Wufei entered the room while he watched them fly out the window, plucking from mid-air their last crumbs that he tossed out for them.
He turned, and started, knocking over the glass of thin, dilute tea they had placed beside the plate of stale bread. He used it to wash his brushes. It dripped off the table in sad little rivulets. He cursed, trying to save his paintings. Wufei was beside him in an instant, helping him. They hung the pieces of paper up, plastering them against the wall. The paintings stuck, mainly because they were so wet.
Treize looked at them sadly. More than half were completely ruined. No matter, he would peel them off when they dried and throw them away.
Wufei looked closely at the paintings. The raw talent in the paintings shone through, even if the materials that Treize had were less than adequate. He had a way of capturing the emotion sharp in every single feature of his subject, be it human or otherwise. Their eyes He turned away.
"We will proceed with the interrogation."
"Why bother? Every one I know is probably dead."
"It is my duty to make sure they all are."
Treize looked at him.
Wufei thought for a moment, and wrote something in a notebook. He stopped, and asked, his eyes still on the paper,
"You were accused of consorting with the enemy. Do you plead guilty?"
Treize choked, and nodded his head, coughing.
So that's what they called it now. Consorting.
//Sad state of affairs, that. //
He couldn't suppress his memories of the beautiful man that held him close as he wept over the death of his soul mate. The two men that he had held dear to his heart, one dead from multiple skull fractures to his skull sustained from the beatings he had received in jail. The other, dead from torture.
He was so used to the agony of realising they were dead that his expression remained as it was. They were so different from each other, like night from day. Duo, and Milliard, one a newspaper photographer who didn't know his limits, and the latter the ringleader of the rebellion attempt, which was quashed shortly after his death was reported over the air.
It had been a gory telecast. He had been beside the radio through the whole thing, quivering and sobbing as they ripped him apart. His agonized screams had been telecast nationwide.
He looked at Wufei, realising that he had recounted the whole thing aloud. His black eyes were as unreadable as always. Treize tried to look deeper, but the sheer stillness of his pupils made him stop. This person was barely human, same as the monsters that had killed Duo and Milliard. He used what remained of his strength to hate Wufei to the core.
"Did they tell you anything that you feel could be of relevance to our cause?"
Treize did not answer. He found that question too absurd. He tuned out Wufei's softly voiced, urgent words, preferring to concentrate on the way his lips moved, or his hands as he spoke. So serious, so steady. He wondered how it felt to have no conscience. He looked at Wufei's hands. They were callused, and he suddenly felt ashamed of his own, hiding them under the table, on his lap. He studied them from there.
They were so long, and so white it hurt to look at them. Artist's hands. They shook quite a lot now; weren't like that in the past. He had faded, lost all his vitality. Everything about him now, was a shadow of its former self. He accepted it happily. It meant that he would join his loves after a short while.
Wufei looked at Treize. He was laughing softly, scrutinizing his cuticles, and obviously hadn't heard anything he had said.
//He's crazier than they say. //
"I think our interrogation is complete for today. Thank you, Mr Khushrenada."
He continued to laugh, but there were tears leaking down from the edge of his eyes. Wufei left, with a quiet command to the guards to watch him closely in case he tried something again.
"Promise me something, Treize." Duo looked at him, normally laughing violet eyes serious.
"Promise you what?" He rumbled, licking the pulsing jugular.
Duo arched up in pleasure, and paused for a while to remember what he was thinking a few moments ago.
"Promise me that you'll go to Milliard if I die."
"You won't die." The words were silky-smooth, reassuring, but Duo could hear the panic in them.
"Hai, I will, I will. Someday, though I hope it will be far off."
"I can't agree to such a request. What do you think I am? A bauble to be passed around?"
Duo bent over Treize, biting his fingers lightly, on each tip, "But I know you, Treize. You'll kill yourself if you know that I'm dead. I don't want you to die for this reason. I don't want the world to lose such genius."
"But Millard I can't betray you like this."
"You won't be betraying me. How can you betray a corpse?" Treize clapped his hand over Duo's mouth.
"I won't have you talking like that." Duo wrenched his hand off.
"But if I catch you with him while I'm still alive, I'll Treize, stop that."
"Stop what?" He asked innocently, still running his fingers along the inner skin of Duo's thigh, daubing it with paint.
"I'm not your painting!"
"You're more beautiful than anything I will ever draw."
He went up to the wall, and peeled off all the paintings, this time, not even bothering to tear them apart before he scattered them to the world below. He didn't notice Wufei bending over to pick one of them up, thoughtful. When he went back to his motel, the painting was rolled up tightly in his hand.
Treize was still asleep when Wufei came around the next day. He met the guards, as they were about to set the food tray down. A bird hopped in through the half-open windows, eyeing the food. Wufei waited until it was within range, and grabbed it with a hand that moved so quickly the bird only started struggling a full five seconds later, pushing against Wufei's fingers with its claws, trying to force them open.
Wufei casually snapped its neck, leaving it carefully beside the plate, its soft breast feathers fluttering slightly in the wind that whispered softly around the room. He sat on the chair, it creaking under his weight, waiting for Treize to wake up.
When he did, Wufei waited patiently until he had washed up, asked for permission to visit the latrine, and came back, eyes finally resting on the little dead body, already cool. He took the rest of the food, and stood by the window, pushing it fully open. The other birds flocked to his outstretched hands, squabbling among themselves for the biggest pieces. It mattered not that one of their kin lay dead not two feet away.
Treize valiantly ignored Wufei for as long as was humanly possible. He held the dead bird in his hand for a while, trying to see if he recognised it. He finally did, by a little blob of brown on its left wing feathers. He scrabbled amongst his pitiful belongings for a cardboard box, found none, and was in the process of ripping out a piece of paper to wrap the bird in when Wufei placed his hand on his arm. He jerked away.
"Murderer." He said it wearily.
"Don't kill them, they're innocent."
"I'll kill anything that's close to you if you persist in refusing to cooperate."
"What do you want from me? I don't know anything!"
"It doesn't matter."
He didn't make any sense. Treize wondered whether Wufei was nuts. He continued to wrap the bird, wincing a little as the creases of the folds rumpled its feathers. A tap on his shoulder.
Wufei was holding out a perfectly folded paper box. He had folded it.
"Here. It should fit, I think."
He took it, and placed the bird inside, stroking its downy feathers for the last time.
"What are you going to do with it? You aren't allowed out of this room."
"I'm going to burn it."
Wufei didn't say anything else. Treize took his wastepaper basket, a sturdy thing made out of metal. He set it on the floor, and shook out the rubbish. There wasn't much, because he liked to throw things out of the window, where they were free to drift about in the wind, instead of the bin. He set the little corpse carefully in it, and looked at Wufei.
"Do you have a match?"
"Yes." He took out a small book of matches. Treize struck one and dropped it into the bin. The box caught fire immediately.
"The bird won't burn that easily."
The stench of burnt feathers filled the air, thick and choking. Wufei began to cough, but Treize just stood in front of the struggling fire, feeding pieces of paper mechanically into it every time he thought the flames were going to go out. Slowly, the smell changed into that of cooking flesh. It smelt blasphemously delicious.
Wufei coughed, and stood so that his face was turned towards the window.
"Are you done?"
Finally, he ran out of paper, and started tearing bits of his bandages off his hands to use as fuel. It wasn't enough, and he threw the book of matches in. The fire raged momentarily as the sulphur caught, and sputtered out. Treize looked into the bin, eyes watering from the stinging smoke.
The bird had almost, but not completely burned. The skeleton was mostly intact, and bits of blackened flesh still stuck to certain parts. Wufei was beside him again.
"The birds are the only things I have left please."
Wufei's expression did not change. He moved his hand a little, towards the window, to the birds that were outside. Treize understood what he was trying to say.
He would not concede that request.
His hatred threatened to overwhelm him then, but he forced it back down. It left a bad taste in his mouth. He swallowed, and sat back down, preparing for the interrogation.
Surprisingly, Wufei did not ask any questions, just sat on the other chair and regarded him with those damnable soulless eyes. Treize decided that if he wanted a staring match, he would get one, and he had nothing better to do anyway. He glared back.
"Why did you save me?"
The question took Treize by surprise.
"Eight years ago. I was the child that was being sold into prostitution. You paid the price the man demanded, and put me in an orphanage."
Trey remembered now. The scrawny kid that he had paid his last coin for; to save him from what he thought would be living hell.
//What he's gone through, to make him into this . It must be worse. Much worse. //
He had rescued the little one then because he had been shielding another child with his own body, his eyes, though dilated with pain, were completely focused to the little girl he was protecting. Duo had captured the thing on film, and Treize suspected that it was that selfsame roll of film and not his meagre amount of cash that had convinced the man to trade the two children.
There was such life in the boy then! The way he had cradled his little sister in his arms, trusting no one with her, even though Duo had finally coaxed him to let go with some food.
//Incredible the metamorphosis. I should have left him alone. //
"What happened to your sister?"
He knew the little girl was related to him because he had registered both children. Duo had wanted to adopt them, but he had dissuaded the slighter man, convincing him that having two half-grown teenage street rats tagging along with them was downright foolhardy.
"Meiran died. The orderlies raped her, and slit her throat after they were finished."
It was as if he was discussing the weather outside, his voice was so neutral.
"Oh my god."
"I had to finish the job. They didn't sever the artery."
Treize thought that if he heard any more, he was going to be violently sick. Wufei reached over, into the metal bin, and grabbed the delicate little skeleton. He ground it into powder between his fingers, and let the grainy ashes drift back into the bin. He wiped his hand on the handkerchief he had brought. It was exactly the same as the one he had used to wrap up Treize's hand with.
"She's better off dead."
The venom in that phrase jolted Treize out of his semi-trance. Wufei's hands were gripping the tabletop with a little too much force.
"I have come to repay my debt. After this, I will owe you nothing. If I find you again, I will hunt you down and kill you like the rebel dog you are."
It was as if he was reciting it off a list. Treize wondered how long had Wufei spent composing this speech.
Today? Treize felt the faint stirrings of panic. He hadn't been outside this room for years! Wufei stood up and looked out.
"Do you want to leave?"
He wasn't doing it for himself, but for the ghosts of his two dead lovers. They would want him to have his freedom, Treize knew, though he didn't know what he was going to do with it.
It felt bitter that he regarded something that both Duo and Milliard had died fighting for with such detachment. Freedom. The concept was alien to him. There was no freedom, not for Treize Khushrenada, no. His chains were all mental ones.
He had to do it. For them. The final, last, insignificant snub at the government who had taken his dearest possessions away from him.
"You'll be court-marshalled if you're found out."
And they both knew what the punishment was.
"That is irrelevant."
That boy was going to get him out, Treize realised, even if it killed him.
//Such a waste of a promising young man //
But then, he had been brought up to value life. Wufei, evidently, hadn't.
Wufei grasped Treize's arm, and hit him, hard on the cheek. A ugly bruise blossomed on his face, all purply-green.
"This is part of the act. Play along."
He was manhandled to the entrance, where the guards stood. Swinging Treize so that his hip banged painfully against the wall, Wufei spoke coolly at the guards.
"He has been found guilty of treason. I will escort him personally to the capital to have him tried and executed. You are henceforth dismissed from your duties. Tell no one, this is classified information."
In their eagerness to feel important, the guards neglected to wonder why he was bringing the prisoner out in broad daylight if things were as secret as they were supposed to be.
//Stupid fools. //
Treize stumbled his way down the stair, irises contracting painfully, unused to the bright light. His skin stood out stark white among the people, who were tanned to a uniform leathery toughness from long hours of work. Wufei brought him roughly to the motorcycle that he had rode into town in.
Treize looked at him dumbly, then gingerly sat behind Wufei, trying to stay as far away from him as possible. He still gave Treize an uneasy feeling. He placed his hands on his own lap, balancing precariously. Wufei spoke without turning around, his voice low.
"If you fall off and break your neck, it will be your own fault."
Treize brought his hands up and twined them loosely about Wufei's waist. He towered over him, but the air of aloofness that Wufei had carried had belied that, until now. He could see clearly over the top of his head. His hand brushed against something, and stilled. Leather. It was a holster. And there was a gun in it.
He thought briefly about overpowering Wufei and getting the gun, but wisely decided against it. He was malnourished, and would never be able to win in a battle of brawn, even if he was taller and heavier. (Not much) Not with those muscles that were moving beneath his palms. He had sat like this, holding someone in the very same way, long ago. Milliard. But he never felt revulsion at touching his body; it was more like worshipping at a sanctified temple,
Because, lords, Milliard was magnificent. And noble, and kind and a million other things Wufei wasn't. He was taller too. His voice, deep and husky with a sibilant purr that made shivers go down Treize's spine and ricochet back up again. He had tried to capture the way his voice had made him feel in his portraits of Milliard, only half-succeeding. But that had been enough.
They used his portrait to identify him, before he was hauled into hell. Or the mortal equivalent.
Treize could very well imagine what they did to him; he could hear the hissing of the whips as they flayed the flesh from Milliard' body, the snap as his bones were broken methodically, starting with the smallest, most delicate finger bones, and the bubbling sound red-hot tongs made, boiling flesh alive as it was pressed against his body.
He supposed it would have smelt like the dead bird as it incinerated. A whimper burst out of him. Wufei heard it, but pretended he didn't. He didn't want to know. The motorcycle left in the trail of dust similar to the one it had arrived in.
End Act 1