A/N: Hey readers. Hope you enjoy this new story.
It's (very) loosely based on the Manga "Mars" by Fuyumi Soryo. Mostly it has very little to do with Mars, but some parts are more similar than others. So disclaimer: I definitely don't own her story or her characters. I think of this as an original work of fiction, but for those of you who have read the manga, forgive me if it borders too closely on fanfiction in some places.
Warning: This first chapter contains a description of assault. For those of you who are sensitive to the subject matter, please read with caution.
I can't tell you what it was like the first time I saw him. I can't properly describe the breathless weightlessness, the feeling of hanging over an abyss. The worst thing I've ever felt. I can't explain why I knew what I knew.
But I can't deny it either.
He was beautiful. I saw the cold in his eyes and was completely lost. Hundreds of miles from a life that made sense. And with every discovered truth, every perceived connection, I lost myself further, descending masochistically into the false promise that someday I could understand him. That I could access the truth of who and what he was.
He was impossible and heartbreaking and everything I'd never wanted and couldn't live without.
I loved him in that first moment, and in all the moments to follow. The beautiful ones and the wretched alike. I loved every inch of him. Every sheltered crevice of his mind, every cruel twist of his words. From that day on, he never really surprised me. And yet I never knew what to expect. I was his, undeniably, whether he wanted me or not. I couldn't change that, even after he left. I knew by then that he was just being Jude.
Chapter one: da capo
"Hey, leave me alone," I demanded, and pulled my coat tighter around me. I was cold and miserable and the last thing I needed was this asshole and his douchebag friends harassing me. They were probably about five years older than me, with more testosterone than brain cells. They were big and spoiled and really goddamn annoying. They had cornered me on my walk home.
"Oh come on, baby. Let's keep each other warm tonight."
I looked up at the guy. That one was called Trent. His lopsided grin made me nervous. Trent had introduced himself with a crude line and a disgusting smile and he hadn't gotten any more charming since.
"What's your problem?" I yelled as he grabbed my elbow. "Have you never heard the word 'no' before? You must get it a lot with your tragic fucking face."
His two friends laughed but Trent just glared, his eyes narrowed menacingly. "Those are some ugly words to come out of such a pretty mouth. Maybe I should make your face match your personality."
I found myself staring down the business end of a butterfly knife. Something in the back of my mind went cold. I jerked my arm, trying to escape his grasp without getting any closer to that knife. I could see the sharp sliver of its edge reflecting the dim light of the streetlamps. "Let go!" I cried as shrill shivers of fear began to creep through me. Fear and caustic anger. They jostled and pushed me until I realized that they had corralled me into an alley. Fuck. This was getting bad. Crumbling buildings rose up on either side of us, completely obscuring us from view.
I tripped over some rubble but they just dragged me farther into the dark alley, their fingers dug deep into the flesh of my arms.
"Let's get this bitch naked," Trent suggested. My stomach tilted on its side as I fell into panic. Two of them held my arms while he advanced on me. They pried off my coat.
I screamed for help or mercy or for some unreality to take over. I clawed and kicked. Blinding pain laced across one half of my face. Trent had a vicious back-hand. My eye felt like it would explode. Their laughter was like nothing I'd ever heard. Raucous and persisting and all-consuming. My heart fluttered frantically in my chest, as if trying to escape. They threw me down.
As the dirt and debris of the alley ground into my back and five-hundred pounds of men descended on me, I went away. I retreated; not physically, but under and away from reality, to a place that was safer. It hadn't happened in years but it felt all too familiar. The aggression of men. The shelter of a thinly-protected mind. The subdued rage and indignity, held at bay by that small, fragile voice in my mind telling me just to wait – that nothing lasts forever; it will be over soon and life goes on.
I thought of my music. My music that saved me. That kept me sane and safe. The only thing that made me know that I was a human being. I wrapped myself in my music and everything else went distant and cold and unthreatening.
They held me down and I thought of my favorite Philip Glass piece. Instead of their breath in my ear, I heard the piano's slow, measured notes. In the sky above, I didn't see the ruins of the buildings on either side, looming high and dark like indifferent sentinels; I only saw the spackled bits of clouds, hanging like quarter notes moving across the starless sky, making the whole world into one beautiful sheet of music. They seemed to make a midnight piece. A song about blankness, about nothing at all. About being hidden from things. I felt the ivory of paino keys under my fingertips and I didn't feel their fingers on my chest or digging into my arms. I lived the changes in rhythm as the piece would crescendo and decrescendo and I didn't see their faces or hear their words. I didn't feel fear when that knife touched my skin, or panic when they pulled my jeans down. I had my music, and so I had nothing to lose.
But then I felt their fingers on my thighs, on my scars, and not even Philip Glass could protect me. It was too much. My mind fell apart, splintered pieces of reality and memory and terror and trauma shredding indiscriminately and indistinguishably through the haven of my music.
I screamed. I thrashed and kicked with no awareness of what I was doing, no control, no thoughts. Only the flashback panic. Only morbid fight or flight, soaked in adrenaline, alive with its caustic vigor.
For a few seconds it held them off but soon they came at me again. As I'd known they would. The music faltered and cracked and I felt every piece of gravel beneath me, every inch of unwelcome skin on mine. I felt the rawness of my throat as I screamed. I felt the heat of the blood underneath my skin. I felt the fear again. I needed my music, needed it desperately, but I couldn't hear it over the pounding of my heartbeat in my ears. I couldn't reach it. I couldn't escape.
And then I heard him. A voice, aggressive and clear, pervaded the alley.
"I get the whole rape and humiliation thing, but do you have to make such so much fucking noise? It's called disturbing the peace. Asshole rapists these days have no common fucking decency."
The three guys froze.
I could barely see. My brain was in overdrive, swimming in adrenaline, and everything was a blur of horror and nausea. I couldn't make sense of what was happening, why they were turning away from me.
But in the distance, solid and unwavering, there was a figure approaching us.
"Hey, fuck off, asshole," one of the guys responded, sounding nothing more than annoyed; a young boy whose playtime had been interrupted.
"Just walk away, man," Trent demanded, and the sharp sliver of threat in his voice was undeniable.
I struggled, trying to take advantage of their distraction, but it was no use. Their fingers were like iron, predators possessively guarding their prey.
The figure stepped out of the shadows and resolved into the dark shape of a man. And I knew then that he was going to help me. He would save my life. My sanity. He would keep the past at bay.
I found my music then; dark and tremulous but beautiful. The world fell into Copland's sonata, disjointed and atonal and unnerving. But hopeful. The movement of the men around me seemed to follow its staccato franticness. Their words and their breath fell into rhythm with the thunderous crescendo. And the panic began to ebb.
Hope. Hope like poison threading its way into my blood. Impossible to purge. Unsafe but unstoppable.
Trent's hands slipped off my legs as he stood to face the man. He flipped his knife around the back of his hand and thrust it in front of himself as he advanced on my stranger. The noise of sliding metal the knife made was truly terrifying. I think he just wanted to threaten the guy, but he didn't even get a chance to speak. Suddenly the man gripped Trent's arm with both hands and jerked upward so the blade of the butterfly knife went sliding neatly into his shoulder. The air was split with the sound of Trent's screams as he dropped to the ground. They clashed with my music, uninvited, and yet somehow they seemed like a part of it.
It all happened so quickly that for a few seconds no one moved. Trent's friends were completely still, confused and frozen in disbelief. Then one of the other two men let go of me with a cry, to go help his friend. I tried to run then, to get up off the ground, but I was too slow. The last one shoved his knee into my chest and the backs of my arms found broken glass as he pressed them to the ground. It made me go rigid with pain. But the pain seemed like just a shadow of the complex chords I had wrapped around the fragile parts of my mind. Just part of the music, the sonata pain. And so I was protected.
I watched, wide eyed and silent but full of dark music, my cheek pressed against the cold gravel as these strangers fought over me.
Trent gritted his teeth and tugged the little knife out of his shoulder and then he and his friend crept toward my strange savior. They walked in horrifying, disjointed chords. They would overpower him. They would beat the shit out of him and I'd still be here, frozen in pain, when they were done. And they'd be angry. And their anger would make it worse.
But something in the stranger's movements caught my eye. He was in shadow, but some unidentifiable quality caught my eye, outside of his speed and strength. Something in the arch of his back and the shape of his shoulders and as he moved, faster and stronger with every violent motion, a dangerous silhouette. Something vicious, almost animalistic.
With a clamor of clashing notes, I realized that it was a complete lack of restraint. He was utterly uninhibited. Every time he threw a punch he put his entire body into it. He didn't hold anything back. He didn't even seem capable. Every movement had a disturbing grace to it. Like an unholy dance. Like meter and rhyme to accompany my music. Like depraved lyrics. And I understood that somehow, impossibly, this was a person who knew absolutely no fear.
He threw his fist into one guy's face and I heard a sickening crunch. Then he was kicking the other one, over and over, until he was flat on his back. There was dedication in his movements. Complete focus and integrity. I'd never seen anyone so committed to anything as this stranger was to hurting those men. His fists made a terrible noise as they connected with mauled flesh, over and over.
The last of my attackers swore and threw himself to his feet. I skittered away gracelessly as he joined the bloody brawl.
Breath came back to me in slow increments. I yanked up my jeans and held myself and watched in horrified fascination as the man proceeded to completely decimate my attackers. He sent the last guy sprawling to the ground and delivered a few vicious kicks to his head. He was primal and reckless. And persistent. Long after he had clearly won the fight, he kept throwing his fists into their broken bodies.
Finally he stood above them, panting and still. My music broke and faded, every part of me waiting for what would come next. I listened to the stillness and the silence in that alley, unlike any silence I'd ever heard. When he spoke, his voice was completely calm, almost expressionless. "Anything you want to tell the nice lady before I end your pathetic fucking lives?" he asked, and there was nothing in his tone but a bitter, sarcastic joviality.
They were beyond words. I'd be surprised if they had one functioning jawbone between the three of them. They moaned and cried in pain, but weren't particularly talkative.
The man knelt and when he stood he was holding a brick. It looked so natural in his hand, as if he'd been wielding that brick his entire life. As if it was a part of him. He advanced on them without any grandiosity or drama. I could see his grip on the brick tightening as he reached the nearest would-be rapist. He raised his arm.
"Stop!" I cried. I almost wasn't sure if I had said it. I realized I was crying and I brushed angrily at the tears. "Please, don't!"
He listened. Slowly, he turned to face me. He was hidden in shadow and I couldn't read his face. "Why?" he asked. There was no irony in his tone, or sarcasm, or judgment. It was just a question.
I shivered. I couldn't answer him.
The guy shrugged and turned on his heel. "You heard her. Get the fuck out of here." He took one dangerous step toward them, but they were already staggering to their feet, stumbling and leaning on each other to get away from him.
He dropped the brick and faced me again. He came close and offered a hand.
Looking up at him, I realized with a shock that he looked to be about my age – no more than nineteen. He was so tall and so skilled, I'd assumed he was older.
I didn't want to touch him, this figure of violence and power. But he was reaching out to me. Waiting. I took his hand warily and he pulled me easily to my feet. For a few seconds I couldn't help but just stare at him. I couldn't see his face very well in the oppressive blackness of the alley, but his shape was beautiful. Tall and strong and commanding.
"You alright?" he asked casually.
I pulled at the tattered remains of my shirt, trying in vain to cover myself. "Fine," I answered distractedly. "I don't know how to thank you." I looked up at him and watched him shift his weight, pivoting just enough so that the light from the distant street fell on his face. His eyes were completely empty. Not just blank, but thoroughly empty. As if he'd never cared about anything in his life. As if he was completely untouched by this world and everything in it.
It frightened me.
"Well, your pants are already almost off, so you could thank me with your body," he suggested easily. A grin tugged at the corner of his lips. But it didn't reach his empty eyes.
"Pass," I grumbled angrily, and clutched my jeans in place. The button was gone and the zipper was busted. "I've had enough of sex-crazed men for one night."
He chuckled. "Here," he said suddenly. He pulled a necklace from over his head and untied its knot. He took the pendant off of the string and put it in his pocket. Then he shooed my hands away from my jeans and looped the string through the hole where the button had once been. My hands flailed in midair. I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about this sudden contact, and having his hands so close to my skin. I wanted to push him away. He knotted it tight and stepped back to admire his handiwork. The jeans stayed in place on my hips, at least for the moment.
"Ah, sorry, I got a little blood on you." He wiped his hands together.
I gasped. I hadn't noticed the film of blood covering his hands. I assumed that a lot of it wasn't his, but his knuckles were split and oozing blood over his fingers. "Oh, shit, you should go to a hospital."
"I'll wrap them at home." He sounded completely off-handed. Even good-natured.
"At least let me help," I asked desperately. I wasn't accustomed to owing people. I wasn't sure how to deal with it. I realized distantly that the blood was on my hands too, from when he'd helped me up. I fretted with them uselessly, unsure what to do next.
"Are you inviting yourself home with me?" he asked slyly, "Because we could revisit the whole bodily-repayment issue."
A nervous anger flooded through me. "Is this why you unleashed on those guys like that? Because you wish you could be like them, and solicit women whether they want you or not? Are you jealous of them?"
"Is this why you got attacked?" he responded without missing a beat. "Because of your bad attitude and your bitchy mouth?" He didn't sound angry or even upset. But his eyes were quietly terrifying.
I wrapped my arms around myself. "Sorry. You kind of…saved my life. I don't mean to be rude. I'm just…"
"Shaken up?" he finished for me. "Yeah, I hear that almost getting raped will do that to a girl."
I winced at the words, trying to block out the memory of their disgusting fingers on my thighs.
"Well, see you. Try not to get into so much trouble." He gave me a half-wave and turned to leave.
That was it? I couldn't leave it at that. I couldn't let him go. "Wait!" I called, and chased after him a couple steps down the alley.
He looked back, eyebrows raised inquisitively.
"You were seriously about to kill them. Literally."
He turned back around and kept walking. "Yeah, I guess. Who knows?"
"You guess?" I repeated, bewildered, and kept following him back toward the main street. "How can you take it so lightly? Why would you be willing to do something like that for a stranger?"
He stretched and laced his fingers behind his head. "I didn't really think of it like that. I guess I knew you needed help, and after I started, I just really wanted to kill them."
I stopped walking, my eyes wide. How could he say that with such callousness? How could he sound so much like he meant every word?
I trembled and watched him walk away.
It was an unhappy accident that I met Jude that way. That he stepped into my life as a savior, a knight in dark armor. The farthest thing from the truth. But that was all I knew and so that was what I believed. I can't say whether or not I'd have loved him like I did if I hadn't held that belief.
My roommate was gone when I got back to my dorm, allowing me to wash off the dried blood and throw away my tattered clothes in relative peace. I kept the string my stranger had used to tie my jeans closed. It was just a long leather cord. Undecorated and unremarkable. I should have thrown it away. I should have classified it as part of a horrible, unwanted memory and set it on fire. But I couldn't. I wound it around my wrist, tied it clumsily, and tried to sleep. But my mind was full of the stranger. When I closed my eyes I saw the angle of his shoulders and the blood sliding off his fingers. The way his posture was almost as beautiful as it was dangerous.
I was a part-time insomniac, so I had a routine for sleepless nights. Things I did when normal people were sleeping away their untroubled hours. I went downstairs to the empty practice rooms in the basement and settled myself in front of one of the school's many pianos. But I couldn't compose. I could barely even play. I found myself pondering over the same notes endlessly. The music evaded me. It had abandoned me.
I'd never felt this way before. Even in the times when I'd felt most helpless, I'd always had my music. For years it had been the constant in my life. When I was scared, the lilt of a ballad comforted me. And when I was in pain, the feel of the ivory against my fingertips reminded me that there was more to life than fear and ugliness and violence. There was beauty. And when I was in front of a piano, I was part of it.
But tonight was different. I must have played the piano in front of me half a hundred times before, but tonight it was a stranger. Tonight I was alone, for the first time since I'd begun composing when I was nine years old.
I sat at the bench for hours, trying to remember where my music came from. What it felt like to create a song. But my every train of thought led unerringly back to him. My stranger. Over and again, I returned to the vision of his form flying through the dark alley. The chilling nothingness in his eyes.
Thoughts of him had somehow replaced my music. And my music was everything I had. I couldn't banish him from my thoughts. It was as if my mind was his.
A/N: Hope you enjoyed! Please review – I've had this story percolating in my brain for so long that I've kind of lost perspective on it. I'd really appreciate feedback.