by llamajoy

"You can touch them, if you like."

Ritsuka jumps back like he's been stung by a bee, sitting down abruptly on the edge of his bed and tripping over his words. "No, it's okay-- touch what?-- no big deal."

Soubi smiles, in the way that Soubi always smiles, quietly and without any direct connection to actual happiness. Or maybe he's laughing at Ritsuka, or feeling fond, or some other layer of emotion that Ritsuka hasn't ever been able to decipher. He is sitting and bleeding on the floor of Ritsuka's room, but this isn't anything out of the ordinary.

Ritsuka's scowl deepens, and he hands over a wad of gauze and bandages without meeting Soubi's eyes. "Clean up," is what he says, wishing he sounded cool and disinterested, knowing he sounds guilty.

Soubi, familiar, ubiquitous Soubi, sponges up the blood and unwinds fresh bandages. Either of them could do this in their sleep; the ritual of hurt and healing is almost a comfortable one. But tonight Soubi is naked to the waist, and this is something new. His pastel art-student shirt is wadded on the floor, frayed and bloodied.

More than the skin, it's the scars that have Ritsuka's attention. Countless scars, slender lines and rosebud puckers and scattered starbursts of scars, scrawled like a foreign language all over Soubi. (Familiar Soubi. His Soubi. But he does not let himself think these things.) Not so foreign, he realizes with a wave of horrified fascination, and he's reaching tentative fingers towards the compromised skin again, without knowing.

"I truly wouldn't mind."

Ritsuka shoves his traitorous hands underneath him, but he knows he's fooling no one. "That's personal," he says. Hearing how childish the words sound, he chews on his bottom lip and tries again. "They're your business, I mean..." He gives up. "I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't," Soubi says, but it's what Ritsuka expected him to say, so he doesn't believe it. Soubi rolls his shoulders, stretching his neck and testing the give of his new bandages. He does it every time: deliberately he hides the BELOVED across his throat, and tips his head from side to side to feel the give and choke of the new day's bandage. Shirtless, the effect is rather startling, pale hair moving against paler skin.

Ritsuka's mouth goes dry. He can't stop staring. Or maybe it's that he won't stop; looking away would be a worse cowardice. He's afraid of those scars and their terrible silent language, more than the angry red weals from tonight's battle-- because he's afraid he recognizes the handwriting of them.

"Liar," he says. "I have scars, too." He's defensive without knowing why; of course he knows that his scars are different. "I know what they feel like."

Soubi considers this, and Ritsuka feels foolish for his outburst. "If it's Ritsuka's touch, I won't mind the pain."

"Stupid." Ritsuka shakes his head, but Soubi's smile widens. He thinks he's won the argument, if it even really was an argument, and Ritsuka can't disagree. How does he do that? Turning words on their heads and leaving Ritsuka all off balance, saying his name like an invocation.

It's purely stubborness, but Ritsuka wants the last word-- and with Soubi he can't; words are the Sentouki's stock-in-trade. So he leans the distance between them and puts his palm against the nearest scar: a crisscrossed pattern on Soubi's side, above the waist.

The effect is immediate, as Soubi's hands go still and all his breath leaves him in a soundless, wordless rush. Ritsuka watches and memorizes his face, the way his eyebrows draw together, his eyes close. Soubi's skin is cool, or maybe Ritsuka's hands are overwarm from being sat on. And more than anything he just feels like Soubi. Nothing definable, just his Soubi and that same silent wince that Ritsuka recognizes, and the same inability to distinguish pain and-- and anything else.

He starts to say, "I told you it would hurt."

But before the words are even formed, Soubi is saying "Thank you," laying his hand over Ritsuka's smaller one. And Ritsuka has nothing to say to that, the strongest spell he has felt yet that day, offense and defense all at once, binding the air between them and filling his chest with tight and stinging warmth.

He's sitting on his hands again, and Soubi's standing by the window buttoning up his shirt. Soubi is still smiling.


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