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10/16/2021 11:08 PM 

Writing Suicide Notes In Gel Pen

Clothes have outgrown me many times over,but this sadness never does.One size.fits all.There should have been an obituary for cancer,  not you.Wishing these slits within my skin could have beenreplaced by a reality check from you, “You chose to exist.”My name causes a sigh to escape from lips,that do not feel like they belong to me,the girl,whose words always had to be special.The schematics of hospitals like a birthmark in my brain,born into sadness, a gut feeling as a child.Never trusting timedue to what it delivers.Death, being the only thing I desired.But you, who I love,endlessly-robbed by it.Whose ebb for life glowed so feverishly.Stopped comparing depression to lace,restricted the belief that suicide is poetic,seeing things as they were.More often than not, applauded for feeling emotions deeply.Every second that dies, the shift of my heart quakes.This world is not tender.II. Sad.I have known the flowers I wanted at my own premature funeral,knowing how many bouquets honored you that day.split open my veins like a dimensionreminiscent of days where I anticipated deathbeds.My family wondered,can we make it through another day?Death scares me for what it has taken,yet, I’m not afraid to die-it’s all I deserve.So I await the day pain eruptsfrom my throat,acknowledging the days a soullived inside of my body-footprints that walked,belonging to me.But I learned so well.How to suffer with a smile,dreading the beating of my hearthow unfair—I don’t want to take these deep breathsYou deserved,while I masquerade as a member of the undeadNever outgrowing the desire to rot with the phantoms residing under my bed.III. Jokes played by the universe.punchlines delivered,how could anyone to stand to be in the same room as myself?How could anyone look over skyscrapers and sunsets,and not be infatuated with concrete consuming them?How I shared a sigh of relief during the thought-of knowing people would thrive without me,or the power of a belly laugh,resembling a laugh track audiencedrowning out 3 AM suicidal thoughts.I wrote this in pink gel pen, maybe, that’s another joke.


10/16/2021 11:02 PM 

The Church In My Head

When I was a childSome of the most judgmental and unkind People I ever met were on church pewsEvery Sunday with a HymnalAnd a Bible in their handsI didn’t know how some peopleWere able to disassociate their own Shortcomings and crueltyFrom their religiousObligations and convictionsBut many were able to do just thatBut as a child I couldn’t reconcileThe child abusersThe pedophilesThe rapistsThe drug traffickersThe thievesThe alcoholicsThe cheatersThe liarsFrom the people that stood at the pulpits.The ones I was told to emulate.The ministerThe reverendsThe deaconsThe word minister embodiesLoving protectionThe word reverend invokesReverence and inspirationDoesn’t it?I was a young adultBefore I realizedChurch is for sinnersBy that time organized religionFor me?Was black and soiled.RepulsiveHere I am now.I fling mantras out into the worldOf love, hope, compassion,Good healthI recently walked intoA cathedral in Ireland and cried.I felt the weight of time andCountless generations of believers.Working in the medical fieldAnd specializing in pediatricsHolding a one pound babyIn my handsMonths before evenThe parents were allowed to touch themI sincerely believe in miraclesI see them almost every dayMy church is in my headBuddhism is in my heartAnd in the actions of my handsThe words in my mouthWhat my ears hearThe soothing of my soulThe meals I help serve the homelessThe blankets I spread on their cotsI bow my head and listen to prayersWherever they are offeredI quietly whisperMy wishesInto an unknown ear  I don’t judge many people anymoreMy childhood is pastI learned valuable lessonsAnd peace is mine at lastThat doesn’t mean I trustEasily or broadlyIt just means I am an adultAnd am responsibleThere is some goodIn almost everyoneI don’t say that out of naivetyI have danced with monstersBut that’s another tale...


10/16/2021 07:11 PM 

I swear

People on here forget that there are minors on the site.  For someone who has bragged about using her anxiety and position as supervisor as a weapon to force other employees to be talking sh*t about people who are in high school for acting like high schoolers is pretty hilarious.  Oh, wanna talk about how you run a tight ship and don't take sh*t?  Bitch, you've crawled into people's messages and asked them out of character if they hate you when everything they've done was clearly in character.  Need I bring up how you bragged about getting a couple people in deep sh*t for being late to work when you, yourself have bragged about blatant abuse of position as well as faking a mental issue to use as a weapon?  For someone who has no problems bringing THAT up out of nowhere, you really are the last person to be bad mouthing anyone.  But hey... you're the type to defend harassment as long as one of your little circle of idiots is on the giving side of the harassment, but god forbid someone badmouths one of them.  Your lot will try to make whatever they say look far worse like that time you censored the word black to make it look like they dropped the n-bomb due to them badmouthing one of your little circle and questioning if they weren't in fact another person within it.  Yeah, sure... bad mouth high schoolers for acting like high schoolers.  It's not like you're a trashy person who faked a mental illness, abuses her position at her job and posted about it on a site where it can't come back to you unless one of the people you did it to knows about your account on here, condone harassment when your circle does it while condemming it when the shoes on the other foot, claim to dislike drama and people sh*t talking others while not bringing it up when your own circle does it and do it yourself, condone plagiarism and theft of things from other people's ocs if the person claims to have been inspired despite it being a blatant copy and paste, but do go on about how you're above high schooler stuff while doing stuff like that which a lot of is middle schooler stuff.  Oh, lets not forget how you defended someone who harassed a user off the site and tried to make it seem like that wasn't what he did~Edit: The amount of hypocrisy that person and their circle does is absolutely mad as a snake.   I was actually cut snake when I saw how that circle decided to bad mouth the sheila the way middle schoolers do by making posts about her without explicitly naming her while trying to act like they were above high schoolers.  The lots dodgy bastards in my books.  Using someone's age/age group as an insult is pretty cunt behavior.   Wouldn't be Gobsmacked if the cunts continue this with how much they defend each other across numerous accounts, bash any who rp the same character as they, as well as report others who rp the same characters from what I have been told.  If true then they are primary kids in adult bodies.  One of the circle made a status which referenced how the sheila was targeted and harassed a site the same day she deleted her account on that site within one hour after she made a post on that site where she explained why she was deleting her account there out of nowhere, but also tried to downplay it.  I would not be surprised if the cunt was among those who harassed her off that site.

ᴺᶤᵍʰᵗ ᴾᵃʳᵃᵈᵉ

10/16/2021 12:26 PM 

Oni Information[Custom]

#hardfeelings { width: 360px; height: auto; background: black; padding-top: 10px; padding-bottom: 10px; } .hffirst { width: 320px; border: 3px double #c8c8c8; height: 210px; background: black; padding: 5px; } .hffirst img { height: 210px; width: 320px; } .hfsecond { width: 250px; border: 3px double #c8c8c8; height: auto; background:black; padding: 40px; margin-top: 7px; margin-bottom: 7px; } .hftext { line-height: 110%; font-family: 'Gothic A1', sans-serif; color: #c8c8c8; text-align: justify; font-size: 11px; } .hftext:before { content: ""; height: 2px; background-color: #777777; width: 250px; display: block; vertical-align: middle; margin-bottom: 15px; border-radius: 100%; } .hftext:after { content: ""; height: 2px; background-color: #777777; width: 250px; display: block; vertical-align: middle; margin-top: 15px; border-radius: 100%; } .hfthird { width: 300px; border: 3px double #c8c8c8; height: auto; background: black; padding: 15px; padding-top: 20px; padding-bottom: 20px; } .hflyricssmall { font-size: 13px; font-family: 'Montserrat', sans-serif; color: #c8c8c8; text-transform: uppercase; text-align: left; line-height: 100%; font-style: normal; letter-spacing: 0px; } .hflyrics { font-size: 30px; line-height: 80%; font-family: 'Monterrat', sans-serif; color: #845189; text-transform: uppercase; letter-spacing: 4px; text-align: center; font-style: italic; border-bottom: 3px double #c8c8c8; } .hfthird:hover { font-style: normal; text-shadow: 1px 1px 5px #c8c8c8; } .hftagtext { font-family: 'Gothic A1', sans-serif; color: #c8c8c8; text-transform: uppercase; text-align: center; line-height: 100%; font-size: 10px; margin-top: 10px; letter-spacing: 2px; } .hflyricssmall:after { content: ""; height: 2px; background-color: #c8c8c8; margin-left: 10px; width: 80px; display: inline-block; vertical-align: middle; margin-bottom: 5px; border-radius: 30%; } [Where Smiling Peaches Roam]10/15/21 was the last update.   [What Are Oni?] The Oni are a humanoid race of foreign beings that hail from the realm of Jaakuna. Born from the branches of a sacred peach tree they served Shuten-dōji from birth as it was the first of their kind. Sired by the scales of a dragon the creature could do nothing more than devour, and consume on its own. So from its blood, bones, and stolen divinity it forged a single seed. Because of this birthright, all Oni can be considered the kin of dragons yet they couldn't even claim to be the same. They've no scales or lungs of flame just a pair of horns to their name. With no wings, the soil is the only place they are allowed to play. When it comes to Oni their diet is quite a bit different from what you'd assume it would be given the myths floating around about them. Their realm lacks anything that could be considered appetizing for hunters, and what animals they do live alongside are more akin to less evolved cousins of theirs. These creatures do not attack the oni and behave more akin to a domesticated cat than anything else. Both share a love for peaches and can be seen eating them at any point in time. It is really the only food their bodies seem to desire and sustain themselves on. That is if you do not account for Sake. Like Shuten-dōji they have a loving relationship with alcohol of all kinds. Able to drink barrels of the beverage before they'll even begin to feel a tad bit tipsy. A few grotesque rumors even claim that Oni have a peculiar taste for the flesh of humans. They are true of course, but it isn't limited to just human beings. They've been known to eat just about any other species that isn't their own. Unlike Sake, or Peaches the flesh of mortals doesn't really do anything for their bodies. But the practice of partaking of flesh begun when a Myth Blood Oni claimed that doing so could increase one's strength. Later proved to be untrue the practice slowly faded in time however quite a few Oni of both the old and young generations took a liking to it. As such they still actively lure humans into the oni realm for them to consume.   [What Are The Oni Tribes?] Peach Bloods are scattered grouping of oni who are born with a single golden horn that is identical to that of Shuten Doji. They also host the highest blood purity out of all oni, and are actively aware of its importance to their kind. For this reason they tend to be highly ndependent beings that will refuse the help of others for as long as they can help it. A traits that sees few of them actually live long as their horns were harvested as charms by the other tribes for the sake of trying to pass the gifts they'll never understand onto themselves. A practice that Shuten Doji despsies, but allows as doing so follows the culture of Oni as it was estbalished long okay.Dragon Bloods are thought to be the descendants of Shuten Dōji himself. They've always fancied themselves to be purer than the others given that when they are wounded, and bleed into the soil they can cause peach trees to sprout. Something that is viewed as a sign of their blood purity, and thus causes them to behave rather snobbily as a result. Shuten Dōji itself refused to intervene as they established themselves as pseudo nobles underneath him in hopes of one day receiving its favor. Under the influence of his power, they've grown weak as it leaves them protected beyond what the other tribes could only dream of creating themselves. Myth Bloods when compared to their counterparts are an odd sort to some extent. They stand for very little more than to spread their names far, and wide in whatever manner they deem worthy. A trait that is normally shunned upon by others as in Oni culture such a thing is viewed as irrelevant. If not for them always being on the move they'd very well be shunned fiercely by their kin. While they've never been considered a military if the oni realm were to possess such a thing they would certainly be the first to volunteer. As warriors though they shun the concept of releasing ones inner demons, or giving in to your baser instincts. Favoring the idea that focusing impulses into honing your skills is better than not. [They possess average blood purity.] Wild Bloods have always been the most like their ancestor in its younger days. Often described as being impulsive, violent, and aggresive they make up the majority of the Oni population. In normal society they would be considered citizens, but for Oni it is a tad different. Without strength, or wit you aren't worth much in the long run. Your kin will ignore you, and those that don't most likely wish to cause you harm. Such treatment is normally the reason as to why they flee the Oni Realm, and by doing so foreit their will. They literally become what the myths would imply; Beasts that have lost all sembalance of self, and actively consume any that cross their paths. [For the record they tend to have extremely low blood purity.]   [Blood Purity] While the importance of blood purity is largely not understood even by the Dragon Blood tribe it is a factor that Oni can't ignore. For with impure blood one easily loses themselves to the savage nature that exists within them all. Negative emotions will excite such blood, and as if setting off a volatile explosive they mutate into wicked fiends as their blood begins to blood. Those with higher purity blood can fight off such impulses, and become a tad stronger by doing so. Myth Bloods tend to be more well versed in combat because many of them have trained their minds, and bodies to the point of lacking these impulses entitrely. Without such things they'd go into a mindless rage more often than any other oni, and be more dangerous as well.   [What is Flux?] Flux is a mysterious substance that created the Oni Realm after the dragon whom sired Shuten Doji bled onto an ordinary island. Flux is what became of the blood as it wove new life into the small island before expanding it into the Oni realm that they know today. Existing in the place of both air, and water it is essentially the life blood of the entire realm. Oni having been born from a sacred peach tree are no exception to this rule, but given how they were born it reacts differently to them. Oni hold flux within their bodies in the form of both blood, and their two hearts. One produces the flux, and the other pumps it throughout them. That said Flux&Blood are one in the same for an Oni. Yet they will not die from losing it all as that 2nd heart of theirs will continue to pump more for as long as it can. Those with high, average, or even low levels of blood purity can all utilize flux in order to forge powers akin to magic outside of the Oni Realm. Unlike actual magic when using flux you are bypassing the ordinary laws of the world for the sake of creating a Valor that are forged by the subconcious, and constantly grows as one learns more about themselves as a person.   [Valor(s)] [Small Note] The Laws themselves are not my original creation. They are a largely unchanged set of powers that I aimed to simply for the sake of use here. All credit goes to the CHROMANTICS Rp fourm that died a couple years ago. Other than that the idea of the Valor was my idea, but I didn't have any kind of unique ideas for what they did. So here we are. The Valor, or Other Self as it is called within the Oni Tongue is something that aids its wielder in shifting the laws of the world through a couple different methods. Normally they take on the form of translucent weapons that float alongisde their Oni whom in turn utilize them to cast whatever Law they hold within. The Laws are as follows; Ignition to amplify or to unleash energy. The range of things that can be “ignited” vary from physical items such as combustion, to abstract concepts such as emotion and feelings. The limitations of Ignition-based powers are restricted to amplifying something that already exists; for example you can cause a spark and ignite it into much larger proportions, but you cannot amplify something that isn’t present. Consumption doesn’t necessarily often mean to literally consume, but doing so in turn gives them temporary boosts, strengths, or boons. The method on how a consumption-user can consume also varies; theoretically a user can even eat a set of conditions that are present that in turn exchanges them strength. In particular the ability is unique as the result can vary heavily between users as certain results can enhance physical aspects, or even regenerate/transform the users own body by absorbing properties of what they've consumed. Construction makes its users architects on the battlefield; creating constructs, objects, and even bounded domains making their abilities extremely versatile, and power depending on how they utilize it them. These “constructs” of theirs can be physical, or even a set of rules that dictate the flow of the environment. Granted, their creations cannot retain a permanent shape or state; users must continually feed their creations a portion of their Flux in order to sustain the shape and form of what they've created. Vivify is the law that is known for bestowing life and animation into objects and abstract concepts is what they excel in. Most users specialize in utilizing their talents in restoring life back into the injured, making them remarkable medics on the battlefield. However they are capable of breathing life into inanimate objects by providing energy for already created automatons or other objects and constructs that would otherwise be inanimate. Debilitation Oni break down defenses of foes making them the debuffers of the battlefield. Enfeebling/weakening targets is their forte, and by placing a set of unfavorable conditions or even curses that would impair or debiliate their foes. Some of these abilities are more analytical and focus on uncovering and exploiting weaknesses, while others can be supernatural curses that can mentally or physically cripple their opponents. Transformation is the power to re-compose, rearrange, and to transform properties of existing substances into new ones. Such as how water can come in various states, the power to freely shift water between gaseous, liquid or solid form is the same concept as “transformation”. Manipulation of the elements, while powerful, is limited to the fact that they cannot add or subtract any more from what’s already existing. Though when they are fond of one particular element or substance their control and mastery of it increases the more they become knowledgeable about it. Void which holds the power to negate the law altering powers of other Valor. They can do so by either coming into direct contact with the user, or by casting fields that cancel out such abilities as a whole. MONTY


10/15/2021 09:15 PM 

Sliver of the true background

Raised on a steady diet of black magic, with sporadic bouts of surprise tests, Reimi didn't have the most uneventful upbringing.  Her tutelage into actual spellcasting began as soon as she was able to walk on her own without assistance.  Both her parents drilled all of their own knowledge into her during her formulative years, giving her a monstrous advantage to others who would attend the schools she'd attend.  Fights often broke out in the school between her and others, some were due to her family being "poor", some were due to her being better at black magic than them, others were due to chords being struck with her.  Not once was she chided nor punished by her parents who to this day none have ever met, but have heard of/from.An "absolute disaster" of a healer barely competent at doing anything above healing anything that would require stitches,  either incapable or unwilling to summon anything outside of food items, and sticks to black magic and just that whenever possible.  She often was given a talking to whenever she summoned something that was technically not what she was to summon, for instance she was told to summon a dog so she summoned a hot dog the size of a small dog.  The other magical paths she generally looked into, but came back to black magic every time to apply things she learned from them to black magic.  Not only did she best those far better off than herself, but she also embarassed them on numerous occasions.  Her rather unorthodox spell library, adapted spells, and many other tricks gave her a huge edge when it came time to demonstrate what was learned.  Magical battlers were often performed with the supervision of teachers as well as healers and used to test the level the students were at.  Those who were primarily learning to be healers were barred from participating until they mastered  the basics of one other path of magic and even then, were only allowed to go against others working to be healers or those they are good friends with.  To graduate, they were to best their teacher(s) in magical combat, but only the healers were exempt from this, their graduation exams were far different.  totally not something she did to a summoned golem to graduate and later to other giant creatures. 


10/15/2021 12:27 PM 

Light Perception

Summary: Fisk gets put away again, and it feels like that should be the end of it, but it’s not. Of course it’s not. The FBI needs a win. Who better to take that out on than the lawyers who exposed their corruption. I am not Daredevil, Matt says so many times in so many spaces that he almost believes it. His ability to maintain a concept of self was difficult enough before this; this new judgment day, this thing that has fractured his concept of self beyond what he thought was possible. He feels like he’s been dropped into the ocean, all his limbs weighted with stones, unable to find which way is up and which way is down, which way is surface and which way is gone. Surface feels like a fairy-story told to children at night, like enchanted forests. Light as the breadcrumbs which lead the way up, which lead the way out. [An exploration of trauma and memory, of what it might look like if Matt's identity was revealed, if he were sent to prison for it. A study of grief, and the ways violence can linger in the body—form fissures in relationships with others and the self. Post-S3.] Notes: “There are things unbearable.”—Anne Carson, Decreation      I.   The moment Wilson Fisk steps up to the podium, flanked by his team, more imposing than ever, heartbeats stutter and crescendo across the city, a frenetic, dissonant exposition—and Matt thinks he understands a little bit more now why crowds nearly rioted at the premiere of a ballet once, overwhelmed by its relentless unpredictability, by its apostasy. The pagans onstage made pagans of the audience. The memory of Fisk’s voice doesn’t even hold a candle to the reality of it. Makes his hands curl into fists, takes him right back. If his memory had been a candle, then the reality is a forest fire: violent, irredeemable. “…to frame me. Daredevil. The killer who’s now showing—his true colors. Who’s tried to murder people in newspaper offices—and churches. Attacking our sacred institutions. Believe—me. Daredevil is our true—public—enemy.” It feels like he’s caught in the crossfire of feedback from every television set in the borough, the fractional delay of sound just offset enough to make it seem as though Fisk’s voice carries beyond the restraints of sound and time, as though his power is truly limitless. The gasps that follow the speech, the uptick in heart rates, the sharp smell of sweat glands and fear arousal overwhelm Matt’s senses as he parses through the confused and conflicted responses across the streets: truth, truth, truth, it can’t be true, can it be true— A stuttering swan song of disbelief; it doesn’t matter, he thinks, it really doesn’t matter what he does, how much he does, who he tries to be—a few seeds of doubt, a handful of words, and the people he calls his own turn on him, just like that. A half-measure; a man who can’t finish the job. One bad day away from becoming the villain of his own story. One bad day away from becoming— No. Nausea battles with rage inside of him, both suppressing the feeling that he’s not enough, he’ll never be enough, and maybe Castle was right: the system is broken, his work as Matt Murdock is futile, almost as pointless as his work as Daredevil—not enough. He imagines for a moment what it would look like to team up with Castle, to end this—once and for all, for better or worse, ‘til death do us part; an unholy marriage of the Devil and the Punisher. How disappointing that his old teacher couldn't be here to witness the ruthlessness he’d despaired of ever finding in Matt. (Maybe there's hope for you yet—) Matt clenches his jaw against the wave of grief that follows, and pushes himself up to his feet. Foggy and Karen are waiting. — It takes him less time than he hopes it’ll take to arrive, barely exhilarated from the sensation of vaulting from rooftop to rooftop, the chasm of empty spaces below him, the promise of adrenaline that comes with every moment that he taunts death, and fear, and his own limitations. “So, I guess you needed my help, after all,” Foggy says smugly, with, to his credit, just a trace of the bitterness that usually accompanies his words. Since that day. Judgment day. When the secrets came pouring out from Matt’s wounds. So, Matt swallows his pride as Karen steps onto the rooftop after Foggy. “Yeah,” Matt says. “Yeah, I did, Foggy. You’re right.” He doesn’t add that Karen nearly died because Foggy involved her, because he gave her the idea to confront Fisk, because he did exactly what Matt told him not to do. He doesn’t say anything because he finally understands—there is no protecting each other, and good intentions only pave the way to hurt and hell, anyway. (Source: he’s the Devil.) Fisk’s voice is still echoing in his mind, as present as the hallucination of Fisk that’s been following him around since Matt woke up in the orphanage weeks ago. He wonders briefly if that’s one of those things he’s supposed to share with Foggy and Karen to keep them from leaving, another judgment day in which Matt’s reticence to burden his friends will only cause them to leave, anyway. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. “…proud to announce the justice has prevailed, and Wilson Fisk is once again a free man—" The worst part, thinks Matt, was not the speech, itself, no; the worst part was hearing the heckling fade into rapt silence, hearing gasps greet the accusation against Daredevil, the rapid click of camera shutters stuttering into stillness: the quiet realization that the city believed him—after everything, after everything Fisk had done. Fisk, it was Fisk, it was all Fisk— Hands curl into fists at his side as he fights back the nausea that rises in his throat. Ten steps behind, always ten steps behind— “Do you have any idea how much life has sucked for Karen and me,” Foggy interrupts his thoughts, “while you were, just, off doing your own thing?” All Matt’s ever tried to do is the right thing, and all Matt’s ever seemed to do is get it wrong. “No, but—I’m sorry, Foggy,” he says, grimacing at the inadequacy of words to bridge this rift in their friendship, to fill this cavernous space of all the things he's never been able to say. "Maybe I was, was wrong to push you away." “Ok, it’s, insanely hard to fight with you if you keep agreeing with me,” says Foggy, and Matt doesn't need enhanced senses to catch that his heart is almost in the quip, almost— “Good,” says Matt, “because I don’t want to fight with you.” He releases the breath that's been caught in his chest, and the rest of his apology comes out in a rush of words. “Look, the way I’ve treated you—the way I’ve treated you both—you deserve better.” Foggy sucks in a breath through his teeth. “Yes,” Matt can hear Foggy’s voice change direction toward Karen, sense the motion of her head bobbing once up and down, “We did.” “You did,” Matt practically says over Foggy, as though trying to vocalize it at the same time, as though feeling the words in his own throat while Foggy’s larynx lowers and raises in his. “But so did you.” For a moment, the words don’t register with Matt, the corner of his mouth tilting up as though Foggy just made a joke that he didn't quite understand.  “I, Fog, what’re you,” Matt says, the words faltering as they tumble out clumsily on top of each other. “Listen, Matt,” says Foggy, and his voice is doing that thing where it sounds somehow both resigned and determined. “I pushed you away, too, after everything that went down with—you know,” he stumbles, not wanting to say Elektra’s name. “But it wasn’t fair,” he says quickly, to stave off Matt’s inevitable apology. “It wasn’t fair to leave you alone like that after she showed up again. I just—Jesus, I still remember that night at Co—” “Foggy,” interrupts Matt. He can hear Karen’s heart rate speeding up in confusion, in concern, in interest. “We don’t, we don’t have to do this. Just, if you can let me try to do better, give me another chance—that’s all I need.” "No, Matt," says Foggy. "I'm just—I'm trying to say that I know your relationship with Elektra is complicated, has always been complicated, and God knows you probably never learned anything about healthy relationships since your childhood was so supremely f***ed up—" Matt releases a sharp breath of air in an unexpected huff of laughter. “Look,” Foggy continues doggedly. “What I’m trying to say is that—I’m sorry, too. You were alone, and I know that you thought I’d—we’d—be safer that way, thanks to your own personal, a**hole Mr. Miyagi but—whoa, Matt, are you ok? What’d I say?” He must look like he'd gotten punched in the gut at the mention of his old teacher. Matt certainly feels winded, and breathless, and incapable of explaining why. He licks his lips, as though forcing his tongue into motion will pave the way for the words to follow. “Stick's, uh, he's gone, Fog. She, Elektra—she killed him,” Matt says finally, quietly, as though saying it softly enough might keep it from being true; as though saying it out loud doesn't make him feel like he might fracture into innumerable, irreparable pieces. He's barely a person already, he thinks; there's no way he can survive another blow, another hit like that. “Jesus, Matt,” says Foggy, and the sharp taste of salt hits Matt's tongue. He drags his focus back into the present; it's from Karen, not Foggy. Wisps of her hair are getting caught in the night wind, trailing across her tear-dampened cheeks. Foggy is—Foggy is stoic, which is unlike him, his heartbeat ticking up anxiously. The regret Matt feels is instantaneous. He should have known better than to task his friends with the burden of grieving these complicated losses, these impossible figures who'd stolen Matt away from them before they'd ever had a chance. “It’s, uh, it is what it is,” Matt says. “I thought I could help her. I thought I could—I don’t know, but,” he shakes his head and laughs, a sound that is entirely joyless. “I couldn’t.” “Oh, Matt,” says Karen, and suddenly she’s taking a step toward him and Matt is doing that thing where he scrunches his face in an attempt not to let tears slip out from the corners of his eyes, and Foggy’s chest aches with the weight of Matt’s grief, his feet ache to take the rest of him to Matt’s side—but that stupid wall between them, it, just, it stops him in his tracks. “Ok, so,” says Karen, after a long moment of heavy silence. “So, where do we go from here?” “I don’t want to leave you,” Matt says slowly, carefully, “but I can’t ask you to be accomplices to what I have to do now.” The words linger in the air between them like a challenge. Karen shifts her head away from Matt, displeasure in every gesture of her body. Foggy looks between them, then settles on Karen; it’s not like his glares have ever worked on Matt before. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asks, already pretty sure that he doesn’t want to know. “Um,” Karen hesitates briefly then plows quickly forward, as though that might soften the blow of the words. “Matt wants to kill Fisk.” “What the f***, Matt—you know, that building falling on you really did mess with your head," Foggy growls, his words punctuated with sharp gestures from his fingers. Matt seems unaffected by his anger, and his gesticulating. “We put him in prison, Fog, and look what happened,” Matt says, and Foggy hates that his best friend is somehow able to sound calm, and rational, and deeply unaffected while discussing his intention to become a murderer. Only Matt “no chill” Murdock could go from altar boy to Punisher in sixty seconds flat. “It won't be the same this time,” Foggy retorts. “This time, he’ll be thrown into some kind of supermax hole where he can’t compromise anybody. He’ll never see the light of day again!” “Foggy, I know you’re not that naïve—” Matt begins to say. “It’s called having faith in the system,” Foggy interrupts. “Something you used to have—” “No, Foggy—it’s called facing reality,” Matt snaps, but Foggy can hear the weary undercurrent in his tone, the disbelieving resignation. "The reality that the system wasn't built to contain men like Fisk. Men who are too rich, and too powerful—men who take the law, who take the system and twist it into something that protects them." “No, Matt,” Foggy argues. “This isn’t you. There’s another way to do this—we just, if you can just, I don’t know, take a step back from the murder ledge for one freaking second!” “Matt, just, hear him out, maybe,” Karen interjects, her voice placating but pinched, raw, pleading. “Fine,” Matt laughs, and the sound is short, and bitter. “Tell me how the law can possibly fix this, Foggy. I’m all ears. Sure. Tell me your plan.” "Ok, simple, step one," says Foggy slowly, deliberately. "We do this together. Step two, we devise a plan together. Step three, we, we execute said plan. Together." “Wow,” responds Matt, suppressing the feeling of powerlessness that is bubbling up inside of him of like poison, threatening to spill out in any form that he allows it. “That’s genius. You come up with that on your own?” ”Yeah, well, so I’m still working out the details,“ Foggy says, but his too casual tone only belies the uptick in his heart rate, which Matt knows is a sign that Foggy is also starting to lose his patience with the conversation. “Ok, ok, ok, what about this—we, we find ourselves another witness,” Karen suggests, recognizing all the signs of another fight about to erupt between Matt and Foggy. “Someone that will flip on Fisk, but, unlike Jasper Evans, we keep them alive this time. Someone who knows the details of Fisk’s operation. Someone with nothing to lose.” "No," says Matt, and swallows back the memory of what happened at the church. "Someone with everything to lose." “Nadeem,” breathes Karen. “He helped me get away.” “Yeah,” says Matt. “His family’s in danger, he probably went back to move them. I need to go. Now. Foggy—do you think Brett would be willing to help Nadeem’s family?” “Already on it,” Foggy mumbles, and Matt can hear his fingertips rapidly tapping the screen of his phone. Pulling the mask back over his head, Matt rolls his shoulders back and starts jogging across the rooftop, gaining momentum as he goes until he’s leaping over and across.   —   In some ways, it feels like Matt never stopped running. Fisk gets put away again, and it feels like that should be the end of it, but it’s not. Of course it’s not. The FBI needs a win. Who better to take that out on than the lawyers who exposed their corruption. Daredevil. Our true—public—enemy. They’ve gathered enough evidence that there’s not much Foggy can do other than insist on protective custody for Matt, on the grounds that he’s blind and has no business being placed in general population with the rest of the violent offenders. I am not Daredevil, Matt says so many times in so many spaces that he almost believes it. The days following his indictment are a blur of promises and threats; his nights are filled with a crushing emptiness where words used to be.   II.   It takes only one night in prison for Matt Murdock to realize that his luck has finally caught up with him; it takes thirty-two nights to fully understand what that means. Thirty-two nights of imprisoned men yelling and banging and taunting and singing, doing anything they can to alleviate their boredom, their anger; thirty-two days of the stench and noise of convicted inmates mixed in with others, like Matt, who are just awaiting trial; thirty-two nights of listening to choked sobs and threats, favors and retributions. Thirty-two days and nights with little sleep, and less food. Then it happens—the transfer from protective custody to general population. Matt’s almost relieved when he's told the news: it means freedom from the oppressive hum of surveillance cameras always watching, always, so that he must act the part of helpless blind attorney every moment of every day and every night, or risk losing his case before it can ever get to trial, risk getting Foggy sentenced alongside Matt for aiding and abetting. The guards can be unfeeling, ruthless even, but still—Matt doesn’t see it coming when they turn on him, when they take him not to his new cell but into an ambush. A closed room with no way out, door locked behind him and too many heartbeats to immediately count. It’s not that Matt had ever considered himself an especially lucky person to begin with, not that he'd ever relied on luck when he could rely on himself, instead; but he's always been able to recognize when good things come into his life that have absolutely nothing to do with him—that have everything to do with chance, or else divine providence, or fate. And if all the good luck allotted to him in life had been spent up on a singular event, Matt's ok with that. Because getting assigned to Foggy Nelson as a roommate at Columbia felt like a second chance at everything good that had ever slipped through his grasp—a chance at happiness that didn’t need to be gripped tightly in his fists or hidden beneath a mask. Foggy, who saw Matt—really saw him; not just for his disability or the cultivated personality presented to the world, but for who Matt was, who he strived to be. Foggy, who saw with his heart, like Matt; because for all that light perception is cooked up to be, sometimes, Matt thinks, sighted people seemed not to see at all. Matt starts numbering the heartbeats, placing the bodies in the space, tasting the cortisol and adrenaline hormones mingling with sweat in the air, his thoughts involuntarily drifting back to the last time he’d faced this many men, the cavernous space of the sky above as he and Elektra fought back to back on the rooftop where she would die in his arms. Different, he thinks, from the second time she would die: ripped from his arms below the earth as the sky collapsed down upon them— Elektra. It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise to Matt that he would all but free-fall into the kind of life Elektra could promise him, the life he'd been dispassionately shut out from as a child in the quiet basement of an orphanage. His child's body colored with bruises he'd thought could mean love; his child's heart filled all the way up with shame.  (He’d been holding onto it for months, had pressed it secretly, carefully, into the pages of his bible: a paper bracelet made from the wrapper of an ice cream cone—) And if Elektra wasn’t quite compatible with Matt’s desperate need to be good, to be so good, well, at least she knew every buried part of him: knew intimately his darkness, his grief, his unbearable rage. Is she sick? Worse, Matty, she’s in love— “You’re Battlin’ Jack’s boy,” says a voice from above the men, atop a set of steps leading up to a door, and there’s something about the voice that strikes a chord in Matt’s mind, that stops him in his tracks, that catches his breath in his throat. Matt had observed the exit behind the man from the moment he’d stepped foot inside, one of three exits from the space. All closed, all locked, all useless. Guards posted outside every one, their pockets lined with blood money, their bodies full of threats. Plata o plomo. Silver or lead. Take our money, or take our violence. Matt always chooses violence. “What’s it to you?” he growls, fighting down the feeling that this is all more than it seems, more urgent, more dangerous than he can comprehend right now, with the evidence he has before him. Bigger picture, he thinks, he needs a bigger picture. "You don't remember me?" the man asks, mildly. "I killed your father." You don’t remember me? You killed my father. Well, I hate to break it to you, son, but I killed a lot of guys’ dads. Then let me help you…he hit hard, like this— Matt's body turns to ice, turns to stone, turns to lead as everything comes together to form a memory: Elektra, knife in hand, taunting Roscoe Sweeney, encouraging Matt to tell him who he was; he could taste salt in the air as he hit the other man until his face didn’t even feel like a face anymore, so bruised and bloodied beneath Matt’s knuckles. Good, he'd thought. His father's face hadn't felt like a face anymore either when Matt had found him in the alleyway all those years ago— But Elektra had disappeared after Matt refused to kill him, leaving only the lingering scent of her perfume—sandalwood, ylang ylang, mandarin leaf—as proof that she'd been there at all. Shards of crystal like fractured stars in Matt's hearing on the kitchen floor. Matt, equally shattered, equally disposable, alone by the open door. He'd stood there numbly long after she left, until the wail of sirens reached his hearing. Then he'd hitchhiked and stumbled his way back to the dorm at Columbia, every intention of waiting for Foggy to leave the building before returning to their room—until realizing he'd lost his keys at some point in the night. (Or, just as likely, Elektra had swiped them before disappearing as retribution for not complying with her command to end it, her own desperate need for Matt to be the mirror to her fragmented pieces, to reflect back something whole, something still worthy of love.) So Matt had knocked, humiliated, blood still on his knuckles, on his clothes, mingled with the tears that had tracked their way down his cheeks, and tried to ignore Foggy’s sharp intake of breath when he saw Matt, tried to ignore the uptick in his pulse, frightened, as the law student succumbed to his tendency to babble in distressing situations. “Oh my god, Matt,” he had said, “you disappeared from the party last night, and I know you can take care of yourself, but I’m always afraid you’ve fallen into, like, an open manhole or, I don’t know—a sinkhole, because I guess that’s more likely to happen than quicksand, not that I really thought quicksand was an option when there’s wet concrete and—” Matt had opened his mouth to say Foggy’s name, to reassure him, to somehow make this seem less bad than it was; instead he'd heard himself gasp Elektra’s name, barely a whisper of a sound, felt tears beginning to slip out from the corners of his eyes again. He remembered then that the scent of Foggy’s fear had soured into irritation; he'd never liked Elektra, had never trusted her, had warned Matt so many times—and Matt had felt the shame rise up in his throat until he was vomiting into the trash can beside his desk. Foggy had knelt gently, quietly beside him as Matt wept wordlessly, his hands aching to feel just once what it would be like to touch someone and not hurt, not be hurt. And if Matt had internally railed at the unfairness of it all,—he’d thought surely by now he would be ok, surely by now he would have picked up the pieces of his life and fashioned them into something whole, no longer caught in the riptide of shattered childhood dreams and loss—he didn’t let his tongue betray him. Not the way it once had done when he’d awoken from impressionistic nightmares to overwhelming loneliness, calling out for his dad, pleading for anyone at all; he’d learned, then, when no one came, not to burden others with his neediness, with his sadness, with his shame. “Matthew?! Oh, you’re Battlin’ Jack’s boy, oh you amateur. Now I know your name, nothing to stop me from bloodying the street with your corpse, just like I did to your old man—” Sound of shoes scuffling on a concrete floor, and Matt drags himself back to the present, to the men who are beginning to circle closely around him. "Sweeney," he spits, and he’s almost pleased for the opportunity to face him again, his body aching for a fight after a month of playing domesticated house cat for the cameras in protective custody, for the guards whose daily provocations were their bread and butter. “Murdock,” Sweeney responds coolly. “You put me away ten years ago, and I’ve been dreaming about getting you back ever since. Then I read about your trial in the paper and realized that I could get you back without ever leaving these walls. Only this, this is so much better than even I imagined.” “What do—what are you talking about,” Matt bites out through gritted teeth, cataloguing everything in the room that could be used as a weapon against him, every heartbeat, every obstacle between him and a way out. A few inmates have switchblades tucked into their waistbands, others have half-hazard attempts at weapons—shiv in a toothbrush, sock full of rocks—the rest armed only with their fists and their loathing for Daredevil, armed only with their bitter memories of humiliation and defeat. “You see, I knew about you, sure, followed along as the media praised the blind orphan with a law degree just trying to do good for his community. Except it turns out that you’ve been doing it with your fists instead of your law degree—I wonder how your partner feels about that—how your old man would’ve felt about that—” “Shut up—” Matt snarls, but his words are choked off by his traitorous emotions. His hands curl tightly into fists, his rage uncoiling inside of him until every muscle is quivering and aching to hurt, to be hurt. “Don’t you dare talk about them—” "Did you know that your partner has personally fought every appeal that I've made in the last ten years?" asks Sweeney, his heartbeat rushing in satisfaction when Matt doesn't respond. "You didn't know, did you? Guess we're all entitled to our little secrets—" The mobster breaks off the end of his sentence as his body is wracked with coughs, the sound grating upon Matt's ears. Calluses line the inflamed membranes of his nasal passages, and Matt's hit with the realization that Sweeney never recovered from the beating he'd given him that night, ten years ago. “You’re a survivor, Murdock, unlike your old man," Sweeney snarls, once he's recovered his breath. "Unfortunately for you, so am I—and I’ve not forgotten what you did. You left me with too many reminders.” Still, the thought that Sweeney must remember Battlin’ Jack Murdock every single time he takes a breath brings Matt a rush of grim satisfaction. "Then you should understand that you don’t want to make an enemy of me,” he bites, with a note of the Devil in his voice. Sweeney laughs, drawing a few huffs of laughter from the men around Matt. He feels like he’s caught in the crossfire of feedback again, kneeling on a rooftop with Fisk's voice in his ears, in his bones. He shakes his head desperately in an attempt to bring his senses back into focus. Feeling of solid concrete beneath his feet, uptick in the ring of heartbeats around him, low hum of the ventilation system somewhere distantly above. “No,” Sweeney says coldly. “The mistake was making me an enemy, was making yourself an entire goddamn army of enemies and thinking you’d somehow never end up in here with them. Did you really think we’d never come back for you, pretty boy? For Daredevil?” Daredevil—our true—public—enemy— "Ha!" Sweeney scoffs. "You've been here thirty-two f***ing days, Murdock, and, from what I hear, you're already losing it: talkin' to yourself in your cell, not eating, not sleeping—well, we've been here for years, so you can imagine that we are more tired, more hungry—for release, for retribution that's owed to us." Matt’s only half-listening to Sweeney’s monologue, his senses mostly trained on the men surrounding him. Mind, body, connection.  He forcibly releases the tension in his shoulders, allows himself to relax into the stance of a boxer as he grounds up through his feet. He tilts his head, focusing on the men who are distracted by Sweeney's speech. Adrenaline is coursing through him now, his body practically vibrating, aching for a fight. “You think I’m afraid of you or these men, Sweeney?” he laughs. “You think I’m not hungry for a release after thirty two days and nights of listening to all the sh*t that goes on in this place?” Matt's mouth curves up in a feral smile. “Try me.” Matt strikes the prisoner closest to him, the sole of his foot connecting with his throat; he goes down, and Matt uses the momentum from the kick to erupt into a flurry of motion as the rest of the prisoners scramble to take their shot at the man who put them away. Slipping back on his feet, he narrowly avoids a shiv as he redirects it into the man at his back; taking advantage of the shiv prisoner's imbalanced footing, Matt throws him face first into the ascending concrete steps. There's a sharp crack as the man's jaw dislocates on impact. Matt steps over him but barely makes it any closer to Sweeney before more attackers are grasping at his arms, dragging him backward by his prison uniform, by anything they can get a hold of. He throws a couple of men off before the weighted sock is swinging through the air toward his eardrum and he's forced to drop back down over the railing. He drops into a roll as he lands, swiping out a leg close to the ground to bring down the man closest to him, uses the momentum to spin back up to his feet. He strikes his heel down across the man's temple before he's grabbed again from behind, arms restrained. He kicks out furiously at one of the men in front of him, catches him in the groin, then lands a blow on one of the men holding him and pulls away— —but there are too many men and they've closed too tightly in on him. One of the larger prisoners throws Matt against the wall, then down against the steps before he can regain his footing. He hits hard, his senses blurring in and out of focus as he swings out desperately. One man, two men, three go down, but more pile on top of Matt, their hands grabbing at his prison uniform, his arms pulled backward in a painfully high armlock as he tries and fails to fend off the seemingly endless stream of attackers: a chaotic blur of overstimulation for his already exhausted and dazed senses. Then suddenly the shiv is cutting through Matt’s prison uniform, leaving a jagged wound across his torso, and he cannot help the agonized gasp that is torn from his throat as the serrated edge of the makeshift blade catches every bit of sinew beneath his skin, as men grasp at the torn fabric, cool air against his skin followed by violent touch—  Mind, body, connection. The mind controls the body— Matt forces himself to exhale, tracks separate heartbeats out of the cacophony, and thrusts his head back savagely into the face of one of the men restraining him. His leg kicks out, and another man goes down as he wildly wrestles his way back up to his feet. His breath is coming out in gasps now; he swipes at the blood around his mouth with one hand, then lowers it to test the depth of the wound on his torso, the other arm still dangling at his side, numb all the way up to where his shoulder is braced against the wall. He’ll survive the knife wound, he thinks, his body now trembling with exertion and the effort of fighting off the shock that threatens his hard-won control over his senses. His head tilts as he gauges the heartbeats of the men still on their feet; he can sense the hesitation in their movements, their disbelief that he is somehow still on his own feet, and he knows he won't get another chance. He explodes into motion as they rush at him again, vaulting into a rapid sequence of spinning kicks, sidestepping and allowing two of the men to take each other out. Then the world is turned sideways as the large prisoner gets a hold of Matt and slams him against the side of the staircase. Matt grabs a fistful of hair as he goes down, drags the giant down with him and staggers to his knees at the man's side before he can get back up; he hits him until he can hear bones fracturing beneath his fists. “Careful, Murdock,” Sweeney warns, and his voice draws Matt’s focus back to the feeling that he’s still missing something, something bigger, something more urgent, something more pressing; only he can’t pinpoint what’s wrong over the sound of blood rushing in his ears, the sound of his own gasps, his heartbeat pounding against his ribcage, the cacophonous ring of heartbeats still around him, above him, his senses dazed, overstimulated, overwhelmed.  What was he missing? What was he missing? Tap, tap—tap, tap, tap— He thinks back to his old teacher and narrows his focus, tuning out the heavy breathing of the other prisoners, the gasping, strangled sounds from men still on the ground—tap, tap, tap—there it is. A tapping sound. Sounds so familiar. Only Matt can’t place it. Another rooftop, he thinks, another lifetime. Karen and Foggy were there, he was typing out a text— Phone. Camera. Low of hum of video in the corner of the ceiling, barely audible, barely distinct from the low hum of the ventilation system just beside it. He stills immediately with the realization, and prisoner with the weighted sock takes advantage; the blow itself incapacitates him, his hands raising to his ears in a desperate attempt to stave off the high pitched ringing that follows, but then he's thrown wound-first against the concrete steps again.  The pain that follows blurs his senses entirely out of focus for a moment that feels eternal. He gasps as the world swims around him, sounds coming in and out of muffled focus as he is dragged up onto his knees, his arms held behind him, a blade pressed against his throat. Sweeney holds the phone loosely in his hand as he finally begins to descend from where he'd been waiting atop the staircase, his gait slow, deliberate, restrained. “You showed your hand, Murdock, just like your old man,” he says, and laughs. “Except I let Jack off too easy for what he did, I think. Should’ve waited ‘til he was home, made you watch—sorry, listen, as the bullet went through his skull, let you try to staunch the blood—” “F*** you,” Matt half-slurs, half-gasps, fighting down the too-visceral memories of himself as a child with hands so small, too small—I think that’s my dad, I think that’s my dad—to be feeling for the familiar landscape of his father’s face and finding a bullet hole instead. Matt chokes back his emotion, swallows around the sob in his throat, and snarls, “You think getting sent to prison was the worst thing that could’ve happened to you, Sweeney? After everything you’ve done—I should’ve, I should’ve—” “What, killed him?” says a new voice, and Matt feels like all the breath has been stolen from him in an instant, feels cold settle inside of him in its place. “Like you tried to kill me?” “No,” he breathes, his stomach churning. No no no no no no no— This isn’t real, he thinks, it can’t be; he’s hallucinating again, lost to himself. Poor timing, but that’s par for the course. It’s not enough for Matt to fight enemies made of flesh and blood, no; he must create phantoms to haunt his steps, resurrect ghosts long dead. Self-flagellation for the modern penitent. Better lost to himself than this: ten steps behind with a mouth full of blood and defeat. The world around him still swimming in and out of muffled focus, his tightly wound control over his senses unraveling under the weight of it all: metallic taste of blood, acrid sweat mingling with expensive cologne, adrenaline and arousal, too many heartbeats, too many sounds, too much, it was all too much— “What’re you—what does, no—” he tries to say, but his voice falters, catches in his throat as he fights to get the words out past his lips, their bitter taste lingering on his tongue. Played like a fool. Always the fool. His teacher had been right about Matt; but his teacher is gone now, for all the good being right ever did him. Did Fisk do this to you? Fisk, it was Fisk, it was all Fisk— The low electronic hum of the cell phone becomes a steady droning in Matt’s ears as he fights to regain control over his senses. Stick may be gone, but his lessons remain. Mind, body, connection. The mind controls the body, the body controls our enemies, our enemies control jack sh*t by the time we’re done with— Matt struggles to slow the breaths that hover high up in his chest, fluttering violently like a bird trapped in a cage. Pull it together, he reproaches himself, but Fisk’s overwhelming presence obliterates his focus, gets deep inside of him where he can't stop it, where he can't shut him out. He leans in close, so close that Matt can feel his too warm breath in his ear, all but deafening in its proximity, in its intensity, in its intent— —and, for some reason that Matt can’t immediately name, can’t immediately place, the feeling is so much more sickening than the blood rapidly seeping out onto his abdomen, than the blade still pressed into his throat. “You’re still so naïve, Matthew,” says Fisk, quietly, for his ears alone, and Matt cannot help the shudder that wracks his already trembling frame. “There are things worse than death for men like you and men like me. Things unbearable that linger, and fester, and take on lives of their own.” Fisk steps back, raises his voice as he runs his fingers back and forth across the palm of his hand, a rapid brush up from the bottom followed by a slow return. "You will only wish you had died, died rather than know what it means to be the powerless observer of your own ruin. To have who you are stripped from you, to understand that you allowed it to happen, that you could have stopped it—at the expense, of course, of knowing you've all but placed a death sentence on your partner, of knowing you'll never see him again. The same choice you gave to me. Fair's fair, Mr. Murdock." Matt’s been dealt sh*t hands before, always prided himself on his ability to take the hand he was dealt and shift the cards in his favor, on his ability to hit the mat and get back up again, fists swinging. Now, laughter bubbles up inside of him. The ghost of his father had finally abandoned him, it seemed; only fitting that he should face his ruin alone. For it is we who haunt the dead, he remembers bitterly, and not the dead haunt us. He chokes back the hysterical urge to laugh, swallows down the bile that's risen again at the back of his throat as Fisk forcefully grips Matt’s jaw and tilts it up toward the surveillance camera hanging from the corner of the ceiling. Its low drone cuts in and out of Matt's hearing like a scratched record, and he feels boneless, uncorporeal. If his body had turned to ice before, now it was dark, drowning water. “They’re watching, Matthew,” Fisk says. “Don’t let the Devil out." Don’t let the Devil out, he says, and Matt hears the promises in the spaces between the words, or your case will fail before it ever makes it to trial, and Foggy will get sentenced, and worse, for aiding and abetting Daredevil. Daredevil—our true—public—enemy— He feels like he’s been dropped into the ocean, all his limbs weighted with stones, unable to find which way is up and which way is down, which way is surface and which way is gone. Surface feels like a fairy-story told to children at night, like enchanted forests. Light as the breadcrumbs which lead the way up, which lead the way out. Light as memory. Light as myth. This isn’t real, he thinks desperately, like the child who hides under his covers at night from the monster in the closet, if I can’t see it, it can’t be real. He can practically hear Stick’s voice in his head: derisive, cold, dealing out judgments as swiftly and mercilessly as he did deaths. C’mon, kid. You, more than anyone, know better than that. Get up. Get up and fight back, your soft partner be damned. Just look at you, a trained warrior—and this is what you’ve become: weak, soft, useless. I was right to leave you when I did— “Time’s up, Mr. Murdock,” Fisk says dispassionately. Then to Sweeney: “He’s yours. Let your men have him, but he stays alive—or you do not.” A litany of no’s are uttered in quick succession, one after another, as if from someone else, though he feels his own lips moving, feels the vibrations in his throat, feels his tongue heavy and dry against the roof of his mouth as the knife is removed from his throat, as different hands roughly grasp his jaw this time, hold him still as the other men press in— Then, nothing; only a few dull sounds in the back of his throat as he resigns himself to muteness, to what he cannot fight, to what he cannot change. This is the moment Matt understands what it means for his luck to have finally caught up with him, the moment he understands that there is no such thing as paying his dues, that some cards can’t be shifted in his favor. He'd known the risks of Daredevil, had lived for the risks of Daredevil, thrived in the charged spaces between risk and consequence, walked the tightrope between good intention and self-destruction. So, the consequences had arrived. For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment— Judgment day. The formation of a memory like the empty spaces between towering edifices, playing over and over—the smells, he thinks, the smells are what linger the most—but no, because it repeats, and this time it’s the feeling of powerlessness, of observing from trapped within his own body, the ringing in his ears rendering his attackers all but invisible to him, if not for their burning touches on his body, on his skin— But no, because the memory repeats and, this time, there’s just nothing there, and he thinks, if he could just remember, just remember what happened, he could gather the fragments back together into something that makes sense— Except that it repeats, and he remembers, and it still doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t—the blur of bodily sensations, the ringing in his ears softening to a quiet drone as nothing happens, nothing, really, because if he can’t remember, then it didn’t, it couldn’t have— —and then he’s on his hands and knees, trembling, vomiting until there’s nothing left and he’s dry heaving and shaking, and feeling like he should die because no one could possibly be this sick without dying, and his body doesn’t even feel like it belongs to him anymore, because it couldn’t possibly, he can’t think of a reason why— No, he thinks, distantly, what happened—it happened to someone else. He doesn’t try to focus. There is no mind, body, connection, not anymore, not when his mind has violently rejected any connection to his body. In these moments, there are no thoughts of Elektra, or Foggy, or even God; no illusions of a friend or hero coming to his aid. In his experience, people showing up at the last minute to save the day is a trope strictly relegated to films and books and television shows. In real life, people rarely show up at the last minute to save the day. In Matt’s experience, no one ever shows up at all. Maybe later he’ll rewrite the story; give it a better ending, a better beginning, more realistic, more true—something that makes more sense. Mostly, he remembers that it started and he remembers that it ended; but it felt like it never would, and he feels like, somehow, it never will.   III.   The night passes slowly. He trades incoherent banter with phantoms and mumbles apologies to ghosts. His body trembles violently, and the touch of his own fingertips feels alien as he presses the blood back into his wounds. He can’t remember why. Memory can keep its secrets, he thinks, as a rat scurries across the floor of his new cell.   —   Morning brings a kind of clarity. Unwanted, but there nonetheless. His phantoms (mostly) fade away at the relentless hammering of a bell. Father Lantom lingers. Something to do with Catholic school, he thinks. “Is there a problem, inmate? Why aren’t you prepared for the count?” There’s a heartbeat at the entrance to his cell; he probably should have noticed it before, but there are so many heartbeats, and so many voices, and the effort to focus his senses would only draw energy away from the effort to get to his feet without passing out. “No,” Matt says as he shuffles to stand in front of his bed. He holds his arms behind his back in compliance, gritting his teeth against the low moan that rises in his throat. “Sorry.” “Next time you’re late for the count,” the guard says irritably, his hand resting on the baton at his side, “you’ll find out what disciplinary action means, Murdock.” It’s a different guard, one he’s never met, so Matt lets it go.   —   Attending meals is a non-negotiable, apparently. Inmates are not permitted to stay in their cells during mealtimes. In addition to learning that neat fact, Matt also learns that asking questions is considered ‘non-compliance’ and, therefore, also cause for disciplinary action. The cafeteria is only a five-minute walk from Matt’s new cell, but the assault of catcalls and jeering on his ears, the sudden touches and hisses, makes it feel endless. It doesn’t help that he’s now walking with an even more pronounced limp than what he’d already woken up with, creating a bigger target over his head for taunting and abuse. He not-so-secretly thinks that the guard just wanted an excuse to use force, but that doesn’t change the fact that Matt ends up on his knees again, unable to defend himself without giving away his secret. I am not Daredevil, he thinks, swallowing down the burning desire to fight back. It settles in his stomach like hot coals, waiting to burst into flames inside of him. Sweeney is practically humming with satisfaction when he finds Matt in the cafeteria line, signaling his presence with the pungent, nauseating odor of cigar smoke and expensive alcohol. The combination causes bile to rise up in Matt’s throat again. “You look moody today, Murdock,” he murmurs, stepping up beside him so suddenly that Matt takes an involuntary step away. “I’m gonna make this real easy for you. This, last night, will just be a taste of what the next few years are gonna look like for you. Or, you can choose option B. Tell Nelson that I want out, and that I want him to get me the deal. Fisk can rot in hell for all I care. I’ll even delete that footage—” All the helplessness inside of him transforms into rage in an instant, so suddenly that it takes his breath away as his hands tighten into fists at his side. Don’t let the Devil out— “You have no idea what’s coming for you, Sweeney,” he spits, and turns to walk away. But the world spins disorientingly around him in vertigo not felt since he was a child: the rough fabric of his father’s shirt pressing desperately against Matt's eyes as the blue sky eroded away like film that had caught fire. I can’t see, I can’t see— He grasps for something to hold onto, something to stabilize himself, but finds nothing, ears ringing, his senses overwhelmed until he's shoved violently backward into the railing behind them, Sweeney's hand wrapped around his throat. His nerve-endings explode in fireworks of searing pain that steal his breath away again. Then they’re surrounded by guards, their voices raised as they try to get the situation under their control. He struggles to catch his breath as Sweeney is dragged off of him. A riot erupts around them. Hands grasp at his shoulders, and he’s hauled away.   —   Solitary. He barely even notices when they put him in. His mind a constant replaying of his latest disaster, his most recent self-destruction; a litany of no’s like a prayer, his own choked gasps in his ears, don’t let the Devil out— He leans his weight against the wall of his cell, and slides down until he’s on the floor with his hands pressed palm down against the cold concrete. His side has settled down to a dull ache, but the blood must be seeping out onto his new uniform. He can't remember what happened to the other one, ripped, stained, ruined; he supposes they must have removed it when they took him to his new cell, destroy the evidence, erase the crime— Time passes slowly. He goes through all of Foggy’s cases in his mind, but the exercise is pointless, and he knows it. He’s never heard Foggy even mention Sweeney’s name, let alone mention attending any appeals. Beneath the hurt, Matt feels distantly pleased, vindicated, even, that he’s not the only one who ever kept secrets in their friendship. Still, the secret is out, and now Sweeney knows that hurting Matt hurts Foggy, knows that bending Matt will get Foggy to do whatever it takes to keep Matt from breaking. Fisk may have used the lowlife crime boss to get his revenge, but Sweeney used him right back. It’s almost laughable, almost. “In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” he says, to the wall swimming somewhere ahead of him, “I’m the idiot who can f*** things up for the people I love even from behind bars.” The sound of footsteps echoing through the outside corridor catches his attention, and a heartbeat appears on the other side of the bars. A guard, judging by the sound of fingertips impatiently brushing against a baton. “Losing it already, Murdock?” he jeers. “Get up, your attorney’s here.” Matt doesn’t rise to the bait, doesn’t even shift to acknowledge the guard's presence. He’s found that if he holds himself absolutely still, he can slow the spinning and repress the nausea to tolerable levels, stabilize his core temperature from its mad ricocheting between hot and cold, burning and shivering. He's given up trying to stop his body from trembling. It'd started at some point during the night, and hadn't taken a break from it since. “Hey, you hear me? Thought you were blind, not deaf!” snaps the guard as he slides a key into the lock. Matt hears a soft click as the latch unlocks, and the gate swings open. “Your lawyer’s here and he wants to see you. Get up.” “I’m staying here,” Matt says. “I don’t want to see him.” “I don’t give a sh*t what you want, inmate—your a**hole attorney is threatening to file a lawsuit against this entire prison if he doesn’t get to see you, and I’m not gonna be the sorry son of a bitch who gets held responsible. So, get up, and get moving.” Matt doesn’t bother to point out all the lawsuits they would have on their hands if word ever got out about even half of went on in here. Then again, the warden seems capable of making anything he wants to disappear. A veritable bureaucratic magician. He stands up slowly, pressing one shoulder against the wall for support. He hears the guard unsnap a leather pouch, then gesture wordlessly with a pair of handcuffs for Matt to put his hands out in front of him. Matt pointedly doesn’t react. “Oh, for f***’s sake,” the guard mutters. “Hold out your hands, inmate.” “Is that really necessary?” scoffs Matt. Still, he holds his arms out in front of him, if only to avoid having them cuffed behind again. “I was indicted on suspicion of perjury and obstruction of justice, not for running a fight club.” The irony of the defense isn’t lost on Matt. “And yet here you are in solitary for fighting with another inmate. Want to avoid cuffs, Murdock? Keep your hands to yourself and keep your mouth shut. Your fancy degree don’t mean sh*t in here.” The cold metal clicks shut around his aching wrists— You're still so naïve, Matthew— —and the guard walks him down the cellblock. Matt drags his feet, feeling suddenly furious that Foggy keeps returning to the prison, keeps risking his safety; doesn’t he understand that Matt can’t keep him safe anymore? Can’t even keep himself safe. He still feels drugged, like he’s only witnessing everything from somewhere deep inside his own body, not actually living it. Like if he tried to speak, he’d be able to say nothing at all. The moment they enter, Foggy is all movement and barely restrained displeasure. He stands up, pressing his fingertips against the plexiglass that separates them, the clean scent of his cologne cutting through the lingering stench of the prison, and Matt is grateful for it, for the sense of world stability that is carried with it. “Get those cuffs off of him,” Foggy demands. “This institution may be in the business of dehumanizing inmates, but he’s a non-violent offender awaiting trial, and I’m here to have a civilized conversation with a human being. Get them off, and then get out.” The guard’s heartbeat speeds up in a rush of anger, but he complies. The moment he leaves the room, Matt attempts to throw a dirty look at Foggy, hopes that his gaze lands somewhere near the


10/15/2021 12:22 PM 


Summary: "This, too, shall pass, and beyond it will be themselves. Beyond it will be them and eternity, and their rivalry, because Gai wouldn't let either of them give that up, not until eternity -- or at least, their eternity -- had run its course." Set ten years ago, when they were both nineteen, during ANBU, after a particularly bad mission.           Inebriate of air am I,And debauchee of dew, Reeling, through endless summer days, From inns of molten blue. ---------------------------------------------   He couldn't go to the hospital.He couldn't go to the hospital, because Kakashi wouldn't go to the hospital, and that meant taking a trip there himself would take too much time. He had watched Kakashi leave, trailing blood behind him as he walked in drips and streaks, an easy path to follow to reach a man too tough to be taken down, too proud to get help. Gai knew better. He had seen the wounds Kakashi had taken. There were just too many of them, ones that ran too deep; it was dangerous to try and ignore wounds like that. Heading home, shrugging them off, and hoping they got better just wouldn't be enough.That was why he had gone home only briefly, to do what Kakashi refused to: take care of himself. His own wounds weren't so bad, nothing that he couldn't take care of with a bit of patience and a first aid kit. He had himself tended to and bandaged in record time, changing out of his soiled, bloodied uniform and into a fresh one; he stopped only to grab a few essentials -- a refreshed medical kit, for one thing -- before taking off again.This time, the door he stood in front of was Kakashi's, and he knocked briskly to announce himself; anyone who associated with jounins knew far better than to startle them while they were hurt or upset. "Kakashi?"A long beat of silence, too long for comfort, before a faint answer returned from within. "Go away, Gai."Gai shook his head vigorously in spite of knowing that he couldn't be seen, knocking again -- louder, this time. "Kakashi, if you aren't going to open this door, I'm coming in!" There was no answer (of course), and trying the knob proved that the door was locked (of course), which left him no other choice. Fortunately, he had assumed this might happen, and had brought a few tools to work the lock open -- it wasn't his preferred way of doing things, of course, but that certainly didn't mean he wasn't capable of it. Thirty seconds of work produced a satisfying click, and Gai strode confidently inside, pausing to disarm the traps he knew he'd find, before closing and locking the door behind him, and rearming the traps. Then, he turned back to his mission: getting his Eternal Rival some medical care before he bled himself dry or got a nasty infection. Certainly an A-rank mission if there ever was one, if you substituted danger for stubbornness.   The metallic scent of blood lingered in the air, thick like the sweat of night that darkened the interior of the small one-bedroom apartment Kakashi called home.It was heavy, that scent, and loud like the pitter-patter of water roaring from the bathroom, needles carving staccato against tile and fabric and skin. And the tension, it was palpable, shimmering between the shadows and the blood that dripped across the floor, the armor that lay discarded over weapons carelessly strewn.It wasn't like Kakashi to be so careless with his gear, to let shuriken spill and splatter sharp over darkened pools that slowly congealed, to drop his face in a space meant for shoes, chest armor half-dangling over it, revealing only a flash of white and red. But at least he'd taken off that face, the one that wasn't really his, the one that didn't have a name, other than the animal it represented. There were times and nights when he'd forget to remove what wasn't really him, but then sometimes he wasn't sure what was or what wasn't, if he still was or wasn't -- when was, wasn't, is, isn't, were all variables that didn't exist to begin with.(Or weren't supposed to, when he wasn't supposed to.)But they did exist, even when he told himself they didn't, because if they didn't exist, he wouldn't be going numb under the icy rush that poured itself over him in pricks of cold that soaked through fabric, skin, and into bones, settling deep under tissue and sinew and muscle, stabbing through fresh ravines that opened up along his back and side, dripping hot and dark against the winter that crept inside. (So unlike the heat of his heart when it burst apart in your hand, lightning screaming, screeching, searing in descent.) And it was cold here, but at least it was quiet, and he couldn't really feel the intensity of the chill that sunk into him, or the heat that had been all he could feel every step home after, radiating and pulsing with blood that was and wasn't his.And anytime now, Gai was probably going to burst in and ruin it, and Kakashi knew this, but really didn't give a sh*t what Gai did at the moment, when water was filling his ears anyway, and he could simply pretend that he couldn't hear all the f***ing endless optimism Gai always tried to stuff into his ears. (But if his ears were filled with water, Gai wouldn't be able to fit optimism in, and if he did, maybe it'd simply drown and disintegrate and Kakashi wouldn't have to listen to any of it.)The blood was already drying, staining the wooden floors; Kakashi's quarters were never free of bloodstains, or the shadows that danced in every corner. And it was too often tense, the air thick enough to cut with one of the spilled kunai that lay half in a puddle that was already maroon-dark. Gai's own apartment was brightly-lit and well-decorated, scrupulously clean and warmly welcoming. It was too cold in here, and quiet; all he could hear was the pounding of water and the sound of his own breathing. He had never much liked silence, either; too often it implied being alone. And this time, it definitely did -- or at least, an attempt at being alone, a self-imposed isolation within a curtain of pouring water.He'd have to pierce such a loud silence by being louder still.Gai smiled, because smiling was what he did, and he couldn't say that he hadn't been expecting something like this. This time it was the bathroom door he knocked on, opening it without waiting for a response. "Kakashi!" The air was moister in here, and the blood on the floor had yet to dry; Gai walked through it without a second thought, moving to go in and turn off the water, tear away the shell he was trying to build around himself, shut off the silence-noise so that he had to listen, if only because there would be nothing else to listen to. "You shouldn't be doing this." Shouldn't be hiding, shouldn't be freezing himself when it would do him no good, shouldn't be avoiding the hospital, shouldn't be denying himself the care he so obviously needed. His tone was firm, despite his concern.And of course, Gai would burst in and ruin it, and Kakashi knew this, and should've done a better job keeping him out. If he heard him, he didn't acknowledge it, staying in place with his forehead pressed against cool tile, water dripping slowly as it ran down in rivulets from the tip of his nose, his fingers, the edges of his uniform, his hair, matted down in darker silver tendrils over his face and neck. It was funny how only now when the cold had gone away that he realized how cold the cold had been, when air pricked at the bared skin of his arms, sending gooseflesh to the surface, little tiny bumps forming between drops of water that stubbornly clung to him.(They didn't want to let go. He didn't want to either.)He closed his eyes and focused on the cold, and not on the heat that was starting to soak again through his clothes, a different kind of moisture that stung and burned, but if he paid more attention to the chill and not the warmth, he could pretend that it didn't exist, could also try and ignore the fact that Gai was standing there staring at him, smiling in the way Gai always did.The water trickling down Kakashi's body was clear, Gai noticed as he watched him. Clear, though pink puddles still lingered in the space that his body had mostly blocked. Clear and cold, and he had only stuck his arm into the spray briefly to turn it off. No doubt Kakashi was freezing in there. (In Tsuchi no Kuni they trained dogs in the mountains, huge dogs that carried liquor and sniffed constantly for bodies, digging through dozens of feet of snow to unearth half-frozen people from what could have been their early graves. Those who lay buried would see the first ray of sunlight pierce their icy tombs, feel a breath of fresh air, be pulled out by helping hands to have the warmth and life rubbed back into them. But they didn't live in the mountains here, and Kakashi was the one who summoned dogs.) He'd catch his death from it.The man wasn't listening -- or at least wasn't responding -- but that was okay, because he couldn't say that he hadn't been expecting something like this, either. He'd pull him out of here, if he really needed to. If Kakashi wouldn't listen and wouldn't move, then he would have no other choice. He wouldn't let his rival have such an ignoble end as leaving him crumpled in a shower stall, with only the water for company. Gai's unseen smile was as firm as the steps that carried him into the shower itself, as solid and unwavering and warm as the arms that moved to wrap around Kakashi's waist.Kakashi couldn't stop the shudder that traveled through his body the moment Gai's arms locked around him, heat soaking in, this solid wall of it molding against his back, and it felt so good, almost feverish against freezing skin (how had he gotten that cold to begin with? he hadn't been that cold a moment ago, it had only been a pervasive sense of numb, a tingle of gooseflesh and frosty air, but not this bewildering awakening to frostbite that must've leaked inside out, or maybe it was just that Gai was so warm, that it made all the difference he never noticed before -- he's not sure really, and he doesn't care). Kakashi felt his breath catch in his throat as he leaned back against and into the warmth, pressing himself flush against it instinctively, deliriously (Gai smelled as warm as he felt -- spicy and earthy and masculine), shoulder blades pressed against a hard chest, and then the back of his head came in contact with the curve of a shoulder broader and stronger than his own.It was impossible for Gai to ignore the weight that very suddenly pressed back against him, the way Kakashi shuddered and fit himself into the curves and planes of Gai's body, the minute trembles that raced through the slighter man's form. The cold radiating from him was so intense it burned, and Gai could feel his own uniform start to soak through almost immediately as sodden silver strands of hair plastered themselves against his neck and cheek. He shuddered as well, muscles clenching and shifting as he fought the instinct to move away. Instead, he tightened his grasp, pulling Kakashi closer against him to share his body heat as well as he could.He took a deep, controlled breath, letting it out in a long sigh. Even through this chill, he could feel the small spots of warmth blossoming again from Kakashi's bleeding. It wasn't unexpected, but it was worrisome, even more so considering Kakashi's reaction. Normally, Kakashi would ever behave this way. He wouldn't get so close, wouldn't allow Gai to do this, wouldn't accept any help nearly so easily. As much as it might make things easier, this instinctive hearkening back to warmth and life, it troubled Gai. This wasn't normal.Gai shifted to take a step back, using his arms to gently urge Kakashi to follow. "Come on, Kakashi. Come on." Kakashi's head was rolled back against his shoulder; Gai tilted his own head down to smile at him, voice low and encouraging. The name thrummed in his ears like a drum beat, something to repeat, steady and sure. Kakashi needed to hear his name. His own name, not his number, not the name bestowed on his mask. He needed to know who he was, where he was, who he was with. He needed to realize that he was safe, that the danger was over, that he could let himself be tended to without fear.Kakashi wasn't sure what his body was trying to feel, the heat or the cold or the fading numbness, or the prickles of sensation that started to roar back alive almost painfully as his skin tingled with it. And then they were moving, shifting, step by step, his limbs tugged along by strings held somewhere above his head, or maybe they were just the ones around his waist, or maybe it was this not-cold and not-hot flash of his body telling him too many things at once, synapses firing irregularly through the warmcold currents moving in-- (he'd been here before and it'd always been heat that brought him back to earth, heat like the sun, burning so bright, so hot, he couldn't close himself against it) --and back out of him.For a moment, the world had shifted, turned, and Kakashi wasn't sure if it was he that was spinning or the room, or maybe it was just sudden vertigo, but then the warmth was gone and the ceiling and Gai was suddenly filling up his line of sight, something both soft and firm cradling his back.It worried Gai, this lack of resistance and protest, this lack of seeming coherence or even full awareness. Kakashi must have lost a lot of blood. That had to be it. He would recover his senses after he had been cared for and allowed to get some much needed rest. He had definitely taxed himself during their mission, physically and emotionally. Gai's smile softened a little; he remembered his mother smiling at people like that while she tended to them, gentle and compassionate, empathic and almost tender, even as she remained efficiently professional. A human touch, she had called it. Shinobi needed care and consideration even more than everyone else, especially when they were hurt."Kakashi, I need to check your wounds. I'm going to take off your shirt, okay?" Gai leaned over the man, slowly taking the edge of Kakashi's shirt in hand to tug over his head. As long as he knew what was going on, then there was no need for him to panic or even be disoriented. He could just pair the words with the actions and sensations, lay back and let Gai do his job. As unsettlingly alien as the behavior was, it would make things easier.In a flash of motion, Kakashi's hand clamped down around Gai's wrist, stopping the upwards path of his hand and the fabric it held. And maybe for a heartbeat or two, this was the Kakashi Gai was a little more familiar with, the Kakashi that always pushed him away, who always said no, I'm fine, who always refused a helping hand -- who was suddenly yanking him down against a frame seizing with cold, with a well-placed tug and an arm hooked around the back of his neck. This warmth, it was what he needed more than any bandages or stitches, the seismic waves more violent than the cracks in him, shaking up his spine and back down again, pushing its way out of his lips in hisses of breath that tremored unsteadily.There was nothing steady about this, nothing even, nothing normal or focused like it always was. He'd left that at the door when he'd taken himself off, and had tried to numb into silence Obito's voice and his own, but didn't get far enough for it to matter at all, when Gai was right there, all muscle and strength and heat, and the smell of reassurance and persevering belief. The belief smelled sweet and like something else, so Kakashi tried to hold onto it, tried to drink up the warmth with his body pressed close like this, and it didn't matter to him that this was Gai that he was coaxing more against his chest, ignoring the pain that carved itself in jagged snaps from the weight of the body pulled down on his.Even his breath felt cold.Gai immediately felt bad for him. Of course he would be cold. Why wouldn't he, after being pulled straight from a freezing shower? He should have heated up the water first, helped to take the chill away, before getting him out here. But he had been so worried. Hell, he was still worried, and the medical kit sat right beside the bed where he had set it down before. But now he was worried about the potential for hypothermia too, and Kakashi possibly getting sick from staying so cold and wet. He really needed to get him out of that uniform...In a minute. For now, though... For now, it was obvious that he needed warmth as much as he needed to be taken care of, and that was understandable enough. The cold did funny things to people... Messed with their minds a bit. Gai was the warmest thing in here at present, so maybe a bit of shared body heat would help Kakashi come back.With that thought, Gai nestled more firmly against Kakashi, curling one arm around the smaller man's shoulders and using his free hand to smooth the wet hair away from his face.It was too tender, the way he touched him. But the tenderness was warm, and Kakashi was so cold, and he wasn't sure whether to jerk away or to gravitate more towards it when Gai was so hot, and the heat felt so good, solid and muscular against him. He could feel each ripple of a chiseled chest against his own, rising and falling with each breath Gai took, and the scent of forest and earth still clung to his skin, sweat and power and adrenaline. He wanted to lose himself in it, so he raised his hand to his mask and tugged it down to his chin as he burrowed his nose against Gai's hot neck and slowly breathed him in, inhaling this scent he knew so well, the one that remained at the corners of his life, even when all the other ones had gone, evaporated into memory, into dust.Gai so rarely saw that face these days, tucked up behind a wall of cloth and hidden away. It was just one more wall that Kakashi raised around himself to keep others out, and that he had removed it of his own accord in front of someone else floored him. That damp face was pressed against his neck and nuzzling into him, cold air whispering across his skin. Gai shivered and instinctively tilted his head to allow it, a long, shaky breath escaping. "Kakashi....?"Kakashi's hands were creeping up the back of his shirt, cold as they smoothed over the strong, muscular planes of his back, as his lips grazed cold, breath hot, against the side of a warm neck. It would be easy, too easy, to slip and fall into this, to lose himself in this familiarity, growing drunk on the heat, the scent of the earth, the muscles that tightened under his fingers.It was Gai's first instinct to arch beneath those fingers, roll his head to the side to encourage the kiss, press closer against the man as though he could escape the cold. Only after that did his mind return to the waiting medical kit, thoughts buzzing around each other as concern chased the beginnings of arousal away. His expression sobered, shirt already partially removed as he clasped a hand over Kakashi's upper arm. "Kakashi.... Are you sure about this?" Did he really know what he was doing? Did he really want to do this? Was it just the cold, the pain, the mission?Whatever it was, Kakashi's gaze suddenly focused over Gai's shoulder and he realized, all too acutely, just what the f*** he was doing. Control snapped up, as tenuous and trembling like his fingers as they jerked into motion, bracing in a hard chakra-powered shove against Gai's chest as he threw the man off him. This couldn't be happening, because it wasn't allowed (because Gai was all he had left and he'd gotten too careless) and his fingers flew up to yank up his mask as he scrambled off the bed, then staggered back, one arm directed towards the door as he pointed right at it."Get out." The words came out in a sharp snap of sound.Like something breaking, or the thrum of a trip-wire being triggered. Control, distance, aggressive aloofness. It all came crashing back down, with more force than any mere punch Kakashi could have thrown. Some small part of Gai was disappointed, some was relieved, but most of his mind was focused once more on the task at hand, suddenly made much more difficult again. Gai landed hard on his side, rolling with the shove so he could push himself back onto his feet. That mask again... He almost wanted to pull it right back down for him, but even he knew that wouldn't do any good for either of them. It had to be willingly done on his part for it to mean anything.Gai didn't even look to see the door, instead shaking his head firmly. "No, Kakashi. Let me take care of those wounds.""I'm fine." Kakashi insisted, his voice toneless with indifference more frigid than his skin. His arm didn't lower, nor did his stance waver, as he stood his ground and drew a steady breath in. He needed to get Gai out of here, needed to deal with this on his own, because control was fleeting, momentary, and being so conscious of everything around him reminded him again of everything he didn't want to be aware of, didn't want to face at this moment. The blood could soak through his shirt and it wouldn't matter, when he had a ritual, a way of decompressing, and Gai was in the way of him taking care of it, and complicating things more when what hold on control Kakashi had was fraying apart at the seams, threads wildly unraveling."Go home, Gai." He tried to make himself sound tired and annoyed, but the demand sounded more like a plea, which made no sense, because Kakashi never begged (except when he did in silence, always internalized)."Kakashi...." The wall remained up. The draw bridge remained closed. The moat remained icy, dark, and deep.Unfortunately for Kakashi, Gai had never minded swimming. Cold water was just one more bracing challenge to conquer.Gai shook his head again, bending and picking up the medical kit; he wasn't (couldn't, would never allow himself to) going home just yet. "Either take responsibility for your own health, or let me take care of it for you." While Kakashi dug his heels in to stand his ground, Gai moved towards him, holding the kit aloft as an offering and (weapon) shield, both at once. The unwanted pleading tone might have softened his heart even further, but it did nothing but harden his resolve. Had Kakashi forgotten how stubborn he could be already? Rivals though they were, in a battle of wills, he felt there could be no doubt on who would come out on top.But Kakashi was reeling back away from him, his chakra spiking dangerously with intent that never should be directed at a friend. But he needed his space, needed his time, needed to go through the steps that would bring him back, and his mind was still hovering between there and here and what control he had over himself was quickly slipping away -- Gai was in the way, and he needed him to go away -- "I'm fine," he insisted in a harsh breath, his eye moving between the kit and Gai's face. He'd had worse scrapes before and survived, these cuts would eventually congeal in time -- it wasn't going to kill him (even though sometimes he wondered when it would) and what he needed wasn't hands trying to stitch him up when he needed to feel, needed to bleed, because the pain gave him a focus, and reminded him of what human was still left in him, not just a weapon harnessed in war with no name or face except for the one that now lay on his floor."I'll take care of it later. Just go." Because the longer Gai stayed, the longer Kakashi's resolve strayed with flickers of a former comrade's face; eyes dark with accusation, the pain had contorted features that could have once been described as refined (they had once trained together in summer, with the sun hot on his back and sweat pricking his skin, the scent of June grass strong and sweet, kicking up dirt as they sparred) and he only managed to get out a breath that sounded like Kakashi's name, but Kakashi wasn't sure because his hand was screaming through the man's chest, and the lightning was loud, the scent of blood too sharp and coppery and suffocating all at once, and if Gai didn't get the f*** out now, Kakashi was going to throw him out by force.His hands clenched and unclenched without him even realizing, fingers, muscles, trembling.Kakashi was seizing up, shaking, chakra forming patterns that Gai had never before had the misfortune of actually facing, only fighting side by side with. This was a dangerous situation even for him, when Kakashi was bristling like a wounded missing-nin trapped by Hunters. (Was this some strange reflection of the traitor they had met in battle, a flicker of the spirit of the man they had once considered a dear comrade and trusted friend? Could the dead breathe one last whisper of loss through those who had taken their lives into their hands?) This was dangerous even for Kakashi, because it was clear that he was not fine, and that he was not in control of himself or the situation -- and if he wasn't, then it had the potential to very quickly spiral into something far uglier than it should be. Fortunately Gai prided himself on control, both in body and spirit, honed through rigorous self-discipline and back-breaking punishments. If Kakashi couldn't handle this situation, then Gai would do so for them both, even if it became violent. He would not let this (him) go so easily."You need to be taken care of now, Kakashi. Calm down and let me help you." Because he didn't want to take care of 'it'. 'It' was something separate and detached, an impersonal wound in a vacuum, rather than the complex human body and psyche of the man he still considered his dear comrade, no matter how many men he had to kill.No, he would not go. He would, however, move to close the distance between them with unwavering confidence.But with every single step he took closer, Kakashi only took another step back, shaking his head as he narrowed his gaze at Gai, something hot and dangerous spiking sharp within him, each wave of it cresting higher and higher until it'd filled his lungs."You can't take care of it, Gai. You can't handle it," he ground the words out, the lines of his body coiling into a stance that should never be directed at a friend. But he needed his space, needed his time, and Gai was moving in closer when Kakashi was trying to pull back, and Kakashi didn't have anywhere else to go when the wall behind him was closing in, and Gai was right in front of him.Gai didn't care. "I can handle anything." They weren't the words of a newly minted genin or chuunin, puffed up and cocksure with their new rank, convinced of their own immortality. They were a matter-of-fact, confident declaration of a man who had gone through plenty already, and intended to go through a lot more before he became incapable of handling it. They were a simple expression of intent -- he would handle it because he willed himself to be able to. Gai dropped the medical kit as he closed the rest of the distance, threading chakra through weary muscles. He melted into a black blur, and immediately Kakashi began to struggle, fists flying, legs kicking, a full defensive assault that Gai knew he wouldn't have had to dealt with if Kakashi had been in his right mind. But if there was one thing he excelled at, it was taijutsu; their struggle was over in the space of mere seconds, limbs moving so fast that they seemed almost to vanish entirely. Twist, block, block, feint, strike -- now. Searing heat ripped its way down Kakashi's back when the solid surface of the wall slammed up against his shoulder blades and punched out the breath he held in his lungs as his pulse roared and adrenaline thrummed (and for a moment he couldn't see anything at all, and he's not sure if he was the one who blinked or the world), and he opened his mouth to try and get in a breath, but Gai was moving too f***ing fast, and his wrists were captured in large, calloused hands and pinned back on either side of his head (they're hot, those hands, pressing into the fleshy throat of his wrists, his heart racing in their grip) -- before he could push back off the wall, Gai's body was moving in on his, a hard muscled prison closing in, keeping him trapped so his legs were pinned, and all he could feel was this heat, emanating off of him. It flowed through fabric and sank into skin, a sudden shock of sensation that tangled with the heat that flowered from his shoulder blades, spiraling outwards and colliding with what held him in and kept him in place, slicing through the urge to push Gai away when this mixture of heatpleasurepain overwhelmed his every sense--Before he knew what he was doing, Kakashi found himself arching towards it, wrists straining against the hands that held him, his breath caught in his larynx. And the intent that had been coloring his chakra suddenly flowed into something just as dangerous, something far more primal and visceral, a surge that felt raw, hungry, violent.It was over as fast as it had begun, too fast for the surge of adrenaline to have even started to subside. Gai hadn't really expected Kakashi to just give up, nor did he quite expect the way that the man was pressing against him now. It definitely wasn't the way someone immobilized would move to try to escape; the same way his chakra wasn't in the same battle-ready state it had been only moments ago. That-- Gai sucked in a harsh breath, instinctively moving to press against Kakashi in return, even as the situation dawned on him; a man could only take so much close contact, after all, before he started to be affected by it. So this was Kakashi's way of reaching out for help...? This was his method of seeking human contact and comfort. This was his vulnerability, his need, his connection to sanity. This was... His chakra still felt so violent... Gai's tone was softer now, not nearly so insistent as it had been -- he was, he hoped, starting to understand. "Kakashi.... are you sure about this?" The question steamed itself across the curve of Kakashi's ear, hot through the thin fabric of his mask, soaking in, sending a tremor down his spine as the words hovered between the space of Gai's lips and Kakashi's skin (he could feel them already, brushing in a tease, grazing just barely over the surface of him, challenging him to give in; always a challenge when it came to them, always a struggle between them). He felt the words before he understood them, in another flush of heat that both rose and fell, then collided in a rush of too much needhungerfrustration fueled by adrenaline and something like desperation (but it can't be desperation because he never is, and Kakashi's always in control of the situation) that had him inhaling in a sharp, shaky breath before expelling it in a soft, controlled sigh.His eye fell shut and the world receded, and he could feel how Gai's strong, chiseled body molded against his, each breath he took rising and falling against him, each muscle taut and rippling under the surface, coiled with strength and heat and passion and everything that made Gai who he was. And Kakashi wasn't sure if he could handle it, wasn't sure if he could let Gai see this; because Gai was all he had left when there was no one else, and Gai had always been there the entire time, and the Kakashi Gai knew wasn't weak, wasn't vulnerable and uncontrolled, wasn't this mess Kakashi brought home when he took off his face and left it at the door with the rest of his armor and his control. (Kakashi had a way of decompressing, and Gai was in the way of letting him do it.)He needed Gai to leave him alone, needed Gai to walk out the door, and let him deal with his mess on his own, bleeding out the parts of him he needed to excise from within, when he forced himself to forget an old friend's face, and the way his lips formed Kakashi's name. It was easier when he was taking those parts in his hands and crushing them to dust until they were erased from the surfaces of him everyone could see (because it's the outside that counts, no matter what they say), until he couldn't recognize his face when he looked at himself in mornings after the missions. After the silence and quiet had ended. After the blood had coagulated, and wasn't running, running, running out of him in rivers too deep to navigate, too wide to cross, too dangerous; tides that only ever fell in the hush of night that held all the whispers and secrets and lies about heroes and legends.But Gai was all he had left when there was no one else, and Gai had always been there the entire time, and Gai would never give up on him, would never judge, because Gai knew Kakashi wasn't infallible, wasn't nearly as invincible as Kakashi wanted him to believe. And Gai had made a promise so long ago, and he never broke a promise that he made with his Nice Guy Smile because Gai believed in the honor of promises and what they meant, the sacred oath that he made, and Kakashi was Gai's Eternal Rival, and it would take both of them dying to undo that promise.There was nothing steady about this, nothing even, nothing normal or focused like it always was. He'd left that at the door when he'd taken himself off, and had tried to numb into silence all the pieces of him that were far too damaged, too broken to fix, but Gai refused to let him slip into that space he always did, keeping him centered with strength and heat and all his reassurance and endless belief. And the belief smelled sweet and like something else, so Kakashi didn't just shove him away, fighting him out of his personal space, choosing instead to respond in quiet tones. "If you're not going to do this..." he began as his wrists strained against the restraints that held him in (he's not sure about this and he never will be). "Then get the f*** out, before I kill you." The words were so soft, they were almost a whisper, but Kakashi's preferred mode of violence was never loud, always silent.Everything about Kakashi was silent, subdued, held in. He was a moonbeam swathed in darkness, hidden beneath layers of black. The uniform, the gloves, the mask -- all of it neatly concealed him, held in and hid what was inside, provided a conveniently smooth, steady facade to focus himself and everything Kakashi wanted people to see. But Gai had been there the entire time, longer than anyone else ever had or ever would be. He had been there, and he had seen him, seen him with eyes that nobody else could boast, even the renowned Uchiha or the noble Hyuuga, because he had seen him from all angles and times, inside and out, with and without the mask -- both masks. He had seen Kakashi the Little Fang, as some few had once considered him, and he had seen Kakashi the genius, and he had seen Kakashi the hard worker. He had seen Kakashi teammate and student, and Kakashi the Copy Ninja, and he had seen Kakashi the ANBU -- Wolf, always Wolf, but what was a wolf (except vulnerable, alone, crippled, piteous) without a pack to acknowledge and be acknowledged by? He had seen Kakashi healthy and wounded, on missions and off-duty, eating and training and fighting and sleeping and unconscious. But most of all, he had seen Kakashi the Eternal Rival, because that was one thing he had been since the day they had met. And he knew his Eternal Rival better than anyone in his life. He saw even without seeing, knew even without knowing so much of what Kakashi didn't want anyone to see or know about. Whatever his temporary state, Kakashi would always be Kakashi (his Kakashi), would always be the rival he opposed. (Because what was rivalry, other than an endless struggle against each other and themselves? To work and sweat and fight and strive to be better, become better, do better than each other and each past accomplishment? To be a constant counterpart, circling endlessly around each other, held fast by the bond they shared? To be a rival was to always be a solid rock that the other could steady themselves on; a mountain to surpass, a constant presence to brace and ground and anchor with, one's most trusted adversary and friend, one's most beloved comrade.) All of those parts that made up the whole, he could and would take them, because he always had, and always would. There was no question of whether or not he could handle him. He would always be there, to help him along and clean up any messes that Kakashi couldn't manage on his own, because he believed that he and Kakashi could continue to surpass all obstacles in their way -- if not alone, then together, relying on each other as true friends and rivals should. Gai didn't bother to answer Kakashi's threat, empty as he knew it would have to be, in the end -- Kakashi would never strike him down, just as he would never do so to Kakashi, because he knew that neither of them would ever allow anything to come to that. Instead, he leaned in to close what little distance remained between them as he released Kakashi's wrists. The cloth mask was damp still, and quite thin; he could feel Kakashi's breath through it as he captured Kakashi's lips with his own, through and in spite of the barrier the mask presented. Kakashi's lips were softer than he expected, and their mouths moved against each other slowly through the fabric, a kiss that was almost chaste at first contact, but quickly grew deeper and more heated with Kakashi's lips parting under the mask against his, the warmth and moisture of Kakashi's tongue flicking through the barrier against his.Gai caressed Kakashi's cheek through the mask, fingertips skimming just over the line dividing cloth and skin without moving it. This too was a part of Kakashi, a necessary though not entirely healthy one, something he clung to because he was not yet ready to let it go. And though Gai could wish and worry, though he could hope and encourage, he could not judge, nor could he force the issue -- he wouldn't pull it down. He wouldn't remove that mask until the entire shirt was removed, and he wouldn't force their bared faces and lips together in such intimacy before Kakashi was ready to take that step himself. But still, the fact that it was even needed in the first place, that Kakashi would cling to his last shreds of protection and invulnerability, even though he so desperately needed this contact...It was difficult to say, just by knowing Gai, whether he had never learned to restrain his emotions, or whether he had learned to let them run free all over again. Either way, the tears (these were not tears purely of sorrow, defeat, or despair, but rather the bittersweet tears of pain and regret, of empathy and healing and hope for the future -- and yes, even of love) began to flow soundlessly down his cheeks, uncontrolled and unashamed, as his hands slid beneath Kakashi's shirt and rose over hard, rippling muscles. He wept for their comrade where Kakashi would not, and wept for Kakashi when Kakashi could not. For the way his innocence had been stolen and his heart had been broken, for the humanity that had been twisted and savaged and the trust and emotions that were almost (almost, because Gai would never give up on him, never stop believing, never acknowledge that defeat was a possibility when it came to this) broken beyond repair. Maybe (hopefully, eventually, definitely) someday, they would be able to cry together, but until then, Gai would simply have to be enough for them both. Enough to shoulder the weight of the world.But when would it ever be enough? Kakashi had wondered for years, still wondered what enough was, and when it would come, or if it ever would, or if there would ever be a point when enough would be enough, when he didn't even know what enough was. Or if it even existed. (It's thin, that idea, not full like the scent of blood or the spark of adrenaline. The kind that leaves you hungry for more, when the hot thrum of life whispers under your skin and reminds you just what you really are; when it's so easy to forget, easy to be subsumed by the world that controls you.) The battle drums were loud in the distance, rhythmically rumbling in their silent echoing through the emptiness he held in with a mask so it wouldn't leak out and erase him. He lived his entire life in a state of constant erasure (there's nothing constant in this world except for the constant that never is), filling the emptiness in with the lives of other people, letting their stories and their talents define him, exiling himself into the blankness of margins.But Gai always reached past him and yanked him out. Always with a promise and a Nice Guy Smile. And sometimes Kakashi just couldn't bear to see the infinitude of hope and honesty that always rose in his eyes, or how it sometimes glittered down his cheeks in streams that tasted like the sea, even through a layer of mask. He could taste the salt each time the heat of their mouths collided, the wetness of tongues warring against a barrier of separation, seeping through the fabric with each rough brush. He kept his eyes closed so he wouldn't have to see it, fingers finding traction in the hemline of Gai's shirt as he violently yanked him against his body. It was hard enough to bruise ribs and cut up lips, forcing a soft grunt out of Kakashi when the solid, hard weight of Gai's body slammed him back into the wall, sending another flare of heat that clawed its way up as the sharp taste of copper drowned out the salt.There was nothing gentle or tender about this because this was a war.There was always a war. A war against Iwagakure, a war against Kumogakure (narrowly averted, by a sacrifice both terrible and noble), a war against letting the bijuus wipe out all they had strove and struggled for, a war against pain and wounds and death, a war against madness and utter numbness, a war against losing yourself as a person -- losing who you were and why you existed, what you believed in, what you felt, why you lived. That was the most personal war of all, to be true to yourself and those you cared for, who cared for you. And could you even be true to yourself, if you couldn't be you? If you allowed yourself to fade away, hide in the background until you became a part of it? If there was no longer any you to be at all? If it were up to Gai, then no! A hundred thousand times no, never, not at all. That was the deepest betrayal of all, the one that cut deepest into the heart, because it was your own. (And wasn't that the wisdom that his father had in his dying breath bestowed upon him? He had made his last moment on earth, his final words, a wish, a prayer, a plea to his only son. To make this into a sacred vow -- to your own self, be true. Live each day not as though it were your last, but your first. Embrace it all, prosperity and adversity, head on and face to face, and make it a part of who you are. Be an inspiration. Be joyful, and a joy to be with. Laugh. Love. Learn. Live.) He wouldn't allow that to happen. To himself or anyone else, especially his Eternal Rival. It tore at his heart to know that it was necessary, to see the violence in the storm of chakra raging through Kakashi. But if that was the way it had to be, then so be it. He would pull Kakashi back, out of the margins and into the rush and vigor of the great story of life. He would ground him solidly on earth once more, held steady by these two strong arms until Kakashi could stand on his own legs again. And if there needed to be a certain violence to pry him free, then... Well, Gai was no stranger to violence. He could taste something that definitely was not tears, and his hands moved to give them a bit of space -- to let him grasp onto the bottom of Kakashi's shirt and pull. Hard muscles rippled, temporarily straining against the tough cloth before it gave way, allowing him to tear straight through, rather than just pulling the shirt off as it ought to be. He pushed the ruined shirt down over Kakashi's shoulders, moving to press their bodies tight against each other once more. His lips moved too, gliding down a sharp jawline to reach the other man's throat, his tongue flowing over Kakashi's pulse before his teeth scraped across skin, sucking, licking, kissing harshly to leave a mark, claiming Kakashi as his. Because if he wasn't his, then whose was he? Gai had been there. He'd always been there. He had made his claim first, well over a decade ago, right when he was beginning to understand what kind of implications the act of claiming someone had. (This is my Eternal Rival. This is the worthy man I will carry with me through the rest of my life. This is the one who will always be in my heart, who I will strive with and against and for, who I will never be able to abandon. This is my promise!) Kakashi was his, and after all this time, Gai refused to let him slip away.He wouldn't kiss him on the lips now, not with the mask gone. This wasn't what love and intimacy should look like -- this was a necessity, a mercy, a retrieval, a release. He wouldn't kiss Kakashi with nothing between them unless he was Kakashi, really Kakashi, and choosing this -- not from necessity, not from pain, but choosing it himself and of his own free will, simply because he wanted to.And even with Kakashi's pulse roaring under his tongue, even with Kakashi's breath leaving him harshly, even with Kakashi's body rippling against him as his fingers grappled at the hem of his shirt, pulling, tugging, stripping with such urgency, the fabric tore straight up the back -- none of this was because Kakashi wanted it. This wasn't about desire or pleasure or passion, but hunger and violence and too much need.He needed to be broken down, needed to be destroyed, needed to be taken apart with unforgiving hands, to remind him that he still could feel and need and gasp with breath. Feel it on him, in him, around him, let it tear right through him -- sensation too overwhelming to deny their existence. Plunge him in and let him choke, make him breathe it in so it's all he knows -- what it means to be alive and that he is. That he can still live and breathe like anyone else, that he can still feel and scream like anyone else, that he's still human like anyone else (and somewhere buried deep within him is a boy who once could and did smile openly, accidentally; but a smile was still a smile and Gai had seen it then because they were only six, only children, not yet men -- even now they weren't quite men, but boys who'd grown up far too fast -- before he disappeared behind a mask), and can need and f*** and come like anyone else, so he can put himself back together after the storm. Scrape up the pieces and rearrange them into the shape of a man that never needed anything other than a mask and a colorful book of porn to hide himself behind. (Because Kakashi was always strong, always confident and proud. Except when he wasn't. Like now.)Gai had made a promise to him when they were six, that they would be Eternal Rivals for the rest of their lives -- and Kakashi hadn't believed him then, and didn't care; but there wasn't a year that passed after when Gai wasn't there to challenge him, wasn't there to rival him, wasn't there to force him to work harder and faster and better, or to remind him with blinding smiles and bright eyes that he'd never leave, never leave, never leave like everyone else. And there were times when Kakashi couldn't, wouldn't believe him, because there was nothing permanent in this world, nothing that ever lasted; not sunrises or rivalry or even Nice Guy Smiles. There would only be memories of two boys who wanted to believe in the promise of forever; in an eternity that was only ever a myth and legend.But there were times he wanted to believe in hope, in dreams and faith and promises made so many years ago, in this man who just didn't know how to give up, not on his promises or someone who didn't deserve to have him in his life -- he never knew how much he'd always needed him until now, with rough fingers carding through his hair and yanking his head back, lips burning hot on his throat in scorching open-mouthed kisses that left his skin tingling and red in their wake, forcing him to swallow down sounds that threatened to break past his lips. Gai's other hand closed around his ass, dragging their bodies tight together in a violent grind that sent fire through blood that had him shuddering. And then he started to fight back, a hand fisting in black hair to tug Gai's head back, as his own lips rained down vicious kisses against his throat, lapping his tongue across the beat of a too-strong heart, mirroring their stances with his other hand circling around to clench around a muscular curve, undulating hard heat against heat -- not as a friend, or an Eternal Rival.Need, want, hopes, dreams, beliefs -- were any of them really different? How could you distinguish them? Should you distinguish them? What was the point of even trying, when they tangled together so thick and fast that they were about as hard to untangle as the proverbial Gordian Knot? There was no need to, anyway--as far as Gai was concerned, that was a good thing. As long as you were still capable of one, then you were still capable of the others. Beliefs and desires could tear a man up just as passionately as any carnal need could. Hopes and dreams were just as necessary as any need could ever be. Because Kakashi needed it, Gai would tear down these walls he had erected around himself, just for a little while. Because Kakashi needed it, Gai would forcefully push him back into his humanity. And because Gai had hope, because he believed in him, because he dreamed big dreams of them both going far -- well, Kakashi had to have (need, need me, believe in me, I'm not letting these dreams of ours die) him for a friend and Eternal Rival, because he damn well said so. He had said so for years, and he'd say so for years more -- forever, as long as forever lasted. (Because he needed it too, more than Kakashi seemed to realize.)The torn shirt hung uselessly from his shoulders; Gai didn't bother with it. He was more concerned with the hand in his hair that pulled his head back, the way the blood roared in his ears as they moved against each other, the gasp that slipped out with Kakashi's mouth hot on his throat. This wasn't supposed to happen. This was about Kakashi. Gai growled quietly, moving to slam Kakashi -- roughly, harder than he needed to, but wasn't this what he wanted? -- against the wall to crush their bodies together once again, hips rolling deep and hard and tortuously slow, forcing out a half-sound that Kakashi strangled off with teeth coming down hard on his lower lip as his body arched against Gai's in a motion that felt almost uncontrolled. Kakashi's head was pulled back once again, and he kissed and licked a hot trail up Kakashi's neck and jaw, interspersed with punishing nips, each one dragging out a short pant of breath from Kakashi's lips, before he took Kakashi's earlobe into his teeth and sucked hard, before letting it go."I'm the one doing this," he commanded in a low growl against Kakashi's ear. (I'm the only one who should be doing this. I don't know who else is, but it can't be healthy if they aren't here for you now. It can't be healthy if they won't help you outside of the bedroom. Do they care like I do? Do they know you like I do? We're rivals. I'm your friend. I'm the one doing this. For you.)Kakashi's breath hitched on the final word, head falling back in supplication. Gai could feel the trapped jerk and twitch of Kakashi's need through his pants as the fingers in his hair loosened and slid down to the back of his neck, before traveling to clutch his shoulder. His hands wandered over skin and scars, deliberately working their way down Kakashi's chest and stomach, caressing the curve of a hip, before palming the bulge at the front of Kakashi's pants and slowly grinding the heel of his palm against it. Kakashi was already so hard, the fabric of his pants pulled tight around him. His hips bucked, pressing more of himself into Gai's hand, as a moan caught in his throat, where it remained stubbornly trapped. Everything within Kakashi was trapped. That was it, wasn't it? Not even so much a matter of hiding as it was caught, stuck in this fortress-cocoon he had built-spun for himself, the towering walls not only hiding his heart, not only keeping others from entering, but keeping him from reaching out to them as well. He needed to be set free. Gai ran his tongue around the rim of Kakashi's ear, firmly kneading and stroking his length through the cloth, and Kakashi's fingers tightened around his shoulder as hums of smothered sound continued to vibrate in his throat, breathing heavily, instead, through his nose.He wasn't ready to let go.Gai's hand was swallowing him up and each pulse of fingers sent his body into small paroxysms. Soft lips smoldered along his ear, then his throat once more, teeth vicious, tongue wet, scorching-- "F***." Kakashi ground out the word between his teeth when Gai's strong fingers mapped the shape of him through his pants, thumb finding the hard ridge of his c*ck before giving the head a squeeze that shot through his body in a surge of sensation, melting somewhere deep within him, at the pit of his stomach. And his fingers grappled around to slide down Gai's back, trying to clutch, to grab for control; for something, anything, to hold himself in place. To grasp at strings of silk he kept himself cocooned within, drawing up the walls closely, so they wouldn't fall, crush them both, when he was struggling to keep them from crumbling with straining arms.And he couldn't let go of it, refused to give in, even with this onslaught of sensation pouring down on him, filling him up, forcing all thought to flee his mind as something far more primal overtook him (he remembered the first time that this happened three years ago, when he was only sixteen and a fledgling captain, how hard the earth trembled under his knees, when he was pressed down into the mud, into the muck and the dust, with a hand placed at the back of his neck, pressing his face right down in it so he would understand the hot earth-pulse and what it meant -- the smell of blood and dirt and death so strong -- heady and violent like what split him, filled him, made him remember what he was when he was so torn up, and coming, coming, coming apart in perfect silence; with only harsh breaths and the lewd, wet f***ing noise the only sounds that they made; no moans, no groans, no grunts -- only silence and breath, blood and come), he still held onto it with both hands, sealing it up inside of the cage of his chest with teeth clenched.It was jailed up, that kind of passion. Walking the tenuous line between sex and desperation. And sometimes it was one and the same, but still Kakashi kept himself held in, drowning every noise, every sound of weakness he could make. And sometimes when he was f***ed up enough to let them take him dry, with spit and blood the only lubricant, it was easy, too easy, to keep it locked up. He'd learned how to let go just enough for it to count. Just enough to remake himself after the sweat and blood and come had dried, long after they'd finished and left him there to pick up the pieces on his own. (And sometimes he did it too, when they needed to be reminded like that, as well. There was a madness to it all, how they lived only to erase lives. How easy it was to lose yourself behind a painted mask.) But never completely.And Gai wanted him to let go, wanted to break down those walls. Kakashi could feel it in the way that Gai kissed him, with an intensity he'd never experienced from all the nameless, faceless men he let f*** him. There was need in each kiss, roaring between each breath, and it scared the f*** out of him, how it soaked into his skin and tore at the strings he held. Gai never did anything in moderation, always pouring himself completely into any situation, and Kakashi had almost forgotten how Gai was made of passion, and here it was sweeping over and into him -- so much at once he could barely breathe, because each time he did, he only breathed Gai in. This scent that was so thick and sweet, filled with so much trust, faith, belief; spicy in its earthy, woodsy masculinity; a scent that was so uniquely him.Overwhelming, like everything else Gai did. That was what they called him. Overwhelming. Overwrought. Overdoing it. Over the line. (He hated lines, borders, boundaries, walls -- he always had. Give him wide open spaces and limitless possibilities. Give him the forests and plains, the depthless oceans, the blue sky without end. Give him the majesty of freedom and opportunities unfurling into forever. Eternity existed, and he would hold it in his hands, cupped close and careful against his heart, splash it over his face, drink it in, seize the-moment-the-day-eternity and throttle it with both hands.) And maybe they were right. Maybe he was overwhelming. Maybe people had difficulty handling the way his heart and spirit and dreams, his mind and ideals and emotions ran wild and unrestrained, so often unfiltered and uninhibited.But if the truth were to be known, he was really the one overwhelmed. (Inebriate of air am I, and debauchee of dew) There was beauty out there, marvels of nature and civilization and humanity that so many people seemed completely blind to. Why was that? It was all there, right there in front of them! The sun, the sky, the sand, the sea, the earth, the forest, the flowers. (Reeling, through endless summer days, from inns of molten blue) It was there for the taking, to just drink up and roll around in, to let it soak straight down into your skin and melt into the very marrow of your bones. You could take the world and make it a part of you, and you would become part of the world. You could grasp the eternal youthful beauty of nature's endless cycle, of spring and summer and autumn and even frost-delicate winter, and become it -- it would be a shining fragment of who you are, in all its gloriously passionate variations. There was so much to life, so much more than this, so much more than blood and pain and madness, so much more than fighting and war and murder, so much more than death and despair and betrayal and sorrow. There was beauty here. Glory and goodness, hope and happiness, love and laughter.He wanted everyone to know it. He wanted Kakashi to know it. To have and hold and appreciate, to accept and understand. He wanted to be the one to give this precious, priceless gift to him (everything that's good in this world I offer, always and forever for you), to show him the world beyond their job. But you couldn't wrap spandex around the world, and you couldn't force it between graphic, colorful covers. And how else would he get Kakashi to open his eyes (yes, both eyes -- the friend that meant so much to him certainly deserved to experience the wonderful world, too) to what was right in front of him? That was why he wanted so badly for Kakashi to allow those walls to crumble, to crawl out of this chrysalis (what will you turn into, once you emerge with your wings?) and let him in.Just let go already. (Why don't you trust me? Why do you never believe?)Kakashi was shaking with the effort to keep holding on, hands scrabbling against Gai's bare back for purchase. But he would find no handholds with him, not now. Gai gave Kakashi another slow squeeze that pulled out another hitch of breath from his rival, as his lips and teeth seared down his throat again, leaving a hot, wet mark on the opposite side of his neck from the first. (Rivalry was an endless duality.) And then he was tugging, pulling, yanking Kakashi back step by step, fingers moving, fabric rustling as it was divested, revealing the scarred topography it hid, no longer cold, now hot -- still wounded and bleeding but that could wait, would have to. He didn't have to look down to know what he'd see -- he could see it in the way Kakashi looked at him.


10/15/2021 12:15 PM 


Summary: 'They're asking us because these soldiers have absolutely no one left to write home to,' Sakura thought with a frown. So she signs up for the Shinobi Letter Exchange, not realizing how large the consequences would be. - AUish one-shot [KakaSaku]A note: The idea of pen-pals was originally thought of for my story 'Crushed.' I'll probably still write a chapter there involving letters, but I wanted to expand it in to something a bit bigger and independent. And, whew, bigger (and more cheesy and dramatic you're welcome) did this story get. Cheers!A KakaSaku AUish one-shot where more is exchanged than just letters.."As you are all aware, proud men and women from our village are fighting in a war that's been going on for quite some time now," Iruka said to his classroom of students.'Four years, three months and two days,' Sakura clarified in her head."Some of these brave shinobi have been there a long time and need reminders of home and what they're fighting for," Iruka continued on. "As such, the Hokage has implemented a new volunteer program. Anyone who wants to can sign up with me, and you'll be assigned a soldier. While there are a lot of regulations and you can't talk about everything in case the letters get intercepted, and you won't know his or her real name for their safety, it's a rare opportunity to directly help in the war."'They're asking us because these soldiers have absolutely no one left to write home to,' Sakura thought with a frown. 'There're away from home fighting for their lives and they have no one.'"For those of you interested, please come up to me after class. Now, for today I thought we'd work on…"Usually the studious Sakura listened to Iruka-sensei with acute attention, always eager to learn more about the glamorous shinobi world. Yet today his special announcement had caught her off guard and Iruka's voice drifted into the background. Were there really lonely men and women out there who did not realize just how amazing they were? Just how heroic the sacrifice they were making was?Coming from civilian parents, Sakura knew how hard it was to believe in something strongly and to not receive the reinforcement and praise she always desired. Her parents understood on a fundamental level why she wanted to become a shinobi, but did not sympathize when she got home dead tired. Why would she want to purposefully throw herself into something that would no doubt kill her?But Sakura was stubborn, and she thought those soldiers who refused to leave or die at the front lines must be as well. They deserved to have someone to hear from, to know there was one individual out there that cared about if they lived or not.Feeling full of self-righteousness, Sakura strutted up to Iruka's desk after being excused for the day."I had a feeling you would be interested, Sakura," he said with a kind smile that Sakura easily returned. "And I know just the person to assign you to. They're being a little stubborn, and a lot of people have quit since they didn't write back. But I think this person needs a pen pal the most out of anyone else, and you're just the equally-stubborn individual for the job.""Is there anything you can tell me about him or her?""Well, like I said, everything is going to be strict and regulated. I'm sorry to say I can only give them the number they're assigned to. You'll have to wait to get their return letters to know anything about them."Sakura looked at the slip of paper he gave her. It only had a four digit number: 2284. She frowned, thinking it odd that a person had been reduced to a number. Maybe it was for safety, or consistency. Or maybe it was easier to organize people if they were just numbers."Whenever you want to write a letter, put the number on the envelope with 'Shinobi Letter Exchange' underneath. Don't worry about the postage or address. Others will take care of that.""Ok," Sakura said, suddenly feeling very small at the responsibility."And Sakura?" Iruka asked as he reached over and put a hand on her shoulder, "Thank you."Sakura found herself grinning again from the sincerity in her teacher's voice..Sakura sat at her desk, short legs swinging under her and toes wiggling. She pulled at her hair and nibbled on the end of her pen, wondering what she should write.She had written a very select few letters in her life. She had grandparents that lived in the country and a few times a year she sent them a letter. And of course she signed her name on their christmas cards. But this letter was entirely different.Not only was this to a stranger, but it was to someone who needed a little support in their life. And they were probably at least double her age. Yes, she felt proud for finally turning past ten into eleven last year, and Iruka said she was quite intelligent for her age, but they were more than likely way smarter than her. It was more than a little intimidating."Well, I bet their handwriting isn't nearly as good as mine," Sakura muttered to herself before she put the pen to the paper.Dear 2284,She crumpled up that piece right away and resisted the urge to tear it to shreds. If she did not like the idea of referencing people as numbers, she was sure her mystery person would hate it all the more. She started again and only got one word in.Dear...But then who did she address it to? Soldier? Fellow shinobi? Stranger? All these options sounded empty and weak in her head. She wanted to inspire happiness in this person, no matter now small.She crumpled up that piece of paper as well. Sakura took a deep breath.Yes, this was a war-aged shinobi, but they were just a person. Just a human like Sakura, with the same organs, bone structure and senses. And once she thought about it, it was almost comforting to imagine just writing without trying to actively impress this person. And writers had always said to start with what you know.What did Sakura know best? Well, herself she supposed. And she thought that introductions would be a good place to start if any.So Sakura took a deep breath, counted down from ten, and started writing..Hello.Unfortunately I'm not allowed to tell you my name or anything that might give me away. You may address me as anything you prefer, if you so desire and it makes you feel better. Although, it's probably best that you wait a little bit to get to know me more before choosing a nickname suddenly. I will do the same.Honestly, I don't exactly know what to write to you. I cannot empathize with what you're going through. My daily life probably seems inconsequential to the amazing heroics you preform daily. And even if you're not fighting every minute of the day, you're still putting your life out there.The person who assigned me to you told me that others have given up on you, and I am sorry that happened. I hope you don't hold it against them. I don't think they stopped writing because they disliked you, but people really like positive reinforcement and when they don't get it they probably get a little surly.I'm mad that I can't ask you what it's like out there in the front (it's a strict rule on the regulations page given to gave me). I just hope that while you have no one back here in the village, that you have people you care about out there with you. Although, I'm sure that's very frustrating. Being thankful that there are people you can connect to out there, but that you don't want to get hurt.What I'm trying to say: is I hope that you have friends out there. I hope you're not alone.I really only have one friend, but she's been there my entire life and she's amazing. One time when I was younger some classmates were picking on me because of my unusual hair color and she stood up and defended me. I hope that nothing bad ever happens to her. Friends are very important, aren't they? I hope maybe one day you can think of me as a friend.I wish I had more to say, but I think this is enough. I hope that you write back soon, so I can have more points to talk about with you. It will get awfully boring if it's just me talking all about myself.Stay safe..Hello again.It's now been a week since I sent you your first letter. Maybe you never got it? I don't know if it's a lot quicker to send mail out there than to get things imported into the village. I was asking my school instructor about the process, and it seems really extensive.I'm a little embarrassed that not only you will be reading these letters, but also the person who screens them. (Greetings to you, too, second mystery person.) Then they pass or send it back, or black out certain names or whatever, and send it on its way. I will try my hardest not to break any of the regulations so that my letters will be able to get to you as soon as possible without any omissions.I don't know about you, but sometimes when I'm reading an old book, and a worm has eaten away a word and I'll never know what it is, I get really mad at everything. And then I wonder about exactly what those words could be for much too long. Usually I can do with the gaps, but just the fact of not knowing makes me very irritated. I would hate it if I made you go through that.Anyways, not much has changed since my last letter. School has been going alright. I got the highest score on the test again, but still the boy who I think is the cutest won't bother looking at me. I'm sorry, that was probably really boring and sounded like I was bragging, but it's simply fact. I am definitely the smartest, and arguably the prettiest, girl in the class. Aren't you lucky you have me as a pen pal? You should really show your gratitude by writing back.Have you ever been in love? I'm sorry again, that's very forward for only a second letter. I really should start over again, but I've already gone this far. I might as well keep going.I only have one more year in the academy before I'm assigned a new teacher. That is, if I manage to pass. My teacher says that I have nothing to worry about, and that if I try really hard I'll be able to get a really good teacher. Also if I begin to think about what exactly I want to do I'll have a better match and won't end up good at something I'm not naturally proficient in. I do like genjutsu, but other than that, I don't know.I wonder what it was like for you, who probably was taught in a group of three. Since so many shinobi are away, it's more beneficial just to have individual pupil-to-teacher ratios. While it's more intense, this way we get more time to study with our teachers, and we can become more specialized.Dad says that it's just a quicker way to teach us so that we can be shipped out into the war faster. But he's just a civilian, like my mom, and while he is very smart, I don't think he really understands our world somedays. If anything, we're getting better training so we can better protect ourselves.This is all just a very roundabout way of me saying I hope I get a good teacher so I can do well.Unlike the last letter, this one has gotten quite long suddenly. I eagerly await your response.Until next time..Good morning.Or, at least it's the morning here. I have no idea when the mail comes in for you.Yesterday I went to the Cherry Blossom Festival with my best friend I mentioned earlier (let's call her Sunflower) and it was very fun. The flowers were very pretty. I could watch the petals fall all day and be perfectly content.Are you happy that winter is so far behind now? I bet the winters out there are really bad, if it's so cold here in the village.At the festival it was really nice to see our village come together, shinobi and civilians alike. But I wished people wouldn't get so publicly drunk. I bet if you're off duty you're allowed to drink. My parents say that it's relaxing after a long day, and I think you guys have the longest days without a doubt. I don't care what anyone else says, I hope that our taxes go to those sorts of comforts.I bet you and all your friends at the front would've enjoyed the festival. Maybe you did your own thing? Probably not. I just hope that you didn't have to fight a lot of people yesterday. Everyone deserves some type of peace, no matter how brief.On other news, I just finished reading this great book about the Sannin. Apparently one of them wrote it, so there's the problem of bias. But he didn't hold back on disgracing his friend for his betrayal. Some days I wonder if I'll even be able to stand in their shadows.I know that I'm still young, but I feel that I want to do a lot. Did you feel like that when you were younger? It was the reason why I became a shinobi. Did you have a reason? Or are you part of a clan? Hah, that would be funny. Me, writing dribble to someone from one of the four honorary clans. Or even one of the lesser ones. It'd make me all the more embarrassed about this.Anyways, I'm going to start reading more non-fiction. There have been so many famous shinobis from our village, and I know that I can learn at least one thing from each of their lives. I'm just having a hard time determining if I want to go back into the more obscure, older accounts or into the more contemporary ones. Maybe I'll switch back and forth until I meet in the middle.Do you read a lot? Maybe sometime I'll send you a book. Right now not a lot of books are printed, since the materials go to scrolls and explosion tags and everything. War really does change everything.I hope that you are still looking out for your health and safety.Until next week..At first Sakura had not been overly concerned by the lack of a return letter. Iruka had explicitly warned her when she volunteered that this person had been abandoned before because of his habitual lack of response. Still, after she had sent out her twelfth letter and she still had not gotten anything in return, she began to feel concerned.After the sixteenth letter that went unanswered she just felt angry.But surprisingly, even to herself, she sat down and wrote a letter to this person every week. It was therapeutic in how every Saturday morning she would sit at her desk and write. Sometimes Ino wanted to go out and play on those mornings, but Sakura held firm that she wanted to stay and write her letters. Ino's dad was out there as well and the blond girl wrote letters to him almost daily."He calls me his little piglet as my codename. I have no idea why, considering he could have just called me 'Blossom' or something actually flattering," Ino had complained about it to Sakura one day."I named you Sunflower for my code," Sakura shared.Ino answered her with a wide, toothy smile and a tight hug that Sakura eagerly returned.So even though she was writing to a complete stranger, Ino understood that Sakura just wanted to keep writing. And keep writing Sakura did.She was fueled my a mixture of long standing annoyance that this person had not responded and that she would keep going until something finally came in her mailbox. Iruka called her one of the most stubborn people he had ever met, and also said she had probably been a little hardened by the war prematurely. But Sakura still found the time to coo after Sasuke between her studying.Sakura still somewhat resented this person from never writing back, but soon she envisioned that maybe they just physically or mentally could not do it. Yet at this point, Sakura would be happy about getting an abstract splatter ink drawing.But her annoyance became slowly eroded by the simple monotony of writing. It was relaxing and freeing in a way, knowing that the other person would not respond, no matter what she put in the letter. So she vented, shared and talked about anything that struck her fancy. Her days of intimidation by this mystery person were long gone.Despite this, Sakura hoped that whoever this was read her letters. They probably were bored with them, but Sakura had started this and she was going to keep going with them..Good morning to you on this fabulous day of personal accomplishment.Remember how I wrote to you all that while back about getting a new teacher? Well, guess who I got?TSUNADE.(To the person screening this: it is very old information that Tsunade is Hokage. This is not new information in any way, so I request that you do not black out the name. There is no way, even if this letter is intercepted, that the enemy can glean any new information from it.)You read that name correctly (because there really is no reason to black it out). I got the honored Hokage as my new teacher. Let me just write that again- the HOKAGE. I'll call her the Slug Queen in future letters.Apparently she was there when we were screening us for abilities and she noticed my 'exceptional chakra control,' as she said so herself. I never thought that I was particularly good at that, but apparently I use the exact amount for my jutus.My training starts this week and I'm so nervous I feel that I may throw up that morning. Or even now. Really, any moment lately.While I know she's beautiful and really accomplished, she's very harsh on those around her. She demands that everyone around her live up to their full potential. I'm sure this war would have ended a long time ago in our disfavor if she wasn't our leader.I wonder what it was like living under the past Hokage like you did. It's crazy to think that the assassination of him and his wife was the tipping factor for why we started planning for war. I've read all about him, but did everyone really love him as much as all the literature says?Do you know about the myth that they had a child but hid it away because they knew war was coming and they didn't want him to be in danger? But that's just what the younger kids at the Academy whisper about, so it's obviously bogus.Anyways, back to myself (since you never respond). It's kinda sad graduating and knowing everyone's going their own separate ways. I'm really going to miss the boy I like, and even that annoying blond kid. Even the kid with all those bugs. Especially my Sunflower friend, even though she's still mad and won't talk to me anymore because I like the same boy as her. I've already been missing her for a while now.It just really feels like everyone is growing up. I just hope that we don't grow apart.Please keep yourself hydrated through this warm summer and be careful..Sakura's training was tough, but she pushed herself through it daily. She thought about Naruto and Sasuke and how well they were advancing, and how there were rumors that maybe they could finally end this war through their raw talent and power alone.It made Sakura envious, which made her angry, which made her a little reckless."What were you thinking trying my taijutsu like that already?" Tsunade snapped as she wrapped up Sakura's left hand. The right one was already done, and Sakura was staring at it morosely. "You could have done much worse than breaking all those bones."Sakura winced as Tsunade unnecessarily tightened the bandage; it hurt plenty enough already.As if sensing just how down and useless Sakura was feeling, the pig-tailed woman sighed and sat down beside Sakura. Tsunade wrapped her hand around Sakura and pushed her comfortingly into her impressive bossom."I know you're seeing your friends Naruto and Sasuke succeed by leaps and bounds. But they're not learning what you are: which is how to save and protect everyone else. Without medics, and people like you who can think and make plans and then actually execute them on skill and not just raw luck alone, this war would have been long gone."Sakura sniffled pathetically."I know it's hard, but you're doing great. I already know you're secretly doing my Strength of a Hundred Seal. And it seems unlike my ability to create valleys with my fist, you're getting that jutsu down just fine.""Really?" Sakura asked with a hiccup."Sakura," Tsunade said with a sigh before pulling back and looking into her tearful green eyes. "Despite you being my only student I've ever had, you're also my best."The girl frowned at that."But still, I'm not going to fully heal your hands or give you medicine to take away the pain. You need to learn your lesson about being impatient."Sakura huffed before saying: "Fine.".It was not like Sakura was helpless with two broken hands, but it was still frustrating. It allowed her to focus on strategies if she ever did get her hands incapacitated, and working on taijutsu with her legs, but it was mostly just a pain.Even little, simple tasks took four times longer than usual. She had to struggle to turn the page on her books. Sakura was forced to drink a lot of her food now. Most times she just lied around moping and storing up energy for her seal. She wondered what color it would be. If it would be the same shade as Tsunades or maybe something entirely different.Sakura did not even realize she had not written her weekly letter until her mom told her she had gotten something in the mail."For me?" Sakura asked, a bandaged hand scratching her head confusedly."Well, it had our address and your name, so that's what I naturally assumed. It's up in your room."She looked at it for a long time as it just innocently sat on her desk. It was a little battered, and it seemed that at one point it had gotten waterlogged, but she opened it with the excitement of a shiny, perfectly wrapped present on Christmas morning.Because it had finally happened: her mystery soldier had written back!Before she took out the piece of paper, she closed her eyes and dreamed about what she might read. Maybe there was even a clue about who they were? A fun, silly anecdote about when they'd been her age? Not being able to take the anticipation anymore, Sakura pulled it out.Why did you stop writing?She turned the page up and over, but that was it. The person had not even really signed it, and had only drawn the crude face of a scarecrow at the bottom corner on the sad. This almost entirely empty piece of paper with five scrawled words and a cartoon face did not constitute as a true letter in any way or form.Well, if anything, at least she finally had a nickname to call this person by..Dear Scarecrow,Your first attempt at a letter was the antithesis of pathetic.But I finally have something to make a nickname for you. I did not know I was corresponding with such an obviously skilled artist.I want to thank you for finally responding back. I do not know if you have read my letters, and if so, why you have decided to remain silent for so long. First, I thought it might be because you were injured and recovering. I imagined that you had cut your hands while saving your friend from a katana, funneling chakra into your hands to stop the blow. But still you got your hands cut deep in the process, making it impossible for you to hold a pen or pencil.Then I thought that maybe it was too wet where you were stationed, as it was typhoon season and apparently the front lines were heavily hit. Didn't people nearly drown from refusing to move from a strategic river spot? Don't respond to that, they may burn your letter. Or maybe it was the winter, and you were shivering too badly that your handwriting became illegible.I imagined that you were just too busy with a war going on to write back to a silly little girl. And I realized that this was the most viable option.There was recently the Cherry Blossom Festival here again. I wrote to you about it last year. I almost can't believe it's been over a year and a half since I started writing to you weekly. No wonder I'm still in shock of your lacking response. I forget to write one week and you call me out on it while you haven't done it this entire time? Hubris: look it up.I've written you almost seventy letters and you can't even manage to give me seven words. Congratulations. Clearly you're a genius among us mortals.To show just how frivolous I am, I have included a flower I pressed at the festival. I hope that some of the sweet scent manages to stick around when you receive this. Even if you don't deserve it because it was kinda rude to make me wait that long. Fun fact: the petals are nearly the same shade as my hair.Please stay safe..I have never had any family or friends to write back to. They are all either dead or here. Excuse my inability..Dear Scarecrow,I apologize for my lack of finesse in my last letter. I didn't even bother explaining why I didn't write for a week either, the sole point in your own letter.I tried doing some secret, personal training of something I'd seen Slug Queen do, and ended up shattering the bones in my hands. Slug Queen healed some of the breakage, but only enough that it would heal correctly. So for the past few weeks I've been learning how to live without hands for the most part.This was actually the main reason why my letter was so aggressive. It's very painful to move my hands, but I really wanted to write a letter to you. I could have just written a bereft thing like you have the clear skill of, but I was just very excited about finally getting a response from you.Please don't feel guilty. I could have just asked someone else to write down what I said if I really needed them to. But I really don't want to do that since (even though those screeners read these before you) I feel that this a very personal endeavor for me to you.As for your lack of experience, it's really not that hard. Obviously you're able to write, and that's the biggest hurdle. The second is being able to read, but that usually goes hand-in-hand with writing. Although I honestly have no idea if you read my letters, or just simply cast them aside for another time. Yet judging by how you immediately realized I'd missed a week, I think you're more than just aware of them.Other than that, you write about anything you want. At first I was nervous, but eventually I didn't hold back.I think since you're older, you should share some anecdotes about when you were a kid. Despite our age difference, maybe we grew up with similar fashions or sayings or favorite foods. What are your happiest memories?Again, I'm sorry for my lack of sympathy in my last letter. I think I've almost fully healed my hands, so I should very soon be back to writing you novella length letters.Until next time when you respond with that scratching you call handwriting..When I was promoted to jōnin I took on a mission that got my teammate killed. My happiest memory was realizing, as he died, that he was my best friend. I had not realized how much I loved and appreciated him until that moment.My second happiest memory was realizing I loved the girl who had made herself die at my hand. She was the girl my best friend loved and who I'd promised to protect right before he died.Please don't ask about my parents.I warned you I was bad at this..Dear Scarecrow,I do not know what to say. I have known pain (my hands are all healed now), but I cannot even begin to imagine what that must be like. But surely those aren't your happiest memories. If not, I hope that someday you'll be able to replace them. That's not to mean that you should forget about your friends.And I don't mean to insult you by saying I don't think they want you to remember them like that. I'm supposing they were part of your three-genin group and I'm sure you went on better missions and had better days than their deaths. Apparently there was a cat that always got loose- did you and your friends ever have to chase it down? I heard the cat burned in the great fire. I had been very young during that fire, but I can still remember the heat.I wish you could tell me their names so I could go put some flowers on their graves. Maybe I'll try and research it, but it would be impossible to know if instead their names are on the cenotaph. I'm guessing your best friend is. I should go and do that always. A lot of people visit there now and there's always flowers.Maybe this will make you feel better: I saved my first life today. A boy had been training and had cut his leg clean off, and the Slug Queen let me try and reattach it all by myself before he bled out. The bone was a little tricky because the cells are more complicated, but I managed it all the same. He didn't even have a scar when I was done. Slug Queen said I did a really great job and soon I should be able to lead more surgeries so she can focus on other things.It's now been almost a year since my training began. The Queen says it's a waste of my time since I'll obviously pass, but I need to sign up for the chūnin exam. I know the usual age of passing is thirteen now. Before it used to be fifteen, but the war speeds things up I suppose. I bet you were much younger than me when you made chūnin, if you were already a jōnin still in a three-man team.I want to apologize if the beginning of my letter seemed preachy, or if I overstepped my boundaries. I have not lost any close friends to the war. I lost relatives in the great fire I previously mentioned, but I was too young to really remember them.I wish I could think of something better to cheer you up with than my own accomplishments. But it probably helps to know that the next generation has not been weakened by the war. If anything, we've become stronger.What do you do with your friends over there to kill time? Like I've said in past letters, I read a lot when I want to relax. Do you do the same? Maybe your short responses are hiding your literary prowess. They probably hide a lot.You took two weeks to respond this time. Is everything alright? I hope it is and I will be able to hear from you promptly.Farewell for now..I can't write as fast as you, and there's not much I can tell about here other than the food is horrible. I do enjoy reading, but all my books are ruined by the rain and mold.He'll like getting flowers from a girl. He also would have been the one needing his leg reattached like that boy. Congratulations on that..Dear Scarecrow,First, I want to thank you for responding so quickly. I asked the postman the other day how long it usually takes for a letter to get to the front lines, and it can be as quickly as two or as long as four. Sending back letters is usually quicker, only one or three days. Since your latest response arrived five days after I sent my letter, I can safely assume you dedicated yourself to a speedy response. And now you get to have a letter from me all the faster. Aren't you lucky?I'm sending you a book with this letter, if they haven't confiscated it. I don't think they would, unless the saga of 'The Dragon King' is illegal. It's really just about love, so I can't see how it would be taken away. I hope that you'll enjoy it, as I've loved it ever since I was very small. I enjoy the simplicity of the story: that not all guys who are bad have to be, that anyone with a strong, sure heart can make it through anything.The postman also said that if it fits in an envelope, he'll mail it for me. I plan to bribe him with fresh baked goods so he'll pass along larger envelopes. (Maybe even large enough envelopes that I can fit some cookies into it for those who screen it.) I will also try and find some yarn so I can knit you a scarf. It must be getting really cold out there, and it wouldn't do good to let your face get cold and for your senses to dull because of it. Do you have a color you'd prefer? I might not be able to get it, but Slug Queen does owe me a favor for attaining some more sake for her on the side.Everything over here as been fine for me. Slug Queen has put me up for more hospital shifts. At first I was a little worried about working there because I still am fairly young, but everyone there is very friendly. Also, most nurses are my age and the doctors are very old. Anyone in between is already out there with you guys, or out at neighboring villages offering aid.Also, I've started working on identifying poisons and learning how to remedy them. Apparently Slug Queen is second to none in making them, and that she says I'm fairly good at them. Not as good as my natural affinity for chakra control (I can now create an earthquake with a punch- how cool is THAT?) but if I practice and work enough I can learn how to be better.I hope that you're still trying hard out there as well. Again, I hope you enjoy the book. I know it's small and a fast read, but please enjoy. Also please be careful with it and keep it safe. It was the copy from when I was a girl. I know you're not allowed to send anything back but letters, so you'll have to keep it safe until the war ends and I can pick it back up. (Yes, this is me giving you another reason to make it through if you didn't already have enough.)Maybe you'll start responding faster and we can correspond every five days instead of seven now. Wouldn't that be nice.Goodbye for now..It's really dreary around here (the mushrooms love it) so something bright and soft. Yellow if you can manage it?I enjoyed the book..Dear Scarecrow,I hope you like the yellow I picked out. While I like this goldenrod shade, I think it's a little darker than what you were imagining. All the same, it is the color you requested so I'll count it as a victory. Don't you dare get blood on it! Just kidding, I can just make you another one now that I have finally gotten the hang of it. The stitches are still a little bulbous, but I like the way it looks still. I made an infinity scarf so you don't have to worry about an enemy grabbing hold onto one end to pull you down. This way it can sit quite snuggly around your neck and shoulders. I hope it's not too bulky.Last winter I tried making you a scarf, but I was not confident enough in my ability. It's a sad excuse of a thing, bright red with way too many holes and misaligned lines. You and no other will ever see just how badly I failed at my first attempt. I pride myself in being a fast learner, but this took a lot of patience.I have leftover yarn from the scarf and I tried to make you matching gloves, but like the first scarf, it did not turn out well. Although, I don't think you would cut a very intimidating sight to the enemy dressed in matching, obviously homemade knit articles.Yes, I can see through you fishing for more books. Try working on your stealth more. I'll send you another one from my collection next time, since the scarf took up all the space in this envelope.I hope that you're doing alright out there. I know that the weather is soon going to change for the worst. In my haste to finish the scarf I had to omit taking time to write up a nice long letter to go with it, so I'll try and sum up what's been happening quickly.It's flu season, so of course the hospital is in total disarray.I assisted Slug Queen in some complicated, experimental surgeries I wish I could tell you more about, but it seems I have some secrets to keep on my side as well now.I moved out of my parent's and into a quaint, old apartment closer to the hospital. I really like it so far.I got a plant. I still do not have a name for him. Any suggestions?I think that's it. Please stay warm and hydrated, remember to wear layers. During seasons like this, more soldiers die from exposure than enemies.And remember most of all: don't get sloppy or careless and get yourself killed..Sakura's warm breath crystalized as she waiting at her mailbox, large envelope held tightly against her chest. It was snowing, but the snow simply brushed off the clear tape she had wrapped the envelope in to avoid just this occurrence. It would not do good to have her newly made scarf get soaked and then freeze. She was sure her scarecrow would not appreciate a gift to warm him coming in a block of ice.She eyed the postman coming around the bend and jumped to grab the thurmous. She poured a cup of hot chocolate and offered it to him as he approached."Ah, good afternoon yet again, Sakura. I see you have quite a large letter for me there," he said, gratefully taking the offered cup with a smile."If it wouldn't be too much trouble," she said hopefully."Maybe… if you give me the rest of this delicious hot chocolate," he said with a chuckle, smile widening behind the curling steam.Sakura felt her shoulders straighten in pride before passing over the envelop and beverage container to him wordlessly."Thank you," she said as she watched him put the package in his satchel.His smile turned a little sad for a moment before he reached forward and ruffled her hair, causing the snow that had accumulated there to drift down onto her jacket..The scarf is perfect and all my comrades are envious. I suggest Mr. Ukki..Dear Scarecrow,I thought about knitting you a hat, but stopped. For one, because of my inability to do so, and two, because just like the mittens, I think it would clash horribly with your cool-guy reputation and that you wouldn't wear it. Although, if you're so tickled-pink about showing up your friends, you probably would wear it just to spite them.The book I included are some old histories of the four noble clans of Konoha. I thought it was a little dated, and obviously biased in some aspects, but interesting none-the-less. I just wish it had better information on some of the newer clans and bloodlines.Slug Queen is making me do research on bloodlines and such, so I can better understand all types of patients. I'm a little fearful that all this extra assignments outside of training and the hospital is her preparing me for her position, or at least for the next Hokage's assistant. While it would be amazing to be so high-up, I mostly enjoy the hospital.I wonder what it was like to do missions outside of our boarders. I've done a few missions, but they were all safely in the village. Slug Queen says I shouldn't bother myself with such stuff when other younger, less specialized kids can do it. But I like them, and some days I dream of begin able to leave the village to travel. I cannot believe that in a few years the war will be over a decade long. Yet I believe it will not go on that long, and soon I will be able to travel.Did you travel a lot before the war? I feel that you have a lot of fun stories to tell, and probably a few are from abroad.Speaking of stories, you have never commented during the entirely of our correspondence about the war before. Maybe you think a higher-up will see your lack-luster opinion and criticize you? Although, you must have one dumb general if he thinks this war is still glorious. More likely, no information about the war can be given. Or you're thinking about it so constantly you don't want to have to write it down.Regardless, I still hope you're doing alright out there after being gone for so long: both mentally and physically. I cannot even imagine the homesickness you must go through. Although maybe it's been so long you're just numb to it all. In case you're wondering, the village has barely changed at all. Yes, people are growing up, but the buildings and businesses are nearly all still here. And they'll stay here waiting until you return.I'm sorry for feeling so nostalgic today, and if it's painful for you to think about, but I realized the other day that it's now been about three years since that first letter to you. It's hard to believe, but the drawer full of your sparse responses is evident of it. And if I have such a collection, I can scarcely imagine the horde of my letters you have. Or maybe you don't have room to keep them. I won't blame you if you didn't.I really can't wait to meet you after the war. It's happening, don't argue. We'll figure it out somehow.Also, I appreciate how your responses have become speedier. Thank you.Until my next letter.Oh, and before I forget: I told Mr. Ukki all about you and the name you gave him. He seems very happy, and similarly cannot wait to meet you. He seems a little lonely all by himself though, so I think I need to go get a Mrs. Ukki now..I have never written about the war because there is nothing to say about it. I grew up into the beginnings of it and I'm just living through it. I will be fine. I always have been..Dear Scarecrow,Alright there, man with a heart of immovable ice. I thought I told you to stay warm during this winter. And it's pretty obvious to nearly anyone that only those who say they're fine really aren't. But I can tell that you don't want to talk about it (or for me to try and talk about it and you just ignore the heavy hints).I did get another plant, and she is quite lovely. I think that Mr. Ukki is very happy with his pretty, young new wife. It helps him get through this cold winter, since I don't want to waste money on heating my one-room apartment. Maybe I'm being thrifty, but I'm trying to save money for when I can travel, or really just for a better time to spend it at. I have so much to do at the hospital that but the time I get back I'm dead on my feet.Recently Slug Queen started this charity program for the hospital. It takes possessions from dead shinobi, stuff their families don't want or need, and then sells it off. The money generated goes to funds for more medicine and supplies for soldiers still fighting.Anyway, there's was this fairly large section of books and I bought about eight boxes, nearly all of it. Slug Queen though it both odd and hilarious that I spent nearly an entire paycheck on dusty old books, but then she spends hers on illegal sake so whatever. She can mentor me on some things, but others I don't trust her on. What this all means is that I can now send you a book with every letter for a bit now! I know, it's exciting, calm down. Cool guy reputation right? Heart of ice that you can't allow to crack?I realize you probably won't be able to keep so many books, so you should just hand them over to your friends once you're done. I can't knit them all their own scarves, but at least this way you can help share. Although maybe they get much more than you. My Sunflower friend sends her father stuff nearly daily. It must be nice to be that loved. I wish I could send you more things.I expected to be more lonely living by myself, but it's actually not too bad. Friends come and go, and I can always just write to you if I get lonely or bored. And now the lovely Mr. and Mrs. Ukki are here to keep me company. I hope that your friends take up a ridiculous amount of time to distract you from everything. My opinion all those years ago about taxes being used to get you all properly drunk sometimes still stands unmoved.This is somewhat embarrassing, and I wasn't thinking of adding this, but I can't help it. Sometimes when I'm bored at work, or I just need to relax, I draw really bad renditions of what your face may look like. I know it's ridiculous, but I'm stupidly envious of everyone who knows you. I admit, I have always been curious. The fact that I can write to you about anything except who know who you are is infuriating to me.Anyways, I'm never including one of those doodles. Ever. No argument.For your response I eagerly await..I wouldn't dare to share the books with the others.It's good that you can't send more than you do. I'm already indebted to you as it is. To be honest, I enjoy your words just as much as these published verses. Yes, that even includes the one time you wrote about that new flavor of yogurt you loved for two (very lengthy) paragraphs in vivid detail.You must realize you don't need to see my face to know me..Dear Scarecrow,So I think maybe you're just acting like a petulant child unwilling to share rather than actually worrying about how your friends treat literature. You must have been an only child. It's so obvious.Onto more important matters: a seal I've been working on for the past three years has finally shown up. It's on my face, and I can't tell if I like it or not. It's a little disconcerting to suddenly have something new and obvious on your face, directly in the middle of your forehead. I didn't get to see it manifest, but when it did Slug Queen suddenly stopped and gaped at me when she was lecturing me, so it probably looked at least a little cool.And the Queen says it doesn't matter if I like how it looks or not, because it will probably save me and all my comrades lives one day. In classic mentor fashion, she told me not to get full of myself and to put even more chakra into it daily.I agree with her like almost always, but it's hard not to care about your appearance when one of your best friends is the town beauty queen. Yes, the Sunflower friend. By the way, did I ever tell you we've made up?It's extremely rewarding to see such long term investments finally begin to pan out. Sorta like your letters. I think you beat your record in that last letter. Four paragraphs, twenty sentences in total? Don't strain your hand too much now.Maybe this is as boring as when I used to droned on about my Moon friend, but boys are starting to notice me. I know that I'm older now, and my body shows just that, but it's still a little odd to feel that sensation of being watched to turn around and see guys staring at your behind.Tsunade says not to worry about it, and that if they really annoy me I can just break their ribs. There's a lot of valuable organs around there that would be a shame to get ruptured. In a way, sometimes it's fun to flirt with them and get them flustered, only to leave them just as they finally remember where their tongues are. Maybe it's cruel, but it's still entertaining. Oh god, I'm such a jerk, aren't I?This brings me back to that letter I wrote that was all about my hair routine. Maybe initially my letters had a serious tone and a vocabulary that made me seem like a stiff grandma. I don't know whether to be happy or sad that I've loosened up my writing style.Like always, stay safe mighty guard..I admit: I thought you were a forty year old mother from your first letter. Imagine my shock finding you were an Academy student.Don't be too cruel to those poor boys. I'm sure many are falling over themselves, and they just don't know how to spot danger and and run from it just yet. Good thing they aren't out here, else they would have been gone within hours.Forget about breaking their ribs, those heal quickly enough. Break their hearts if they really bother you. That pain will last much longer..And so the letters continued on for months and then years more.Sakura realized in utter dread that her scarecrow's letters became increasingly depressed and clipped. Sometimes she could get him to write more than a few sentences, but it kept getting harder and harder as time wore on.Yet he still made every effort to write back, and Sakura continued to gather his letters carefully in a drawer. Before she had just put them in randomly, but one day she took time away to organize them into a photo album. The responses were usually just slips of paper and easily fit into the plastic squares. Some days when she felt down, like when a patient could not be saved, or a young widow came in from malnutrition caused by heartache, Sakura flipped through them.She had not yet gone through them all individually. She was saving that for a special day. Maybe they could go over them together?Sakura had thought that she loved Sasuke, and her feelings she felt for this mystery person was akin to that, but not identical. Was it even possible to feel so strongly for a person she had never met? Not to mention she did not even know who this person even remotely was. She had only decided this stranger was a man because of his messy handwriting and clipped tone. It was a little biased based on gender, but Sakura had seen enough handwritings from doctors for some semblance of reference.Their correspondence still covered everything and anything, and always nothing about the war even if Sakura burned to know about it. To know her scarecrow faired in it, and if those enemy creatures were as horrible as soldiers said they were. But the rules were strict, and he never offered anything.Then something seemed to have recently switched for the man. Because in the past few weeks her scarecrow was channeling all that anger and aggression towards the war into his writing for her. While before Sakura had been lucky to get a few sentences, now he wrote pages. Just the other day Sakura had gotten a three-page long letter from him. True, nearly all of it was describing his ninnken and how each one was special (although all equally amazing). She had enjoyed the attached sketches of the dogs the most, which were a lot better than any of the doodles Sakrua had ever made of his imaginary face. It was a clear bribe to get one of those, but she was not giving in.He also demanded that if anything happen to him, she would have to take care of them. Right now they were still out on the field with him, but because he had no one else to fall back on, she would have to take custody of them. He even made her sign a contract in blood, which she sent back with mixed feelings of honor and worry. He assured her that his dogs already adored her on her lingering scent on the letters alone.Sakura wrote back about her life as well. Some days she could barely put a pen in her hand, when her fingers were stiff and shaking from half-day long surgeries, or had just done hours of taijutsu training with Tsunade. But she just mercilessly cracked her knuckles, bit down the grunt of pain, and filled up at least a page with her neat handwriting to send off.Her scarecrow was the same in his resilience to write no matter what. Apparently one time he got his entire right hand severed, and barely an hour after the reattachment surgery he had written her a letter. It had threatened the delicate restitching and his medic had yelled at him for a five minutes. Sakura would have yelled at him for a good hour. She stomped around her apartment yelling for that long, until a neighbor came and asked her politely to please stop making it sound like the village was being invaded.Sakura worried that her scarecrow was writing so much and so frequently because he was worried he would not be around much longer. That he had to get things out, to tell her silly things and stories, before he physically could not anymore from passing on.Still, the war carried on and his letters gave her an equal amount of hope as well as trepidation. Lately there had been a lot of soldiers brought in from the front who were too severely injured to be treated adequately there. Apparently the creatures were getting more active; Madara seemed ready to unleash himself on the world. Infiltration attempts to find his lair failed each time, only resulting in losses. Sakura watched as Tsunade became increasingly stressed; she was sure if not for that jutsu her Slug Queen would look much older than her actual age.Sakura had mixed feelings about the soldiers coming in. Half of her wanted her scarecrow to come, but the other half wanted him to remain strong and steady as he had all these days, months and years. Eventually she realized it silly to think that he would come back to get healed; he would die out there trying before abandoning it.So every time Sakura got a letter, reaffirming that he was not dead and very much alive and fighting, she felt not just a wave, but a tsunami of relief pass over her..Dear Scarecrow,I turned sixteen today. Apparently I'm a full fledged adult in the shinobi world now. I don't feel like it. It's just all very surreal.My blond friend (or my Sun friend) gave me a gag gift of some porny literature that his mentor apparently writes. I read it, and it doesn't seem too bad despite the gratuitous descriptions at the sex scenes. I've never heard so many inaccurate nouns for 'penis.' Sun's mentor gets points for creativity at least.I thought that you might like it, so I've included it for you.Not to say that you're a pervert, but I feel that you're a romantic in some ways. And while there are sad parts in the book, overall it's uplifting. I know you'll appreciate that. And not to get sexist, but in my experience a lot of guys like porn.Anyway, it's small but I bet it'll really pack a punch for your overgrown love of romance. I hope you enjoy it.As always, please be safe..The book was amazing. The best by far. Send more if at all possible..My Scarecrow,I know it's impossible to miss the presence of someone you've never met, but I still cannot help but feel that with you. I wish you could have been here today for me to see just how far I've come.Anyways, I made jōnin today, and so did my Sun and Moon friends. My Sunflower friend only got a partial advancement, but she's ecstatic all the same.For entertainment to the public, they had us compete against others and the person I went against made fun of my hair to try and break my moral. I kicked him out of the stadium, and he had such grievous injuries that Slug Queen had to personally heal him. I thought she would be mad, but when I explained what he'd said about me, she laughed so hard she cried. Then she gave me a whole bottle of sake and we drank it in celebration. I don't think she should help foster my temper that has gotten a bit drastic lately.Maybe that's why I said that convoluted sentence as a start. It's kinda weird and funny being drunk. I like it. I approve.Is my handwriting different? Am I not using as many big words as usual? I wonder if you thought it weird when I was beginning to write and already knew so many. I really pride myself over my vocabulary. And I was really trying to impress you because I was so scared that you wouldn't respond or would think me stupid and hate me.But I know that you don't hate me. Maybe you even like me in some sort of way. I like you quite a lot, when I think about it.I'm getting pretty sleepy suddenly. I should metaphorically sign off before I embarrass myself even more.I really wish you were here. And again, I miss you.Until next time when I'll be sober again. Maybe. I really do like this feeling. Why aren't people drunk ALL the time?Goodnight..They'll try sending you out here now. Promise me you won't go.Hope the headache wasn't too bad..Dear Scarecrow,The headache wasn't the best, but it also wasn't the worst. After you've dealt with woman in labor screaming for hours, you get used to a ringing in your ears and an inability to feel like yourself for a bit.I don't know why you're so worried. I'm just a medic so even if I am involved in the war, I would just heal people in the back lines. Not that I can't take care of myself. Didn't I say I explain how I punted a guy out of an arena just for making fun of my hair? I can take care of myself.I see that you're back to your small responses. Do you not have a lot of time anymore? I enjoyed those times when you sent me long letters. Did I ever tell you I keep all your old slips of responses in a photo album? Some of your letters were too long to fit in the small plastic squares, so I keep them in their original envelopes. I'll hopefully find some larger plastic sheets soon enough. I also want to frame those sketches of your lovely ninken. Say hello and give them a nice long belly-rub for me.I'm sorry I similarly can't write as much lately. The hospital has been overrun, and Slug Queen has been stepping up the training. I feel that something is really starting to form.Until another day and letter..You need to promise me..Dear Scarecrow,Since you're clearly ignoring everything else I'm saying, I promise that I won't volunteer to go into the war. The Hokage says I have way too much to learn anyway before I'm remotely ready to head out there. I could make a difference if I went now, but I can change the war if I stay and continue working. But, again, you must know I'm strong and able to protect myself.I think she's planning something with my Sun and Moon friends, though. But there is no use in worrying, and I'll just have to wait. I just wish she would include me more on her plans.Did you know, I've been calling you by the same nickname this entire time because of your funny little signatures, but you have never given me one? I would be a little disheartened that you did not care if not for your speedy responses.Can you believe it's already almost winter again? I wonder if your scarf has kept up over all these years. I bet it's pretty dismal despite how well you might've taken care of it.Also, Mr. and Mrs. Ukki now have five lovely children! They were getting a little big, so I cut them back, and then thought I might try to propagate some of the clippings All the cuttings took, and now there are small little bits of themselves growing. You will obviously get one when you get back, as it is your right as their godfather. Don't argue, it was decided the moment you named him.Just think: after this war is finally done all you'll have to worry about guarding is a small plant. You can finally live up to the full potential of your nickname from me! Hopefully you can think of another winning name to give to the little tike.Me and the lovely Ukki family await for your response..The scarf is still well, as am I since you finally agreed.I apologize, as I cannot write much but this today. Even though I know you will, do not worry..Sakura hummed as she arranged paperwork on Tsunade's desk. She could feel the older woman's eyes on her. The full sake cup in her hand sat forgotten. Finally giving in, as she felt she may instantaneously combust any moment now by Tsunade's intense gaze, Sakura turned to her with her eyebrows furrowed in silent question."Sakura, I need to talk to you about something," her blond sensei said with a sigh, suddenly not looking like the pillar of strength and ability she was known to be. This must be really serious if she was looking older than she liked her jutsu to show.Taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of the desk, Sakura crossed her hands atop her lap and waited patiently for her mentor to speak."As you're aware, Madara is nearing an end to his hibernation. Soon he'll stop with his defensive warfare and start wiping out all the villages, picking them off when they are weakened by physical separation."At the idea of her entire world disappearing, Sakura shivered."In that vein, I have decided that we're going to do one last, final push. Naruto and Sasuke are ready to face him. I recognize it's a risk allowing Sasuke to get close to the other Uchiha, that he may be converted. But it is a risk we have to take."Sakura looked down at her lap and counted her breaths up to ten before she trusted herself with speaking."Naruto is going to be estatic about being a hero," she said as she stood with a start, willing her tears to not fall. "No matter how much I tell him that war isn't glamorous, he is set on the idea of becoming a hero.""He's going to be alright, Sakura. You, and everyone else now, need to trust that he's ready to do this.""I'm coming, obviously," Sakura said with a huff, green eyes flashing with more than just unshed tears."I would never leave my favorite apprentice behind when I need her the most."There had been times when Sakura felt like she'd grown up: saving her first life, advancing to chunin and then jonin, turning sixteen, when she lead her first major surgery. But suddenly, realizing that she was actually going out there directly to the war, she knew that she had truly grown up at the tender age of seventeen."It's going to be alright, Sakura," Tsunade said as she stood and gave the teenager a hug.Sakura thought about the promise she had made to her scarecrow. Throughout the years they had made many promises: always brush twice a day, remember to stay dry, bring back her books, take care of the dogs if anything happened to me. But all those fell away to that one promise that had clearly meant so much to him. Now she had to break it."I know," Sakura whispered, hoping that everything would turn out alright..Dearest Scarecrow,I'm heading out to the front lines. 


10/14/2021 09:30 PM 

My RP style plus more

[Hello, Everyone! seriously. thank you for giving a read/ another read!  It's really appericated ^^.] First I would like to say my RP style is to not have our characters with each other 24/7. I simply do that to avoid the 'only two in existence' scenario. For that, I always add side characters, major to minor ones, to interact with your character (or my own). Sometimes this can lead to Luna just being alone with the side character for a day; also, another thing I like to do is have flash back scenarios. If we ever decided to have our character know each other, example childhood friends, then it helps give some ideas on how they reacted to each other than vs now, or simply have memories.  If this is something you are not into, let me know, and I can blend it around.When it comes to days of Luna hanging with others, I try not get overbearing with paragraphs. I try to summarize, play out important scenarios, or I just have a complete summary and end it there. In some of those scenarios, I usually leave an opening for your character to adventure into the scene. I, also, leave an opening for you to talk about your character and what they did on their day. If our characters, main to side chara, or side to side chara, are in those scenes than I am more than happy to play out the scene with them. If this is not your thing, just let me know in the scenario or you are free to brush past it to start a new scene[Rule 6: more detail] ​​​​​If the characters are minor side characters, one-offs, or random reoccurrence than I will allow them to be controlled by others, just not side(main) characters. I am not bothered if you summarize an occurrence with an established side(main) character, or my own. An example can be like “Luna friend and [your character] talked about the new movie, while Luna was dozing off on the chair” or “Luna body shook from the freezing air” I am never bothered with those things. If it fits the character. [If I didn’t like it than I will OOC; and say ‘hey, do you mind…’ but I had never had a problem with this, so no worries. ^^ if you ever feel want to play a side, main, characters and you can do it with accuracy then I might bend the rules. ][Rule 1: More detail] For RPs, I don't require action/conflict all the time/every moment. If anything, "mundane"(only using the term how others might see it as) scenes are one of my favorite things to act out. I think that helps the RP when seeing how characters react on off days, with each other on calm days, etc.I understand that there can be a fear on things like that, I have experienced some people just disappearing or never replying. I don’t wish for that to happen on either side and if you feel like you are just not feeling it, then ooc me 😊.  I am more than happy to hear your side of things, end a scene, etc. Never feel like you might ‘bore’ me or your are forced to continue something [This applies to smut scenes, talk more on that in a bit]. ​​​​[Rule 4/5 more detail] For writing. I am a multi-para person; I don’t mind going down to para. In that, I never ask anyone to match to match if it’s not necessary [Meaning if I do a 3 paragraph reply and you just need to respond two or less, than yes]. But that doesn’t mean I will do a 3-paragraph response and get a paragraph back all the time. I do that to just avoid the situations where that just left all the work on me and I just don’t think it is fair on myself. So, I typically match and if you show you're not someone who purposely leaves the work to one person than I will work with flowing of para; And I will say para is cool if there is something to grab onto to give a decent reply. I do try to limit myself on my paragraphs (3-5?), because I will admit I get WAY out of hand and I have tried to steer that in, it’s still a learning curve to dismiss. Only times it may ever extend it past that is when interacting with other characters in a scene, and that is usually because I space to distinguish who is talking. So, I apologize in advance!![Rule 7: more detail] mature/s-ut can be hard for a variety of reason. I do enjoy them, don’t get me wrong! But I noticed that sometimes people say mature for nothing but sexual content. When it can mean a few things, so I ask that you just specify with me which you are after. Another thing, I don’t enjoy is if it is ALL the time, I like story with it (I will be honest, I do not engage in it unless I feel comfortable with you in RP and have been RPing with you for some time).  If you wish for something that is 24/7 , shot out in the beginning,  and there isn't really a solid story plot on conflict (continuation) etc., then I will not RP with you. No shame if that is something you want, I just can't provide that.


10/14/2021 09:32 PM 


[Hello, everyone. I really appericate you taking the time to read this; espically if you read my previous blog "My RP style and more". I decided to make this because it somewhat easier and I have had unfortune, at times uncomfortable, circumstances with overstepping boundaries. So, please don't be scared off- I know some of these can come off stern because of  reading text- but I am usually chill. I swear! lol. I still ask you read the other blog for more details on certain rules, when you can of course.  At this point it should be set up to have the label to which rules does 'more detail' is needed for.] 1. Please don’t just delete/ghost me if you stop enjoying our RP. Communication is important to me. If you feel like you need clarification in an RP, want to change a scenario, RP, etc. Just hit me up on OOC. I don't mind! (Ooc can be in brackets in messages as well during our RP, I don't mind. Side note:I only RP in messages. Comments can be ooc) (More detail in ‘RP style and more’ blog.)2. I am patient with replies. I can get busy as well and I usually extend a 2 month grace period[Longer if  informed]. If not, then I usually delete the profile. Reasoning is because I can never tell what’s a dead profile and what is an actual person being held up in RL; usually people notify about becoming busy. But If you feel I made a mistake, please feel free to request me again, and of course I will apologize.  It’s nothing personal, I just don't like clutter on my page. 3.  If I  did deny your request, there is a VALID reason to why. I usually give a large grace period for plenty of things to any ooc chat, introduction replies, etc. I'm emphasizing this to say i don't just delete/ deny to just do it.  I won't go into details on why but I  won't waste a moment to being gaslighted, I'm not particulary new to this game. 4. I am a multi-Para Individual; I don’t mind going to Para when need be [more details in ‘RP style and more’ blog.]5. I understand there are times when you follow the others lead in an RP but I don’t like when I am the only one doing all the work for the RP(I understand at times there will be someone taking more control of a percentage if they take the lead in a scene).   Anyone showing signs of just not putting effort in the RP is subject to deletion with no warning, Even then I give chances and that's more of a last resort . I want people to be happy with the RPs but being selfish is really not cool and this shouldn't really be anything I have to reach out about. I never want to force anyone out their comfort zone but I also shouldn't be forced out of mine. [more details in 'RP style and more' blog]6. Please don't control my characters.  [more details in 'RP style and more' blog]7. I don't mind mature/Sm*t. there is two ways I do these and some people use the term differently. I will just need specification on what you need [more details in 'RP style and more' blog]8. I am not perfect. I make mistakes, espically when I change Luna persona for a different RP or I overwrite and don't do  read over. If I do to much or play Luna differently than agreed on. Let me know, please! I have ADHD and my memory can be pretty eh(it's one of my insecurities). However, it shouldn't be that big an issue. A simple ooc reminder is great for me ^^.9. If you want to add me on a different account because you want that character have a shot with mine, I am fine with it. Just let me know because I don't like when someone pretends to be a stranger.  I won't let anyone know it is your side profile. 10. If there is every a moment we are in an steamy scene and you don't wish to do it anymore, let me know! I am fine with skipping over it, I understand that sometimes we go off for days/hours and no longer feel it. 11. If you are playing a canon character and we place my character in that verse than I don't mind playing characters in that verse as well! I never want you to feel like you are burdened with anything! Just hit me up in discussion, we can split characters or we all can have a hand in them.12:RP/RL are two different things. Please understand that boundary, I am friendly but I am not looking for anytype of romantic relationship. My character is multi-shipped, so she is not solely dedicated to one person. I'm open to  Friendships though.

SυɳႦυɾɳ ☀️

10/14/2021 02:59 PM 


  A silent scream. That was what left the young child as legs, weakened from despair, gave out beneath her. Knees hit the crimson stained ground hard next to his fading form. Ebony hair blew loosely in the wind and matted against her face. Obscuring her vision, though it mattered little as the girl could not see through the tears that stung her violet eyes. He raised a hand towards her. Wiping tears that fell from her eyes, though smearing blood in their place.   Nikko gripped his hand between her own and rested her head against his palm. It was a position she remembered fondly and, ordinarily , brought her comfort and joy. There was only a bitter taste of despair now as her cheek was stained crimson by trembling fingertips. This was their final goodbye. The last time she would ever feel his hand upon her with such affection. The thought made fresh tears burble forth.    "No! No d...don't leave me Rengoku-sensei...please..." tears streamed down her cheeks, mixing with the blood to leave crimson streaks, "please don't leave me nii-san!" she pleaded with the older male as her head dropped in defeat. It was useless to beg him not to leave her behind like the rest of her family had. He was at peace with the fact that he was dying and was proud to do so. He had fulfilled his duty.   "Young Nikko...go forth with what I've taught you....when things are hard, keep your heart ablaze like it has been since the day I met have made me proud..."   Nikko raised her head the moment these words were spoken. Though it was just in time to watch that final smile into the empty space appear upon his features. With the smile upon his lips he faded from the mortal plain leaving her behind there in the twilight of morning. Trembling arms slipped around his chest as he began to fall  a bid to keep him from touching the blood stained ground below.    Though it effectively only drenched her own haori in the stench of her former sensei's blood as it soaked into the fabric. Nikko buried her head into his hair as sobs racked her body to the core. Heart wrenching wails came from her as she held him close to her heart.   "I will NEVER forgive that beast." Her Violet eyes were ablaze with a rage that consumed her heart entirely, "I will find him...and when I do...I'm going to KILL him myself or die trying."  

SυɳႦυɾɳ ☀️

10/14/2021 02:58 PM 


  The sickening sound of steel squelching through blood as it cut clean through his neck in a single sweep was enough to make her sick to her stomach. The reality of what she had done came crashing down on her. The heaviest she had ever felt. The blade tumbled from her grip as trembling hands raised to eye level. They were stained crimson with the blood of her beloved. A gut wrenching scream of anguish rattle from within her like a primal battle cry from within the belly of despair.   Pale hands flew upwards to rest upon either side of her head. Crimson covered fingertips curling to bury in the strands, staining them as they went. Her legs trembled and buckled under the weight of her overwhelming grief. Hot tears flowed from her eyes leaving streaks down her cheeks. Was this truly the fate of a demon? Was there truly no repentance and forgiveness? No happiness for these lost creatures? If that were true then there was truly nothing left to live for, for everything she was taught was a lie.   A second wail came from her tiers as she threw her hands upon the ground before her. The clanging sound of metal on solid ground, and the feel of cold steel beneath her fingertips brought a small bit of sense back to her unraveling mind. With tear stained features, she lifted her blade delicately within her grasp. If she were to live with this tortured guilty conscience for the rest of her life it would surely drive her mad. Her pale violets drifted towards the slowly disintegrating head of Rui. She could follow him on her own terms. Atone for the broken promises they had made that would never see fruition.    With trembling hands she held her blade poised to cut through her own neck. Cries of protest brought her attention elsewhere once more. She had forgotten that Tanjirou had been there. He was desperately trying to reach her. He had promised to return her to human. Though a life without her love was not worth living. She flashed a tearful smile towards the desperate boy. 'Please forgive me dear friend...' A swift flick of her wrist was all that it took. Searing pain exploded from the wound she created on her own throat.   The feeling of thick, hot liquid spread over her exposed skin. Soaking the fabric of her clothing in crimson. The rich stench of iron assaulted her airways. It was slowly becoming more difficult to breathe. Her body was becoming heavy and a coldness as bitter as a winter frost was spreading through her body like a relentless wave. So this was what death felt like. She would willingly welcome it with open arms. Her pale violets turned towards what remained of her beloved. A smile only someone with a broken heart could produce spread over her lips.   "Forgive me. If there is an afterlife for creatures like us. I hope that we can find each other again and truly be"   Like starlight in the night sky when morning came, she faded. If there truly was an afterlife could they be happy in the next life...  

‹ HARU ›

10/14/2021 12:10 PM 


1. My rps are mature. They may contain smut.2. No one under 18+. By sending a friend request, or accepting mine. You are 18+. Characters must also be 18+.3. Please give me 1 paragraph minimum (I do para/multi-para).4. Romance is fine!~5. I can delete people as I please. If you ghost the rp I will delete you. This isn't my first time on here.6. No Discord, I am here to RP.7. Perfect grammar is not a must. Everyone makes mistakes.8. You add first, you talk first. Please.9. OCC be offline some times, so please, do not bother me about late replies.

Barely Human

10/13/2021 09:08 PM 


Fair warning there's a lot to read -Mortal lifeLouis de Pointe du Lac was born on October 4th 1766, having been been into a Roman Catholic family that eigrated to America when he was very young.As a mortal, Louis was a handsome man who ran indigo plantations very near New Orleans in 1791. His father was dead, and he cared for his younger brother, sister and mother. He was dedicated to all of his family, especially his brother Paul, who was deeply religious. Louis's life was good, his brother spent most of his time praying in the oratory Louis had built for him, and the plantations were running well.His brother Paul started seeing visions of the Virgin Mary and St. Dominic, telling him to sell the indigo plantations and move to France to work as a missionary. However, Louis didn't believe him and dismissed the thought. Louis Allowed his brother to worship and had encouraged him but refused to believe that he had real visions to by God.One day his brother and he discussed because of Paul's 'mission'. After the discussion, Paul left Louis and fell of the entrance's stairs. The slaves who saw him fall said that "He had lookws up as if he had just seen something in the air, then his entire bodu moved forward as if being swept by wind." one of them said that he looked as if was about to say something before he fell.Louis's mother and sister started believing that his brother Paul had falled because of the argument, then the other people started to believe the same since Louis refused to talk about Paul's visions to anyone, no even to the police. Louis started to blame himself too and could not forgive himself or get over his brother's death. "They all stared at me as if I'd killed him. Ans I felt I'd killed him." To escape from the constant reminder of his brother he moved to New Orleans, leaving the plantations in the hands of an overseer , but he was still haunted by Paul's death.Louis become a drunkard to try to escape reality. He put himself in constant danger by going to taverns, getting into fights and walking dangerous alleys alone, he wanted to die. One night he was attacked by Lestat outside his house, sucked Louis's blood, almost draining him. He was found hours later and taken inside. Louis presumed that he'd had a stroke because of the alcochol and refused to eat, drink or talk to the doctor. Louis mother called for a priest and Louis confessed for the first time about his brother's visions and what he had done.That night Lestat returned to Louis, he wanted Pointe du Lac, Louis's plantation. Lestat talked Louis through what he might become as a vampire, what he would become. Lestat wanted Louis as an eternal companion and as an eternal lover, having a powerful love for his beauty, his tenderness and his tragic heart. That mornaing Louis saw his last sunrise.-Life as a vampireLestat came to live at Louis's plantation with his father. Louis had trouble with coming to terms with taking lives, and this seemed to follow him for most of his life. Louis took a hand in helping the eldest sister of a man Lestat killed, and encouraged her to keep her plantation running. Lestat's father was dying soon and lestat convinced Louis to kill him. Louis did so in the most humane way, but only after her forced Lestat to speak to his dying father. The servants had been becoming very suspicious of Lestat and Louis. In the end, Lestat and Louis were forced to leave the plantation. They found shelter at the home of the woman who Louis helped before and she took them in and when she saw them the next night, she was convinced they were from the devil. This distressed Louis very much and he tried to convince her otherwise, but she ignored him and in the end he had to leave with Lestat.They went to New Orleans where Lestat resumed his merciless killings and Louis trid to avoid killing humans until one nioght where he attacked a little girl and left her for dead. Lestat told him that she wasn't dead yet and Lestat soon made the child into a vampire whom Lestat named Claudia. Claudia was there to keep the peace between Lestat and Louis for a long time and she learned from them both. That was until one dau when she decided she wanted to leave Lestat and look for other vampires like Louis and herself. Louis agreed that he would like to leave but deemed it impossible as Lestat would never let them go freely.The night came when Claudia decided to kill Lestat. After Claudia was convinced Lestat was dead, she forced Louis to help her dispose of the body. They started arranging their departure for Europe. One night, however, Louis saw Lestat's musician friend outside the window. Louis also noticed he was now a vampire and it was long until Lestat himself appeared. In fear for his own life and Claudia's, Louis managed to set the house on fire and escaped with Claudia to the ship to leave for Europe.Louis and Claudia travelled wherever there were rumours of vampiric behaviour, but they only found mindless vampires who seem to have no purpose or reason for living. Despite this, they continue their search and eventually they go to Paris. There Louis encounters the first "real" vampire of his kind, Santiago and soon after, Armand. He is invited (with Claudia) to the Theatre des Vampires.Claudia and Louis visited the Théâtre des Vampires where they were introduced properly to Armand who was the oldest (and only) vampire they met. Louis learned what he could from Armand and (under his influence) made a dollmaker human, Madeleine into a vampire as a mother for Claudia so he can leave her for Armand. Louis, Claudia and Madeleine were taken by the other vampires of the theater where they found Lestat who told them it was Claudia who tried to kill him. They then kill Claudia and Madeleine by leaving them in the sun while locking Louis away. When Louis found out what was done to Claudia, he became enraged and then after he warned Armand, they burned the theater down with every vampire in it.Louis left Paris with Armand, but Armand after a while left him in New Orleans after realising Louis isn't going to change. Louis also sees Lestat in New Orleans, but refuses to stay with him and only says that he forgives him. In 1975, Louis tells a reporter, Daniel Molloy, all of this story and then after learning that Daniel didn't learn anything from his story gets angry and leaves the reporter stunned and bleeding a little bit.  

ɪɴꜰᴇʀɴᴀʟ ꜱᴛʀᴇɴɢᴛʜ

10/13/2021 09:23 PM 

The Monster

Name: Hiren Midoriya/Todoroki Name Kanji: 火 鎖Kanji Meaning: Fire, Chain/irons/connection Nick Name(s): None (Give her some) Age: Technically she’s only a few months old as she was grown in a test tube as a cloneAge look: Sixteen and up depending on story.Gender: FemaleSexual Orientation: Demisexual Occupation: Currently trying to transition from born villain to student Height: 5'5 Weight: 58 kgHair Color: Half Milano Red and Half Shadow Green Eye Color: Left is Viridian and Right is: Storm GreySkin Color: Cavern PinkNationality: Japanese School: Questionable Year: Uncertain Distinguishing feature: She’s already hard to miss in a crowd. HERO/VILLAIN PROFILE: Hero Name: Not sure yetVillain Name: Hiren (Previously, is now just her name) Quirk:  One For Flames Quirk Explanation: Hiren has One For All genetically speaking but has an affinity for anything that involves fire and heat. The one thing she’s mastered at combining both is Black Whip and Flame; it works now as a defence and an offence. Weapons: With how aggressive her quirk is she doesn’t need one, but keeps daggers hidden in her hero outfit. Gadgets/Tech: Tracking cat ears, don’t ask why don’t just DON’T WORRY ABOUT ITFamily: Hiren doesn’t technically have family but if we’re talking about blood relation I can give you this!Sibling(s): Shoto, Natsuo, Fuyumi, Touya Todoroki and Izuku Midoriya Parent(s): Enji and Rei Todoroki, Inko and Hisashi Midoriya.    Romantic Interest(s): This child can’t tell the difference between love and friendship so... yes???Allies: UA and the heroes hopefully. Rival(s): Yes? It’s just another strong bond she doesn’t understand. Enemy(s): Doctor Garaki (Who created her in the first place) She understands hate very well.  QUIRK: Name Of Quirk: One For Flames Description: An Unstable mix of pyromania and the ability to hold the world together. Strength: One of the strongest quirks to be knownWeakness: One of the most unstable quirks to be known, having only existed for months it will either destroy her and everyone or become stable and be a great success. Age Obtained: Born with missing the five year incubation period. How It Was Obtained: It spontaneously erupted from her during a crying fit when the punishment of no food was brought up if she did not complete her new objective. Attacks: = Carbon: A large attack that mostly leads to death as she can’t control it, but when upset she can remove the carbon from humans that she touches and blow it back into them in the form of diamond shards. = Carbon Bomb: When full of sorrow or emotions she can’t control her whole body shuts down and will take the carbon right from the air around her until it’s so compact inside her that it rips diamond shards from inside her. It’s almost guaranteed to kill her if she doesn’t get immediate medical help. =Red Flame Whip: This is her main attack a black whip covered in flames that extends out of her body in multiple different sections, it often looks like a flaming spider. PERSONALITY:Over all: Hiren hasn’t had time to discover who she is yet, let alone what her personality should be. Every emotion she experiences she experiences it at 100 or worse. Happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust or anything in between it’s similar to shaking a soda can and letting it explode. On the outside she’s mastered a calm atmosphere but if she experiences something new it’s as if a switch has gone off and she doesn’t know what to do. Which... she really doesn’t. A child's mind in a teens body slowly gaining all the knowledge it needs to open all the doors that seem to be locked in her face.   

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