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GIrls of Runeterra

11/22/2021 08:48 PM 

""""Rules""""

These are so less my rules and more so kinks I  do and don't. There are more kinks than here that I do, but these are ones you might need to ask or be too awkward to ask for.Kinks I do:NTR, Slavery, Blackmail, breeding, dubcon, aphrodisiacsKinks I don't:Scat, Watersports, vomit, gore, feet, diapers.It's not because I do these kinks IRP that I think they are right in real life. Just be aware of that. Also if you have anything you'd like to ask, don't be shy!

Rules

Guildfairy♥

11/22/2021 07:13 PM 

Things you will want to know//RULES

I am going to be on mobile 95% of the time and the other 5% On desktop will be dedicated to things I can give simple replies to such as photo or status comments. And that no profile comments will be disabled because they serve no purpose whatsoever except to annoy me personally… I’m sure other people feel this way too but they aren’t A sufficient way to communicate back and forth-people that like profile comments, please consider the fact that the person you’re talking to may have trouble remembering what your comment says when replying to you.#1. Know my character. Be familiar with Fairy Tail.. if you have absolutely no knowledge of it I will not roleplay with you.#2. Don’t expect erotica to happen, The keyword here is expect… Erotica probably won’t happen but Romance is not completely off the table if I like you.#3. I don’t do shipping and I certainly don’t add other characters names into mine, that’s tacky as sh*t - I don’t know why people do it. Any shipping will be done within the RPMessages#1. I DO NOT LIKE SINGLE WORDS, please don't send me "hello" in messages#2. no need to use the Subject line/feild until we start RP otherwise messages may get bypassed do to the subject not intresting me#3.  I do have other characters (and profiles) FYIthis is the only real use I see for a Subject aswell

ᴡᴀʀʙɪʀᴅ

11/22/2021 05:50 PM 

The Home of Those With (Illnesses)

I feel as if I am trapped in this box,Where everyone else has put meBut I know I don’t belong.Suffocated - they make me feel it,I can’t stand existing inside this bubble:The walls are thick, there’s no way out,It’s the home of the unfound,Where they put people like me who they can’t make sense of,Patients they can’t diagnose unless it’s with the term “functional.”I know there are others,But I feel so alone,Isolated from being understoodBy the only people who are able to help me.They won’t help me,I try to fight back, I try to screamEither no one hears me, or they take it as a mark of insanity.It’s hard to speak up,When you know the process all too well,You walk in, they repeat things that hurt you (psychosomatic), and then you walk out,Though you don’t know how,Because inside you’re torn down again,Answers aren’t found and each time is worse,You’re still struggling but they insistThat you’re as healthy as you’ve ever been,So once again you’ve been missed,By professionals trained to catch out illness.Every time your reality trips you down again,You repeat the words they told you:“You’re fine,”You tell yourself you can do it-But not out of encouragement,Instead of disdain, because when no one acknowledges youWhy should you not question yourself?We are taught from a young age these are the people you should depend on and treat with respect,So even when they toss you aside:Remember to say “thank you” and walk out with a smile,Seeing as they believe that you really are wasting their time.This is what nightmares are made of,Except when you’re both asleep and awakeIt’s always still there.It’s hard enough passing each day this way,But without an ounce of recognition,I wonder why I should even stay.I don’t want to do this anymore,But still I have to knock on doors,Basically asking people to reject what I live,Constantly trying to prove that I’m sick,To countless people who don’t give a ****.It’s already too much effort existing like this,Yet I have to get out of my bed to prove it,Even though each time they write an essay about me being fine,Or maybe a few words because I’m such a waste of time.I face what I fear everyday because my health’s at fault,Yet they say it’s not really at all.It’s been a year and they still have the audacity to tell me,It’s because I’m not coping mentally.Maybe I am a mess psychologically,But I want you to know, it’s only because of them.I would be stable, I’d be perfectly fine,If they didn’t keep coming around telling me my efforts are wasted,That I just can’t deal with my mind no matter how much I already put in,So clearly I will just never be fixed.It’s what they’ve told me though, it’s all of their responses and words,That made me question my sanity,That dredge up all of my anger for them,Because not one bit of acknowledgement did they spread.So here I lay,Stuck in this box where no one can see me,I can’t fix myself because - it wasn’t my state of mind that was broken.I’ve been here for four-hundred-and-seventeen days,Where I try to imagine a future where I’ll be safe,But the trauma of looking for a diagnosis I know will stay,Because they told me it was only caused my trauma in the first place,But the only kind I’ve experiencedIs the kind they inflicted whilst I was already suffering.

ᴡᴀʀʙɪʀᴅ

11/22/2021 05:40 PM 

Unwell

I have not been well latelyBut I have a secret to tell youIt’s a success story: my most secret successYou see, I’m very skilled in crafting holesAnd I’ve punched a massive holeRight through the middle of my lifePlease, don’t mistake this accomplishment for the result of talentThis is a skill and it takes practice to masterI went to college and learned to turn theories and ideals from basin to sieveI learned to critique everything hopefulAnd punched a hole right through the heart of hopeI honed my ability to close out creativityI built a track down which to guide concrete linear thoughtsAnd I learned to use said thoughts as a battering ram with which toKnock a hole in the barricaded door to dissatisfactionAnd, though this skill is often practicalAs you know, one cannot walk around wearing an open holeSo, a corresponding skill has successfully emergedIn parallel with nurturing voidsI have learned to conceal each and every holeSometimes with a thick canvass andSometimes with a paper-thin veneerI may have learned to wrap a packageAnd to tie a bowWith the express purpose of packagingThe broken gift of lifeFull of ugly holesAnd, now, all that is left to complete the perfect ending to this success storyIs to grow old in a neatly kept apartmentFilled with the unseen haunts of relationships neatly hole-punched andFiled in a hidden mental cabinetNext to a night stand where I keep my phone and glassesAnd across from the bedThere will be a glass trophy caseFull of trophies denoting various acceptable successesBut, just between you and IThe largest trophy denoting the largest successWill be a lifetime achievement awardBestowed for hollowing out what could have beenA beautiful life. 

Pan

11/22/2021 02:39 PM 

Peter Pan 2021!? yes..yes indeed."
Current mood:  adventurous

A message from the handler: "Greetings fella humans! Human fellas!" I have been a Pan fan for the better part of..*counts on fingers and toes. Holds up five fingers* Since I was THIS many! And boy what a whirlwind of a life I have had since my first holloween as the Crowin show pony of Neverlands finest hooligans. I refused to get out of the make shift handmade costume. Soon took up acting.. got crushed when cast as 'Indian 4' >.>;;(is Native but STILL!)But whether I was THE Pan on set or at random chance performances. I loved it. The mood, the magic, the uncanny manly mannerisms of a gentlemen perfectly content with never aging into adulthood. I roleplay, sing, dance, act, and write and DONT play flutes..>.> bossy family made me play piano.. ugh. But I learned all the melodies lol. Also.. like Peter Pan.. I have se-VERE ADD-ADHD. Like.. I scare Dr.s who tested me at age 8. I was off charts by 12 and pretty much continued to- BUNNY!.. oh.. its my white cat Tink.- anyway you get me now. I stay logged in but get 'busy' or utterly distracted with, anything so please bare with me~ Peter Pan I offer you: I take and go off a mix of both the original canon of Peter Pan story and Disneys Peter Pan. I take in a bit of Hook but twist the ending so that, Pan basically age regresses into a 19 year old stud and the family is totally okay with it lol. Can take the Pan out of Neverland but something something yes and yes. Anyway. Pan goes on countless adventures, having literally forgotten about almost everyone on Earth for decades. And in turn, much of him, Neverland and Fairies are all dismissed as dreams. Neverland even loses 'Skull Rock, due to children simply doubting such things every existed in the first place. This has Pan and the lost boys, all now aged to 16-19 in a panic. So the plan is for Pan to go back to earth, almost snatching lost boy or girl with ease to recapture the magic. This works to some degree.. However some adultly events take place after the Pirate spike the juice at Lost Boy Tavern which lead to the Lost Girls moving to live in the trees of Neverland, forever hating all boys and men.. but Peter is their only occasional exception.So as you may see.. Neverland is both the same and little 'aged' to suit a more mature audience without reaching for the mature themes. That's not to say Neverland is free of bloodshed, nightmares or Hooks next biggest rake at the boy who still insists he is just a boy cuz well, 19 is young enough. *weighs hands*And lastly.. now that Neverland looks a bit Steampunk.. all the new arrivals got him remembering the first 'mother' he made here. So he sets out to find her once again either arriving at the very location (as if he could remember) or simply chasing your window, arrogantly assuming you know his name, his world and his story which is still retold in 2021.  There you have. Of course again, this is just the way I play Peter. Feel free to toss it all out and start fresh IF you wana do something special. Just remember to NEVER GROW UP.

Peter Pan, NGU, Neverland.

Ⲣⲇ⳽ⲧⲉⳑ Ⲱⲓⲧⲥⲏ

11/21/2021 10:12 PM 

Some cute info bout Kari <3
Current mood:  adored

Does she have a familiar pet?Yes! A cute lil white rabbit named Sayo. It can turn human, but it's like a phoenix in normal rabbit form; if it dies(by any means) it'll ressurect near her and pop out of her hair. No ash, just becomes a ball of actual fluff. Each ressurection they change their gender. Why can't she stay in one cult?Because they accuse her of being already immortal or f***ing the leader/members when she doesn't. Plus; it is pretty difficult trying to find a female-only cult for her.Has she ever f***ed a man before?She has, but she doesn't like the feel of a guy's pp in her due to it feeling 'too hot. as though i'm actually melting and hurts from them pulling my hair'. She likes futas due to how theirs feels soft but well inside. Plus; barely any hair pulling during the...ya know.Since she's a witch, can she summon?(ex. demons, monsters. succubi)Yes. Though she won't due to not having a house or a place to do so without a cult or someone interrupting her during it.Will she change her mind about guys anytime soon?Probs not. Unless a guy adds her and actually is mega-sweet with her, highly doubt it. 

Jagiya

11/21/2021 02:48 PM 

JAGIYA'S DESIGNS - REQUEST PAGE
Current mood:  excited

✩。  🎀  𝒥𝒶𝑔𝒾𝓎𝒶'𝓈 𝒟𝑒𝓈𝒾𝑔𝓃𝓈  🎀  。✩Welcome to my request page! Hence the title, my requests are now open if you would like me to make anything for your page. I make the following:  Avatars About Me / Bio display images Banners/Headers (if your layout supports them) Group cards to promote your group Group profile pictures For now I only work with anime/cartoons/animations/movies, game characters & celebrities; unfortunately no ocs with specific designs.My schedule will be taking the requests on weekdays and posting finished designs on the weekends.If you are okay with this feel free and drop me a request!Ps: You can request them as sets as well. You can specificy your request telling me you would like all 3 (avatar, bio image & header) or if you would like just an avatar and header etc.tldr; you don't have to request just one thing lol(AVATARS)Some of My Design Examples Include the Following:REQUEST FORM:Character's name and which series they're from: What you would like to be made: (write "Full set" if you would like all 3)Text on your edit(s): (username or anything else you would like written on it. If not leave it empty.)

gfx, request, avatar, profile, graphic design

Luna

11/20/2021 01:32 PM 

Flora Felicity Randall

Okay I found a site that creates a profile for your character so I wanted to try it out ^-^Flora's CharacterWhat she looks like:Flora's Look

Luna

11/20/2021 01:26 PM 

Brooke Luna Ryder

Name: Brooke Luna RyderAge: Can be between 15 to 21Appearance: My profile picture (or this one ---> Brooke's Alt Look)Background: Based on the rp and usually covered in the first few posts or the starterPersonality: Depends on what the rp calls forPowers: Controlling the elements (fire, water, nature, and air) & partially or completely shapeshift into any animal she chooses. If she only partially changes then she gets the ears, tail, and sometimes the teeth of the animal along with the higher senses and agility of the animal. However, her elemental skills are less strong. If she completely changes then it takes more energy which makes it harder to hold the form, but it actually makes her elemental powers stronger while in that form. She usually only uses this form in emergencies since she usually loses enough power to make her pass out after her body is unable to hold the form any longerHonestly, this is my most malleable character. I can use her to fit in any world usually. I did originially create her for Marvel, so things like her powers as a while or the extent of them can be taken away/down.

🌻 未来のミコ。―

11/19/2021 10:27 PM 

WARNING: I shouldn't even have to say this, but I do. Yashahime discourse.

If you ship SessRin, I heavily suggest that we do not interact. I will NEVER support the SessRin ship and if you try to force it upon me, it is a hard block. SessRin are NOT equals. If you think their relationship is healthy then you need to look in the mirror because the way Yashahime depicts the couple is far from a healthy relationship. Even if Rin is an adult, Sesshomaru STILL treats her like a child. She never was able to make her own choices. If she did, why couldn't she have been able to be given a choice in what fate her "children" has? Why couldn't that be discussed with her? Does she HAVE no say despite she is his "wife"? Sesshomaru acted like a complete a**hole to her and didn't respect her choices or what she wants. Rin couldn't bear the children suffering because of her and what does he do? He ignores her every attempt when she tries to have an "adult" conversation and this is because he STILL sees her as a child. If you ship them, you do you boo but your ship is nasty and this account will NEVER be friendly or a support to SessRin.  My version of Rin is completely different from the series and s he is her OWN character. It's sad that Yashahime has to steal imagery from another woman just to make her and the twins interesting because the fact SessRin would be bland as f***. The twins do not even resemble Rin in the slightest and if you argue with me, you will be blocked. I will not make friends with SessRinners. I will not be involved in discourses because my words will only be talking to a bunch of brick walls. &&. Do NOT tell me to separate real life from fiction. Pedophilia in fiction should NOT be okay or promoted especially in a show that is PROMOTED TO KIDS. Pedophilia isn't okay in real life and it shouldn't be okay in fiction. I said what I f***ing said. This ship is so wrong and gross and because of this nasty show, it's been hard for me to even be on my Inuyasha verse accounts because the majority of the people are sick bastards that want their loli fantasy.  Want to make fun of me because I am an anti? Go right ahead, I will not cry over spilled milk. It will fall upon deaf ears, I can at least rest easy knowing that I do not ship a child with an adult unlike you freaks. Pedophiles can choke. Stop trying to force ship with my muse, it will not happen.

Genius Shinigami

11/19/2021 01:19 PM 

Info and Abilities

Name: Hayate TakishiBirthday: May 26Age: Unknown (at least one hundred fifty)Gender: MaleSexuality: HeterosexualHeight: 6'0"Weight: 180 poundsAffiliation: Seireitei, Gotei 13, 12th DivisionBase of Opperations: Soul Society, Squad 12 Barraks, Department of Research and DevelopmentRelatives: Unknown. He cannot recall ever having a family.Shikai: Shinka suru seimei-tai (Evolving life form)Bankai: Kyūkyoku no shinka suru seimei-tai (Ultimate evolving life form)History:((UNDER HEAVY CONSTRUCTION))((FULL DISCLAIMER!!! I HAVE BEEN OUT OF THE ROLEPAYING GAME FOR NEARLY 4 YEARS SO IF THINGS ARE POORLY EXPLAINED PLEASE FORGIVE ME. I AM WILLING TO ENTERTAIN BETTER POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS. IN ADDITION I TOOK INSPIRATION FROM SEVERAL SOURCES WHEN CREATING THIS CHARACTER.))Equipment:Artificial Eye and Right Brain: Hayate's right eye is artifical. It looks real enough and functions exactly like a real eye. However this eye is in fact part of a super computer that Hayate has built into his own body. The eye processes and sends information to the artificial right side of Hayate's brain. The right side of Hayate's brain is nothing more than an extremely advanced super computer tat he developed himself. Both items are entirely nessicary in order for Hayate to keep up with the information and feedback that his Bankai sends to his brain. The eye recieves the information sent and the right side of his brain processes the information. The two together increase the speed in which information is recieved, processed, and distrubuted for the body to react by ten thousand percent. This means that his his reaction times are one hundred times faster than even the most adept fighters in the Soul society. The brain and eye however ONLY activate in this way once Hayate activates his Bankai. Otherwise they are inert and only function how the organs function normally. In their resting state the eye and brain automatically memorize everything they see. This helps Hayate grow as a fighter in spite of his own natural short comings by running combat simulations passively while he sleeps. In addition all memories are stored away as well and can be accessed at any time nessicary. This can range from remembering combat tactics of a foe or even what someone had told him years ago. The brain and eye are also able to pick up even a tiny shift in ones facial expression to a shift in tone of voice.(To anyone reading this I am sorry. I could not think of a better way to describe this)Powers and Abilities:Master Swordsman: While preferring not to engage in physical combat Hayate is an extremely capable swordsman capable of standing on par with fighters of the calibur of Byakuya Kuchiki and Kenpachi Zaraki. This is due to his own fast growth rate and the computers in his eye and brain that retain all memories and movements of both himself and his enemies. Hayate perfers to use fast, swift, precice strikes in his battles rather than brute force always prefering to hit and move, regorup and attack again almost as if fencing. Small fast slashes that cause the target to bleed are his preference.                  Hakuda User: Hayate's skills with hand to hand are nowhere near as good as they are with a blade. Hayate has had little time observing many hand to hand fights. He is capable but when it comes to hand to hand Hayate remains on the defensive almost all of the time.Kido Expert: Hayate has almost no talent with Kido. He has never once been able to cast a successful offensive kido attack. He does however seem to have an affinity with the defensive Bakudo spells. He is able to use many of them, even high numbered ones, without their incantations.Shunpo Expert: Hayate has always had a natural affinity with Shunpo, always exceling with it where others fell short. He is by no means the fastest shunpo user there is however he can hold his own. He frequently incorporates shunpo into his fighting in order to get those lightning fast hit and run attacks.Genius Level Intellect: Hayate is for all intents and purposes an actual genius. His intellect is nearly on par with the likes of Mayuri Kurotsuchi. He has devised his own computer systems and programs, and even implemented them into the department of research and development without anyone noticing. Or at least without anyone saying something. He even designed, built, and programed the computers that reside in his right eye and the entire right side of his brain. In addition he figured out how to perform the surgury to replace his right eye and right side of his brain with computers entirely on his own and performed his own surgery. He had learned how Mayuri had managed to do the same when he went to Hurco mundo and performed a very similar procedure. This however had to be done in two sessions. One for the eye. Another for the brain to allow his body to heal.Master Hacker and Programer: Hayate uses his knowledge of computers and technology to his atvantage. His hacking skills are so immense that he managed to hack into the Department of Reseach and Development's Computer systems and steal information for more than five years before being discovered. The advanced computer systems in his eye and brain are his own creation as well. His unparallelled hacking skills allow him to hack computer systems in seconds where it would take others hours to do so.Master Strategist and Tactician: With the computers in his brain and eye always processing information even in their resting states Hayate's brain is constantly being fed combat scenarios and situations. He has analyzed ever major conflict and battle that every major member of the Gotei 13 has ever been part of within the last two hundred years up to present date. Watching and analysing these battles only further increases his strategic output. The combat simulations run in his head even show him situations where he loses.Very High Spiritual Power: Hayate has spiritual power of an extremely high level considering he is an unranked squad member in his squad. His spiritual power is high enough to be on the low end of a captain's level spiritual power. His spiritual power is in fact high enough to catch the notice of Captains and their Lieutenants if he chooses to raise it.Expert Reiatsu Control: Hayate has learned to control his reiatsu very well. He can hide it so that it is near undetectable or increase it to a level high enough to cause tremors in the earth for up to one mile away.Super Enhansed Reflexes: Due to the computers in his eye and brain constantly taking in information during combat Hayate's reflexes are extremely sharp. Hayate is capable of dodging point blank gun fire and even closing the gap on a foe, disarm and disable his opponent before they even pulled the trigger.Enhansed Strength: Being a Shinigami Hayate is already narturally pretty strong. However his brain is where his real power is and he is not phusically very powerful on his own. At best he may be able to punch a few large cracks into a stone wall but that seems to be the extent of his strength.Immense Endurance and Durability: What Hayate lacks in physical strength he makes up for in being tough and resiliant. He is capable of taking the beatings that even the most powerful captains take on a near regular basis. He seems to be inexhasutable too. But that is just due from a childhood of having to run for sometimes days on end to avoid being caught by hollows.Zanpaukto: Shinka suru seimei-tai (Evolving life form): Shinka suru seimei-tai takes the form of an unremarkable average sized Katana with a standard oval guard with no special decorations or marks. The hilt of the sword is wrapped in black cloth and the scabbard is also black and made of steel rather than wood like a standard katana's scabbard.Shikai: It is triggered by the command phrase "Grow".Shikai Appearance: Upon activation of his Shikai the sword in it's entirety, scabbard included, bursts into a cloud of swirling black mist that tears away the sleeve of Hayate's modified Shihauksho and forms around his arm into a full arm length black metal gauntlet that stops right at the shoulder. The fingers of the gauntlet are clawed and at the back of the shoulder two small sphears form at the back of his shoulder set inside of the metal of the gauntlet. The mist that forms from the sword and scabbard dispursing are actually millions of tiny nano-machines that form the entirty of the Shikai release.Shikai Special ability:Enhansed Strength: Hayate's striking power is signifigantly increased in his right arm only while his Shikai is active. In this state his strength is equal to beings such as Kenpachi Zaraki (Before his full potential was unlocked that is).Nano Machines: The Nano Machines that make up Hayate's Shikai are controled by the computers installed in both Hayate's right eye and brain. They have a few functions in this state but their full power is still limited in Shikai state.Weapon Manifistation: At Hayate's command the Nano Machines can form any weapon that Hayate desires. Though most commonly it is a sword or another bladed weapon. Though a Katana is Hayate's preferred weapon as it is the one he's used the most. Any bladed weapon created by these machines forms with a blunt edge. At Hayate's command these machines will form a blade made of blue plasma along the edge. The plasma blade reaches a maximum temprature of 45,000 degrees fareinheight, hotter than the surface of the sun. (Don't bitch at me on this. Actual plasma cutters in real life can reach this temprature). Once the plasma blade is activated there is little it cannot cut through with relative ease. The down side is any body parts the blade cuts is instantly carterized which eleminates the bleeding effect of weapons with regular blades.Satelites: Hayate has two small sphears attached to the shoulder of his armored right arm. Only one of these can be active at a time and switching them out takes a short "cool down" before the other can be activated. The both serve very different functions however. The first one serves an offensive funtion. Once launched it will sit just a couple of feet above his head off to the left. It can fire small mid to long range Spirit energy blasts. This is effective against all types of opponents. The shots are not overly powerful. Only about strong enough to blow down a large steel door. However the blasts can be annoying and can harrass many types of opponents. This small satelite act's independantly of Hayate's will and fires on it's own. It's biggest weakness is that it is stationary and only moves when Hayate moves. It can be destroyed however the Nano Machines will form another one. But this can take several minutes and once it's gone Hayate rarely relies on using it again knowing his opponent can likely destroy it again. The second Satelite takes on a purely defensive role however. Once this one is deployed it orbits around Hayate's boty in a diagonal flight pattern going clockwise one foot from Hayate's body. This Satelite forms translucent blue spirit energy barriers around Hayate's body to block incoming ranged attacks and melee attacks coming from behind Hayate. The barriers only stay up long enough to block incoming attacks and then dissapate. The barriers are strong enough to block strong phyical attacks but can be shattered by exceptionally powerful attacks and can block incoming Kido attacks of level 50 and below without wavering. Stronger attacks can that will shatter the barriers easily. This satelite can also be destroyed and takes several minutes to regenerate.Bankai: Kyūkyoku no shinka suru seimei-tai (Ultimate evolving life form): Upon activation of his Bankai Hayate's shikai dispurses into a cloud of the tiny nano machines. The machines begin to multiply and the cloud grows larger until it completely obscures Hayate's body and forms all around him. His bankai takes the form of black full body "cybernetic" style armor. None of his skin is showing any longer as the armor covers his body in it's entirety A small slit forms at his eyes and is colored red allowing him to have his full field of vision.Bankai Special Ability:Ability enhansements: All of Hayates abilities are increased drastically in his Bankai state.Enhansed Strength: Hayate's strength is now comprable to many of the Seireitie's most powerful physical combatants. While not as powerful as the Likes of Kenpachi Zaraki at full power he still boasts considerable power in this state and can hold his own against opponents who have their own massive strength abilities.Increased Speed and Agility: Hayate's speed and agility is increased to such a level that few can match him in speed. His agility is increased to such a level that he is capable of dodging sudden point blank attacks that would render even fighters such as Yourichi Shihoen and Soi Fon unable to react in time.Nueral Up-Link: Hayate's armor is directly linked with the computers located in his right eye and brain thus he can control each and every one of the billions of nano machines individually. His Bankai constantly feeds information to him such as opponents injuries and fatigue levels, Fighting ability, skills that are known to him already and their effectiveness and even the most effective ways to attack and defend against opponents. The combination of the computers in his eye, brain, and bankai it's self are also able to predict what the opponents next move will be by using data gathered during combat. The more of their skillset revealed to Hayate the greater the accuracy of these predictions is. There is however also room for error in these predictions and they can even show him the entirely wrong outcome and cause Hayate to land in some bad positions sometimes and can even cause him to flat out lose any advantage of control over a battle he is in. Additionally the armor is linked directly to Hayate's brain so his actions are controled by how fast he can think rather than how fast he can move.Regenerating Armor: Hayate's armor if damaged will repair it's self within a few moments (think of it as a healing factor). However Hayate is still vulnerable under the armor. If an attack makes it through his Armor and injure Hayate then the damage is very real, however the Nano Machines will prevent Hayate from bleeding out inside the Armor and will hold the wound closed with additional Nano Machines. Hayate still feels the pain but can continue to fight well beyond what he would normally be able to do. Even if a bone is broken the armor will hold Hayate's body together and allow him to continue fighting through injuries that would cripple others.Bianary Blast: From his left palm Hayate can fire a blast of energy with mild destructive capability. It is roughly on par with the Cero used by the Espada of fourth rank or higher. This is a fast moving projectile. It is not a consentated and continuous beam but a single shot that can be fired after a ten second recharge. The blast is red in color.Weapon Manifestation: Hayate retains his ability to manifest weapons at will by using some of the Nano Machines that make up his armor.Satelites: Hayate's satelites remain from his Shikai except the offensive one is located at his right shoulder and the defensive one at his left. They have been upgraded at this point and they can both be activated at the same time and still act independently of Hayate's commands or will. Additionally both Satelites orbit Hayate's body now. The defensive one still orbits clockwise and the offensive one counter clockwise. The Satelites' upgrades can allow Hayate to focus on one of them indivitually as well. If he focuses entirely on the defensive one then it projects a constant barrier around Hayate that must be cut through to reach his armor and then Hayate himself. The offense Satelite can harrass enemies with constant non stop barrages of small stinging spirit energy blasts. Though tough foes can ignore them. The energy blasts are not intended to injure but annoy and harrass.

Young Master.

11/19/2021 12:53 PM 

writing sample
Current mood:  animated

He noticed that he was a bit shocked that Drake stepped in to handle the situation that was happening. He didn't mind taking care of them; he got into plenty of fights before as he grew up and had to defend himself from humans, hunting, as well as witches and werewolves. There were certain rules that he had in place to keep himself grounded, though; no getting attached to others; no overly indulging in sexual exploitation; and no getting greedy for money and penny pinchers. If it was his way he would live on the streets and be just fine without a house than having a home that his parents left him when they passed onto the afterlife. He would never know what that would be like since he would be in the category of the living dead. He walked like death in the evening and considered himself to be quite fierce when he needed to be. He found his true around right now to be quite menacing. It certainly did the trick to keep those thugs running with their tails between their legs."My name is Drake. Drake Vanhelsing," he said and smirked. "What is yours?" he asked, unknowingly introducing himself. He hadn't expected to make a friend when he went out for the evening that night for a smoke. He looked over at the other, "Would you like a walk home?" he asked, "I could call a cab for you. I'll pay for it of course." he said and smiled. "You were lucky I was here when that happened. You might have really been hurt," he said and reached into his coat pocket - he wore a trench coat, a black v-neck shirt, and slacks that looked expensive.He did have expensive taste - his parents were rather wealthy bankers and owned quite a few organizations that brought money to them when they needed to pay things like food, bills, and other things like the maid's co-pays. He also kept a few sex slaves in the mansion that lived with him to take care of his need for pleasure. His stamina now that he was a vampire was out of control and he tried to keep a low profile, but also started looking for someone to connect with so he could mate with them properly. He didn't want to seem like the kind of man that wanted only one thing. He would absolutely give them a place to stay, food, water, showers, clothes, among other things to make them feel wanted. It was the best he could offer with being immortal - it meant he could do anything he wanted, and not be killed. However, it did take the mystery away from life and he continued to fall down to a spiraling depression from time to time.

𝔇𝔞𝔫𝔠𝔦𝔫𝔤 𝔔𝔲𝔢𝔢𝔫

11/19/2021 11:30 PM 

Shio's Rule - take it or leave it...

Disclaimer: "Everyone has right and liberty to decline or ignore any incoming friend request that's sent to them. If one does not accept it, that means the person does not want to have the sender as friend and it is normal occurrence especially since it is part of this website feature. If you're easily butthurted by this kind of thing then perhaps you need to consider having your mentality and personality checked, because the only person spreading hate for declined friend request is spoiled brat who think the world revolves around them."  My Profile, My Rule.. Will DECLINE/BLOCK Derogatory Theme Profilee.g Your slut, just a bitch, another slave, humiliation, cuckolding, etc etc. If ones don't even give a sh*t about making decent name let alone profile, then why should I care about them? Go f***ing be miserable somewhere else! StalkerIf I see someone frequently appearing on my viewer list, I am going to assume that the person has certain ill intention e.g: reporting my picture, stealing my artwork/song directlink/layout. Yeah I am aware that some people might have some kind of admiration and they could not help but viewing my profile over and over. BUT.. we are talking about the site that is MANAGED BY BOTS, I think I would rather play it safe and have paranoid thought for sake of my profile perseverance. My profile was deleted and blocked from public search before due to mass flag before FYI. If you're not gonna add/interact with me, DON'T check my profile over and over. this rules also applies to muted people on so-called "friendlist" Community ProfileYeah right, I know that for certain that this kind of thing can be a medium to promote bullying and online witch hunt, so put that thing away from my sight! Also I notice that most of these profile are meant to collect people instead of write story so yeah.. I am not interested! Hate ProfileWhat the hell are they even trying to accomplish here? Causing a drama? Just get over it and move on, nobody needs this kind of thing! Also I don't give a sh*t if that profile is a disguise under the goodie two shoes 'PSA' or warning or that kind of bullsh*t, it's still slandering other people. Even if the person is real troll, it's still no one's business. I do have few word of wisdom for this kind of people: If you are feeling sense of accomplishment from spreading hate toward certain profile, you're pathetic. Neither it is their own profile for sake of shameless self promotion nor it is other people's profile, it won't matter, I don't care. For  those who love playing the victim card and claim things like 'I am being harrassed for years..' Here is fun fact for you.. even if you asked petition of ENTIRE PLANET to delete that profile. Do you think the person will just sit and do nothing? he could just re-create a new one and you're just wasting time..and yeah this piece of crap site won't do NOTHING about it.. I have been harassed so many time that I've become sensitized to it, so grow some balls and ignore it instead of giving it more attention. Two wrongs don't make one right.. keep that in mind and grow up. Trolls'Are you being insightful as actual troll? Good, then you know what to do. Oh don't worry about me, I know when I see one, and I know they are still lingering around here, like ghost... or more like pest' CreepsLook, I get it.. being old sucks, and unfortunately it is something all human must eventually experience, but that doesn't mean we can't rp. I don't care if the people adding me are  senile IRL or even disable person or even serial killer, I don't need to know, I don't care, and  nobody are required to put this things on the internet just for sake of having interaction or entertainment. I am not here for dating, thusly I never ask about my rp partner current living situation, it's their privacy, I am not gonna judge as long as they keep those information to themselves, everyone has right to do so. This is just place for rping and  game of imagination after all. I am fully aware of it. HOWEVER that doesn't mean that I would tolerate some old guy character which profile is suggesting weird theme with my character. This is RP, not real life so if anyone is interested in doing spicy thing with my character because they find her attractive or something..they could AT LEAST have the decency to use equally good looking character, because I don't wish to imagine my character doing 'this' and 'that' with ugly looking nobody. If anyone is trying to deny all the 'facts' I said about this kind of character, then I have question for these people: What is the purpose of rping as senile? self-insert for being old? okay then it's back to my statement that I don't give an eff about it and I am not interested still. For having certain 'rp theme'? Isn't that the literal definition of being creep? or is it just me? For those who felt offended with this point and actually senile irl who are looking for life partner on same phase of life, I am sorry..  just because I set my character age to 100+ years old, that doesn't mean that I am grandma irl, if there are people thinking otherwise.. well, they are morons. Screenshot folder for evidence:My IBB private folderScreenshot folder for evidence on other profile:My A̷n̷t̷i̷ ~ Ꭺꭱꭺꮐꭺꮇꮖ's Albums folder   Will less likely accept request from BNHA/MHA-related character(OC or Non-OC)Yeah, if you are one of them.. just refrain yourself from adding me seriously, I have been harassed by people using character from this verse.. this is just a way for me to prevent drama and that kind of useless crap Bleach-related character(OC or Non-OC)Same as above, this is one of the verse I added recently due to trolling/stalking incident and hate profiles BNHA/MHA-related character(OC or Non-OC)Yeah, if you are one of them.. just refrain yourself from adding me seriously, I have been harassed by people using character from this verse.. this is just a way for me to prevent drama and that kind of useless crap ALL Naruto/Burrito.. Boruto-related character(OC or Non-OC, I don't care!)This is just another kind of anime which I dont give a crap, not only its simply mainstream as f*** (despite of being mundanely design character and insulting the true way of ninja), most of the fans of this anime who I met in the past were all just narrow-minded people who like to play with other's feeling and yes this is based on my personal experience, I am not interested in dealing with their toxic fanbase. You are free to agree or disagree but I would say it as it is, because it IS my rules! I have albums of screenshot of the idiots using the character to harass me, don't believe it? DM me, Ill share the link (IF you actually meet the requirement to get your request approved). I can't share here because.. well it will get deleted and reported DUH! what do you expect from community filled with ignorant people? ALL Final Fantasy VII Original Character(...Well, except for Angeal and Zack, I guess.. I dont even mind doing ero with them)Don't get me wrong, I played the game, and I think it is decent, but I am not wasting my time RPing with any of the character here, because I know that for fact that these profile only stole the content for sake of following the trend or getting attention Dragon Ball-related character(OC or Non-OC)Same as the other criteria of this section, I am not condescending anyone for their choice of character. Just because you are rping as abnormally buffed character with shape of eyes and hair that looks like it can burst out balloon that does not mean you can easily impress any girl, Especially not me. I have seen time and time again how illiterate the rper of this verse can be. From one word greeting, to incoherent grammar. From blank profile to ghosting, I have seen it all. Again this is my opinion so anyone can try to prove me wrong. I am not going to approve friend request from this verse immediately. Even if I do, I won't have high expectation from these people. Therefor, I am just going to limit my reply to one to two lines. Only for those who actually prove that they possess English proficiency better than early year of elementary student, will get my respect and attention. Otherwise, I am not gonna even bother to spend time writing lengthy reply Genshin Impact character(OC or Non-OC)I am going to be perfectly honest, I don't play this game and I will never do. However, I do adore the character design. So much so that I downloaded some of the ported model and included them in Shio verse. When it comes to RP, I have NEVER once encountered any people using character of this verse, showing any sort of potential of becoming a good rp partner let alone a good friend. I get that this is some kind of MMORPG and people would rather play the game. I am a gamer myself, I still don't justify their ego-centrist behaviour. Just because ones are rping as game that is absurdly overrated, that doesn't mean they have higher ground than other. In the end of the day, when it comes to rp they have equal status with other stolen character from different verse. Nobody has privilage to treat other like number or collection or slave only to comment on picture stolen from the game, and other bad thing, which is common among this verse's rper. I personally would rather play with the model, than seeing the character treating me like a trash. Character with Paint Job or Recoloring EditI might not have extensive knowledge in regard of anime character but when I will know when people are using picture with recoloring job, I am not gonna judge but I don’t condemn any act of plagiarism. I understand if one just want to have a completely unique OC but they can’t afford the tools to create it, even then.. don’t let creativity ruining the originality. Also it doesn't take rocket science to make own completely unique OC, there are plethora of free to play game that allow player to customized their character even on mobile, so again.. no excuse for plagiarizing..unless for those lazy a**hole who can only use paint bucket tool on premade character and claim it as their "Originality". Sometime I am obliged to ask 'Try  drawing your own artwork, create good illustration for once and see people plagiarize it, maybe you'll understand how it feels'. Animal/Monster/Beast/Furry(Transformation, and human with appendages are okay)Let me be honest.. Bestiality is not my fetish, Something about the human relationship with antrophormorphic character just doesn’t sound right to me.. then again I know certain good people rping as them, therefore I am willing to give this kind of characters the benefit of doubt   Will NOT RP with... inanimate ObjectOh look, its picture of sword as profile, cool! How about I turn you into fu*ked up piece of metal, huh? Sounds great? Profile with IRL pictureNot interested.. I'd like to keep my IRL and net life separated, thank you.. It doesn't matter if you're the last man alive on earth or the most handsome dude in existence... I... DON'T... CARE.. People who added me in the past(Even if there is no interaction whatsoever, I think it can be considered as profile collector)If you're one of the conflict of interest, don't bother adding me. I don't wish to open old wound so let me move on with my life I Will be selective to... Female and "Other" Gender(This includes traps! I have to be selective on this one, judge me all you want,IDGAF)Let me point out that I am NOT sexist nor homophobic, however I notice there are lots of troll or hater hiding behind woman's skin, which is sad, but I feel the need to address this matter as act of precaution Newly Created Profile(This does NOT exclude all character on my preferred list)For those are new to the site, let me inform something interesting.. apparently there is a trend going on this site that people just LOVE recreating profile for attention or even creating burner account just for sake of whatever sick amusement they have in mind. That reason alone is enough for me to manually and selectively approve all the friend request. I have seen it time and time, new member added me only to find the profile disappear for less than a month. So if youre new, and your profile is still appearing on 'new member' section, I am sorry but you won't get approval from, unless of course you're one of myold friends creating new profile to try different things, I can still tolerate it. Otherwise, just spend your time on this site for while before adding me   Will NOT DO ERO RP with... Kids/Baby/Underage(Ill heavily consider for character with immortality and adult in child body)Okay I am fully aware that some people.. for whatever reason found any sort of gratification from RPing as kid character. Some people even claimed that they were actually adult irl, they just wanted to reflect their inner child through rp, I get it. although I might at some point question their degree morality but again.. this is just imagination, and people have right and freedom to do anything they enjoy as long as they are not bothering anybody else. I am not gonna judge anyone for that.. HOWEVER, this is part of this site rules... unless of course for people(whom I can consider as troll category) trying to get me banned.. I ain't gonna do ero rp with ANY underage character. Got any problem? Throw the complain to the people managing this site.. who actually thinks that underage people actually rp lol.. when I was a teenager, I would spend time with friends outside or do lots of  hobby, not rping.. now? yeah I just have too much free time...don't freaking judge me!. "Faceless" CharacterI am looking at you, Slenderman and Halo 'guy', doom guy and their variation Insentient Robot/AnimatronicI think I might have an idea why people are using this character and I am completely okay doing non-ero rp with them   Do NOT do this to me DO NOT ask my discord!Just to clear the things up, I DO have discord, as matter of fact I made 2 accounts; desktop and mobile. Despite of the programming flaws, bugs, errors, and glitches I have to admit that I like the simplicity. And perhaps people would hear me complaining how it ruin my gaming experience by crashing or lagging the game etc bla bla bla... those are the excuse I made so people will STOP asking for my ID. Nevertheless I do find it useful and truthfully I am having fun talking with my friends there. Discord is like my safe space,That is probably the reason why I don't wanna add anyone but people whom I trust, especially the people from site filled with Trolls. In my experience, discord has same similarity to this site that allows people to recreate ID and name and there are alot.. I mean ALOT of people who tried to ruin discord for me. So yeah don't ask for my ID, I am not interested in rping there. It's not excuse for mobile phone user because I have been browsing this site on my mobile browser and it works just fine, unless for those using phone from early 2000 then its not my problem. DO NOT order me around!(Except it is part of RP situation...)Obviously there is no seniority or superiority in this site I don't care if so-caled a veteran from mysite or bla bla bla, it doesnt always mean that every one of you out there has decent skill of writing, I know few who only bragged about it.. also I hate it when people are telling me to check on their profile! I will check it IF I feel the necessity to do such... in my opinion, its just plain rude when people add someone only to order the person as to do this and that.. it's like treating them like servant, so DOn't! DO NOT ask personal question!Let me get one thing out of the way, I am single and straight but I have severe doubt of long distance relationship, at the point that I can't simply share my IRL information online, I will reveal it when I am ready but for now.. for sake of real life safety I am keeping it hidden. DO NOT ask me to edit layout!I can edit layout... BUT right now, I am ONLY helping those rping as character on certain verses, so.. sorry? Is it wrong to have preference btw?   Personal Ranting You add, you start.Write in indicator whether you are talking OOC or IC I dont mind using comment or message, just don't mix OC and IC up, its just downright confusing! I don't consider posting on status stream as way to properly greeting someone, to me it's just lazy attempt for someone who likes whoring for attention First impression mattersFirst impression matters, as judgemental as it might sound, I won't even consider accepting friend request from someone with crummy default picture, it's technically going to be the thing that stick in my head about the character, so please put more effort in it Regarding RP Shipping/relationshipI am not interested in rping with anyone using couple picture as default photo OR the people who are looking for RP relationship (M&L nobody) (T&L whacamacallit), etc, if you are planning on doing this kind of stuff in the future (with me or someone else) then I ask you to NOT sending me friend request, otherwise.. dont hate me for ignoring the rp for that reason later. Why? Because none of your business! I am not gonna fill the details but I might share the story with people close enough to consider as actual friend. Like and comment mine,I'll do the same to yoursI know people found this thing trivial but I would know if someone is taking me for granted. You take your time, I shall take my time as wellI am not going to "unfriend" anyone for not replying let alone late reply, I am even willing to wait weeks and months for it. with that being said, I do hope nobody would rush me for reply or even make fuss about me being busy with my me-stuff or even late reply.. that is just petty and people who are upset about this kind of thing should get a life! Just because you see me online here, that doesn't mean I am just refreshing the home page over and over. There will be a moment for me to use browser on my mobile and I will get automatically signed in this site. People will see me online even though I am actually occupied with other things IRL, so please refrain yourself from spamming my inbox with one word message of 'hi' 'hello' or the generic greeting of 'how are you?' 'how are you doing'. Unless unless I have sent a response please DO NOT send me multiple post for mere greeting (exception: rp correction, internet problem - accidental double posting). I only view profile I am interested inObviously my picture and display name will appear on viewer list when I visit certain profile, So don't blindly accuse me as stalker. I hate status spammer!I hate status spammer, especially those who love flooding the stream few unnecessary status within 2 hours,(e.g: I'll be back in few hours, on/off.. etc, I dont give a sh*t, okay?! This is NOT twitter) if you like doing this, then consider your status hidden from my home because I simply dont want to miss actual important message from my 'actual friend'... If I actually have one.. otherwise I would rather staring at my own stream message, I put lots of creativity and effort to it, at the very least I am being informative. Profile with common image downloaded from googleI discovered certain user with image of common stock animation.. you know? the picture stolen from deviantart or pin interest with minor changes? From what I can gather, the people who used this kind of image didn't usually make good rp, in fact I found one who deleted me as friend right AFTER I sent him my starter, I even tolerate his mistake on my rules 'you add you start' which meant HE should have been the one sending me starter not the other way around. And you know what? this is not the first time happening to me, so if I see anyone adding me with stock image as dp and asking me for starter, I only have 2 words for them: 'Fu*k off!' Mature theme RPFeel free to send me instant erotic starter, but dont hate me if your character end up in awkward situation later on..because I'd love to mess around with horny people and ruin their mood.   I Will Definitely ADD... God Eater Character(Romance is absolutely adored, welcoming fellow protagonist too! I will only do lesbian-related stuff with Hilda Henriquez or protagonist character, other than that, it will put into consideration)Exception: Alisa, Sakuya, and Claire, they can kiss my sexy ass! Code Vein Character(Yakumo or Louis? I will tolerate Instant ero! ♥)Exception: Io and Eva, Why? I just dont like their voice and personality! Daemon X Machina Character(Still new to the verse but, I might try improvization. I will tolerate Instant ero for all character of Immortal Innocence faction ♥)Please share your Arsenal, weapon etc.. Member of my site(Well, duh!)I know I have not been diligent to my character section on my website but I promise I'll do my best! My Youtube subscriber(Thanks for subscribing!)Just in case its not obvious enough.. Fellow gamer on SteamJust in case you find me here by chance, but no I am not promoting this unfair site anywhere!

KNIGHTHOOD.

11/18/2021 06:47 PM 

leaning against the sun

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. 

KNIGHTHOOD.

11/18/2021 06:37 PM 

Mirror, Mirror

Summary: While poking around in corners of the palace, Loki finds a peculiar mirror that doesn't show his reflection. Things only go downhill from there.           He wasn’t looking for trouble. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular, really, just poking around in one of the many, many palace storerooms that sat forgotten if not abandoned. For the most part there was nothing interesting in them. Every so often, though, Loki found something that was - an ancient manuscript, a miniature dragon’s skeleton, a strange black orb that could throw an entire room into darkness blacker than the Void. (That one...made Loki a little nervous. But he kept it squirreled away on his shelf anyway, and nerves hadn’t stopped him from using it to terrify Thor. He’d deserved it. Leaving Loki behind, again, without so much as asking. Ass.) He couldn’t say what about the mirror caught his eye - it was broken, after all, a few shards of silvered glass lying on the floor that crunched under Loki’s heel. He crouched down in front of it, studying the slender silver frame - remarkably simple. Realizing abruptly what it was that he’d noticed, Loki’s eyes widened. The glass didn’t reflect his face. There was no answering gleam in the mirror of the witchlight hovering over his shoulder. The broken pieces stayed dark and gleaming. Loki pulled a piece of glass away and turned it over; the back was the same. “Why make a mirror that reflects nothing?” Loki asked it, frowning. He flexed his fingers and stepped back, concentrating. The shards on the floor flew back into the frame, the cracks fusing together. When he finished, there were still a few pieces missing, but it was almost whole. Nothing appeared in the glass, however - it remained dark, though he thought he could almost see the darkness moving. Loki pursed his lips and reached out to run his finger over the glass. Maybe it was because it was incomplete? If he could find the missing pieces… He nicked his finger on a sharp edge of the glass and hissed, jerking his hand back. Looking from the blood welling up on his fingertip to the opaque surface of the mirror, Loki chewed the inside of his cheek and then smeared blood on the glass. For a moment nothing happened, and Loki exhaled in disappointment. Then the streak of blood sank into the mirror and disappeared. Loki jerked back. A thousand warnings cut across his mind: blood magic is unpredictable, dangerous, carries a high price. But he hadn’t done anything. Still, he stood up quickly and took a step back, wringing his hands and staring nervously at the mirror. It didn’t do anything, though, except that the faint trace of movement he’d thought he’d seen was gone. “Well,” said a quiet voice behind him. “And who are you?” Loki spun around, magic surging to his hands, but there was no one there. Or - no. Not no one. But not someone, either. It was like wisps of smoke that almost formed the outline of a person - not solid enough to even be called a shadow. Loki took a step back. “Who - what are you?” “I do not know,” it said. Its voice was high, strangely musical, and sent shivers down Loki’s spine. “I was caged. And now I am free.” Loki glanced at the mirror. “In that?” He asked, curious in spite of himself. “Yes,” it said after a moment. “I suppose so.” Loki had the impression he was being scrutinized, though he could see no eyes. “Will you tell me your name?” “I am-” Loki remembered, in time, that it was unwise to give one’s name to unfamiliar magical creatures. Names had power, and some beings could use it for ill ends. “Loptr,” he said, after a moment, and chose to leave off prince of Asgard as well. “No,” it said after a moment. “That is not your name.” Loki flinched, then blinked. “How should you know?” He said. “You do not even know your own, and you would call me a liar?” “Yes,” it said. “That is a name for you. Liar.” Loki’s eyes widened and this time he did summon his magic. “Begone,” he snapped. “You are not welcome here, spirit.” He sketched the rune of banishing in the air, and flicked his hand to trigger it. The apparition dispersed like dust before a strong wind. Loki stared at the air where it had been, his stomach churning. That is a name for you. It was nothing anyone had ever said in his hearing. But he wondered, sometimes, if silvertongue was an epithet that masked something less fair-sounding. He shook himself. The thing had been a ghost from a mirror, not an oracle. Hardly worth the effort it had taken to banish it. Still, the chill lingered, and he left the room perhaps a little hastily. Loki went back to his room, feeling oddly drained, and found Thor waiting for him by the door and scowling at it. He checked his stride for a moment, exhaled, and walked over to him. “Did you try to open it?” He asked. Thor turned to look at him, holding out his reddened palm. “It burned me. When did you set wards on your door?” “After the fourth time you interrupted me in the middle of delicate work,” Loki said, unapologetic, but he reached for Thor’s hand, working a simple spell that sank into his skin, the red fading away. “What did you want?” “Not me,” Thor said. “Father. He asked for us both.” Loki blinked, anxiety bubbling in his stomach. “Did he say why?” “No,” Thor said, and scrutinized his face. “Did you do something?” Loki stiffened. “Do something? What makes you think I did something?” Thor put up his hands hastily. “I was just asking!” “If it were about me,” Loki said, annoyed, “why summon both of us?” Though he did wonder. Had their father sensed what had happened with the mirror? It seemed unlikely that he would have, and the room he’d found it in wasn’t technically forbidden, but... “Perhaps he is going to send us to look into the disturbance in the southeast,” Thor said, sounding hopeful. “Apparently there is some sort of monster ravaging farms.” “He won’t,” Loki said. “We’re too young.” Thor scowled, as though he resented the reminder, and Loki rolled his shoulders back. “We should go. I don’t want to be late.” Thor’s eyes widened a little. “You’re right,” he said. “If we’re in trouble, I’m telling him it was your fault. Where were you, anyway?” “About,” Loki said vaguely. Thor looked like he wanted to roll his eyes, but just reached out and shoved Loki instead. “Skulking in the library seeking new tricks?” He said with a laugh. Loki pushed away the anger that prickled between his shoulder blades and summoned a smile he hoped looked mysterious. “Something like that.” The door to their father’s study was open. Thor went in without knocking, and Loki trailed after. Odin looked at him briefly, his single eye piercing, before turning his gaze on Thor. Loki shifted, but stayed quiet. “You told me to find Loki - I found him. So what is it you want to tell us?” “You’re old enough now,” their father said at length, “to take on some new responsibilities.” Oh. Loki relaxed. So he was not in trouble, and this was not to be a lecture. He straightened, a little, trying not to smile. Thor straightened as well, less successful at hiding his pleasure. “We’re honored, father,” he said, and if Loki felt a twinge of resentment at being spoken for, he tucked it away. “What would you have us do?” Their father stood slowly. “It is time you began to learn what it is to rule,” he said. “The responsibilities of kingship. From now on, you will spend your afternoons with me, observing council meetings.” Thor deflated. Loki stifled his laugh: he’d still been hoping to be sent out to slay a monster. This, Loki thought, was much better. This was trust, not just of their skills but that they would not embarrass the All-Father or Asgard. It meant learning not just the theory of politics but its practice. Loki could see Thor on the point of trying to protest, and cut in quickly. “Thank you,” he said. “We look forward to learning--” “I was speaking to Thor,” Odin said calmly, and Loki was brought up short like he’d just run into a door suddenly closed in front of him. “What?” He said, stupidly. “What?” Thor said, sounding equally surprised, and looked at Loki in confusion. “Why? Why doesn’t Loki have to go?” “Loki will be spending his time with Halvar,” their father said. Loki felt like he’d been punched in the stomach. The treasurer. Thor was to be privy to their father’s highest councils, and he was to spend his days counting coins? Thor’s eyebrows knitted together. “With Halvar? But-” “Thor,” their father said, and though it was mild even Thor heard the warning in it and shut his mouth. “I have made my decision.” Why, Loki wanted to demand, like Thor. He bit his tongue, though there was a pit that had opened in his stomach. And humiliation burning in his cheeks, for assuming as much as he had. Don’t you know your place by now? He lowered his eyes. “I am grateful for this opportunity, Father,” he said, words carefully measured. “I will do my best not to disappoint you.” He felt Thor glance at him, and then back at their father. “I am...also grateful,” he said, but the words were stiff. There was a tightness in Loki’s chest and he bit the inside of his cheek so he didn’t start fidgeting with his hands. “May I go?” He asked, keeping his voice even. “I was in the middle of - a project. It shouldn’t be left unattended too long.” It was a weak lie, and he was sure for a moment that Odin would call him on it, but he just nodded. “Go on,” he said. “We will speak more later.” Loki bowed his head and left the room with as much dignity as he could manage, keeping his head high as he turned back toward his rooms. His lungs felt too tight. Don’t be an idiot, he thought viciously. This is - it’s an honor. He’s giving you more responsibility. It doesn’t matter what the responsibility is. You’re younger than Thor, it only makes sense-- But he was the one who applied himself to his studies more. He was the one who did better in their classes on politics and history and comportment. He was secondborn. He wasn’t Thor. “Loki!” He stopped, inhaling through his nose and keeping his fists from clenching at his sides, but he didn’t turn. “Loki,” Thor said, coming around in front of him. “I tried to tell him-” “You shouldn’t have bothered,” Loki said. “You know as well as I do that father doesn’t change his mind.” “I don’t understand,” Thor said, shaking his head. Loki shrugged. “I suppose he thinks it is where we need to be.” “Yes, but…” Thor trailed off, and shook his head with a forced laugh. “I don’t know why you’d be upset. At least Halvar is young. I’m to be stuck listening to a flock of gossiping greybeards.” Loki felt a flash of anger and stifled it. He forced a smile. “Mind you don’t fall asleep.” “Without you there to prod me awake, I just might,” Thor said. Loki looked away from him, and Thor reached out to grip his shoulder. “Let’s go riding. I’ll find Fandral and Sif and the others-” “No, thank you,” Loki said, pulling away. “I’d rather...skulk about in the library.” His smile felt more and more forced. “Go on,” he said, when Thor’s eyebrows pulled together. “Enjoy yourself. You’re soon to lose your freedom, after all.” “If you’re certain,” Thor said, after a long pause. “Of course I am,” Loki said. “Stop worrying.” Thor squeezed his shoulder. “Tomorrow,” he said. “I will drag you out into the sun. You are beginning to look positively ghostly.” Loki watched him walk away, waiting until he was out of sight to let the smile fall away. He wove a spell around himself that would keep him unnoticed the rest of the way back to his room, and sank down into his favorite chair, resting his head in his hands. It was fine, he told himself. Fine. “He loves you less,” said a voice, and Loki’s head snapped up. He looked around wildly. “Who’s there?” “He looks at you and sees the lesser son,” said the same voice, and Loki lurched to his feet, calling on his magic and scanning wildly back and forth. “He doesn’t trust you. Thor shines in his eyes, but you...you are a shadow.” Loki found it, finally. It stood in a corner, little more than a vague outline, a shimmer in the air. He straightened up, jaw tightening. “You,” he said. “I banished you-” “You thought you had,” it said. “But I didn’t go far.” Loki raised a hand to sketch the banishing sigil again. “Don’t you wonder,” it said, “why he loves you less?” “He doesn’t,” Loki said angrily. “Thor is older. That’s all-” “Is it?” “You’re a ghost - a demon,” Loki said. “What do you know of love?” “I see more clearly than you do, a child chasing your father’s approval. You’ll never have it. You may as well give up.” Loki’s hands clenched into fists and he wrote the sigil in quick, jerking gestures, triggering it. The figure wavered, but did not vanish. “Pathetic,” it said. Loki licked his lips and tried again, but it was gone before he even finished the spell. Like it had never been there. Loki took several heaving, deep breaths. He could feel himself shaking and bit down hard on his lower lip. He wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t a child and he wouldn’t act like one. A child chasing your father’s approval. Loki dug his fingernails into his palms and bent his head forward, fighting for control as hard as he could. Tomorrow...tomorrow he’d go see if he could find information about how to banish malevolent spirits. He’d start work with Halvar and he’d do it well, prove that he could be trusted, that he was responsible, that he could be useful. It was - disappointing, of course, but it wasn’t...it didn’t mean anything. Didn’t mean… He loves you less. Thor shines in his eyes, but you are a shadow. Loki shoved the words away. It was the shadow, not him. It didn’t leave him alone. It came back again when he was studying in the library, poring over tome after tome of Asgard’s history. The more he knew, after all, the more valuable he could be to Asgard. And yet as he focused on memorizing the law codes implemented by Buri the Undefeated, he felt it like a shadow falling over him. “Why are you bothering with this? It won’t change anything.” Loki hunched his shoulders. Perhaps if he simply ignored it. He needed to look up stronger banishing spells. Something more permanent. Spells of destruction, even. “It doesn’t matter how much you know, little liar.” Its voice had changed; it sounded deeper, less musical. “It isn’t what you know. It’s what you are.” Don’t call me a liar, Loki wanted to say, but he bit his tongue and tried to focus on the page. In the third year of his reign- “And you know what you are, don’t you?” It sounded closer. Goosebumps rose on the back of Loki’s neck but he refused to turn and look. “Lesser. Inferior. Unworthy.” Loki’s stomach clenched along with his teeth. He closed the book and made himself stand to take it back to the shelves. Sliding it back into place, careful to line up the spines perfectly. “The heir and the spare,” it said. “Why do they even bother? They have everything Asgard needs in Thor.” He couldn’t hold back. He whirled around and threw one of his knives directly at its heart. It passed harmlessly through, black parting around it and reforming in its wake. Loki stared. It looked more solid now, more real, the outline clearer and less wavering. He almost took a step back, but refused to give ground, clenching his fists. “You can pour all the poison you like in my ears,” he said, and his face burned to hear how his voice shook, “but I will not listen to a word of it. I am Loki, Prince of Asgard, a son of Odin-” “Ah,” it said, sounding satisfied. “So that is your name, little liar. Loki.” His stomach plunged. Idiot, he thought savagely. You utter fool, a little stung pride and you give up your true name to this mirror-demon, a dark creature of unknown nature? “Loki,” it said. “Yes.” He took a step back, breathing quickly. “Loki?” He heard. Thor’s voice, but Loki didn’t call back, standing frozen, staring at the thing he’d unleashed. “Loki! Where are you?” “You had better answer,” it said. “Or he will leave without you. As he always will. Every year, he leaves you further behind.” “Be silent,” Loki said, and hated how his voice quavered. “You know nothing. You are nothing.” “I only speak what you do not want to admit,” the shadow said. “Loki!” Thor called again, and he took a step back. “Begone,” he said, finally calling on his magic and lashing out with it. The shadow melted away, but Loki could have sworn he heard it laughing as it did. His throat burned and he wanted to scream at it: you’re wrong, Thor will never leave me, we’re brothers, no one is bound so closely together as we are. Thor rounded the corner. “There you are,” he said, sounding impatient. “I’ve been calling you for ages. What were you studying that was so interesting?” Loki glanced away with a shrug. “Nothing,” he said. “What did you want?” “Sif and I are going for a ride,” Thor said. “Do you want to join us?” For another afternoon of standing to the side and watching the two of you banter and tease each other? No, thank you, Loki thought, but the shadow’s words crept into his mind: he will leave without you. Every year, he leaves you further behind. Loki balled his hands into fists and forced himself to open them and shrug as though it didn’t much matter. “Why not? I’m finished here.” Thor brightened, and his smile went a long way toward sweeping aside some of Loki’s uncertainties. He glanced uneasily over his shoulder as he left, searching the corners for any suspicious looking shadows. Perhaps, he thought briefly, he ought to say something to Odin or Frigga about the thing. Loki dismissed the thought immediately. It was just a small problem. A nuisance, nothing more. Not worth bringing to them at all. The next few days were quiet, though Loki caught himself peering suspiciously at any patches of darkness that seemed out of place. He began shadowing Halvar, and was surprised by how engaging he found the work. It was not glamorous, certainly, but it was...interesting. And more complicated than just counting coins. Still, for all Thor complained about how dull the meetings he attended were, a private envy still gnawed at him. And some part of him wondered if Thor was deliberately exaggerating how hateful he found it to make Loki feel better, which seemed too much like pity for Loki to appreciate. For a few days, Loki dared to think he might have gotten rid of the mirror-shadow for good. Then - oh, then. Thor was joining their father on a journey to Vanaheim. A brief one, Thor said. Just a few days, Thor said. Loki did not ask if he had been invited; the sheepish, almost nervous look on Thor’s face was clear enough. The way he was trying to make excuses. Loki forced a smile. “You’ll have to tell me all about it when you return,” he said, injecting false cheer into his voice that didn’t sound convincing even to him. Thor’s face fell. “You’re not jealous, are you?” He asked. “It’s only Vanaheim. Besides, wouldn’t you rather stay here anyway? It’ll all be talks and meetings with dull Vanir lords. Nothing exciting.” Meetings with your future liege lords. Parties where you will dazzle and charm everyone there, as you always do. Loki’s shoulders tensed. “Easy for you to say,” he snapped. “It isn’t you always getting left behind.” Thor straightened. “What are you yelling at me for? It’s not my fault.” Yes it is, Loki thought, unexpectedly savage. It is your fault, you’re like a fire burning up all the oxygen in the room so there’s nothing left for me. You are the heir and I am the spare and everyone knows it. I’m nothing more than your shadow. “You’re right,” Loki said. “It’s not your fault that Father likes you more.” Thor stared at him, shocked, and then laughed. “What do you mean? Don’t be ridiculous, Loki.” “You wouldn’t see it, would you,” Loki said. “After all, it’s only what you deserve.” Thor’s face darkened. “What’s gotten into you? Why are you making so much fuss about one little trip?” Loki looked away. It’s not fair, he thought, like the child he wasn’t supposed to be anymore. “Never mind,” Loki said bitterly. “It doesn’t matter.” Thor frowned at him. “Fine,” he said. “Go on and sulk.” He turned on his heel and stormed away. Loki resisted the urge to call after him and just stood, hands balled into fists at his sides and breathing hard. Only a few seconds after Thor was out of sight, though, the anger melted away, leaving a hollow space where it had been. Loki slumped, feeling childish and stupid. He’d lost his temper with Thor, driven him off, and it didn’t mean anything. Nothing changed. Thor was still going, and he still wasn’t. “He is probably going to your father right now.” Loki whirled around, tensing. One shadow detached itself from a cluster of them, and Loki almost thought he could see the glitter of eyes. He took a step back. “Back again?” he said, trying for callous disdain though he fell far short of it. “What do you think he will say?” The shadow said, as though he hadn’t spoken. “That his brother is envious, full of petty jealousy?” Loki opened his mouth to argue and snapped it shut. He shouldn’t give it the attention. It was trying to provoke him, clearly, and he was not going to be manipulated by a phantasm from a mirror. “You make a very pathetic prince,” the shadow said. Loki dug his nails into the palms of his hands and turned away, stalking back toward his rooms. “Are you going to sulk now?” The shadow called, and Loki whirled before he could stop himself, hissing the harshest banishing spell he’d ever memorized. The shadow melted away - and reformed a moment later. Loki froze, breath catching in his throat. “Is it any wonder that you aren’t being brought along?” It said sweetly. It swayed to and fro like a snake, it’s form for a moment almost something like a man before it blurred back into shapelessness. “’It’s not fair.’ Of course it is. This is a reward, and you have to earn rewards. What have you done to earn anything?” Loki couldn’t seem to move. He opened his mouth to object, but the only words that bubbled up in his mind were it’s right, you know. “Nothing,” the shadow said, like it was relishing the word. “Nothing at all, little liar. If you hadn’t been born in this house...no one would ever look at you twice.” “Stop it,” Loki said. The shadow laughed. “Why? It isn’t anything you don’t already know. Oh, you try to smother it in comforting platitudes. You are a prince. Born to be a king. But there is one heir to Asgard’s throne, and it isn’t you.” Loki swallowed hard, or tried, the lump in his throat seeming to block it. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I do not need to be king. I can be just as important at Thor’s side–” “Behind him, you mean,” the shadow interrupted, drawing nearer and seeming to bend down. It was man-shaped, now, long and spindly fingers reaching toward Loki’s face. “Unseen. Unnoticed. Or do you really believe your own lies?” Iron bands tightened around Loki’s chest, squeezing his ribs. “What do you want from me,” he said. “The truth,” the shadow said, voice suddenly turning gentle. “It may be painful now, but isn’t it better to know than to pretend?” Loki wavered. He shook his head. “I don’t believe you. Are you really claiming that you are just trying to help?” “The sooner you admit what you are,” the shadow crooned, “the better off you will be. The better off everyone will be.” Loki’s eyes burned. He turned his back. “I will not listen to you,” he said, teeth gritted. “You are - you are just some dark thing seeking to poison my mind. To weaken me. It won’t work.” The shadow withdrew its hands. “There is only so long you can hide,” it said. “You already know I am right.” Then it was gone. Loki let out a ragged breath that sounded just on the edge of a sob and sucked it back in, blinking rapidly several times until he had himself back under control. He felt shaky, chilled, like he was coming down with a fever. He could still hear its voice echoing in his head, slithering through his thoughts and taking root. You already know I am right. Loki pressed the back of his hand to his mouth, turned on his heel, and went to go for a ride, hoping that the fresh air would clear his head. Then he would come back and look for stronger banishing spells. Or maybe workings to lock spirits into objects. It had come out of a mirror; maybe Loki could trap it in another one. Do you really believe your own lies? Loki dug his fingernails into his palms, the sting grounding him somewhat. It was something, at least. Something to focus on that wasn’t the word nothing circling in his mind like a vulture eyeing a dying animal. Loki woke up the morning after his argument with Thor with a headache and exhaustion dogging his heels. His thoughts were a blurry, confused, muddle and while he couldn’t remember them, he knew he’d had terrible dreams. He took breakfast with his mother, who watched him picking disinterestedly at his food and frowned. “Are you feeling well, Loki?” She asked. He raised his head and forced a smile. “Yes,” he said automatically, and then said, “a bit tired.” She smiled. “Working hard? I know your father has been giving you and Thor more responsibilities. I hope he isn’t leaving you with no time for yourself.” “No,” Loki said quickly. “No - I can’t complain. I - I appreciate it, truly. It’s an honor.” Frigga gave him an odd look, a frown touching the corners of her mouth. “Well, then,” she said. “I am...glad to hear that.” “Yes,” Loki said. “Yes, it’s...good.” He took an overlarge bite of egg that tasted like paper, and forced himself to chew and swallow before setting down his fork. “May I...ask you something, mother?” “Anything, love,” she said with a smile. Loki looked down at his plate. “Do you know of…” He paused. “I was reading something, and...can mirrors be used to trap things? Spirits, or the like?” Frigga paused, and after a moment set down her own utensils. “What were you reading?” Loki shrugged. “I don’t remember what it was called. It wasn’t about...just a passing mention, and it got me thinking.” The lie came to him easily. A faint frown line appeared between his mother’s eyebrows. “It’s old magic,” she said, finally. “Not much in use anymore. It used to be done, in order to sequester certain types of spirits.” “Why not anymore?” Loki asked. How is it done? He couldn’t exactly say that, though, without losing the pretense that this was a theoretical discussion. And he did not much want to tell his mother that he’d loosed something unpleasant on Asgard by accident. She would think he was such a stupid, ignorant child. Imagining the disappointment on her face - without even touching his father’s anger… Frigga spoke slowly, as though considering her words carefully. “Mages these days favor banishing,” she said. “It was not...a permanent solution, after all. Mirrors can be easily broken, and the spirit within freed. And it was used, also, as a means to...bind spirits to a sorcerer’s will. Rather than banishing them entirely, they could be tied to the earthly plane and used.” She gave Loki a sharp look. “I needn’t tell you how dangerous that sort of magic-working is. And how easily twisted to evil ends.” A shiver went down Loki’s spine. “I know,” he said. He remembered, quite vividly, Frigga’s description of what happened to mages who lost control of spirits they tried to bind. Which was all of them, eventually. His mother relaxed slightly. “Ultimately,” she went on, “the whole practice was deemed too dangerous, and as summoning magic fell out of favor in general, it was one of the first things to be discarded.” She examined him. “Does that answer your question?” “What happened when the spirit was freed?” Loki asked carefully. “Couldn’t you just banish it?” Frigga hummed. “Often, yes - though of course that isn’t always such a simple task. But sometimes…” She examined him, and Loki thought she was debating whether or not to say something. He held still and tried to look curious but innocent. “Sometimes the spirit would...fix on the person who broke the mirror. A way to insure that a rival mage did not free a spirit in order to sabotage her fellow who had called it to begin with. In those cases, extricating it from the material plane became a great deal more complicated.” “But it could be done,” Loki blurted out, before he could stop himself. “I mean - it wasn’t permanent.” “No, of course not,” Frigga said, giving him a strange look. “Few things are. But it is seldom a benefit to have a spirit fixed to your heels - especially one that has been trapped and is likely angry.” She paused. “But all of this...it is history, Loki. You are thoroughly unlikely to run into anything of the like unless you go looking for it.” Loki tried to smile and look relieved. “Thank you for indulging my curiosity,” he said, and picked up his fork again to resume eating, staring down at his plate. Conversation fell quiet for a while. “Loki,” his mother said abruptly, and he looked up to see an expression of concern on her face. “You know if something is bothering you...you can always come to me. Don’t you?” “I - of course,” Loki said, somewhat automatically, and then, “why?” “I know that…” she seemed to be considering. “Thor said that you were...upset by the fact that you were not to be joining him and your father on their journey to Vanaheim.” Loki’s stomach turned sour. He imagined Thor complaining to their mother about Loki, about his petty, resentful little brother. He controlled his face with an effort. “It’s all right,” he said, forcing a little smile. “I understand that it’s not about me. It’s just not my turn yet. I’m not upset.” “Really,” she said. “I guess I was, a little,” Loki said. “But I thought about it, and not anymore.” It was so easy to lie. So...natural. “Good,” his mother said after a pause. “That’s good. I’m glad to hear it.” Something in his chest ached. He’d wanted her to say something else, Loki realized. To push, or to agree with him that it was unfair, or...something. He wasn’t even sure what that would be, exactly. Just that not getting it left him feeling rather hollow. Loki slept poorly, restlessly, and woke with his head aching and full of wool. He couldn’t remember his dreams, only that they’d been unpleasant. Thor and Odin were leaving today, he remembered, and wanted to roll over, pull the blankets up over his head, and go back to sleep. “You look pathetic.” “Go away,” Loki said, and cringed at how childish it sounded. “Why? So you can lie here moping alone?” The shadow scoffed. Its voice sounded different than it had before - clearer, and strangely familiar. “As I said. Pathetic.” Loki pushed the blankets back and sat up. The shadow was there, and its outline seemed more solid, now, like it was getting stronger, gaining more of a foothold. Loki turned his back resolutely and began dressing himself, trying to ignore the warning prickle on the back of his neck. “Ignore me all you like,” the shadow said. “It is no less true, and you know it. Besides, pathetic is the best that can be said of you, little liar.” Loki hunched his shoulders and said nothing, marching into the bathroom to splash cold water on his face in the hopes that it would clear his head. “What a performance you gave for your mother,” the shadow went on, its voice following him. “How she loves you. And you repay her with deceit.” Loki bit the inside of his cheek so he didn’t answer, and straightened up only to jump, eyes widening. The shadow was just behind him, and for a moment he could almost make out a face; he did feel it when it reached out and caressed the side of his face, cold as ice, and he flinched hastily away. “I know what you are,” he hissed, his stomach roiling. The chill of that touch seemed to sink into him, all the way to his core. “Nothing but a spirit, captured and bound by some sorcerer. Chained. You must have been weak.” The shadow shifted, morphed, fingers extending into claws. “Weak,” it said, more snarl than speech. Loki felt a stab of triumph. “Yes,” he said. “Weak. Trapped in a mirror. Locked away in a dusty room. Forgotten. You might be haunting me, taunting me, but that’s all you can do. You’re nothing but words.” The talons formed back into fingers. Its body coalesced back into an ordinary shape. “Is that what you think?” It said. Loki raised his chin. “It’s all you’ve done so far. Are you going to tell me you can do worse? Threaten me?” “No,” the shadow said. “No. Not threaten. Why would I threaten you?” It seemed to settle, calming. “I don’t need to threaten you.” An alarm bell was clanging at the back of Loki’s mind. “Why not?” He asked, suddenly uncertain. A flash, as of teeth. As of a smile, and a shadow, Loki thought, should not be able to smile. It stepped closer to him. “Because whether or not I threaten you,” it crooned, “you will give me what I want.” Loki’s stomach lurched and his breathing quickened. “And what is it you want, shadow?” “That,” it said, “would be telling.” It withdrew, then. “Go on, princeling. Don’t you want to bid your brother farewell?” Loki’s jaw worked. “I will be rid of you,” he said. “And all your hateful lies.” “Not lies,” it said. “Never lies. I would never lie to you, Loki.” This time he was certain of it: a smile, and it looked entirely wrong on the shadow’s not-a-face. “I don’t need to. You think I am trying to wound? I am the only one in your life who will be honest with you.” It was gone again before Loki could answer. He wrapped his arms around himself, realizing that he was shivering, chilled to the bone. His mouth flooded with saliva and he twisted quickly to vomit into the sink rather than on the floor. When the wave of nausea passed, Loki lifted his head and looked at himself in the mirror. His face was bone-white. He looked sickly, ugly. Pathetic. He conjured a glamor to cover himself and left, his stomach still twisting in knots, the cold of the shadow’s touch lingering in his bones. Loki bade Thor farewell with a smile, and Thor seemed pleased, embracing Loki hard enough that his ribs creaked and promising to bring him back some treasure - perhaps a dragon’s egg? Loki laughed, though some dark emotion still seethed in his chest as he watched Thor and Odin lead their horses out to the end of the Bifrost. He turned away before it swept them off, and went to seek out solitude. His solitude did not last for long. “And now you are alone,” the shadow said. Loki did not look at it, but he could see out of the corner of his eye that it was no longer formless at all, but well and truly man-shaped. It seemed to have shrunk, however, and where it sat on the bench beside him was nearly his exact height. “He must be relieved not to have you tagging along at his heels.” “Thor loves me,” Loki said, before he could stop himself. “You cannot make me doubt that.” The shadow laughed. “He loves having an obedient little companion who makes him greater by contrast. You make him feel superior. Give him confidence in his own greatness. After all, if ever he doubts himself, all he needs to do is look at you and think at least I am not Loki.” Loki dug his fingers into his legs. “It isn’t like that.” “Isn’t it?” He lurched to his feet and walked away, his stomach churning. It was like the shadow’s words were seeping into him, and while he tried to shake them off they were already in his bloodstream. He felt sick. “He loves me,” he insisted. “I am his brother.” “You are his shadow,” the shadow said with relish. “Your mother pities you. Your father sees you as a disappointment. Have you deluded yourself so far that you do not see it?” Loki resisted the childish urge to put his hands over his ears. “They are my family.” “So they love you out of obligation,” the shadow said. “Nothing more.” It stood as well, circling around to stand in front of him. Loki could just make out the vague outline of a face, the hint of a jawline, the suggestion of eyes. “What use are you to them otherwise? They only need one prince. They only want one.” Loki swallowed hard. His eyes and stomach burned. “Be silent.” “Weak,” the shadow said. “Foolish. Pathetic. Useless. What do you have that your brother does not? What do you have to offer?” Nothing. Nothing at all. “My magic,” he said. “I’m smarter. Cleverer.” “Who cares?” The shadow stepped closer to him, as though they were about to kiss. “Magic and trickery? A modicum of cleverness? You grasp at straws. No one wants a clever prince. A clever son. They want one who can command loyalty. Respect. One who is brave and true and a proper warrior.” “What would you have me do?” Loki burst out. “You tell me I have no place here - where exactly do you expect me to go? This is my home.” The shadow laughed, soft and vicious. “And it doesn’t want you,” it said. “Nobody wants you. You could disappear tomorrow and no one would notice, or care. You could die, and who would mourn?” Hot and shameful tears welled up and spilled over. “It’s not true,” he whispered, but his stomach ached. The shadow reached out and cupped the back of his neck with its cold hand, a mockery of affection. “You know it is,” it said, voice shifting to gentleness. “You feel its truth in your bones. Don’t you? You haven’t wanted to admit it, but it is there. Every time you are passed over for Thor. Every time you are silenced to let him speak. Every time your father ignores you. Your mother tells you that you are not different, not less, but if that is so then why do people treat you like you are? “Because you are the flaw. You are the fault along which the stone splits. You are what is wrong.” Loki stood, transfixed, trembling very slightly. “Admit it,” the shadow said. Loki swallowed hard. “I know,” he said, soft and hoarse. “I...know.” “There you are,” the shadow crooned. “Don’t you feel better?” It vanished before he could answer. Loki covered his face with his hands, still shaking, tears rolling down his cheeks. You are what is wrong. He made himself invisible and stumbled back to his rooms, where he locked the door, crawled into bed, curled up under the covers, and wept silently until he managed to escape into sleep. He woke in the middle of the night feverish and nauseated, having slept for nearly twelve hours. Stumbling to the bathroom, he vomited twice but his stomach did not settle. Dizzy and weak, his joints aching, he considered calling a healer but shoved the idea away. Odds were he’d just eaten something that had disagreed with him. He was not going to be a weakling who went whining for comfort at the slightest of pains. He tried to go back to sleep but it was elusive, and eventually he lit a candle and tried to read, but the words swam in front of his eyes. An ache started at his temples and spread until it felt like his head would split in two. The thought slid into his mind that Thor never fell ill like this. Not Thor, the mighty, the invincible, the perfect– His eyes prickled. He wanted someone to know he was suffering and come. He wanted someone to have noted his absence yesterday and come. He knew Frigga would, if he asked - she would be here in moments, and run her fingers through his hair, and comfort him, and imagining it made his chest ache with longing– But it would ring false. They love you out of obligation. Nothing more. He curled up tighter into himself. It felt a bit as though there was a small animal gnawing on his heart. “Hiding away in the dark?” Loki held in a moan. Leave me alone, he wanted to say, like a whining child. Stop it. “I’m sick,” he said. “I can see that,” the shadow said, voice smooth and sure. “What a fine figure you cut.” “Do you never tire of your own voice?” Loki demanded. He meant it to sound caustic, but it came out thin and pathetic. “Do you?” The shadow laughed. “All that talk to fill the silence. The emptiness at your core.” “That isn’t why.” “Isn’t it?” He could hear the shadow’s smile without seeing it. “I know you, Loki. You forget. I know your mind, your soul. Your thoughts and fears and secrets. I have seen the core of you, and just as your father has, have found it wanting.” Loki’s stomach clenched and he tasted bile. He bit his lip so he didn’t answer. “Look at me,” the shadow said, and there was something resonant in its voice that he could not disobey. He opened his eyes and turned his head, and his blood went cold. He was looking at his own face. Or almost: it was his, but not quite, ever so slightly wrong in a hundred small ways. Even as he looked, though, the features shifted, clarified - the clearest sign of difference was the eyes, black as pitch from lid to lid. “Do you think I would make a better you?” It said, soft and malevolent. “I doubt anyone would notice. They might even be grateful for the change.” “No,” Loki said, but it came out a croak, his throat half-closed. He couldn’t move, frozen, fear choking him. Finally, he lunged for his magic, remembering himself - only to feel it seized, bent, twisted from his control. Pain spiked through him and he cried out, struggling as his power was pulled out of him, drawn up from his core. The shadow let out a pleased sigh, like it had swallowed a draught of fine wine. Loki felt himself shivering, his vision doubling before it steadied. “Thank you,” the shadow said, “for letting me in.” The black of its eyes diminished, shrinking to a normal pupil. Loki couldn’t catch his breath, and when he struggled to rise his limbs felt like dead weight. “I won’t need you for much longer,” it went on. “A few more days. A week at most. Oh, princeling.” It bent down and kissed him, its touch, before cold as ice, now warm as ordinary flesh. “You set me free. You made me strong. I could not be more grateful that you made it so easy.” “They’ll know,” Loki managed. His voice sounded strange, distorted. “My mother will be able to tell-” “We’ll see, won’t we?” the shadow said. “Perhaps. But with my power, and yours…” Loki felt that painful tug on his magic again, sucking more out of him. “I think I can deal with her.” Loki wanted to howl, to scream, but his own power wound around him, a silencing spell tightening around his throat that left him utterly voiceless. He would not be able to so much as whimper. His head felt as though it was going to split in two, and every breath lanced pain through his lungs. His stomach lurched and heaved. “Time for me to go, little liar,” the shadow said, in Loki’s voice, and walked away. The door locked behind it. His own spells would keep it closed. Stupid, he thought savagely. Stupid, stupid, to think you could handle it on your own, to think that you were strong enough when you are nothing, nothing at all. His eyes burned with helpless, angry tears. And he was still too weak: too weak to rise, to fight, to free himself from the bonds of his own magic usurped and turned against him. He tried. Oh, he tried. But the more he fought it, the weaker he seemed to become, and ultimately, miserable and exhausted, he gave up. His only hope was that someone would realize something was wrong. But would they? They might even be grateful for the change. The tears that spilled over felt hot on his cold skin. His memories blurred. The shadow, though it was shadow no longer, returned, and laughed at his struggles that were becoming weaker by the day. He, Loki thought, was becoming the shadow himself, and he wondered if when it was over he would be locked in a mirror - or if he would simply die and be buried in some anonymous grave, or sent over the edge of Asgard into the Void. His periods of consciousness grew shorter. The despair grew stronger. He tried, belatedly, to strip away the protections that kept him from Heimdall’s sight, but he had no control over his own power, yoked as it was to the shadow’s will. “I was right,” it said to him at night, whispering in his ear. “No one has noticed anything wrong at all. It stands to reason, as no one ever noticed you.” The animal in his chest was eating through his heart. He closed his eyes and sought refuge in oblivion. His ability to fight was dwindling to almost nothing. He was on his own, maybe had always been on his own, and he wasn’t strong enough to save himself. Asgard did not need a weak prince. Asgard did not need him. The next thing he was aware of was Thor’s face looming over him, his hands on Loki’s face burning. “Loki!” he was saying, from what sounded like far away. “Stay awake, please, stay awake.” Why, Loki would have asked, if he’d been able to speak, but he could not, and could not do as Thor asked either. Slipping away, he wondered if his eyes would open again. It was dark when he woke up. He hurt, but not like he’d been beaten - somehow deeper, a sense of wrongness not yet corrected despite the fact that he could feel magic humming around him. It took a longer moment to remember what had happened, and why he was here. He must have been found. Somehow, someone had realized before it was too late. He was less relieved than it seemed as though he ought to be. Perhaps he was just too exhausted for it. Loki’s mouth was as dry as bone and he looked for water, but none had been left. He found the bell to summon an attendant, rang it, and flopped back down, staring up at the ceiling. His chest was hollow. I have seen the core of you, and just as your father has, have found it wanting. If they’d figured it out, recognized the imposter, then they knew his weakness. Knew what he had done, his mistake, his failure. Loki’s heart sank and he wanted to crawl under the bed and make himself invisible. The healer came in, but despite the nagging thirst Loki pretended to be asleep. He didn’t want to talk to anyone. Maybe never again. They didn’t leave him alone forever. Eir came back later to perform a series of tests. He only half listened to her explanation about energy drain and vulnerability to infection and careful monitoring, his attention more occupied by his mother sitting at his bedside, her hands folded in her lap and looking at him with an expression that was mostly unreadable save the faint lines of strain around her eyes. “You are recovering well so far, my Prince,” Eir said. “But it will be a couple days yet before you can leave this room for your own quarters.” She glanced at Frigga, bowed, and went out, leaving the two of them alone. Loki tried not to hunch his shoulders, but he did look away from her. “Loki,” she said, her voice soft. “Why do you turn away from me?” He knew what he was supposed to say. “I am sorry,” he said dully. “I should not have hidden the truth from you.” How did you realize, he wanted to ask. Was it too perfect, too good? “That is the last thing that concerns me right now.” She reached out and touched Loki’s shoulder. “We nearly lost you.” Loki said nothing. He did not see what there was to say. “The spirit stalking you was draining you,” his mother went on. “Drawing on your life force and, when it was strong enough, your magic. When Thor found you, you had barely enough strength to sustain your body.” “Thor found me?” Loki said before he could stop himself, turning toward Frigga. Her eyebrows were furrowed. “He was the one who realized something was wrong,” she said after a long pause. “He was adamant. Eventually, your father investigated, to indulge Thor, and unmasked the deception. It would not say where you were, but Thor had already gone to your rooms, guessing that it would need you close by.” He remembered Thor pleading with him to stay awake. So now Thor, too, knew him for a weakling and a liar. Loki wanted to shrivel up. “Oh,” he said. His mother’s expression flickered. “We have all been worried sick waiting for your recovery,” she said. “Destroying the spirit seems to have helped, but–” “Destroying?” Loki said. “Not banishing?” Frigga gave him a long look and then said, “your father was very angry. It suggested that…” She drew an unsteady breath. “It suggested that you were dead, and we to blame.” “Of course you aren’t,” Loki said, too tired to put much feeling in it. “I should have seen that you weren’t well,” Frigga said. “I knew something was wrong but I decided not to press it–” “Mother,” Loki interrupted, “it’s not your fault. I freed it. I kept the secret. I was weak enough–” She blinked. “Weak enough?” Loki fell quiet and looked away. She said nothing for several moments. “Spirits are deceivers, my darling,” she said. “You must know that. They will say whatever they must to hold the attention of their victims, and keep them snared.” Little liar, the shadow whispered in his mind. Loki bit his lip. “I listened.” “Listened to what?” Frigga asked, her voice suddenly sharpening. “What did the fiend say?” Loki held his tongue but his eyes burned. He closed them, hoping that would keep any tears from spilling out. “Nothing,” he said. “Nothing important.” “It seems to me it may be of some importance.” His mother took a deep breath. “Why didn’t you ask me for help? Or your father?” It didn’t matter, did it? How much worse could his shame be? How much lower could he sink? “I knew you would be angry,” he said. “And it would only prove…” He trailed off, and then forced the words out. “It would only prove how worthless I am. As a prince. As a son. I know...I know I’m a disappointment. I wanted to prove that I could deal with it on my own. But I couldn’t.” Loki twisted away from her and hunched his shoulders. Frigga was silent, but he could hear her breathing, suddenly unsteady. “Is that...is that what it told you?” She sounded a mixture of anguished and angry. “That you are worthless? A disappointment? That could not be further from the truth–” “It’s all right,” Loki said. “You don’t have to lie to me anymore.” “Lie to you!” Her voice rose sharply. “I have never - you are my son, Loki, and I love you. How could you believe…” “It’s just obvious,” Loki said. “What do I have that Thor doesn’t? I’m the spare. And not even a very good one.” He closed his eyes. “I think I’d like to be alone.” He thought by the sound she made in her throat that she was going to object, but she only said, “we’re not done talking about this.” “I don’t have anything else to say,” Loki said emptily. You are the flaw. You are the fault along which the stone splits. She’d coddled him, trying to make him something more than what he was. It wasn’t her fault it had failed. “I love you,” Frigga said again. “More than you can know. Will you believe that?” “You have to,” Loki said. “You’re my mother. You didn’t get the choice.” “That’s not how it works,” she said. It felt like he was drowning. “I want to be alone,” he repeated. It was several moments before he heard her sigh and stand up, moving away in a soft rustle of her skirts. He slowed his breathing, yearning for the oblivion of dreamless sleep. Eir woke him and inquired after his state, both physical and, with more delicacy, mental. Loki told her honestly: he was weak but not in any real pain, and mentally he felt like himself. She probed further on the latter, but Loki gave her nothing more. He regretted saying as much as he had to his mother. She wasn’t there this time, nor Thor, nor Odin. Of course not Odin. The shame...his shame must be great. How many people knew? What had they told the court to explain Loki’s absence? As soon as Eir left he went back to sleep. Despite how much time he’d spent unconscious under the shadow’s parasitic attention, he was still exhausted, deep in his bones where it felt like it would never leave. The next time he surfaced it was to the sound of an argument. “--didn’t hear what he was saying, Odin.” “I am certain. The creature is gone; there is nothing left that could be clinging to him. Eir would know if there was.” “He called himself worthless. A disappointment. Claimed that I was lying when I tried to tell him otherwise, and that I only love him–” Frigga’s voice broke off with a sharp intake of breath. “That I only love him because I don’t have a choice. Tell me that does not sound like madness.” Madness. So now they thought him mad, too. “Frigga,” his father said slowly, “this sort of creature cannot...alter thoughts by force. And destroyed, it cannot possibly have any hold over Loki’s mind. Anything he said…” “Oh,” Frigga said, her voice soft. Loki curled up tighter and bit his lip. “It might have amplified them,” Odin said, and his voice sounded heavier than Loki could remember hearing it. “But the thoughts were already there.” “Norns,” his mother said, after a long pause, and it sounded shaky. Now look what you’ve done, hissed the shadow’s vicious voice, but now only in his head. You’ve made her weep. He shut his ears, but he could not shut out the touch of a hand on his shoulder, when it came. “Loki, my son,” said his father’s voice. “Will you look at me?” He did not dare disobey. He turned his head to look Odin in the eye. His expression was grave, the lines around his mouth seemingly a little deeper. “I am glad you have returned to us,” he said, though he didn’t look glad in the least. “Mother told me that you freed me,” he said. “Thank you.” An odd flicker passed through his father’s eye. “I should have seen sooner that you were...troubled.” Troubled. What a kind word. “It isn’t your fault,” Loki said wearily, as he had to his mother. “I chose to hide it from you.” “Nonetheless,” Odin said. “I am your father. It is my duty to notice these things, and address them. To keep you from harm.” You are a weakling who cannot take care of himself, Loki heard, and wanted to flinch. “It should not be,” he said in a small voice. “You have other duties to see to. Many - many matters that need your attention.” “Not least the welfare of my sons,” his father said, a little more sharply, and Loki did flinch then. Pain tightened Odin’s face though he cleared it quickly, and Loki wished he had controlled himself a little better. “Loki…” “It’s my fault,” Loki said. “No one else’s.” His father was quiet. His eye turned from Loki and he looked into the distance. “Creatures like this...they can cultivate the worst thoughts a person has. Sap their strength by nudging someone toward their fears and hurts, and feed on the despair that provokes. What they say may...may feel true, but that doesn’t mean it is.”  




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