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She wonders when she’ll stop expecting it—the long, luxurious scrape of nails across her skin, the bites at her throat so violent, so visceral, it’s as if the intent is to tear it out. She wonders when she’ll be able to convey what she feels without imitating the only thing she’s known for a span far too long and far too dark to be healthy.

She blinks, and sometimes she still sees her sister.

She wonders why he doesn’t seem to care. Why he doesn’t protest nipping and clawing and why he only looks at her with such warmth when all she can do is dip her head and apologize a thousand times for getting carried away, for going too far.

“It’s all right,” he always says, and smiles.

Naegi is gentle and hesitant and she adores his obvious uncertainty, but the fear never paralyzes him, and oh—

Oh, she loves that.

Loves him.

She loves everything about him, and it scares her. Scares her witless. That she could lower her guard, could allow herself to feel so comfortable around someone that isn’t Junko, that isn’t her sister. It’s supposed to be impossible.

And yet, here it is.

Here he is.

He’s pressing kisses to her neck, slow and tentative but there and marvelously, wonderfully, despairingly warm. There’s nothing more to the gesture, there’s no motive, no desires to be carried out behind closed doors. He simply grins at her the way no one ever has before and makes her giggle with fluttering butterfly kisses to her nose and fingers twined between hers and all she can do is regard him, take him in because he’s, he’s—

Like nothing, like no one, like anything she’s experienced before and she’s so in love that it drives her crazier than despair ever has. She can’t even remember the last time she really laughed, the last time she could be herself and not worry if she didn’t have the right things to say. She didn’t have to worry about meeting his expectations, his standards. She didn’t need to worry about any of it.

Because he loves her.

That’s all he says, if she voices her concerns to him quietly. He looks sad sometimes, and he always, always, always promises that he will chase those fears away. That he will give her hope. Hope in herself, hope in everyone, but she already has put all her faith in him and that is enough for her.

She likes to think he will keep it safe.

“You’re amazing, Ikusaba-san.”

And then the first time he drops his cute cute cute formality

“I-I mean…M-M-Mukuro…!”

He makes her name sound beautiful and she can barely get his name out in return without wanting to bury her face in her arms and she feels like the school girl she never really got to really be.

The change in her is terrifying. She’s put herself in the palm of someone’s hand again but this time she thinks she made the right choice.

(She can scarcely recall the last time she did something of her own volition, without a pretty lipsticked mouth whispering against her ear, burrowing into her skin, settling into her thoughts like a drug,)

He’s not interested in her talent. She knows he isn’t , that the thought of a soldier trained to kill sends shivers down his spine, but he respects her and admires her and he sees her as more than that and she thinks that is what she loves the most. He's normal, he's not, he's thoroughly average but that makes him different.

It’s hard to pick just one thing to love most.

There’s no murmurings of disappointment, no forlorn shaking of heads, no furious hisses spat at her face and it leaves a void that she can’t describe in her.

But, there’s more, Naegi’s just more and she knows that one day she will feel whole, if he stays, if he really means what he says and she hopes to every god there is that he will never leave her side.

He’s nervous and there’s a tremor to his fingers as he touches her face but the light in his eyes and the soft curve of his smile says I love you more than anything ever has, and—

She adores that.