“What are you two doing?!” Panic tore through the crack in Buccellati’s voice. Infighting between the two wasn’t exactly uncommon, but not to this extent, not to the point of summoning stands.
“Tch. You guys are fucking freaks,” Abbacchio grumbled under his breath, restraining Narancia, just in case. “Keep that shit to yourselves.”
Both of them had seemingly exerted all of their energy, panting and red faced. It wasn’t particularly hard to notice. Both boys had always had their hearts on their sleeves. They weren’t used to hiding things from their teammates, and they certainly couldn’t scrape together enough self consciousness to start now. Arms hooked under Narancia’s, Abbacchio pulled him to his feet. Even though Narancia was, frankly, tired of being restrained, he had quickly learned to adapt to it.
“I can’t believe you fucking fell for that!” Narancia shrieked in an uncanny blend of offense and amusement, and a small, untraceable bit of something else. There was no use trying to pinpoint the strange amalgam of emotions. If asked, Narancia couldn’t, and wouldn’t, explain it. His legs flailed wildly, split between clawing for footing and warding off Fugo. Fugo stumbled onto his feet with Buccellati’s support, seething, and far too distracted to be grateful. Head cupped in his hands, he responded in that toxic tone. Nitroglycerin. He was on the verge of a meltdown. It wouldn’t take much provocation, nor time, for everyone in that room to be killed.
“You knew… You started this…” He growled through forced, deep breaths. His tongue flitted between his teeth. He felt he was close to drawing blood, but he couldn’t bite his tongue for long. His instincts told him not to say anything more, but something else entirely wanted to explode, and take down that entire room with him. “Isn’t this what you wanted?” Even on the brink of blinding fury, he chose his words carefully, so as not to betray their poorly hidden secret. Whatever kept him from losing it all, it was a godsend.
When Narancia spoke again, the tone wasn’t easy to place. Is it ever? It sounded disgusted, yet teasing, yet flattered, and still offended. “So what? I figured you wouldn’t mind since you were just rubbing all over—“
“Shut the fuck up!” Fugo took a step forward, staggering. Buccellati reflexively reached out to brace him, deciding against it. Even disoriented, Fugo was still terrifying, if not more so. He lacked control, more than usual. ‘Ruthlessly competent’ wasn’t exactly the best phrase to describe him. At this point, intellect could not possibly factor into whatever was happening in his head. “You know damn well that was an accident!”
“Didn’t feel like an accident.” There was no split in Narancia’s tone. It was pure, unfiltered, unadulterated smug. A smirk flashed across his face, his tongue flitting over his lips for a mere second. He looked hungry, and like he was about to do something incredibly stupid to sate that hunger. He knew he’d found the pressure point. “I mean, I didn’t do it on accident.”
Fugo sputtered, then broke. His eyes wandered from Narancia, trying to look anywhere else. That was something he simply couldn’t manage. Some vital component in his thought process had just been shot. He replied in half words, unrelated syllables. All he could think was that Narancia had come extremely close to sacrificing their dignity just to see him get flustered.
A remarkably astute observation, for a babbling mess. Narancia had been with him long enough to know about his pressure point, and roundabouts where he could find it. He’d blindly navigate through Fugo’s psyche, pulling and prodding, just like he had done earlier in the day. It didn’t much matter him what he hit upon, so long as Fugo would get over it. He’d always dig to that sweet spot, the pressure point. The exact spot to strike, one clean hit, to separate Fugo from his senses in just the right way. If he failed, he’d get yelled at. But when he succeeded, he’d get to see Fugo crumble into a blushing, stuttering, mess. Again, he couldn’t be described as ‘ruthlessly competent,’ but he was far more competent than Narancia, and he made sure he knew it. Though neither realized, it was a power play. The power to take someone down a peg with no hard feelings. The violent route was more dangerous, but making one embarrassed was the declawed version. No lasting guilt, no resentment, just the same conflict with less consequences. Stupid, playful, yet wholly embarrassing interactions like these were an integral part of their relationship. Truly, it ran so much deeper than they had realized. Affection shows differently for different people, different pairs. Now, had they known this earlier, what their episodes were building up to, would they have stopped?
“O-kay, that’s enough from you two,” Abbacchio grunted, hoisting up Narancia so his legs could no longer touch the ground, lacing his fingers over Narancia’s mouth, assuming, praying he wouldn’t bite, or, god forbid, lick. “I’m not sure what’s going on with you two, and I’m not sure I want to know, but it looks like it’s going to end with someone unconscious, or dead, on the floor.” Abbacchio huffed, carrying Narancia to the other side of the room. Narancia offered no resistance, instead casting an unfocused scowl at whatever happened to be in front of his face.
“You two are good friends. What the fuck, quite literally, got you up at each other’s throats? And more violent than usual. You didn’t even apologize.” Abbacchio deposited Narancia on the couch next to Mista, who was still thrumming with laughter.
Narancia crossed his legs and arms, pouting. His ruffled hair only complimented his bratty sneer. He looked like a child resolved to never speak to anyone in the room ever again. Anyone who knows children know this doesn’t last long.
“He’s not my friend after tonight,” he called over Abbacchio’s shoulder, glaring at Fugo. Fugo, with help, dropped himself back onto the couch. He hadn’t moved from that spot since the fight began, but he felt like he’d walked miles.
“I’m not asking for permission,” Buccellati said, feeling the lump on Fugo’s forehead. Fugo was too worn out to react at all, besides wincing slightly, eyes still downcast at the shapeless sea of carpet. “We’re talking this out here and now. This needs to be worked out before bed.”
Abbacchio nodded in confirmation, before joining Fugo on his side of the room. It was set just like it had been before, but the hesitation was replaced with bitterness and unease.
“Explain this to me. I have an idea of the situation, but I would rather have a dossier. I’ll have Abbacchio replay everything if necessary.” Buccellati turned his head to Abbacchio, the smallest bit of pride shining through his near neutral expression.
“Please don’t look at me like that, Buccellati.” Abbacchio ran his hands through his hair, already exhausted. “I’m not even sure you could order me to do that… don’t wanna know what I’ll find…”
In an instant, the pride in his face was wiped and filled in with neutrality. Strange he should comply.
“I want details. Now, which of you wants to speak first? Someone is going to.”
“Look, Buccellati,” Fugo moaned, nursing a splitting headache. “I appreciate you trying to help us, really, I do, but it’s a very personal matter. He told me… one of his secrets.”
Fugo knew that the best lies were always rooted in truth, but he couldn’t consider what he was doing to be lying. He thought of it more as… avoiding the truth. The concept of a lie by omission couldn’t process in what was left of his brain.
Even though this was not what Buccellati wanted, and he’d said he wouldn’t make concessions, it was a perfect lead in to claw his way to the truth.
“How did you respond?”
Fugo hesitated. He certainly didn’t expect Bruno to play along instead of demanding a straight answer. Even caught off guard, he knew he had to answer still. “I didn’t, really. When he realized he told me, he up and left. I don’t blame him.” His downcast eyes unfocused, refocused, and out of sheer curiosity, looked back up to the person they were avoiding.
“How did you feel?” Talking to Bruno was like talking to a teddy bear. You know it won’t get angry at you, but it will always stare at you without blinking as you spill your darkest secrets to it, like a confessional. It managed to be personal and detached, somehow.
“I was… shocked, I don’t know… embarrassed, flattered—“
“I didn’t mean—“
“Well, that settles it.” Bruno stretched, arms overhead. He’d wanted to ignore the evidence, but there was no point now. Well, it was only a matter of time. It really didn’t take someone with his intuition to see it bloom. When they Fugo and Narancia met, Fugo would spend hours at the hospital, coming dangerously close to shirking his duties. When Fugo had first brought Narancia over, to eat something substantial, he couldn’t help but ask questions, no matter how awkward or personal. No matter what he touched on, neither would get mad. As the night went on, it became clear that Narancia was not as meek and scared as he first appeared. Between Fugo’s frequent hospital visits, the awkward, personal questions at dinner, and his exceptional patience with Narancia overall, it was to be expected. It seemed to happen to everyone. It happened to him, and it would one day happen to Mista, as well. Buccellati didn’t have any problems with it, so long as they could stay quiet…
“S—Settles it? What do you mean?! I can’t spend the night with him!” Narancia protested, beginning to rise from his seat when Mista tugged him back down, finally being useful.
“Really? Can’t stand another night? Will you kill each other then?”
Bruno replied, in an unsettlingly neutral tone. He rolled his shoulders, trying to get any part of his body to relax, release tension. Infighting vexed him. “If you really hate each other that much, which I highly doubt, only one of you will be joining us on our mission tomorrow. I need you to work this out before bed.”
Bruno paused for a second. It was the kind of hesitation that you’d only notice after years of service. It didn’t take nearly as long for him to figure out others, to notice their hesitation as they crossed a line nobody knew was there, as he was about to. He could see the way Narancia bit the inside of his lip, the way that his eyebrows were furrowed, creating only one crease, not two, and the way his guilty eyes flitted from side to side. People could prosecute on that face. It was a look of shame, but also a look of longing. The way he fiddled with his bangs instead of the hair at the back was a dead giveaway, that anybody else would overlook. Fugo’s guilt showed in a wildly different way. His accusatory pout always wavered, he’d bite his top and bottom lip. He’d sigh sharply through his nose. Instead of looking for escape routes, he’d always stare down at his feet. It was even more obvious when that right hand of his would start working itself over, cracking its knuckles and subconsciously repeating the signs for M, N, and T, as if the energy he forced himself to contain discharged there. This look was one of regret.
“By any means necessary. I don’t care how you figure it out.” Bruno left the room, ignoring vehement protests. All he wanted was to turn away from them. His ticks were beginning to show, and they were painfully obvious. His eyes flitted upwards and to the left, his right shoulder rolled, his left foot pointed outwards. Every few seconds, he would stifle a laugh with the back of his hand, not the front. This was the look of happiness, the look of knowing, and anticipation. The look of a bride’s mother. He knew just what was coming, and he knew just how it would affect the rest of them.
“Damn this house,” Bruno murmured under his breath. Out of sight, he leaned on the wall. It still had the same texture as it did when he had lived there. He bit his lip to prevent the smile creeping up his face. He was by no means smug, but he’d known this was going to happen for years. He was happy that he was right, but not for himself. “I haven’t felt like this in a long time.” He brushed his hand gently against the wall as he walked towards the stairs, feeling the scratches from accidents that had been painted over. “Maybe I’ll take it out on Leone. I’m sure he’d like that.”