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hiding from the sun

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Sometimes Seimei is bored.

It takes Soubi a while to identify it. If Seimei isn't plotting in comfort against "that fighter mill", as he calls it, he drags Soubi down chilly alleys, counting doors bare of noren and dumping Soubi outside his choice with a characteristic flick carried from elbow to fingertip: tossing their bond as one might toss a pet's leash over a fencepost. On other walks they meander the residential districts, Soubi's battle systems extended to identify the walls and current inhabitants, looking for a home Seimei wants to scrape clean and lounge in. Seimei never articulates the criteria. "Don't think," he'll say, as they circle the same park a third time. "You make such upsetting decisions when I leave you alone, you know."

Soubi lowers his eyes to the ducks. Their feet trail calmly in the water, like reverse icebergs.

Even in the lulls, a squirming distaste moves beneath Seimei's eyelids. Soubi's cooking has improved rapidly with Seimei's off-label uses of a grater box on Soubi's hands; Seimei no longer flushes everything he produces.

After they eat and Seimei uncoils on the sofa, Soubi knows better than to converse. The first axiom: words have power. Words belong to Seimei, his to fling and reorder. Soubi paints seafoam, corpses, formalisms, the calico slashes of a drowning sun, through the cheerful ting!s of Seimei's game characters leveling up or dying—doing both at once, Seimei once said, was the key to a speedrun—until his wrists loll and Seimei passes by with that familiar jerk of the wrist. Ears flared, he'll add splatters in discordant limes and fawns, or if he's particularly displeased, a Pollockian application of the whole paint rack.

And sometimes—once upon a time—

*

Seimei says, "You bore me." Soubi gently sets some grandfather's cherished pot back onto its flame. Seimei may correct him, or not. It's evening, and sometimes he can't be bothered.

"Come here, Soubi." An unusual sweetness hangs over his tone, much as the smell of licorice hangs over summer asphalt. Soubi feels himself flow around the furniture and onto his knees as if melting. "I've been thinking about desire. About what you desire. Isn't that me?"

"Yes, master," Soubi says.

It's true. As blemished as Soubi is, they are a sacrifice and his fighter, and neither of them would lie.

"It's a shame I only have a filthy, wanton dog I would never sully myself with," Seimei says, "because I want to desire someone, too." He's propped onto one shoulder on the sofa. He shrugs without moving the rest of his body's serpentine curve a millimeter. "Well, I have to work with the tools I have. Take those clothes off."

Soubi blinks. He starts, "Are you—" which Seimei tidily cuts off by backhanding him, unfurling a petal of pain down his cheek.

The order is awkward, from Soubi's position. Seimei hasn't said to rise, so he has to twitch his legs in careful coordination to work the trousers around his knees and ankles. He folds his shirt, edges faultlessly parallel, as Seimei has always insisted. It's something not to think about, something to subdue his fingers. He always wants Seimei, but Seimei is an unsettling and untouchable master, and with the parching something—half trained pattern recognition, half instinct—that makes him worthwhile on the battlefield, he knows he shouldn't think about the collision. He can do anything if he only has to move. Instrumentalized.

"A test should start with something difficult," Seimei says, "but sometimes animals like the strangest things." He casts his hand behind himself; his Super Famicom controller, a plastic lozenge bulging around two circles of buttons, appears with its return. "Would you like to play with this?"

Instinct takes shape. No, no, no. Soubi's mouth says, "Yes."

"Good," Seimei says. He surely knows what a tranquilizer of a word that is, and Soubi almost thinks he's escaped with his little betrayal when Seimei drops the controller in Soubi's lap and continues, "Fuck yourself with it."

There's a hiss of vaporizing water as the unwatched pot boils over. Seimei ignores it. Nothing but water, Soubi thinks, meant to steam and to condense. He knows what's in the room, having scrubbed it himself: the sofa, a desk, a chair, a television, a small lamp that only textures the dark instead of dispelling it, no observers, no recourse. Seimei, his delicate fingers spread in a go-on gesture and his voice as crushing as high tide, with eyes that outburn the stars in all their splendor. "I haven't—since Sensei—"

"Do you think I care about your gallivanting?" Seimei says. "If you're saying it's too difficult, that's good. I want to, what's the phrase? Put you through your paces. I wouldn't do it myself, obviously. You can sit on that chair when you're done."

Soubi picks up the controller. He lifts his thighs a few centimeters off his feet. The controller is vulgar, mundane, but it's not a large object. Seimei can't expect him to sheathe the entire thing anyway; he imagines going to the hospital with the twists of the charger tucked up inside him, Seimei explaining to a nurse, This is what fighters do. It tamps down his heart. He pushes one side up against his hole. He thinks about the throbbing pain of it as it catches on his unprepared hole: the pain is what he's being designed to give. The pain washes upward, dazzling, as the first circle enters him, each button abrading his inner skin. He swallows. Seimei's breaths should be passing just through his hair, but Soubi can only hear his own joints creaking. He staggers over to the oak chair with his thighs clenched and hovers over it. He swallows again.

Seimei rises, strolls over behind the chair, and rests one finger on Soubi's shoulder. "Mh," he vocalizes—whether repulsed by the contact or Soubi's weakness, Soubi can't tell—and shoves Soubi down.

Soubi's vision only clears when Seimei hits him with what looks like a longer charging cord. "Hold this," he says, leaving one end in Soubi's hand, and ties it in a loose loop around Soubi's neck. "Pull down on it whenever you move. Would you like that?"

"Yes," Soubi says. He is being an instrument. Seimei has a magnificent will.

Seimei has a knife. He starts just above Soubi's clavicle, just a trace of the Name without pressure, but the blade comes away shining. He wipes the blood on Soubi's lips, where the iron of it sings up Soubi's nose. "Why is it bleeding?"

What falls out of Soubi is, "I tried to defy you earlier."

Seimei—Seimei laughs, the lightness of astronomical dusk. Soubi tugs on the cord in panic, feeling it bite into his nape and trachea and his nails claw into the wood as the movement jars the controller a quarter-turn inside him. Seimei fits the knifepoint just above the cord and nudges downward, centers the knot over Soubi's throat, so it will cut where the Beloved thorns would. He then materializes their bond-chain in a deep glimmering of light and ties that right atop; he's always been precise about putting all things in their places.

The knife jumps the cord and trails over Soubi's chest and ribs, opening skin as it goes. "Now?"

"Use me, please," Soubi gasps out. He is an instrument, and he is being plucked

Seimei's fingers wind through his hair. It hasn't been cut in years, so for a few seconds there are only three sensations of weight falling—knife before him, and that blessed hand behind him, and Seimei's tail slyly stroking his leg—as Seimei draws through to the end of his hair, before he wrenches Soubi's head back. Ritsu taught them about air versus blood chokes at the Academy, but in the instant Soubi forgets about all of it in favor of true drowning. It hurts more than anything Seimei has done to him; Soubi says No, or he would have liked to.

"Can you come like this?" Seimei asks, his mouth a hairsbreadth from Soubi's ear. His hands have relented slightly, although Soubi does not so much feel aftershocks as feel that he is one, trembling up in Seimei's wake, the plastic shuddering as it scrapes the chair beneath him. "You're more of a bird, you know. A dog is much harder to mangle. Can a bird desire me that much?"

Soubi doesn't have to answer. "Come for me, then, bird," Seimei says, knifepoint resting on Soubi's cock. All order, and Soubi thinks suddenly of the UFO catcher Seimei had taken him to, their second day together. His delight as Soubi, eager to demonstrate his competency to his new sacrifice, spelled the machine's contents to dance, levitating the toys and twirling them through the claw. Sometimes one is the machine; sometimes the toy, glassy-eyed and faintly warm, hauled up by the claw.

Seimei's order hauls something out of him: not a cessation of hurt but a concentration of it. Something enough to tighten his muscles and then topple him from the chair. Whiteout.

*

When he wakes the stove is off, Seimei is reclining on the sofa, and Soubi is prone on the tile. He smells something acrid—all of tonight's implements are gone, Soubi sees, and guesses Seimei burned them, although there's one slick patch under Soubi's hip he'll have to clean later.

Seimei waves one pristine hand and steps over. "I'm going to bed, Soubi," he says. His foot rises, pauses over Soubi's slumped back. "Would you like to come?"