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salt in the wound

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The door snapped shut with a strange finality, muffling the voices floating up the hall from the open area it emptied into. HiMERU leaned his back against the cool surface, trembling fingers groping the handle for a lock. The metallic click was far from comforting, an alien sound amongst the far off peals of laughter, glasses clinking, and muted voices. It was a barrier regardless, and it was enough to soothe his prickling anxiety. He’d never really cared for parties, in fact he hated them with a scalding passion- but the HiMERU before him loved them, was such a lively presence….

It felt like a shoddy performance when he pretended, though, like he hadn’t spent years admiring and studying his source material. Like he hadn’t pissed away half his adolescence trying to live up to tendrils of cold smoke that faded further into the past every time he blinked.

“Feeling alright, HiMERU-shi?” Honestly, it hadn’t even crossed his mind that someone else would be hiding from the festivities. But there Saegusa was, glasses illuminated by the screen of his computer and clothes tugged loose for optimum comfort. He had the tact to keep his eyes to himself, fingers drumming softly on the armrest of his chair.

“Kaname would be better at this.” HiMERU answered as if it was an appropriate response, lungs shivering at the sound of his brother’s name, “He was a lot more… Lively, than I am.”

“Is.” Ibara corrected him, tone clipped like the correction hurt him in some way, “He is a lot more lively than you are.”

HiMERU didn’t reply with words, instead peeling himself away from the door to drag his expensive shoes across the (surprisingly) cheap carpet. The night sky bled into the room, pulling the darkly painted walls inward and imposing an odd sense of claustrophobia. Paired with the tight squeezing of his ribs, HiMERU was quickly losing the sense of comfort he’d found upon escaping the party. His breaths shortened and knees knocked together, masking slipping all the way to the floor and shattering into metaphorical dust. It was hard to explain, really, why it was so unpleasant to be reminded that he and his brother were separate people.

HiMERU should love to be told that he’s his own person, that life was his to lead. But he hated it. He hated to remember that the life he was living was one stolen from his long beloved older brother, hated to think that one day he’d have to hand it back and be forced to recreate himself all over again. It was even worse to consider that he was one devastating phone call away from being HiMERU for the rest of his life. Nothing was easy in his situation, not even the knowledge that his position was self inflicted. It was his choice to be HiMERU, his choice to give up his name and melt into the idol scene with no formal training. But it all felt like something he decided without thinking, and it killed him to think that his efforts to revive Kaname were useless.

His knees found a home at the edge of the room, body bowed before the window, heart bared to the raging night. If he’d learned anything in his time spent living his brother’s life, it was that Ibara was tight-lipped when it came to the important things. Showing weak sides to your allies was supposed to be normal, expected even, so HiMERU did his best not to shield his molted self from Ibara’s tactical gaze. Hell, maybe he’d even be able to find out why pretending seemed to hurt so much worse than the truth. Ibara was good at finding things out, good at combining people skills with his unrelenting personality and silver tongue- HiMERU liked to watch him work. It was like watching something out of his favorite crime drama.

When Ibara knelt beside him, perfect seiza on the scratchy carpet, it came as a bit of a surprise. His posture was rigid and anxious, shoulders pushed back in what could have been confidence or fear; HiMERU couldn’t tell which. Instead of wondering, he mimicked the position, folding his legs much less comfortably for the sake of looking less pathetic. They sat like that for a short while, distanced respectfully and gazing out at the artificially lit city until one of them worked up the guts to say something. It was Ibara who had the courage in the end. It was always Ibara, it seemed.

“I don’t think.” Ibara chewed his words up, fists curled up in his lap, “That un-lively is a bad thing for you. It… suits you, somehow.” Then, as if he’d dragged someone else’s words from the depths of his mind, “It’s a good look on you.”

HiMERU’s mind stood still. The gears turned. He took a shot in the dark, suddenly desperate to escape his internal conflict.

"Oh, I get it…" HiMERU turned away from the city lights, mouth twitching into a smirk that was more-or-less a show of how ‘HiMERU’ he could be, "You like HiMERU."

"No." Ibara stubbornly ignored his churning stomach, "I like you."

The blood rushing in HiMERU’s ears drowned out when Ibara clarified just who he was; being called his real name in such a context bloomed a thorny rose up his sternum, tearing beautifully as he sighed out a mouthful of petals. Color dusted Ibara’s face, barely visible between the starlight and artificial colors outside the window. He was beautiful like vivid colors in the wild, untouchable and vicious, and HiMERU reached out without any thought of self preservation. Natural selection nipped at his heels, hungry and uncaring for his immature instincts.

“Why me?” He asked before he could consider the weight of his question, fingers clinging to pressed poplin like Ibara would slither away. Thank goodness he was raised to mind the length of his nails, because they’d certainly be biting into skin if they weren’t clipped regularly.

Ibara shook his head, breaking eye contact to stare out the window again, fixated on the flashing lights on the lively street. Were they any closer to the ground, maybe they’d be able to hear the revving of engines and whipping of wind at the cement. Watching the world from so high up had never appealed to HiMERU before, but the subtle warmth bleeding from Ibara’s shirt sleeve made it feel special. Like it was a private event cultivated for the two of them, and just the two of them. It felt like they were the only two people in the world, uninterrupted by hyena laughter and clashing glasses down the hall.

“What do you mean?” Ibara finally asked him, mouth pressed firmly shut while he waited to be answered. HiMERU couldn’t find the words, swallowing down self conscious demands to know just what about him was desirable in the first place. His older brother was the most interesting part of him, and Kaname was little more than a dead conversation topic between them. So what else was there? What was there to care so much about?

Clearly, the answer he was brewing took far too long, because Ibara answered his own question, words directed at their reflection, “The effort you put forth to keep your brother alive for the public is nothing short of remarkable. You love him so much, you gave up your own free will and identity to let his life continue through you. Take the compliment when I tell you that talent like yours isn’t spared for the ineligible. What’s there to love? What isn’t there? Why can’t you see what I see?”

“I- HiMERU could ask you the same thing. Is it not exceptional for someone of your background and standing to rise so high so quickly? Do you not believe that your own accomplishments measure up to those of the idols you look after?” HiMERU turned his entire body sharply, pant legs dragging unpleasantly against the carpet, “Are you simply afraid to be seen as anything but the facade you present to the world? Or is it that you’re afraid your persona is all you’ll ever get to be? Are you really so obsessed with hating who you’ve been that you’re afraid to love who you’ve become?”

If Ibara had an answer for him, it went unheard, because then HiMERU kissed him, and it was abundantly clear that they were both lacking a serious amount of experience. It didn’t matter, though, because Ibara’s hair was so soft between his fingers, and his mouth tasted like a mix of grape juice and chapstick. HiMERU tried to scoot closer, fingers scrabbling to cling to whatever they could find- hair and fabric that was so much warmer, so much better than the clammy touch he was accustomed to. The aftershocks of age-old touch starvation ravaged his heart, and when he reached up to wipe his tears away, Ibara’s beat him to it.

It stayed against his cheek, the slightest bit calloused and warm from the worn keys of his computer. Whenever a new tear dripped off of HiMERU’s lower lashes, his thumb chased it away; his free hand had nowhere to do, betraying his air of expertise. He had no clue what to do with it, holding it mere centimeters from the curve of HiMERU’s ribs until it was tugged away. It was just his luck that HiMERU’s evenings and weekends were wasted clinging to his older brother’s hand- he was well practiced in the art hand holding. His grip was tight, but Ibara’s was tighter, trapping him like a rabbit in a snare.

When they separated it was like they’d been drowning, mouths parted and chests heaving as they tried with all their might to find a reprieve from the sting in their chests. Ibara moved to fit their knees together, fixing the angle of his neck and avoiding future muscle cramps. Then, like opposite poles, they came back together, shedding their statuses to be what they were- neglected children getting their first taste of love. Thank god they were so high in the sky, there’d most definitely be a scandal if they were caught. Idol-Producer romance was inappropriate, and Ibara would probably be complaining about it if not for the fact that his mouth was far too busy to say anything at all. HiMERU looked forward to being scolded for his terrible behavior.

They came apart again after a while, panting and hanging off of one another. HiMERU’s index finger twisted around a loose thread on the back of Ibara’s shirt, and Ibara spun little braids in the hair at HiMERU’s nape. The room was a comfortable quiet, silence from both of them and muffled racket from the party down the hall. When he grew bored, HiMERU pressed innocent kisses to the side of Ibara’s neck, mapping freckles, moles, and the occasional scar as he went up to the space behind his ear. Someday, he’d have to do the other side too, but for now HiMERU lingered where his pulse beat against his skin. Their hearts, he noticed on his descent, were beating the same, just as their breaths had synced in the time they spent laying against each other.

“Yes.” Ibara finally sighed, refusing to open his eyes. He nodded too, as if words weren’t enough to tell HiMERU he’d hit the nail squarely on its head. “I am.”

“I know.” HiMERU whispered back like it was the greatest secret he’d ever been told. His eyelashes fluttered where his face was buried in Ibara’s neck, tickling the sensitive skin and drawing unwilling giggles from them both.

He stretched up, then, to kiss Ibara’s forehead with the same warmth Kaname had when he was upset. Without words he’d promised to stay, to never anyone or anything drive a wedge between them so long as he was still himself; HiMERU regifted those feelings, thumbs stroking over the covered jut of Ibara’s collarbones. The irony was not lost on him.