- - -
"Hey West, I'm home!" Zuke called into the apartment, slinging his backpack over a chair and dropping bags of groceries on the table. The music in the background stopped, and moments later, West strode out of his room.
"Ahhhh! There's my favourite little brother!" We laughed, clapping Zuke on the back. He staggered a little under his hand, it not being the only weight on his shoulders today.
"Your only little brother, West," Zuke replied, a weak smile on his face. They began to unpack the groceries, putting everything where they need to be.
West furrowed his brows, pulling a small paper box out of one of the bags.
"...You bought a cake?" He asked incredulously.
"Uh, yeah! I... I did."
"Ooooh, chocolate," West flipped open the box, unaware of Zuke's tamped down irritation. "What's the occasion?"
What's the occasion?
It's my birthday! Zuke wanted to yell.
Did you actually forget?
"I just wanted to splurge. College's been crappy for both of us this past week, right?" Zuke said, plastering a smile on his face. They were both going to share the cake anyways. It didn't matter, it was just a day.
"Eyyyyyy! That's my little bro!" West immediately went for plates and utensils, but Zuke just held up a hand.
"I've got a report that's due Monday, so I really gotta get on top of it. Just save some of that for me, alright?" He pulled his laptop and textbook out of his bag and headed for his room.
"You got it!"
(He didn't work on his report. He just watched the cursor blink on a blank document for 20 minutes before giving up.)
(...But the next time he opened the fridge, there was half of a chocolate cake in a tupperware container, labeled with a sticky-note with his name on it.)
- - -
- - -
Zuke sat still in the middle of Nadia's living room, newspapers crinkling under his feet and his face covered in petroleum jelly.
(His back would have something to say about the stiff wooden chair he was sitting in, but he's not listening.)
Nadia draped an old towel around his shoulders.
"Alright, tilt your head back, I'm gonna start putting the plaster on your face." Nadia disappeared out of his field of vision, only to reappear with wet strips of plaster in her hands.
Shaking off the extra water, she began sticking and smoothing them onto to Zuke's face.
"That feels weird," he said, closing an eye as she stuck a strip right above it.
"I'd imagine so, they're all squishy in my hands!" she grinned, "I'm moving onto your mouth now, try not to move too much."
"That's gonna be hard, you're way too good at making me smile," Zuke complained. The giggles turned into laughter, as Nadia playfully bapped him on the head.
"Oh, you! I'm serious okay?"
He set his mouth in a straight, firm line, trying to keep the plaster-water from leaking into his mouth.
Soon, Zuke had a little over half his face covered in drying plaster.
"Ah, I've run out of strips..." Nadia sighed. "Give me a moment, I'll go cut more!"
Unable to speak, Zuke gave her a thumbs up, and the sound of her footsteps disappeared down the hall as she went into her bedroom-turned-art-studio to grab more supplies.
Zuke carefully lifted a hand, his fingers grazing the plaster shell. It was a strange feeling, your hand telling you you're touching your face, but your face not feeling the touch. Numb, in a funny way.
Drying plaster was inexplicably and unnecessarily itchy.
He let his arm fall back to his side, nothing but his thoughts and the occasional sound of rummaging to keep him company.
"I'm back!" Nadia burst through Zuke's mental haze and back into the living room, triumphantly brandishing a brand new handful of plaster strips. "Now I can do the other half of your face!"
Zuke made a noise of agreement.
Nadia got back to work, applying layer after layer over his mouth, eyes, along the hairline, over his nose...
Zuke tried to shift as Nadia gently pressed the plaster down over his nose.
"Hey, sit still, I'm almost done!" Zuke felt two hands push him back into his seat as Nadia continued to smooth the surface of mask.
It was getting hard to breathe.
...He couldn't breathe.
Zuke made a noise, unable to see, as he made a motion to peel some of the plaster off. Thin fingers wrapped around his wrist.
"Zuuuuke, it's not dry yet! Be patient!"
Zuke could hear the smile in her voice.
But the plaster was drying and he was suffocating under it-
He jerked his hands out of Nadia's, tearing the mask off his face in an almost clawing motion. Wet plaster stung his eyes as the mask half-peeled, half-got-scraped off.
Zuke gasped, chest heaving.
"I'm sorry! I couldn't breathe under there-" he winced, standing up. "I gotta go rinse my eyes out..."
He left in hurry, stumbling into the bathroom to splash water in his eyes and scrub the greasy residue off of his face. Zuke's breathing evened out.
Nadia peeked around the doorframe.
"...Are you okay?" She asked quietly.
Zuke put his hands up, waving them in a placating gesture.
"I'm-" he mopped his face off with his hands, "I'm fine. It's alright. Uh... sorry I wrecked the mask..."
Like a flipped switch, Nadia lit up again. She excitedly pulls out the remains of the mask.
"No you didn't, look!"
One half of the mask was straight-up unusable, crumpled and torn away. But the other half, which had time to harden, was still decently intact.
"I could make a half-mask! You'd look like me!" Nadia smiled, animatedly excited.
Zuke blinked at her sudden change in demeanor.
"That's actually a really interesting idea," Zuke said, kicking himself for how stilted it came out.
"Aww, thanks! You're the one who inspired me!" She gave him a small peck on the cheek, before heading back to the living room. His face warmed up, a blush dusting his cheeks and the tips of his ears.
This might turn out fine.
("This might be a problem," the small, rational voice in his head said. It went ignored when Nadia gave him the beautifully decorated half-mask a week later.)
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