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tell me to shut up until i lay bare every year of dissociation and dysmorphia and dysphoria

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There's a cabin in the woods, and that's where we are. We are three boys at camp, and we are waiting for the devil to come.

The devil comes here often, but we haven't met him yet. When it's our turn to stakeout, we stay awake and watchful for invaders, but so far none have come. We are grateful for this. There will only be room for two of us in God's world, and we are not yet ready to say goodbye.

"I am," Leon says, "so bored." He scuffs the soles of his shoes against the cabin floor. He kicks up a tiny cloud of dirt. His radio lies on its side, tossed ungratefully to the corner of the broken bunk bed.

Kiyotaka gives him an ugly look over the top of the tattered bible he's reading from. He's holding a flashlight in one hand, to help light the pages, and the reflected light from the book casts deep shadows on his face. "This is important, Kuwata," he says. "The camp is counting on us! It would do to show some respect for this solemn duty!" His radio sits on his right, ready to be grabbed at a moment's notice.

Mondo snorts, leaning against the cabin wall. "If it was important, they'd send the actual fuckin' scouts," he says. He tips his head back, glowering at the ceiling. His radio sits untouched, but carefully caged between his feet.

"Solemn duty," Leon says, and rolls his eyes. "Seriously, Kiyotaka, shut the fuck up. You're such a suck-up."

Well, Kiyotaka thinks that Leon is an insensitive jerk, but he'll turn the other cheek. One of us has to show some proprietary. He returns to his bible, to Genesis 18, and escapes from this place.

The cabin roof is low, trapping us in. It smells of cheap pine wood. There's two rooms -- the main one, which houses one broken bunk bed and a mattress on the floor and us, and a bathroom off to the side. The bathroom is wrecked, full of porcelain shards. There is a shadowy stench that does not leave. One too many kids have become the devil in there.

We don't want to be the next kid to get cleaned out of that bathroom. We've been unlucky enough to have been stationed here a few times before, and every time, the devil encroaches further into our hearts.

"No, seriously, I'm so bored," Leon says. He reaches up to ruffle his hair. It's too long for a men's cut, as is Mondo's. Out of all of us, Kiyotaka's the only one who keeps his appearance to camp regulation.

Camp is not meant to be fun. Camp is meant to make us into good people. Kiyotaka reminds us of that.

"Okay, sure, but you gotta play shitty summer camp games," Leon says. "If we didn't get to be real scouts and play at transforming and shit, we might as well have some fucking fun this summer, right?"

We've heard it before. It's Leon's standard line for talking the rest of us into party games. Leon knows the best party games. That's not saying a lot, though. Pretty much all party games suck if you're sober, and there's no way Kiyotaka would let us drink.

Mondo nods in agreement, though, so Kiyotaka has lost on the games front. "What're we playing?"

"Seven Minutes in Heaven, baby!" Leon mimes at an exaggerated kiss, twisting his lips out in a pucker.

"That's a girl's game," Mondo says.

"Fuck you," Leon says.

Kiyotaka doesn't say anything. He doesn't know what "Seven Minutes in Heaven" is, but despite the name, he doubts it's anywhere near godly. We are at camp for the worst boys, and the worst boys play bad games for bad people. He hates being here, temptation pressing in on every side. He wants to be a good man.

"Sorry," Mondo grunts. He raises a hand to play with the long loose hairs at the back of his head. "We can play your shit-ass game, man."

Leon brightens back up, that shit-eating grin crawling across his face. "Cool, cool. You and stick-in-the-mud go first, 'kay?"

"My name is Kiyotaka!"

"And my name's Leon. Get in the bathroom, stupid."

Kiyotaka bristles, and opens his mouth to protest, but Mondo grabs him by the upper arm and drags him off. We fight a lot, and it pisses Mondo off. The way we fight, with words and dirty tongues, discomforts him. It makes him feel like less of a man. Mondo might not be a good boy, but he's a fucking man, not some invert, and that's all he's got left to cling to.

So we split apart, Leon blowing a raspberry in farewell, and enter the bathroom. When we close the door, the room smells of old hardboiled eggs.

"So," Mondo says. His voice is sticky with the humidity before a thunderstorm.

"I don't know this game," Kiyotaka confesses.

"It's a stupid game for girls," Mondo grunts. He turns his gaze to the cracked mirror hanging crooked on the plywood wall. "Forget about it. We don't have to play."

Kiyotaka hums. He's torn. He doubts that he would want to play this game, whatever it is, but he would have liked the choice to belong to him. It seems unfair, somehow, to avoid sin out of ignorance. To be so lucky. The geniuses of this world coast by on luck and ignorance; they know nothing of how Kiyotaka has strained and sacrificed to approach virtue. The playing field may be uneven, but he will surpass the sins of his grandfather's flesh.

Mondo stews. Leon's an asshole for fucking trapping him in here with Kiyotaka. He's pretty sure Leon knows, or at least has a damn good guess at, what devil lingers in Mondo. Which is not fucking good. Mondo keeps a lid on that shit for a reason, especially around Kiyotaka. If Leon's managed to guess, has noticed the ways that Mondo softens around Kiyotaka, he's fucked. Everyone probably knows.

We wait in silence.

The doorknob rattles, then twists open. Leon peers around the edge of the door. "So, done with this one?" Leon says. He raises and lowers both eyebrows in an unattractive attempt at a wiggle.

"Fuck you," Mondo says, and pushes past Leon on his way out.

"We're done," Kiyotaka says.

Leon scrambles back a few steps and flops onto his stomach, the mattress springs creaking underneath him. "Cool. What're we playing next?"

Kiyotaka's brow furrows. This seems unfair to him. "But -- you haven't played this game yet?!"

"Seriously?" Leon says, and rolls over onto his back. "You think I haven't played Seven Minutes in Heaven before? Me?"

We all know Leon's kind of loose. He's got stories for days, about touching girls in ways the rest of us hadn't even considered. Leon knows lots of chicks -- he still gets along better with girls than with boys, most of the time. They're all-too-willing to scoop him into their ranks, and perfectly willing to throw him back out when he talks too much. He kisses them and cuts ties. He kisses and cuts ties with boys, too, but less often. Most boys don't like inverts like him very much. It's like they can smell it or something. Leon's learned to only kiss guys he doesn't want to keep around.

"I suppose so," Kiyotaka says. He tries not to judge.

"Besides. 's not like anyone here wants to kiss me."

Mondo doesn't think that's true. He's not going to protest this kind of shit, though. It's a fucking waste of time.

We play Truth or Dare.

We settle onto the mattress on the floor. Three boys in a circle, radios at hand, like we're going to tune in to God. We're not praying, though. The radios stay off. For now, it's only three boys in a broken-down cabin.

"Truth or dare?" Leon asks Kiyotaka.

"Truth."

"Didja kiss Mondo just now?"

Kiyotaka splutters. Leon barks with laughter. Mondo scowls.

"C'mon, man, you gotta tell me what he's like!"

Kiyotaka can feel his entire face burning. "We," he forces out, "did not kiss." It is a horrific embarrassment. Is that what Seven Minutes in Heaven entails? No wonder Mondo didn't want to play. Are there no limits to Leon's perversion?

"Your turn," Mondo grunts.

Kiyotaka startles, his mind blank. "Well, I - I dare you to kiss Kuwata!" he bark, loud as ever.

"Oh my god, seriously?" Leon's acting unimpressed, but his eyes flicker around the room. "Dude, do you have a creative bone in your body?"

"I'll have you know that--"

"Shut the fuck up," Mondo says. "Let's get this over with."

Mondo is usually quite bold with his dares, following through whole-heartedly, but tonight, we all know better. The devil is everywhere, and it's best not to tempt him. Mondo rests a hand on Leon's shoulder, and looks him in the eye. Mondo's kissed boys out in the woods before, in heated moments when the counselors weren't watching, but this feels different, somehow. If he thinks about it too much, he feels differently about Leon than he does about other guys, which makes him feel like shit. This is why he tries not to think about it, and just rolls with whatever Leon says.

We kiss, and Kiyotaka watches. It's fine. Nothing special, really. Leon pulls away before it can matter, wiping his lips off with an exaggerated motion. He rolls his eyes at Kiyotaka.

Really, it's just a quick peck on the lips. It means nothing. We all know it was just a dare. Bitterness turns over in Kiyotaka's stomach.

"Truth or dare?" Mondo asks Leon.

"Truth."

"Truth is boring," Mondo says. He picks at the stiff cuffs of his shirt. Mondo is not used to this kind of clothing. Given the choice, he tends towards tank tops and tight tees, the kind of fabric you can sweat through without anyone jumping down your throat. Mondo doesn't have room for clean formalities. His world is practical and practically empty.

"Well," Leon sniffs, "I want truth."

"Fine. How'd you get sent here?"

Kiyotaka freezes. We do not notice.

"Oh, c'mon! Seriously? That's the lamest question I've ever heard."

"Answer the fucking question!" Mondo slams a hand down on his radio, the delicate metal inside squealing in protest.

"Fine! Jesus, whatever, asshole. They sent me here for the same reason we all get sent here, idiot," Leon says. "'cause I'm an invert."

The room goes quiet. Far out, the sirens blare.

"You can't say that," Kiyotaka finally says, and Leon freezes. Kiyotaka thinks Leon has no right to be angry, no right to be afraid right now. Kiyotaka thinks Leon knows nothing of what fear is. "Do you know how many people have called me that? Do-- do you even know how much that fucking word hurts?"

Leon opens and closes his mouth, like he's chewing on something, before curling up into a tight little ball. He glares daggers, daring one of us to come touch him, turn him inside out.

"You're -- you're a bitch," Kiyotaka says, knowing full well that it will hurt, and certain it cannot hurt more than that word hurt. Kiyotaka knows he is a man inside. Hot, angry tears stream down his face. "You think you're the same as us, but you're not. You've got no right to say that! You think it's okay to be whatever it is you think you are, and that everyone else should tolerate your-- your bullshit!"

We're all startled. Ishimaru never cusses, and he stumbles over stories of lust and sin when we are made to read the Bible on Sundays. But we know he's right. Even if Leon is really an invert, even if there is no other word for what he is, he shouldn't say it. The idea that inverts exist is too damaging to boys like Mondo and Kiyotaka, and if there actually were inverts, freaks pulled inside out, they'd deserve to be here.

"I am -- you know," Leon says. "Different on the inside, I guess. C'mon, Mondo, you know I am, right?" But none of us believe him. We know he's not different, for there is no difference in the sinful world that God created. We know he's like every one of us here, down where it matters. He has the devil within, and that is all.

"Chill out," Mondo says. He drops his gaze to the floor "Leon's a bro." He believes it, mostly. He likes Leon.

But the truth is that we all hate Leon, in special specific ways. In ways that Mondo and Kiyotaka don't hate themselves. If the devil is in us all, why is Leon such scum? Why did the devil make him so sick in ways that the right-side-out are not?

Kiyotaka thinks that Leon makes everything so complicated. Leon's very presence drags down those around him down. Kiyotaka wouldn't have to be here if people like Leon could -- could just control themselves, for once! If he wasn't mistaken for that!

The sirens won't stop sounding. We're still not used to it, even after weeks of camp. It's a horrible sound, but we know why it's there. It's important to remind us not to let the pain of the devil into our heart.

"We should check the sirens," Kiyotaka says, finally. His heart is pounding far too fast. The sirens shouldn't be left unattended, not in this state. "The devil could be out there."

"Isn't the devil supposed to be in here?" Mondo grunts. "Whole point of this damn place?"

"The devil is everywhere," Kiyotaka says, "which is why we must stay vigilant! We cannot let him have his wicked way. I won't stand for it!"

We sit in the cabin for a moment.

"Are you coming?" Kiyotaka asks Leon.

"Whatever," Leon says, his voice thick. "Do whatever the hell you want. I don't care."

"Leon--" Kiyotaka says, with sympathy. He is the best of us, the kindest. On the cross, he forgives Leon's sin and harsh words. Kiyotaka is a good boy, in a way we all know shouldn't have gotten him sent here. He doesn't deserve to be here.

"Fuck off!" Leon says. His voice cracks and he cracks off from us.

We leave. There isn't any point in staying, not when Leon's being like this. He'll get over it, soon enough, and anything we say will just make it worse. He's nasty, always taking our words and reading in cruel intention. It's like he's looking to be hurt.

Outside is darkness. We carry our radios in one hand and flashlights in the other. Their beams cut tumbling shadows through the trees, casting the world into obscene unearthly blue light. 

We kiss.

It is not fireworks and explosions. It is not pure or beautiful. It is raw, and angry, and desperate. It is soaked in the blood of our forefathers.

It is something Kiyotaka needs, deep down, this hunger that is finally satiated. Kiyotaka is a happy person, but he has never been content. This rolling joy, bathed in viscera, is a contentment he's never known. How can it be possible to feel so settled? To feel whole?

Our bodies roll against each other, climbing into something beyond us. We cut through the terror and find each other. Mondo pushes Kiyotaka up against a pine tree, and kisses him against it. The bark is rough against Kiyotaka's back. It is real, pressing through the thin fabric of his camp shirt. Kiyotaka can't suppress a moan. Mondo likes that. Kiyotaka is always so loud, screaming to be heard above the sirens, and Mondo likes that a lot. It keeps him from drowning in the bullshit static between radio channels.

The woods at night carry the stench of fresh pine. The air is cold and needle-sharp. Kiyotaka's lungs hurt as he gasps in great gaping mouthfuls. They fill up with dull sparks of pain. He adores this. He has never felt this right.

We do not feel good. Morality has no place in this. For a brief moment, we are floating free. The stars above us will one day welcome our kind.

The sirens blare.

Kiyotaka pulls away. "We should go," he says, and makes no motion to leave.

Mondo grunts in agreement. He leans back in.

What we do next is between us and the night. We have found our privacy.

The cabin is dark when we return, having checked the sirens along the lakeside. Leon has not bothered to keep the lights on.

Seeing the cabin, Kiyotaka's heart aches. He hurts so badly, remembering what Leon said. Invert -- god, the word sends shivers down his spine. He is no woman inside. They called him an invert and tried to twist him until he turned inside out. How could the look on Mondo's face by flashlight be wrong?

When we enter, Leon still seems mad. It's an anger he himself doesn't seem to notice, squashed under layers of cheer. Leon cuts his anger down, but leaves the roots to rot and fester. Someday that will form sinkholes.

"Hey," Mondo says. He sits down on the mattress next to Leon.

Leon grins. "Hey yourself. What's up with the sirens?"

Mondo shrugs. "Dunno."

"Did Kiyotaka know?"

"No, I didn't."

"Shit," Leon says. "That's bad."

We all know it's bad. There is little that could be worse. He is coming for us. We know it now. We can only wait.

We wait in silence. The sirens scream outside, howling and shrieking their final judgement. The noise is oppressive, reminding us what fate awaits. There is no turning back now. We must cling to our scraps of days. There is only one voice standing between us and the devil.

"I think we should hear what God has to say," Kiyotaka finally says.

"Do we have to?" Leon says. He chews his lip with nerves.

None of us answer. None of us want to say we must.

We tune the radios. It's not hard to find the channel we're looking for. His voice is so distinct.

God's voice is that of every man who calls you a bitch.

"--thus Eve came from Adam's rib, carved and cut down and mutilated; and as there is no way to regrow shaved bone, a woman can never become the man she was born of; have you considered treatment for post-menopausal osteoporosis? You may be at high risk for bone fracture. Marrow transplants are always needed. But to accept another's blood is to accept the devil within him into yourself.

"It is impossible to heal from a wound that does not exist. The surface of your flesh is not a wound. Your mouth is a wound; so are your pores, and all your orifices are. Every hole to fuck is teeming with bone and teeth to gnash and injure real men. The devil is in words that heal you. It is impossible for Deborah or Lilith to become a man, because it is a sin. Give and give and do not expect apologies for what you were given in return. A woman exists to serve her husband, to bear his children, and when she dies the crest of her pelvis and the girth of her penis will confirm her sex.

"The devil is coming," God says. "The devil is here."

We freeze. God continues on, though we're not listening. We knew, tonight, maybe -- but we'd hoped not, even though we'd known not one of us was the good boy they wanted. We'd known this would happen. Tonight, one of us will give in.

We know the devil. We knew him from the start.

Kuwata lifts zir head, and electricity crackles down zir body. Ze flexes zir hands, and with every motion sizzling flesh burns off. Ze is sparkling, sparking, so beautiful but dangerous to touch.

Ze reduces to nothing but bones and exposed nerves, all zapped with painful impulses. Kuwata's so damn light now, halfway floating off the ground, twitching and jerking around. Every movement seems to cause zir more pain. With a clatter, ze falls to the ground, seizing.

Ze screams. Zir body -- or at least what remains of it -- folds in on itself, flails, fragile and crumbling. Kuwata's very bones are failing zir, and zir pain radiates out. Ze no longer resembles any human. Zir flawed bones are multiplying. Hundreds of them shift between different formations. They build flowers and towers, then reshuffle themselves back into abstract patterns. Zir body is a work of art, broken but beautiful.

Ze reaches out, bones and the energy pulsing around them, and strikes at the radio ring. Nothing can silence the voice of God, but if the radios break, we cannot hear. Before we can react, Kuwata plunges a dozen ribs through zir own radio, mangling the copper interior. It burns zir. Ze flinches back, hissing like current. Zir other bones curl protectively around zir injury, folding into zirself.

We do not expect zir to strike out again, to cut through the ring and desperately claw at our radios.

Zir touch is the foreign fuzz of a cathode ray television, enveloping our bodies. It comes in waves. One moment, he is desperate, enviously running electric impulses over us. The next, the current reverses, and she flinches back in terror. Ze drops open every one of zir jawbones to scream the static between radio channels, and the voice of the devil comes out.

"You should stop trying to be good," the devil says. "Ze can't be good. It's too much to bear. And you could be free, too, if you just stopped caring about being good in their eyes."

Overpowered by electric interference, Mondo's damaged radio splutters out to static.

Kuwata's bones clatter to the ground, then still in contentment. Ze spreads across the floor like an electric bony tide. We kicked out the devil, and he has been so lonely. He has been outside us, howling, screaming, begging to let back in. And tonight, Kuwata opened zir heart back up to him, and let him find hold inside zir.

"Good is so fragile," the devil says. "I weep for you poor boys. They tell you good is when you rip yourselves apart and abandon each other. They tell you men cannot be good, and that you are the worst men of all. Good is when you are small and cowardly. But you can all be bad together. There's room for all of you in my world."

They say that when it is two against the devil, the devil can never win. Even the worst boys can defeat him, if we work together. But there's only one radio. One radio, one voice. We have no chance. The devil will win, and take over us all.

God, send us a miracle.

"Do you really think this sacrifice is worth it? Will you give up your happiness for good? Will you take away hishershishershis"

We steady our hands on the radio, together. Our hands overlap. We clutch on for dear life, for a final chance at acceptance.

Kuwata's bones sizzle in the electric storm.

We pray.

Kiyotaka prays for the love of his family. Kiyotaka prays for normalcy. Kiyotaka prays for his career, and that one day, people will look at him and never think he should have been stuck at camp for the worst kids. Kiyotaka prays that God will forgive his family name. Kiyotaka prays to surpass his grandfather. Kiyotaka prays to never let the devil in. Kiyotaka prays for everything God can give.

Mondo prays for Kiyotaka.

Our radio resounds with smoke from a wildfire after rain.

The devil screams and twists. Kuwata's bones rise from the earth, pulled into a towering vortex. The low ceiling of the cabin seems to rise to the high heavens, as zir bones clatter up, up, up. It seems ze will pull zirself all the way to God, to ask him why ze was made with this original sin.

Kuwata collapses like a pillar of salt. Bones flood out, flow across the floor, and we cling to each other to not be caught in the undertow. God's words steady us, reminding us of Kuwata's treachery, of how ze put zir bones on the outside. We close our eyes as God continues his diatribe. We know not to look while the the devil leaves.

When we dare to open our eyes again, Leon's human body lies still on the floor. Ze seems still, and skeletal, but zir chest rises and falls with breath. With one radio, we have released zir from the devil's grasp.

We now know that God has blessed us. God understands. God sees us and accepts us and says we can be two in his world, for a price. Grateful, we turn off the radio.

In the sudden silence, Leon stirs. Zir clothes crackle with static. Ze yelps as ze's stung. Mondo wonders if this was zir first time as the devil. Mondo's seen people become the devil before, and it wasn't as clean as this. Daiya was never just scattered bones.

"...hey," Leon says, blinking sleep from zir eyes, slowly sitting up. Zir voice pops with electricity, but it's zir own. It's not the devil's voice, at least. "Uh, shit. Sorry about that? I... guess?"

The silence uncomfortably buzzes. No one ever taught us what to say to someone who turned into the devil before our very eyes.

"It was God's will," Kiyotaka says. He was always the kind one among us.

"God had nothing to do with it," Leon says. Even sitting down, ze sways slightly. Ze seems somehow emancipated, still the skeleton the devil carved zir down to. Ze is so very rattled. "I just -- fuck. Fuck, I -- I knew it was going to be me! I just -- fuck."

"Just what?"

"I didn't know it would feel like that," Leon says, and rests zir head on zir knees. Zir eyes grow distant. "Holy shit, I didn't know I could feel like that. You know?"

"I wouldn't know," Kiyotaka says, raising his voice slightly. "I've never been the devil."

"Yeah," Leon says. "I guess."

The silence is uncomfortable.

"You're not a man," Mondo finally says. It's an awkward, crude phrasing. Mondo's not sure what Leon is, after that fucked-up display. But he's not a man. Mondo knows that much for sure.

"I am!" Leon loudly says. It's the first thing that seems to have fully grounded zir to this time and place. "The hell, Mondo, you know I am."

Mondo slams his fist against a splintered wood wall. "That -- thing wasn't a man," he grits out. He's right. We all know it wasn't. The devil is a tricky, every-changing adversary, man and woman and everything unholy, but even he cannot make you into something you are not. And Leon was not a man, or at least, not just a man. Of that, Mondo was certain.

"...okay, yeah, maybe." Kuwata curls a hand into zir hair. "I dunno, man. Maybe I'm a guy and a, a, I dunno, a big skeleton too or something. It's just--"

"You're a woman," Kiyotaka says. His chest aches with dull, angry betrayal. He doesn't know why that hurts. He's known it since day one, since Kuwata showed up in those shitty flashy piercings. "What is wrong with you, pretending -- why do you think you belong here?!" Tears well up in his eyes, hot, angry, grieving.

"What the fuck? You think I chose to be here?!" Kuwata screams, zir voice horrible and rasping with unshed tears. Ze tries to sit to further, but collapses under zir own weight. "I didn't choose to be here, you asshole! They put me down here with you!"

Poor, stupid Kuwata. It was so easy for zir to be taken in by the devil -- God, he remembers with a shudder, ze practically threw zirself into the role of a man. Kiyotaka can't understand that cruelty. Why would ze pretend to be something ze's not? Why would some straight woman act like this? Why would ze perform this cruel mockery of men like Kiyotaka? Zir mere presence hurts. It's like zir body is still that of the devil within, trying to invade Kiyotaka's space.

"Leon--" Mondo says, then stops. He looks at Kiyotaka.

Poor, poor Kuwata. Kiyotaka pities zir. Skin and bones and still not happy. How unhappy would you have to be to play at this pain? To fake the suffering of those who deserve God's sympathy? Kuwata is a coward who knows nothing of Kiyotaka's hard work, yet still demands to treated like him.

"What?" Kuwata's crying now, snot and ugly tears. "You're just going to, I don't know? Throw me under the bus, I guess? Seriously? Seriously, Mondo?"

"Learn to be a real man," Mondo says, voice tight.

Mondo's furious, frightened. He has spent a lifetime trying to be a real man. This fucking bitch thinks she can make herself into one just by wanting it enough. Fuck her. Mondo hates Lilith Kuwata, in a way he hasn't hated girls before her. Other girls don't pretend to be boys. Other girls don't make Mondo want to kiss them. Mondo doesn't think about girls a lot, except for when he realizes he should be thinking about them more, but he's realizing Kiyotaka was right about Lilith the whole time. She's a bitch and nothing more.

Lilith shrieks at us, the temptress devil. We know she's not like us. Lilith cannot win at God's game, because she is cruel, and broken, and a woman. She was doomed from the start.

But we know what it takes, to be good boys, to use the right words and to play the right games. We have always played the church's games. They may be rigged, but even a rigged game can be won. If you're smart enough, and brave enough, and man enough, God will recognize and reward that. We know God will excuse us. God will see us and know we are good.

Morning breaks. They put us on watch duty while the other campers start to clean up Lilith's mess. Most of the scouts are combing the forest, picking up the bones she scatters. A select handful are assisting the counselors in cleaning her up. We can still hear her cries in the distance, while they strip her down and clip off burned patches of hair, but we're too exhausted to even really register that. We sit, hand in hand, and watch the other campers walk by. One girl gives us an odd glance, but she scampers away in tears as soon as she notices us looking back at her.

We whisper to each other, warm breath in the shells of our ears.

The world is changing. Men like us can be free, soon enough. God himself let us use one radio, hand-in-hand. People are realizing we're not inverts, that we just want to be like them. That there is no devil inside us, actually. It's all Kiyotaka has ever wanted: hope for an accepting world where he can fit in. He'll fight tooth and nail to prove that every man deserves an equal playing ground. Mondo's not as convinced, because he's a bad boy on a variety of levels, but we reassure each other that we can change, too. There's nothing wrong with sanding down a dowel to make it fit into a hole. Sawdust exists to soak up surgery blood.

On the bus back from camp, Lilith bleeds through her white pants. She's the only person sitting alone, and she claws her hands into her abdomen like she's trying to rip her uterus out. Mondo threatens to punch the one guy who slips in to sit next to her, the one guy who slides his hand up to the blackening stain on her thighs. Poor girl, poor wicked devil. We pity her, even though she treated us badly. Still, we're good, and we will forgive her by the grace of God.

"Goodbye, Lilith!" Kiyotaka calls out when she gets off the bus. He was always the best of us. She flinches, and runs into the waiting arms of a blonde girl. She doesn't say goodbye to us. She does not look back.

What a fucking bitch.