Baji was dead.
He had been dead for twelve years.
Chifuyu knew that damn well, the thought creeping its way into his sheets every morning as soon as the dew glided down the window, reminding him of the last tears Baji had shed. If Chifuyu tried hard enough, he’d probably be able to taste the salt in his tongue.
Baji was dead, and his murderer’s arms were wrapped around Chifuyu.
Although he wasn’t technically his murderer. That was what he had learned to tell himself whenever his chest started to burn in the dark of the night, and Kazutora ran his fingers through Chifuyu’s hair (I hate you.
None of them knew how it had started. Kazutora had gotten out of prison and had realized that his bones felt heavier on parole than when the metal cuffs left his wrists in flesh and blood. And Chifuyu just happened to be around. One needed to save (there’s only so much you can do with an unfulfilled hero complex, a guilty conscience and blood in your hands), and the other needed saving (from himself? From the ghost that inhabited his vertebrae? Or were the words ‘thanks, Chifuyu’ what haunted him?). It was meant to happen. Everyone knew that.
Kazutora loved Chifuyu, he swore he did. He let his hair grow and changed his personality, his style, the way he called for him. He did it all in the name of love, he said. But fitting into Baji’s shoes was more challenging than he ever thought, and new sneakers always leave scabs on the heels. There was no way Kazutora would ever say that out loud, though. As long as he could keep trying, it would be fine with him.
And Chifuyu loved Kazutora. Sometimes. Only when his spine didn’t ache, and nightmares didn’t block his airways. Those times, he’d wake up in a cold sweat and glassy eyes and scratch Kazutora’s arms until his nails were chipped. I hate you. You deserve this. I hate you, I hate you, I hate you. You took him away from me. Kazutora let him.
Kazutora let him because alcohol could disinfect the wounds but not bring back Baji. No amount of lorazepam would ever erase Baji’s last breath from Chifuyu’s mind, and Kazutora was aware of it —it was like that for him too.
Both of them knew what it felt like to be in love with Baji Keisuke.
His laugh was engraved on them, almost like a tattoo that hasn’t still fully healed. His pride, his anger, his wildness. Every single one of his flaws was now admired by the two boys who had to say goodbye too soon.
The only difference was that one of them knew how sticky his blood was, and the other knew how fast his body could go from warm to cold.
Do you think he’d be happy?
Oh, —a deep breath, Chifuyu’s ribs felt imprisoning— you know how he was. He’d probably curse at us.
There were good days, too. Kazutora’s hand felt soft against Chifuyu’s (no trace of Baji’s callus) and Chifuyu’s hand felt cold against Kazutora’s (no trace of Baji’s boiling palms). They fitted strangely well.
Kazutora’s arms were wrapped around Chifuyu. Chifuyu liked it, human heat cloaking him in an almost nurturing way. It felt close, alive. Yes, he loved Kazutora.
And that was enough.
Baji was dead. And he would be dead the following morning when Chifuyu would wake up screaming once again, and he would be dead while Kazutora would hug him and swallow all of the black-haired boy’s hatred out of pure love and guilt. Baji was dead and would never come back again. All they had left was winter cold, remorse, and each other’s skeleton.