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needle, pigment, pain

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Riz has a Fabian tattoo, of course. He tattooed all the Bad Kids on him, and his mom, and Gilear, and Tracker, once he got to know her better. It's not because they're clues, not because he doesn't trust them - he mostly does, and the parts that are still distrust are transmuting more and more into soft, round edged, everyday suspicions, less I think Fig was replaced by a doppelganger from the deepest pit of the nine hells to trick us into giving up Gortholax and more I think Fig is the one who stole all of my socks. He still feels uncomfortable and prickly, but differently, and he’s learning to live with the way it makes his chest hurt.

That’s where they are. On his chest, except for Gilear, who’s on the weird juncture between his ribs and his stomach, because he was doing it himself and he misjudged his spacing initially. He did it a few weeks after prom, right after Fig and Gorgug took off for their cross-Spire concert tour, during those long, dusty stretches where Kristen would disappear into community center meeting rooms and Tracker’s arms, and Adaine was too busy learning how to be an oracle to pay attention to anything beyond her fog-filled gaze, and Fabian was. Fabian was. 

Fabian was brash, and loud, and jocular; Fabian was moody, and mean, and reckless. Fabian was awkward, too awkward; without Gorgug or Fig between them, Riz could feel the silence clinging to him like mildew. He went over to Seacaster Manor just that one time, and after Mrs. Seacaster offered vodka tonics and wandered away, they just sat with their feet dangling in the pool for half an hour, because Riz forgot to bring anything to swim in and the elemental dryer at Strongtower wasn’t working, Fabian offered to let him borrow something and then they both remembered, and laughed, and even that was awkward; they stared at the water in silence, and Riz could tell that Fabian wanted to say something but didn’t know how, and he didn’t really want Fabian to say anything so he didn’t try. And the silence grew, and grew, until it sat between them like a specter, or a great and terrible beast, so that when Riz finally looked up at Fabian he could barely make out his shape. And eventually he texted Kristen and begged her to fake an emergency call. She never asked him about it, and Fabian didn't, either, just said they’d see each other soon. ‘ Soon’ turned out to be the first day of sophomore year.

He was alone, when he put their names on his body. Crouched on the floor of the closet he’s claimed as an office, Mom’s at work and he’s hit a wall in the case. He’s planning on updating his current tattoos - Mr. Cliffbreaker is fine, he’s 99% sure, but Fig expects results. Hands steady, not trembling - he’s not so maudlin - and not really thinking about anything in particular. Classes next year, the main case he’s working (Mrs. McLaughlin’s lost cat - an ordinary case of innocent feline gone missing, or something a little… darker?), dad, Mom’s new boyfriend (?!?), boyfriends, Fabian. Fabian. Wait. What. Wait. Fuck.

A little to the right of his heart, above ‘MOM’, below goldenhoard KALVAXIS, brash, and loud, and jocular: Fabian.

Riz had stared at it. Not really at it; at the empty stretch of green skin it used to be, at the ghost of the person he used to be, before he was this strange, crawling, mutated creature crouching in a closet at 2 a.m. scratching Fabian Seacaster’s name into his body with a sewing needle.

It was the answer to a clue, he knew that immediately. The angular consonants, the swirling vowels. There was a question they unlocked, hovering just outside of Riz’s vision, if he would only lift his head and see it.

He was 16, and he was sweaty, and he was kind of queasy, and so he didn’t. Instead he frantically added everyone else’s names wherever there was space, passed out, and convinced himself come morning that everything he’d done last night was exactly according to his master plan, the details of which would reveal themselves to him some other time. And then he didn't think about it again, even when he did.

 

And it would have been fine. Gods, it would have been fine. Fig and Gorgug come back, and Kristen begins occasionally poking her head out of her one-woman harem/religious revival meetings, and Adaine and him start a pre-school year study group that everybody makes fun of them for. And on the first day of school when he’s walking up the stairs Fabian punches him in the arm so hard he almost falls down, except that he reaches out a hand and effortlessly catches him, too. And Riz doesn’t get flustered, and Fabian doesn’t break his stride, except to linger, just for a second, for Riz to scurry in the front door after him.

It would have been fine. And then the Leviathan, and then Kalinda, and then Fabian. And then Riz is lying in the back of the Hangvan shirtless and bruised, because Fig’s mom doesn’t want them to sleep alone tonight and Kristen is convinced that skin-to-skin contact is going to make her healing spells that much more potent, no, this isn’t just a ploy, Tracker, here, I’ll do it on Riz, too-

Nobody really notices his new tattoos at first. They’re more concerned with Fabian, who’s lying on his side and staring at nothing, and with the space where Adaine should be. It’s easy, in those moments, for Riz to sink in on himself, pretend he isn’t here. The not-quite-heavenly, not-so-divine magic twisting itself through his body should make it harder, but it helps him imagine that he isn’t so much Riz as he is an extension of Kristen’s magic, given briefly animate form. He kind of likes that. Maybe, he thinks briefly, dully, he’s not doing okay.

When he looks up, it’s to Fabian’s gaze.

“Oh,” he says, and then, “hey, dude.” Fabian doesn’t react, but the way he won’t stop looking at Riz makes him want to vanish even more. Fig waves her hand in front of Fabian’s face a few times, ignoring Cathilda's worried clucking, and then - an amateur detective herself - she follows his line of sight. Right to Riz’s chest.

It’s just another kind of hell, after that, the kind that makes Riz kind of wish he’d just let Kalinda kill him. Fig thinks it’s so cute. Gorgug kind of sweetly, mostly just awkwardly asks if he should’ve gotten friendship tattoos, too. Kristen’s complaining that he doesn’t have one for Tracker, she’s part of the group. Adaine isn’t saying anything and oh, fuck, Adaine- And as he twists and turns, buffeted from one question to another, he feels, like a fraying tether, Fabian’s eyes on him.

It burns like a brand on his chest. Fabian’s name, written first. Fabian’s name, written the largest.

Gilear and Fig’s mom come back soon, and attention drifts as it often does, to bigger and more important, and then to stupider and less important things. And still Fabian’s eyes; and still Riz’s silence.

 

Later, when Fig and Gorgug are on the roof, and Kristen and Tracker are curled into each other, and Riz is staring at the ceiling and thinking about krakens, Fabian’s voice, too soft for Riz to truly believe it could ever come from lungs built to bellow proud and furious: “Do you not trust us that much?”

Riz doesn’t turn his head, doesn’t fully stop thinking about monsters beneath the cold and angry waves. “What’re you talking about?”

Despite all of the spells Kristen and Tracker poured into him, Fabian’s breathing is still harsh. “On your chest. You only write people. You only write people who are clues.” He sounds mean, like the only thing left of him are broken edges, and the only way he can make them stop hurting is to jam every last one of into Riz instead. “You only write people who you don’t trust. So you don't trust us, right? You don't trust any of us." 

Riz laughs weakly. “That’s not true, come on. I have, I have my mom, I have. Um.”

Fabian doesn’t respond. It’s cruel. The silence stirs in the corner, seeing its chance to strike. Riz can’t take that weight on his chest, so he grasps for the quickest, most believable fiction: “I was lonely, and I just, I wanted something to remember you guys, when I'm still here, and you’re all gone.”

The lie sounds believable. It doesn’t really sound like a lie, either.

Fabian still doesn’t say anything, but after a moment that stretches on the verge of unbearable the silence subsides back into the shadows, restless, but content for now. Riz doesn’t close his eyes. Fabian’s breathing doesn’t get any steadier. He wants rend himself apart. He wants to tear his skin off. He wants to ask Fabian a question he doesn't have yet. He wants to go home. 

In the morning, they don't talk about it. 

 

Later they will. Later Riz will tell him everything. Fabian will laugh, at him, but not cruelly. And he’ll demand that Riz makes his tattoo the best, because it was the first one, the one that Riz wanted, even though he was too stupid to know it yet. And so Riz will crown it with flowers and underline it in gold, and Fabian will crow and preen like it’s his own body, his own skin. And when Fabian kisses his cheek Riz won't recoil. And when Fabian touches his body Riz is happy for it to be his, and for it to be here. And when the silence lays down between them it purrs, soft, content.

 

But that’s later. Now, they lay in silence. Now, Riz's heart lays heavy in his ribs. Now, Fabian's name sits heavy on his chest, just to the right of his heart.