Madara was forged into a weapon from the moment he entered the world- sunk too deep by misfortune of birthright alone to ever hope for tenderness, to hope for a family that did not turn their backs and throw their lot behind a boy just as mortal as he playing at being god.
He’s always known better. He’s always put up careful walls, always thrown himself wholeheartedly into the role of protector- not the hero, he’s never been allowed to be the hero, but he’s strong. He’s big. He can shield those who are precious to him, even if he can’t trust himself not to break them head-on.
He builds a world for himself separate from the family he cannot reconcile with, he makes himself the one thing he can never be, he settles into the role of Mama as easily as breathing, but-
Nothing in his life could have prepared him for Leo Tsukinaga.
Leo bleeds love. Leo, in all his overwhelming goodness, makes Madara feel like a person, like his hands, which have only ever broken delicate things, things better than them, might be able to be gentle, might be able to hold and cherish and protect in a way he’s never thought himself capable of .
With Leo, he is soft; he is something wholly divorced from the only self he’s ever let himself know. With Leo, he is unmade.
He knows Leo does not, cannot see in himself the light that glows from his every pore, but he is so blinding- so brilliant- he shines so brightly, Madara is almost afraid, sometimes, to look at him directly. He’s not sure he can hold him in his hands without him slipping through his fingers, and yet he gravitates towards him, towards closeness. He cannot hope to contain Leo (he is so much larger than life, larger than the world Madara is so accustomed to), but he cannot help but to hold him in whatever capacity he is able, whenever he is able, far too much like Icarus in how close he wishes to fly to the sun.
But his wings have not melted. He will not let them. Not so long as Leo needs protecting. Not so long as Leo needs him to be there. When he tells him his voice will always reach him, anytime, anywhere, he means it.
When he tells him he really doesn’t know what he’d do if he lost him, he means it, too.
Being in Leo’s presence, it’s like he can breathe, finally; it’s like the dirt so caked upon his hands may for a moment pretend to be washed free. And he is dirty, infinitely dirty- he remembers a book he read, once, years ago. A collection of letters, some German fool deeply in love (and he is- he is in love, Madara knows, and knows all too painfully). This is why I scream so much about purity, he had written. No one sings as purely as those who inhabit the deepest hell.
Perhaps it is foolish to see Leo as wholly pure. Leo, who he has seen unimaginably low, who he has seen trapped and cornered and lashing out like a wounded animal, who he has seen shattered- but musical staves scrawled in scarlet and drenched in forgiveness will never leave the back of his mind. Leo loves more purely than Madara will ever be able to know, and is that not purity? Is that not what he will do anything in his power to protect?
(Sometimes, when he takes Leo’s hand, Madara thinks he might be able to love just as purely. It’s as much a nice thought as it is untrue. He has broken too much, too much in the name of love, to ever be called pure.)
But he has not broken Leo, no matter how he’s feared it. Leo, who sees him despite what walls Madara still maintains (but oh, he cannot help but want to be vulnerable for Leo, who wears his heart on his sleeve). Leo, who grins away that fear with a laugh and a You would never hurt me, Mama! Leo, who is so certain of this, who believes in him without hesitation- like to trust him is the easiest thing in the world. Leo, whose smile is more precious than anything and yet freely given.
Madara has never believed that there are gods in this world, but he thinks if he were to find salvation it would be within that smile.
He is so used to masks. He has been wearing one his whole life, one way or another- the son he needed to be (long since cracked and discarded), the self-assured leader of festivals, the one who can’t be deterred, can’t be hurt, can protect and protect and stand steady, stand strong-
Being with Leo, who is so wholeheartedly himself, feels like freedom. Freedom he can’t quite grasp for himself, not really, but- but. Leo holds his heart in his hands, extends it out and does not retract it no matter how much it has been battered. Leo is- so much more than he has ever known the words to describe.
It is this he holds on to, in the aftermath of it all- when he and Kohaku step off the stage, neither glancing back at the bloodied mess that had once been the man who hurt so, so many. Who was going to hurt Leo. He does not bother confirming whether or not he had survived the beating- it doesn’t matter either way, he’s learned long ago. His mother had given him that much, taught it in the scars he saw her inflict on other people, in the far less physical scars she’d left him with, wrapped tight around his heart. Whether GFK lives or dies, CosPro higher-ups will cover it up, and- well, they’ve done what they had to.
He’s done what he had to, to ensure Leo’s safety. He’s alright with that. He is.
But when he makes his way into the cafe and Leo lights up the moment he sees him, Madara cannot deny that something within him feels very close to breaking.
He’s crossing the room before Leo’s even out of his seat, arms opening before Leo can launch himself forward with a delighted laugh. He’s whirling through an excited greeting, absolutely far too energetic for the hour, but Madara can’t bring himself to focus on that right now. His exhaustion is creeping in at the edges and all he wants to do at the moment is hold Leo as tightly as possible, fit him in his arms like he belongs there and pretend to himself he’s destined for anything but to burn.
“-Mama, are you listening?” Leo asks, pouting. His breath is warm against Madara’s neck. “Geez, I thought you would’ve felt better now- you just dealt with GFK, right?” He’s still pressed against him, so Madara can’t see his expression, but he doesn’t need to by now to pick up on what Leo doesn’t quite know how to ask. There’s worry behind his words.
He takes a soft breath, the scent of Leo’s hair, all strawberries and coffee, grounding him before he manages to force a laugh. “Aha, that’s right! Mama’s got it all taken care of! He won’t be bothering you anymore, Leo-san, I promise~” he grins, and that at least is true. It’s not GFK, he realizes with a soft pang, that has him so out-of-sorts. He’s more than used to doing things like this, to dirtying his own hands if it means those he loves can walk a clean path.
It’s just… he hadn’t had someone to come home to, before. In the past when the job was done, he’d lick his own wounds and return just as strong as ever, just as ready to face the world head-on. He’d always been running, always far ahead of anything that could hurt him too much, and eventually, people had stopped chasing after. Eventually, the effort of chasing his shadow was too much.
He’d never had somebody waiting for him in the light.
“Waah, Mama, you’re holding me really tight?” Leo yelps, wiggling in his grasp. “I won’t be able to breathe at this rate! You’ll break my arms and then I’ll never compose again! That would be a tragedy, you know?”
Madara exhales softly and lets his arms fall to his sides, warmth curling its way into his chest as he returns Leo’s grin. “I know,” he says, and means it more than he could ever say. Means I love you and I’m glad you’re safe and thank you for trusting me. Thank you for waiting.
Leo, more perceptive than he is ever given credit for, leans back into Madara’s side with a hum, and that, too, is I love you. Everything Leo does, each time he smiles, is its own little declaration of love, and it is so much more than Madara has ever believed he could allow himself to be given.
He’d be content to stay like that for a moment, to breathe Leo’s warmth and feel a little more whole than he has in a while, but there’s a cafe employee sending them a pointed look across the room, and well, it is late. With a sigh, he adjusts their positions, hand falling easily to the small of Leo’s back as he turns towards the door. He tries not to think about how even such a simple touch, something he’d do with anyone, feels… bigger, with Leo. Feels right in a way that makes his throat a little tight.
Still, though, Madara clears his throat and flashes Leo a grin. “Leo-saaaaan, don’t you think we should be heading back to the dorms by now? You need your rest, after all! I’ll walk you back, yeah?”
Leo glances back and seems to notice the employee for the first time, realization slowly dawning even as he turns to stick his tongue out at Madara. “Pest,” he says, but there’s no bite to it. “You’re so annoying, Mama! I haven’t seen you properly in days, y’know? And now you’re acting like you don’t wanna see me again; I could die!” Leo pouts, even as he lets Madara shepherd him out of the cafe door.
“You better not, Leo-san,” Madara hums as the door swings shut behind them. “I don’t know what I would do without you, after all.” There’s a little too much emotion behind the words. Leo pauses, catches his eye, and Madara knows he can see this too, but he doesn’t say anything, doesn’t try to hide- there’s never been any use hiding himself from Leo, who unravels him so completely. Leo, who knows just what he is capable of and is still not afraid.
“Mama,” Leo murmurs, quieter than Madara has heard him in more than a year, as quiet as he’d been when he had broken and Madara had only been able to pick up the pieces, and- he shoves down the momentary panic. This is different, this time. Leo’s voice now is gentle not because he is broken, but because he is choosing to be soft with him, and- oh.
Madara’s not sure how to handle being treated with care.
He steps a little closer, pulled a little further into Leo’s impossible gravity, and Leo smiles, sad around the edges. “You don’t have to go back to your dorm, y’know.” His voice slips back into its usual boldness, the sad twist to his smile melting as if it weren’t there at all (but Madara has known him long enough to know better). “After all, who knows what I could do when left to my own devices! I really might keel over! Maybe I’ll burn the place down!”
Ah, that’s right- Switch is out of town right now for a gig, and Nazuna has things to attend to with his university, Leo had mentioned. He has the dorm to himself, and- well, Leo’s never liked being on his own, never done well left with only himself for company. Madara pushes down the thought that maybe Leo doesn’t just want him there for his own sake- maybe Leo can tell that Madara doesn’t much want to be alone right now, either.
Well. Madara has never been able to deny Leo much.
“We can’t have that, now, can we?” he grins, allowing Leo to tug him in the direction of the dorms without complaint. It’s a little stunning, sometimes, how much Leo sees through him. How he sees- Madara’s not even sure what he sees. Beneath the grime and the pain and the things he has done that Leo has no way of knowing and yet he knows- beneath it all Leo has always seen something.
Madara wishes he could be even half as good as what that something is.
Leo chatters softly at his side as they make their way to his dorm, Madara content to hum along and let himself be led. He barely notices when they make it inside, sinking down onto Leo’s bed before his brain’s caught up with his body. It’s only as he’s midway through kicking off his shoes that he really pauses to think about it, and- well.
It’s not that they haven’t done this before. When they were traveling the world, they would share hotel room beds all the time, the closeness natural, comfortable- he couldn’t imagine it any other way. They’d slotted together more easily than breathing, little reminders of home no matter where in the world they were. Madara had loved Leo then, too, had held him close as if he could protect him like that, could shield him from what had already broken him and put the pieces back together with his own indelicate hands. Back then, nothing had ever felt quite so right.
But tonight- tonight he’s a little frayed, weary to the bone and body yearning to cling to home once again, and Madara feels so, so weak.
Leo pulls a few scattered pieces of sheet music off of his bed, humming softly to himself as he works around Madara shrugging out of his jacket, and it’s a kind of easy domesticity that makes him ache. He doesn’t have to ask before Leo’s tossing him a pair of sweatpants to sleep in, a pair he’d probably left behind at some point because they certainly look too big for Leo’s small frame. It’s so natural he’s a little weak with it, the part of him that had always yearned for a real, genuine home- not playing house, he’d told Kohaku, and god does this feel more domestic than that- rising hot in his chest.
He pulls Leo down to meet him on the bed before he can toss the sheet music on his dresser, and Leo goes with a surprised little laugh, letting the paper fly everywhere. It’s much more him that way, Madara thinks fondly as the sheets drift around them like petals in the wind. “Leo-san, stop running around and let me tuck you in! Sleep deprivation stunts your growth, y’know-”
Leo snorts and pushes him over, squirming until he’s managed to pull the blankets up over them both. “So mean, Mama! To think even you would stoop so low as to bring height into this- I’m wounded! Hurt! This is bullying!”
Madara laughs and cards a hand through his hair, a little more tender than teasing. Leo leans into the touch, eyes fluttering closed a moment, and Madara’s world narrows to the sweep of his eyelashes across freckled cheeks. He sucks in a soft breath before he manages, “I would never, Leo-san.” His voice is hushed, more vulnerable than he’d meant it to sound. Something shifts behind Leo’s eyes.
“Mama.” He inhales quietly, expression almost sad. “I love you, you know that, right? So- so whatever you’re going through, you know you’re not alone, yeah? You- you know you can let me help?”
Madara feels like breaking when Leo’s voice shakes. He’s not sure he can form words in response, feeling stripped bare as Leo searches his face for one. “I- Leo-”
“I just-” Leo starts, stops, sighs in frustration. He’s being more careful with his words than Madara has ever seen him. “Can we talk about tonight? I mean- it doesn’t have to be now, but you’ve been caught up in all this GFK stuff, and you don’t look like yourself- and you haven’t, not for a while, not during Ave Maria, and-” There are tears forming in the corners of his eyes now, and Madara is frozen. “I love you, okay? Please just- know you can trust me.”
It’s a little too much, mixed with everything else- with his parents, with how lost he’s been with MaM, with the sickening look in GFK’s eyes like Leo truly was nothing to him, like even after everything Madara and Kohaku did to bring about justice he still wouldn’t feel regret- and Madara is strong, he is, but not like this.
Leo slots against him like he’s made to as Madara pulls him into his arms, crushingly tight, but does not complain, does not do anything but hold him as he breaks.
It’s been a long time coming, this catharsis- Leo, so overwhelmingly good, brushing fingers through his hair and skimming over his cheeks, and it’s more than Madara deserves but he shakes against the touch with tears he’s too exhausted to shed. “Leo,” he breathes, open and raw because he can’t pretend anymore. “Leo.”
“I know,” Leo murmurs, and Madara knows he does.
Sighing, he collects himself, adjusting their positions a little until he can look Leo in the eye again. “I’m sorry- I am. I-” His head is swimming, and he’s so tired, and Leo is the one point of clarity he can trust. “Tomorrow. Tomorrow, we can talk, I promise, I just…”
“Okay,” Leo says without hesitation. He looks incredibly fragile, and Madara is reminded, for a moment, just how easily things break under his hands. But- not Leo. Never Leo. “Tomorrow,” he echoes, and it’s a certainty, something Madara has so little of he’s almost forgotten what it’s like.
Leo’s cheek, as he cups his face, fits so perfectly against his palm.
Madara figures he can be weak a little longer.
Kissing Leo isn’t an explosion, isn’t a revelation in any way. It’s more natural, more easy than he could have imagined- and he has imagined, he has. Has imagined for so long that the wanting has just become part of him, like he’s been wandering in it for so long, lost in the enormity of how much he desires.
Kissing Leo is like coming home.
Leo’ s lips curve into a grin against him before he’s kissing back, and that, too, is natural, expected, even- he thinks they’ve both known for a while now that this wasn’t going to end up any other way. Leo’s hand finds its way into his hair, tugging just hard enough to convey the message- you waited long enough.
He kisses a little more clumsily than he’d have liked, exhaustion making him sloppy as he pulls away to kiss as much of Leo as he can get his hands on. Leo’s laugh is bright and clear as he plants kisses over freckled cheeks, the bridge of his nose, his jaw, the corner of his smile- Madara is a man starved, and Leo is an oasis.
“I love you,” Leo tells him again, later, when they’ve both tired a little and Madara has pressed their foreheads together, content to memorize every inch of his face like he’s seeing it for the first time. And he has time, now, he knows- time to kiss Leo properly, the way he deserves, time to make up for the things he has done, the person that he is.
And Madara may believe he is destined to burn, may not believe his hands will ever be clean, but when Leo is looking at him like that, he can almost believe, for once, that he might be good.
“I love you, too,” he breathes, soft, and the words are foreign on his tongue but feel more right than anything else. Leo beams at him and leans in for another kiss.
Maybe, despite it all, he can deserve this. Maybe, he lets himself think as Leo curls against him and sleep creeps in at the corners of his vision, he can be what Leo sees.
Maybe- and he pulls Leo against him like he belongs there, and he does, he always has- he’s never had to go looking to make a home.
His home has always been right here.