Natsuo didn't notice when he cut himself. It wasn't intentional, just a slip of the knife and suddenly, there it was. Blood, dark and thick, beading on the tip of his finger, and slowly starting to trickle down.
“You've cut yourself, Natsuo!” Youji observed brightly, leaning around Natsuo to look at it. “Let me see!”
Without waiting for permission, he stepped to the side and grabbed Natsuo's wrist, lifting it up for a better view.
They stared at it, united in their fascination. They'd seen blood before, of course – many times. Often their own – it was easy for someone who couldn't feel pain to accidentally injure themselves. But other people's, too, as often as they could possibly manage. Yes, they'd seen plenty of blood, but somehow, it never seemed to grow old.
With a mischievous smile, Youji jerked his hand forward, popping Natsuo's injured finger into his mouth. He sucked at it, mouth open a little so Natsuo could watch his pink tongue lapping at the blood. He wondered how it felt. What was it like, to have someone else suck and lick a wound like that?
They'd played this game before, trying to imagine what different sensations were like, comparing them to the things they knew. Maybe it was like waves washing on a shore, for instance, rhythmic and wet, the smell of salt in the air.
“Salty,” Youji agreed, just as though he'd heard the thought. “But there's not much of it. Look – it's already stopping.” He held up Natsuo's hand for him to see, still manipulating it as though it were an object, not something intrinsic and attached to his Fighter.
Natsuo nodded, tilting his head a little as he regarded it with the clinical detachment of an expert. Youji was right – the wound was already nearly closed. It hadn't been much of a cut, only a slight nick. Nothing that would really bleed.
Well, that was all right. That was easily fixed. He picked up the knife in his other hand and offered it to Youji. “Here. Cut me again.”
Ears pricked with interest as his Sacrifice reached for the knife. “Let's play.”.
Without waiting to be asked, Natsuo took off his shirt, offering his bare chest and arms as a canvas. He stood there, shivering a little, arms slightly spread and tail lashing as he waited for the first cut. What would it feel like were he someone else? That blade sliding along his skin, slicing it open – he'd seen the way others reacted, studied their every move, every flicker of expression intently, but it never answered the question. Was it like a whisper, breathy and soft? Sharp, like the pungent smell of strong cheese, something that made him wrinkle his nose in instinctive response?
The cut was low and long, across the abdomen so they could both easily see it. Natsuo watched the skin open like an invisible zipper, blood oozing out, first in a line, then a thin stream, dividing his attention between his blood and his Sacrifice's face. Youji's tongue was between his teeth, cheeks already a little pink as his breathing quickened in anticipation.
Natsuo never saw the knife move for the second cut, but he knew it was coming – he saw it in Youji's face. Close to the first, almost crossing it, another red line painted across his stomach.
Thoughtfully, he relaxed his arms, reaching a hand over and dipping a finger in the blood, dragging it across his skin. Without pain – without all the reactions they'd cataloged in others – it might well have been paint, but he knew it wasn't. The consistency and smell were all wrong for that. Paint would never be this exciting.
He lifted his finger to his lips and licked it, watching Youji for his reaction. But Youji's attention was all for the knife and its work – cutting Natsuo a third time, then a fourth, each cut carefully judged for both depth and aesthetics.
“You look like Soubi when he's painting.” It was true, but only just. Soubi's eyes weren't wide, pupils dilated nearly all the way when he painted. His cheeks weren't flushed; he had no ears to prick forward nor tail to lash in excitement. It was too bad. It would be so much more interesting to watch.
“You think so? Maybe I should paint a butterfly.” Smiling a little, Yohji cut him twice more, then set the knife down, reaching out with both hands. He used his fingers to paint a rough set of dripping red wings across Natsuo's narrow chest. “Do you think he'd like it?”
“Maybe we should show him.”
They both considered this, but not for long. They were too caught up in their game and not yet ready to stop. Yohji slid to his knees, leaning forward to nuzzle the cuts he'd made, widening them a little with his fingers to make them bleed more.
He could smell the blood now; the rich coppery scent overwhelmed the smell of the food he'd been preparing. Natsuo swayed on his feet, but he didn't complain, just reached out, grasped Youji's long hair, and held on.
He should tell him to stop. This was dangerous; they both knew it. They'd been cautioned over and over again. They couldn't feel; it would be easy to go too far without realizing it, to lose too much blood to recover without treatment. But that, of course, was part of why they liked this game so much. How boring it must be to be safe all the time!
Natsuo screwed his eyes tight, deliberately made his breathing shallow, copying the pained reactions he'd studied so closely. Maybe if he tried hard enough, he'd feel it. He wanted to sometimes, though he'd never told anyone but Youji. Even the slightest shadow of pain, some hint, would be enough. He just wanted to know what it was like!
It didn't work, of course. It never did and he didn't really expect it to. Besides, if it did, who would they become? They were Zero. Without that, they'd be just another nothing. No one, just another failed pair. Maybe they'd even lose each other.
He opened his eyes and looked down at Youji, his pale skin and hair now smeared with blood. He didn't have to say a word. Their eyes met and his Sacrifice stood and kissed him. To someone else, it might have seemed a meaningless gesture; their tongues might twine together, but they didn't feel a thing. But that wasn't why he did it. They were sharing not touch, but blood. It bound them together just as their name did.
When they separated, he looked at Youji's shirt, now stained from where he'd pressed up against the mess they'd made, grinning as he recognized the faint remains of the butterfly Youji had painted, just barely visible among the streaks and drips.
“Look. We've made something to show Soubi after all.”