Chapter 1: My hands are (not) clean
He looks down at his hands. That’s the first thing he does, he looks down at his hands. When they stand in front of each other, wary and confused, he stares at his gloves expecting them to show some wet offcolour shine, blue and teal and green, colours of the water coating him from fingertips to shoulders.
Blood is omnipresent, it drips through their consciousness from a heavy burdened source, the same that gave them birth and purpose, it makes blood-clot stalactites and sticks them in place when it dries. The air has been heady with blood before, with strange coldness against his palm, salt and ink tempting him to lick it off, tempting him to hate. His fingers curl inward, spindly and sinewy like some odd machinery, moving without his mind there to give a command.
The Signless reaches out one hand. It stays there in mid-air like it’s been suspended by strings, and the flow of air makes it quiver. His expression is infinitely tender and every line is etched with fear. If he reaches out further his hand might be crushed, he must be thinking, eaten by the vicious jagged metal that is held so tightly wound by springs and wires, that clacks and clanks and sparks redblue, inches away from explosion.
He is scared. He is also himself, and as that he reaches out further, sticks his hand right in the circuitboard that makes up the Ψiioniic’s heart — silvery and quick, burns your fingers when you touch it — and pulls him into a crushing hug. He really believes that deep down they’re still kids.
Ψiioniic has the taste of murder like grease and vomit and the kick of alcohol in his mouth, a violence hangover, and he would like to disagree. He was put together badly as a kid, he lashed out at anything that crossed his path, in a world full of two kinds of people. He lashes out still, with his nails digging hard into his palms dripping dirt-yellow, his eyes all but crossing when the power tears through him and leaves his mind clear and ringing and leaves a mess of crushed-burned-electrocuted corpses at his feet.
“Why?” Signless asks him, soft and not brittle at all, as if why is really an appropriate question to ask when he’s soaking in the blood that is not there, that has not touched his hands. Why. Goddamnit, why did he do it and why did he have to, why was this bastard’s life — and a bastard’s life is precious too, he should know, he is one — why was it less important, less sacred than his death.
“You were in danger,” he answers, very flatly, and his not-bloody hands come up to tangle in two handfuls of cloak. He isn’t crying. His eyes are dry, very dry, they are too dry after the sparks have sucked the light out of them. He blinks a little. This is not an ideal day.
“Was there no other way to disable him?”
The question is posed just as softly and dry and spoken against his collar, physical contact that makes sure he does not float away, shoot off into the atmosphere and burn there in a grand ether explosion.
“Did he deserve it?” and now he is making things difficult, is making Ψiioniic tear himself away and unwrap his fists from the muffling material, eyes alight with dry sparks.
“He.” his voice trembles and gets stuck in his throat and he shakes his head to dislodge the clogged congealed thoughts. Blood has dried in the folds of his brain and is making him dizzy.
“He wath conthpiring to give you to the authoritieth. You.”
He lets the words spill out as they come, hotheaded and coldblooded and all redblue killing efficiency, snapped necks that prevent greater evils. He is most definitely not crying. His eyes are dry.
His eyes are undeniable red, like embers that look grey until you touch them and they singe your fingers off, and now they are wide as well, like he cannot believe what he’s hearing. He holds his lessons fiercely in his head like something precious, like a polished sickle blade to cut plants instead of throats, but he doesn’t bind himself to them, he does not see that the truth and him are one thing, knotted and inseparable from each other.
Ψiioniic raises himself to his intimidating height, not to scare but because his lungs need to be full of air right now so he can speak, spitting be damned.
“You. The thingle motht preciouth thing our thpecieth hath got, out thaving fucking grace, the one who theeth. You. You’re worth a hundred of them, an ocean of them, I would mow them all down for you.”
His hands feel wet again, his mouth feels full, his throat stuck with blood. All the cold glazed eyes (like fishes) and all the stiff hands and mouths gagged with screams are tied and braided with the knifeblade of using his powers to their almost-limit, sharp in his brain. And he is ready to throw it all up, give it all up when he sees something shatter in Signless’ face, hurt deep enough that he casts his eyes away. He doesn’t speak for a long time, his lips sealed tight, something has finally broken here.
“I am no better than any one of them,”
and he must be lying or must be delusional, he cannot be so good to deny how good he is. He wraps the hiding fog of his cloak around himself and his mouth is twisted with abhorrance like bile. And he sits down like a crumpled heap with all his strength sapped or hidden away behind the collapse and lets him rest his heavy, heavy head in his lap, mouth pressed against the folds of cloth that blood has never touched. And it makes him feel like his heart is rusting, tarnished in his chest, and it is just what he wants to have because they can have nothing else, not with the blood that sticks them in their place.
Chapter 2: Doubt Not
“So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
“Why did they blindfold you?”
He sounds genuinely curious, a kid who hasn’t yet been told how psychics work, how to make them work and how to work out all the nasty little errors. He should know it, though, he should know it for being, by the look of him and his clothes, horns, accent, a limeblood. A step higher, and therefore a commander, an overseer who watches for him not to step out of line. He does that already, short as the time as their aquaintance has been — short as it seems, quick as it ran by filled wall to wall with conversations that made Ψiioniiic vaguely uncomfortable in ways he could not name, feared to name. He steers him with little nudges but mostly by being so unyielding, by letting him scream out everything and burn the endless supply of energy and anger down, burn himself empty, by catching him when he falls over exhausted.
He is exhausted. As valuable a commodity as psychics are, he explains, they need to be kept in check. A rogue psychic will quickly find a more powerful one dispatched after them, and will then find themselves not only in a hole in the ground, but in the state of being a hole in the ground.
He should know this. He has stood on the edge of scorched kicked-up earth and looked at it knowing of the burned blood that he has fed the ground, knowing that not even grass will grow at this graceless burial site.
Fear holds them in control of themselves, the ranks of fucked-up eyes and minor mutations, intelligent but foolish, short-sighted, in need of leadership. Fear is a powerful motivator but not the best shackle, when feeling the constant weight of those they’ve killed under order is so much better at keeping them in line. Psychic, mercenary, murderer not for money but for saving your own skin, avoiding the masters’ wrath like the animal you are.
Constant repition creates belief.
He has been told that those used as batteries have it easier, passive, not dropping the bombs but powering them. He wouldn’t know, the only time they strapped him into a generator he blew all the fuses, and the leechwires burned black against his skin. You have no control, so others have to control you.
He has never known control by a hand that cups the side of his face with an ease almost shameless, a voice that takes in hand all the rage and thrown fistfuls of lightning and pushes them away until he finds himself breathing to the bottom of his lungs.
He has never known someone to throw himself so wide open, to keep about himself a shell that cracks when it’s blown on and exposes something so damned soft. He has never seen anyone so weak be so strong, and day after day with the blinds drawn talking about everything dig into his head, hook into his brain like claws and suddenly there are cracks in the chainlink of words and guilt and misanthropy.
“You’ve been blinded. Every last one of you. But you,” he sounds happy and mournful as he says it, always sounds like he feels so much that it saturates his words, he has eyes of an odd grey with a tint that’s weird and apparent with how close he is, “you, Ψiioniic, mourn the loss of your sight. You know.”
He speaks with his hands in front of him, expressing everything he feels with gestures, expansive and sweeping, and when they speak together Ψiioniic’s own fast flickering hands that underscore his thoughts make it seem like their conversations are half sign language and pantomime.
The loss of his sight is not something he has really mourned before, he doesn’t think, but when his friend — blank and empty, parathenses of nothing where a sign should be — tells him so, he feels it like a very sudden pain. He asks him, mouth twisted in bitterness, what it is that he isn’t seeing, and gets as an answer that it cannot be described.
“Do you know how much you’re worth?”
That earns him a look out of wide grey eyes, an impulsive hand that takes his shoulder and pulls him close, conspirationally or intimately. And then he watches as something drops, as the open surprise in his confidant’s expression turns into something very deep and very cold. He raises his hand that’s so soft for how calloused it is and the fingers ball into a fist hard, until the knuckles pale, stay clenched and trembling. When they uncurl his palm is scratched and stained with bizarrely bright red.
In a voice that comes from somewhere so far away he barely hears it, the Signless says, “Nothing.”
When Ψiioniic has managed to unstick his tongue from the roof of his mouth everything happens at once and so fast he doesn’t have time to breathe. He has his claws hooked into his black sleeve and holds a strip of it in his hand and ties it across and around all in one incredibly frantic motion, and then he sits there with a bandaged hand in his lap and stares at the black fabric and is completely dumbstruck for what he’s seen to lie underneath. When his voice comes back it’s to be so loud he’s very nearly shouting.
“Nothing?” he says so sharply that he sees him flinch, and that hurts somewhere deep in his chest but he keeps going, slaps the table open-handed, his eyes flashing like warning lights.
“Nothing? Thith from you, from the bold blathphemer? Everyone ith worthy of rethpect but you? Hypocrite! Tho you lied to me!”
“This is enormous,” he snaps back, so affronted that he gets loud himself, “this is enormous and heavy, but it has to be broken and I will.”
He laughs at him. It’s terrible, a terrible dry sound that comes from the recesses of his throat like a mouthful of bile, and he feels bad for it immediately. But laughing is the best alternative to crying, when a friend has just announced that his chest is open, to knives and blasts and projectiles, when he’s all but marked himself as dead. He chokes down the laughter with little difficulty and keeps nothing but the sour taste.
“I’m sorry,” with a sad little smile the one without sign, the Signless, tells him, gives an apology that he ows and doesn’t owe, and continues after a moment’s hesitation, “will our friendship survive this?”
Ψiioniic considers that the light would burn if a blind man was healed, it would bring tears to his eyes as well. That his own heart may as well be a target, that the comfort of cowardice calls that tells him he’s a traitor already and one more will not count. He takes a deep breath and looks away.
“Thuch a thing will not break a diamond.”
Chapter 3: Staining the pale
He feels dirty. Dirt under his tongue, a sticky combination of blood and old booze and sand that he’s eaten when he smacked into it face first. There’s blood and gore clinging underneath the sharpened curves of his nails, old and dry, and he twitches the filthy fingers into a basin of water and tries to scrub it out. Shoulders raising and falling, breathing like sobs or the hysterical unsupressable laughter that still sometimes claws its way out of his lungs, and spills out of his open fang-armored mouth in shrieking gasps. He shakes his head, trying to clear out the faint sparks that cling to the inside of his brain like congestion. A flurry of them pours out of the corners of his eyes like tears, inbetween his fingertips, wreathing them briefly, and he tips his head back and sucks in the air like he’s drinking it. After a few moments he realizes that the shrieking laughter is back, hardly even his voice anymore, hysteric and loud. He doesn’t make an attempt to swallow it down.
A hand claps over his mouth. The skin is always warmer than his own, even no when power discharge makes him feel like a fever is crawling outside from his chest and taking over his limbs. It shuts him up very effectively; he squawks against the palm once, his ridiculously sharp teeth scrape over it, and then he’s silent.
He’s treated to a long, silent look out of sun-red eyes before Signless reaches in and hugs him, tucking the whole spindly angular construction of his body up against his chest. They both sigh. He hates fighting, and loves it, and shivers from head to toe when deft fingers flick the clasp of his collar open and dismantle his uniform around him, piece by piece, stripping him off gloves and armguard and cowl and before long absolutely everything.
And then he’s scrubbed down like a kid, dirt, blood, grime, everything.
“Hit me thquare in the thkull and shorted out my powerth,”
he informs him, offering the scar-infested rack of his chest to the gentle dispassionate touch, “evidently that teal shithead thought pthionicth break like a twig when you thtuff up their weaponth. Ath if we don’t get it drilled into our panth freakin’ thidewayth that we need to be able to fight bare-handed or get made mincemeat by the firtht athhole with a thtunner.”
He sighs and turns the exhalation into a vicious frustrated hiss. Signless scrubs away at sweat and dirt and eventually just to soothe, and asks, “And how long did they manage to lock up your pan?”
“Half a fucking minute,” Psiioniic says with a sudden burst of pride, in constrast to the absolute embarassment that anything shorted out at all, “by then I had my clawth in the thlimethucker. The guy wath built like a brick shithouthe, and not half dumb either.”
He shakes out the buzz in his head again and watches the gentle hands peel him bare and wash him clean again. He’s so pale that it hits him in the stomach, the concave underneath his ribs, filling him up so fast and hard that the thin bars of his ribcage feel like they’re bending outwards from how much it is. He curls his bare feet against the floor until the claws scratch it and sighs, heavy, so deep that a spark flicks out between his teeth with the exhale. Signless jumps and laughs and says, “That stung ,” and Psiioniic clicks his teeth together and tries to stay serious for a shivery second and then he bursts out laughing. Not the unhealthy painful shriek of earlier, even though there’s a high note of hysteria in it still, but a heartfelt laughter that makes transparent yellow tears drip down from his eyes and over his cheeks. He sucks in the air inbetween giggles that are five sweeps younger than he is. Signless laughs with him, lighting up his tired eyes, the hollows underneath them shining damning red under the grey. They collapse against each other, and he is ass-naked, all bare bones with the slashes of scars scattered like punctuation marks across his skin. And he does not give a fuck. He laughs until his lungs ache, and then he holds up one spindly finger, makes the tip of it light up with sparks, and sneaks it underneath Signless’ cloak, up against his side.
“I’m a bee,” he says, squeaks , and takes another breath that trembles with how hard he isn’t laughing, and chokes out, “Buth buth,” and they promptly lose their shit again. The fighting and the fuckups and the fear and paranoia are banished by this, this ridiculous gasping and supporting themselves against each other and choking on giggles is benediction. He laughs until he thinks he can’t breathe any more, and it cleans him inside like the water did outside. He takes a deep breath soaked with hysterical tears, and shakes his head.
“No,” Signless says, his own voice raw with laughing, his face stained red, “you are an absolutely ridiculous psychic. Also, you’re not wearing any clothes, you pan-scrambled bundle of sticks.”
“Oh,” he says, and doesn’t even mind. He doesn’t think to make for the scraps of uniform on the floor until he starts to feel cold, and then Signless stops him, tells him that he is not putting those filthy mustard rags back on until they’ve been cleaned. Preferably with bleach. And shrugs off his own cloak to wrap it around him.
It’s still warm by his skin, and it smells like him, sweet and soft and comforting, and he wants to burrow in the folds of the cloth that looks so rough and feels like a security blanket. He curls up against him, fitting his bundle of twigs self neatly in the warm space against his chest, and exhales. And breathes in the calm, the undisturbed space where nothing matters. The arching curve of blood that he’s seen spill is the ugly sideeffect of survival, but no one and nothing ordered him except the desire to protect his own neck. In dim hours, when the blue chokes him up, he feels like that is as bad as any highblood command, but the low voice cuts through that fog, “All things protect their lives. The most gentle turn vicious to survive, and with good reason,”. And sometimes he believes it. Sometimes he says, half-delirious from the gentle hands on his face and the sermon voice that pierces his thoughts brighter than anything but still soothes him into a sleep state, “Not you,” and gets answered with nothing but a hush.
Now, he’s close to a trance, clean, and drifts along without sleeping, because sleeping would do nothing but give him a vicious headache and dreams that he hopes aren’t prophetic. After a while, the gentle touch of hands through his hair slows, stops, and he looks up from the chest he’s been curled against to listen to the fast ticking heartbeat. Signless is asleep sitting up, his mouth half-open, brows tight in concentration. His eyelids shiver and his hands move jerkily, and he’s evidently dreaming. Not a daymare. His dreams are jewel-bright, snatches and scraps of something beautiful that he describes in a hushed tone, and it must be another one of those. His expression is so soft, concentrating but still soft, and he looks abandoned to it, absolutely, sincerely pitiful.
Psiioniic watches him sleep, carelessly tipped back, chest rising and falling, every part of him gentle, for a few long moments. He watches from outside himself, the borrowed cloak falling halfway off his narrow shoulders, and breathes in and quietly curses.
It slams down inside his brain like a metal grate, separates the two sides of his pan with fibers pulling away from each of them, sticking to the opposite hemisphere in unclean duality, and he curses again.
He pities this unbelievable, singular troll, bright and softly pale, childish and mute and caught inbetween keeping each other from dying body and soul, inbetween laughing and sleeping, inbetween sleeping in one coon and waking up, mutant heads knocking together as one speaks in a hushed quick whisper of his dreams of greatness and the other stays silent of visions that he begs aren’t psychic premonition.
He wants to keep loving him without selfconsciousness, unaware of his own nakedness outside and in, but his head snaps in two so hard he can almost feel it, and it feels like red spilling across the untouched expanse of clean and pale, staining it with passion. Caught in every touch that isn’t just comfort and comfortable and comforting but jumps into his blood pump, makes his pulse jitter inside of him while his hands curl and try not to touch.
Edges blurring together, cutting themselves in two halves. He’s doomed, he thinks, doomed to never love cleanly, never without doubt of another half.