Kija’s back hurt, a sort of tightening and rippling of flesh around puckered scars that ran him through and divided him. It happened, sometimes. More often than Kija would like to admit. Mostly when the weather changed from cold to warm as if the changing seasons rent something from his skin. It would feel like claws were gathering the flesh on his back and squeezing and jabbing even though there was no outside cause. Kija just always awoke like that. He could only move his arms up so much, and his neck was stiffened as he tried to find a better way to lay down. So instead, he mostly gave up on finding a comfortable position and got up early.
(At home in his village, when this happened Grandmother would always try not to cry as she lay rags soaked in hot water upon him, behind closed doors she would beg Kija’s father to release the curse displayed upon Kija’s shoulders. Kija had wanted to comfort her, tell her that he was sure it was not his father’s curse, but in the end no matter what Kija said it made no difference.)
“You’re up early,” Yun observed from where he was making breakfast. Kija smiled at Yun, the dull ache as a constant reverberating in his neck. At that moment Kija could put it aside but it was unfortunately there.
“Yes, is there anything you need me to do?” Kija asked Yun who pointed in the general direction of the laundry hanging upon the tree.
“Could you get those for me, carefully. I don’t want you poking holes in them,” Yun said with a warning that had as much heat as winter wind.
Kija walked over to the tree, reaching up and immediately getting hit with a fresh wave of discomfort that made his face twist uncontrollably in a frown and made him uncontrollably extend his dragon-claws. He immediately jerked his dragon hand down, shaking out his arm before reaching up with his safer human hand (subjugating himself to the wave again but with less danger). With the clothes safely retrieved, Kija made his way back to the camp. Settling down to fold them, and watching as the others emerged from the tents.
“Good morning Hakuryuu, Lad!” Zeno chirped, walking over to situate himself right by Yun and the campfire. Hak yawned and stretched as he settled on a log, with Shin-ah following his action closely.
“Good morning,” Yun said in return.
“Did you have a good night’s sleep?” Yona asked with a cheerful smile. Kija watched the range of nods and hear hums of agreement.
“Well, except for when Kija gave me a nice punch,” Jaeha said, giving Kija a pat on the back. Kija immediately felt that discomfort welling up again, but didn’t react.
“Ah…forgive me, Jaeha,” Kija said weakly.
Jaeha’s smile faltered for a moment but then was regained just as quickly.
“You know Kija, lying isn’t a very beautiful action.” Jaeha asked as he sat down in the shade, dimpled light from the canopy dimly sparkling in violet gaze as he lounged looking both comfortably and oddly pleased with himself (or rather how Jaeha almost always looked, having an air of maturity and understanding that made Kija slightly envious, Kija could never be so relaxed in his own skin). “You were either going easy on me today, or there is something wrong with you.”
Kija stared at Jaeha in surprise, toeing the barrier of shade though the sun’s warmth on his shoulders felt far more comfortable. They had just been doing a bout of sparring, and Kija had thought he was pushing through the ache just fine. However as Jaeha’s gaze saw straight through him, Kija couldn’t but let his shoulders sag.
“My back’s been bothering me today, but please don’t tell Yun or the princess. Really, I’m fine,” Kija told with what he hoped to be a convincing smile.
“Why not?” Jaeha asked concerned.
“I’m not really wounded,” Kija tried to explain, tipping his head to the side. “I would rather not cause trouble without a real injury.”
“You troublesome—“ Jaeha said before scoffing as he stood up and grabbed Kija’s arm gently. “Just because there isn’t an injury doesn’t mean you aren’t in real pain. Now come on.”
Kija was thankful he didn’t need to hide his wince as Jaeha pulled Kija back to camp. Jaeha nearly pulled him back in the tent, and told him to stay put. And so Kija did, though his confusion mounted by the moment until Jaeha arrived back within the tent.
“Pull down your robes, I’m going to put this on your back,” Jaeha said, motioning to the rags and the bowl of steaming hot water.
“It’s not necessary!” Kija tried to argue, however seeing Jaeha determination sighed and did as he was told, feeling Jaeha’s gaze and momentary pause before he began. Kija couldn’t help but start as the rags were placed on his back, but eventually melted as the delicious heat soothed the persistent ache in lovely relief.
“Better?” Jaeha asked while sitting cross-legged beside him, and Kija’s hum obviously answered him. “I’m glad. Goodness, Kija, you are a grown man. I shouldn’t have to look after you.”
“Sorry, I know you are always worrying,” Kija said, turning his head to look up at him. “I appreciate it.”
“Looking at me like that is outrageous,” Jaeha grumbled and Kija blinked in response.
“What?” Kija asked, confused. What way? Jaeha was always saying his was bothersome, and he had only hoped to express some of his gratitude—
Jaeha’s expression paused Kija’s thought midway. His face was something that Kija couldn’t really describe, though it pulled in his gut in a strange way that made him momentarily forget the pain in his back. Kija watched as Jaeha reached to gently brush the dampening ends of Kija’s hair from his cheek, fingers light and soft and purposeful. Suddenly they were both frozen: staring at each other, neither of them moving away or quite accepting the sensation. Kija wanted to say something, anything, but found words caught in his throat. Jaeha moved in, one palm pressing sweet pressure over the ridges of scars, suddenly softness touching Kija’s throat. An odd squawk broke free, startling Jaeha back as suddenly Kija felt his cheeks bursting with heat that was almost mirrored by Jaeha.
“I’ll…I’ll be outside,” Jaeha said after clamping a hand over his mouth and hurriedly leaving the room.
Kija clapped a hand over his own neck, which tingled in a way that made his back’s ache seem utterly distant. The warmth that soaked him through erasing the pain almost in an instance.
And Jaeha thought he was the troublesome one, Kija couldn’t help but think oddly miffed. (And why his heart was beating so quickly in his ears, Kija didn’t know.)