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Every villain wanted a tragic past, something that went terribly wrong in their formative years that could explain away every wrong step they had taken since. Schuldig pressed his face into pillows that smelled slightly like sweat, slightly like the cheap strawberry shampoo he had picked up at the gas station and sighed.

His head was a tangle of soft smiles, overlaid with his own bitter sneer. His mother had been too gentle to spawn a hellion such as himself. He had done his best to destroy that softness, to beat it into something resembling resentment, something he could rail against without that caustic bit of guilt that dripped like bile down the back of his throat. Her love, all twisted in with pity, her thoughts of trying to help him to fix him…

He hadn’t wanted fixing. Not then.

It was hard to realize, so late in life, how much he probably had needed it.

With a growl that was part the gasp of a diver coming up for air, Schuldig pulled himself from the past and reached for the present, for the hard edges of Aya’s mind, its roiling inner core of spicy conflict and rich, hesitant affection.

Every villain wanted a tragic past to explain their vicious present. And then there was Aya, toeing the line between devil and angel, his past a smear of blood and screams. A truly tragic past, perfectly preserved, every instant of defining tragedy available for Schuldig to immerse himself in. He could take root here, his virulence given a target. Somehow Aya had avoided the casual brutality of the villain and Schuldig was more than happy to take up that sword for him.

“You’re too still,” Aya’s voice, rough with sleep, so close to his ear. “What are you doing?”

For the first time, Schuldig wanted to be something more than the villain.