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A Year of Scars

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A soft hum broke the eerie silence inside the Demon World prison, echoing strangely off the walls. Hazel eyes scanned over the many pages of notes and equations, their owner pausing to reread a sentence every now and then when necessary.

Alba leaned back and stretched, grunting in satisfaction as his sore back was granted some relief. He ran a hand through his auburn hair, being careful not to dislodge the seal sticking to his forehead. Not too long ago he'd slept without it and had accidentally made everything in his cell float while he was dreaming, leaving a huge mess to clean the next morning. He still wasn't perfectly capable of controlling his magic yet, especially while he was unconscious. The seals on the walls and on his body helped to channel his mana better and prevent any unfortunate screwups from occurring while he wasn't paying attention.

Alba slid forward and narrowed his eyes at the remaining work on his desk. Shion had definitely gone overboard when assigning him homework last month, and Alba knew the legendary hero had probably done it out of spite. Puffing out a breath, he set to work again, determined to get it all done before the black-haired man returned.

The brunette finished off his current workbook in a sort of haze, able to race through the problems without thinking too hard. He guessed he had to hand it to his teacher; if Shion wasn't so smart and good at drilling these techniques into his head, Alba was sure he'd be having a much harder time getting everything done. Even so, the training was rigorous, both the physical and mental aspects of it. He had yet to defeat Shion in battle, but he knew if he worked hard it would pay off and he'd finally show the older that he was strong enough.

The Demon Hero cracked his knuckles and rechecked his work before closing the book with an appeased nod. There was one less thing he had to worry about.

He shifted in his seat and vaguely wondered what time it was. Time passed differently in the Demon World compared to the human one, and even though he'd been living there for quite a while now he could never be sure what period of the day he was in. It was especially hard to tell since this part of his cell didn't have windows; however there was one in his room off to the side. Despite being stuck in a prison cell it was actually quite nice compared to others he'd been in before, and this time he wasn't here because of some crazy crime he'd normally be accused of. The only reason he was here was because of his overwhelming magic power. Everyone felt the need to lock him up before he lost control, and that was why Shion visited every month in order to teach him how to use his magic properly. Alba was more than ready to learn everything he could so he could be free of this place. It wasn't bad, but it certainly didn't help his "prison stripe fetish" as Shion liked to call it.

Deciding that he'd completed enough work for the time being, the brunette rose out of his chair and padded over to his room, a more private area that was shaped like a den of sorts. There wasn't much; a couple of his possessions were placed on the shelves attached to the cave wall, a bed sat right underneath the little bar-covered window, and a tiny dresser was shoved into the corner, topped with a few candles for light. Alba peered outside and blinked when he realized it was twilight already. The sky was a clash of light and dark blues, decorated with glittering stars. He smiled softly. No matter what world he ended up in, the stars were always the same. He could gather comfort from that fact.

It was no surprise that he'd lost track of time again, seeing as how it was nearly impossible to keep it in the first place. Alba had been working nearly all day, and the need to unwind was becoming imminent as night fell. He quickly retrieved his night clothes from the dresser. He pulled the seal from his forehead, sticking it to the wall for the time being until he got changed and could put it back on. He begun the process of removing his shirt, but he wasn't able to get very far before an all-too familiar voice interrupted him.

"Hero?"

Alba almost tripped and fell in surprise. His shirt was gathered around his arms and he stumbled towards the entryway, peeking his head out in order to preserve his decency. Shion stood on the other side of the bars, eyebrows raised when the hero appeared to greet him.

"Sorry, I'm getting changed," he offered, smiling sheepishly. "What are you doing here, though? Teacher's Day isn't until next week..."

Shion opened the cell door and strolled right on in, not caring about Alba's privacy.

"I had the sudden urge to give you more homework, so here I am!" The black-haired man chirped, smiling sadistically. His gaze raked over Alba, who now had no cover to hide his shirtlessness, and scowled.

"Hero, why are you half-naked? That's disgusting. If this is your attempt at seducing me, it's not worki..." He trailed off, crimson eyes widening in the slightest fraction.

Alba didn't seem to notice his abrupt pause and flared up defensively. "I told you I was getting changed! You could have at least waited! And I'm not trying to seduce you!"

"Hero."

"Getting dressed is a perfectly normal thing to do—"

"Hero."

"—I like being clean, which is actually a hard thing to accomplish in a place like this, so of course I'm going to change my clothes—"

"Alba," Shion said, his tone serious.

The brunette stopped, breath hitching. Shion looked very...put out. Alba couldn't quite place it, but his expression was different from the usual torturous stares the hero would get when Shion was feeling particularly evil.

"Wh...what...?" The teen murmured, squeaking when the older man stalked over, approaching him quicker than he could process.

"That," Shion growled, eyes flashing. "And that—those—"

Alba looked down, completely confused as to what his companion was referring to. Once his eyes settled on the uncovered expanse of his chest, everything became clear.

"Oh," he swallowed a bit. Right. Shion hadn't seen these yet, had he? Alba couldn't recall a time where he'd been exposed around the legendary hero since their reunion, so this time definitely had to be the first.

Alba's chest was covered in scars of many different shapes and sizes. Some were neat and thin, others jagged and deep. A few covered his upper arms and shoulders, and a dozen more or so decorated his back. Most of them had healed already, faded into white marks that were barely visible in the dim lighting of the prison. There were others that were more recent, red and ugly, that had come from the final confrontation of Rchimedes.

The brunette fidgeted a little and puffed out a breath. He really didn't want Shion to see these. He was almost sure the raven would go off and spout nonsense about how Alba had a fetish for cutting himself, further fueling his masochistic tendencies. He mentally prepared himself for the onslaught of teasing and taunting, but was shocked to realize that it didn't come.

Shion was staring at his scars, expression one of complete disbelief and utter horror at the marks ruining the hero's clear skin. Memories flashed through his eyes of harder times, times where he received scars like these as Creasion, and he could hardly believe the same thing had happened to Alba. Sweet, kind and sort of stupid Alba, who didn't deserve any of it, not like he did. And he wouldn't even have these scars if Shion had never gotten involved in his life in the first place.

Alba could feel heat slowly creeping into his cheeks, steadily turning them a faint shade of pink as he was stared down by the legendary hero. It was extremely unnerving to have his privacy invaded in such a way, and he fought the urge to swallow nervously as he literally almost felt Shion’s eyes raking over his bare chest. Getting made fun of was almost preferable to this; at least that was something the brunette was used to and could be prepared for. He would have never expected to be assaulted by Shion’s intense, soul-searching crimson orbs while he stood half-naked in his bedroom, his shirt now hanging limp and awkwardly gathered by his wrists.

"Um..." Alba squeaked, fidgeting on the spot. "Do you mind... ? I’m just gonna..."

And with that he turned his back, unknowingly revealing the remainder of his scars to Shion as he started to slide his shirt off the rest of the way. Unfortunately he didn’t manage to finish the task—was it too much to ask for him to be able to put some clothes on? Alba froze in his tracks when a pair of strong arms snaked around his waist and held him tightly. Alba opened his mouth in a surprised cry and only managed to release a small squeal, shoulders tensing as Shion nuzzled his nose against the back of the brunette’s neck.

"Sh...Shi…?"

"Don't look," Shion murmured into his ear, his breath hot. Alba repressed a shudder. "...or I'll break your ribs." He squeezed Alba's midsection almost too tightly.

"Not again!" The brunette yelped, but he complied and stayed facing forward, his shirt still tangled around his wrists.

Shion started tracing all of the faded lacerations and scars all over his chest, being surprisingly gentle compared to the threat he'd given moments before. Alba pressed his lips together and begged himself not to make any weird noises as soft fingertips traveled down the scar near his stomach.

"This one?" Shion asked quietly, his chest very warm against Alba's back.

The hero swallowed and tried to think. It was difficult. "Um...that one was from a monster Rchi and I fought a while back..." He inhaled sharply when Shion's fingers dug into his stomach, surprisingly not enough to actually inflict pain.

"And this one?" He asked, his other hand rubbing underneath Alba's right pectoral, where a strange star-shaped scar resided.

"Fighting tournament," Alba whispered. "We didn't have any money so I entered, and...I wasn't careful enough—"

"Did you win?"

The brunette fought back a smile. "Yeah. Though I passed out from blood loss for a couple days after."

Shion’s breath hitched and he squeezed Alba a little tighter, making the boy puff out a breath of air in quiet surprise.

"...ot fair..."

Alba blinked, tilting his head to the side a little in order to hear better. "Huh? What did you say?"

"I said it’s not fair, Hero," Shion repeated, holding him tightly. Alba felt dizzy, but not from the constriction around his chest. No, it was something else entirely.

"Why..." Alba fought to regain focus. Shion was breathing heavily against his neck and to say it was a distraction was an understatement. "Why not?"

"Because..." Shion paused, narrowing his eyes angrily from behind the teen’s back. "Because you shouldn’t have gotten hurt. Not from them."

Alba’s stomach exploded with butterflies and his heart began to beat double-time. He was starting to feel all sorts of warm just from one measly sentence that had escaped the taller’s mouth. Was Shion being serious? It was extremely rare that he ever showed affection or concern for Alba, and any time he did the hero was always caught off-guard. God, he was affected so easily by this man…!

"It pisses me off," Shion growled lowly, his fingers tracing over the scars again, heartbreakingly gentle, "They hurt you...I’ll find every last one of them and destroy them..."

"Shion," Alba breathed, hazel eyes wide.

"These should be mine," the raven snarled, his fingertips driving into Alba’s toned stomach. "All of them. Nobody’s allowed to hurt you except for me."

Alba chuckled awkwardly, expecting him to say something along those lines. Ah, damn. It always came back to his possessive sadism, didn’t it?

They stood in silence for a few more moments, watching as Shion rubbed his thumb over a particularly nasty scar that was still healing. Alba hissed in surprise and the black-haired man shifted, moving on to caress one less recent. His hands were so warm. Alba felt like he was being enveloped in his own personal heater.

"Hey," Alba spoke up, breaking the silence. "You do have one, you know," he reminded him timidly. He slipped one of his hands out of the trapping sleeve of his prison shirt and slid it up his stomach to splay across Shion’s, fingers ever so carefully lacing with his companion’s. Shion’s fingers twitched but he didn’t pull away; instead he allowed Alba’s hand to interlock with his and even gave it an unsure squeeze. Alba smiled softly and moved their hands across his torso to rest on a very old and faded scar, right near his hip.

"This one," Alba whispered, his voice extremely quiet. "Do you remember?"

Shion huffed against his ear. "Of course I do. But I’m surprised you remember, Hero. In fact, you seem to know where you got all of your scars. You really are a masochist."

Alba couldn’t help but laugh a little. Under normal circumstances he wouldn’t have allowed Shion to get away with saying something like that, but this time the legendary hero’s voice lacked any malice or edge, so he let it be.

"You don’t remember yours?"

Crimson eyes darkened considerably, but Alba wasn’t in any position to see them. "Not really," he confessed quietly. "I’d rather not remember. All of my scars...are from times I never want to live through again."

Alba finally relaxed against him, humming contentedly from his endless warmth. "That may be so for you," he murmured, "but I see mine as a sign of strength...of my growth as a hero. These scars represent everything I’ve fought for. I wouldn’t take any of them back, especially this one," he said, pressing his thumb against the one Shion had given him while they’d been traveling together. It seemed like ages and ages ago. He’d changed so much during that time. Had it really only been a couple years?

"Of course you’d say that," Shion mumbled fondly. "And you’d better not take that one back."

The brunette giggled quietly at this. They lapsed into another comfortable silence. Alba closed his eyes and listened to the thrumming beat of Shion’s heart, which pounded against his back. It was beating so fast...

Shion tapped one of his scars again, dark eyelashes fluttering.

"Do they hurt?"

Alba smiled knowingly, sadly. "No."

Because there was only one that truly hurt, the invisible one that had been carved deep into his heart and soul—the scar that Alba received when his most important person left him behind. Even so, that one was finally starting to heal too.

The brunette hero released a quiet sigh and shifted, moving to escape from Shion’s hold on him. The older man reluctantly let go, their fingers sliding past one another as Alba let go of his hand. He didn’t have much time to complain, though, because Alba had turned to face him and immediately interlocked their hands again before Shion could think of escaping. The black-haired male looked slightly startled and caught off guard, a rare sight to see.

"Shion," Alba murmured, hazel eyes almost glowing like the candle behind him. He was smiling warmly, completely open and honest. Shion would have punched him and wiped the expression off of his face if the situation weren’t so strange.

When Shion didn’t answer him, Alba’s face scrunched up, his gaze stern. "Stop that."

"Stop what?"

"Blaming yourself," the boy responded easily, reading him like an open book. Shion cursed under his breath, feeling his face get warm. How the hell was Alba able to see through his apathetic visage so easily?

"...I’m no—"

"You are and you know it. Stop it." Alba cut him off quickly.

Shion chuckled humorlessly and ran a hand across his face, crimson eyes darting to the side.

The teenage hero exhaled softly through his nose. Then, he braced a hand on Shion’s shoulder and stood on his tiptoes, leaning in until their foreheads were pressed together. Shion barely managed to restrain himself from flinching away at Alba’s proximity, a nervous flush settling on his cheekbones.

Alba’s eyes slid shut, his lashes fanning out against his cheeks.

"I know what you're thinking, but I don't regret a thing," Alba confessed in a soft whisper. "I would never ever take back meeting you. Even if it meant erasing my scars. I'd rather have a million than not being able to be with you," his voice got thick with emotion halfway through, his hand squeezing Shion's gently.

The older man sighed and finally allowed himself to lean back against the shorter teen, his nose brushing against Alba's. A quiet chuckle leapt out of his throat and he couldn't resist nuzzling up to Alba, a contented purr escaping.

"I'm no match for you," he breathed, almost too quiet for the other to hear. But Alba's lips curled up into a smile, meaning he'd caught what he'd said after all. Then, louder, Shion added, "That's really corny, Hero."

Alba tossed his head back and groaned, but he didn't move any further away.

"You ruined it," he whined in defeat, rolling his eyes.

"No, I didn't. Come here."

And with a sharp tug he was pulled in again, and Shion was sealing their meaningful words together with a kiss.

Alba immediately melted into it, a pleased keen leaking out. Shion's arm curled around his waist, fingers tracing over his scars again, almost as if he were trying to memorize their shape by touch. His lips were warm, but not too demanding, because believe it or not while Shion had a lot more experience than Alba, when it came to romance he was probably on the same level. Alba didn't mind, though, he found it endearing—and the thought that they'd be able to explore this new territory together made the rapid fluttering in his stomach become even more intense.

Shion reacquainted himself with Alba's mouth again and again, trying to express everything he felt through the quiet air and soft whimpers between them. He stole a couple more kisses before finally drawing back, nearly blown away by the sight of rose tinted cheeks, sparkling hazel eyes and slightly swollen lips. The fact that Shion had been the one to make Alba look like that almost made him lean in to shower him in kisses again.

Alba grinned widely, an exuberant giggle following after. The black-haired man couldn't help but smile back, humming contentedly as he continued to trace the patterns of Alba's scars with careful fingertips.

"You can't get any more," he stated suddenly, determinedly.

Alba blinked in confusion. "Huh?"

"Scars," Shion clarified. He rubbed soothing circles into the one at the brunette's hip, the one he'd inflicted. His own special scar, his mark.

Alba rose an eyebrow, amused. "I'm a hero, Shion. It's an occupational hazard. It's going to happen whether you want it to or not. Getting injured is part of the job."

Shion shook his head in disapproval, scowling. "No. You won't get any more because I'll protect you." His voice softened, as did his expression. "...I'll be there this time. I swear."

He was answered with a hitched voice and wavering eyes, their owner trying to fight back joyful tears.

"...Okay," Alba finally said. "I'll hold you to it, then."

And before long Shion closed the distance between them again, intent on marking his hero in a different manner as twilight gave way into evening.