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"Don't touch me!"

Ikusaba recoils into herself, digging her nails into arms that refuse to bear scars, regardless of how much violence she's faced. Her hands pat her pockets -- where is the knife she keeps on her, where is it, why isn't it on her -- and then she freezes.

Maizono is staring at her, shock evident in her bright blue eyes. Her hand, lifted, previously mere centimetres from Ikusaba's face, slowly lowers to the bed the two are sat on. Ikusaba presses herself against the headboard of the bed, having scampered away from the other girl in a fit of sudden anxiety.

Well, sudden is one word for it. The truth is, she was already nervous hanging out with Maizono. The idol's presence made her feel inexplicably on edge, and even sharing the same bed to read their books for literature class made her heart pitter-patter uncomfortably.

But she had managed to get this far in their study session by curbing her rising discomfort with breathing exercises she learned as a soldier. Then…

Maizono had brought her hand close, far too close, to Ikusaba's face, and, well, she wasn't ready. Maybe it was a stress response to the nerves that gurgled in the pit of her stomach, or maybe it was a dormant fear from her days in Fenrir, or maybe a defense mechanism developed during she and her sister's homeless run when they were children.

Don't let people get close. They want to hurt you. They want something out of you.

Her sister had often complained about creepy guys on her shoots. "Those kinds of guys are the lowest of the low. Trying to cop a feel with a high school girl, how gross can you be? Stroking my face and shit." Cue the side-eye. "Oh, sorry, forgot you wouldn't be able to relate."

This was different than what Enoshima went through, she thinks. Her sister always seemed annoyed or aggravated, but Ikusaba felt afraid. Her fear instinct pulses to life and adrenaline rushes through her veins like blood.

"I'm sorry, Ikusaba-san." Maizono blinks. "I-I just saw that your bangs were in your eyes. I was going to push them out…"

Ikusaba takes a moment to remember how to breathe.

"Maizono-- shit, uh, sorry." Her words are, admittedly, pretty flat.

She's not in the army, where she was never certain of who she was supposed to take a bullet for, or who would be the one to pull the trigger. She's not in an alley in dingy clothes holding hands with her sister while some drunkard touches her face and cooes at her.

She's at Hope's Peak, and she's in Maizono's room... Who is looking at her with concern. Her heart thumps erratically.

"Uh, just forget that happened." She takes a breath, settles her facial expression, and slowly crawls back towards her book. Her cheeks are still aglow with a red colour, but she does her best to steady herself.

"Ikusaba-san…" Maizono lowers her head to look up at Ikusaba, who attempts to hide her face. "What happened? No one's ever reacted like that to an idol trying to touch them." She smiles that show-stopping smile of hers. Ikusaba looks away.

"It's nothing."

It wasn't nothing. She had yelled "don't touch me" and leapt away with a speed that would make a cheetah green with envy.

"Bzzt! Wrong answer!" Maizono tips her head. "Seriously, Ikusaba-san, what's up?"

Ikusaba sighs quietly. She wants to cover herself up, but she doesn't have her blazer with her, and her summer uniform doesn't leave much in the way of hiding her body. "I wasn't expecting it, that's all," she mumbles.

"Still…"

She fumbles with the book she had tossed aside, trying to get back to her place. "I worked as a soldier, Maizono. I'm not used to people getting touchy-feely."

Except for her sister, really, who poked at her cheeks and elbowed her in the side, accompanied usually by some barbed insult, which Ikusaba quietly accepted. Thinking about her in this moment makes her throat feel thick.

"Oh." Maizono looks bashful. "I'm sorry. I didn't know. Well, I mean, I knew about the soldier thing. Not the touch thing."

"It's fine," Ikusaba mutters.

Maizono remains quiet for a solid ten seconds before she speaks up again. "So, getting touched. Is it like, a constant thing, or are you okay if you're aware of it? Because I've always wanted to do your makeup, you'd look so good, I promise."

Ikusaba feels her cheeks heat. "Um… Well…" She stares down at her book like it's the most interesting thing in the world. "I guess it'd be fine if you warned me. It's just… You know. Not used to people being close to me when they aren't trying to kill me." It's an attempt at a joke, but neither of them laugh. Ikusaba's skin burns where Maizono almost touched it.

"I see." Maizono ponders this information for a while. Her hand slowly lifts from the bed. "May I?"

"Uh…" Ikusaba stammers. This is weird. This feeling of anticipation building inside her, this awkwardness she feels swelling in her chest, it's weird. On the battlefield, she never dealt with these kinds of things. People were to be used, betrayed by, or discarded. The bloodshed she acted in stripped others of their own humanity, leaving them pulsing meat sacs of instinct and fear. Put a gun in the hands of a coward and he shoots not for protection, but because it anchors him to the fact that he still occupies the body of a human. Maybe Ikusaba was like that, once, long ago, but if she was, she doesn't want to remember.

So why exactly is the room suddenly so hot, and why is her heart thumping like a maniac?

"Sure."

Maizono smiles at her and lifts her fingers up to Ikusaba's hair, then slowly pushes the stray bangs behind her ear. The sensation makes Ikusaba's stomach tingle like she's swallowed a a can of worms. It fades, and it's not exactly pleasant, but not entirely unwelcome, either. "Not so bad, right?" Maizono asks.

Her face is uncomfortably warm. "I guess not," she says in a smaller voice than she anticipated. Maizono grins.

"I did a lot of dirty things to get where I am today, you know?" She winks, and sticks out her tongue, but there's an air of truth stagnating around her words. "But I can't say I've ever been in a war, so I dunno how exactly it's affected you."

"Yeah?"

"But I think that, like, touching the people you care about is a good way to show you're close!" Maizono winces visibly, then tucks a strand of her own hair behind her ear. "Sorry, that sounded kinda dirty. What I mean is that me and my bandmates do each other's hair and makeup all the time and help each other with getting dressed. It's nothing big, but I think it's good." Her fingers flutter around Ikusaba's face. "But if you aren't okay with it, that's fine."

"Hm… I mean, it's not like I hate it." She kind of really wants Maizono to do it again.

Me and my bandmates. Completely platonic. This means nothing.

"Really?"

Maizono edges closer to her. Ikusaba lowers her head into her shoulders.

"Maybe you should let me style your hair some time. It's short, but there's still a lot of cute styles you can do with short hair."

"Um… yeah. Sure" Ikusaba wills her heart to calm.

No dice, though. Maizono's hand comes to settle on the curve of Ikusaba's face, and she flushes a delicate shade of red, narrowing her eyes and looking to the side, stiffening slightly. Maizono appears to take notice of her hesitance, and titters.

"Ikusaba-san, you're so adorable!" she cooes with sudden vivacity, voice like honey.

"Wha--? No, I'm not!" Ikusaba stutters, which elicits a short, soft giggle from Maizono.

"You so are!" The other girl closes in on Ikusaba, cupping both her cheeks. Ikusaba rolls over to match Maizono's movements, and their legs bump against each other. She's so warm, she thinks dimly, but most of her brainpower is focused on how goddamn close she is and how nice and kind and tender her hands feel, and how right it is that they're on Ikusaba's cheeks.

It's weird, though.

She grew up dirty and scrappy, wearing ratty clothing and scavenging for food and other provisions for her and Enoshima to live off of. When she was in active duty, she grew repulsed by her body, by the hands that killed and the legs that dodged onslaughts of fire. Rather than a person, she was a vessel, a cold, calculated, killing machine.

Enoshima even still makes frank comments about her body and face, perpetuating the mindset that her body was a disgusting, unwanted commodity. But in this room, in Maizono's space…

Her skin and blood were warm and Maizono was holding her face like it was nothing out of the ordinary, smiling like she didn't have a care in the world.

And it was weird, but…

Ikusaba wants to let herself be touched.

She wants to let herself be touched by Maizono.

"Maizono!" Her name comes out like an almost whine.

"Is this alright?" Maizono asks, thumbing over Ikusaba's face.

Yes. No. I don't know.

"I think."

"You think?" Maizono's eyebrows raise the slightest amount, and wow, are her eyes blue. She smiles, then eases away from Ikusaba. Her hands drop and Ikusaba's face feels uncomfortably cold with them gone, despite her flush.

"We'll work on it," Maizono quips, but the butterflies in Ikusaba's stomach refuse to settle. She manages an awkward half smile anyways.

Do it again.

"Okay," she mumbles bluntly, scrambling to pick up her book, tucking her hair behind her ear. It’s different than when Maizono does it.

Maizono gets her own book and flips it back open. Then, after some time, she puts her hand on Ikusaba's shoulder. She jumps a little, eyes flying to the other girl.

"This okay?" she asks in a soft voice. Ikusaba nearly combusts.

"Yeah, it is."