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Azazel lurched up from the bed and stumbled in the darkness toward the bathroom.

The sounds of his moving and the way the mattress shifted when he stood woke Mystique, and she sat up in the bed and reached to turn on the bedside lamp. From behind the closed bathroom door came the noise of running water splashing in the sink.

After a few minutes Mystique got out of bed.

She stepped into the bathroom and stood behind him, watching him in the mirror over the sink. His eyes were bloodshot. They were fixed on his hands, which he was scrubbing violently in the sink.

Azazel said something in Russian, and though she had been studying that language she could not understand him.


“Blood,” he said in English, still scouring his hands. “The is blood.”

Mystique peered over his shoulder and into the sink. The water pooling there was sudsy but clean. His hands looked the way that they always had. The back of his crimson-skinned hands were dotted with a fuzz of black hair, as were his knuckles. The nails were somewhat long and slightly yellow at their pointed tips, but were meticulously clean.

“There’s no blood,” she told him. And then she added, feeling the words to be somehow vulgar even as she spoke them, “It’s just your skin.”

Mystique watched Azazel’s face contort in the mirror. He didn’t answer, only began to scrub his hands even more violently than before. There was no blood, but if he continued to rub them raw like that she thought he would soon be bleeding.

He is drunk, Mystique realized. He is still drunk and something has frightened him. Did he have a nightmare?

Azazel was almost never frightened. It had taken her longer than it ought to have to understand that he was even capable of experiencing fear, and sometimes she was not certain that he possessed the self-awareness of understand the anatomy of his own rarely-surfacing sense of terror.

He was not afraid of others or of himself, and it was that near lack of fear that made this work. It was the reason that she felt safe with him, despite the fact that she was fully aware of what he was capable of.

Other peoples’ fear had only ever been poison to her; they were the toxin that had stunted her childhood. She despised fear and wanted nothing to do with it.

In recent months, as she had felt herself hardening - perhaps becoming someone to rightly be feared - it had been important for her to have someone nearby who was not afraid of her.

But now she was finding it difficult to be kind in the face of this sudden display of fear on Azazel’s part, this desperate clawing at skin to rub away the color of guilt, an action that would have seemed maudlin or overly dramatic in anyone else. It reminded her too much of herself, of her former self, the dead girl who had been named Raven.

She could remember trying to rub the blue from her own skin, clawing at her scales until they bled. It had been easier for her, she knew; she could hide, she could make the color disappear. Had done so, for years and years. Mystique understood that she couldn’t really understand what is was like for Azazel.

But she did the best that she could for him.

“I’m going to touch you,” she said, warning him so he would not melt into a cloud of smoke beneath her hands as he sometimes did. Few people had touched Azazel before she had come into his life, and he was often startled by it.

Mystique reached around him and took his hands in hers, gently prying the bar of soap from between his fingers so it dropped with a splash into the sink. She lifted his hands into the flow of the water and spread his fingers, rinsing away the suds.

Leaning in close against his back, Mystique rested her chin on his shoulder and looked at their reflections in the mirrors. She was surprised sometimes - brought up short, confused - when she looked at herself and found that she did not hate what she saw. She whispered into his ear, “I’m going to wash you clean of everything but me,” and was gratified to see some of the fear fade from his eyes as the edge of his mouth pulled up into a wicked, lopsided grin.

After that, it was easy for her to lead Azazel back to the bed and distract him from whatever fear it was that had woken him. Her own fears, which sometimes felt heavy enough to crush her, receded in kind.