And you're NOT OLD. ;___; You're perfect. That's your age!! But I hope this day for you is momentous, as it should be at this new age. HAVE LOTS OF FUN. Don't let ANYTHING bother you. And -- LOVE. XD
So -- this is my humble birthday present for you, and I hope you get tons of better tangible ones, but... I hope you like this one, too. XD
Have a great day, you. <3 <3 <3 It's really fun talking with you and you deserve GREATNESS.
I know this well. >:D <3 HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
Title: The Halcyon Nostalgia of Snake-Charming
Rating: PG-13. Yawn.
Pairing: Belphegor/Chikusa, as requested. XD
Warnings: Spoilers (though really kind of vague) for the Varia arc -- the Storm Ring fight, Squalo... Blood, shounen-ai! Also -- this takes place right after the Storm Ring fight, just so you know.
Belphegor has gotten good at using crutches.
He fancies he could enter a race full of people who have had broken legs for a few months now, who know their crutches better than they know the itch of healing bones, and he with his day-old injured leg could still win. He’s that good. It’s not just because he’s a prince.
As fast as he can, Belphegor walks through the most crowded intersections, snickering at the sympathetic look on people’s faces, the encouraging eyes of young women who see simply a little boy making his way erratically down the road. The seas of humanity part like the one red one from the Bible, all for him.
“It’s because I’m a prince,” he intimates to an oblivious little boy, grinning from ear to ear with much reason today. The boy frowns at him, seeing not the stateliness of a prince but the white, sterile bandages on Belphegor’s face, hands, neck, on the parts of his shoulder his oversized shirt slips down to present.
“Did you fall?” the boy asks.
Belphegor snickers. “Yes, for my long-lost riiiing,” he cooes. On his finger, it glints stoic-grey in the afternoon sun. The reward for his efforts, the lauds for his making it so far, for killing the dissenters, for never giving up. Belphegor briefly considers becoming a motivational speaker.
The boy is tugged away by his suspicious mother, all the while frowning. Belphegor does not expect a child to understand his profound message, anyhow. He desires a more mature audience, more interesting company.
A terrible sensation besets him the moment he finishes a popsicle on the idyllic, rusting bench he finds tucked away, a sunny part of town. He looks at his crutches that humbly lean against the empty space beside him, and finds he’s grown bored of being the disabled patient. He smiles frankly at nothing and sets out to peel off the inconvenient bandaid on his collarbone his oversized shirt has exposed.
“They’ll come for me and rescue me soon because I’m a prince,” he confides in an old man passing by. His tiara sparkles in the heavy sun to prove his august blood. He giggles.
They don’t come. Belphegor leans back and examines his leg, imagining the vessels pinched, the bone’s fracture spitefully worsening just to show them all they should’ve paid more attention to his ailment. He hums in boredom and chews on the popsicle stick until he catches glimpse of another sparkle in the orange glow of near-evening.
First he decides he wants the glasses. Then the hair that must be touched. Then the floppy, childish hat. Then the ancient scrapes still progressing toward disappearance covering those arms and legs.
He wants all of it, as surely as a last unicorn must want another of her kind. They’ve both been hurt. They both look very likely criminal.
“Hey! Hey!” Belphegor calls, snickering madly. The gleam again, as the sun-silhouetted figure slowly turns, cautiously. “I won’t hurt youuuu,” Belphegor drawls. “Come to me!”
The bandaided, gleaming young man slouches his way, looking for all the world as though he knows who Belphegor is, as though he knows opening his mouth to speak would be an awful idea. He roots himself before Belphegor and provincially (in Belphegor’s opinion) looks down on him.
Clearing his throat, Belphegor sits up. “I’m a prince!” he says, and snickers. “I see you’re sparkliiiiing. Give those to me,” he says, and grabs the glasses off the young man’s face.
The young man, curiously, seems drained, unwilling or unable to make any attempt to take back the glasses. Belphegor puts them on. “Much better!” he says, and, near-sightedly, the other frowns slightly, not seeing any eyes for the glasses to improve.
“Give them back,” the man says, hollowly.
Belphegor gasps. “Do you know who you’re talking to?” he cries, and laughs again. “I’m a prince, after all. And I can do what I want.” He flutters his ringed hand in front of the other’s face in silent testimony.
“I need them.”
“You’re bleeeddinnng,” Belphegor croons suddenly, leaning close in fascination to watch red weakly seep through a threadbare white shirt. “Why?” His mouth waters; in time this boy, just like all the others, will let him taste his blood. Sometimes he can be patient – he waits now.
Shoulders sag in a sad imitation of shrugging. “I’m lost.”
“So am I!” Belphegor exclaims, feeling an immediate connection. The only two mythological beasts left in Japan. “I can’t get home. The family awaits me. They can’t start dinner without me because I’m a prince.”
“I’m lost,” again. That hollow, soulless voice. Belphegor grins; he likes this person.
“Then make yourself useful! Take me to that popsicle stand. I’m a prince and shall not be made to crutch myself all that way.” The unassuming popsicle vendor across the narrow street is calling, calling, Belphegor feels the lure of sweets dig into him.
He launches himself with a boyish recklessness onto the other’s back, hears the other sputter and tense, smells grass and the scent of a fugitive, something irresistibly illegal. “Mmmm,” he hums with a smile, enthralled. “Peon, what’s your name?”
Belphegor scrambles to get a better grip on the other, feels his leg twinge in protest. “Not good enough! I’m a prince, after all.”
A pause; the birds singing all protected in their nests for the evening reaches their ears. It is safe in these parts; it is middle ground. No worrying or taking sides while the sun still shines, while there are people ready to be bled simply crossing the streets. Too many to be bled. Wait until night when you may catch them one by one, like full, red-filled fish. Belphegor has always been good at waiting.
The fugitive seems to understand the lull, the only opportunity to talk without inhibitions. “Chikusa.”
“Ushishishi! I like your naaaaame.”
Chikusa looks at him, a vulnerable, near-sighted boy with hair that once seems to have been attractive, is now windblown and ruffled. Belphegor pushes up the glasses on his nose and points the way. Chikusa, with some difficulty, trudges to the popsicle stand and dumps him there unceremoniously. He receives only a snicker as his glasses’ captor buys a popsicle.
Next is his hair, impossibly shining, touchable, in a style Belphegor would never want.
It’s strange how Chikusa will simply sit there, abrupt as if overcome suddenly, on the rusting bench. He sits and, like the elderly or ill, stare out past the streets, into the people as if he can see through them. Waiting, or avoiding, some tumultuous event. All fugitives are caught in something, at one point or another. If they can run away from their captors they can’t run away from themselves.
Chikusa is, it seems, realizing this, as he sits still and watches. Perhaps he’d like some company, most sole-surviving unicorns don’t mind it.
Belphegor plops onto the glaringly empty space on the bench beside Chikusa. “Are you still lost?” he smiles.
A little huff, humorless laugh, from Chikusa. “Not technically.”
“You look like you need a niiiice, loooong explanation,” Belphegor snickers, patting Chikusa on the shoulder before tugging on a lock of hair. Chikusa gives him a withering, warning look, as if this has happened too many times before for him to continue enduring.
“I’ll explain things to you!” he volunteers, not letting go of his hair just yet.
Chikusa shoves a piece of gum into his mouth. “You’d be no help.”
“But I’m a prince,” Belphegor says with a charming smile, a persuasive tug on hair.
“Bothersome,” Chikusa breathes, but then glances at Belphegor. “Explain it to me, then.”
“During the daytime, I can’t do what I want. But my status is preserved! I’m royalty, ushishishishi!” He pauses, enjoying the all-embracing, everlasting truth of that statement, then clears his throat authoritatively. “But you are a pauper. Even during the daytime, your status is preserved, too. But this works against you!”
Chikusa’s eyebrows knit slightly. “What’s your point?”
Belphegor frowns. “I don’t have one. I’m just explaining things to you.”
Tired, Chikusa melts against the bench.
“Howeverrrrr,” Belphegor drawls when one more intelligent idea hits him like happy thunder. “We’re meant for each other.”
Chikusa raises his eyebrows apathetically.
“Yes!” Belphegor chirps. “Every pauper needs his prince!”
Slowly, a wry little smile brightens Chikusa’s cloudy expression. Belphegor grins back, smiles at the beautiful, faint red of blood on Chikusa’s shirt, smiles at the hair of which he still claims a fistful. He’ll bleed this boy someday – when he doesn’t find him such a nice complement to the harmless day.
And every last unicorn wants another one to be out there. No matter who they pretend they are.
The hat next captures his imagination. Stifling his laugh, Belphegor sneaks toward Chikusa, jumps onto his narrow back as though he were a faithful mule. Chikusa starts violently, drops his can of soda.
“Ushishishi! Chikusa, Chikusa, Chiiikusa, Chikuuuusa, Chikusaaaa,” Belphegor says conversationally. Chikusa shakes him off like a wet rag.
It’s funny how he’s never noticed it before. That oversized thing on Chikusa’s head, hardly a hat more than floppy fabric, but a hat nonetheless. Belphegor’s needy fingers poke down the strange, uncharacteristic puff on top of the hat. “Aahhhhh, I want thiiiissss,” he croons to the hat, plucking it off Chikusa’s head and fitting it over his tiara.
“Would you stop,” Chikusa mildly asks.
Belphegor slides off his beast of burden. “Why do you wear this hat?” he asks with an excited smile.
Chikusa’s mouth is set in a straight line, a ruler measuring his irritability. “I like it,” he says, as if it could explain the hat’s awkwardness on his head, his sour face contrasting it.
“It’s not funny.”
Belphegor hops into Chikusa’s narrow range of view. “Look at me, I didn’t really have a broken leg so I don’t have crutches anymoooore,” he says, all the while sure to keep his weight off the leg that admittedly still will bite just right, send pain springing up his body.
No one needs to know a prince can feel pain, however, so he keeps silent. Royalty have learned how to store up secrets like the things they don’t even know they think – they turn into dreams, something you can hardly be sure was true in the first place. And thus, every night, Belphegor becomes perfect again.
(How he wishes he could relate this to Chikusa, he thinks, proud of himself.)
With that persistent sullen stare, Chikusa tilts his head in affirmation. “So stop jumping on me like you need me.”
Belphegor snickers. “But you carried me to the popsicle stand so well.”
Chikusa’s friends could probably do it, as well. The old man crossing the street probably could, as well, if he put his small mind to it. And yet, and yet. None of them possess Chikusa’s blindingly shiny black hair ready for pulling, or Chikusa’s reflecting glasses ready to blind, or Chikusa’s horrible hat. He’s never said he doesn’t get attached to his future victims.
Silently, wanly, Chikusa stares at him.
“Why do you wear it?” he asks brightly. He strokes the hat on his head as if it were an animal.
“It’s cool,” says Chikusa blandly.
To Belphegor, it’s the best reason ever. “Ushishishishi! So cool,” he agrees, feeling let in on a great secret.
The sunset is blood-red for only a few minutes. When the minutes have fled far-past, Belphegor smiles and returns the hat to Chikusa with a promise to claim it soon again. He is a prince, yet he will not steal a civilian’s prized possession – he wants a reason to come back again and again. It’s not good to seem senselessly attached, though one may feel it.
Marmon humphs. “You go out too much suddenly,” he notes, as Belphegor pulls his slipping shirt on over his head and stares out the window.
Turning, Belphegor smiles. “I’m a prince, after all,” he says, simple as always. There is no great explanation for Marmon, nothing he particularly feels like relating. It’s fine to keep just one person to yourself, just one, the only other one.
“What do you do?” Marmon perches on the window before Belphegor.
Belphegor hums in thought; his smile turns enigmatic. “I bleed people.”
“No, no. You wouldn’t do that in broad daylight.”
Found out. Belphegor’s smile drops, disappears. “Then, dates.”
“Dates . . . !”
(A beat.) “What do you really do?” Yes, it’s odd, perhaps slightly traitorous, to finally keep a secret from his dearest confidant. But Belphegor has never denied himself what he wants to do. Marmon is waiting, the traces of irritation seeming to show up on his very skin as a blemish. Belphegor knows him well, and understands, in that little boy way of his, what it feels like to be left out. But he keeps it to himself.
“How to put it in wooorrddsss,” he sighs, and hears the frustration in Marmon’s voice.
“It’s not so hard, Bel!”
He thinks of Chikusa’s glasses and wants to say, I find shiny things that I want to make mine; he thinks of Chikusa’s hat and considers, I take an inventory of what possessions I want, he thinks of Chikusa’s plain, quiet voice, and thinks, There’s someone I want to kill myself and I’d be angry if anyone else took him. He frowns and strokes his chin while thinking of absolutely nothing but how fine the blood-red sunset will be today.
“Nothing!” he says finally. Not a lie; it’s simply the sum of all the facets – a simple equation. No words for what this is.
“I’m going ouuuut,” Belphegor calls into the quiet mansion and trots to the door.
Marmon leaps after him, gaining on him, ready to hold him back. Belphegor snickers. “Bel, take me with you,” Marmon grumps, jealous of something unseen, unknown.
“No!” Belphegor chirps, and sprints out the door laughing on young, newly able legs. Adrenaline infuses his love-red blood and pushes it through him, he feels awake, venerated by his own lifeforce, just as a prince should. He feels like the old black-and-white movies, the climax of meetings and lovers’ hopes, the way even a commoner would when climbing out the window, (taboos discarded in lieu of something far more enduring) to meet his love.
It’s that fun, knowing Chikusa.
A day later, he retaliates against the sullen, pale-faced boy’s too-good-to-be-true pull-on hat with a large witch hat of his own.
“It looks very good on you,” Marmon nods.
Belphegor smiles mildly into the mirror, admiring himself.
The tiara will not fit around the hat’s band, won’t stay alighted on the brim for more than a few seconds. He somehow doesn’t mind; the witch hat will say enough about his status. He stuffs the tiara in his pocket, unknowingly bends the thin metal out of shape. (Yet he would not care even if he did know; some days things don’t mean as much as other things.)
“I’ll be back soon!” Belphegor says.
“Bel,” says Marmon, the tiny voice sounding so endearing when so reproving – “Don’t you think at a time like this it’s better we all stay together?”
“Eeeehhhh?” Belphegor asks brightly.
Marmon stays in place, he won’t follow Belphegor outside today. Something is changed. “For Boss’s sake,” he says. “He’s not very happy about Squalo’s – “
“Lalalala!” Belphegor sings loudly. “I’m a prince, after all. I’ll go when I feel like it!”
He flies out the door, quick as if riding an invisible broom. He takes in the commoners’ stares with the grace of royalty; he luxuriates in them and keeps his cheerful demeanor as the people expect their ruler to, even in the darkest of days.
Yet his smile dims like a dying lightbulb when he sees Chikusa. “My friend died,” he says.
Chikusa doesn’t hear him; he’s busy taking in the witch hat, flinching when the wide brim does not respect his personal space and hits his forehead. “Hm,” is all Chikusa grunts.
Belphegor sighs and sits down on that familiar, gum-spotted bench. “I’m going to become a witch so I can bring him back today.”
Chikusa folds his arms clinically. “You don’t just become a witch.”
“Ushishishi! But I’m a prince.”
“It’s even harder to become a witch when you’re royalty.”
Belphegor sits up. “Why?”
Chikusa slouches, shrugs one shoulder. “Royalty’s lifestyle wouldn’t fit well with a common witch’s antics.”
Belphegor beams. “Of courrrse,” he says, delighted. “But I am a pri – “ He pauses, thinks of Squalo, the connection to him and him and him and his smile softens. He’s a good prince; he’s become one of them.
“But I’m part of the Varia, after all,” he says, feeling some softhearted surge of pride in the words, the wetness and vitality of blood, of loyalty making blood all the more desirable.
Chikusa stops slouching.
For too, too long to be proper, he is silent. Belphegor smiles. Chikusa stares at him, expression eerily shut off, composed to the point of venomous to the gentle atmosphere.
“I didn’t know,” Chikusa says finally.
“Ushishishishi! Well, I am. Look!” Belphegor says, showing off his new ring and smiling, feeling better. “And I also got the witch’s hat to match yours.”
“Do you like it?” he asks, grinning from ear to ear, bending the floppy brim.
“It’s out of season.”
Belphegor laughs. “That’s what makes me so special.”
“You’re out of season?”
“I’m every season, because I’m a prince.”
“You don’t make sense.”
The brim of his hat knocks into Chikusa once more as Chikusa cautiously, so carefully, sits down beside him, staring at him through the corner of his eye. His glasses do not obscure his eyes in this light. It’s easy to trace the mistrust combating the hesitant familiarity. Belphegor thinks nothing, only that it’s a fortuitous sign the Varia has become so infamous. Only the best, only the highest respect for those of their caliber.
Chikusa shoves a piece of gum into his mouth. Belphegor snickers; he doesn’t know why. He grabs a stick from Chikusa before Chikusa can offer (he’s certain he would have offered; people just do that when you’re the prince).
“I’m going to wear this hat every day,” Belphegor says, grinning.
Chikusa brings his knees to his chest, stares out at the slow, dying stream of passerby.
“It’s better than your hat.”
“Ushishishishishi! You’re jealous.”
“Ushishishishi! I’ll let you wear it sometimes, if you let me wear your hat.”
“Whatever.” Chikusa frowns at nothing; it seems he never feels more than worry and confusion. He’s enigmatic, seems defenseless; Belphegor is glad no one has yet done away with him, as easy as it would be.
“My citizen!” Belphegor says suddenly after a moment of enjoying the impartial scenery.
Chikusa glances over at him.
“Don’t get killed just yet. Promise you won’t be that sort of friend,” Belphegor says, and laughs. “I’m a prince so I should decide who lives and dies. And I don’t like it when I don’t get to taste the blood myself.”
After spending a moment picking apart the meanings of that sentence, Chikusa snorts. “I’m not fragile or a shitty fighter,” he mutters.
Belphegor narrows eyes Chikusa doesn’t see, scrutinizes him. “But you look it!”
“But you’re wrong.”
He laughs. “I’m always right. I’m a prince.”
“Not this time.”
Belphegor smiles, ineffable. He won’t kill him yet for that remark, nor any other soon. It’s just too nice, waiting for the glow of the sun to melt with things almost same as ever. “Then you’re promising you won’t be killed?”
Chikusa takes a deep breath, irritated, unwilling to argue yet feeling the need. The topic is, somehow, too heavy to brush aside; its residue stings on him, questioning. “As though anyone can promise that,” he says with thin scorn. “Varia should understand that. You never know what the other side will do, how extreme their measures could be.”
“Ooooh,” Belphegor sighs in admiration, “You know a lot for a commoner! You get it, eh? Eh? Do you support us?”
The corners of Chikusa’s mouth struggle in opposite directions; he cannot suppress a small smile. He adjusts his glasses, clearly uncomfortable, clearly finding something amusing. “I only support my leader,” he says.
Belphegor pouts. “But your prince!” he cries, and then. “Ushishishi. I like your hair.”
Chikusa digests the sudden change in topic. “Thank you. I know by now,” he says, not quite used to this. The sun is setting; polarizing comes in succession. Neither of them feel the pull just yet, it’s too nice to sit and pretend nothing is going to end tonight, or the next, or the next, on and on like centuries of wars.
“If you like my hair, you can tell me.”
“Indiscreet.” A pause, resigned rolling of eyes. “I like your hair.”
“I know, me too! Ushishishishi!” He leans against Chikusa, heaving a breath of contentment, of forgetting. “Don’t get killed,” he says and reaches up and pets Chikusa’s hat as the brim of his clashes with soulless glasses.
“Ahhhhh, yoouuuuuu,” Belphegor croons.
“Ah, me,” Chikusa says deadpan, not a reference Belphegor would understand. For a reason Belphegor doesn’t understand. Juliet knew it well, the clarity of ties and the inevitability of her strange affair; Chikusa carries on her deep, agonized understanding of what shall happen next. Belphegor doesn’t know more than he must.
Regardless, Belphegor titters away. He knows it’s something, a definite something. This is the time to hold dear those somethings that happen sometimes.
None of them let him wear the witch hat to Marmon’s battle arena.
He follows, pouting, missing the swish of Squalo’s hair before him, missing when the clouds didn’t hang so oppressively over their heads. He thinks about tomorrow, popsicles whose nectar slip down his fingers like cold, saved blood, an adequate substitute for this steady bloodshed of which he’s no longer a part. He thinks of reflected, painful light from Chikusa’s glasses, a sun in its own right. If you cut the bearer of those reflections in half, you will still find blood – that’s what makes it so lovely. Regularity. Persistence.
He snickers as he watches Marmon leave to face his foe, feels a feeble wash of anticipation.
Moonlight glints off Chikusa’s glasses. Belphegor lights up; don’t get yourself into this mess, innocent bystander! he wants to shout, and then pull him near to have his company. What is Chikusa doing at a school, he thinks, before he sees Marmon’s opponent following close behind that slouch. He is guiding her, however reluctantly, to face Marmon.
Ah, Belphegor’s expression seems to say. Star-crossed. How romantic, how appropriate. Suddenly, long before he knew, he has lost someone else to whom he’s taken a liking.
He huffs and crosses his arms, yet after another moment finds himself at Chikusa’s side, grinning.
He plucks Chikusa’s hat off his head, puts it on his own over his distinctive tiara. “They wouldn’t let me wear my own haaat,” he says, giggling.
Chikusa looks very old, very strained. “Don’t make them suspicious,” he says.
Belphegor smiles. “But I’m a prince, after all.” He pauses, pulling the hat down lower. “I would like to kill you right now.”
Chikusa half-rolls his eyes. “I’m not the one you want.” He spares a glance at the girl with the eyepatch, the one breathing deeply and listening to something else, idly preparing to die.
“Noooo, I know who I waaaant,” Belphegor says, smiling sinisterly. Chikusa hardly seems impressed.
“Stop looking for me during the day,” he says. “I’m not a prince; I have to be loyal.”
Belphegor brightens. “That’s what I came to ask!” He pulls out a bent, old tiara from a pocket and sits it regally on Chikusa’s head.
“Be my princess!” he exclaims.
Chikusa stands rooted for a moment before taking off the crown. “Stop being ridiculous,” he says.
Smiling, Belphegor takes back the crown. “I guess I will have to kill you, then,” he says.
Belphegor rolls up his sleeves, pulls up the collar of his shirt; the night’s too cold for ill-fitting clothes. He thinks of his twin, remembers how he never liked having a doppelganger, how it required not a thought to kill him. How satisfying, how evenly the blood stained the carpet.
He thinks, now, if he were to kill someone he liked, the blood would spot the grass artlessly, kill it like a witch’s death would. He wonders if it’s worth ruining atmospheric scenery simply to make it known they two are on opposing sides. He wonders if he would like the taste of Chikusa’s blood, then assumes it would be too bitter. He doesn’t know it, he simply feels it. It’s enough.
Too late, Belphegor becomes acquainted with the strange tattoo on Chikusa’s face.
He doesn’t kill him. “Ooooh, what – “ he reaches, with cold fingertips still aching for blood (but repressed civilly) to touch the mark on Chikusa’s face he’s never seen. “What what?” he asks, excited.
Chikusa takes a step backward. “Means of identification,” he says wryly.
“Ushishishi! A tattoo!” Belphegor strokes the side of his face as if expecting the bar code to have a feel to it. “You hid it before!”
“Means of identification,” Chikusa only states.
He will not stop touching the other’s face, that strange sign of subjugation, until – Chikusa blinks. “Your nails,” he says, already beginning to bleed from the scrape.
The blood seeps through whatever small exits the sharp nails have granted it; slowly, sweetly, it pools as harmless as sweat, as fleeting and discreet. Within a few minutes it will have calmed, disappeared into those rivers inside forever flowing. This is for only a moment.
Belphegor’s mouth waters. “Blood,” he says, voice cracking, hands suddenly clawed, ready to grab and pull.
Chikusa stands still, understanding. His hand is in his pocket, his one weapon faithfully in wait.
“Blood, blood,” Belphegor breathes, seizing Chikusa’s bony shoulders with an unconscious vigor, a madness at the sight, glee. He laughs low, finding no struggle.
Far too close already, he’s far too close for Chikusa to do damage just yet. He’ll take one blow, he thinks; he can manage one blow. He holds his breath and awaits the pain of a knife, a jab or slice or rip too deep to recover from –
Belphegor slowly, longingly, licks the blood from him, affection of a harmlessly wildly loving animal.
“Guh,” Chikusa chokes, dumbfounded, adolescently inappropriate embarrassment setting in – his yo-yo hangs from his paralyzed hand, secretive weapon now exposed.
It’s enough. Belphegor starts, stares at the yo-yo, and completely changes. Rivers diverted, sea of passion for that red drying up so quickly. “Ushishishishishi! Give that to me!” he cries gleefully, grabbing the yo-yo and trying unsuccessfully to master it.
Chikusa does not grab it back; it’s safe, inaccessible to those who cannot even make the yo-yo climb the string with ease. His face is red with what rushes beneath his skin. He watches Belphegor snicker and throw it around as disarmingly as a little boy, touches his cheek and feels the alluring sting.
The sturdy thread on the yo-yo, or invisible wires, hold him in. He stands still, thinks of who he’s lost and who he’s gained (for good, for bad, for a strange feeling he won’t bother trying to name), and waits with Belphegor until the indiscernible middle snaps, and they drift to the night’s assigned placement.