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hold on to your heart

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Why are people always leaving?
I think you and I should stay the same.

Nasch keeps the folded up, ruined remnants of Yuuma’s vest under one of his pillows. It’s got burn marks and holes and threadbare patches, obviously well worn and well loved. Ryoga took it from Yuuma after their mishap with Mizael, promising to have it repaired the way he had his ruined jackets and shirts repaired after duels that got more dangerous than they ought to have been. But looking at Yuuma’s bruises, at his torn clothes every time he was in danger, made Ryoga sad. He had his own clothes reinforced after he lost the first few pairs; he knew that Yuuma couldn’t afford such a thing for himself. It had been a simple task to have an identical-but-stronger vest made.

Yuuma never noticed the exchange, and Ryoga was too shy to tell him about what he’d done, embarrassed to admit he went to such lengths to protect Yuuma even though Yuuma had seen Ryoga throw himself between him and danger in person often enough. The destroyed vest remained in Ryoga’s possession. It held the faintest trace of Yuuma’s scent: fresh rice and laundry detergent. Ryoga could hold it in his hands and remember every injury, every moment he spent with Yuuma in that brief time when they were on the same side.

Nasch has not seen Yuuma since the break, though the war is over. He doesn’t dare. The last time he saw Yuuma, Yuuma saved his life, knelt down beside him where he had fallen, held his hand and asked tenderly if he was alright.

Nasch knocked him out and stolen the Code from him. Yuuma looked at him as he fell, betrayed and sad and disappointed, and Nasch has no desire to ever see that expression again.

So he has the vest instead. At night when the nightmares force him awake, fist jammed into his mouth to keep the screams in, or when he is alone because the other Barians are all caught up in self-discovery, in relearning their lives, and Nasch is terrified of running into someone from Ryoga Kamishiro’s life, he takes it out form under the pillow. He holds it in his hands, breathes in its smell (god, he is pathetic), sets it on his lap and talks to it and imagines Yuuma in its stead.

Merag walked in on him once, and she just gazed at him, eyes filled with tears, before she embraced him.

He knows it’s at best stupid and at worst creepy and pathetic and disturbing. But he can’t have the real Yuuma, whose friendship he threw back in his face for the sake of the Barian World. And he can’t return the vest now.

He has already given up everything else — the naked space between his collarbones where his fang used to lie still makes him sad — and this tattered bit of cloth is all he has left.

One afternoon Nasch sleeps in, because his dreams were full of Merag falling to her death, over and over, and there is no rest from sleep like that. He wakes up and doesn’t bother getting out of bed. Nasch pulls out the vest, and holds it up. The pockets are worn, one of the buckles cracked. The vest he’d given Yuuma was much sturdier; even after defeating Don Thousand it was been mostly intact. One wash and it would be good as new; Nasch only wished his sins could be washed away as easily.

“Shark?”

Yuuma is standing in his doorway — in his apartment, how does he even know where Nasch lives — staring at him like he’s a fucking weirdo, which he is. His hands are folded together in front of him, fingers moving nervously. He looks well. Healthy.

He wants to throw Yuuma out, and yet Nasch longs for him intensely.

“What are you doing here?” It comes out as an accusation, like Nasch has any right.

“I just…wanted to see you. You didn’t come back to school.” Yuuma steps into the room. Nasch lets the vest fall back into his lap in a pile of fabric and regret.

“I…I’m busy,” Nasch says, and he’s still fucking lying in bed, shirtless with bloodshot eyes at two in the afternoon, so he knows it’s bullshit and Yuuma must know it too.

Yuuma comes closer, his shadow approaching Nasch ominously on the floor until it falls over him. He reaches out to touch Nasch’s face.

“Are you crying?”

“No,” Nasch spits, the anticipation killing him — if Yuuma would only scream at him a little. If he would only not look at Nasch so tenderly. If he would just punish Nasch, repay some of the pain back, maybe then the guilt would fade. Maybe then Nasch cuold begin to live with himself.

“Dammit, Yuuma, what do you want?”

Yuuma sits down on the edge of the bed, and reaches around Nasch’s neck. For a blessed moment Nasch thinks maybe Yuuma is going to shake him, or choke him, but no; Yuuma fastens something warm around his throat and then his hands drop.

It’s his necklace; even without looking Nasch knows the feel of it. It’s warm from being held in Yuuma’s hands, and he wonders if Yuuma looked at it. Maybe he saw at Ryoga’s parents and at the small innocent versions of their human selves. The fang feels heavy around his neck, but it’s a good weight. It steadies him.

“Don’t cry,” Yuuma says plaintively, and Nash realizes that he is crying. Tears are escaping him, falling onto the vest in his lap that he’s wrinkling with his white-knuckled grip on it. And how fucked up is it, that the last time he saw Yuuma he spat in the face of Yuuma’s kindness, his friendship, his warmth that Nasch did not deserve, and now, when Yuuma should be furious with him, he’s covering Nasch’s trembling fists with gentle hands.

“Please, Shark…don’t…”

“Only you,” Nasch says, and the words come out all wrong, gasped out between sobs. “Only you could come here and…and…aren’t you angry, Yuuma? Don’t you hate me?”

Yuuma hugs him.

His arms are warm and solid, his face pressed into Nasch’s shoulder, and his scent is just the way Nasch remembers it. Yuuma embraces him tightly as he cries, his fingers splayed out across Nasch’s bare back.

“No one hates you.” Yuuma whispers, his voice muffled by Nasch’s body. Nasch can feel the vibrations of his voice against his skin. “I don’t hate you, you’re my friend, I love —”

Silence. Nasch is relieved that Yuuma does not finish that sentence. No one could deserve Yuuma’s love less than Nasch does.

“I hate me.”

“Shark,” Yuuma says; the words sound forced out like Nasch’s hatred is a physical blow, like a punch to the face, like a betrayal. Because Nasch is a monster and he should be comforting Yuuma, begging for his forgiveness, and instead he feels hot tears roll down his shoulder.

“It’s okay.” Yuuma whispers. His voice is soothing; he strokes Nasch’s back as he talks. “It’s over now, and we can be friends again, right? Right?”

The way Yuuma says that last word is unbearably sorrowful. Oh, Nasch thinks. Astral is gone, now. Alit and Shingetsu are gone, and so are Yuuma’s parents; and though some of the casualties of the war returned to life afterward their losses must still be fresh in Yuuma’s mind. Yuuma is sad, as Nasch is — Nasch mourned Yuuma like he were dead.

He forgot that Yuuma didn’t believe in holding grudges. He didn’t think that Yuma would miss him.

“Whatever you want.” Nasch says. He rakes his fingers lightly through Yuuma’s hair. Yuuma doesn’t lift his head; his body slumps against Nasch’s. He’s too light. Nasch always feels protective of Yuuma when he’s sad; Yuuma’s tears are an affront to the universe. If he could, Nasch would have chosen to make Yuuma happy.

That was impossible with the lives of the Barian World resting in his hands.

But he is here now, and Yuuma is clinging to him like Nasch might run away, might reject him. In this moment, at least, Nasch can make him feel better.

“Don’t leave me,” Yuuma says, when his tears have dried. He pulls back a little so Nasch can see his shattered expression.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I was such a — such a monster —”

“It’s okay. You were just doing your best…you know. Sharkbingu.” Yuuma adds, and he looks so hopeful. It’s a stupid, stupid joke, and it makes Nasch ridiculously happy to hear Yuuma say it.

He is kissing Yuuma before he can stop himself.

Yuuma kisses him back like he’s drowning and Nasch is air. One of his hands ends up in Nasch’s hair, tangled in thick purple locks, and he grabs Nasch’s — Ryoga’s hand with his other. It is desperate and messy and hot.

Right now, with their mouths pressed together, Ryoga forgets everything else, all his sins out of mind, Yuuma’s lips the only thing that matters.

“Hey, Shark,” Yuuma says when they reluctantly break apart. His face is still so close Ryoga can count his eyelashes. “Why do you have my vest?”

Is there even a way to explain, Ryoga wonders, that isn’t humiliating? The whole story threatens to spill from him; the way he obsessively searched until he found someone who could make Yuuma an identical vest that would also stand up to wear and tear and the way he tried to throw away the torn-up scrap of the old one but couldn’t, because it felt like he was throwing Yuuma away along with it.

“It reminded me of you.” Ryoga says honestly, and it must be the right thing to say because Yuuma smiles at him when he says it, and he hugs Ryoga again.

“I thought maybe you didn’t want to see me.”

“Yuuma.” Ryoga says. He squeezes Yuuma’s hand. “I always want to see you.”

And he’s said the right thing again, for Yuuma’s face lights up. Maybe Nasch is a monster who has made him cry, but right now, he can make Yuuma smile.

It’s good enough.

[Later, Ryoga lets Yuuma drag him outside for the first time in a long time, and they eat ice cream in the park, on a bench while the sunlight warms their skin and melts their ice cream. They come back, late at night, and Ryoga’s face hurts from smiling; Yuuma lies down beside him in bed and cuddles against him.

When he wakes up, Yuuma is gone — school — but when he looks under his pillow, Yuuma’s still-intact vest is there, folded neatly atop the ruined one.]