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Scars and sweetness

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Today’s match had been a victory, but just barely.

Andrew was still adjusting. Not just to the game, but to everything. The haunting twisting hallways of the manor, and the way everything here seemed to creak and groan as if it were alive and waiting to swallow him whole if he let his guard down for even a moment. The chatter outside his room early in the morning and the probing questions when he ventured to the dining hall for meals. The slightest brush of someone’s arm against his that made him jump and squeak, earning a genuine bark of laughter from whoever’s space he had intruded.

He was used to being on his own, used to people leering at him out of the corner of their eye and going out of their way to give him a wide berth as he passed by. He wasn’t sure if it was because they knew he tended to be sickly, or just because his appearance was like that of a ghost or a demon. All he knew was that he was considered freakish.

So for the other survivors to ignore that completely threw him for a loop. It was overwhelming to be stuffed into the same space as all of these people in the first place, nevermind the fact that some of them clearly didn’t have any regard for his privacy, needling him with questions immediately upon his arrival.

“What’s your ability?” “Why is your eye that colour?” “Where did you come from?” “What’s the shovel for?”

It was exhausting. And frustrating.

And that was even before he had fully understood the nature of the game. He had known upon accepting the invitation that this manor would hold some kind of trial to overcome, but he certainly hadn’t expected there to be such a focus on teamwork.

He had hardly ever talked to anyone else before coming here, unless it had to do with work back at the cemetery. How was he supposed to coordinate with a pack of strangers to avoid the monstrous adversaries they were pitted against every day?

Which brought him back to the present.

Their match had been a victory, but he had done terribly. He had such a hard time with the cipher machines — the buttons were hard to differentiate unless he squinted at them closely, and he often pressed them in the wrong sequence, prompting the machine to crackle angrily under his fingertips and reveal his location to the hunter.

He had spent much of the game running between cipher machines because the hunter inevitably kept catching wind of his missed calibrations and forcing him to change location. They had managed to decode two ciphers before Martha was cornered and captured by the hunter. He had tried to get close, remembering what the others had told him — “You don’t move all that fast or decode very quickly, so focus on rescuing” — but the hunter had been hanging around Martha’s chair, watching the surroundings closely. Andrew hadn’t found an opportunity to sneak over to her, afraid that the hunter would turn on him if he revealed himself. He had been close enough to hear her frustrated cries as she had been sent back to the manor.

She had known he was close. She had known he hesitated.

He avoided her as he returned to the manor with their other teammates. He didn’t see her face as he passed the threshold and pushed past the others, intent on returning to his room, but he could imagine it. She must hate him.

He passed a mirror on the way back to his room, which caused him to hesitate when he caught the sight of his reflection. He had never really had mirrors handy before he had come here, and he hadn’t necessarily cared. His work was dirty and typically done in the dead of night by lantern-light, so it wasn’t exactly as if his clients cared what he looked like.

But he could see here, in the fragmented reflection of the mirror what made them call him things like “devil”. His hair was dishevelled from the match, mud and dirt smeared across his pale skin and coating his clothes from his clumsy dashes between cipher machines. His eyes were their strange abnormal pink tone, and accentuated by dark circles under his eyes. Cheekbones jutted out unnaturally, and even underneath all the filth, scars littered across his cheek and nose stood out starkly against his skin.

He was so ugly it made him want to cry. The other survivors had been kind and welcoming when he had first arrived, but they would surely turn on him in time when they realized just how odd and useless he was.

His impromptu self-assessment and the loss of adrenaline left him even more tired than before, and he trudged off to his room. He leaned his shovel against the wall and shut the door quietly behind him.

Ah, it was frustrating.

He stood there for a few moments, internally battling the urge to just turn into bed and sleep off the all-consuming misery settling in his chest by telling himself that he’d regret it later if he went to bed while still covered in dirt.

He would clean himself, he resolved. He would at least scrub off whatever filth he could, although it wouldn’t make much difference when such unbearable ugliness still remained underneath.

---

He found himself curious. That was the word he had come to associate with the feeling, and he refused to call it anything else.

The object of his curiousity was another survivor, which he found just as surprising as anyone else in their merry little band likely would have.

He didn’t know much of Aesop Carl except from what the other survivors whispered about him while his back was turned. Some of them were wary of his background and of his standoffish indifference to their affairs. Freddy’s complaints were certainly the loudest, but he had heard quiet, disconcerted whispers from several of the others when Aesop came up in conversation.

“That embalmer is creepy.” “Why won’t he show his face?” “I hope he never embalms me. I’d much rather be chaired.”

Andrew himself had only ever seen glimpses of Aesop in the dining hall, before the typical crowd of survivors had shown up or after they’d already left. Usually all he saw was his profile as he snatched a pastry from the kitchen counter or the shape of his back as he retreated upstairs to his room.

He heard about his ability after his first match teamed up with the embalmer, after he had raced to save Tracy from a chair only to watch her form darken and drip like wax into the ground at the chair’s base. He had suffered a nasty blow from Ripper’s claws for his ignorance, so he had mustered up the courage to approach Tracy after the match and ask what had happened.

“In the chair? That was Aesop’s doing.” She had explained as she fiddled with a small contraption in her hands, using a pair of tweezers to pull apart a mess of coloured wires. The speed at which her fingers worked made Andrew feel slightly dizzy. “Y’know that makeup box he carries around all the time? He can make a dummy look just like you, and when you’re chaired you switch places with it.”

She shivered a little, pausing in her work.

“It feels weird though. I’d try to avoid it if I were you.”

Her words had stuck with him long after he’d left her to her work, spinning around his head as he lay on his back in bed, willing himself to sleep.

He knew some things of embalming, since it naturally intersected with his own work at times. It hadn’t been often, but he had occasionally seen the bodies he’d lowered into the ground, faces painted and powdered to make them look as if they were simply sleeping. He had sometimes found himself captivated by how life-like they seemed, before inevitably closing the coffin over their face and tucking them into their bed of rock and earth.

He wondered if someone with that kind of skill would be able to bring life to even his pale and hardened visage. After all, he didn’t look that much better than a corpse even on the best of days.

It was a silly thought. Frivolous. Like something a schoolgirl would dream up while looking out the window of her classroom. And yet, once the idea had sown itself into his head, it only seemed to grow, wrapping vines around his brain and filling his thoughts with dazzling dream-like leaves.

It must have been obvious because even Victor brought it up, sliding Andrew a scrap of paper across the table as they silently ate their dinner across from each other, tapping it insistently when Andrew failed to notice. The gravekeeper jumped a little, frowning over at his companion in confusion as he pulled it closer to himself and squinted down at the words.

You’re staring.

Andrew mustered up the most intimidating glare he could manage as he lifted his head, but Victor simply raised his eyebrows, waiting for an explanation.

“Shut up,” Andrew hissed weakly under his breath. Victor leaned back and crossed his arms, but thankfully didn’t press him for more. Andrew silently folded up the note and shoved it into his pocket, unable to bear the thought of anyone coming by their table after dinner and seeing it. Oh, the kinds of questions the two of them would have to endure then. The thought was mortifying.

He and Victor waited for the dining hall to start to filter out before following suit. Andrew prompted Victor to go on to his room ahead of him before turning into the kitchen. He had only been in here a number of times, often because he had missed dinner and needed some kind of sustenance to keep him going till the next day. There was certainly no rule that he wasn’t supposed to be here, but he still felt as though he was intruding. He opened cupboards slowly and quietly, surveying the contents before moving on to the next.

He was starting to wonder if they’d run out before — ah, there they were. He grabbed a handful of the tiny pre-wrapped chocolates and shoved them unceremoniously into his pockets as he stood up and turned to leave-

Only to find himself face to face with the masked survivor he’d been eyeing across the room not twenty minutes before. Aesop eyed him calmly as Andrew let out a curse under his breath. The gravekeeper stepped to the side to let him pass, uttering a string of stuttered apologies and keeping his eyes on the floor.

However, Aesop didn’t move from the doorway.

“Stay,” he said in response. “I wanted to talk to you anyway.”

Andrew could have sworn his insides had frozen up. Adrenaline rushed through his body, making his fingers feel ice cold while his face grew hot. He still couldn’t raise his gaze to look him in the eye and he obediently stayed glued to the spot, afraid of what Aesop would do if he protested.

The embalmer set his makeup box down to busy himself with the coffee machine, brewing himself a pot and tapping his foot as Andrew’s thoughts raced. He couldn’t figure out what Aesop would want with him to ask that would have any sort of positive outcome. Was he angry about Andrew sneaking food? — even when all of the other survivors did it? Had that note from Victor dropped out of his pocket? When was the last time he’d been in a match with the embalmer anyway? Had he messed up somehow?

His heart was racing, and his chest felt tight the more he let his brain spiral in endless questioning circles. It felt like the coffee machine was taking forever, filling the pot one single drop at a time.

When Aesop spoke, Andrew thought for certain that his heart would stop.

“You’ve been watching me.” It wasn’t a question, and he said it with a conversational tone as though discussing the weather. Aesop’s eyes were glued to the coffee pot, nearing its completion.

“Why?”

Andrew was at a loss. How was he to formulate an answer when he still had so many questions? How had Aesop found out? Did someone tell him? Had he been obvious enough in his curiousity that the embalmer had noticed it himself?

Ah, he could have died from embarrassment right there on that spot.

The coffee machine made a click as it finished, and Aesop finally looked over in his direction, waiting for an answer.

“I… I uh…”

Make something up, a voice urged internally. Say something. Say anything. His palms were sweating under his gloves and his head was so jumbled he was starting to feel physically nauseous.

“I wanted you to fix my face,” he blurted out suddenly.

Immediately Aesop’s eyebrows raised, the only indication of expression on his half-covered face.

Shit.

Andrew leaned back against the doorframe, his legs starting to feel weak as another wave of adrenaline washed over him. Stupid. “I mean-” Fuck.

Well, it was too late now. In his nervousness, he’d gone and blurted out his true intentions after all, although he certainly hadn’t done so in an eloquent manner. And now Aesop was simply staring at him, and what he could see of his face was unreadable.

He had to say something. He couldn’t just leave it at...whatever that had been.

“M-my scars...” He lifted a hesitant hand to indicate the crossed marks on his cheek. “I was wondering if… You’d cover them.”

A silent beat passed between them, and Aesop didn’t speak right away, instead reaching for his coffee mug and turning away from Andrew to fill it.

Andrew realized then that he could have left. Part of him was screaming for him to — to retreat to his room and hide in bed for days if that’s what it took for him to work through his embarrassment. But he seemed inexplicably rooted to the spot, his limbs frozen in place. So he waited for Aesop to pass judgement, suffering silent torture as the embalmer emptied the pot’s contents into his mug and stooped down to pick up the makeup box with his other hand.

“Alright,” He said simply as he straightened up.

Andrew was sure his ears weren’t working, somehow filtering the sound of Aesop’s voice and twisting it to say what he wanted to hear. There was no way he’d just agree to such a foolish request, after all.

“What?”

Aesop didn’t bother repeating himself, passing Andrew in the doorway as he exited the kitchen, carefully ensuring his coffee mug stayed level. He glanced back at him for a moment, and that was when it became clear that yes, Aesop had agreed and he was waiting for Andrew to follow.

Andrew trailed after him with a touch of reluctance. Yes, this is what he had wanted — what he had found himself daydreaming of in his spare time, like the attention-starved weirdo he was. But he had never actually thought about what would happen if he’d asked the question, nevermind if Aesop agreed. He had no plan of action after this point — not that he really had much of one from the start.

All he could do now was try his damnedest not to make an even bigger fool out of himself.

---

Much like his own, Aesop’s room was only lightly furnished and immaculately tidy. The only indications that anyone lived there at all were the pyjamas folded up at the edge of the bed, the hygiene products in the small bathroom and the three towering coffins leaned against the far wall.

Aesop caught Andrew looking at them wide-eyed and cast his eyes towards the coffee mug in his hand.

“I have to summon them from somewhere,” he explained, sounding almost apologetic. He walked over to the vanity beside the bed and deposited the makeup box on top of it, gently setting his mug beside it.

“Sit,” he ordered softly, pulling over a chair and tapping the back for emphasis. Andrew did as he was told, looking down at his twiddling fingers as Aesop opened the box and rummaged around through its contents for a moment, pausing to look over at Andrew’s face every now and then, making the gravekeeper want to duck his head as a reflex.

At last, he seemed ready, pulling up another chair to sit across from him. Andrew flinched as their knees brushed, but Aesop frowned and scooted ever closer. He leaned forward to study Andrew with the same kind of intense focus he had seen from the embalmer during the games and Andrew could feel his heartbeat starting to pick up again.

He was starting to realize the folly of this daydream of his, emphasizing that it truly belonged in the confines of his head instead of playing out in reality. If Aesop were to cover up the scars on his face, it would inevitably require the embalmer’s attention to be on him for a long period of time, and Andrew was quite sure that he was likely to pass out if he were to remain this close to another person for even a few moments longer.

“You want them covered?” Aesop asked in clarification.

A part of him wondered if it was too late to back track completely. No actually, this has been a huge misunderstanding, I’m so sorry to have taken up your time, I’ll leave you be-

“Yeah,” he said instead, feeling a twinge of guilt at his own selfishness.

Aesop looked equally nervous for a moment, glancing at the row of products and brushes laid out on the vanity next to him. “You should know. I’ve never done this on… a living person.”

He didn’t give Andrew the opportunity to process this statement or question it, quickly reaching towards a bottle on the table and squeezing its contents onto a sponge. Andrew fought the instinct to flinch as Aesop raised it to his face, giving a few experimental pats to his face.

Andrew released a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding, forcing his shoulders to relax. After a moment he closed his eyes, resolving that perhaps it would be less nerve-wracking if he couldn’t see how close the other man’s face was to his. Aesop took this as a clear signal to continue, and gently patted the formula onto his skin, moving from his cheek around his eyes to his brow and forehead, down the bridge of his nose and down to his lips and chin. He went back to his cheek and nose a few times, taking extra care with his scars.

His work was slow and thorough; firm but not unpleasant. Andrew was finding it easier to calm down as Aesop continued. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been this close to another person outside of the matches. Couldn’t remember the last time he had been touched without a sting to accompany it.

There was a pause, and the sound of bottles being moved around, the click of a cap as it was opened and then closed. Aesop must have been moving on to something else, but Andrew didn’t want to open his eyes to check.

That was until he felt the tickle of gloved fingers against his forehead, moving to brush his bangs aside. He moved away from the hand instinctually, eyes flying open in surprise. Aesop jumped back as well, mirroring Andrew’s surprised expression.

“My apologies,” the embalmer said quietly when he realized why Andrew had reacted. His hand hovered inches away from Andrew’s face, waiting. “Is it alright? I want the colour to be even.”

Andrew’s breath had quickened, his previous sense of relaxation dissipating like dew in the sunlight. The eye under his bangs was just another reminder of how freakish he was, and he would certainly prefer to not reveal it if it could be avoided.

But Aesop had been nothing but kind in agreeing to his strange request, and he was treating Andrew with such gentleness even now. He didn’t want to mess up Aesop’s work by being cowardly, and a quieter part of him selfishly wanted the embalmer’s soft, methodical touch to last as long as possible.

“It’s fine,” Andrew said firmly, sounding braver than he felt as he closed his eyes once more. Aesop hesitated for a moment, before Andrew felt his gloves graze his face again as he gathered up his bangs and clipped them aside.

The gravekeeper’s chest was tight as he imagined Aesop studying his face and the numerous other scars littered across it. He didn’t say anything, simply smearing more cream onto Andrews face and continuing to blend it into his skin. Andrew found himself grateful for his silence. He couldn’t imagine how he would begin to answer if Aesop had tried to ask him about his strange features.

Once the cream had been applied, Aesop moved onto a powder, which produced a thick cloud as he opened it up. The dusty substance tickled Andrew’s nose, causing him to give a squeaky sneeze. He uttered a quick apology, but Aesop only gave a hum of acknowledgement, sounding amused.

Andrew’s heart skipped a beat, and he wasn’t exactly sure if it was from embarrassment this time.

The gravekeeper quickly decided he didn’t like the sensation of the powder on his skin. The brush Aesop used to apply it tickled, making him squirm and twitch involuntarily, and the powder irritated his nose and eyes even after it had been applied. He was relieved when he finally heard the creak of Aesop’s chair as he leaned away and the snap of the powder case as it was shut.

He couldn’t hear Aesop rummaging through his products, and Andrew wondered if he was finished. He found himself unwilling to open his eyes though, willing this strange exchange to continue just a little longer.

At last, Aesop spoke. “Do you mind if I try something?”

“Oh. Yeah.” A pause, and Andrew immediately realized his mistake. “I mean no… Go ahead.”

He heard Aesop give a breath of relief, and the telltale sound of tools and products being gathered up and laid out on the vanity again. He waited patiently as he heard Aesop leaning forward again.

Without warning, there was a harsh poke to the corner of his eye and Andrew jumped back with an unrestrained yelp, very nearly toppling backwards onto the floor. He pressed himself against the back of the chair, a gloved hand reflexively lifted defensively to his face.

Aesop stared blankly at him, with what looked like a pencil gripped in his hand. He looked stunned at Andrew’s reaction, and the gravekeeper could see colour seeping into his cheeks over the edges of his facemask.

“Sorry,” He said quickly. “I should have warned you. I forgot.”

Forgot? Andrew wondered indignantly as he squinted warily in return, his raised arm remaining a feeble barrier between them.

“Forgot I wasn’t a corpse?”

The accusation slipped from his lips before he could stop himself, and he immediately wished he could take it back.

Ah, he truly was deplorable. After the other man had taken the time to play out this whimsical daydream he’d had, he still had the gall to hurl harsh words at him after a single mistake?

Aesop looked embarrassed more than indignant, tapping the pencil against his mask where his lips would be underneath and looking away.

“S-sorry.” Andrew responded quietly, not sure how to react. He felt like a child that had been caught acting out of line, but Aesop wasn’t exactly handing out the punishment he had expected.

“Don’t be,” Aesop responded. There was a long pause between them, stretching out awkwardly the longer they went without speaking.

Finally Aesop said, “May I continue? I’ll try something else.” He set the pencil aside and pulled out a smaller brush instead. “It will feel better. Close your eyes.”

Andrew let out a small shaking breath before doing as he was told. He was still a little shaken up from his outburst, his heart still hammering in his chest. He was unsure if Aesop was truly angry with him or not, but he was too far along now to leave halfway. Letting Aesop finish whatever he wanted to do was really the least he could do after the embalmer had already agreed to help him.

He twitched a little as he felt the brush press against the corner of his eyelid, but true to Aesop’s word it did feel much better than the stab of the pencil. Aesop brushed around the edges of his eyelids for a few minutes, brushing up to his brows and dipping into his crease. He could feel soft puffs of breath against his face as Aesop leaned close, the smell of coffee assaulting Andrew’s senses.

He tried not to think about how that coffee would taste right now.

Aesop’s experiment to his eyes was an odd, unpleasant sensation, certainly more invasive than the cream and powder he’d applied to the rest of his face. When Aesop quietly announced he was done, Andrew couldn’t help feeling a bit relieved.

He opened his eyes slowly, not noticing much of a difference except that his skin felt significantly heavier. He fought the urge to lift an arm to his face to wipe the tickling sensation away.

Aesop nodded to the mirror on the vanity, and Andrew followed his gaze, his breath dying in his throat as he caught sight of his reflection. He stared for a few moments, unable to formulate a reaction.

“That’s me?” He asked.

“That’s you with a bit of powder on your face, yes.”

Aesop’s words felt like a bit of an understatement now that Andrew was seeing the results of his work. His face didn’t look startling different — he was still recognizable, but at the same time he could hardly believe it was the same person he saw passing the mirrors in the manor. His skin, normally pale as death and blemished by marks looked smooth and warm. Aesop had accentuated the natural shape of his face to look sharp and chiselled instead of gaunt and malnourished. His scars had all but disappeared — no, that wasn’t quite right. When he removed his glove and brushed his fingertips along his cheek he could still feel them, but at a glance they had all but faded into the same colour as his skin.

His eyes — the part Aesop had asked to experiment with — were by far the most obvious and most captivating difference. The embalmer had framed the edges of them with soft tones of brown and pink that contrasted with the paleness of his skin and accentuated the natural colour of his irises.

He wasn’t sure if it was because of the sight before him in the vanity mirror, that anxious tightness in his chest or the unfamiliar tickling of powder against the edges of his eyes, but he could feel them start to water.

No one had ever done anything like this for him before.

Before he could react, Aesop reached forward to lift a finger to the corner of his eye. Andrew blinked in surprise, his tears soaking into the fabric of Aesop’s glove. Andrew didn’t even have time to say anything, his lips parted in silent surprise

“Don’t cry,” Aesop said as he pulled his hand away. Andrew could see a smudge of brown on the side of his finger. “It would be a shame.”

Andrew gulped thickly, willing himself to get his emotions under control as he realized what Aesop was getting at. “S-shit, I’m sorry. I’m ruining it, huh?”

“That’s not...“ Aesop looked at a loss, but he didn’t say more. He watched silently as Andrew mirrored Aesop’s gesture from before, blinking into his gloves to absorb the moisture from his eyes with minimal damage to the powder around his eyes.

Slowly, Aesop reached up and pulled his mask down, tucking it under his chin. He refused to meet Andrew’s eyes, instead glancing sideways at the makeup products lined up on the vanity.

Andrew slowly lowered his hands from his face, unable to stop himself from staring. He hadn’t exactly known what to expect — everyone whispered different things about what could have been under Aesop’s mask. Some said he was hiding some horrific deformation, while others insisted he was simply shy and wished to hide his face.

His lips were thin and expressive, currently pressed together nervously. But what caught Andrew’s attention were the jagged scars and stitches at the corners of his mouth.They looked similar to the one’s he’d seen on the mercenary and the acrobat, and he couldn’t help but wonder if there was some sort of similarity.

He felt an inexplicable urge to reach out and touch them, but that would surely startle Aesop when he already looked so nervous. So he simply studied them from afar. He wondered if those scars felt the same as the ones on his face. If he ran his fingers across them, would he feel the sensation of rough ridged scarred skin before it gave way to soft, plush…

He felt a cold rush of embarassment flood through him as he realized where that train of thought was heading, and stopped it dead in its tracks before it would cause him to do or say something stupid. He quickly clenched his fists in his lap, determined to ensure the only offence he committed remained in his imagination. He desperately hoped Aesop didn’t notice.

“I have them too,” Aesop said a little awkwardly. “A lot of us do, in different places. They’re interesting.”

Interesting. Andrew didn’t think he’d ever heard anyone describe his features like that. Did Aesop think his scars were interesting then? Did he think his eyes were interesting too?

He felt a little dizzy at the thought. Interesting. Was he interesting?

“O-oh.” How else was he to respond to that?

Then he realized. It was polite to return a compliment with a compliment. And he did think Aesop’s scars were beautiful in a way.

Ah, but to say it like that felt far too embarrassing.

“Yours too. Your scars.” Andrew said roughly. Good enough. Not a poetic masterpiece, but he hadn’t slipped in an unintentional insult this time.

When Aesop’s cheeks flushed this time, Andrew could see it clearly, no longer hidden behind the fabric of his mask. He lifted a hand to his face instead, covering his mouth as his eyes cast downwards. Andrew was a little disappointed — a part of him wondered what Aesop’s lips looked like when he was embarrassed. He couldn’t help but wonder what they looked like when he made other expressions too.

“Oh. Thank you,” Aesop said quietly.

Now that Aesop’s task was completed and he was no longer focused, the air in the room was starting to get tense and heavy. Andrew has the distinct feeling that even though he had not been explicitly asked to leave that he had overstayed his welcome.

“Um. Thank you for this,” he said quickly, moving to stand. Aesop simply nodded, before carefully pulling his mask back up over his nose and mouth.

Andrew felt disappointed again.

“It’s not a problem. I enjoyed it.”

He said it with such a flat and matter-of-fact tone that Andrew really couldn’t be sure if he’d actually enjoyed it, or if he was just saying he did to make him feel better about having asked such a strange favour in the first place.

As he stood up, a weight in his pockets caught him off guard for a moment, and he remembered the chocolates he’d stashed there before he’d run into Aesop in the kitchen. Before he could talk himself out of it, he pulled a couple out of his pockets and set them down on the vanity. Aesop eyed them in surprise, looking curious.

“I enjoyed it too,” Andrew said quickly, feeling his face heat up and quickly turning to hide it. He swiftly left the room, closing the door behind him slowly and taking care to make sure it clicked shut behind him. Somehow he felt out of breath just from the few strides it had taken to cross the room to the door and his stomach was churning. Maybe he was coming down with something — he certainly felt a little sick.

It was quiet in the halls — there was another game early tomorrow morning, so the other survivors must have turned in early. He made his way back to his own room, although he did pause at each mirror he passed, once again marvelling at how smooth his skin looked and at how bright eyed he seemed, even in the cold yellow-green light of the manor.

It was him, and yet it was not. So strange...

When he had made it back to his room, he wondered if he could leave it on overnight. He wondered how long it would last. However the reality soon hit him that it would likely stain his bedding in his sleep, and that he wasn’t at all prepared to deal with the questions that the other survivors would have if they saw it the next day.

Besides, It was a nice thing to try but he really didn’t like the feeling. Even now, he was fighting the temptation to drag his gloves across his face in an attempt to ease the tickling sensation on his skin. He probably wouldn’t ask Aesop to do it again, not unless he had a real reason.

When he stood in front of his bathroom mirror with a wet cloth and soap bar in hand, he removed the mask from his face as if it were a ritual. First scrubbing his cheeks and forehead, slowly revealing his natural pale skin and scars inch by inch. He moved on to his mouth, chin and nose, and then lastly his eyes. He said a silent farewell to Aesop’s work as he closed his eyes and scrubbed away at them. The brown smeared across his face, making him look like a wild animal.

When at last it had all been removed, he was left with plain old Andrew — blemished skin, dark circles, scars and all.

He remembered Aesop’s quiet words, spoken from those fair, lovely lips. “They’re interesting.”

He brushed his fingers against the criss-crossed scars on his cheek.

And he imagined for a moment that he was touching the jagged ones that framed the lips that spilled those sweet solemn words.

He blushed at the thought, but he felt his chest swell a little with pride too. Perhaps if someone — even just one person — thought his scars were anything besides ugly, he could live with having them exposed.

He smiled to himself a little at the thought, and it was a strange thing to see on his own face, reflected back at him.

He didn’t dislike it though.