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Die A Thousand Times Over

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In the beginning, Thaniel can honestly say that he hadn't grasped the possibilities.

That first time had been purely accidental, and it wasn’t until much later he thought about potential repercussions.

Afterwards though, he can't claim that his intentions were quiet so pure.

~

He treads carefully down the crooked kitchen steps, two gently steaming cups clinking together slightly where their handles curl around his fingers and reaches out to rest his free hand gently on Mori's shoulder. The other man is stooped over his workbench, hinged sharply in a way that looks distinctly inhuman as he surveys an array of sparkling clock parts spread before him in a constellation of mechanical chaos. He doesn't turn or jump at Thaniel's touch, but leans back and up, unfurling like a sapling fern, and lets the tweezers fall softly from his fingers. Thaniel smiles down at the back of his head.

It's an errant thought that flits across his mind then. An absent notion, to run his fingers up over the stiff collar and against the smooth skin at Mori's nape, curl warm and soft against downy hairs. It's not fully intended, more of a potential possibility and Mori makes a quiet pleased slightly questioning sound like a cat softly startled from sleep; a smooth buttery curl of cream that plays quietly at the corner of Thaniel's vision, hidden from his attention by the clashing yellow bellow of the Haverley boys charging past the window.

Instead, he leaves his hand braced on Mori's shoulder and leans round him to set the cups down, and the fleeting puzzled glance that that Mori flickers up at him before he shakes his head as if to clear an errant ear-worm doesn't really register until much later.

~

The second time it happens, which is to say the first time it actually occurs to Thaniel that something is happening, rather than passing him by completely, he isn't really sure what to think. He is careful though, and is cautious about reflecting on it for too long.

~

Thaniel cups his hands round his brew and stares at Mori's hand. His arm is draped languidly over the side of the bath, fingers limp and drooping in the damp heat and Thaniel is entranced. Mori has been in the bath for what is really an unacceptable amount of time now; continually siphoning off the water through the plug and topping it back up by nudging the tap with his toes. Katsu lies on the windowsill over the bath, one glistening tendril drooping off and just touching the surface of the water, making quiet contented little burbling sounds now and then. There's a fine layer of condensation and sweat on everything and Thaniel feels decidedly wilted.

He'd wandered in about half an hour ago, after Six had banned him from the attic to conduct her experiments and then threatened him with severe injury if he interrupted her again. Mori had whistled at him from behind the bathroom door as he'd stomped past and requested tea, ruining what had promised to be a perfectly good sulk. Thaniel had made a cup of green tea and presented it to Mori, who had taken one long mouthful then handed him the cup back to finish. Rather than be left to his own devices downstairs, he'd decided to bunk down by the edge of the bath and try his hand at some composition. He'd gathered his notepad and pencil from the bedroom and slouched down against the wall with the tea at the opposite end of the bath to Mori.

He'd never struggled with his own company before; he'd often found being alone to be a balm at the end of a long day, but now he feels strangely melancholic when he's apart from this strange family he has adopted. He finds himself orbiting them like a celestial body, constantly drawn into their comet trails and sun paths, and is pleasantly surprised to realise he doesn't mind it. In fact, he thinks he rather likes being able to reach out and nudge Six's elbow with his own, just to see her furrow her brow but maintain contact with him, or look up and see the pale arching curve of Mori's ear, close enough to touch should he feel the urge. They're constantly twirling around reach other like smoke tendrils and it brings him a warm sort of comfort he hadn't realised he was missing.

He swallows the last mouthful of what is now a tepid brew, retaining its heat only because of the sauna like nature of the room, and sets his cup on the floor. Pulling the pencil from behind his ear, he makes a few notations on the music pad he has balanced on a propped knee and nods absently, satisfied with the small improvement. He had thought to do more, to write down some of the ideas that had been floating around his mind for days, but he can't find the energy. Feeling sluggish and lazy, he drops the pad to one side and leans his head back against the wall, opening his shirt another button to get some air against his collar bones and lets both his legs drop, like a rag doll sprawled on the floor.

He absently taps the end of the pencil against his teeth as Mori's fingers catch his gaze again, and lets his eyes meander slowly up the pale skin, the soft protruding bumps of birdlike bone in his wrist and over the barely there hairs on his forearm that are collecting tiny droplets of pearlescent moisture. Mori sighs and his head sinks back against the rim of the bathtub, revealing the paper-thin skin on his neck and the ever so faint bruise from a previous night blooming a dusky yellow on his collar bone. Thaniel's lips twitch and close around the pencil end as his eyes droop a little. He lets his mind wander idly. He thinks about standing up and getting into the bath fully clothed, of just letting his weight settle against Mori in the water, feeling the rough rub of wet cloth against his skin and the heat of Mori below him. Warmth floods his gut and he feels something stir.

Suddenly the water sloshes as Mori gasps and shifts and it shakes Thaniel from his thoughts.

"What is it?"

Mori frowns at him for a second, then shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair, slicking it back and causing a gentle shower of droplets to rain down his shoulders.

"What were you going to do just then?"

Thaniel shifts again guiltily and straightens up against the wall, all thoughts of joining Mori in the bath fading to ripples.

"Nothing."

Mori sinks a little further into the water.

"Liar," he mutters but Thaniel is distracted by the rather obvious reaction Mori is having to his daydream and the utterly useless attempt he's made to hide it.

"Don't you think you should get out now?" He says, partly because he'd like to see more, but mostly to distract Mori from further questioning. He has an inkling as to what has just happened, and he wants time to figure it out for himself before Mori realises. Mori sighs out a lackadaisical "I suppose" and makes absolutely no movement to get out.

"You're getting pruney," Thaniel gestures and Mori lifts his hand from the water to stare unemotionally at his wrinkled fingers.

"How terrible," he says flatly.

Thaniel snorts and pushes himself up, running a hand through his damp hair and slicking it back against his head, wrinkling his nose at the sweat he can feel sticking his shirt to his shoulder blades and along his spine.

"I should go check on Six anyway. No doubt something is due to explode sometime soon?" He looks over questioningly as he gathers his pad and pencil. Mori looks off absently for a moment then wrinkles his forehead slightly. Thaniel nods knowingly and is about to walk past when a hand shoots out and wraps long fingers around his wrist, tugging. Thaniel lets himself be pulled down into a kiss that leaves him a little breathless and he can't help himself as he reaches out to cup Mori's jaw and then slide his hand down, over Mori's neck and fluttering pulse point, to the yellowing bruise. He presses down slightly and Mori sighs, eyes lids fluttering lazily. Thaniel sinks to the floor, pad dropping carelessly from his grip.

"I'm sure the explosion isn't too serious," he mutters as his hand slips from Mori's neck, down his chest and lower into the water and Mori hums, a delightfully warm burgundy colour laced with gold.

~

He tries not to think about it too much, to let Mori catch hold of what's in his head. Instead, he lets his suspicions gently float across the surface of his thoughts, never grasping one too hard or for too long. He cultivates them though, very gently, and starts to experiment.

~

Mori stands by the kitchen sink, shirt sleeves rolled up neatly to his elbows as he absently washes the cups. He's staring out of the window, brow furrowed slightly, almost as if his eyes are looking into the garden but he's seeing something else. Thaniel leans against the door jamb for a while, just watching him, and feels a ripple of something warm and animal through his limbs; protective and desiring and needy all in one. There's something about seeing him like this, soft around the edges and haloed by dim golden afternoon light speckled with dust motes that plays across Thaniel's mind in a riot of colour and sound. There's only the soft sounds of water sloshing and gentle breathing but he can see a thousand spectral splashes of colour and the noises that inspire them, as though all their movements have been double, triple, a hundred times exposed over each other. He wonders if this is what love is like for everyone else.

Mori hums something softly, a broken melody and Thaniel wants to catch him round the waist and bring him in close; press his nose into the soft warm hidden space behind his ear and just breathe him in. He breathes out with intention and watches. Mori smiles, a little shocked and a little delighted and almost blushes, then suddenly frowns when he realises he doesn't remember what it is he's reacting to. He turns, looking over his shoulder at Thaniel with his eyes narrowed.

"You did it again," he says accusingly.

"I didn't do anything," Thaniel laughs, mentally calculating the time it took for his intentions to fade from Mori’s memory, then stops and bites the inside of his cheek when he sees Mori's eyebrow raise.

"That is blatantly untrue."

Mori wipes his hands on a tea towel and then stalks over, his footsteps a soft, barely-there mossy green and Thaniel tries to stop the shiver he can feel faintly trembling down his spine. Mori stops in front of him and for all their difference in height, Thaniel feels small.

"I should have you flogged."

Thaniel snorts, braver than he feels. "You and what army?"

Mori places one hand right in the centre of Thaniel's chest, without pressure or force, still warm and a little damp and Thaniel's breath catches in his throat as if caught in a vice.

"I don't need an army, I'm a Samurai."

Thaniel has a sudden overwhelming urge to just sink to his knees and let Mori do whatever he wants. He swallows and darts his tongue out to moisten dry lips. Mori's eyes track its progress and a smile that is really more of a smirk crosses his face. He pushes ever so softly, his fingertips pinpoints of pressure on Thaniel's chest and Thaniel allows himself to fall back against the wall and let Mori crowd in.

~

Now he knows what he's doing, he can't help the little rush of power it gives him. He's never been one for control or authority; he is content to stay in the background and just do what he does well. This though, this sparks something in him.

~

He watches, wide eyed and a little breathless as goosebumps speckle up in a wave along Mori's arm. They're sitting at the table, chairs closer than they should be, Thaniel's knee pushing against Mori's thigh and half turned into each other. Six had excused herself half an hour previously but they've just stayed there, gravitating closer and closer in the hushed quiet. Thaniel has his arm resting along the back of Mori's chair, boxing him in a little, and Mori has been looking up at him with indolently quizzical eyes and the slightest suspicion of a challenge.

He thinks, purposefully, about sliding his hand up Mori's back, against the soft embroidered pattern of his waistcoat and over his cream shirt collar. He thinks about ghosting his fingertips against the pale skin stretched over the ridges of Mori's spine at the base of his neck, dancing them upwards until he can thread his fingers through dark strands. He thinks about tangling them in the silky threads of hair and then tugging sharply, pulling Mori's head back and looking down at expanse of pale white throat and sharp jaw lines.

He thinks all these things and then watches, dry mouthed, palms flat against his thigh and the chair respectively as Mori's head jerks back, eye lids fluttering as he gasps quietly. His eyes slide lazily sideways, catching Thaniel's and for a moment everything is stuck, thick like treacle, but then he's moving, fingers catching in soft hair and fulfilling intentions. He can't bare that Mori will forget this, forget the delicious way he melted under Thaniel's hand like a puppet with its strings cut. He tugs again, just the slightest hint of pressure, and Mori's head falls back into his cupped palm, heavy and pliant. He stares up, heavy lidded eyes and slightly parted lips, and Thaniel leans down to meet him.

~

He abandons the experiment. He knows enough now, about what it does to Mori, and to him, and he no longer needs to trial or test anything. They are what they are and tricks aren’t needed here. There are those times though, few and far between, where he can't help himself. He doesn't think Mori minds.

~

Thaniel's fingers flex, digging tightly into Mori's waist with one hand and fisting the bedding above his head with the other. He twists and gasps as they move and without any thought pants out "God, I love you," the words flowing out and over them like honey. Mori's rhythm falters and his head snaps up so he can look Thaniel in the eye. Even now, in this, with the fine hairs at his temples slick with sweat and his cheeks flushed, he looks composed and graceful and Thaniel aches to shatter him into a thousand perfect pieces that he can gather up and keep pressed safe in his hands.

Mori inhales, swallows, and speaks quietly.

"Say that again."

Thaniel grins up at him, unashamedly, and shifts sharply, causing them both to groan, low and rough. "Sorry, what was that?"

Mori pinches him, just under the ribcage, and he jerks and lets out a sharp bark of breathless laughter. Mori stares at him still and there is something breakable and tender that twists Thaniel's heart. He stares back and intends, the words already shaping in his mouth. Mori's head falls between his shoulders, neck bent and fringe falling across his face. He exhales, slowly, and there's an almost imperceptible tremor where his arms bracket Thaniel's head. His fists are tight in the sheets either side and Thaniel twists to press a kiss against the thin skin of Mori's wrist, intention to speak still at the forefront. Mori shudders and Thaniel holds off for a beat, then another, licks his lips and says, quiet but bright in cerulean blue.

"I love you."

Mori surges down to kiss him and Thaniel arches to meet his lips midway, his hand reaching up to grip tightly at Mori's neck as the other man flows above him and it takes no time at all after that.

Afterwards, Mori drops down next to him, his limbs in a graceless sprawl and Thaniel rolls onto his side, letting one hand come to rest proprietorially on Mori's hip. Mori twists his head to stare up at him.

"You can't just say things like that, you know."

"I rather thought I could actually."

Mori frowns and Thaniel giddily thinks of smoothing the furrow with his thumb. Mori automatically reaches up to bat away the hand he hasn't raised yet.

"It's hardly very English of you, is it? Emoting all over the place like that. No stiffness to your upper lip."

Thaniel snorts. "Bit late for that really. Anyway, it's not like it's not true, is it?"

Mori shuffles a little awkwardly and suddenly something strikes Thaniel like a brick to the head.

"Kei, do you still - please tell me you don't still think this is just some odd arrangement? After everything?"

Mori won't quite meet his eyes, his fingers absently trailing short winding patterns across Thaniel's arm. Thaniel rolls over and up so he's hovering over Mori, who's hand automatically slides to his hip which, spent as he is, still causes a flutter in his gut.

"Kei," he says again, slowly and a little more emotionally than he means to. Mori meets his gaze and there's something shuttered and foreign in his eyes that Thaniel dislikes intently.

"It's just," Mori pauses and it unsettles Thaniel to see him unsure. "It feels different now. My...abilities," he waves his hand absently, "are limited in a way they never were before. Things aren't clear in the long term and I don't know what to expect anymore, not properly. Not like before.”

He looks up at Thaniel and awkwardly lifts one shoulder in a dismissive half shrug. "It seems sensible really, not to get ones hopes up.”

Thaniel stares for a beat then snorts loudly.

"Keita, you egg." He leans down and kisses him soundly, pushing all his emotion and adoration and aching need into the press of lips. After a moment, he pulls back a little breathlessly and rests his cheek against Mori's.

“For all that you're one of the smartest men I know, you are an utter moron sometimes."

"I don't think-"

"I bloody love you, and I'll say it every damn day if I have to. Is that clear enough for you?"

Mori blinks, his eyelashes brushing ever so softly against Thaniel's temple. "I suppose. It'll do for now anyway."

He shrugs, in a very un-Mori like way, and Thaniel thinks happily that he would die for this man; die a hundred ways and a thousand times over just to keep safe this little pocket of the world that they've created.