Such a Bitter Form of Refuge

~1700 words :: Psyren :: Hiryuu/Tatsuo :: 12/25/09
Tatsuo may not need someone to protect him anymore, but Hiryuu is willing to be whatever he needs.

Author commentary

It’s a long walk across the wasteland from where I crash-landed. It’s not the first time we’ve done this, pressed together like we’re running a three-legged race, but it’s the first time I’ve been the one limping.

There’s no hint of a tremble in Tatsuo’s legs now. Not even when my knees buckle for the tenth, twelfth, twentieth time. He just grunts and braces himself, his grip tightening on my wrist and waist. We don’t talk about it. We don’t talk.

I try to focus. One foot in front of the other. It shouldn’t be this hard, but I’m barely hanging on to consciousness by the time we get to wherever it is we’re going. All I know is we’re inside now and there’s a bed and he’s telling me to lie down. He pulls off my shoes and there’s a burst of panic when I think he might try to take off my clothes, but he just shoves me over a little and lies down, and when I wake briefly sometime later, I can sense him still there next to me, so close I can feel his warmth.

Tatsuo is gone when I wake up in the…well, it could be morning. There’s no windows in here, only light spilling in from the other room. No telling how long I’ve been asleep, though it must have been a while if my bladder is anything to go by.

I blink a few times, trying to un-gum my contacts. There are voices from the other room, Tatsuo and a man speaking Kansai-ben. This must be his place. It’s not Tatsuo’s, that’s for sure. Looks like someone’s been living here for years, and Tatsuo’s never been this messy anyway.

“I don’t have time to nurse him back to health, Tatsuo,” the other guy is saying. “Three days from now the neurocontrol tower’s gonna be practically unguarded… If we miss this chance, we won’t get another for a while.”

I push myself upright, haul myself out of bed, and shuffle the few steps to the open door.

“He’ll help us,” Tatsuo says. His back is turned and he doesn’t show any sign of having heard me get up, though I wasn’t exactly quiet about it. Couldn’t have been if I’d wanted to. A nap wasn’t near enough to recover from that level of psi-usage.

“Don’t worry about me,” I grit out, leaning on the wall for support. “I’m tougher than I seem.”

The other guy, he introduces himself as Kusakabe. I try not to stare. His body looks stretched out, his limbs alien and his head like some sort of steampunk cyborg. But he’s got Playstation controllers hanging from his desk and an old cartoon paused on one of the many monitors that climb the wall above his desk, so he can’t be all bad. And even if he is a Taboo, Tatsuo seems to trust him.

And then Tatsuo turns around, the top of his Core peeking out from his half-zipped shirt, and right, of course. It’s not despite whatever this guy is that Tatsuo trusts him.

“Guess you could say I’m someone who once quit being human for a while,” Kusakabe says. “Nice to meet ya.”

I push off from the wall, determined not to wobble, and when I say, “Nice to meet you, too,” I mean it more than I ever have before.

Even after Kusakabe says he used to work for WISE.

It’s not just that he took Tatsuo in. It’s the way he holds himself, like he doesn’t give a shit. Like he’s daring anyone to say a word about the way he looks. Not that there’s anyone but the three of us, and before he found Tatsuo there probably hadn’t been anyone at all. But being alone never makes it easier.

I can’t help but admire him, even if it does make me feel small. Even if it does remind me how much I’m still the same cowardly little kid wrapped up in lies so tight they smother me.

I used to tell myself it was all for Tatsuo. Tatsuo needed me to be a hero, so that’s what I’d be. A protector. A knight in shining armor. And then…this afternoon he’d formed those guns like it was nothing. This afternoon he’d looked me in the eye and said, That’s why I got stronger.

He can protect himself now. He doesn’t need me anymore.

Kusakabe says he’ll give me one more night to recover and then first thing in the morning we’ll set out for the neurocontrol tower. He lets me and Tatsuo have the bed, says he’s been sleeping in his chair ever since Tatsuo showed up anyway.

I’m not that sleepy, but I know I should get some rest. I feel drained, still, and I’m sore like I got the shit pounded out of me. Which I guess I did, just not the old-fashioned way. But knowing I won’t be any use to anyone if I don’t get some sleep doesn’t make it any easier. It just makes me anxious.

I can hear the muffled strains of another anime theme song through the door, but the noise isn’t a problem. I can sleep through noise. Tatsuo, though. Tatsuo is a problem. This isn’t like when we were kids, when I used to stay the night at his house and we’d make a fort in his bed, sofa cushions piled high for walls and a blanket pulled across for a roof.

Back then he would kiss me and I would close my eyes and pretend. Now my eyes are closed, squeezed shut so hard it’s giving me a headache, but I can feel him next to me and I can feel this body reacting. It’s not like when we were kids at all.

The bed creaks as Tatsuo rolls onto his side, props himself up on one elbow. “I know I volunteered you, but you don’t have to come if you don’t want to.” He fumbles for my hand in the dark, his palm warm and a little sweaty when he finds it. “This isn’t your fight…”

“Don’t say that.” I turn to face him, scooting back a little so our bodies don’t touch. “This is my fault. If I’d just come with you in the first place–”

“Then what? We’d both have one of these?” Tatsuo presses my hand againt his Core. It’s softer than it looks, more organic. It pulses with his heartbeat. “Who would have saved me then?”

I open my mouth, but before I can say anything, Tatsuo is kissing me. He gets my cheek first, and then the corner of my mouth, and when our lips finally meet, I’m not quite so surprised. I pull my hand away from Tatsuo’s chest, let it rest on his hip.

This is what he needs from me now. I can do this. I can be whatever he wants.

“Hiryuu…” He reaches down between us and starts undoing my belt and for a moment I just freeze. His hand brushes the bulge in my jeans. Maybe it’ll be okay. It will be okay. I can just pretend. I can just…

I grab his wrist and push him onto his back. My heart is beating so fast it feels like it’s going to burst. “Let me.”

I unzip his shirt and run my hand over his belly and up to his chest. My fingers skim the edges of his Core, mapping out the hills and valleys of scar tissue that surround it. He reaches for me again and this time I pin his hands above his head. “Please…just let me.”

It’s too dark to see his face, but when I bend down to kiss him, he says, “Okay.”

I let go of his wrists and this time he doesn’t reach for me. I get his pants undone and wrap my hand around his dick. It feels good in my hand, warm and hard and slick at the tip. I angle myself so I can rub against the mattress while I’m jerking him off, and it’s not so bad this way. I don’t have to think about it, just concentrate on kissing him, on making him come, and it doesn’t take long for either of us.

Afterwards I wait for him to ask questions, but he doesn’t. He zips up his pants and shirt and curls up close and kisses me again. His hand on my chest is as bad as his hand down there, but I don’t push it away.

I must fall asleep at some point, because the next thing I know, Kusakabe’s hauling us out of bed and out the door. We eat on the road and go over the plans for the raid while we walk, and aside from a couple run-ins with Taboos, the trek is surprisingly uneventful. We make camp that night in the ruins of an old ryokan that’s still got a closet full of futons in fairly decent shape. I’m glad not to be sleeping in the same bed as Tatsuo, but I’m glad we’re all in the same room.

The next day is a repeat of the first, right up until Nemesis Q appears in the sky above us and starts talking in Yoshina’s voice.

Kusakabe peers up at it. “You a friend of Asaga’s?”

“Hiryuu,” Yoshina says, “what the hell…?” Like Kusakabe is somehow weirder than Yoshina teaming up with Nemesis Q?

“If you wanna go, then go, Asaga…!” Kusakabe spits out. “I’ve told you before, there’s no reason you need to get involved in this.” He looks almost angry. “Me and Tatsuo are the ones who had these things jammed into our chests. This is our fight.”

I can’t leave Tatsuo. I made that mistake too many times already. And besides, I may not have been through Illuminus Forge, but it feels like someone took my body and made it all wrong. Even if no one else can see that.

“Sorry, Yoshina, but I can’t go back yet.”

This is where I belong.