God Loves Ugly
The glow of the lamplight cast a pale corona around Charles' hair as he stood next to the bed, unnaturally still, his head cocked slightly to the side. His shoulders rose and fell steadily with his breathing; his back was to Nathan.
Nathan watched his manager from the doorway, a beer bottle held loosely in his thick fingers. He'd mostly forgotten about it. His attention was held sway by the sight of Charles folded into the half-dark, his body a chiaroscuro painting of shadow and light. Nathan wanted to move further into the room but he was stuck there in the doorway, a stranger looking in as Charles took a deep breath and began to unbutton his shirt.
Nathan's fingers tightened reflexively around the neck of the bottle before easing up; if he wasn't careful, it would break. He took a half-step closer, then stopped; if he wasn't careful, this moment would break too. And then what? Nathan's gaze dropped automatically to the stripe of skin that was revealed as Charles began to shrug the shirt from his shoulders. The question repeated in his mind: 'And then what?'
It seemed inevitable that he'd fuck this up somehow. He always did. He was just the big dumb frontman of Dethklok; nobody expected much more from him than to perform at shows, booze it up, and fuck groupies. He'd been happy to play the role, to be honest. He'd been more than happy to go along with it, to just do what he wanted and fuck the consequences. Charles was always there to clean things up; to fix things.
Until the day he wasn't.
That's when Nathan had realized how much of a space Charles filled (in him, in Mordhaus) and yeah, it sounded sappy and not metal at all, but the crushing sadness he felt when he'd thought that Charles was dead had been pretty fucking brutal. He'd gotten by (they'd all gotten by, if barely) and then Charles was suddenly back with them: flesh, blood, and a wicked looking scar that stood out like a livid badge against the smooth paleness of his face.
It seemed so fucked up that the nightmares had started after Charles came back.
It's kind of how he ended up here, standing in the doorway to Charles' bedroom and looking in like he was some fucking creep (like he was Murderface or something) and watching as Charles undressed. He just couldn't sleep; not when images of bloody suits and charred, broken fingers twisting up from the ground were all he saw when he closed his eyes. So he'd gotten up, gotten a beer, and just wandered restlessly through Mordhaus' long, vast corridors.
Eventually, almost like it was like something profound, something planned, Nathan had crossed paths with Charles just as the other man was heading to his room for the night. Nathan, well, he'd just kinda followed. And Charles had let him, though halfway there he'd glanced back and asked directly: "Are you sure about this?"
Nathan had nodded dumbly – automatically – because he wasn't sure what 'this' was or why Charles hadn't told him to go away yet; all he knew was that he wanted to be near the him. And fuck it; that should be enough, right? Apparently, it had been, because Charles had simply nodded and then continued walking towards his room.
Now…now Charles turned to him, his fingers poised over the last button of his shirt. His face was tilted in Nathan's direction; the glow of the lamp cast a weird, soft light onto his features . Nathan felt the weight of Charles' gaze as it raked over his face as if it was a physical thing. "Are you sure about this?" asked Charles, again.
It seemed an odd question to Nathan, who had come this far; who wanted to go even farther. He gripped his beer, condensation cooling on his fingertips, said, "Fuck yeah." He swore the words like an oath, swore them like a man who had no doubt in his convictions. And he didn't have any doubts. It should have surprised him, should have made his head hurt with the profundity of it all, but right then Charles thumbed the last shirt button open and let the garment slide over his shoulders and fall to the floor.
Nathan dropped his beer.
"I understand if you want to go, it's very ah," said Charles, pausing and shifting his gaze away to fix resolutely on an interesting twist of moonlight that spilled onto the carpet through the window. "It's very ugly." His voice, usually so unfailingly stoic, held a whisper of something else – something that Nathan didn't really have a word for. If he had to try, he might call it sad.
Nathan wasn't listening to nuances in his manager's voice that he wasn't trained to hear, however. He wasn't listening to anything at all; how could he? The sight of Charles' skin laid bare before him, absorbed the whole of his attention. He made a sound (the noise caught somewhere between outrage and fear) and stepped fully into the room. His eyes were wide; his mouth hung open. And Charles wouldn't look at him.
Charles' torso was little more than scar tissue interlaced with the occasional strip of smooth, unblemished skin – and there was more evidence of old scars and faded injuries than there was of unmarred flesh. The lamplight highlighted the unevenness of his flesh, drew attention to a handful of meat that'd been torn from his right side; the glow danced over the evidence of torture, scarred-over lacerations crisscrossing his shoulders in precise, thoughtful patterns.
Charles moved away from him, slinking back into deeper shadow; a sliver of moonlight caught the outline of a well-faded, old brand pressed into the skin over his heart. It was the Gear mark. Something clicked into place for Nathan, like a key being turned that with the right shove would open the door to some great truth. But Nathan wasn't a thinker, not really; all he knew for sure was that he wanted to touch Charles.
He crossed the room, caught Charles' arm before he could step fully out of the light, and pulled him tight against his chest. Nathan didn't know why; he didn't know what he was doing, not really. He wasn't supposed to know how to be gentle. He wasn't supposed to be nice. Yet as Nathan felt Charles poised stiffly against him, one arm wrapped across Charles' chest almost possessively, he knew somehow that this was right. He didn't have to think; he just knew.
Nathan traced the imperfections of Charles' skin with the tips of his fingers, reading page after page of old pain and brutality written across his flesh; sentences carved atop sentences, words inked in blood and burns and bullet holes. He curved a large hand around the hull of Charles' ribs, felt where they'd been broken and healed wrong; felt how Charles had once fought tooth and nail with a punctured lung.
Nathan had never cared much for reading or for words, but in the half-dark of the room, in the silence that was deeply infused with the unspoken, with implication (in the silence that was so fucking loud, Nathan's ears wanted to bleed) he read the patchwork flesh of Charles' body like a book: a blind man reading Brail of scars and skin.
If Nathan was the thinking type, he'd be struck by the intimacy of it all; by the fact that touching Charles wasn't about anything sexual. It was about affirmation, or, perhaps, it was about reaffirmation that the man pressed against him was real - alive. But Nathan wasn't the thinking type, so when he felt Charles begin to relax back against his chest, he breathed out a rumbly, beer-tinged chuckle near his ear and said, "Scars are so metal, and uh, and hot."
And apparently that was okay, because Charles slanted a half-grin in the darkness and replied, "God loves ugly."
Nathan didn't know what that meant; Charles didn't elaborate. He bent and pressed a kiss to Charles' jaw as he trailed the tips of his fingers across the Gear mark branded over the other's heart; when his lips caught the edge of Charles' smile, Nathan decided he didn't need to know.