Or: Touch

'Pain is nothing.'

Ritsu droned the words as he drew the whip across Soubi's back, leaving a line of fire in its wake. The lash marks cooled to and incessant searing, a constant hum through his nerves that disrupted his thoughts. The blood that trickled across the raised skin between the welts brought Soubi closer to shuddering than the whip, the light tickling a jarring contrast with the bite of the leather.

'Grit you teeth and bare it.'

Darkness flecked the corners of Soubi's vision, making the butterflies in the display cases on the walls shift, appearing uncomfortable at what they were witnessing, even in the ignorance of death.

As always, the blinds had been lowered, blearing crests of sunlight tried to force their way through the cracks, but their light didn't dare creep across the floor to touch Soubi or his sensei.

'There is nothing you can't do for your Sacri-'

The last syllable was muffled by a rush of blood pounding in Soubi's ears as the whip landed diagonally across the small of his back, finding more purchase by wrapping around the contour of Soubi's hip and tore back with such force that Soubi's arms jerked into tension to keep his perch against the wall.

A sour cramp began to spread through the muscles in Soubi's thighs, making his leg quake with the effort of supporting his weight.

Pain is nothing. Soubi started to repeat the chant to himself, closing his eyes, as Ritsu fell into a silent rhythm.

His vision flared up with white lightning behind his closed eyelids with each impact, building in force. He tried to keep hold of the mantra, thinking of protecting his Sacrifice, obeying his Sacrifice, but every impact blanched his mind, making it increasingly difficult to retain the words and the jolts of absorbing the blows jumbled the fragile repetition to breaking. Soubi went empty, well and truly blank.

He was almost grateful for the hand fisted in his hair, silently ordering, filling him with place and purpose through the spasmodic cramping in Soubi's neck as he moved his head. The hairs pulling free from Soubi's scalp with burning pinpricks a welcome diversion from the knuckles scraping the top of Soubi's head.

No, pain was nothing. Preferable, in fact, Soubi learned, to some other things.

He lit a cigarette the moment he stepped from Ritsu's office, having long since lost the fear of being reprimanded for smoking inside the building.

He could feel the blood on his back eagerly pull in the fabric of his shirt, its silky texture like sandpaper clinging to the raw wounds. Soubi shifted his shoulders, once, in what he knew to be a useless attempt to alleviate the discomfort on his back, but the gesture calmed muscles still seized with the repressed quandary of fight, flight or freeze.

Soubi sauntered back to his dorm room, ungritting his teeth only to allow in the smoke from his cigarette, rolling the smoke over his tongue to welcome the taste of ash and tar.

Pain was nothing. There was nothing he couldn't do for his Sacrifice.

Except be good enough.

He had been taught, in abundance, that pain was nothing. But nowhere in his teachings had he been prepared for the opposite to also be true. Nothing was pain.

Seimei didn't touch him.

'What did you say?'

Soubi felt the air in his lungs reverberate with every beat of his heart slamming through his chest. He couldn't have looked up at Seimei if he'd wanted to, his body having gone rigid – though he remained perfectly postured- only the tips of Seimei's shoes, black, of course, visible as he kept his eyes trained on the floor.

A direct question had to be answered, even if it would earn him punishment. It was with this same reasoning that Soubi had made the suggestion. Or so he told himself. The air felt too thick to breathe, a physical component that was hard to shape into words as Soubi opened his mouth to speak and he forced his body to relax as doubt and self-loathing threatened to close his throat around the words.

'I can pick your brother up from school.'

That wasn't exactly what he'd said, but he did not dare repeat the name. There was no point, they both knew it.

The cutting sheen to Seimei's eyes left no doubt that Soubi's mistake would be rectified. An internal voice of accusation hissed it had been no mistake, but Soubi muffled it by clasping his own fingers tighter behind his back. It had to have been. A foolish slip of the tongue. Seimei's orders regarding his little brother had been quite clear.

Soubi tried not to feel disappointed when it started with a blow to his face. Just a fist colliding with the side of his head, the contact sudden and brief. With a dry thump, Soubi fell to one knee, the pain stabbed through his knee, coiling up and down, around his femur and shin, like a live wire, but the pain was insignificant.

Soubi willed himself to look up, to see the snarl twisting his master's features and his inside squirm violently, the look more painful to him than the slap he received.

He allowed his head to loll sideways from the force of the hit, feeling a punishing blush flare to life on his stinging cheek. Soubi shoved away the growing sense of gratitude and instead focused on the dark guilt staining his insides like an oil slick. He pulled the guilt deeper, tried to spread it further, to ignite the oil into a cleansing inferno. Deeper still, like grabbing a protruding blade and twisting it into his flesh.

He did not deserve to enjoy this. Seimei had ordered him never to speak of his brother. While the treacherous part of his mind whispered it was his duty to offer himself to his master, even if only in the capacity as babysitter; Soubi had known the effect of his words before speaking. And still spoke.

This was punishment. His only chance at redemption, small and partial though it may be.

A shudder threatened to wrack Soubi's frame as Seimei's hands closed around his throat, which was free from the usual bandages.

It was guilt, rather than lack of oxygen, that caused Soubi to flush red and it was for the same reason he pressed his knees together, even as he allowed himself to be unresistingly pushed to the floor.

Soubi desperately tried to block out all sensation, save that of the life being choked out of him. On the spasms of his midriff as a weight grew at Soubi's centre, pushing and pulling inward at the same time, threatening to implode him. An instinctual panic threatened to stir at the feeling of being trapped, the solid floor beneath him and his master's presence looming over him, which seemed to Soubi a more impermeable barrier than the wood to his back.

This was more than he deserved for his disobedience, his – the gurgling sound Soubi made was only meant as vitriol for his own inadequacy- purposeful disobedience.

Soubi knew he should confess, but he didn't remember the last time Seimei had touched him and feeling his master's skin on his; dry hands, cool to the touch, claiming him so firmly, fingers fitting snugly in the hollow below his jaw as his entire body screamed with the heavy ache of oxygen deprivation, brought Soubi close to rapture.

Reflex caused him to gasp and splutter when Seimei suddenly released him and stepped back, wiping his palms on his black jeans.

Soubi breathed deeply, a sharp pain suffusing his entire chest and the burning throb of his throat still remembering his master's touch.

It wasn't enough. The bruising that trailed a line of pain down the length of his throat as he swallowed and the light headedness that made it hard for his eyes to focus was not enough to make Soubi stop wanting.

Perhaps he was a masochist, like Kio always said – though Kio always said it with a broken disgust as he cleaned wounds Soubi could not reach. Soubi didn't like pain, as he always told Kio, but he craved it nontheless.

Soubi couldn't help the profound gratitude he felt when Seimei punished him.

The clean pain of the knife, cutting through Soubi's thoughts like a resounding note sung by the steel, high and clear, until the blade was removed and a note was sung elsewhere, different, but always long and perfectly in key.

It was a song Soubi understood. He had memorized it and all its possible variances. It was the only song he knew.

He didn't know the tune to Seimei's ennui.

The beats of silence brought Soubi off tempo as he received his only summons in days, only to sit quietly in the corner of Seimei's room, subversively watching him play video games or read a book.

Soubi could gracefully perform any dance of genuflection, but was left floundering when Seimei led the way to Soubi's apartment building, only to pass it without looking, giving no indication whether Soubi was to go inside or to follow.

Soubi would sometimes forget the last time Seimei had looked at him.

Tolerance of his silent presence was the highest he could hope for. Praise was never given. Victory was assumed. Only failure was dealt with.

What once seemed so simple, a path as straight and clear as the scars streaking his back, turned to confusion.

The prospect of punishment began to cause a current of excitement to course through him, bringing awareness of every part of his body, his clothes suddenly feeling heavy on his skin, their fine materials coarse and crude.

Cold waves of guilt would temper, but not quash, the excitement, causing Soubi's pale fingers to curl into fists at his own selfish desires.

Duality warred within him, desire and duty, need and submission, until Soubi's thoughts echoed, frenzied shouts inside his mind that produced no definable orders.

And Soubi would feel lost.

Without the pain, without the blood to draw the lines of the path he was to walk, Soubi's world blurred.

There was no pain, only sensation. It was his master's will tethering him to his place and purpose through skin and blood and sinew and sensation. No pain. Only sensation. Pain was nothing.

Seimei was Soubi's only reason for being. Without which he was left adrift in a white fog, almost as blank as he was.

Then- - Seimei- - His master- - Beloved died.

And- - everything- -


The hands stop.

Soubi is suddenly aware that the bedsheets he is lying on are clinging to his back, damp with sweat. He shifts his shoulders, once, but it alleviates no discomfort, the sheets sticking to his sweat slicked skin. The matrass beneath him is a glowing heat, feeling to have gathered warmth from a roaring fire rather than Soubi's body.

His heartbeat is pounds through his body with such force that Soubi is surprised it doesn't visibly shake him with each thump.

A chill wafting over his exposed chest makes goosebumps rise unbidden on Soubi's skin with a prickly shudder, running from his crown down to his ankles.


The soft voice inexorably draws open eyes Soubi doesn't remember closing.

Ritsuka is leaning over him, his unbuttoned shirt showing a strip of his slim chest, skin glowing with an amber hue from the small bedside lamp, the only source of light in the room.

One of Ritsuka's hands lays just beneath Soubi's collarbone and Soubi realises Ritsuka can feel the pounding of his heart. He tries to smile, but his muscles don't remember how to curve into their pleasant show of complacency and his lips just twitch.

Soubi's limbs feel tight, a sour current running through him, making his body ring with the impulse to move, to writhe, but Soubi fights is down.

Ritsuka is frowning now, still pressed to Soubi's side. The tip of his tongue is momentarily visible as it pulls a corner of his lip between his teeth. The heat against Soubi's back intensifies and pulses through him as he abruptly recalls tracing those velveteen lips with his own tongue, not to bite, like Ritsuka does now, but to soothe.

He fervently hopes Ritsuka will attribute the hoarse rasp of his voice to excitement as he speaks.

'Please, continue.'

Instead, Ritsuka pulls back from him and the chill that makes Soubi shudder this time is from within. The heat against his back, nigh unbearable moments ago, is all at once woefully inadequate to replace the warmth of Ritsuka's body against his.

Ritsuka sits back, clamping his hands together, doubly so by pressing them between his knees, as though trying to contain himself. Soubi raises himself slightly onto his elbows, the sheets half heartedly attempting to follow him before sliding back down wetly.

Ritsuka's voice is as small as the lowering pitch allows it to be these days.

'Did I do something wrong?'

Soubi's insides twist into knot upon knot and he has to swallow back the rising bile of self-loathing. The severe shaking of his hands prevents him from reaching out.

'Never, Ritsuka,' his soft voice rises in pitch in a way that is more felt in his throat than heard in his words, 'I am yours to do with as you please.'

At these words, Ritsuka presses his eyes shut, looking hurt and again the bile roils within Soubi, a bitterness in the back of his throat as he swallows laboriously.

There is only silence for a long moment before Ritsuka opens his eyes again to look at Soubi. It is something else entirely that stirs within Soubi as he searches Ritsuka's face for anger or, far more painful than any form of punishment, a detached look of contempt and finds neither.

He looks away before allowing himself to wonder what Ritsuka's expression does mean.

Shuffling on his knees across the bed, Ritsuka moves back to Soubi's side, who lowers himself again.


The hand on his chest, dry and warm to the touch, calls Soubi's gaze upward more that the sound of his name. Ritsuka's face is close to his; looking down at him with earnest tenderness, the ghost of a frown still creasing his brow.

'I don't want to do this to you,' he says softly, emphasising the penultimate word, 'I want to do this with you,' the emphasis this time is the gentle squeeze of his fingers as he leans in even closer.

The lithe hand on Soubi's chest feels like a magnet, attracting a force from deep inside of him to well up and press against his sternum.

'I'm sorry,' Soubi's own voice whispers before he realises and he casts down his eyes, only to be greeted by the sight of Ritsuka's chest, curtained by his open shirt, and looks back up, focusing on the wall over Ritsuka's shoulder instead.

'Don't apologise,' the gentle admonition murmured so close to his face makes Soubi cringe more than the whip or the knife have ever made him do and his eyes flash to Ritsuka's, apologising for his apology, but he says nothing.

Soft fingers are brought to Soubi's face and he can't stop the small sigh that escapes him as they begin to follow the contours of his face, ghosting across his jaw, tracing the line of his nose, caressing his lower lip.

'Look at me, Soubi,' there is a pleading tone in Ritsuka's voice.

Soubi looks up, finding Ritsuka's face, less rounded as he gets older, smiling down at him. Again he feels a torrent of pressure awaken in his chest, making him soar and swirl with something.

'I want to touch you, Soubi,' only in Ritsuka can his darkening colour add to the sincerity of his words and Soubi feels a tremor run through them both.

Ritsuka leans in, mouth hovering over Soubi's and their breaths mingle, making it unclear whether it's Ritsuka or Soubi that breathes more harshly now. Or both.

'Without hurting you,' the words wrench a shuddering gasp from Soubi, soft, but unmistakable, given Ritsuka's proximity.

Soubi's feels his hand being carefully lifted by his wrist and Ritsuka presses it to his own chest, over his heart.

Every beat Soubi feels under his shaking fingers is like a jolt of electricity being, making his skin tingle. The pressure within Soubi expands, all encompassing, making it hard to breathe.

'Like you touch me.'

Soubi can taste the words as he closes the distance between their lips. He dares to move a hand to the back of Ritsuka's head and Ritsuka brushes his tongue across Soubi's lips in response, which immediately open.

The pressure in Soubi dissolves in a flurry of fluttering, like thousands of butterflies suddenly taking the air, as they press against each other, all senses aflame.

Pain is nothing. Nothing is pain. But there are also other sensations.

A/N: The end of Sensory!
Please forgive the slight delay in posting, this chapter has been giving me grief for weeks. I was having a lot of trouble with turning the concepts into tangible scenes. As may be apparent in the chapter; I was having the infamous 'show, don't tell' issues.

Constructive criticism would really be appreciated, especially on this chapter, because I've lost all sense of objectivity regarding this.

And finally: a big, BIG thanks to those who reviewed!