The Difference Matters

Rafariel wondered if he'd said something wrong without realising it; the way that Xon hurried out of the room again after handing over painkillers and water made him think so. And yet.. Xon had so determinedly reassured him that they were still best friends. Maybe it was just that Xon's head was pounding worse than his. Surely the boy had drunk more of the alcohol than he had, in the end.
"Why is he still here?" Kael's voice from behind him made him jump. He turned around hurriedly, almost spilling the glass of water.
Kael was sprawled lazily next to him, arms behind his head, hair in quiet disarray around his face. He'd thrown the covers half off so that his naked skin was bared at an angle all the way down to his hips. For a moment, Rafariel just gawked, appreciating the view. It seemed like no matter how long they'd been sharing a bed, he never really got used to it.
Then he noticed that Kael's lips were turning up at the edges, and he knew that Kael was appreciating him appreciating Kael. He shook himself quickly; it wasn't good to stroke Kael's ego too much.
"I thought you were still asleep," he said, and Kael's smirk turned into a frown.
"I was. He's not exactly got good volume control."
Rafariel swallowed and turned away, putting the glass of water down next to the bed as an excuse to not look at Kael for a moment. Of all things about Xon, that was one that he could agree with as not always being a good thing. And waking Kael up early today of all days, when Rafariel just wanted to scrunch down in bed and pretend yesterday had never happened... well, he wasn't exactly glad about that.
"...we... got a bit... drunk yesterday," he said, still taking his time putting the glass down so that he didn't have to look at Kael.
He heard a soft snort from Kael's direction, and that made him turn and look. Kael was, of all things, smirking at him about it.
"So I heard."
Rafariel blinked at him. "You did?"
Kael shrugged. "It wasn't like you to be in bed that early. I asked Raziel." He was still smirking, but it was his patented Kael smirk, the one that somehow distanced you from him. Rafariel never liked it quite so much.
He looked down at his hands. He should've been able to guess that Kael would've found out for himself what had happened, that Raziel wouldn't even think not to tell him the truth... but he still wished he could've explained it for himself first. Or better yet, that he could've kept it a complete secret.
Still, Kael was smirking, even if it wasn't the smirk he liked.
"'re not mad?" he ventured to ask, still staring at his hands.
"Why?" Kael sounded, if anything, surprised by the question, and Rafariel looked up. Kael was raising an eyebrow at him now, and the smirk was gone.
"Because..." Rafariel chewed on his lip for a moment. "...I never drink with you when we go out."
Kael just looked at him. No expression, just watching him quietly. That was more unnerving than if he'd been angry, or upset. But then he smiled, and it was somewhat wistful, and that was even worse than the lack of expression.
"A bit jealous, maybe. But not mad."
Rafariel understood the distinction. But he didn't like it any the better for knowing it.
Kael looked away, then, towards the windows where the sun was trying its best to force its way through the curtains, despite Kael's constant attempts to close them fully.
"You have been spending an awful lot of time with that kid lately, though."
His tone wasn't accusatory, and yet Rafariel heard accusations in it all the same. The worst part, though, was that distinction: kid. As if there was some huge age gap between them, or some huge difference of capability, of lifestyle, of... something... separating them.
He stopped looking at Kael and looked down at his hands again.
"If he's a kid, so am I."
"No, you're not." The answer was instantaneous, and full of surety. But this distinction, Rafariel didn't understand. He stared at his hands, and began twisting his ring around on his finger almost without thinking about it.
"If you were, I wouldn't be interested."
He looked up. Kael was looking at him, eyes narrower than usual, but his expression still calm.
"So.. how is he different?" Rafariel asked. He understood that he and Xon were different personality-wise... but then so were he and Kael. So were he and Hanael, and Zafkiel, and Raziel. The difference that Kael was seeing... he couldn't understand that.
Kael pursed his lips, and sighed a little.
"Forget it," he said, and rolled over, away from Rafariel, pulling the covers back up. Shutting him out, cutting him off.
Rafariel reached out and grabbed his bare arm.
"No, I want to know. Tell me." He felt Kael tensing under his grip, and he let go; he hated to be too forward, too demanding. And he knew Kael didn't always like it, either. "Please," he added, hoping that would make up for it.
Kael sighed again, and then rolled back towards him, linking hands behind his head again. The covers stayed up at chest level this time, though.
"If you can't see the difference, then it doesn't matter." Kael still seemed completely relaxed, as if unflustered by this conversation that was confusing the heck out of Rafariel. Almost as if he didn't care that Rafariel was confused, or needed an answer.
"Sometimes... I don't get you at all." Rafariel turned away, concentrating on getting the tangles out of the foremost of his ringlets, and fervently wishing that Xon hadn't woken Kael up at all.
"Look." Kael's voice still sounded entirely reasonable. "The difference matters to me, so I'm not interested in him. That's it."
Rafariel continued to untangle his curls. And then he remembered; Kael sometimes sounded his most reasonable when he was feeling anything but. What had he said, with that wistful smile of his, right up front?
"And on top of that, you're jealous." Rafariel turned around to look at him.
Kael shrugged his shoulders, but his eyes moved away from Rafariel's, and his expression lost some of that level of calm he'd maintained up until now.
"And why not? He's monopolized you a lot lately."
And so that was what it was all about, ultimately. He understood that Kael was easily jealous, he always had. But Kael had never seemed to begrudge him the times he spent with Hanael, or Zafkiel, or Raziel. What was different about Xon?
"I've never had a best friend before," he said aloud, hoping that that would help explain things. Kael's gaze moved back to meet his, but his expression had not improved.
"What about Hanael? Zafkiel? Raziel? Me?" There was a touch of hurt in his voice on that last word, and Rafariel winced a little.
"I... it's different." He silently begged Kael to understand.
"How?" Kael's answer was immediate, demanding further explanation.
"You're all.. older than me." He remembered that Kael had been born in Japan at least, even if he had not lived there for too long. Surely this much he could understand?
"So? How is that different?" Kael was sitting up now, leaning towards him, and Rafariel didn't even remember having seen him move; yet his closeness just made the whole situation even more uncomfortable. Rafariel floundered helplessly for words that would get him out of this, but he couldn't find them. His head was still pounding and sense seemed to have completely fled him.
"I.. I don't know. It just.. it is. I just..." he searched desperately for words to explain that difference. "I just... can be a bit more relaxed around him."
He could tell at once from Kael's expression that that had been the wrong thing to say; he could almost see the way that Kael withdrew inside himself. But it was too late to take the words back.
"Fine, whatever." Kael lay back down, pulling the covers up to shoulder height, his eyes shuttered, distant and flat. "Can I go back to sleep now?"
Rafariel stared at him, silently begging him with wide eyes to understand what he was trying to say. But Kael just stared back at him, expression flat and somehow wintry.
"...if you want," he said finally, because he didn't know what else to say.
"Thank you," Kael said, his voice sarcastic, and then he rolled over, burying himself in the covers, his back hard and tense, his whole manner looking, to Rafariel, completely impenetrable. He could almost feel the waves of cold anger emanating from Kael, and he shivered against them.
But there was nothing he could do right now that wouldn't make the situation anything other than worse. So he lay back down and pulled the covers up to his chin, tucking himself in warm to fend off the coldness from Kael. And as he closed his eyes, he promised himself to never get drunk again, if this was going to be the end result.