Morgan LaMonica

Every day was the same routine, at least if Raphael was able to manage. Sometimes while out in the field, he couldn’t take the proper time. He at least stretched multiple times a day, trying to stay limber. But management of scars like his needed attention. Griffon knew when to leave him alone for a while. This morning, Raphael stared at himself in the full-length mirror in his bedroom at the inn. He had stripped down to just his undergarments and twisted his long hair into a messy bun that almost swallowed his whole head. He hated this part, yet always surveyed the damage, such a bad habit. Typically, he was completely covered, from fingertip to chin so he wouldn’t have to see this.

Burn scars mangled his body, traveling across his skin. Angry-red spiderwebbed with white was leathery to the touch the texture, standing out in such sharp contrast to his normal, light skin. Handprints of various sizes indicating ages ran up his legs, a cruel version of a parent tracking their child’s growth with a mark on the wall. The smallest one was when Griffon was not even two and had clung to Raphael’s leg in fear of a snarling dog. Raphael turned in a slow circle, looking at the largest burn. It spanned across the left side of his chest, running over his shoulder and down most of his back. It never changed, yet he always had to check. Facing the mirror once more, he raised both hands, fingers splayed and touched the mirror. His gloves usually covered the burn damage on these, the entire appendages monstrous and so ugly. There were more burn scars throughout, but minor in comparison. Did it really matter? All it did was make up one large mess.

Raphael grabbed the lotion that Griffon always kept stocked for him from his dresser and began the long process of massaging the ointment into the scars. He couldn’t afford them stiffening. He had been lucky that they had all healed as much as they had over his lifetime, but he knew he had his halfling blood to thank for that. The less than human part of him came in handy at times. It was a mindless ritual—the self-care of his body— but in its mindlessness, it allowed him time to think. There was always guilt there, literally burned into his skin. All of it was from his best friend. Of course, none of the burns Griffon had given him had been on purpose. The handprints were from a scared child who could not control their ability to produce fire, who had grabbed him for protection, not realizing what he was doing. The largest scar covering his torso was a hasty get-away with a dying Griffon slung over his bare shoulder, his body literally burning with fever. Griffon had his own scar from that experience. Raphael’s own was much more impressive. Laughing  a little at that thought, he worked the lotion into his chest. It wasn’t a contest of who had suffered more, but if it was, he would definitely be winning. But now Griffon refused to let others close. He had such a hard time touching others. The guilt and blame Griffon felt were all placed on his shoulders by himself. Raphael found no fault in him, but still, it was hard, and Griffon knew that. He saw the way Griffon flinched whenever seeing Raphael’s scars. Sometimes Raphael wondered if he covered himself up so much for his own vanity or for Griffon’s sake. Perhaps both.

Turning to make sure he was getting everything he could in the mirror, Raphael massaged his back. He was flexible enough for most of it, but Annetta usually helped him if he needed, stopping her work at the inn to do so. She had never asked about the scars, but he had told her anyway over time. He had even cried to her when he was younger, not about the pain, but because of Griffon. “You can’t change his thinking, Raph,” she had said, shaking her head. “Only he can do that. There is something else there, a reason he is clinging to guilt. Believe me, I understand that feeling.”

“But what can I do?” Raphael had begged for an answer.

“What you’ve been doing, hun. Being a support and reassurance. The Ones know he needs it,” she had then sighed. “ButGriffon does need to learn to stand on his own. You two have been together for too long.”

“But we’re a team!” Raphael had protested.

“Teams are made up of two successful parts, two completes that make a new whole.” She had eyed him in the mirror. “Are you both a separate whole?”

Raphael blinked back into the present. He capped the jar of lotion and put it back in its place. Untying his hair and shaking it down to brush against his calves, he looked at himself in the mirror. He had struggled to understand what Annetta had meant, but over time, he had understood. “I am a whole,” he told his reflection and then turned away, leaving that proclamation behind him.

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