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The Polaroid

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 Evening — March 31st

 

Delicate, ink-stained hands had covered an entire page of torn-out notepaper in a looping but legible scrawl of Japanese characters.

Juuzou had written in a cheap ballpoint ink which blotted the pages in various places. And even though his cursive was scratchy, it was also curly for he wrote with a certain type of graceful flourish. On top of that, despite his grammatical lapses and painstaking penmanship, he had managed to complete all the letters. Each of which was addressed to one of his former colleagues.

These letters were individualized invitations to a get-together dinner party which Suzuya and his squadmates were orchestrating at his request. 

And he had just finished writing the last one. 

Now, it was getting late, and the sky was darkening in parts above the bank. Additionally, thick and rosy clouds were brimming on the edge of the horizon. Likewise, the tiny flaxen crescent of the moon was visible in the sky even though it blended into the sunset. However, when he had awoken that morning, there had been a wash of subtle lilac on the horizon; breaking through the deep indigo blanket that had been over the rest of the sky. The difference between the two skies was incredible. And, although he was more of a night owl, there was something about the pale violet of the dawn sky he couldn’t get out of his head.

But, since it was moving into the late hours of the evening now, he made a mental note to place the letters in envelopes tomorrow morning before depositing them into the mailbox to be sent off.

Feeling a little drained from all the writing, Juuzou let out an audible sigh. Satisfied with his work, he dropped the ballpoint pen down on his oaken writing desk, hearing the clank as it hit the wood. Then he leaned back and shut his eyes for a moment before kicking off and spinning around in his swivel chair. After enjoying the brief whirl, he carded a hand through his raven-dyed locks and clicked his tongue against his teeth as he thought back on the day’s events.

Considerably, it had been a pretty average day. He hadn’t been called into work for anything by the TSC, nor did anything drastic happen. That morning, Hanbee had finished the investigative report Suzuya had tasked him with, and he read it over to make sure his subordinate got all the details correct. Then, in the afternoon, he and his friend paid a visit to Shinohara and his family like they routinely did on Sunday. Mrs. Shinohara served dinner to all of them like she usually did. Akatsuki, Shinohara’s wife, was a marvellous cook in Juuzou’s opinion. Moreover, Shinohara’s children were obedient albeit playful, and the peculiar fellow got along with them well. 

Nevertheless, the first time he visited Shinohara after his mentor was discharged from the hospital after awakening from his vegetative state and allowed to go home, Suzuya had been incredibly anxious. Additionally, he felt even more troubled at the prospect of seeing Akatsuki and her children again for one of the very few scarce times after Shinohara had been hospitalized.

As a result of that fact, many silent questions had plagued his mind that day. Things like, “what if Shinohara’s wife blames me for what happened to her husband?” and “what if she doesn’t want someone like me around her kids?” as well as many other negative thoughts. Nonetheless, he had reminded himself of the fact that Akatsuki invited him over to her house many times in the past years. However, he was the one who always refused.

In the end, Juuzou had been extremely thankful for Hanbee who had accompanied him and was the one to reassure him the entire time throughout all his doubtfulness.

Out of all the squadmates who had formerly lived in the villa-style house with him, Abara was the sole one who remained. But it wasn’t like they all had become estranged over the past few years. Simply, the rest of Juuzou’s squadmates had moved on with their lives in certain ways that he and Hanbee hadn’t. Specifically, he and Hanbee were the only ones in his squad who still worked on the front line. Mikage was pursuing his scientific research, Nakarai went into teaching, and Tamaki was married and kept to his paperwork.

Nevertheless, they were still a squad. However, this time of peace left them free enough to pursue more things in life.

Pursue other things or even pursue other people.

Seven years had passed since the war against the creature known as Dragon ended, and though their lives were not devoid of violence, things were more peaceful. Moreover, Suzuya was less tense, and he caught himself smiling genuinely more often. He was genuinely happy, and no longer had to put on a faux guise of humour. It had taken about 30 years, but he could finally experience something close to a pleasant life. So, perhaps it was feasible that he could allow somebody else into his life through this reconnection. 

Particularly, a certain former investigator with brilliant olive-coloured orbs who evoked a rush of devotion like a warm balloon which blew up inside Juuzou’s chest every time he saw her.

Coming out of his internal monologue, he paused to contemplate on what to do next.

He wasn’t exactly tired yet, so Juuzou knew that he’d be up for a few more hours and he considered what to do with that free time. Perhaps get something to eat? Not now, maybe later. Was there anything else he needed to do at the moment? Brush his teeth? Comb his hair? Well, perhaps cleaning his entire body first would be better before honing in on the less significant things.

Presumably, it would be best to hop in the shower for a few minutes since he hadn’t washed in a couple of days and he reeked of sour coffee and foul confectionery.  

So, yes. A shower would be good right now.

Deciding to complete the task at hand, Juuzou ended up jumping into the shower a few minutes later before turning the water to a near-scalding temperature. The alabaster-skinned fellow nearly emitted a purr-like noise in reaction to the thermal water gushing down his face and neck. Closing his eyes, he allowed the stream to soak into his hair for a moment — the locks slipped forward in a sopping, black curtain — before he ultimately reached up to brush it back off his face.

Once his hair had been thoroughly lathered, and he had scrubbed a few days’ worth of dirt from his skin, Juuzou turned the water off and reached for a towel. Then, after the brief shower, he dressed in a pair of clean and fleecy pyjamas before exiting the en-suite bathroom.

Towelling at his damp locks, he moved to sit down on his bed. And, while he was gently dabbing at his face and clearing the ticklish beads of water from his warm skin, his stomach rumbled under his ribs. Lips falling slack in surprise, Juuzou canted his head to the side as his gaze settled on the mahogany nightstand adjacent to his queen-sized bed.

Hidden away from Hanbee’s watchful eye, his nightstand drawer had been stuffed to bursting with the various confectionery snack foods that Suzuya loved to consume on the daily. And that drawer was where his hand darted to after he realized a desire for sweets had befallen him. Subsequently, he yanked open the top storage compartment of his dark mahogany nightstand. Then, the intrepid adult began rifling through the plentiful candies, cakes, and cookies which he had stowed away within the wooden receptacle. After rummaging for another moment or two, Juuzou managed to locate a packet of chocolate-coated strawberry mochi rice cakes.

Eyes glistening with accomplishment, he grabbed the package of tasty treats; ready to shred the wrapper and devour them when something else in the drawer captured his attention.

It was a Polaroid photograph.

Lodging the packet of rice cakes aside on the mattress, the energetic man reached into the boxlike storage compartment before retrieving the snapshot and peering at the glossy photograph.

It was a picture of Mutsuki.

In the photo, she smiled at him from over the tops of her sand-speckled kneecaps. Eyelids deeply crinkled at the corners, she was sitting on a beach in a billowy short-sleeved button-down shirt embroidered with marigolds and a pair of khaki shorts that had revealed her smooth and muscular legs. 

A few days ago, Suzuya had absentmindedly tossed the Polaroid picture into his snack drawer after finding it in an old shoebox in the back of his closet whilst he was spring cleaning. However, finding the eight-year-old photograph after all these years was what prompted him to write the series of letters to his former colleagues in the first place.

But, Juuzou had essentially penned the letters and arranged the dinner party get-together for one person in particular.

See, at the end of the day, this was about reconnecting with Tooru, first and foremost.

Admittedly, he had an uncontrollable and more than platonic affection for the former ghoul investigator.

Those newly discovered but still somehow reawakened feelings were so entirely unusual for him to be experiencing. Indeed, it was almost an uncomfortable truth. However, it was one Juuzou had inevitably come to accept because just thinking about Mutsuki filled him with a profound sense of blissful contentment. It was a rare sensation of sweet, gentle happiness that was like a light which tingled every intact nerve of his body.

Undeniably, he knew deep down inside, these feelings weren’t entirely new and that he had experienced them before. Even in the past, he had sometimes observed her a little more carefully. And whenever he did, he hoped a little more fervently and prayed to whatever God might be out there that Tooru — one of the very few people who looked at him like he wasn’t a freak — might one day wear a charming smile which didn’t camouflage the anguish intentionally hidden beneath the glassy surface of her demure eyes. 

The anguish hidden in her eyes was a challenging thing to see. It was even more difficult to notice when she spoke earnestly, and the sweet, clever humour in her shy words was capable of blinding even the most ardent linguist. However, Suzuya — the freak, the unfortunate monstrosity who had previously yielded himself to commit indescribable horrors and had slept soundly with innocent blood still etched in his palms — had known desolation all his life and when he looked into Tooru’s eyes when she was mute for lengthy stretches of time (a butterfly gently resting their wings), her rose blossom heart bled, and he could recognize the pain she tried so desperately to hide from the rest of the world.

To him, Mutsuki was like poetry in human form, but then again, Juuzou had never been much of a poet. Moreover, he had always found flowing verses difficult to read, much less comprehend. But for the bronze-skinned individual — who had managed to enrapture his more tender, affectionate, and unfamiliar emotions — he might be willing to try.

Mouth twitching at the corners, a fond grin broke out on the young man’s cherubic face. These rare, kindled feelings were scarcely understandable to him. They were warm and fuzzy; spreading across his chest and twisting deep within the pits of his stomach. Still so very, very foreign to him. Like how they had been the first time he experienced something like it on that gorgeous day upon the golden beach as the sapphire waves lapped at the glittering sand.

That memorable day on which he had taken the Polaroid snapshot of Tooru.

 

Morning April 1st

 

Breathing in the pungent aroma of delicious coffee, Suzuya brought the rounded cup to his lips to take a slight sip of his caffè mocha.

As the eccentric male swallowed the first sip of frothy foam and scalding hot chocolate-flavoured coffee, he inclined his head to stare out of the window adjacent to him. Along with the few pedestrians who were strolling leisurely down the sidewalk, there was also a lazy flow of motorized traffic outside the cafés.

Since the destruction of Tokyo, Juuzou experienced a rather strange sensation that he couldn’t quite seem to pin. After spending several pivotal years in the capital — surrounded by packed skyscraper apartment blocks and constant commercial areas — it was relatively unusual to see the region with much smaller buildings and desolate streets. 

However, it was nice sitting by the window and watching the world outside flow past him like a dwindling stream. It was like being in a bubble. It was not thick enough to block out the noise coming from outside on the street, but it was enough to make him feel like a casual observer instead of a participant.

Furthermore, the cupcake shop itself was lit by a pleasantly mellow glow from sconces placed all around the interior. As a result, it made the place feel cozy and safe, like how the heady aroma of roast coffee on the air helped produce a pleasing atmosphere. The tables were all light wood, the benches and seats padded black leather, and the walls were a hot terracotta shade that matched well with the cream linoleum flooring. The display window was lined with beautiful cupcakes decorated with all sorts of animals and flowers. It was beyond art. Momo’s — widely known for their delicious and decadent cupcakes — was Suzuya’s favourite café and a place he frequented with his friends; even before the demolition of Tokyo.

Honestly, Juuzou wanted to go to this ornamented rose-gold bakery — where they supplied shortbreads in wax paper, and cupcakes flossed with spun sugar, frosted with budding roses sat on tiered stands — with Mutsuki, as they had before in the idealized past.

Regularly, he spent copious hours in the cupcake shop with his squadmates. In the past, Tooru usually tagged along as well. Particularly after the Auction Cleanup Operation ended. It only made sense considering all the time they used to spend together at the executive bureau for evaluation meetings anyhow. But it wasn’t like that anymore. Nowadays, Suzuya only visited the café bakery with his squad like he was doing today. Under no circumstances did he frequent the charming shop with Mutsuki; not like he used to. That apparent fact made him feel a little crestfallen since he had started naturally associating his favourite cupcake shop with the other former investigator.

During his poignant moment of candid thought, the continuous, melodic sound of the drizzling rain hitting against the window panes could be heard and was a constant source of white noise within the café.

“How is the coffee, Suzuya?” Nakarai’s imperative voice rang through Suzuya’s private moment of musing.

The polite question hadn’t caught him off guard exactly, but it was somewhat unexpected. Therefore, he required a second to gather his thoughts as he carefully placed his cup down on the oaken table before answering earnestly.

“It’s really good! But I’d like it if the food came a bit faster.” An amiable grin plastered itself onto Juuzou’s lips, and he even tilted his head keenly.

Nodding understandingly, the former deputy squad leader hummed in amicable agreement as he picked up his own cup of caffè macchiato to promptly take a long swig from it.

“Have the patience of a star; for they burn bright for millions of years and yet, by the time we glimpse them in the night sky, they have died,” enigmatically murmured Mikage.

“Mikage, I don’t understand what you’re trying to say,” Mizurou suddenly quipped in prompt reply to the elder man’s cryptic words.

Before the space-loving man could retort, Hanbee interjected, “I believe Mikage is trying to tell Suzuya that good things take time. Is that correct, hmm?”

The astrological fellow nodded affirmatively and smiled appreciatively at Abara.

“Yeah, that’s nice and all, Mikage, but I’m hungry, and Hanbee wouldn’t let me have a snack before we left.” Crossing his arms like a fussy child, the juvenile man’s radiant smile soon contorted into a pout. Then, he sent a baleful glare in Hanbee’s direction which caused the other adult to shrink back in his chair.

“Before you release Hanbee from this mortal coil, I’d like to announce that the food is on its way, Suzuya,” interrupted Nakarai, a tone of indifference lacing his wry words.

Juuzou’s face split into an impossibly beaming grin, and a delighted noise escaped his mouth; any hint of scorn he previously displayed forgotten.

A mosaic-like display of cupcakes covered in mini Oreos, sweet strawberries, and chocolate chips coated with honey and drizzled with milk chocolate was suddenly placed down in front of him. The sight itself was incredibly mouth-watering, and Juuzou wanted nothing more than to hastily gobble the decadent desserts. 

Admiring the array of beautifully decorated cupcakes for a few more moments, he ultimately used his fork to cut a sizeable chunk of a candy-covered cupcake free to eat. Bringing the forkful of the sugary cupcake to his mouth, Suzuya sampled the first anticipated taste. The luscious dessert blended to create a fantastic flavour combination on his tongue, and he hummed in evident satisfaction as he chewed the mouthful.

For the rest of the duration of the meal, he didn’t speak to his friends but rather looked between the plate and the window beside them. And he chased bites of food with sips of coffee, savouring the slightly bitter note underneath the creamy milk foam. Moreover, whilst he waited passively for the rest of his friends to finish up with their animated conversation and food, Suzuya found himself mulling over the future turnout of the dinner party get-together in his mind because he had nothing else left to do but distract himself.

Sincerely, he was fearful it might turn out to be too much of an emotional outpouring at his house — especially if everyone he cordially invited decided to show up. There were so many unknowns which Suzuya couldn’t help but be nervous about. The dinner party could end up being a bloodbath if things went disastrously. However, that was an outcome which he would try to avoid at all costs.

For now, he purposefully avoided expressing concern around Hanbee because he knew the other man would end up bombarding him with questions. Likewise, if Juuzou exposed any type of worry; Abara would end up detecting it right away. And if Hanbee sensed anything was wrong, Suzuya might as well cancel the get-together. Additionally, until Suzuya had spoken with Mutsuki, he didn’t want to talk with Hanbee about that matter either. Once he expressed his emotions to Tooru and got her response, he would be comfortable enough to tell Abara about his hopeful attempt at finding out if she harboured feelings for him beyond their work exchanges.

Genuinely, he might be anxious Mutsuki wasn’t going to show up to the dinner party, but it wasn’t because he thought she didn’t want to see him. Hopefully, it was his nerves acting up to make him feel bad as Juuzou tremendously hoped the other former ghoul investigator was going to attend the get-together.

After all, at least in his mind, they had been through so much together.

Even though he and Tooru were introduced simply as colleagues and were basically obligated to work together temporarily to complete the Auction Cleanup Operation, Juuzou would be lying if he said he hadn’t instantly taken a liking to Tooru and hadn’t planned on protecting her already. In addition, he had requested to train with her privately since he had wished to get to know her better. He had wanted to be alone with Mutsuki even back when he hadn’t comprehensively figured out his feelings for her.

Spending all that alone time with the emerald-eyed individual only made Juuzou’s budding fondness for her grow. Moreover, he had enjoyed advising her and getting to the point where Tooru put her trust in him. And after everything that happened during the Auction Cleanup Operation, he and Mutsuki only became closer and began spending more and more time together. Additionally, the other adult even became more familiar with his squadmates as well. That was absolutely a desirable thing in Suzuya’s eyes as he was thrilled his friends liked Tooru as well.

That splendid day on the golden beach was when he concluded his fond feelings for the other adult were more than platonic. Seeing her brilliant smile and watching her laugh and have fun made him realize that.

Then — much to Juuzou’s dismay — they began to drift apart.

Rushima had an incredibly negative impact on Mutsuki, and he noticed it immediately. He felt concerned and pensive about Tooru’s sudden change in demeanour. Furthermore, he couldn’t help but be reminded of a time in his life when he was more unhinged and violent. Something was horribly amiss with Mutsuki, and even he could tell. But he didn’t take action or attempt to help her in any way. Something he now regretted immensely. Suzuya did everything he could think of to protect her but couldn’t be what she truly needed emotionally. And because of that, he felt like he failed her. He shouldn’t have allowed the other adult to push him away.

During the Dragon War, when Tooru defended him from that presumably fatal blow, Juuzou couldn’t help but be completely shocked. He had reasonably assumed she no longer cared for him, so when she basically saved his life, he was surprised, stunned, and dumbfounded. Part of Suzuya earnestly hoped that ostensibly meant he was finally going to reconnect with Mutsuki once more and they were going to become close again like they previously were.

But then she departed from the TSC again to efficiently transfer to a rural branch office alongside Shinsanpei Aura and Ayumu Hogi.

Everything bubbling up inside of him ruptured, and he was disheartened, to say the least.

For a while, he lived intentionally on autopilot; protecting Tokyo as a Peacekeeper and spending time with his squad. When Shinohara woke up, immeasurable happiness overtook his life, and he managed to forget about Tooru for a considerable while. He stowed those sentimental feelings deep within himself, tucking them into a box and locking it with a key.

That was until he miraculously found the Polaroid picture. The gilded box which he had carefully stored his tender feelings had burst open, and he had instantly felt like he was reliving everything again. Then he wanted nothing more than to spend another glorious day with Tooru on the gorgeous beach as they had before.

Having played over past encounters with the younger adult in his mind many times, he thought there was a significantly reasonable chance of Mutsuki attending the dinner party get-together, and he hoped she wanted to see him just as much as he wanted to see her again.

 

Afternoon April 4th

 

Melodiously, Juuzou’s faint voice resonated throughout the kitchen area of the villa-style house.

Eyes fluttering shut, he hummed musical notes and soft “ohs” and “ahs”. Increasing in pitch like a gradual crescendo, his voice rose and fell in rhythmic waves. The ornate male’s melodic voice was silken, and he hit high notes smoothly, holding them with languid ease. Beautifully, the lovely lyrics followed eloquently off his tongue; the tune sounding daydream-y. As the singing fellow recalled, the original instrumental of the song was strong — a medium-tempo with smooth keyboards layered underneath and the soft and rich strums of the guitar.

The musical theme of the poetic lyrics focused on nostalgia, but not in a melancholic way. It was more feelings of evident fondness for a cherished memory of greeting someone in the spring, someone that could be a dear friend or a devoted lover — the lyrics were never deep enough to elaborate. It was genuinely up to the listener to interpret whether it was a romantic song or just a song about treasured memories with a loved one.

But, the way Suzuya chose to interpret the tune was through mental images of him and Tooru prancing on the crisp, dewy grass at daybreak amidst the music made by mockingbirds.

It’s getting late, but I can’t seem to say goodbye,” he sang merrily to himself, “I’m hoping you’ll promise to stay the night, with me.”

Footsteps tapped against the maple hardwood of the kitchen, unheard by Juuzou.

We can catch up like old friends,” he continued, his eyes closed tight and oblivious to everything because he was so deeply engrossed in his singing. “It’s been such a long time that I saw your face, I just wanted to say that… I never want this moment to end.”

The footsteps drew closer.

It rained last night, and I thought about you,” he crooned, his voice mellow and airy, “I called you up, asking how you were — you said fine. You were laughing, I could hear it in your voice, that perfect smi— ”

“Suzuya?”

Startled, the razor-sharp, gleaming knife which he was formerly using to chop scallions with slipped in his grasp; slicing a sizable, outlying portion of flesh from his thumb. The kitchen knife fell precipitously from his deft fingers as a fresh gush of viscous crimson liquid spurted from the tip of his pollex.

Reacting out of infallible instinct, Hanbee was naturally by his side in a heartbeat. His long, nimble fingers wrapped around Juuzou’s lower forearm, easily locking around the entirety of his wrist. Yanking with more formidable strength than intended in his hurry, Abara promptly pulled the smaller fellow’s hand to his face to attentively examine the ghastly wound — still not thinking straight in his panicked state. 

It pained the gentle giant of a man to witness the gruesome sight of the oozing gash and the flesh which dangled meatily from Suzuya’s thumb, and it gravely made Abara’s heart sink into the pit of his stomach. Then, he came to himself and jerked back, expecting his superior to catapult him across the kitchen in response to him invading his personal space. However, Suzuya made no effort to pull himself free from the other man’s grasp.

Off-kilter, Juuzou didn’t yield an inch. Standing still as stone, he looked like a statue cut from pristine marble. Briskly, Hanbee uncurled his firm fingers from the other man’s forearm before flattening his palm against his sturdy chest and humbly bowing his head in a sincere apology.

“Forgive me. I did not mean to scare you so. You were taking so long to finish chopping the scallions that I became worried,” murmured Hanbee, his anxious voice sounding uncomfortably loud in the previously silent kitchen, “May I tend to your wound?”

For a lengthy moment, Suzuya stared at the taller adult with impossibly wide, owlish eyes before adequately managing to arrange his features into a perplexed expression.

“What?” uttered Juuzou in a bewildered tone before his inquisitive eyes navigated to the gushing cut on his thumb, “…Oh.”

The slash was nastier than he originally concluded. Initially, he believed a band-aid would be enough, but now he realized he definitely required stitches.

“You shouldn’t apologize, you were only trying to help. I get it. I shouldn’t have gotten distracted. Yeah, you can bandage me up, Hanbee.”   

“Alright. You can go sit down, I’ll be right over after I obtain the first-aid kit.”

The ivory-skinned fellow voluntarily made his way to the table in the neighbouring dinette and sat down on one of the pine chairs. A faint ticking noise could be undoubtedly heard in the decorated dinette area and Juuzou’s gaze settled on the wall clock. It was half-past four in the afternoon. The dinner party get-together was beginning at six o’clock which meant they had approximately an hour and a half to properly finish preparing before the guests arrived. To the best of his practical knowledge, Suzuya knew the rest of his squad was pottering around the picturesque house currently as well along with Hanbee; setting up for the dinner party.

Since he had been downright careless with chopping up the cabbage, scallions and onions for the spicy rice soup, he knew assuredly that one of his squadmates — probably Abara — would have to take over for him. Honestly, it was something he ordinarily expected to happen sooner or later anyhow since he was only planning on slicing up the vegetables for the meal in the first place. However, Juuzou had earnestly hoped he would at least be able to satisfactorily accomplish that without messing up. Regrettably, he wasn’t able to and now would probably be sent off by Hanbee after the other man returned and stitched up his thumb.

Observant eyes drifting away from the ticking clock, his contemplative gaze wandered to the considerable variety of ingredients which were lodged on the granite kitchen countertop. There were two packets of instant rice noodles, two small eggs, several pieces of premade stir-fried rice cakes and a slab of fish patty. Additionally, there were also some vegetables: napa cabbage, scallions and onion; along with bottles of soy sauce and corn syrup, a tub of chilli pepper flakes, and various condiments in little shakers.

Although an easy meal preparation-wise, there were many various ingredients which Suzuya had purchased an abundance of. Moreover, along with the spicy rice soup, he planned to cook some rice and beef side dishes.

A few moments later, Hanbee returned with the first-aid kit in tow.

Shoving one of the pinewood chairs toward his superior with his spare hand, Abara shifted to sit down next to Juuzou before lodging the plastic receptacle on the long, oaken dining table.

“Hm, may I see your hand, sir?”

Rolling his eyes in reaction to his subordinate’s formalities, the still bleeding man tutted quietly.

“Y’know that you don’t have to speak so properly all the time, right, Hanbee?”

Pursing his lips, the younger of the two extended his injured hand out toward the elder.

“I prefer speaking this way. It would be rather unbecoming for an inferior rank Peacekeeper as myself to address you in a casual manner.”

Opening the first-aid box, Hanbee removed a foil packet before tearing it open and retrieving an antiseptic towelette.

“Hanbee, are we friends?”

An eyebrow quirked, the skyscraper of a man carefully took the more juvenile male’s much smaller hand into his before he began gently dabbing the deep laceration on Juuzou’s thumb with the aforementioned towelette.

“Of course. Why would you feel the need to ask something like that?”

After thoroughly cleaning the lesion, Abara tossed the now bloodied towelette in a nearby trash bin.

“Well, friends don’t usually call each other “sir”, do they?” queried Suzuya in a humoured timbre. “We’ve been working together for what? About nine years now? When are you going to just start calling me “Juuzou”, huh? I’m tired of always hearing “Suzuya sir” this and “Suzuya sir” that.”

A tiny grin tugged at the corners of Hanbee’s lips, and he moved methodically to attain a sterilized needle and thread.

“Well, I suppose that if you insist on me addressing you informally, I shall comply.”

Beginning to suture the wound, the long-haired fellow spaced the stitches a quarter-inch from each other and from the skin edges.

“So… I guess I’m not going to be cooking again any time soon, right?”

Changing the subject, Suzuya emitted an amused but almost embarrassed chuckle.

“Whoever said that?”

Finishing the stitches, Hanbee tied the suture off with a surgeon’s knot.

“Well, I just assumed since, y’know, I almost hacked my thumb off.”

Grabbing the antibacterial ointment from the first-aid case along with a cotton swab, Abara uncapped the tube and added a generous amount of it onto the sterile swab.  

“Oh, you just need to be more cautious next time. However, I was surprised that you of all people would act carelessly with a knife.”

Shifting, the elder of the two promptly began smearing the now stitched gash with the ointment.

“Gah, don’t remind me. I was distracted. I forgot I was even holding the damn thing.”

Smilingly shaking his head in a disapproving fashion, Hanbee guffawed softly.

“You’re the one who brought it up in the first place, Suz— Juuzou. Don’t worry; I’ll help you with preparing the rest of the food.”

Finishing applying ointment to the smaller man’s stitched wound, Hanbee retrieved a clean bandage before shrouding it around the now stitched wound and securing it.

“By “help”, d’you mean do it all for me?” inquired Suzuya.

Instead of replying, the mountain of a man gave his superior a knowing smile.

 

Evening April 4th

“Alright, thank you. Have a pleasant evening.”

Hanbee shifted to carefully drop the mobile receiver into the cradle. He then turned to face Juuzou so he could meet the other man’s inquisitive gaze.

“What is it, hmm?” questioned the shorter fellow as he leaned comfortably against the kitchenette archway — the place where he had been standing while basically eavesdropping on Abara who ceased cooking long enough to answer the telephone.

Grinning solemnly, the towering adult inclined his head before responding.

“Kaneki called. Ichika has the flu, so he is staying home with Touka to take care of her. He cannot make it to the dinner party tonight.”

Pursing his lips, Suzuya let out a little huff.

“Oh…” he murmured quietly as the corners of his mouth pulled down into a slight frown.

Admittedly, he was upset. Juuzou genuinely wanted to see Kaneki tonight since they used to be friends once upon a time back when the other male had been an investigator. Back when Kaneki had been Haise.

Besides Kaneki, only one other person had declared the fact they couldn’t attend the dinner party get-together — Urie. The brief excuse of “work-related complications” being the only reasoning given as to why he couldn’t attend. Therefore, to Suzuya’s conscious knowledge at least, nine people excluding himself were going to be present at the get-together. Hanbee, Nakarai, Mikage, Tamaki, Akira, Amon, Seidou, Saiko, and Mutsuki.

“The food is almost done. Care to help me in the kitchen, hmm?” inquired Abara, skillfully changing the subject.

Nodding affirmatively, he followed his subordinate into the kitchen.

A few moments later, Hanbee allowed him to sauté the beef in a pan whilst the soup simmered; the soy sauce, garlic and salt and pepper dressing hissing at him as he stirred at it with the spatula. His friend made sure to glance over at him as he did so, just to make sure that Juuzou didn’t burn it — or himself — by accident. Upon finishing with the cooking, they had to set the table by the ornate window in the dinette. First, there were the two bowls of steamed rice, then the shared plate of marinated beef, and then came the large pot of fragrant and vivid red soup. Hanbee had to grab a dish towel and wrap it around the hot handles so he could carefully pick the pot up off the stove. Subsequently, he placed it down on a metal stand in the centre of the table.

Just as the other squadmates were crowding eagerly into the dinette, they heard the doorbell ring for the first of four times that memorable evening. 

The first people to arrive turned out to be Akira and Amon who both exchanged pleasant greetings with Juuzou and his squadmates before naturally taking their seats at the oaken dining table. The next person to show up had been Saiko who immediately bombarded everyone with questions like “can I eat yet?”, “what’s for dessert?” and “do you have any video games around here?”. After that, it was Seidou who appeared typically uncomfortable and was accompanied by a bottle of saké which he called a gift.

The final guest to arrive that night had been Tooru — the person Juuzou had been waiting with bated breath to see.

The person she had brought with them, however, had not been invited.

That unexpected guest was none other than Shinsanpei Aura. And Suzuya just happened to be the person who opened the door at that time.

Despite the unforeseen arrival of Aura, the male’s scarlet eyes couldn’t help but hone in on Mutsuki anyhow. He had opened that honey wood door and behind it was Tooru. Golden and bronze Tooru with tresses of ivory tinted a minty hue. When did her hair get so long again? It just grazed her graceful shoulders; neatly tucked behind her ears. Oh, and those pale jade orbs, they glistened like precious gemstones in the fulvous incandescent of the indoor foyer’s light bulb.

Suzuya had always defined things in various terms — some tangible, others less so — but the limitation of knowledge now impeded him from identifying the emotions blooming within his chest. It was an unearthly sensation and instilled in him a strange longing. 

In a way, Mutsuki was like a unique piece of raw coal merely waiting to be pressed into a shining white diamond which could glitter beneath the dazzling sunlight. However, whereas Juuzou wished to press that coal into a magnificent diamond, others wanted selfishly to ignite it and turn that ember into charred, smouldering cinders of vindictive, unbridled rage. He desperately hoped the tanned-skinned individual’s coal core which had the extraordinary potential of turning into a precious diamond was never completely reduced to ashes. Nevertheless, he recognized how severely her coal heart had already been burned.

After spending a prolonged moment of time studying Tooru like she was a marvellously peculiar and cryptic tome — the Holy Bible itself — Suzuya’s intent gaze shifted to Shinsanpei as his expression hardened. Fortunately, the other man wasn’t an absolute stranger, as Aura had once been on temporary loan to the Suzuya squad during the Clown Siege. The young Quinx was a decent investigator but not that impressive. Not to Juuzou at least. Additionally, the brutal way Shinsanpei fought, it was cruel and spiteful; violently emotion driven… and woefully encouraged by Mutsuki.  

There was another pause before Tooru cleared her throat. An action which instantly caught the shortest of three’s attention. A practiced smile graced the blanched-haired adult’s lips like she was surreptitiously slipping on a mask. Skillfully disguising her grotesque nature behind clever but occasionally cynical words and a shy demeanour.

“Hello…” Mutsuki began in a soft timbre. “Ah, you stated in your letter that it was okay to bring a, uh, friend to the dinner party, so I brought Aura. I hope that’s alright.”

Tooru’s tone was pleasant albeit awkward in a somewhat unsure way like her voice was a pair of old jeans she was trying on again after years of not wearing them.

Like someone had flipped a switch, a breathtaking, sun-fire smile painted itself onto Suzuya’s rosy lips.

“Of course, it’s fine~ You two are the last to arrive, and you’re just in time for dinner!” chirped the sable-haired Peacekeeper; voice syrupy and sickly sweet. “We’re having spicy rice soup, and for dessert, there’ll be cheesecake soufflé.”

Letting go of the honey wood front door, Juuzou turned and promptly began making his way down the mauve-painted hallway toward the dinette. Abruptly, a thought which had been itching at the back of his brain entered his mind once more, and he stopped in his tracks. Canting his head, he glanced over his shoulder in time to watch Mutsuki hang the leather blazer that she had been wearing on one of the coat hooks. Now that her fashionable jacket was removed, Suzuya took notice of the other adult’s outfit. She was clad in a downy, powdery sky-blue turtleneck which draped attractively on her svelte frame. Furthermore, it was matched with a pair of grey, form-fitting trousers.

Formal clothing wasn’t a specific requirement for attending the dinner party; however, even Juuzou decided to dress nicely for the get-together. Wearing a silken, ebony blouse embroidered with roses with the top few buttons undone and that was tucked into a pair of fitting black corduroys, he almost looked fancy.

Attention ultimately wandering back to his previous thoughtful suspicions, Suzuya spoke up once again.

“Unless… you’d rather have a cup of coffee or whatever.” This was comparably like testing a plausible hypothesis.

Turning around, the olive-eyed adult seemed to share a contemplative glance with Aura, and the taller of the two crossed his arms and emitted a quiet scoff. A hoarse sound which would have been inaudible to people who didn’t possess ears as sensitive as Juuzou’s. 

Certain wonderings hadn’t occurred to the energetic male in his lifetime yet. At least before his adoration for Tooru began growing. One of those wonderings was a question: was he a jealous man? Part of him wanted to shout “no”. From everything he had heard, envy remained a shrewd and hideous thing. Full of noxious weeds and overgrown vines which tangled around someone’s very being. Things like that were why, in the past; he hadn’t liked emotions. He hadn’t liked sentiment, nor did he enjoy the conflicting waves of fervour and fierce passion — it used to sicken him. “Feeling” had been a useless sensation and he’d done perfectly well without it for 20 years of his life.

Therefore, petty jealousy was admittedly a negative emotion he never wanted to experience. However, that abnormal sensation of polar ice pinching at his entrails might be some type of precursor to envy.

Aura and Mutsuki lived together. Aura and Mutsuki were close.

No matter what happened, Suzuya knew that Tooru was actually gentle and strong and set in her ways. She was complex and furious and full of misplaced affection. She was as indescribable as the morning sun, and he wanted her to stay that way. And, at that moment, it was tentatively concluded that Shinsanpei wasn’t good for Mutsuki — whether it was decided by Juuzou or his foreign feelings of jealousy was unknown.

“Coffee would be great.”

Minutes later, every guest was sat comfortably at the long, oaken dining table. Whoever wasn’t interested in eating conventional food was served a piping hot mug of black coffee specially brewed by Hanbee. Once everyone was given a generous portion of the food — marinated beef, spicy and colourful rice soup, and fluffy white rice — they dug in. Seidou even poured a liberal amount of saké into his coffee cup.

“Suzuya, Hanbee, you two have such a lovely home,” complimented Akira as she shovelled a forkful of marinated beef and rice into her mouth; eating the mouthful before continuing, “I’m so pleased to be invited over, and the food is so expertly prepared.”

There was a brief pause and then Akira seemed to have promptly kicked Amon underneath the table. And the bulky man emitted a slight “ oof ” noise while nearly choking on his coffee before he spoke as well.

“Ah, yes. Thank you for the invitation,” acknowledged Amon as he bowed his head lightly.

“Oh! It’s really no biggie~ I just thought it would be nice to see you guys again, y’know?” replied Juuzou in an upbeat voice as he beamed at Akira.

“Yeah, speaking of the decorating, it’s way plainer than I thought it would be. I expected neon yellow walls and, like, a display of ghoul intestines or some shit,” noted Seidou before he took a long swig from his coffee mug.

The plain interior decors in question were nothing more than beige leather settees and potted ferns in the sitting area along with the typewriter and fax machine in the home office. There was also the modern kitchen which had a stretch of counter with stools and botticino honed marble, which matched well with the soft white and mauve-coloured walls. Upstairs, there were bookshelves lining the decorated walls and a table placed beside the large bay window. On either side of that area, there were bedrooms and another bathroom other than Suzuya’s en-suite one.  

Tutting, Akira made a sound of disapproval in response to Takizawa’s comment.

Snickering, Tamaki paused in the act eating; a spoonful of soup hovering in front of his lips.

“You haven’t seen his bedroom yet, though.”

A few pairs of eyebrows rose, and the man in question was quick to rebut.

“Yeah, but there’s no intestines in my room. That’d smell terrible, anyway. Plus, my walls are dark blue, not yellow,” clarified Juuzou.

“Yes, but there are many stuffed plush giraffes,” added Nakarai before he shoved a chunk of beef into his mouth.

Blinking, the male who was in the process of chewing a mouthful of sticky but well-flavoured rice swallowed before responding to Keijin’s statement.

“What’s wrong with my giraffes, huh?”

The innocent words were laced with a sort of defensiveness which Suzuya inwardly scolded himself for. Even though he wasn’t the type of person to feel embarrassed about owning “kiddish” things like stuffed animals and plush toys, it was different when Tooru was listening. When the adult who kindled his more affectionate emotions was near, he couldn’t help but feel a tad bit self-concession about what he did and said. It was most likely a foolish thing to feel; however, it seemed to be one of those unexplainable things he didn’t seem to have control over.   

At that moment, Juuzou’s eyes strayed to Mutsuki who was sitting passively across from him at the table… next to Aura.

Seemingly distracted, she was taking a deep swill of her dark brew, eyes glancing offward. Naturally following her steadfast gaze, the intuitive fellow noticed she was staring at a framed photograph which was hung on the cream-coloured wall of the dinette. The photo in question was one that had been taken the day he had been promoted to a Special Class Investigator after the Auction Mopping-Up Operation had ended. It had been carefully hung on the wall by Hanbee, since the older man was sentimental like that.

Just then, Shinsanpei leaned toward Tooru and seemed to whisper something to her. Afterward, the ivory-haired individual’s intent gaze drifted away from the photograph and her luminous eyes locked with Suzuya’s. Breath catching in his throat, he observed the way Mutsuki’s mellow orbs gleamed with emerald vivacity. Her eyes looked like jade water lilies, and he felt a tiny sliver of affection run through him.

Abruptly, a snorting chuckle broke out, and Juuzou realized a conversation was still taking place.

“Nah, stuffed animals are fun to collect.” The blue jay song timbre came from Saiko as she paused in the act of shovelling forkfuls of marinated beef into her mouth. “However, if you wanted to see creepy decorating, you should’ve seen Mucchy’s bedroom back when she lived at the Chateau.”

A scoff-like noise was heard, and the guests at the table directed their attention to Takizawa as he murmured a quiet “Figures” before taking another large gulp of coffee.

It wasn’t difficult to spot the pointed glare which was sent in Yonebayashi’s direction by Tooru. It was a warning but not one without mirth. Comically, the stout azure-haired girl rose both hands in faux surrender.

“Sorry. Saiko will stop oversharing now.”

For the rest of the duration of the hearty meal, the guests murmured thoughtfully and remarked; pondering and delving into more fascinating topics amidst the mundane small talk. Moreover, Suzuya savoured the food completely, and he sipped at the savoury broth to fully drain his bowl, nothing more than the sticky remains of rice clinging to the sides of the other dish and not even a sliver of beef left on his plate.

It had been silent for a temporary moment before everyone heard the clinking of a fork against a wine glance — a distinctive noise intentionally made by Akira.

“Sorry for interrupting but Amon and I have an announcement to make,” Akira began once she had everyone’s attention after she had exchanged a glance with Amon; his hand holding hers. “We’re getting married!”

The room went so quiet for a moment that you could have heard a pin drop.

Then, abruptly, a large quantity of saké was spat all over Aura’s face.

“Oh, crap. Sorry, that development was so shocking that Saiko accidentally overreacted and spat her saké on Mr. Tall-and-Broody.”

The first one to speak after that was Seidou who breathed a muttered “Well, shit,” and then refilled his empty coffee mug with straight saké.

The next person to talk was Hanbee.

“I do believe congratulations are in order.” He placed a hand over his heart and promptly raised his wine glass in a toasting gesture.

“I concur. I hope you find splendour in the loving cosmos of your union,” added Mikage, his words as enigmatic as ever.

“I will throw you the most kick-ass bachelor party ever, Amon,” promised Tamaki, “heh, welcome to the married life.”

“Yeah, well don’t expect me to attend this bachelor party, Mizurou. ‘Cause I still remember what happened at yours and I didn’t enjoy finding pieces of confetti in random orifices of my body for two months straight,” lamented Nakarai.

“If I come to your wedding, there better be lots of sweets,” declared Juuzou with a firm nod.

“I second that,” agreed Saiko.

A grunt and an almost inaudible “congratulations” was heard from Aura as he proceeded to pat his wet face with a cloth.

Swiftly, the dining table with ablaze with lively chatter once more and everybody was candidly discussing things from the date of the wedding to Akira’s ring.

Except one person stayed silent.

Mutsuki hadn’t spoken a word for several minutes. She hadn’t even congratulated Akira and Amon on their marriage.

It stayed that way for many more moments until…

“Yeah, congratulations,” Tooru suddenly interjected, “may I be excused?”

She didn’t wait for an answer before rising unsteadily from the pine chair; dashing away and darting upstairs. And, it didn’t take long for Suzuya to excuse himself as well so he could follow her. Then, he spied Mutsuki atop the landing of the stairs — hands balled into fists and yanking at the ends of her turtleneck sweater.

Their eyes collided with a force that took Juuzou’s breath away, and he desperately tried to keep his head above water — to tread the water as best as he could — but Tooru was a hurricane and a summer storm, and she capsized everything she touched.

“Mutsuki?” he asked, eyes kind and voice sweet, a small smile dancing on his rosy lips. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I guess you could say I’m just, um, overwhelmed.” She answered with eyes as wide and green as the Sargasso Sea before she moved slightly toward him.

He pursed his lips when she came closer, carrying with her the scent of orange blossoms and lavender. It was a sweet, citrusy fragrance Suzuya had come to associate exclusively with Mutsuki and, for some reason, that made his heart ache — just the tiniest bit.

“Can I show you something?” he inquired as he cocked his head, glancing up at Tooru questionably.

A harsh expression slid over the pearly-tressed adult’s facial features for a moment like an unmistakable crack in her mask.

“Listen, I’m not…” Mutsuki trailed off after her eyes met Suzuya’s once more and he gave her a fierce look awash with affection. “Fine. Okay.”

An effusive grin lit up his face, and he extended an arm out toward the younger individual; offering her his hand. 

The apparent reluctance in Tooru’s stare was evident, and Juuzou was sure for a second she was going to deny his offer, but he supposed that his guileless puppy-dog eyes were even too much for her to handle as she willingly accepted his hand. And, honestly, he was surprised by the firmness of her grip. It was warm and comforting like an ever-open haven.

As he gently steered her into his bedroom, he carefully considered the peculiar way the other adult’s odd expression changed. And how she nervously started looking like a trapped, scared bird in a tiny cage. 

Emitting a lighthearted giggle, Suzuya smiled at Mutsuki reassuringly.  

“Stop worrying. Nothing is going to happen that you don’t want to happen,” he stated.

“I’m not worried,” she rebutted.

“Then why d’you look like a mouse being cornered by a cat?”

Juuzou took a seat on his mattress; Tooru’s hand sliding out of his. She did not sit.

“So… What do you want to show me?”

Her hands went back to the ends of her soft blue pullover, tugging absentmindedly.

Humming under his breath, he leaned over and yanked opened the upper drawer of his mahogany nightstand. Riffling through various confectionaries, Suzuya retrieved the glossy photograph. Afterward, he gave it to her — fingers brushing as he passed her the Polaroid picture. And, he felt the warmth of her fingers once again.

In his mind, Mutsuki was gilded as the sun’s rays and coloured by the warmth of the promised dawn. The devil-may-care brashness she displayed often nowadays only belied the true workings of her mind and heart. In fact, there were a lot of things about Tooru Mutsuki that Juuzou found pleasing, such as her straight, confident stance, and clear, soft skin. He liked how she moved with elegant ease, and how she radiated warmth like the summer sun and he liked her lark swift voice.

As she rose the photo to her face, Tooru’s eyes widened, and a faint sound of surprise left her mouth. She dropped to the bed beside Suzuya before turning to glance at him. A kaleidoscope of emotions painted her face before she landed on one — bewilderment.

“This was taken eight years ago,” murmured Mutsuki, “what exactly is this about?”

The mask hardened again.

“I guess this is what some people would call a confession.” The admission tumbled from his lips and his heart bleed with a feeling he was unable to verbalize.

He had never been skilled at expressing his emotions. Perhaps he should have spoken with Hanbee about this beforehand since the elder man could have likely given him some worthwhile advice.

Then, all of a sudden, the atmosphere in the bedroom seemed to change as Tooru lowered the Polaroid picture into her lap.

“Confession? Like a romantic confession?” she questioned, her eyes narrowing and her mask becoming rigid. “Oh, that’s great. So what? You wanna take me to some no-tell motel now? Maybe even fu—”

“You’re being defensive now, eh?”

It wasn’t hard to notice Mutsuki’s deflective behaviour nor did he miss her sharp intake of breath or how her lower lip trembled. “Trust me, I’m not as stupid as everyone thinks I am.”

From the look on her face, Suzuya thought for a moment that the other adult would lash out at him. Then her expression changed and even her eyes — forever twinkling with derisive charm — softened to something sweeter, something more genuine than any expression he’d ever seen her wear before.

If Juuzou was a fisherman lost in the impenetrable fog, Mutsuki was his guiding light shining on the harbour.

She was one of the very few people to regard him without prejudice. Mutsuki’s eyes delivered no judgement, none at all. The pale jade colour was untainted by mistrust or disgust or hatred. It was free of condemnation and bias, and it had to be one of the most magnificent things he’d ever seen. 

She made him feel — against all odds — like a man worthy of honour.

And because of that, he wanted to be selfish. Selfish enough to hold her and cherish her and to run away together — loving one another in secret. He wanted her to embrace him as he clumsily breathed out the fragmented truth, inhaling the warmth of her olive skin made sweet by Roman peaches and subtle cinnamon. He considered all of this — the laughter and moonlit nights where the only goodbye would be when they would close their eyes to sleep, and their first hello would be each other, fresh and lovely as the risen dawn.

“Move in with me,” Suzuya’s voice was just above a whisper, and his voice rang truer than pure gold. “Come live with me.”

It was not until he brought her hand to his heart that she looked up, eyes wondrous, and he smiled at them; a dazzling, incandescent smile of indescribable emotion.

“Suzuya…”

The tone of her voice caused him to falter for a moment before he spoke once again.

“Please move in with me; I want you here. But please, don’t do that. Don’t pity me.”

His confession was by no means grand or poetic, but here he was, Juuzou Suzuya, all but begging for this person of sunshine and bronze to stay.

However, Tooru frowned slightly before shaking her head.

Her answer — the sharp refusal — pierced him like a dull sword, sloppily slicing through flesh and muscle until he felt paralyzed, unable to comprehend the thousands of knives being crammed into his heart.

“…Oh,” he swore he’d cough up blood, “I know how you might feel about me right now—”

“I don’t pity you one bit, Juuzou.” Mutsuki interrupted, eyes burning with emerald fire, “I don’t pity you because there’s nothing about you that deserves pitying. You’re clever but callous, and so horribly smart that sometimes I wonder how you manage it all. You’re resourceful and striving and more courageous than you give yourself credit for. You don’t care what anyone says about you and I... I admire that the most.” Her eyes fluttered shut briefly, teardrops on her lashes.

“I don’t pity you, Juuzou,” she continued, eyes opening, “but I care about you. And I guess that means, I accept your confession.”

He didn’t know what to do.

Tooru’s own confession, so gentle and delicate, sutured whatever wound there was and he felt fire coursing through his veins. He felt himself wanting — for the first time — to laugh and cry and hold her so close so Tooru could see she was everything he wanted to love. In five quick seconds, Suzuya’s face was right in front of hers, and the scent of orange blossoms and lavender filled his senses.

“Mutsuki?” he coaxed gently.

She shook her head, almost afraid to come closer, “You don’t know what I’ve done, and I don’t want you to hate me.”

“I could never.” The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself, “I— that is... I mean… you—”

His cheeks burned with embarrassment.

“Do you mean that, Juuzou? Truly?” she whispered.

Surprisingly, part of him wanted to deny the statement. To push her back into the category of acquaintances and companions and escape to a world free of sentiment and concern. But his heart (that pesky, useless organ) spoke instead.

Placing one hand on either side of her face, Suzuya brought her closer until their breaths mingled together, “Yes.”

When he tilted her chin, fingertips grazing against tender skin, he felt smouldering fire course through his veins — two souls reawakened beneath the earth’s equator.

Tooru carefully observed him. Eyes so dark and perplexing that he felt like he might melt.

“Juuzou…?” she whispered, flowering and unsure. She’d opened up, just for him, and it filled his head with heady delight — with patient satisfaction and potent desire that mimicked a rush of flowing blood to a gaping wound.

In one fell swoop, his mouth came forward to receive hers, the force of the fervent kiss propelling them back ever so slightly as their eyes fluttered closed. Tilting his head upwards, Suzuya shifted his hands to Mutsuki’s shoulders, edging closer to her neck and feeling the downy fabric of her turtleneck under his fingertips. And even through the cotton, he thought he could feel the sharp, unsteady thrum of her pulse under his palm.

And honestly, Juuzou had absolutely no clue what he was doing.

But that was fine because this was his first kiss.

It was his first kiss, and he was sharing it with Mutsuki.

The kiss was awkward, bumbling, so very inexperienced and yet it made Suzuya almost tremble.

His mouth was persistent, and Tooru’s was pliant. His body had grown warm and his mind hazy but oh so clear. So, he kissed her with greater intensity because she was burning him up, but he basked in Mutsuki’s sun-fire as he traced her mouth with his, wanting to memorize her lips the way cartographers do maps. He wanted to discover — to taste, to reap, to rove.

When Mutsuki ultimately pulled her face away, a faint sound came from their lips, but that wasn’t enough for Juuzou. He wanted to experience something more than just her skin, and so he brought their lips together again… and again and again, until Mutsuki was uttering breathy noises and her lips parted enough for Suzuya to open his mouth with every kiss.

The passionate kisses caused powerful warmth to swell within his chest and elation coursed through his body. Instinctively, his spare hand slid upward to take ahold of Tooru’s cheek as the other remained on her neck. Subsequently, he felt Mutsuki’s fumbling fingers find his upper arms to grasp him tightly and his stomach somersaulted underneath his ribs. 

Eventually, Mutsuki broke the contact by leaning away from him, her eyes closed as she tried catching her breath. So, Juuzou moved to press his lips against her cheek instead, just so he could carry on kissing her. It was easy to see how flushed and slick Tooru’s lips were and how her cheeks were so filled with colour and heat that he could practically feel it radiating from her skin.

“So…Was that a “yes” to moving in with me?”

 

THE END