It was a little over a week later that the phone rang. It had been a while since Yato had gotten any calls for jobs, and Yukine was quick to lunge for the phone. They had been taking it easy while recuperating from the fight against the heavens, but Yato's normal work towards becoming a god of fortune was important too.
Yato was less than enthusiastic about answering the call, which was a little puzzling. He could be lazy, but he was usually all too eager to jump all over any job he got since they were few and far between. Normally he went to great lengths to advertise and attract customers.
Yukine was not impressed by the sudden bout of laziness.
"If you do a good job, Hiyori will give you a capyper inari as an offering," he wheedled, resorting to bribery.
"Huh?" Hiyori asked. "I will?"
Yukine paused, his wonderful idea of bribery suddenly seeming a lot less clever as he recalled Yato saying that he didn't actually believe capypers were real. But Yato sat up right away, eyes wide and sparkling.
"Capyper inari…?" he asked. "I have no idea what that is… But I want it! I want a bunch of them!"
He grabbed the phone and answered with his trademark enthusiastic greeting, winking at Yukine as he did so. Yukine had to look away to hide his smile, the shared secret sitting warm in his chest.
His mood took an abrupt turn upon hearing that Ebisu had been kidnapped. Dealing with the rather incompetent shenanigans that ensued did nothing to improve it.
But one successful rescue later found them waving goodbye to Ebisu and Kunimi and heading home for the night.
"Oh crap!" Yato said suddenly. "I didn't realize how late it had gotten! Are you okay, Yukine?"
Yukine shoved his hands deep into his pockets and hunched his shoulders, cheeks heating in embarrassment. "You don't have to treat me like a kid anymore," he grumbled. "I'm fine."
It might be dark, but there were streetlights to mark the way and Yato and Hiyori were right next to him. The dark was still unsettling, but it was hard to be too afraid of what might lurk in the shadows when Yato had been keeping such a close eye on him after the box.
"So, you haven't been having any weird dreams lately?" Yato asked, a cautious note sneaking into his voice.
"If you don't remember, that's fine!"
Yukine hadn't woken Yato up with his nightmares since their late-night rendezvous under the covers, so maybe it was only natural to ask.
The truth was that the nightmares hadn't entirely stopped. Yukine still faced the darkness when he closed his eyes, sometimes even the box and a hazy, faceless man pushing him down.
But something had changed.
"They were kind of scary," he admitted. He tilted his head away and smiled into the night. "But if I looked harder, you were there. So if I had a dream, it was a comforting one."
Everything exploded in one blinding instant. The pain sent him crashing to the ground in a trembling heap. Fear that was only half his own sent his heart into galloping palpitations.
"Help me! Let me out!"
"Please," he rasped. "I'm begging you. Let him out before he breaks."
The girl with the sun-bright eyes stared back impassively. Her face seemed to flicker, overlaid by a procession of faces that all had eyes with the same mocking, amused tint to them. "You never could protect anyone, could you?"
He tore his gaze away and lunged for the small stone box, fingers scrabbling at it desperately. Stone scraped his fingertips raw and ripped his nails to jagged tatters, but it didn't budge no matter how he pulled at it.
Please, please, please…
And then he was slipping through the cracks, falling a thousand miles through the dark until the walls slammed shut around him, pressing in and molding to his skin. His chest felt tight. He couldn't breathe, the darkness slipping between his lips and filling up his lungs like a solid, airless mass.
"Help me! Let me out! Help!"
He didn't know if the voice was coming from his own throat or just bouncing around inside his skull until it nested in the hollow of his jaw like an echo.
"Please! Help me!"
He clawed at the invisible walls trapping him in, desperate to get out. He clawed at the stone sides keeping him out, desperate to get in. He screamed into the dark, where no one could hear. He listened in the harsh light, unable to do anything at all.
"–me! Let me–!"
I'm sorry, sorry, sorry.
Yukine scrambled across the room in a blind panic and crashed to his knees beside the thrashing god. Yato's face was drawn tight with pain, and the blankets tangled around his limbs as he tossed and turned. Half-formed snippets of speech fell from his lips in breathy whimpers, but at least he wasn't screaming anymore. He often spoke or moved in his sleep, but nothing this disturbing to yank Yukine out of his own dreams so abruptly.
"Yato, wake up!"
He shook Yato's shoulder, and the god's eyes flew open. Yukine flinched back. There was a clouded, disoriented look darkening Yato's eyes, like he was still trapped somewhere halfway between sleep and waking.
The door creaked, and Yukine glanced back to see Kofuku and Daikoku peering inside, disheveled from their sudden awakening. Their eyes shone with concern, silently asking if they could do anything. Yukine had no idea.
"Yu…kine…?" Yato rasped.
Yukine whipped his head back around, promptly forgetting about their worried friends. Yato's eyes still had that hazy, faraway look, but they had focused on the shinki.
"Yeah," Yukine said, his voice wavering. "It's me. Are you okay?"
"Don't scream anymore." Yato's voice cracked. His bleary eyes were further blurred by the unshed film of moisture shimmering there. "I'm sorry, please don't scream anymore."
Yukine's mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before he choked out, "Yato, you're the only one screaming."
Yato went deathly still, only the sound of his harsh breathing infesting the night air. Something that wasn't quite understanding flickered in his eyes, just the barest hint of comprehension that something wasn't quite right.
He sat up abruptly and wrapped his arms around Yukine, pulling the shinki tight against his chest until it was hard to even breathe. Ignoring Yukine's startled exclamation, Yato held him close and stroked his hair with trembling fingers as he rocked them back and forth.
"It's okay," Yato murmured. "I've got you. You're okay. You're safe. It's going to be okay."
Yato was the one freaking out, so why was he suddenly trying to comfort Yukine?
A sinking suspicion formed and sat heavy like a stone in Yukine's stomach. He closed his eyes with his forehead pressed to Yato's chest and listened to the rambling for a few more seconds before letting out a shuddering breath.
"Is this about the box?" he asked.
Silence fell. The hand in his hair paused, resting heavy on his head and keeping him pressed tightly against the god.
Then a sigh filtered through the air and Yato's arms fell away. Yukine leaned back to settle on his haunches again and eyed his master uncertainly. Yato's face was still drawn in tight lines, but his eyes were clear now, if dull with exhaustion and something Yukine didn't know how to read.
"Sorry I woke you up." Yato pressed his hand to his face in a weary gesture. "You should get back to sleep."
"You're going to be all tired and cranky if you don't sleep."
Yukine bit his lip and glanced at the door for help, but Kofuku and Daikoku had long since retreated to give them some privacy.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, eyeing Yato cautiously.
"Not really." Yato flopped back over, pulled the covers up, and closed his eyes. "Honestly, I just want to sleep."
Yukine frowned uncertainly. The last thing he wanted to do after waking from a nightmare was go straight back to sleep, no matter how tired he was. He should try to help Yato like Yato helped him, but he didn't know how. Yato was difficult about things like this and Yukine wasn't much good at them either.
"Okay," he mumbled, feeling like a horrible person for letting it go but having no idea how to fix it.
He curled back up in bed, silently running through all the possibilities in his head. He wanted to help, he really did, but Yato had shut him down so completely. Yato could be surprisingly good at getting Yukine to crack and talk when he was being difficult, but he was also distressingly good at deflecting any such attempts anyone made towards him.
God and shinki lay closed-eyed in the darkness, each pretending not to know that the other was still wide awake long into the night.
Yukine didn't think he slept at all, too busy feeling horrible and listening to Yato's uneven breathing, but he startled awake as the phone rang, loud and obnoxious. He jerked to a sitting position and squinted blearily against the morning light filtering through the window.
"Hello!" Yato chirped brightly as he snatched up the phone. He was already dressed and his bed was neatly made, as if he had woken up—or given up on trying to sleep—long before. "Thank you for calling! Fast, affordable, and reliable! Delivery god Yato at your service!…Mhm…I see…No problem! I'll be over right away!" He covered the speaker and grinned over at Yukine. "We've got a job! Uh… You're not ready. Well, it sounds simple enough, so I'll just run over and take care of it while you get up."
Yukine stumbled out of bed in a mad rush to find some clothes. "If you just give me a second–"
"It's okay," Yato said with a laugh. "It's just some housekeeping stuff. I'll be back in a little while."
Yato vanished into thin air, leaving Yukine staring after him. Yukine's sigh lingered heavy in the air and his shoulders slumped. He didn't understand how Yato could seem so cheerful and energetic after a night like that. Then again, wasn't that just the same as always? Yato was a master of papering over anything he didn't want the world to see with a smile.
Since he had no way to track the god down, Yukine dragged himself around the room to get ready for the day. He moved sluggishly, exhausted from what felt like a very sleepless night.
Kofuku was out in the garden when he clomped down the stairs a few minutes later, but she spotted him through the window and came rushing in.
"Good morning, Yukki!" she said. "How is Yato-chan?"
Daikoku was rummaging through the cabinets, but paused to fetch breakfast for Yukine, who merely poked at it.
"I don't know," Yukine said. "He wouldn't talk about it, and he ran off first thing on a job. I think… I think it has something to do with that box again."
Kofuku and Daikoku exchanged a long look, lips turned downward at the corners.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Daikoku said. "You know how hard it is to be helpless to protect someone you care about, don't you?"
Yukine winced as he thought back to waiting helplessly on the surface with no way to get Yato out of the underworld. "Yeah," he said quietly.
"He didn't take it well," Daikoku said bluntly. "He was begging Amaterasu to let you out. I've never heard him beg like that, and he definitely didn't beg for his own life." Yukine hunched his shoulders, eyes glassy. Yato whined a lot and would beg his friends playfully for things in a silly way, but Yukine couldn't think of a time that he had genuinely begged. "I actually thought he was going to attack Amaterasu at one point, but luckily Takemikazuchi talked him down."
"Takemikazuchi?" Yukine asked with a frown. As far as he knew, Yato and Takemikazuchi should not be on good terms after their battle.
"It was a little strange, but it's good he did," Kofuku said. "It wouldn't have ended well. But Yato-chan was desperate, I guess. He wanted to be the one to protect you. But it's also… Yato-chan could feel what you were feeling, you know? We knew it was bad when he collapsed. If he was in so much pain, then you had to be suffering a lot."
"I could hear him the whole time, calling for help…"
"Don't scream anymore. I'm sorry, please don't scream anymore."
Yukine's hands clenched into white-knuckled fists on the tabletop. His food sat untouched.
Kofuku sighed and propped her cheek on her hand. "You were the one in the box, but even if you felt alone… In a way, Yato-chan was there too, suffering alongside you."
"That's probably why he hasn't said anything," Daikoku added in a grunt. He turned his back to rummage in the cabinets some more, although he seemed to be doing it on autopilot now. "It was already traumatizing for you and he knows it. Even if it was hard on him, he knows exactly how much worse it was for you. He's not going to want to put anything else on you right now. He's just looking out for you."
Yukine traced over the woodgrain of the table without really seeing it. "But what can I do?" he asked in a wavering voice. "He's so stubborn and he won't talk to me and I don't know…"
"I'm sure it will be fine!" Kofuku said quickly, giving him a smile. "You seem to be doing better, so I'm sure Yato-chan will recover soon too."
Daikoku cast a sympathetic glance Yukine's way. "You'll figure it out, kid."
Yukine did not find this particularly reassuring. It gave him a lot to think about, but no real answers at all. Maybe he could talk to Hiyori. She was a little bit better at all these emotional things than he was, and maybe it would be good to get her perspective on everything.
Theoretically, the perfect time to talk to her in private would be when Yato was still off on his job. Unfortunately, Yato and Hiyori arrived back at the shrine at the same time, either having run into each other on the way or, more likely, Yato having dropped by Hiyori's house to harass her after finishing his job.
"Heeey, you guys want to go to the park?" Yato asked, grinning and draping his arms around Yukine and Hiyori's shoulders.
Both recipients of his too-physical affection shoved him off in tandem, and Hiyori whacked him over the head for good measure. She only huffed when he rubbed at the forming lump and groaned something about her being too violent.
"It's time for Yukine's lesson," she said primly.
"How boring. Live a little!"
"Just because you're a–"
"Let's do it," Yukine interrupted.
Both parties turned to blink at him in surprise.
"Yukine?" Hiyori asked uncertainly. "But don't you–?"
"I'll still do my homework. But we can just do something fun today."
Yato grinned. "Ha! You're actually siding with me over Hiyori for once!"
"Is that what you think?" Yukine asked flatly, even though it was kind of true and he was hoping that Yato would feel better doing something fun outdoors. "I just want a day off."
Hiyori sighed something about Yato being a bad influence. Yato just snickered.
"Grab a sweater, Yukine!" he said as he bounced right back outside. "It's a bit chilly today!"
"Maybe because it's winter…" Yukine grumbled. But he grabbed his jacket on his way out the door.
"Why the park?" Hiyori asked as she fell into step beside them.
Yato grinned. "There's a little market being set up right near the far side. I want to go check it out and–"
"You are not buying any more useless good luck charms," Yukine interrupted. "All you do is get scammed and waste our money."
Yato pouted and whined, but Yukine was immovable and Hiyori was similarly unimpressed. Instead they wandered around the park, feeding birds and chatting. Yato attempted to sneak off once, but Yukine was having none of that.
The god settled for a new game where he strolled up behind unsuspecting passersby and did ridiculous things while urging Hiyori to take pictures. The stunts became more and more over the top and audacious, and Yukine thought it was a shame that Near Shore humans had such a hard time seeing gods and other denizens of the Far Shore. They were missing out on some spectacularly stupid shenanigans.
Yukine watched as Yato crowded in behind Hiyori and cackled over the pictures. Yato seemed perfectly fine: cheerful, energetic, and more than a little obnoxious. If he was still shaken up from last night, he didn't show it. The only thing slightly amiss was an easily overlooked air of tiredness that hung over him when he slowed down for a moment when no one was looking. Yukine wondered if this was something new or if he had just failed to notice Yato's exhaustion since the box. It occurred to him that this was probably not the first nightmare.
It was already nearing evening by the time they headed back, and they didn't make it far before Yato veered off suddenly.
"Ice cream!" he said loudly, making a beeline for an ice cream shop across the street.
"Are you kidding?" Yukine asked. "It's cold."
"It's not that cold."
"It will be after you eat ice cream in the middle of winter."
"And it's almost dinnertime," Hiyori added.
Yato, apparently unimpressed with their logic, ducked inside. "So? Live a little. You guys are missing out on all the fun in life."
Although unconvinced that eating ice cream in the chilly winter air counted as one of the great joys of life, Yukine and Hiyori trailed inside after him and hung back while he fought for the clerk's attention and made a nuisance of himself deciding what to get.
"Hey, Hiyori?" Yukine asked in a low voice.
"Hm?" She tore her gaze away from Yato's spectacle to blink at Yukine. "What is it?"
He hesitated, debating how to best go about asking for her advice. "Um… I was wondering…"
He snapped his mouth shut as Yato bounced over with a mischievous grin and two cones with half a dozen scoops of ice cream each.
Hiyori's eyes widened. "You're going to eat that much ice cream?"
"So are you," Yato said, looking mightily pleased with himself. He shoved one cone at her and the other at Yukine, who accepted it automatically but then just stared.
"I can't eat all that!"
"Why?" Yato huffed out a breath and rolled his eyes. "You aren't calorie counting, are you? You're such a girl. Honestly, just enjoy the moment."
There was a long, deadly pause. Yukine took several quick steps back.
"You…idiot!" Hiyori lunged at Yato, her leg whipping up. "Jungle savate!"
Yato yelped and stumbled back as her foot slammed into his chest. The top scoop of Hiyori's ice cream was dislodged by the violent movement and went flying, landing neatly on top of Yato's head and beginning to slowly slide down the side.
"Crazy…" he wheezed. He straightened back up and tilted his head at a strange angle to keep the ice cream from succumbing to gravity and plopping to the ground. "Hey, I saved your ice cream! You want it?"
Hiyori pulled a face. "With your hair all in it? No thanks."
"You should really get your money's worth. You know, since you're treating and all."
"What? I absolutely am not! Buy your own ice cream!"
Yato huffed something about ungrateful children and returned to the counter to retrieve his own cone, head still tilted at a jaunty angle. Yukine decided to make the most of things and took a lick at a scoop of chocolate.
"What were you saying, Yukine?" Hiyori asked as she licked tentatively at what remained of her ice cream.
"Oh… Nothing. Never mind."
Yato was already returning with his ice cream, and Yukine didn't want to ruin the moment, anyway. They headed outside and back down the street towards Kofuku's shrine.
"Don't you want to throw that away?" Hiyori asked, directing a pointed look at the glob of ice cream melting overtop Yato's hair.
"Nope! It's like a hat! A cool hat. Get it?"
Yukine rolled his eyes and then pointed at the sky. "Whoa, what's that?" he asked breathlessly.
"What? Where?" Yato threw his head back without a second thought to follow Yukine's finger. The melting ice cream on his head promptly slid back and plopped down the neck of his jersey. He let out an unholy screech and jiggled about erratically until the troublesome treat worked its way down his back and fell out the bottom of his shirt to splat on the ground. "Ah! Ah! Get it off!"
Yukine and Hiyori laughed their heads off while Yato sulked and complained that he was going to have to take a bath and wash his clothes now.
Yukine shivered as the cool ice cream running down his throat amplified the chill of the winter breeze. "I can't believe we're eating ice cream when it's so cold."
"That's exactly why!" Yato said, brightening right back up. "If you get this many scoops in the summer, they'll melt all over you before you can eat half of it. But if it's cold out, it melts slower and you get to eat more!"
This was such a Yato line of logic—ridiculous and best left on the drawing board—that Yukine couldn't even argue with it. He let Hiyori be the one to point out that the entire problem could be avoided by simply getting smaller cones. Yato insisted that took all the fun out of it.
Good-natured bickering aside, things went well up until Yato got bored and chucked a half-melted scoop of ice cream at Hiyori's face, ostensibly as revenge for the one that had found its way onto the top of his head and down his back. Yukine watched and placidly licked his own treat while Hiyori threw every wrestling move in the book at Yato. At least until he was hit by some flying ice cream and joined in the fray to nearly poke Yato's eye out with the tip of his cone.
By the time Hiyori flounced off home and Yato and Yukine straggled back into Kofuku's shrine, they were all shivering and covered head to toe in sticky melted ice cream. Daikoku took one look and sent them off to bathe before dinner. Yato stole the first turn in the bath—overruling Yukine's protests by refusing to budge and innocently offering that they could bathe together if that was what the shinki really wanted, which earned him a whack on the head and the flustered directive to not be so creepy—and was already lounging about in his spare tracksuit when Yukine finished up.
"Great," he said with a grin as Yukine appeared in the doorway. "It's time for dinner!"
"You really want to eat after all that ice cream?"
"Sure! Why not?"
And that was how Yukine found himself sitting at the kitchen table, taking the smallest serving of food possible.
"I can't believe you fed him that much ice cream right before dinner," Daikoku told Yato, eyes flashing with disapproval.
Yato just grinned. "I'm the fun parent."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, it sure isn't you, Mom."
"Why, you little–!"
Yukine rolled his eyes and poked at his food while Kofuku cheered on Yato and Daikoku's fight. He had almost worked his way through his plate when Yato grabbed a big serving of the mixed vegetables and dumped it on his plate.
"Hey!" Yukine protested.
"Eat your vegetables," Yato said in a tone that brooked no argument but was sure to get one anyway. "I see you avoiding them. They're good for you."
"While you live under my roof, you follow my rules."
"Actually," Daikoku said dryly, "it's not your roof."
Yato waved a dismissive hand. "Technicalities. While you're my kid, you follow my rules."
Yukine fought back the color threatening to splash his cheeks and strove to cover it with irritation. "You don't want to eat them either!"
"When you've lived for a millennium, I'll let you eat whatever you want. Until then, be a good kid and eat your veggies."
Daikoku snorted. "I thought you were the 'fun' parent."
Yato leaned back with an exaggerated sigh. "Most responsibilities can be avoided, but vegetables come with the parenting package. It's the dark side of parenthood."
Yukine made a show of kicking up a fuss, but he ate his vegetables. It was sort of nice, in a weird way. Sometimes he was jealous of the happy families he saw living away without a care in the world. He was never going to have that perfect family, but there was something a little warm and fuzzy about having someone there to occasionally make him eat his vegetables and remind him to take a sweater outside and feed him unholy amounts of ice cream and comfort him in the dark when the nightmares reared their ugly heads.
What little remained of Yukine's appetite evaporated. At some point he had forgotten about last night completely and let Yato lull him into just having a good time. He wondered if it was intentional and Yato had insisted on this outing to convince them he was okay. But then again, this was Yato and it was just as likely that he was just being his usual goofy self and dragged his friends along for the ride.
Whatever the case, the results were the same. Yukine had missed his chance to ask for Hiyori's advice and was no closer to knowing how to handle things. He could always follow the lead Yato had set today: pretend it had never happened and assume things would work themselves out quickly enough. Maybe that was even the best course of action. But it still felt wrong, after everything.
He was still pondering the problem as he flicked on the lamp and crawled into bed while Yato turned out the light and said goodnight. He curled up in his little circle of light, fingers working restlessly at the edges of the blanket, and racked his brain for the answer.
He came up absolutely empty, but listening to Yato's quiet breathing in the dark was only making him more restless and desperate to do something. If he waited too long, it would be too hard to address the issue at all.
Before he gave himself the chance to think better of it, he threw back his blanket and tiptoed across the room to crouch by Yato's futon.
"Hey, move over."
Yato cracked one eye open and frowned, but propped himself on his side and slid over to the far side of the bed. "What's wrong?"
Yukine crawled under the covers and pulled them up and over their heads again, plunging them back into their blanket cocoon.
"You tell me," he said, setting his jaw in determination and meeting Yato's eyes as they glimmered faintly in the dark.
Yato sighed and his eyes slid shut. "Everything is fine, aside from whatever is making you so nervous."
Yukine would not be put off so easily, even if Yato was right about his nerves. "Anything that's said under the blankets stays under the blankets," he recited. "If there's anything you want to say, I'm listening."
Yato sighed again. "Everything is fine."
"You haven't been sleeping very well, have you? It was about the box, wasn't it?" Yukine took Yato's silence as affirmation. "Do you want to talk about it?"
"You know…I can't help you if you don't talk to me. I talk to you when things are wrong. I know you're always trying to be the one who's strong for the both of us, but…you can rely on me sometimes too."
Yato's eyes were dull and tired, lacking their normal glow and spark. "I rely on you for everything. But this–"
"I know it's hard to be helpless to protect someone," Yukine interrupted before he lost his nerve. "I couldn't do anything when you were in Yomi or when Hiyori was turning into an ayakashi. It sucks."
There was a short pause and then Yato huffed out a soft, unamused laugh. "Yeah, it does."
"You did everything you could. Things worked out and Amaterasu pardoned us and everything is okay. There's not going to be another box, just like you said."
The disquiet on Yato's face only grew as he dropped his head back down onto the pillow. "It's not the heavens I'm worried about."
Yukine hesitated, surprised by the concession, but suggested, "Your dad?"
Yato hummed tonelessly, eyes glassy and distant. "He's dangerous, and he's already targeting you and Hiyori. I'm afraid that if we make one misstep, he's going to put you right back in the box again, and I can't…"
Yukine eyed him uncertainly, trying to puzzle out the heavy, solemn meaning wound about each word like a promise. He wondered what kind of metaphor the box was supposed to be—because surely the sorcerer didn't have access to that kind of box—but Yato looked so grim that Yukine was afraid to ask and receive an answer he didn't want to hear.
"It will be okay," he said with more confidence than he felt. "We'll definitely figure out how to stop him."
Yato fixed his gaze on Yukine again, and his eyes were dark with bone-deep sadness. "I want to protect you more than anyone," he breathed in a voice so soft it was nearly swallowed whole by the night, so full of quiet sorrow that it made Yukine's chest ache. "I'm sorry. I hate…"
"You've always protected me," Yukine mumbled, his gaze sliding away to run over the blanket stretched above them. "Hiyori was right, you know, that everyone stepped up to save us because of how much you've done for them, because they've seen how hard you fight. But it's not just that. You protected me from myself in the beginning when most gods would have gotten rid of me, you're the one who always stands strong for the both of us, you were even stupid enough to try getting yourself fried to keep me away from Takemikazuchi, you've been shielding me from your father, you're the one who makes sure I talk to you about things and sits with me when I'm scared and comes looking for me when I need help.
"There's no point beating yourself up over one of the few times you had to rely on someone else. You…have already done more than anyone. Stop being stupid."
Yukine glared at the blanket like it had personally offended him, and the darkness cloaked his flushed cheeks. It was hard to talk about feelings. He hoped they both cheered up soon so that he didn't have to deal with it anymore.
Neither of them said anything for a long time, so long that Yukine would have thought Yato had fallen asleep if he couldn't hear the god's breathing and see a hint of glimmering blue out of the corner of his eye.
"The dreams usually start with me trying to get in," Yato said finally, his voice low and hushed in the stillness. "I just know I have to get you out. And then sometimes I slip in, and suddenly I'm trying to get out. Except that I'm not sure if I'm inside or outside or both. I can't tell who's screaming, who's trying to get in and who's trying to get out, who's scared of what. It's hard to tell, sometimes, where I end and you begin."
Yukine bit his lip. "Because you could feel what I was feeling?"
Yato hummed absently. "I guess."
It was just like Kofuku and Daikoku had said, then. Yato was stuck on both sides, struggling until everything blended together and he was left fighting both battles.
"I'm sorry," Yukine whispered. "If I wasn't–"
"Don't," Yato said sharply, his gaze snapping back to the present. He narrowed his eyes, and Yukine felt like that bright, cold blue was cutting straight through him, right down to his heart. "Don't apologize for what you feel. Anyone would have been freaked out by something like that."
"I guess. I just wish…"
Even though Yukine didn't finish his statement, Yato hummed his understanding. "Shinki are the best and worst part of being a god. They can do a lot of damage to us with blighting or even just their emotions, but…it's just part of the package. They're also companions and protectors and sometimes even family. That makes it worth it.
"It might seem like a bad thing, but…" Yato sighed, but his eyes were soft as he studied Yukine's face in the dark. "When you're alone and scared, I feel that. I feel it. So even when you feel alone, we're still connected. Even if I can't get to you, I'm still right there in the box with you. And I don't want you to feel guilty about that, because what it really means is that you're never quite alone. And I'll still be fighting for you till the end."
Yukine sniffled and scrubbed at his eyes, wondering when they'd gotten so damp. "You aren't alone either," he mumbled. "I might not feel things the way you do, but I swore to stick by you until the end, even when you're being super annoying. So you don't have to keep worrying about ending up alone again."
The barest hint of a smile twisted Yato's lips as he reached over to gently rub at Yukine's face with his sleeve. "I know," he said softly.
Yukine stayed quiet until his sniffling was back under control and Yato's hand had retreated. "I still have dreams too," he said when his voice was steady again. "Of the dark, of the box, of lots of things. But if I look hard enough, I can find you reaching out to me, and then it's not so scary anymore. Maybe… Maybe if you look harder, you'll see that I'm not in the box anymore, and neither are you. Maybe we're really just hiding under the blankets in the dark."
Another pause, and then Yato chuckled fondly. "Smart kid. Aren't you just full of good advice tonight? Alright, then. Tell me something, Yukine."
Yukine wanted to ask what he meant, but he already knew. The glint in Yato's eyes spoke, quite emphatically, of karma. Fair was fair, and Yukine should have seen this coming.
But what should he say…? His mind flitted back to Kofuku's words the morning after their last late-night blanket rendezvous.
"Yato-chan likes to treat you like his kid, you know. It makes him happy when you act like it too. Like you're a family."
Yukine wondered if Yato really realized…
"I… Sometimes I…" He trailed off, cheeks burning and the words sticking in his throat.
"Sometimes you…?" Yato prompted.
Yukine turned his face to hide it halfway in the pillow. "It makes me happy when you call me your kid," he mumbled.
There was a painfully long pause, and then Yato started laughing. "Aw, you're so cute!"
"Sh-shut up! I am not!"
"Ha, I knew you cared more–"
Yukine threw the blanket back and flipped around so that he was facing away from Yato, body stiff with embarrassment. "Shut up and go to sleep already! And stay on your own side!"
"Aw, but don't you want to cuuuddle?"
"No! Keep your gross, sweaty hands to yourself!"
Yato snickered some more but stayed on his side of the bed and eventually drifted off into a peaceful slumber. Yukine sighed in relief when he realized the god was asleep and rubbed at his burning face. Hopefully, this would be the end of all that nonsense.
He yawned and watched the circle of light illuminating his abandoned futon. He could still beat a retreat, but instead he closed his eyes and slipped into a dreamless slumber.
And if he woke sometime much too early in the morning to find that both he and Yato had somehow migrated to the middle of the bed during the night and there was an arm draped over him like the echo of a hug, he just smiled to himself and snuggled closer and went back to sleep.