Chapter 1: Prologue
Because I screamed my pain and fear at the dark, but I whispered my love for you to the night.
The darkness closed around Yukine like the jaws of an otherworldly beast, its fetid, bone-chilling breath clogging his throat and smothering him. But still he screamed, even while his panicked panting forced all the air back out of his lungs before he could take a breath.
"Help me! Yato, help! Let me out!"
The box seemed to squeeze tighter, and he scrabbled at the walls in vain. He had to escape, escape now. Yato would save him, Yukine knew it, but for now it was just him and the box, his whole world condensed into a tiny, airless pocket pressing in around him.
"Please, help! Yato? Yato!"
He couldn't die in this box again. (Again?)
Jagged hope sliced through the fingers clutching at it so tightly, slipping through them like blood. Slicing, slicing until Yukine's fingertips bled and his nails were torn off from holding on too tightly.
And then, suddenly, light.
The box cracked open and fell away, leaving his wide eyes staring vacantly into light instead of darkness.
"It's alright, you're going to be alright, Yukine."
Arms closed around him. He was tugged into a lap and cradled and words were whispered into his hair.
It had been so black and lonely, with nothing in all the world but him and the box and the dark. His eyes were glassy with incomprehension. Before, there had been nothing at all to see. Now there was everything, but it took a long moment to register.
"Yukine? Yato? Thank goodness you're alright!"
Yukine shook himself slowly out of his daze and blinked sluggishly at Hiyori as she bent over him. "Hi-Hiyori…?"
She smiled, but her eyes were wet. "It's okay, Yukine. Amaterasu pardoned you all. We can all go home."
"Are you alright, Yukine?" Yato asked, his voice strangely husky.
Yukine tilted his head back against the arm supporting it. Yato's face was pinched and pale, his eyes shimmered with pain, and he was badly wounded from the fighting, but he was alive.
"Fine," Yukine rasped. His voice scraped along his throat with the ache of so many screams, even though it was no more than a breath. "I'm fine," he repeated, trying to convince himself. "I knew you were going to save me."
A look of utter devastation crossed Yato's face before being carefully concealed beneath the safety of unassuming concern. Yukine was still too shaken up to even try deciphering that.
"Do you think you can get up?" Yato asked. "I know it's kind of rushing you, but…no one really wants us here. Are you ready to go home?"
There were still gods all around, Yukine realized vaguely. Most of them still considered him and Yato traitors. He didn't understand what had transpired while he was trapped in the tiny stone coffin, but he instinctively knew it was better to get away from potential threats as quickly as possible.
He nodded and tried to stand, but that was when he realized his entire body was shaking. He could still catch glimpses of the hungry darkness slavering at his heels, lurking in his peripheral vision and only disappearing like smoke when he whipped his head around to stare directly at it.
His breath shuddered and he curled back into Yato's lap. Yato smoothed down his hair and pulled him into a hug.
"It's going to be okay," the god mumbled into his ear. "I've got you. You're okay."
Yukine swallowed, nodded, tried again. Yato staggered to his feet behind him, one arm still wrapped around Yukine's back. For once, Yukine didn't shake off the touch. It helped. He had known Yato would come for him. He felt safer with his master there.
It still felt surreal, this riot of light and sound and color when before there had only been black. Everything blended and melded together strangely as Yato steered him away from the heavenly gathering.
The trip back home was hazy and passed in a blur. Kofuku was crying and apologizing for something. Lots of people seemed to be coming back with them, and were trying to explain what had happened while he'd been trapped. Something about a covenant and waging lives and winning a pardon. He didn't quite understand, but he figured he could get the full story later. For now, it was enough to have Hiyori sticking close by his side and Yato guiding him with a warm touch. They helped keep the darkness at bay.
"Stay down here and join the party," Daikoku was telling Yato. "I think we could all use a drink."
Yato's arm tightened around Yukine. "Maybe another time," he said as he slipped into Kofuku's shrine and guided Yukine toward the stairs.
"It's a good time to celebrate being alive," Tenjin said dryly.
"Look, let me–"
"It's okay," Yukine mumbled. "You can stay down here for a while. I'll just be upstairs."
Yato eyed him doubtfully. Yukine looked at the floor. He didn't want to be alone, but he didn't want to always hold his master back either.
"I'll stay with him," Hiyori said.
"If you insist…" Yato sighed. "I'll be up in a little while, okay? If you need anything…"
"Okay," Yukine muttered.
He let Hiyori usher him up the stairs with Yato's palpable reluctance at their backs. She fussed over him and tried to distract him with tales of her adventures finding Bishamon while he dragged himself to his futon and collapsed.
"That's good," he mumbled to the ceiling. "I was worried I killed her."
There was a pause before Hiyori asked, "What happened with that?"
"She hit Yato's dad and I panicked." Yukine's fingers tightened in the blanket. "I didn't… I didn't want him to die. But I also…promised him that I wouldn't let him kill anyone again."
There were shadows in the corners of the room even though they'd left the light on. He could swear they were moving, darting to and fro when he wasn't looking directly at them. Creeping closer, hungering to wrap him in their suffocating embrace again.
"It's a heavy burden, isn't it?" Hiyori asked softly. "Being his guidepost? It's a big responsibility."
Yukine didn't usually think about it like that, but it was true. Mostly he felt good being needed and trusted and relied on. It gave him a purpose and made him feel special, and he basked in Yato's pride and trust. But he also worried sometimes, about messing up and leading Yato astray. When Yato put so much faith in him, it was dangerous to make a mistake. But it hadn't really become an issue until he had lashed out at Bishamon because he was so afraid of losing his god.
"Yato really trusts you a lot," Hiyori said. "Maybe…maybe we should trust him too, don't you think? I mean, he doesn't really want to kill either. Even before he met us, he was only really doing it when his father forced him to. And he listens to you, but he doesn't always follow your lead blindly. You didn't want him to go against the heavens at all, but he did anyway.
"I guess what I'm trying to say is…you can't assume all the responsibility for his actions. And at the same time, he could use your guidance but he isn't entirely hopeless on his own. He still works really hard to help us all out and protect us whether or not you tell him to. He wants to be a good god on his own, whether you tell him to or not. But the reason he finally stood up to his father is because we're supporting him so that he has someone to rely on, right?
"Don't worry so much, Yukine. You have a really important job, but the best thing you and Yato do for each other is just to support and protect each other. Right?"
The shadows were creeping closer again. It was starting to feel like the walls were closing in around him, collapsing down to a tiny, suffocating box.
"You're probably right," he mumbled, although he was having a hard time focusing. "You usually are. Could you…? Could you maybe open the window?"
Wood scraped softly as the window slid open, and a chilly breeze swept into the room. Yukine shivered beneath the covers and turned onto his side so that he could see outside. It was dark outside the window, which he didn't like, but there was a whole world out there. Even if the room was a box, it had an escape hatch. It calmed him a little to stare out at the night and remember that there was a wide-open sky he could run under.
Hiyori padded back over and knelt beside the futon. "How are you feeling, Yukine? Really?"
"Okay," he mumbled.
She eyed him silently before sighing. "I'll stay until Yato comes back," she murmured even though it was late and she should really be headed home.
She smiled a little sadly and hesitantly brushed some of Yukine's hair away from his forehead. Yukine wanted to thank her, tell her that he was glad she was safe and he appreciated everything she did for him, but his brain was still too scrambled to find the proper words so he just nodded.
It took him a long time to calm his nerves and fall asleep, but Hiyori stayed by his side the whole time and he loved her for it.
It was dark beneath his eyelids, and his dreams were black as pitch. They circled around and around and around, ever closer, tightening about him like a shroud. His limbs cracked and scrunched into a tiny, airless space, and his chest exploded with panic as the lid of the box came crashing down.
His eyes flew open and he shot upright with a gasp. He was secure within the circle of light the lamp cast, but the darkness pressed in all around. And he couldn't breathe, couldn't–
"Yukine. It's alright. Look at me."
Yato cupped Yukine's face in his hands and turned it gently to the side until the shinki found himself staring directly into the god's eyes. They shone bright like stars, lit from within with blue fire and glittering like crystal ice. They seemed to glow with that otherworldly light again, the one that was both ancient and ageless and only ever sparked in the eyes of gods. Yukine found himself entranced, his stuttering breaths calming slowly as the dark was chased away.
"You're okay," Yato was murmuring like a mantra, like he was soothing a spooked animal. "I've got you. Just look at me. Shhh, Yukine. It's okay."
The quiet of night muffled the room, broken only by Yato's crooning and Yukine's ragged breathing and thundering heartbeat. Finally, Yukine let out a shuddering breath and the fear faded enough that he could regain awareness of his surroundings. He was in bed in their room in Kofuku's shrine, not in the box. Yato was sitting cross-legged on the floor beside him, eyes never leaving his face as he leaned in and murmured sweet-nothings into the night.
"I-I'm okay," Yukine rasped finally. "Sorry I woke you."
"You didn't." Yato hesitated and then retracted his hands. Yukine noticed for the first time how pinched and careworn his face was. "I'm going to be right back, okay?"
"What?" Panic seized Yukine, flaring up and embracing him like an old friend. "Where are you going? Don't leave!"
Yato met his gaze levelly, the steady calm half-soothing Yukine's fear despite himself. "It'll just take a minute while I grab something, and then I'll come right back."
"You're a brave kid," Yato said with confidence. "I know you can do it."
Yukine opened his mouth to protest, hesitated, closed it again. He hunched his shoulders and pulled the blanket up to his chin and gave a small nod even though he didn't like it. Yato ruffled his hair before unfolding his legs and pulling himself to his feet with a wince. On his way out the door, he flipped the light on.
Yukine squinted against the harsh light and rocked back and forth as he waited. It wasn't quite as frightening when the light held back the shadows, but the darkness was fresh in his mind and he didn't want to be alone. His gaze darted about wildly, and the thumping in his chest was starting to make him feel ill.
He wanted Yato. But he couldn't always be some scared child who needed his hand held. He couldn't always hold everyone back because of his silly fears. Yato would come back, just like he'd said. He always came when Yukine needed him.
Sure enough, Yato appeared in the doorway mere moments later and shut the door quietly behind him before padding back over to sit cross-legged by the futon. He set the bandages and rag on the floor beside him.
"What are you doing?" Yukine asked in a whisper.
"I noticed earlier…but I didn't want to wake you up. Give me your hand."
Yukine held out his right hand, puzzled, and noticed the dried blood caked at the tips of his fingers and lodged beneath his ragged nails. He noticed for the first time that his fingers were raw and stinging from scratching at the box, the pain that had otherwise been dulled beneath the fear. Yato took the proffered hand in his own, dabbing gently at the blood with the damp cloth and carefully wrapping each fingertip with a bit of gauze.
He worked in silence for a few minutes before asking, "Nightmares?"
Yukine swallowed. "Yeah…"
Another pause. Yato released Yukine's hand and gently took the other to tend its scrapes, not once looking up.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"…Not really. There's not really much to talk about."
This pause was even longer, and Yato's brow creased. "There isn't going to be another box," he said, his voice quiet but firm with certainty.
The tip of Yukine's finger throbbed despite how gently Yato cleaned away the smears of dried blood, and his eyes stung too. "I believe you," he mumbled.
Yato sighed and let go of Yukine's hand, pushing the medical supplies aside before settling back to prop his elbows on his knees and his cheeks on his fists as he studied his shinki with those bright, unreadable eyes.
"You should get some sleep," he said. "You'll feel better once you get some rest."
Yukine studied his bandaged fingers, reluctance slowing every motion like molasses. "I don't know…"
"It's okay. I'm not going anywhere. You're safe tonight."
Yukine bit his lip but flopped back over and curled into a ball with his eyes fixed on Yato. "Okay," he whispered.
He didn't want to close his eyes and welcome back the darkness, but the lights were still bright above him and he knew he'd be okay as long as Yato was here. He let his eyes dip halfway shut so that it wasn't as obvious that he was watching Yato the whole time, clutching at him like a security blanket. And if he could feel Yato watching him the whole time too, it made him feel more safe than uncomfortable to have a god standing guard over him.
Chapter 2: Part 1
If Yukine dreamed, there was nothing scary enough to remember. Maybe a hazy sense of something, but he had the lazy sense of a deep and dreamless sleep as he slowly drifted back to consciousness. Sunlight was streaming through the window, bright and cheery, and he stretched languidly, safe in the knowledge that there was nothing sneaking up on him from the shadows now, waiting for the chance to shove him back into a box.
He sat up and paused. Yato was still sitting cross-legged on the floor beside him with his head propped on his arms, dozing in that painful world somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. It looked extremely uncomfortable being all hunched over like that. He sighed something and seemed to start as if he was shaking himself awake, but his eyes only opened halfway and were glassy even before they slipped shut again a second later.
"Idiot god," Yukine mumbled.
If he didn't know any better, he'd think Yato had tried to keep watch all night in case of more nightmares. Really, Yato had sustained serious injuries fighting against Takemikazuchi and the heavens, and he needed rest as desperately as Yukine did. He shouldn't be kept up all night worrying.
Yukine slid out of bed and crouched beside the slumbering god.
"Hey. Bakagami. What are you doing?"
He poked Yato, and the god's eyes slid halfway open. The light in his eyes was dulled, leaving them a bleary blue glazed with sleep. He mumbled something incoherent, and Yukine sighed.
"C'mon, you can't even wake up."
He clicked his tongue in exasperation and grabbed Yato's shoulders to tug him around with a grunt and push him down halfway on the futon. Yato rolled over with a sigh and contracted his limbs into the fetal position. He stared at Yukine blankly through half-lidded eyes and then frowned sleepily.
"Yukine?" he mumbled. "You alright?"
"Better than you." Yukine narrowed his eyes and crouched with his arms tucked across his knees. "Honestly, what were you thinking?"
Yato sighed something that might have been intended as a response but was entirely unintelligible, but his eyes slipped shut again and his breathing evened into the quiet rhythm of sleep.
Yukine watched him for a moment before shaking his head and standing. He got ready quietly, tiptoeing around with only Yato's breathing for company, and closed the door softly behind him as he crept out of the room and headed downstairs.
Kofuku and Daikoku were holding a hushed conversation in the kitchen, but gave him their full and undivided attention the second he walked through the door.
"Did you sleep alright?" Daikoku asked gruffly.
"How are you feeling today, Yukki?" Kofuku asked in concern. "Is Yato-chan still sleeping? It's so late already!"
"I'm fine, thanks." Yukine sat down and smiled across the table at Kofuku. "Yato didn't sleep well, so I didn't wake him up. By the way, what happened while I was…? You know. I sort of missed most of the explanation, and Hiyori wasn't there for most of it."
Daikoku fetched Yukine breakfast and outlined how the covenant worked and what had happened. It sounded like an extraordinarily cruel ritual, but Yukine owed his freedom and sanity—and Yato's life—to it.
"I'm glad you're alright," he told Daikoku with a strained smile. "Thanks for…you know."
"Of course. I wasn't going to stand for you being trapped in a box for eternity. What a cruel form of torture."
Kofuku, who had been unusually silent up to now, promptly burst into tears.
"Kofuku?" Yukine asked in alarm, abandoning his breakfast. "Are you alright?"
"I'm sorry!" she wailed, covering her face with her hands. "I wanted you to be saved, but in the end I couldn't…"
Daikoku sighed and patted her on the head and whispered something into her ear. Yukine looked on with wide eyes, not knowing what to say.
"This again, Kofuku?" Yato asked from the doorway. Yukine twisted around as his master came plodding over, eyes still bleary and smudged with shadow. "I couldn't have put Yukine up either, so let's just call it even."
Yukine chewed on the inside of his cheek and nodded. "It's okay. Everything turned out fine, so don't worry about it. And what are you doing up, Yato? I thought you were still sleeping."
"Nope." Yato smothered a yawn behind his hand. "I was thinking we could go to Bishamon's place once Hiyori comes over. Check up on the psycho bitch."
Yukine nodded his agreement, guilt curdling in his stomach again. They probably owed Bishamon at least that much.
By the time Hiyori arrived forty minutes later, Yato had buried his exhaustion beneath good cheer and Yukine had stifled his nerves with the sunlight and they were ready to go.
Yukine lost his nerve when they walked inside Bishamon's mansion and all her shinki thanked them for saving her. He still didn't exactly feel great about nearly killing her and it seemed like she wasn't even awake yet anyway, so he slunk off down the hall instead.
"Hey, Yukine, where are you going?" Yato called after him.
"To look for Kazuma," he muttered as he ducked around the corner.
A bitter taste still coated his tongue when he thought of Kazuma using spells to force him to reveal dangerous information about Yato's father, but he had helped them against Takemikazuchi. Yukine couldn't quite bring himself to overlook the broken trust scattered beneath their feet like so many shards of glass, but he missed the days when things had been simpler, easier.
As it turned out, he didn't find Kazuma as he wandered about, so it was a confrontation he could postpone for another day. Probably just as well. He was still a bit antsy and on edge, and he wasn't looking for any more stress to add to his life right now.
He wandered out into the courtyard instead, drawn by the fresh air and open sky. It was warm and breezy even though it was winter outside Takamagahara, and the pleasant weather smoothed the tension from between his shoulder blades.
A bird cut through the air in front of him, startling him, and flitted off without a care in the world. Yukine couldn't help but smile. It soared gracefully with no chains binding its wings. How nice it must be to always fly free.
He followed after it as it sped across the courtyard and disappeared through an open doorway into some kind of storeroom. He ducked inside after it, wondering why it would trade the freedom of the sky for the walls of a room. There was a nest tucked against the wall by the door with two or three tiny heads peeking out of it. A chorus of cheeps and chirps greeted the mother's arrival.
The corners of Yukine's mouth quirked upwards.
A gust of slightly chilly air blew past and the door slammed shut, knocking into his shoulder and sending him toppling down the stairs. He banged into every step on the way down, pain shooting through his already battered body, and crashed to the floor at the bottom. The room was plunged into pitch darkness as the heavy door sealed it closed, and Yukine lay in a shivering heap.
The box. It was the box all over again. It was dark, the walls were closing in, he was trapped.
He pitched forward, searching frantically, blindly, for the exit. There had to be a way out, there had to be–
His seeking hands met a smooth wall and his panic exploded full force. He was trapped. He scrabbled at the wall desperately, clawing at it with his nails. He had to get out.
"Help!" His chest was tight, he couldn't breathe, his voice was swallowed up in the darkness, but panic drove him on. "Help me! Don't leave me in here, Da–!"
"Yukine!" Sunlight slashed through the dark like daggers and peeled it back. Yato leaned forward above him, reaching around the upended table Yukine was scrabbling at to grab his wrist. "It's okay! It's okay, it's me!"
Yukine panted and gasped for air but fell still. It wasn't the box. It was a storeroom, and he had fallen down the stairs when the wind blew the door shut and been scratching in vain at an old tabletop. That was all. It couldn't be like the box, because Yato had said there wouldn't be another box.
Yato's eyes were bluer than the wide-open sky, but clouded with concern and regret and something Yukine couldn't quite read. Yukine blinked back the tears of fear that had gathered in the corners of his own eyes and let Yato pull him out from behind the table and back up the stairs to the sunlight.
They stumbled past Hiyori and collapsed onto the grass. Yukine fell to his hands and knees, still wheezing and gasping for breath. Similarly labored breathing escaped Yato's lips from where he'd sunk to sit cross-legged behind him. Right, because Yato could feel Yukine's fear even when it was over something stupid, which was why Yukine needed to get his act together and stop being so pathetic already.
But that was something for Yukine to worry about later, because for now it was all he could do to catch his breath and calm his shivering. The sun was bright above him and he knew he was safe, but strange, hazy images still assaulted him like half-remembered hallucinations born of the dark.
"Are you two alright?" Hiyori asked in concern.
She fell to her knees beside Yukine and rested a comforting hand on his back. He tried to nod, but he was still too shaken up to be very convincing.
"This is all because I stuck my nose in when I shouldn't have," Yato muttered. "If it meant putting Yukine through such a horrible experience, then I shouldn't have done anything to begin with."
The hand rubbing Yukine's back disappeared as Hiyori turned to Yato. "But Yato, the reason Yukine was saved is precisely because you've worked so hard for everyone else. It was because of everything you did for them that they were willing to help you too. Why are you being so hard on yourself?"
Yukine dug his fingers into the grass and clenched them against the ground. Why was Yato blaming himself? Yukine hadn't approved of going against the heavens, not even to save Bishamon, but although it had been a crazy thing to do, it had also been right. Yato had done the right thing even when he knew it might very well get him killed, and it made Yukine proud while simultaneously wanting to smack some sense into him.
Neither of them had anticipated the box. There had been no way of knowing. And everything had worked out alright in the end. The box was horrible, but enduring it to save Bishamon and win a pardon seemed like a relatively small price to pay.
"I… All I did was watch." Yato's voice was low and harsh, colored with self-directed anger and grinding teeth. "He was right there in front of me, and I didn't do a damn thing. I could hear him the whole time, calling for help…"
Yukine's breath caught in his throat, and he hunched his shoulders as he stared down at the grass. Of course. Like now, Yato could feel Yukine's pain and fear. The box wouldn't have changed that, even if Yukine had felt totally alone. How horrible must it have been to feel his fear and hear his cries and feel helpless to do anything? Yato would have been listening to Yukine begging him for help the whole time, an unacknowledged companion in the box.
But he hadn't done nothing. Like Hiyori had said, the covenant would never have worked if Yato hadn't done so much for everyone else. Risking a beloved guidepost wasn't an easy thing to do for any god, as evidenced by Kofuku's distress. Daikoku might have volunteered either way, but if Ebisu hadn't felt indebted to Yato for saving his previous incarnation from Yomi, if Tenjin hadn't seen Yato risk everything to do the right thing and stand up to the heavens… Would anyone have been willing to fight for Yato and Yukine if they hadn't first seen how hard Yato himself fought?
And he had been protecting Yukine from the beginning, from the very first sting. He'd nearly died giving Yukine a second chance after the blight, had given him a place to belong, had always done his best to shield him from the worst dangers. The idiot had even taken a hit from his father's weapon to spare Yukine and had very nearly fried himself trying to protect him from Takemikazuchi's lightning. He was there when Yukine needed a companion after waking from nightmares, consumed with terror and needing someone to pull him out of the dark. He was the one Yukine could always count on when things got serious.
If none of that counted, then what did? If Yato hadn't protected Yukine, then who had?
Yukine sat up and twisted around. Yato was sitting with his back to him, hunched over and head lowered. Yukine reached out, hesitated, then placed his hand on the god's back and clutched the jersey. Yato went still, and Yukine stared at the fingers bunched in the fabric. Small droplets of blood seeped through the bandages and the gauze was ragged from scratching at the table, but those bandages had been lovingly wrapped about each fingertip like a promise.
"Yato," Yukine said in a wavering voice, "if you really hadn't done anything, I'd still be in that box right now. You protected me! You beat Takemikazuchi, you saved Bishamon, you silenced heaven… You did all those amazing things, so what is there to be ashamed of? Are you stupid?"
He stared at Yato's back, willing the words to get through even though they brought a flush to his face.
"Ah, who cares about any of that now?" Yato shifted and scooted around. He was wearing a smile, but Yukine didn't have time to gauge how genuine it was before the god pulled him into a hug and ruffled his hair. "Sorry about that."
"H-hey!" Yukine protested as he was dragged forward, but he waited a few seconds before pulling away.
With Yato back in better spirits, Hiyori relaxed visibly and even Yukine felt relieved. And when they left the mansion and Yato and Hiyori dragged Yukine along for a fun and busy day out in the open under the sun, he shoved aside the incident and resolved to calm his jittery nerves. He had no doubt they were trying to distract him, but he wanted to be distracted too and cooperated fully with the scheme.
He let the sun and his friends' laughter chase away the dark memories. His good mood carried him through the rest of the day, even once the sun went down. The circle of lamplight was enough to keep him calm tonight, even though Yato had fallen asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Yukine listened to his even breathing and occasional mumble for a while, but then slipped painlessly into sleep.
And that was when everything fell apart. The dream started off pleasantly enough, something with sun and laughter, but then he stumbled back and fell down a hole. His cry caught in his throat as he tumbled down, down, down, and his fingers caught at the packed dirt of the walls to slow his fall. He slammed into the ground and looked up. A light shone high above, but a shadow passed over it. Someone peered down, faceless and blurred at the edges.
"No!" Yukine cried, his eyes widening. "Don't leave me here! Don't–!"
The lid slammed shut, plunging him into darkness.
He sat up with a gasp, clutched at his chest, and swung his head about frantically. The circle of lamplight suddenly looked more menacing than safe, as if it might be swallowed whole at any second. He could feel it shrinking as the shadows crept closer. Someone faceless but deadly lurked in the darkness, waiting to lock him back in the box.
Dark and light smeared together through the film of tears that clouded his eyes and dripped down his cheeks. His heart thumped wildly beneath his hand, and although his panicked gasping filled the room, his chest was tight and he couldn't breathe.
He swiped his hand across his eyes and froze. With the haze of tears gone, he found himself staring across the room at Yato still peacefully asleep in his cocoon of blankets.
Yukine didn't think twice. Abandoning the threadbare protection of the light, he scuttled across the floor to shake Yato's shoulders. If even the light didn't feel safe anymore, there was only one thing that did.
"Yato! Yato, wake up!"
The god sighed something unintelligible and cracked his eyes partway open. "Yukine?" he mumbled around a yawn. He blinked slowly, sleep-addled incomprehension glazing his eyes. "What's wrong?"
Yukine's brain finally caught up to him, and he cursed his own stupidity. Yato was so exhausted that he could barely keep his eyes open despite the bombardment of emotions he must be feeling. He had already given up an entire night to Yukine's silly fears, a night of rest he really needed to recover from his injuries, and Yukine was selfish enough to wake him?
"N-nothing," Yukine whispered, shrinking back into himself. "Sorry… It's nothing. Never mind."
The darkness clawed at his back and he was sure there was someone watching him from the shadows, but he set his shoulders and refused to look.
"Nightmare?" Yato asked. His eyes dipped closed again as he rubbed at them with his hand, and his jaws cracked wide in a yawn.
"Yeah… But it's not a big deal. I'll just…"
Yato wriggled back until he hit the far end of the futon and then pulled back the corner of the blanket and beckoned with his hand. "C'mon in."
Yukine stared at him, at a loss for words, but then shook his head as heat flooded his cheeks. "No thanks. I'm not a kid."
"But you're my kid, so it's okay," Yato mumbled sleepily.
Yukine bit his lip and risked a glance over his shoulder. The circle of lamplight was starting to look like a spotlight shining a big flashing sign to the man in the darkness. Hey, that kid you're looking for? He's right here!
Before he could think better of it, he darted under the blanket. Yato smothered another yawn and watched as Yukine curled up with his head on the pillow and pulled the blanket up to his chin.
"Wanna talk about it?"
"Not really, just…" I just don't want to be alone.
Yato watched Yukine in silence for nearly a full minute, mouth tight and brows creased and eyes clearer than before. Then he grabbed the edge of the blanket and pulled it up and over both their heads.
Yukine stiffened as the room disappeared beneath the thin shield of the blanket.
"Is this okay?" Yato asked, studying his face as best he could in the dark.
Right, because it was dark and confined. But… Maybe it felt a little safer with the shadows shut out. Hiding from monsters beneath the blanket was a child's tactic, but it worked. And although it was a bit dark, Yato's eyes caught a hint of the gray light filtering through the fabric and glittered faintly like ice.
"You're okay. I've got you. Just look at me."
"Yeah," Yukine whispered, fixing his focus on the faint blue glow.
Yato waited a moment longer, undoubtedly poking at his emotions to judge whether he was telling the truth.
"I'd rather you just tell me what's bothering you," he said finally. "I can't help you if you don't talk to me."
Yato sighed. "The dark can be kind of scary sometimes, but it doesn't always have to be. Night is also the time for secrets and stories and everything else you can't say while the daylight is shining on them. When everyone else is asleep, the night swallows up your secrets whole.
"It's just you and me, kiddo. Anything that's said under the blankets stays under the blankets. If there's anything you want to say, now is the time. I'm listening."
It was kind of cheesy, but Yukine didn't feel like making fun of. It would probably sound sillier in the daylight, but right now it rang true. Everyone was asleep, the shadows were barred entry, and it felt like there was no one in the world but him and Yato under the blankets. The night seemed a little less scary when there was someone to share it with.
This was still Yato and there were still things Yukine wouldn't say to him, but maybe the night had loosened his tongue.
"I was really scared," he said in a small voice.
The glint of sapphire disappeared as Yato closed his eyes. "I know," he said softly.
Yukine sniffled and rubbed at his nose. "But you make me feel safe."
Yato was quiet for a long time.
"I'm not always going to be able to protect you," he said finally. Every word was wrenched from his mouth with great reluctance. "But I'm always going to do my best, okay? No matter what else… I will always fight for you until the end. Just… I want you to know that."
Yukine got the strong feeling that this was about the box again.
"Of course," he said. "I've always known that. I'm… I'm the same way. I just panicked. I didn't want to die in the box again."
"Again?" Yato asked sharply.
The bright blue of his eyes flashed with something sharp and unreadable. Now that Yukine's eyes were adjusting to the gloom, he caught the shadow of Yato's mouth tightening into a frown again.
"I…don't know." Yukine huffed out a breath and rubbed at his forehead as it wrinkled in confusion. "Sorry, that doesn't make sense. I guess it just really messed with my head. The dreams probably make it seem worse than it is."
"Dreams?" Yato asked, and Yukine felt the distinct air of caution radiating from him.
"Nothing, really. Just dark and being trapped again."
Yato opened his mouth like he wanted to press the issue or ask something else, but then it drifted shut again. His face was pinched in troubled lines, even though there should be nothing strange about a few nightmares.
"When something's bothering you, just come to me," he said after another beat of silence. "I don't care if it's three in the morning."
Yukine slid his head back on the pillow and broke eye contact. "It feels stupid to be so scared of something silly like the dark," he admitted in a mumble.
"It's not stupid," Yato said sharply, and Yukine blinked at him in surprise. The god huffed out a sigh and softened his voice as the cold fire faded from his eyes. "Everyone's afraid sometimes. Fear is only a weakness if you let it be. It's okay to be afraid sometimes, and it's okay to come to me when you are. Alright?"
Yukine pressed his lips together to hide their tremble. "Alright," he whispered. There was a pause as he blinked back tears. "Yato?"
"Tell me something."
"Something? Like what?"
"I don't know… Something about you that no one else knows."
Yukine felt laid bare, like he'd cracked his heart open a little too wide in the safety of the night where no one should be able to see but Yato did. Vulnerable, maybe. Soft, exposed. He wanted to feel like he wasn't the only one.
"Um…" Yato's brow furrowed in confusion, but then his eyes lit up and he grinned. "Secret." Yukine held his breath, waiting for the big revelation. "I know capypers aren't real."
Yukine blinked at him once, twice. Whatever he had been expecting to hear, it wasn't that.
"What?" he demanded. This from the idiot who got starry-eyed every time one of those dumb rodents showed its face? "Since when?"
"Because it annoys you and it's cute when Hiyori tries so hard to protect my pure, innocent belief and the looks on everyone's faces are hilarious when they think I'm an idiot." Yato snickered but then sobered a little. "Anyway, sometimes it's nice to find a little magic in the world instead of getting jaded."
"…I can't believe you."
"You can't tell anyone! What's said under the blankets stays under the blankets!"
Yukine shook his head in exasperation. "No one would believe me, anyway. We're all convinced you're a dumb kid at heart."
He snorted and listened to the sound of their breathing for a few seconds before asking, "Can you tell me something else? Something…real?"
Yato pouted. "That was real."
"I know, but…" Yukine chewed on his lip and frowned into the dark. "Something that will help me understand you better. You hide a lot of stuff and don't like to talk about yourself."
A pause. "You're going to ferret out all of my secrets, huh?" The words were teasing, but there was something strained beneath the light tone.
"Just… You always want me to tell you when something's wrong and it feels like you know everything about me, but you don't… I just…wish you trusted me enough to tell me things too."
"Are we back on the trust thing again?" Yato asked. "It's not like that, just…" He groaned, a weary, guttural sound trapped beneath the blanket. "You know what, fine. But only because you're freaked out and played a cheap card."
Yukine played nervously with his freshly bandaged fingers and his heart pounded in anticipation. He wasn't sure if it was really a good idea to push his master, but Yato never wanted to talk about anything serious about himself or his past. Even something small would be enough. Anything to give Yukine even the smallest glimpse into the incomprehensible workings of his god's mind.
Yato was quiet for a long time, brow furrowed in thought, and then rolled onto his back. The blanket settled over his face, concealing his face from view.
"I took baby Ebisu out to eat when he was first reincarnated," he said finally, his voice muffled by the fabric. Yukine winced. He and Hiyori had secretly tagged along on that trip, but it was probably better Yato didn't know that. "Actually, it was something the other Ebisu said he wanted to do in Yomi, so… Anyway, he said that when he was reborn, he immediately knew he wanted to make everyone happy and thought it was that way for all gods.
"I don't really know… I grew up killing people. But I've been thinking about it. I killed because Father wanted me to. More than being scared of him, in the beginning I just wanted to make him proud. Happy. And because of that…
"It sounds like such a nice thing, but it's dangerous too. If you're trying to make the wrong person happy… It could've been different, you know. I met someone a little later, and she taught me right from wrong. I wanted her to be happy, so I didn't kill or steal. I collected flowers and frogs and helped the humans she seemed to like so much, because she showed me the beautiful side of their world. It could have been different."
Yukine gaped, stunned that Yato had taken the request to heart and opened up so much. He had been expecting some kind of cop-out, something calculated to be just deep enough to pass muster but not deep enough to really shed much light on anything.
"What happened to your friend?" he asked.
"I… I'm sorry."
There was a long pause, and Yukine wished Yato's entire face wasn't covered.
"Father tricked me into killing her because she was a bad influence on me."
Yukine's breath caught in his throat. "That's…"
"I've just been wondering," Yato breathed in a sigh. "He always told me that I was a god of calamity and only knew killing because that's who I was and what I was made to be, but I wonder… If I had been raised by someone else, I wonder if I could have been a good god."
Something tightened in Yukine's chest, sharp and bittersweet. "You are a good god," he said. His fingers burrowed into the sheets beneath him and curled into fists. "I mean, you aren't perfect, but who is? You can't blame yourself for everything. Your dad tried to make you into an evil god, but you've been trying to change for a long time, right? If that was who you were, you wouldn't have spent so long looking for a way out. And you… I think you're good."
Yato rolled back onto his side, the blanket sliding over his hair instead of covering his face. He smiled at Yukine. His eyes were murky, but the smile seemed genuine.
"Well, I've got a good exemplar to guide me."
No matter how many times he said things like that, the praise still made Yukine's cheeks darken. But this time it didn't stop him from chewing on the inside of his cheek as he thought about what Hiyori had said the other day.
"I'm here to help you," he said, choosing every word carefully, "but I'm not the one making you a good god. You already help us on your own. I mean, you nearly killed yourself to help Bishamon even when I didn't want you to. You can be kind of obnoxious and self-absorbed sometimes, but you've always been really good to us. You don't need me for that. I'm here to guide you when you lose your way or don't know what to do, but you're good all on your own."
Yato stared back at him, eyes entirely inscrutable, and then huffed out a tired laugh. "I think you're underestimating yourself. Is there anything else you want to tell me, or are we done?"
Yukine opened his mouth, hesitated. Yato had opened up and shared something deeply personal as a show of trust, but that didn't mean he was ready to actually talk about it.
"I think we're done," Yukine mumbled.
"Okay." Yato grabbed the corner of the blanket. As he started to peel it back, a burst of energy exploded in Yukine's chest and he reached up to yank it back down. Yato frowned at him. "Yukine?"
Yukine flushed and looked away, clutching the blanket tightly. "Thank you," he mumbled into the night. "For telling me."
He pulled the blanket back down before Yato had the chance to say anything else and breathed in the fresh air. It had been getting a bit stale under there.
"You can stay here tonight," Yato said when Yukine made to slide out of the futon. He yawned and nestled his cheek back into the pillow, dark hair sticking up every which way from the blanket rubbing all over it.
"Mm, I'll get your lamp." His eyelids were starting to droop again already, but he stretched with a sigh.
Yukine scooted across the intervening space to grab him. "No, that's okay."
He buried his face in Yato's chest and curled closer. "I don't need it here," he mumbled.
There was another long silence, but then an arm draped across Yukine loosely and fingers tangled in his hair. "Goodnight, Yukine."
Yato fell back asleep almost instantly, mumbling and twitching as he was often wont to do, but Yukine didn't mind. This would normally be rather humiliating, but he needed someone to keep his fears at bay tonight. Yato was pretty useless at most things, but this he could do better than anyone.
Yukine sank back into his dreams, and was dismayed to find that he was right back where he'd left off with the faceless man locking him away. He narrowed his eyes against the dark and squinted at the disappearing sliver of light, but he wasn't quite afraid this time. There wasn't going to be another box, because…
When he looked harder, the faceless man shimmered out of view like a mirage and Yato was crouching above him with his blue eyes shining bright enough to burn away the darkness, pushing the lid back. The god reached down to grab Yukine's arm and pull him back up into the sunlight. Yukine collapsed against him with a sigh of relief and nestled into the safety of his arms.
"Don't forget, Yukine," Yato said with all the grave solemnity of a figment of a dream. "I don't believe in capypers."
Yukine woke with a goofy smile plastered on his face, fighting back the urge to laugh.
He sat up with a yawn and frowned, wondering why he was tucked into Yato's futon instead of his own, before remembering the events of the previous night. Heat rushed to his face as he recalled his absolutely childish display, but Yato was already gone and he was alone in the room.
He got ready and tramped downstairs, steeling himself for the inevitable teasing. Kofuku and Daikoku were chatting in the kitchen like most mornings, but Yato was nowhere to be seen.
"Good morning, Yukki!" Kofuku chirped.
"Good morning. Has anyone seen my good-for-nothing master?"
"He's been bouncing in and out all morning," Daikoku said. "No idea how he has so much energy. I'm already tired just watching him."
"Yato-chan is in an awfully good mood!" Kofuku added with a smile.
"Huh." Yukine sat down at the table and dug into the breakfast Daikoku slid over to him. "I would've thought he'd be more tired after being up half the night."
"Oh?" A frown tugged at Daikoku's mouth as he debated how much to press. "Are you having trouble sleeping still?"
Yukine shrugged and mumbled something vague that could be mistaken for an answer, and Kofuku's eyes lit up like she had just solved a mystery.
"Nightmares?" she asked.
"Did you wake Yato-chan up?"
Her grin widened. "On purpose?"
"…Maybe." Yukine poked at his food, his cheeks burning. Not only had he woken Yato, but also climbed into bed with him like a scared child running to a parent after a nightmare. How pathetic.
"Aw, that's so cute!" Kofuku cooed, wriggling in excitement. "No wonder Yato-chan's in such a good mood."
"Uh…" Yukine blinked at her in confusion. Whatever she was seeing, he wasn't seeing it. "What?"
"Yato-chan likes to treat you like his kid, you know." She smiled, the corners of her eyes crinkling. "It makes him happy when you act like it too. Like you're a family."
Yukine stared at her, food forgotten. He had thought that being such a child was embarrassing and pathetic, but he hadn't considered that maybe Yato didn't see it that way. A family, huh?
The front door crashed open, and Yato came bouncing into the kitchen with a wide grin on his face.
"Oh, look who's finally up!" he said loudly. He pranced across the room and leaned down to drape an arm across Yukine's shoulder. "How're you doing, kiddo?"
"Good." Yukine looked back down at his plate to hide his blush and the small smile threatening to take over his face. "I'm good."
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.
Okay, that scene in canon where Yato asks about the nightmares and Yukine is all, "Yeah, but you were there so they were comforting," was just the cutest thing, I can't even.
Originally I wanted to alternate POV back and forth between Yato and Yukine throughout the fic because I knew I wanted at least Yato's nightmare to go along with Yukine's, but it just didn't work out that way. I decided to include that in Yato's POV anyway with the somewhat circular justification that it goes along with the theme of everything that affects Yukine affecting Yato (and, to a degree, vice versa) to the point where the lines start blurring. And speaking of which, the box is undoubtedly great angst for Yukine and I wanted to showcase that, but it would also have a profound effect on Yato, which I wanted to include as well since it's a little easier to gloss over. I like the idea of them being bound that tightly together, so I tried to include both sides of the coin.
Also, they're just super cute.