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Ignis Fatuus

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“Wait!” Rin yells, running down the hallway, “Please let me come with you! He’s my brother, I have to—”

“What do you not understand?” Tasaka sighs, “That is exactly why you’re not coming along.”

No one would send you on a mission anyway. You disregard orders and act on your own…you’re lacking in knowledge and skills, so you rely on your powers. At least use your head more!

His legs jerk to a stop as he fumbles for something to say...what can he do, what does he have—just this once, he needs to try.

“Then,” he takes a step forward, “at least, consider the tactical value I can provide to this operation,” Rin urges.

Tasaka halts, giving him an expectant look.

Rin seizes the chance, trying to project calm as he starts.

 “The safe you need to retrieve would require at least two to carry, but I’m strong enough to by myself and with my flames, I don’t need to waste time opening the lock on the door. I promise, I’m not letting my personal feelings cloud my judgement,” Rin says carefully, “please.”

Tasaka turns, pinching his nose bridge, “What do you think, Ito?”

Ito shrugs, “Bring him along. I can vouch for Okumura. He might not seem level-headed, but the kid has a good head on his shoulders when he needs it.”

Tasaka considers his words for a minute before he sighs heavily, “Switch him out with...Fushida. We’ll move him to,” he pauses, “what’s your team number?”

“One hundred forty three, sir.”

“Very well, Okumura. We leave in twenty minutes. You better follow orders, understand?”

“I understand, sir!”

As he stands there, listening to their footsteps fade, Tasaka’s words sound like a harrowing reminder and he finds his hands shaking, unable to stop himself from thinking of what could be.

How many times do I have to tell you to get your act together? Your thoughtlessness affects a lot of people!

If Rin had listened, would he still be here? How much would he have had to change, to stop him from leaving? How deep-set is Yukio's resentment, that Rin's words couldn't move him at all?

He wonders…if Yukio was here, what he would have said.


“Listen up,” Ito says as they get into the car, “our team is running point for this operation. Tasaka-san will lead the others to disarm the bomb. We will be responsible for eliminating any obstacles to clear their way. Then, Hara and,” he pauses, looking down at the folder.

“Hara and Iwada,” Ito announces, “You two will come with me to speed up the evacuations. Sasaki, I expect you to guard and assist Tasaka-san’s team until the bomb is safely disarmed. From there, all of us will move to escort the research staff to safety. Okumura, you have the floorplans?”

Rin nods quickly, “Yes, sir.”

“Your job is to retrieve the safe after Tasaka-san’s team reaches the bomb. Once you’ve secured it, leave immediately. Everyone has their comms set?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Good. Okumura, the safe room will block communications. Get in and out as quickly as you can.”

“I will, sir,” Rin promises.

Ito nods, “Any questions?”

An unsettling quiet hangs in the air. The team is tense with a nervous anticipation. It’s only been an hour since they’d received word from Shima on the Illuminati’s plans.

Rin raises his hand, “Will we run into the Illuminati?”

Ito frowns, “It’s not likely for them to stay, but be prepared for it. Remember, the Order can’t afford to lose this facility’s research. It’s our only shot at closing the gates anymore.”

“I thought there were three others?” Hara asks.

Ito shakes his head, “The Illuminati is crafty. We’re already short on personnel, but they’re forcing us to spread our forces by targeting the ones most critical to us simultaneously.”

“...That sounds like a trap, Ito-senpai,” Sasaki mutters.

“It doesn’t matter,” Ito declares immediately, “those facilities are our last chance before the gates open completely.”

Everyone knows what he’s left unsaid, really. Once the gates open entirely, the world is done for. They’ve been told their success is vital, but whether it could solve any problems…

It’s like this too often recently. They are told that failure is unacceptable; yet even when they complete their missions, the situation hardly improves. It’s tiring to constantly be running out of time.

A small part of him is still incredibly frustrated. If only they could make it in time...before Yukio leaves.

Rin tugs at the collar of his coat, suddenly feeling cold. He needs to stay calm; he refuses to jeopardize this mission.

The ride there ends all too quickly and soon, Tasaka signals for them to enter the building.

Rin draws his sword as they spread out to flank Tasaka’s team. Nishimura’s familiar barks in confirmation and Rin breaks down the door with ease as they storm in.

“Get going, Okumura,” Ito orders, “Hara, Iwada, with me.”

Rin sprints up another flight of stairs, and as he spots the heavy metal door, he focuses, lighting a ring of flames around the hinges. He kicks it down with more force than necessary and rushes in, spotting the safe sitting in the corner.

As he hefts it up and gets out of the room, he winces as his comms come back online. “Evacuations are slow. Several exits are unusable. Requesting status, over.”

“Not yet, everyone shut up, I need to focus!”

“No, no, the RI levels just rose to 89%. We’re not going to make it. Okumura, what’s your status?”

He shifts the safe to one hand, trying to head down the stairs as quickly as possible, smacking the button for his comms, “I’ve got the safe. I’m almost out, over.”

“Good, Okumura. Keep working, Kitao. Don’t you dare stop until it’s 95.”

Rin feels a shiver run down his spine, cold sweat beading on his forehead, as he comes out the door to the second floor.

There’s a sudden squeal of feedback, so loud it hurts his ears. “Get out! Everyone get out now!”

Suddenly the ground splits—there’s only black, black flames that burn cold. He’s blown straight back into the handrail, dropping the safe and—

He finds himself tumbling to the floor and when he gets up, he’s confused when he recognizes the eccentric colors of Mephisto’s mansion. He stands too rapidly, swaying as his head spins.

He sees Belial first, then his eyes shift to Mephisto, covered in bandages, lying in bed.

 “What happened to my team,” Rin asks breathlessly, “What happened?”

He turns his head back, sweeping around the room, as a tense discomfort settles in his gut. “What happened to them,” he repeats, reaching Mephisto’s bed in two quick strides, “where are they? Did you leave them there?” he asks, voice cracking as his throat tightens.

“Why won’t you say anything?” Rin demands, and he feels a familiar rush of warmth—he doesn’t want to hold them in, he wants to burn his weakness, his powerlessness away.  

He’s still brimming with adrenaline, everything seems to be moving too slowly around him and he wants to shake Mephisto furiously, wants to go back there—how could you only save me?

Mephisto opens his mouth to speak, but all that comes out is a wet cough.

Rin twists his hands in his coat numbly, trying to—

He slams his fist into the wall, willing his flames to fade as he takes a slow breath. He’s tired of meeting good people—people he doesn’t even have the chance of getting to know—and seeing them die the next day, or even the next hour, to this war that they’re losing uncontrollably.

He’s tired of losing fights, losing against demons, against the Illuminati—losing people; tired of being the only one who survives.

“If you’re this bad already, don’t save me next time,” Rin spits out bitterly. He feels a stabbing pang of regret as he watches Mephisto grimace, shifting to the side as he coughs up blood.

“Okumura-kun,” Mephisto rasps, and Rin has to lean closer to hear him, his voice is so weak, “do you remember...what I offered?”

Rin’s breath hitches as he realizes what Mephisto means.

A few months back, when the Order had already begun to lose, he’d been summoned by Mephisto to hear a plan. A plan, he said, that would only be initiated if the coalescence of Gehenna and Assiah was imminent.

“I already said, there’s better choices,” he clenches his fists, “Why won’t you send one of the Arc Knights? Why did you pick me?”

“You...you are the son of Satan,” Mephisto coughs, “you can stop...Lucifer...before—he doesn’t know—he didn’t know you existed…”

“What?” Rin leans closer, “I can’t hear you.”

“The Vatican...either,” he wheezes, “...we hid you well. Go now. You can still save them.”

“I can’t,” Rin protests, “I—”

“Your brother...what about,” Mephisto’s chest heaves as he coughs up more blood, staining his hands and mouth red, “what...about him?”

Rin freezes, and the key under his shirt feels as heavy as his guilt; his regrets. He wants to go back, more than anything, but what happens if he fails? He can’t do this, not by himself; he doesn’t know how to fix any of this.

“The gates...will open soon,” Mephisto urges, shakily raising a hand, “Go now,” he says, face contorting into a frightening expression of exhausted rage, “I will...send you. Go find me.”

Rin swallows thickly, remembering what Mephisto had said before—when Rin had refused him, thinking there was still hope; that they’d all make it out alive, because how could he just give up on everything he has here?

He picks Kurikara off the floor and swings it onto his back, pulling the key out. The metal is warm in his hand and as he holds it, he can feel his blood pulsing beneath his skin; it almost feels alive.

It’s true, he might be able to make all of their lives better. But he can’t shake the feeling that he’s only trying to run away. If he’s going back in time to change things, he’ll lose everything here; everything he’s worked for, his friends, the trust he finally won back, his family.

If he goes back, he’ll be a stranger, fixing the world so they can live better. That’s what he wants; there’s nothing wrong with that.

But where would that leave him...when he’s finished? Would he come back here?

Would he be able to live there?

Don’t you think your friends deserve better? If you could stop the gates from opening in the first place, how many would you save?

What about the people he leaves here; in this ruined world?

The key fits perfectly into the glass doors, and as he pushes them open, he feels as though he’s opened the floodgates to all of his fears and insecurities.

"I'm not your weapon; demon king or savior! I'm Okumura Rin! And when I'm done, I'm going to be the best Exorcist you ever laid your eyes on!"

He’d been so certain, back then.

Now, he doesn’t know if he was right to ever draw the Koma Sword.

Maybe...he is running away. How could he possibly save the world...when he didn’t even know what to say to Yukio back then. Nothing changed at all—he is still gone, still where Rin can’t reach anymore. He doesn’t know how to fix anything.

“Mephisto,” Rin begins, and even before the words leave his mouth, it seems, Mephisto knows what he means to say.

“I can’t, I can’t just abandon them. Even if they’ll be the same people, it just doesn’t feel right. I can’t give up yet,” Rin says, and he realizes, it’s more to himself than Mephisto, “I still have Yukio and Shiemi, Shura, Kuro, and Suguro, Konekomaru, Shima, and Izumo, Paku and, and—”

Mephisto closes his eyes as his breathing becomes burdened again and Rin takes his chance to leave. He pockets the key as he steps outside, buffeted by the cold evening wind as snow plasters to his face.

He can’t stand the disappointment in Mephisto’s eyes; not when he’s like this.  

More than anything, Rin hates how few of those people he really has anymore.  


 

Rin returns to headquarters with a pile of melting snow dripping from his bangs, checks for new assignments—none, for now—and is instructed to take fourteen hours off for his emotional wellbeing.

As he scrawls his report in trembling chicken scratch, the ink blurs as water from his wet hair gets in his eyes and falls onto the page. He crumbles it up and throws it in the trash, grabbing a new sheet as he hauls himself to the nearly deserted cafeteria.

Rin grabs a box of rations—cardboard on the outside, even more cardboard on the inside—and unwraps two of the tiny packages, then turns back to his report.

He stares at it for some time, unable to write it out.

Rin crams everything back into the box and for a split second, he wants to drop it all in the trash...but they’re already short on food—short on water, short on uniforms, short on electricity, weapons, people, time; is there anything they’re not short on?

So, he carries it back to his quarters and forces himself to sit at the desk, staring at the blank, wrinkled sheet of paper. The room’s grey walls seem to curve, and it feels almost suffocating in the flickering, dim light of a single bulb hanging from the ceiling.   

Before, he’d shared this room with six others. It’d been cramped and messy and always smelled disgusting—he’d never realized how clean Yukio was—but it had been okay.

At least it wasn’t quiet and empty, like it is now.


 

He wakes up to the loud bang of a knock on the door and a sheet of paper sliding under his door. It’s what the Order has been doing recently: funeral notices typed out like statistics on weary printer paper.

Rin wonders if they’ll be too short-handed to even burn bodies eventually.

He picks it up anyway, averting his eyes as he places it on his desk and sits down. Rin closes his eyes for a moment, clasping his hands together as he tries to breathe through the fear paralyzing his limbs.

He flips the pages one by one, wishing the stack was even the slightest bit thinner, counting—why can he not recall all of their names—eight, nine...ten.

Rin clenches his fists, wanting to tear the paper to pieces—

There’s an extra page.

He flips back to it, and reads the name listed there, not believing his eyes.

No...how could this happen?

Rin stands, throws himself out the door, sprinting down the stairs so quickly he puts a dent in the wall as he turns the corner. He shoves past a crowd of people waiting for the elevator to cut around the small group of exorcists standing outside the office. Rin jerks the handle down, yanking the door aside.

“Are you,” he gasps in a breath, “are you sure this is right? How—who told you this? Where did—”

“Name and date the notice was issued?” the man asks flatly, as though completely used to this.

“Today, it was—no, it was for...he’s not—”

His chest hurts, it aches too much and he doesn’t know why he can’t breathe right, that no matter how much he tries to inhale, it feels like there’s no air; his head is spinning and he feels nauseous.

“Kid,” one of the older exorcists in line steps forward, “hey, he’s hyperventilating, we should—”

“Give him this.”

A warm hand presses the back of his neck as someone shoves a brown bag in his face, “One, two, okay, slowly one, two...one, two.”

He holds the bag up to his face for another minute, and the man at the desk asks again, “what’s their name?”

Rin’s breaths shudder to a stop again and he can’t say it no matter how much he tries. The crinkled bag falls from his hands and he runs out of the room, out of headquarters, and he keeps running—the frigid wind burns his cheeks and the snow on the ground is too white, it reminds him of—

He collapses; breaths shifting the spray of powdery, soft snow against his face. Slamming a fist down, he watches as small particles float upward, sparkling finely in the blinding sunlight.

He was supposed to come back; Rin was supposed to get him back.

Rin was supposed to protect him.

What was he doing? He’s not some savior, not an exorcist; he was supposed to be the older brother first. How could he have let this happen?

How could he have lost sight of what was most important?

He was weak and a crybaby and all the bullies picked on him...and he could never stand up for his dreams. He’s going to be a doctor and he’s going to enjoy life here at school. He’ll never know that other world.

He didn't do enough last time; didn't say enough. He doesn't understand how much he needs to change, to stop this. But he'll have nothing to lose from now on. This time, he'll dedicate everything; he'll protect him better, be a proper brother to him.

This time, Rin swears, Yukio will never know of this world.


Rin opens his eyes and the first thing that hits him is the crisp sensation of snow sinking beneath his feet and the freezing, morning air. He brushes reverent fingers across the cold metal of the gates, recognizing the monastery instantly.

RIn hesitates for a moment before stepping past the gates and he comes to a stop as he sees two small bundles, nearly swallowed by their light blue coats and matching beanies, crowded around a misshapen lump of snow.

He must be further back than before.

He can’t stop himself, he sets his sword down as he rushes over, and they turn around—he pulls both of them into a tight hug, kneeling in the snow, still feeling overwhelmed by the finality of his decision.

“Hey!” Rin protests shrilly, “What are you—are you okay?”

He’s really here, he’s here in the past again—he can fix things—he’ll protect them this time.

“Get away from them!”

Rin turns, releasing them as quickly as he can, already opening his mouth to apologize when he sees the expression on Maruta’s face.

Why does he look so afraid?

“What’s going on— Izumi, get them back inside,” Kyodo hisses, “if you think we’re just going to let you take them, you’re gravely mistaken!”

“No, wait, please,” Rin raises his hands slowly—

“How did you get your hands on Kurikara,” Misumi mutters, snatching it up from where Rin had carelessly left it earlier, throwing the weapon out of reach.

“What?” Rin turns in alarm, watching as the priests form a wide circle around him, slamming their crosses into the ground. He wasn’t prepared for this to happen. He doesn’t want to fight; he doesn’t want to hurt anyone.

“We’ll hold him here until Father Fujimoto returns,” Kyodo orders, voice frigidly hostile, "no matter what.”

His panicked thoughts chase themselves in circles but Rin’s mind cranks to a stop as an idea forms. “I’m here to talk,” he says evenly, “I need to speak to Father Fujimoto.”

“You think you’ll fool us so easily?”

“What’s going on?”

Oyaji, Rin thinks, swiveling around, “Wait! I’m not Satan,” he says desperately, unable to stand the pained look in Father Fujimoto’s eyes, of hate, of despair, “I’m not Satan or whoever you think I am—”

“How do you expect us to believe that? Why did you approach Rin and Yukio?” Father Fujimoto demands.

“His vessel is so much younger. He must have obtained an elixir—”

“Father Fujimoto, we need to contact the Vatican for reinforcements,” Nagamoto warns, “this isn’t something we can handle alone.”

“Enough!” Father Fujimoto says warily, gaze lingering on Rin for several moments before he begins again.

“I know him,” he spits out, “he’d never be this docile, let alone allow for himself to be surrounded like this without flaring his flames. This guy’s not him.”

Rin relaxes immediately, stepping closer—

“That doesn’t mean,” Father Fujimoto glares, “we trust you. Stay where you are or we won’t have any reason to remain civil with you.”

Rin swallows dryly. He never expected to be greeted like this, otherwise he would have put more thought into coming up with some kind of proof or something. What’s he supposed to do? He needs to hurry and find Mephisto if this goes on any longer.

“Let’s start simple. Who are you?” Father Fujimoto asks.

Rin clenches his fists as he wavers. What if they don’t believe him? How can he prove he is really from the future?

“I asked, who are you?”

“I’m Okumura Rin!” he shouts, forgoing any of his half-formulated plans, “I’m from the future,” he adds, “where the world is ending. Mephisto sent me!” Rin declares, pulling the key out from under his coat. “This should be enough for you to believe me, right?”

But Father Fujimoto’s face falls, and the words that he says next make no sense to Rin.

“Oh no, not you too.”