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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.”

 

Chapter Text

Yukio goes to the chapel late in the same evening and before he says anything, Father Fujimoto gestures that he sit at one of the pews in the back.

“It’s alright,” he smiles, “everyone else is asleep.”

“Thank you.”

Father Fujimoto sits beside him, sighing as he leans back to stare at the ceiling of the cathedral. “Do you want to make a confession...Yukio?”

For a second, he does, despite having already made his decision before coming here. But his eyes land on the dancing flames of the candles and he sees the pillar of fire in his mind again. He feels...balanced on the border of something precarious, almost unhinged.

From experience, he knows it makes him dangerous.

Yukio shakes his head. “I don’t,” he whispers, “I don’t want to be forgiven.”

“Alright, let’s go outside and talk then. It’s stuffy in here.”

They end up sitting on the curb just outside the chapel. The silence settles softly over them as quiet flakes of snow drift under the flickering street lights. Yukio puts his hands in his coat pockets, bowing his head slightly as he tries to will himself to speak.

“You know,” Father Fujimoto begins, “you were named after me.”

Yukio jerks his head up, eyes wide.

“When we first met, it was snowing too. And your mother, she called me the yukiotoko,” he laughs, “pure white and super terrifying or something.” He trails off, staring up at the slight, gold sheen of the cloudy night sky, reflected from the snow on the ground.

Yukio’s mouth turns dry as he tests the word slowly, “Tou-san?”  

“Why did you come here,” he finally asks, “Yukio?”

“I didn’t mean to. I—” he stops, clenching his hands into fists as he tries to keep from shaking, “it was my fault.”

Father Fujimoto stays silent and Yukio doesn’t think he can face him; why is he still so weak? “It was on a mission. I killed them,” he says without reserve, and Father Fujimoto’s expression turns worried as a hint of unease flashes across his features. In the next moment, it’s gone and all that’s left is a gentle empathy that Yukio doesn’t deserve; he isn’t even close to being finished.

“I wanted...to be strong,” he admits, “ I joined the Illuminati; I betrayed the Order and I wanted to know about our past, so I worked for them. I...shot Nii-san. I yelled at Shiemi-san, I threatened Suguro-kun and I— I don’t know, I can’t even remember all of—”

“Yukio,” Father Fujimoto sets a hand on his back, “it’s okay, take your time.”

Yukio lets his hands uncurl slowly, pressing them softly onto the blanketed curb, watching the snow melt around his fingers.  

“I— It was my fault. Nii-san and the nine other exorcists, along with all the research staff still left in the building, they died because of me. I planted the bomb—I couldn’t stop them in time—and I killed them. Every last one and I hardly even cared about the others, I just—”

Father Fujimoto sighs and Yukio freezes; what is he even afraid of? Doesn’t he deserve the worst anyway? He’d said he didn’t want forgiveness but why does he crave it so desperately?

Why must he be so terrified his guilt will fade one day?

“You asked not to be forgiven, so you won’t be,” Father Fujimoto says, breath fogging into a small cloud. In the fragile light of the lamppost and the warm aureate glow of the snowy night, he suddenly looks every bit like the priest he’s supposed to be.

“But you’ve taken the first step. Even if you take the rest of your life, your penance will mean something to the ones you wronged.”

He gives Yukio a questioning look, "Will you stay here?"

Yukio lowers his head, staring at the clean, fallen snow for a long time after Father Fujimoto stands, setting his coat over Yukio’s shoulders as he leaves.

Yukio thinks if things were the other way around, it wouldn’t mean much to him. Nothing would ever be enough.

He shouldn’t pretend to be here for any reason, other than his own greed, his pathetic, insatiable need to correct his own mistakes. He was too vain, earlier; thinking Nii-san might forgive him. It has been too late for a long time now.

But Yukio has nothing else to offer.


 

Father Fujimoto introduces him as a long lost cousin, Okumura Yuki, saying he’d found out recently and wanted to meet Rin and Yukio, and that he’d gotten a little lost on his way here.

Rin’s eyes shine as he scoots a chair close to the bed, “You have the same moles as Yukio!”

His younger self ducks his head in embarrassment before he too clambers onto the chair, it’s surprisingly large enough for both of them—they’re so small, so young—staring at Yukio.

For a minute he doesn’t quite know how to speak to them. He needs to imbue careful meaning into his words; he needs to change things—

“I do, don’t I?" comes out instead, and for some reason he keeps going, he selfishly wants to see them laugh, wants to prove to himself he’s really here. “That’s how the people at the hospital found out we're related.”

Younger Yukio shoots him a disbelieving look as Father Fujimoto sniggers behind his hand, but Rin’s eyes widen with a soft, “Oh,” and Yukio’s heart hurts with nostalgia—Nii-san used to do that too, as though Yukio had told him something he’d never considered possible.

How long has it been since he talked to Rin?

“But if you’re our cousin,” Younger Yukio says, tiny fists clenched with determination, “do you know our parents?”

It’s not...as disorienting as he thought it would be, to see his younger self like this, like the memory captured in an old photograph.

Yukio wishes he didn’t have to disappoint him. He remembers how much he wanted to know too; that inexplicable need to understand why they were born, why their parents had left them.

He’d been given the file on Yuri Egin by the Illuminati, but in the end, he still doesn’t know. The information was scattered, too focused on the events and actions of Yuri, but with none of the truth he was searching for. It’d been oddly like reading a book, for one side character in a vast plot, and skipping to the scenes she appeared in without knowing her life, the events around her, the world she lived in.

“I’m sorry,” Yukio whispers, looking down at his bandaged fingers, “I tried to find out.” He can only offer his younger self a pained smile, “I don’t know mine either.”

But unexpectedly, he receives a shy smile from Yukio, “That’s okay,” he says, “...you have us now, and Tou-san and—” he breaks off, suddenly looking flustered.

“Yeah! We’re your family!” Rin adds as he leans forward expectantly, “you’re staying here now, right?”

It’s not fair, that Yukio is the one who feels saved.

“Yes, I’ll be staying here now.”


 

“These are the guys I trust with my life,” Father Fujimoto says, as the priests gather around his bed, “Izumi, Maruta, Naoya, Seishiro, and Tadashi.”

Yukio bends at the waist slightly in greeting. It feels marginally peculiar that he’s meeting them again, but he never really lost them—except Misumi-san—so, admittedly, all he feels is a bland, mild warmth.    

“Go ahead and introduce yourself,” Father Fujimoto prompts.

It sounds perfectly natural when he says it, but Yukio hesitates; he knows he’s being given a choice.

Izumi, Maruta, Kyodo-san, Nagatomo-san, and Misumi-san. He wonders if the rest of them, like Misumi-san, have Morinas Contracts. What kind of guilt was Misumi hiding, that he would seek to confess when Lightning threatened him, even knowing Death would come for him?

He knows nothing about their past, before they followed Father Fujimoto to serve at this small monastery.

They’ve been here since before he could remember, but he hardly knows them at all; not truly, at least. He hardly knows them, like with Father Fujimoto.

Why are you raising us? You’re turning Nii-san into a weapon. What kind? And for what purpose?

His own doubts are painful and incorrigible in their persistence. He is sure, as long as he doesn’t know, he won’t be able to trust them; not genuinely, and most certainly not reciprocally.

The Order, Tou-san...I wanted to believe they were on the right side.

He has no idea what to think anymore, not when he remembers how he’d felt before he unearthed this ugly distrust...they’d never been anything other than kind and accepting to him and Rin.

Perhaps that is fine, this time.

 In the end, he is living a second chance too.

“I’m Okumura Yukio,” he dips his head again from where he’s sitting on the bed, “I’m from the future. Please call me Yuki,” he finishes bluntly.

There’s a collective moment of silence before Izumi slaps his thigh, laughing, “Wow, seriously? You really grew up to be something, man, I can’t believe this.”

“Izumi,” Nagatomo-san shushes, as he turns to Father Fujimoto for confirmation, “how is this possible? What happens in the future that made you come back here?”

“I made a mistake I need to correct,” Yukio replies. He’s been referring to it like that, but there’s too much that was wrong. It sounds too simple.

“Then, how long are you staying? Is this where you change it and go back? Or, are you…” Misumi-san trails off, eyes darting between Father Fujimoto and Yukio.

“I don’t have a way back,” Yukio admits, “there’s no chance for me to return.” Not that he knows of, and not that he cares. There is truly nothing left for him to return to, in that future.

“Dang,” Izumi says, “that’s some conviction. So, what happens in the fut—”

“That’s enough for today,” Father Fujimoto interrupts, “Izumi, you should know better than to ask those things,” he says, tapping the back of his neck. “Yuki, this is your home now. Got it?”

Yukio nods, and as the priests leave, Kyodo-san adds, “If you need anything, Yuki, doesn’t matter if you’re older or whatever. You’ll always be the same to us.”

It hurts, just gently as a slight tightness when he breathes out, that they would say this to him...when he can never be the same as before.

Don’t you want to go home?

He had somehow forgotten, standing in the fragile snow, in the drizzling rain, the warmth of this place. How could he have forgotten?

He was only ever alone by choice.


 

Yukio looks up from his book as he hears a strange thump on his window. He opens it slightly, suppressing the urge to shiver as the winter air sweeps into his cozy room like an uninvited guest; bound to overstay its welcome.

Yukio looks down, spotting Rin and Yukio, dressed in thick winter coats, standing there with visible anticipation. He thinks he has an idea of where this is going.

“Come play in the snow with us!” Rin waves his small, mitten-clad hands in the air, gesturing to a malformed lump of snow crouched behind him, “we’re going to make a huge snowman!”

Younger Yukio tugs on Rin’s sleeve, “Tou-san said Yuki-san needed to rest—”

“It’s okay,” Yukio blurts, “I can help.”

He feels a disturbing turmoil coiling, settling in his thoughts; it’s best not to leave it there, like he did before. He needs to get to know them again. He can only hope to change things gradually, to manipulate the events in their favor.

But it must be better this way, he repeats to himself.

Yukio meets the teal—unclouded, not yet hiding agitated blue—eyes of his younger self and forces a smile onto his face.

Don’t become like me, don’t make my mistakes, he wants to say.  But there’s nowhere to begin. He doesn’t know how to even fix himself. In ten years, Yukio will stand where he stands now.

In ten years, Rin will be gone again.

He can’t let that happen.

“I’ll be out in a minute,” Yukio adds quickly, giving them a small wave as he realizes he’s waited too long to respond. “Don’t try lifting it without me,” he warns, “I don’t want you to strain anything.”

Honestly, he doesn’t remember how strong Rin was at this age. It’s entirely possible he’s stronger than Yukio already.

“Okay!” Rin chirps, “Come on Yukio, let’s make the head.”

Yukio shuts the window, wondering if he can wear one of Izumi’s coats—

There's a worrying clamor outside, and Yukio snaps out of his thoughts with a lingering sense of disorientation; rushing to the foyer.

He pulls the door open and is nearly thrown off balance as Izumi pulls Yukio and Rin inside, knuckles white as he holds them by the backs of their coats.

He hears muffled shouting outside, and Izumi’s trepidation is palpable in the suddenly stale air—something is wrong, he needs to know what’s happening; why does he not remember this from before?

Yukio instinctively reaches for his guns—when his hands grasp air, he doesn’t have time to ponder why he feels relieved—ducking past Izumi's arm as he tries to leave, only to be seized by the back of his sweater.

"Yuki! Where do you think you're going?" Izumi's voice trembles, hand tightening around Yukio's wrist like he's doing Yukio a favor, as though Yukio can't—

He needs to keep it together. Seeking power has done nothing for him; he deliberately discarded everything for it before, he refuses to let that interfere with his goals now. It shouldn’t be important to him anymore. He can’t let himself fall to that this time.

He needs to be rational. He doesn’t have his guns, but he can summon the naiads if he needs, and if anything, he can provide first aid. He’ll serve a better purpose outside, rather than waiting in here, unaware of the situation.

Yukio swiftly breaks Izumi's hold on his arm, pulling the medical kit from the cabinet, and wrenches the door open.

The snow is blindingly bright and for a minute, he sees a haze of color he knows isn't there.

“I’m Okumura Rin!” a voice Yukio hasn’t heard for over a year declares, brimming with fortitude, ringing out so impossibly clear through his harried thoughts.

An absent idea crosses his mind as he closes his eyes against the glare of the snow, seeing an imposing silhouette in his mind, wreathed in blue flames, extending a hand toward him. Could this be the very figure of death, coming for him in the visage of his most regretful mistake? Could all of this have been...a sort of mercy, a dream meant to placate him, so he can be taken without resistance?

How can any of this possibly be real?

"Nii-san," falls from his lips habitually—it shouldn’t, how can he accept this—

He steps forward, feet so heavy he feels he's barely moving at all, heedlessly crossing the barrier Kyodo and the others set up.

Rin turns around just as his stride turns to a lunge, and Yukio throws his arms around him. He latches on tightly, digging his fingers into Rin’s coat, clutching his shoulders hard enough to feel the bones under his fingertips.

Rin stiffens minutely before he relaxes, pulling Yukio closer without hesitation.

He shouldn’t pretend to deserve this, but he wants to stay here; he can’t let go.

"Yukio," Rin breathes, "what's going on? How can you be here? How are you here?"

His voice sounds brittle, almost far away; Yukio can hardly hear him over the pounding of his heart, the shortness of his own breaths, the roaring of the train in his ears.

Does he know…what Yukio did? Does he know?

He wants to fall to his knees, to beg for Rin’s forgiveness—he doesn’t understand why it means so much to him, when he couldn’t possibly have asked for Father Fujimoto’s—to return to before...when they were still brothers. He desperately wants to return to that time, when he hadn’t cut their ties, hadn’t hated—hadn’t willingly ruined everything he longs for now.

“Nii-san,” Yukio repeats, pushing Rin’s arms away as he steps back. He phrases his question with utmost care, with deliberateness that he would never have the courage to speak, if not in this moment.

“What time...did you come from?”

Rin’s expression turns grave and Yukio knows exactly what he means when he says, “After the gates opened completely.”

Yukio’s breath catches in his throat, “Then, why?” Why are you here? How can you stand to look at me? Won’t you despise me?

“Yukio,” Rin snatches his wrist as he tries to take another step back, “I told you before, don’t ask why,” he says thickly, voice taunt with emotion as he tightens his grip, “What part of this can’t you get into your head? You’re my brother!

Why does he never hesitate?

What does Rin mean when he says that—that they’re brothers?



 “Oh no, not you too.”

“What?” Rin asks incredulously, “What are you talking about?”

Father Fujimoto frowns, “You didn’t come together?”

“Nii-san,” a quiet whisper reaches his ears and Rin’s heart stops as he turns in disbelief.

He takes in the somewhat baggy sweater, cracked glasses, hands wrapped in bandages, a large white bandage on his temple and some scratches on his cheeks, teal eyes that Rin will always know, counting the moles on his face. He must have gotten those from their mother, Rin realizes absently.

Still, he can’t believe what he’s seeing. Yukio is standing before him. Yukio, who is taller than Rin, who is unmistakably the same age as Rin, who isn’t from this time.

Rin takes a quick step back, bracing himself as Yukio crashes into him—he’s so warm, so familiar; he even smells the same—and Rin hugs him close in confusion, in shock. Yukio seems to shiver as Rin leans into the hug, and he wonders if he’s cold, he feels thinner and he’s not even wearing a coat.

“Yukio,” Rin finally manages to speak as he finds he can’t stand the confusion any longer, “what’s going on? How can you be here? How are you here?

This doesn’t make any sense. Yukio is—was dead, wasn’t he? Was Shima wrong? Or did the Order make a mistake?

Did Mephisto know, when he sent Rin?

 

 

“Okumura-kun,” Mephiso coughs, “before you go...back, you need to—” he breaks off into another fit, waving Belial away in frustration as he dabs at his mouth with a tissue. “Clear the timeline...do you remember?”

Rin shakes his head, “What do I have to do?”

“Erase...what you changed before,” he hands Rin the rest on a piece of paper, hands shaking with exertion.

Belial steps forward and hands him a small cage with a single white ball of hair, tiny bead-like orange eyes, and no visible limbs. Rin stares at it warily for a few moments before it hisses at him, and he nearly drops the cage.

Rin switches to reading the letter—he doesn’t get it, as he expected—hesitating as he gazes at the key, trying to come to terms with what Mephisto has said.

He doesn’t understand why he feels so reluctant. Nothing was different in the end. He wasn’t able to stop Yukio at all.

But at least, to Rin, it had felt like a small fragment of hope—a desperation that refused to fade—that he might return.

So, when he steps out into that refreshing summer breeze, pulling himself out of the lotus pond, he swears he’ll do it right this time; he won’t let Yukio believe he’s weak anymore, because he never was.

Yukio was never weak in Rin’s eyes.

He lets his past self brush the water out of his eyes for a minute, then Rin yanks his hood over his head, pulling him into the nearby bushes.

“Hey!” his past self squawks indignantly, shoving the hood off his head, “W-who are you? How do you have the same face as—”

Rin slaps a hand over his mouth as the sound of footsteps comes closer.

“Spread out to search the area! Yukio, draw the barrier I taught you and stay here in case it comes back. Everyone else, keep communications open; do not engage the Cat Sidhe! Report back here in an hour.”

Rin waits impatiently until the rest of the exorcists have left before he releases the breath he’s been holding.

“Listen,” he begins, feeling disoriented as his past self frowns at him, “Just trust me. I’m you, but from the future. I just need you to sit here. Don’t do anything, okay?”

“Why?” Rin protests, “Why are you here? I’ve got something to say to Yukio—wait, Yukio! What happens to Yukio in the future?”

“Look, I know—”

“Why do I have to listen to you? How—”

Rin pushes air out of his mouth forcefully, trying to curb his frustration. He knows, knows precisely how much his past self needed to talk to Yukio, how much this meant to him, but he has to fix this before he can go back.

Mephisto had said it would be best if he didn’t reveal too many details—that he would be changing things this way too. But Rin knows his past self is in a dark place right now, a place Rin hasn’t quite gotten out of himself, and he deserves an explanation.

“I’m going to the past,” he says flat out, “but because I changed things before, the—” he stops, trying to remember what the letter said, “the timeline is going to reject me when I try to change things further back.”

His past self makes a confused expression and well, Rin can’t help him much, he’s confused too. Mephisto had explained in a broken string of words and sentences that didn’t quite match up, and frankly he doesn’t think he would have understood either way.

“Anyway,” Rin presses on, “I need you to sit here quietly and wait. Don’t move, even when Kuro comes, because if we change any more, I won’t be able to fix things on my end.”

His past self squats there, dripping wet, and shoots a longing glance at Yukio, standing alone at the front of the temple. “You’re starting from the beginning?”

Rin gives him a curious look over. He hadn’t expected his past self to cooperate. He’s grateful though, and maybe they both know how difficult it is for the other to do this—even if this didn’t change much for Yukio, it was a lot, supposed to be a lot, for them.

“Yeah.”

“Then, tell Yukio—will you tell Yukio that he’s not—” his past self breaks off, leaving the rest of the sentence hanging as he clenches his fists. He shakes his head, “If you’re going back to the beginning...can you save our mother and, and those other people?”

“I don’t know,” Rin says, suddenly crestfallen. How can he pick who to save? Can he even save their mother? If he does, and too much changes, what if he can’t save—fix the future? How is he supposed to—

“Good luck,” his past self offers, “just...just forget what I said. I know you probably can’t save everyone.”

Rin clicks the latch on the cage, opening the door decisively before he loses his nerve. There’s no going back now.

He turns to his past self and in that instant, he feels connected; he remembers exactly how he felt, “I’ll tell Yukio,” Rin declares, perhaps too loudly, “I’ll tell him for you, I promise.”

The white fluffy knot of hair bounces out and opens its enormous, gaping maw, swallowing the horizon in white light.

 “Nii-san,” Yukio says, voice turning detached as he pulls away, becoming very, very still. “What time...did you come from?”

Rin swallows dryly, and somehow, he understands what Yukio is hinting at. His posture is tense, head slightly tilted downward, not meeting Rin’s eyes as he gazes to the side—he looks like when Rin met his younger self at the temple, the nervous one who’d mistakenly pointed his gun at him and thought he’d be yelled at or—

He knows what time Yukio came from.

“After the gates opened completely.” Rin admits. He’s not willing to spare Yukio the pain; not forgiving enough to let him escape his guilt. Rin has no place to judge him though, not when Rin isn’t clean either. Just seconds after being born, he’d caused that terrible tragedy.

It’s not the same, but...if they work together, maybe they can change the future, and his teammates, the Order, all of those innocent people caught in the crossfire, they’ll have better lives too. Maybe, they can save everyone.

“Then...why?” Yukio asks, and he finally meets Rin’s eyes. The torment and regret shows clearly, shaded into every thin line and faintly-red scratch on his face, and Rin decides, it’s enough.

“Yukio,” he leans close, grabbing Yukio’s wrist as he tries to shy away.

When I was a kid, I was alone. I didn’t know how to control my feelings or my strength. So, I often hurt other people. Before I knew it, everyone was scared of me.

But I had Yukio...so I was truly fortunate.

I never knew true loneliness.

Yet, he’d been so consumed by anger; he’d been furious that Yukio had hurt their friends, it’s no wonder Rin couldn’t keep Yukio from leaving. He doesn’t know, still can’t imagine what had driven Yukio to such lengths, what he’d been seeing that night.

Yuki-chan told me he’s all alone without any friends...or even family.

How could he have ever let that happen? Rin should never have—he failed Yukio in a way he never should have; in the worst way possible. He’s never going to let Yukio feel that way again, not ever again.

“I told you before, don’t ask why,” Rin says, “What part of this can’t you get into your head? You’re my brother!

But Yukio just shakes his head, wiping at his eyes, and it feels like they’re children again, like this has happened before, “I’m sorry, Nii-san” he whispers, “I’m sorry,” he repeats over and over—

“...I’m sorry too,” Rin mutters, sorry for not knowing how you felt, for not being able to stop you when you left, for not getting you back when you were gone…sorry for letting you be alone.

“I’m sorry, Yukio,” he begins, and when Yukio looks up, Rin smiles. He smiles because he knows this look and that horrible, frightening confusion that had troubled him for so long rests at last.

I...don’t understand him anymore. What can I do for him? I don’t know what he’s thinking! Even though he’s my little brother.

And finally, he can say the words he has been holding onto this whole year, this entire time Yukio’s been gone like a hole in his heart; the words he’s repeated to himself countless times, wishing he could have thought of them, said them earlier.

“We...were thinking the same thing,” Rin confesses, “I know, just as I wanted to protect you, you wanted to protect me. I should have realized; I should have let you more.”

He needs to say this correctly. He promised his past self too. “I thought you were perfect, Yukio. I really did, for a long time,” Rin takes a deep breath, hoping desperately that he hasn’t misunderstood, “I think, you admired me too, didn’t you? It sucks, that we were so jealous of each other...we couldn’t see ourselves.”

He won’t lose Yukio again. He never wants to feel that way again.

“From now on,” Rin smiles bitterly, “we can’t do that anymore.”

 

Chapter Text

Rin swipes at his face with his sleeve, hoping his eyes don’t look too red—if anything, Yukio looks worse—as Maruta hands his sword back, apologizing profusely. Soon, the other priests start to look ashamed too and this really isn’t the kind of reunion Rin had imagined.

“Ah, haha, it’s fine, really, stop—”

Yukio sneezes twice in rapid succession and before Rin can scold him for not wearing a coat, Father Fujimoto pushes down on their heads, gentle hands ruffling their hair in familiar motions, “Both of you really grew up, huh,” he sighs, hugging them close.

“How did this ever fall on your shoulders?” he murmurs, “I mean, only Mephisto would think it'd be a good idea to send you two to save the world.”

“Shut up, you old fart,” Rin mutters halfheartedly.

Father Fujimoto laughs, “What happened to my adorable son? You won’t call me ‘Tou-san’ anymore?” and the memories come rushing back, like his scabbing wounds have been torn open, and once it starts Rin can’t stop himself, he’s crying so hard, he doesn’t ever want to lose anyone again; how did he ever live through that?

Gentle fingers card through his hair and Rin thinks he can’t breathe; how can he feel such anguish when he’s supposed to be happy?

Father Fujimoto—Oyaji—gives his shoulder a firm squeeze, “I’m proud of you two,” he says in a harsh whisper, “always.”

If it frustrates you, show me a bit of how much you’ve matured.

Rin buries his head in the old man’s coat, and in that moment, everything is perfect. He has Yukio back, his father is alive, his friends, all those precious people he has yet to meet...they’ll be okay too.

He’ll go find Mephisto tomorrow.

Just for today, he wants to stay here and forget about the things he needs to do, the task he needs to complete.

Tomorrow, he’ll do whatever it takes.

I still haven’t shown you anything yet, old man.


 

Once they all crowd back inside, Izumi rushes down the stairs in a flurry of anxious nerves, face slackening with shock when Father Fujimoto explains the situation to him.

“Uh, wow, okay,” Izumi says as the rest of the priests gradually return to their tasks, “do you, er, want to go meet—”

There’s a loud creak on the stairs and Rin’s attention is drawn to the series of soft thumps as his younger self tugs Younger Yukio down the steps, “Oh! Look Yukio, it’s the old man who hugged us earlier!”

Rin’s jaw drops and he has to stop himself from blowing up as he hears laughter behind him. He throws a glare at them, prompting Izumi to scamper away, while Yukio’s shoulders continue to shake as he covers his mouth.

Rin squats down so he can be at eye level with his younger self, trying to keep his eyebrow from twitching in irritation. “Hey, I’m Yuki’s older brother. Just call me Rinka. And, I’m only seventeen.” he says firmly.

Younger Rin crosses his thin little arms as Younger Yukio mumbles a quiet, “Nice to meet you.”

“But you look like an old man,” his younger self retorts, “Why is your hair all white?”

Rin rams his elbow into Yukio’s bony ribs, “Stop laughing,” he hisses, “why is this happening?”

“You’re our cousin too?” Younger Yukio asks meekly, “Will you play with us outside then?”

“Yeah!” Younger Rin beams, “we’re going to make a huge snowman!”

Rin glances at Yukio for a minute, “Sure, but Yuk—Yuki has a cold, so he has to stay inside, okay?”

“What?” Yukio sputters, “Nii-san, I—”

“Come on, let’s go already!” Younger Rin insists, pulling him out the door. He gestures to the lumpy ball of snow enthusiastically, “This is the head!”

Rin feels lightheaded as a delicate warmth settles in his chest. He stares at their faces, wanting to savor the moment. Somehow, they can be happy over the smallest things, and it’s almost a novelty to Rin at this point. It’s been a long time since he last played in the snow.

He grins, “You two roll the middle. I’ll make the base,” he instructs, heading over to the small shed for a pair of gloves.

Soon, the snowman is successfully assembled, and Rin’s back feels sore from heaving the enormous ball of snow around the yard. The snowman sports unfortunate brown patches of mud, covered in uprooted grass, and dead leaves, but Rin quickly covers it with some fresh snow to patch it up.  

Little Rin and Yukio take to him more easily than he’d expected, and it feels nice—kind of cool—to be the older cousin of two tiny versions of themselves.

“Rinka-san! This, can you put this on the snowman for me?” Younger Yukio asks, holding a remarkably shiny black rock out.

Rin grins, “Yeah,” jamming the rock into the snowman’s midsection, along with a few other dirty pebbles his younger self brings over. He steps back, “I have a secret mission for you two,” he whispers, “do you think you can handle it?”

Younger Rin nods with determination gleaming in his eyes, “What?”

“So,” Rin begins, lowering his voice, “I have an idea.”

The two little kiddos’ eyes sparkle with anticipation as Rin explains his plan. He gives himself a mental pat on the back for his brilliant creativity as he watches them leave, rushing back into the house.

He waits outside, idly wrapping his borrowed scarf—probably Nagatomo’s—around the snowman and adding some dead leaves for hair.

A smile edges onto his face as he hears an indignant screech, seeing little Rin and Yukio burst out the door, holding Yukio's poor cracked glasses out to Rin with matching grins of accomplishment.

He stabs them into the snowman’s face without a moment’s hesitation, turning around just as Yukio comes to a stop before the snowman, breaths coming out in short, agitated clouds.

“We named him Yuki-chan after you,” Rin announces.

“Great, it’s a work of art, Nii-san, now give my glasses back,” Yukio huffs.

“What?” Rin asks innocently, “then Yuki-chan won’t be able to see—”

I won’t be able to see,” Yukio deadpans.

Rin spreads his hands, shrugging as he turns to their younger selves, “I guess Yu—Yuki needs them back,” he frowns.

Younger Yukio turns to Yukio, pouting slightly, “Can we keep them on a little longer? Just for today?”

“Yeah, just for today!” Younger Rin tugs on Yukio’s sleeve, “We want to show Tou-san.”

Rin watches in mild surprise as Yukio’s resolve holds valiantly for several seconds only to crack with another persistent tug from Younger Rin. Yukio sighs, pinching his nose bridge, “Okay, just for today.”

Then, he gives the snowman one last squint before heading back inside and proceeds to walk straight into the glass door.


 

Rin hauls the two kids back inside, shutting the door tightly as he rubs his hands together, trying to warm them back up. “Are you guys hungry?”

Younger Yukio nods, an excited smile spreading across his face. “You can cook, Rinka-san?”

“Yep, I’m—”

“Sukiyaki! Can you make sukiyaki?” Younger Rin interrupts, eyes shining with hopefulness.

Yukio looks up from where he’s sitting at the table, “If you need any ingredients, Father Fujimoto gave me some cash.”

Rin scratches his head as he heads over to the fridge, “I’ll see what we’ve got, I guess.”

He opens it and is met with plenty of bread, leftover rice, eggs, ham, a huge paper bag of apples, some random vegetables, condiments, weird herbs, and a small container of leftover hijiki salad. Next, he checks the freezer, finding a good amount of frozen fish, some chicken breasts, a bucket of ice cubes, frozen corn and some other crap he’s too tired to try organizing.

“Is everyone else out?” Rin asks, “I’ll make them lunch if they’re around. Where did Izumi go?”

“They all left together,” Yukio holds up a little slip of paper, “it’s awfully trusting of them, to leave those two to us.”

Rin frowns, “How long are they going to be gone?”

“They’ll be back by tonight. I think they left in a hurry,” Yukio mentions, “I’m not certain what has happened.”

“Oh, so we’re basically babysitting.”

Yukio shrugs, “I don’t mind it.”

“Alright,” Rin claps his hands together, pulling an apron from a drawer, “I’ll throw something simple together for lunch, then we can go shop for things to have sukiyaki tonight.”

“Yay!” Younger Rin cheers.

“Thank you!” Younger Yukio adds, as Yukio helps him hang his coat up.

“Hehe,” Rin smirks, “it’s been too long.”

He doesn’t have time to thaw any fish or chicken, so he pulls the egg carton out and decides to make a variation of his specialty.

Fifteen minutes later, Rin sets out four dishes of omurice, plus some small dishes of the hijiki salad, watching with satisfaction as the golden sheen of the eggs wobbles over the rice. “Hey, wash your hands and come eat!”

“Whoa!” Younger Rin’s eyes widen as he watches Rin slice the egg, letting the steaming, liquid gold spill over the small mountain of fried rice.

“Ohh, cool,” Younger Yukio adds as Rin slices his too.

Yukio smiles, “Itadakimasu.”

“Itadakimasu!” Younger Rin and Yukio echo, excitedly digging in.

Rin pulls his apron off and takes a seat, watching as the three of them begin to eat.

“Dis is so—”

“Nii-san, don’t talk when you’re still chewing,” Younger Yukio reprimands.

Rin hides a smile as Younger Rin pouts, chewing with his cheeks puffed like a chipmunk.

“It’s good, right?” Rin asks smugly, “This isn’t even the best I can do. It’s been a year since I cooked anything, you know. I’ve been eating cardboard for more than half—”

He stops, watching in concern as Yukio bows his head, setting his spoon down with a trembling hand. He covers his mouth slowly and Rin watches as his eyes shut, brows furrowing as though in pain.

“Uh, Yukio? Oh crap, did I mess up on yours?” Rin reaches over to grab his plate, “Here, eat mine instead, or I’ll go remake you one.”

But Yukio shakes his head, and as Rin watches him more closely, he notices his other hand is clenched in his lap.

“Are your hands hurting?”

Yukio doesn't respond. Instead, he lowers his hand away from his mouth, bending forward as he starts to curl in on himself. His whole body seems to shake and Rin freezes as he sees he’s crying.

Crap, crap, was his omurice that bad? Is Yukio going to hurl—it looks like he's in pain. Rin's definitely out of practice, with how busy he’d been. What if he’d added too much salt, or—

“I’m sorry,” Yukio says, voice just above a whisper, “It’s just, I thought…"

He stays quiet for a long time, and to Rin, it feels stifling, like the absence of an important necessity. The longer it drags, the more the silence seems to consume. He doesn’t like this. He doesn’t like it when Yukio is like this.

But it passes in the blink of an eye and Yukio lets out a soft laugh, not taking his eyes off the plate in front of him.

"I thought I’d never get to eat your cooking again, Nii-san.”

Rin sits there, stunned by his words.

He has no idea what happened to Yukio this past year. There’s something heavy weighing him down, something indescribably frightening to Rin. Because as much as he’d like to believe neither of them has changed, he’s wrong. Rin knows Yukio’s hiding things; some things he thinks he’d rather not know.

You never tell me anything. Sometimes, I want to be alone too. So, if you don’t want me to ask, I won’t.

It’s like how he felt before, with their past.

But he knows now, he needs to accept it regardless of his own uncertainties. He won’t run from it again. Rin’s going to make him spit it all out this time, no matter what.

“I’m sorry,” Yukio repeats, smiling sheepishly, “it seems your cooking is so good, I was moved to tears.”

“Shut up and eat already,” Rin mutters, wishing his eyes would stop stinging, “you moley four-eyes.”


 

“Those shoes,” Rin remarks as he helps Younger Rin put his beanie on, “really clash, you know.”

Yukio glares, leaning against the wall as he pulls the tall black boots on, “I don’t want to hear that from you, Nii-san,” he sighs.

“You know, I always thought their uniforms were lamer than the Order’s.”

“Oh, really?” Yukio asks, tone deceptively light, “I see you’re wearing their coat now. What rank did you receive when you passed the exam?”

“Heh? Uh, oh, hey, what do you two want to eat? We’ll buy you each a snack,” Rin says.

“Yes!” Younger Yukio and Rin quickly begin to chatter animatedly.

It’s unfortunate because it leaves Yukio the opportunity to continue grilling Rin, “So? Which rank?” he prompts.

“Agh, this is just the coat Mephisto gave me! It’s not like they had time to give exams when they were busy fighting the—” Rin falters, “Sorry.”

The silence stretches between them for a few moments until Yukio shakes his head, “It doesn’t bother me. I made my own decision,” he says, face carefully blank.

“Oh, look, persimmons are on sale! We should buy a lot,” Rin grabs a cart quickly, watching as their younger selves bound off to the snacks section.

Yukio places two boxes of tofu in the cart, “Didn’t you get a job here before? We should consider finding some places to work if we can,” he muses.

“Ohh, right. Wait, you mean—”

“Yuki-san! Can I buy this?” Little Yukio waves a tiny package of Tamago Boro and Rin smiles immediately.

Yukio sets it in the cart, “Ahh, I forgot I used to like these.”

“Can I buy this?” Younger Rin asks suddenly, holding a huge bag of those addicting little ramen snacks that Rin used to eat four or five packages of in one go.

“Hm, that’s so salty,” Rin protests. He sort of doesn’t want to encourage his younger self’s—

“It’s fine,” Yukio says indulgently, “I thought you liked these too.”

“That’s why—”

“It’s fine,” Yukio repeats, smiling as he gives Younger Rin a soft pat on the back, “you two can go pick one more thing if you like.”

“Hey, Yukio,” Rin warns as they dash off, “you’re going to turn them into spoiled brats at this rate. What are you doing, becoming a doting grandpa?”

Yukio smirks, “I don’t want to hear that from the one who has white hair.”

Rin is about to retort when he feels a twinge at the back of his mind. He’s gotten better at it now, but it’s incredibly faint. Walking over to the freezer, he opens the door as he sneaks a glance back. He watches as an old granny talks to the little boy she’s with, then switches to staring at the businessman inspecting a package of noodles.

Rin nearly jumps as he feels a gentle tap on his shoulder, “Is something wrong?” Yukio asks, keeping his voice quiet, “They’ll notice if you keep staring.”

Rin turns back, trying to stay composed as he leans close, whispering, “See those three people by the shirataki noodles? I think one of them is a demon.”

Yukio’s eyes widen and he nods swiftly, casually turning toward the freezers, checking the reflection on misty glass.

He turns back with a sullen look on his face, “I can’t see.”

Rin buries his face in his hands, “You can’t? They’re right there,” he whispers, “are you that blind without your glasses?"

“You can’t tell which one?”

“They all look normal,” Rin says, squeezing a misfortunate bag of udon noodles in hands as he tries to fight the urge to look over his shoulder.

Yukio grabs the udon out of Rin’s hands, placing it in the cart with enviable nonchalance, “Let’s check out now. I’ll line up. Nii-san, why don’t you go find Yukio and Rin?”

Rin’s heart sinks as he realizes he forgot about their younger selves—what if something happens to them—he should never have let them out of his sight.

He makes to dash off when Yukio grabs his hand, “Don’t—we forgot to buy some rock salt,” he says, “make sure you grab that first.”

Rin furrows his brows in bewilderment, “What,” but he feels something heavy drop into his coat pocket, and before he can stop him, Yukio pushes the cart away without glancing back.

Rin turns away too, walking at a hurried pace as he puts his hand in his pocket, trying to figure out what Yukio handed him. Once he gets far enough away, he pretends to be inspecting some bread as he pulls the cold, metal cylinder out.

It’s a holy water grenade. Rin shoves it back into his pocket, fighting his own disappointment. He shouldn’t have left Kurikara at the monastery and Yukio doesn’t have his guns—even if he did, Rin doubts he could aim properly without his glasses.

He shakes his head, hurrying over to the snack aisle. He needs to focus on finding their younger selves first.

Rin walks past three aisles, becoming more anxious as he realizes he’s lost track of that tingly feeling. What was Yukio thinking? They shouldn’t have split up; what is he supposed to do?

Rin comes to a stop, rushing to the aisle he came from as he spots a familiar looking grey mitten on the ground. His heart plummets as he sprints past two more aisles, still not seeing them at all—

“Nii-san, over here! Did you get the salt?”

Rin turns around, finding Yukio quickly, and standing beside him is the old granny from earlier—

Their younger selves are standing next to the cart, unharmed and safe.

“Ohh, uh,” Rin tries to catch his breath as he lets out an embarrassed laugh, pushing his way through the checkout line to where they’re waiting, “I forgot.”

Yukio reaches into the cart and Rin grabs the bags from him, “I’ll hold them. Your hands are still healing.”

“That’s too heavy though,” Yukio objects. He lowers his voice, taking two bags from Rin, “it’s not natural if you’re seen carrying so many.”

“What’s going on? Is the demon gone?” Rin glances over his shoulder nervously.

“Stop looking back,” Yukio warns. “We need to stop by the craft store.”

“Shouldn’t we hurry back home?” Rin protests, “What are you—”

Yukio shakes his head, “This road is more populated. They wouldn’t try anything when so many people are around.”

Younger Yukio tugs at his sleeve upsettingly, “Rinka-san, I can’t find it,” he tugs again, scrunching his eyebrows together, “I lost my mitten,” he says guiltily.

Rin snaps out of his confusion, leaning down to set his bags down. “Oh, I picked it up earlier,” he hands it back, “don’t lose it again, okay?”

Younger Yukio sneezes once and Yukio produces a tissue from nowhere, “Let’s walk a little faster. We’re almost there.”

A few minutes later, they pile into the enormous craft store, and Yukio leaves his bags with Rin, rushing off, “Stay here, I’ll be done soon.”

Rin watches tensely as his younger self plays around with some discount holiday ornaments.

“Rinka-san,” Younger Yukio bites his lip as his eyes dart toward the entrance nervously, “is something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong,” Rin responds immediately, “we’ll be home soon.”

He still looks nervous though. Rin knows him well, so he can tell what’s bothering him is nothing simple; it’s that strange, illogical fear Rim remembers him having since...well he’d always been oddly afraid.

It doesn’t make sense to Rin because Yukio hardly seems to be afraid of anything now; he was always better at hiding things than Rin. As they grew older, it’d just quietly disappeared, so Rin had forgotten about it. But he remembers clearly, Yukio had seemed to be incredibly anxious at times, even in broad daylight and when they were alone. There had been nothing Rin could think of doing to comfort him other than beating up his bullies.

And it’d been hard—it’s still hard—to see him pull away, as though he couldn’t bear to be helped, to inconvenience anyone.

“I saw Hira-kun from school,” Younger Yukio says, and Rin nods avidly, “but...”

“It’s okay, you can tell me,” Rin offers, “what’s wrong?”

Younger Yukio hesitates, glancing back at Younger Rin quickly, “His...his eyes were yellow. He kept staring at Nii-san,” he twists his mittens in his little hands, looking down at the floor with an ashamed expression flittering across his features.

“What? When did you see him?”

 “Earlier, at the grocery store,” Younger Yukio admits. “I don’t know why...Nii-san can’t see sometimes. When I talk about it, they...they can’t ever see.”

Rin reaches over and puts a hand on his shoulder, “Wait, you—”

I began training when I was seven. I was infected with Temptaint by my twin brother at birth. I've been able to see demons since before I could crawl.

No...he’d somehow forgotten. Rin didn’t realize before, because in reality, he was the one who was protected. As a kid, he’d thought it was a little weird but he was always weirder himself, so it didn’t bother him; that Yukio sometimes talked about things that weren’t there, that he couldn’t see before.

It makes sense now. Of course, he would be frightened; of course, he’d eventually become closed off to Rin. He’d been completely unaware for so long.

Yukio has always known of this world; because of Rin—

“Nii-san, I’m finished,” Yukio announces.

“Took you long enough,” Rin complains, “let’s go home already.” He steps closer, “Your younger self said he saw his classmate, with yellow eyes.”

“The little boy we saw then,” Yukio frowns. “That’s difficult to deal with. We should let Tou-san handle it once he’s back.”

The rest of the walk home is marginally better. Rin doesn’t sense any demons anymore, but he finds himself still unusually tense.

He watches their past selves walk on short, weak limbs, and it scares him; how defenseless they are.

It’s only when they get back to the monastery, that Rin feels he can relax again.  

He carries their bags of groceries inside, beginning to organize them into the fridge. He has all this energy now and he needs to expend it somehow before he can calm down.

Rin gives little Yukio and Rin each a tiny ramen snack package, hoping to occupy them long enough so he can talk to Yukio.

But after looking through a few empty rooms, Rin sees Yukio seated at a desk with a sharp tension to his movements. He pulls out the contents of his bag from the craft store and a pad of paper, beginning to write with startling urgency.

“What are you doing?” Rin asks, picking up one of the tiny brown glass bottles curiously, “Want any help?”

Yukio doesn’t pause in his writing though, and Rin tries to push the dejected restlessness he feels aside as he goes to leave the room.

“I need you to run an errand for me,” Yukio tears the sheet off, holding it out to Rin, “use a key and make sure you keep your face hidden.”

He opens one of the drawers, pulling out a garbage bag. As he opens it, Rin peers over his shoulder, intending to get a closer look, when the odor of burnt cloth and ash wafts out.

Yukio shoves some clothes to the side, rummaging until he pulls out a familiar ring of keys.

“You kept those?” Rin asks incredulously, “Man, you didn’t even have a pair of spare glasses, but you brought those with you?”

Yukio grimaces, “I was accepted into the Illuminati as a visiting researcher, initially.” He tears off another sheet of paper, beginning to draw a slightly shaky circle. “This was the outfit they gave me. I used it as a disguise...recently. It’s fortunate I never took the keys out.”

Rin hums, “Okay, then why do you need,” he looks down at the little note, “all these...what are these? You want me to go right now? Where am I supposed—” Rin accepts a key from Yukio and then everything clicks.

“You—you want me to go to the exorcist supply store?” Rin sputters, mind spinning in confusion.

“I need you to buy these ingredients without leaving anything to trace back to us. We can’t let Tou-san catch onto what I’m doing.”

“What are you doing?”

“Right now, I just need those ingredients,” Yukio replies, focusing on folding the singed clothes back neatly.

I’ve noticed something. You’re hiding something...so, remember this. If things get rough, you can rely on me.

Rin tears the uniform out of his hands—that hateful symbol of the distance between them—and he grabs Yukio’s shoulder, forcing him to face Rin.

Yukio flinches, eyes widening—it almost feels like he’s less guarded without his glasses—in surprise, before they close off, like a pair of curtains being drawn.

“I— I want,” Rin grips his shoulder tightly, and suddenly, he’s afraid to hear Yukio’s response, “I want to know what you’re planning,” he clenches his jaw, fighting to keep his temper down, “I can’t stand when you keep everything inside, when I—” the rest of the sentence dies in his throat as Yukio pushes his hand off.

"I need you to do this first,” Yukio says impassively, “I can't risk waiting any longer." He stands, pushing past Rin to retrieve the uniform from the floor, “Then, we can talk.”

 

Chapter Text

“I— I want,” Rin grips his shoulder tightly, and suddenly, he’s afraid to hear Yukio’s response, “I want to know what you’re planning,” he clenches his jaw, fighting to keep his temper down, “I can’t stand when you keep everything inside, when I—” the rest of the sentence dies in his throat as Yukio pushes his hand off. 

"I need you to do this first,” Yukio says impassively, “I can't risk waiting any longer." He stands, pushing past Rin to retrieve the uniform from the floor, “Then, we can talk.”

Rin backs away a step, “Fine, but you better tell me when I get back,” he says, leaving the room reluctantly, "don't run away. I'll chase you down." 

Before I go, let me tell you something. The Knights of the True Cross are the same as the Illuminati. 

Is that what this is about? Why else would he want to be so sneaky about this? 

“Make sure you don’t forget anything on the list,” Yukio yells through the door, “I’m counting on you!”

Rin turns back quickly, deciding he wants to confront Yukio about it after all, but he sees a blur of movement out of the corner of his eye, and he jerks back—

His younger self crashes into him and Rin throws his hand out, grabbing the back of his shirt before he falls. 

“Crap, sorry I didn’t see you there,” Rin mutters, kneeling to check if he’s okay. 

Younger Rin holds out a demure cardboard box, “There was a knock on the door, and someone left this here.” 

Rin takes it curiously, “Thanks,” he says, squinting at the smudged, illegible label. 

He wants to open it a little, but he’s reasonably certain Yukio will get his feathers all ruffled if Rin doesn’t hurry and get the things he asked for. 

He gives his younger self a pat on the back, “I’m leaving to run an errand but Yuki’s going to be in his room. Go nag him if you want anything, okay?”

“Okay!”


Rin climbs the steps to the supply store nervously, tugging his hood down a bit more. 

Luckily, it’s freezing outside, so he doesn’t look too horribly suspicious swaddled in this scarf and coat, but he’s still worried. Wouldn’t Yukio have been better at this? Why did he send Rin for something that obviously requires discretion?

The shop smells the same as always, an odd mix of fragrant tea and the astringent bitterness of dried herbs and plant roots. 

Rin tugs at his scarf again, looking around curiously. Really, nothing has changed here at all. 

“Oh, welcome to Futsumaya. Have you been helped yet?” 

Rin jumps a little, and it takes him a second to recognize who’s speaking to him. He’s never met her before, but Shiemi had shown him a photo once—slight, with greying hair pinned neatly into a bun and deep crow’s feet lining her eyes as she smiles kindly at Rin—this must be Shiemi’s grandmother. 

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? 

Not just them, Rin realizes; he can save more, change more than just stopping the Illuminati. 

If he could go back further, he might even be able to stop the Blue Night from—

“Just these,” Rin hands Yukio’s list over. 

“Oh, I’m afraid we’re out of dolomite for the time being. Would you like to place an order? We can ship it to you if you like.”

“…Uh, no it’s fine,” Rin mumbles.

She waves a hand, “I can ring you up over here.” 

Rin stays frozen in place as Shiemi’s grandmother gives him another polite smile, words dying in his throat as he forces his legs to move forward. 

What could he possibly say? She lives healthily for at least six or seven more years. How does he know anything he says now will have any effect?

Is it unfair, if he only tries to save the people he knows? 

“Your total is 47,” she says, “I’ve separated the talismanic agents from the other items, so here are these two bags.” 

Rin takes them, settling a hand under the heavier one as the paper crinkles worryingly. “Thanks.” 

But he stands there for a few more seconds, paralyzed by indecision. 

“Um, uh, I noticed the garden outside,” Rin mentions awkwardly, “it’s great, and all the things are growing really well, even though it’s winter.”

Shiemi’s grandmother smiles widely, “Why thank you, dear. That garden is my pride and joy.” 

She’s cut off by the shrill ring of the phone, “Ah, I need to take this. Is there anything else you needed?” 

Rin shifts the bags in his hands, “No, I'm good,” he swallows the cloudy hesitation constricting his lungs and takes a quick breath—he owes it to Shiemi to at least try. “Be careful—uh, I mean, you know, because it’s winter...sorry, I—just don't work too hard on your own,” but it doesn’t feel like enough and—

But he can’t say more, not when he promised Yukio to keep his identity hidden. 

Rin dashes out of the shop without looking back, face burning with embarrassment. He yanks the scarf off as he runs down the steps, all but shoving the key through the door to get back home.

More than anything, he is infuriated with himself—how is he supposed to save these people? 

It feels like too much. He doesn’t think any one of his friends hasn’t lost someone.  

Where—no, when does he even begin?


Rin gets back to the monastery and he sets the stuff Yukio asked for on the counter. 

His attention is drawn to the box he left there earlier. It’s heavy, and as he shakes it, he hears the sound of paper sliding around along with an indecipherable clinking noise. 

There’s no harm looking inside, is there?

Rin peels at the edge of the tape with his fingernail and after several minutes—this probably would have been faster if he wasn’t too lazy to go find scissors or a knife—he pries it open, pulling the letter on top out. 

There's an eyeglass case and something in a bag, but he figures he should check the letter first. He doesn’t know whose stuff this is anyway. 

To Okumura Rinka, it says.

Rin tears the edge quickly, grabbing the box as he hurries back to Yukio’s room. 

That was the last thing he expected. How does anyone know—

Has someone found out where they came from? 

“Yukio,” Rin yanks the door open, “this box came—”

Rin can only see his back, but Yukio has his arm up, head tilted back—what's he doing? Yukio lowers his arm, setting a small, brown-tinted glass bottle down, blinking as he turns toward Rin, and a tear trails down his cheek. 

“Oh, sorry, did I, did I come at a bad time?” Rin sets the supply shop key down on his desk.

Yukio smiles, “It’s fine. What’s inside?” 

What happened to Yuki-chan? It’s the same smile he always gives me...but to me, it feels more like a sign saying, “just leave me be.”

Rin hesitates, hands hovering over the box as he glances at Yukio. He wants to know what Yukio was doing while he was gone—what if he sent Rin on a supply run just to get him out of the way? 

He can’t afford to be too obtrusive. It’s annoying, because if he asks directly, he’s not sure Yukio will tell him, but he’s not any good at being subtle. 

It still feels like he doesn’t know Yukio very well anymore.

Rin jerks the rest of the tape off with more force than strictly necessary, and slides the box over to Yukio, pulling the letter out. 

(ノ^ヮ^)ノ*:・゚✧Congratulations!!   

It seems you have cleared up enough previous changes; you should not encounter any problems altering the future from here. Now that you have arrived, I would not suggest you use the key too casually. There is a limit; although not explicit, per say. It would do you well to conserve the remaining chances. 

My sincere apologies for this afternoon’s discourtesy. That demon was one of mine. I assure you his presence is merely a means of observation and vigilance on my orders. The Vatican is distastefully restrictive of my influence. As such, the reins are out of my hands and I cannot assist you any further.

Truly, how curious your circumstances have become, Okumura-kun. I must thank you for continuing to provide such spectacular entertainment. As a show of my appreciation, I have included gifts for you! ( •̀ᴗ-)

Please feel free to visit me to chat over tea anytime, 

Mephisto Pheles

Yukio peers over his shoulder, holding a letter of his own. 

Greetings Okumura Yukio, 

I must admit, you are not the first mortal to outwit my reign over time, but rather, one of the most audacious. For that, I applaud you. 

I have taken the liberty of masking your presence from my brothers; they will not sense the disturbance as I did. As you must have surmised by now, that does not mean our father is unaware.

Good luck, for I am intrigued to see who you will become henceforth. Know this, even when time does not heal all wounds, all wounds need time to heal.

Do tread carefully, 

Mephisto Pheles

Yukio hands Rin his letter back, "You should definitely go have some tea together," he says casually. "Who knows, he might give you more helpful things."

"...I'd rather not," Rin mutters, "why don't you go then?" 

"I think he likes you better than me."

Rin shudders, "I can't decide if that's good or bad."

Yukio reaches into the box and opens the eyeglass case with poorly hidden anticipation. A pair identical to Yukio’s sits in the case along with a small slip of paper that falls out. 

These are a little experiment of mine. They may serve you better than your current pair.  

“What does he mean?” Rin asks impatiently as Yukio tries the glasses on. From the look on his face, Rin can tell, there’s probably nothing different, but Mephisto has never given them anything normal so far. To say the least, Rin’s surprised Yukio has the guts to wear them on his face without knowing what they’re capable of. He must have really been missing his glasses. 

Yukio gives Rin a small smile, “Do you have the things I asked for?”

Rin hands the bag over, “They were all out of uh, this dolomite you asked for, but the rest is all in there.”

Yukio nods, “Thanks, I’m just about finished with the preparations.” He pulls out a stick of chalk and starts drawing runes Rin’s never seen before, so he just goes back to looking through the box. 

As he somehow expected, there are two coats—the convenient green ones Rin remembers from before—and a thin metal chain. 

He picks it up, fiddling with the clasp for a moment, before he looks to the scrap of paper included with it. 

It has come to my notice that you may need this. It will hide your demonic nature. Unlike the Koma Sword, it will not seal your power. Use it for any purpose you wish. 

Rin sets it aside, gathering a stack of papers from the bottom of the box. He flips through them, confused on finding a photo of himself, his school records, a resume...and then things start to make sense. 

“Yukio, look,” Rin says, passing the papers to him. 

“One second,” Yukio says as he lights three candles in the middle of the room, snapping the chalk in half with one hand. His small bowl of herbs and whatever suddenly catches fire, and much to Rin’s chagrin, the flames climb high, higher still, until they leave a black scorch mark on the ceiling. 

“Dude, the old man’s going to give you crap about that—”

But even as he says it, the mark shifts, and black ash flakes off, fluttering downward until they dissipate, more intangible than dust. 

“What’d you just do?” 

Yukio blows out the candles, picking up the smoldering metal bowl gingerly with his sleeve pulled over his fingers, “I warded the room. From now on, we should only discuss our plans here.” He peers over at the papers Rin is still holding, “Oh, he made credentials for us? I was just starting to get worried about this. This is good; we can take the exorcist exam soon—”

“Wait,” Rin demands, “why do we have to be so secretive about this? Couldn’t it help, if we told them?”

Yukio shakes his head, “That’s not what this is about. We should complete this on our own for now. In a few years, if we haven’t made progress, we can consider other options.” 

Yukio sets the identification papers down, “Tou-san and the others...if the Vatican finds out about us, the consequences could be severe. I don’t want to implicate them if we don’t have to. It’s only a matter of time before someone realizes who we are.” 

“Really?” Rin asks doubtfully, “How would they ever find out?”

“Time travel isn’t as implausible to us—I mean exorcists—as it is to regular people. You’re not the first that Mephisto has sent back.”

Rin frowns, “How did you get here? Could you do it again?”

He’s been thinking about that line in the letter. Now that you have arrived, I would not suggest you use the key too casually. 

Does that mean he can’t go back any further? 

“It’s not likely. I…wasn’t certain it would work in the first place,” Yukio pulls another chair over to the desk, grabbing a notepad as he gestures Rin sit. “Do you remember the Phantom Train we fought with Shiemi-san?”

Rin crosses his arms, “A little. It was the one with the souls inside, right?”

Yukio nods, “Phantom Trains are kin of Samael, and they have the ability to travel dimensions.”

“But you traveled back in time—”

“Exactly,” Yukio draws two boxes on paper, labelling one as “2018” and another as “2008” as he adds a circle in the middle, “it’s been hypothesized that Phantom Trains don’t just travel between one location of Assiah and Gehenna, but rather several locations in Assiah.”

“I don’t get it,” Rin declares, “isn’t it just going to different—”

“I’m not finished explaining,” Yukio prods his glasses up with his index finger, tapping the page. “This train was travelling between Gehenna and the same station, but from two separate points in time. That is how I came here.” 

Rin frowns, “Man, how’d you figure all that out?”

“I didn’t. Like I said, I didn’t think it would work,” Yukio sighs. “I knew the Illuminati had been investigating it. Nearly eleven years ago, they noticed small objects appearing unexpectedly. Mostly, they were personal belongings, but once or twice, people found tickets from nonsensical dates.”

“Crap, does that mean other people will come back too?”

“No,” Yukio traces his circle on the piece of paper thickly, with dark, heavy lines, “because they don’t survive the trip through Gehenna.” 

Rin pauses to think for a few seconds and then it comes to him with startling clarity. 

Words refuse to leave his mouth though.

The hauntingly vibrant blue that was mirrored by Rin’s own flames; the strange power Yukio had—that Rin knew nothing of—and Rin almost couldn’t recognize him. 

The one standing on the bridge, with eyes so frighteningly cold, as though Rin was nothing to him at all; as though they were less than strangers—Rin never wants to face him again. He was not Yukio, not the one Rin knows—the one he wants back—the one who would never say such things. 

But that’s not right either. 

I won’t rest until I’m certain it’s safe. I won’t accept your power!

Rin can’t help the soft, self-deprecating laugh that escapes. Now that the tables are turned, it’s weird that he finally knows how Yukio felt. 

“It’s your eye, isn’t it?” he says finally. Does Yukio have the same powers? How does he still look human?

“My left eye," Yukio agrees, "can be used by Satan to see into Assiah. I didn’t inherit flames or anything like your powers.” 

His tone of voice is steady—too steady to be natural. 

He breaks eye contact, twirling his pencil absently, “I asked you to buy me supplies because I’ve been making something that will suppress the Temptaint in my eye. My equipment is sadly lacking compared to what I had before, but for now it seems to be sufficient. Before, I only used holy water in the eye drops, but I’m trying a different approach with hypericum. If it works well enough, I’ll be able to administer it once a day."

Rin starts to nod, but an unpleasant thought occurs to him. “What about your younger self?” 

“For me, the first time I felt it was when in Kyoto during the Impure King incident. As long as he doesn’t run into a life-threatening situation, there shouldn’t be any issues.”

It sounds awfully uncertain when he says it, but Rin doesn’t want to push him any further. He’s talking about it now, and that’s good enough. Yukio’s always been the capable one. If Rin managed to get a handle on his powers, he’s sure Yukio will turn out okay. 

It’s unsettling though, that he’s known since the Impure King. He hid it for more than half a year and Rin couldn’t even guess what was wrong. 

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Yukio’s always been good at keeping secrets. The more important they are, the better he keeps them. 

I began training when I was seven. I was infected with Temptaint by my twin brother at birth. I’ve been able to see demons since before I could crawl.

What else has Yukio been keeping from him? How many more secrets does Rin still not know?

In truth, he’s afraid if he offers to help, Yukio will reject him, like before. 

So, he won’t ask more, for now. 

For now. 

Yukio’s been spinning his pencil, staring fixedly at the sheet of paper for the past minute and it occurs to Rin...it might be a little farfetched, but what if Yukio feels as he did; to want to be accepted?

His head is a mess right now. He needs some time first, or he’s going to say the wrong thing. 

Rin shifts in his seat, deciding to switch subjects. There's one more question he needs answered anyway. 

“Then, do you think we could go back further? I don’t think my way will work, but what if yours—”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Rin swallows. He had a feeling Yukio wouldn’t agree, but from how quickly he responded, odds are, Yukio’s been thinking about it too. 

No matter how hard he tries, he’s never managed to talk Yukio into anything he doesn’t want. 

Still, he doesn’t want to think about why he insists on trying, “There’s more people we could save, if we go back. Like our mom and all those exorcists, and the monks from Suguro’s temple—”

“And what?” Yukio cuts in, “Are you seriously planning on stopping the Blue Night?”

“Yeah, it was partly our fault,” Rin protests, standing so quickly he feels lightheaded, “and we can’t just let them die, not if we can do something about it!”

He knows he’s being illogical. His mind was made up earlier but right now, more than anything, he doesn’t want--he can’t stand his own reluctance; the hesitation he felt earlier when he couldn’t do anything for Shiemi’s grandmother--to regret not having tried, to be so afraid of failing

“Nii-san, I can’t let you do that,” Yukio says, voice callous and bitter. “Even if you could travel back in time again, which is unlikely, you’d die trying to save them.”

“Why—”

“Do you have an actual plan?” Yukio asks with a tinge of irritation lacing his words, “I think you must have forgotten who caused the Blue Night in the first place. Can you really defeat Satan, all by yourself?”

“I…” Rin unclenches his fists, “How can we pick and choose? It’s not right if we save some people but—”

Yukio stands as he seizes Rin’s wrist, furious rage flashing behind his glasses—it’s not like him to lose his temper so quickly. 

His fingers close tightly around Rin’s wrist; so tightly that Rin imagines he can feel the infinitesimal tremors of his frustration, “Can't you spare a thought of how I feel when you try to save others without the slightest care for your own safety?” Yukio seethes, lips pulling back into a snarl. 

“Quit trying to play the hero when you don’t have the strength to back it up!”

The accusation hits him like a slap across the face and Rin stumbles back instinctively, “Then,” he breathes, “tell me, what I’m supposed to do? I can’t—”

The instant the words leave his lips he feels incredibly drained, like saying it aloud meant he can’t deny it any longer.

“I can’t save anyone. I don’t know how.”

Yukio’s grip on Rin’s hand doesn’t waver, but the silence floats between them with an uncomfortable, diffident air. 

“This is what you were beating yourself up about?”

Rin grinds his teeth as his own temper flares, scornfully hot and indignant as he holds himself back. He’s not going to punch Yukio in the face—in his new glasses—for being such a jerk.

Yukio laughs though, and Rin really wants to hit him now.

“Nii-san, it’s just like you to do something like this,” he mutters derisively. “You said it must be tiring for me to worry so often, but I’d say the same of you. Is it not exhausting, to care so much?”

“What—what are you saying?”

Yukio looks away, and he pushes his glasses up again, smiling quickly, “I’m sorry for my outburst. I shouldn’t have yelled.” 

We’re brothers but we’re completely different! I forgot that! Sorry for being so loud. Good night, Nii-san. Just forget about this. 

His grip on Rin’s wrist slackens and he pulls away, composing himself in the next second.

“We need a solid objective. It's too much, to try to make the future flawless. We’ll save the ones we can, right now,” Yukio says adamantly. “We need to focus on stopping the gates from opening. Otherwise, all of this will have been for nothing.”

It’s as he expected anyway. Deep down, he knew he wouldn’t be going to save them. 

He hasn’t grown a bit. Rin’s always looked to Yukio for help. Even before he became a teacher, Yukio has always known what to do, he’s always been able to make the hard, painful decisions that Rin couldn’t commit to. 

He knew Yukio wouldn’t agree, but he still wanted to say it. 

It’s dumb because Rin wanted to say it so he could let go of that hope; he’d probably known—from the second he stepped out of the doors to the past and seen their past selves—that he couldn’t go back any further. 

It shouldn’t be like this though. It feels far too selfish. 


Rin chops the Napa cabbage swiftly, letting the familiar motions cloud out his harried thoughts.

Yukio is sitting on the couch with their younger selves, reading some story to them, and for the moment, everything is too calm for the turmoil in his head. 

Just then, the phone rings and Yukio rushes over to pick it up. 

Rin pauses in his work, trying to hear who he’s talking to, but Yukio doesn’t say much at all, just a few murmured words as he listens to the other person speak. 

It’s taking a long time though, so Rin goes back to chopping more ingredients. 

He feels like he forgot something important though. He was supposed to do...something. It’s a gnawing, anxious feeling he can’t seem to get rid of. 

Rin prepares the sukiyaki ingredients all too quickly, and even when he’s finished, Yukio is somehow still on the phone.

Rin walks over to the couch, picking up the story book absently as he sets a plate of persimmon slices on the table, “Don’t eat too many or you won’t have room for dinner,” he warns as Younger Rin and Yukio scamper over. 

Yukio comes back and he waves a hand a Rin to follow him. 

“Who was it?”

“Ah, Father Fujimoto was just checking if everything’s going okay. Their mission is going to take a while this time.”

“I don’t remember this happening before though,” Rin leans against the wall, trying to keep an eye on their younger selves. “Did they ever leave us alone at home?”

“Last time, Tou-san probably stayed behind to look after us,” Yukio suggests. “Now that we’re here, he doesn’t need to.”

“Did he say what they’re doing?” 

Yukio nods, “A set of Demon Karuta was stolen. Usually it wouldn’t be an issue since they’re used for Aria certifications all the time, but this one’s reading cards are possessed—”

“Oh! I know that one. Suguro played it before,” Rin exclaims, “it ends up in Lightning’s hands later.” 

Yukio raises a finger to his lips, turning to check that Younger Rin and Yukio are still occupied by the persimmons, “That’s odd. Perhaps it was given to him by the Order.” 

“Did the old man say anything else?”

Yukio points down the hallway to his room.

“Just some instructions about going to preschool, their bedtime and a few others,” he replies as he gestures for Rin to go inside first. 

He locks the door with a sharp click and Rin watches as the chalk lines appear on the walls in slight awe—why does Yukio know how to do all this cool stuff? They didn’t teach these things in class. 

Yukio opens the drawer holding the stuff Mephisto gave them, “Now that we have those documents from Sir Pheles, we should take the exorcist certification exam.”

Rin agrees as quickly as he can, “Yeah, sure. Then we can help the Order to stop the gates later.” 

He’s noticed before, even though it doesn’t happen often; Yukio can’t think right when he’s frustrated, and he’s unbearably stubborn once he starts to think he’s losing. Rin had been worried that Yukio might try something radical because he being infuriatingly unpredictable now, but this is straightforward and that’s the best—

“Yes, but you need training, Nii-san,” Yukio smiles thinly, “you won’t be using your flames, after all.”

“Oh,” Rin’s heart sinks, “crap, that’s bad.” 

“It’s usually in March, so we have two months,” Yukio offers, “but you need to study for the written exam too. I suggest you start as soon as possible. We have lots of time now. I’ll tutor you personally.”

Rin laughs nervously, “Ahh, I have to uh, go check on Rin and Yukio—”

Yukio frowns, turning serious as he flips through the identification papers, “We should get this straight. You slipped up twice, Nii-san. From now on, we should get used to these new names. I am Yuki and you are Rinka.” 

His hands shake minutely as he hands Rin his pages, “We can’t be Yukio and Rin any longer. If someone were to discover our identities—that’s a mistake we can’t afford.” 

Rin accepts the papers, “I know.”

Yukio shakes his head, “Not only for their safety and ours. The consequences could be even worse. If the Illuminati finds out, think about it, what would happen...if they could time travel?”


Rin tucks Younger Yukio’s blanket tightly around the sides until he’s cocooned well enough and Yukio peers over, frowning disapprovingly, “Nii-san, that looks uncomfortable.”

Younger Yukio shakes his head hurriedly, “It’s okay, I don’t mind.” 

“Can you tell us a story?” Younger Rin asks eagerly, “Tell us something cool!”

“Alright, Yuki’s going to tell you a super cool one,” he leans close and whispers in Yukio’s ear, “use your teacher skills to make them fall asleep,” he grins cheekily. 

Yukio glares but as he turns, he smiles indulgently, “Sure,” he pulls a chair over to their beds, “this story is about a…carriage driver.”

Rin throws him an incredulous look, “What are you doing? Just tell them a princess one! They have to sleep at eight,” he whispers, “you only have six minutes, you know!”

Yukio ignores him, “This carriage driver had two horses and he switched between them by day and night. He worked long before the sun rose and late after it set. The day horse was sturdy, and the carriage driver knew he could depend on it even when he tired himself. On the other hand, the night horse was swift. It ran with the wind trailing behind it; faster than thunder through air.”

Younger Yukio’s eyes widen excitedly, “Ahh, cool.” 

Yukio nods gently, “The carriage driver specialized in escorting guests from the border of the kingdom to the center of the nearest town. His route was always the same and at times he would doze off, trusting his horses to know the way.”

Crap, Rin thinks, something bad is going to happen now. He’s getting worried. What if Yukio makes the story too sad or something and they can’t sleep?

“It was a quiet winter dusk when the carriage driver received a strange request from one of his passengers,” Yuki lowers his voice. “A young girl dressed in a thin shawl and torn shoes asked him to take her beyond the border, to the next town outside the kingdom. She told him, ‘In exchange, I will reward you extravagantly,’ and the carriage driver agreed.” 

At least it’s boring enough that Younger Rin’s eyelids begin to droop, and Younger Yukio nods a little too. It helps that Yukio drones on and on evenly and Rin almost feels like he’s in class again, listening to one of his lectures.

“He doubted the young girl would be able to pay him at all, but she seemed to need his help, so he decided to make an exception.”

Yukio glances at his watch, “The sun sets completely, and the carriage driver realized his dilemma. His day horse had worked many hours already, but the night horse was sure to tire before the end of the journey beyond the border. Still, he decided to risk it. He would take both horses to lessen their burden.” 

“The night was cold and as they neared the city, the horses’ pace slowed. ‘Only a little further,’ the driver thought to himself, ‘I’ve come this far now.’ By the time they reached their destination, the carriage driver was exhausted and so were his horses. The roads of this new town were unfamiliar to him and he had been forced to travel precarious paths slick with snow and ice.” 

Younger Yukio bites his lip anxiously and Rin crosses his arms, giving Yukio’s chair a light kick, “Don’t you dare make the ending sad,” he hisses. 

Yukio grimaces as he continues, “The driver brought his horses to a stop and opened the carriage door, but the girl nowhere to be seen. She had left a meager pile of coins for him, and the driver realized, she had intended to trick him from the beginning. ‘That’s fine,’ the driver thought, ‘I’ve helped her and that’s enough.’ So, he searched for his next customer to take across the border. However, this city was wealthy, and no one wished to visit the small, destitute town the driver came from. Without any other options, the carriage driver decided to return home, determined to work more tomorrow to make up for tonight’s loss.”

 Yukio clears his throat, flicking a speck of dust off his sleeve as he stalls, “So…the...carriage driver left the city only to discover both horses had been overworked. He couldn’t return home,” he pauses again, “he...he’d made a careless mistake that would cost him more than a night’s pay, and now, since he took unfamiliar roads to reach the city, the driver was lost—”

“Hey,” Rin murmurs, “I think they fell asleep,” he says bluntly. “See, I knew you’d be effective.” 

Yuki shrugs, “I forgot the moral of this story anyway,” he whispers, easing the door shut. “I thought it was supposed to have a happy ending, but I must have remembered wrong.”

Chapter Text

As Yukio had anticipated, it’s still dark when he wakes in the morning. He gets dressed as quietly as he can, tucking his shirt in blindly—Father Fujimoto had given him some of his but he needs to buy more—as he grabs his glasses and eases the bottom drawer of the desk open. 

He takes the entire bag out, freezing as the plastic rustles loudly. Yukio waits, listening carefully for the soft snuffles of Rin’s breathing. 

It’s only a minor inconvenience—not really an inconvenience at all—that they’re sharing a room. It’ll be less questionable when they discuss plans there, and in truth, Yukio might have missed it a little. 

...Or perhaps, it’s more that the silence when he’s alone haunts him; it peels at the corners of his doubts and insecurities, drawing on his fears and shading them in starker, more furious lines.

Those eyes don’t belong to you, do they?

Yukio comes to an abrupt stop, as he draws a slow breath in, rubbing his eyelids tiredly. There’s an uncomfortable pressure building as he blinks that grows worse by the minute. He left the eye drops in their room. In a way, the eyepatch was easier, though both have their inconveniences. It seems he’s still not used to this. 

Yukio throws his Illuminati uniform in the laundry machine and lets it run as he heads back to their room. Rin has always slept soundly, and Yukio usually never had any trouble leaving in the night—that he knows of. After all, Rin has snuck out many times and Yukio continues to let him believe he’s completely unaware. 

He turns the knob swiftly, recalling that the hinge squeals incorrigibly when opened too slowly, and grabs his eye drops off the nightstand—

The floorboards creak as he steps down, much to his dismay. Rin shifts, sniffling a little, then his breathing evens out again. Yukio holds his breath, quickly checking that he hasn’t forgotten anything else. 

Shuffling over to Rin’s futon, he leans down, cautiously tugs Rin’s pajamas back over his exposed stomach and pulls the blanket up to his shoulders. Rin turns his head a little and Yukio withdraws his arm, poised to spring away if he wakes. 

But his eyes stay shut, and Rin’s chest rises, falls, rises steadily as Yukio stands there—he’s alive, he is here—unable to help the small smile that settles onto his face. 

He used to be better at this, Yukio thinks as he leaves. 

Checking the time, he applies the eye drops and goes through the rest of his morning routine, minding the healing cuts on his face and hands. 

The sky has warmed to a gentle navy blue as he heads out. It’s a good morning to run. There’s hardly any wind and the frigid air wakes him up as he jogs around the neighborhood. He still remembers the streets here. There are some shops missing and others that are gone in the future, but for the most part, it remains unchanged. 

Yukio steps off the sidewalk, following the narrow trough left behind by the parched summer stream. The snow has accumulated here and his foot sinks alarmingly deep, slipping against the collection of pebbles beneath the snow. 

It takes him longer than he’d expected, but he finds the small clearing without difficulty. He scuffs at the smooth, icy surface with his boot, captivated momentarily by the air bubbles trapped within its clear depths. 

It will suffice.


He opens the front door, meaning to sneak in, when the doorknob is pulled out of his grasp. 

“Where have you been all morning?” Rin asks, “Yukio’s sick with a fever.”

Yukio swipes at the condensation clinging to his glasses guiltily, “How high?”

“Thirty eight,” Rin says anxiously, “and he’s been coughing since he woke up.” 

“I’ll go take a look at him in a minute.” 

He hopes it’s only the flu. If his temperature rises more, he might have an infection and that’d be more complicated. 

Yukio checks the medicine cabinet—it’s incredibly well stocked—and puts a glass of water in the microwave, letting it warm up a little. 

As he gets to their room, Rin is wringing a towel over a bowl of water by the nightstand and Yukio smiles as he sees his younger self with a cold cloth on his forehead, swaddled in blankets. Younger Rin is sitting by his bed, chattering about a stray cat he saw the other day. 

He’d nearly forgotten how often Nii-san used to take care of him when they were younger. A twinge of nostalgia stirs painfully in his chest as he sets the glass of water down. Small, quivering ripples run across the uneven surface of the water as he tries to quell the wave of emotion clinging to his thoughts.

Yukio picks up the thermometer, shaking it firmly until the mercury recedes, and passes it to his younger self, “Do you mind if we measure again?” 

Younger Yukio takes it obediently and Rin ruffles his hair, “It’s okay, you’ll be better soon, I promise. Yuki’s a doctor you know,” he grins. 

Younger Yukio tries to say something but ends up coughing and Younger Rin fidgets with his blankets, clearly upset. 

“Let’s have them stay home today,” Yukio suggests, “I’ll call—”

“But we’re supposed to finish the ornaments today,” Younger Yukio protests, “I wanted to—” he breaks off, coughing again. 

“I’ll finish yours,” Younger Rin promises, “stay home and get better soon!” he insists, clumping the blankets up into a small mountain as though it’ll help little Yukio get well faster. 

Yukio holds his hand out for the thermometer, “Let’s see,” he tilts it, squinting at the graduation lines, “you’re still at thirty eight.” 

They’ll need to watch him carefully for today, but if it doesn’t go any higher, it’s not likely he has an infection of any sort. Yukio doesn’t remember ever being seriously ill close to their birthday in the past, so he doubts this will last long. 

He watches in slight surprise as their faces fall, and quickly amends what he said, “You just need some rest and I think you’ll be well in a few days.” 

Younger Rin beams, “Get lots of rest, Yukio!” 

Rin ruffles his hair, “Yeah, let’s go make breakfast, okay? Do you think you can eat, Yukio?”

“Yeah,” Yukio responds automatically before he realizes his mistake, “I—if you eat, your body will recover faster.”

His younger self gives a hesitant nod, “I’d like that,” he admits quietly. 

Rin pulls his younger self along to the kitchen and as they leave, Yukio finds himself pulling a chair over to the bed. 

He brushes his younger self’s hair to the side, changing out the towel on his forehead. 

“If you can, you should try to sleep,” Yukio murmurs, “It’s easy to try pushing yourself too hard if you’re sick often, but it’s okay to take a break.”

Younger Yukio’s lip trembles as he shakes his head, “I’m used to it now...being sick. I hate it when I have to stay home.”

Yukio nods, combing his fingers through soft hair that feels too warm to his own frigid hands. He remembers staying in bed, watching Rin go to school without him. He remembers the envy that simmered beneath his skin every time he asked Rin about his day: if he did anything interesting, if he learned new things, if he’d had fun today. 

And he knew, Rin was only trying to make him feel better by giving him amusing stories; carefully remembering every interesting thing he saw so he could tell Yukio about it when he got home. It’d been kind and Yukio appreciated his efforts, even when Rin started to get repetitive. 

Every day it was always, how are you feeling today, you’ll get better soon, who knows, maybe tomorrow it’ll be gone, plus the occasional, you’re lucky, school sucks.  

At times, it made his own frustration worse. 

 “I know,” Yukio admits as his younger self begins to drift off, “you’ve always been like this.” 


Yukio watches as Rin blows gently on a spoonful of rice porridge, checking his watch. “Rin-kun, I’ll take you to school,” he says, standing to leave.

“Hey, dress warmly,” Rin says pointedly, “it’s cold outside. Oh, and don’t forget his lunch! It’s still in the fridge.”

Yukio takes Younger Rin’s hand, “Let’s go now. Nii-san will keep him company.”

Yukio helps him get his coat and Younger Rin bounces forward impatiently, “Yukio’s been working really hard on this ornament. He sucks at this stuff, but this time it’s going to be good,” Younger Rin says resolutely, “I’m going to make it the coolest.”

Yukio nods, but he doesn’t recall making any spectacular ornament, so it must not end up going too well. There’s nothing to gain from telling Younger Rin this, although it leaves a confusingly apprehensive feeling in the back of his mind. 

He doesn’t have the heart to tell Younger Rin otherwise, but the ornament is nothing more than an excuse. An unsuccessful one too, since he’s confined despite his efforts. 

Nothing used to aggravate him more than being constantly reminded, made perfectly aware of how frail his body was...how little he could do to defy that weakness.

The preschool is only a short walk from the monastery and Yukio lets little Rin lead the way to his classroom. A few other children are already there, seated around a long table, chattering amongst themselves. They welcome Rin easily enough, so Yukio heads over to greet their teacher. 

She’s young, only five or six years older than himself, with a sunny disposition that seems to fit this place well. 

Yukio dips his head, “I’m Okumura Yuki, Rin and Yukio’s cousin,” he begins, “Yukio is—”

“Oh wow, you look so similar!” she exclaims, “Ah, sorry, my name is Shimizu Hina. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Okumura-san.” 

“Likewise,” Yukio smiles, “I came to let you know, Yukio is sick. He and Rin won’t be attending class for the remainder of this week. I believe winter break starts soon anyway, is that correct?” 

“Yes, that’s right. It would be better,” she affirms, “so they could keep each other company.” 

“Of course,” Yukio agrees, “I won’t keep you any longer then, Shimizu-sensei. Thank you for taking care of Rin and Yukio.” 

“Oh, it’s no trouble at all. Have a great day, Okumura-san.” 

Yukio waves to Younger Rin as he walks out, heading to the convenience store. His hand is sore and the cuts sting from the cold no matter how he positions his fingers, so he picks the first box of generic acetaminophen off the shelf, cough drops, and a roll of bandages, making his way to the checkout counter. 

He stares at the cheerful holiday calendars idly as he waits in line. Their birthday is coming up soon. It would be nice to celebrate it some way...perhaps he could buy some gifts for everyone at the monastery too. 

“Morning,” the cashier grumbles, “need a bag?”

Yukio shakes his head, grabbing his purchases and leaving swiftly. 

At first, he thinks it’s the winter air but as he examines it further, he becomes more troubled.  It’s slight, like a heaviness in his lungs, rendering each breath scarcely inadequate. He feels uneasy. 

Something must be wrong. Something happened today, in the past. Only, the more he tries to think about it, the more it eludes him. 

He knows it’s important, but he can’t remember no matter how hard he tries. 


Yukio returns to the monastery and as he steps through the gate, he hears shouting—not from inside, but in the back, near the little vegetable garden. A cold chill raises the hairs on the back of his neck as the anxiety he felt earlier rears its head, gripping his limbs with icy fingers. He follows the sound with reserved footsteps, tense and disquieted. 

“You never saw what that did to him!” Rin yells, “He told me—he thought he was raised to be a weapon—”

“He’s terrified,” Father Fujimoto retorts, “you’re asking me to tell him the truth, yet leave him defenseless.”

Yukio’s heart stops as he halts just around the corner, a few feet away from Father Fujimoto and Rin. 

He doesn’t know why his feet refuse to move, why he can’t—why he desperately needs to know what they’ll say without him here

Is he hiding because he’s afraid? 

If so...of what?

“Why,” Rin asks, voice rising furiously, “why does he have to become an exorcist? Mephisto gave me medicine before—if we give him it, he won’t be able to see them. He doesn’t have to…”

The realization throws his mind into an excruciating turmoil—it’ll be their birthday soon. 

His younger self is going to start training. 

Is that...good?

Yukio’s past—his younger self’s future—is filled with meaningless accomplishments, each coupled with some garden-variety discontent, stacked up and up like a flimsy pedestal where he’d been isolated; forcing everyone around him away. 

I realized, since I was born, I had followed the set path laid out for me...unable to even voice my doubts over the years. Like a dog, I worked for the good of the Order and my family. I wanted to be like my father, like my older brother. Living like that...and what do I have left?

Nothing, that’s what.

Are they really so similar?

Father Fujimoto sighs, “What would you have me do then?”

“Whatever else,” Rin responds immediately. “When we were kids, he told me he wanted to be a doctor, Yukio’s good at anything he does. He can be anything—anyone he wants. Just—he doesn’t have to be an exorcist.”

Father Fujimoto stays silent for several heartbeats. 

“He needs to be, for his own sake, and for Rin’s. None of us will be able to protect him forever. It’s better for him to learn now, rather than later, when it’s too late.”

“That’s—”

“Just as your past self won't be able to avoid this world, neither will Yukio. He needs to hone his skills now, while he still has time.”

“Why did you tell Yukio, but not me then?” Rin asks, voice uncharacteristically tremulous, “Why did you wait so long to tell me? Why do I get to grow up normally, when I’m the one who—it should have been me, not him.”

“You know you wouldn’t have taken it well.”

“Then, don’t tell him to protect me or anything like that. I don’t need it. Yukio shouldn’t be burdened like that. It’s not fair to him,” Rin says, voice barely above a whisper. “He works too hard already.”

Rin pauses for a moment, and…even though Yukio can’t see his expression, he can guess which face he’s making.

“I’m just the one who can’t keep his crap together. I—I can’t do anything for him and he’s so much farther than I am,” he laughs bitterly. “I’m just a good-for-nothing, always on the verge of getting executed, older brother.”

Yukio steps away abruptly, unable to listen anymore. 

Weakness is something every heart has. Is it frightening to acknowledge it?

He needs to ask himself something. 

Something he’s forgotten the answer to by now. 


“Oh, you’re back, Yuki?” Nagatomo greets as he comes inside. 

“Ah, yes, but that should be my line,” Yukio replies quickly. “How did your mission go?”

“Horribly,” Izumi interjects, “some upstart exwire stole the show out of nowhere.” 

“Yes,” Nagatomo agrees, “he was certainly a skilled Aria.” 

Yukio slips away as the conversation continues, heading to his younger self’s room. 

He raises his hand to knock, more curtly than he would have liked, “Yukio-kun?”

His younger self looks rather miserable and Yukio is almost tempted to turn back. “I bought some cough drops for you. I always liked these ones.”

Younger Yukio smiles, “Thank you! I like these ones too,” he says, voice slightly raspy from coughing, as Yukio helps him tear the package open. 

Of course, Yukio thinks, they are the same person after all. 

Which is why he would know the answer Yukio is seeking. 

“Did Father Fujimoto...come talk to you about...something?” Yukio asks, unsure how to phrase his question. 

His younger self nods though, and it seems Yukio guessed correctly. Rin must have found out after too, otherwise he wouldn’t have been so angry. 

“What did you say?” 

“...I said I wanted to,” his younger self meets his eyes easily, with determination Yukio recognizes well, “become an exorcist.”

Yukio smiles, “That’s good,” he remarks. “You have lots of potential.”

“Really? Yuki-san, are you also an exorcist like Tou-san?”

“I was,” Yukio admits, “for a bit. I wasn’t a very good one though.” 

“How come?” his younger self asks immediately, and the question sounds so simple, so innocuous. 

"I… I'm not sure," he answers and the following silence is awkward, stifling and unbearable. How could he begin to explain, when he doesn't even understand himself where things started to go wrong. 

 "Why," he clenches his fists as he keeps his voice purposely level, "do you want to be an exorcist?" 

This path is the one I chose for myself. It had nothing to do with my father or my brother. 

Those words once rang true to him and as he repeated them, it gave him reassurance. Until he told them to himself too many times, and now, they sound more false than ever. 

"Um, I…thought it would be good if I could help other people."

"That's a great ambition," Yukio lets his lips curve into a smile, "...but why do you want to be an exorcist?” he pushes. “Aren't there other ways to help people too?" 

What hopeful ideal had he clung to those years when he first started his training? What had pushed him forward, even after the gruesomeness of his first kill? 

Why had he wanted to become an exorcist so badly? 

“I want—” his younger self curls his fingers inward, knuckles turning white from the tautness, “I want to be strong, like Nii-san.”

Yukio swallows. 

It was a lie from the beginning then. He...didn’t choose this for—

“So I won’t be scared. I want to help people so…they won’t have to feel like I did, because of demons,” his younger self says quietly, “I want to fight back.” 

It’s nice; how straightforward—unblemished—it sounds. 

Yukio nods, “Don’t forget that.”

“I won’t,” his younger self promises, smiling with obvious relief, as though he’s passed a test or something—as though Yukio has any say in those things. 

He fears that merely not forgetting won’t be enough. 

Even if you do not understand them now, my words will wend their way through your body. 


With nothing in particular to do, Yukio folds his laundry, cleans his glasses, organizes their—rather empty—room, cleans his glasses again, cleans his guns, and putters back and forth until he grows restless. 

The priests all seem to be occupied—with what exactly, he’s not certain—and Father Fujimoto is nowhere to be found. His younger self is sleeping, and Younger Rin doesn’t need to picked up from school for another three hours. 

Which only leaves Rin. 

With what he heard earlier; he knows they won’t be able to avoid the topic. 

Still, he makes his way to the kitchen. It’s warmer than their room, so Rin’s sure to be there. 

“Oh, Yuki! Come here, quick!” Rin waves a hand and pats the table, “I need your advice.” 

Is he going to ask about the training? 

Yukio sits reluctantly, “I think...it’s fine. As long as it’s his decision, I don’t want to interfere with that.” 

Rin’s expression turns solemn, “You heard?” 

Yukio nods, “I talked to him.” 

“Then...you’re fine with it? Just like that?”

“It was—perhaps it wasn’t the best path I could have taken,” Yukio traces the flowing grains of the wood table idly, “but I think he would regret it, if we took that choice away from him.” 

Rin leans forward, slouching in his seat, “Yeah, you know, I honestly thought to myself that I was going to keep you out of it this time, when I...you know, came here,” he frowns, pillowing his head on his arms. “It’s my fault, that you could see them, that you got dragged into—”

Yukio shakes his head, “There were times I wished I could live a normal life, but neither of us are meant for that.”

“Man, it sounds like crap when you say it like that,” Rin says, turning the soy sauce dispenser around in circles with one finger.

“Yeah,” Yukio says halfheartedly.

He can’t be completely honest with himself. As the silence collects, each breath he takes rattles the hairline fractures across his glassy resolve—he doesn’t know what’s right, what’s true.

Is this really the extent of their lives? Couldn’t they...do better than this?

Rin straightens up, bringing his hands together in a sharp clap, “That’s not what I needed advice on though.”

Yukio snaps out of his thoughts, “What?”  

“What should I make for lunch?” Rin asks seriously, brows furrowed, “Little Yukio’s sick, right? So, since you’re, you know, then you should know what he’d want to eat, right?” 

Yukio sits there, a little stumped as he tries to rearrange his cluttered thoughts from the sudden change in conversation topic. 

“Anything you make is good,” he smiles.  

Rin sighs dramatically, ducking out of the pantry to raise an unimpressed eyebrow at Yukio, “Tch, I knew you’d be useless.”

Yukio laughs, “I’m sorry?”

“Yeah, you better be, four-eyes,” Rin retorts, “start by helping me peel this potato and quit it with the moping already.” 

He plops the potato into Yukio’s hands, “Where did your confidence from yesterday go? You're ready to save the world, but you get cold feet when it comes to yourself?"

“That’s…” he can’t meet Rin’s eyes. 

But Rin places his hands on Yukio’s shoulders heavily, startling him into looking up, “You can do this,” he says firmly, “If anyone can, it’d be you.”

That’s cool! That’s awesome! If anyone can do it, you can, Yukio! 

How can he say those things so easily—so lightly?

Because what Rin said is true...if Yukio can’t do it, surely there is no one else who can. 


 

Yukio wakes cautiously, and his head pounds as he sits up. 

It’s dark, like he wanted, but his limbs feel incredibly sluggish and he wants nothing more than to keep sleeping. 

Luckily, Rin is snoring soundly, so Yukio hopes he doesn’t notice the racket as he proceeds to drop his glasses, then his watch, bumping into a few other things on his way out.

No one else is up yet, which is good. 

A stubborn tuft of hair bounds back up as he dabs water on it. It’s unfortunate that his hair isn’t up to his usual standards today, of all days. He’ll just have to hope for the best. 

They didn’t mind the first time, but they’ve always been fickle. 

Yukio grabs the papers he made, his guns—he should clean them when he gets back—and a flashlight as he heads out. 

The snow on the ground is piled thick from the storm last night. The air is horribly cold and by the time he’s nearly there, shivers rack his frame and his fingers are numb as he fumbles around, pushing snow aside to uncover a small window of the frozen pond. 

Yukio thrusts his heel down, shattering the thick sheet of ice, watching as the jagged cracks continue to grow, stopping about halfway across the pond. More water is always better, so he makes his way to the other side, smashing the rest of the ice until the pond’s surface is littered with uneven shards. 

Sunrise won’t begin for another hour, but the transient violet of dawn has already colored the sky. He needs to hurry. 

Yukio sets the summoning papers around the pond in the best circle he can manage, pinning them down by packing snow on their corners. He connects each point by drawing lines in the snow, knowing the runes by heart. 

His guns are at his hip if anything goes wrong. 

He takes a deep breath of the frigid morning air and grits his teeth as he slashes a shallow cut across his left palm with a knife. The blood is warm as it trickles down his cold fingers; he lets it splash onto the summoning paper closest to him and four errant drops fall into the water, blooming across its surface. 

Corycia, Melaina, Cleodora, Cleochareia, Bateia, Drosera, Solaia, Periboea.

Glistening turquoise floods his vision as he staggers, falling to his knees. He breathes harshly as the gentle, tinkling echoes of shallow water join their teasing laughter to surround him. 

Even now, he still desperately hungers for power. The vestiges of his desire burn—fueled by his uncertainties, his cowardice—with a fragile, intoxicating warmth he doesn’t have the will to let go of. 

I wonder what it takes to reduce one human being to ash?

The snow under his hand becomes stained faintly red, sharp granules of ice stabbing at the raw, pulsing wound as he clenches his fingers into a fist. This is different. He needs this strength; not just for himself.  

“I’m here,” Yukio smiles wanly, “to make a contract.” 

He’s going to drown Todo Saburota before he ever has a chance to meet his younger self. 

Chapter Text

Yukio grips the scissors unsteadily, snipping the thickly folded tip of the triangle off. After adding a few more cuts half-heartedly, he gives up, opening it to reveal his paper snowflake. 

It looks...passable, with a giant hole in the middle and a few dots on the sides. 

Perhaps if they hang a lot of them up together, it might look better. 

“Hey, hey look,” Rin points, laughing shamelessly, “don’t you think Yuki’s looks like a shower cap!” He picks it up, settling it delicately on his own head, “See?”

Younger Rin grins enthusiastically, much to Yukio’s disappointment, “Yeah! It does!” 

He settles for folding a few more of the triangles instead, “Here,” he passes one to Younger Yukio, “that one you just made looks nice.” 

“Really?” 

“Yeah,” Yukio smiles and his younger self beams, excitedly moving onto his next snowflake. 

At least they’re having fun. 

It’s finally Christmas Eve and the monastery is bustling with life. This year, the priests are organizing a gift donation event along with the usual service. They’ve been so busy Yukio hardly sees them for more than a few minutes at a time.

“Ah, what?” Younger Rin mumbles in dismay, “I did it wrong again,” he pouts. 

Yukio glances over, watching as the snowflake unfolds into six sad pieces. The patterns on the side were decent, so it’s a bit of a shame. In fact, it looks better than the entire rest of the pile and he’s almost tempted to tape it back together. 

“Ah, what?” Rin echoes, “How’d you even do that?” he teases, “You’re worse at this than Yuki!” 

Yukio quickly hands Younger Rin another folded one to cut, “Nii-san, are you sure you mean that?"

Rin pauses in his cutting, and his ears redden, “What—that’s not, agh, stop laughing!” He picks up another paper strip to add to his chain, “Hey old man! How many of these do we have to make anyway?”

Father Fujimoto looks up from where he’s sorting documents, “Ahh, you know, we need a lot for tonight's service. Quantity over quality, Rinka, quantity over quality. Make me a thousand!” he yells, cackling as he rushes out the door. 

Yukio watches idly as Rin glues the wrong color of paper, deciding not to correct him. His own chain is a mess too, with some smaller links and other ones that keep springing back open because he'd glued them too impatiently. 

Still, the repetitiveness is nice, and he doesn’t mind being quite so terrible at crafts—

Yukio flinches as several drops of glue splatter onto his face. 

“Crap!” Rin exclaims, brushing papers aside as he fumbles to wipe up the mess, “Man, this bottle just totally exploded. Yuki, can you get a paper towel?” 

He takes it back. He hates crafts. 


 

The rest of the day is a blur of constant motion as they rush to distribute the presents to various orphanages and other organizations across the city. 

"Hey, you know what would be a good idea?" Rin mentions as they squeeze onto the bus just before the doors snap shut, "We should go stop by the grocery store."

"That’s fine, but don’t buy too much. You bought so many outfits recently," Yukio says bluntly. 

"Yeah, but I can save up once I become an exorcist," Rin grins. 

"That's true. We should apply soon," Yukio replies, "we need to brush up a bit too."

"What? Seriously? You don’t need to study, do you?" 

"Of course."

Rin groans, "I forgot everything. Especially that one class," he frowns, "I forgot everything. Who even was the teacher of Demon Pharmaceuticals?" he says, smile widening with every word, "Yunokawa? Or was it Tsubaki? Man, that class was boring.”

“Really?” Yukio smiles, "Because I will gladly drill everything back in, Nii-san,” he smirks, satisfied to see Rin's grin fade, “I promise.”


 

“Huh? The certification exam? I’m not sure,” Nagatomo says, “Hold on, it’s in the memo from last week. I’ll look it up for you,” he clicks, waiting for the computer to respond. 

It’s strangely annoying to see technology behave so much more slowly than he’s used to. He hadn’t expected himself to be so impatient.

“Yeah, the exam is in two weeks.”

Yukio hides a grimace, “I see. Thanks for helping me.” 

“No problem. Are you planning on going to watch the practicals?” Nagatomo asks curiously.

Yukio shrugs, “I’m not sure yet. It’s something like that.”


 

He returns to their room, shutting the door as Rin looks up expectantly. 

“It’s in half a month.”

“What? No way,” Rin says shrilly, panic creeping into his voice, “what happened to two months?”

Yukio smoothes the edge of his bandage as he thinks. They’re ten years in the past. It’s not unexpected that the Order might have shifted their exam dates, but if so…

If the exam is in two weeks, that means they missed the application deadline. 

“Oh,” Rin laughs, “I’m dead. I’m going to fail the written exam for sure.”

Yukio pushes his glasses up, resisting the urge to sigh, “We’ll have to wait until next year either way. They don’t accept late applications—”

“Wait, what about the old man,” Rin crosses his arms, “can’t we get him to pull some strings for us? He’s the Paladin, isn’t he?”

“I’m not sure,” Yukio replies. “Titles in the Order are measures of strength, not necessarily authority.” 

He’d found himself preferring the Illuminati system almost immediately compared to the Order’s convoluted hierarchy. At least their ranks had been standards for clearance and reach, rather than capacity. 

It was easier not to be constantly reminded of his own limits, his weakness. 

His statement isn’t entirely truthful though. Father Fujimoto taught—teaches Demon Pharmaceuticals at the cram school. Although Yukio never had any say in the admissions and application process, he’s almost certain Father Fujimoto could put a word in for them.

It’s too dangerous though. He doesn’t want the Order to know of any connection between them and their younger selves. 

If they are discovered, the Order will hound them for answers. Even then, that’s hardly the worst-case scenario. In their future Father Fujimoto passed away, leaving the Order with only scraps and shards of his motives to decipher. 

When the Vatican discovers he has harbored the son of Satan this time...Yukio doesn’t want to imagine what kind of punishment would be dealt for such a heavy crime. 

Younger Rin could be taken away to be trained as a mindless weapon, or worse, sentenced to death. 

"We just have to get the applications into the system ourselves,” Yukio says slowly. The idea coils leisurely in his head, like a tired creature settling in to rest. Even when he knows it’s wrong, it feels right

How far...is he willing to go?

The Order’s rules shouldn’t matter to them anymore. Or is he making a mistake? 

What morals has he not discarded? Something as small as this shouldn’t matter in the least to him. There’s nothing worth hesitating over. 

"I’ll get into the office and—”

“Are you serious?” Rin asks, bewildered. “Let’s just wait a year, come on,” he sputters, “I know you’ve got a weird problem with authority recently but—”

“We can’t waste an entire year,” Yukio says impassively. “Besides, I’ve been in charge of exam administration a few times in the past. I'm more than familiar with the system."

“Still, don’t they have security and stuff? Are you sure you’re thinking straight? If we get caught, we’ll never be exorcists.”

“You don’t need to come with—”

“Don’t you dare leave me out of the loop,” Rin says pointedly, “like I’d let you go alone.”

“The Knights of True Cross are not as strict as you think, Nii-san.”

“Then, do you have a plan?”

“Why don’t you go study while you still have time,” Yukio says smugly, “we’ll be taking the exam soon.”


 

It takes him a bit more time to figure out which building—the website is terribly organized—but when he finally does, he realizes the solution is incredibly simple. 

Yukio pulls out a sheet of paper, drawing a layout of the first floor from what he can remember. Even if things have been moved around, it shouldn’t pose as a problem since they’ll have the entire night. 

“What’s this?” Rin peeks over his shoulder. 

“It’s our plan,” Yukio smiles. 

“That fast?” 

“We’ll go today. The licensing office closes at five every day, but the entire administrative building is almost always busy. They also have the consultation center there, which is open twenty-four seven. That’s why we need to be there tonight,” Yukio clicks his pen, tapping his makeshift diagram.

“The Order requires those entering the building to make a record, as well as when they leave, which means we can’t just sneak in,” he pauses. 

“I nearly forgot," Yukio admits, "there’s also a security gate we’ll pass through before that. It’s fine though. Leave your sword home.”

"Ohh," Rin scoots closer on his rolling chair, giving the sheet of paper a closer look. "This is like...a secret mission!”

His tail sweeps upward, waving back and forth in the air as he spins in an elated circle on his chair, unknowingly smacking Yukio across the face once with the furry tuft, “Man, I’m so excited! Yukio, this is totally my dream!”

Yukio clears his throat, “Our excuse for being in the building is to visit the consultation center. The lines are longest from five to seven, so we’ll go then. Once we finish the consultation, we’ll sign out and instead of leaving, we’ll mingle into the crowd and use the coats Sir Pheles gave us to get into the licensing office.” 

“Hey, that’s awesome!” Rin gushes, “I didn’t think of using them that way.” 

Yukio pauses, furrowing his eyebrows. What else could they even need invisibility for, other than this sort of thing? 

He hadn’t thought Rin would be so thrilled about this, but in hindsight, he really should have expected it. It’s almost entertaining with how Rin’s already zipped the stealth coat up, as though he’s ready to depart this instant.

Yukio continues, “The consultation center is open year-round twenty-four seven, and there’s always increased demand around the solstice. However, since today is Christmas Eve, they’ll close around midnight,” Rin makes a face, obviously unhappy with the idea of waiting so long, but Yukio ignores him. “When that happens, I’ll input our applications into the system.”

“That’s it?”

“Yeah? They don’t really have measures against what we’re doing. No one wants to be an exorcist that badly,” Yukio explains, “especially during this time...a lot of people still remember the Blue Night clearly.” 

“Oh,” is all Rin says, but when he goes back to his desk to study, Yukio can see it in the rigid lines of his back, the tight curl of his fingers around his pencil. 

As Yukio shifts his gaze away, something sharp twists in his gut. 

It’s unfathomable to him, at times—especially now—that they are so intrinsically different.

Why—how does Rin care so much?

To Yukio, it’s cruelly captivating, like the crisp, intricately detailed edges of shattered glass. It’s so dazzlingly bright that he can’t help but fumble and cut himself on the shards; hoping to see his own reflection. 


 

The consulting office is loud and messy; filled with anxious and irate complaints he’s incredibly glad he’s not on the end of anymore. 

He spots the licensing office on the other end of the atrium and nudges Rin, “There, behind those seats. Do you see it?”

Rin nods enthusiastically, too obviously excited, “Yeah.” 

Yukio wishes he’d act a little more naturally, but at least he’s not nervous and in truth, no one even turns to look at them for long. He glances at his watch, tugging Rin along to the back of the line. 

“I can’t believe we’re actually doing this,” Rin murmurs, “this is so cool.”

“Remember,” Yukio cautions, “your cat broke a mirror yesterday and it's been walking in circles so you’re worried. They won’t take you seriously, so you can hurry and leave. Don’t draw attention to yourself.” 

“Okay, I got it,” Rin says, slightly exasperated, “have a little faith.”

“Next please!” 

Yukio takes a seat, frowning, “Hi, I think my pitcher plant ate two or three coal tars yesterday. Is it going to be okay?”

The consultation goes smoothly and Yukio is instructed to give his—imaginary—house plant holy water twice a week, rotate it toward the sun at even hours, and by the end he’s give a large packet of information he doesn’t need. 

He writes the time neatly on the sign out sheet next to his name—

Yukio pinches his nose bridge, holding back a sigh as he takes his papers and lets them fall from his hands, scattering all over the floor. The security guard huffs in frustration but joins a few others in line behind Yukio to help gather them. 

Yukio seizes the moment to hastily add another character next to the “Rin” carelessly scrawled on the sheet. 

He apologizes politely, bowing once as he accepts the papers before he slips through the crowd, heading for the restroom. Once he’s there, he checks to see that he’s alone and pulls his hood on—it’s eerie to not see his reflection in the mirror—strolling out to find Rin. 

Only, when he reaches their designated potted plant, he realizes Rin isn’t here yet

Yukio has no way of finding him now that they’re likely both invisible and he can’t exactly shout his name or—

He steps on someone’s foot and his heart stops as he moves away as quietly as he can. 

“Ow,” a very familiar voice hisses. 

“Nii-san!” Yukio lowers his voice, “Where are you?” He holds an arm out in front of him, motioning at the air as he takes a cautious step forward. 

Suddenly, two fingers stab his cheek and Yukio reflexively moves to whack it away, tensing as someone latches onto his arm...that he can’t see. He breathes with relief as he switches to holding Rin’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze, “Sorry. I should have planned this out better.”

“So, we just wait now?” 

“Yeah. We just wait.” 

He almost expects someone to stop them—almost wants someone to notice them in an irrational bought of restlessness—sitting next to the drooping potted plant until their limbs are numb from inactivity. 

Yukio rotates his neck slowly, grimacing as Rin drools onto his shoulder, when the lights finally shut off. 

“Nii-san,” Yukio hisses, prodding Rin’s head off his shoulder, “keep watch,” he says, pulling a pair of gloves on. 

Rin sighs groggily, “Are you going to pick the lock or something?”

Yukio rolls his eyes, “Why would I, when I have the key?” Although, he did come prepared to pick it. Perhaps they’re just very lucky that the building and the lock are still the same. 

“What? How many of those do you have? And they kept this lock the same for ten years?” Rin mutters.

They did. Just around the time Yukio had signed his Morinas contract, there had been rumors of plans for reappropriating certain keys to critical offices. The Order had always been too careless with them in the first place; as though something as flimsy as loyalty would keep exorcists from abandoning their duties. 

Just because they couldn’t sell their secrets, didn’t mean there weren’t other—better—things to sell. 

But the plans had been leaked, presumably because the Order had been too hasty, and the traitors continued to roam free—like Yukio. Truly, he was one of many who had used the keys on missions for the Illuminati. Yukio had even worn his exorcist uniform a few times and no one had doubted a thing. 

The Order has always been ruthless on some facets and needlessly soft on others. 

“Not all of these were mine,” Yukio whispers, “some of them were Tou-san’s.”

“...Oh.”

“But this one is mine,” Yukio smiles, “so we’re not really breaking in.” 

He waits for the camera to turn around, having timed the cycles earlier, and holds it open until he feels a brush of air and Rin taps his shoulder, letting him know he’s inside. 

“Yeah, tell that to the Order if we get caught. They’ll have our heads.” 

Unfortunately, the office is annoyingly dark, and Yukio doesn’t want to turn the lights on, so he has to fumble around for the monitor under the desk—

“Here, I got it,” Rin’s hand pushes Yukio’s aside—it’s jarring to not be able to see him. 

As they wait for the computer to start up, Rin finds a laminated list of instructions next to the computer, handing it to Yukio with eager motions. 

“It’s too dark, I can’t read it,” Yukio admits.

“What?” Rin sounds confused, “You can’t?” 

“You can?” Yukio asks.

“Oh, I’ll just read it out to you then,” Rin offers. 

Yukio almost can’t believe himself when he says, “Okay, go ahead,” wanting to laugh at the absurdity of their situation. They’re here in the dead of night, crouched under the desk like a pair of bank robbers in the licensing office, breaking multiple laws to submit their late applications without anyone finding out, and now Rin’s going to read the instructions aloud to him? 

It’s ridiculously improper. 

Rin reads the list evenly as Yukio double checks several of the applications already stored in the computer. There are a few small changes, but it seems that most of the process remains identical. 

It makes sense. The procedures needed to be standardized for convenience. The Order is old, it’s traditional and they’ve never quite had enough funding to hire actual employees for these temporary office positions. Like the consultation center, exorcists were simply assigned some extra work once or twice a year for organizing exams. 

As he scans the papers, he falls into a familiar rhythm: sort by prospective meister, create a new folder for each individual including scanned files of verification documents type B and C, attach photo of applicant, assign written examination room and practical examination section. Repeat. 

He never expected the tedious office work to pay off in this manner. 

They leave through the side door and a gentle snowfall covers their footprints, drawing spotted white outlines of their figures as flakes cling to their cloaks. 

Rin lets out a soft laugh as they get out of the parking lot, “That was so much fun. Admit it, I did pretty well, right?” 

His voice is quiet, but Yukio can imagine the curve of his lips from the levity woven seamlessly into his tone. 

At first, Yukio isn’t sure what he means. He wants to refute it like a knee-jerk reflex; Rin wrote his name—his real name down on the Order’s records, when Yukio’s been running around doing all of this to try to keep their identities a secret. Yukio should have reminded him, should have anticipated that he’d forget—

Stay back! Don’t do anything unnecessary!

He didn’t even notice earlier. Exactly what had possessed him to let Rin come?

He’d always despised Rin tagging along on his missions, so why had he included Rin in his plans so easily this time?

What’s going on with him? 

But this is...good? 

He feels strangely reluctant to see Rin’s harmless delight fade and he thinks he knows why. 

When he closes his eyes, he feels colder. With every blink, the glare of the snow melds from its soft gentle cream to a harsh white and it mirrors the flawlessly—hauntingly—expansive cloud cover he liked to stare at for hours and hours on end from the window in his room aboard Dominus Liminis. It was grand, endless, yet constantly in motion. He remembers for the first few months, he’d found himself obsessively attracted to the exquisite view from his window, like staring down a cliff into the gaping darkness. 

He’d done so thoughtlessly, haplessly to keep out the inevitable regret. 

It was easier to tell himself the silence was no different from before, that he’d been alone all the same. And by the end, he was convinced. 

The weak reject everything around them to protect themselves. That is only natural. 

I too...am weak. 

It’s fine, isn’t it? He can just remember to tell Rin to write his name correctly next time—he doesn’t have to bring it up right now. Rin doesn’t have to know he messed up right now

It’s Christmas. He can be generous for today. 

There’s a childish exhilaration flooding through his veins, an irrational sense of accomplishment, regardless of how underwhelming their task really was. He feels warm despite the cold; he’s not alone anymore. 

He really missed Rin.  

“Yeah,” and Yukio smiles too, because neither of them can see each other, and that’s a little simpler. 

“It’s cool that we’re going to fight together,” Rin whispers, “...I’m really glad—I was, I never imagined you’d be here. I’m really, really glad you’re here.” 

I’ve always wanted us to fight demons together! Rin and Yukio! The exorcist brothers! Cool, huh? 

It’s stupid, Yukio had replied back then. 

He doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence that they arrived so closely in time. Yukio doesn’t understand how Rin’s key works, but it’s far more plausible that Rin chose to come here, even if he’s not aware of doing so. 

Yukio doesn’t deserve his thanks. 

“...I’m grateful too, that you’re here, Nii-san.”

All the buses have stopped for the night, so they’re forced to trek back as the storm worsens. 

In the silence of the cold winter morning, in the darkness, Yukio imagines he’s empty inside, that all his worries and flaws are invisible along with his physical body under this coat. He welcomes the cold. It makes the delicate warmth he feels more blatant, more alive. 

Since their father’s death—since Rin had declared he wanted to be an exorcist—Yukio often saw Rin as a burden, as a constant task that needed watching, nagging, persistently requiring his attention. 

He finds he doesn’t mind so much...that he doesn’t feel that way right now. 

Swallowed by the quiet surrounding them, he’s made only of frosty silhouettes and disappearing boot prints and cloudy breaths. 

And for the moment, he is lighter, cleaner, as snow. 


 

They traipse through the monastery gate at two in the morning, planning to sneak back in without a word when—

Father Fujimoto sits with his legs crossed languidly on the steps of the front door, sipping a cup of tea. 

Rin seizes the back of Yukio’s coat—so abruptly he nearly tugs the hood down and Yukio frantically yanks it back up—freezing in his tracks, “Crap, crap, crap, what do we do?”

“W-we can wait for him to go back in,” Yukio says under his breath, “stay still.” 

“Do you two really think I can’t see you?” Father Fujimoto drawls, “Invisibility doesn’t mean intangibility. You both have piles of snow on your heads, you know.”

Rin jerks his hood off, brushing the snow away, “Yeah? And what are you doing out here, old man? Trying to catch Santa or something?” 

Father Fujimoto shrugs, “Come on, let’s talk inside. You too, Yukio,” he laughs, “stop looking like you’re in trouble.”

Yukio sits reluctantly at the kitchen table, and “I’m not,” comes out before he can stop it. 

“So, I’m just curious, where’d you two go, on Christmas Eve of all nights? Is anything even open?” 

Rin, ever so helpful, blurts, “I’ll go make hot chocolate,” leaving Yukio sitting there, wishing he could be anywhere else right now. 

“We went to…” He’s not sure what to say. He feels unexpectedly embarrassed because sitting in front of him is, is—

You’re just copying him. 

The one person he never wanted to disappoint—only it’s too late, he’s been too late for a while

But today was different; he has nothing to be ashamed of. 

“I’m sorry we didn’t inform you of our decision earlier," Yukio announces. "We snuck into the Order's licensing office to get our exorcist applications in because they wouldn’t have been accepted late otherwise.”

Father Fujimoto sighs, leaning back in his chair. “I can’t say I like that you’re doing this all by yourselves.” 

Yukio nods, taking his glasses off to clean the condensation away. Rin hands him a mug of hot chocolate and Yukio cups it in his hands trying to draw the warmth into himself. 

“But I’m grateful,” Father Fujimoto says, straightening as his expression softens, “I’m grateful you would do this for them. I was worried to be honest. When you said you were here to save the world, I wasn’t sure you were serious.”

Rin crosses his arms, frowning. 

“These past few days, I’ve had a hard time thinking about how to word it,” he bows his head. 

Yukio’s heart sinks. He recognizes this tone of voice. The mug of hot chocolate feels startlingly lukewarm in his hands as he sets it carefully on the table, curling his fingers into his palms to preserve their transient warmth.  

“I...I’m guessing, I wasn’t there for you two, before,” Father Fujimoto says, “but now, even if I can’t help you openly, you’ll always have a place here. So, tell me when you can, and when you can't, it's okay."

Rin says something, but Yukio doesn’t hear his voice at all. He can't focus. Somewhere along the line he gets pulled into a hug, but his thoughts are spinning dizzily around his head, colliding and ricocheting like the clattering of hollow bullet shells meeting the floor one by one. 

He can't hear them, not with the ringing—the loud and inflated sound he’s accustomed to—but he knows the absence of their sound, the discrepancy between what he sees and what he doesn’t hear. 

Does Father Fujimoto know something? 

In ten years time...your brother will witness something far more frightening. 

Why had he been so certain? What did he mean? Rin came back here before ten years to the date Yukio decided to become an exorcist. What would have happened—what could have been worse than the gates, than the peace Lucifer had spoken of? 

And back then, he’d laughed it off when Yukio had pressed him for an explanation.

If I were to die suddenly, use this if Kuro becomes a problem. 

How did he know before

If Yukio asks, will he be brushed off again? 

A hand nudges his shoulder, “Yukio?” 

What is his purpose for hiding things from them? 

"Hey, Yukio?" 

“Sorry,” Yukio blinks twice, pushing his glasses up, “what did you say?”

“Aren’t you going to sleep?” Rin asks gently as he towels his hair dry—Yukio’s still not used to the color somehow, and the strange little bumps on his forehead. He keeps looking for the previous shade when Rin says his name, or he’s turned around and Yukio’s looking at the back of his head, or when he’s sleeping—

Not that this one suits him any less well, but it bothers him slightly. Yukio still doesn’t know—hasn’t asked—what happened. 

A familiar sensation in his chest, tight and abrasive, tells him it was...it was probably his fault. 

“Oh, um,” he stalls, staring as a few wayward droplets land across the pages of the notebook on his desk, “I was,” he glances at his watch, “going to review a few more fatal verses first.”

“Really? It’s like three in the morning,” Rin leans closer to pick up the notebook, “and these are magic circles notes. Are you sure you aren't half asleep already? Just go to bed before you faceplant somewhere.”  

Yukio hesitates, resisting the urge to rub his eyes as he reaches for the notes. 

"Like the stairs," Rin adds, holding the notes above Yukio's head, "or the toilet, or your glasses—"

"But they're on my face right now," Yukio retorts sluggishly.

"Bro, just go to sleep. Please.”


 

“Happy Birthday!” 

On cue, Yukio pulls the little confetti popper. It’s oddly amusing to see Younger Rin and Yukio’s eyes light up with glee. Rin leans down and ruffles their hair messily, “You guys are seven now! Cool, huh?” 

“Yeah!” Younger Rin chirps, clambering up onto a chair. 

“Wow,” Younger Yukio leans forward as Rin brings the cake over, “did you bake this?” 

“Yeah,” Rin grins, “do you like it?”

Younger Yukio nods vigorously, “It’s awesome!” 

Yukio arranges the candles carefully and Father Fujimoto lights them. Maruta dims the lights and the priests sing in a pleasant harmony, clapping as the song ends. 

“Make a wish,” Father Fujimoto prompts.

Younger Rin grins, bringing his hands together quickly as he closes his eyes. Younger Yukio follows suit, but he seems to hesitate for a second, taking a glance at Younger Rin before he closes his eyes as well. 

Yukio watches as the luminous glow of the seven tall birthday candles caresses their soft cheeks, quivering and alive in the darkness. The room is quiet, not silent. Younger Rin finishes, turning curiously toward Younger Yukio as he tries to keep his impatience inside. 

His younger self’s tiny hands tense, fingers tightening their clasp as he opens his eyes slowly, and the lights of the trembling flame dance across the surface of his teal irises. 

Give me a break! Our birthday? We don’t even know what day we were born!

What will become of their younger selves, from now on? 

He hates how he still sees that face in the mirror late in the night, reflected across windowpanes in fleeting dusks, ghosting across the brittle, icy surface of the pond, that early morning. 

Ten years...what if it’s not enough?

“What’d you wish for?” Younger Rin whispers, “You look super serious.” 

Younger Yukio smiles sheepishly, “If I told you, it wouldn’t come true though.” 

Younger Rin pouts, “Aw, then promise you’ll tell me when it does come true!”

“Okay,” Younger Yukio says shyly, “if it does.” 

They huddle together and puff their cheeks out, blowing out the fluttering candle lights with mirrored smiles. 

The lights flicker back on and everyone helps to bring more ingredients onto the table, filling the room with the clatter of dishes, rustling of clothes and pleasant conversation. There’s so much food, Yukio’s honestly worried for the monastery’s budget. 

Rin takes a seat next to him, grabs his bowl and piles a small mountain of meat, handing it back pointedly, “You lost weight. Make sure you eat all of that,” he smirks.

Yukio sighs, “Yes, mother.”

“Hey, I’m watching you,” Rin crams some mushrooms into Yukio’s bowl too, “you better not pass those to anyone else.” 

“Rinka, this side isn’t boiling anymore,” Kyodo announces. 

“Ah, crap, it’s because you guys put too many things in at once!” 

“What? But look, I think it’s out of gas,” Izumi offers. 

Rin gives Yukio one last glance and heads around the table to check on the hot pot burner, “Oh, this thing’s old. Let’s light it again.” 

Yukio watches, chewing on his shrimp dutifully, as Rin turns it off, then cranks the knob to the right with a series of sharp clicks. A flare of heat displaces air, and the flame unfurls outward with fluffy limbs, cradling the bottom of the pot in wispy blue fingers. 

He can’t help the small laugh that floats up from his lungs as Rin sits back down, “It’s blue, like yours. Are you sure you lit it properly?” he teases. 

Rin snags the slice of daikon Yukio was reaching for, chopsticks flashing forward like lightning, and he has the audacity to wave it before stuffing it into his mouth, smirking victoriously, “Dude, you have no idea! This little guy is a stubborn piece of work. I spent at least twenty minutes trying to get it going at first,” he leans closer, warm breath tickling Yukio’s ear, “seriously, I was so tempted to light it with mine.”

Yukio sips some of the broth slowly, letting his glasses fog up into a hazy blur. The lights seem abruptly too bright, and he’s forced to avert his gaze. 

So instead, he listens to the steady, rhythmic tones of chopsticks against porcelain, the loud chatter of the priests, the quiet hiss of the gas burner, and the unbelievable warmth of this home. That faint, unidentifiable emotion spreads throughout him, branching and permeating all the way to his cold fingertips, lifting the weight in his chest like a precious gust of hot air. He selfishly wants to bottle it away, as children would do with a prized possession, as an entrancing display of blinking fireflies in his darkness, so it can be his for just a little longer.   

He never expected to have any of this again. It’s oddly backwards, as though he has only recently begun to realize what he lost once they’ve come back to him; things he wouldn’t dare ask for. 

Yukio’s not sure what he ever did to deserve it. 


Yukio shuts the door to their room, watching in amusement as Rin flops face first onto his futon, tail darting out from under his shirt to curl under his pile of blankets listlessly. 

“I’m so tired,” Rin mumbles, “I forgot to ask you something.”

Yukio sets his glasses onto his nightstand, prying his eyelid back to apply eye drops, “What?” 

Rin flips over lazily, shoving his pillow away from his face, “I forgot.”

“Oh, I see,” Yukio turns the light switch off, nearly tripping over Rin’s leg as he crawls into his own mound of blankets. 

“Good night,” Rin whispers. 

“Yeah, good night, Nii-san.” 

He watches the steady green blink of the smoke detector, relishing the calm lull that settles over him. 

It’s just about when he’s nearly asleep that Rin murmurs, “Hey, Yukio? Did...you fall asleep?”

“Absolutely,” Yukio replies dryly. 

Rin twists around swiftly, suddenly a bundle of sparkling energy, “I remembered what I wanted to ask you!”

Yukio tilts his head toward Rin with great reluctance, “Okay, Nii-san. Tell me tomorrow.”

“No, I have to tell you now or I’ll forget again,” Rin hisses, swatting his arm as Yukio tries to block him out. 

“...What?”

Rin scoots closer, eyes gleaming with anticipation, “Want to go visit Kyoto with me?”

 

Chapter Text

“Want to go to Kyoto with me?” Rin asks, letting a hopeful lilt edge by his words as he scoots a little closer to Yukio’s futon. 

To his surprise, Yukio nods quietly, pulling his blanket under his chin as he stares at the space just above Rin’s forehead. He’s been doing that recently and it’s getting a little weird—like he isn’t quite meeting Rin’s eyes when they talk a lot of the time, as though he’s looking behind Rin for...something. 

It's probably nothing. 

“Out of curiosity,” Yukio poses lightly, “why do you want me to come along?” 

“Oh, uh, well you have the key so…” Rin fumbles. It’s not like he can say it aloud. It’d be so incredibly awkward, such as: I don’t want to go alone, or even worse, you seemed pretty okay with me tagging along today so I thought...

His heart sinks as Yukio furrows his eyebrows, “It’s best not to use those ones for now. I have access to the Kyoto Branch Office, but we’d need to pass through headquarters first. Even if no one saw us in between, it’d still be problematic once we arrive.” 

“Really?”  

“I’m sure you can come up with a solution, Nii-san.” Yukio smiles. “Good night.” He tries to roll over, flailing an arm feebly as Rin yanks him back around by snatching a handful of his pajamas. 

“Let’s just take the bullet train,” Rin insists. “That works too, right? I mean, it’s a little expensive but...”

“Certainly,” Yukio replies, and it sounds to Rin like he’s not really listening, but he agreed so that’s good enough for now. 

“Great,” Rin grins, “let’s go in the morning then. I wonder if there’s going to be a lot of people. It’s almost the New Year, so lots of people are going to visit the shrine, aren’t they?” 

Rin looks over and blinks as he sees Yukio’s eyes half-lidded, gazing blankly at the space above his forehead again. 

He seems really tired today. 

Yukio is always up before him, so Rin doesn’t know what he does so early in the morning. It’s not exactly hard to guess at what he’s been up to though. Unexpectedly, it doesn’t bother him quite as much as he would have thought. At the same time, he’s concerned that Yukio’s pushing himself too hard again. 

He’s always worrying, fretting, thinking and Rin feels like he can’t keep up, he can’t do anything for him. 

Where are they supposed to go from here? They’ll join the Order, then what? 

Rin’s been thinking too—really, but he doesn’t know what to do. He wants to help; this was his burden in the first place, not Yukio’s. 

But it’s not like Yukio would let him do it alone, even if he asked. 

Rin grabs the edge of Yukio’s blanket and brings it up a little more, patting his shoulder, “Sorry, you can sleep now.”

Rin stays awake for a little longer. He shuts his eyes and listens to the soft sound of Yukio’s even breathing as his unease lingers, flapping around the corners of his mind. 

It’s okay. Ten years is a long time. 

He’ll figure something out. 


There’s something wrong when Rin wakes up in the middle of the night. His head is cloudy from sleep and Rin has no idea what’s going on, so he instinctively seizes the edge of Yukio’s blanket and yanks it up with sluggish movements. 

Rin’s left arm is numb and tingly, so it really doesn’t help his coordination. He manages to wrap Yukio up a bit better, although he’s pretty much already a burrito, so Rin’s not sure what more he can do.

He doesn’t hear the shivering stop though; they’re quiet rustles, soft murmurs of the blanket shifting ever so slightly. Yukio has always been a silent, neat sleeper. He’s like a dead log most nights, not moving a centimeter the entire night. He’s been like that since they were little. Rin’s used to that. 

He’s also used to Yukio having nightmares. Since they were young, younger than Rin can even remember, Yukio was always afraid of things, things Rin somehow wasn't sure how to fight for him. 

So, he does what he used to always do. Rin wakes him up as gently as he can, giving him some space to breathe. 

Yukio’s eyes flutter open and he freezes with a sharp intake of air. He just lies there for a minute or two and he's deathly quiet, as though he's not even breathing. Maybe he really isn't—wasn't, because the next moment he takes a shuddering breath and exhales very deliberately. 

He sits up slowly, propping himself on his elbow for a moment, and hugs his arms around himself with careful, stilted motions. 

Rin lifts a hand, wanting to comfort him in some way. Yukio turns, meeting his eyes with startling ease in the darkness and there’s a glow from the light of the moon that hits his face. 

Rin jerks back. 

For a split second, Yukio’s eyes are incalescent, blurring with the unforgettable blue of Rin's own nightmares. 

It’s merely a trick of light though, disappearing as he blinks. 

Yukio blinks too, but his is rapid like his eyes haven’t quite adjusted to the dimness of their room. He raises a hand, swiping at the tears glimmering at the corners of his eyes and coughs quietly. “Sorry,” he says without prompting, “you should try to get back to sleep.”

“Are you…” Rin’s sentence breaks off as Yukio stands, grabbing his glasses off the desk, “where are you going?”

“To wash my face,” Yukio smiles. “Go back to sleep, Nii-san." He shuts the door and his quiet footsteps fade all too quickly. 

Rin stays awake though, lying on his stomach, eyes pinned on the door, waiting for Yukio to come back. 

Is it okay—is Yukio really okay with his younger self becoming an exorcist? Rin doesn’t understand. He can’t reconcile those words with what he said before. Just when he thinks he’s begun to grasp what Yukio might be thinking, he seems to change his mind, veering in the opposite direction. 

Standing alone on the bridge, Yukio’s voice had been frigid, full of contempt. His dark silhouette was clear amidst the snow, with one empty sleeve waving in the wind as though he’d made his mind up long ago to never come back. 

In the end, and even now, Rin still doesn’t know anything. His mind wanders back to the conversation he had with the old man just the other day, and suddenly there’s a sense of doubt racking his frame, seeping into his thoughts like ink. 

 

 

Rin comes back to Younger Yukio’s room juggling the plush bear, a new bowl of water, and fresh towels so when he gets to the door he has no idea how to open it like this—

“I’m scared...I don’t want to see scary things anymore.”

There’s a pause, or maybe the door’s too thick; either way, Rin doesn’t hear anything for a couple of seconds. 

Something keeps him there though, and he stays at the door, straining to hear. 

“Would you like to grow up...to be powerful and protect people, including your brother?”

No, this wasn’t supposed to happen so soon—was it? How does he stop it now? What can he do?

Rin narrowly avoids dropping the bear plushie into the bowl of water, setting everything down, yanking the door open, “Uh, so...” he begins intelligently, “sorry, old man, can I talk you to you real quick?” 

“Of course, Rinka.” Father Fujimoto gives Younger Yukio a pat on the back and Rin shuts the door behind them. 

Father Fujimoto takes his time walking to the back of the monastery, and Rin follows. 

It’s too sudden. He didn’t even have time to start thinking about Yukio’s training. After running into that demon at the supermarket Rin had been determined to talk to him but he’d forgotten and now this is happening again—

“So, Rin, what did you want to talk about?” Father Fujimoto smiles, like he doesn’t already know; why else would he have taken them all the way out here?

Rin takes a breath of cold air in and tries to formulate his thoughts properly, compartmentalize his panic, his fretfulness. 

“I don’t think Yukio should be an exorcist,” he says bluntly. “He’s not—it doesn’t…” go well, like seriously not well, “suit him.”

“Yes,” Father Fujimoto sighs, “he’s a gentle child. Even so, it should help him overcome some of his insecurities. He needs more confidence.”

That’s not what Rin means, so he tries again, “There’s better ways to do that than making him risk his life to fight.” The old man doesn’t look convinced in the least bit, and Rin knows he’s stubborn, but Rin’s stubborn too. He tacks on, “He said he’s scared,” and it comes out annoying airy, like an excuse, instead of what he wanted. 

Father Fujimoto's eyes are hard, impassive, “He needs to become stronger.”

Rin’s never seen him like this before. He was always gentle, always laughing off problems; he’s not supposed to be like this.

Does Rin…really not know him?

I’m sorry, Nii-san. I want to be strong. 

...I don’t need your help anymore.

Rin has to hold back the wave of blue rippling beneath his skin, breaths coming out short as his frustration silences every other thought, “You never saw what that did to him!” Rin shouts, voice breaking. “He told me—he thought he was raised to be a weapon—”

“He’s terrified,” Father Fujimoto snaps, “you’re asking me to tell him the truth, yet leave him defenseless.”

It’s not like that; why can’t he see? Why does Yukio have to become stronger? What does that even mean? What’s the point of pushing him so far, he breaks, throws everything away to pursue something that has no worth by itself?

“Why,” Rin asks, voice rising furiously, “why does he have to become an exorcist? Mephisto gave me medicine before—if we give him it, he won’t be able to see them. He doesn’t have to…” 

Have to...what? 

Is Yukio being an exorcist really the root of the problem? 

Is it?

Father Fujimoto sighs heavily, and there’s something in his tone that tells Rin anything he says now won’t change his mind. “What would you have me do then?” 

Rin doesn’t know. He falls back on the that innocent wish he’s been clinging to since they were kids. 

He doesn’t even know if Yukio still wants to be a doctor. 

He never tells Rin anything. 

 

Father Fujimoto had always been a doting parent. He was lenient, always too lenient with Rin, turning a blind eye when Rin skipped school, letting him drift through his fifteen years like—

Yes...it was different for you, because you were special. 

Back then, Rin couldn’t imagine what he meant but now, he thinks they were both mistaken. 

Rin hates that the old man was worried, that the lines on his face grew deeper, hollower when Rin accidentally mentioned his execution order. He doesn’t want to—that wasn’t what he intended. Rin doesn’t want him to worry; it’s okay, it was okay last time too.

But the old man was visibly upset, and Rin had to do everything just to get him to drop the topic.

It was like having another Yukio on his back, nagging about being careful and other things that Rin doesn’t know how to do—he’s not going to live like that, he…doesn’t know what to do about that right now.  

He must have fallen asleep somewhere along the line because when he opens his eyes again, he’s burrowed under his blankets, squinting away from the brilliant morning sunshine. 

Yukio’s futon is folded neatly in the corner. 

Rin shoves his head under his pillow, resolved to sleep a little longer. 

Was Yukio right? 

What if they really are weapons? 

Even then, that’s not all they are, is it?


 

The glassy buildings and shops shrink to small dots along the road as Rin presses his forehead against the cold window, watching the landscape meld to snowy white evergreens as the train speeds away with quiet rumbles. 

Yukio is adding numbers meticulously into his new phone, and for a moment Rin thinks he should probably do the same, but he feels too restless for that right now. His fingers brush against the thin paper envelope in his bag and a trill of anxiousness threads through his him. 

The old man had said they were old friends, so, Rin should just show Suguro’s dad the letter and everything should be okay. Unfortunately, he’d also said the Kyoto Branch is in turmoil right now, something about being newly incorporated into the Order and mountains of paperwork. 

Rin’s pretty sure he can get his crap done and over in less than an hour, but Yukio insisted they pack to stay overnight in case anything doesn’t go to plan. He has the Mephisto coat too—the black one, just in case. 

Not...that there’s actually a plan. Rin’s just going to go, spill his guts, then show him the sword and hopefully Suguro’s dad will see that it’s in good hands. 

He’s not really doing anything else. It was—it’d been bothering him for a while, even though Suguro’s dad gave the sword over in the end, technically the old man stole it first. He just wants to confirm it’s okay for him to keep it. 

It’s empty now, even though they’d gotten it fixed for him, and Rin doesn’t need it quite like he did before. 

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t grown attached to it though. 

He knows it, and more than that, his heart knows it. 


 

Yukio pokes his side insistently, even when he wants to sleep more, and Rin murmurs blearily against his shoulder, “Are we there already?”

“We still have a bit to go,” Yukio jerks his sleeve, “but there’s suddenly too much snow and the trains have stopped for the time being. They’re making us get off.” 

“Oh, crap, let’s hurry,” Rin snaps awake, “there’s going to be a huge line for refunds.” 

Yukio piles after him as they squeeze off the train and Rin tries not to lose sight of him as they end up in the mass of business people still trying to get to work. There really is a huge crowd of people in line and Rin’s not too eager to squeeze his way in there, so he ends up getting pushed into a little corner beside a pole as people move along around him. Crap, Yukio disappeared. Everyone’s been bumping into his sword and by now, Rin’s not even apologizing anymore; no one’s listening for him to either. 

He gets to the front slowly and crams his refunded money into his bag, shuffling out of the crowd so he can finally breathe. As he digs around for his wallet, Rin surveys the few shops he can see, wondering if he should look for some souvenirs. 

Wait, first, he’s going to call Yukio because Rin can’t find him anywhere—

He runs straight into someone as he rounds the corner. Rin pitches forward, stumbling to catch himself as the other person falls in a crash of papers and belongings hitting the ground. 

“Crap, sorry,” Rin stands quickly, picking his bag off the floor. 

“What’s your problem?” The girl brushes herself off, flipping her sleek white hair over her shoulder. “First the snowstorm, now this,” she mutters. 

He looks to the floor and stoops to help gather some of the papers that spilled out of her bag. 

Wait. 

“Are you an exorcist?” Rin blurts. “These, these are summoning circles.”

He’s sure, definitely sure. They have the little stars and everything.

She looks kind of like...Rin should know who she is, especially with the red makeup at the corners of her eyes and the black robes she’s wearing. Why can’t he seem to remember what her name was? She had snakes and…married Shima’s brother—or was that her sister? 

The girl pales and snatches them out of his hands, “What are you saying?” She asks defensively, picking up her bag, storming away. 

Rin swings his sword over his shoulder, watching her disappear into the mob of people. 

A prickling unease is bothering him; this snow isn’t right. This place feels charged, as though the air is trying to break free, roiling and disturbed.

It’s throwing him off. 

A hand grasps his sleeve and Rin swivels, one arm raised to—

Yukio lets go just as quickly, something indescribable flashing across his eyes, “Nii-san, is something wrong?”

“Yeah,” Rin responds immediately, then, “but I don’t know, this storm is...weird,” he finishes with difficulty. 

Yukio frowns, looking contemplatively out the tall, long windows. “You’re right. It’s definitely too much for Hamamatsu.”

“Do you think it’s,” Rin waves a hand, “you know.”

Yukio shrugs.

The station’s speakers are flooded with a typical notice chord, followed by a dry, professional tone.

Attention to all passengers. We apologize for the inconvenience. Due to heavy, unexpected snowfall, service from Hamamatsu Station is suspended until further notice. Snow exceeding a meter has accumulated, blocking all exits. Please remain calm and kindly comply with staff instructions to handle situating guests as comfortably as we can for the remainder of this storm. Thank you for your patience and cooperation. 

Almost immediately, all sound in the station—movement, breathing, people speaking—swells uncontrollably, each voice feeding another’s distress, escalating into a mob of alarm, of panic. The anxiety spreads contagiously, a blighted cloud of tension overtaking the hundreds of people gathered here. 

Rin feels it too, a frightened disquiet in his veins, spreading, branching.

It fades just as quickly though, siphoning away as though the snow falling around them has dampened every emotion. 

All around them, people seem to quietly surrender, shifting to lean against walls, sitting down, suspending in their motions, slow as the gathering flakes outside. 

Yukio sets his bag down, eyes focused on the murky white creeping up the window glass. “I guess it probably is.” 

Rin turns, confused for a moment—what were they talking about again?

“I don’t think it’s likely we’ll be able to just wait it out,” Yukio murmurs.

A chill runs down his spine, and Rin turns, staring out the long, tall windows into endless snow. 

Someone—something is out there. 

Find him! 

What was that feeling? 

As he gazes at the white sky, he loses sight of the horizon. The longer he stares, the quieter his surroundings seem to become. 

Find him. Hurry! Find him before he gets away.

Bury him! He shall not leave!

“Here, be careful. It’s hot.” 

Rin blinks, meeting Yukio’s foggy glasses. He accepts the steaming bowl of instant ramen carefully, trying to pull the fragments of his thought process together. 

“There’s tons of them,” Rin says, squinting out the window. He can't see the demons but they're loud, brimming with anxiousness just outside the station, “I think they’re pissed.”

The announcement plays again, the same words over, so Rin stops paying attention. 

Yukio tears a seasoning packet deftly, “Really? Once they started handing out free ramen everyone seemed to calm down reasonably. I think they’re working on clearing the bus stop so people can use the underground passageway to kill time at the department store. They’re giving out discounts for Act City—”

“Seriously? There’s an underground passageway?” 

Yukio raises an eyebrow, “You didn’t know? The bus stop is connected to Entetsu Department Store and Act Tower,” he hands Rin a colorful brochure. “They’re both popular destinations for tourists.”

The brochure looks pretty cool, titled “City of Music” and everything. Maybe when he finishes this ramen they can go too—

Where is he? Hurry, search! 

“Wait,” Rin shakes his head, throwing the brochure aside, “more importantly,” he leans forward, lowering his voice, “I think...I think I can hear them—whatever’s causing this blizzard.” 

Yukio’s eyes widen and he nods, switching to the seat next to Rin instead of across from him, “What did you hear?”

Rin frowns, poking at his ramen with disposable chopsticks idly as he tries to think. 

“They’re looking for someone,” Rin says hesitantly. “He’s trying to get away? And that’s why this...”

“They summoned the blizzard,” Yukio confirms. “Did they say what this person looked like?”

“I’m just overhearing them,” Rin slurps some ramen and chews, focusing, trying to keep the static in the corners of his mind out. “They’re...really fast and there’s a lot of them. It’s making me dizzy because they keep moving around. I—” he shuts his eyes as his head pounds, fighting back a wave of nausea. 

It’s not like before, when they were trying to save Izumo and there were zombies everywhere. Those guys were sad and scared but mostly, they were just numb and confused. It’s partly why Rin couldn’t bear killing them. 

This is different. These ones are angry, they’re so angry just listening to them makes Rin uncomfortable. His head is going to explode from the sensory overload. They’re buzzing back and forth so furiously, frantically searching for something. 

It sucks but he should probably give up on eating this ramen. The flavor is really good though, kind of spicy and sour. 

Help me, please. 

Yukio hands him a bottle of water, and a plastic packaged milk bread roll, “Don’t push yourself too hard.” 

Rin nods, gulping some water down. “Sorry. I can’t, I don’t know what they’re trying to find.” 

Yukio checks his phone, “There’s no service right now but it’s possible the Order already knows. They might even have already dispatched a team.” 

Rin leans back in the seat, slouching against the old squished foam of the armrest, shutting his eyes again. He curls his tail tighter around his chest, wishing he could let it out. 

His skin feels too tight. 

The frenzied buzzing gradually gets to be more bearable. They must be moving away from here. 

Help me...help me, I’m scared. 

Rin’s eyes snap open and he jerks up, spilling his ramen all over his lap. Ow, hot, that's really hot. “This one’s different,” he says hastily, pushing Yukio’s persistent hands aside as he covers Rin’s legs with paper napkins. “I figured it out, I figured it out!” He snatches his sword up, grabs Yukio’s arm, pulling him along as Rin breaks into a sprint; listening desperately to that voice ringing in his ears. 

Please help me. 

Yukio lags for a second or two, something about bags, but he’s right behind Rin with noisy footsteps—could he be any louder—searching just as frantically for something neither of them knows yet. 

Crap, crap, the voice is getting weaker. 

Rin turns on his heel, skittering down the stairs. His own breaths echo harshly in his head as he slaps his hands down on a kiosk, vaulting over the metal rail, rushing down a wide hallway, bursting through two doors leading outside.  

The frigid air nearly forces the breath out of his lungs and Rin’s sneakers skid on the layer of slush out at the shuttle stop, trying to turn every direction at once. 

He scrambles in a confused loop, breaths coming out in frantic huffs—didn’t he just come out that door—dashing down into a tunnel of some sort. The voice is louder, this is right, he’s going the right way. 

People are staring at this point and Rin stares back, piecing their faces together in a sort of blur as he runs, afraid he’s not going to find—

There. A cold prick dances along the back of his neck just as Rin spots an old man—he’s holding a cage, there’s a—

A hand wrenches him back by his sword sleeve, pulling him into an adjacent corridor. “Wait, Nii-san,” Yukio pants, setting their bags down with a soft clink, “wait a minute.” 

Rin grimaces, “Sorry. I didn't mean to forget about them,” he motions at the bags. 

Yukio shakes his head dismissively. “I think I saw a Jack Frost,” he says shakily, catching his breath, “in the cage.” 

Rin nods curtly, hands shaking a little as forces himself to stand still. “That old guy,” he whispers, “he’s not a demon.”

Yukio holds a hand to his chin, taking another peek. Rin squeezes next to him, poking his head out too. The old guy is sitting on a bench, leisurely sipping a cup of coffee. The Jack Frost looks tiny, not really like the ones he saw before in Shura’s unit. The color of its coat is a messy, downy grey instead of sleek white, and its eyes are huge compared to the rest of its head. 

“It’s a chick,” Yukio says, a hint of awe hiding in his voice. “The entire flock must be searching for it.” He crosses his arms, "The question is, how should we subdue that man?”

“I’ll beat him up,” Rin hisses, “he’s obviously a piece of trash, stealing a baby.” 

Yukio sighs, pinching his nose bridge, “As much as I’d like—”

“Why’s there another one?” Rin interrupts, “There’s another bird.”

Yukio frowns, “There’s another bird?” Then he does something weird, covering his right eye and looking back. Is his prescription higher in one eye or something? 

“Oh,” he mutters, “because...without a Temptaint, you can’t see it.” He takes his hand off his eye, explaining before Rin has the chance to process that he’s confused, “It’d look strange, right? If he was carrying an empty cage around?”

“Oh. Right. Then how do we steal the bird back?” 

Yukio crosses his arms, “I have a hunch he’s not the one who abducted it.” 

“What? Why?”

“He felt more like a middleman to me. I don’t think he even knows the Jack Frosts are searching for him.” 

He unzips Rin’s bag, “Put your coat on and hide. I’ll distract him, then, you open the cage and run away with the Jack Frost. If he doesn’t react, we’ll know he’s not the real perpetrator. If he does, we’ll have to figure out some way to detain him until the Order arrives.” 

Rin considers it for a minute, “Are you sure you’ll be okay? I don’t want to run off and leave you here.” 

Yukio smiles, “Chances are, I’ll be right behind you. If you’re worried, why don’t you wait for me at the entrance of Act Tower?”

“Okay, sounds good.” Rin grins. “Let's do this.” 


 

“Excuse me?” Yukio smiles politely, walking up to the bench the old man’s waiting at, “I couldn’t help but notice, you have an interesting friend there.” 

Rin cringes inwardly, checking for the fourth time that his hood is up properly. Yukio’s supposed to be distracting the dude from the birds, not drawing attention to them. What is he doing?

Rin studies the clasp of the cage diligently, watching as Yukio and this old guy continue to talk about the bird. 

The Jack Frost is curled in the corner, stubby little arms held close to its small body, chest rising and falling nervously.

Please help. Please?

Its wide glossy eyes latch onto Rin’s, pleading sadly. He gives it a little wave and the best reassuring smile he can muster.  

The Jack Frost flaps a little and the other one, a perplexed looking songbird, hops from one foot to the other as the old guy sets the cage on the ground. 

Rin hasn’t been paying attention to the conversation but when he checks, Yukio seems to be exuberantly promoting some store coupon—oh, he’s got another one of those brochures.

Seizing his chance, Rin pries the cage door open, hoping the old guy won’t notice the shrill creak of the hinge. The Jack Frost perks up, waddling over—

The songbird bobs its head in the way, trilling merrily as it sticks a leg out, perfectly dignified as it prepares to escape. 

Rin crams a hand into the cage, nudging the songbird back a little, somewhat sorry he can’t free it too. Except, the songbird starts to viciously peck at his hand and then Rin doesn't feel so sorry—so much for thinking this one was normal. 

Eventually, he maneuvers the Jack Frost out. It’s really tense, almost vibrating in his hand, so Rin pets the Jack Frost twice, and proceeds to shove it down his coat apologetically. It’ll be okay in a minute. Rin doesn't have time to calm it down right now. He locks the cage door, poking the songbird back in, walking away as quickly as he can. 

Yukio had moved onto the last panel of his shiny brochure, so Rin assumes he’ll be here soon. 

He gets lost though, and there are so many people everywhere, it’s making him stressed, trying to avoid bumping into any of them. He ends up finding a deserted space under the grimy stairwell, pushing his hood off with a breath of relief. Pulling the squirming Jack Frost out, he sits cross-legged on the floor, relaxing as he sees it’s mostly okay.  “Sorry,” Rin smiles, cradling it in his hands, “I’ll bring you back soon. I just need to wait for Yukio.”

The little ball of grey fluff shivers violently, puffing all of its feathers up as it shakes. It hovers for a minute, weaving a slow circle around Rin’s head, then darting away. 

Oh, this is bad. He’d expected this might happen and technically it’s okay. Rin slumps against the wall, suddenly exhausted. He rummages through his pockets and withdraws the smushed milk bread roll Yukio gave him earlier. The plastic crinkles loudly as Rin tears it open, but he’s a bit too tired to bother with discretion at this point. 

Rin’s stomach growls indignantly, demanding he scarf the roll down this minute. 

He peels the plastic back—his hands are dirty but if he keeps it in the plastic, he’s all good—and takes a satisfying bite. 

Something soft lands on his head and Rin pauses in his chewing, confused. 

The weight leaves though, and Rin watches as the Jack Frost settles in a quaking ball on his knee, blinking liquid blue eyes at him. 

Rin blinks back a few times, not knowing what to do. 

His hands aren’t exactly clean but, whatever, he dusts them off as best as he can, pinching a chunk off the bread roll.

He’s fed tons of pigeons, and a few ducks, bread before and none of them cranked it the next day, so he’s pretty sure this one’s going to be fine too. 

He grins happily as the Jack Frost gives the bread a nibble, then gulps the entire piece down. 

Thank you! This is good.

Where is Yukio anyway? It’s been a bit but he’s still not here. Maybe he shouldn’t have holed up here without figuring out where he is. Yukio’s probably not going to be able to find him at this rate.

Eh, whatever. He’s tired. He’ll go find Yukio in a minute—maybe three. 

In fact, Rin manages to feed the entire roll to the Jack Frost—it has puffed up a bit more, but maybe that’s just Rin’s imagination—and Yukio is still nowhere to be seen. 

Rin scoops the Jack Frost up, throws his plastic wrapper in the nearest trash can, and heads back in the direction he came from. Or, at least, he thinks he came from here?

The Jack Frost doesn’t seem to like being held and Rin tries putting it on his shoulder a few times, but it keeps nuzzling into his hair, insisting on sitting on his head. He even pulls his hood up and it just huddles there still, squished between the hood and Rin’s head.

It’s actually a small ball of warmth, which makes no sense to Rin. 

Maybe they get colder as they grow up?

Rin gets back to the bench and Yukio’s still there, chatting with the old guy about real estate in Nagoya or something. It’s not even interesting, so Rin’s just going to leave him to his conversation, then. 

He and the Jack Frost wait under the stairs for another twenty minutes, when Yukio finally shows up. 

Rin wants to know what miracle led him here. Did he get lost too? 

He feels kind of bad, seeing Yukio hauling both of their bags and Rin’s sword with him. “Sorry,” Yukio smiles, “he just wanted to keep talking, and I had to check to see if he could see the Jack Frost was missing. He couldn’t, which is good.”

"Then what do we do about him?" 

Yukio’s expression turns grim, "After we pass the exam, I'll file a report. Either he isn't working alone, or he's being manipulated. He doesn't seem to have a Temptaint after all." He sighs, "I don't want to risk confronting him by ourselves."

Rin wants to object but Yukio looks almost rattled. It's not like him, to leave hanging ends. 

“Okay. So, how do we get this little guy home?” He grabs his sword and bag from Yukio, shouldering them carefully. 

“Where is it?” 

“On my head,” Rin points. “I don’t know why it likes it there so much.” 

“That’s rather adorable,” Yukio laughs, “I figured it would like you.” He heads away from the station and Rin follows.

“Why?” 

Yukio smiles, “It’s nothing really.” 

“Because I’m not—”

Yukio turns back, a trace of amusement still lingering on his lips, “Not necessarily,” he says, glasses glinting faintly in the busy hallway. “We’ll need to head to the roof. They’re creatures of air, so they prefer heights. Luckily,” he gestures to the building, “Act Tower is perfectly sufficient.” 

Rin looks back and forth anxiously as they step into the elevator. He’s not used to it anymore: people not being able to see demons. 

In the end—of their time—everyone could see them, even before the gates opened completely. 

Yukio goes the wrong direction a few times and it’s Rin who finds the stairs leading to the roof. Of course, it’s locked. 

Yukio pulls Rin into the restroom and he shrugs his Mephisto coat on too. He holds Rin’s hand, leading him slowly and they shuffle out of the restroom with clumsy, tripping steps, trying to avoid people coming in.  

At first, Rin is confused, because Yukio heads down the stairs instead of up. There’s no way he’s that bad with directions though, so Rin keeps quiet. The last thing they need is people hearing disembodied voices. 

Yukio comes to a stop at the largely deserted floor just below and there’s a sharp click as the doorknob turns.

“You have the key to this place too?” Rin asks incredulously. 

Yukio’s keys jingle a little, “No. This is a link key. All intermediate second class exorcists have link keys. It allows you to pass between doors of the same type.”

He pushes to demonstrate but the door doesn’t move.  

“Oh,” Yukio says, “I forgot about the snow.” 

Rin taps his shoulder, “I got this. Hold it,” he sets the Jack Frost in Yukio’s hand as best as he can, trying to differentiate his wrist from his fingers. “It should be easy with my flames.”

Okay. He needs to focus. The—

“Are you sure you can do this?” Yukio asks, tone offensively doubtful. “It sounds highly inefficient—”

Rin rolls his eyes but it’s too bad Yukio can’t see him, “I’ve gotten better,” Rin preens gleefully. 

Yukio lets go of Rin’s wrist and takes a step back, all quiet scuffs and displaced dust. “Be careful.”

Something occurs to Rin though, “What if there’s a camera? Won’t it look weird?”

Yukio scoffs, “There’s one right behind you. Let’s not worry about them for now. As long as no one can connect us to this,” Rin imagines he makes a gesture, but he can’t see. This is harder to deal with than he thought. “We should be fine.” 

“Go ahead,” Yukio says finally. 

Rin grins, and something incredibly warm settles in his chest; he imagines his flames are right under his skin, just waiting to be let out. He breathes out and gathers them to him, reaches out and creeps them up the other side of the door. 

It’s unnerving because he can’t see them, so it’s hard to differentiate what to touch and what to burn. 

He keeps it up for a minute or two, then five or maybe even ten, continuing to push on the door. It’s more tiring than he thought. He’s sweating at this point and he can tell his concentration is slipping. He needs to be careful; keep it in, slowly, slowly. 

The door creaks, then gives, swinging out widely. The wind outside is strong and it sweeps snow in eagerly as Rin steps out.

Rin stares in disappointment, looking at the miserably tiny circle he’s made. 

He shuffles out, shutting the door to the roof after Yukio makes it out too. Yukio removes his hood and Rin does the same, sending him a questioning look before Yukio points to the snow-covered camera. 

Rin’s lucky he didn’t melt all of that. 

The Jack Frost squirms from Yukio’s grasp and bounds onto Rin’s head, snuggling into his hair promptly. It doesn’t seem to mind his flames, oddly. 

Then again, Kuro always liked them too. 

Still, there is too much snow for them to do much, so Rin sends a wave of fire out, focusing on pushing instead of heating this time. It doesn’t work though; the snow sits there stubbornly as the wind continues to berate them with fat, heavy flakes. Honestly, he’s never seen snow pile this high before. It’s practically up to his chest now. 

His flames quiver and fade until all that’s left is the two specks on his head and three patches along his shoulder and arms. 

He wanted to show off in front of Yukio. This sucks. 

“It’s alright,” Yukio assures, “This is enough. The rest of the flock will be able to sense it, now that we’re outside.” 

He cups the Jack Frost off his head, setting it on the soft layer of snow. Rin marvels that it doesn’t sink through, waddling around the cool white powder obvious delight, waving its stumpy arms back and forth.   

So pretty. You are so pretty.

Yukio covers his mouth, doing that half snort, half giggle thing he likes to pretend he’s above. 

Rin laughs a little too, collecting a handful of flames to mold into...ah, he’s tired, so it’s not working that well, but he does his best, making a wobbly blob of fire shaped like a wispy version of the Jack Frost. 

The puffball’s eyes widen comically as it circles around Rin’s flames, zipping through the air excitedly. 

Where—keep searching! Search! 

The baby Jack Frost swivels its little arms, hovering higher in the air until it’s high above Rin’s head. 

Here! I am here! 

The wind rises abruptly, and Rin’s teeth begin to chatter as the temperature dips dramatically. Specks of hoarfrost crystallize, standing like white fur, covering the door, the small space in the snow Rin melted away. 

“Look,” Yukio breathes, “they’re here.” 

Rin nearly takes a step back as he sees the enormous cloud of white, shivering, descending with the snowflakes like one asomatous entity, drawing overjoyed arcs in the air, spinning around the baby Jack Frost. 

A thousand voices buzz collectively, and Rin’s feels their relief like warmth brushing his cheeks, throbbing in his fingertips. 

Thank you. 

The blizzard fades to a few sparkling flakes swirling in the air, leaving in a spiral as the cloud of Jack Frosts depart. He continues to hear their voices for a minute or two, humming gently by his ears.  

“Jack Frosts are notably long-lived demons,” Yukio says as Rin finishes waving goodbye. “Records show they live for up to five or six centuries, but many believe they could persist for much longer. Because of that, they rarely have offspring,” he smiles faintly, “which is why each chick is treasured by the entire flock.” 

“It has a huge family then,” Rin grins, “that’s neat.”

“Yeah,” Yukio whispers, pulling his hood up as they duck back into the stairwell, “Jack Frosts are quite special. They’re snow sprites, and, like golems or snowmen, they are spontaneously created from human intent.” 

Rin can tell Yukio’s smiling from the soft curls in his tone, so Rin listens, walking slowly, very slowly down the stairs. 

He must have missed this, teaching and stuff. 

“I read a paper before,” Yukio adds, “proposing that they’re born from particularly well-crafted snow angels.”

“Seriously?” Rin sputters, “From snow angels?”

“Yeah,” Yukio smiles, “it’s a nice thought.”


 

Unfortunately, just because the blizzard has stopped, doesn’t mean the meter of snow on the ground can suddenly evaporate, so they’re still stuck in the station. 

Rin makes a beeline for the restroom, changing into a new pair of jeans. There. Now he doesn’t smell like he does his laundry in hot and sour ramen broth, and—

“Ahh,” Rin groans, “I got it on my sword sleeve.” 

Yukio rubs one eye tiredly, “You can wash it, can’t you? Just use the hand dryer afterwards.”

“Oh, good idea,” Rin murmurs, setting his sword on the counter. 

He wipes it off with a damp paper towel gently—no one ever told him how to clean it really, plus, every time he used it, the flames cleared any gross crap off anyway. Now that it seems reasonably cleaner, Rin moves onto the sleeve, dunking it in the sink, pumping some soap out and scrubbing like crazy. 

The soap smells pretty nice, a frail scent like a mix of aloe and herbs that Shiemi would probably like. 

Rin rings out the sleeve decently, letting it flutter under the whirling hand dryer as he checks his phone. Still no service though. 

The door creaks open slowly, and someone scoots past them, muttering, “Excuse me,” quietly. 

Rin stares idly as Yukio washes his face, darting a hand out to save his glasses from falling into the sink. His sleeve is taking a while to dry though and—

The guy who came in a minute ago comes out of the stall, stepping over to wash his hands. 

“Ah, sorry,” Rin says, quickly moving his sword out of the way. Crap, he shouldn’t have left it out. Now he’s going to get questions about it. 

“No, you’re fine,” the guy smiles brightly. “That’s a beautiful—”

He stops and Rin looks up from where he’s still drying the sleeve, curious. 

Wait. 

This guy...the flat slant of his eyes or something; he looks a lot like Shima. 

Wait, wait, wait—

“Wait a minute,” the guy says, voice rising, “that’s Kurikara!” 

Rin swallows, tensing as the guy steps closer. 

“Where did you get this?”

Chapter Text

“Wait a minute,” the guy says, voice rising, “that’s Kurikara!” 

Rin swallows, tensing as the guy steps closer. 

“Where did you get this?”

Thoughts bustle in his head, dropping uselessly to the ground like a sack of something spilled, scattering uncontrollably across every surface. None of the half-formed excuses that come to mind will work; what can he say, what, what, hurry—

By a stroke of luck, the restroom door slams open and three colorful blurs race in. “Ju-nii! How long are you going to take? The trains are going to run soon. Mamushi’s pissed you know!” 

Rin catches a glance from Yukio across the room, trying to confirm his suspicions because it looks to him awfully like these three twirps are tiny versions of Suguro, Konekomaru and Shima, while the guy who’s still trying to glare Rin to death must be that older brother—the one whose wedding they went to. 

Holy crap.

He’s still processing when Shima’s brother reluctantly turns and tries to shoo the three boys away. “I’ll be there soon, just a minute,” he insists, herding them outside. 

As the door shuts again, he clears his throat and looks to Rin expectantly. 

Rin opens his mouth, closes it, and—

“We’re exorcists from the Order,” Yukio says, casually tossing a crumpled paper towel in the trash like it wasn’t a poorly covered excuse to get over to Rin’s side of the restroom. “We’re transporting this for a mission,” he adds, gesturing to the sword. “It’s quite impressive that you recognized the Koma Sword with just a single glance.”

Shima’s brother frowns, looking puzzled like he can’t decide if he should take the compliment. Or, Rin’s reading him wrong and he’s completely on to them. 

Crap, they really should have planned this better. 

The guy clears his throat, “You’re transporting it?” he says finally, but his voice is unexpectedly hopeful, lilting up at the end. “If you don’t mind me asking,” Shima’s brother says, abruptly polite, “are you returning Kurikara to Myoda?”

Rin’s thrown off by the question, and he can tell Yukio is too, judging by the tightness at the corners of his lips as his smile wilts. He doesn’t say anything, so Rin blurts, “Something like that? I mean, it depends on if the head priest wants it back—”

“Really?” Shima’s bro exclaims, face breaking into an exuberant smile, “Thank you so much! You have no idea, it’s our principle object of worship. It’s, it’s incredibly important to us,” he gushes, grabbing Rin’s hand in an enthusiastic handshake, “thank you, thank you so much.” 

“Uh,” Rin fiddles with the empty sword sleeve, “sure. As long he wants it back, it’s all yours, or uh, I mean, like all of your—”

“Since you’re part of the Myoda Sect,” Yukio reiterates, swiftly cutting off Rin’s rambling, “do you think you could set up a meeting for us? We forgot to arrange an appointment beforehand,” he grimaces convincingly, “and I’m sure the head priest is terribly busy.”

“For sure, for sure,” Shima’s bro nods quickly, “ah, I’m Shima Juzo, please allow me to assist in any way I can.” 

Yukio’s smile turns amused and he dips his head slightly, “I’m Okumura Yuki. This is my older brother, Rinka. It’s lucky that we ran into each other.”

“Right?” Juzo laughs awkwardly, “This is amazing. Our temple lost too many followers when it got out that the high priest moved our object of worship away, but now that you’re bringing it back, I’m just know things will get better soon.” 

“What did he say it was for?” Rin asks, slipping the sword back into its sleeve. “Why did he move it?” Surely Suguro’s dad couldn’t have given the excuse of for the son of Satan...right?

The restroom door swings back open, “Ju-nii, Mamushi says she’s going to skin you,” Shima whines, “and you’re going to miss the train—”

“Get to the point first next time,” Juzo rolls his eyes, turning back to them. “I’m guessing you’re for the same train?” 

Yukio nods. “You’re from Kyoto, right? Did you come here on vacation?” he asks as they make their way to the platform. 

Juzo laughs, “Yeah, this little guy is,” he says, messing up Shima’s hair. “My friend and I just got out of school. My dad took them here but he’s staying for a business conference, so we’re just chaperoning them home.” 

Shima darts off as he sees Konekomaru waving, and Juzo follows. Rin takes the chance once they’re far enough behind to let out a relieved breath. “I thought we were done for. What are the odds that we’d run into them?”

Yukio shakes his head, “Nii-san,” with a tired quietness that Rin can barely hear, “are you really giving it back?”

He’s focused just past Rin’s eyes, a little above, and he stops short. Rin knows what he’s thinking, surprisingly, but it’s fine. His flames aren’t there anymore; they’re curled beneath his skin, inside his heart in a quiet bed of soft blue embers. 

It’s more work than before, to keep them quiet. He doesn’t want to think about what that means about himself, about his nature—if he’s okay.

Wouldn’t it be too selfish to keep Kurikara? 

We lost a lot of worshippers. Before long, the place was known as the “cursed temple.”

The dampness of the sword sleeve lingers on his fingers and the scabbard feels colder, even as he shifts his grip uncomfortably. No matter how many times he sets it down and picks it up, his sword doesn’t have the same inner warmth it used to. It’s...empty. 

 “It’s empty,” he repeats aloud, and something in his chest tightens to the point where he’s not sure if it’s because he’s holding his breath, or something else he doesn’t want to think about. 


Rin’s seat number was right next to Yukio’s, so he’d expected they would be sitting together. Only, Yukio ends up sitting next to frail old granny who keeps offering him candy, and Rin’s next to a buff salaryman with garlic breath. 

The scenery passes as a gentle white blur, and with nothing else to do, he drifts off, leaning his head against the cool glass window. He wishes he might dream of something nice, but he doesn’t remember anything as he wakes. All that is left is a lingering sense of loneliness. 

The train stops too quickly, and Rin suddenly regrets sleeping at all. He doesn’t know what to do, or what he wants. Exactly how much is enough, when he doesn’t know what’s right?

He squeezes off the train before he loses his nerve, deciding to wait outside for Yukio to get off when he feels a tug on his elbow. 

Rin turns, surprised as he meets Suguro’s bright, curious eyes. “What’s up?” he asks, head still foggy from sleep. 

“Juzo’s stomach hurts, so he’s stuck in the bathroom. Mamushi’s buying something to fix him, so we’ve been sent to watch you,” Suguro says seriously, “in case you get lost.” He waits about two seconds and tacks on a quick, “Okumura-san,” like he forgot he was supposed to be polite. 

He’s mirrored with two determined nods from Konekomaru and Shima, which Rin can’t help but find cute. It sounds more like they ditched their guardians for whatever reason, but at least they’re sticking together. It’s hardly his place to lecture them, and well, they’ll probably get yelled at later either way.  

“Okay,” Rin squats down, reaching to tie Suguro’s scarf on better. “Let’s wait inside for them.”

“M’kay,” Suguro replies, smiling rather smugly. 

“Hey, your hair looks rad,” Shima chirps, swinging Konekomaru’s arm back and forth as they walk. “I want to dye my hair too!”

Rin leads them over to the vending machine, squinting at the glass, “Really? Thanks. Maybe you should try pink.” He finishes sending a text to Yukio and looks back down. It feels too weird, seeing them as little kids. “Want anything?” he gestures to the assortment of sugary drinks. There’s a few he’s unfamiliar with, which must be a Kyoto thing, and a couple others he remembers they’ll stop selling later.  

“Yeah!” Shima cheers, “Please—”

“That’s no good,” Konekomaru crosses his arms adamantly, “Shima-san, we’re supposed to show hos-hospitality to guests. If anything, we should buy Okumura-san something to drink.” 

“Nah, it’s okay. I appreciate the thought,” Rin smiles. He ends up buying three cans of oshiruko and two of corn potage since they’re both warm. He’s pleased to get three delighted smiles and thank yous, watching as they sit on the worn station seats, swinging skinny legs back and forth. 

His chest hurts more than he’d expected, seeing them like this. It’s been a long time since he saw his friends—particularly Shima. He misses them a lot, and it makes the thought of their future more frightening than ever. 

It feels like too much, and he’s never feared failure so badly. 

“Um, Okumura-san,” Konekomaru says, scooting a little closer on the bench, “are we...could we see it, just for a little bit—”

“Yeah, please?” Shima interjects so quickly, he almost spills his drink as he bounds up from the bench to huddle next to Konekomaru.

Rin blinks, glancing at Suguro who is still sitting, but is staring with poorly hidden interest. For a second he’s not sure what they’re talking about, but it clicks quickly enough. 

He’s about to reply when little Suguro sighs dramatically for a twerp his size, “We overheard Mamushi and Juzo talking about it. Kurikara is supposed to be kept above the sacred fire out of reach, so they wanted to see it once, before that.”

Konekomaru pushes his tiny glasses up, looking unimpressed, “Just admit you want to see it too, Bon.” Suguro reddens appropriately, and the three of them turn pleading eyes toward Rin, tugging on the sword sleeve excitedly. 

Rin frowns, taking a sip of his oshiruko as he looks around. Yukio hasn’t responded for a while. 

“Maybe later?” he smiles apologetically. “There’s too many people here anyway.” After all, he only has a letter clearing them for security. If too many people see it, things could get messy. 

“Awwww,” Shima pouts, “promise you’ll show us later?” 

“Okay, promise,” Rin laughs. “I think—”

“Ryuji-sama!” 

“Aw, it’s Mamushi,” Suguro scowls. “I can’t believe she found us so fast.” 

Mamushi comes to a stop before them, eyes going from Rin to the drinks and back and forth between the three kids as she catches her breath. “Thank you and I’m sorry for the wait. Please, let’s go to the shuttle stop, Okumura-san,” she says hurriedly. 

“What about Ju-nii,” Shima asks, sounding oddly excited, “are we leaving him here?” 

“Hm, I wish,” Mamushi sniffs. “That stupid monkey is the source of all my problems,” she grumbles. “Let’s go.” With that, she turns on her heel to storm off, and the four of them—Rin and the three mini musketeers—follow like bumbling chickens, clutching hands, sleeves and coat hoods as they try to keep up through the crowd of people. 

Luckily, Yukio is there waiting already, with a slightly pale looking Juzo next to him. Rin offers him a can of oshiruko, but Juzo turns paler and declines quickly. 

As they get onto the shuttle, Mamushi and Juzo’s conversation rapidly decomposes to a hissing match, and Rin feels himself losing hope that they’ll be able to arrange a meeting after all. 

“Where were you?” Rin asks, nudging Yukio as he waves his phone. “I sent a bunch of messages and you didn’t reply at all.” 

“I was helping the old lady sitting next to me with her luggage,” Yukio says, lips curving in amusement. “Want some candy?” 

“What?” Rin raises an eyebrow, watching as Yukio digs into his coat pocket. He promptly dumps a bunch of little plastic crinkly packages into Rin lap. 

“Bro, how much candy did that granny give you? What does she think this is, Halloween? And why’d you take so much?” 

“But she wouldn’t stop talking to me,” Yukio protests. “I have even more in the other pocket.”


“I’m so sorry,” Juzo says once they get off the shuttle. “I’ve just called, and the high priest isn’t able to meet with you until later tonight.” 

“Oh, it’s cool, don’t worry about it,” Rin replies.

“Then,” Shima perks up, “you should come with us to Toraya! Come on, you promised to show us!” 

Juzo shoves a hand over Shima’s head like he’s trying to press him back into the ground, or at least stop him from bouncing around, “Ah, yes, well, we did reserve a complimentary room for you guys—Renzo, would you calm down, I’m sure they’re very busy.”

Yukio sends him a questioning look but doesn’t say anything, so Rin figures he doesn’t have any other plans. If he remembers right, Toraya is Suguro’s family inn, so that’d be reasonably convenient since it’s snowing over here too. “Sure, why not?”

“Yes!” Shima pumps a fist, accepting two high-fives from his buddies for his good work. 

Mamushi shrugs, “Fine, we’ll be going through the field office, then.” 

They walk for only a few minutes in mild snow that melts as it reaches the ground. Still, Rin can’t help but feel relieved once they get inside the building. It's way colder here than Tokyo. 

Now that he thinks about it, the last time he was in Kyoto was around this time too, for the wedding.

Rin hardly remembers anything inside the field office, other than the prison cell, and then maybe a little of the creepy water-filled basement where he sort of punched Suguro and blew up. 

Mamushi leads them through a cramped cubicle maze tragically littered with paperwork, stressed looking white-collar workers and washed-out exorcists. Then, she takes a key from a cabinet in the corner—with a billion other shiny looking keys—and pens something on a clipboard next to it. 

“So, you keep all the keys together? That’s neat,” Rin comments absently.  

“It’s because our branch is newly incorporated into the Order, so we haven’t had time to distribute individual copies of keys to exorcists yet,” Juzo explains. 

“Honestly, it’s a pain because some people forget to return them,” Mamushi taunts. 

Juzo’s face contorts until he looks two steps from bursting a blood vessel, but he’s also clutching his midsection like he’s barely keeping himself together, so it’s hard to tell. 

Mamushi jams the key in and holds the door open, letting them into the warm inn. It smells incredibly nice inside, with a mystifying cross of clean laundry smell and sharp incense. 

As they put their shoes in the impressively clean cubbies, Rin has to wonder how those two ever got married in the future. Then again, they kind of fight like they’re already married. In the end, it seems the two of them are seriously tired of each other, and Juzo even pawns them off to the three squirts with a room number, instructions to serve tea and some snacks, then do whatever. 

Suguro immediately scrambles up the stairs, stopping short around the corner on the lookout for his mother, motioning for them to follow. The three kids scamper down the hallway to find the room. Rin follows behind at a more sedate pace, taking the chance to explain to Yukio, “They asked if they could see Kurikara earlier, at the train station.” 

“Okumura-san,” Konekomaru waves a hand, “It’s this room!”

Yukio looks weirdly pensive as they sit down at the neat tea table, but when Rin asks, he waves him off. 

“It’s nothing.” 

“Can we see it now? Please?” Shima trills. 

Suguro, who was in the process of shutting the door—still vigilantly on the lookout for his mom—slides across the tatami flooring so fast his socks nearly come off. 

The three of them sit neatly at attention, eyes eager and intent. 

Rin stands, pulls the sleeve off with a flourish, and lets it fall as he holds the sword out. There’s a fuzzy warmth in his chest as their eyes widen, and some sense of pride for nonsensical reasons. 

He grins, but a split second before he draws it, his mind blanks. All he can think of is, this is probably the last time, and it aches viscerally, as though he’s being hollowed out inside. For a moment he almost thinks the sheath will stick, like before when he was afraid, but the gleaming metal leaves easily, without resistance.  

It’s not his to keep; it never has been. Now that he no longer needs it, it’s not fair for him to hold onto it relentlessly.

Rin holds a sigh in, trying to push the thoughts away. The munchkins are sitting uncharacteristically still, faces three different shades of confusion. 

“Hold on,” Suguro whispers, a slight tremor threading his voice, “where are the flames?”

Blood drains from Rin’s face as his breath hitches, “What?” He looks to Shima and Konekomaru but there’s only similar concern in their expressions. “How...how do you know about—”

Karura,” Yukio declares haltingly, eyes flitting to Rin’s. “You’re asking about the phoenix, Karura?”

Oh. Karura, right, red flames...not blue, not blue. 

Rin puts the sword away and sits back down as casually as he can. Wow, today has been bad for his heart. He seriously needs to keep his mouth shut right now, especially when his brain is a scrambled mess. 

It’s just, even though they’re so much younger, it feels familiar, and Rin finds it too easy to talk to them. 

“That’s a great question,” Yukio smiles, seamlessly melding into teacher-mode. “See, your founder, Fukaku, was the one who invoked Karura to the Koma Sword.” He gets two nods and a sleepy blink before continuing. “However, when the high priest gave the Koma Sword to the Paladin, he couldn’t possibly give Karura as well. Not when its duty is to watch over the Myoda Sect, correct?”

“But where’s Karura been this whole time, if it wasn’t in Kurikara?” Suguro presses, forehead creasing with worry.

Yukio shakes his head, “As outsiders, we wouldn’t know. I’m certain the high priest can’t easily reveal its whereabouts, but it wouldn’t hurt to try asking him.”

Okay, way to throw Suguro’s dad under the bus there, Yukio. 

Not that Rin thinks he could have done better...but they both know Suguro can’t get the answers he wants. Not when the Impure King still sleeps beneath their oldest temple, sealed by the weight of mere secrets. 

The more he thinks about it, the more it feels like they’ve done something wrong. He should try to do something about this, somehow.

“Um, Okumura-san,” Konekomaru smiles gingerly, “thank you for taking the time to show us. Come on, Bon, let’s not bother them anymore, okay?”

Suguro hesitates. Rin almost recognizes the expression, but it disappears quickly, like condensation against cold glass. “Thank you,” he says simply, and leaving with a polite nod far too mature for a boy his age. 

Rin flops to the floor, staring up at the ceiling as he listens to the trio of footsteps patter away. “He’s going to get in a fight with his dad now, isn’t he?” he mutters, shutting his eyes. “Did we just mess up?”

“Perhaps,” Yukio sighs, staring out the window, “I shouldn’t have diverted the conversation like that.” 

Rin opens his mouth to deny it but he pauses for a second too long. He’s afraid it’ll sound insincere, if he says anything now. Silence settles into their room sleepily, but as it gathers it becomes obtrusive, like a wall of air erected between them. The snow outside has grown heavy and the sky is a bright grey that promises more to come. 

Rin rolls over onto his stomach lazily, tracing a seam in the tatami mat as he scoots his tail out from his shirt. “Are you—is something wrong? You’ve been kind of quiet.” 

It’s not just that. He can tell something has been on Yukio’s mind since they got on the train. Some part of Rin is tired though, and he finds himself reluctant to talk about it. 

“This place and Karura,” Yukio smiles wanly, “bring back unpleasant memories.” He leaves it like that, but before Rin can respond, a knock on the doorframe ruffles the quiet air. 

“Sorry for the wait,” Juzo smiles apologetically, peeking his head through the crack of the door. “The head priest happened to finish early, so he’ll see you now, if that’s alright?”

“Yeah,” Rin gets up, swinging Kurikara onto his back carefully. The weight is comfortable, and he wonders what he’ll do without it now. 

He takes a deep breath and some of the tension in his chest lifts. Although it’s slightly beat up and been snapped in half once, at least he’s able to give this one back. This sword has saved his life countless times now, and he’s glad it will finally be returned to its rightful place. 

In all the rush and disorder in the branch office, the officials Rin got a glimpse of were exhausted, faces weary and darkened by the stress of their workload, so much that the few Rin recognized hardly seemed any younger than years from now.  

Naturally, when Juzo lets them into the tidy book room, Rin expects the same of the high priest. He expects to see creases and fatigue and the bowed, humbled shoulders of the kindly middle-aged father he chanced upon in a sweltering, uncomfortable summer full of insecurities and tension. 

Instead, he is met with a hurried man who is incredibly radiant yet serene, like this mild jasmine tea they’ve been served. “It seems you two have made quite the journey to get here.” Suguro Tatsuma smiles, “I never thought I’d meet you. It’s such a privilege.” 

No one’s ever said that to him so nicely before, and Rin’s not sure how to respond. 

Fortunately, Suguro’s dad continues, “Thank you for bringing me this letter. I’m glad to hear Fujimoto-kun is well.” He pauses, taking a sip of tea. “Now, Juzo told me you’re here...to return the Koma Sword?”

Rin pulls the sleeve off and holds the sword out quickly, trying to ignore the minute tremor in his hands.  “I don’t really need it like before,” he admits, “and it’s...important to you guys, right?”

Suguro’s old man accepts the sword, grasping the scabbard reverently. He gazes at it for several moments, and Rin fidgets, wondering if he’ll notice that awkward scratch on the corner or all the tiny scuffs on the beautiful varnish. 

“May I?” He motions, placing a hand on the hilt, palms up, and Rin nods stiffly, almost flustered by how delicately he’s treating it.

Kurikara had always felt comfortable, not quite an extension of himself, but more like a memory on a series of actions he’d seen someone else perform, maybe in a movie or something. Because of that, Rin had always been aware of its presence. The moment he’d drawn it, he could feel its power: a steadfast, quiet prison for his hungry flames. 

At times, he’d truly feared it. It was a comfort, a source of strength he knew he couldn’t control but also couldn’t afford not to rely on, and that was terrifying; it made him careless, desperately trying to hold his doubts at bay.

It’d been too close to the old man’s death, a furious reminder of his weakness; how he’d failed, despite losing some measure of his humanity, the normality his sheltered life could never quite manage too well. Rin had spent hours staring at it that first night, kneeling on the floor with iridescent blue seared behind his eyelids. He had been too afraid to draw it so soon after seeing that horrid reflection in the mirror, too afraid to see what he’d confined himself to become. 

What will happen, years from now, when his younger self finds out who he is?

After all, it was his fault. It’d haunted him for a long time, maybe it still does; if he hadn’t hesitated at that time, would things have gone differently? If he’d drawn the sword earlier—or if he hadn’t drawn it at all? 

He’d become used to bringing it everywhere with him almost instantly, even sleeping with it at night. 

Now, it doesn’t have that presence anymore—his heart, the actual one, he knows now. Rin forgets the sword sometimes, left it in the training rooms in the Order once, almost couldn’t find it in the rubble during a particularly messed up mission a while ago. It’s just doesn’t feel the same anymore. 

The high priest smiles though, pleasant surprise coloring his face, “This is remarkable,” he whispers. “Was it broken once?” He meets Rin’s eyes, “I haven’t seen it in years, so correct me if I’m wrong. It looks to me like it was reforged.”

“Yeah, sorry about that,” Rin says. 

He nearly jumps when Yukio echoes the sentiment, a heartbeat later. “It wasn’t your fault,” Yukio says quietly. Rin watches as he turns his teacup in a slow circle, nudging the edge as he stares down at it. 

Right. Rin had almost forgotten what had broken it in the first place. 

“It’s not holding my flames anymore, but you helped me get it fixed, in the future.” Rin mumbles. “Sorry,” he repeats, as though it could possibly make up for destroying this priceless artifact. 

He’d promptly forgotten about it after all that chaos too. That was pretty crappy of him. 

“No, no,” Suguro’s dad shakes his head, “you’ve done a wonderful job. It’s beautiful.” 

“Uh,” Rin points, “no, I wasn’t—”

Suguro’s dad shifts the blade closer to Rin and light dances pale blue across its keen edge, “I remember this sword well. It wasn’t like this before.” He smiles warmly, “You’ve taken good care of it. I’d like it, if Kurikara stayed with you.” 

Rin frowns, “Are you sure I can keep it though? Uh, Juzo said earlier, he said you’re not supposed to give it away and stuff. Won’t you going to get in trouble for that?” 

“We’ll see. Our temple has fallen to ruin in these years, and it will be many more before it can be restored.” Suguro Tatsuma laughs, “Besides, it’s hardly mine to take back anymore. Kurikara is yours now. Even if it doesn’t house your heart anymore, I believe there are still vestiges of your soul lingering.” 

He traces two fingers down the length of the blade, drawing a barely audible hum out as the metal gleams along his fingertips. “It must stay by your side, or you may lose your way.”

Rin’s familiar with the sound. In all honesty, he might have used it like a baseball bat in the beginning, smashing and hacking like a barbarian, but he knows its sighs and whispers recently, especially the sharp whistle it makes through air with a particularly well-executed stroke.

It comes to him as something like relief, that he can keep it. 

Suguro’s dad sighs, taking a slow sip of tea. “The Kurikara I gave away, shortly before you were born, was wasting away,” he says, eyes softening, “a decoration at most.” He sheathes the sword smoothly, placing it in Rin’s hands, “Okumura-kun, truly, I hope to never allow it to be reduced to that state again. Thank you, for giving it something as precious as your heart.” 

Rin wants to protest. He wasn’t the one who put his heart in there anyway; that was all the old man. 

Still, he takes it back and the metal feels heavier. It’s not so empty anymore; maybe it wasn’t empty before this. He shouldn’t have thought it was. 

It’s all the reassurance he needed, maybe much more than he was hoping for, so Rin nods, “Thanks.”

There’s nothing left for him to say really, but there are words burning in his chest, things he’s certain he shouldn’t speak of—not yet, not now.

“Give Fujimoto-kun my thanks, will you?” Suguro’s dad says as they stand. “I nearly forgot, have these too.” He hands them each a neatly embroidered omamori charm, “Take care,” he smiles, pointing down the hallway for the way out. 

Just as Rin moves to leave, Yukio speaks up, “Is it likely that others will recognize the Koma Sword?”

“We guard our secrets well. Only sect members know of it, but they’ll send you here at the very most,” the high priest shrugs, “and, I will be on your side, so, what does it matter?”

The small nest of flames inside his chest quivers gently, snuggling into quiet sleep as a smile breaks across Rin’s face. Somehow, even though nothing much has changed, his thoughts are clear; no longer strung by doubts. 

He has no idea where they’re headed right now but he has a good feeling right now, like something is going to go well, pretty soon. 

When...when the day comes that his younger self will draw Kurikara, he swears it will be under different circumstances.


As they make their way back to their room, a thought hits him. 

There’s one more thing they can do, before they leave, right?

“Hey, Yukio,” Rin mumbles, “is it—”

He breaks off in the middle of his sentence, interrupted by three sharp taps on the door. 

“Hello, pardon me if I’m interrupting,” a somewhat familiar looking lady says, sliding the door open. “My name is Torako, I hope you’re enjoying your stay here alright. I’ve brought some tea and refreshments as an apology for not being able to greet you when you arrived.” 

“Please don’t worry about it,” Yukio smiles. “We were received quite kindly by...I’m guessing, your son and his friends.”

Torako hands him the tray of tea and raises a sleeve to her lips as she laughs, with a bit of surprise coloring her expression, “Oh, those three troublemakers? This is a first. Well, please let me know if you need anything. I’ll be right downstairs.”

“Of course, thank you.” 

“Is it safe to talk, right now?” Rin asks as she leaves, reaching over to pour some tea. He’d been so focused earlier he didn’t even touch the nice jasmine stuff Suguro’s dad offered them. “About...you know, things,” he finishes eloquently. 

Yukio sits down and digs through his bag for a pen and notepad. About what? 

Impure King.

Yukio frowns, holding his chin as he nods. “Now that I think about it, it’s probably fine. I only used the seal in our room at the monastery because I’m worried Tou-san and the others will get involved and alter the future in ways we can’t anticipate. Whereas here, there isn’t anyone who greatly influences our future. Besides, like the monastery, this inn has its own protections.”

“Okay, how do you know about all these things? I mean,” Rin laughs sheepishly, “I didn’t always pay attention in cram school, but I swear I would have remembered if they taught us cool spy things like this.” 

Yukio stays quiet for a moment, tearing a sheet off his notepad to draw a few symbols. “I learned most of this from Tou-san, and the rest, I picked up from other exorcists on missions.”

He taps the corner of the paper, “The one I used in our room is a contract written to special type of demon. They’re called muffles, and were originally thought to be kin of Azazel, but recent studies show they’re more closely related to Iblis. They consume sound, so they are easy to summon and use as long as they don’t overpopulate.”

“Whoa, that’s super neat,” Rin says, picking up the sheet of paper. Yukio brightens a little, so Rin counts that as a success, and ploughs on. “So...I want to try stopping the Impure King somehow.” 

Yukio doesn’t look surprised in the least bit and Rin has to wonder if he’s been thinking about it this whole time. So far so good though. 

“The one who instigates the event is Todo Saburota,” Yukio says carefully, “with the backing of the Illuminati.”

Rin nods, grabbing a rice cracker to chomp on. “If we know that, we can stop him before, right?”

“What’s to say we stop Todo,” Yukio holds his chin, frowning, “and someone replaces him? Besides, do you remember? Sir Pheles was well aware of what was happening, yet he did nothing. There’s too many uncontrollable factors, this far in the past from the actual event.”

Rin grimaces, chomping down on his cracker, “I don’t get what’s going on with Mephisto. He helps us only when he feels like it.”

Yukio’s glasses fog up as he cups his tea close to his face. “We should be careful. If we garner either side’s attention too early, it will become significantly harder to change things.” 

“Wait,” Rin grins, “I have an idea.”

Yukio nibbles the edge of a cracker, “Okay?”

“Let’s just take out the Impure King now!”  Rin slaps his leg exuberantly, “Isn’t that a great idea?”

There’s a swift bought of silence, but Yukio nods eventually, with a tiny approving smile edging onto his face. “That’s actually pretty good. The body of the Impure King isn’t guarded since its dormancy is a secret, so any changes we make won’t be noticed immediately. Most importantly, no matter who steals the eyes in the future—”

“They won’t be able to revive it!” Rin beams. “Then let’s hurry and go,” he says, tugging Yukio’s arm. 

“Eh, what?” Yukio sputters, grabbing onto the back of Rin’s shirt as he rushes out. “Just like that? Wait, Nii-san, do you even know how to get there?”

“Sort of?” Rin laughs, “It’ll be okay! Kuro took us there, last time.”

Yukio shoots him an incredulous look. “Hold on, before we go, we need...disposable gloves, and a map if there is one. I remember in the Order’s report on the incident, the body was sealed in the basement of their main temple, and it should be in the very center, most safeguarded position. We should go downstairs and ask to use a first aid kit and—”

“Okay, okay, let’s go already!” 

There’s a little sliver of tired fondness in Yukio’s smile as he follows. “I’m not sure I like that your impulsiveness has started to rub off on me.”

“Hey,” Rin protests, nudging Yukio’s shoulder as they step outside, “have a little faith.” 

“Faith? You know, you’re becoming more like Tou-san every day, white hair and all.” 


“Isn’t this a great idea?” Yukio mutters, trying to become one with the damp patch of grass and pinecones he’s crouched in. “That was what you said earlier, wasn’t it?” 

“I didn’t think it would turn out like this either,” Rin hisses, squeezing as flat as he can against the rough tree bark. He sneaks a glance upward, ducking back as a huge shadow sweeps by. 

Everything had been going great—impressively great, even. They’d found the—not as ruined as Rin had expected—temple grounds simply by following the helpful road signs and a mysterious set of footprints backwards, and the snowy weather had colored the sky a soft grey, conveniently making it so no one in their right mind would be outside, while keeping it bright enough to see as evening approached. 

If only there hadn’t been a hungry swarm of harpies nesting at the top of the mountain…. Which leads them to this painful situation where he and Yukio are stuck huddling under a pine tree like frightened squirrels that didn’t get the memo about the vicious predators living upstairs. 

 It’s too bad Yukio didn’t bring his guns, but Rin doesn’t mention it because the regret might as well be written all across his face in capital letters. “We can’t kill them because it’ll leave evidence,” Yukio mumbles, “but if we could trap them somehow...”

Rin tunes him out because his brain is about frozen at this point. If this was twenty minutes earlier, he might have tried to make a break for it since the temple is practically visible over the hill they’re on. So what, if he has no idea which building is the right one? It would beat shivering under this prickly tree any day. Except, it’s too late now that his legs are numb. He’s almost certain the minute he stands he’ll fall over from the pins and needles feeling. 

He sniffs, burrowing into the furry collar of his coat. It’s way too cold right now. It doesn’t help that he’s really hungry right now, and his flames feel all wilted—

“Hey, Yukio,” Rin waddles half a step over to Yukio’s patch of grass, “I have an idea,” he says, putting on his best reassuring smile. 

Yukio turns, and for a moment, Rin almost thinks he’ll say no, but he nods expectantly. 

It seems like a pain to explain, so Rin just goes for it. He takes a deep breath and focuses hard on a fallen tree branch a couple meters away. 

It lights up eye-searing blue for a second, then dies disappointingly. 

“Use these,” Yukio presses a spiky pinecone into Rin’s hand. “You’re trying to lead them away, right?”

“Yeah—”

“Wait,” Yukio nudges a pile of pinecones over, “don’t do anything yet. I have a plan, but I’ll need your help. First, light this for me.” He holds out a pathetically thin twig and Rin balks, looking around for anything better. 

He finds a thicker one that’s a bit drier, but also really sticky, so he regrets picking it up. The end of the stick is jagged and splintered too. Rin lights it like a torch and holds it close to hide the flames under the tree as best as he can, relishing the warmth it radiates. “Now what?”

Yukio takes another skinny twig and starts drawing in the snow. It’s a circle with runes that look kind of like the ones he’s seen before in…

“Oh! I’ve used this before,” Rin exclaims in surprise, “on one of my missions. One of us has to hold it there though, right?”

“That’s correct.” Yukio’s face turns marginally impressed and Rin has a second to feel smug about it before Yukio goes back to motioning to the circle. “We’re going to use this to trap them. Once the circle is activated, it’s impenetrable from both sides. First, you throw the pinecones to get their attention and hopefully get them all together. In the meantime, I’ll draw the magic circle, and you’ll hold it there—”

“What? Me?”

Yukio nods, “You have better stamina and the means to defend yourself if the circle is broken.”

“But I don’t know how to hold it there.”

“You just place your hands on the circle and focus.” Yukio takes the torch from Rin and smiles, “From what I’ve seen you do with your flames today, I think you’re perfectly capable, Nii-san.”

Rin swallows hard, hoping the tips of his ears aren’t as red as they feel, “Wh-what’s up with you today?”

Yukio shrugs, “Well, one of the main factors for keeping the circle in place is confidence. I was trying to build you up a bit. Anyway, I’ll take this, set the Impure King on fire and come back as quickly as I can. If you think can’t hold the circle anymore, run for the temple. It won’t break immediately when you let go, and there should be some wards still in place near the gate that’ll keep them away.”

He raises the torch dangerously close to his face. “Trust me. You can do this, Nii-san.” 

Rin doesn’t like the way Yukio’s eyes look, with dancing blue drowning his irises. He doesn’t know where that conviction comes from, not when he hardly trusted Rin before. 

I want to be strong, so I don’t need your help anymore.  

“Okay,” Rin nods sharply, “you better hurry and come back, got it?” 

Yukio brandishes his scrawny twig in one hand, and the torch in the other as though he thinks Rin’s supposed to feel reassured by this and presses something soft into his hands. 

“I’ll shout when I’m done with the circle. Make sure to put those gloves on. You’ll get cold.” And then he’s gone, probably crawling under another pine tree Rin guesses. 

Okay, he’s got this. 

The pinecones are decently dry, and they light better than he’d expected. Rin throws three as hard as he can, letting them catch fire as they leave his hands. 

Come on...work, work, please, work. 

He picks up another pinecone and tosses it, trying to group them closely together. His aim isn’t half as good as he’d like, but if he throws a lot, it should still get their attention, right?

The air abruptly ripples, slapping snow over his head as the harpies swoop down after the tufts of fire like cats after a laser pointer.  Rin lobs a few more over and soon enough, a big swarm of them gathers around about two meters away, squawking angrily. 

The flames are blindingly bright, and discolored splotches appear everywhere as he stares into the fire for too long. Yukio’s still nowhere to be seen, and the longer Rin waits under the tree, the more anxious he gets. 

There, out of the corner of his eye he spots Yukio weave between two trees. 

Rin snatches a damp twig and races over, connecting the last bit of the huge, shaky circle just as one of the harpies screeches and dark feathers flood his vision—

He slaps his hands down into the snow and they sink—what, is that supposed to happen—stomach twisting in dread as his knees hit the ground.

The harpy stops short and Rin resists the urge to scramble back as it presses its gross droopy face a centimeter away from his own, clucking indignantly. 

“Wow,” Yukio pants, breaths coming out in short puffs as he leans forward, hands bracing his knees from exertion, “it actually worked.”

“Seriously? Whoa, I—”

“I’ll be back as soon as I can. Remember, run toward the temple if it breaks,” Yukio says hurriedly, grabbing the makeshift torch as he dashes off toward the temple ruins. 

The harpies start to grow more agitated, flapping and clawing around the edges of the circle. One of them tries flying upward, but it hits an invisible wall and comes crashing back down. The circle is large, but as the harpies start to beat at the walls with their wings, he’s scared the cage will break.

He risks glancing back once, but he can’t see the little blue flame of the torch anymore. 

Okay, all he needs to do is kneel here, hands on the circle until Yukio comes back. Hands on the circle, hands on the circle…

Yukio better hurry up because this is way too boring and the harpies are seriously ugly—

Pain blooms across his back as he’s suddenly knocked flat on his face in the snow, scrambling to roll to the side as huge talons scrape across the ground. 

Crap, crap, there was another one, crap

Rin narrowly avoids another sweeping dive from the pissed harpy and redoubles his efforts, panting hard as he sinks in the snow with each step. He draws his sword, but the harpy is too fast, and it’s so heavy, it takes everything he has just to whack it away for a second. 

Right. That didn’t work. Now he’s going to run for his life, who cares where.

He crashes through a bush, shoes hitting hard cobblestones as he finds a wall of the temple and—nope, not going that way. 

For a minute, he sincerely hopes the squawking he hears isn’t from the other harpies that have gotten out. One look back confirms it totally is, and now he has a ton of them circling above his head with nowhere to run because of this wall. 

He’s beyond exhausted at this point and his head is a mess, so when his vision bleeds blue he doesn’t have the strength to hold it back. The flames flare out for a minute, then draw close, warming his freezing legs as he collapses against the wall. He watches in slight satisfaction as the obnoxious harpies flap away, shrieking loudly as they perch in the tall pine trees, pinning their beady eyes on him. 

Curling his tail against his waist, Rin takes a wary step forward, then another. None of them move, so he makes a break for it, keeping close to the wall as he tries to find the gate. Where even is he right now? 

“Nii-san!” 

Rin swivels around, sagging with relief as he spots Yukio with a black smear across his nose, clutching his coat in a bundle. “Did it work?”

“I don’t know. Your coat is cut in the back. Are you hurt?” Yukio demands, trying to stuff a wad of cotton back into Rin’s coat. He reaches straight through the flames almost before Rin has the chance to pull them back, and it nearly gives him a heart attack. 

“Wait, what do you mean, you don’t know?” Rin demands, swatting Yukio’s hands away. “What happened when you got there?”

“It just turned to a pile of ash, almost immediately.” Yukio looks around, “The circle broke? Where are the harpies?”

“I scared them with my flames a little,” Rin admits. “I think...they’ll leave us alone if we hurry and leave,” he says, grabbing Yukio’s hand they scramble their way down the trail, still glowing like a blue bonfire. “So, the Impure King...you just lit it up, and that was it?”

“I kept following the footprints we saw earlier,” Yukio frowns, “and it led up to a ceremonial fire that was still burning. From there, I found a trap door into the cellar. There were talismans everywhere, and I think they helped contain the fire. For a minute, I was worried I’d burn the entire building down.”

Rin raises an eyebrow, “Do you think the footprints were from Suguro’s dad? Maybe he left them when he came down from the temple earlier to meet with us?” 

“I hope so. Anyway, I gathered the ashes in a flowerpot as best as I could,” Yukio mentions as they stop to take a break, finally far enough from the harpies, “because I—” he breaks off, coughing a little. “I wasn’t certain if they might be harmful, or if they could still be used—”

“What? That’s what that bundle is?” 

Yukio shrugs, “I broke the seal when I went down there, so it didn’t seem right to leave them there.” 

“Seriously?” Rin sniggers, “Are you going to hold a funeral for the Impure King when we get back?” 

Yukio laughs for half a second before he sneezes. “Absolutely not.”


The sky is a grumpy dark blue by the time they shuffle back into Toraya. Luckily, it’s late and there aren’t any guests at the front when they wander in. 

Or, so he thought, but as they reach the stairs, they run into little Suguro sitting there glumly. 

“What happened to you two?” 

“Uh, we,” Rin scratches his cheek, “we went hiking.” 

Suguro gives them a look that clearly shows he thinks they’re morons, or maybe trash at lying—Rin can’t tell—and goes back to sulking. 

Yukio gets back to their room and immediately bags the flowerpot, then bags it again before he hides it away in his duffel. 

Rin spends a couple of seconds just standing there, and he’s still deliberating whether he wants to take a bath before passing out when Yukio peeks his head out the door of their room. 

“What are you doing?”

Yukio frowns, “I was thinking about earlier…” he trails off. “I hope Suguro-kun didn’t get in an argument with his father.” 

“Oh,” Rin peeks his head out too, following his line of sight to the stairs, “because of what we said earlier?”

“Perhaps,” is all Yukio says. 

It sticks in Rin’s thoughts as he breathes in the nice scent of the soft futon, drifting off to sleep. 


He wakes up in the middle of the night and his stomach is so furious it wants to eat itself, so Rin gets up and figures he can at least buy himself some chips from the vending machine. He’s still pretty sleepy and he narrowly misses stepping on Yukio’s glasses as he shambles out. 

There’s someone sitting at the stairs though. Rin squints, walking over slowly. 

It’s Suguro, but he’s fallen asleep sitting out here. 

Part of Rin wants to go over and talk to him. 

...But Suguro is a good kid, and he grows up to be a great guy, so he can’t help but feel it’s not his place. Just because he says a few things, doesn’t mean things will change, especially as a complete stranger. 

He buys a cheerful yellow bag of potato chips from the vending machine and shuffles back into their room. 

The quilt he was burrowed in is still faintly warm as Rin sneaks back over to the stairs and bundles Suguro up as gently as he can. 

There. All good now. 

He’ll just go back and steal Yukio’s quilt. No big deal. 

“Good luck, Suguro. You got this.”