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The Softest End

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Yusaku slowly opens his eyes, seeing the sun peaking through his old blinds and hurting his eyes. It must be dawn, already. He was up late last night, struggling through the first signs of a cold, as his inner night owl and witch appreciated the moon’s beauty. He’d known then it was stupid to stay awake, but he’d done it anyway.

He’s got a lot to do today, just as he always does. So even if his bed is nice and warm, even if his head hurts, his throat is sore and his nose is threatening to run, he gets up and starts getting ready. Getting into his black cloak, signifying him as the city witch, he then climbs the stairs to reach the top of the skyscraper.

On top is a beautiful garden, filled with flowers, herbs and all sorts of medicinal plants. Yusaku's been cultivating this garden since before the world ended, at first because of his personal interest in witchcraft, now to benefit Den City. Miyu wanted to put some violets in the salad she'd be making for herself and Aoi in a grand dinner to celebrate an anniversary. Ryoken appears to be struggling with insomnia if his own observations and Spectre’s thoughts are anything to go on. He needs to make himself a cold remedy too.

Yusaku, lucky for all of them, knows exactly the right plants for the right job.

After watering the plants, removing invasive species and pruning the plants, Yusaku realizes the sun is starting to truly rise. Meaning the rest of Den City will be waking up, now is the time to do the other tasks.

Yusaku digs up a few pieces of lavender and replants them in a small pot that could fit on someone's bedside table. Then he picks some violets and puts them in the wicker basket he finished weaving a week ago. With both plants under his arms, he takes the emergency stairs down the side of the building, avoiding the bustle and hustle inside the skyscraper and any chance of spreading his cold to anyone else.

"Yusaku!"

Yusaku pauses in his walk and looks up. Jin is waving down at him, half hanging onto his washing line, a basket of clothes balancing on the window sill.

"You going anywhere important? You look like you're in a hurry." Jin smirks, grabbing a shirt to hang it on the line.

Yusaku nods at his childhood friend, swallowing to make sure his voice won’t come out horse. If Jin notices his cold, he’ll never hear the end of it, "Yeah! Got a delivery for Miyu and Spectre!"

Jin hums, putting the shirt on the line, pulling two pegs off the jacket he's wearing, "Sweet, Shoichi's about to take the hotdog truck to central! See if he can drop you off at one of those two’s places on the way."

Yusaku blinks and nods, oh thank Hecate he doesn’t think he could walk there, "Got it, thanks!"

Jin grins and claps, "You go, my magical friend!"

Yusaku rolls his eyes and starts climbing down the stairs, trying to subtly lean on the railing, "Best of luck with your clothes then!"

"Thank you! Later, Yusaku!" Jin calls.

Yusaku picks up the pace slightly, spotting a few familiar faces through their windows. Go Onizuka is helping the kids get ready for a day at the library, learning the vital skills to teach them to survive in this new world. Takeru is dressing for a Wanderer Mission, red scarf at the ready. Everyone is contributing to the city in one way or another and he can’t let a cold stop him from doing the same. He spots the hotdog truck and a pair of legs under it.

"Shoichi!" Yusaku shouts.

Luckily Shoichi doesn't injure himself when he pulls himself out from behind the truck on his skateboard. Shoichi gives him a wave, a bit of grease on his nose and forehead.

"Can I get a lift?! Delivery for Spectre and Miyu!" Yusaku calls down, voice breaking, shit please not hear that.

Shoichi laughs and gives him a thumbs up, "Sure thing, but you're on set up and making my breakfast!"

He didn’t notice. Good. Yusaku gets moving, "Deal!" 

Shoichi is packing his tools by the time Yusaku reaches ground floor, "You sleeping any better, night owl?"

Yusaku gives him the stink eye, an answer enough of itself. Shoichi laughs, finishes cleaning his hands and the two of them climb into the hotdog truck, Yusaku in the back and Shoichi in the front. Yusaku sits down as he waits for them to get to the market.

It’s located where the town square once resided. It’s where a lot of Den City's few remaining residents trade goods and services most days of the year. Shoichi is the only one with a hot food truck left and has managed to get his coffee machine attached to a solar panel, so people will trade with him in exchange for the things he can provide them. Shoichi typically gets tools and spare parts for the truck as payment, along with any kind of food people are willing to trade, like fresh vegetables.

When they reach the town square, Yusaku isn't surprised to find a line of people waiting outside Shoichi's usual space. He sets up shop and while Shoichi deals with his first customers, Yusaku fries a few eggs, sausages and bacon for his friend and himself. When the early birds are gone, the two settle to eat.

“Hey bud, you okay?” Shoichi is looking at him critically as Yusaku wolfs down his food, “You’re in an awful rush.”

Yusaku swallows and waits a moment to work out a good excuse, “It’s not an emergency, but I’d like to complete the deliveries sooner rather than later.” 

It’s an easy one, since Shoichi knows he’s not the kind of person who likes to linger. The world ending only made that worse.

“I see, but you do look a little pale and you were with Go Onizuka’s kids after they all caught colds in last week’s storm.” Shoichi takes a bite of the fried egg and smiles at him, “Just look after yourself, okay?”

Yusaku smiles a little for his friend and nods, “Promise.”

He finishes his food and cleans up, as the next string of customers arrive. Shoichi waves to him and Yusaku starts wandering among the stalls, set on finding Spectre or Miyu in the market.

Finding Miyu is easy. She's got a load of fresh fish right in front of her and a massive crowd of people trying to trade for it. Finding meat is hard in this new world, but Miyu is the best fisher in Den City and the one most people go to if they really need the protein. She can only sell her hall once a week, due to travel time to her favorite fishing spot and back to Den City. But it's well worth it, considering there's always a crowd when she gets back.

Crowds don't concern Yusaku though. When they notice his black cloak, they start parting immediately. As one of the City Witches, he's the one with the most medical and herbal knowledge, which is vital since they ran out of mass produced medicine a year ago. People have to make way for him when he’s wearing his cloak, because it means he’s on duty and someone might need him.

“Yusaku!” Miyu cheers when she sees the people parting, “Oh, did you bring the violets?”

Yusaku nods and shows her the wicker basket, “Is this enough?”

“That’s one too many, I think!” Miyu giggles and runs around her side of the stall. 

She plucks a flower from the basket and puts it over Yusaku’s ear. Yusaku blinks, staring at her in bewilderment.

Miyu pulls back and giggles, “There, now you look all pretty for Ryoken!”

Yusaku flushes and hands her the basket, “You just wasted a perfectly good flower.”

Miyu rolls her eyes, used to his no nonsense attitude from being children together, “Yeah, yeah, it won’t be a waste if Ryoken thinks you’re pretty.”

Yusaku rolls his own eyes, “Best of luck with the crowd, Miyu. Don’t forget to grab me some dandelions, seeds still attached while you’re by the river, okay?”

“A promise is a promise!” Miyu giggles and walks around the other side of her stall, “Good day, Yusaku, hope you get to see Ryoken today!”

Yusaku shakes his head at her, somehow not losing the violet in his hair and goes on his way, with only the pot of lavenders to worry about now. It’s a good herb for helping relieve anxiety and if anyone could use it, it’d be Ryoken.

Ryoken Kogami is one of his 5 childhood friends still with him after the world ended. As a member of Den City Council, he’s often busy overseeing the Wanderer Missions, organising internal security with the Guardians, resolving any disputes and a million other tasks you wouldn’t expect the City Council to be responsible for. As the youngest member of the City Council, Ryoken is often the one treated like the equivalent of the coffee boy, on top of all his other duties.

So Yusaku walks on, even as his vision starts to blur a little.


 

Ryoken finishes transcribing the meeting and groans as he rubs his eyes, staying in his seat even as everyone else leaves for the morning. 

Being a member of the D.C.C comes with benefits, such as being one of the few people who can still use computers, but it isn’t easy. Ryoken’s job revolves entirely around using his access to technology to transcribe the meetings, but he wishes he could do more for the city than keep records of what people were saying.

“Ryoken?”

He turns his head towards Spectre, his childhood friend and part of the reason he’s stayed sane in all this. He’s holding a glass of water and offering it to him.

“Thank you, Spectre.” Ryoken takes the glass gratefully, drinking from it, “How’s the library going?”

Spectre hums, “Very well. More people in the city have been able to access the internet and get in touch with other survivors beyond our borders, thanks to you pushing for the Solar Panel Retrieval Mission.”

Ryoken sips from his glass, putting it down gently, “I’m glad.”

There’s still more they could do though, if they could just get the man power and the equipment to bring back more solar panels. The ones the city currently had were few and far between, used only for three buildings; the hospital, the D.C.C building and the library. If he could help just one person through his work to get their city up and running, then he’d be happy.

Still, he won’t lie and say that having to stare at a computer screen all day was a very fulfilling role. If anything, having to be the transcriber for the meetings, the one who had to chase people up on their progress and boil coffee over a campfire for everyone, was rather exhausting. Yet his body couldn’t get the memo when he was actually in his bed and ready to sleep.

No point in getting annoyed about it now though. 

Ryoken chugs the rest of his water and closes his laptop, handing Spectre the glass, “I need to find Kiku and ask her report on any incidents the Guardians had to deal with.” 

Spectre hums, “I do believe she was scheduled to volunteer at the orphanage today?”

Ryoken nods and the two start walking out the room, down the hallway, “Thank you. Then I’ll need to talk to Takeru about the mission he did this morning.”

“I do believe he’ll be at the Wanderers’ HQ?” Spectre follows him through the hall free of windows, then chuckles, “If he’s not, I’d assume he’s hanging out with Kiku.”

Ryoken nods as they enter the stairways, “Thank you, Spectre, I wouldn’t be able to do this job without you.”

Spectre giggles, “That’s why the City Council members all have assistants, old friend.”

Ryoken smiles, shaking his head a little, “True.”

After he does all that, plus hand their reports to Akira Zaizen, the Head of the City Council, he can visit the library to see if he can fix one of the hard drives and find a book on his ... secret mission. 

That’s what he’s been calling it at least, since he hasn’t even told Spectre about it. Why? Because he’d never hear the end of it. Inappropriate gestures whenever he was in a room with him , endless teasing over his love struck expressions around him , forced dates and failed attempts at romantic endeavours.

Yeah, Spectre may make a wonderful assistant and en even better friend, but if he ever learned of his crush on the city witch with the greenest eyes and prettiest smile, Ryoken would probably die of shame.

They reach the bottom of the staircase without any more incidents and return to the outside world, where who should be walking towards him but the object of his affection, himself. 

Long black cloak billowing in the wind, those green eyes he’s loved for years, blue and pink hair fringing over his head. Wearing worn out jeans, sneakers and a soft looking white shirt. Yusaku Fujiki is a vision in the sunlight, a violet flower on his ear.

“Ryoken, here.” Yusaku walks towards him, holding a pot of flowers.

Ryoken blinks as he approaches, trying to think around the fuzzy part of his brain that’s freaking out about his crush calling his name. It really shouldn’t make his heart beat this hard, he should be used to this, “Yusaku, what a pleasant surprise.”

Yusaku gives him a soft smile, like the petals of the flower he has on his ear and Ryoken’s heart melts. He swears he hears angels sing, or something equally as sappy and improbable. But Yusaku has always done that to his heart, even when they were children and Ryoken didn’t understand the affection he held for his closest friend.

“My oh my, what might you be doing with that pot of lavender, Fujiki?” Spectre chuckles as if it’s all a part of his master plan and yep, the angel singing has come to a screeching halt.

Yusaku raises an eyebrow at him, then turns towards Ryoken, “I heard that you were struggling to sleep lately. Lavender has a calming effect, but if it gets worse, I have a few other remedies for insomnia and sleep struggles.”

Ryoken’s heart is touched and he smiles at Yusaku, taking the small pot he offers him, “Thank you, Yusaku, you’re much too kind.”

Yusaku smiles at him and shakes his head, the flower staying in place, “It’s nothing. You’re incredibly dedicated to making life better for everyone in the city. We all do our part, where we can. This is mine.”

Ryoken swallows a little sharply and shrugs, “I only wish I could do more. Thank you.”

Yusaku nods and… is that his imagination, or is he blushing and pale?

Ryoken’s eyes narrow, “Yusaku, are you feeling well?”

Yusaku stiffens like he caught him hiding a secret and, “I’m fine.”

He’s lying. He’s looking a little off balance, eyes darting around, trying hard to stay still. But it’s not his place to force him to tell him what’s wrong. So instead…

“Very well then.” Ryoken walks towards the bike rack, “I needed to drop off this plant at my house before I run anymore errands. I don’t know anything about caring for it, so would you be willing to join me?”

Yusaku blinks at him, while behind his back, Spectre gives him a thumbs up. Damn him.

Yusaku slowly nods and walks over to him, “Okay then, thank you Ryoken.”

The bike isn’t meant to be for two, but there’s handles on the back wheel Yusaku can stand on, and he settles his hands on Ryoken’s shoulders for balance. Ryoken swallows hard, trying not to let the touch get to him.

Then he rides.


 

Yusaku is feeling dizzy by the time they reach Ryoken’s apartment complex, holding onto Ryoken’s shoulders and keeping his legs locked in what feels like an effort to save his life. He knows he’s not in any danger, but still his mind is slipping, as his body’s health plummets. When they finally stop, Yusaku has to carefully control his breathing to keep himself from panting heavily and loudly, letting on just how much he’s been affected by the journey.

“Yusaku?”

Yusaku opens his eyes and slowly climbs off the bike, holding onto Ryoken’s shoulders as he does, “Yeah?”

Ryoken is looking at him in clear concern, “Would you like some water when we get to my apartment? You look a little pale.”

Oh shit. Yusaku waves him off, “I’m fine, Ryoken, really-”

Ryoken presses a hand to his forehead and Yusaku’s breathe hitches. His face heats up, getting to look so deeply into his blue eyes, an electric colour that sends his heart racing. Why does the world look so fuzzy? Since when did he need glasses? 

“Yusaku!”

Yusaku shakes his head, trying to rid himself of the dizziness and finds himself looking up at the sky and Ryoken’s concerned face. Damnit, it’s worse than he thought.

“Sorry.” Yusaku’s voice breaks and he swallows.

Ryoken shakes his head, “Hang on.”

Yusaku turns his head, hiding it on Ryoken’s arm. Damnit, the sun’s too bright. Ryoken maneuvers him until Yusaku is on his back, his arms around his neck. Ryoken wraps his arms around his legs and starts carrying him up the emergency stairs.

“Sorry.” Yusaku murmurs, resting his head on Ryoken’s, “I’m being a burden.”

“You’re not, Yusaku, I promise.” Ryoken pants a little as he carries him, “If anything, you’re helping me even now. I needed a break from D.C.C work, anyway.”

Yusaku groans, his head aching, “But I have responsibilities. I shouldn’t let a cold get the best of me.”

He’s so ashamed.

Ryoken is silent up two flights of stairs, before speaking again, “Yusaku, your dedication is admirable but no one would expect you to overwork yourself for the city. We all support each other, that’s why we have so many systems and organisations in place to look after each other. Just focus on getting better now and resting. That’s how you can help the city most.”

Yusaku blinks and smiles, nuzzling into Ryoken’s neck. He’s warm and smells good.

“Thank you, Ryoken.” Yusaku murmurs, relaxing almost fully as his cold takes him.

He doesn’t notice that the violet in his hair has stayed in place all this time. Just like Ryoken.

Chapter Text

Takeru whistles as he walks into the Wanderers HQ, yawning as he goes. Once a shopping mall, the entire building is now filled with shelves containing weapons, papers, reports, water bottles and all sorts of things relating to the job. There’s a bunch of tables and chairs with a lot of his colleagues sitting and talking. Takeru approaches the one where the rest of his team are seated.

“Cut that out, Takeru, you’re going to make the rest of us tired.” Yoroizaka, one of the colleagues in question, is actually using the table as a bed and his arms as a pillow, so he can’t say anything.

Takeru laughs anyway, “Sorry, sorry. It’s just getting harder to find anything useful within the safe travelling vicinity.” 

“I hear ya.” Kenmochi nods, arms folded as he drinks water, patting Yoroizaka on the back, “You remember how hectic things were months back when all this started? Never had one dull moment.”

“Kenmochi, please can we not wish for that?” Yoroizaka groans, burying his head in his arms, “I don’t want to ever go back to that again.”

Takeru shudders, grabbing some water off the shelves for himself, “Agreed.”

When the world ended, the Wanderers were one of the first organisations that was founded by Den City Council, after some order returned to the city. Riding their bikes on the slowly cracking pavement, lined with empty cars and a few lost kids, they’d spent the first few months of their job, helping get any kids they found back to the city and pushing the cars all the way back, too. They extracted any oil from the cars, so they could be used for emergencies and lined them around the city, to act as a wall and build up their defenses.

Takeru remembers dealing with frightened toddlers and not knowing how to calm them as he took them to Den City, along with angry teenagers who punched a good few of his colleagues. The world ending had been rough on everyone, but those first few months of chaos never had been dull. Compared to now, at least.

“Do you think we should try telling the D.C.C we need to start expanding our search patterns then?” Kotaro Mizunuma stands up across from Kenmochi, looking Takeru in the eye.

Takeru narrows his own, but contemplates the ex bully’s words, “Maybe, yeah.”

These days, the roads are completely empty and seem to be taken over by plants more and more every day. A good few of the plants are edible, so they haven’t been coming back empty handed. But Takeru and everyone else knows there’s cities and towns beyond the slowly disappearing roads, that they just can’t get to now, because they don’t have the technology or power to get there. It’s driving a lot of the Wanderers cabin crazy.

“Who’s going to bring it up though?” Kenmochi gulps, “The City Council scares me.”

“You’re fine with walking out in the open in the apocalypse, but a few suits and ties give you the shivers?!” Kotaro laughs, head thrown back.

“You should be scared of them.”

Everyone at the table jumps, reaching for the weapons on their bodies and turn towards the voice where-

“Spectre.” Takeru groans, sheathing his sword, “Stop creeping up on us like that, it’s not funny!”

Spectre chuckles as the table fills with grumbles and groans, “My sincerest apologies, gentlemen. I came to ask for the report on today’s mission?”

Takeru sighs, slumping, “It’s on shelf C, cabinet A.”

“Lovely.” Spectre chuckles and walks right past him.

Yoroizaka scoffs, taking a seat on the table, “Creep.”

Takeru shakes his head, rolling his eyes, “And he’s proud of it, I’m sure.”

Spectre laughs from the shelves, “Old friend, you know me well!”

Takeru sighs and slumps forward, hiding his head in his arms on the table, “You’re going to drive us insane, you know that right?”

“That’s the plan.” Spectre walks over to them with the report, “Oh and, by the way, where’s Miss Kiku?”

Takeru perks up, blinking, “Kiku?”

Spectre smiles wide, like a cat about to puke up a hairball, “Yes, Ryoken and I need to speak with her and find the Guardians’ report on the day. Do you know where she might be?”

Takeru smiles a little, thinking about her, “She should be at the Guardians HQ.”

Before the Wanderers came about, Takeru had helped Kiku set up and manage the Guardians. They handled internal security and filled in many odd jobs around Den City, be it looking after the orphaned children with Go Onizuka, or finding ways to help members of the city who tried to break their rules and put people in jeopardy. Takeru and Kiku had dealt with a good few people who kept trying to run away from the city, which was where Takeru got the idea to set up the Wanderers, so people could explore the outside world, be safe and help keep the city functioning.

Today, both of them are considered the sort of heads of each organisation, often being the ones who communicate with the D.C.C on behalf of the Wanderers and Guardians, but they still have missions and teams they work with closely.

Spectre nods, humming, “Very well then, thank you old friend.”

Spectre leaves as silently as he entered, with the report and the knowledge. Takeru shakes his head a little as he watches him go, then finishes his water.

“I don’t get him.” Kenmochi sets down his water, “He thinks he’s so great, but he’s just an assistant.”

“He’s so creepy too, always sneaking around everywhere. It’s annoying.” Yoroizaka turns to Takeru, “How are you friends with him?”

Takeru stops drinking and wipes his mouth. He takes a moment to think, “We grew up together. It’s only natural we’d care about each other and be friends.”

That’s a horrible understatement, but he doesn’t fancy digging up the past in front of his colleagues who he’s not particularly close with. Especially when he used to punch them because of the anger issues that past caused him.

“Okay then.” Yoroizaka shrugs, “You’re off the clock now, by the way. So you should go home.”

Takeru nods and gets up, taking off his sword and putting it on the shelf, “Later then.”

Takeru heads out into the twilight city, letting his head go fuzzy as he walks home. No more cars in the city since the world ended, so no need to worry about that when you cross the road. He spots a good few Guardians on the way, easy to identify from their yellow scarves and by the fact they’re helping city residents get home safe, or just guarding residencies. Takeru has his own red scarf that marks him a Wanderer in his bag, ready should he need to act as a Wanderer in an emergency. He’s never hard to though and he hopes he never will.

He often finds it hard to believe that this is his life. Just a year ago, he was a punk, trying to keep people out and not giving a damn about his future, beating up anyone who was hitting someone else or tried to punch him first. He remembers how Yusaku would use his herbs to clean him up and call him an idiot for beating people when they harassed him. How Spectre would then show up like some creepy cryptid with Jin and they’d give him his homework that he didn’t write notes for. 

Now, he rides his bicycle out the city on the daily with his coworkers, digging up plants, looking for signs of life other than them and coming back to tell the D.C.C that no, nothing’s there but the plants, animals they can’t catch and us.

Takeru gets out of his head as he approaches his apartment complex. He smiles.

Home sweet home.

Takeru walks into the front door. Even at this late hour, there are still a few people reading books by candle light and chatting among themselves, before going to their own rooms. Takeru is about to skip out the chatter when he spots-

“Miyu!”

The girl in question turns around and smiles, waving at him, “Takeru, hi!”

Aoi is with her too.

Takeru walks over to the two girls, “How was the Town Square?”

“Busy!” Miyu sighs dramatically, falling into Aoi’s arms, “I don’t think I can take much more of this, my love!”

Aoi shakes her head, smiling at her softly, “I’ll carry you to bed then.”

Miyu beams at her, then turns to him, “I saved you some fish, it should be in a cool bag outside your room.”

Takeru smiles, moaning softly, “I bet it’ll taste great. Thank you, Miyu.”

“What are friends for?” Miyu laughs, standing up straight, “Now I gotta go, I got a surprise for Aoi.”

Aoi blinks at her, “What?”

Miyu freezes. 

She turns around slowly, giggling nervously, “You’ll see when we get to my place?”

Aoi stares at her, then giggles, smiling softly, “Okay then. Thank you.”

Miyu lets out a breathe and Takeru smiles, watching the two. He’s glad another of his childhood friends found someone who truly makes her as happy as Aoi does. Takeru’s pretty lucky too though. He’s got Kiku after all. Speaking of…

“I better start cooking then.” Takeru turns on his heel, waving at them over his shoulder, “Later!”

“Have a good night!” Miyu and Aoi call after him.

Takeru grins and starts running up the stairs.


 

Kiku walks up the stairs, feeling completely drained from her day. Oh where does she start?

Waking up before the sun to do the dawn patrol with Hana and Ryujiro is never fun, since it takes forever and the two never stop bickering, unable to leave their school time hatred of each other behind. Kiku can’t blame them for wanting to hold onto their past and she has her own methods of doing so. She just wishes it didn’t interfere with their work as Guardians. She also didn’t like doing the dawn patrol, since it meant she couldn’t spend her morning with Takeru in their nice, warm, cozy bed.

Afterwards, she’d had to help a little girl and her baby brother get to the library, which was fine until a fight broke out over two moody teenagers who were going through internet withdraw. Both were banned from the library for 2 hours for disturbing the peace and Kiku had to drag the two of them to the food parcel makers, who put them to good work handing out rations to the city residents. Kiku had stuck around to help as well.

She was in the middle of taking a break to eat her own food when she realized she was late for helping out Go Onizuka at the orphanage, so she had to run through Den City, while shoving down her lunch as quickly as she could. Go Onizuka was not impressed with her tardiness and she had to stay after to help clean as a result.

All in all, she was ready to go to bed, forget eating dinner (she doesn’t have the energy to make it) and let Future Kiku worry about her poor choices.

Kiku opens the door-

“Hey.” Takeru is there. Waiting for her with a kind smile and a plate of cooked fish, a few greens and some potatoes, “I missed you today.”

Kiku could have started crying then and there, but instead she smiles, “You too.”

She takes a seat at the table with a candle on it and Takeru passes her the plate. Kiku looks at the greens and notices some small blue flowers in them. They look like…

“Forget-Me-Nots?” Kiku looks at him, smirking just a little.

Takeru laughs, blushing a soft red, “I saw a few while I was out on my mission and remembered Yusaku telling me they were edible. Thought they’d make a good edition to our usual diet of salads, potatoes and whatever else we’d get in our food rassions. Add some colour, ya know?”

“Yeah, I know.” Kiku smiles, slicing into her fish, “For the record, I could never forget you, Takeru.”

Takeru smiles at her over his shoulder, then walks to join her at the table with his own plate, “Yeah. I couldn’t forget you either, Kiku.”

The two eat quickly, both of them starving after their long days. Kiku keeps looking from her food, to Takeru, then to her food again.

Takeru has been such an important part of her life, since their parents were so close before Takeru’s died when he was young. Even when he was little more than a punk, she stayed by his side as his other friends had. Helping him get involved in the cat shelter, not letting the bullies of their school hurt her or others. Then the world ended and the both of them lost all the adults in their lives, disappearing on the wind like all the others. The tragedy and the chaos after though, brought them ever closer and now here they are.

Sitting across from each other, eating their food, both of them responsible for keeping so many lives safe in this massive city, possibly the only surviving civilisation after the world ended. 

Kiku finishes first and feels a million times better now that her stomach is full, “Thank you, Takeru.”

Takeru pops the last potato in his mouth and shrugs, smiling at her. He swallows quick and she laughs at the face he makes. 

Takeru pouts at her, “It wasn’t funny, I was choking!”

“It was a little.” Kiku smirks, “But at least the ghosts weren’t after you.”

Takeru practically jumps out of his seat, “What?! Where?!”

Kiku laughs for real and shakes her head, grinning at him. Where would she be without him?

“Fine, fine, laugh at me.” Takeru shakes his head, but he’s smiling at her like the sun and Kiku’s heart beats quicker, “At least I don’t get scared of spiders.”

Kiku shudders, holding herself close, “Takeru no, that’s mean!”

She hates spiders, sue her!

Takeru laughs and suddenly, she’s shouting as he picks her up, “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you from the spiders! I’ll do it for the rest of my life!”

Kiku gasps, her heart racing. The rest of his life? Kiku gulps, her face heating up. This is so humiliating, but… 

“Then I’ll protect you from the ghosts for the rest of my life.” Kiku looks up at him, smiling, “Deal?”

Takeru is staring at her, like he just realized the weight of what he said. Then he smiles and nods, “Deal.”

Kiku rests her head against his shoulder and a few moments later, the two of them are bundled up under the covers. Within a few moments they’re asleep, with Kiku knowing that even if they can’t prove it with the rings, they’ll always be together.


 

Takeru runs as fast as he can, cheering and jumping on everything, completely unafraid and fearless. He’s so excited, he can’t believe it’s finally happening. He’s going to tell her, the second he sees her-

There!

“Kiku!” Takeru calls.

Kiku turns her head, staring at him as he jumps from the fence, “Takeru, what’s got you so excited?”

Ryujiro and Hana have stopped their usual squabbling to stare at the pair of them, along with a few people in town pausing in their own duties. He doesn’t care about the attention one bit. Takeru laughs and picks Kiku up, spinning around and then tripping on his own two feet. He hits the ground, beaming up at her. He’s going to tell her right now!

“We’ve finally been approved for longer missions!” Takeru sits up, holding Kiku’s hands, “Me and my squad can go even further than we’ve ever gone before. We’re going to see other towns and cities! We’ll finally know what’s happening in the world!”

A few gasps and murmuring breaks out in the crowds, excitement coming to the hard working city residents. People wonder if they can start looking for friends and relatives who weren’t in the city grounds when the world ended, or if they can start turning the surrounding land into proper farming land.

Kiku stares at him, then she beams wide, “Takeru that’s wonderful!” She jumps to her feet and then picks him up, making Takeru call out in shock as he’s spun around, “I’m so happy for you, you better tell me everything you see out there or I’ll be mad!”

Takeru laughs and holds onto Kiku’s shoulders tightly, “I promise.”

Hana smiles and pats Takeru on the lower back, “Congratulations, I know you’ve been getting cabin fever lately.”

Ryujiro scoffs and turns his head away, “Oh great, one less simpleton to make the job of Mad Marsh harder.”

A year ago, Takeru would have glared him to death and maybe punched him. Now thought, he doesn’t care about the ex bully and only about the girl in his arms, who has been through thick and thin with him, holding him tightly so he won’t fall. He’s going to tell her everything he sees in the world out there, beyond their borders and safe haven. Maybe he’ll find some rings out there, too. They wouldn’t be of any use in this new world, but…

“Kiku.” Takeru is slowly put down and he squeezes her shoulders.

She stares up at him with the widest smile he’s ever seen since the world ended, “Yeah?”

Nerves suddenly strikes him and he hesitates for a moment. Hana and Ryujiro are staring at him, waiting for what he’ll say. The people are falling quieter as the excitement subsides just a little. So many people here to watch.

Then Takeru finds his courage and goes on his knee, “Kiku, if I find a ring out on my travels, would you be willing to wear it?”

The crowd has gone as silent as possible, people waiting with bated breath. 

Hana has her hands over her mouth and Ryujiro looks ready to puke.

Kiku is staring at him.

Takeru starts to feel sick to his stomach.

Then she slowly smiles, falling to her knee in front of him and holding his hands, “Only if you wear the one I find when I join you on your travels.”

Takeru’s eyes widen and he beams.

“She said yes!” Hana shouts, jumping and pumping a fist for the crowd.

The crowd around them go wild with cheers and whistles as Kiku pulls Takeru to his feet, making the two of them spin in circles, before tugging each other close and kissing each other hard. The excitement seems to spike even higher as Takeru tangles his fingers in the base of Kiku’s braid, who in turn tugs on his scarf.

The world has ended and things are different than they once were. But so long as Takeru has Kiku by his side, he knows he can survive anything.


 

Kiku stands at the entrance to their apartment complex, holding Takeru’s hand tightly. The both of them are in red scarfs, smiling wide at each other. Kiku never thought she’d become a Wanderer, knowing how much the city needed her help and stability. Hopefully Hana will be able to handle being the sort of head of the Guardians now.

“Ready?” Takeru asks.

Kiku takes one last look up and down the apartment. Her eyes zero in on some purple flowers shooting up from the ground.

Heliotrope. A flower associated with faithfulness.

Kiku looks at Takeru standing at her side and tightens her hand around his, “Are you?”

Takeru looks at her with a soft smile that lights her heart on fire, “Always.”

They start heading for the city entrance as the dawn rises to meet them, never letting go of the others’ hand.

Chapter Text

“You wanted to see me, Den City Council?” Miyu walks into the centre of the room, surrounded by round tables all around.

“The Wanderers have requested permission to travel beyond the safe travelling distance.” Akira Zaizen speaks for the council, his assistant Hayami standing at his back, “You are the Wanderer with the most experience in dealing with fish and freshwater, so we’d like you to lead this expedition team.”

“Me?” Miyu looks around, “Lead the team?”

Akira continues, “You are an experienced Wanderer, Miyu and you know the area surrounding the river best. You’ll be leading Takeru, Kiku, Yoroizaka, Kenmochi and Kotaro beyond the safe travelling distance in three days time, to stop in and explore the neighboring town. If we can establish it as a safe place to visit, the Wanderers will begin routine missions for food, clothing and other essentials."

Miyu straightens her back. She knows how important this mission is. Since the world ended a year ago, this will be the first time they've had contact with it. This will be the kind of stuff future generations of this city will learn about as their first failure or success.

"I won't let you down." Miyu nods, bows to Den City Council.

Akira smiles and nods to her, “Thank you.”

Miyu smiles a little, “I have a condition though.”

“What is it?” Akira blinks.

Miyu smiles a lot.


 

Aoi hums as she writes on the tin cans with a pen, mind set to the task at hand.

“I never thought I’d be in a place like this, one year ago.” Emma shakes her head as she puts the food in the bags, “Amazing what the end of the world does to people.”

Aoi has to agree. She never thought of serving the community, especially when it didn’t save her or her brother when they were too young to fend for themselves. But in this world, humanity has to pull together and unite if they don’t want to be conquered by what’s left of the world they once knew. That’s why they have a food rations facility, where the residents of Den City will come for food to make a meal with and if they can, give them food they can distribute to the other residents of the city. Everyone has a part to play in this new world.

So Aoi does her part and hopes it’s enough.

“Aoi!”

Aoi starts to smile and jumps from her seat as around the corner running comes, “Miyu!”

Miyu giggles and picks her up, arms around her waist, “Come on, I’m taking you on a date!”

Aoi flushes as she puts her hands on Miyu’s shoulders, “Right now?! But I have work-”

“No you don’t, I got this!” Emma waves her hand, “Have fun you two!”

“Thanks Emma!” Miyu smiles at her, putting Aoi on her feet, “I owe you one.”

Emma giggles and Aoi blushes.

“Let’s go!” Miyu starts running, tugging Aoi out of the building.

Once upon a time it was a supermarket, now filled with people making food parcels and then handing them to cyclists who will distribute them to the city residents. Some of the cyclists are dropping off fresh vegetables that residents of the city donated to the total food package for everyone to use.

Aoi laughs and strumbles as she’s dragged along, but she never falls and Miyu doesn’t let her, “What’s the occasion?”

“Long story short?” Miyu looks at her over her shoulder as she climbs onto her bike, “I’m leading a Wanderer team out of the safe zone, but payment is you and me get the 3 days until the mission off.”

Aoi gasps as she climbs onto the bike, beaming as she wraps her arms around Miyu’s waist, “Miyu that’s awesome!”

“I know!” Miyu laughs and they start cycling, “So, where in this grand city of ruin after the world ended, do you want to go, dear?”

Aoi smiles softly and rests her head against Miyu’s shoulder, “Anywhere with you is fine.”

“Even Spectre’s house?” Miyu giggles.

“NOT! THERE!” Aoi jolts up.

Miyu laughs and Aoi pouts, turning her head away. Screw her if she doesn’t like him.


 

After the world ended and anyone over the age of 30 disappeared, there aren’t exactly a lot of places to go on dates with. No movie theaters, no cafes, no amusement parks either. The library still exists, but that’s always crowded with people trying hard to get in contact with relatives out of town, or even other survivors beyond the city’s car lined barriers.

It’s hard to be romantic. So they go to the market.

Miyu and Aoi hold hands as they walk among the stalls, Miyu in awe as she looks around, Aoi only having eyes for her. People are trading and bargaining for all sorts of things in the market, it honestly blows Miyu away that people still trade so much in this slowly crumbling city.

“It’s amazing how much humanity can thrive after the world ends.” Miyu hums, then turns to Aoi, “See anything you like?”

Aoi smirks and makes direct eye contact, “Absolutely.”

Miyu feels herself turn pink to her ears and hides her face in her other hand, “Aoi!”

Aoi laughs and pulls her forward, “Come on!”

Miyu lets Aoi drag her through the crowd, stopping to stare at stalls, asking the owners what they’d be willing to trade for their wares, before moving on. Aoi talks to Miyu about her day, learning about how Sato kept telling Tanaka off for eating the food parcels she was making and Miyu tells Aoi the details of her day, of the known details of her mission in 3 days’ time.

All in all, it’s a wonderful trip to the market and a wonderful date with Aoi.


 

At dawn, on the day of the mission, the council are gathered to see them off at the main city gates. The sky is painting the horizon a soft yellow and bats are still flying in the distance. Yet here they are.

And Aoi is there too.

“Good luck, Wanders.” Akira tosses Miyu a set of car keys, “This is our first expedition beyond the safe travelling zone, so you’ll be travelling by truck. I’m counting on you all to make it back safe with a report. Your job is to find out if it will be possible to use the neighboring town’s resources to protect ourselves.”

Miyu catches the car keys and nods, giving a playful salute, “You got it, boss man.”

Aoi smiles and walks over to her, “Before you go, here.”

She gives her a grand white flower. Miyu gently takes it, her heart pounding.

“It doesn’t have any medical properties or anything that I know of.” Aoi is blushing and smiling, stumbling a little over her words, “But it means happiness. You’re my happiness. So, come back, okay?”

Miyu feels her heart burst out of her chest and smiles. She cradles Aoi’s cheek and gives her a chase kiss on the lips, since her brother is right behind her and giving her stink eye. Miyu doesn’t care though.

She pulls back and pats Aoi’s head, “Don’t worry, I will. When I do, you’ll bet I’ll do my best to bring you even more happiness.”

Aoi blushes up to her ears, which is adorable and she nods, rushing back to hide behind her brother.

Kiku chuckles, then turns to Takeru, “Ahh, young love.”

Takeru laughs and shakes his head, “You sound just like my grandmother, you realize that, right?”

Kiku huffs and gently punches him in the arm, “Mind your manners, Takeru.”

“Yes, mind your manners.” Spectre chuckles.

Takeru growls at him and Spectre giggles. Miyu shakes her head, used to the brotherly spats and turns to the other Wanderers.

“Wanderers. Let’s go!” Miyu calls.

“Yeah!”


“Hey.”

Aoi turns her head when she sees Yusaku walking towards her, holding a mug of something steaming. He sits next to her, watching the sunset and Aoi takes the mug when he holds it out, grateful.

“It’s been 5 days. Another 2 and they’ll be considered missing.” Yusaku turns to her, “You feeling okay about that?”

Aoi holds the mug tightly, keeping her eyes on the road, “Why do you think I’ve been sitting here, keeping watch, even though there are a million more useful things I could be doing for Den City?”

Yusaku hums and watches the road with her, “Fair enough.”

“What about you? Why are you here?” Aoi hums, taking a sip from the mug.

It’s some kind of tea.

“Wanted to make sure you were okay.” Yusaku looks at her, “Miyu is like a sister to me, after everything I went through with her, Spectre, Jin, Ryoken and Takeru. But you’ve known her longer. So if I’m a worried mess, I can’t imagine how you feel.”

Aoi smiles a little and shakes her head, “I’ll be fine, Yusaku. Thank you.”

She puts her eyes back on the road and thinks back to her childhood. Even as a little girl, she and Miyu had always been together. They were always close and the world ending only brought them closer. She can’t imagine her life without Miyu now, she doesn’t remember a time she didn’t have her to play with. Her brother even went out of his way to keep them together, taking up awful jobs in Den City so she could have a safe place to live and be with Miyu.

Aoi can’t lose her now.

“What’s that?” Yusaku sits up a little straighter.

Aoi stands up, rushing to the railing. She can see a truck coming down the road, the very same truck that left the city 5 days ago. Someone is on the back waving at them.

Aoi beams, “They’re here!”

Yusaku and Aoi race down the building, allerting Guardians and civilians alike to the return of Miyu’s team. By the time they make it back, the truck is parking in front of the sidewalk. Miyu is on the back of the truck, laughing as she jumps down.

“Aoi!” Miyu waves, holding some flowers.

Aoi doesn’t care. She runs into her, hugging her tightly, spinning her around. Miyu lets out an adorable laugh and Aoi feels better.

“Is anyone injured?” Yusaku calls as he runs behind her.

“No, we’re all good.” Takeru smiles as he gets out the truck, “But we brought a guest.”

Aoi could care less about the guest. She sets Miyu back on her feet.

“What was it like out there?” Aoi asks, not letting go.

Miyu smiles and holds her cheek, “I missed you.”

Aoi smiles and kisses the palm of her hand, “I missed you more.”

Miyu giggles and offers her a hand full of, “Here. They’re called Lily of the Valley.”

Aoi stares at the hanging white flowers and takes them gently, “They mean Happiness, too.”

Miyu grins, “Of course. I had to return your adorable confession somehow. And I’m going to make this a habit now.”

“What?!” Aoi flushes.

Miyu laughs, “Yep, every mission, I promise to get you a new flower!”

“Miyu!” Aoi holds the flower against her chest.

Miyu grins and picks her up, spinning her around, “I love you, Aoi!”

Aoi smiles and settles her hands on Miyu’s shoulders, “I love you, too. You don’t have to get me flowers, but I appreciate it.” She’s set on the ground and she gives Miyu a proper hug, holding her tightly, “Thank you, for coming home.”

Miyu hugs her back, kissing her forehead, “I said I would. I never break a promise.”

Aoi hugs her a little tighter and the flowers blow in the wind.


 

“Ladies and Gentlemen!” Yuya calls, cartwheeling into the meeting room.

Miyu, Kiku and Takeru follow after him, holding in giggles as the rest of Den City Council react in varying levels of shock. Besides Ryoken and Spectre, who are snickering as well. Yuya finishes his cartwheel, placing a anthurium on Akira’s desk, then he back flips back to the centre of the room.

He takes a bow and winks, “I’m Yuya Sakaki, of the lovely Paradise City!” He looks around the room in awe, “I had no idea there was a civilisation left in the world besides us! Thank you for having me.”

Akira stares at him a little longer, then coughs, “This… is what you found in the nearby town?”

Yuya nearly falls over as Miyu walks closer, “Yeah. The people of Paradise City are incredibly athletic acrobats and use a lot of chains, cables and wires as means of transportation. Yuya here is the youngest brother of their co-leader, Zarc.”

Akira nods, “I see.” He turns to Yuya, “And why did you choose to come visit our city?”

Yuya smiles, “To help establish connections between the two of us. We might be the only civilisations left, but we’d be able to grow and learn from each other if we work together.” He offers his hand, “Plus, you were all so serious and yeah it’s the end of the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have fun!”

“He’s very insistent on entertaining people and making sure everyone still smiles.” Takeru laughs and ruffles his head, “It certainly was a big help during our 3 days in Paradise City.”

Yuya huffs, gently knocking his arm off and smirking, “That’s right, smiles are still important, even when the world’s ended!”

Akira looks like he’s trying not to tear out his hair, “And the flower?”

“A good will gift!” Yuya claps, “It means happiness and that’s just what I want for our cities in the future, by working together! We can make things better, I know we can!”

Den City Council mutter among themselves and after some time discussing, Ryoken stands up, bringing silence to the room.

“Yuya Sakaki, we’d be honoured to form a partnership between Den City and Paradise City.” Ryoken smiles and offers his hand, “Welcome and I hope to make the future of both cities brighter, by working together.”

Yuya blinks at him and smiles, taking his hand, “Thank you!”

Miyu, Kiku and Takeru smile as they look at one another, then back to Yuya. Things just got a whole lot more interesting after the world ended.


 

Aoi watches the sunrise with a soft smile, while looking at the flowers in the glass she’s kept on the window sill. The Lily of the Valley still looks beautiful and has been joined by a few more flowers from Miyu’s continued missions. Aoi isn’t sure how they haven’t wilted. Maybe it’s because of the choice she’s going to make.

Knock, knock, “Aoi, are you decent?”

Aoi turns to the door, adjusting her Guardian scarf, “I’m good!”

Akira opens up, smiling, “I take it you’re ready for this then?”

Aoi nods, swallowing hard, “As I’ll ever be.”

She picks up her suitcase and the glass of flowers. Akira holds open the door for her as she leaves the room and walks a few floors up the building. She feels nervous and excited. But she’s ready for this. They’re ready for this.

Akira knocks on Miyu’s door for her and it opens right away.

“Welcome home!” Miyu laughs, hugging Aoi tightly.

Aoi smiles, hugging her back, holding the glass of flowers to her chest. She is home now.

“Take good care of her, alright?” Akira has a stern look on his face, “I’m counting on you, Miyu.”

Miyu nods and gives a serious salute, “I won’t let you down, Akira! I swear to make her happy for the rest of my life!”

Aoi laughs and takes her hand, “And I’ll do the same. No matter what it takes.”

Akira smiles a little and kisses her forehead, “You’ll always be my little sister and there will always be room for you, if you need me. I love you, Aoi.”

Aoi nods and smiles, giving Akira a hug, “I love you too, Akira.”

Miyu looks at this with a soft smile, then picks up Aoi’s suitcase, “Ready to look at your new home then, love?”

Aoi nods and with that, the two of them walk into her and Miyu’s new apartment. The Gardenia she gave her on that mission to Paradise City is blooming in a glass, so Aoi puts her Lilies of the Valley and other flowers to join it.

“Perfect.” Aoi smiles.

A droplet of water on the Gardenia sparkles.

“Just like you.” Miyu kisses her cheek.

Aoi feels her heart pound and yeah, the world ending isn’t as bad as she thought it’d be.

Chapter Text

Yusaku watches the fire dance gently, surrounded by stones to keep it from spreading. Flowers and water boil in a pot over the fire and he stirs it with his wooden spoon. A few fireflies dance in the night with the stars. The night is quiet and peaceful.

“Yusaku?”

He turns his head to see, “Ryoken? Shouldn’t you be sleeping?”

“I was.” Ryoken walks over to him, speaking fairly lowly, “I woke up and felt I had to move though. I thought getting some air or looking at the city would help.”

“What happened to the lavender?” Yusaku blinks at him, “You did get it in your room right, even though I was sick?”

“Yeah, that’s helped a lot with falling asleep.” Ryoken stands next to him, looking at the fire, smiling softly, “I just couldn’t stay in bed.”

Yusaku smiles and looks up at the moon, “Can’t blame you. Look at the view.”

Ryoken looks up as well, smiling a little at the full moon, “Yeah. It’s beautiful.”

Yusaku glances at Ryoken and pats the ground, “Take a seat. I’ve got something that might help.”

Ryoken looks at him in confusion, but sits beside him, crossing his legs.

Yusaku grabs the mug he kept with him and then the handle of the saucepan. He carefully pores the contents into the mug, not all of them, but he does take it off the fire, placing it at his side.

Yusaku offers the mug to Ryoken, “Carnation tea. Helps a lot with stress.”

Ryoken laughs humorlessly and takes the mug, “Is it that obvious?”

Yusaku shakes his head, wrapping his arms around his knees, “No, I’m just observant.”

Ryoken holds the mug with both hands and looks deeply into the fire. He’s silent for a while and Yusaku stares at him. He knows it’s probably a little creepy, but he’s a witch and he likes to look at Ryoken, watch as a million thoughts fly through his mind, so sue him.

Finally Ryoken looks into the mug, “How many civilisations do you think are still out there? If Paradise City survived, then do you think there’s more? That we’re not alone?”

Yusaku lifts up his head, smiling, “Definitely.”

Ryoken blinks and turns to him, “I’d have thought you’d be more pessimistic about it?” 

Yusaku looks up at the moon, thinking on his next words, “I’ve long believed there were magical creatures out there, we just convinced ourselves they don’t exist. But I’m certain they’ve formed societies out there, just waiting to meet us again. As for other human societies? The world seems to be full only of 30 year olds and anyone younger, but that’s no reason to think society hasn’t survived. Humans are ridiculously tough and we conquered the planet once.” Yusaku turns to him with a determined grin, “We’ll grow, survive and live, Ryoken. It’s what we do.”

Ryoken stares at Yusaku with wide eyes and Yusaku watches him in turn. The fireflies and the glow of the campfire light make him look softer, more like the boy he grew up with, than the man he adores still. Yusaku’s heart is pounding and he remembers distantly, all those years ago, when his classmates would talk about a similar scene in a romance movie where the protagonists kissed. Yusaku knows he’s in no romance, but he can’t look away even though this is probably getting weird.

Then Ryoken smiles, “Thank you, Yusaku. That’s reassuring.”

Yusaku feels heat rise in his cheeks and turns into the fire, his heart beating out of his chest, “I try. I could always be wrong, but I don’t think I am.”

Ryoken chuckles, “You were pretty confident a moment ago.”

Yusaku flushes and hides his face in his knees. He was, wasn’t he? Ryoken can leave him off balance though, like he has butterflies in his guts.

A hand settles on his shoulder and Yusaku looks up to see small embers of the fire reflecting in electric blue eyes, “I appreciate it, really Yusaku. You’ve always known just what to say to make everything better.”

Yusaku stares at Ryoken and smiles. He shuffles closer to him and Ryoken comes closer to him as well. They’re pressed up, watching the fire and the moon, feeling each others’ warmth. Ryoken is sipping from the tea and looking worlds less stressed by the minute. The fireflies and the stars all look beautiful, but Ryoken is the most breath-taking part of this scene.

Yusaku rests his head on Ryoken’s shoulder, “You make everything better too. I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

Ryoken is quiet, but he gives a soft hum like he’s listening. For Yusaku, that’s enough.


Yusaku can’t believe his eyes. 

“When you said you lived in a city of acrobats and monsters, I wasn’t expecting this.” Yusaku murmurs, looking around in awe.

Yuya laughs as he sits on top of a freaking dragon, “Yeah, Odd-Eyes Pendulum Dragon surprised me the first time I saw him too. But he’s my best friend and I love him!”

The dragon gives a roar and Yuya does a few cartwheels off it, landing on his feet fine.

“Why didn’t you ride him to our city?” Ryoken steps up, standing at Yusaku’s side, “He seems okay with carrying you around and much quicker than the car.”

“We thought it’d be a bad idea, since it’d probably freak out the City Council even more than Paradise City’s whole acrobatics theme, especially if one of your Wanderers started screaming about evil ghosts and spirits the second he saw some of our Monster friends.” Yuya says, then pets Odd-Eyes when he bends down, “Plus just encase it went badly, I didn’t want them to become targets, so we asked Miyu and the others to keep it on the down low. But when I heard you had a witch who likes mythological creatures, it seemed like a good idea to introduce him and a member of the City Council to Odd-Eyes and the others first, before telling the rest of your city.”

“So that’s why we’ve been travelling on foot. You were waiting for us to be far enough away from the city that Odd-Eyes wouldn’t be seen before making the rest of the journey to Paradise City with him.” Ryoken theories, holding his chin.

“Makes sense.” Yusaku hums. He steps a little closer to the dragon, staring in amazement, “He’s beautiful.”

“I know right?!” Yuya laughs and pecks the Odd-Eyes on the cheek, “I’m lucky and got the prettiest of the dragons my brothers got!”

“Brothers?” Yusaku blinks, “You all have Dragons too?”

“Yep! I have quadruplet brothers and Zarc and we all have Dragons! The Dragons are brothers too.” Yuya smiles, gesturing to Odd-Eyes, “Come on and you can meet them all soon!”

Yusaku and Ryoken look at each other, then smile and run for the dragon, laughing. They always wanted to ride dragons after all.


“So Miss Ray, are you and Zarc the oldest residents of the city?” Yusaku enquiries as they walk through the flower garden.

Ray nods, smiling at she gazes up at the space themed wizard that walks beside them, “Yes. He’s 24 and I’m 28. We also have a lot of experience with leading since we both have a lot of younger siblings, so it was only natural we become the leaders.”

Yusaku looks ahead at Ryoken and Zarc talking with each other while a large black dragon floats close by, “I know Zarc has 4 younger quadruplet brothers. What about you?”

Ray hums and starts throwing up fingers, “There’s me, Shun, Reiji, my 4 quadruplet sisters Yuzu, Celina, Rin and Ruri and my adopted youngest sister Reira.”

Yusaku blinks at her in shock, “That’s… a lot.”

Ray laughs, “Yeah, the house was chaotic and my parents relied on me to keep things running smoothly whenever they had work. Shun and Reiji were good older brothers once they got used to it, Shun especially getting protective over Ruri. As for Reira, she came into the family after the world ended and she didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

Yusaku nods, then looks at the flowers, “I see.” He looks beyond them, at the sky above, “So why did you want to show us to the flower garden?”

Ray is quiet for a while and then she leads him into a pavilion, where Zarc and Ryoken are standing in front of a table with a nest of eggs on it.

“Supreme King whispered to me that you two had dragons who needed you.” Zarc pats his dragon on the snout, smirking as he gestures to the eggs, “Choose who calls to you.”

Yusaku and Ryoken look at the identical eggs about the same size as their heads. The pendulum that Yusaku keeps on a necklace starts to quicker. Yusaku releases it’s clasp and holds it. The pendulum starts pointing at the egg right in front of Yusaku.

Ray gasps, “No way.”

“You’re a witch?!” Zarc leaps behind his dragon.

Ryoken stands protectively at Yusaku’s side, putting himself between him and Zarc, “That a problem?”

Yusaku ignores them all and puts his pendulum back to his neck, picking up the egg it pointed too-


Yusaku is floating in a white space, where a dark shadow is in front of him. 

There’s no sounds or smells in this strange world, but Yusaku hears a name. So he speaks it.

“Firewall Dragon.”

The shadow shrieks back and takes over the white space. The darkness spreads across him and if he weren’t a witch, he’d be utterly terrified.

But Yusaku feels like he’s come home.


“Yusaku!”

Yusaku opens his eyes, finding himself staring up at Ryoken and and two beautiful red eyes in a sleak, bird like face. Yusaku sits up, holding the dragon to his chest, looking her from head to toe. She looks at him in turn, about the same size as a cat.

“Firewall Dragon.” Yusaku murmurs, something in his soul, his very being, slotting into place. He smiles as she wags her tail, “I’m so glad I met you.”

He presses his forehead to Firewall, who smiles and presses her forehead to him as well. Yusaku can hear her thoughts and feelings as clearly as if she were speaking plain English to him and it feels like the world has fallen away.

“I knew it.”

Yusaku looks up, curling his arms protectively around Firewall on instinct, looking up at Ray and Astrograph Sorcerer, who look at him with smug grins.

“I knew she’d hatch if she finally met her Familiar.” Ray nods to him, “Thank you, Yusaku Fujiki, for saving her life.”

Zarc scoffs and Yusaku feels Ryoken’s arms around him, tighten protectively, when the man comes closer, “Yeah I guess you did a good job. Time to see if your little boyfriend can do the same for the other one.”

Ryoken snarls at him, but Yusaku puts his hand over Ryoken’s, “Ryoken.”

Ryoken stops to look at him.

Yusaku smiles, nodding, “It’ll be okay. Your dragon’s waiting.”

Ryoken blinks at him and nods, standing up and taking Yusaku to his feet to. Firewall chirps and wags her tail at Ryoken, before going to licking Yusaku’s cheek. Yusaku laughs and Ryoken smiles. He then gets a fire in his eyes and walks to the other egg.


Ryoken runs his fingers down Borreload Dragon’s back slowly, humming softly. Borreload is slowly falling asleep and it makes Ryoken drowsy too. The day’s been long, he almost can’t imagine that it all happened. Yusaku is running his pinky along the ring on Firewall Dragon’s head, cooing to her gently, looking alive and at peace at the same time.

It’s a beautiful sight.

“How do you think Den City will handle the fact there’s monsters in this world?” Yusaku murmurs as Firewall falls asleep.

Ryoken yawns, burrowing into his pillow, “Rough, at first. We should be okay though. We’ll protect them.”

“Yeah.” Yusaku agrees and gives Ryoken a tired smile, “I’ll protect you too. You and Borreload.”

Ryoken’s heart swell at his words and at the little chirps Borreload makes for yawns, “I’ll protect you and Firewall then. I swear on my life I will, Yusaku.”

Yusaku is already asleep though and Ryoken passes out before he can make sure he heard him.


Yusaku nods, scribbling down his words, Firewall resting on his shoulders, “So dried wood when she’s struggling to produce fire and plenty of meats when she appears to be low on energy, raw. Anything else to know?”

Yuto nods, “Baby dragons can be mischievous when they aren’t with their owner, so-”

Yuri laughs, “That’s only because your dragon is Rebellion, Yuto.”

Yuto gives his slightly older brother the stink eye and Yuya laughs with Yuri.

“You gotta make sure you keep her at your side at all times, okay!” Yugo leaps up in his face, “Underline, bold it, whatever, just remember to keep her with you or you’ll have a heart attack when she disappears!”

“She was only under your bed, Yugo.” Yuri chuckles, “Perhaps if you hadn’t panicked and wrecked your room, she wouldn’t have stayed hidden.”

Yugo snarls and tires whacking Yuri on the back of the head, but Yuya grabs onto his arm to stop him and Yuto shakes his head, smirking.

“You got everything you need to raise a dragon inside you, Yusaku Fujiki.” Zarc stands at his brothers’ backs, smiling, “Firewall wouldn’t have waited for you if you didn’t.”

Yusaku looks up at the co-leader of Paradise City and smiles, nodding. He offers the brothers his hand, “Thank you all, for everything.”

Each brother shakes his hand with a small smile, before he turns around to join Ryoken at the entrance of the town, where he’s talking to Ray and her family.

“Wait!”

Yusaku stops, turning towards Yuya as he runs to him. 

“You should tell Ryoken how you feel.” Yuya says, offering him some seeds, “Lilacs mean pure love and you guys seem to have that a plenty.”

Yusaku’s cheeks flush and he shakes his head, “No way, Ryoken couldn’t-”

“But he does, trust me Yusaku!” Yuya grins, hands on his hips, “Why would I lie to you?”

Yusaku gulps, knowing he wouldn’t and scratches the back of his neck, “Well…”

Firewall nips his ear and takes the bag of seeds in her mouth. Yuya laughs as Yusaku rubs his ear, trying to make it feel better. Bullies.


Ryoken watches Borreload and Firewall run around Yusaku’s herb garden, playfully battling and taking the other down in the sunlight. It sends his heart into a flutter to see the pair happy.

“I’m glad they get along.” Yusaku offers him a cup of Carnation tea and Ryoken takes it, drinking it gratefully.

Ryoken watches Yusaku poor himself a cup, smiling, “Well they are a part of us. I can’t imagine ever hating you.”

Yusaku stares at him, blinking, then smiles and turns a little pink, staring into the mug, “Me neither.”

Ryoken smiles at the pretty shade of pink and turns back to the baby dragons. Borreload is trying to pull down a bunch of flowers, biting the stalk, tugging them and flapping his wings to stay afloat. Firewall is watching him, tilting her head in confusion, sitting like an impatient puppy. Ryoken thinks that’s one of the few flowers he recognises too.

“Lilacs….” Ryoken takes a small sip, “Any idea why Borreload would want those?”

He knows they’re pretty and if he wanted to impress someone, he’d probably offer someone he liked those flowers.

Yusaku hums, sipping from his tea, “Not sure. Firewall loves them though. A lot of caterpillars, butterflies and bees hang around Lilacs and she likes watching them. I believe they’re also a symbol of pure love, if my old flower book was right.”

Ryoken flushes bright red to his ears and wonders for a few heart beats if Borreload is about to expose his feelings for Yusaku to the world before he can work up the nerve to tell him the truth.

Then Borreload falls from the flower stalk and Firewall catches him. Borreload stares at her as she lowers him to the floor and then she flies up to the flowers, biting her way through the last part of the stalk. She flies back down with the flowers in her beak and hands, then passes it to Borreload. Borreload stares at the flowers and Firewall, then accepts them with a proud snort.

Ryoken glances out the corner of his eye, heart warm, watching Yusaku blush red to his ears and turn his head away. Ryoken feels a little pink himself and wonders for the first time, if it’s possible that Yusaku feels the same way about him.

They spend the rest of the evening sipping their tea and watching the stars, listening to the dragons play until they curl up on their chests and fall asleep, with the boys joining them soon.

Chapter Text

Takeru knocks on the door, feeling tension and nerves brew in his gut. He swallows.

“Hello?” Ryoken opens the door, “Takeru, is something on your mind?”

Takeru clenches his fists, gathers his courage and, “Do you know where I can find a ring?!”

Ryoken gapes at him, then flushes, “Why are you asking me?”

“You were the rich kid before the world ended, I figured you’d know where the jewelers or whatever was.” Takeru looks at his old friend in the eye.

Ryoken shakes his head, “Sorry, but I don’t know where the jewelers was, nor do I have any idea how to find out.”

Takeru lets out a breathe, kicking a stone, “Damnit. Okay then, thanks.”

He turns on his heel and starts walking away. There goes the easier way. Now he’s going to have to figure this out himself. He’s so horrible with directions though, it’ll be a miracle if he doesn’t get lost in Den City while looking for one.

“Takeru.”

He stops and turns.

Ryoken is half out in the hallway, smiling, “Good luck with that. And with the test you’ve got on finding your Monster.”

Takeru smiles at him over his shoulder and nods. He’s going to need it, especially if he wants to find the rings before Kiku does. It doesn’t feel right to propose and then she gets them for them.

So he’s going to pass his test, he’s going to get his Monster and he’s going to get Kiku her ring.


 

Kiku holds her hand over her heart, feeling it beating out of her chest almost as they walk through the flower garden, “Yusaku, I’m nervous. What if none of them like me?”

Yusaku shakes his head while Firewall curls around his shoulders, “Kiku, you’re a kind hearted and strong willed young lady. I don’t doubt they’ll be fighting for the right to be your partner.”

Kiku smiles a little, “Good joke, did Takeru tell you that one?”

“He did suggest I say something of that nature to make you laugh. You didn’t though, so you must be more anxious than you’re letting on.” Yusaku grabs his chin, deep in thought.

Kiku shakes her head, letting out a breathe, “Well, thanks for trying to cheer me up.”

“It’ll be okay, I promise.” Yusaku puts a hand on her shoulder, “You’ll just look at one of them and. You’ll know.”

Kiku’s mind drifts back to a memory of her mother and she laughs, “My Mom said that’s what’ll happen when I find a wedding ring I like.”

“Speaking of, how’s the hunt going?” Yusaku pulls out an orange from his pocket and starts peeling it, “I know Takeru is struggling to find anything in Den City.”

“Me too. There didn’t appear to be one ring shop and if there was, it’s rubble now.” Kiku groans and tugs on her ponytail, “It’s so frustrating!”

Yusaku hums and gives a piece of the orange to Firewall. The dragon swallows it whole and Yusaku smiles, tickling her under the chin. Kiku watches the pair with a small smile.

Then his eyes widen and he turns to her, “Yuya told me he’s taking Odd-Eyes to investigate a town that was once known for being really wealthy. Maybe you and Takeru can join him on that mission.”

Kiku beams and nods, “Yeah!” She holds up her fist, “Thanks Yusaku!”

Yusaku smiles and returns her fist bump, “My pleasure. Now go find your Monster.”

Kiku nods and dashes ahead of him.


 

Takeru laughs as he dashes through the city, Heatleo safe in his scarf. He’s never felt more alive to have his new companion in his Wanderer’s scarf, joining him on missions, finding out how the world runs after it ended.

“Don’t think you can get ahead of me, boys!”

Then Kiku jumps over his head, with Pyro Phoenix sitting on her head. Yeah, seeing them makes him feel even more alive. And maybe a little competitive.

“Wouldn’t dream of it!” Takeru laughs, waiting for her on top of the skyscraper he just landed on.

Kiku smirks and jumps into his arms and he catches her with ease, laughing as he spins her once before setting her on her feet. Getting to hold and have Kiku in his life makes him feel more alive than any jump or dash ever could, even with Heatleo climbing out of his scarf to sit on his shoulder. He watches as Pyro does the same, hopping from Kiku’s head to sit on her shoulder, where he can talk to Heatleo rather than talk down to him.

Kiku smiles, petting Pyro’s back with her knuckles, “I wonder how big he’s going to grow and how quickly.”

“Yeah, especially considering how massive the Supreme King was.” Takeru chuckles, holding out some fish, which Heatleo starts eating fast enough to choke, “But if they keep eating like this, I wonder how we’ll keep him sustained when he grows up.”

Kiku hums and kisses him quick on the cheek. Takeru’s heart nearly beats out of his chest as he brings a hand to where she kissed him. Kiku giggles at him and then runs around him.

“Hurry up or I’ll be the one who finds a ring first, Takeru!” Kiku calls.

That snaps Takeru out of his daze and he splutters as he turns around, “No fair, I proposed!”

Kiku is already on top of the next building and laughing at him. Takeru shakes his head and looks to Heatleo.

“We better keep up.” Takeru smiles, “Right partner?”

Heatleo gives him a wide, toothy smile and knocks his head against Takeru’s. It fills him with warmth and affection and he feels like he could fly. Takeru smiles at his partner, tucking him back into his scarf and then he chases after Kiku and Pyro.

He’s so glad he’ll get to do that for the rest of his days.


 

Kiku touches the ground, looking around the ruins in awe. Having not seen anywhere besides Paradise City and Den City since the world ended, Kiku had no idea what to expect when she and the other Wanderers started using Yuya and Odd-Eyes to visit other locations easier. But a completely deserted town was rather concerning. Most places had at least one other person there or a small group of frightened and confused survivors they’d take back to Den City.

Pyro sniffs the air and whimpers, hiding in her scarf.

Kiku blinks at him in surprise, then draws her knife, “What’s wrong, Pyro? What do you sense?”

There’s a grunt behind her and Kiku spins around, blade drawn. But there doesn’t appear to be anything there. She sees Takeru land on the ground behind her and when he notices her knife drawn, he pulls his own sword.

“What’s wrong?” Takeru presses up to her back and Kiku presses up to his, “Hear something?”

“Pyro took one smell of this place and decided something bad is here.” Kiku walks in a slow circle, “Then I heard some stones or something fall. I think we’re being watched.”

She hears Takeru swallow, “It’s not a ghost right?”

Kiku rolls her eyes, “No, it’s not a ghost, Takeru.”

But she keeps focused, staring around, looking for any hints of movement. Then she sees it-

Kiku blinks.

“It’s just a lizard.” Kiku sighs, slipping her knife back into her holster.

The lizard looks at them, pokes it’s tongue at them and stares.

Takeru relaxes, putting his sword away too, “I’m glad. I’m not sure what I’d do if I had to fight something like Odd-Eyes or Supreme King.”

The lizard loses interest and starts trotting off.

Kiku hums, nodding in agreement, “Yeah, that wouldn’t end well.”

Pyro seems to have relaxed now. He’s not hiding in her scarf anymore and the lizard’s pretty much gone. Nothing suspicious at all, or anything to worry about. She hopes at least.

Heatleo chirps happily and jumps out of Takeru’s scarf, jumping onto the ground and chasing the lizard. Takeru shouts in shock and chases after him, calling out his name. Kiku looks at Pyro and shakes her head with a smile.

What is she going to do with him?

Kiku grins and starts running, “I’m right behind you, boys!”

Only for now. She’ll be at his side for the rest of their lives soon enough. 

They just need to find some rings after the world ended. Simple.


 

Takeru knocks on his door feeling a little apprehensive. Yusaku might not even be here, since he often has to wander encase of medical emergencies. Or maybe he’s playing with Firewall Dragon, who knows. But God, he hopes he’s here. Kiku needs him.

The door opens anyway and Yusaku’s there, wearing a deadpan expression, with Firewall napping on his head.

“Takeru? Did you need something?” Yusaku steps aside, offering him to go inside.

Takeru shakes his head, Heatleo falling off and into his arms, “Do you have anything to ease stomach cramps? Kiku needs help.”

Yusaku blinks at him for a moment, then nods, “I’ve got some tea, flowers with calming scents and a small chocolate storage for times like this. Does she need anything else?”

Takeru lets out a sigh of relief and shakes his head, “No, I’ve got everything else handled. She’s currently using Pyro as a hot water bottle. Thank you so much, Yusaku, I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

“I’ll be down in a minute. You should go to her.” Yusaku turns away.

Takeru nods to himself and goes down, holding Heatleo in his arms securely. They take the emergency stairs to save the rush and the bustle going on inside the building in the early morning. Not the best time for disasters, but Takeru has dealt with this before. He’s happy to deal with it for the rest of his life.

Heatleo chirps and yaps, trying to wriggle out of his arms. 

Takeru stops, bringing him up to eye level, “What is Heatleo? What do you smell?”

Heatleo yaps and gestures towards the wall. Takeru looks and sees some white flowers clinging to the concrete walls. Heatleo keeps reaching for them, straining towards them, so Takeru walks over and lifts Heatleo so he’s in jaw’s reach of the flowers. He starts gathering a few in his jaw and then tries to pull them out, shaking his head, looking absolutely adorable.

Takeru has to laugh, “I got it, don’t worry, Leo.”

Takeru plucks the flowers for him and Heatleo beams up at him around a mouth full of flowers. Takeru shakes his head and continues down the stairs, back into the building until he reaches his and Kiku’s apartment.

Kiku is curled up on the sofa, clinging to Pyro who’s acting like a hot water bottle, groaning while sitting on a black towel, “This is the worst.”

Takeru hums, grabbing a glass of water for her, “Well Yusaku’s on his way with something for stomach cramps, tea, flowers with helpful smells and chocolate.”

Kiku lets out a relieved sigh and slips further down the sofa, laying on her side, “Oh thank all that is good and evil.”

Takeru lets out a laugh and Heatleo drops the flowers carefully into the glass, “Until then, Heatleo found these for you.”

Kiku lifts her head as Takeru puts the glass on the coffee table in front of her, “Aww, they’re lovely. Do you know what they are?”

“Not a clue.” Takeru beams wide, hands on his hips.

Heatleo leaps onto the floor and then scrambles into the coffee table. He plucks a flower from the glass and jumps onto the sofa. He puts the flower over Kiku’s ear and kisses her cheek. Kiku laughs and reaches up to hold it, getting a better look at it.

“Thank you, Heatleo. They’re lovely.” She twirls it between her fingers, “It looks like Mossy Saxifrage.”

Takeru blinks, looking it over, “Does it have any medical properties?”

“Not that I know of.” Kiku smiles and looks up at him, “But it means ‘affection’.” She closes her eyes and giggles, “I think Heatleo wanted to let me know he cares about me.”

Takeru’s heart swells as Heatleo gives a chirp and licks Kiku’s cheek twice. God, he’s in love.

A knock on the door, “Guys, it’s Yusaku!”

“Come in!” Kiku calls, “And Takeru had better not been bluffing about that chocolate or you’ll both have regrets!”

Takeru shakes his head with a grin and pats her head, “Easy, tiger.”

Kiku glares at him and Takeru laughs. She’s so cute and he loves it. He loves her.


 

Kiku walks into the crumbling greenhouse, looking around in awe, Pyro flying at her side, Takeru and the rest of their team still outside. There’s banana plants, tomatoes and all sorts of other flowering fruit plants all around.

Kiku turns to Takeru with a big smile, “If we bring back a bunch of seeds, we’ll be able to grow this back at the city!”

Takeru pumps a fist and turns around, shouting over his shoulder, “You heard her guys! We’re seed hunting!”

The others cheer and Kiku takes off deeper into the greenhouse, Pyro at her side. He’s gotten a little bigger since his last mission, so she’s trying to let him fly more so he’ll be strong enough to help out. He still takes naps on her back when he’s too tired though.

Kiku turns a corner and looks up. A tree that looks like it’s covered branch to branch in white, reaching almost through the roof, little specks of green somewhere in the branches.

She turns to Pyro, “I’m going to get a better look.”

Kiku runs to the trunk of the tree and starts climbing it. She shimmies along a branch and tugs one of them closer to her to look at the flowers. 5 white petals, a centre of nectar with stands pointing out….

“Kiku, do you know what tree that is?!”

Kiku looks below her to see Takeru waiting for her, while Heatleo and Pyro wrestle on the ground.

She leans over the branch, “Yeah, catch!”

Kiku drops from the branch completely and Takeru catches her steadfast. She has a twig with flowers still clinging to it and she gives them to him.

“It’s a pear tree.” Kiku smiles, plucking out the stray petals that fell into Takeru’s hair, laughing at his blush, “Besides being tasty fruits, being given the flowers is a sign of affection.”

Takeru covers his face, mumbling behind his hands, “Why do you have to be so cute, it’s not fair?!”

Kiku laughs and hugs him, kissing the back of each his hands, “I could say the same about you, Mr. Homura. Or will it be Mr. Kamishirakawa?”

Takeru’s ears have gone red along with his neck. Pyro and Heatleo are gesturing at him and chirping as if they’re laughing at him. Kiku can’t believe some flowers were all it took to bring him to this.

Something glints in the ground.

Kiku blinks and pulls back, “What’s that?”

Takeru pulls away his hands, looking around, “What is? What do you see?”

Kiku walks over to the base of the tree and starts brushing away the dirt, “Something shiny.”

It’s something small. Two something smalls actually.

Kiku’s eyes widen, “Takeru look!”

He’s suddenly at her side, looking at the dirt, “What did you-” His eyes widen, “No way!”

Kiku smiles, “Yeah way.”

She pulls up the pair of rings she found in the dirt. They’re stainless steel pieces of silver, matching perfectly. They’re caked in mud and could use a good clean, but…

Kiku turns to Takeru with a smug grin, “So, will it be Mr. Kamishirakawa since I found the rings?”

Takeru stares at her with wide lavender eyes that make her heart race. Then a smile stretches across his face slowly.

“Yeah.” He turns towards her, on one knee, “Takeru Kamishirakawa sounds great.”

Kiku’s heart swells out of her chest and she hugs him close, arms around his neck, his arms around her waist. Pyro and Heatleo are running around the pair of them, happy and excited, feeling their joy and Kiku can feel Pyro’s joy at feeling her joy. It’s an endless loop that keeps making her feel a little overcome. A little emotional and teary.

So she pulls herself to her feet and pulls up Takeru too, holding the rings tightly in her hands, “Clean up once we get back to Den City?”

Takeru nods and kisses her forehead, “Do you want a ceremony or to just walk around wearing the rings right away?”

Kiku smiles and tucks herself under his chin, “We can figure it out later. Right now I just want to hold you.”

Takeru’s arms wrap around her back and he plays with the ends of her ponytail, “That’s all I want to. And now I get that for the rest of my days.”

Kiku smiles and she knows as long as Takeru, Pyro and Heatleo are with them, they’re be okay.

Chapter Text

Kiyoshi Kogami stares at his screen, pain in his chest. He’s run the simulations a thousand times, trying to change his fate, trying hard to save humanity-

But it ends the same.

Extinction.

Humanity will be destroyed by natural disasters, climate change, war, famine and many other global issues, that the people with money and power have no concern with fixing, because they’re too busy being obsessed by their petty desires.

As a man of science, he knew that was always a possibility he was wrong. That humanity could be saved. He just needed to figure out a way forward.

So he typed and researched deep into the night, when the thought struck him.

Artificial Intelligence.

They’re already very commonly used by humans in all aspects of society. They’re practically the successors of humanity. They might be the key. But current Artificial Intelligence is imperfect. It relies entirely on a human programming it for a specific task first, and then it can only do that specific task.

Kogami knew what he needed to do.

He had to create an A.I with free will.

He smirks to himself.

He knows he can do this. He’s a confident man of science, with skills, technology and resources. He can do this. He will do this for the sake of humanity.

He’ll go down in history as the many who saved them all.


 

“You want to experiment on children to create an A.I with free will?” His closest friend Aso looks to him, eyes cool behind his beer class.

Kogami nods, “Yes. If we can understand how free will exists in children, we can create A.I that can grow from there. It won’t be easy.”

“You’re telling me.” Taki takes a sip of her whiskey, thinking on it.

Genome grins, “Sounds like fun. I’m game.”

Kogami knew he’d be interested, “Excellent.”

Aso raises his glass, “Let’s begin preparations then.”

Kogami gives his friend a smile, “Good.”

Taki stares into her whiskey a little while longer, then raises her glass, “For humanity.”

“For humanity.” The others echo and clink their drinks with her.

Kogami couldn’t think of a better team to assemble for saving the world. A doctor, a genetics expert, a dimensions theorist and himself. They can do this.


 

It took a while to build the lab, deep in the woods where it wouldn’t be found easily. The drive to the lab would be hard to follow, if you hadn’t already been there and didn’t know where you were going.

“It’s perfect.” Kogami spoke up, smirking.

Genome clapped his hands, “Would you look at that?”

Kogami, Aso and Taki looked to where he pointed and saw a variety of ferns growing around the base of the building, helping to obscure it from view.

“Fern DNA has remained unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs and before. The perfect survivors.” Genome chuckles, “I am confident it’s a sign of our future success.”

Kogami smirks, “Then we best begin. We must find the 6 children and take each of them at once, to avoid inaccurate results.”

Taki, Genome and Aso nod in agreement.

And with that, their research to create humanity’s successor was to begin.

They will be successful.


 

“Kiyoshi Kogami. For endangering the lives of 6 children for 3 months with your horrific experiments that resulted in electrocution and severe mental health issues to each child, you are sentenced to 6 years in prison and forbidden from using any form of technology.”

The judge’s hammer comes down, along with Kogami’s world.

“No!” Kogami calls.

The guards grab his arms.

“There’s some mistake!”

His eyes lock on his son.

“I was trying to save humanity!”

Ryoken’s eyes widen in horror.

“Ryoken, you’ve doomed us all!”

He’s shaking and trembling and Kogami’s impossibly angry.

“RYOKEN! HUMANITY IS DONE FOR, NOW!”

Ryoken starts sobbing, hands over his ears, crouching down.

“IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT, HUMANITY WILL BE DESTROY-”

A shoe flies into his face. A child’s shoe. The boy with blue and pink hair is standing at Ryoken’s side, one shoe missing, crying himself.

“Ryoken saved us, you lunatic!” The boy shouts, “You have no right to talk to him like that!”

Kogami’s too shocked to say a word after that. He lets the guards drag him away and watches as Ryoken fusses over the boy who shouted at him, who’s hugging him tightly, initiating a group hug with the rest of the children.

Kogami’s blood boils and he knows if he can’t use Artificial Intelligence to save humanity, he’ll find another way.

His son will pay for this.


 

Kogami reads through the words one at a time, double, triple checking in his translator that what he’s reading, is in fact saying what he thinks it says.

It’s an ancient scroll detailing of how humanity came to be. How it would end. And how it could be saved.

He may not have touched a computer in over 7 years, but his mind hasn’t dulled in the slightest, if anything he’s sharper than ever. He knows he can accomplish great things with his research and he can still save humanity. Now isn’t the right time to attempt to save it though. The stars aren’t aligned, if the scroll says anything right.

But they will be in 3 years. That should be enough time to save up the money to travel to Greece, where the world can be saved.

Kogami starts transcribing the words of the scrolls to his notebook, so he’ll have time to recite them.


 

Kogami holds the flaming torch over his head, lighting his way deep into the cave. The markings on the walls were faded and old, but his research knows exactly what they mean and he knows exactly where he’s going.

Then he sees natural light, for the first time in a week, since he set foot in this eternal darkness.

The sun shines through a hole in the roof, on a stone statue of a woman. She’s adored in flowers, ivy, carvings of animals and representations of the elements surround Her.

Mother Nature.

Life Herself.

Hepatica flowers bloom when he steps into the light. They mean confidence.

Kogami calls out to Her. He knew the ancient words, had practiced them for 3 years.

“What do you want, little human?” The woman was old and powerful, older than the Gods, older than the Titans.

She spoke without words, instead he heard Her in his mind. He knew the price he had to pay.

“To save humanity, I give you my form.” He’d said.

She had accepted it and he’d known oblivion since then.


 

Until he woke up.

Kogami was on the surface, the statue of the woman nowhere in sight. 

He stood up and walked back to civilisation, to ensure he’d saved humanity.

Except, when he got there, there was no one.

No humans, at least.

Instead, there were monsters.

Dragons. Werewolves. Unicorns. The buildings were covered head to toe in plants and birds nests.

“What have you done?!” Kogami calls out to Her.

“I saved humanity, little human.” Mother Nature was calm, “Now embrace your new world and new form. This is your home for the rest of your days.”

Kogami looked at his scaley arms, the jagged teeth in a shattered window, his narrow eyes.

He screamed his defiance until every creature and beast in the town had scattered far away.


 

Kogami wandered the world for months. He saw some humans, but they were all young and screamed when they saw him. He learned when the sun was up, he transformed into a lizard. But when it went down, he became a human shaped being, with lizard features.

He was disgusting.

He hated his form.

Ironic that he gave up so much, to save the humanity that now hates him.

It’s laughable. It’s insulting. It’s horrific.

But if the remains of humanity hate him now and they were already doomed to extinction? Well….

It’s only destiny that he begin the job. His claws are rather sharp, bipedal or on all 4s. His teeth spill venom, poisoning everything that comes into contact with his saliva. His scales are rather impact resistant.

Humans, in comparison, are weak to him. 

He is the true successor of humanity. Not some silly pipedream to create artificial intelligence with free will. He was a fool to ever consider humans’ accursed technology as their future.

Now he had the chance to rectify his mistakes.


 

Kogami spends months travelling from town to town. Most are deserted, other than a few monsters. The few places that still have people, well, all of them he’s noticed are under 30, so they’ve been easy to subdue.

It’s while at night, hunting in another town, that he finds him.

“Kogami?”

It’s been so long since he last heard his name.

He turns around and sees a monsterous version of Aso, his body resembling that of a queen bee, “Aso. It’s been a long time.”

“Far too long.” Aso crawls closer, “Do you know why we have these accursed forms?”

Kogami nods, “We once sought to save humanity by creating it’s successors. But that is impossible. Because now we are humanity’s successors. It’s up to us to rid the world of what little remains of our predecessors.” He smiles and offers his hand, scaled and clawed, “Will you help me old friend?”

Aso’s pincerns look pleased as he offers his mandile, “Always.”

A wicked scream breaks through the silent night and the two look up to see, “Genome?!”

“I knew we would meet again in this world, Dr Kogami, Mr Aso!” The most openly mad member of their team looks partly like a goat and bird, “After all, I already met Dr Taki!”

Aso’s eyes twitch, “Dr Taki is still here as well?”

“Hiya.”

Kogami, Genome and Aso turned to the shadows, where a woman with blades for hands stood, smiling like the woman they’d known, “I’ve already begun eliminating humans. It appears I have a rather easy time with spreading viruses.”

Kogami chuckles and notices how the moon sheds light on some ferns, as they all step out of the shadows to join forces.

They wanted to make humanity’s successors and they have. 

Now they have a new mission and they will be successful this time.


 

The sun is high in the sky as Kogami slithers out of the building. He sees Genome cleaning his feathers in a tree, while Taki sits in wait for the next insect that isn’t Aso to come close enough for her to eat. They destroyed the few humans in this town a week ago with Taki’s brilliant viruses. All they had to worry for now was where to go next.

Then he hears something unusual. He ducks back into the building as something crashes down from above.

A human girl in a red scarf with blue hair and a monster clinging to her. She looks around and he keeps still. The monster, it has to be a baby, sees him and starts to whimper.

Good, he knows when he’s beat.

The girl draws her knife, “What’s wrong Pyro? What do you sense?”

Kogami lets a hiss and ducks as the girl spins. It appears she’s actually prepared for this world. She’s going to be a touch harder to kill, but not that difficult.

Then someone else falls from the sky and Kogami’s blood boils.

The white and red hair, the lavender eyes, the shape of his face. There’s no doubt.

It’s Takeru Homura. Subject 5 of his experiments.

“What’s wrong?” Takeru Homura presses to the back of the girl, “Hear something?”

“Pyro took one smell of this place and decided something bad is here.” The girl walks in a slow circle, “Then I heard some stones or something fall. I think we’re being watched.”

Kogami feels his rage mounting as he notices the boy has another Monster in his scarf, some mechanical lion.

“It’s not a ghost right?” Takeru Homura appears nervous.

“No, it’s not a ghost, Takeru.” The girl sounds completely annoyed with him.

Kogami knows there’s a few lizards here and he sees one come out of the building he’s hiding in, the one where he made the sound.

“It’s just a lizard.” The girl sighs, slipping her knife back into her holster.

Takeru Homura relaxes, putting his sword away too, “I’m glad. I’m not sure what I’d do if I had to fight something like Odd-Eyes or Supreme King.”

Kogami’s ears prickle. Odd-Eyes? Supreme King?

The girl hums, nodding in agreement, “Yeah, that wouldn’t end well.”

The monster in her scarf seems to have relaxed now. He’s not hiding in her scarf anymore and the lizard’s just trotting off. The monster in Takeru Homura’s scarf chirps happily and jumps out, jumping onto the ground and chasing the lizard. Takeru Homura shouts and chases after the monster, calling out it’s name. The girl looks at her own monster, shaking her head with a fond smile and then she chases after them.

Once the girl is out of ear shot, Kogami crawls to where she stood, Genome flying down to him with Aso and Taki in his feet. He drops the pair before landing.

“Takeru Homura is still alive in this world. There’s a chance that the other subjects of the Hanoi Project are alive, too.” Aso looks up at Kogami, “Your traitorous son may be alive as well.”

Kogami’s blood boils and he hisses, “New plan. Genome will carry us to wherever Takeru Homura goes and we will destroy Ryoken and everything he loves.”

Genome flaps his wings, cracking his neck, “It would be my honour, Dr Kogami.”


 

They fly into the place Kogami once called home. Den City.

The city is functioning well. Too well in fact for a city after the world ended. It makes no sense, he was created to be the successor of humanity. They were meant to disappear while he and the other ruled.

But after flying for a day, they find Ryoken. They also find the other subjects of the Hanoi Project, alive and well and smiling. It makes his blood boil. He’s so impossibly furious that those who ruined his life, ruined humanity’s chances to survive, are enjoying lives of their own, after the world ended. They don’t deserve to live.

Not in this world.

Not in his world.

At dusk, he plucks a Hepatica and he knows Ryoken won’t survive the night.

Chapter Text

Ryoken wakes up in a cold sweat, bolting out of bed and running down the hallway, trying hard not to scream. It’s only when he makes it to the roof that he realizes it wasn’t real.

It was just a nightmare.

He’s gone.

“Ryoken?” 

Ryoken nearly jumps out of his skin when he sees, “Yusaku? Awake again?”

Yusaku doesn’t have a fire or tea in front of him this time. All he has is a candle, a pendulum and some kind of matt, while Firewall is curled up in a ball and sleeping, “Yeah. I had a bad dream and wanted to see if it meant anything.”

Ryoken would laugh if he wasn’t feeling so spooked, “Funny. I had one too.”

Yusaku puts his pendulum down and stands up, walking over to him. Ryoken waits until he’s standing at his side before he unfolds his arms, sighing. It’s cold out here.

“You know he can’t hurt you, right?” Yusaku unclips his cloak and wraps it around Ryoken’s shoulders, “He’s gone. We’re safe. You’re safe.”

Ryoken nods, swallowing, “I know. I just-”

CLANG!

The two turn around to see Borreload stumbling up the stairs, tripping over himself. He probably followed Ryoken the whole way up when he was running in a blind panic. Firewall lifts her head and chirps, stretching out her wings and flying over to him. Borreload roars and jumps up, head butting her in greeting. The two squabble and tumble, playing together.

Ryoken finds his shoulders slumping and his heartbeat calming, “They certainly look like they’re having fun.”

“Yeah.” Yusaku gently takes his hand and holds it tightly, “They seem to have a 6th sense for if something’s going to happen. I’m sure if anything was going to go wrong, they’d warn us.”

“You’re right.” Ryoken realizes, mind falling back to a time when Borreload kept him from walking on a seemingly sturdy bridge that crumbled the moment he took one step on it.

Yusaku smiles up at him, “Let’s get some sleep. We sorely need it.”

Ryoken nods, letting out a breathe, “Yeah, lets.”

Yusaku turns towards Firewall and whistles. She stops playing with Borreload immediately and starts flying over to him, landing on his shoulder like a parrot. Ryoken snaps his fingers and Borreload jumps onto his shoulder too, curling around them before settling, almost like a scarf. Ryoken rubs his forehead, humming softly.

Yusaku offers him his hand, “Walk home together?”

Ryoken’s heart leaps into his throat, so he simply nods and takes his hand. They take the emergency stairs, even though there’s no rush. Yusaku probably wanted to watch the stars a little longer and Ryoken has to admit, the air is doing wonders for his remaining scrambled nerves. Their dragons are asleep, but staying on their shoulders just fine.

The night feels peaceful and comfortable. It’s like each step makes him feel drowsier.

Yusaku stops on one of the stairs. Ryoken stops so he doesn’t knock into him.

“Yusaku?” Ryoken tightens his grip on his hand.

Yusaku spins on his heel and hugs him. It surprises Ryoken, but he wraps his arms around his back on reflex, holding Yusaku to his chest. He carefully avoids knocking his head against Borreload and Ryoken avoids Firewall’s tail as he holds Yusaku. They’re quiet for a while and Ryoken’s heart is pounding out of his chest. Yusaku isn’t the most affectionate person he knows and he worries if his bad dream was particularly bad.

“I don’t know when was the last time I told you this…” Yusaku puts his hands over his chest and looks up at him with a soft smile, “But you really mean a lot to me, Ryoken. I don’t know who I’d be if I hadn’t known you. Thank you.”

Ryoken’s heart is pounding out of his chest, into Yusaku’s hand, his eyes sparkling like emeralds and this moment feels too right. It’s got to be a dream, right? Well, Ryoken wouldn’t mind staying asleep a little longer if this is a dream.

“You mean a lot to me too, Yusaku.” Ryoken hesitantly reaches up and brushes some hair off his face, “More than the world.”

Yusaku is looking up at him with such a soft smile and Ryoken cradles his cheek, rubbing his thumb with it. Yusaku’s eyes widen and Ryoken isn’t confident in many things, since the world ended. But he is confident in this.

He loves Yusaku. Romantically. He doesn’t know how long he’s felt this way about him, but it’s been for a very long time. He wants to tell him, but the words are getting stuck in his throat as he stares at those green, green eyes. Yusaku is staring up at him with a million thoughts flying through his eyes and Ryoken could get lost in there. He does so easily, too.

“Ryoken, I….”

Ryoken blinks, mentally shaking himself out of his day dreams and finds he’s holding both of Yusaku’s cheeks and leaning in a touch too close for comfort. Yusaku is gripping his cloak tightly and there’s something similar to panic on his face.

Ryoken’s heart tightens and he drops his hands, taking a step back and falling on the stairs, “Sorry!”

Yusaku looks down at him and his face is pink all over. Then he starts laughing, hands over his mouth, shoulders shaking, eyes turned up high in mirth. Ryoken’s heart stutters and restarts.

“I didn’t expect you to jump like that.” Yusaku shakes his head and offers Ryoken his hand, “Let’s get you to your room. I don’t want to lose you from a back injury, Ryoken.”

Ryoken holds his breath and smiles, taking his hand to get to his feet, “You won’t then. Promise.”

Yusaku smiles and shakes his hand, “Thank you.”

Ryoken lets himself breathe and shakes his hand back. He pulls away to unclip Yusaku’s cloak and settles it over Firewall on his shoulders and the hood on Yusaku’s head. Yusaku holds the cloak together and nods at him.

“Good night, Yusaku.” Ryoken walks around him, since he lives further down.

He doesn’t look back when he hears Yusaku say, “Night, Ryoken.”

Ryoken walks into the hallway, head spinning just a little. He wasn’t expecting to lose control of himself like that, he probably made Yusaku uncomfortable. If he’s lucky, Yusaku will chalk that up to sleep deprivation or something and they can act like they always have; close friends. If he’s not, then-

Borreload bites his ear.

Ryoken yelps and rubs it, “What? It’s not like I kissed him without permission!”

Borreload still gives him the stink eye.

Ryoken sighs and shakes his head, “Yeah, you’re right. I wasn’t much of a gentleman back then and I should have told him how I feel.”

He opens the door to his room-

Trips-

A cloth clamps over his mouth and nose and Borreload is thrown across the room. Ryoken shouts behind the cloth and tries kicking the man behind him, clawing at his arm, trying to hold his breath. 

Borrreload shakes off the fall and then, letting out a big shriek, he runs towards him. A foot kicks him across the room again and Ryoken shouts for his Monster, letting out what little air he had and taking in whatever is in the cloth. 

Shit, it smells like chloroform.

No. He’s gotta fight.

Borreload stumbles to his feet, running towards him again, crying out as loud as he can.

He has to stay awake.

The man kicks Borreload even harder this time, making him hit the wall.

He promised Yusaku he wouldn’t lose him.

Borreload tries to get to his feet, but he collapses.

He…. He can’t…. He can’t keep his eyes open.

Ryoken goes completely limp and his mind blacks out.


 

Yusaku wakes up to someone pounding on his door, “Yusaku something’s seriously wrong out there, we need you!”

It sounds like Shoichi? He’s not normally this loud or excitable. Something has to be up. Yusaku races to his door and opens it, leaving Firewall to sleep on his bed a little longer.

Shoichi gulps, “Oh thank God, it’s Jin, he-”

“Yusaku!” Kiku comes barrelling down the hallway, Pyro Phoenix nowhere in sight, “It’s Takeru, he needs help!”

Shoichi catches her before she can crash into anything, “Kiku, breathe, what’s wrong?”

“Takeru, he’s sick!” Kiku is in tears, “He’s feverish and I don’t know what’s wrong, but he keeps calling for you!”

Shoichi’s eyes widen, “Jin’s the same! He mutters something about a mantis too.”

Yusaku takes in the information, then nods to himself, “Get them both to the hospital, use the hotdog truck.”

The two nod and go do as he says. He grabs his medical supplies and starts going down the stairs. Something in his gut takes him to Miyu and Aoi’s room.

When he knocks, Aoi opens the door, looking panicked, “Miyu’s sick! She’s-”

“Muttering about a mantis and feverish?” Yusaku waits for her to nod, “Takeru and Jin are the same, Kiku and Shoichi told me.”

Aoi holds her hands over her mouth, “Oh no.”

Yusaku walks into the room, “Help me get her to the hotdog truck.”

Aoi follows behind him. Yusaku sees Miyu tossing and turning, sweating buckets, looking to be in the grip of a nightmare.

“Bite…” She whimpers, “Yusaku don’t get bitten. Don’t get-”

“She’s been like that since I woke up.” Aoi looks up at him, “What’s wrong with her?”

“I don’t know.” Yusaku walks to her and only just manages to pull her on his back.

Aoi helps him carry her to the hotdog truck. When they get there, Jin and Takeru are in the same condition as Miyu, laid on the floor of the truck. Kiku presses a wet cloth to Takeru’s forehead while Heatleo whimpers next to him. Shoichi holds Jin’s hand as he tosses and turns. Yusaku sets Miyu down on a chair, gently and Aoi stands at her side.

Shoichi walks to his side and Yusaku takes a few steps back, “Do you see what I see?”

Yusaku nods, “3 of the 6 victims of the Hanoi Project are ill. I haven’t suffered any ill symptoms yet, but everyone is warning me of a bite.”

Kiku walks over as well, “What could have caused this with one bite?”

Yusaku hums, holding his chin, “I don’t know. I’ll have to find a book on venomous creatures.”

Aoi suddenly dashes over to him, “If these three are sick, do you think Spectre and Ryoken are okay?”

Panic threatens to strike him and Yusaku forces himself to reheal it in, “I don’t know.”

Firewall suddenly flies into the truck, shrieking and screaming. She’s scared half to death, she knows something’s wrong. Yusaku looks between the other 3 conscious people and Firewall.

“Go, you can come back later. She’s really upset about something.” Shoichi nods.

Yusaku nods and jumps out the truck. Firewall shrieks and starts flying towards the emergency stairs, so Yusaku follows her up them. Firewall flies down to just before Spectre’s window and by the time Yusaku reaches it, breaking in through the window, Spectre is trembling and shaking, feverish.

“Ryoken.” He calls, “They have-”

“Spectre, it’s me, Yusaku.” Yusaku lifts him on his back and makes his way to the emergency stairs, “Breathe, you’re delirious.”

“Bitten. Don’t get bitten.” Spectre is… crying, “Ryoken, they have Ryoken.”

Yusaku feels panic spike in his mind and he turns to Firewall, “Go see him, make sure he’s okay, please!”

Firewall chirps and flies towards his room on the other side of the building. Yusaku races down the emergency stairs to the hotdog turck, his panic fuelling him when his lungs start to burn and his legs start to ache. By the time he gets there, he starts to wonder if he’s been bitten by something too, because he feels feverish.

“I got him.” Shoichi grabs Spectre and puts him on another chair, while Yusaku starts running back, “Hey, where-”

“Spectre said something about Ryoken! I have to make sure he’s okay!” Yusaku calls up, “Get the others to the hospital now, they can’t wait!”

He doesn’t wait for Shoich’s reply, he just runs faster up the emergency stairs and then back into the building. He dashes among the hassle and bussle to get to Ryoken’s room. 

Akira Zaizen is there, “Yusaku, do you have any idea why Ryoken wouldn’t be at today’s meeting? Is he ill?”

“I haven’t seen him, but I have a feeling something’s wrong.” Yusaku calls, “Let me through.”

Akira steps aside and Yusaku shoves open the door.

Borreload is laying on the ground, bruised and dented, coughing and snivelling. Firewall screams and tries flying close to him, but she starts sneezing and flies away. Yusaku can see the issue right away. There’s a pot of Dogsbane and Apocynum right next to him. It’s used to poison dogs and it appears it’s poisonous to dragons too, if his state is anything to go by.

Yusaku races to Borreload’s side and pulls him away from the flowers, looking him over for injuries. Borreload takes one look at him and starts to cry, giving a weak little whimper.

Firewall sits on his shoulder, giving sympathetic whimpers.

“What’s wrong? Where’s Ryoken?” Yusaku asks the pair.

Borreload cries more and hides his snout in his chest. Yusaku looks at the pot and realizes there’s a note in it.

Fear runs down his back as Yusaku gently places Borreload on the ground, instructing Firewall, “Look after him.”

Firewall goes to Borreload’s side and starts to lick his wounds.

Yusaku straightens and walks over to the flowers. 

He pulls the note from the pot.

And his heart drops into his stomach acid.

Dear residents of Den City. I am Kogami. I am the successor of humanity and I will prove it so by destroying the very people who ruined my life.

It lists the names of the children who suffered through the Hanoi Project.  Ryoken’s name is right there, at the top.

Then I will destroy this city, your people and your monsters. You can run if you like, I like the chase. It should make good entertainment for Ryoken too, before I kill him.

My attack begins in 3 days. Let’s hope none of you get bitten before then.

Yusaku remembers his sick friends suffering in the hospital, warning him of a bite.

Yusaku grabs the pot in a fit of anger and screams as he throws it out the window, smashing it open.


 

When Ryoken opens his eyes, he finds himself in darkness.

“Hello, son.”

Ryoken looks around, panic grabbing him, memories haunting him, “Who are you?! Where am I?! What do you want with me?!”

A terrifying shriek and cackle sounds out, “Your own son doesn’t recognise you, Dr. Kogami! How sad!”

“As for where you are, Ryoken, there’s no point in telling you.” A voice he just remembers calls, “You’ll be dead after you leave this place.”

“The thing I desire though…” The first voice from before calls, “Is revenge.”

Then it clicks, “Impossible. Since the world ended, any human over the age of 30 disappeared. You shouldn’t be here.”

“Who said I was human?” His father, Dr Kiyoshi Kogami, says in the darkness, “Perhaps all those people turned into monsters, like I have.”

Ryoken’s eyes widen and he forces himself to be calm, “Okay, so you want revenge for putting you in jail and denying you internet access for the rest of your life. I take it you’re going after my friends as well?”

“Yes. But I’ll be hurting them much sooner than they think.” His father sounds disgustingly smug, “I said I’d attack their precious city in 3 days. But I’m at the height of my power at midnight, so I plan to attack them tomorrow evening. May as well let them prepare some defense.”

Ryoken forces a laugh, “You’ll never get them.”

“And why’s that?” A voice he realizes is Aso’s calls.

He used to play with Aso and look up to him as a brother, before he worked with his father on the Hanoi project. He really shouldn’t be surprised they did this.

“Because the city is protected by a dragon. We call him Supreme King.” Ryoken hopes to God the people of Paradise City will help the people of Den City, “We are guarded by a powerful magician too. If you so much as try a single attack on the city, they’ll destroy you.”

Kogami hums, “We shall see.”

Ryoken tries to keep his calm, but he’s panicking. They’ll see indeed.

Chapter Text

Ryoken was wandering deep into the woods, young and stupid, when he found it. A white building in the middle of the woods, looking newly built without a proper road leading to it. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, so he sneaks in, being quiet as a mouse. He finds a long hallway with different doors marked with numbers from 001 to 006. He tries opening them, but the doors don’t budge at all. Ryoken wanders further down the hall and finds a room full of machines and monitors and…

“Dr. Genome?” Ryoken whispered to himself.

Dr. Genome works with his father, Taki and Aso. They said they couldn’t play as much because they were working on an important project that would save humanity. But from the looks of things, Genome was asleep in his chair and no one else was around. 

Ryoken smiles to himself and climbs onto one of the spare chairs. Maybe if he knows what they’re working on, he can help them and then they can play more!

Ryoken looks up at the screens.

Then all the colour drains from his face.

There are 6 kids in 6 different rooms, with numbers from 001 to 006 above their screens. Each kid is screaming or crying, while wearing some VR tech, Duelling someone if their Duel Disks are anything to go by. They’re being electrocuted, thrown against the walls and-

Yusaku!

His… his friend is in there! The one he hadn’t seen for 3 months after they met! But his father said he took him home, to his family! Why is he here, if his father took him home?

Unless….

No. His father wouldn’t do-

“Ryoken?”

Ryoken shouts as he falls off the chair, looking up at his father, Kogami, in pure terror. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but he knows this isn’t right.

Ryoken runs past him crying, out into the hallway, out into the woods, out where his father can’t find him. Ryoken hides in the forest for the rest of the day and only comes out when he sees some strangers at the side of the road. He rushes down to them, out of breathe.

A teenage girl sees him first, “What are you doing out here, kid? Are you lost?”

Ryoken wipes at his face, “I need to call the police, please! I found some missing kids, they’re in the woods!”

The teenage girl gasps, but the teenage boy already has his phone out, “Hey 999, I got a lost kid here claiming he knows where a few other lost kids are. Do you know any of their names?”

“Only one, but I remember what they look like!” Ryoken swallows, “I know who took them too.”

The teenage boy gives him his phone, “Here. Tell the lady everything.”

Ryoken does so and as he does, he slowly realizes that he’s ruined his father’s life. He ruined Yusaku’s life too, by letting his father take him.

How can he ever have a friend again, after he hurt his first friend like this?


 

Akira hadn’t been the biggest fan of the world ending, especially when it did. He was set for a new promotion, the company he worked in was doing well and Aoi was smiling more often. Life had been good and to find everyone over 30 had disappeared in one night, hadn’t been comforting at all.

Still, he helped organise Den City so that the people left behind, all so impossibly young, didn’t lose their heads and start attacking each other for resources. He and the few still useful and active people with authority left, became the Den City Council fast and soon, were entirely responsible for everything going on. It wasn’t the promotion he was planning for, especially since being City Council meant he had to deal with children, when he hadn’t done that for years and Aoi was a very self reliant child. 

“The files, sir and the tea.”

Reliable, helpful Ryoken was always there to make things easier.

“Thank you.” Akira took the cup of tea happily while Ryoken placed the files on his desk, “How’s recruitment and training of the Guardians going?”

“Fairly well. Not sure why the yellow scarf as a uniform was what we went with, but it works well.” Ryoken looked around the room, “Do you think we should get assistants, Mr Zaizen?”

Akira paused in sipping his tea, “What makes you think that?”

“We have to act almost as our own and each others’ assistants. Even though you’re the chairman of the City Council, you do a more than fair amount of errands.” Ryoken folds his arms and looks him over, “No offense intended sir, but we aren’t Atlas. We need help.”

Akira thought about the sleepless nights worrying over Aoi as he does the paperwork and trains the Guardians on their duties. He thinks of wanting to make the city better, but barely being able to focus in his meetings and seeing similar exhaustion on his colleagues faces.

“I think you may be right.” Akira gave the man a smile, “Thank you, Ryoken.”

Ryoken nodded and left with a short bow, “I’ll start looking for and assigning everyone an assistant then.”

Akira watched him go and remembered how hard Ryoken himself works as well. There isn’t any electricity left, so he often has tea brewing over the fire by the time the sun rises and they all begin their meetings. Come to think of it, Ryoken tends to be the one who leaves last, even though Akira offers to lock up and deal with the last files and checks.

Perhaps Ryoken is noticing the strain of being on the City Council the most, so he’s trying to make sure they don’t.

Well, as the man who is most often Chairman, he’ll have to make sure Ryoken doesn’t collapse under the weight of their duties either. He’s somewhat known that boy through his friendship with Miyu, who loves his sister Aoi. It’s not the strongest relationship, but it’s enough to know he’s a good person who works hard, even when the world isn’t ending.


 

Before the world ended, Go Onizuka didn’t have a lot of friends. He was too busy wrestling his way to the top of the world and raising money for the kids back home. His manager was the only guy he really confided in and he disappeared at the end of the world, just like everyone else over 30. It was kinda sad in retrospect.

Without any adults thought, the kids at the orphanage had doubled and all of them were more than a little lost on what to do, so he needed all the help he could get down there.

“I didn’t expect them to send you.” Go Onizuka had huffed, looking him up and down.

Ryoken Kogami had been something of a rival when they were in high school. A bit of childish jousting and joking here and there, plus getting competitive in the school sports competitions. Ryoken Kogami did get on his nerves though, along with the other people in his friendship circle like Spectre and Jin, the school jocksters and Yusaku Fujiki, the local genius recluse who kept beating him in the tests. Go Onizuka certainly hadn’t missed them when he graduated and figured at some point, he’d never have to see them again after that.

“Funny how life works. I didn’t expect them to send me either.” Ryoken Kogami peered behind him, at the kids running amuck even though the sun was down and they should be sleeping, “Do you need help?”

Well no one else was coming and beggers can’t be choosers, so Go Onizuka let Ryoken Kogami in to look after the kids from the orphanage. Somehow he got them all to calm down with a few fairy tales and get them to sleep, after helping Go Onizuka make the kids some bed time snacks.

By the time the moon was high and their slowly dying clocks showed it was 10pm, the kids were asleep and the two collapsed in a pair of chairs.

“I’ll definitely look into getting you more help down here. It’s nuts.” Ryoken Kogami turned to him, panting, “I’ll ask every single person in the city myself if I have to.”

Go Onizuka had to laugh at that, “Wouldn’t expect that from the prim and proper Student Council President.”

Ryoken Kogami rolled his eyes, “Oh shut up. I haven’t been that guy for two years and 9 months at least.”

“You sure about that? You’re still annoyingly good at everything you do.” Go Onizuka would probably punch him in the shoulder if he had the energy left, “Rich Boy.”

“Muscle head.” The old insult spits from his lips almost fondly, “God, we haven’t argued like that since high school. Why did we argue like that in high school?”

“Because you were perfect and I was a brute, if your fan girls were right.” Go Onizuka huffed out a laugh, “God, nothing got on my wick more than the thought of you being better than me.”

“Funny, I didn’t want you to be better than me either.” Ryoken Kogami got to his feet, “I should get to my apartment.”

“Fine, fine, later then, Rich Boy.” Go Onizuka didn’t watch the dude leave.

But when he came back every night to help with a paler face, darker eyes and one more helping hand who’d stay the night. He did this for about a week before Go Onizuka kicked him out the orphanage for good to keep him from dying from overworking himself. 

Mr Perfect, even after the world ends.


 

Shoichi cursed himself out and sliped out from under his stupid truck, “It’s no use!”

He’s been trying to figure out how to solar power his truck for weeks so he could finally make himself a cup of bloody coffee, like he needs. But the technology and hardware just wouldn’t work with him. It’s infuriating.

Ryoken looked down at him from on top of the truck, “Already given up, Shoichi?”

Shoichi shot him an angry look, “I’ve been trying to do this even before the world ended, when I had time, energy and caffeine. Then I couldn’t get it, how am I supposed to get it now?!”

Ryoken gave him a pensive look, “You need coffee to get this done?”

Shoichi looked up at him, “Is that not what I just said?”

Ryoken gave him a deadpan look then slipped out of sight. He heard a grunt as he hit the ground and then the dude just abandoned him. Out in the open, to the merciless elements and his stuipd, uncooperative truck!

Shoichi yelled a curse as loud as he could and slipped back under his truck, trying and failing to make it work just so spite him now. Stupid Ryoken, abandoning him like this. He’s starting to regret ever calling him his friend. He worked for about an hour straight, before he’s tired beyond belief and ready to quit for the day-

“Get up."

Shoichi started cursing him out as he slipped out, "You're such an asshole for ditching me, the least you could have said b-"

Ryoken had a coffee cup next to him and a book open in his lap about solar panels.

"It took a while to get the fire going and to brew the coffee. I had to find out from Yusaku how you liked your coffee too. You should drink it while it's hot." Ryoken turned a page in his book.

Shoichi picked up the mug and inhaled the scent like a starving man. He actually moaned and started drinking it, laughing when he burnt his tongue, glad to just have some normality after everything. While he's drinking the coffee (okay, he might be crying a little), Ryoken tosses a sandwich in his lap.

"I'll take it from here. You need a break." Ryoken climbed under the truck.

Shoichi laughed, "Sorry I called you an asshole."

"I did ditch you, so deserved." Ryoken huffed, "Now ignore me and eat, dumbass."

Shoichi shook his head and drank his coffee, burning his tongue again. He looked at the cracks in the concrete and can’t help but notice small pink flowers blooming there.

“Oak-leaved Geranium.” He remembers Yusaku once told him, “A flower of friendship.”

Shoichi looked down at where Ryoken is working hard on his truck and well, he could have picked worse people to be friends with.


 

Kiku didn’t know Ryoken Kogami very well. When he went to high school with her, Takeru and his friends, she heard of him as the guy everyone wanted to be, but she didn’t much care for him. After the world ended and he became part of Den City Council, from what she heard about from Takeru, he was even more hard working to the point of potentially risking his health and well, she was never a fan of people going that hard and never getting any help or acknowledgement.

Spectre opened the door to his office, “Yes?”

“I have the Guardians’ reports for the day and wanted to deliver them to Ryoken personally.” Kiku shrugged, “Can I go in?”

Spectre looked her over in amusement and nodded, “Okay then, go ahead.”

He stepped aside and Kiku walked in, holding the papers to her chest, hiding the glass she has. Ryoken was sitting at the desk reading and looked up when she walked a little close.

“Kiku Kamishirakawa, was it?” Ryoken looked her up and down, “Is everything okay with the Guardians?”

“Yeah, we’re fine, I just wanted to deliver our reports for the day personally.” Kiku placed them on his desk and the glass she had, “This too. A gift.”

Ryoken looked at the glass and picks it up, observing the contents, “Blue Periwinkles?”

Kiku shrugged, “You keep making hot chocolate for me and Takeru during the meetings with the City Council, even though making coffee for everyone else is hassle enough without a kettle. So I asked Yusaku and he said you liked those flowers, so I thought it’d make an okay ‘thank you’ gift.”

Ryoken smiled and took a brief sniff of the flowers, “Thank you, Kiku, that’s very kind.”

“But also.” Kiku glared at him, “Don’t you dare over work yourself, okay? It’s the end of the world, no need to work yourself into an early grave. Get someone else to do the coffee at meetings if you think it’s that vital.”

Ryoken laughed and held up his hands in surrender, “It’s good for moral!

“Not for your personal health though. Don’t overextend yourself, that’s all I’m saying.” Kiku turned on her heel.

Ryoken laughed as he waved her out, “I can see why Takeru is in love with you. You’re a strong one, Kiku.” He chuckled once more, “Thank you.”

Kiku smiled as she walks out and Spectre nodded to her approvingly.


 

Aoi had never been very good with people. Before the world ended, the only person she could without hesitation call a friend was Miyu and maybe Yusaku, too. She was naturally introverted and growing up without a stable home life hadn’t exactly been easy. Aoi thought that when the world ended, she’d be even more alone, losing any chance to connect to people outside of Den City.

She was just sketching under a tree when someone cleared their throat.

Ryoken Kogami. He worked with her brother on the City Council, “May I sit here, Aoi?”

Aoi nodded and went back to sketching. She expected him to sit there and attempt to make annoying small talk while she’s quite clearly busy. But perhaps 5 minutes pass and he doesn’t say anything. Aoi glanced at him out the corner of her eye. He’s writing out ones and zeroes on a sketchbook.

“Is that computer code?” Aoi hummed.

Ryoken blinked and turned to her, then nodded, “Yeah. I wanted to go into computing and deal with Black Hat Hackers before the world ended. Not very useful now, but it helps me calm down to write out the codes I made.”

“And this one does…” Aoi let her question hang.

“Scans for viruses, mainly.” Ryoken shrugged and then glanced at her sketchbook, “You’re drawing the Evergreens?”

“They’re Arbor Vitæ actually.” Aoi wrote it above the trees and shrugged, “I wanted to learn about plants after the world ended. Which ones to build houses from, to eat and avoid, what can keep wild animals away.”

“That’s incredibly self reliant, Aoi.” Ryoken hummed, “Can you tell me anything about them?”

She shook her head, “I’m going to do research after I do my initial sketches. My sketchbook is going to be something of a research book.”

He nodded and turned back to his own sketchbook, “Well, I wish you the best. You’re already on the right track.”

Aoi felt a bit of pride swell in her chest, “I try my best.”

“That’s all we can do.” Ryoken grabbed his pencil again.

Aoi smiled at him and then continued to do her sketches. He’s good company, so she’ll be okay with him joining him again if he wants to. She won’t say anything about that though.


 

Ryoken opens his eyes to find he’s still in total darkness. He must have been dreaming of the past then. Of the friendships he formed after the world ended and his circle expanded beyond what he ever thought it could.

Ryoken slumps in his chair and listens for breathing. He can’t hear anyone but him and when he stops, he hears nothing. That doesn’t promise he’s alone though.

Maybe if it could, he’d let himself show his sadness at the thought of losing those people.

The door opens and light creeps into the room, along with, “Yusaku?”

It’s him! Covered in something that disturbingly looks like snail slime and limping just a little, but he’s there along with Akira, Go Onizuka, Shoichi, Kiku and Aoi.

“Do you know how many took you? We took out 4 weird looking monsters.” Go Onizuka calls.

Ryoken nods, “Aso, Taki, Genome and….” He hesitates a moment, “Kiyoshi Kogami. My father.”

Yusaku hisses as he gets closer and starts pulling at his ropes, “That thing was not your father, Ryoken. He never was.”

Ryoken’s heart swells as he looks into each of their faces, to see them looking relieved, worried or watching the entrance.

“I can’t believe you all came for me.” Ryoken smiles, then gasps, “Where’s Borreload?!”

“He’s fine, healing up with Firewall watching him.” Kiku grins and winks at him, “She kept licking his injuries, she was so worried about him. It was cute.”

Ryoken feels himself flush.

“As for why we came for you…” Akira steps a little closer, smiling, “We’re your friends, are we not?”

“Do you really think we’d leave you to rot?” Aoi huffs, rolling her eyes, “Men are so dull at times.”

Shoichi laughs, “Harsh, but true.”

Yusaku finishes ripping apart his ropes and Ryoken stands up.

“Let’s go home.” Yusaku offers Ryoken his hand.

Ryoken smiles and takes it, looking up in the faces of his other friends.

And to think, he once believed he would always be alone.

Chapter Text

Ryoken looks around the old theatre with a proud face, as Borreload flies around as if giving it a final inspection. The seats have been cleaned and dusted, the stage tested and prepared, the spotlights fired up thanks to Heatleo and Pyro Phoenix. Borreload then flies down to him and lands in his arms, where Ryoken holds him as he looks up once more. The theatre looks beautiful.

Yusaku steps up beside him, Firewall in his arms as well, “The children are going to love this.”

Ryoken looks at his side and nods, Borreload jumping out his arms to tackle Firewall as he does. Firewall and Borreload get into a playful fight, chasing each other on the stage and Ryoken watches them with a lighter heart, after everything that happened. 

When he returned, he found out that the victims of the Hanoi Project had been infected with an illness. It took him and Yusaku all their effort and resources to help them get through it, but Miyu, Takeru, Spectre and even little Jin were fighters at their core. They pushed through and made it. But the whole incident had put Den City on edge, especially the children who thought there were monsters under their bed now. 

Then Miyu came up with the rather ingenious idea of pulling together a play to help the kids deal with their fears. Spectre proposed they do a very dramatic reenactment of his favourite book as a child: Angel with Blue Tears. Miyu volunteered Aoi to be the leading lady, since she’d also been fond of the book as a child. Aoi had agreed and then they’d gone about preparing the theatre. As word got around, other people soon joined the cast and even asked to make productions in the theatre a regular thing to help boost moral.

Even Paradise City got involved, with Yuya, his brothers and Ray’s siblings becoming cast & crew.

Yusaku then turns to him, “All that’s left is to decorate the stage with the flowers. Did Spectre tell you which ones we needed?”

Borreload then takes to the air and Firewall chases him through the theatre.

Ryoken watches the pair, nodding, “Canterbury Bells, Sweet Peas and Agrimony. They all mean Gratitude or Thankfulness.”

Firewall rushes towards them and Ryoken and Yusaku duck, watching as Borreload flies over their head to chase her. They turn to watch the pair jump and stand on their hind legs, playing happily.

Yusaku sounds pleased when he says, “Thematically appropriate choice.”

Ryoken takes his eyes off the dragons, blinking at Yusaku, “How come?”

Yusaku’s smile widens and he takes Ryoken’s hand, “I’m thankful that you’re still with us, Ryoken. The thought of losing you really scares me, so I’m glad I didn’t.”

Ryoken feels his face flush and he squeezes Yusaku’s hand back, “Me too.”

Borreload then jumps on him, knocking him to the ground and the wind out his lungs. Ryoken huffs a laugh as Borreload licks him to death, seeing out the corner of his eye as Yusaku just about catches Firewall before she knocks him too. Ryoken sits up and pets Borreload’s horns, shaking his head fondly.

“I missed you as well, don’t worry.” Ryoken hugs Borreload close, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Borreload returns the hug, putting his paws on his shoulders and nuzzling his neck, chirping happily. Ryoken gets to his feet, holding Borreload close. He turns to Yusaku, who’s stroking Firewall as if she’s a cat and he’s an evil villain. Ryoken has to laugh a little at that thought.

If either of them were ever the villain, it would have probably been Ryoken. Yusaku’s too kind and strong to ever resort to villainy. Yusaku tilts his head to the side, giving him a curious look.

Ryoken shakes his head and starts walking off the stage, “Let’s go get those flowers. Don’t want Spectre to cut off our heads for ruining the play by having the wrong flowers.”

Yusaku chuckles and he hears him follow, “I’m right behind you.”

Ryoken walks a little slower so he walks at his side instead. That’s what Ryoken’s most grateful for. That Yusaku’s stayed beside him, even through everything they’ve faced.


 

“You’ll never win, Siren!” Spectre chuckles behind his mask, “For I have the power of pure evil and wickedness on my side!”

Miyu cries out on the ground, “No! You won’t win, oh wicked fiend! Blue Angel will save us all!”

“Where is she then?!” Spectre threw his head back and cackles like an evil villain, “Where is Blue Angel, audience?! Where’s your hero now?!”

The children at the front of the stage giggle as Aoi sneaks up behind Spectre.

“What’s so funny?!” Spectre stamps his foot, “If you don’t tell me, I’ll turn you all to stone!”

The children scream playfully, “Save us Blue Angel!”

“Never fear, Blue Angel is here!” Aoi shouts, picking Spectre up.

Spectre squeals, “No! You won’t defeat me Blue Angel!”

Miyu gets to her feet, “Go Blue Angel! Defeat him!”

The children cheer, “Yay, Blue Angel!”

Aoi giggles and throws Spectre into the air, “I use my Blue Love to purify your evil soul, oh wicked field!”

Aoi throws blue canterbury bells at Spectre and he loses his black coat, revealing his white suit under it. Aoi and Miyu catch him and he looks between the two of them.

“Miss Blue Angel, thank you for saving me from the evil witch’s spell.” Spectre stands up and turns to them, as they stand. He gets on one knee, head lowered, “Allow me to be your knight and join your fight to save this world.”

Aoi smiles and pulls him to his feet, “We’d be honoured to fight with you, Ghost.”

The children cheer as Spectre links hands with Miyu as well, all three of them standing together. They take a bow and the crowd goes wild as the rest of the cast and crew get onto the stage to take their final bows as well. Trickstar Holy Angel flies over head with Marincess Wonder Heart, the pair of them glittering the stage with the other flowers. Each member of the cast picks up a flower and passes it to the children as they run up to the stage to shake hands with the stars.

Yusaku watches the children giggling and laughing with Firewall in his arms and smiles as he leans against the wall. He hasn’t had to fix any injuries, and the play went off without a hitch. He’s so glad.

“Well done.” Go Onizuka walks over to him, the Master Ogre sitting on his head like an excited little kid, “You guys did amazing out there.”

Yusaku shrugs, “I just helped make sure the stage was okay and we had the right flowers. Our incredible cast and crew brought this play to life.”

“True. But you are the city witch.” Go Onizuka laughs, and pats him on the back, knocking Yusaku forward, “You bring magic everywhere, even to a place like this.”

Yusaku gives him a puzzled look, but Firewall is beaming, so he shrugs and accepts it, “Thanks. I’m surprised you didn’t try to join the play.”

Go Onizuka laughs, head back, “Those days are done, I’m too busy looking after these kids now.”

Yusaku smiles and hums, looking back at the stage, “True.”

Ryoken is on the stage now and looks to be preparing a speech. Yusaku walks a little closer to hear him, while Naoki Shima, who’s been filming the entire play to put online, is filming this too.

“Thank you to everyone who participated.” Ryoken looks over the crowd, “This play wouldn’t have come about if it wasn’t for the support of each and every one of you. Be it helping us find the right flowers to meet Spectre’s vision, or just coming out here to watch. You guys were the ones who made this happen for us and we couldn’t have done it without you.”

The kids murmur among themselves but Go Onizuka hushes them.

“If the world hadn’t ended, I’m sure we all would be in very different places than we are right now. I would probably be in my last year of college, trying to find out who I want to become. But to be honest, I’m grateful for where I am now. I’ve joined the City Council, met Borreload and helped make the world a better place, by doing all I can.” Ryoken picks his partner up and puts him on his shoulders, “I know each and everyone of you has made the world a better place in your own ways and I couldn’t be more grateful to you all for making Den City a livable place, for years to come. No matter how dark things get, remember...”

Yusaku beams and looks down at Firewall, feeling pride swell in his chest.

“We’ll grow, survive and live. It’s what humans do.” Ryoken raises a fist, “To the future!”

“To the future!” The cinema cheer.

Ryoken steps back and applause breaks out as the cast takes their final bow.


 

On Den City streets, torches light the city enough for people to play, dance and eat. On a small stage, Aoi and a few other people are singing and playing instruments, while others dance in the square, swinging on their own or with a partner. Tables line the area with food and everyone stuffs their faces as if the world is ending.

Ryoken stands on a balcony overlooking the lights and the party, sipping carefully on a glass of water. Borreload is sleeping in a dog bed at his side and there’s a pot of Sweet Peas balanced on the railing rather well.

He hears the door behind him open and feels someone walk to his side, “Hey.”

Ryoken turns his head, blinking in surprise, “Yusaku.”

Firewall slips into the bed with Borreload, licking his horn once before curling up beside him. Yusaku watches them for a moment, then turns to him, a serious glint in his eyes that makes Ryoken swallow.

“I thought that I’d have all the time in the world, after the world ended to tell you this. I didn’t have school anymore, nor did I have to have a job. I just had to do my part and help the community.” Yusaku takes a breathe, “But after I almost lost you…”

Ryoken puts his glass on the table next to him, “Yusaku, it’s okay. I’m safe.”

Yusaku smiles, but shakes his head, “I know. I was still scared though and I-” He bunches his hands into fists at his side, “I have to tell you. I-” He takes a breathe, his face turning pink, “I…” He groans and grabs at his hair, as if about to tear it out.

Ryoken doesn’t let him, taking his hands with a gentle tug, “Yusaku, it’s okay. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. I’m okay and I’m not leaving this time. I promise.”

Yusaku stares at him and laughs, walking closer to him. Ryoken feels himself flush when Yusaku presses up close to him, close enough to feel his heartbeat hammering out of his chest. Ryoken’s certain that’s his heartbeat at least. Yusaku doesn’t let go of his hands, but he’s hiding his eyes in his shoulder. Ryoken wants to hold him, tell him it’s all okay, whatever is hurting him is an easy fix.

But Ryoken’s voice jams in his throat when Yusaku’s breathe tickles his neck.

Then Yusaku lifts his head, so they’re making eye contact and squeezes his hands, “Ryoken, I’m in love with you.”

Ryoken feels time grind to a halt. The sound of the party on the streets disappears. All there is, is Yusaku staring at him with his pretty green eyes, eyes he’s loved since he was a child and-

“You don’t have to say anything.” Yusaku is- 

Pulling his hands away.

Stepping away from him, “I just had to tell you, before anything bad happened again.”

Ryoken watches Yusaku smiles over his shoulder, heading into the building.

Then his brain gears up and Ryoken chases after him, “Yusaku!”

Yusaku freezes as Ryoken wraps his arms around him, hugging him close to his body, curling over him.

“I love you too!” Ryoken holds him tighter, hiding his eyes in Yusaku’s shoulders, “I’ve loved you since we were kids, it’s only grown as you got prettier and became an even more amazing person. I can’t imagine a world where I don’t love you, Yusaku. I…”

Yusaku is shaking. He’s got his hands over his mouth.

Ryoken feels panic in his gut, so he turns Yusaku around to see he’s crying.

“Did I say something wrong? Are you hurt?” Ryoken looks him over for injuries, patting on his shoulders and arms.

Yusaku shakes his head, and starts laughing.

Ryoken stares at him, hands on his shoulders, just… confused now.

Yusaku takes one look at him and starts laughing even more, whipping at his eyes, “I’m sorry, I’m just… You always were a worrier.”

Ryoken flushes and folds his arms defensively, “And?”

“Nothing. It’s just one of the things I love about you.” Yusaku says it like it doesn’t make Ryoken’s brain stop working, “I’m just really grateful that we could get you away from those things. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you for real.”

Ryoken tries to say something reassuring but his face feels too warm to do anything, “Uhhh-”

Yusaku laughs again and hugs him, arms around his shoulders, foreheads together. Ryoken instinctively holds him around the waist, losing himself in those green eyes as he always does.

“This almost doesn’t feel real.” Yusaku looks down at his lips.

Ryoken swallows, “I could say the same thing.”

Yusaku locks eyes with him, smiling just a little, “Any chance I could kiss you? Or is it too much too soon?”

Ryoken’s eyes widen, “Yes! I mean no! I- I mean.” He groans and rubs his forehead against Yusaku’s with his eyes closed, “Just kiss me.”

Yusaku huffs a little laugh against his lips, but Ryoken doesn’t have the courage to open his eyes and look at him. He feels Yusaku’s lips against his own and his eyes open without his permission.

Yusaku is kissing him with a look of pure serenity on his face and his heart is nearly beating out of his chest. Ryoken puts his hand over where Yusaku’s heart is and feels it beating in tune with his. Yusaku makes an adorable soft moan that soothes Ryoken’s heart and makes him close his eyes, pressing a little more into the kiss.

Yusaku’s lips taste like blackberries and sugar and he finds himself greedily licking the taste into his own mouth, bracing one arm against Yusaku’s back to bring him closer. Yusaku hums and tightens his arms around Ryoken’s shoulder, getting his fingers tangled in the hair at the base of his head. He tugs and Ryoken groans, desperate for breathe, needing Yusaku to keep kissing him more though.

Yusaku tugs though until Ryoken’s mouth pops off Yusaku’s, leaving both of them panting heavily. Yusaku’s lips are wet and kiss swollen and Ryoken very badly would like to go back to kissing them. He licks his lips and Yusaku’s eyes follow the movement, swallowing.

Ryoken suddenly laughs, unable to stop himself as he presses his forehead to Yusaku’s, “I can’t believe it.”

“What?” Yusaku is looking at him with a teasing grin, “A good first kiss?”

Ryoken finds himself flushing and looking down, “Yeah, actually.”

Yusaku blinks at him, pulling back a little, “That was your first kiss?”

Ryoken turns pink to his ears and turns his head away, “Yes, what of it?!”

“But the rumours-” Yusaku groans and hides his face in Ryoken’s collar bones, “Damnit, I thought you did some dating in high school?”

“Yes, but I didn’t kiss any of them! I… didn’t feel like it.” Ryoken wonders if he should have now, if only to not be having this conversation.

But even back then, he hadn’t really liked any of the girls or boys he’d gone out with enough to kiss them. They just weren’t the person he wanted to kiss, but didn’t have the courage to ask out.

Yusaku grumbles, “I can’t believe I had your first kiss and didn’t even make it good.”

“It was good!” Ryoken chokes out, his face hot, “Really, I liked it! A lot! Because… well, it was you. That’s part of it, but it was… nice too.”

Yusaku pulls back and looks up at him, sees how pink his face is and grins, “I’m glad then. I’d hate to disappoint you.”

Ryoken laughs and runs his fingers through Yusaku’s hair, “You could never.”

Yusaku raises an eyebrow at him, smirking, “You sure about that?”

“Yes.” Ryoken nods, completely serious.

Yusaku laughs and it sounds like a precious melody to Ryoken’s ears. Better than the singing and the party in the streets. All he ever wants to hear, all he needs is right here in his arms. Yusaku grins at him and Ryoken hugs him tightly.

This moment couldn’t get more perfect and Ryoken is so grateful he’s survived to this point.


 

Ryoken is at his desk, doing paperwork, when he gets the knock on his door.

“Come in.” Ryoken puts down his pen.

Yusaku walks in with a smile, a glass of water and some agrimonies in it.

“There were some leftover flowers from the performance. I’ve been making sure the cast and crew get them.” Yusaku settles the glass on the table.

Ryoken smiles, resting his chin in his palm, “Thank you, Yusaku, that’s very kind.”

Yusaku beams at him and suddenly leans closer. Ryoken’s eyes widen in shock as lips brush his forehead. Yusaku pulls back and Ryoken hesitantly feels over where they were, feeling himself turn pink at he looks at Yusaku.

Yusaku just smiles wider, “That makes 3 today. I’m winning, Ryoken.”

He then dashes out the office, before Ryoken can chase after him, laughing.

Ryoken groans and hides his face in his hands, his ears on fire.

Spectre chuckles, “This kissing competition isn’t like you at all Ryoken. What on Earth made you agree to it again?”

Ryoken slumps, hiding his face in his arms, “I don’t know, how can he be so smooth?!”

Spectre laughs and Ryoken toses a pencil at him, feeling petty. That just makes him laugh more and Ryoken’s heart beats harder.

But he can’t help but smile.

Chapter Text

In a world overrun with vegetation and crumbling buildings, one man flies over this apocalypse with his head held high and his heart bouncing around his rib cage like a nervous kid. The world ended 30 years ago, but that doesn’t mean this life has gotten any easier. That has never stopped him from going forward though. Especially not when his loved ones need him.

“Dad?” His eldest passenger calls, “Where’s Papa and Firewall?”

The man, Ryoken Fujiki, smiles over his shoulder, “We’re going to them now, Ai. Remember how Firewall had been getting flighty lately?”

“I remember!” His youngest giggles, “She jumped almost five feet when I accidentally snuck up on her. I felt very bad for that.”

Ai laughs and puts his younger sibling in a headlock, “Ahhh, don’t sweat it Roboppi, she forgave you!”

Roboppi shouts in protest and tries to shove Ai off, causing Ryoken to call, “Enough with the rough housing, or Borreload might drop you!”

“Eep!” Ai shouts, wrapping his arms tightly around Ryoken’s waist, squishing Roboppi to his back, “No, Borreload, please no! I haven’t even met my Monster yet!”

“I’m not ready!” Roboppi whimpers, wrapping their arms around Ryoken’s waist as well.

Ryoken laughs and looks down, “Borreload, there!”

Borreload is already descending, calling out to his mate. A roar greets them as they land in the field of purple tulips. Ryoken climbs down, then helps his kids as well. The 4 of them walk over to a small dip in the field, where Firewall lays, curled up while Yusaku Fujiki, Ryoken’s husband, strokes her head. Yusaku stands up when he sees them coming and smiles.

"Papa!" Ai cheers, running over to him.

Yusaku laughs and picks Ai up when he dashes over. He then opens his arm, just in time to catch Roboppi, who also runs up. 

Ryoken shakes his head a little, "Come on kids, your Papa is getting a little too old for this."

Yusaku gasps, "Did you just hear your Dad, kids? How rude!"

Ai and Roboppi laugh.

"Dad!"

Yusaku puts his son and child down, while his daughter runs up to Ryoken. Pandor jumps into the air and Ryoken catches her, chuckling.

"Hey Princess." Ryoken laughs, holding her gently, "How have you been? Okay out here with Firewall and Papa?"

Pandor nods, giggling, "The eggs are gonna hatch really soon Dad, I can feel it!"

Ryoken hums and turns to Yusaku, "That right?"

Yusaku nods, "Within the hour. Firewall is giving them all the energy she has, but it's taxing on her."

Ai whimpers and rubs Firewall's snout, "Poor girl. Don't worry, Firewall. Ai am here now!"

Firewall chuckles, nuzzling his face. 

Borreload reaches her and licks along her cheek and the ring over her head. Firewall reaches up to lick his cheek and his horns, the pair cooing at one another, rubbing heads together.

Roboppi starts crying, "They're so beautiful~"

Pandor hands them a rag she keeps for exactly this occasion. 

Ai laughs loud and long, "No need to sob in the face of love. We have to deal with it everyday from these two."

"Ai." Yusaku lightly scolds him, blushing pink.

Ryoken chuckles, enjoying the sight-

Crack!

Pandor, Ai and Roboppi gasp, then scream, "They're hatching!"

The three take off like a house on fire, jumping over Firewall's tail to get to the eggs. Ryoken and Yusaku follow them, while Borreload curls up, around Firewall, shielding her with his wing, rubbing his snout against her ring. On top of some dried out plants, lay 4 different eggs, all looking exactly the same, minis their differing cracks. Ai is bouncing on the balls of his feet, Roboppi is hopping around the eggs, giggling up a storm and Pandor has her hands over her heart. 

Yusaku smiles and stops when he gets close enough. Ryoken wraps his arms around his waist, resting his head on his shoulder.

"Parents for a fourth time now, but with 4 extra kids rather than one more." Ryoken chuckles, looking at his husband, "You think you can handle it?"

Yusaku smirks at him, putting his hands over Ryoken's, "Can you?"

Then the first head breaks out of the eggs. The baby dragon looks like Firewall, but with Borreload's colours. The next is the opposite, looking like Borreload, with Firewall's colours. Another looks like a dark green and black version of Firewall, then the next a shiny version of Borreload.

"Aww." Pandor coos.

Roboppi cheers, hands in the air, "Yata!"

Ai sniffles, whipping the corner of his eyes, "How beautiful!"

Firewall reaches over and licks clean some of her babies, once they've stumbled out of their eggs. Borreload gently picks some of them up with his horns, pulling them out of their eggs.

Yusaku laughs and lets out a breathe, "They're all in perfect health."

Ryoken hums, "That's good."

He'd hate to see them come out ill. Firewall and Borreload had been trying so hard for these eggs for so long, it'd break his heart if things didn't work out.

But they have. Against all the odds, they have.

Ryoken and Yusaku became a couple, even though he was kidnapped and almost killed.

They rescued Ai from his city ruins, pulling him from a pit.

They saved Roboppi from starving in the woods, no memory who they were.

They raised Pandor as their own, when no one was willing to take the "cursed" child.

So Ryoken knows that this will work out, one way or the other.

There's a tiny roar and the pair turn around to see the dark Firewall chasing Ai, who's screaming up a storm. Roboppi is laughing, chasing him with the red Firewall, who's flapping his wings out of sync, still getting used to being out of his shell. The two Borreload babies are wrestling and Pandor is looking between the two, like she doesn't know what to do. Firewall is watching all of this with a smile, purring as Borreload licks her cheek, watching their children with almost hearts in his eyes.

Yusaku laughs, shaking his head, "We better get them some food or something. Or maybe stop them from being so hectic, they were just born."

Ryoken hums, hand on his chin, "Or maybe we can join them."

Yusaku gives him a wild look, but Ryoken only smiles as he grabs Yusaku, throwing him over his shoulder.

"What are you doing?!" Yusaku calls.

Ryoken gives a fake evil laugh, "I have captured the Den City Witch!"

Ai gasps, "Oh no! The wicked scientist has him!"

Roboppi cheers, "Don't worry Dad, we're coming to the rescue!"

The dragon they're holding barfs out some flames, chirping.

Yusaku groans, "Oh save me, valiant heroes!"

Pandor gives a battle cry and charges, the two Borreloads at her heels. She's followed by Ai, Roboppi and the Firewall babies, all calling out a battle cry. Ryoken laughs and takes off running, around the nest in a circle, while the kids chase him and Yusaku. Yusaku is making a poor act of a desperate hostage, but Ai and the others eat it up. Firewall is laughing, resting her head on Borreload's, who watches them all with a smile.

Ryoken smiles too as purple tulip petals fly into the air.