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you don't stand a chance against these cuddles

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“Yusaku, have you seen my--” Takeru’s voice cut off in a strangled noise. Yusaku tilted his head back where he was lounging in one of Takeru’s cushions to see why he’d suddenly stop. He was staring at Yusaku with wide eyes and a hint of pink on his cheeks.

“...Your?”

“Ah, um!” Takeru jolted, glancing away and laughing. “No, nothing--never mind !”

Yusaku blinked but shrugged in the end. He pulled the sleeves of his hoodie over his hands to try and warm them up. Well, Takeru’s hoodie , actually. It was raining and freezing outside so when he had spotted the hoodie laying around, he hadn’t fought the impulse to grab it and put it on. Because, one, he was really cold, two, the hoodie was very warm and three...it was Takeru’s.  It had that scent he had grown so familiar with by now, a mix of washing soap and Takeru’s natural scent, maybe, something Yusaku associated with trust and safety, with warmth pressing close to his side, of company. It was a little bit big on him but Yusaku preferred it that way. He didn’t think Takeru would mind if he grabbed it. 

However he was still a bit cold. Takeru’s home lacked a proper heater (it worked but barely) and given Takeru was practically a furnace himself, he probably didn’t need it that much. 

“Takeru.” He called. “I’m cold.”

“Ah, sorry, I know the heater doesn’t help much…” He went to tamper with it, as he spoke, but Yusaku saw him purse his lips in annoyance. Yusaku sighed.

“That’s not--” That wasn’t what he had been trying to get across. 

“I can get you a blanket, though, hold on--” Takeru went over to his closet, rummaging until he produced a blanket from it. When he approached with it, though, intending to place it around his shoulders, Yusaku reached for his arms and pulled. He didn’t have enough strength to really budge Takeru on a normal day but the gesture took him by surprise and he tripped on top of him with a yelp. They both fell back on the tatami floor.

“Y-Yusaku?” Takeru had just barely managed to brace his forearms on each side of him, blinking confusedly down at him. He seemed flustered. “What--”

Yusaku’s reply came in the form of arms rising to wrap around Takeru’s middle, trying to pull him close against him. He rose his head enough to hide his face in Takeru’s shoulder.

“I’m cold .” He repeated. “And you are warm. Stay close.”

“O-Oh.” Takeru exhaled. When Yusaku peeked at him, his cheeks were red, but he was smiling. “Okay. Hold on, though, lemme--” Inevitably he had to detach himself for a moment to grab the cushions around the table, placing one under Yusaku’s head and one right beside, where he flopped down after on his side. 

The moment Takeru held his arms open, Yusaku dove straight into them, burying his face in his chest. He felt it shake with Takeru’s laughter before his arms slipped around him. 

“I’m starting to think you only keep me around to use as your personal heater.” 

“You only just noticed?” Yusaku joked, voice deadpan. Takeru spluttered.

“Hey !” When he tilted his head up, Takeru was pouting. Yusaku squeezed him a little, lightly butting his chin with his head.

“It was a joke, Takeru.” He knew his cheeks were dusted pink, now, so he hid his face in a crook in Takeru’s neck. “I feel at ease, around you.”

There was a pause, a breath, before Takeru squeezed him back.

“I’m happy to hear that. Because Yusaku makes me feel at ease, too.”  Yusaku felt lips pressing a kiss to the side of his head. “Take all the warmth you want from me.”

“That’s mushy.” He muttered, but an unseen smile appeared on his lips. 

“But it’s true.” One of Takeru’s hands massaged Yusaku’s back, lower until they slipped underneath the hoodie and his shirt. “I’d let you take all of it.” Against Yusaku’s slowly warming skin, Takeru’s hand felt even hotter, but he didn’t mind when Takeru ran it over his waist, his lower back, fingers splaying over his skin. 

“If I took everything…” Yusaku’s hands mirrored Takeru’s gesture, and Takeru jolted when they slipped under his shirt, cold hands against the warm skin of his back. “...you wouldn’t be warm anymore.” He nuzzled Takeru’s neck, lips brushing it. “And I don’t want that.”

Takeru chuckled. “Then we’ll just have to share.” His free hand settled on the nape of Yusaku’s neck, playing with the loose hairs there. “Mutual exchange.”

“I’m not warm, though.” His hands wandered over Takeru’s back, feeling him shiver. “The opposite.”

“I know. I don’t mind.” Yusaku lifted his head and caught Takeru smiling tenderly at him. “Because it’s the perfect excuse to stay close, on days like these. Right , Yusaku?” 

There’s the smallest, teasing edge to his voice, and Yusaku failed to hide his blushing this time. He huffed, purposely pressing his cold digits to Takeru’s side and getting to hear him squeal in surprise. Yusaku grinned. Takeru frowned in return before swooping down to kiss him, short but no less sweet. It made another kind of warmth settle in Yusaku’s chest.

“I don’t really need the excuse, though.” He said against Takeru’s lips when they drew back. “I...want you close, today and tomorrow.” And maybe for a really, really long time, if he was lucky, but while he was moving forwards towards a future, he didn’t want to think too hard about it. He wanted to experiment this day by day.

“I’ll be here.” Was Takeru’s hushed reply, embracing him closer, as much as possible, and Yusaku let himself melt against him. “I want to stay with you, as...as long as you want me to, too.”

“Yeah.” Yusaku shut his eyes. He heard the rain still pattering against the glass window, wind ruffling the leaves of the trees, but he felt no cold, nestled against Takeru. “Stay, Takeru.”

He didn’t need to reply. His solid warm presence next to him was enough of an answer, his heart beat a steady thump thump under Yusaku’s ear, pressed to his chest. Each beat seemed to say ‘I’m here’ and his arms around him seemed to promise he would never leave.

So Yusaku allowed himself to think for a moment of a future where this was a steady thing, a constant. He drifted off, sinking into that warmth.

Chapter Text

Yusaku was learning that Miyu Sugisaki was a very, very persistent person. She had already been overly friendly when they had met at school--”I’ll call you Yu-chan !”--and it hadn’t taken long before she’d found her own spot at lunch with Takeru, Aoi and him. Aoi seemed happy having her around so he wouldn’t complain--and despite how loud and energetic she could be, he didn’t mind her around too much.  

However Miyu clearly had no concept of personal space and she was touchy . Yusaku had got used to Takeru swinging an arm around his shoulders occasionally, but Miyu took this to another level. Any chance she got to pat his arm or even hold onto it, she took. She leaned against his side with an ease he found baffling. It’s not like she didn’t do this with Aoi or even Takeru, eventually; Takeru had seemed taken aback the first time, if not a little flustered, but he was naturally affectionate and had grown used to it.

Yusaku had been stiff at first, had even quietly slipped away from her hold. But, eventually, he had given up in trying. She always found a way to get a hold of him again; her arms around his shoulders, cooing ‘Yu-chan~’ in that sweet tone of hers. He never reacted beyond a blink and a ‘What?’ , which only seemed to make her pout and spurr her on. He had learned the hard way that ignoring her wasn’t something he could exactly do ; it just made her want to get a reaction out of him more. 

“You saved me too, didn’t you, Yu-chan?” 

Miyu’s words that day at lunch break gave Yusaku pause, staring at her. Aoi and Takeru had yet to arrive, so they were waiting on them. His silence seemed to be an answer enough for her, a knowing smile pulling at her lips.

“I’ll take your silence as confirmation. It’s okay--you don’t have to tell me in detail, right now.” Her fingers intertwined together, resting over one crossed knee. “Aoi-chan told me some things, about what happened to me, but I know she was hiding others too. I know I wouldn’t be here if not for her but...by the way she talks, she had help. And she seems to really care about you and Take-chan. The way she talks about both of you makes me think it was you two that helped her.”

Yusaku wondered what exactly Aoi had told her, regarding the fight with Bohman. Miyu certainly deserved to know the truth, about why she’d been stuck in a coma, about the Ignis who she’d never meet but that had wanted to protect her too, about the incident that hurt her all those years ago. He didn’t think she knew he had been there, too, but in their short time together she seemed to have drawn other conclusions. Her perceptiveness could be a dangerous thing.

“So maybe I got to thank you, too, for letting me meet Aoi-chan again.” 

“I only did what was right.” He argued, shaking his head. “The one who fought to save you was Aoi.” And Aqua . “You are important to her.”

“Aw, am I not important to you?” She joked with fake offense, placing a hand to her chest. “I thought we were becoming friends !”

Yusaku sighed. “That’s not what I said, Sugisaki.” 

“So, we are friends?” Miyu’s eyes sparkled, and before he could do anything about it, she was standing up only to drop down on his lap sideways, arms wrapping around his shoulders in a hug. “I knew it !  Yu-chan is a softie at heart.”

Yusaku’s hands hovered awkwardly at his sides, unsure what to do in the face of her getting comfortable on his lap. 

“Sugisaki--”

“I told you to call me Miyu, Yu-chan!”

“Sugisaki.” He repeated, much to her huffing. “Why do you keep doing this ?”

“Hm? Do what?”

“Hugging me.”

“Because--” She squeezed him, cheek squishing against his. “--Yu-chan is cute !”

Yusaku made a small noise of complaint, eyes scrunching shut when she nuzzled his cheek. She almost made him think of Ai with her antics; he was rather sure if they met, they would be a force to be reckoned with together. He had no doubts they’d team up against him--possibly with Shima, too. 

“Besides, you haven’t pushed me away yet so--” When he blinked his eyes open again, she was grinning. “--I don’t think you hate it.” She brought her hand to the back of his head to bring it down to rest on her shoulder. “Consider this hug a thank you, if you want. Yu-chan deserves a little more affection, I think."

Yusaku didn’t hate it. Miyu was not as warm as Takeru could be, but she was definitely not cold like he was. She felt soft against him, smelling of citrus and flower perfume. It was rather nice, actually, to be held like this. He was merely puzzled in the face of someone who could touch others so casually; Miyu had an ease with people he almost envied. Almost.

“You can put your arms around me, you know.” She muttered, and he’s not sure when her fingers started carding through his hair. Her tone was teasing, most likely having noticed his arms still uselessly at his sides, fingers a little fidgety. “I won’t bite.”

“I’m not so sure about that .” His attempt at a joke had her laughing. After another moment of consideration, he brought his arms up, loosely slipping around her waist. Miyu hummed, pleased, and he felt her cheek dropping atop his head. If this had happened any other time, Yusaku would have recoiled, pushed her away entirely. But he was almost surprised to realize he was warming up to this, to casual touch, and it wasn’t so hard to ease against her.

“I have successfully tamed the Yu-chan.” She giggled quietly and he headbutted her chin in return, frowning. “Ouch--It’s a joke ! I meant I finally got you to relax around me.”

“You are unpredictable, Sugisaki. I couldn’t let my guard down too much .”

“Don’t worry, I won’t do anything else.” She kept her voice low, not rising it to her usual loud volume. “So relax.”

He sighed, but he didn’t try to argue. He was incredible comfortable, right now, and the feeling of her fingers in his hair were making his eyes drop against his will. He hadn’t actually napped in class, that day, so he was starting to feel really drowsy. 

Before he could finish thinking he should not fall asleep before Takeru and Aoi arrived, he was already slumping fully against Miyu, drifting off. Maybe a few minutes wouldn’t hurt.


 

BONUS

 

“Miyu-san, Yusak--” Takeru spluttered as soon as he rounded the corner and saw the scene before him. Aoi, just behind him, had to press a hand to her mouth to hold back a snort.

“Shh, Take-chan, Aoi-chan, don’t wake him up!” Miyu shushed them in a whisper, still keeping Yusaku gently cradled in her arms. She smirked when she saw the look in Takeru’s face. “And don’t get jealous , Take-chan. This is strictly platonic.”

“I wasn’t--I’m--” Takeru’s face turned red. He huffed, moving to sit on one of Yusaku’s sides. He crossed his arms. “Not jealous.”

“It’s okay, Homura-kun.” Aoi grinned, settling next to him. “Miyu-chan won’t steal him away. I think.” She arched an eyebrow at her friend.

“Hmm, who knows? Yu-chan is very cute.” She twirled one of Yusaku’s hair strands around her finger. “If Take-chan is too slow…”

“Miyu-san!” Both girls laughed at Takeru’s flustered exclamation. He sunk further on his seat, huffing. He eyed Yusaku’s sleeping, peaceful face, before leaning lightly against his free shoulder.

“Pouty, jealous, Take-chan~ Wants Yu-chan to himself--”

“I’m not pouting !” 

“Homura-kun don’t shout !” Aoi’s hushed voice was full of mirth, pushing at his other side. “You’ll wake Fujiki-kun.”

They were all quiet for a moment, turning to look at Yusaku. He was still snoozing without a care. They let out collective sighs of relief.

“We’ll have to wake him up before class starts, though.” She added, after a moment. Miyu hummed.

“It’s fine, isn’t it? Let him sleep a little more.” Her lips curled in an almost cat like grin. "Take-chan do you want to hold him for a little while?"

Takeru 's reply was only an embarrassed groan, burying his face in his hands. 

Chapter Text

Yusaku was stuck in between of warmth and sharp edges. 

If he looked to one side there was Takeru, snoring softly, strong arms wrapped around his waist, his head tucked in Yusaku’s shoulder, hair tickling his chin and nose. While he was a solid weight, he wasn’t bony like Ryoken, on his other side. He had his chin on top of Yusaku’s head, a long leg thrown over his and arms wrapped just below where Takeru’s were. His elbow was digging a little on Yusaku’s gut, though, as was his knee on his thigh. 

Takeru’s leg, also thrown over Yusaku’s legs, kicked a little and hit Ryoken’s every now and then, earning him a kick right back, which in turn ended in them kicking him too. Even asleep these two couldn’t stop messing around, it seemed, like a natural reflex they couldn’t help.

Yusaku sighed, long and deep, sinking into the mattress. This was why Takeru was usually in the middle; he could kick Ryoken to his heart's content, if he wanted, and keep them both warm at the same time. Ryoken and Yusaku just couldn’t help drapping themselves against his sides and Takeru had long since accepted his destiny as the furnace of the house.

Ryoken ended up in the middle other times, too, but complained often about Yusaku slipping his cold hand under his shirt in an attempt to keep them warm. At least until Takeru reached over, half asleep, and held it, telling Ryoken to stop complaining. ' I’m keeping you warm, make sure Yusaku doesn’t get cold, you idiot.'

Yusaku in the middle was a rarity, usually. He was either too warm and almost sweating, trapped between two bodies, or uncomfortable because Ryoken’s long noodle limbs kept bumping against his. He was not entirely sure why they had ended up this way, last night, but the tiredness must have been too great for him not to complain and manage to sleep till early morning.

“Stop--” He couldn’t take it anymore and elbowed them both in the abdomen. “--kicking.”

He heard matching surprised sputters and coughs, the bodies around him shaking. 

“Huh? Whas goin’ on?” Takeru’s slurry voice was the first to speak up, lifting his head to blink blearily down at him. His hair was mussed up and all over the place.

“...Ow.” Ryoken shifted, pressing a hand to his abdomen. When Yusaku peeked up, his eyes were slits, unable to fully open. He spoke in monosyllables. “Why.” 

“You were kicking each other and in turn kicking me. Also your bony bits are digging into me.”

“Ah.” Ryoken fell back down, adjusting his position so, blissfully, his knee stopped digging in his leg. He nosed the side of Yusaku’s face, clearly not fully awake. “Done.”

“Your elbow. My gut.” Yusaku deadpanned, trying to push Ryoken’s arm off. Takeru reached over, half swatting at Ryoken’s shoulder, his leg kicking his again.

“Ryoken stop stabbing Yusaku with your stick man limbs.”

Ryoken kicked back, a little more awake. “Stop kicking me.” 

“Stop, both of you.” Yusaku elbowed them again, earning him another pair of wheezes. “Get off me.”

“Noooo, Yusaku, I’m sorry--” Takeru curled over his side, nuzzling his neck and pepperring sleepy and uncoordinated kisses over the skin. “Lemme stay. Throw Ryoken off the bed.”

“‘Oy.” Ryoken’s arms held him more tightly, now mindful of his elbow. His head dropped on his shoulder just so he could glare at Takeru opposite of him. It was a little funny, given he was still squinting with his eyes not fully open. “I will throw you off the bed.”

“Try it, pretty boy.” Takeru stuck his tongue out at him. “You can’t lift for sh--”

Yusaku let out another exasperated sigh. He’d had enough. “I’m throwing you both off this bed.” 

The other two were still too half asleep to react to Yusaku kicking them and shoving them away. Ryoken might be tall but that was all he was; long, thin limbs. One firm push and Yusaku saw him roll the side of the bed, hitting the floor with a thump. His leg stuck out, hanging off the mattress. Takeru was harder to budge but he’d already been closer to the border of the bed so Yusaku’s shove was enough for him to fall off the edge, groaning as he hit the floor.

Yusaku hmphed, taking ahold of one of the pillows and hugging it to his chest. He threw the blanket over his head too.

“Yusaku…” He peeked out after a moment just to see Takeru’s kicked puppy expression, face sticking out of one side. The other end of the bed dipped slightly and one glance revealed Ryoken leaning on the mattress, at a distance, but wearing a similar look to Takeru’s.

“When you two are done kicking each other, maybe I’ll let you come back.” He threw the covers over himself again. “You are banned.”

They, at least, didn’t try to wrestle the blanket off him. It was quiet for a few beats, the two of them possibly exchanging looks, before he heard their feet padding over the floorboards towards the door. 

“I’ll...go make some breakfast, then.” Ugh, Yusaku hated how Takeru’s voice sounded so sulky. It made him want to call him back, but he was going to stay firm on this. Ryoken didn’t say a word and Yusaku didn’t reply either. The door opened and clicked shut after another moment.


 As soon as they got to the kitchen, where Yusaku wouldn’t hear, Takeru rounded on Ryoken, jabbing a finger at his chest.

“This is totally your fault. You and your noodly, stabby limbs !”

Ryoken batted his hand away, crossing his arms over his chest defensively. “My composition has nothing to do with this. You are the one who was kicking me.”

“‘Cause you kicked me !”

You started it.”

“Your leg was in the way, you bean pole !”

“Is blaming my height all you know how to do? You threw the first kick. I merely returned it.” He shook his head, walking past Takeru to start the coffee pot. God, he needed it right now. “Perhaps you should consider it is your fault Yusaku threw us out. You do not know when to drop a fight.”

“Oh, shut up, neither do you . If I started it, you continued it.” Takeru huffed, leaning on the counter near the coffee pot. A small glance at him revealed him slouched down, hands holding tight to his biceps, brow furrowed. 

Ryoken sighed, leaning back against the counter as well while waiting for the coffee to be done, but he didn’t reply. Seeing as he was not getting an answer from him, Takeru moved away to start cooking breakfast, grabbing what he needed from the fridge and the shelves with restless energy.

It was silent, save for the sound of the pot working and things being moved around. Ryoken watched the tense line of Takeru’s back as he mixed ingredients in a bowl. He knew, despite how much he wanted to throw all the blame on Ryoken, that he was involved. And Ryoken, knew, too, he had part of the blame this time. The moment one of them started a petty argument or fight (even those involving kicks while cuddling) the other would surely be arguing back.

“Perhaps...I am just as stubborn.” He admitted, finally. “And maybe it is partly my fault.”

“...Only maybe ?” Takeru shot back, but his voice was loosing some of its edge. He slowed down mixing, glancing at the bowl. “Well--I did...start it, so. It’s probably my fault, too.”

“Only probably ?” Ryoken quipped, the corner of his mouth twitching.

“Okay, jeez--” Takeru waved the spoon in the air a little, gesturing. “It’s both of our faults. There.” 

They fell silent again, but most of the tension had ebbed away. The pot beeped, done with the coffee but, instead of moving to serve it, Ryoken detached himself from the counter and walked over to Takeru. He tentatively slipped his arms around Takeru’s middle and, when Takeru didn’t object, he pressed himself fully against his back. He buried his face in Takeru’s bed hair and intertwined his fingers over his stomach.

“I apologize if my, as you say, stabby limbs were in the way.”

Takeru snorted out a laugh. One hand moved to rest over Ryoken’s while the other settled over his elbow. He ran his thumb over it.

“Apologize to Yusaku for stabbing him with them. But I know he likes you, sharp edges and all.”

“Ah, so you do not like me?” There was teasing in his tone. Takeru hummed, as if considering it, but the tips of his ears were red, giving him away. 

“Somedays I would strangle you.” He started with and felt Ryoken’s breathy chuckle against his hair. He smiled, relaxing his weight against Ryoken’s chest. He fit so snuggly in his arms, and he couldn’t say that wasn’t something he liked. “But, well...you...grow on me.”

Takeru .”

“Okay, okay--” He rolled his eyes. “I like you, I like you.” He tilted his chin up, glancing upside down at Ryoken with a knowing grin, eyes creased and fond. “And you like me.

“Hmm, do I  ?”

Ryoken .”

He smiled, pressing his lips to Takeru’s forehead. “Fine. I like you, as well.”

Softie. ” Takeru snickered, turning his head back and missing Ryoken’s small pout. He nudged him back with an elbow. “C’mon, let’s finish breakfast and bring it to Yusaku.”

“And beg for forgiveness?”

“Exactly.” He gestured with his spoon to the mix in the bowl, grinning with confidence. “What better way than with coffee and pancakes?”


 Despite having kicked the other two out and having more space to curl up, Yusaku’s attempts at going back to sleep were rather useless. He had grown too used to having a body close to him to cling to or to rest against, be it Takeru’s or Ryoken’s arms pulling him close. He had always slept better with people around...he hoped those two weren’t at each other’s throat, right now. He wasn’t mad at them anymore, at this point, he hoped he hadn't been too mean.

He wasn’t sure how many minutes later he heard the door creak open again. 

“Yusaku, we brought breakfast.” That was Takeru’s voice. Yusaku shifted, his hair poking out from under the covers. A sign that he was paying attention. 

“...What did you make?” 

Footsteps moved a little closer. He could almost hear the smile in Takeru’s voice. “Pancakes. And Ryoken made coffee.” 

Yusaku fought back a grin. “...With cream and sugar?” 

“Who do you take me for?” That was Ryoken, his voice sounding close. The bed dipped on one side. “Of course.”

Yusaku poked his head from under the covers, glancing towards Ryoken. He sat on the mattress, lips curled in a smile. When he looked at the other side, Takeru was standing by the bed, holding a tray with the food. He shifted sheepishly in place, still looking a bit like a sad puppy. 

Yusaku sighed before disentangling himself from the sheets and rising to sit against the headboard.

“Get over here.” His words made Takeru look over. “Let’s have breakfast, together.”

Takeru beamed . He settled the tray on Yusaku’s lap before he crawled on the bed, settling on Yusaku’s side. Ryoken did the same, much more careful. Yusaku eyed the food, feeling his mouth water and his eyes brighten; the pancakes looked good, really good. Takeru’s were his favorite, no doubt about it.

The other two seemed expectant for him to try them, so he wasted no time in grabbing a fork and nabbing a bit of pancake before bringing it to his mouth. The syrupy and sweet taste melted on his tongue and he let out a quiet hum of appreciation. He took a sip of his coffee, afterwards. Cream and sugar, just how he liked it.

“...It’s good.” He said, after a pause. He saw the other two sag against the headboard and exchange a triumphant look. 

“Um, Yusaku.” Takeru huddled closer. “I’m sorry, about earlier.”

Ryoken mirrored Takeru, his shoulder bumping into Yusaku’s. “We got caught up in a petty fight. I apologize, too.” 

Yusaku took a moment to answer, mulling it over another bite of pancake. “...As long as you don’t get me in the middle of your kick war, again.”

“We won’t !” “We will try.” Takeru and Ryoken said at the same time. Takeru threw Ryoken a half glare. ‘Try?’ Ryoken cleared his throat. 

“We will not .”

“Good.” Yusaku nodded. He paused, again, enjoying some of his coffee before adding. “I remove the cuddle ban, then.”

Those were all the words Ryoken and Takeru needed. In an instant Yusaku had Takeru’s and Ryoken’s arms around him, the latter’s face buried in his hair and Takeru’s in his neck.Yusaku grumbled a little, unable to continue eating when he had them both clinging to him.

“Guys. Pancakes.

Takeru snuggled up to him, refusing to let go, and it was hard to push him away again when he was so warm and had seemed so dejected earlier. He sighed.

“You two are acting as if I had banned you from cuddling for days.” He threw an arm around Takeru’s shoulders and the other around Ryoken’s middle. “It was minutes . I’m not even mad anymore.”

Ryoken shook his head, nuzzling the side of his head. “It felt longer.” His voice was like velvet close to his ear, that low quality to it that Yusaku loved. “Give us a few seconds.”

Takeru glanced up at him, with that look Yusaku just couldn’t say no to. “Sorry, Yusaku. Just a little bit more?”

“...Fine.”  Yusaku Fujiki was weak for two idiots. Two very lovable idiots. He pulled them closer, sinking against the headboard as they pressed to his sides, as if they could melt against him. Their soft, content smiles and their tender hold were enough for Yusaku smile fondly, too. 

“A little bit more.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t remember my parents faces.”

The comment was thrown in a casual way, as if Yusaku had just commented that the weather was humid or it was about to rain. On his end, Kusanagi’s fingers curled tighter around his cup of coffee. He hadn’t been prepared for that answer when he had finally asked the question that had been nagging at him for some time now.

“Oh. Did they--” He cut himself off. Asking if they had passed was too direct and he wasn’t sure if Yusaku would appreciate him pyring.

“I don’t think so.” Yusaku shrugged, answering him anyways. He wasn’t looking at Kusanagi, merely kept observing the people walking about around Cafe Nagi, chin propped in his hand. The look in his eyes was detached. “I lived in an orphanage, as far as my memory goes. I got there when I was two...or three, from what they told me.”

Kusanagi had always wondered where the kid’s parents were, ever since he had met Yusaku and specially after he had learnt he lived alone. One day the question had slipped out of him when Yusaku had had to skip school to follow a lead on the Knights of Hanoi. 

‘Your parents won’t find out you’re skipping?’. The answer had been a simple ‘I live alone’ and that had been that, leaving Kusanagi with several other questions. Who looked after him? Did he have any relatives, if not his parents? And if not, how had he ended up in that apartment? With what money? 

“Then how do you...Ah, sorry.” Kusanagi scratched his beard a little. “I don’t want to go prying.”

Yusaku shrugged, again. “If you are wondering how I got out of the orphanage, the answer is foster care. The building I live in fosters kids around my age, there’s a landlady that manages it. As long as I stay in high school, I get some sort of income per month to buy food and the like. It stops when I turn eighteen, though.”

“Ah...I see.” Kusanagi took a contemplative sip of his drink. Yusaku spoke of it like it was the most natural thing in the world--and perhaps for him it was. But Kusanagi couldn’t picture growing up without some form of family around. His parents were busy people but he had always had Jin when they were kids...he had had to grow up fast to take care of him but what drove him was familial love. It didn’t sound like Yusaku had any of that.

“Aren’t you lonely?” He couldn’t help asking. Yusaku drank some of his own coffee before turning back to people watching.

“I’m used to being alone. It’s fine.”

The words broke Kusanagi’s heart a little. But a part of him refused to pity the younger boy. He doubted that’s what Yusaku would want out of him. All the other was focused on was revenge, and it was their mutual goal to deal with Hanoi and find out the truth that had brought them together. 

After that...would Yusaku even continue to sit opposite him? 

Maybe it was best if Kusanagi didn’t think too hard, about this, if he didn’t get too attached, the way Yusaku seemed to do. It was best if they both focused on their mission.


Kusanagi failed at not getting attached. He could say it was because Yusaku was Jin’s age so he felt a little protective of him but he knew that wasn’t all. He knew he had grown used to Yusaku sitting beside him while they worked on code, or having coffee with him. Whenever he caught him dozing off in his chair, a fond smile would rise to Kusanagi’s face and he would try to find a blanket or a coat to drape over him; he knew how cold Yusaku could get. 

And he liked hearing the small occasional truths Yusaku was starting to reveal more and more about himself, after the Tower of Hanoi had been stopped. He seemed more lost in thought, some days, but a shadow was slowly fading from his eyes and some brightess was appearing in them. Takeru seemed to speed up the process, having found an easy spot in Cafe Nagi as well. Kusanagi was glad Yusaku was making friends, for once.

Yusaku had never outright called him a friend. Their relationship had started in a base of necessity, of mutual help; Playmaker, the sword and Kusanagi, his shield. But after Hanoi had been dealt with, they hadn’t disbanded. Yusaku even worked part time at Cafe Nagi, he kept coming over after school. 

It was in the little things, that Kusanagi knew he cared about Yusaku, and that maybe, that affection was returned.

Yusaku was stubborn when it came to asking for help, but Kusanagi had on more than one occasion gone to his worn out apartment to care for him when he got sick. Ai always let him know when it got too bad. Yusaku would insist he was handling it only to pass out on his bed with a high fever a moment after. It worried Kusanagi, honestly. The first time he had done this Yusaku looked lost, like the concept of someone caring for him while he was weak and ill was foreign and protested. But eventually, with time, he gave up trying and let Kusanagi do this one thing for him. There was a trust in the way he fell asleep while Kusanagi was around, a softness to his face when he ate the soup Kusanagi prepared for him.

While they were up late typing away in their keyboards, whether stuck on something or preparing a program, Yusaku would catch Kusanagi’s head tilting with tiredness and would tell him to rest. ‘I can handle this. Kusanagi-san, get some sleep’. He would usually get him coffee right as he woke up again, ready to continue. Kusanagi didn’t comment on the (small) school jacket he sometimes found thrown over him, but he would smile knowingly; it was Yusaku’s way to return the gesture Kusanagi had towards him. He found it endearing.

Yusaku could have rejected the part time job Kusanagi offered him, or refused to give him a hand, but he always took him up on it. Kusanagi liked teaching him the ropes of the job;  It was funny to see his expression, twisted in concentration, as if grilling hot dogs was the hardest thing he’d ever done. 

When Kusanagi ruffled his hair, for one or other reason, Yusaku looked away, cheeks dusted pink, but he didn’t reject the gesture. Kusanagi didn’t think about it too hard, but once in a while he noticed the way Yusaku was warming up to casual touch, maybe seeking it without noticing it.

There were so many tiny moments, if Kusanagi thought about it, that spoke of a bond beyond necessity between them. Something warmer. Friendship, maybe even familial.


But then, with the fight against Lightning, that bond would ultimately cause more harm than good.

Kusanagi knew his words would hurt him. Seeing Playmaker hesitate to fight him showed this was far from what he--they both--had wanted, but he couldn’t have that. Playmaker had to fight, he had to defeat him; he had to be that ray of hope towards the future. Kusanagi would always fight for his brother.

He knew, the promise between them, that it was a selfish one from him. He knew it was an unfair one, he knew he was dropping the weight of the world on Yusaku’s shoulders. Playmaker, the hero. Playmaker, seeking justice, not his own desires. Playmaker, who was connected to everyone.

But when he had said that only Jin was important to him, that hadn’t been the whole truth. Playmaker--Yusaku--he had become so dear too, a constant. 

And when his life points dropped to zero and saw the way Playmaker reached for him, tears in his eyes and calling his name, Kusanagi’s chest ached. Yusaku hadn’t wanted this, neither had. ‘That won’t happen’ Yusaku had said, the day they made their promise, but Kusanagi wouldn’t let him be so naive. Even that hadn’t been enough to prepare them both for this fight, though, for the pain that would follow.


The Ignis War came to an end, Bohman defeated. Kusanagi woke up on the floor, dazed and confused. But if he was awake it meant--Playmaker had won.

It was a few moments later that one of the server rooms behind him opened. Takeru emerged first, tired looking, but when spotted Kusanagi awake his face lit up.

“Kusanagi-san ! You’re alright !” 

“Takeru ! Thank god--Is--”

Before he could finish speaking, the other room opened, revealing a weary Yusaku, needing to hold onto the door frame to stay on his feet. He lifted his head and when their eyes met, Kusanagi saw something terribly vulnerable in his gaze, a mix of aching and r elief at the sight of him.

“Kusanagi-san…” He took a step forwards and his weight promptly gave out. Kusanagi reacted fast, though, moving forwards to catch him, arms around his middle. He had to kneel down, seeing as though Yusaku couldn’t keep himself standing. He practically slumped against Kusanagi’s chest.

Takeru knelt down next to them with worry. “Yusaku, are you okay?!” 

“Yeah…I’m just...tired.” He drew back for a moment, glancing back up at Kusanagi. He looked every bit like he wanted to say something , lips pressed together but wobbling, brow creased in the middle. “Kusanagi-san I--”

Kusanagi felt an emotion rising from his chest to his throat, making his expression pinch as well. Yusaku was alright. He had done it. And yet, there was an ache vividly present as he recalled their duel. He pulled Yusaku into a firm hug and eventually Yusaku eased against him, as if relaxing after a long time, wrapping his arms around him. 

“I saw our promise to the end, Kusanagi-san.”

“Yeah--you fought well, kiddo.” Kusanagi patted his head. “You did it.”

He saw Takeru stand up as silently as possible. Their eyes met briefly and Takeru smiled at him, gesturing with a thumb outside. ‘I’ll give you some space.’ Kusanagi nodded, smiling gratefully. He wanted to check up on Takeru, as well, but he had things to say to Yusaku first. Once Takeru left, he directed his attention back to the boy in his arms.

“...You had to carry everything on your shoulders, alone.” Again . “I’m sorry, Yusaku.”

Yusaku shook his head. “That’s Playmaker’s role. There wasn’t any other way.”

“But I wish there had been. For as prepared as I thought I was--I really didn’t want to fight you .” A rueful grin appeared on his face. “As your partner, I wish I could have actually helped you, but I became another obstacle for you.” His throat felt constricted. 

“Kusanagi-san, that’s not--”

“No, don’t. I know I must have really hurt you.” Yusaku tensed in his arms at that. “I know I did. You were crying.”

There was only silence, for a moment, before Yusaku spoke, voice quiet. “...I hated it.” Was that--did he sniffle, just now? He buried his face further in Kusanagi’s chest, hands holding tight onto his jacket. “I hated it. I didn’t want to fight you.

“I know.” His eyes stung. “I know you didn’t, I’m sorry, Yusaku.” He felt him shake in his arms. Kusanagi took a deep breath.

“What I said, during the duel...Jin--he is important to me, he will always be a priority for me...But he’s no longer my only one.” He glanced down at Yusaku. His words made him look up, for a moment, eyes misty with unshed tears. Kusanagi managed half a smile, despite knowing there was moisture in his eyes too.

“You are important to me too. I think you have been for a while, now, Yusaku.” 

Those words seemed to be too much, because the next moment, the tears did fall from Yusaku’s eyes. He hiccuped and the sound broke Kusanagi’s heart.

“It hurt .” Yusaku slipped his arms away from Kusanagi to press the heel of his palm to his eyes. His voice wavered as he spoke, a pained edge to it. “I told myself I could--could handle it. But I couldn’t .” His shoulders hunched and for a moment he looked so small, so young and scared. “Fighting you almost broke my spirit.”

Kusanagi’s hand rose and carded through Yusaku’s hair, pulling his head back into his chest. Tears rolled silently down his cheeks, as well.

“I’m sorry. I’m so--” Kusanagi's voice broke. Yusaku’s hands clung to him again, shaking his head.

“I know you had to. It was all part of Lightning’s plans--” He took a sharp, shaky breath, another hiccup. “I--I wasn’t strong enough to--to handle it, though. Kusanagi-san, you--you are--to me--” His head shook, again, and his words became unintelligible.

Despite how much he must want to hold back, the exhaustion of the fight and the intense emotions of it had taken their toll on him. Kusanagi let him cry it all out against his chest, holding him close, trying to be the anchor he failed to be before, even when he felt like crumbling too. 

All Kusanagi could do was hold him and mutter regretful apologies.


“Hey, Yusaku?”

“Hm?”

“So, um--” Wow, Kusanagi had never been so nervous to ask another person something. But this was important. He steeled himself with a deep breath. “You know that apartment Jin and I are gonna be renting soon? Since, you know, apparently a hot dog truck isn’t a proper living space for two people.”

A corner of Yusaku’s lip pulled in a humorous grin, but nodded. Kusanagi scratched the back of his head, oddly bashful.

“Well, I was wondering--the apartment is actually bigger than we thought, and it has a spare room. And, you know, winter is going to get pretty cold , and I know you don’t have a heater at your place, but we do so--”

“...Kusanagi-san?”

“Argh, okay!” Kusanagi slammed his hands down on the counter and gave Yusaku a determined look. “Do you want to come live with us?”

Yusaku froze for a moment, eyes wide.  “...Me?”

Yeah. Look, I just--I know you are all alone at your place, right now.” Neither Ai or Roboppi were there, wandering off somewhere in the network. “And well--you don’t have to be. You can stay with us.”

Yusaku blinked, glancing down for a moment.

“...I know how happy you must be to finally get to live with your brother.” He smiled up at Kusanagi, understanding. “You can be a family again. I don’t want to be in the middle of that.”

Kusanagi heaved a sigh, running a hand through his hair. Did Yusaku not get it yet?

“I’d be happy if all my family was living with me.”

Yusaku’s eyebrows knit together. Kusanagi rolled his eyes, reaching out and poking the middle of his forehead.

“That includes you , Yusaku.”

When he removed his finger, there was a glimmer to Yusaku’s eyes that hadn’t been there before, mouth falling open. He had grown so much, he had become so much more expressive, smiling more, letting things show more. He looked completely taken aback, not knowing what to say.

“I…”

Kusanagi felt the back of his neck grow hot. He really had just up and admitted Yusaku was like family, hadn’t he? So embarrassing ! Maybe it was too soon . He glanced away, holding up a hand in a stop motion.

“Well, uh, I mean--that’s just me. We’ve been through a lot and you really mean a lot to me. I know Jin wouldn’t mind, I talked to him about it. But I get if you don’t want to--”

“Is...Is it really okay?” Hearing the wobble to Yusaku’s voice he looked back up, and there it was, that vulnerable quality to his gaze again. It tugged at Kusanagi’s heart, but he was glad it was not the detached look it had once been. “For…” He swallowed. “Is it okay if I think of you as family , Kusanagi-san?”

“...Dammit kid, when you ask things like that, it’s bad for my heart.” Kusanagi detached himself from the counter so he could exit his van, rounding it to stand in front of Yusaku. He grabbed hold of his shoulders, smiling at him with open affection, eyes creased at the corners. “I’d be happy , if you thought of me that way too.”

Yusaku seemed as if he was trying to hold back from crying. “I...can I really…”

Really. ” He flashed him a toothy grin. “‘Sides, you’d get free coffee every morning !”

Yusaku snorted at that, lips slowly pulling into a wobbly smile. “You already give me free coffee, Kusanagi-san.”

“Ah, but you haven’t ever tried my breakfast omelettes have you?” He held his chin between thumb and forefinger, appearing more smug. “Once you try those you won’t want to leave.”

“Maybe.” Yusaku sheepishly hung his head, as he mulled over the words. “...Are you really sure?”

“I’m sure . But I won’t force you into it.” He would understand if Yusaku would rather keep his independant way of living. But Kusanagi didn't want him to be alone or feel he couldn't come to him. Not ever, not after everything. “I just want you to know I...you got me. And a place to come to when you don’t want to be alone.”

Yusaku sighed softly. “...Thank you, Kusanagi-san. I…” He rose his head and the smile he flashed Kusanagi was small but fond. A deep contrast between the boy he’d met and the boy that he was now.  Kusanagi smile grew before he even heard the answer.

“I would like that.”

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, a young boy made another a promise.

“You must always remember three things: 

One, my heart is your unconditionally. 

Two, even if years go by, I will never forget you. 

And three, no matter how far apart we may be, how perilous it may get...I will always find my way back to you.”

Yusaku remembered and dreamed, prisoner of a deep, deep slumber. 


“We met before.” The man with hair like stardust and eyes like two precious crystals said, eyes wide with wonder. When he took a step forwards, Yusaku stepped back, wary, frowning, for he was certain he did not know this man despite the familiar feeling he got.

“Did we, now?”

“Yes. I remember it all too clearly.” The man smiled, reaching for his hand and taking it in his. Soft, and delicate, slender fingers. “Once upon a dream.”

Yusaku scoffed, taking his hand back, half turning his back to the all too beautiful man. “A dream? Is that your attempt at courting ? With a stranger , in the middle of the woods?”

A glance back and he saw the man’s cheeks dusted pink. 

“I really do believe--we have met before, you and I.” He took another step forward, more careful. “I doubt I would ever forget that lovely shade of green of your eyes.”

It was Yusaku’s turn to blush, gazing away, crossing his arms. He took slow steps in the other direction, not intending to go away, merely mulling over this strange encounter.

“It is interesting you mention my eyes.” 

The man was giving him a curious look. Yusaku leant back against a tree trunk, lips tugging in a smile.

“The gleam in your eyes is so familiar, too.”


Ryoken knew that, as a Prince, he ought to marry another of royal blood. But for long ten years he had only be able to think of grass green eyes, feeling of home and innocent love, and those three promises he had made. 

That lovely stranger he met in the woods the other day, he had felt so familiar,  his eyes so reminiscent of that boy he’d known. Could it be? Could that be him? The one he had been seeking for so long? Would he even remember Ryoken and his promises, his undying love?

He had to go meet him, once more, he had to make sure.

Little did he know, going to the woods again would end in his capture.


Yusaku watched himself in the mirror with a blank expression, in the quiet castle room, dressed in rich fabric, a crown above his head, looking every bit like the elegant Prince he was supposed to be. He missed his home in the woods, spending his days in peace surrounded by nature, hearing the singing of birds and feeling the fresh wind through his hair. He liked his simple life there, but now he knew it had been a mere illussion, shattered the morning of his sixteenth birthday. 

"You are a prince." 

He sighed, long, and sorrowful. He missed the blue eyed man he had met, as well, a stranger so familiar, feeling truly like a dream. Instead he was here, waiting to marry someone he had been betrothed too since he had been born. 

Perhaps he could plan an escape. Make it to the woods, find the man again and run until he could leave all of this behind. 

Just as he contemplated the idea, a whisper reached his ears. He turned his head.

A light hovered in the air, glowing in a dark corner of the room. It was hypnotizing to watch it, he found himself standing before he knew it; found himself moving, following the alluring light as it guided him through a passage he didn’t know existed. He was throughly enchanted.

In the distance, echoing in the castles hall, voices called his name, desperate, but he could not hear. He could only follow, further and further into the castle, up the stairs, to the topmost room. The light stopped before a spinning wheel. 

It called to him, it was calling to him.

"Touch it." The whisper got louder. Yusaku reached his hand towards the spindle. "Do it. Now!"

His finger brushed the tip of the spindle--

And the world went black.


“Is this the time to be trapped in a dungeon?! Yusaku needs you !” Ai, one of the three fairy god...mothers(?) huffed and puffed, gesturing towards the captive Prince Ryoken. He was slumped against his chair, shackles around his wrists. He glared up at the three fairies that had suddenly made it here, purple, blue and red, all asking for his help.

“If you know of a way to free me , I would be terribly grateful.”

Ai sighed dramatically, shaking his head, before bringing his wand down on the shackles. With his magic, they broke, leaving Ryoken gaping for a moment, touching his wrists.

“Prince.” Aqua called for him, getting him to look up. “You must hurry and escape. Yusaku awaits you.”

“I have nothing to fight with." Ryoken bared his empty hands to them. "Lightning will surely find me when I escape.”

“Ah, that is where I come in.” Flame puffed out his chest, waving his wand in the air. In an instant, Ryoken felt a weight on his hand and he quickly held tighter to the hilt of the sword that had materialized. He admired it for a moment, along with the shield that appeared on his other arm.

“Prince Ryoken !” Ai’s booming voice echoed in the chambers, pointing a finger at him. “Stand up and go save your Prince !”

“We will watch over you.” Aqua and Flame nodded, their wands rising with readiness.

Ryoken gripped his sword and his shield, rising from his seat, eyes bright with determination. He did not know what awaited him out there, but he was not on his own. And most importantly--

“...no matter how far apart we may be, how perilous it may get...I will always find my way back to you.”

He had a promise to fulfill.


Lightning becoming an imposing, fire breathing dragon was not what Ryoken expected. He was certain he might perish, scorched to death. But he would not give up, not until his breath gave out, not until his arms could no longer brandish a sword.

After a long and arduous fight, he dug the blade of his heel in the dragon’s heart, hearing its cry. It went down the cliff edge, perishing among a sea of its own flames.

Weary, with heavy legs, Ryoken watched for only a moment longer before starting his way back to the kingdom with the three fairies in tow. Everyone seemed to be fast asleep, as he stepped past the kingdom’s entrance and made his way across the silent streets. A town in deep slumber, just as their beloved Prince.

He made it to the castle, going up the staircase with the last of his strengths. That fight had taken out all of him, but he was driven with the knowledge that Yusaku was awaiting for him at the top. He stepped into the young prince’s room and his breath caught at the sight of him; lying on a bed of velvet covers, hair splayed on the pillow; his face so pale and beautiful, eyes closed and relaxed, as if he was having a pleasant dream. Ryoken’s heart beated for him.

“Oh, Yusaku…” Ryoken sat and sunk on the edge of the bed. His hand rose, fingers brushing the boy’s cheek. “It was you, after all...after all these years.” 

“You can have your emotional reunion after.” Ai chided, a little further away with the other two. “We need you to lift the curse, today, if you may.”

Ryoken sighed. Yusaku was a lovely sight even asleep, but he wanted to hear his voice, see him open his eyes and meet his own. Would he finally recognize him? Would he say his name?

He brought his arms down to wrap around Yusaku, lifting him off the bed and pulling him close to his chest in a tender embrace. The prince’s skin felt so cold, and if not for his soft breathing and the rise and fall of his chest, Ryoken might have feared the worst. His hand settled on the back of his neck.

“Yusaku…”

There was a moment where he wondered if this was not enough. But his touch seemed to warm the slumbering Prince's skin and then, very slowly, Yusaku stirred in his arms at last. Ryoken’s heart leaped when the boy lifted his head, blinking at him with bleary eyes. And then...

“...Ryoken?” Yusaku’s voice was awed, eyes widening, shining like precious stones. His once limp arms now moved, clutching Ryoke’s torn and slightly burnt clothes. “It...is you, isn’t it? You…”

“Yes, Yusaku.” Ryoken’s smile could have rivalled that of the brightest star, in that moment, pulling the boy impossibly closer. “It is me. I am sorry it took me so long, to fulfill my promise.”

“I would wait another ten years, if it meant I would meet you in the end.”  Yusaku arms squeezed him, face burying against his chest. “Ryoken…It's you, It's you...”

“I thought you had to kiss the princess to wake them up, not hug them!” Ai half whispered, half yelled behind them before a smack followed, possibly Flame or Aqua shushing him to let the two enjoy their reunion.

After a moment, or several, of basking in the feeling of having each other so close, they both lifted their heads. Beautiful, springtime green met bright, ice blue, and in each other’s eyes they knew in that moment, they had found home. 

They had found a happy ending.

Chapter Text

“I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a long time...Yusaku.”

The fact that Ai wasn’t referring to him as Playmaker stood out to him, but he didn’t comment on it. He merely kept following Ai, to wherever he was leading him. Their surroundings looked as a fallen and broken city, but they were strolling along a grassy path, what little seemed to remain of life in this place. Cyberse world, Ai’s former home.

“I had hoped Roboppi would be here for this--I know they wanted to talk to you, too.” Playmaker saw the Ignis hang his head, smile rueful. “But, well...It’s my fault they can’t be here.”

“Ai, that’s--”

“It is. They couldn’t handle my program...I knew that could happen.” He shook his head, walking a bit faster. “Now they are gone, too.” He tilted his head back after a moment. “Don’t you miss them?”

Playmaker sighed, fists curling at his sides. Roboppi’s duel with Soulburner was still stuck in his mind, an ache in his chest. “...Of course I do. Roboppi...they were always there with me.” Ever since he had got them, assembled them together, they had been a small constant in his life. No matter how dull his days seemed to feel before, Roboppi’s chirpy greeting when he got home was always there.

“I miss them, too.” Ai admitted. His grin turned a bit more playful, more like the Ai he knew, trying to change the gloomy atmosphere into something more light. “They were a bit dumb but they were good company for watching soap operas with !”

“Dumb--” He poked Ai’s side, earning him a squeal. He walked a few steps further, trying to conceal a small grin. “--is a forbidden word.”

Ai laughed. “Right. They would scold me...I bet they’d be telling me to go record Tuesday night’s drama too. Maaan--” He threw his arms in the air, pouting. “--I’m never gonna find out how that ends !”

“You are telling me you have no way to access a TV signal?” Playmaker arched an incredulous eyebrow his way. Ai shrugged.

“I probably could but I’m a busy AI, these days. And it’s not the same on my own. Who am I supposed to scream with about Takahashi finally confessing his love for Nadeshiko?” He cupped his chin in thought blinking. “Well, if he finally did, that is. He is a coward.”

Playmaker huffed out what could have been a laugh, shaking his head with what he knew was fond exasperation. Even though he was aware of where they were, the implications of what Ai must really want to talk about here, he would not mind basking in this easy atmosphere a bit longer. It almost, almost, felt like nothing changed.

“I…” He began, turning his head away and trying to keep his tone blank. “I actually have them. Recorded, I mean.” As soon as he admitted it, the back of his neck felt hot. He had recorded them on a whim, before Ai made his reappearance. Perhaps he had thought something around the lines of ‘If Ai or  Roboppi come back, they’ll pout that they missed their show’. It had been that small, wishful thinking that they’d be back and it’d be like it always had been.

There was a pause, before Ai skipped over to him. He was suddenly very close, pressed to his side and smirking all cat like at him.

“Aww--did you do that for me ?”

Playmaker fought the urge to look away, despite knowing there was pink on his cheeks. He pushed right back against his weight, meeting his gaze with defiance.

Yeah .”

Ai blinked, perhaps caught back by the honesty, before sputtering out a laugh. His arm shot out to wrap around Playmaker’s shoulders, making them sway side to side as they walked.

“You are so cute when you are honest, Yusaku-chan ~”

Playmaker huffed, elbowing Ai in annoyance, but couldn’t bring himself to pull away. This closeness with Ai was something he hadn’t had for a while now. He missed it. He missed him.

“Does that mean I could go to your place and we could soap opera and chill ?” Ai cooed in his ear. The wording sounded odd to Playmaker but, ultimately, wasn’t that what he wanted? For Ai to come home? 

“Sure.” He replied, glancing up at Ai with a small hopeful look. He tentatively rose his arm and rested his hand on Ai’s back, half returning his gesture. ‘Come home.’ ‘It’s too quiet without you’. “I wouldn’t watch those on my own.”

Ai hummed. “Oh, but we wouldn’t just watch them…”

Playmaker frowned, tilting his head. “Didn’t you just say that?”

“So Yusaku-chan doesn’t know the expression…” Ai stopped walking. He brought a hand under Yusaku’s chin, long fingers tilting it up. His lips were curled in a mischievous grin. “Or maybe you do ? Maybe…” He  leaned closer, the yellow of his eyes seeming so much more vibrant up close. “...you want that to happen?” 

Playmaker really had no idea what Ai was talking about and he didn’t know what to say to not mess this up. 

“If that means you come home then--” His fingers curled over the fabric of Ai’s cape. His gaze was determined. “-- yeah .”

Something passed through Ai’s expression then, softer, vulnerable, sad, but it was gone as fast as it appeared. He gave Playmaker a hooded, amused look.

“Yusaku-chan, you shouldn’t say yes to things you have no idea about...” His hand cupped his jaw and he bent his head down, his hair trickling Playmaker’s forehead. “...or you might end getting eaten up .”

Playmaker held his breath, Ai’s lips so close to his, his artificial breath fanning his face. AIs didn’t need air, but he was certain Ai did it on purpose, to create this turmoil in Playmaker’s chest. He was so close, but he wanted him closer. If it was AI, he didn’t mind if--

Before he could react, Ai pulled away entirely, his hand and his arm going back to his sides, and he detached himself from Playmaker’s hold as well. Playmaker blinked rapidly, dumbfounded, and Ai laughed at him.

“You should see the look on your face ! What, what?” He pressed two fingers to his lips, winking an eye. “Did you really think I was going to do something? Was Yusaku expecting a kiss?~”

Playmaker swallowed, throat feeling dry even though it had no reason to. He rubbed at his cheek with the back of his hand, knowing he was blushing.

Shut up.” It was just like Ai to mess around. Just like him to take this all like a joke, playful and without any other meaning. He turned away, walking forwards even though he wasn’t sure if that was the right way. But he heard Ai’s footsteps catching up soon enough, so it must be.

“Are you angry, Yusaku-chan?” 

“No.”

“Disappointed, then?” 

“...I’ll be disappointed if I recorded all those episodes in vain.” He said, in the end. Surprisingly Ai didn’t reply and when he side eyed him, his smile was smaller, more...wistful, or melancholic.

“I’m sorry, Yusaku.”

“...Ai?”

The grassy path started going up, becoming a hill. Ai said nothing as they went up, a few paces in front of Playmaker. When they reached the top, Playmaker stopped in his tracks at the sight of five tombs. Each had flowers placed before them.

“...Are these…”

“Yeah.” Ai stood closer to them. “Flame, Aqua, Earth, Windy, Lightning.” 

Playmaker found himself unable to speak. Ai continued, after a moment, his back seeming so small.

“These graves are just symbolic. In reality...they aren’t here, I know. They aren’t anywhere. Unlike humans who have a soul and a physical body, us AIs are just data. When humans die there is something left of them, somewhere. But once data is lost...there’s no trace left of it.”

“That’s not true.” Playmaker stepped forward. “Maybe they aren’t here but--they are in your memories. The same thing happens with people.”

“Well, that’s true, too. The memories I have with them will forever be with me. But, you know…” Ai hung his head. “...It’s terribly lonely.”

Playmaker pressed his lips together, chest aching. He knew that Ai must be in terrible pain, right now. He still felt responsible that there hadn’t been another way, to also save the other Ignis. They wouldn’t be here if he had.

“Ai, I…”

“Don’t blame yourself, Yusaku.” Ai said, as if reading his mind. “failed to protect them. They were my friends but we all got caught up fighting each other. I couldn’t do a thing in the end.”

“It’s not your fault either. There was nothing you could have done.” Lightning wouldn’t change his mind or stop his plans and by the time they were all absorbed by Bohman, Ai couldn’t have prevented it. 

Playmaker took a step forward, lifting a hand to rest it on Ai’s forearm. “But you can change things, now . We don’t have to keep fighting--you don’t have to be alone , Ai.”

Ai sighed softly. “I wish it was that easy. But it’s not.”

“What can I do to convince you?” Playmaker’s hold tightened, brow pinching. “Please, Ai--there has to be another way. Another future, for us.”

“...I’m sorry, Yusaku.” Ai turned to face him, placing a hand over his and prying it from his arm. But he continued to hold it loosely between them, glancing at it. “My mind is set. This is something I have to do. You’ll find out soon enough.” He ran a thumb over the back of Playmaker’s hand, smiling knowingly at him. “And you coming to stop me...that’s Playmaker’s role.”

Playmaker shook his head, taking a step closer. “Then why did you call me here? Just to tell me that I can’t do anything to change your mind?” 

“No, that’s not it.” Ai tugged at his hand and Playmaker found himself bumping into Ai’s chest. A moment after arms enveloped him a hug. “I just wanted some time with you.” He nuzzled the side of Playmaker’s face, voice low, a whisper, just for him.

“I know, if it’s you, you could change my mind. You have that power, Yusaku...you change people, you inspire people.” Ai squeezed him tight, chuckling. “You make me hope I could let all of this go and have a happy future, with you and everyone else.”

Playmaker’s arms slipped around him and held onto Ai, pressing his face to his shoulder. It hurt, this hurt. “ Let me change your mind. You can have that future, Ai.”

“I can’t .” Ai’s voice was resolute, like this was an unmovable fact. “There’s only chaos and destruction in my future. It will not end well. But you...you don’t have to share my fate.” Soft lips pressed to the top of his head. “You can get everyone their happy ending.”

Playmaker bit his lip, feeling unsteady despite being held so tenderly and firmly. “Why can’t I get you yours, too, then?” He clutched onto Ai’s clothes more tightly, wanting to bring him closer, closer, keep him right where he was.  “You only see chaos for your future but I refuse to--” He shook his head, swallowing against the clog on his throat. “I refuse to give up on you, Ai. You can have that future. I’ll get you that future.”

“...You’re so stubborn, Yusaku-chan.” Ai sighed, deep and tired. “If I had a weaker will, I probably would have already given up against you.” He sagged against him, leaning his cheek to Playmaker’s head. Playmaker choose that moment to tilt his head and his nose pressed to Ai’s cheek.

“Why don’t you?”

“Ah, are you taunting me?” Ai turned his head too, their noses brushing. Green met golden, and unwavering sadness and determination in both their gazes. Playmaker couldn’t give up on Ai, no matter how painful fighting him was, and Ai couldn’t give up his goal, his heart trapped in grief. 

“...Sorry, Yusaku. I’m already being so selfish here but…” Ai’s forehead bumped against his, eyes fluttering shut. “...can we stay like this, a little more?”

"You just want everything to go your way, don’t you?” Playmaker muttered but he pressed his forehead to Ai’s, maintaining the contact. He squeezed Ai in his arms. Even if this, right here, would have to come to a stop eventually, even if after this they’d part and meet again only to face each other in a duel, Playmaker couldn’t refuse. 

“I told you. I’m selfish, Yusaku.”

“...Yeah, you are.” 

But maybe he was, too, because right now, he just wanted to stay here.  He wished they could keep this pocket of time, he wished ‘a little more’ could be 'forever'. He wished staying meant Ai would change his mind. He didn’t want to be Playmaker, he wanted to just be Yusaku and keep Ai in his arms like this. 

He wanted, most of all, for Ai to choose him instead of the destructive future he saw for himself. But he knew that no matter how tight he held onto Ai, he’d pull away and they’d both walk away, in the end.