“So we may never know,” Kenya says. “That's stupid.” He's swinging his legs on the fence, kicking the bush every time his foot passes it.
Satoru shrugs. “Yeah?”
“But then what's the point?” His voice raises, loud and frustrated. Hiromi and Osamu have already gone home, so it's just the two of them hanging out. “I mean, why even have them in the first place if you might never know?”
Satoru's been thinking about it ever since they talked about it in class. He doesn't really have a solid answer, but he does have something that feels right to him and yet slips away when he tries to grasp it, like it's waiting for him to truly recognize it.
“I guess it's so it's not easy. If everyone could just run around having someone that's supposed to be your true match, no one would bother to try because you'd think it was just meant to work out no matter what you did.”
Kenya frowns. “I guess,” he says. “It's like, if you can't really see that person, then you don't deserve them in the first place?”
“Maybe.” It sounds crueler when Kenya says it. Satoru looks down at his blank wrist. There could be a name there.
There could be nothing.
He doesn't know which is more terrifying.
“Whatever,” Kenya says. “At least we won't have to get married.” He jumps off the fence, wrinkling his nose. “That's just gross. What if you don't want to be with that person?”
But he doesn't say anything and Kenya huffs out a breath in frustration. “Fine,” he says. “It's dumb.”
Because Kenya isn't a fairy-tale person. He likes facts and numbers and things that are hard and real.
But Satoru? There's a part of him that kind of wants the strange, the weird, the unexplainable to happen? Soulmates shouldn't exist. There shouldn't be someone out there that's guaranteed to understand you, accept you just as you accept them, no matter what you've done or who you are.
No wonder they say soulmates are dying out. They don't make sense.
So yeah, Satoru should want to live in that world.
But he has a feeling he doesn't.
There is a life where Satoru's wrist remains blank and he accepts that he will have no match. It's a silly childhood fantasy, he thinks, like being a hero and saving the day. So he goes through life, connecting more with pen and paper than the people around him. He lives with a loss he vaguely feels, because you can't look for something that's missing if you never knew what it was.
Here, Satoru's mother dies and he's blamed for her death, left screaming and sobbing before he's catapulted back to his past, back to a childhood he left a long time ago. He resolves that he'll fix everything this time, he'll save everyone, he'll do better, he'll-
In this life, Satoru drowns, water closing over his head and sinking into the darkness, there's a thread that reaches from the void and--
The days after he wakes up are vague and formless.
There are shapes around him. Some poke him, prod him, shines lights in his eyes and he flinches away until an angry one makes them stop. It stays with him, holds his hand, tells him things like hang on and I know you'll wake up and I love you so much.
Mom, he thinks, and he's comforted.
Occasionally, there's another shape, that smells faintly of lilies. It talks with his mom mom mom in low tones. Once it lays a cool hand on his shoulder. He doesn't know this one, he thinks.
But he's not sure about what he does know.
And then there's the last shape, a dark one that comes in and he knows it stares at him, watches him. It touches him too, runs its fingers through his hair, takes his hand and holds it for hours on end.
Sometimes it kisses him, on the forehead, on the hand, once on the lips, a sticky sweetness that lingers long after the figure vanishes. Every time, there's a spark when it does, a current that runs through him and the fog clears, but only for a moment.
But the fog thins as the days go on, his thoughts becoming less fuzzy, more real, and before he knows it, one day, his eyes focus and...
“Mom,” he says. His voice sounds so weak to him, so distant. Is he even speaking out loud? Maybe he's dreaming it.
His mother smiles, his eyes watery, and she bends over to hug him.
“Oh, baby,” she says. “I knew you'd come back.”
His arms aren't as strong as they used to be, but he manages to will himself to lift them a little, to wrap around her.
There's a clean, white bandage around his left wrist and he frowns. He doesn't remember... there's something wrong about that, isn't there?
You didn't get hurt there, a voice says. Not like that.
Mom sees him looking and her face changes, gets nervous. “Satoru,” she begins to say.
“Let me handle this, Fujinuma-san,” a voice from behind her says, and Satoru focuses his attention past his mom's shoulder to the other two figures in the room.
A woman in a dark suit steps forward and Satoru wrinkles his nose because he can smell the lilies again.
And behind her...
He thinks he knows this man, staring intensely at him. His eyes, hidden behind a pair of glasses, are only on Satoru and there's a small smile on his face. He looks older than Satoru remembers.
Oh, he remembers him. He knows that for certain, even if everything else is still a blur.
“Fujinuma-kun,” the woman says, drawing Satoru's attention back to her. “I'm Hagimoto from the Health Policy Bureau. We're very pleased you're awake. The doctors said your recovery should progress very well, now that you've moved past this stage.”
“Okay,” he says, his voice softly croaking it out. It hurts to say more than that.
The woman pats him on the shoulder. “Don't speak too much,” she says. “You have time.”
Time. For some reason, that makes him look down at his wrist again and he tilts it. Did he hurt himself? Is that why?
Hagimoto-san sighs. “We were hoping to wait until you were physically stronger,” she says, smiling ruefully. “But your mother did say you were a persistent one.”
There's a creeping feeling up Satoru's neck now, a chill that he thinks has nothing to do with the air conditioning in the hospital. He tries to open his mouth again.
“I'm sorry, Fujinuma-kun.” Hagimoto-san takes Satoru's bandage wrist into her hand, begins unwrapping the gauze.
Mom takes his other hand, rubs it gently. “It's okay, honey,” she says. “We're all here for you.”
The man in the corner of the room takes a few steps forward. There's an eagerness in his eyes.
The gauze comes free.
Satoru stares numbly at his wrist, on the indentations in the skin. He rubs it gently with his finger and there's an echo of the spark he felt earlier.
He looks up.
“Satoru-kun,” the man says, his smile getting wider. “I've been waiting for so long.” Then Yashiro-san (and his mind cries Yashiro-sensei!) steps forward and rolls up one of his sleeves.
Oh, Satoru thinks. It's my name. He knows he should be shocked, terrified, because he doesn't know this world or what's happening or how long has it been. He should be--
Something in his mind finally clicks into place, a memory sliding in and oh, this makes sense even if nothing else does.
A quiet huff, almost a laugh, comes out of Satoru's mouth. He licks his lips, tries to smile. “I guess,” he says softly, “I have to get married or something, right?”
Hagimoto looks at his mom, then at Yashiro-sensei.
“No, Satoru,” she says patiently. “You already are.”
Satoru closes his eyes, lets the wind ruffle his hair. It's nice to be out of the room. In there, things are still overwhelming. The doctors come in the morning to check him out, run tests, tell him that each day, he's doing a little better. He gets the feeling that they're very surprised to say that.
The afternoon is physical therapy. Mom comes and watches him, smiles when he does well, and looks so much sadder and older when he doesn't. He tries even harder. He can't ever make her look like that again.
And Hagimoto-san comes every other day with paperwork to fill out, to sign. She asks him questions and records his answers. She talks to his doctors, makes notes in the files they give her. Occasionally, there are other people with her as well, men and women in suits who stare at him as if he's some sort of exotic creature in a zoo.
“It's not that, honey,” Mom said. “But you know soulmates are very rare these days. It's why--” She stopped, bit her lip.
“It's okay, Mom.” Satoru tried to reassure her. “It's a little scary for both of us.”
“It's just--” His mom sighed. “I like Yashiro-san,” she said. “I know you did--do too.”
There's a whole tangle of emotions he can't completely unpack when he tried to remember him, fear and sadness and affection and... understanding. “I think so.”
“I just wish you had a choice,” she said. “You should have been able to.”
Maybe he did, Satoru thought, and wondered why it rang so true.
He's lost in memory, so it takes him a moment to realize that the peace he's been surrounded by is disturbed by loud voices, thuds, the sound of something being crunched on the ground.
Hagimoto-san hasn't let him see anyone other than people she's deemed necessary yet. “You're still going through the adjustment period,” she said. “We don't know how extra stressors will affect you so we need to control the environment.”
So this could be—someone new?
“Secretly taking photos of a civilian in the hospital,” a voice says sharply. “Defamation, trespassing. Plenty to warrant punishment by law.”
Ah, Satoru thinks. Well, at least one of them isn't someone new.
“Get your asses out of here,” Yashiro-san says and he hears muffled cursing, the sound of people running off as the man walks up to him. He's got the world's dorkiest hat on and he has to know that, right? Surely his soulmate wouldn't think it looked good?
“Satoru-kun,” he says. “I'm sorry for that.”
Somehow, I doubt it, Satoru thinks. “Who were they?”
“Photographers. Reporters. I don't know which weekly they were from,” Yashiro says, “but I'll have to let the hospital know that their security is severely lax. They shouldn't be able to get through.” He frowns. “I'll hire someone private as soon as I can.”
Satoru blinks. “Why would anyone want to take a picture of me?”
Yashiro's frown changes into a smile that looks almost playful. “Well, you are a handsome young man,” he says.
Satoru snorts. “Yashiro-san,” he says. “Cut the crap. My mom told me that soulmates are kind of rare now. Is it that?” Less than one percent, Hagimoto-san says, and I've heard the doctors are fighting over which one of them gets to write it up for the JMA.
“Partly,” Yashiro allows. “But I might also be at fault for it.” He steps behind Satoru's wheelchair, starts pushing it carefully, his fingers tapping on the back of it. “I don't know if your mother told you much about me.”
“Not really,” Satoru says uncomfortably. “She said I should be the one to get to know you.”
“Your mother is a very intelligent woman.” There's an odd hint of something in his voice, but Satoru decides he doesn't want to delve too deeply into it. “You must get that from her.”
“So why would you be at fault?” Satoru asks. He feels like he has to keep pressing Yashiro-san, keep listening to what he's really saying because--
I want to understand you.
Is that his voice or Yashiro's? It's hard to tell.
“I work for a high-ranking politician,” Yashiro says. “I'm sure you wouldn't be familiar with him, but the Nishizono family is very respectable and well-connected.'
“Oh,” Satoru says. “Uh, good for you?”
Yashiro laughs. “Actually, I have you to thank for it. Nishizono-san's daughter is a romantic and considers soulmates to be a deeply poignant and beautiful thing.”
“And because of that?” Is it really as simple as Yashiro charming a young woman into helping him out? There's a queasiness in Satoru's stomach and he shifts uneasily.
“Oh, no,” Yashiro says and his dismissive tone settles Satoru down. “She just introduced me to her father. He's not quite as fanciful as his daughter, but he does believe deeply in tradition. Naturally, he wishes to restore some past dignity to our laws and practices.”
“Such as soulmates,” Satoru sighs. “Yashiro-san, I--”
He jumps, just a little, as Yashiro comes around to the front of him, and bends down on his knees. His eyes are deep, dark, boring into Satoru.
“Satoru,” he says, and he flushes as Yashiro rolls his name around his mouth, makes it sound as though he's putting far more weight upon it than Satoru thinks he deserves. “This may not be what you might have expected, but I promise you, it's something we both want.”
“Yashiro,” he says. “If saying Gaku would make you too nervous.”
Satoru inclines his head. “Yashiro,” he says.
Yashiro looks up at him with bright eyes that don't mask his eagerness, his hunger, his--
Satoru puts his hand on Yashiro's cheek, lets him lean into it. Yashiro closes his eyes and Satoru mirrors it.
In the darkness, he sees a spider crawling along a thread that extends into infinity, a web of silvery tangled lines and a dark red one at the center of it, like a river or a vein that runs through Satoru's blood. It pulses in him, keeps time to his heart, and he follows it, sees where it may lead.
He sees Yashiro.
Satoru opens his eyes. “Yashiro,” he says again, and Yashiro opens his eyes, meets Satoru's gaze.
“Do you--?” Yashiro trails off, his face shuddered and remote to someone who doesn't know him, hasn't had him live in the darkness, whispering and dreaming and praying for something he doesn't deserve, he doesn't deserve this and there's a yawning emptiness in him, a void that can't be filled by anything. It hungers, it drags down anything it thinks can fill it.
“I know,” Satoru says. “I know everything.”
Yashiro's waiting at the door, a coat draped over his arm. It's soft and warm and Satoru would protest about Yashiro spending this kind of money on him, but that just leads to Satoru waking up with a stupidly expensive watch on his wrist.
“Now you be careful,” Murata-sensei says. “Don't rush it just because you're feeling better. We don't want a relapse. You still have your physical therapy appointments, too.”
“Don't worry,” Yashiro says. “I'll take care of him.” He's smiling his politician's smile, the empty one that means nothing and promises everything. No wonder he's so popular.
Murata-sensei buys it though, and smiles, waving goodbye. Yashiro begins wheeling him to the car, the coat draped over Satoru's shoulders. There's no one else around.
“No cameras?” Satoru says. “I would have thought that they would have wanted to snap a picture of my release.”
“They might have. ” Yashiro's grin turns sharp, more real. “But someone may have given them some rather dubious information about when you might be leaving.”
“Sure,” Satoru says. Yashiro's car is dark, unassuming, and there's tinted windows, which is definitely both illegal and something Yashiro wheedled his way into getting by saying he had to have it for the safety of his mate. “You just want me to yourself.”
“Always,” Yashiro replies, and with one deft move, he picks Satoru up, easily hoisting him into his arms before setting him into the front passenger seat. “You should really know that.”
“Always,” Satoru parrots back. “Hagimoto-san said that a certain amount of possessive tendencies was to be expected, given the intensity of the bond.” He did not point out to her that a good deal of that was just Yashiro being himself.
Yashiro closes the trunk before shutting Satoru's door and getting into the driver's side. “Did she now?” He smiles thinly. “I'm not sure I appreciate her using you as a guinea pig.”
“It got you what you wanted, didn't it?” Satoru says softly. “I don't see anyone but you around.”
Yashiro starts the car, pulling out of the parking lot. “Get some rest,” he says. “It's a long drive.”
Is it deja vu? Nostalgia? What should he call that recognition that once again, he's letting Yashiro take him away from everyone? “Should I bother to ask where we're going?”
Satoru doesn't wait for the answer, since they both know Yashiro's not giving him one, and leans back in the seat.
It doesn't take long for him to fall asleep.
On the riverbank, Satoru feels his eyes closing. Someone's telling him to hold on, to stay with him, because you can't leave me—you can't--
“I know your future,” and everything spins out from that, he thinks, time moving forward and backwards and no one dies if he does this right everyone lives and is happy even if he has to sleep forever and ever
but Yashiro is calling him, and his name is on Yashiro's wrist
oh, his name, so that's what it means to know someone
it means that you see them to their darkest core and Yashiro's is so very dark but there's something that tries to climb out of it, a thin thread that extends to a light and that light pulls something from him
Satoru's not a light, he think, he's not something that can fill anything he's not a hero he's just someone that's trying to understand
Satoru reaches out his arm in the darkness and Yashiro's name burns on it
Yashiro grasps back and Satoru sees himself
I know you, Yashiro, I know your future and I know mine
But I don't know our future
He opens his eyes.
Time once more has slipped away from him.
“We're here,” Yashiro says quietly.
The night is already a chilly one and the wind by the river picks up, making Satoru shiver.
“My brother told me I didn't deserve to have a soulmate, you know.” Yashiro's voice is empty, cold. “He said a freak like me was always going to be alone. I mean, who would want to understand me? They'd kill themselves before they'd let that happen.”
“Yashiro,” Satoru murmurs.
“I wasn't sorry when I killed him,” Yashiro continues. “If you expect me to be--”
“No,” Satoru says. “I don't expect you to be anything you're not. I know I can't change you.”
Yashiro lets out a short laugh. “But you do,” he says. “Your very existence changes things.”
Satoru walks over to him, peers at the water so close to them that if someone were to give just a gentle push, a nudge...
He doesn't say anything.
“There's a thread,” Yashiro says eventually. “It pulled me back 26 years ago when I was--” He stops, frustrated. “I saw it wrapped around my hand, my throat, and I couldn't see where it came from. Only that it started--”
“The day I was born.” Just as Satoru knows what it's like to have something in the shadows of your mind, wondering if you're ever going to pull it out into the light and really see it.
“I didn't know where it came from.” Yashiro's fingers tap in the air, a steady pattern over and over. “I wanted to rip it from me because how dare it stop me, how dare it make me fail over and over, how dare it make me think that someone out there was destined to be with me.”
“Yashiro,” Satoru whispers. He's stepping closer to him, takes his hand and just holds it.
“I'm going to destroy you,” Yashiro says. He turns to Satoru, his eyes furious. “You're going to realize what I really am and you're going to hate me and try to leave and I will burn everything in this world before--.”
“You think you will,” Satoru corrects. Yashiro was a good teacher, so it's not hard to mirror his patience, his calm composure. “Maybe in another life, you would. But you know me and I know you and we both know that here, you won't. Just as I won't punish you either for things you haven't done yet.”
“When I finally saw the end of the thread and it led to you,” Yashiro says, “I knew I was already being punished. I felt the connection for just a second, and then nothing - a thread that led to my darkest hell with no way to climb out.” He laughs bitterly. “Of course, my brother was right. The only one that could possibly understand me would never be able to. You should have never woken up.“
“And was I being punished too?” Satoru keeps his voice level. “Was it fair that I lost so many years of my life? Was it fair that my mom had to wonder if I'd ever wake up? Was it fair that the day I realized I had a soulmate was the day I almost died?”
It's silent for a very long time.
“No,” Yashiro says. It comes out reluctantly, and he won't look at Satoru as he says it. “But it--”
“I thought about sending you to jail,” Satoru says. “I thought about bringing you to justice even if it hurt me or killed me. You tried to hurt so many people I love.”
Yashiro's hand clenches. “Why didn't you--” he says. “I'm sure you could have come up with something.” He laughs. “You're a smart boy. They might not believe some random kid, but someone's soulmate? Why would they lie?”
“Because I know you,” Satoru says. “And--” He stops, lets his hand move up until it encircles Yashiro's wrist, feels his name there. It steadies him, tells him that he's doing the right thing. “I accept you. I think I may even love you. It doesn't make sense but nothing in my life does.”
Yashiro sounds—oh, he's heard that panic before.
This time, Satoru's not the one drowning.
“I know your future.” Satoru leans against Yashiro. The wind is less cold with him blocking it. “Don't you want to know how?”
“You don't have to stay married,” Kenya says. His voice is low.
The Minister of Justice smiles at Satoru from across the room and he smiles back at her, raising his glass. He's been receiving congratulations all evening. Satoru takes a sip and pauses. Kenya means well. He just doesn't understand. “It's all right,” Satoru says.
“I mean it, Satoru.” Kenya hasn't stopped texting Satoru since the day he read about the official ceremony in the papers. Satoru would have invited him, but he's trying to steer Yashiro's tendencies towards more productive things and inviting Kenya wouldn't have ended well for anyone.
“I know you do, Kenya.” Satoru's getting more used to wearing a suit, though the tie sometimes feels like a collar. It's probably not a coincidence considering Yashiro insists upon putting it on him every time. “But this isn't anything to be worried about.”
“Don't lie to me.” Kenya's voice is getting louder, and it's all Satoru can do to keep smiling and pretending like nothing's wrong in his corner. “Even if you're not going to say anything, I can--”
“Kenya-kun.” Yashiro comes up behind Satoru, puts his hand on Satoru's shoulder. It grips it ever so tightly and Satoru reaches up to lay his fingers on it. “That's a very nice suit,” he adds. “It must be your best one.”
Kenya glares at him. “I've been talking to people here,” he says. “Important ones. Not everyone agrees that the New Soulmate Act should stand as it is.” His gaze softens as it turns to Satoru. “Sometimes, it takes almost losing a friend to realize that things needs to change.”
Yashiro's hand relaxes under Satoru's touch and he can tell without looking that Yashiro's anger has flipped into a playful mood. “Of course,” he says lightly. “Holding onto the past is just foolish, isn't it, Kenya-kun? It's not as if you can go back in time.”
Satoru tries not to roll his eyes and settles for digging his nails in, ever so gently, into Yashiro's hand. He can almost feel the wave of pleasure from Yashiro in response.
Kenya's face gets even redder, and Satoru wonders if he's going to physically attack Yashiro. But instead, his shoulders just slump and he drains his glass.
Yashiro presses closer to Satoru, entwines one arm around his waist. Everyone knows that soulmates need physical contact and I've missed so much of it with you.
The first time Satoru heard that, he pushed him off the bed. Even he has his limits when it comes to cheesy pick-up lines.
“Fine,” Kenya says eventually. “I can see this is going to be harder than I thought. But Satoru, I'm not giving up.” He gives one final glare to Yashiro, and walks away.
“He really hates me, doesn't he?” Yashiro says. “Did you tell him who I was?”
“No.” Satoru twists around, looks Yashiro in the eyes. “He's just very smart. Plus, he's always hated the idea of soulmates.”
Yashiro smiles. “And you?”
“You know the answer.”
Satoru barely has time to get his shoes off, take off his coat and jacket before Yashiro is on top of him, pushing him up against the wall. His mouth is hot against Satoru's neck, biting and sucking down it, and there will be new marks in the morning to match the old ones.
“Spice,” he says. “You can't leave.”
He always says that. He probably always will. “You know I won't,” Satoru answers and lets his hand wander down to Yashiro's cock, trails his fingers along it. “
“I know,” Satoru says. He kisses Yashiro. “And I'm ready.”
Yashiro freezes, keeps Satoru pinned against the wall. He can feel minute trembling in Yashiro's hands, even as the rest of the man holds steady. “Satoru.” His voice shakes.
“I haven't done this before,” Satoru says. “So you're going to have to teach me.”
Yashiro's trembling intensifies, but it doesn't take long for Satoru to realize that he's laughing, his breath coming out in short little gasps. “You never fail to surprise me,” he says.
His hands finish undressing Satoru, pulling off his clothing before he lifts him, carries him to the bed. Yashiro drops his own clothing to the floor.
“Gaku,” Satoru says.
Yashiro's smile is genuine. “Spice,” he says. He leans over Satoru, slicks up his hands, and presses one finger into Satoru, making him arch.
Another finger follows, and before long, Satoru is thinking that perhaps he might have to punish Yashiro after all because he is taking his time on purpose and Satoru has already spent this many years alone, he doesn't really have the leisure of taking his time.
Especially now that Revival is well, a thing of the past.
But thankfully, before Satoru can come to his senses and just say, okay, Kenya, you win, see if you can arrange an annulment for something divinely sanctified, Yashiro pushes in and oh, that's--
There's a comment to be made here, Satoru thinks, about taking up someone's emptiness or perhaps filling in a hole, but Yashiro already knows this. The best part about a soulmate is that you don't have to tell them your terrible thoughts.
They just know.
“I love you,” Yashiro says. "I love you so much."
He doesn't know if he can forgive Yashiro for the past. He doesn't know if that's even something that he has the right to, considering that he's seen into the darkest depths of Yashiro's soul and willingly took his hand. But he can understand him. Can know him.
Can love him.
“I love you too.”
That's all that matters.