“And then I told him, ‘you’re going to have to try a lot harder than that if you want information out of me,’” Jyuto laughed, and Riou responded with a nod, listening intently to Jyuto’s story.
Samatoki, on the other hand, was drifting in and out of the conversation. As usual after several drinks, Jyuto got even chattier while Samatoki found it even harder to pay attention to him talk. The words all strung together meaninglessly, leading him to find other ways to occupy himself. He sat on the floor with his back against Jyuto’s worn leather sofa, one arm resting on the cushion next to Riou’s leg, the other flipping through channels on the television.
It seemed like half of them were just bullshit Party of Words propaganda campaigns, and in order for those to be bearable Samatoki would need at least a couple more drinks. After a few more channels, he finally found one that caught his attention— a news broadcast discussing the division rap battle. Usually, he wouldn’t find himself caring about this sort of thing. After all, he was there, he saw everything that happened himself. But he was bored enough that it seemed like a good way to occupy at least a few minutes before finding a different channel.
The volume was down low, almost completely drowned out by the sound of Jyuto’s voice behind him. The captions scrawled across the bottom of the frame, the writing appearing several seconds after they were said, disjointed. Samatoki gave up trying to pay attention to the words and just watched the video. A reporter at a desk, speaking soundlessly. A recording of the DRB was displayed as a small rectangle in the corner, before it took over the entire screen.
He saw his teammates, strong and confident, working in tandem. The two of them made a perfect team, even falling at the same moment. Seeing his friends crumple to the ground again made his heart ache, even as he sat right next to them and knew they were perfectly fine. If he shifted his arm a bit, he would be able to feel Riou’s warmth through the thick fabric of his fatigues. Before he could consider it, though, the camera angle shifted. The focus was solely on him.
Samatoki had heard recordings of his raps before. But he’d never seen himself like this. Watched himself fight. Under the stage lighting, the high definition cameras captured his every move with devastating precision. The exact moment he snapped. Lost control of himself. The fire burning in his eyes. The way his face tightened when he clenched his jaw. His fists curling around his microphone stand, hard enough his knuckles turned white.
He’d seen those fists before.
He knew what they felt like.
The same look his father used to have.
Bruises under his skin.
Samatoki was on his feet before he realized he was standing up. The TV remote clattered to the ground, the only noise left in the room as Jyuto abruptly stopped talking. He felt his teammates’ eyes on him, but he fled before either of them could speak again.
Samatoki slammed the door of Jyuto’s bathroom shut behind him. He slid against the wall onto the ground, pulling his knees towards his chest. His heartbeat pounded in his ears, the weight of it making it hard to breathe.
Samatoki stared at his hands.
They didn’t look like his own.
There was a short knock at the door.
“Samatoki, are you alright?” Riou’s voice slipped through the crack in the door.
“Go away,” he said.
“If you’re sick, I can—”
“I said go away ,” Samatoki repeated, cringing at how his voice broke near the end.
Samatoki heard the door handle turn slowly.
Of course he fucking forgot to lock it.
He pressed the heels of his palms against his eyelids, nails digging into the base of his scalp.
Riou stood in the doorway, looking down at him.
“Did he actually have to throw u— oh,” Jyuto approached the door frame, halting when he saw his leader’s position.
“Riou, I think we should let him be,” he said softly to the other man.
“He’s trembling,” Riou noted, taking a step closer. “Samatoki, are you sure you want us to leave?”
Samatoki didn’t answer. Of course he didn’t want his teammates to see him like this. He was their leader; he was supposed to be the strongest. To never be vulnerable in front of them. All he knew how to do at times like this was to run and hide until it was over. Don’t cry. Don’t be weak. Men don’t cry, Samatoki. His father had taught him that, after all.
“Samatoki,” he was startled by a hand on his shoulder. Riou knelt next to him, reaching out tentatively as if he was approaching a cornered animal.
“ Don’t fucking touch me, ” he growled, wincing at the contact and his own words.
“Give him some space,” Jyuto said, leaning against the door frame. Riou shifted until he was a few feet away from Samatoki.
Samatoki pulled his legs in closer, his head against his knees, uncomfortable with how he knew they were looking at him.
He remained there for several breaths, trying to will his heart rate to slow down, for a wall to magically build itself around him and turn him invisible.
“Would you like to tell us what’s wrong?” Jyuto asked. His voice was laced with concern, and Samatoki hated it.
“’m fine,” he muttered.
“You are very clearly not fine,” Jyuto said. His gaze bore holes into Samatoki’s skin— closely observing him, analyzing the situation. “I saw the TV. You said it was alright that we lost.”
“So this is about something else, then.”
Samatoki gave a slight nod.
“You know I’m not going to force it out of you. But you don’t have to hide anything from us,” Jyuto told him.
“You don’t have to shoulder everything yourself, Samatoki. We’re a team,” Riou agreed.
Samatoki let the words sink in. It was true that they’d bared their ugly pasts to each other countless times already. They had put their lives at stake for him, and they would do it again. He trusted them.
He raised his head and took a shaky breath. His instincts told him to stop, to curl tighter in on himself, to show no weakness. But he would fight it, for their sake.
“I saw... myself,” he said, “and I looked... like him.” Just saying it out loud made bile rise in the back of Samatoki’s throat.
Riou’s eyes darted to Jyuto, searching for understanding of Samatoki’s words. But Jyuto’s response was immediate.
“You are nothing like your father, Samatoki.” Jyuto’s voice was sharp, a seriousness in his tone that startled him.
“I...” Samatoki spoke through gritted teeth. At times like this, Jyuto’s sincere kindness was painful. It felt like it pierced his skin, his words rattling inside Samatoki’s nervous system as if he was speaking through a hypnosis mic. He clawed his hands into his hair, pulling at it hard enough that it hurt.
“You’re not,” Jyuto said firmly.
“ I am . It’s because I’m like this that Nemu left! And Sasara—” And you’ll both leave me too , was left unsaid, but the implication hung heavy in the air.
Samatoki expected Jyuto to keep pressing at him, to yell at him. But he was silent as he left his post at the door, moving to stand in front of Samatoki. He knelt to the floor, a simple action, but Samatoki didn’t know how Jyuto did everything with such poise.
It made him feel even more rough around the edges in comparison.
An ungloved hand reached out and took Samatoki’s, gently uncurling his fingers that were clenched into a fist.
Samatoki looked away, focusing on a spot on the floor.
“Do you remember what I told you in Chuuoku? The night before we battled Matenrou?”
Of course Samatoki remembered. It hadn’t been that long ago. But he knew Jyuto wanted him to repeat it.
“That I’m...” he couldn’t get out the words. They didn’t quite fit right, because he still didn’t really believe that they were true.
“You’re a good brother, Samatoki,” Jyuto said softly, lacing their fingers together. “And you’re a huge pain in the ass, but you’re a good person, too. We’re not going anywhere. Right, Riou?”
The constricting feeling in Samatoki’s chest grew tighter upon hearing Jyuto, and even more so when Riou nodded in agreement.
He wasn’t sure what to say, because the doubts lingering in his mind would hardly be good responses. He looked at Jyuto with wide eyes and gripped his hand a bit harder, trying to convey something through the action. Jyuto brought his free hand up to Samatoki’s face, sweeping his bangs away from his eyes. Samatoki averted them, avoiding eye contact with Jyuto.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
“It’s not your fault, Samatoki.” Jyuto squeezed Samatoki’s hand back, before letting him go and gently patting him a couple times on the knee before standing back up. “But if you want to apologize, let Riou give you a hug. You hurt his feelings.”
They redirected their gaze to their soldier who had been banished to the corner of the room. Those pitiful puppy-dog eyes were going to kill Samatoki someday.
“Yeah, c’mere Riou,” Samatoki said, lifting his hand and waving him over.
Riou still moved cautiously, but was at Samatoki’s side in a heartbeat. He adjusted his position on the floor to let Riou wrap his arms around him.
“I didn’t mean it,” Samatoki murmured into Riou’s shoulder, voice muffled by the fabric of his sleeve.
“I know. I shouldn’t have cornered you when you were clearly in distress,” Riou apologized, a strong hand smoothing over the fabric of his shirt over his back. Riou was always so warm; Samatoki felt like it was spilling into him where they touched. He suddenly felt rather tired, like he could go limp in Riou’s arms and just stay there forever.
When Riou was satisfied, he loosened his hold on Samatoki and pulled back.
“I may not be as well-versed in these matters as Jyuto... but you can come to me with anything, Samatoki,” Riou said firmly.
Samatoki nodded solemnly. As much as he wanted to take up that offer, he wasn’t sure how often he could. Maybe if his teammates kept reminding him of that, as they already do, it would start coming naturally to him eventually. Maybe he could learn to stop shutting people out. Maybe.
“Can I make you something to drink, Samatoki?” Riou asked, his eyes still tinged with concern.
“Yeah, sure,” Samatoki said, watching Riou stand and then letting him pull him to his feet. His legs wobbled slightly, his feet a little numb from lack of circulation, but Riou held him firm and guided him back to the main room. Samatoki sank into the couch. The TV was off.
“I’ll go make you some chamomile tea,” Riou said, “it’s known to be very calming.”
Jyuto watched Riou head towards his kitchen with a flash of concern.
“I’ll show you where the cups are,” he said, trailing after Riou.
Samatoki sighed deeply, taking in his newfound solitude. His nerves were still quite frayed, and he reached out as soon as he noticed Jyuto’s jacket slung across the back of the sofa. He dug into the pocket where he knew Jyuto kept his cigarettes and lighter; Samatoki knew he might get scolded by Jyuto in a minute for taking one, but he did it anyway.
He leaned back and eased into the repetitive motion of inhaling and exhaling. Sounds of dishes clinking together echoed from the kitchen, along with the hushed tones of his teammates speaking to each other. It was too soft for Samatoki to make out any of the words, but he assumed they were talking about him. A debriefing. Exchanging information. He didn’t think that Jyuto would explain the details of Samatoki’s childhood to Riou— not without his permission— but he also realized that he wouldn’t care. Obviously there was little use in trying to hide it now, since it all came crashing out of him. But he didn’t mind Riou knowing, not really. The three of them all had their own pasts that they carried and shared with each other when it was necessary. Like some sort of strange puzzle where the pieces lined up even though they didn’t look like they should.
Samatoki was pulled from his thoughts when Jyuto and Riou re-entered the room holding steaming cups of tea.
Riou placed one on the coffee table in front of Samatoki and looked at him expectantly. Samatoki put out his cigarette in the ashtray on the table, then took the cup and raised it to his mouth. He took a large gulp, resisting the urge to crinkle his nose at the taste. Riou seemed at least somewhat satisfied by that, sitting down next to Samatoki.
“What kind of tea did you say this was?” Samatoki asked.
“Chamomile,” Riou answered, “Luckily Jyuto had some on hand.”
“It tastes like grass,” Samatoki said, although he continued to drink it.
Jyuto rolled his eyes at the comment, seeming like he wanted to make a sarcastic response, but sat on the other side of Samatoki and silently sipped at his own tea. He kept his gaze leveled towards Samatoki, simply waiting for him to speak.
“Sorry for springing all of this shit out of nowhere on you, Riou,” Samatoki started. “I guess I did the same thing to Jyuto before, too.”
“You’ve done the same for us in the past. Supporting each other is what teammates are for,” Riou said, his tone steady and unwavering. Samatoki felt Jyuto’s hand come to rest on his thigh, unmoving, a reassuring weight.
He took another moment to collect himself, focusing on the way he could feel the warmth from Jyuto’s hand through his jeans, since he wasn’t wearing gloves.
“Long story short, my old man was an asshole. The only thing I ever wanted back then was to be strong enough to protect Nemu. From him. One day my mom had enough of it, and the next, they were both dead. Just been me and Nemu ever since. Well, until...” Samatoki trailed off. Jyuto had started moving his hand slowly on Samatoki’s leg, tracing meaningless patterns with his fingertips. It gave him something to focus on other than how tightly his jaw was clenched, or the burning behind his eyes.
“I understand,” Riou said softly. “Samatoki, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that you would never want to hurt your family. I’m sure your sister must know that too.”
Samatoki just stared at his knees, watching the languid movements of Jyuto’s fingers.
“I would do anything for her,” he said, his voice getting choked up and breaking. “I’ve done terrible things for her. That’s why she hates me. I was just—”
Jyuto moved his hand to Samatoki’s back, arm curling around his side to bring himself closer.
“You did everything you could,” Jyuto said.
Samatoki let himself sit in silence, staring at his knees, as Jyuto ran his hand up and down his back. Riou sat next to him silently, unmoving, a steady presence. Samatoki knew that if he looked over, he would see Riou’s face softened with concern, the little furrow of his brows that betrayed his worry.
Noticing that he’d been clutching his cup of tea for the past several minutes, Samatoki relaxed his grip on it and set it down.
“Would you like more to drink?” Riou asked, moving in preparation to stand.
“No,” Samatoki blurted out, clutching desperately at Riou’s shirt. Riou paused, looking intently at Samatoki.
“Don’t go,” he said, softer.
Riou smiled at that, just a little. He returned to his original position, shifting a bit closer and threading his fingers through Samatoki’s hair.
Samatoki’s shoulders raised a bit and his face flushed at all the attention he was receiving, but he also wasn’t going to complain. He had his teammates close to him, and at the moment that’s all that he could ask for. For just a little while, he wanted to believe that all the things that they were saying to him were true. To let those words wash over him and feel relief rather than dread. To know that they would always be by his side, forever, no matter how badly he fucked up next time. He tried to let himself believe that, just for now, while the two of them were still there.