Some nights you are the lighthouse
some nights the sea
what this means is that I don't know
desire other than the need
to be shattered & rebuilt
- Ocean Vuong
On the shores of memory, he meets a wild boy in the sea.
Munakata recalls this only vaguely, like the last vestiges of a dream which fade upon waking. He was wearing a sun hat and good walking shoes, traveling to see the remnants of a disaster that called to him like a foghorn in the night, the staccato beats of morse code that steered him towards a place he needed to see with his own eyes. The place where a great upheaval occurred, one that the child that he was didn't fully understand but still felt inexorably drawn to nonetheless.
Munakata Reisi is a singular man and was a singular child. From the start he carried a question in his heart that tugged at his steps but never weighed him down, a burden that he carried in thin arms, splayed across a small pale back, the weight evenly distributed so that no part of it ever became too much for him to bear. Still, though, a weight – because even from the start he was different and he didn't know why, and the wrecked edges of a shattered island called to him. In the place where only water was now there had once been buildings and people, lives that crashed together and stopped violently in a rush of destruction that they knew nothing about.
Standing at the seashore at that time, Munakata has hazy memories of seeing a flash of red hair as a figure rose out of the sea, crimson against the sky. He thinks maybe their eyes met for just an instant – or perhaps it only felt that way, that those eyes pierced his. And sometimes he recalls that he'd had a dream then, of being the kind of person who could see this disaster coming and prevent it in any way possible. But he thinks that at that moment maybe he forgot the dream and became trapped in the gaze that he couldn't even fully see instead, in a presence that called to him in an entirely different way.
(And sometimes in his dreams Munakata holds a weight in his hands and stretches out to give it to that figure in the water, and yet he never walks away any lighter.)
The image of the dead city around him haunts him for a long time after, but Munakata thinks that at the time perhaps he believed the world was still beautiful nonetheless.
“And there is the matter of the Red King.”
“Oya?” Munakata raises an eyebrow, hands behind his back, showing full deference to His Excellency. It's not as if the hierarchy of Kings was placed right into his brain when he awoke, of course, but Munakata was always raised to be polite to his elders. Even so there's a vague sense of strain between them and Munakata suspects that perhaps he was disliked right on sight.
(It's not a feeling he's unfamiliar with.)
“The Blue King and Red King are two whose natures are always at odds. As head of Scepter 4, it will be your duty to keep him in check.”
“Of course.” He is wrapped in Blue, in the mantle of a King, and he's ceased to be the Munakata Reisi who stepped aboard that plane to return to Japan. Kingship has answered the question in his mind and stolen the burden from his back, and Munakata welcomes it. That he's perhaps lost 'Munakata Reisi' at the same time is of no concern, because Munakata Reisi and the Blue King were always one and the same.
“His name is Suoh Mikoto.”
“I see. I will keep that name in mind.”
(Waves crash on the shore, wearing away at the ruins already half-swallowed as a boy rises out of the sea like a righted ship, and though he doesn't know it yet everything is written in that instant.)
As soon as Munakata leaves Mihashira Tower he has Awashima begin gathering intelligence on the Red King. He himself is too busy for such a thing, instead searching through the roster of the previous Scepter 4 and through pages and pages of names, civil servants, job applicants, looking for those with talent who may catch his eye. Munakata's mind is always working, looking ahead two moves, three, plotting the best course. He once wished to be the one who would see disaster coming and make a plan to prevent it and he intends to do just that. He has not become the Blue King to do any less.
He remembers the name Suoh Mikoto and makes a note to pay a visit to the Red King. He's heard the tale of his predecessor and the former Red King, and how that crater he once walked along the edges of came to be. Munakata isn't concerned. He may not know Habari Jin but Munakata knows his own value. Surely he and this Suoh Mikoto will be able to talk things out like adults, where Munakata will lay out unassailable arguments about why the Red King should cease any activities that could cause unrest in the current world, and they will come to an agreement of peace.
(In the wreckage of the world, he meets a boy in the sea and turns away from him, but the image burns itself behind his eyes and never entirely leaves him. The world is drowning, and beautiful still.)
Munakata Reisi was always known as a good child, and has never gotten into fights.
He has been this way for as long as he can recall. When his brother came home from school covered in bruises and grinning (“You should see the other guy!”) their parents would lightly scold him in a manner that suggested such a thing was to be expected of a rowdy young boy. Even so, Munakata had never seen the point in it. When Taishi tried to teach him how to fight he had picked it up immediately of course, because he was that sort of person, but he had never bothered to raise a hand against another child. It was preferable to discuss things with others instead, to turn them to his side and make them into allies rather than enemies, and he never so much as saw a day of detention or a word of warning from his teachers.
Perhaps that explains the exhilaration he feels when he realizes that he would very much like to punch Suoh Mikoto's head in.
He had tried to do things the proper way. He had planned out exactly how their meeting was to go, how he was to show the Red King that there was no point in acting the way he did. Everything should have worked perfectly, each piece in its place, but – that man was unreasonable, in the manner of beasts, and more troublesome than expected.
Munakata had researched him beforehand but no research could have prepared him for such a man. Even seeing him so close the first time they properly 'met' – he had watched from afar before this, planning his moment (and somewhere, very far away, waves and water, a sun hat on his head, and an old man sitting on rubble, but that had long since sunk beneath the limited memory of a child and turned into only a dusty dream) but they had not met face to face until the time he had chosen. The moment Munakata had spoken to Suoh he had realized that this man was different, as he himself was, but in a way utterly beyond even Munakata's own calculations. This was a beast, this was a flame, this was a lion pacing in a cage too small to hold its body. It was as if Suoh lived inside iron bars, always two steps away from melting them into nothing and escaping into that world of crumbled buildings and shoreline where cities had been. The downfall of civilizations, all held in check inside this man, by the thinnest of chains.
It is intolerable.
In the world of order that he would create, chaos is not needed. In that moment Munakata had known it, that His Excellency had been correct in giving the task of taming to Munakata. In order to create the world that he wished to see such a man needed to be kept tight in check or else his waves would overtake the sea wall that Munakata's hands would build.
Munakata Reisi is not a violent man and he does not care for settling matters with boorish methods. Even so there is something satisfying in the way his fist collides with Suoh's stomach, with the bruising crack made by the scabbard of his sword as it connects with Suoh's face. Suoh only brushes it off and smiles – teeth baring in the bright light, a star on fire out of control – and Munakata scowls in response.
It doesn't occur to him until hours later, body still sore, bruises forming purple under his uniform, that he had dropped the crown of the Blue King somewhere along the way, and it was truly Munakata Reisi who had enjoyed attempting to beat Suoh Mikoto into submission.
Looking back at it, that's really the moment he was lost.
“You're here, again.”
“It does appear we often cross paths, does it not? How unfortunate.”
This time it's in an aisle at the supermarket. Munakata has run out of tea and requires more and Suoh, it seems, is purchasing cigarettes and some manner of frozen pizza. There is a 'No Smoking' sign on the wall and Suoh's cigarette smoke is curling around it like a contented cat.
“Yeah. Unfortunate.” Suoh blows smoke and Munakata reaches over and takes the cigarette from his hand. There's nowhere to put it out so he wraps Blue power around it instead and places it in the nearest trash can, something which Suoh seems to find far too amusing. “'S weird seeing you here anyway.”
“Contrary to your assumptions, Suoh, I do require groceries as much as any other person.”
“Hmm. Looks like it.”
“It seems you are not inclined to do the same.” Munakata gives the items in Suoh's hands a distasteful look and Mikoto shrugs, scratching the back of his head.
“Kusanagi's out. Figured this would be easy for dinner.”
“Ah, I see. I imagine it is difficult for you to survive, with your caretaker away.”
“It's probably difficult for you to survive with your mouth shut.” Mikoto walks past him and Munakata follows easily, not even certain why. It's no problem, he supposes. The Red King and the Blue King are of warring natures that both oppose and attract each other, so it's no wonder he should feel the need to keep an eye on Suoh even in a place as mundane as a grocery store.
“On the other hand, perhaps I should congratulate you on discovering the impulse to cook. Please be certain to use an oven like a civilized person, so that no fire trucks need be dispensed to deal with the aftermath.”
Mikoto snorts at that and reaches over to grab a lollipop from the end of an aisle. In one move he pulls the plastic off and stuffs the candy into Munakata's mouth, ignoring the indignant huff of surprise that Munakata makes in return.
“Maybe that will keep you quiet.” Mikoto walks on towards the cashier and Munakata irritably removes the lollipop from his mouth (he supposes it's good that Suoh at least bothered to remove the plastic, and he makes a note to pay for the candy when he reaches the register as he is certain Mikoto will not).
“Such an intolerable man.”
The first time they kiss is in an abandoned building, propped up against rubble created by their own fight, and somewhere a burst pipe is dripping water into Munakata's eyes.
“Heh...not so uptight now, huh, Munakata?” Suoh's voice is low and predatory, and Munakata scowls as he slams Mikoto's head back into the wall behind them. Mikoto responds by kneeing him in the stomach and then arching up to kiss him roughly on the mouth.
This wasn't exactly as Munakata had planned things. The idea of himself kneeling over Suoh Mikoto on a dirty warehouse floor, surrounded by dust and debris, with their mouths crashing together and their hands scratching marks along each other's skin...it's completely unlike him. The Blue King would never allow such a thing, never permit this sort of man to get so close to him.
Even so Munakata Reisi can't stop himself, hands wrapped in Suoh's coat, dragging him close, and Suoh uses one leg to flip their positions and pin Munakata to ground. He leans in for another kiss and Munakata smashes their foreheads together instead, and Mikoto only smiles and wipes blood from the corner of his mouth. As a rough hand pushes his shoulder back and leans in to bite at his neck Munakata grabs a fistful of Suoh's hair and yanks hard – but not quite enough to pull him away, and the heat of Suoh's body is like a fire that burns too hot, that will burn itself out in no time.
Some time later he reunites with Awashima and the rest of his men, collar pulled up to hide the marks on his neck, and decides that this will not happen again.
(That night he dreams of standing on the wrecked shore and looking at the sunset as a great black silhouette emerges from the ocean and blocks out the light. Hands grab him and pull him under, pull him close, and a warm mouth crashes against his. Oxygen is breathed roughly into his lungs with the bite on his lips and he isn't really sure, if he's being drowned or being saved.
Perhaps a bit of both.)
Suoh normally sleeps at the bar but he rents a room in the city as well, and that is where they tend to meet. There are still those moments in empty buildings and hidden alleyways, tearing at each other in the middle of battle, but if they are going to do this – and apparently they are – Munakata would prefer to have some order in it.
Surprisingly Suoh doesn't often sleep afterward, though he isn't one for cuddling in the aftermath either (which is not to say that Munakata would expect or wish for such a thing, as far as that goes). Suoh is a lazy barbarian with no sense of responsibility whatsoever but lying side by side Munakata can tell somewhat more, the signs that are hidden behind the flat looks and bored shrugs. There is a fire behind Mikoto's eyes and he is never quite certain if Suoh wants to let it burn or snuff it out.
That's his way of Kingship, Munakata supposes, reaching for his own pack of cigarettes sitting on the nightstand. They speak the same language but in separate dialects and that makes all the difference, inflections and intonations that make the words sound right and the meanings differ. Munakata wears the mantle of the Blue King like a second skin, a part of his skeleton that moves with him, while to Suoh the Red King is only an anchor around his waist – he can only stay afloat for so long, and Munakata is keenly aware that each breath to Suoh is one exhale away from death.
He pulls out a cigarette and without even looking Suoh lights it for him in a movement so easy it seems nearly practiced. They dance side by side now, but one day the music will change and their rhythm will shift, and the Blue King will do what must be done.
Without thinking he reaches out and presses a hand to Suoh's bare chest, feeling the heat beneath the skin. Mikoto raises an eyebrow and blows smoke into the air.
“Never heard a heartbeat before, Munakata?” A slow drawl, with the undertone that he knows what Munakata's thoughts are, and Munakata scowls.
“Your power is far too out of control, if I can feel it at a touch.”
“Maybe.” Mikoto shrugs. “We can't all be the perfect King like you, I guess.”
(If he was perfect he wouldn't be here, but Munakata leaves the Blue King at the door before he enters into this apartment and steps inside only Munakata Reisi.)
“Do you truly intend to rush to your own destruction?” Munakata brings his own cigarette to his lips, eyes steady on Suoh's face.
“Does it matter?” Mikoto faces him fearlessly, as always, and Munakata finds himself thinking that this time his eyes are the eyes of a man rather than a beast.
“You realize what could happen if you were to allow such a thing to occur. The previous Red King's fate must not be repeated.”
“Maybe that guy got tired of it too.” Mikoto tilts his head back, smoke curling from the cigarette held between his lips, and Munakata finds himself wondering what Suoh gets out of this relationship between them, what words Suoh Mikoto reads between the lines of Munakata's meaning. “Being in this place.”
“I cannot allow that.” His words are measured and 'that' remains a question in the air.
“Yeah. I figured.” Mikoto stares up at the ceiling, hands behind his head. “In that case, I guess I'm countin' on you.”
“As always, no sense of responsibility.”
“Isn't that what the Blue King's sword is for? Upholding justice?” Mikoto shifts to look at him, grinning without mirth.
“My sword will do what is necessary to protect the peace of this city.” A piece of the Blue King has attached back to him and so he can speak for both himself and the second skin he wears.
“Yeah.” Mikoto falls back against the bed, smiling faintly, and for a moment Munakata wants to grab him by the shoulders and shake him, lose all composure and smack this irritating man in the face until he's satisfied. “I figured that's what you would say.”
“Please do not do such tiresome things that would force my sword to be sullied by your barbarian's blood,” Munakata sniffs primly.
Mikoto chuckles, but doesn't give an answer.
It’s the longing for destruction that he can’t understand, nor does he want to. There is something deep within Suoh, ravaging and impatient, that gnaws at him every day, begging to rip flesh, to burn. Munakata can’t grasp the feeling and it worries away at him, that something exists in this world that’s beyond his comprehension.
“You think too much.” Suoh leans back against the brick wall, blowing smoke. There’s a bruise darkening the side of his face, and Munakata’s stomach still aches slightly from being punched. It’s the easiest way for them to communicate in language that the other can understand.
“Better than not thinking at all, in the manner of certain people.” There’s a slight testy edge to his words and Mikoto grins.
“You don’t need to understand everything, you know. Sometimes you just need to let shit happen.”
“If it is my power to rebuild something broken I wish to do so. Unlike yourself, I have a world I wish to create.”
“Yeah, yeah. The Blue King’s like that, huh? You’ve always been a busybody, Munakata.” He says it as if they’ve known each other for years (and Munakata sometimes feels as if they have, as if it wasn’t only ‘the Blue King’ that answered the question in his mind but Suoh Mikoto as well).
“One among us must be.” Munakata turns to face him, expression pointed and serious. “There is an answer beyond breaking that cage, Suoh.”
Mikoto looks surprised for only a moment and then his features settle into something of a wry smile, oddly fond, and he blows smoke into Munakata’s face.
“Yeah. For you, I guess so.”
“Do you intend to have me kill you someday?”
“Maybe.” Mikoto shrugs. “You’re a trustworthy guy, figured it’s better than relying on that old man.”
“I will not hesitate, if given the opportunity to be the one to finish you.”
“Thought you’d say something like that.”
“Then do not test me.”
“Right.” Another slightly fond smile, and Suoh shakes his head.
“And please do not do me the indignity of attempting to apologize once I have cleaned up your mess.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Suoh rolls his eyes and Munakata plucks the cigarette from his mouth, leans in and breathes in the smoke from Suoh’s lungs.
(Whether he would have it this way or not, Munakata has his duty, and the task of filling those ever-expanding cracks on Suoh’s soul is beyond the scope of what his hands can hold. They both know it, and that’s the only reason things work between them.)
“You can't save everything.” Mikoto bites Munakata's lower lip, sharp enough to draw blood, and Munakata pulls hard at his hair, hands wrapped in fiery red strands. Mikoto bares his fangs in a smile.
“I do not recall ever saying that I wished to save you.”
“Yeah, well, it's written on your face. You're easy to read, Munakata.” Suoh falls back lazily, licking his lips slightly, and Munakata irritably rubs at the teeth marks that are forming a bruise just above his collarbone. His cravat will hide it, and the fact that he even thinks about that for a moment shames him.
“As are you.” Which is a lie, something that rankles at him constantly. Munakata Reisi has never in his life failed to understand something, until this man.
“That's your problem, Munakata. You don't need to be right about everything.” Mikoto shifts as if to bite him again and grins widely when Munakata pushes him back down.
“That I do not feel the need to give into base animal instincts like you is not due to any need for 'being right'.” Munakata gives him a cold glare. “You do not need to give into the Red King's urges yourself, Suoh.”
“Didn't say I was going to. This is me talking, not some form of a King that you've made in your mind.”
“This is where it differs between us then.” Mikoto tries to sit up again and Munakata pushes him down once more, straddling him and staring down intently. “You are a King, Suoh. You should know what that entails.”
“This is why you're annoying, Munakata.” Mikoto's eyes are piercing and Munakata refuses to be the first to look away. “What're you gonna do when what you want and what the Blue King wants aren't the same?”
“My will and the Blue King's will are as one.” Munakata leans down over him, dangerously close, and Mikoto tilts his chin up with a finger.
“That's a funny thing to say in your position. This isn't 'the Blue King,' right?” His fingers brush against Munakata's lips and part of Munakata wants to bite down and draw blood even though he knows it's wholly unlike him to do so.
“Consider it an act of subduing the beast.”
“That's crap and you know it.” Mikoto pauses, looks him in the eye. “You're better this way anyway, Munakata. Don't be that guy unless you have to be. I'm not the only one livin' in a cage.”
“Responsibility is not a cage, Suoh.”
“Not that. You’re not just the Blue King, idiot. What're you gonna do when that Sword falls?”
“Unlike you, I do not intend to lose myself so far that such a thing would be a concern.” Munakata's so close he can smell the cigarette smoke lingering on the tips of Mikoto's hair, see the wild glint in his eyes. “Suoh. The road you are on will lead only to destruction, you realize that.”
“Yeah.” There's something dark and hooded deep behind Mikoto's outer display of nonchalance and Munakata wonders what kind of dreams Suoh has during all that time he's asleep. “Guess I do.”
“I will not allow it.” The force of his own words surprises him.
“It's not up to you.” Mikoto moves under him and suddenly the tables are turned, and Munakata is the one flat on his back. “I told you before. I'm gonna live my way, and die my way.”
“This is not only about you, Suoh. You realize should the Red King's Sword fall again it will--”
“I know.” Mikoto moves away as quickly as he lunged, hands behind his head and leaning back against the bed as Munakata sits up. “It's somethin' I accepted a long time ago. Don't know why you can't.”
Because I saw a drowned city once and determined that I would be the one who saw this tragedy coming and prevented it, no matter the cost. But he can't say those words, and bites Mikoto's throat instead.
In the end things go as they'd both always expected, and Suoh is at least enough a man of his word that he doesn't apologize – not to Munakata, at least – when Munakata's sword pierces his chest.
The last vestiges of the Red King's power have already begun to fade and it's odd, to see Suoh Mikoto looking so still. Normally Munakata knows him as a man who, even asleep, radiates power and ferocity, a wild beast in a cage only because he allows himself to be. This body is not like him at all, still and red in the snow, and somehow for the first time the sword feels heavy in Munakata's hand.
There is a change in him, he knows that. It's as if something was pulled out of him the day he met Suoh Mikoto, drawn out inch by inch from deep within, and now with Suoh's death it remains stuck in place, halfway between his ribs and his heart, unable to move any further. Munakata kneels down beside the body and finds himself thinking that if he was a romantic he might take a moment to place a kiss on the dead man's lips.
He doesn't, of course. Instead Munakata takes the cigarettes from Mikoto's pocket and places them in his own, and the mantle of the Blue King is resting unsettled along his shoulders. Something has split apart, a piece of himself that shattered off when he wasn't looking, and yet he feels almost whole. As if there had always been a second question in his mind that he had never been aware of until now but somehow Suoh Mikoto had already answered it for him.
Munakata Reisi makes his way through the night step by step, a single blue figure stark against white snow, and lets the shattered piece remain where it's fallen.
(Off in the distance somewhere he can see waves, crashing against the shore, a deep blue sea that stretches out along into infinity. A boy breaks the surface, red hair burning like a wildfire in the light of the setting sun, droplets of water thrown into the air with his emergence, carrying all the untamed wildness of the waves within himself. Munakata takes a step towards the water and the boy turns, their eyes meeting for just a moment and – a smile, perhaps, wild and fleeting like the wind – the boy disappears back beneath the water, swimming for the far shore. Munakata watches him until he's no more than a speck on the horizon, and then turns and walks away.
Behind him the waves are still crashing, and the boy swims on.)