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you came back, didn't you?

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“You don’t have to blame yourself for what happened.”

Date’s calloused hands curled around the scorching cup of tea he was holding, the heat emanating from it burning at his hands, yet his interest was focused solely on Hitomi, on the words the woman spoke. The searing pain was nothing compared to the noise of her words within his head, reverberating throughout his every vein.

The room, which was normally painted in muted earthy colours to compose an atmosphere of comfort, was far too bright for him, his mind achingly aware of the texture of his clothes against his skin, how the chair Hitomi sat upon had been indented from years of wear and familiarity, yet Date’s wasn’t. How there were remnants of two people having lived in the house, rather than the three it should have been.

His mind scolded himself for thinking such things, the omnipresent voice in his head wielding a tongue consisting of blades. He had no place yearning to be in Hitomi’s house, no place in her life, after all he had done. Hitomi’s words of encouragement fell flat against Date’s walls, a fort protecting himself from the crashing waves of his own emotions. He was a detective and a criminal. There was no place for emotions in him.

“Hayato,” The name fell off Hitomi’s lips as though it were a habit, as though the six years separating them had never happened. Her tone was soft, clashing with the harsher voice of his own consciousness, yet Date supposed it had always been that way. It had always been Hitomi contrasting him, how her delicate hands would trace his own worn ones, how her skin lacked the scars that Date was littered with. How unlike him, she hadn’t crumbled under the weight of her own hardships, how she flourished where Date had failed.

He had once sworn to protect her. Yet in the end, it was Hitomi who was the strong one.

“I’m sorry,” Date confessed, his shoulders lined beneath his coat, his hair falling just short of his eyes, unable to conceal them.

Hitomi’s gaze was soft upon him, the expression adorned upon her features not one of pity, but of love. “You keep saying that. You have nothing to be sorry for.”

The conversation wasn’t new to them - they had performed this dance many times before. Date was a wildfire, a burning passion alight within his veins, a brilliant spectacle, yet he had burned out just as fast as he ignited. There was nothing left of the man he once was, for his heart had been cauterised by his own actions long ago. Hitomi had once told him that after a fire, a new generation of life begins, how life continues even after devastation. Yet Date failed to see how he could achieve such a feat, locked away in his self-inflicted prison.

“I can’t forgive myself for what I have done,” Date broke. “I don’t understand how you could, either.”

“What happened was in the past. I cannot hold that against you.” Hitomi reassured, her voice rising above the noise that cascaded within Date’s head, Hitomi becoming the centre of his attention.

Date failed to meet Hitomi’s gaze, unable to look into the eyes of the one he adored, the memories of her injury too much for him to bear. “You trusted me.”

“And I’d do it again,” Hitomi spoke, Date noting how her tone was unwavering, the realisation of her honesty only causing more anguish.

Hitomi leaned closer to Date, bringing up her hand to slowly cup the man’s face, the action both causing his heart to swell and to constrict. The tenderness of his fingers against his scarred skin soothed the blazing torment that lingered within his blood.

“How?” Date barely kept his voice flat, yet he was certain that Hitomi was able to detect the slight shake in his voice. “How can you forgive me?”

“I had forgiven you before you had even left.”

Date, exhausted, finally broke his avoidance and looked upwards, towards the face of his once-lover. She had looked as lovely as when they had first met, her features Date had committed to memory over countless days still present. As his stare collided with Hitomi’s gaze, Date found his fatigue compounding upon his shoulders, the weight of the world finally overcoming him. He let his head drop, Hitomi moving just as quickly to rest him upon her chest.

“You haven’t changed at all,” He remarked, closing his eyes as his head slowly began to ache.

Hitomi gently sighed, “You haven’t either, dear.”

“I’ve gotten worse.”

“No,” Hitomi countered, raising her hand to run her fingers softly through Date’s hair as though she were comforting a child. “You haven’t. You’ve done amazing things. You saved multiple people.”

“That isn’t enough to excuse my past. Not enough to excuse hurting you.”

“You came back, didn’t you?” Hitomi stilled. “For you to return, that’s all I ever needed. If you’re here, that’s more than enough for me.”

Date weakly raised his head to look at Hitomi, at how she was smiling down upon him, similarly to how she had done during those first days when they met. She saw past his flaws, instead choosing to believe in him, to love the man who had composed numerous fond memories. Date truly believed he didn’t deserve her.

Date raised himself from her embrace, exhaling slowly, sorting through his tumultuous thoughts to compose something worthy to say to his beloved. He had once promised to be there for her, to be there for Iris. He had broken many promises before, and let down countless others. But a part of him refused to add Hitomi to the list, defiantly pushing him to be a worthy lover, a worthy father. 

Hitomi, sensing his internal strife, spoke once more. “I love you, and I always have. If I had cared about you being less than perfectly moral, I would have left you back at the shrine. I don’t care about what happened, but only if you’ll stay with me, with Iris and I, once more.”

Swallowing, Date met her gaze. For the longest time, he had been running from something, whether it was the consequences of his own actions, or physically from a suspect. He had once settled, yet it had ended in disaster. Despite the part of him that was terrified of what he might do, what he could do, he swore not to let that happen again.

“I’ll do it - I’ll stay. Of course I will.”

Date observed how a smile broke out on Hitomi’s face, how her eyes lit up in a way that Date wished he could preserve. If it meant he could protect that smile, Date found himself dreading the future all the little bit less. He imagined how Iris would react, or how even Mizuki would. 

Long ago, he had found a home in the house where he was seated. After six years, he would finally return to it.

“I love you, Hitomi.”