“Oh, what’s this?”
Nana looks up from where she’s petting the raven, running delicate fingers along his smooth back and soft feathers. The raven, too, looks up and blinking his third eye, lets out a throaty caw of happiness when he sees who’s approaching. Nana smiles.
Hajime moves with more purpose than anyone else in the village. Even if she could not see his face, Nana would know that long, loping stride anywhere. There’s a sense of importance and even regality in the way Hajime carries himself—the kind of chin-held-high, shoulders-thrown-back pride in his strength and knowledge of his place in the world that very few men had. Hajime’s every exhale breathed life, each of his movements professed his health and power. Even now, strolling down the cobblestone path casually, Nana could feel his energy in raised eyebrows, sun-dark skin, and the straightness of his back.
The truth of the matter was that Hajime had become the heart of the sleepy little mountain village, one way or another. A village like theirs should have been tired and worn out by now, populated by the elderly and young family members looking to get out. But ever since that summer storm—it had been a typhoon, really—and Hajime’s stay through summer’s end for the first time, a new frenzy for life had taken a hold of the village. Crops grew taller, water clearer, storms lighter. The young adults fell in love and children ran in the streets.
Perhaps it was all a hoax to attribute the growth of the village to Hajime, but once a superstitious people, always a superstitious people, and Hajime was a good omen they could call by name. (And even if Hajime complained that the villagers put too much faith in him, Nana thought it fine. After all, even if they could only gossip and theorize about Hajime’s role in their newfound fortune, she knew it to be true that Hajime had done something amazing on that mountain.)
“I thought you were fixing Hazaki-san’s roof,” Nana calls out pleasantly to her grandson. She can see a thin sheen of sweat over his shoulders in the late morning sun and darker patches soaking through the front of his tank from hard manual labor. Hajime puts some space between them, wary of how smelly and dirty he is and Nana laughs.
“I was,” he agrees. “But I made pretty short work of those boards he wanted me to cut.” He’s grinning, pleased with his own strength and usefulness to the man who had become something of a mentor and close friend to him over the years.
“Ah,” Nana says, raising her eyebrows in understanding. “Is that what the sawdust all over you is about?”
Hajime brushes self-consciously at his shirt and arms. “Um,” he says. “Maybe?”
Nana cocks one eyebrow with a sly grin. “Are you sure his wife isn’t the scheming mind behind all this physical labor? Amari-chan’s still young, and you know how the young women like to giggle over handsome young men.”
“Nana,” Hajime scolds with a laugh. “You shouldn’t throw around such wild accusations.” She’s not wrong though. The girls of the village liked sparkly new things from the city and muscles on boys, and while Hajime may not have been that much of a city novelty anymore, he still had arms that intimidated half the male population of the village under the age of thirty.
“Fine, fine,” Nana relents. “But do remember to put on sunscreen when you’re working on the roof, won’t you? Even with a tan that dark you could still get burned.”
“Now you’re just trying to avoid the situation at hand,” Hajime teases. He whistles softly and holds up his forearm. The raven immediately flutters from the windowsill next to Nana to land on Hajime’s arm, being careful not to dig his claws in too deep. His three eyes stare up at Hajime with respect and adoration, and he warbles softly.
Nana pouts. “What a show-off my grandson is,” she sighs dramatically. “The favorite child of both this village and the animals. Next thing you know, you’ll have a greener thumb than me.”
Hajime scratches under the raven’s neck and rolls his eyes. “Please. As if there’s anyone in this region—no, no, in the entirety of Japan—who is better with plants than you. You impressed a powerful mountain god, Nana. I’d say that’s pretty spectacular.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” she huffs in mock-irritation. The raven warbles again and Hajime looks back down at him.
“How long has he been here? Do you know what he wants?” Hajime asks, tilting his head to the side a little.
“Well, I’d think that much would be obvious. Your husband is summoning you to the mountain.” Nana pulls her shawl around herself a little tighter, watching the grin on Hajime’s face soften to something both a fragile as a sprout’s first leaves and as unbreakable as the roots of an ancient oak. When he looks at the raven, Nana can see the wild green of his eyes—not so much an appearance of recklessness, but a reflection of the world where Hajime belongs. She glances up at the green mountain, its color returning, then to Hajime’s eyes, shining. “No difference at all,” she laughs to herself.
“What was that, Nana?” Hajime asks, blinking and looking up from the raven. “And—hey! He’s not my husband,” Hajime sputters belatedly. “I told you, that was a joke. I can’t actually get married to Tooru.”
“Then make her your wife,” Nana suggests. Hajime sighs with the weight of having had this conversation before.
“It won’t work.” He’s not sad—just resigned. “Not that any of that ceremony matters. The formality would be nice, but…we’re already sworn to each other, paperwork or not.” The raven nibbles at his finger.
It’s moments like these that scare Nana, just a bit. The Hajime that first met Tooru all those years ago didn’t see the village as home; he saw it as a vacation, an exploration, but ultimately a place to leave. As he got older, Hajime began to consider the village his true home and the city with its people and business a necessary evil. But now…now Nana is sure that Hajime’s home no longer lies within the village, but on that mountain.
She won’t hold it against Tooru for stealing her family away from her—perhaps it is just fate. She knows the green of Hajime’s eyes well and the looks of longing he steals at the mountain, even so close to it now. Her husband, too, looked at the mountain that way, although his heart was torn between it and her and in the end his eyes were the soft greens of the garden they planted together and not the dark, mysterious greens of the mountain that hid magic in its colors. Perhaps, Nana thinks, there was always meant to be one of the Sakurai bloodline who couldn’t bear to live as a human.
Besides, Nana doesn’t think she has the strength to cage Hajime into village life when Tooru and the mountain make him look like that, all soft and vulnerable and painfully young and in love. She couldn’t take that from him, but at the same time, there’s a part of her that knows instinctually she doesn’t have to. While human mortality is something she faces unafraid every day, Hajime becomes more and more blissfully unaware of his own humanity as the days pass, and whether it’s the height of his youth or something magical, she can’t tell. What she does know is that Hajime treats each day like they will spread out endlessly in front of him for eternity, and given the power of Oikami, it’s not exactly impossible.
Hajime makes a squawking noise in a crude attempt to mimic the raven’s warbling, and he ruffles his feathers in response. Nana laughs at the raven’s annoyance and sets her chair rocking. Hajime scowls at her and the bird and mutters something about not being respected around here. Well, Nana thinks to herself, I probably don’t need to worry about him disappearing into the forest just yet.
“Did he come with a message?” Nana asks, somewhat eagerly. Hajime’s ability to communicate with the gods and spirits of the mountain never ceased to amaze her. “I couldn’t understand him, but he’s the three-eyed one, isn’t he?”
Hajime remembers, strangely guiltily, that despite how in-tune Nana was with nature, she still couldn’t see the spirits for what they truly were. The three-eyed raven must appear to her simply as an extremely friendly bird that likes his feathers patted, yet when they was patting him she had avoided touching his third eye out of some inborn instinct that confused and fascinated Hajime. “I’ll ask him,” Hajime says softly.
It’s easy enough to talk to the spirits; almost all the minor gods can comprehend human speech and even the little spirits can read Hajime’s intonations and pick up emotions from his voice. It’s the listening that’s the hard part. “Alright, lay it on me,” he tells the raven. “What does does my obnoxious significant other want from me this time? And if it’s that he can’t get dirt out of one of his back scales like last time, I swear to god—”
It’s time, the raven speaks into Hajime’s mind, the clearest he’s ever heard. It’s time.
“Time for what?” Hajime asks, mystified.
Time, the raven insists, cawing for emphasis. Time, time, time…
“Okay! I got it! It’s time! Why the fuck does he have to be so mysterious?” Hajime grouses, soothing the raven with a few strokes along hiss back.
This is important, the raven says softer. You have to go. You can’t hesitate or look back.
Hajime, in an instinctual act, directly disobeys the raven and glances at Nana. She looks relatively undisturbed, still smiling gently and rocking, like she already knows what’s going on. Hajime wishes she would let him in on the big secret already.
“If you need to go, go,” Nana says simply. “I trust you and I trust Tooru. Trust in him, too, Hajime. He would never force you to do something that would upset you.”
Hajime feels a calmness and clarity settle over him at her words. That’s right. Tooru knew how dearly Hajime loved his grandmother; he would never selfishly force Hajime to abandon her at a moment’s notice. In the past, maybe he would have, but not the Tooru Hajime knew now. Despite the mystery and ominous tone to the raven’s message, he must mean something else. “Thank you,” Hajime replies, struck by how much he loves Nana and gratitude for everything she put up with.
“Where does he want me to meet him?” Hajime asks, turning back to the raven.
The old shrine, the raven replies. Hajime burrows his brows and purses his lips, thoughtful. Tooru could only mean the green shrine, but…why the hell was he referring to his own shrine as old? Was he really so vain that he couldn’t recognize it for the value it had?
Yes, Hajime thinks, snorting. This is Tooru after all. Vain is his middle name. Out loud, Hajime says, “If he thinks he can complain enough about the wear and tear of his own shrine that I build him a new one, he has another thing coming.” Hajime’s hand ghosts over his heart. It doesn’t matter either way, he thinks. Tooru’s already built his temple in me.
Hajime grabs his straw hat off the hook next to Nana’s, clucking his tongue and muttering something about Tooru being a pain in the ass. The raven flutters to his shoulder. “Nana, I’ll be out for a while. I…don’t actually know when I’ll be back. Time isn’t always the same over there.”
He says it like ‘over there,’ special emphasis telling Nana this wouldn’t be a romp around the mountain that Hajime would come back at 2 AM, sweaty and disheveled and full of laughter in the dead of night. This was a journey to the spirit realm, and Hajime might disappear for days at a time, enthralled by both his lover and his true calling, something he might know to be his purpose in life, but not completely sure of just yet.
“I won’t worry,” Nana lies, soft as bird feathers. “Go on, get out of here. You’re keeping royalty waiting.”
Hajime makes a face at the word ‘royalty,’ but then he’s off with a wave, not running but not quite walking either. For every word Hajime spoke to the contrary, Nana knew his annoyance with Tooru was minimal at worst. He didn’t see the way his steps faltered when he thought too hard about Tooru, or the way his hand strayed to touch his heart like there was a lifeline between him and the mountain (there was), or the way he shed his mature and respectable persona to become something delicate and real and young when he talked about Tooru.
“Take care of him for me,” Nana says into the soft spring wind, letting the air currents carry her words to the mountain where she hopes the ever-listening ear of the mountain god hears her prayer.
Hajime had said that Tooru was neither his husband nor his wife, nor a spouse of any kind, but sometimes Tooru really makes him wonder.
“Um,” is the best and most clever response Hajime can come up with upon seeing Tooru.
He has taken his male form, but he is unlike any human of any gender that Hajime has ever seen before. Tooru sits atop his own shrine garbed in an array of white silks and semi-translucent fabrics that wrap him in holy light from the early afternoon sun, making him seem like a Christian angel or truly a god descended from a higher plane of existence to grace the earth with his presence. His right shoulder is bare from his neck almost to his elbows, the only skin showing besides his pale pink palms and toes poking out from the bottom of his clothing. He wears a silver circlet, blue soul flowers appearing to be blooming from the cold metal vines curling around the crown of his head.
Even for Tooru, this is a bit over the top. Hajime is actually speechless, not so much at Tooru’s awe-inspiring beauty but at the soft and genuine smile that curls his lips and makes the corners of his eyes crinkle upon seeing Hajime. It’s a look of unadulterated fondness and Hajime, who converses with banter interspersed with soft-spoken truths, is caught off guard. Tooru doesn’t say anything, just waits.
“That’s a rare smile, with no ulterior motive,” Hajime finally manages to croak out, throat clogged with emotion.
Tooru giggles like the truly mischievous child he’s always been and lights down from the shrine with infuriating grace. His toes curl in the moss covering the ancient stone floor and the sensation makes him huff with satisfaction. He pads to Hajime’s side delicately, his silks or robes or whatever flowing around him in a way that is unnaturally elegant and absolutely, absolutely done on purpose. “My smile is always straightforward and pure,” Tooru counters, wiggling his eyebrows and completely ruining any truthfulness that might have lain in that statement.
“Hearing the words ‘straightforward’ and ‘pure’ coming from you is weird enough as it is,” Hajime says gruffly, making an attempt not to stare too hard at his lover and best friend, but clucking his tongue in annoyance after about twenty seconds and taking in Tooru head to toe. Tooru beams at his success.
“Why d’you look so gorgeous, Tooru?” Hajime murmurs softly, his ear-tips going pink at having to admit it. “It’s just me.”
Tooru catches Hajime’s chin when he ducks his head, lifts it to meet his eyes. “Because it’s you,” Tooru replies with rare honesty. Hajime grudgingly looks him in the eye, then has to look away immediately at the actual purity of emotions in Tooru’s expression, his straightforward love without a hint of deceit.
How does it feel to eat your own words, Hajime? He grumbles to himself.
Hajime takes Tooru’s elbows in his hands, drawing Tooru close enough to rest their foreheads together with rare gentleness on Hajime’s part. Their relationship from meeting to now had been reckless and wild, punctuated by misunderstandings and hurt, their roughness and childishness causing them to grate on each other’s edges. But they never broke. Hajime and Tooru had both been stones in the rough, polished by their scraps and stumbles along the way to becoming perfectly rounded in their relationship, balanced and loved enough to make the hurts a distant memory.
I’ll eat my words a thousand times over if it means I get to have this.
“I am well-loved,” Hajime breathes into the space between them, and feels the answering puff of agreement from Tooru. Tooru rubs their foreheads together, soft bangs tickling Hajime’s nose, nuzzling as he loved to do in any of his forms. Their noses brush and Hajime’s eyes are startled open from where he didn’t even know he had closed them. Tooru pauses to take him in—they both take in each other—and then Tooru makes a small hum of appreciation.
“And yet I’m the one who has to put up with grumpy eyebrows and constant accusation of being impure, how unfair,” Tooru chides, the severity of his tone broken by giggles and a smile too big for his face.
“Oi, you,” Hajime growls, but Tooru’s poorly muffled giggles force a smile from him as well. “You are incredibly well-loved.” Hajime kisses Tooru’s nose and forehead, his eyebrows when he wrinkles his nose and scrunches them, his eyelids when he squeezes them shut, and his cheeks when they blush a rosy pink that rises to the surface so easily with the paleness of Tooru’s skin.
“Hajime—Hajime, stop,” Tooru laughs, wiggling in Hajime’s grip and squirming at the affection, playfully pushing at his chest. “Ew, I’m getting human all over me! Yucky, yucky I am a god, I am the grand king of this mountain, how dare—”
“I gave you that nickname,” Hajime replies, rolling his eyes.
“So you did,” Tooru sighs. Hajime doesn’t return to peppering Tooru with kisses, and Tooru glances at him shyly. “Aren’t you going to…?”
“Aren’t I going to what?” Hajime counters with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, don’t me say it, that’s playing dirty…Hajime-chan, no,” Tooru whines when Hajime keeps up his stoic façade. Tooru tugs petulantly on Hajime’s tank and Hajime begins to feel himself melting.
“I thought I was a yucky human,” Hajime teases. “Sure you don’t want to get your clothes filthy?”
“I lied, I lied! There!” Tooru yells, screwing up his face. “It was nice, so you sh—mmfff…”
Hajime cuts him off by leaning in and up, ambushing Tooru when his eyes are closed and he’s mid-rant. Hajime kisses the words right out of Tooru’s mouth, sucking the sounds off his lips and onto Hajime’s own tongue. Tooru swears he can see the characters float between their mouths for a moment, swears he can watch Hajime form the syllables Tooru had in mind with his own mouth, stealing the Tooru’s thoughts from him.
Then they are sincere in their kissing, Hajime’s hands sliding to grip Tooru’s upper arms and Tooru’s hands cupping Hajime’s cheek to mold him like clay, show him where to kiss. Hajime follows his lead beautifully, breaking only to nip at Tooru’s chin affectionately, a gesture Tooru had taught him that existed between dragon gods. It sends shivers down Tooru’s spine, shaking him so fundamentally that he feels the skin on his back ripple into scales he must force to lie flat.
“Hajime,” he tries to say, tries to express what the intimacy means to him, but Hajime has already taken a keen interest in Tooru’s mouth while he was distracted (Hajime had always had a thing for Tooru’s lips, anyway).
“Don’t talk, Tooru,” Hajime asks of him softly. “Let me just…” He tugs gently at Tooru’s lower lip, sucking on it and pulling it into his mouth. He lets go with a soft pop that sends a different kind of tremor down Tooru’s spine. Hajime does this again once, twice, three times until he’s satisfied. He looks up at Tooru with this hazy, glazed-over pleasure and devotion to Tooru that thoroughly wrecks the god from the inside out, and Tooru devours him.
Tooru clasps Hajime’s face tighter, running his tongue across Hajime’s upper lip until Hajime parts his lips, letting Tooru take control, swiping his tongue into Hajime’s mouth and tracing the weak, flat human teeth with a smile, the ridges of the roof of his mouth that made Hajime gasp, and then across his tongue, curling them together until Hajime finally pulled away with a breathless laugh and an I have to breathe, you know. Tooru is impatient as ever, chasing Hajime’s mouth and running his teeth along his lips, careful to keep his own teeth from shifting into the predatory fangs they truly were.
It doesn’t take much coaxing to pull Hajime back to him, locked together at the mouth, Hajime’s hands squeezing and releasing Tooru’s arms in a desperate attempt to do something with them. It’s when he slides them to Tooru’s waist that Tooru shies away, tutting at him and shaking his head.
“Not yet, Hajime-chan,” he says. “Soon, but not yet.”
Hajime doesn’t know what that means. “Soon until what?” He asks, baffled. He recalls the raven’s message. “I thought you told me it was time.”
Tooru giggles, covering the sound with his hand. “It is time. Just not here in front of my old shrine. Somewhere else.”
“I don’t understand,” Hajime complains, sounding like Tooru himself for a moment. “You’re being far more secretive than usual, and it doesn’t sit well with me. You also never told me why you’re um, dressed like this.” Hajime loses the edge to his voice when he’s forced to take in Tooru again, this time with spit-shined and puffy red lips. It’s a losing battle to maintain his cool.
“This is my wedding gown,” Tooru says simply. “Don’t worry, you don’t need to wear anything; I would have told you if you did.”
Hajime makes a face at the non-answer. “I still don’t know wh—”
“I’m going to take you to Seijou,” Tooru explains, and Hajime’s heart stops.
Seijou, Tooru’s birthplace. Seijou, the valley of dragon gods. Seijou, the one place in the spirit world Tooru wouldn’t take him until it was—until it was ‘time.’ Not in the summer, too rowdy with young dragons becoming adults. Not in the fall, when the mood was a bittersweet one with all the young adults leaving. And not in the winter, when the dragons sheltered themselves away. Spring, however…spring was when Tooru wanted Hajime to see his homeland for the first time.
“You’re seriously going to?” Hajime asks, feeling winded.
Tooru nods excitedly. “Tomorrow night is when the newborns will hatch. I wanted you to see it with me, as I have to watch over them. I want to show you everything, and then see the beginning of new life.”
Hajime’s mouth quirks in a knowing smirk. “So this is why you’re all dressed up. You want to impress your people, huh?”
“And make sure you would agree to it!” Tooru huffs indignantly. “Honestly, Hajime, you think I don’t adore the way you look at me? I’m much too vain to take it for granted.”
“For the supreme ruler of this mountain, you sure are a loser,” Hajime deadpans. “So needy.”
“But you’re blushing,” Tooru points out, a self-satisfied smirk on his face. Hajime snorts and flicks him across the forehead, making Tooru yelp. The sound warps and grows in volume, though, as Tooru’s human form wavers and morphs fluidly into his true body. The white, fluttering clothing melts into soft fur, wild brown hair into a thick teal mane, nails and teeth from soft to deadly, and his eyes—well. Tooru’s eyes never really changed.
Hajime feels a helpless smile crawl across his face at Tooru’s majesty. He runs a hand along the side of Tooru’s muzzle, spreading his fingers against his cheekbone and jaw. Tooru lets out a soft growling purr of contentment and headbutts Hajime’s shoulder a little.
“It’s not fair that you’re so beautiful in all your forms,” Hajime complains good-naturedly. “Why aren’t you at least an ugly dragon?” He tweaks Tooru’s ear and the god snorts.
“Are you just going to sit there all day admiring my cool beauty or are we going to go, Hajime-chan?” Tooru says, but Hajime can detect the slightest trace of embarrassment in his voice.
“As if I’ll pass up a chance to fly,” Hajime replies, sliding around the the crook between Tooru’s neck and shoulders and swinging a leg over his body. “Take me home, Tooru.”
Tooru brings him to Seijou right before Aoba Johsai lifts off into the air, taking its fog with it. The ancient guardian makes a low rumble of acknowledgement of the mountain’s master when Tooru lands delicately on the ground and approaches it. To Hajime, it sounds like the deep bellow of a foghorn—loud and frightening, but also somehow wise and as archaic as the creature itself. The pale dragon blinks its milky eyes at Hajime once and Hajime thinks himself blessed—either that or the dragon sees something that Hajime doesn’t, some future where he is relevant enough to acknowledge. Or it could have just been blinking.
It rises into flight effortlessly, drawing in a deep inhale that pulls all the fog from the forest back into its body and ruffles Hajime’s hair. Its many legs hardly even dent the treetops when it pushes off, taking to the air. “It does not exist as we do. It is a concept and a protector with a semi-mortal form and an immortal consciousness,” Tooru explains. “It will exist long after you or I, long after the world is destroyed.”
“It blinked at me,” Hajime says, still dumbfounded.
“Yes,” Tooru says, amused. “That’s not unusual behavior from my subjects. You are my right hand, my closest companion, and my chosen soulmate. You will be respected wherever I hold power.”
“That’s, uh, nice?” Hajime sputters, not quite sure how to take the news that he actually is important, and especially not when there are spirits edging closer to them, trying to get a closer look.
“Come on,” Tooru sighs, rolling his eyes. “I want you to meet my family.” He shifts back to human, much to Hajime’s confusion.
“Shouldn’t you be, y’know, a dragon when going to meet dragons?” Hajime asks.
Tooru shakes his head. “I want to be in full support of you.” He bites his lip. “I, um, haven’t been back home much since I became Oikami. I’m not…sure…how my family will react to me taking a human as my spouse.”
Hajime’s jaw drops. “What? Are you—are you implying your family might eat me or otherwise kill me if they don’t approve?!”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Tooru protests, but he still looks nervous. “I’m strong enough to defend you against any of them—and anyway, what the hell? We’re not savages! We don’t eat people!”
Hajime crosses his arms. “Oh yeah? So then what happens to the ones who aren’t proper ‘marriage’ material according to your family?”
Tooru looks sheepish. “Er…they might get cursed? Or booted forcefully from the spirit world? Mostly cursed, though. For ‘seducing’ one of the family.” Hajime pales considerable and Tooru waves his hands frantically. “That was like a hundred years ago though! They might have changed! As long as you treat them with respect they probably won’t curse you!”
“Probably?” Hajime shouts hysterically.
“I’ll protect you, I swear!” Tooru yells back.
They regard each other for a moment. Hajime looks at the forest entrance, the deepest shades of green and blue in the spirit world, rich with life and magic and mystery and Tooru’s history. He wants to go. He wants to see Seijou for real, wants to see Tooru get that light in his eyes when he’s excited about something, talking too fast and gesturing excessively with his hands. He wants to know every part of Tooru and he wants Tooru’s family to like him, which, what the hell.
“I want them to know you,” Tooru says softly. “They can’t stop me, because I rule over them, but I want my family to like you, and I want you to like them. I want them to approve of you and I want you to be a part of our life.”
“I want that, too,” Hajime agrees, holding out a hand to Tooru. “Let’s go, okay? There’s no point in worrying about it before it’s even happened. I trust you.” Tooru sniffles childishly, but takes his hand, pulling Hajime into the folds of the leaves and plant life of his home.
The first thing Hajime notices upon entering the Seijou forest is that it has a different atmosphere than the human world or even the spirit world. Maybe it’s just the lingering fog from Aoba Johsai, but the electricity of the spirit world seems muted by heavy air, thick with humidity and cool on Hajime’s skin. It’s refreshing on his skin now that the heat of spring has settled in, and Hajime automatically relaxes, his grip on Tooru’s hand softening to a gentle and warm grasp. Tooru glances over his shoulder, lips quirking in a smile.
“What do you think?” Tooru murmurs, voice soft. Hajime wants to snap that they’ve only been inside the borders of the forest for a few moments, but the truth is that he already has an impression of the place. Seijou is quiet for a forest—wind doesn’t ruffle the trees, nor do small animals or spirits. Everything is still, but not without depth. Hajime runs a hand over the ancient, smooth bark of a tree and swears he can hear the voices of Tooru’s ancestors conversing centuries back, recorded in the memory of the tree.
“This place is powerful,” Hajime observes. “The magic here is strong, ancient. It’s embedded everywhere in Seijou—living and non-living. Tooru…this place is sacred.” He pulls his hand away and the whispers stop, but he swears he catches a glimpse of a mane ragged with age or flowing whiskers, much longer than a dragon’s body length, grown from wisdom attained. Tooru’s ancestors’ spirits are here.
Tooru beams at him. “Then you feel them too, right?” He determines. “The echoes of all the dragoons ever born in Seijou remain here, even after their souls are long gone. We come here to pray or to meditate or to reflect on what to do if we’re lost.”
“So it is a holy place,” Hajime murmurs, dropping his voice to match Tooru’s. “I shouldn’t be here.”
“You are one of us now,” Tooru says cryptically. “Or, you will be soon. I want you to see this place, as I want you to see every place.”
“Does this place have a name?” Hajime asks him, taking care where he treads and what he touches.
“Sasayaki,” Tooru replies, “since it is a place of whispers and soft echoes of the past. This is where I decided I wanted you, you know.”
Hajime sputters inelegantly. “You what?”
Tooru grins playfully. “Yeah. I had considered it fleetingly, before I invited you to that celebration and into the circle. Not as something permanent…I wanted you physically, especially as you matured. But it wasn’t enough, really. I came here to ask my ancestors what to do.”
“And what did they tell you?” Hajime asks.
“They didn’t tell me jack shit,” Tooru laughs. “No one responded to my pleas, probably because the idea of choosing a human was so ludicrous they thought it a joke. But as I sat there mournfully, waiting for an answer that would never come, all I could think about was if you were there, you would know what to do. That’s about the time I decided I’d make my own rules when I became Oikami, and then no one would be able to oppose my choice.”
“That is…surprisingly romantic,” Hajime concedes. “And typical of you, doing your own thing instead of abiding by the rules. Are you even going to be able to obey your own laws?”
Tooru sputters indignantly, making Hajime laugh a little and squeeze his hand. “I’m teasing. This time at least, I’m glad you disobeyed.”
Hajime gets a tiny squeeze of his hand back in reply as Tooru averts his eyes, tugging Hajime over to a large boulder a couple hundred feet away in amongst some fallen logs and smaller rocks. It’s precarious to reach the boulder as humans—enough for them to drop hands—but Tooru is bright-eyed and eager when they reach the stone. Hajime touches the surface of the boulder and jerks away almost immediately when he finds it freezing and damp to the touch.
“The fuck?” He grumbles, glaring at the silvery colored stone that shone even with a thick canopy of leaves above them. “This is gross.”
“This is the memory stone, Hajime-chan,” Tooru says, amusement dancing in his eyes. “The trees of Sasayaki record our lives and souls, but this is where you can preserve words and thoughts of great importance for generations to come. It’s not gross, silly Hajime.”
“How was I supposed to know that?” Hajime cries. “Why does it have to be so cold?”
“You have to make it warm,” Tooru explains. “Pour your emotions and your memories into the words you whisper to the stone, and it will respond.” He rests his cheek against the boulder, eyes fluttering half-lidded. Tooru lets out a soft sigh and doesn’t tear his eyes from Hajime’s when he says, “I love Iwaizumi Hajime, now and into the far reaches of eternity.”
Hajime feels like he was struck by lightning—no, it’s the spike of heat that emanates from where Tooru’s cheek touches the rock, burning across the surface until Hajime can feel the waves of warmth pulse off of it without even laying a finger on the rock, there and gone in a heartbeat. He swallows thickly. “That’s…that’s really personal,” Hajime notes, voice strained.
“It’s important to me that those feelings are preserved forever,” Tooru replies. “That’s why it was so hot.”
“I don’t like how smooth you’re being,” Hajime grouses. “It’s weirding me out. Even for you, this is—” He pauses on the words over the top. Actually, this whole day had been over the top, from Tooru’s fancy dress, to carrying him to Seijou, to taking him to a sacred place in the Seijou forest, to just now, his devoted whispers. Hajime wishes he knew what was going on.
“Oh? Well then, why don’t you try?” Tooru giggles, teasing. Hajime puffs up his chest.
“How hard can it be?” He mutters to himself. Wincing, the presses both his palms flat against the boulder, ignoring the unpleasant feeling on his hands. He leans forward, close enough for his forehead to touch, but draws a blank on what to say. Tooru is watching him with amusement in his eyes, both making Hajime want to show him up and also shy away from the attention.
He grits his teeth. Shit, he’s committed to the action, but what the hell should he say? It’s no good just to say that he loves Tooru—that would be a rip off of what his partner had already said. Besides, whispering ‘I love you’ into a rock felt to insincere to Hajime. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel confident in his affection for Tooru—in fact, it was the opposite. He couldn’t speak with such unwavering pride and confidence in himself to sincerely convey his feelings for Tooru.
An idea catches at his mind. It’s not…it’s not a bold declaration of love, but it is a statement, and one Hajime will stand behind for the rest of his life. He exhales against the cold stone, fingers warming just a little at the warm air.
“Long live Tooru Oikami, forever may the grand king reign,” he breathes into the boulder. For a moment, he feels nothing but the slightest warmth under his hands, as if the rock had been warmed from the inside out by the heat of an internal sun. For a moment, Hajime thinks it didn’t work and his words weren’t powerful enough.
But then he hears a sound like ice crackling loose through a glacier or the crunch of snow under a boot, and he glances up to see the boulder take on a bright silvery gleam, brighter than before, spiderwebbing out from where his hands rested on it. The light is that same familiar heat—the warmth of a body under a blanket or a room warmed by a fire—not the searing passion of Tooru’s declaration, but far-reaching and slow-moving, lingering in the stone even when Hajime pulls away, taking a step back. The entire boulder glows, radiating Hajime’s love for Tooru.
“Woah,” Hajime says in a small voice.
“Woah,” Tooru echoes. He meets Hajime’s eyes with wonder. “Just how much do you love me, Hajime?” He asks in the same small voice, not a scrap of teasing in it.
“Dumbass,” Hajime chokes, but it’s not like he can deny it. “Do I have to even say it? Look at your stupid…spirit boulder or whatever.”
“We should…meet my family,” Tooru says slowly, unable to tear his eyes from the stone. “Like, now.”
“Yeah,” Hajime agrees. “You, er, lead the way?”
Tooru brushes past him gently to take the lead, but it’s not without a shy glance at Hajime that makes his stomach flip. I thought we were done with this, Hajime wants to groan. I thought we were done with the whole teenagers-in-love phase. It’s quite the chore to get goosebumps whenever we brush or feel flighty inside whenever we look at each other too long. Tooru trips over a log and nearly fall face first into the ground with a startle yip, clearly having been lost in thought. It coaxes a smile out of Hajime. Well. Maybe it wasn’t all bad.
When Hajime sees his second dragon, it is on a plain of long grass between forest patches with the wind whipping his tank wild, and it nearly gives him a heart attack.
The dragon announces his presence with a bark-roar of surprise, dropping on the ground right in front of Hajime and scaring the shit out of him, enough that he jumps back and falls on his ass. Panic flashes across his mind for a second until he remembers that right, he should have been looking out for dragons in the first place given that Tooru’s entire family consisted of them, and anyway, Tooru was running to embrace the muzzle of the new dragon.
He’s a young god—older than Tooru, but not by much. And considering how Tooru’s growth had accelerated because of Hajime’s song and magic, Tooru would probably be bigger than him despite being younger. The dragon has a coat of fur like Tooru, but his is a dark ash-grey, and his mane is a deep purple, almost black. He quivers excitedly under Tooru’s caresses and Hajime surmises that they haven’t seen each other in quite a while.
It’s strange to hear Tooru speak in the clicks and growls and playful snarls of his species when he’s in his human form. Hajime feels a little out of place, standing up and brushing the dirt off his legs and butt awkwardly. However, it’s also a family reunion for Tooru, so he leaves them alone to their greetings.
Well, he intends to, but when Hajime turns around, he comes face to face with a third dragon, this one significantly larger and longer than Tooru, his whiskers curled and fraying at the ends, proving just how old he was. He’d crept up on their party silently, too, barely making a sound even as he pads through the grass, gold and completely inhuman eyes wide and fixed on Hajime. Hajime can’t even force words to come out of his throat to call Tooru over to save him.
The third dragon—covered in pale blue scales unlike the other two—draws fearlessly close to Hajime, who stands stock still, hoping that staring at the dragon in paralyzed fear could be considered ‘polite.’ The dragon parts its mouth to draw in Hajime’s scent and he is made painfully aware of the clean, ivory rows of teeth that dragons possessed, and how easy it would be for him to close his jaw around Hajime and bite him in two.
But the dragon doesn’t. He snorts at Hajime’s scent, shaking his head and neck (his mane was cream-colored and thicker than Tooru’s, Hajime noted—but it still flowed as if defying gravity with the majesty of his magic, though). An almost human look of amusement appears across the dragon’s face, and in a surprisingly light voice, he says, “Ah. So you must be Hajime.”
Hajime gapes, mouth flapping open and shut like a fish, but Tooru saves him from answering by rushing to his side, calling out to the third dragon with a pitched roar that Hajime identifies as a name of some kind. Tooru doesn’t embrace this dragon though, keeping a respectful distance and dipping his head in greeting, although his eyes still shine with familial love.
“Would you mind making introductions, Oikami-san?” The dragon requests, but with a teasing edge to his voice, the honorific more of a joke than serious respect.
“Of course!” Tooru exclaims, delighted. “Hajime, this is…” He makes a face. “Yahaba, I believe, is the best translation for his name. Yahaba, this is Hajime.” Tooru gestures at the grey trotting over to join the other three. “And he’s…Shinji!”
Shinji dips his head twice at Hajime, nearly bouncing with excitement. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Hajime-san! Tooru spoke of you often.”
Hajime snaps out of his stupor in order to bow deeply to the young god, remembering what Tooru had said about respect. “It is an honor to meet Tooru’s kin, please, the honorific isn’t necessary.” Shinji laughs.
“I like him, Tooru!” He exclaims. “Bring him around more often, won’t you?”
Tooru doesn’t breathe a word of their future plans. “I’m glad to hear that! And Hajime, don’t feel like you have to treat this kid with the utmost respect—he’s just a kid after all.” Tooru wraps a hand around one of Shinji’s stubby horns and shakes him gently, familial rough-housing that speaks of a strong connection between them.
Hajime glances at Yahaba who watches the exchange with benevolent grace. Instinct tells Hajime that this one deserves respect, for sure. Hajime bows low. “It is an honor to meet you as well, Yahaba-san,” Hajime says quietly. Yahaba’s cat eyes linger on him for a moment before he dips his head as well in acknowledgement.
“And you, Hajime-kun.” There’s a strangely calculating look in his gaze that sets Hajime on edge, but it doesn’t feel malicious, just assessing. Hajime’s ready to flee if any of the dragons even begin to cast a spell cursing him.
“If you don’t mind,” Hajime begins, “could I ask what your relation to Tooru is?” It’s probably daring of him to ask something personal of a dragon god, but he needs to know why Tooru treated him with such dignity and respect, which was an impressive effect to have on a spoiled brat like Tooru.
“Yahaba-chan is one of my parents!” Tooru butts in. “Or…well, ‘parents,’ really.” He mimes quotation marks with his fingers. “All dragons are born of the mountain, so it’s not like I have a flesh and blood family like you, Hajime, but they were the ones who raised me, taught me to use my magic, taught me to take care of myself.”
Suddenly the respect makes much more sense. But it’s also mildly terrifying, because in one way or another, this was Tooru’s parent, someone who had seen him grow and change through his whole life, and whose acceptance Hajime truly wants to earn.
“Tooru,” Yahaba summons. “It’s very good to see you again, and I’m glad we finally got to meet your Hajime-kun, but are you going to tell us exactly why you brought your human friend to visit? And by way of Sasayaki, too.”
Well, there it is, Hajime thinks. I’m toast.
There is a pause of uncertainty, then Tooru takes the plunge. “I intend to take Hajime to be my husband, Yahaba.” Yahaba blinks at how serious his tone of voice is. “He’s been there for me and cared for me longer and better than anyone outside of our family. It’s unorthodox—I’m aware of that. But he is my temple, and I am in love with him.” Hajime’s hands, which had been curled into fists, loosen up. Tooru had absolutely nailed it. He’s looking fiercely into Yahaba’s eyes, head held high, chin jutting out and jaw clenched tight. He looks ferocious and proud and Hajime is very, very much in love with him.
Yahaba blinks once more. “Very well,” he consents.
Tooru sputters helplessly. “Y-You…you’re okay with it? Just like that? You’re not just humoring me because I’m Oikami now?” He gapes at Yahaba, then at Hajime, then at Shinji, searching for validation.
Shinji looks delighted. “Oh, this is exciting,” he chirps. “We haven’t had a human around Seijou in…oh, it has to be something like seventy years, now, doesn’t it? It was before I was born.”
Yahaba nods. “Yes, we’ve had humans here before. Not as part of the family, but it’s not too far a stretch. Don’t look so surprised, Tooru—we already accepted him once, before you earned your title.” Yahaba opens his jaw wide, tilting his head so that they can see the hole in his row of fangs, a new tooth barely poking through the gums.
Hajime flashes back to that night, the air smelling of ash and earth and sweat, Tooru’s flowing robes, and the necklace of teeth—one from each member of his family—that supported his courtship of Hajime and challenge to Oikami. Hajime had suspected that the family only approved of him because he gave Tooru power, but now, having met them and observing the lack of surprise in Yahaba’s expression, Hajime wonders if maybe it was more than that.
Yahaba nods at Hajime. “You have the approval of the better half of Tooru’s parents.”
“Then Shinji-kun isn’t…isn’t Tooru’s other…?” Hajime asks somewhat helplessly.
Tooru shakes his head. “Oh no, he’s—” A ferocious roar that echoes through the forest and along the plain rings out, cutting off Tooru mid-word. “Um,” he says sheepishly. “My other parent is—”
“He’s home early,” Yahaba hisses, rising out of the crouch to his full height, ears flicking forward and muzzle turned up, searching the sky for the final member of their party.
The second roar is ear-splitting, and Hajime only has time to swear and stumble back into Tooru, whose body is strung tight as a wire, curling around Hajime protectively. The final dragon lands, offering only a short snarl as a greeting. He’s small, Hajime processes. As small as Shinji?
The dragon is more canine in both muzzle and legs, curling his lip as dogs did when threatened. His coat is bristly and spiky, unlike the well-kept, smooth fur Tooru had. And along his bright yellow body ran a black stripe to match the dull black spikes and nubs running down his back.
“Kentarou,” Yahaba says pleasantly. “Why don’t you say hello to our guests instead of snarling at them like an uncivilized animal?”
“That is…my other parent,” Tooru clarifies nervously. Hajime feels like he could be sick.
“Tooru,” Kentarou growls. “Why is there a human in Seijou?” No-nonsense tone of voice.
“Because I wanted to bring him here, Kyouken-chan,” Tooru replies in that breezy voice that always pissed Hajime off. It seems to have the same effect on the dragon Tooru had just referred to as a 'mad dog'. “What, do you think you’re king of the mountain or something? That’s be me, wouldn’t it?”
“Tooru,” Yahaba warns.
“Humans aren’t allowed in Seijou. That’s the rule, and it’s there for a reason, king or not,” Kentarou rumbles.
“Kentarou,” Yahaba warns again, but this time, there’s something like a sigh in his voice. Hajime realizes, belatedly, that he’s somehow stumbled into a family feud.
“Here they go again,” Shinji murmurs from behind Hajime, confirming his fears.
“Hajime’s not just any human,” Tooru protests. “He’s my temple. You even approved of him before I became Oikami—that’s why you’re missing a tooth.”
“Yes, but that was because Yahaba…you would have died if he didn’t keep singing for you, as you proved in that disastrous battle,” Kentarou replies, voice hardening.
“Hajime saved my life.”
“He was the one who put your life in jeopardy in the first place.”
“It’s more complex than that, and you know it!”
“Either way, I didn’t accept him as a suitable husband, ever.”
Tooru sucks in a hurt breath. “I don’t need your approval!”
“Then why are you here?”
“Doesn’t matter. He hasn’t proved himself worthy of any kind of respect.”
Beside Hajime, Yahaba shifts in place, agitated. He keeps looking like he wants to say something, brow furrowing deeper and deeper, claws kneading the dirt. Shinji whimpers behind Hajime. Tooru looks close to tears, his lower lip trembling, and Kentarou doesn’t look even a mite closer to giving in to Tooru’s pleading.
“Hey,” Hajime interrupts, thoughts of respect and politeness and curses flying from his mind. “I don’t know what you mean by way of proving myself, but I have earned acknowledgement.” It’s a long shot, but Kentarou tears his eyes from Tooru, nose running, to glare at Hajime. Fuck, Hajime thinks distantly. I’m either going to pull this family together or tear them apart.
“Yahaba doesn’t cou—” He begins, but Hajime cuts him off.
“Yahaba-san does count,” he argues. “He’s as much a caretaker of Tooru as you are.” Well, now all the dragons are staring at him with the same look of frozen shock that he would contradict Kentarou so blatantly. “But that’s not what I meant. Aoba Johsai—it acknowledged me. I don’t know why or for how long you’ve had a ban on humans in Seijou, but Aoba Johsai has been here longer than any of you, and as the guardian of Seijou, I think it would be its duty to smite whoever wasn’t worthy of entering this place.”
Tooru’s face twists into something like vicious pride and love and something violently adoring that Hajime can’t look at or he’ll burst into flames at the sheer intensity of it and never win his argument with this dragon who clearly has some kind of stick stuck up his ass. Whatever he said, it was the right thing to say, as Shinji gaped at him, Yahaba was fighting down a smile, and Kentarou had murder on the mind.
“Be that as it may,” Kentarou hisses, stalking towards Hajime and shifting as he did from dragon to human, just as terrifying to behold as a man as a beast. “You still haven’t earned my acknowledgement, and given that you’re fucking rude, I’ll kill you if you don’t.” He doesn’t make to attack Hajime, though. Instead, he sits himself on the ground in front of a fallen log and gestures for Hajime to do the same.
Hajime exchanges a puzzled look with Yahaba, but does as bidden, sitting across from Kentarou. Amusingly enough, he notes that the dragon-turned-man had the same two black stripes on either side of his head and frizzy, unruly hair. Kentarou rolls his shoulders and cracks his neck. “This will be a test of physical strength,” he explains. “My human strength against yours.”
“What the fuck, Kyouken-chan,” Tooru deadpans. Then, slightly angrier, “How is this even a test of Hajime’s capability? This is just two brutes duking it out!”
“I consent,” Hajime says gravely, holding his arm out, ready to arm wrestle his rival.
“Hajime-chan, no!” Tooru cries.
“No magic, no cheating—you appear to know the rules,” Kentarou says.
“If I can pin you for five, I win and you give us your approval,” Hajime growls.
“Agreed,” Kentarou growls back.
Yahaba and Tooru exchange glances. “Males,” they sigh in unison.
Five minutes later, and all the dragons are gaping at Kentarou’s arm pinned under Hajime’s. Tooru and Shinji sputter, while Yahaba does that thing where he tries to keep a straight face and make it look like he’s not about to burst out laughing. “Kentarou-san…” Shinji whispers in awe. “He was…defeated?”
“Hajime-chan…” Tooru whispers, equally in awe. “Hajime-chan is so strong.” He falls to his knees at Hajime's side and grasps his arm in amazement, kissing his bicep. “Your arms have saved us!” He crows victoriously.
“Don’t act like you had anything to do with this victory,” Hajime grumbles at him, wiping sweat from his brow with his other hand.
“Redo,” Kentarou sputters. “My bad hand—that’s—” He’s just as shocked as the others, trying to cover up his amazement with rage.
“Nuh-uh, you lost~!” Tooru hums happily.
“Don’t be like that, Tooru,” Hajime chides gently, shooting Kentarou a sly smile. “If he wants to try again, he can. The result won’t change.”
Kentarou sees red, but Hajime is infuriatingly strong. He wins over and over, no matter how many times Kentarou challenges him, hardly even changing his expression while Kentarou grinds his teeth and snarls viciously while trying to pin his damn arm of steel to the fallen tree trunk. It’s a useless if impressive struggle.
“Who the fuck…are you…?” Kentarou pants, having finally thrown in the towel and flopped over the log. “Where…the fuck…that power?”
“No one has ever challenged me to a test of physical strength and won,” Hajime says simply.
Kentarou looks between him and Tooru, eyes wide. He growls something to himself and turns his face away, ashamed. Hajime touches his shoulder, though, making him glare at the offending appendage before glaring at Hajime himself. “Hey,” Hajime says softly, sincerely. “You fought really well. Even when you got frustrated, you never cheated or used magic. I know a lot of humans who would have cheated to try and win, and I know Tooru would have.”
“Hey!” Tooru protests.
“I would be honored to have someone with such dignity and respect for himself and his opponent as an in-law…or, er, whatever your equivalent is,” Hajime says, rubbing the back of his neck and looking away, embarrassed.
Kentarou is very quiet.
“I think you killed him,” Yahaba whispers to Hajime.
“I misjudged you,” Kentarou admits quietly. He slinks backwards, still eyeing up Hajime, shifting back to his dragon form. “You have my…my whatever.”
“Kyouken-chan!” Tooru cries happily.
Kentarou makes a face. “Stop calling me that. And cut Hajime a break. He’s too good for you—he’s right, you would have cheated.”
“He’s quite the brat, isn’t he?” Hajime laughs.
“I don’t know why I protested in the first place,” Kentarou mutters. “Please, take him off our hands.”
Tooru makes a horrible whining noise, clinging to Shinji. “You still love me, right Shinji-chan?”
“Are you going to get human-married to Hajime-san?” Shinji pipes up, wiggling in Tooru’s grasp. “Or are you going to get dragon-married to him?”
Tooru gives him a noogie in the middle of his broad forehead. “You’re too young to be thinking about things like that,” he teases Shinji, who shakes his head in protest. That same sense of vague unease that had been prickling at Hajime this entire day returns. Dragon-married?
“Well, I’m glad someone finally put you in your place,” Yahaba says to Kentarou, who shoots him a watery glare. “I was getting tired of having to do it every single day.”
“Why do I even listen to you,” Kentarou mutters, but there’s something odd about the way he says it. Hajime blinks. Kentarou meets Yahaba, who had been walking towards him, halfway. He lifts his muzzle in the air and Yahaba dips his neck to brush their whiskers and cheeks together in a kind of nuzzling display of affection. Kentarou bristles a little at the contact, then he does the nipping thing at Yahaba’s chin, and Hajime’s stomach drops.
He lowers his eyes quickly, a completely new understanding of why those two were Tooru’s ‘parents’ washing over him. They were…they were like him and Tooru. He chances a glance back at them and sees their tails twining together as they walk away, off to a shadier patch of grass as the late afternoon sun settles gold across the clearing. Even with the proud way Yahaba carried himself contrasting with Kentarou’s hunched shoulders and lowered head and the distance between them as they walked, the intertwined tails spoke of a powerful bond.
As they settle into a shady patch, Kentarou grumpily tucking himself into Yahaba’s side, Hajime turns to hunt down Tooru, playing with Shinji—both in human form—and joins in their antics, happy to distract himself from the mass of newly acquired information swirling around in his brain.
“Tooru?” Hajime asks once they’re alone, sitting together on a particularly large and open hill that Tooru had flown them out to after they said their goodbyes to Tooru’s kin for the night.
“Hmm?” Tooru hums, leaning his head into Hajime’s shoulder, soft wisps of his hair tickling Hajime’s ear and neck, making him shiver.
“Why did you really bring me out here?” There it is. He finally said it. Tooru’s soft humming comes to a stop.
The air is fairly still, only the slightest breeze brushing past Hajime’s skin, and the sky is clear. It’ll be a beautiful night for stars, Hajime thinks as he waits for Tooru to answer. Tooru sits up, hugging his knees and resting his cheek on them thoughtfully. Hajime picks up the humming in Tooru’s absence, the same song he sung to him all those years ago.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Tooru starts to say, which means it’s a huge fucking deal and he’s trying to play it off as nothing. “I just thought the spring would be nice for you to meet my family, and like I said, baby dragons tomorrow night.” His smile turns soft and distant. “I can feel them,” he murmurs. “I can hear their heartbeats.”
“Can I hold them?” Hajime asks, deciding to let Tooru distract him a little. Even if Tooru’s being secretive, Hajime still wants to see the newborns.
Tooru laughs. “Of course! I want them to imprint on both of us.” His voice softens. “I want you to be a part of their lives. We could…I want us to be parents to them as well as Yahaba and Kentarou.”
“Wow, we’re not even married and you’re already talking to me about kids?” Hajime scoffs teasingly, but the word ‘married’ sticks in his throat and makes his taunt sound hollow. He picks at the grass. “I won’t even be alive to see them grow up.”
It’s the wrong thing to say, and Hajime regrets the words the moment they leave his mouth. This was the elephant in the room every time they embraced or kissed or touched—Hajime’s mortality. Tooru had already lived for most of a human lifespan and he was still little more than a child. Hajime was at his prime, but he would be dead before a dragon Tooru’s age would leave their home in search of new territory. Add in the veritable immortality Tooru had been granted as Oikami, and Hajime would be nothing but a blip in Tooru’s lifespan.
“Don’t say that,” Tooru snaps harshly. “Don’t talk about dying—I won’t stand for it!”
“Well, it’s a fact of life, isn’t it?” Hajime snaps back. “I’m going to die and you’re going to die—I’m just going to die a helluva lot sooner than you are!”
“Oh no,” Tooru moans, shoving his face into his hands. “No, no, no…this is not how I wanted this to go.”
Hajime gets to his feet, frustrated. “What did you expect to happen, Tooru? There’s no spell or ‘power of love’ that can overcome my mortality. Did you not consider this at all when we—” Hajime breaks off, biting his lip. Tooru’s not crying, not yet, but his body is quivering and he looks so distraught that Hajime sinks back to his knees, pulling Tooru’s hands away from his face. “Hey…listen…even though we won’t have a long time, we can make the most of it, okay? I’m already up here often—it wouldn’t be so strange if I moved onto the mountain after—” His breath catches. “After Nana doesn’t need me anymore.”
Tooru shakes his head back and forth miserably. “Hajime, Hajime,” he cries. “I don’t want to tear you from Hana-chan. I don’t want to take you away from that village I know you love so much. I just…” He lets out a shuddering exhale. “Do you know why humans are banned from Seijou?” He asks.
Hajime blinks at the non-sequitur but shakes his head, settling back onto the grass, slipping his hand into Tooru’s, thumb brushing circles over the top of his hand. “No, I don’t,” he replies.
Tooru doesn’t meet his eyes. “Before you, there was another human who used to come up here all the time, when he was younger. It was before either of us were born, but—but Kyouken-chan used to be like me. Like we are.”
Hajime sucks in a breath. “You mean he—”
Tooru nods. “He found that man, I guess. They became really good friends—as good a friend as you could be with Kyouken-chan, that is. He brought that human into the spirit world all the time, into Seijou, wherever.
“It was fine because they just had fun together and the man lived in the village and he brought lots of things from there to show Kyouken-chan. There weren’t any obligations to keep them from each other, and Kyouken-chan used to wait for him every day. Of course, that young man became a full-grown man, and his visits became more and more infrequent, until one day he had to tell Kyouken-chan goodbye for good.” Tooru smiles sadly. “He had a pregnant wife at home and a shop to take care of, and he finally had to choose between the mountain and his human life.”
Something’s eating at Hajime. “This sounds familiar,” he murmurs. “I’ve heard this before.” His eyes widen. “It couldn’t be—”
“Your grandfather,” Tooru confirms. “Yes, it was him. I thought so after meeting Hana-chan and hearing her tell stories about how in love her husband was with the mountain, but I wasn’t sure. But I asked Yahaba-chan and he said you smelled and looked like that man, so my suspicions were confirmed.” Suddenly, Yahaba’s scrutinizing look when they first met makes sense.
“My grandfather came up this mountain and befriended a god,” Hajime says in disbelief. “That’s…incredible.”
“He broke Kyouken-chan’s heart,” Tooru continues softly.
“Broke his heart? But I thought Yahaba and Kentarou were—” Hajime bites his tongue, realizing where he was going with that and wondering if he’s overstepped his boundaries.
“Oh, they’ve been mates for hundreds of years,” Tooru confirms easily. “But friends can break your heart, too.”
Hajime remembers a shattered, frightened face amongst flashing red and blue lights. “Yeah,” he whispers. “I know.”
“Kyouken-chan waited for him to show up every day, for the length of a human lifespan, but his friend never returned. After that, he decreed a ban on humans in Seijou, not that any of us were intending on seeking them out anyway.” Tooru shrugs. “I guess shit just happens. I had just gotten into a fight with him when I ran away from home, getting tangled in that net when you saved me.” Tooru smiles softly at Hajime, but it’s tempered with something sorrowful that he hates to see on Tooru’s face. “We can’t escape our fates, apparently.”
“We’re not like that,” Hajime huffs, squeezing Tooru’s hand. “I don’t—there’s no one else but you. There’s no choice but you.”
Tooru’s face is still sad. “Kyouken-chan still mourns him, you know. It’s quiet, but he looks for him sometimes, kind of helplessly. The bonds we make with humans are the shortest but also some of the most powerful. If he didn’t have Yahaba-chan grounding him…” Tooru shrugs. “Maybe he would end up like I was without you.”
Hajime searches his face, but the answer still isn’t evident. Tooru’s still keeping something from him. There’s an answer here, something Hajime hasn’t quite caught, but hasn’t quite missed yet, either. “If you knew all this,” he says slowly, “and you accepted the inevitability of that outcome, then why do you look so sad?”
“It’s not an inevitability,” Tooru whispers, so soft Hajime almost doesn’t hear him.
“I’m going to die, Tooru,” Hajime says. “You can’t find a way around that.”
“I can,” Tooru says again, louder this time.
Hajime blinks, baffled. Tooru could…overcome Hajime’s mortality? But that didn’t make sense. There couldn’t possibly be a spell to keep someone alive forever, or Kentarou would have used it, wouldn’t he? “How?” He asks, completely and truly perplexed.
Tooru’s eyes flash in the quickly fading light, the only warning Hajime gets before Tooru launches himself at Hajime, throwing him onto his back and climbing on top of him, pinning his arms and legs. Tooru looks dangerous and powerful, the last bleeding light of day turning his brown hair red-orange and his pale skin bright and violent. Tooru leans over him, pressing his lips to Hajime’s ear, speaking in low, velvety tones so sensual Hajime’s legs jerk instinctually.
“I can make you mine,” Tooru purrs. “Take you for myself, fuck you so hard you ache, come inside you and take away your mortality. When we’re that close, that intimate, my magic can migrate from me to you, make you as immortal as I am. I’m strong enough—I have the power to make it so.” He draws back to look Hajime in the eyes. “You’re already not quite human, Iwaizumi Hajime. You have magic in your lungs and pulsing through your veins, as my temple. It wouldn’t be so hard to push the balance from more human to less human.”
Hajime’s head is swimming again, words like fuck and come and immortality flashing like neon signs in his mind, but he can’t process it all fast enough to react properly—to have any reaction at all. Tooru takes in that hesitation with a twisted, calculated smile. He had expected this, then. And there’s something shutting down behind his eyes that tells Hajime he’s fucked this up somehow.
“Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?” Tooru says softly. “Humans are always seeking immortality, aren’t they? All you have to do is let me inside you, let me please you, then you never have to die.” Something hits Hajime’s cheek and he’s horrified to find it’s a teardrop. Tooru is crying through his wobbly smile, eyebrows pulled together and limbs shaking.
“But that’s not what you want, is it?” He whimpers. “Hana-chan, your friends from Tokyo, your parents, Hazaki-san, everyone from the village that you ever knew—you’d have to watch them get sick and die while you stay youthful and healthy forever. You’d have to leave them, Hajime-chan, once they began to notice that you never aged. Then you’d be trapped on this mountain for the rest of your life because you’d be bound to me and I’m bound to this mountain, and—and I can’t ask that of you. I want to see you happy. I want you to live a normal life but I want you with me and it’s not fair!”
He wails the last part, dropping to his elbows and burying his face in Hajime’s shoulder, soaking it with his tears and snot and sobs, and Hajime doesn’t know what to do. This had never been an option before. Hajime’s plan in life had been limited to spending the rest of his conceivable future with Tooru and Nana and the village—he hadn’t thought of much outside that. Now, to have the prospect of eternal life quite literally dropped in his lap, Hajime has to think very rapidly about the future.
But before that, he has to stop Tooru’s incessant crying and keep him from ruining his own plans for a nice couple days with Hajime. Always so troublesome. “Tooru,” Hajime says, keeping his voice carefully neutral. “Look at the stars.”
“I don’t want to,” Tooru sniffles, miserable and dramatic. Hajime rolls his eyes. In one swift movement, he throws Tooru off him and rolls onto him so that Tooru is the one pinned in the grass now. Tooru glares up at Hajime through puffy eyes, a hurt remark on his tongue as he opens his mouth, but it dies out when he looks up at the stars. “Oh,” Tooru says softly.
“The sky is so clear; it’s perfect for star-gazing,” Hajime comments lightly, observing the wonder that overtakes Tooru’s face.
“I never really—we never really look up at the stars,” Tooru confesses quietly. “I’ve never seen so many.”
Hajime climbs off of him to flop on the grass at his side, taking in the bright specks mingled with dim, the groups that clustered together to form galaxies or constellations. A meteor winks by, but Hajime has too much on his mind to make a wish. He thinks if he stares long enough at one of lights with its illusory twinkling, he’ll see the earth move like it does in all those time lapse photos. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just the slightest movement to remind Hajime that there’s something bigger and steadier and more constant than this moment with Tooru at his side, still sniffling.
I want to be the earth for him, Hajime thinks. I want to be something steady he can grasp, a constant in his life that will remain still in a moment, only changing when he looks at the decades and centuries we spend together.
And really, it’s a simple as that.
Hajime props himself up on his elbow. “D’you see that group of stars, to the ones shaped like dippers?”
“Even I can find the Big Dipper, Hajime,” Tooru says drily, but props himself up on his elbows, too.
“Well, obviously.” Hajime rolls his eyes. “Not those ones. The ones to the right of them. They make a twisting line of brighter stars—you see them?”
“No.” It’s more of a whine than a simple denial, and when Hajime looks over, Tooru is pouting. He rolls his eyes again and slouches closer to Tooru, taking his hand and shaping it until Tooru is pointing at the sky. Hajime tucks his chin over Tooru’s shoulder.
“Those ones, right there,” he murmurs into Tooru’s ear, feeling the telltale ripple of skin as Tooru shudders at the intimacy, his transformation unsteady. Hajime draws a curling line across the sky with Tooru’s hand.
“Oh. Oh!” Tooru exclaims. “Yes, I see them. Why?”
“That’s Draco, the dragon,” Hajime says matter-of-factly, shifting away from Tooru a little. “That end is its tail, and that end is its head.
Tooru scowls at the constellation. “That doesn’t look anything like a dragon,” he protests. “Where’re its horns? And claws? And legs?” He makes a face at Hajime. “Humans are so weird, looking for pictures in stars.”
“Well, I like to think of Draco more like Aoba Johsai,” Hajime says, shrugging. “Draco is more serpent-like. And it’s always there, watching over us, even during the day when we can’t see it.”
Tooru gets quiet at that. He regards the constellation again, face pinched. It softens a little, though, and even the tiniest bit of a smile crawls onto his face. “Hmm, I can kind of see it now. It’s a guardian for humans, then? I thought—” He turns his head to look at Hajime, and Hajime catches his cheek in one hand, guiding Tooru’s lips to meet his own.
Tooru makes a tiny noise of surprise, but Hajime swallows it, pursuing Tooru’s mouth where he jerks away a little, rubbing his thumb along Tooru’s cheek and cupping his jaw so tenderly Tooru can’t break his hold. Hajime smears tear trails away and makes Tooru feel warm again, sending a whole new wave of cold-to-hot goosebumps down his spine.
Hajime pulls away reluctantly to meet the eyes of a confused and wide-eyed Tooru. “Hajime?” He prompts, quiet and hopeful.
“It doesn’t matter,” Hajime says. “It doesn’t matter if I have to leave them. I can come back. When the kids grow up, they won’t remember me. I can come and visit the graves of my old friends and help out new friends. I don’t—” Hajime takes a breath to steady himself before he starts tripping over his words. “I don’t know how to say this the right way, and I can’t say I won’t be sad that I have to disappear without telling them. It’s going to be hard to come up with an excuse for why I can never visit Mom and Dad. I’m going to miss everyone a lot.
“But,” Hajime feels his eyes burn. “But I would miss you even more. And I don’t want you to be sad like Kentarou is sad, ever. I want to be there to watch the newborns grow. I want to be a part of your life and your world. I think Shinji is really sweet and I want to feed his curiosity. I love Yahaba a lot and I think we’ll get along well. Even though Kentarou and I got off on the wrong foot I want—I want to be a friend to him like my grandfather never was. I love this mountain and the forests and spirits more than I could love any life away from here. I can’t imagine a life away from this, Tooru, so please don’t make me.
“The Sakurai family members are all the same you know,” Hajime says, voice thick with emotion. “We choose our life partners over everyone else, every time.” Like his grandfather had chosen Nana, like his mother had moved to the city for his father, like Hajime here and now, unable to exist anywhere this silly, obnoxious, perfect, lovable dragon boy didn’t. “I’ll choose you every time, Tooru. Eternity’s not so bad.”
Tooru wails, but this time it’s good, and Hajime welcomes it. Tooru kisses his eyelids, his nose, his tears, his cheeks, his foreheads, his lips when Tooru’s are still quivering against Hajime’s mouth. “I love you,” Tooru declares, real as a promise, as he climbs on top of Hajime again. “I love you and I will make us and our love immortal. We will never end,” Tooru swears.
“I know you will,” Hajime whispers. “You can do anything. I’ve seen you slay gods and rise from the dead. There’s nothing you can’t do.”
“I want you, Hajime,” Tooru whimpers. “I want to claim you as mine—my mate, my spouse, my everything. I’m going to bind our souls, okay Hajime? I’m going to make us one.”
“Is that what is was?” Hajime pants, dizzy from the words and desire pouring from Tooru’s mouth. “The—the dragon-married?”
“Down to the spirit, yes,” Tooru sighs. “Physically, spiritually—I want you in every way, Hajime. I love you in every way.”
“Okay,” Hajime says in a small voice. “Okay, that’s—that’s good, that’s really good, Tooru—”
Tooru cuts him off by taking his face in his hands and kissing him, deep as his love for Hajime. Their mouths speak without words, forming to fit each other perfectly, a conversation of touch and sensation. Tooru curls his tongue into Hajime’s mouth and Hajime matches him, twining them together and chasing after Tooru’s tongue with his teeth when Tooru draws away. Hajime pulls at his bottom lip, sucking it into his mouth, silky and soft as the wedding dress—wedding dress!—Tooru had been wearing for him that day.
Had that really only been today? Hajime imagines every day like this, stretched ahead of him as far as he can imagine, maybe even until the ground crumbles from beneath their feet and the earth is swallowed in darkness. That’s be okay, though, Hajime thinks. If we’re together, everything will be okay.
Tooru kisses him again, open-mouthed and hot, but this time he grinds down on Hajime too, making Hajime groan helplessly into Tooru’s mouth. He can feel the vibrations against Tooru’s lips, electricity shooting down his spine and heat pooling in his gut. Tooru doesn’t let him savor it too much; he had always been the impatient one, and with each press of their crotches together, he picked up the pace a little more.
“Shirts,” Hajime says in a moment of brilliance, tugging at his to get it off, but it’s hard when Tooru wants every part of him at once, kissing him incessantly. Finally Tooru tires of his feeble attempts to remove the tank, and in a flash of claws, both his and Tooru’s shirts are shredded, freeing them. The night is cool on Hajime’s chest, covered in a thin sheen of sweat. He watches a drop of sweat roll down Tooru’s sternum.
“I am quite the lucky one,” Hajime murmurs, honest. Tooru as a human was beautiful beyond compare, and for the first time in his life, Hajime thanks the mountain that birthed him that Tooru was not ugly in any of his forms. “Come here,” Hajime coaxes, a hand hot on Tooru’s side. Tooru’s nipples are dark and hard with the temperature difference, and Hajime wants them in his mouth.
But Tooru shakes his head. “Not tonight,” he says. “Tonight, I worship you.”
Hajime should say something snappy about how he had never worshipped Tooru in the first place, but Tooru goes down on his neck and the only sound that comes out is a strangled gasp. Tooru pulls and sucks at the skin, enough that it hurts, but there are sparks behind Hajime’s eyes, and he thinks about being consumed whole by the constellation Draco.
Tooru leaves marks down his neck, under his chin, along his shoulders, right below his collarbones. He doesn’t grind on Hajime at all, leaving him painfully hard while he attends to the job of claiming Hajime for the whole world to know and see. Hajime must whimper or something, because Tooru eyes his neglected cock with sympathy and halts in his marking.
He kisses down Hajime’s chest, lapping at sweat and painting patterns across his skin with his tongue. Tooru’s fingers follow behind his mouth, running delicately across the muscles of Hajime’s body which jump under his touch. He presses his fingers to the trail of dark hair from Hajime’s navel to the edge of his shorts, up and down, up and down, his cheek pressed against Hajime’s hip. He gnaws a little at the jut of Hajime’s hipbone, gently, but enough to get Hajime to jerk his hips up in response.
Tooru flutters his eyelashes and smiles sweetly at Hajime who watches his every movement through a lusty haze. “Do you want me, Hajime?” Tooru purrs. “I bet you want my mouth on you—you love my mouth so much, wouldn’t it look real pretty around your cock?”
Hajime’s head falls back with a thump and he groans. “Tooru, Tooru,” he whines. “You’re killing me.”
“Look at me, Hajime.” A command. Hajime props himself up on his elbows, ears burning. Tooru’s unbuttoning his pants, unzipping them, pulling them down and off his body. “Watch me,” Tooru orders again, hand going for the edge of Hajime’s boxers.
“Wait,” Hajime chokes. “Isn’t this—isn’t this a little…” He swallows nervously. “You’re a god, Tooru. Isn’t this…demeaning?” Hajime hadn’t even considered something like this, but then again, he hadn’t considered Tooru sucking him off outside of a fantasy. Blowjobs existed as a concept, yes, but to apply them to Tooru in real life seemed…sacrilegious.
Tooru tilts his head to the side. “Do you want me to suck your cock, Hajime-chan?” He asks innocently.
Holy shit. “Hrrrgghh,” Hajime manages to get out. “Yes.”
“Then it’s fine,” Tooru says. “We are equals, Hajime. What you do to me, I do to you. How others treat me, they will treat you. This is not just sex, you know that, right?”
Hajime knows. He’s known it since Tooru’s mouth met his skin that this was something so much more. He feels their connection deeper than touch or sensation or pleasure. He can feel Tooru’s love in every careful touch, as he knows Tooru can feel his love in every gasp and moan. This is not just sex—it is the twining of souls. Like Yahaba and Kentarou’s tails.
“We will be one, a ruling pair, inseparable,” Tooru continues, pulling down Hajime’s boxers delicately, exposing him to the crisp night air. Then he begins to undress himself. “Our souls will tangle until we do not know one from the other.” Down his pants go, freeing Tooru completely since—Hajime’s breath catches—he wasn’t wearing any kind of underwear in the first place. “This much, I swear to you.” He shifts himself lower to rest his chin on Hajime’s hip, holding his gaze. “Sex is a promise, Hajime-chan. My promise to you that we will live forever with every thrust into your body.”
Tooru’s hands settle at Hajime’s hips instead of his chin, and he goes down on Hajime.
It’s so typical of Tooru—the dramatic speech, the show he put on taking off his clothes, the way he dived in without teasing Hajime. He overwhelms Hajime all the time, but although Hajime is usually the one to stop him in his tracks, keep him from moving too fast, this time he takes his foot off the brake and slams it on the gas.
His hands tangle in Tooru’s hair—how could they not—and he presses Tooru down as his hips surge upwards and Tooru is everywhere around him, in every fiber of his being and every cell in his body and every inch of his skin. Tooru, Tooru, Tooru…his name pours from Hajime’s lips like a waterfall, like a promise of his own that he will never need another like he needs Tooru.
Hajime loves the heat of Tooru’s mouth, loves the pressure of his tongue, loves the all-consuming sensation that makes all the stars above him and the man between his legs blur to white, loves the sounds Tooru makes when he tugs hard on his head, rougher than anyone should be with an omnipotent god on his own mountain. He can feel an orgasm coming on, and he rocks hard against Tooru’s mouth, against fingers he didn’t even know were inside him, but as soon as he thinks he’s high enough on pleasure to sink his teeth into Draco’s constellation, Tooru lets go of him, slides his fingers out of him, too, making Hajime whimper.
“When did you…why did you…what?” He can’t get the questions out fast enough, can’t decide which one is the most important, so he just looks pleadingly at Tooru.
Tooru touches his cheek. “I want to be inside of you, Hajime. All of me. I want us to be fully connected. Is that okay?”
Hajime swallows thickly and nods, but pauses. “I didn’t…I don’t have a condom or anything.” But Tooru’s already shaking his head.
“I want to come inside you,” he breathes, eyes wild. “Let there be nothing between us.”
That sounds pretty fucking good to Hajime, except for— “You don’t…have dragon STDs, do you?” He asks suspiciously. “I’m not going to have baby dragons growing in my stomach, am I?”
Tooru groans, the mood spoiled just a little, but Hajime has to laugh at Tooru’s exasperation. “I am literally a superhuman creature,” Tooru grumbles. “No, I do not have fucking herpes or something.”
Hajime takes Tooru’s hands, intertwining their fingers and giving him an apologetic squeeze for the teasing. Tooru’s expression softens. But…Hajime glances away. “Will it hurt?” He murmurs. Anal sex, like blowjobs, had existed as a concept but not reality for Hajime, and now, he feels some of his uncertainties eating away at him.
“Do you trust me?” Tooru asks kindly, smiling at Hajime.
“I do,” Hajime replies.
“Then you’ll be just fine,” Tooru says, voice warm.
Tooru presses both their cocks together, stroking them with a hand that’s wet from something—probably moisture from the air that Tooru had magicked into lube or something equally preposterous—but Hajime is getting close after so few strokes that he doesn’t care. Tooru’s hand is big and warm and it feels so good against Hajime that he throws his head back, mouth hanging open.
“I’m going to do it now,” Tooru murmurs, still stroking Hajime, twisting his hand around Hajime’s cock as he presses in.
Hajime expects it to hurt or not work or really feel like anything other than being full and content and warm from the inside out. He looks up just in time to see Tooru’s lips twitch in whispers he can’t make out. Tooru meets his eyes and winks. I love magic, Hajime thinks helplessly, eyes fixed on where he ended and Tooru began. He can’t find that gap, that separation between them and even more helplessly, he thinks, I love Tooru.
Tooru moves then, sliding out and back into Hajime while Hajime just watches and groans at how easily Tooru fits in him. Tooru makes a tiny little gasp, lips parted, and just like that Hajime finds something better to watch. He memorizes the way Tooru’s lips stretch and shudder, the darting of his tongue in and out, the way he licks his lips and bites them raw with every thrust of his hips.
Hajime rises to meet him. Tooru presses down, Hajime presses up. Their movement is smooth and unanimously decided on, natural and based upon years of understanding just what kind of person they were, what they would want. Hajime watches Tooru until he can’t process anything but the burning in his gut and the white-hot spots behind his eyes every time Tooru pressed into him and hit that spot.
When they fall apart, it is in a frenzied race to claim that final prize, the reward promised by both of them to each other. Tooru sinks to his elbows over Hajime, sobbing Hajime’s name over and over into his ear and thrusting into him without rhyme or reason, legs weak but moving of their own accord. Hajime sinks, too—sinks his teeth into Tooru’s shoulder hard enough to make him shout as he tightens around Tooru’s cock and his entire body shakes once, twice, then fades to gently quivering. Tooru gives a few more good jerks into Hajime’s body and comes, slumping against Hajime’s chest as if it had sapped all the life from his body.
And maybe it did, just a little. Hajime feels when Tooru comes inside of him, a hot mess of desire and claim, and when he sinks his teeth into Tooru’s shoulder, just for a moment he imagines it’s the ethereal scales of Draco in the sky above, finally caught, once and for all. Maybe Hajime does catch him, maybe, maybe, maybe. Because he has a dragon boy in his arms, and he feels a piece of his partner’s soul in him, burning in his chest, settling deeper with every heartbeat they share together.
Maybe Hajime can catch the stars if he and Tooru try to together, when they are as infinite as the cosmos above them.
“Is that…am I immortal?” Hajime asks, his voice barely audible. Tooru kisses his neck.
“A part of you is,” he replies. “Part of your soul has become inhuman. But it’s not enough to make you immortal, no. In order to get there, we’ll have to do this over and over…” He grins wolfishly. “Is that acceptable?”
“Okay,” Hajime croaks.
“Ah, it appears I’ve fucked Hajime-chan’s brains out! Oops!”
“Guess all that’s left is the primitive impulse to hit you, then.”
“Wh—no! No, don’t!” Tooru breaks into giggles as Hajime’s weak punches morph into tickles and Hajime rolls them over.
“This is ridiculous,” he says, but is fighting down a smile. “I have cum all over my chest and up my ass—”
“Ew, gross! Who put that there?” Tooru snickers, yelping when Hajime makes to tickle his neck again.
“—And I’m having a tickle fight with an insufferable baby man who thinks cum is funny,” he finishes.
“It’s kind of funny,” Tooru giggles, proving him right.
“What am I going to do with you?” Hajime sighs fondly.
“Love me, feed me, never leave me,” Tooru declares.
“Where the hell did you pull that shit from? A pre-teen girl’s website?”
“I did no—Hajime! Stop tickling me! Help! I’m being attacked! This human is savaging your god, help me!”
“You’re so annoying!”
Nevertheless, Hajime frees him. There’s a beat of quiet between them and then Hajime says it before he can think twice. “I want to build a temple here.”
Tooru cocks his head to the side. “What? Why?”
“You said you wanted a new temple,” Hajime clarifies. “I was thinking we could build our own, from scratch. I can get tools and stuff, we can make it out of material from the forest—it would be our own home. Our own temple.”
“Where do you want to build it?” Tooru asks, curious.
“I meant here as in literally here,” Hajime confesses. “We can see the stars, and it’s…kind of symbolic…” His ears are definitely red.
“Aw, would you look at that,” Tooru teases gently. “Hajime is a romantic after all.”
“Do you want to or not?” Hajime grumbles.
“Absolutely,” Tooru agrees. “We can see all of Seijou from here, and it’s not too far from the village, either. I’d really like to have a picnic some time up here, maybe with the little ones when they’re old enough…”
“I love you,” Hajime chokes out, his eyes burning again. “I love you, Tooru.”
“Thanks, I love me too,” Tooru replies, brushing hair from Hajime’s face with a gentle hand.
“I hate you, Tooru.”
“No you don’t.”
“…No I don’t.”
“I love you, too.”
“There are only two?” Hajime whispers to Tooru the next night when they’re both dressed up in the ceremonial robes of the dragon gods, the only two present for the hatching of the eggs. “Why aren’t Yahaba and Kentarou here?”
“Shhh!” Tooru hisses. “You’re going to miss the miracle of life when these egglets hatch!”
“Egglets?” Hajime repeats, wrinkling his nose, but there’s movement out of the corner of his eye, and he turns his full attention on the nest.
The nest itself is packed with Aoba Johsai’s downy feathers (who knew it had feathers as well as scales?) and bits of fur from all of the dragons that lived in Seijou. Around the outside of the nest, glittering scales from those without fur line the boundary and keep the soft bedding inside. The clearing itself is open to the moonlight, and around it, soul flowers grew, attracting the vibrant blue butterflies that frequented the mountain. Tonight, the butterflies rested on the flower petals or on the branches of neighboring trees, as if in respect of what was about to happen.
There’s a crack. The sound is small, but in the stillness of the night, it echoes. Hajime’s eyes widen, and he watches, enraptured by the tiny fleck of egg shell that was being pushed out by something on the inside. Egglets, Hajime thinks excitedly to himself. There’s another crack as the newborn dragon pokes another hole in the shell with its foot.
Hajime’s muscles are pulled tight in anxiety. The dragon…it’s not hatching very quickly. What if it was having trouble? What if it was tired from what is had already accomplished? It couldn’t have very strong muscles…
“Stop fretting, Hajime,” Tooru scolds him. “They can manage just fine on their own.”
“Are you sure?” He asks.
“Yes, I’m sure; look at you, you’re already an accomplished father,” Tooru laughs. “Hovering over your own kid and babying them.”
With a thunk, the dragon headbutts its way out of the egg, causing it to fall over and crack around it. The dragon makes a keening, upset noise in response. Hajime looks anxiously at Tooru, eyes boring holes in Tooru’s skull. “Yes, alright, fine,” he sighs. “Go be a helicopter parent.”
Hajime runs to the baby dragon, no bigger than a housecat, peeling bits of shell off of it and making comforting noises at the dragon. It’s sticky to the touch and its scales are soft and damp, their color muted, but not enough that Hajime can’t tell it isn’t a white dragon with dark markings.
“You’re so beautiful,” he tells the baby. “Look at you, barely even out of the egg and already a stunner. Way better looking than your other parent.” Tooru snorts.
Hajime scoops the dragon into his arms and, reacting to the warmth, the dragon burrows closer to Hajime. He laughs. “Yeah, you already know who your dad is, don’t you? That’s right, it’s me.”
“You’re so excited,” Tooru laughs, amazed. “Did you want to be a father so badly?”
“They’re amazing, though!” Hajime exclaims, lifting his child up so Tooru can see. “How can I not be excited when they’re this amazing!”
He looks back down at the dragon and is met by bright blue eyes staring back at him, as enraptured by him as he was by the dragon’s hatching. Hajime can’t breathe, just looks at the tiny miracle in his arms like if he looks away, they will be snatched from him.
“Kindaichi,” he says softly, brushing a finger over the dragon’s prominent crest. “You are Kindaichi.”
Kindaichi warbles in acknowledgement.
“Then this one’s Kunimi,” Tooru says. Hajime manages to tear his eyes from Kindaichi long enough to look over to where Tooru is holding a dark dragon with white markings in his arms. Hajime swallows.
“I didn’t even hear them hatch,” he whispers.
“They’re more reserved than that handful, I think,” Tooru muses. “But look at their coloration—inverted. They truly are siblings.” Blue eyes peek over Tooru’s arm, examining Hajime for a moment before turning to Kindaichi.
Those exact same blue eyes peer back at Kunimi from safe within Hajime’s arms. Kindaichi blinks once at Kunimi, and Kunimi blinks back. Bashful, Kindaichi shoves their head back into Hajime’s arm. He looks at Tooru. “They’re both going to be a handful,” he corrects.
“Shinji will be so happy that he’s not the youngest anymore.” Tooru is smiling so hard his face must hurt.
“I can’t wait to see them bother Kentarou.” Hajime’s face does hurt.
“They’re going to like Yahaba better than all of us.”
“Oh, but of course.”
“Even I like Yahaba better than the rest of you.”
“No you don’t.”
“You’re right, I love Kindaichi the most.”
“Don’t swear in front of our children, Tooru.”
And then they both just have to burst out laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all, at the euphoria of holding two lives in their arms that they will get to shape together until they grow old and leave the nest, at the fact that all they have is time and the boundless love between them, rippling out through time and space even once their immortality is over and all their love is is a whisper into the void declaring that once, Hajime and Tooru existed, and they were in love.