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“Whoa.” Hidaka blinked in the sunlight as he stared at the shining office building in front of him. It looked almost brand new, at least a good thirty stories high.

“We have to get signatures from everyone in there?” Enomoto wondered nervously, clutching tightly at the laptop in his hands. “We'll be here all night, won't we?”

“We only need signatures from the personnel on the main office floor,” Fushimi said from in front of them and they both jumped slightly. He'd been quiet the entire drive down beyond the occasional tongue click as he sorted through the paperwork and Hidaka thought that he had seemed particularly irritated by this assignment, even for Fushimi. “This had better not take all day, I've got enough overtime work to take care of as it is...” He headed for the door, muttering to himself, and Enomoto and Hidaka exchanged glances before following.

By the time they caught up to Fushimi he was already at the front desk.

“Scepter 4.” Fushimi held out his ID to the desk clerk, who looked like he'd rather be anywhere else than wilting under Fushimi's glare. Hidaka could relate. “We're here in regards to the incident last week. You should have been informed we were coming.”

“Y-yes, we were told someone from the government would be by,” the clerk said hesitantly. “But there's an important shareholder meeting today and...”

“Tch.” Fushimi clicked his tongue and the clerk shifted nervously. “I don't care. If you've got a problem with it, take it up with my superior.”

The clerk wavered for a moment and then gave a halting apology as he reached for the phone. Fushimi leaned against the counter, clearly bored and impatient as though he'd rather be anywhere else but there. After several minutes of hushed conversation the clerk returned, face slightly paler than before.

“Floor 25,” the clerk murmured, handing Fushimi a key.

Fushimi didn't even reply and roughly snatched the key from the clerk's hand as he swept away towards the elevator. Hidaka and Enomoto followed after him.

As soon as they stepped out of an elevator an older man in a suit came hurrying forward to meet them.

“I'm sorry, there's an important meeting today--” The man started and Fushimi held up his Scepter 4 badge again.

“How many times do I have to explain this?” Fushimi grumbled. “We informed you days ago. I'm not coming back here again, so just get out of our way and let us get this stupid assignment over with.”

“Yes, yes, we were told you would be coming by,” the man hedged. “But you have to understand, the CEO is in today and she is very busy, so--”

“Of course she is.” There was something icy and bitter in Fushimi's voice, something beyond just the usual annoyance, and Hidaka suddenly felt as though there was something he was missing in the whole conversation. The man in the suit seemed to have the same feeling and kept glancing nervously between the three of them. Hidaka tried to give him an encouraging smile from behind Fushimi's back. “We'll only be a few hours, as long as you comply and don't make things difficult.”

“I do understand, of course, I'm aware that you are a government agency and there's a timetable but there are circumstances and after the incident last week--”

“If you understand, let us through,” Fushimi said, crossing his arms.

“It's just that the CEO – ah, there she is, please, if you'll wait just a minute...” The man turned to face the figure walking towards them.

“Tanaka-san, what is --” The voice cut off with a sudden gasp of surprise.

“Madam CEO, these are the government officials who have come in response to last week's incident...ma'am?”

The woman had stopped dead in her tracks upon seeing them. She looked to be about middle age, maybe a little younger, but certainly not old enough to match Hidaka's mental image of a CEO. She wore a black business suit and her long dark hair hung down past her shoulders. She was staring at them with wide eyes and her expression looked surprised and a little bit...haunted, almost.

Wait, she's not looking at us, Hidaka realized. She's looking at...Fushimi-san?

“Niki...” The word fell disbelievingly from the woman's lips.

Niki?

The sudden silence was broken by a bark of harsh laughter and Hidaka nearly jumped. Fushimi was staring back at the woman openly, almost brazenly, head cocked to one side. There was a slightly unhinged quality to his laugh that seemed oddly familiar and it took Hidaka a moment to place it – it was the same sort of laugh he'd heard from Fushimi the last time they'd had a run in with Homra's Yatagarasu.

“Did you think I was him?” Fushimi's voice was smooth and amused, and he was smiling mockingly at her. The color seemed to return to the woman's face and her eyes narrowed as if in sudden recognition.

“Saruhiko. I see.”

Fushimi didn't answer, the smile falling away from his face, eyes flat and almost dull as he looked back at her. Hidaka glanced over at Enomoto, who shrugged, plainly just as confused as he was.

“Ah...” Tanaka stared helplessly between the woman and Fushimi, obviously feeling the same.

“Give them what they need,” the woman said shortly, turning to leave without even a look back. “And don't bother me with trivial things again.”

“Hidaka, Enomoto! Let's go.” Fushimi began to stalk towards the center of the office.

“W-wait, Fushimi-san--!” Hidaka objected, just as the exact same words came out of Tanaka's mouth. Hidaka froze and he and Tanaka exchanged identical wide-eyed looks.

“E-eh?”

“She has to be his mother, right?” Hidaka wondered aloud as he sorted through a stack of papers. They'd been given an empty conference room to use as a command center while they obtained the necessary signatures from the employees. “I mean, she's kinda young to be his mom but she's probably too old to be his sister. So she must be his mom, don't you think?”

“I guess,” Enomoto said, looking up from his laptop. “Fushim-san isn't really the type to talk about his family.”

“She didn't look happy to see him,” Hidaka said quietly, staring down at the desk. “That's—that's weird, right? And it was like she didn't even know he was with Scepter 4.”

“Maybe they had a falling out of some kind?” Enomoto suggested. “When I lent Fushimi-san my toolbox that one time, he said something about 'when he was poor.' But if his mother is a CEO that wouldn't make any sense. Just looking at this building, it seems like this is a very successful company.”

“So she abandoned him?” The very idea made Hidaka's heart drop. “But that's...”

“I really think we should probably just forget about it, Hidaka,” Enomoto said. “Fushimi-san didn't seem very happy to see her either. If you ask him about it you know it'll just end badly for you, right?”

“Right.” Hidaka sighed heavily and threw himself in a chair. “I don't like it. Even if they had a fight, he's still her kid, isn't he? My mom and I don't always get along but we're still family.”

“You never know about the complications in other people's lives, though,” Enomoto said.

“I wonder who she thought Fushimi-san was,” Hidaka continued. “Didn't she look almost like she'd seen a ghost?”

Before Enomoto could reply the door slammed open and Fushimi stalked in. Hidaka and Enomoto both stiffened, turning automatically towards their work like children about to be caught by their teacher talking during study time.

“F-Fushimi-san, are you finished with your work?” Hidaka managed to choke out, trying to sound natural. From the nervous look on Enomoto's face, he wasn't quite succeeding. Fushimi thankfully didn't seem to notice, clicking his tongue and he laid a stack of papers down on the table.

“Is that all of them?” Fushimi's tone was cold and clipped, all business.

“It looks like we've gotten signatures from almost everyone,” Enomoto offered. “Except...” He trailed off, exchanging a look with Hidaka.

“Except?” Fushimi prompted. Enomoto squirmed in his seat, obviously reluctant to reply.

“We...still don't have the CEO's signature.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue again in obvious annoyance and Enomoto flinched slightly.

“Then go get it,” Fushimi said shortly. “We've wasted enough time here already.”

“Ah, well...that Tanaka-san, he said that the CEO had an important meeting so she didn't have time to talk with us,” Hidaka broke in. He paused for only a moment, ignoring Enomoto's sudden panicked look and his own self preservation instincts quietly screaming at him to leave things at that. “I thought maybe Fushimi-san would have a better chance at getting her signature. I mean, since after all she is your--”

Fushimi's hand slamming onto the desk cut him off and Hidaka's mouth snapped shut, face going white. Fushimi raised his head just slightly, eyes sharp and dangerous and Hidaka decided maybe it was best that he hadn't gotten to complete that last sentence after all.

“Go. Get. It.” The words were heavy and final as though they had been engraved on a tombstone and Hidaka hurriedly backed away, bowing quickly.

“S-sorry! I'll...I'll go get that right away, please excuse me!” Hidaka grabbed the required paper and fled the room before he said anything else that could get him stabbed.

Hidaka paced nervously in the hugely spacious office. They had refused to let him into the shareholder meeting but after some discussion he'd managed to be allowed to wait for the CEO to finish inside her office.

You could fit half our dorms in here. Hidaka thought as he walked around the room. There was a huge picture window that took up one entire wall and looking out he thought he could nearly see Scepter 4's headquarters from here. In front of the window was an enormous desk made of sleek, expensive-looking wood and a soft business chair. There were binders and various folders of paper neatly arranged all around the desk in front of what looked to be a high-end computer.

Everything looked very expensive and businesslike, and Hidaka couldn't help but notice that there was nothing personal in the entire office. The only pictures were the two nondescript paintings that hung on the wall. There wasn't a single small personal photograph anywhere in the office, not the way Hidaka would expect.

I guess they really are estranged, huh? Hidaka leaned against the desk and sighed. Part of him had hoped that maybe he'd see something here, some kind of picture or memento clearly created by child's hands, something to suggest that the CEO knew she had a child and cared about him. But there was nothing, nothing at all.

But the nameplate on the front of the desk clearly read 'Fushimi Kisa,' and Hidaka was certain there was no way she could be anyone but Fushimi's mother.

“Who let you in here?” The woman's voice had the same emotionless, clipped tones Hidaka was familiar with and he stiffened on reflex, swallowing an apology.

“Ah...your employees, they....” Hidaka tried to gather himself. Fushimi Kisa stood in the doorway, glaring at him with eyes that Hidaka knew too well and suddenly the resemblance was impossible to miss. “The signature....”

“Right. You're from the government agency, correct?” Kisa crossed the floor towards him, pulling a fancy fountain pen from her front jacket pocket. “Very well, hand it here. I haven't got time for this, I have places to be...”

“Sorry...” Hidaka trailed off as she signed her name in a quick perfunctory hand before handing it back to him in a way that suggested he should be thankful she'd bothered to do so at all.

“If that was all you needed you can go now,” she said curtly, returning to her desk and pulling out her PDA as if preparing to make a call.

“U-um, well...” Hidaka's self-preservation instincts were screaming at him again but his curiosity won out. “Actually...”

“I said, you can go.” Kisa's tone made it clear she had no interest in his objections. “Unless there was more you needed?”

“N-no, this is all, but...” Hidaka took a step towards the door, then stopped and steeled himself, looking back. He couldn't just let this go without saying it or he'd definitely regret it more later. “Fushimi-san...our Fushimi-san, I mean...he is your son, right?”

“Who told you that?” Kisa's eyes narrowed in anger but Hidaka didn't look away. She crossed her arms and sighed, as if he had asked something incredibly bothersome. “Biologically, I suppose so. But I have never thought of that boy as my child.”

“What?” Hidaka felt like he'd just been slapped. “But—but he is your son, isn't he? How can you--”

“I don't believe it's any of your business what kind of relationship that child and I have,” Kisa said coldly. “We no longer keep in contact with each other. He was always his father's responsibility and made his own choice after that man's death to go off on his own. That being the case, I don't see why it should be expected of me to take any further interest in his activities.”

“But...isn't that too sad?” Hidaka felt his hands clench into fists. He knew that technically she was right, that this was none of his business at all, but he couldn't stop speaking. He could hear the words he himself had once spoken ringing in the back of his head like a mockery.

“No parent hates their own kid.”

“Fushimi-san...Fushimi-san is really amazing, you know,” Hidaka said quietly. “He's already risen up to a high position in Scepter 4 even though he's still only a teenager. He's super smart and can do all kinds of things by himself.” And there was the image still in his mind, of Fushimi sitting at his computer long after the rest of them had left, all alone, spending hours fixing things himself rather than ask for help. “And...and even though his attitude can be really scary I—I really respect him as my superior officer. So I don't get it. Shouldn't you be proud of him? If it's been a long time since you've seen him, shouldn't this be the perfect time to mend the fence between you? He's still your child, isn't he?”

“That is enough!” Kisa's voice cut through the air like a knife and Hidaka took a step back. “I believe I told you that this was none of your business. What that child does, or doesn't do...it's of no interest at all to me. You have your signature, now leave before I have you thrown out. I have more important things to take care of than waste time on pointless conversation.”

With that she looked back down at her PDA and began to dial a number, as if he wasn't even there anymore.

“I'm going,” Hidaka said dully, closing the door behind him. The paper with her signature was still clutched tightly in one hand and he stared down at the name for a long time.

“I don't get it.” Hidaka's hand tightened a little on the paper, crumpling it slightly. “I don't get it at all.”

“Finally we can go back to headquarters, what a waste of time. Like there isn't enough work to do already that I had to go out on such a useless assignment. Shouldn't this be something to send other people out on?” Fushimi's irritated grumbling led the way as they finally exited the building. The clerk had ducked out of the way as soon as they stepped out of the elevator, clearly not wanting to risk Fushimi's wrath a second time.

Hidaka hung back in the rear, oblivious to Fushimi's muttering and Enomoto's furtive, curious glances.

I just don't understand, Hidaka thought, frustrated. Even if they had a fight or something, they're still family. Shouldn't they be happy to see each other? Shouldn't they want to understand each other?

“Hidaka!” Fushimi's commanding voice made him jump and Hidaka looked up sharply. He had lagged some way behind the others and Fushimi was glaring at him in clear annoyance. “Keep up. I want to get back to headquarters as soon as possible.”

“R-right. Sorry...” Hidaka trailed off, glancing back towards the building they had just come from.

“Is there a problem?” Fushimi sounded impatient, tapping one foot.

“No, no, I....” Hidaka stopped, and then steeled himself, fists clenching. He took a step towards Fushimi and gave a quick bow. “Please come to see my family!”

“Eh?” Fushimi's tone of voice suggested he had just heard the most worthless thing in the world. Enomoto was staring at Hidaka as if he'd just challenged the Captain to a game of strip poker.

“I-I mean, we'll probably have some time off eventually for the holidays, right?” Hidaka said quickly. “Sometimes it's nice to go visit your family on days off and it's been a while since I've seen my mom so—so I thought maybe if Fushimi-san wanted to come along that would be fine.” Hidaka's head was still bowed but he could almost feel Fushimi's glare boring into his skull. “My parents are busy a lot but they're really good people and my mom's cooking is the best. And my little brother too, he's still in high school but he's really mature for his age a lot of times. I talk with my parents on the phone sometimes and they always tell me to come home when I get a chance....and—and so, if you don't have anywhere to go, I'm sure my family would be happy if you came along with me.”

There was a long silence and Hidaka screwed his eyes shut, cursing his own stupidity. What kind of an invitation was that? You know Fushimi-san hates that kind of thing. But... Hidaka bit his lip. But it's just too sad, that's all. Even if it's none of my business, there has to be something I can do, right?

“Hmmph. Don't say stupid things.” The words were cold but there was no malice in Fushimi's tone and Hidaka looked up in surprise. Fushimi's eyes were turned away from him and his stance suddenly seemed slightly awkward, almost embarrassed, and there was maybe a small hint of red in his face.

“Fushimi-san?” Hidaka said and Fushimi abruptly turned as if to walk away.

“Do whatever you want.” There was something almost lost in Fushimi's voice, as if he wasn't quite sure how to respond properly. Fushimi paused for a moment, head lowered slightly. “It wasn't like I was expecting anything from her to begin with. So it's fine.”

He began to walk away then, not bothering to look back and see if he was being followed. Enomoto glanced curiously between Fushimi and Hidaka and then hurried after Fushimi.

“Fushimi-san...” Hidaka managed a small smile. “R-right. I guess we should get back, huh?”

He straightened and started to follow after his companions. As he did he couldn't help but glance back towards the building, looking up towards the spot where he knew there was a giant picture window that looked out over the entire city.

He liked to think that maybe there was a figure standing there at the window, watching them go, but the reflection from the sunlight was too bright and there was no way to be sure.

Chapter Text

Shit. Shit shit shit. Yata barely had time to think as the drug-dealing Strain he'd been chasing spread their arms wide and an abnormally strong gust of wind lifted Yata right off his feet. He flailed uselessly for a moment and suddenly the edge of the roof flashed past his eyes and he found himself thrust out into open air, barely able to register the sound of Kamamoto and the others yelling his name over the sudden whistling of wind as he felt himself begin to fall. Shit. Shit. Yata's mind seemed to go blank and spots danced before his eyes as he fell, arms flailing uselessly for something, anything to grab onto, any way to slow his fall down the side of the building that suddenly seemed twice as tallas it had when he'd been safely on the rooftop. Time seemed to slow down and Yata closed his eyes, waiting for the ground to rush up to him and the inevitable pain of the final impact.

Which never came, as not a moment later something – or someone – grabbed one of his arms hard and yanked, and Yata grit his teeth against the sudden burst of pain along his arm. Yata risked opening one eye, looking down and immediately regretting it when he caught sight of the ground far below, too aware of exactly how high up he was and how much trouble he'd still be in if he was dropped from this height. Someone yanked on his arm again and Yata realized that he was pressed against the fire escape, dangling by one arm that would probably hurt even more than it already did if he wasn't still busy trying to remember to breathe. Someone had definitely caught him, though.

Yata swayed a little in his rescuer's grip and he could feel clammy hands digging into his wrist. Yata clasped his hand tight over his rescuer's wrist, holding on literally for dear life. His rescuer grunted as if in pain, sliding forward just a bit and Yata suddenly felt a spike of worry that he was too heavy and he was going to pull them both over if he didn't try to do something to help himself. Yata reached out with his other hand, not liking the unnatural paleness of his skin or the way his arms were clearly shaking as he grabbed onto one of the metal bars of the fire escape to steady himself. His rescuer gave another grunt of exertion and began to pull. It was a slow process, Yata trying his best to remain still as his rescuer slowly dragged him up, holding so tightly to Yata's wrist that Yata was sure there'd be marks left behind from the way the other person's fingernails were digging in. And then after what seemed to be an eternity of dangling precariously over certain death Yata suddenly found himself sprawled on the cold floor of the fire escape, breathing hard, limbs shaking. His rescuer lay in a sitting position beside him, one arm pressed against the side of the building for support, letting go of Yata's wrist at last.

They sat that way for long moment as Yata waited for the spots to stop dancing in front of his eyes. As his heartbeat slowed back to normal he suddenly realized that he was resting his head on what looked to be the edge of his rescuer's long coat.

Long blue coat, and Yata jumped back.

Fushimi seemed to realize it at the exact same time, because no sooner had Yata moved that he yanked his coat back and stumbled to his feet, looking cross. His arms, Yata noted, were also shaking.

“Saruhiko!” Yata stared. Fushimi was rubbing the inside of one elbow as if his arm had gone stiff. “Wha...What the hell are you doing here?”

“Tch. What do think, you idiot?” Fushimi said dismissively. Even in the dim light Yata could see that he looked a bit strained and there was sweat darkening to his collar. “The same thing you are, hunting down a criminal Strain. Ah, it's not quite the same though, is it? After all, I'm getting paid for this. I'm not doing it out of some stupid thing like 'pride' or 'protecting my territory.' Oh?” He smirked at Yata's annoyed expression. “So I'm right? Did I strike a nerve, Misaki?

“Don't talk shit about Homra, monkey,” Yata warned. Fushimi clicked his tongue again and looked away, still rubbing at his arm and Yata realized how much his own arm ached where he'd been caught, as though he'd wrenched something. Realization hit and he glanced back up at Fushimi.

“It was an accident,” Fushimi said, before Yata could say another word. “If I'd known the idiot who got himself thrown off the building was you I'd have just let you fall.”

“Saruhiko...” Yata suddenly felt strangely awkward, his anger slipping away. Fushimi was very deliberately looking away now and his tone had gone soft, the usual mockery nowhere to be found.

“You should pay more attention to the people you're fighting next time,” Fushimi continued, turning away from Yata as he began to make his way down the fire escape. “I'll leave the rest of the small fry to you this time, Misaki. I'm leaving.”

“Saru, wait!” Yata called after him and Fushimi didn't even turn around, much less stop. “Hey, I said wait!”

“I don't have time to play any more games with you today.” Fushimi started to wave a hand at him and then stopped halfway through the movement, a slight hissing of his breath the only sign that the movement had pained him at all, and Yata was suddenly too aware of how much his own body ached.

“Just wait for a minute, you stupid monkey!” Yata started to run after him. “I'm trying to thank you, you asshole!”

That made Fushimi stop for a moment. He turned halfway around and Yata thought maybe there was something strange about his expression, an almost wavering in his eyes before they went cold again and Fushimi gave a scornful laugh.

“Thank me? Don't be an idiot, Misaki. I told you, I didn't intend to save you. It was a reflex, that's all. I don't have any desire for your pathetic gratitude.

“You hurt your arm pulling me up, right?” Yata continued, undaunted by Fushimi's mocking words. Fushimi's eyes narrowed but he didn't reply. Yata sighed, shaking his head. “Well, since you hurt yourself saving me I guess I'll let you off the hook for now.”

“Let me--” Fushimi started angrily and Yata cut him off easily.

“But anyway...” Yata managed a shaky smile, leaning against the fire escape as he stared down at Fushimi. “Thanks for saving me, Saruhiko.”

Fushimi's eyes widened in surprise and for just a moment Yata felt a surge of hope that he might stop, that he might turn around and walk back over, that they might be able to finally sit down and talk about something properly, even if it wasn't necessarily the thing Yata really wanted to ask him about.

Then Fushimi shook his head as if trying to dislodge something that had been stuck to him and turned away again, walking off into the night without another word.

Yata stood there for a long moment of shaking legs, watching Fushimi's back until it disappeared. Then he sighed heavily, rubbed at his aching arms and turned away himself, beginning the long climb back up to the roof to join the rest of his clan.

Chapter Text

“Ah, Fushimi-kun. Here you are.”

Fushimi turned at the sound of Munakata's voice, not really as surprised as he thought he should be. The heat of the day had tapered off with the setting of the sun and he stood on the cooling beach, still with his parka on as a cover against the chill night wind, standing in front of what might have been the most absurdly large sand castle he had ever seen in his life.

It wasn't that Fushimi had wanted to look at it again or anything like that. After dinner had been eaten and the construction had been completed (construction which Fushimi himself had not entirely been a part of, owing to a bout of sudden dizziness about a half hour in that had seen him spending the better part of the rest of the day lying in the shade with a cold cloth over his face) Munakata had declared it time to prepare for bedding down for the night. As part of their training Awashima had brought along material for several tents and everyone had been put to the task of setting them up, two to a tent. Fushimi of course had one to himself and he'd put it up as quickly as he could in order to avoid having to be bothered by the others expecting him to assist them with their tents. But even with a tent and sleeping bag Fushimi had found the hard ground difficult to sleep on and he'd found himself lying awake, staring at the roof of the tent and thinking.

So at last he'd ended up on the beach, staring at the giant sand castle that covered a good portion of the shoreline. It was still standing just as they had left it, perfectly sculpted and sturdy. If one stared at it long enough they might notice the faintest glow of blue surrounding the sand.

“I just felt like stretching my legs,” Fushimi said crossly as Munakata strode up beside him. Munakata had at least put on more clothes, which was a small mercy at any rate, and he was smiling calmly as he approached.

“I see.” Munakata nodded at the sand castle. “It is a fine sand castle, is it not? Are you pleased by it?”

“What the hell does that mean?” Fushimi muttered. “It's stupidly big, isn't it? Someone's going to run across it and wonder why there's an actual house made of sand on an uninhabited island.”

“I will file the necessary paperwork when we return to the city,” Munakata assured him. “Of course it wouldn't do for this to be reported to the authorities as a mysterious phenomenon.”

“What, are you filing for building permits?” Fushimi muttered, an edge of exasperation clear in his voice. “Anyway, what do you intend to do with it now? There's no point in having something this large just sitting here.”

“That would be a question for you, would it not?” Munakata regarded him keenly over the silver frames of his glasses. “It is your sand castle, after all.”

“Eh?” Fushimi couldn't keep the surprise from his voice and was irritated by it, quickly recovering with a click of his tongue. “I didn't ask for you to make this.”

“Nonetheless,” Munakata said, completely unruffled. “So, shall we go inside and inspect it?”

“Why?” Fushimi asked, even as he started to follow Munakata inside. He stopped in the doorway, annoyed with himself, but Munakata kept walking and after a moment Fushimi followed.

The inside of the sand castle was surprisingly large, with open doorways leading into different rooms. Fushimi thought darkly that they hadn't even needed the tents, the Special Forces unit could have just slept there for the night. Though the air was a bit staler and colder inside with the way the wind passed easily through it, and he shivered slightly.

“Did you need to make it this elaborate?” Fushimi muttered, hiding his hands in the sleeves of his parka. “It's just a sand castle.”

“With the time and effort expended, it is worth it for a good result,” Munakata replied, voice confident and professional. “Does it suit your tastes? Though I suppose it does not quite match the one you were creating before. It is a shame you destroyed it, it seemed quite elaborate itself.”

“I was just passing time,” Fushimi muttered, not meeting his eyes. “Anyway, what does it matter? It wouldn't have lasted anyway.”

“Even so,” Munakata said. “What is the saying? There is a certain...beauty, in things that lack permanency, precisely because they are fleeting.”

“So I should hold onto things that won't last, because that makes them more special?” Fushimi snorted. “That's stupid. Why bother wasting effort on it if it's only going to be destroyed in the end?”

“That depends on how much one feels the time spent was a waste,” Munakata said. “If you enjoyed that time and it is dear to you, one might say then that it was time well spent, even if it came to an end. Better a fleeting joy than a permanent sorrow, yes?”

“No,” Fushimi murmured. He felt very cold all of a sudden and rubbed at his arms to warm them. “If it's all going to go away in the end, then why does it even matter? I don't need things like that.”

“But simply because you feel something is fleeting doesn't make that so,” Munakata said. “The tide may not have come in so far, and your sand castle would still stand. If not, then a picture, perhaps, to remind you of it would suffice.”

“It would have been destroyed,” Fushimi replied with absolute certainty. Munakata was looking at him with calm and far too knowing eyes and it made Fushimi feel uncomfortable so that he found himself backing up against one of the walls. “Besides, what does it matter anyway? It was just a sand castle. It wasn't anything important.”

“On the contrary,” Munakata said. “It was important to you, was it not?”

There was something in his expression that made Fushimi's chest itch, and Fushimi quickly looked away.

“...No,” he said at last, as if saying it would make it true. “It wasn't important.”

“Is that so?” Munakata smiled again and the breath caught in Fushimi's throat. “Well, in any case, this sand castle is a fine one as well. And even if it is so that there is beauty in things that don't last, I believe there's a certain value to permanency as well.”

“Is it really permanent?” Fushimi asked coldly. “Even this will fall apart eventually, right?”

“I have imbued it with the power of a King,” Munakata replied. “While I suppose I cannot say for certain, having never tested out such a theory before, from my own knowledge I believe that this will indeed be quite permanent. Even if I were to no longer be here, my power would remain in this building, just as it would remain within you.”

There was a long stretch of silence between them and Fushimi's fingers curled into the skin of his arms. The chill running through his body was a result of the cold wind, he was certain of that, and not the words “if I were to no longer be here,” because he didn't care about such things. It was trivial to him, Kings and clansmen and the so-called “bonds” that Misaki had always been chattering uselessly about.

“I believe there is a certain value to permanency as well.”

Fushimi hunched his shoulders against the cold, eyes hooded. A sudden light touch on his arm made him startle and look up, straight into Munakata's thoughtful face.

“It seems the night has grown a little too cold. Shall we go back?”

Fushimi nodded dumbly and let Munakata take hold of his arm as they walked back outside. As soon as they were back under the stars Fushimi took a deep breath to steady himself. Munakata let go of his arm and began to walk back towards the tents. Fushimi took a few steps to follow and the paused, staring back at the sand castle.

“Fushimi-kun?” Munakata's voice called back to him. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing,” Fushimi said dismissively. He paused for a moment before reluctantly forcing the words out. “Why'd you do this, anyway?”

Munakata looked surprised for a moment and then another smile settled itself over his features.

“As I said, there is value in permanency,” he said simply. “You wished for something that would not be destroyed, and it was in my power to give it to you. So I did.”

Fushimi didn't reply, his heart beating hard against his chest. At last he gave a quiet chuckle followed by the usual click of his tongue.

“Tch. Don't go so overboard next time.” Turning away from the sand castle Fushimi stalked past Munakata, arms crossed and shoulders hunched with a slight flush on his face that might have been from the cold and might have been from something more than that.

“I will keep that in mind.” Munakata's soft laughter followed after him, and together they walked back towards the tents.

Chapter Text

“Hell no.”

“My, Fushimi-kun, could it be you dislike rollercoasters?” Munakata was, as usual, typically unruffled, staring up at the rollercoaster behind them as though it was some new problem he was determined to solve.

“For one thing, Captain, I thought we were supposed to be on patrol,” Fushimi muttered irritably, crossing his arms. “How the hell is riding a rollercoaster supposed to help us find a Strain?”

“I imagine we would have a very good view of the park,” Munakata said, nodding to himself. “And in any case, is it not a good idea to occasionally take time out to rest and refresh after a long day of work?”

“Work.” Fushimi snorted. “And we already saw the entirety of the park from the Ferris Wheel that you dragged me on ten minutes ago.”

“A second perspective can be a helpful tool,” Munakata replied, not missing a beat.

Fushimi bit back a groan. He didn't know what he'd done to deserve this. Thinking back, he probably should've been suspicious when Munakata had stated his intentions to accompany Fushimi on patrol, especially when it turned out that the spot where the wanted Strain was last seen happened to be an amusement park. So far he had spent the entire day being dragged on ride after ride – the Ferris Wheel having been the most recent, but he'd also been obliged to watch Munakata play a ring-tossing game that had ended with Fushimi carrying around a very large stuffed bear around half the park before he'd found a subordinate to pawn it off on. Then he'd been dragged into the haunted house, where Munakata had reacted to every scare with an interested 'hmm' and occasional praising comments regarding the costumes and makeup work. Munakata had also insisted that they try authentic amusement park food and Fushimi had ended up with an armful of cotton candy which, to be fair, hadn't really been that bad if just a touch too sweet but Munakata himself had not been a fan of the texture and Fushimi had to admit that it was just a tiny bit satisfying seeing the Captain's face twist in slightly confused displeasure at the first bite while Fushimi slowly finished his without any difficulty whatsoever. The whole thing might have been slightly more tolerable if Munakata had at least let him wear casual clothes but no, they'd both been traipsing around the park dressed in the usual Scepter 4 uniform which was by now hot and slightly sticky from candy (Fushimi had also been asked at least three times if he was in cosplay. Munakata's eyes had shone with curiosity at that and Fushimi'd had to usher him away in order to keep from having to explain to the Captain what 'cosplay' meant. Knowing Munakata, that would only have led to the forces somehow ending up in color-coded Sentai uniforms in the name of 'team bonding' or some stupid shit like that).

He'd been hoping to avoid the rollercoaster, though. Fushimi's lip curled as he looked up at it. The cars twisted and turned on the track above him as the occupants inside screamed happily and Fushimi could almost feel the cotton candy in his stomach threatening to creep its way up his throat.

“Surely you aren't afraid, Fushimi-kun?” Munakata's voice was completely sincere but it made Fushimi grimace anyway.

“I'm fine.” It had been a few years after all. Maybe he'd have gotten over it by now. Fushimi sighed heavily. “Fine, fine! If we go on the stupid rollercoaster then can we finally get back to patrol?”

“Of course.” Munakata inclined his head in a nod and his eyes were shining. “Well! Lead the way, Fushimi-kun.”

Fushimi suppressed another groan and jammed his hands into his pockets as he stalked towards the rollercoaster with Munakata following serenely after.

“I wonder where they are.” Hidaka couldn't help but smile a bit as he looked around at the throngs of people laughing and having fun. It was kinda weird, walking through an amusement park like this in full uniform, but he supposed that as a member of Scepter 4 he should be ready to go on patrol anywhere. “The other troops said they saw Fushimi-san and the Captain over this way somewhere.”

“Maybe they decided to take a break and go on the rides?” Doumyoji asked blithely. He had picked up a very large and colorful lollipop from somewhere and was licking it happily as they walked.

“Do you think we should go back?” Gotou wondered. “The Captain and Fushimi-san should be able to handle any trouble on their own, right?”

“I guess...” Hidaka looked thoughtful and then shook his head.”I don't like just leaving without finding them though. What if something happened?”

“I'm sure it's fine!” Doumyoji took another lick of his lollipop. “Hey look, a rollercoaster!” Doumyoji ran ahead, waving his arms in the air. “It's really high up, huh?”

“It's pretty big,” Gotou said, walking up beside him. “I don't think I've ever been on this one before.”

“I came here once with my family,” Hidaka said as he joined them. “We couldn’t go on the rollercoaster though, my little brother was too scared to--”

His voice trailed off as a knife hit the ground inches from his foot. Hidaka jumped back with a yell.

“W-what was that?”

“A knife.” Gotou took a step forward and picked it up off the ground, looking at it curiously.

“An enemy attack?” Hidaka tensed.

There was a yell from behind them and they both turned just in time to see another knife hit Doumyoji's lollipop, pinning it to the ground.

“What the--” Hidaka was cut off as Gotou pushed him to one side and three more knives rained down onto the ground from above.

“It's an aerial attack, right?” Doumyoji had his hands held over his head like he was trying to shield himself from the rain and not random knives from heaven. “It's definitely an attack, right?”

“Hidaka...don't these knives look familiar?” Gotou said thoughtfully, holding one between two fingers.

“Familiar?” Hidaka repeated. Looking at the knife now, he realized that Gotou was right, it did look like something he'd seen before...

The rollercoaster car suddenly dipped low enough on the track that for just a moment Hidaka was able to make out two familiar figures in the first car, a second before three more knives hit the ground just a few feet to his left. Hidaka and Gotou exchanged glances.

“That wasn't...?” “Fushimi-san?”

“Captain, I didn't know you liked rollercoasters!” The rollercoaster car slowly rolled to a stop as Doumyoji ran up to meet it. Hidaka and Gotou followed behind slowly, hands full of fallen knives.

“Oh, Doumyoji-kun, Hidaka-kun, Gotou-kun.” Munakata smiled brilliantly as he unbuckled his seat belt. Hidaka couldn't help but note that the Captain's uniform and hair were completely unruffled, as if he'd just been taking an afternoon stroll instead of riding a rollercoaster.

In the other seat Fushimi was still sitting hunched over. As Hidaka cautiously approached he couldn't help but notice that Fushimi looked slightly green in the face.

“F-Fushimi-san, it's really unexpected to see you on--” Hidaka took a nervous step forward and then froze as Fushimi fixed him with a baleful glare.

“Move.” The words were low and laced with killing intent.

“Fushimi-san? Are you--”

“I said, move!” Hidaka barely heard the words as another flash of steel came from underneath Fushimi's coat and the seat belt fell apart in pieces. Fushimi was on his feet in a flash, nearly running down both Hidaka and Gotou as he ran straight for the trash can behind them.

“My, I suppose the experience was a little too much for Fushimi-kun,” Munakata said pleasantly. Behind him Hidaka thought he might have heard something that sounded like a curse word muttered out in between the distinctive sounds of someone throwing up. “I found it to be a fascinating experience, myself. There is something refreshing, is there not, about moving at such a high speed while being strapped onto such a complicated track?”

“Um...I guess?” Hidaka said.”I haven't really gone on a lot of rollercoasters myself...”

“Right, it's really fun!” Doumyoji said enthusiastically. “Rollercoasters are the best!”

Munakata looked at them keenly for a moment. There was something about the look in his eyes that made Hidaka feel suddenly nervous.

“Oh? Would you like to accompany me on another round, Doumyoji-kun?”

“I wanna die...” Doumyoji moaned as he sat crumpled on the ground next to a bench. His face was pale and his eyes slightly glazed. “Dizzy...”

“Captain has to get tired of it eventually, right?” Hidaka tried to sound encouraging but his own stomach was still churning and he couldn't even bring himself to get off the bench. In the distance he could see the rollercoaster going around and around yet again, Munakata and Gotou near the front.

“Twenty times,” Doumyoji continued. “How can the Captain be fine after twenty times? It's weird, isn't it? Anyway I look at it, it's weird!”

“It can't still be interesting after this many times,” Hidaka said, leaning his head back. “Maybe he'll want to try another ride after this?”

“No more,” Doumyoji whimpered dramatically. “Too tired...no more...”

Next to them, Fushimi took a long slow drink of the water bottle in his hand. His eyes were flat and dull, filled with the look of someone resigned to his fate.

“...Tea cups.”

“What?” Hidaka turned to look at him. Fushimi didn't even look up, still nursing his water.

“The Captain said something about wanting to try the spinning tea cups.”

Doumyoji gave another low moan and then they lapsed into a momentary silence.

“...The power of Kings is really scary, huh?” Hidaka said in a low voice.

Even Fushimi nodded in agreement as above them the rollercoaster rolled on.

Chapter Text

“Fushimi-kun.”

Fushimi didn't even look up at the sound of Munakata's voice, his face fixed on the screen of the computer in front of him. Outside the sky was dark and the office was empty save for the two of them.

“I'm busy.” Fushimi's words were short and clipped, the meaning behind them clear: “Please leave me the hell alone.”

“I believe your shift ended an hour ago.” Munakata placed a hand on the top of Fushimi's computer and Fushimi sighed irritably, glaring up at him.

“I'm working overtime,” Fushimi muttered. As if you weren't already aware of that anyway.

“And as always, I appreciate your efforts,” Munakata said, not missing a beat. “I thought perhaps you would like to accompany me out tonight. Today is your birthday, is it not?”

Fushimi froze for only a moment before returning to his typing, clicking his tongue in irritation. Of course Munakata would remember that.

“I don't care about stupid things like that,” Fushimi said coldly.

“I am aware of that. But even so, twenty is a special birthday, is it not?” Munakata replied, unperturbed. “I thought as your superior it would be good to treat you to a drink.”

“Get drunk and make a fool of myself just because of some stupid day?” Fushimi snorted. “I'll pass.”

“I was not suggesting as such,” Munakata said. “I was only thinking it would be nice for you to get some air and perhaps try a new experience.”

“New experience.” Fushimi clicked his tongue again. Munakata was still staring at him expectantly and finally Fushimi sighed, closing his computer. “All right, all right. One drink. Then I have work to finish.”

“Excellent.”Munakata's face lit up and Fushimi wondered if maybe he wouldn't have been better off sticking with the overtime.

Even so, he supposed it couldn't hurt, going out for one drink. Birthdays were stupid and he certainly wasn't intending on celebrating anything, but as long as he was considered old enough to order something alcoholic he might as well try it at least once. And the Captain clearly wasn't going to let him get away with saying no so it was probably better to just give in and do it.

Somehow, Munakata always got his way.

The bar Munakata took him to wasn't very far from Scepter 4's dorms but to Fushimi's immense relief there didn't seem to be anyone from the forces there at the moment. If he was going to be forced to go drinking with the Captain he'd much rather no one else be present to make the entire affair even more of a bother than it already was. He supposed he should at least be thankful that Munakata hadn't tried to drag him to Bar Homra, though Fushimi supposed that might have been rather awkward for both of them.

The bar itself wasn't as nice as Homra and Fushimi felt immediately irritated at himself for making the comparison. This bar was a bit smaller and clearly not as well taken care of, but at least it was filled only with strangers and not a bunch of rowdy idiots calling themselves a family.

Fushimi felt something twist in his stomach and the only thing that kept him from turning around to leave was Munakata suddenly reaching out and taking him gently but firmly by the wrist.

“Does my choice of location displease you?” Munakata asked quietly.

“Tch. Let's just get this over with. I'm cold.”

“Of course.” Munakata led him over to the bar, taking a seat on one of the stools as Fushimi settled down beside him. He noted a few of the other patrons giving Munakata strange looks and Fushimi supposed he couldn't blame them. Even without knowing that they were looking at the Blue King, there was something about Munakata's aura that made him seem out of place in a shabby little bar like this.

Munakata motioned to the bartender and quietly ordered drinks for them both. Fushimi watched him silently and Munakata glanced back at him with a smile.

“You look like you want to say something, Fushimi-kun.”

“Not really.” Fushimi shrugged. “This just doesn't seem like the kind of place that would suit you, that's all.”

“Hmm, I suppose you may be right,” Munakata said thoughtfully. “In truth, I have only been here one other time. Awashima-kun and I occasionally meet for drinks after work but we generally go elsewhere. However, I felt like this place would be preferable to you. It does not seem to be the most expensive of places but there is a rather nice atmosphere to it, wouldn't you say?”

“I guess.” Fushimi shrugged.

“And in any case, I judged that this bar would be the least likely to be patronized by other members of Scepter 4,” Munakata continued. “I thought that would be more agreeable to you, considering today's date.”

Fushimi stiffened slightly at that, then shook his head with a quiet laugh. Of course he should have expected Munakata to see through something as simple as that.

“Well, anyway, how do you even know what to order in a place like this?” Fushimi said.

“The bartender seems to be quite skilled though perhaps not as much as Homra's second. I have tried to choose a drink that will agree with Fushimi-kun's particularly narrow tastes.”

Fushimi scowled slightly at that and Munakata chuckled quietly.

“Ah, here we are.” Munakata nodded at the bartender as their drinks arrived, handing the man a card that Fushimi was reasonably certain was meant for Scepter 4 budgetary expenses.

“This is considered a work expense?” Fushimi muttered darkly and Munakata only smiled brilliantly at him.

“Of course. It is my third in command's important coming of age. Now, shall we have a drink, Fushimi-kun?”

Munakata slid a glass over to him and Fushimi eyed it darkly. It had a slight blue tint to it but was otherwise fairly unremarkable, and Fushimi supposed he should be thankful that this bar was probably too low rent for any sort of ridiculous fancy crap.

“It is perhaps a little sweet but I think it should be to your liking,” Munakata continued. His own drink was a slightly darker blue, served in a deeper glass with ice.

Fushimi gave the drink another suspicious look and then took a long slow sip.

“Well?” Munakata asked him after a moment.

“...It's all right, I guess.” Fushimi shrugged. “I don't get what the big deal is anyway. About all this, I mean.”

“I see.” Munakata sipped his own drink. “It is considered something of a rite of passage, is it not, to be able to drink alcohol?”

“It's stupid,” Fushimi said, carefully taking another sip. It was a little sweet but there was a slight bitterness to it as well that made his lips curl. “What makes it mean anything more that I couldn't drink this yesterday but I can today?”

“One might say this is a sign that you have become an adult, in the eyes of society at least,” Munakata said thoughtfully.

“Tch. As if that's something to be celebrated.” Fushimi stared down at his drink. “Adults are all useless anyway. If getting drunk and acting like a moron is a sign of adulthood I'd rather not be part of it.”

“That may be so,” Munakata said, “but I see no problem with it, as long as one is careful to consume only in moderation. And whether you choose to drink or not, adulthood will come regardless.”

“I guess.” Fushimi took another drink and made a face. “Don't they have anything else here?”

Two hours later Munakata found himself nodding his apologies as he exited the bar with his very drunk and not entirely coherent third in command leaning over his shoulder.

“My, Fushimi-kun, what will I do with you?” Munakata said quietly as he began to help Fushimi down the road back towards Scepter 4 headquarters.

Munakata supposed he had only himself to blame for this situation. His own tolerance for alcohol was rather high – supernaturally high, he'd been told before, though it never seemed that way to Munakata while he was drinking – and he had clearly overestimated Fushimi's ability to hold his liquor. About two drinks in Fushimi had started getting slightly more surly than usual and a bit of back and forth between them had resulted in Munakata being challenged to join several other patrons in the corner of the bar who were enjoying a friendly game of darts. Munakata had never played such a game before and found it highly intriguing, something his fellow players had found oddly amusing for some reason (they'd also indulged in some rather colorful language when Munakata hit his third bullseye in a row and had refused to believe Munakata's explanation that he simply seemed to have rather strong beginner's luck). Unfortunately by the time he returned to inform Fushimi of how the game had gone he'd found that Fushimi had apparently taken advantage of the unlimited budget of Scepter 4 to try a surprisingly wide variety of alcoholic beverages and was in the middle of haranguing the bartender with what seemed to be a rather long and rambling speech about Homra's Yata Misaki. At that point Munakata had decided that perhaps it was time to go back.

“This is—this is all your fault you know.” Fushimi's words were mumbled and slightly slurred. His normally pale face was unnaturally flushed and Munakata had to steady him carefully as they walked.

“Indeed. I will admit, I expected more restraint from you, Fushimi-kun. You have surpassed my expectations entirely.”

“This's why adults're useless,” Fushimi continued. “Just...acting like stupid rowdy morons... yelling all the time and stinking like alcohol like it's something good like it's fine, well it's not it tastes like shit.” Fushimi paused, body wavering slightly, and Munakata tightened his grip slightly in order to keep Fushimi upright. “I feel sick.”

“I imagine you might,” Munakata said soothingly. “We will be back at the dorms soon, Fushimi-kun. Some rest should make you feel better.”

“Feel better, feel better,” Fushimi repeated coldly. “Never feel better. Always feel sick, sore, headache. It's stupid it hurts.”

“I disagree,” Munakata said quietly. “It should not have to hurt, Fushimi-kun.”

“Tch. You always say shit like that, always, like you know everything.” Fushimi gave a choking laugh. “You're just as bad, Captain. Acting like everything's fine all the damn time, like there's no cracks there's no blood on that sword, there's nothing. You're an idiot.”

“Perhaps I am,” Munakata said. “I suppose we will just have to be idiots together, Fushimi-kun.”

“All of you, idiots,” Fushimi muttered with another laugh. “Everyone is. Misaki too, smiling at that person like an idiot, all the time. Never even noticed I was here. I'm always out of place, everywhere.”

“Is that really what you believe?” Munakata said, voice still as calm as if he was having a normal conversation. “I think you underestimate him, Fushimi-kun. And yourself, as well. I believe that there are many places that will accept you, if you will open yourself to them.”

“Liar.” Fushimi's voice was low and miserable. “Don't say stupid—don't say stupid things. I'll believe them if you say them, so stop talking. It's stupid. I don't want to hear it.”

“I understand,” Munakata said. Scepter 4's gate was in sight ahead of them and Munakata supposed it was good that it was so late at night. The odds of someone catching them were lower and he suspected that Fushimi would not be pleased if anyone else were to see him this way. “I believe we are nearly back, Fushimi-kun. Shall I take you to your dorm?”

“No.” One of Fushimi's hands grasped weakly at Munakata's coat and he leaned his head forward to rest against Munakata's shoulder.

“Fushimi-kun?”

“It's cold.” Fushimi's words were mumbled but clear. “It's cold in that room. It's cold. I don't like it when it's cold. Don't—don't leave--” His voice trailed off into incoherent murmuring.

“I see.” Munakata carefully pried Fushimi's hands off his clothes and readjusted his hold. “Don't worry, Fushimi-kun. I will see to it that you stay warm, for tonight at least.”

Fushimi made a soft sound in his throat that might have been a scoff or might have been a whimper, and Munakata's grip was firm but gentle around him.

The infirmary wouldn't be the most comfortable place to spend the night, but Munakata supposed he could handle it for one night at least.

“Ugh...” Fushimi groaned softly as consciousness returned. He felt like absolute shit – his head was pounding, his tongue felt like cotton in his mouth and there was a distinct aftertaste in his throat that made him feel like he wanted to throw up. He opened his eyes slowly and then shut them again with a wince, the light far too bright. Fushimi lay there for a moment with an arm thrown over his forehead, trying to remember what had happened the night before.

Munakata had taken him out for a drink, hadn't he? Fushimi grimaced. This was why he hadn't wanted to go. Bad enough he'd apparently gotten drunk enough to forget half the night, now he was stuck having to drag himself to work suffering from his first hangover. He rolled over on his side and suppressed a groan as he tried to force himself into a sitting position.

A soft hand on his wrist pushed him back down gently but firmly and Fushimi risked opening his eyes slightly.

“Good morning, Fushimi-kun. Or afternoon, as I believe it is now.”

“Captain?” The words felt fuzzy on his tongue as he slowly registered the figure standing over him. Munakata looked slightly blurry and Fushimi realized that he didn't have his glasses on. Beyond that, it seemed like he wasn't even in his own room. “What the hell...”

“We are in Scepter 4's infirmary,” Munakata said pleasantly. He seemed to be keeping his voice low for Fushimi's sake and Fushimi grudgingly appreciated it. “I'm afraid you went a little too far last night, Fushimi-kun.”

“I got dead drunk, you mean,” Fushimi said with a bitter laugh. “I'm never doing that again.”

“Indeed, I would not recommend it,” Munakata replied calmly. “How are you feeling?”

“How do you think?” Fushimi muttered irritably.

“As expected.” Fushimi couldn't quite make out Munakata's expression but he could almost hear the smile nonetheless. “I have taken the liberty of informing Awashima-kun that you will not be fit to come into work today. Please try to rest and regain your strength. You had a rather exhausting night. I believe that it may be best if you avoid alcoholic drinks for the immediate future.”

“For the rest of my life,” Fushimi said with another groan. “Never again.”

“That may be a bit too severe.” Munakata laughed quietly. “Even so, for now that may be wise. I will have someone bring you some painkillers for your headache. Do you feel well enough to eat anything?”

“Not really,” Fushimi said, leaning his head back against the pillow and shutting his eyes. Munakata placed a hand on his forehead and Fushimi stiffened just slightly at the touch before relaxing again.

“Then I will ask again later. For now, sleeping it off may be the best medicine.”

“Mmm.” There was a memory hovering on the edge of his mind that Fushimi couldn't quite manage to grasp. “Did you stay here all night?”

There was a long pause before Munakata answered.

“I did.”

“Don't leave--”

The words fluttered through his mind and were almost immediately drowned out by the pounding of his head. Even so, there was something warm about Munakata's hand where it touched him and Fushimi felt himself relaxing just slightly.

“Rest now, Fushimi-kun. I will still be here when you wake.”

“Stupid, why the hell would I be worried about that?” The words ran through his mind but Fushimi felt too tired to speak them. His head ached and Fushimi tried to ignore it and sleep.

He could still feel them, the memories hovering just out of reach, and with a soft sigh Fushimi let them go. He supposed that if it was really all that important he'd remember when he woke up.

Chapter Text

“I need a haircut.”

Fushimi looked up mildly at the sound of Yata's voice. Misaki was standing halfway out of the bathroom, looking dissatisfied with his hair in disarray.

“This hairstyle, it's really uncool, isn't it?” Misaki continued, rubbing at his bangs. “Hey, Saruhiko, what do you think? It's definitely way too uncool for someone who's a member of Homra, right?”

So that's why. They'd been in Homra all of a month and half now and Misaki had been staring at the mirror a lot lately, muttering to himself.

“Who cares?” He didn't really get why Misaki was always so fired up about Homra all the time. It wasn't like Fushimi wasn't a part of them too, of course – he appreciated this power that he'd received from Suoh Mikoto and already he and Misaki were becoming trusted members of the clan. It should have been everything Fushimi could have wanted.

But it made his hands twitch, somehow, whenever Misaki started talking about how great Homra was and how awesome and strong Mikoto was. There was a mark on Fushimi's chest in the same place as Misaki's and it felt like it was burning him, every time Misaki stopped looking at him and stared at Mikoto instead.

“Because it makes me look really lame in front of everyone else!” Misaki ran a hand through his hair again, turning up his bangs slightly in a way that made him look utterly ridiculous.

“Hey, Saruhiko.” His voice was quieter then and Fushimi turned to look at him.

“Misaki?”

“D-don't you think I'd look really good with shorter bangs?” Misaki placed a hand over his chest almost reverently. “I bet it would make me look kinda like Mikoto-san, wouldn't it?”

Ah. The mocking words froze in Fushimi's throat and he wasn't even sure why. He felt very hot all of a sudden though, and he wondered if it was some kind of side effect from the Red clan's power that he hadn't quite figured out yet.

“I don't really have any extra money to pay for a good haircut though,” Yata continued, not even seeming to notice the way Fushimi had gone silent. “I wonder if Totsuka-san could cut it for me? He said something about—”

“I'll cut it.” The words were out of Fushimi's mouth before he even realized that he'd said them.

“Eh? You can cut hair, Saruhiko?”

“Sure.” Fushimi shrugged. Not that he'd done it often beyond occasionally trimming his own bangs when they'd grown too long but he supposed that was good enough. And he'd said it now anyway, so he certainly wasn't going to take it back and look like an idiot.

It wasn't that he was really interested in cutting hair or anything. It was just that the idea of someone else taking a scissors to Misaki's hair bothered him somehow, and so the words had come out before he could stop them.

And when Misaki smiled in reply and called him cool, Fushimi found he couldn't at all regret making the offer.

“Sit still Misaki. Stop acting like a five year old.”

“I am sitting still. Are you sure you know how to use those, Saruhiko?”

Fushimi had made Misaki take a quick shower, just enough to get his hair wet so that it would be easier to cut, and in the meantime he'd dug up a suitable pair of scissors. There wasn't really a good spot in their small bathroom so he'd made an empty spot on the floor and laid some towels down, and then found a blanket to wrap over Misaki's shoulders. It wasn't quite ideal but Fushimi supposed it would do and besides there was something almost comfortable about it that he couldn't quite name, kneeling there on the floor behind Misaki, Misaki's hair still damp and dripping slightly, Fushimi with scissors and a comb preparing to attempt a haircut.

“Look down,” Fushimi said shortly, shifting his position so that he was directly behind Misaki. Misaki glanced back at him just once, maybe not quite nervous but not entirely sure about it anyway, and then he smiled and did as he was told. One of Fushimi's hands ran slowly through Misaki's hair, fingers carefully weaving through the wet strands.

Misaki's hair, and Fushimi ran his fingers through it again almost without thinking, moving his hand up slightly to massage Yata's scalp. He heard Misaki suck in a breath but the other boy didn't say a word and Fushimi swallowed down the sudden lump that was forming in his throat.

He reached out with the scissors and carefully began to cut. Misaki's hair was a mess as usual but even so it wasn't too difficult to deal with and Fushimi supposed that maybe this would be easy after all.

Snip, and a few more scattered red strands fell to the floor beneath him. One of Fushimi's hands continued to move through Misaki's hair, tracing a line behind Misaki's ear, along Misaki's neck. Somehow he felt like it wasn't quite necessary to be touching Misaki this much but Fushimi couldn't seem to stop and he brought the scissors up again.

“Don't fall asleep,” he said irritably as Misaki's head bobbed a little too low, nearly messing up the line of Fushimi's cut.

“Not falling asleep,” Misaki mumbled in reply, clearly drowsy. “Do I look cool yet?”

“I haven't even finished the back.” Fushimi kept cutting and Misaki's head lowered a little again. In the silence of the apartment Fushimi could hear the way Misaki's breath evened out, inhale, exhale.

Snip. The sound of the scissors opening and closing mingled with the rhythm of Misaki's breathing and the beating of Fushimi's heart, and he leaned in closer. Misaki's hair was damp and smelled like their cheap shampoo and concrete and warm air Fushimi couldn't help but breathe it in, savor it.

Inhale. Exhale. Heartbeat. Snip. Inhale. Exhale.

Snip. There was the vague feeling that there was something too close about all this, his hand's in someone else's hair, twisting in the strands of red, but Misaki's breathing was even and Misaki's smell was comfortable, the air was comfortable (and this was Misaki's red, Misaki's hair) so Fushimi kept cutting.

Inhale. Exhale. Snip. Heartbeat.

Fushimi surveyed the work he had done on the back of Misaki's head and then crawled forward on his knees to get the bangs. Misaki's eyes were still closed and his face was slightly red from the shower. Fushimi found himself sitting there frozen for a moment, scissors still in hand, and he reached out to run his hands through Misaki's bangs.

“I bet it would make me look kinda like Mikoto-san, wouldn't it?” His breath caught for some reason and for a moment Fushimi almost wanted to close his hands tightly around that hair, to gather up all the fallen strands littering the ground around them and weave them back in somehow, make them stay put, make Misaki stay the same.

“Stupid.” Fushimi shook his head as he quietly mouthed the word. He didn't even know where the thoughts had come from anyway. Keep Misaki the same? Misaki was always the same, loud and stupid and always running headlong into things without understanding them first. It was just a haircut, that was all. Nothing was changing.

Fushimi's hands flashed out and cut off a chunk of Misaki's long bangs. They fell to the ground and Fushimi stared at the jagged mess he'd left behind almost defiantly, as if daring himself to feel bad about it.

Yata shifted a little, mumbling in his sleep, and Fushimi realized he'd made more of a mess than he'd intended. He needed to straighten out the cut but Misaki had leaned slightly to one side and cutting at an angle like that seemed like a bad idea.

Fushimi wasn't sure why his hands felt clammy all of a sudden as he reached out to cup Misaki's face with one hand. The skin felt warm underneath his fingers the way it always had and there was a drop of water from Misaki's still-wet hair running down his cheek. Almost unconsciously Fushimi wiped it away with a finger and Misaki stirred a little under his touch. Fushimi froze, breath catching as Misaki's eyes fluttered, but then his breathing evened out again and Fushimi felt like he could breathe again. Carefully he pushed Misaki's head just a bit to the other side. Misaki didn't even stir and Fushimi let out the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding as he reached for the scissors again.

It didn't look like Suoh Mikoto's hair, not really. It didn't quite look like the old Misaki either, and Fushimi leaned back on his hands. There was a mess of red hair scattered all around him and his hand ached where he'd been holding the scissors.

“Saruhiko...?” Misaki stirred and Fushimi sat up a little straighter. “Hey are you done already?”

“I've been done for ten minutes,” Fushimi said, clicking his tongue. “Someone fell asleep like a little kid.”

“Sorry, sorry, the bath just made me feel too tired – hey, wait, you're really done?” Misaki stumbled to his feet, pulling the blanket off over his shoulders. “Mirror, mirror...”

“Here.” Fushimi held up the hand mirror he'd brought with him, not bothering to get up off the floor.

Somehow he thought his heart might have pounded just a little harder as Misaki stared intently into the mirror, turning his head from side to side as he took in the new haircut.

Then Misaki's face broke out in a wide smile, bright as the sun and perfectly familiar, still Misaki as always, and Fushimi felt like an idiot for thinking that might have changed.

Just a haircut, after all, and nothing had changed, nothing would change.

“Thanks Saruhiko!” Yata sat back down beside him, still admiring the new haircut in the mirror. “Hey, should I do yours next? We need to get you a cool haircut too, Saruhiko.”

“This is fine.” Unpleasant feelings bubbled up for just a moment, someone else whose hair was too like his, and Fushimi pushed it back down. “Anyway, I don't know if I can trust Misaki with scissors.”

“Hey, I can at least cut your bangs,” Misaki said, affronted. “Come on Saruhiko, I bet you can barely even see with all that hair in your eyes.”

“Says the person who just let me cut his hair while he slept.”

“Yeah, yeah. Come on Saruhiko, your turn.”

“Tch.” Fushimi clicked his tongue and held the scissors up for Misaki. “I guess it's fine.”

“All right!” Misaki scrambled forward on his hands and knees, grabbing for a blanket and settling it around Fushimi's shoulders. His face was close enough that Fushimi could smell the shampoo again and his fingers twitched around a discarded clump of red hair.

“Saruhiko? You okay?” Misaki's voice rang in his ears and Fushimi took a deep breath, nodding.

“It's fine. Go ahead.”

It was just a haircut after all and Fushimi's body relaxed as his eyes closed, drowsiness washing over him along with the sound of Yata's steady breathing and the snip of the scissors.

Chapter Text

“Come on, monkey, stop being lazy and help out!” Yata glanced back towards the kitchen where Fushimi was leaning against a counter and looking cross.

“I'm fine right here.” Fushimi looked away from him, apparently doing his best to pretend he wasn't hiding in the kitchen like a sullen teenager trying to avoid having to visit unpleasant relatives.

“You have to leave the kitchen sometime Saruhiko.”

It had been the Blue King's idea to have a big combined Homra/Scepter 4 Christmas party in the first place so Yata didn't see why Fushimi felt the need to complain so much. Homra had done half the work anyway since they were holding the party in the bar, decorating and making refreshments and everything. The Blue King had said something about “fostering a better relationship between clans” and Anna had agreed to the whole thing so it wasn't like they could get out of it either. The least Fushimi could do, Yata figured, was help him take some more cookies out of the oven and set them out on the bar for everyone.

“Tch.” Fushimi clicked his tongue and turned away. Yata sighed heavily, the tray of cookies in his hand the only thing keeping him from walking over and dragging Fushimi out of the kitchen by the arm.

Their own relationship was...progressing, more or less. They weren't fighting anymore (not more than normal, anyway) and there had been apologies and crying and all that mess, but beyond that Yata still wasn't honestly sure what exactly they were now. Best friends, former enemies, casual acquaintances...Fushimi wasn't exactly the greatest at making his feelings known and Yata knew that asking would probably just get him a tongue click and a lot of muttering.

“Misaki. Saruhiko.” Anna appeared in the doorway, clad in a red dress trimmed with white that they had bought especially for the party.

“Sorry, Anna, we're coming!” Yata inclined his head towards Fushimi. “Someone isn't being much help though. You know you can't spend the whole party hiding in here, right, Saruhiko?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue again, which Yata suspected was a clear sign that that was exactly what Fushimi had been hoping to do, and then Anna primly crossed the floor and took hold of his arm.

“Saruhiko, you come too.” She pulled slightly and Yata couldn't help but smile as Fushimi's stance relaxed just slightly and he allowed himself to be led forward. Even Fushimi couldn't resist Anna, it seemed.

“It's not that bad, Saruhiko.” Yata tried to sound encouraging. “Your people seem to be enjoying themselves, anyway.”

“Don't lump me in with those idiots,” Fushimi said, though he continued to let Anna lead him towards the door.

“Misaki.” Anna reached up and took the tray of cookies from him as she passed.

“Ah, it's all right Anna, I've got it...”

“It's fine.” Anna took a moment to adjust her grip on the tray and led the way out of the kitchen. Yata stared after her for a minute before glancing back at Fushimi, who had stopped cold again a few steps from the door.

“Come on, Saruhiko.” Yata grabbed his arm and pulled him forward through the doorway. “You came all this way you might as well have fun, right?”

“This is not what I consider fun,” Fushimi muttered. “I only came because the Captain dragged me along. What a waste of time, we have work to do back at headquarters...”

“Stop being so gloomy,” Yata said. “It's Christmas Eve and you want to work?”

“I don't see the point in useless celebrations,” Fushimi stated, crossing his arms.

“It's fun, it doesn't have to be useful--”

“Ah.” Anna's voice made them both turn. She was standing just outside the doorway, cookies still in hand, eyes staring right above their heads. Yata followed her gaze, Fushimi doing the same beside him.

Hung above the doorway to the kitchen was a small sprig of mistletoe. And they were standing directly beneath it.

“A-ahh, wait, this is--” Yata stuttered as Anna continued to stare silently at him.

“What's wrong, Misaki?” Fushimi scoffed. “It's just a stupid weed.”

“Y-yeah, but we're standing beneath it and--”

“And?” Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Don't tell me you think we have to kiss now, do you Misaki?”

“No!” Yata said quickly. “And anyway, who would even want to kiss you, you stupid bastard?”

“You have to.” Anna's voice was firm and she was still staring calmly at them. “Tatara always said if two people were under the mistletoe they had to kiss. It's tradition.”

“That's different though,” Yata said quickly. “I mean, anyway, we're both guys right and it's not really--”

“Virgin,” Fushimi said under his breath and Yata whirled to glare at him.

“What the hell does that mean?” Yata growled.

“It means Misaki that you're a virgin who probably doesn't even know how to kiss,” Fushimi said with a smirk.

“I do so know how to kiss!” Yata stated even as his brain quietly whispered that okay, so maybe the only people he'd ever kissed were relatives but still. Kissing was kissing, right? “I bet I kiss better than you, you stupid monkey!”

“As if a virgin like you could kiss better than me,” Fushimi taunted.

“You wouldn't even be able to handle being kissed by me!” Yata said. Part of him was wildly attempting to remind the rest of him what it was he was exactly saying but the rest of him was too annoyed to care. Like stupid Saruhiko could kiss better than him. Saruhiko had probably never kissed anyone before in his life and he still kept calling Yata 'virgin' all the time, like which one of us is a virgin, you virgin?

“That's almost funny, Misaki,” Fushimi scoffed. “You would die of embarrassment before I was even done kissing you.”

“I can kiss better than you any day of the week!”

“Big words from such a tiny virgin.”

“Stop calling me a virgin!”

“I will when you stop being one.”

“Oh yeah? I'll show you, you stupid monkey!” And then before any of his rational brain could catch up and stop him from doing possibly the absolute stupidest thing possible, Yata leaned up and kissed Fushimi hard on the mouth.

It wasn't bad, not really. Fushimi made a slight noise of surprise as their lips met and then suddenly he was leaning into the kiss and his mouth was soft, softer and warmer than Yata had expected. Fushimi seemed to press a little closer against him, as if trying to take control, and Yata immediately pushed back. Fuck if he was going to let the stupid monkey out-kiss him.

There was the vague feeling that he should probably be doing something with his hands and Yata wondered if he should close his eyes but then Fushimi's mouth was pressing hard against his again and there was the faintest hint of a tongue pressing against his closed mouth. Yata immediately tried to take control again, opening his mouth and trying his best to slip his tongue into Fushimi's and then both their tongues were entwining together and if Yata hadn't been so focused on not losing he supposed he might have actually felt a little embarrassed about it.

It felt really good though, Fushimi's mouth mingling with his, Fushimi's scent lingering in his nostrils and the slightest touch of Fushimi's hair brushing against his forehead and Yata found his arms reaching up to wrap around Fushimi and pull him closer. He was starting to feel a little light-headed and the one vaguely functioning part of his brain quietly suggested that perhaps he should try to breathe through his nostrils instead before he fainted mid-kiss.

He wasn't really sure which one of them broke the kiss first. It was just that at one moment his mouth was still pressed up against Fushimi's and his head was spinning and then the next the warmth pushed up against him was gone and they were staring at each other blankly. They were both panting slightly and Yata knew his face must have been bright red. Fushimi's face was a little flushed too and he was staring at Yata wide-eyed, mouth still half open and looking as though his mind had gone completely blank, not even able to reach for a taunt or mocking insult.

There was a long moment of silence and then the room in front of them burst into applause.

Anna was still standing there looking at them, a slight smile on her face, but it seemed that she had at some point been joined by most of Homra and Scepter 4, all of whom had apparently just stood there and watched as he and Saruhiko kissed. Someone over in the Homra group whistled and Yata shot a glare in that direction. Fushimi, he noted, didn't look much happier, especially since the Blue King was right there in the front of the group applauding softly like he was at the damn opera or something.

“W-what the hell do you assholes think you're doing!” Yata yelled. His voice was high and strained and somehow that made him even more annoyed.

“Tch. This is all your fault,” Fushimi muttered. He didn't seem to be able to meet Yata's eyes.

“I wasn't the one who started it with all that 'virgin, virgin' crap,” Yata said. “Anyway, you're just sore because I won.”

“Won?” Fushimi scoffed. “I think I was the one doing all the work in that kiss Misaki.”

“In your head, maybe,” Yata said. He paused, feeling suddenly self-conscious, and he coughed slightly to cover it. “A-anyway, no matter who won, it—it wasn't really that bad, was it? I mean, I didn't...I didn't really hate kissing you. Ah, I mean, not that I—that is--” Yata trailed off weakly. He risked glancing back up at Fushimi and was surprised to see that there was redness to his face deeper than just the flush of exertion. Fushimi immediately threw up an arm to shield his face, looking away. “Saruhiko...”

“Me too.” It was quiet and grudging, but still Yata could hear the words clearly. “...Didn't hate it.”

“T-then you liked it?” Yata wasn't sure why that made him feel so happy all of a sudden but even so the smile crossed his face before he was even quite aware of it. “It was pretty good, right?”

“I guess. For a virgin.” Fushimi's voice was sulky but as he lowered his arm Yata could see that he was undeniably blushing.

“Big words from the guy who couldn't kiss as well as me,” Yata said.

“I don't remember saying you kissed well at all, Misaki.”

“But you said you liked it, didn't you?”

“Tch. Don't put words into my mouth.”

“Don't make me kiss you again, asshole.”

“I'd like to see you try.”

“Oh yeah?”

From out in the crowd, someone threw a wreath at them.

“Get a room, you two!”

Chapter Text

“Don't be such a lightweight, Saruhiko!”

“Just because I don't feel like drinking your disgusting cheap beer does not make me a 'lightweight,' Misaki.”

They were sitting on the floor in Yata's apartment on either side of a low circular table, sprawled out amidst blankets and empty containers of Chinese takeout. Yata had just returned from the kitchen with a six pack of beer under his arm and was waving one of the cans in front of Fushimi, who was distinctly unimpressed.

It was had all been Yata's idea anyway. To 'celebrate their friendship,' he'd said, after they'd finished with all the fighting and yelling and crying (not that Fushimi was quite admitting to the crying, unless it was to needle Yata about it). At the time it had seemed like almost a good idea, hanging out together, getting the feel back for their relationship, just like old times. The problem, as far as Fushimi was concerned, was that it wasn't old times and it seemed like he was the only one fully aware of that.

Or maybe not quite, considering the way Yata had been acting all evening – laughing a little too loud, smiling a little too much. It was starting to make Fushimi's head hurt and he almost wished they would just start fighting again.

Fighting was easy, after all. Talking and interacting and trying to smile when everything still ached now and again, that was the hard part and Fushimi was already sick of it.

Then Yata had made some stupid comment about how they were both of age now so there had to be drinking, as though no party was complete without alcohol.

“It's not disgusting,” Yata stated. “And anyway, I bet it's loads better than whatever fancy crap those Blues have probably made you drink.”

“Tch.” To be honest Fushimi had only gone out drinking twice so far in his lifetime, once dragged by Munakata and the second time by Hidaka, and neither experience had been particularly one he cared to repeat. “I don't understand this fascination with alcohol. As though an arbitrary age limit makes it's somehow fun to get dead drunk and act like a complete idiot...”

“I didn't say you had to get drunk,” Yata said. “I just said I wanted to drink with you. Seriously, just try some of this, it's not that bad. Kusanagi-san even recommended it.”

“Don't want to.” Fushimi stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked away.

“Stop being so stubborn, Saruhiko,” Yata sighed. He looked away for a moment, fidgeting, and then muttered something under his breath that Fushimi almost didn't hear. “...Anyway, we never got to keep our promise.”

Fushimi raised his head.

“What are you talking about?”

“We—we promised, remember?” Yata was looking right at him now, eyes suddenly intent in a way that made Fushimi feel slightly uncomfortable and he ducked his head again so as not meet that gaze. “Once it was your birthday and we could both drink we were gonna share our first drink together and everything. And—and I mean, I know it's kinda late for that now, since I've already had drinks before and I missed your birthday because we were still...you know.” Yata shook his head. “A-anyway, we couldn't drink together then like we promised so...” He trailed off, shoulders hunched, and Fushimi couldn't stop the memories that suddenly echoed through his mind.

“I don't see why being able to drink alcohol is such a big deal.”

“Because it means we're really adults, Saruhiko! Anyway, don't you think it'd be cool to have our first drinks together?”

“Idiot. Your birthday is before mine.”

“I-I know that! So I'll just have a little drink on my birthday just to taste it, and then on yours we'll have a big party, just me and you at our place, and we'll drink whatever we want together and it'll be great! Come on, Saruhiko, wouldn't it be fun?”

“That's years away, don't get ahead of yourself.”

“That's why we should plan it now! Seriously, Saruhiko, I want to drink with you once we're adults. On your twentieth birthday we'll drink together, okay? It's a promise.”

“...A promise, then.”

Fushimi sighed and reached for a can of beer.

“If it will make you stop being so annoying about it, I guess it's fine.”

“All right!” Yata gave a little cheer and opened up one of the beer cans, handing it to Fushimi. “Let's drink!”

Two hours and another pack of beer later Fushimi was lying on his back staring up at Yata's ceiling and wondering why all the lights looked so bright.

“And anyway, Saruhiko – hey, are you listening to me?” Yata's voice was even louder than normal and Fushimi turned his head slightly to look at him (or try to look at him anyway, Fushimi wasn't sure where he'd put his glasses but he was reasonably certain they weren't on his face anymore. He'd lost track after stupid Misaki had challenged him to drink his third – or was it fourth? – can of beer and if it hadn't been for the first two cans making Fushimi just as much of an idiot he would have stopped them both right there before it was too late).

“No,” Fushimi said flatly. “I'm not listening to you Misaki because you're stupid drunk.”

“Am not!” Yata banged a little on the low table and Fushimi threw an empty carton of Chinese at him. It hit Yata on the side of the head and then flopped sadly to the ground. Yata stared at it for a good five seconds before muttering an “ouch” and rubbing at the spot where it had hit.

“You are,” Fushimi proclaimed. “And so am I. You made me drink stupid beer and now I'm a stupid drunk like stupid Misaki.”

“Don't call me stupid, you—you depressing drunk!” Yata stated. The last word came out as half a burp and Fushimi looked back up at the ceiling again. It really was a very nice ceiling.

“This is all your fault,” Fushimi said. “I'm going to have a hangover tomorrow because you made me get drunk.”

“That's part of the fun though.” There was a soft 'whump' sound as Yata flopped over onto his side, lying so that his face was directly across from Fushimi's. Even with his vision a little fuzzy around the edges Fushimi could see that Yata's face was flushed red and he was smiling like an idiot. “It's fun, right? We never got to get drunk together before.”

“That's not something to be proud of, Misaki.” Fushimi rolled his head back and forth a few times, trying to take stock of his surroundings. Misaki, ceiling, wall. Wall, ceiling, Misaki. Again.

“I like it though.” One of Yata's hands reached out clumsily to take hold of Fushimi's. It felt a little clammy and Fushimi wasn't certain if that was from Yata's skin or his own. “We should go get more stuff for drinking sometime. We could – we could have a party again, you know? Like at our place and all.”

“We don't have a place,” Fushimi reminded him. Back up to the ceiling. It was such a nice, quiet ceiling. “I don't live here, idiot.”

“But see, that's what your problem is, Saruhiko, you keep saying stuff that's true and then you act like that makes you right,” Yata muttered, fingers playing with Fushimi's.

“That doesn't make any sense, you drunken moron.”

“I'm not that drunk. You're way drunkener. Drunker. Drunkest. Whatever, you're more than me.”

“That's exactly what a drunk person would say.” Fushimi rolled his head back over to face Yata. He was feeling slightly dizzy from all the movement and closed his eyes a little against the suddenly harsh lighting that was making his head pound.

“You've got pretty eyelashes.” Yata's voice made him open his eyes again.

“What the hell does that mean?”

“That your face is nice.” The hand that wasn't entangled in Fushimi's reached up and ran lightly along Fushimi's jawline. “No seriously Saruhiko, it really is. I always thought you had a pretty face, right from when we first met. Like real—real handsome, kinda. Even with the glasses and everything. You look nice.”

“You're drunk,” Fushimi said, because clearly Yata needed reminding.

“Yeah, but that's doesn't mean I'm lying.” Yata laughed again. “Wait, being drunk makes you more honest, right? Except you're still acting like the same old Saruhiko, you're doing it wrong.”

“I'm not as drunk as you,” Fushimi said, pushing Yata's hand away from his face. Yata kept staring at him, stupid grin on his stupid face, and it was making Fushimi's own face feel hot.

“You always had a really nice face, though.” Yata's voice had lowered to a murmur, like he wasn't quite awake, and his other hand wouldn't let go of Fushimi's. “I missed it sometimes, you know. When we weren't together. I liked waking up before you sometimes, you know that, I liked waking up and seeing you sleeping. Your sleeping face was pretty. I wanted to touch it, kinda.”

“Don't talk to me like I'm a girl.” Fushimi's breath was coming too fast and he wondered if he'd drunk enough to give himself alcohol poisoning. Probably not, he wasn't that lucky.

“Guys can be pretty too,” Yata insisted and Fushimi wasn't certain when this had turned into an argument. He reached out to touch Fushimi's face again and Fushimi moved back a little so that Yata's hands ran through his hair instead. “You know Saruhiko, you're super important. To me, I mean. Other people too. But to me the most. I always – always wanted to tell you that but you kept being an asshole and I never got to tell you. But I really like you and everything. I'm really glad we can get drunk together and do stuff like this.”

“Like lie on the floor and discuss my pretty face?” Fushimi snorted and then wished he hadn't, because it made him feel suddenly like he might throw up. He pulled away from Yata entirely, dragging himself into a sitting position. His glasses were sitting right there next to his leg and as he fumbled to put them on he wondered how he hadn't noticed them until now.

“Saruhiko?” Yata stayed on the floor. His face was etched into Fushimi's vision with far too much clarity, like it was cut from glass, and Fushimi leaned over him. Fushimi's stomach was fluttering and his face felt hot again.

I'm drunk, Fushimi reminded himself quietly. I'm drunk, and I'm going to do something stupid if I don't walk away now.

“Misaki's face.” The words tumbled out of his mouth without him quite being aware of it.

“Huh? Is there something on my face?”

“I like it.” Fushimi didn't know where the words were coming from and decided to just blame the alcohol. “I always liked Misaki's face too. I like when you smile.”

“Saruhiko...” Yata sat up.

We're very close, Fushimi's mind helpfully informed him, but he couldn't quite seem to grasp why this was a problem.

“Have you ever gotten drunk before, Misaki?” Fushimi asked, not moving away. Yata's face was getting closer though, and it took a moment for Fushimi to realize that he was the one pushing closer to Yata and not the other way around.

“Not really.” Yata laughed again like an idiot, smiling like an idiot, and his face was so close and bright shining red. The lights were bright too, and the nice ceiling, and the fire in Fushimi's chest. “Kusanagi-san wouldn't let me drink much because he says I'd probably do stupid stuff and I should be careful but all the other guys get drunk sometimes too and I figured if I was gonna get drunk I should get drunk with you, right?”

“Stupid stuff?” It was definitely stupid, and Fushimi was close enough to feel Yata's breath. “If I kissed you, would that be stupid?”

“I dunno, would it?”

He might have said more but Fushimi's head was swimming and his heart was pounding and it was all the alcohol's fault, really, and so he closed his lips over Yata's and surrendered himself to his own stupidity.

“Ugh, why didn't you stop me, Saruhiko?” Yata groaned as he pushed himself up on his arms. His head was pounding and the lights were really bright, and all he could remember from the night before was goading Fushimi into drinking with him and then something about wanting to touch someone's face. He'd woken up to find himself lying on the floor of his apartment in a small nest of Chinese takeout containers. The floor was an absolute mess, beer cans everywhere and someone – either Saruhiko or himself and who knew which – had dragged some pillows and blankets in from the bedroom and thrown them over the table and a couple chairs to make a messy pillow fort. Yata's pants were unbuttoned and his hair was a mess, and Fushimi was curled up on the floor a few feet away clutching tightly to a pillow and missing his shirt.

“It was your idea,” Fushimi muttered groggily, sitting up himself. He looked even paler than normal and when he tried to stand he fell back to the floor almost immediately. “I feel like shit.”

“Yeah, join the club.” Even as he said it Yata moved forward to touch a hand to Fushimi's shoulder. He knew Fushimi was always sensitive to this kind of thing, so as bad as Yata's headache was odds were Fushimi's was worse. “Hey, we did promise to drink together, right? Even if I don't really remember much of it...” He laughed nervously and noted the way Fushimi stiffened slightly, clutching at his stomach. “Hey, you all right, Saruhiko?”

“No,” Fushimi said peevishly. “Some moron got me drunk last night.”

“Yeah, yeah, I didn't exactly pour it down your throat, monkey,” Yata said. Fushimi still looked like he was about to faint any second and impulsively Yata reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder. Fushimi sputtered but didn't pull away as Yata helped him lie back down, Fushimi's head almost in his lap. “The hangover'll go away quicker if you lay down.”

“Mmm.” Fushimi gave a mumble in reply, turning his head to bury it in the fabric of Yata's shirt so that Yata couldn't see his expression, and there was something so familiar and easy about it that Yata felt a sudden rush of affection towards him.

“It's okay, right? It's just bad because this is the first time we've ever gotten drunk,” Yata said. He started running his hands soothingly through Fushimi's hair without even quite realizing it. “Do you think it would help if I turned out the lights?”

“Don't wanna move.” Fushimi's voice was mumbled and petulant from his lap and Yata laughed. It made his head pound a little harder but it wasn't so bad, not really. Fushimi's head was turned just to one side and Yata could only make out hints of his expression, the half-closed eyes and long eyelashes--

“You've got pretty eyelashes.”

“If I kissed you, would that be stupid?”

“Misaki?” Fushimi seemed to have caught his sudden sharp intake of breath and he turned just a bit to look up at Yata. There was something slightly resigned about his expression that made Yata's heart clench just a bit.

“S-Saruhiko.” Yata swallowed hard. “We—we—I mean—”

“Tch. You remembered, huh?” Fushimi's voice was flat and slightly muffled.

“Yes I rememb—wait a sec, you remembered? When were you going to tell me, you asshole?”

“If you were too drunk to remember it I don't see why I should have to tell you Misaki.”

It was coming back in stark clarity now, images jumbled up with memories of heat and touch. Fushimi's lips pressing over his, their tongues mingling, the scent of alcohol lingering on Fushimi's breath and the tips of Fushimi's hair. Pulling off Fushimi's shirt as Yata pushed him against a wall, mouths pressed together, hands touching flushed red skin, Fushimi's quiet moans and whimpers as Yata's fingers traced a line down his spine. Yata could feel his face getting redder and redder and he supposed he should be thankful they hadn't gone beyond kissing.

Except that just calling it 'kissing' seemed far too inadequate to describe the memories running through his head, and suddenly Yata's headache was the least of his worries.

“What the hell, Saruhiko, why wouldn't I remember that?” Yata coughed, trying to quell his own embarrassment. Looking down at Fushimi he suddenly realized that Fushimi's ears, at least were distinctly red. “I—I mean, we really...I didn't mean to do that, you know that, right?”

“Are you embarrassed, Misaki?” Fushimi's voice was icy cold and there was something beneath the scorn that made Yata stiffen a little. “What's wrong? Angry that I stole your first kiss?”

“It wasn't my first kiss!” Yata insisted, even though it definitely had been. And probably his first through seventh kisses, at least.

“That's what happens when you get drunk,” Fushimi continued. “You'll regret it forever, huh, Misaki? Your first kiss, when you were almost too drunk to remember, and with me of all people.”

“Yeah, well--” Yata's voice trailed off. He could still feel it, traces of his hands on Fushimi's skin, Fushimi's breath against his lips, and he kept talking without even quite realizing what he was saying. “That—that part was all right.”

Fushimi didn't answer, his body suddenly completely still.

“I didn't want it to be while I was drunk,” Yata said quickly. He was feeling a little light-headed all of a sudden but he felt like he had to keep talking, like if he didn't say the words now he never would. “But...but I don't mind the rest. That it was with you, I mean.”

Fushimi stirred just a little in his lap, as if he wanted to look up at Yata but didn't quite trust himself to do it.

“And—and if you wanted to do it again sometime, I wouldn't—I wouldn't hate it, you know.” Yata swallowed hard, embarrassed but determined to get the words out. “I—I kinda liked kissing you, Saruhiko. I'd probably like it better sober.”

Fushimi shifted for a moment, and his hands twitched.

“You're an idiot,” Fushimi said quietly at last. Yata laughed a little and ran his hands through Fushimi's hair. Fushimi seemed to relax under his touch, eyes half-closed and breathing steady.

“I know,” Yata said. “But I mean it, Saruhiko. I'm not gonna regret kissing you. So don't let me forget it next time, okay?”

Fushimi's head inclined just a bit in a nod as he pulled himself closer to Yata, and the next time lingered in the air like a promise.

Chapter Text

It had been two weeks since Fushimi and Yata had reconciled, one week since they'd gotten their old apartment back, and three days since Fushimi had moved back in. In that time Yata found that it was almost like old times again, him and Saruhiko, together, even if Fushimi was still with the Blues and everything. It was like middle school again, just the two of them sharing everything in their own apartment.

Sharing everything and living together and changing clothes, and Yata realized there was one change he'd forgotten about. Or two, more precisely.

“S-S-S-Saruhiko!” Yata squawked as he walked into the room, immediately throwing a hand up to cover his eyes. “What the—what the hell are you--”

“Changing out of my work clothes.” Fushimi stood there near their bunks, digging through their single shared set of drawers.

Stood there with her shirt thrown over her shoulder, wearing nothing above the waist but her practical beige bra.

“Can't you go into the bathroom to do that or something?” Yata couldn't look at her. Sure, it wasn't like he hadn't seen this before because Saruhiko had always been weirdly oblivious to the fact that she was a girl, but that had been when they were just in middle school and she'd been a flat-chested girl in training bras. In those days Yata had almost forgotten it half the time, that his best friend was a girl.

But of course Saruhiko had to be the one girl to hit a late growth spurt and she definitely wasn't flat-chested anymore.

“Why?” Fushimi clicked her tongue. “All my work shirts are so itchy because someone bought the wrong detergent. Why shouldn't I change out of them here?”

“Because people can see you out here!”

“In the middle of our apartment.” Fushimi rolled her eyes. “Were you intending to invite the entire neighborhood over to watch me change, Misaki? Because if so I would've worn my sexy lingerie.”

“S-s-s-se-se--” Yata couldn't quite get the words out.

“I'm kidding, you moron.” Fushimi shook her head. “Do you really think I would have something worthless like that? Except the lacy blue bra the Captain gave me at Christmas, anyway.”

“Wait, what?” Yata's embarrassment warred with anger and he forced himself to keep his hands over his eyes. “That's—that's sexual harassment! I don't care if he's your King, Saruhiko, I'm gonna kick his ass for that--”

“Is it hard, being that gullible?” Fushimi laughed and Yata almost glared at her before he remembered that there were still boobs on display. “Maybe I should just leave my shirt off and see how long you can stand there with your hands over your eyes.”

“Can you just shut up and put your clothes back on?” Yata asked. The clear plaintive tone in his voice made him feel utterly pathetic.

“And anyway, you change in the middle of the room all the time,” Fushimi said. “Honestly, Misaki, you're such a moron. They're just breasts.”

“Exactly!” Yata said. Fushimi sighed heavily, as though he'd just said the stupidest thing she had ever heard.

“Stop being such a virgin. We used to do this all the time in middle school, remember?”

“Y-yeah, but you—you weren't a girl then.”

“I've always been a girl, idiot.” Fushimi took a step closer to him and Yata stumbled back at the sound of her approach.

“Would you just put your shirt back on?”

“What's wrong, Misaki?” There was a teasing lilt in Fushimi's voice as she walked closer to him. Yata took another step back and abruptly tripped over his own skateboard that he'd forgotten all about in the panic of seeing Saruhiko without a shirt on. He flailed ridiculously for a moment, trying in vain to regain his balance, and in moments he found himself lying flat on his back on the floor.

“Misaki?” He heard Fushimi's voice call his name and Yata rubbed a hand against his aching head as he sat up.

“I'm all right,” Yata assured her.”I guess that was kinda uncool, huh?”

“That's what you get for being an idiot.”

Fushimi's voice seemed awfully close and Yata opened his eyes and looked up without even thinking. Fushimi had crouched down on her hands and knees and was leaning towards him with a look of exasperation tinged with just a hint of worry.

She was also still not wearing a shirt and Yata immediately slapped his hands back over his eyes.

“Misaki.” He could hear the eye roll this time.

“P-p-put those away, idiot!” Yata sputtered, not daring to look up.

“Put what away? My breasts?”

“Yes! Those!”

“I couldn't hear you, Misaki. What do you want me to put away?” Fushimi's tone was far too amused and Yata felt a little light-headed.

It's just Saruhiko, he tried to remind himself. It's not a girl, not really. Just the same old Saruhiko.

Yata took a deep steadying breath and lowered his hands from his eyes.

Just Saruhiko. The same old Saruhiko, right there in front of me.

Or more accurately, Saruhiko's breasts right there in front of him and Yata scrambled backwards. Fushimi smirked a little at his reaction, crawling another step forward as Yata tried desperately to look anywhere but her cleavage.

“You-you know what I mean!”

“But you have to say it.” Fushimi's eyes were sparkling wickedly and Yata knew he wasn't going to win this game. “Say it, Misaki. Breasts.”

“B-b-b-b-” Yata stuttered, the word stuck in his throat. Fushimi laughed again.

“You're such a virgin, Misaki.” There was an evil sort of grin on Fushimi's face and she reached around her back to touch the clasp of her bra. “Will this help at all?”

“W-wait, Saruhiko, what are you--” Yata said faintly as Fushimi moved even closer. Her hands fiddled with the clasp, nearly unhooking it, and Yata abruptly reached out and grabbed her by the arm. “Stop it you idiot, that's—that's indecent!”

“Indecent?” Fushimi started laughing and Yata felt his ears burn. At least she'd stopped trying to take the bra off. “Honestly, Misaki, it's not a big deal.”

“Y-yeah, but...” Yata fidgeted. “Shouldn't you only, you know, sh—show them or whatever to someone you like?”

There was a long pause and Yata had the distinct impression that he had said the exact wrong thing. His impression was confirmed a moment later when Fushimi abruptly stood up and started to walk back towards her bed, shirt still dangling from the crook of one arm.

“Saruhiko?” Yata stumbled to his feet. “H-hey, Saruhiko--”

“Shut up, Misaki,” Fushimi said sharply. “You're such an idiot. 'Show them to someone you like?' Don't make me laugh. It's just a part of my body. It isn't anything for a virgin like you to decide what meaning I assign to it.”

“That's not what I meant!” Yata said. “I just...isn't that the sort of thing girls are supposed to be worried about? Guys seeing...stuff, and all, without dating or anything?”

“Tch. This is why I call you a moron, Misaki. When did you start treating me like a girl?” Fushimi's tone was cold and clipped.

“W-well, you are a girl, right?” Yata said. “I mean...I guess I never really thought of you as one, but I probably should, right? You've just always been Saruhiko to me before, but...”

Fushimi glanced back at him, expression slightly confused.

“I just thought that, you know, now that we're not kids anymore I should probably remember that you're a girl,” Yata said, stumbling over his words a little. “I got used to thinking of you as just Saruhiko, that's all, and...and when you left I saw you with the Blues sometimes and I thought, maybe if I'd just treated you as a girl sometimes too then maybe you wouldn't have left.”

“Idiot.” Fushimi was smiling at him now, a little exasperated and a little sad, and it made Yata's heart clench just a bit. “What the hell makes you think that would matter to me at all?”

“But--”

“I liked being 'just Saruhiko,' you moron,” Fushimi said. She was twisting her shirt in her hands, as if trying to force the words out. “I don't care who sees me, or doesn't see me. As long as I'm 'just Saruhiko' to you, that's fine.”

“Saruhiko...” Yata's voice trailed off. Fushimi wasn't quite looking at him, eyes averted and face twisted in irritation as though she'd just said something she hadn't intended to, and it was so much like the Saruhiko that Yata remembered that he had to smile. “I guess I was acting kinda stupid, huh? You really are the same as always.”

“Then stop acting like such a moron about it,” Fushimi said shortly, turning away from him.

“Right, right.” Yata felt a sudden flush crawling up his neck and he coughed for a moment to cover his nervousness. “A-anyway, Saruhiko...I guess, I guess if, you know, one day you d-did want to show me your...you know, like not teasing but you really w-wanted me to see you...that—that would okay. I-I mean, since it's you.”

Fushimi's head shot up, staring at him with wide eyes, and Yata looked away to hide his embarrassment. There was a long silence between them that was finally broken by Fushimi's quiet laughter.

“You are such a virgin.”

“Shut up!” Yata knew his face was still bright red but he supposed it was a decent trade-off for getting Fushimi to laugh again.

“Well, I suppose if a virgin like you is up to it maybe one day I'll show you,” Fushimi said lightly. “If you can handle it, anyway.”

“I—I could handle it if I wanted to!” Yata said immediately, and then his brain caught up with him and he snapped his mouth shut.

“Oh?” Fushimi was smirking again as she leaned forward. “I didn't know you were so bold all of the sudden, Misaki. Well, if you want to handle them then maybe I should--” She reached for the clasp of her bra again.

“Would you just put a shirt on already?”

“I still need to change my pants too you know.”

“Sometimes I really hate you, Saruhiko.”

Chapter Text

“Captain, what did you need me f–”

“Ah, Fushimi-kun. Just in time.”

Fushimi stood in the doorway to Munakata's office and stared blankly at the scene inside. The last several days had been hectic, thanks to a group of criminal Strains who had been causing trouble throughout the city. The leader of the group had some kind of explosion power that had led to the collapse of several abandoned buildings in the last several days, which had required quite a bit of work to cover up in order to avoid a panic. The Special Forces unit had been sent out three times now on emergency orders and Fushimi was still half-buried under a pile of reports and surveillance videos and intelligence reports trying to figure out where the criminals was going to strike next. He'd been in the middle of sifting through the mess when he'd been told that he was needed in Munakata's office.

Fushimi didn't know what he'd been expecting – pointless praise, maybe, for how hard he'd been working lately, or else orders to go back to his room and rest before Munakata had him chained to a bed in the infirmary. He'd ended up with a mild concussion the day before, following some intel to a building that had ended up collapsing while he was in the middle of investigating. As far as Fushimi was concerned a small headache wasn't worth the larger one he'd have if they didn't manage to get the Strains captured and the damage contained. Awashima hadn't quite agreed with him on that and had already told him to go lay down twice but she'd been called away immediately afterward both times and he'd managed to get back to his work without incident. Even so, when he was called to Munakata's office he'd assumed that it had only been a matter of time before some well-meaning idiot decided to tattle on him to the Captain. It had made his head throb from irritation just thinking about it. It had only been a mild concussion, after all, he'd rode out the dizzy spells fine and he'd caught himself before he could faint earlier that morning so all in all Fushimi didn't understand why everyone else insisted on fussing about it.

He had work to do, after all, and resting was a waste of time. There were still far too many things to do, with this new criminal group as well as the usual Strains, not to mention still sorting out the details of the incident a month ago leading to the awakening of the new Red King and the Green clan beginning to move on top of that. There was no time for Fushimi to sit around wasting his time on bed rest, and he'd intended to tell Munakata as much when he'd been summoned to the Captain's office.

What he hadn't been expecting was to find Munakata sitting calmly at his desk, a puzzle laid out in front of him, and a small child sitting on each knee.

“Captain...what is...?” Fushimi wondered if it wasn't too late to just turn around and pretend he'd never been here.

“Please, come in, Fushimi-kun.” Munakata gestured for him to step forward and Fushimi stayed right where he was, eying the scene in front of him suspiciously. “I believe you may recall my niece and nephew?”

So that was where he'd seen those brats before. Fushimi had thought they'd looked a bit familiar. The girl – Umi? – was drawing circles on Munakata's puzzle with a red pen. The boy – Kai, he was fairly certain – was sitting calmly on Munakata's other side and staring down at the puzzle with no discernible expression.

“Don't tell me you called me down here just to have another family visit?” Fushimi crossed his arms irritably. “I have work to do, you know. Another emergency alert went out five minutes ago.”

“Actually, I believe the nurse in the infirmary said that you should be on light duty only today, Fushimi-kun.” Munakata's voice was mild and pleasant but there was just enough sharpness to his eyes to make Fushimi twitch slightly. So someone had told him then. Probably Akiyama, who'd been hovering around Fushimi nervously just because Fushimi had decided to take a few quick moments to rest his head on the desk for a bit between reports. “In any case, I did not ask you here simply to visit. As you know, there have been issues with the Strains we are currently pursuing. I believe we have narrowed down their location, however in order to bring them to justice it was necessary to set up a blockade in that corner of the city. However, as it happens, my brother's wife was unable to pick the children up from visiting one of their mother's relatives earlier this afternoon due to her usual roads being blocked by our forces. When my brother informed me of the inconvenience I volunteered to have them brought to Scepter 4 in the meantime until the blockade is lifted.”

“Tch. So you're going to be a babysitter now, Captain?” Fushimi said, already starting to turn and walk away. “Well, some of us have work to do so I'll leave you to it.”

“Just a moment, Fushimi-kun.” Munakata was smiling now and Fushimi had a sudden sinking feeling. “Naturally I intended to take care of the children myself until their mother arrived, but it seems that the situation in the city is deteriorating and my assistance will be required. Therefore, I thought I would ask you to keep watch on them until their mother is able to come and retrieve them.”

“I'm not a babysitter,” Fushimi said coldly.

“Indeed.”Munakata didn't even pause. “However, you have been ordered to remain away from combat situations for the time being, am I correct?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue again in place of a reply. It wasn't like Munakata was wrong and saying anything more was just likely to get him in even more trouble.

“Therefore,” Munakata continued with a brilliant smile, “I thought I would leave the children in your hands. Please take care of them properly.” He looked down at the two children, who had turned to face him. “Well, please stay close to Fushimi-kun. He will keep watch on you until I return.”

“Uncle Saruhiko!” Umi all but bounced to her feet and Fushimi took a step back.

Uncle Saruhiko? His head hurt and Fushimi wasn't completely convinced that it was just from the concussion. Umi ran in a circle around him with her hands in the air, cheering, and even though Munakata's face remained serene Fushimi was almost certain he was being laughed at. How had she learned his first name anyway?

“Go on, Kai-kun.” Munakata prodded the boy forward. He slid off Munakata's knee and walked over to stand in front of Fushimi. Fushimi looked down at him and found the boy staring back, silent.

“W-what?” Fushimi snapped irritably, not quite certain how to respond.

Kai didn't answer and his face remained impassive, but he reached out with one hand and grabbed onto Fushimi's pants, clinging tightly to his leg. A slight smile wound its way across Kai's face and Fushimi swallowed a groan.

“My, it seems your personality truly does agree with Kai-kun,” Munakata said, sounding pleased. “Well, I must go gather up the rest of the forces. Please do your best as always, Fushimi-kun.”

“Wait a–” Fushimi tried to follow after him but with one child clinging to his leg and the other still running in circles around him he couldn't take more than a single step forward. Munakata slipped by him easily and disappeared down the hallway, leaving Fushimi alone with the children.

“That bastard...” Fushimi grit his teeth, not sure how he'd ended up roped into this. Maybe he could tie them to a chair and then go get some actual work done in peace while everyone else was out dealing with the Strains.

“Uncle Saruhiko!” Umi was pulling on his coat now. “Let's go play outside!”

“Why the hell should we–” Fushimi cut off, vaguely aware that he probably shouldn't be using that kind of language in front of brats, especially ones that were the Captain's relatives and with his luck would end up repeating those words at the worst possible moment.

“It's boring in here. Let's go play outside!” Umi tugged on his coat again.

“...Outside.” Kai grabbed a handful of coat and gave one small pull. Fushimi sighed.

“Fine, fine, we'll go outside.” It wasn't like he was getting any work done here anyway. “But we're not going far, understand?”

Ten minutes later Fushimi found himself sitting on a bench in the park a few miles away from Scepter 4 headquarters, not entirely certain how he'd ended up there. Munakata's niece and nephew were running around in the grass nearby – well, the girl was, anyway, the boy had settled himself into the grass by Fushimi's feet and was slowly picking up handfuls of dirt and throwing them. Both children's clothes were already covered in a thin coating of mud and Fushimi wondered if he would get in trouble for that.

Well, it wasn't like he'd asked for this job so he certainly wasn't taking responsibility for it. Fushimi leaned his head back, closing his eyes slightly. His head was still hurting and the cold air was making his hands feel numb.

It was all stupid, really. Trust the Captain to offer to watch his niece and nephew and then pawn the actual work off on Fushimi. He was only surprised that Munakata hadn't decided to stay behind in his office playing puzzles while Fushimi cleaned up his mess.

But Munakata wasn't doing that, because he'd gone out with the rest of the troops. Not that there was anything to worry about – even a powerful Strain was no match for a King, after all – but there was always the possibility that Munakata might need to use his own power, call out his Sword of Damocles–

(That crumbling Sword of Damocles, and Fushimi's shoulders tensed just a bit.)

“Uncle Saruhiko!” Umi came running up to him and Fushimi grimaced at the sight of her mud-caked hands. “Let's make flower crowns!”

“No.” Fushimi barely let her finish her sentence but her smile didn't so much as waver and he supposed that maybe she and Munakata were related after all.

“Flower crowns, flower crowns!” It was really no use. Umi was already off, grabbing Kai by the arm and running over towards a cluster of trees surrounded by small white flowers. With a heavy sigh Fushimi pushed himself off the bench and followed.

This is pointless. Fushimi sat down heavily in the grass, leaning up against one the trees and trying to look as if he wasn't keeping an eye on the two children as they happily began pulling flowers out of the ground. Fushimi rested his head back against the tree wearily, letting his eyes slide shut again. Well, maybe if he couldn't see them he could pretend he was still back at the office, getting actual work done.

Getting work done, being useful, doing something besides sitting here in the middle of the park while everyone else did his job down in the center of the city.

Someone tugged on his sleeve and Fushimi reluctantly opened one eye. Kai was standing there in front of him, staring.

“W-what?” Fushimi muttered defensively. Kai blinked at him slowly for a moment and then held out a mess of twisted and half-crushed flowers that had been partially woven into a circle. A few petals fell limply to the ground as Kai held it out.

“I can't get them to stay together.”

What am I supposed to do about that? Fushimi thought darkly, biting his lip to keep from saying it. It wasn't like he knew how to make flower crowns or anything.

(And he could remember too, an art class in elementary school and a mess of leaves and flowers, a faceless teacher chirping something stupid about making winter garlands to give to their mothers. Fushimi had woven his properly, of course, so that the teacher would leave him alone about it, but he hadn't bothered to take it home and had thrown it away shortly afterward. That guy's wife wouldn't want something useless like that and certainly not from him, so there had been no point anyway.)

Kai waved the flowers in front of him again, looking slightly distressed by the way the small stems were becoming unwound, and finally Fushimi gave a heavy sigh.

“All right, all right.” He took the flowers from Kai's hand and stared at them blankly. It couldn't be that hard, right? Children made these stupid things all the time. Fushimi carefully set the half-made flower crown in his lap and began trying to tie the small stems together.

They were tiny and not very strong and it was hard not to break them completely, but it wasn't that difficult to tie them well either. Most of the flower crown had been put together fine anyway, there was just a part in the middle where Kai hadn't quite knotted them completely so Fushimi carefully untied the messy knots and looped them carefully back together, suddenly focused without even quite realizing it.

“Ah, Uncle Saruhiko is amazing!” Umi's voice jolted him out of it and Fushimi realized that he'd nearly re-made the entire crown. Kai was looking at him with a vaguely awed expression.

“Here. It's fixed.” Fushimi shoved the flower crown back at Kai, looking away to cover the sudden discomfort. Both children were staring at him with shining eyes and Umi immediately darted back to grab another handful of flowers.

“Make another one, make another one!” She released the flowers directly over Fushimi's head, tiny petals raining down on him, and Fushimi grimaced.

“Why should--” Fushimi started angrily and then cut off, mouth snapping shut as Umi and Kai both leaned forward expectantly. He sighed again. “All right, all right, whatever.”

Both children promptly sat down to watch as Fushimi picked a few scattered flowers out of his hair and clothes and carefully began weaving them together.

It was stupid, of course. Stupid and pointless and there were so many better things he could be doing. Fushimi clicked his tongue quietly as he carefully tied the flowers together. Stupid, pointless, not worth his time.

(Garlands in a trashcan, useless).

He could be out getting work done, for one thing. No one had bothered to call him so he had no idea how the search for that group of Strains was going, if they'd been caught yet. There hadn't been any more explosions that he could see but that didn't mean anything, not in such a large city. For all he knew the rest of Scepter 4 was right in the middle of things, fighting.

And Fushimi couldn't help but think about it, cracks in a blue sword and numbers written on sheets of paper, Awashima's face as she looked at them. It wasn't like he was worrying, of course. It was only that he couldn't stop thinking about it.

Stupid. Another twist, another flower added. He was wasting time here, better used elsewhere. His head hurt, distantly, and he remembered the look on Munakata's face as he'd stepped out of the office and left Fushimi behind.

(Left behind again, always, but he only worried about those things the way he picked at a scar, mechanically and automatically, and he didn't linger long on reasons.)

And besides, wasn't that what he was in this place for anyway? Fushimi pulled another flower out of his lap. It was his job to take care of worthless criminals that were too petty for the Blue King to deal with. Sure, the group they were currently chasing had proved elusive and perhaps more dangerous than usual – it had only been a small building that had fallen on him, and Fushimi still didn't understand why everyone had made such a big deal out of it when he'd climbed out with his forehead bleeding – but that was a clansman's job to deal with the small fry, not the King's. His duty was to be useful and take care of whatever was assigned to him, not play babysitter while Munakata went out in his place.

“Uncle Reisi!” Umi's yell broke Fushimi's concentration and his head snapped up, hands almost instinctively moving to hide the completed flower crown behind his back. In the distance he could see Munakata approaching, hands behind his back and unruffled as always, followed by a woman Fushimi vaguely recognized from when he'd met Munakata's family. Umi was immediately on her feet running towards the pair, waving her own flower crown in the air. “Mama! Look what I made!”

Fushimi stayed crouched in the grass for a moment, one hand still clenched just slightly around the flower crown he'd made as if not certain whether he wanted to break it apart or not. The hesitance irritated him and he was just about to stand when he felt a light touch on his head.

Kai was standing next to him, smiling quietly, his own flower crown placed neatly over Fushimi's head.

Fushimi knew he should probably take it off before Munakata caught up to them. He was certainly never going to live this down, if anyone caught him sitting there in the park with a flower crown on his head.

But Kai was still watching him, and Fushimi's hands stayed curled tightly over the crown he'd made as he averted his eyes, face feeling slightly warm.

“...Thanks.” The word was barely a mumble but Kai's face seemed to light up, for a moment looking very much like his sister's, and then he turned and trotted towards where his mother was waiting.

“I see you had a fine time, Fushimi-kun.” And of course Munakata was there, leaning down to smile at him. Fushimi looked away, resting his chin on one hand.

“I guess. Couldn't you have found someone else to do this, Captain?” Fushimi didn't turn his head but he found his gaze moving to look back at Munakata. Even up close there was no sign of so much as a spot on Munakata's uniform and Fushimi gave a quiet huff. “Did you finish the job, at least?”

“Everything has been taken care of,” Munakata said. If he suspected anything deeper in Fushimi's words he gave no sign, and Fushimi's skin itched. “Except the paperwork, of course. Thank you for your contribution.”

“I didn't do anything.” Nothing except have half a building fall on him and spend a wasteful afternoon making flower crowns, and Fushimi felt on edge again. There had been a situation and he hadn't been any use at all.

“I disagree.” Munakata's voice made him look up. “Your contributions to the investigation were invaluable in bringing in the subjects. And of course you did a fine job taking care of my niece and nephew. I see they seem to have become quite fond of you.” He reached out a hand to touch the crown on Fushimi's head, and Fushimi couldn't help but pull away slightly as Munakata's fingers caught a bit of his hair. “In any case, I believe it is time to head back. You are still recovering, after all.”

He straightened up, offering Fushimi a hand. Fushimi stared at it for a long moment, one of his hands still holding onto the flower crown he'd made.

Useless. Such a useless thing.

(Who would want something like that, and certainly not from him.)

“Tch. It's about time.” Fushimi stood up abruptly, ignoring Munakata's hand, and in one swift movement he reached over and set the flower crown on Munakata's head. “I'm not doing the paperwork today. I'm tired after dealing with those brats all day.”

“Oh? What is this?” Munakata touched a hand to the flower crown and Fushimi felt an uncomfortable jolt of tension run through his shoulders.

But after a moment Munakata's hand lowered, the crown still on his head, and he smiled.

“I didn't make it.” Fushimi looked away again, mumbling the words as if it would make the lie any less obvious.

“Is that so?” Munakata's tone was amused and not at all fooled. “This is quite expertly woven. Thank you for such an excellent gift, Fushimi-kun.”

“It's only a flower crown.” Fushimi's face felt hot and it made him wish he'd just destroyed the stupid flower crown when he'd had the chance.

“But you still spent a significant amount of time on it, did you not?” Munakata's voice was calm as he continued walking with Fushimi only a few steps behind. “Even the smallest of gifts has value, if such care has been put into it.”

“...I guess,” Fushimi mumbled. In front of him he could see Munakata's back, straight posture and regal bearing, and he felt the sudden ridiculous urge to reach out towards the figure in front of him. Fushimi immediately stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“Perhaps we should come back here another time,” Munakata continued. “I myself have never made a flower crown before. It seems like an interesting experience.”

“You want to come to the park and make flower crowns?” Fushimi gave him a flat look and Munakata laughed.

“It seems like it would be a fine team building experience,” Munakata said with a smile that made it impossible to tell if he was being serious or not, and Fushimi had the sudden vision of the entirety of the Special Forces sitting around in a circle making flower crowns while in full uniform. “Well, for the time being, at least, I believe this one will be fine.”

He laughed again, quietly, and resumed walking. Fushimi found his own footsteps slowing, staring again (that back in front of him, the urge to reach out, and words that were always, always stuck in his throat) and that was when Munakata turned and looked back at him.

They both looked like idiots, Fushimi was certain, with the stupid flower crowns on their heads. But his hands wouldn't move to take it off, and Munakata was still smiling.

“Come along, Fushimi-kun.” He reached out a hand again and finally Fushimi simply clicked his tongue and shook his head, and stepped forward towards his King.

Chapter Text

Strike. Fushimi took a step forward and swung the wooden sword. His movements were quick, precise, and exactly what he didn’t want to do. He stepped back and clicked his tongue, dropping the sword to the ground and walking back to the corner of the dojo where he’d left his notebook. He scanned the scattered notes on the page carefully, heedless of the way the poor lighting made his eyes ache.

The dojo was empty, of course, owing to how late at night it was. It wasn’t an ideal time of day to practice and he kept the lights off so as not to call any attention to his presence, but it was the only time he could be certain to be the only one here.

He’d been in Scepter 4 all of a month now and getting used to the sword was still an issue. On the one hand he was well aware that he was not, technically, considered a member of the combat troops – officially he was intelligence, which for anyone else would likely have meant remaining behind and gathering information in the shadows and then leave it to the swordsman troops to handle the rest. But on the other hand Munakata had made it clear from Fushimi’s first mission that he had higher expectations of Fushimi than being merely a member of intelligence, and Fushimi intended to meet those expectations.

So that meant learning to deal with the sword. He still had his knives of course, in a pinch – Munakata had even consented to let him modify Scepter 4’s official uniform as he saw fit, in order to be certain he would have access to his hidden weapons if needed – but Munakata had given him the sword too and Fushimi suspected that if Munakata had given it to him that meant he was expected to know how to use it.

He didn’t think it would be hard. Fushimi had practiced some kendo before, when he’d been dragged into it by Totsuka and his stupid ever-changing ‘hobbies,’ but that had been only a couple days before Totsuka’s interest had changed and Fushimi hadn’t bothered with it after that. He knew that he could join in on the swordsman training if he wished, he doubted Munakata would have any issue with that, but Fushimi had no desire to be ordered around by Lieutenant Awashima, letting strangers spar opposite him and having to listen to their stupid complaints about his fighting style or his inability to match anyone else’s pace (because there was only one person who’s pace he’d ever matched and Fushimi had already realized that he had never been meant to do such a thing in the first place, so there was no point in risking a second time). Instead he’d sat himself down on the outskirts of the dojo during his time off, watching, notebook in hand as he carefully memorized every facet of Scepter 4’s swordsmanship style.

It was kind of an elegant style, he supposed. Very efficient, at least, and would probably have been more impressive if the practice had involved actual blades and powers instead of just wooden swords. No movement was wasted, it seemed, and so in that sense Fushimi had decided that it was no good at all. Scepter 4’s style was intended to be at its strongest when being used in a group and with a sword and only a sword. It was no good at all for someone like him, with his hidden weapons, working all alone with neither the need nor the desire for backup.

That was how he intended it to be, anyway. After the issue with the twins had been handled Munakata had been frustratingly opaque about what other uses he had for Fushimi. Most of Fushimi’s work so far had consisted of following around boring older recruits who treated him like some idiot child who needed instruction or gathering up information others had already done most of the inspection work on and writing up dull reports. He’d attempted to ask Munakata about it at some point, but after all Munakata had indicated that he found Fushimi worthy of joining Scepter 4 the man had certainly made himself scarce soon enough after Fushimi had completed the job he’d been recruited for.

Fushimi’s eyes ached and he set the notebook down. There wasn’t really much need to review his notes anyway, he’d already memorized most of the basic stances of Scepter 4’s style. His muscles ached and he swallowed a yawn as he went to pick the sword up again, going back through the motions. Sleep could wait. He needed to get this taken care of first, solve the problem in front of him, then he could rest.

“Ah, Fushimi-kun. How unexpected.” The sound of a voice behind him made him turn, clicking his tongue in annoyance. Munakata stood in the doorway, the calm expression on his face entirely putting the lie to his words that he hadn’t expected to see Fushimi there. Fushimi couldn’t help but feel irritated with himself, who knew how long Munakata had been standing there watching him and Fushimi hadn’t so much as sensed his presence.

“I was practicing,” Fushimi said and immediately felt annoyed again, it sounded far too defensive for his liking.

“If you wished to join the swordsmanship squad’s practice, I am certain Awashima-kun would be happy to assist you in such an endeavor,” Munakata said, crossing the floor towards Fushimi. Fushimi couldn’t help but notice that the Blue King was still dressed in full uniform, apparently Fushimi wasn’t the only one up late after hours.

“I work better alone.” Fushimi turned away, wondering if that would be enough to get Munakata to leave. After all, it wasn’t like Munakata’d had any particular use for him recently.

“Indeed.” Munakata didn’t leave. Instead he retrieved a wooden sword himself and turned to face Fushimi. “Would you like to spar, Fushimi-kun?”

“Eh?” Fushimi eyed him suspiciously. “Why?”

“I simply wish to observe your development.” Munakata smiled then and somehow it seemed like there was something different about it this time, something that made Fushimi’s breath catch.

Made his breath catch, but even so he could still breathe. It wasn’t like that place, it wasn’t like wilting under Suoh Mikoto’s gaze. It was something entirely different that he hadn’t quite felt before, that made his heart beat just a bit faster, made the power under his skin jump and flare in a way Fushimi hadn’t felt before.

This was what it was like, he supposed, being near a King. That natural charisma that even someone like Suoh Mikoto possessed, something that drew people towards them like planets orbiting around a sun.

The thought made Fushimi grimace and he deliberately took a step backwards, looking up at Munakata with an almost challenging gaze. He’d already played this game before. Fushimi had no intention of being pulled into anyone’s orbit, not ever again.

“Well, Fushimi-kun?” Munakata was still waiting for his reply, holding the wooden sword with a loose grip that almost made it seem as though it was made for his hand.

“I guess.” Fushimi shrugged, deliberately vague. He raised his own sword. “I didn’t think you did this sort of thing, Captain.”

“Indeed. It has been a while since I had need for this kind of practice.” Munakata adjusted his stance slightly, just enough so that it was clear he was beckoning Fushimi to attack. “Still, it is good to engage in such a thing every now and again, wouldn’t you say? And even for someone as talented as Fushimi-kun it cam be difficult to assess the effectiveness of a technique without a proper opponent.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue again and carefully adjusted his own stance, not quite mimicking the usual steps of Scepter 4’s troops. Munakata seemed to notice the change, slight though it was, because his eyes glinted in obvious interest. Fushimi didn’t bother to give him time to observe further and quickly moved in to attack.

Munakata deflected it easily, as Fushimi had expected he would, and Fushimi adjusted his movements in mid-strike. There was the hollow sounds of their swords meeting, Fushimi attacking and Munakata blocking, always blocking.

And then Fushimi caught a sudden brief narrowing of Munakata’s eyes and he had to bring his sword up quickly to block a counterstrike. Munakata seemed pleased by that and Fushimi felt his breath catch again. He swallowed it down and backed up a step, considering his next move. Munakata remained utterly still, clearly waiting for Fushimi to move first.

Another strike, another block. Strike. Block. Counterstrike, block. It seemed almost rhythmic, the way Munakata’s feet moved across the floor, the way his sword moved in his hand. Fushimi was only just able to keep up, adjusting his attack with every failed strike, just barely managing to defend himself from Munakata’s occasional attacks. With each useless attack Fushimi changed his stance just a bit, changed the way he held the sword and the length of his strike, each attack still maintaining the slight echo of Scepter 4’s normal style but changed to suit his needs. Lighter, faster, unrestrained, and Fushimi almost wished he was willing to risk going for his knives. Not that he could get away with attacking his own King with real knives, of course, and Fushimi kept his hands on the sword.

Fushimi could feel himself growing tired, the tip of his sword noticeably shaking. Even so Munakata’s attacks continued relentless and Fushimi had to struggle to keep even with him. He could tell that his own attacks were growing weaker and more reckless but somehow that almost seemed to be working to his advantage, one strike getting within inches of hitting Munakata’s shoulder. At the same time his defense and agility were clearly deteriorating, he could barely move his sword in time to block Munakata’s counters and Fushimi knew it was only a matter of time before he faltered.

Annoying. So annoying. Fushimi grit his teeth. Perhaps Munakata was only playing with him after all, toying with him in order to show Fushimi how pointless all this was, trying to develop his own style this way. Fushimi raised his sword almost mechanically as he blocked another strike. So annoying, and he couldn’t even stop it. What good was he against a King anyway? Once he failed Munakata would probably just smile that same thin smile and send him to bed, like a useless child who had failed at a lesson.

Munakata moved to attack him again and Fushimi cursed mentally as he raised his sword, a second too late. Munakata struck him hard on the shoulder, jarring the sword from his grasp as he fell to his knees.

Automatically one hand vanished inside his coat and there was a flash of steel.

“That is enough for now, Fushimi-kun.” Munakata’s hand on his wrist stopped him and Fushimi froze, one knife inches away from stabbing into Munakata’s thigh. Fushimi remained still for a long moment, his breathing harsh and ragged, and finally the knife fell from numb fingers.

“I…” There was nothing he could say, not really. Fushimi licked his lips and lowered his head, waiting for the inevitable rebuke, waiting to be scolded for his failure.

“Well done.” Munakata’s voice was undeniably pleased and Fushimi looked up. Munakata wasn’t even so much as breathing hard, showing no sign at all that he felt any of the fatigue making it difficult for Fushimi to even stand. “Very well done, Fushimi-kun. That last strike would have made its mark.”

“That’s all you have to say?” Fushimi wondered if it was just exhaustion making him feel suddenly bewildered and he couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped from his throat. “I lost. I nearly stabbed you.”

“And yet you stopped when ordered.” Munakata was still looking at him, really looking at him, in a way that made Fushimi’s heart beat even faster. “Your fighting style was intended to be used in concert with your hidden weaponry, was it not? That being the case, why should I be displeased that you have made use of it as intended?”

“The Lieutenant wouldn’t see it that way, if I’d stabbed you,” Fushimi said darkly.

“Perhaps.” Munakata chuckled quietly. “In any case, I am pleased at how quickly you have adapted, Fushimi-kun. Perhaps Scepter 4 suits you more than you expected?”

“Not really.” The response was automatic, as was the accompanying shrug, and Fushimi wasn’t even quite sure if it was a lie or not. Munakata’s smile didn’t waver regardless.

“Now, I believe that is enough practice for one night. I have a mission for you but I will need you rested first, Fushimi-kun.” Munakata held out a hand to Fushimi to help him rise.

Fushimi stared at that hand for a long moment.

“Fushimi-kun?”

“Why did you want me to join your clan?” Maybe it was the exhaustion that made him ask, and Fushimi clicked his tongue irritably. Even so, he didn’t take Munakata’s hand, waiting for the answer.

Munakata looked momentarily surprised and then gave another quiet laugh.

“I believe I already explained my reasoning to you,” Munakata said. His hand was still outstretched towards Fushimi, unwavering. “Your talents being wasted in the Red clan and I having a need for a useful person in Scepter 4, I simply thought to take advantage of the opportunity being presented to me.”

“Useful, huh?” Fushimi murmured, hands clenching slightly.

“Indeed.” Munakata took a step forward and Fushimi froze as the outstretched hand rested momentarily on his head, strong, almost gentle, and Fushimi found he couldn’t quite pull away.  “I have very high expectations of you, Fushimi-kun. You have already proved to be everything I had hoped, certainly. I must commend you for your hard work.”

“What do you want from me?” He’d already asked one stupid question but Fushimi couldn’t stop the second one. He thought he might be shaking and dismissed it as an after effect on the fatigue.

“Only what you feel compelled to give.” Munakata’s voice was calm and sure, and Fushimi felt something like a shiver run through him.

My King is–

The hand removed itself from his head, held out to him one more time.

“Now, shall we go back to the dorms, Fushimi-kun?”

Fushimi nodded, and reached for Munakata’s hand.

Chapter Text

This is stupid. Fushimi stared down at his PDA, trying his best to ignore the people around him. Why did I get dragged along here anyway?

It was a stupid party and Fushimi didn’t understand why he had been forced to come along. Munakata had informed him half a day ago about the large government-funded Christmas party which Munakata had been recently invited to along with all manner of politicians and important businesspeople. Officially it was a gesture to his position as the head of Annex Four – which likely seemed odd to some of the other invited members, that the head of such a minor government agency should be invited to such a high-society party. Unofficially, however, he had been sent the invitation as the Blue King, and so of course Munakata had felt it necessary to at least “put in an appearance”or so he had put it.

“Put in an appearance” my ass, Fushimi thought darkly. They’d been here two hours already, that was way more than just ‘an appearance.’

The invitation had been for two so naturally Fushimi had assumed that the Lieutenant would be accompanying Munakata and that he could look forward to an evening of peace and quiet by himself, no irritating bosses in sight. Instead Munakata had pleasantly informed him that Awashima had plans elsewhere for the night which she was unable to get out of, and therefore as Scepter 4’s third in command Fushimi was expected to accompany Munakata instead.

He’d been none too happy about that but there wasn’t much choice, not when Munakata kept smiling at him like that – there was clearly no way out of it beyond faking his own death (something which he had maybe briefly considered and eventually settled on as being too much of a hassle. But it had been tempting).

I want to leave. Fushimi sighed heavily. The room was way too big and his clothes felt stiff and itchy. Apparently the theme of the party was some kind of western-style fancy “ball” and he’d been forced into a suit. It was highly uncomfortable, even with his shirt partially unbuttoned and collar undone because he’d started feeling stifled about five minutes after walking into the party. And finding a place to hide his knives had been an additional difficulty – one he’d complained about to Munakata on the ride over, and received only an amused “Is that so?” in reply.

Fushimi swallowed a groan and leaned his head back against the wall. Two hours. Two hours he’d been here, and he’d spent the majority of it sitting in the corner of the room playing with his PDA. At first he’d been following Munakata around awkwardly, feeling uncomfortably like an unwanted child being dragged along to a parental function only because the parent couldn’t find a babysitter. Then various politicians had begun introducing themselves and there’d been some noise about dancing, and Fushimi had decided to take advantage of the distraction in order to make as much of an escape as he could.

No one really seemed to notice him, hunkered against the wall in the corner conveniently in the shade of a large fake plant. There was the vague irritating feeling that he was hiding and he shoved it away, continuing to stare down at his PDA.

There were too many people, that was all. Fushimi grimaced. There really were people everywhere, and it felt like he could barely breathe. Fushimi hunched his shoulders and pulled his knees up to his chest, PDA still held tight in his hands. The Captain had to be done talking with everyone who needed to be talked to, right? And even if not, it wasn’t like Fushimi’s presence was doing any good here. They weren’t terribly far from headquarters, even if he had to walk it wouldn’t be that bad. The only problem would be having to explain why he’d left early to Munakata tomorrow and Fushimi was reasonably certain he could think up a good excuse by then.

“Ah, Fushimi-kun. There you are.” Munakata’s voice made him flinch slightly, of course the Captain would take that moment to show up. Fushimi looked up at him, his flat expression clashing against Munakata’s calm smile.

“Are you finished yet, Captain?” Fushimi let the boredom show clear in his voice. “It’s getting late and I have work to do tomorrow.”

“Leaving an important party so early would be impolite to our host,” Munakata reminded him and Fushimi rolled his eyes. “I’m afraid you will have to endure it a little longer, Fushimi-kun.”

“Did I really even need to come?” Fushimi asked. “You could have done all this on your own, you know.”

“Perhaps,” Munakata said. There was a familiar glint in his eye that made it clear he had more thoughts on the matter but didn’t intend to elaborate any further. Fushimi groaned and rolled his eyes again. “In any case, I thought I had best find out where you’d gone. Have you tried any of the food? It was quite interesting.”

“It looked disgusting.” Fushimi turned his eyes back to his PDA. He’d stopped briefly by the catering tables only to be met by plate after plate of fancy vegetable-laden dishes, most of which were arranged in ways he’d never seen before and Fushimi didn’t care for trying food that he didn’t know he would like. “Is that what you’ve been doing all this time, then? Admiring the buffet?”

“Not entirely,” Munakata said with a slight laugh. “It is important to maintain contacts in a professional sphere, even for a King. It has been quite a while since I’ve had the opportunity for dancing as well. One must take advantage of such opportunities when they are presented.”

“You dance?” Fushimi snorted.

“I do have some ability,” Munakata said, smiling just a bit wider. “Perhaps you would like to accompany me?”

“Eh?” Fushimi started in surprise, almost dropping his PDA.

“Would you like to dance, Fushimi-kun?” Munakata repeated, holding out one hand towards him.

Fushimi stared at him blankly, all the refusals running through his head somehow unable to work their way out of his mouth. Instead he found himself reaching out instead, taking Munakata’s hand and allowing Munakata to pull him to his feet.

“I don’t dance,” Fushimi managed as Munakata dragged him skillfully through the crowd towards the dance floor. Fushimi could see quite a few couples moving slowly in time with the music and his scowl deepened, he didn’t dance and he most certainly didn’t ballroom dance.

“Not to worry, Fushimi-kun.” He heard Munakata’s voice in his ear even though Fushimi somehow couldn’t bring himself to turn his head. “The steps are in fact rather simple once you have the rhythm of them. I expect someone of your talent should be able to pick such a concept up quickly.”

“While looking like an idiot in the process,” Fushimi muttered. “And besides, won’t people stare? It’ll be a waste of all that time you made me sit here while you made small talk with worthless officials.”

“Perhaps,” Munakata said easily. “Even so, I would hate to pass up such an opportunity. Now, shall we dance?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue but allowed Munakata to lead him out onto the floor. The area set aside for dancing was large enough to allow freedom of movement but still small enough to feel slightly cramped and Fushimi’s face twisted in displeasure at the feeling of people on all sides of him. It felt as though all the air was being sucked out his lungs and his hands felt suddenly clammy.

“Fushimi-kun.” Munakata’s voice pulled him back as Munakata’s hands clasped tightly to his. “Keep your eyes on me, if you would.”

“I’m fine,” Fushimi muttered, irritated. Really it was just a stupid party, it wasn’t like he wasn’t used to being stuck in places with too many strangers meandering around in stupid groups, and himself the island alone in the corner.

“Indeed,” Munakata said simply, if he caught Fushimi’s meaning showing no sign of it. “But if you are to learn the steps properly you must give it your full attention. I will lead. You need only to follow my steps.”

One of Munakata’s feet slid over to push against Fushimi’s, maneuvering him into the right stance. Fushimi suddenly felt awkward and exposed, his hands clutched tightly in Munakata’s and Munakata’s eyes staring straight at him, unfathomable and unsettling, and his clicked his tongue again to cover it.

“Now, move with me.” Munakata took a dancing step to the side, pulling Fushimi along with him, and Fushimi uncharacteristically stumbled just a bit, trying to mimic the movement. Munakata laughed quietly but it wasn’t derisive, only amused, and he didn’t say anything about the slip as he moved into the next step. Fushimi followed, just a pace behind and annoyed by it.

It really wasn’t that hard a dance, he supposed, adjusting his movements to match Munakata’s. Fushimi’s eyes traveled downwards, watching Munakata’s feet as they moved. There seemed to be a pattern to it and that put him at ease somewhat. Fushimi was good with patterns. It was a simple matter of memorization and then application. He allowed Munakata to lead him through two more repetitions and then on the third made the first move on his own.

He felt Munakata pause for just a moment and Fushimi thought he heard the start of a laugh. A moment later he was thrown off pace as Munakata increased the speed of his steps and Fushimi found himself fumbling to keep up.

“You bastard, you did that on purpose,” Fushimi said through gritted teeth.

“My apologies. It seemed as though you were catching on, so I thought perhaps it would be acceptable to increase the pace.”

“Tch.” Sure you did, Fushimi thought darkly, but of course Munakata’s face was inscrutable. There seemed to be a hint of spark in Munakata’s eyes though, something that belied the evenness of his tone. Come see if you can keep up.

A challenge. Fushimi’s eyes narrowed. As though he had anything to prove, especially with something as stupid as dancing.

But there was something bright in Munakata’s expression and suddenly Fushimi wanted to wipe the stupid smug smile off his face.

Fine. Try and keep up with me then. He took a moment to match Munakata’s pace and on the last step of the pattern he increased his movements, hands tightening over Munakata’s as Fushimi took the lead, just a bit faster than before.

He definitely heard the laugh this time, and Munakata allowed him to lead for all of three repetitions before taking over again, movements smooth and agile as if the increased pace was nothing for him and Fushimi was once again hurrying to keep up.

“Fushimi-kun.” Munakata’s voice nearly made him stumble. “Look at me, if you would.”

“What are you–” Fushimi started to argue and Munakata cut him off.

“If you wish to dance in this manner, I believe you would be better served by maintaining eye contact with your partner.”

The word “partner” rang in Fushimi’s ears and he felt Munakata’s hands tighten over his, as if Munakata knew the very utterance of that word would be almost enough to make Fushimi bolt. But their hands were too closely entwined and their feet moving too quickly, if he tried to pull away he’d certainly stumble and fall and look like an idiot.

“Shut up,” Fushimi said instead, ignoring the breathlessness of his own voice. He raised his head and met Munakata’s gaze as defiantly as he could manage, still completely aware of the cadence of his own steps and he kept his gaze steady as he increased the pace on the next movement, right in the middle of the pattern.

Munakata didn’t so much as give an inch, matching Fushimi’s pace with the sort of effortlessness that Fushimi had expected of him. Munakata’s eyes were shining as he did so, smile wide and almost exhilarated and part of Fushimi seemed to shake at the realization that he was the one causing Munakata to make that kind of expression.

Munakata’s pace increased on the next move and Fushimi let the thought fall away, concentrating wholly on keeping up with his King. It was harder to do staring at Munakata’s face than watching their feet but somehow Fushimi managed, the pattern repeating in his head. Step. Step. Step. Faster. Left and right. Each step the note of a song, rhythm and time and heartbeat, breath, and before he knew it Fushimi couldn’t even manage to lead anymore, only follow as Munakata led him around the floor faster and faster, their hands held tightly together and Munakata’s eyes trained on him, only on him, the two of them the only two people in the world.

Fushimi almost didn’t realize when they stopped, feet still moving to take the next step in the pattern as Munakata suddenly whirled him around and the next thing Fushimi knew they were standing on the outside of the dance floor again. He could just hear the sound of applause behind them and felt Munakata bowing slightly as he carefully ushered Fushimi back into the same corner where he’d been hiding in all evening.

With the dance over and the rush fading Fushimi suddenly realized exactly how out of breath he was, heart beating so hard against his chest he though he might faint. He was dimly aware of Munakata forcibly sitting him down in the corner and then disappearing off somewhere, only to return moments later with a glass of water.

“’M fine.” Fushimi deliberately turned his head away as Munakata held the glass out to him, the idea of being fussed over like a child making his pride sting despite the dryness of his mouth.

“Nonetheless, it is best to drink after such activity,” Munakata said, voice kept slightly low and gentle as he held out the glass again.

“I don’t need you to babysit me, Captain.” Fushimi gave him a baleful look and Munakata responded with a kind but stern smile. Fushimi sighed, reluctantly acknowledging a battle lost, and took the cup without a word. The water felt cool going down his throat and he leaned his head back, waiting for his breathing to even out. Munakata remained there crouched beside him, not saying a word, simply providing a presence, and Fushimi realized that Munakata had positioned himself so that he was between Fushimi and the rest of the room. The tightness in his chest seemed to be fading somewhat and Fushimi finally sat up a bit straighter.

“I will go get out coats and call for the driver to take us back to Scepter 4.” Munakata stood up, straightening his clothes. “Remain here and rest for a little longer, Fushimi-kun.”

“I said, I’m fine,” Fushimi said crossly and though Munakata only laughed in response there was a hardness to his expression which made it clear that he didn’t believe Fushimi in the slightest and that any further attempts at exerting himself would likely be met with physical restraint. Fushimi sighed. “Fine, fine. But I’m taking a half day at work tomorrow.”

“I believe you have earned it,” Munakata said with a slight nod and Fushimi looked up at him sharply.

“…What was all that, anyway?” He didn’t really know why he asked it, but Fushimi supposed there was no reason not to. Munakata raised an eyebrow.

“That?”

“You know what I mean.” Fushimi adjusted his position against the wall. “All of that on the dance floor.”

“Ah.” Munakata smiled brilliantly at him, half-turning to walk away. “You seemed to be enjoying yourself, so I simply thought I might do the same. I was confident you would be able to keep up with me. As always, you live up to my expectations entirely, Fushimi-kun. Now, if you will excuse me.”

Without another word Munakata turned sharply and began to navigate his way back through the crowd. Fushimi couldn’t help but notice the way people parted for him as he went by, as though even those who didn’t know who he was nonetheless felt the pressure of a King’s passage and adjusted their own course accordingly.

“Keep up, huh?” Fushimi shook his head, a slight chuckle escaping his lips. His limbs felt sore and he was still breathing hard as if he’d run a marathon, but somehow the tightness in his chest had faded away.

Chapter Text

“Maybe the world will do me a favor and end tomorrow…?”

"...Fushimi-kun?"

Fushimi clicked his tongue in irritation as he turned around in his chair, he hadn’t even realized that the Captain was there.

Certainly the Captain shouldn’t be there, since he’d been in the office since who knew when this morning and since they were still trying to deal with all the fallout from the Ashinaka Incident only one day prior and if anyone needed a break (besides Fushimi himself, who truth be told had been there since at least four in the morning himself) it was Munakata. And yet there he was, standing in the doorway with the usual pleasant smile plastered allover his face.

That smile was a bit thinner than normal, at least, and Fushimi took some strange satisfaction in that. He turned back to his computer.

“Shouldn’t you be asleep, Captain?” Fushimi muttered, focusing his gaze back on the screen. Munakata didn’t reply but there was the sound of movement as he stepped closer and Fushimi sighed. “I’m working, you know.”

“I can see that.” Munakata was standing next to him now but Fushimi didn’t bother to look up. “As always, your work is exceptional, Fushimi-kun. So I am curious why you should so wish for the world to end tomorrow, and such work to go unappreciated.”

“No reason.” Fushimi shrugged, swallowing down the irritation and focusing solely on the screen. It was easier to look at than that thin smile anyways, easier than letting his eyes wander down to Munakata’s hands that had been covered in someone’s blood not so long ago.

In truth Fushimi wasn’t even sure why he had said it. It was just that sitting there alone in the dark, the mark on his chest itching and his body feeling somehow worn and stretched all of a sudden, that he’d found himself thinking it might not be so bad if the world ended tomorrow.

(He’d seen Misaki today too, from a distance, and the worn stretched feeling had been there as well. All of them, burned to hollow husks by Suoh Mikoto’s passing, and Fushimi idly scratched at the burn on his chest even as the other hand continued ceaselessly typing.)

Munakata didn’t reply, staring at Fushimi in silence, and it made the room feel even more stifling. Fushimi’s hand dug back into the wound on his chest and somehow he couldn’t take that quiet anymore.

“It would have ended yesterday.” His voice was measured, quick and sharp to the beat of his fingers typing on the keyboard. “Should I thank you for today, Captain?”

A slight rustle of clothing and Fushimi wondered if he’d finally managed to get one over on the Captain. The reply was measured as always though, and Fushimi’s blood pulsed red.

“I suppose so. Would you rather I apologize for it, Fushimi-kun? Since I seem to have doubled your work load.”

“I wasn’t talking about me.” He had been and he hadn’t, and Fushimi’s hand reached up to scratch again. It was burning more than usual today and he wondered if that was Suoh Mikoto’s funeral pyre, ashes coming back to haunt him.

“Indeed.” Munakata’s voice was so calm as to seem detached, floating in the air separate from the throat it had issued from, and it felt like Fushimi could grab at the words and they would disappear in his hands like smoke. “Even so, the world continues and there is still a path ahead of us, yet to be walked.”

“And never look at the bloodstains left behind?” Fushimi’s chest hurt and he wasn’t sure why, only that it was easier to spit out the words to see if he could bleed out the pain along with it. His own sword couldn’t pierce a King’s chest, but there was a part of him that ached to try.

Munakata’s breath hitched just so, something Fushimi wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t paused in his typing and let just a moment of silence ring in the air, and then he answered.

“If that is what is required to move forward. Looking back at ground that has already been tread upon is not something we who must go forward have the luxury of doing.”

“If the world had ended then, what would you have said to him?” It wasn’t like Fushimi wanted to know. The relationship, whatever it was, between Munakata and Suoh Mikoto was nothing to him, only an entwining of powers that swirled in his core. Ashes and cold, together, and Fushimi’s throat felt dry.

“My actions would not have changed, regardless of the circumstances.” Munakata’s voice hung heavy in the air, like the toll of a funeral bell, and the shroud fell heavy over Fushimi’s shoulders. “So I would prefer not to linger on the what ifs, Fushimi-kun.”

“Bullshit.” Fushimi spat out the word, bile that rose in his throat and part of his body shuddered as if throwing off a veil.

“As always, you have a way with words, Fushimi-kun.” Unbothered and steady, Fushimi’s blade too dull to draw out a single drop of blood.

“If the world was going to end tomorrow, would you still have done it?” No point in asking, but he had to say something to help him swallow down the lump in his throat.

“Yes. If it would only give us today, I would still have done it. That is the duty of a King, Fushimi-kun. My blade will strike true to carry out heaven’s decree even if it should only win us a single day in return.”

“That’s stupid.” Fushimi’s fingers froze on the keyboard and he didn’t know why he couldn’t stop shaking all of a sudden. It wasn’t like he cared, not about the Captain or Suoh Mikoto or blood on a sword, not about a red flame that rose into the dark night air or the hollow cast in Misaki’s eyes. “If it’s only going to end anyway, you should just do what you wanted to do. Not any of this crap about paths or duty.”

“Perhaps.” Munakata’s hand touched his shoulder then and Fushimi hated it, hated the steady presence behind it and the voice that never wavered no matter the reason. “But that one day would not belong only to me, therefore how could I be the one to choose whether it mattered or not?”

“Aren’t you the one who was just talking about ‘heaven’s decree’?” Fushimi snorted. “You choose everything yourself anyway without thinking about the petty affairs of the people beneath you. That’s what a King is, right? So if you chose whatever you want, who could complain?”

“And as I said, my choice would be the same.” The hand removed itself from his shoulder. “In either case the world has not ended, nor will it. Being as I have given you this day, Fushimi-kun, I would rather you spend it resting and recovering than working.”

“Is that your way of telling me to go to bed?” Fushimi clicked his tongue. “I could say the same to you.”

“I have some small matters to finish first. Are you worried about me, Fushimi-kun?”

“Don’t say stupid things.” Fushimi remained at his computer. “If the world ends tomorrow I would just rather not have to spend the night with someone lecturing me about rest when he doesn’t even intend to sleep himself, that’s all.”

“I believe the world will likely continue tomorrow, Fushimi-kun, so you have no fear of that.”

“That person probably thought the same, and look where he ended up.” Fushimi’s hand went for the burn on his chest again, and this time Munakata’s hand on his wrist stopped him. Fushimi sighed. “If the world’s not going to end the Lieutenant will expect this report to be finished.”

“I believe Awashima-kun will understand.” Munakata pulled slightly on his wrist and Fushimi found himself standing, bones feeling brittle and sore, and he didn’t understand how Munakata’s hands could still feel so steady.

There had been that pause, though, that hollowness to the usual unbreakable words, and Fushimi sighed.

“Fine, fine. What else do you need me to do first?”

“Fushimi-kun?” Genuine confusion now, and Fushimi crossed his arms.

“You have things to finish first, right? So I’ll take care of those too and then I’ll go rest as soon as you’re ready.”

“I believe I will be fine on my own, Fushimi-kun.”

“If the world ends tomorrow I’m not letting you be the only one who’s actually finished with his work,” Fushimi said. “That’s my choice to make, right?”

He finally met Munakata’s eyes, holding that gaze as best he could, and the surprise on Munakata’s features settled into a smile.

“Then I suppose I must admit defeat.” Munakata seemed amused and somehow it made Fushimi’s skin feel warm, to finally see that first shine in the Captain’s eyes since they’d returned from Ashinaka. “Very well, then. Shall we go to bed? I expect the sun will rise again properly tomorrow, and we will have quite a bit of work to do.”

“Just don’t blame me for the overtime everyone’s going to have to be putting in to get all of this done.” Fushimi shrugged, letting the last bits of ash fall from his shoulders.

Munakata laughed again, soft and warm as he stepped forward into the open doorway, and Fushimi followed his King.

Chapter Text

I. First

Akiyama’s first impression of Fushimi, the first time he sees him sitting at his desk in Scepter 4 complaining about the work in front of him, about the soreness in his limbs, about the heat and the pointlessness of the work, is that Fushimi Saruhiko is a cold, lazy person (who is, all right, maybe a little attractive but that’s beside the point).

He’d fought Fushimi before, of course, in the days when Fushimi Saruhiko had been part of Homra’s vanguard with Yata Misaki. He had been maybe a little impressed at that time with the speed and accuracy of Fushimi’s attacks but that was really about it. Fushimi’s style of fighting had somewhat more finesse than the rest of Homra but it was still a wholly crude and inelegant sort of thing. Akiyama was used to the efficiency and order of first the Defense Force and then Scepter 4. Strength was certainly something Akiyama appreciated, but he also had a strong belief in hard work and training, and Fushimi Saruhiko didn’t seem to place much stock in either of those.

Well, it wasn’t as though they had much chance to speak with each other in any case. Akiyama was a member of the swordsmanship troops and Fushimi was part of intelligence. He’d heard the rumors when Fushimi joined, had been surprised to find out that the gloomy kid from Homra that he’d once fought was now part of Scepter 4 and that the Captain had apparently placed a good deal of trust in him. Still, Akiyama supposed that if the Captain had chosen Fushimi himself there was no room for Akiyama to complain. It was only that Fushimi’s work ethic was seriously lacking and his attitude was completely unacceptable, and if he hadn’t known better he would think that the Captain had been charmed by Fushimi’s pretty face and admittedly striking eyes.

If he didn’t know better, of course.

There was the day they were called out to handle a hostage situation, though. Akiyama helped to gather the squads, worked in tandem with Benzai to coordinate a battle formation as they waited for the Captain to give the okay to enter the building.

When they finally received the order to attack the hostages had already escaped, and there were two Strains missing from what had been reported. Akiyama fretted about it a bit in the aftermath, that he’d missed something, but the Captain and the Lieutenant were perfectly calm and he didn’t think it was his place to complain.

One of the Strains they’d missed had the power to send out blades of air that could slice the skin easily, the other was able to shatter bones with a touch. Walking through the halls of Scepter 4 afterward, Akiyama almost didn’t notice when he passed by Fushimi until their shoulders brushed and Fushimi clicked his tongue.

Akiyama turned, not sure if it was his place to scold Fushimi but certainly getting tired of the attitude that was clearly unbefitting for a member of Scepter 4, and that was when he saw the bandages. White bandages all along Fushimi’s arms, and the slightest hint of thin red cuts underneath. Another bandage around a clearly broken leg, and Fushimi was limping along on crutches while clutching a report in one hand.

Akiyama stared after him for a long moment, then turned and went back to his work.

II. Second

Akiyama’s second impression was slow in forming.

Somehow he found himself staring at Fushimi more often now, feeling curious and trying not to. Benzai had even mentioned it, that Akiyama was paying quite a bit of attention to Intelligence Section’s Fushimi lately. Akiyama had tried to excuse it a bit, to claim that he didn’t think that was quite the truth, but of course Benzai wouldn’t be fooled and Akiyama had been forced to accept that, all right, maybe he was a little interested.

It was only that he’d found himself thinking that there was a lot more to Fushimi than first impressions, was all. Yes, he was gloomy and had a poor attitude and complained about his work all the time. But for all that, for all the other members of intelligence complained about how lazy that Fushimi was, whenever Akiyama wandered by the Intelligence Department on his way back to the dorms – not that he was taking a detour, only that it was good to walk the length of the building before quitting for the day, just in case – Fushimi was always the only one there. No matter the time, no matter how early or how late, Fushimi was always there, working.

And there were other things, too. Rumors that the Captain sent Fushimi on all kinds of jobs, alone, and Akiyama remembered the hostage situation and the missing Strains, the bandages on Fushimi’s arms. He noticed that a lot more often too – intelligence was considered to be one of the ‘easier’ jobs in Scepter 4. Akiyama had heard some of the swordsman troops mocking the intelligence division sometimes, laughing about how nice it must be to not have to fight on the front lines all the time. Intelligence usually remained in the vans, helping to coordinate attacks. Going out into the field was rare.

But Fushimi was often wandering around with cuts and bruises and bandages, disappearing for days at a time and returning with a torn and bloodstained coat, walking into the Captain’s office with a slight limp. And that maybe upset Akiyama a little too. He was of course well versed in field medicine and he knew that sometimes injuries couldn’t be helped, but seeing Fushimi walk around Scepter 4 injured with bandages he’d clearly half-heartedly wrapped himself was troubling, somehow. Even more troubling was the fact that he didn’t even seem to care – once Akiyama had spotted him struggling to carry a pile of paperwork with a splinted wrist and despite himself Akiyama had stepped forward to offer his help. Fushimi had only glared, and kept walking.

Then one day they’d had a run in with Homra. Orders were not to engage and Akiyama did his best to keep the squad in line, to allow the Captain to handle the situation. He left Benzai to keep an eye on the troops and scouted forward a little on his own, to take stock of the situation and make sure it was safe to withdraw.

That was when he’d heard the laughter.

There was a flash of blue, the shine of blade and above all of it laughing, an almost giddy sound that nonetheless sent chills down Akiyama’s spine.

“You traitor!”

“What was that, Misaki?”

It can’t be… But it was Fushimi, battling with the same Yata Misaki who had once been his partner. Akiyama knew that he should intercede, should be running forward to retrieve Fushimi who was below him in rank and violating orders by fighting with Homra. But he found himself unable to move, unable to do anything but watch as Fushimi and Yata Misaki fought.

Fushimi’s movements were as crude as always but there was an elegance to them too that Akiyama hadn’t noticed before, the seemingly messy motions in fact deliberate and smooth, no movement wasted. Knives flashed from underneath his coat, blue power gathered at his fingertips.

His eyes were wild and bright, nothing like the dull blue Akiyama had gotten used to. And there was a smile stretching across his face, a laugh bubbling from his lips, wild and not quite sane and exhilarating, somehow, something that Akiyama couldn’t tear his eyes away from.

It wasn’t that Fushimi was beautiful, fighting like this. It was only that he was mesmerizing, and Akiyama couldn’t bring himself to stop staring.

III. Third

The final impression took years to form, budding slowly up from a seed in the ground.

Fushimi was his superior officer now, and while some of the members complained on Akiyama’s behalf, muttered that surely there was no way a kid and a former member of Homra to boot could possibly be more suited to third in command than Akiyama, Akiyama himself had accepted it easily. He trusted the Captain, after all, and the people who whispered hadn’t seen half the sides of Fushimi that Akiyama had.

They were trapped in a basement, ropes binding their arms, blood dripping down Akiyama’s forehead and Fushimi’s neck and shoulders. It had been an undercover mission, visiting a bar where a known group of criminal Strains were said to be hiding. They hadn’t known that one had the power to emit a paralyzing gas until it was too late.

Fushimi was hazy and clearly having difficulty breathing, but still his wrists were bleeding as he worked a hidden knife from his sleeves and began to saw at the ropes that bound them. When Akiyama tried to talk to him he answered, but he was clearly feeling the effects of the gas worse than Akiyama himself and didn’t quite understand half his answers.

“Fushimi-san. You’re bleeding.” Akiyama wanted to take the knife from him, take control of the situation. Wanted to be of use, somehow, to follow his orders properly.

To help Fushimi, that person who worked harder than anyone even though no one ever seemed to notice, to take some of that burden from him. Even if it was only something small, Akiyama wanted to help.

“It’s fine.” Fushimi’s eyes were dull in the dark light, and he was shuddering lightly. “Tch. So annoying.”

The basement was freezing cold, and Akiyama’s hands felt numb. He wondered if anyone had found them yet, what they should do once they got free.

Fushimi’s ropes fell away and he moved sluggishly to work at Akiyama’s. Anytime Akiyama tried to get him to stop he only clicked his tongue and continued to work, until Akiyama was free as well.

“We need to find a way out.” Fushimi stumbled a few steps forward, and Akiyama caught him.

“Fushimi-san. Let me help.”

“I don’t need help.” He was shaking though, skin pale and Akiyama wondered why he’d never noticed how slim Fushimi’s wrists were.

“Let me help.” Akiyama gave him a reassuring smile. Fushimi’s body didn’t relax but he allowed Akiyama to help him over to the wall, to lower him down into a sitting position. Both of their coats were gone and there was nothing Akiyama could give him to warm him, so he sat down beside Fushimi instead and tried to keep them both warm together.

Fushimi didn’t talk to him, that whole time they were there. But he whispered things under his breath, half-delirious, and when Akiyama carefully pulled him closer he didn’t resist. His eyes were half-closed, his breathing unsteady.

His face was almost peaceful though, almost innocent, and Akiyama’s hands tightened around Fushimi’s shoulders.

It was hours later that they were back in Scepter 4, side by side in the infirmary. Fushimi had recovered enough to be obstinate and it was only Munakata’s orders keeping him curled up in bed under a pile of blankets, fussing over the food and the bandages and how much work he needed to get done that he couldn’t finish here.

Complaining about how useless he’d been during the operation, even though he’d caught onto the gas before Akiyama had. Even though he’d had the presence of mind to keep one of his knives closely hidden, when Akiyama hadn’t been able to do anything.

It was like looking at something mysterious, almost, the curve of Fushimi’s body as he sat with shoulders hunched – not the bad posture Akiyama had always assumed but an almost calculated attempt at making himself small and inconspicuous. The way his eyes would waver just slightly, a hint of doubt beneath all the arrogance and bad attitude, and Akiyama wanted to reach for him.

He shifted instead, and when Fushimi looked at him in irritation he smiled.

“Thank you, Fushimi-san.”

Fushimi’s eyes widened for a moment and then he clicked his tongue and looked away. There was a hint of color back in his face, though, and Akiyama could somehow stare at him forever.

His first impression was that Fushimi was lazy, cold, maybe a little attractive but nothing worth noting. His second impression was that Fushimi was hardworking yet apathetic, and maybe slightly deranged.

His third impression was that Fushimi was incredibly talented, that Fushimi worked harder than anyone and worried more than anyone, that Fushimi was arrogant yet insecure, broken in ways Akiyama couldn’t begin to understand and didn’t know how to mend, not yet.

Lonely and broken and terribly, terribly beautiful, and Akiyama couldn’t stop watching him.

Chapter Text

“Oh so you came after all.” Iwafune leaned back in his chair as the newcomer sat down across the table from him.

“Well, could I refuse a call from my King?” There was a hint of mockery in the other man's voice and Iwafune accepted it with a small laugh, taking a drink of beer and gesturing for the waitress to bring another one for his companion.

“It's fine, fine, I knew you were like that.” Iwafune stared down at the bottle in his hand for a minute and then shook his head, taking another drink. “That's why you survived after all, you weren't there. If you didn't feel the need to answer an old man's summons that's fine too.”

“It sounded interesting. Make it worth my while, old man.”

“You've got a family too, now, right?” Iwafune knew he was rambling a little but the alcohol was helping to dull the old pain that was always harsh in the back of his mind and it made him feel a little better. “Good thing you got out when you did, I guess? Well, Cathedral wasn't a good fit for you and I knew it. But you helped us out when you could.”

“When I felt like it.” The waitress stopped by their table and the man leered openly at her as he took the bottle of beer. He took a quick drink and then pulled out a cigarette, lighting it. “You got boring quick, old man. Where's all your talk about saving the world now?” He laughed harshly. “You were fun for a couple months, though. I got to do whatever I wanted.”

“You always do that, though,” Iwafune said, smiling as he shook his head. “No, I admit I was angry then, but my mind's changed a little.”

“But not your fashion sense,” the other man said, laughing again. “Priest cosplay?”

“All right, laugh, it's comfort that counts isn't it?” Iwafune paused, turning the beer bottle over in his hands. “Say...you still work with computers, right?”

“Sometimes.” The man took another drink. “Don't tell me you're taking up online gambling? What a useless old man.”

“Hey, now, I was never that bad was I? I didn't have these kind of vices in my youth.” Iwafune chuckled ruefully into his drink. “I'm not asking this from you as a King. That's not me anymore.”

“Oh?” The man raised an eyebrow, smile stretching across his face. “Finally realized how pointless 'saving the world and protecting the weak' is, huh? Kinda sad, when you think about it. Well, you're more interesting to me like this, though.”

“No.” Iwafune laid down his drink, staring seriously at his companion from across the table. “I still want to protect the weak. I want to give them the power to protect themselves, so they have a choice besides lying down and dying for a cause they have no part in. That's why I asked you here.”

Their eyes met, and the other man clicked his tongue.

“You're getting boring again, Seigo.”

“I'm not Ootori Seigo anymore,” Iwafune said, shaking his head. “He died in the Kagutsu Crater incident. I'm asking you for help as Iwafune Tenkei, guardian and adoptive father of the Green King, Hisui Nagare.”

The other man's eyes brightened in sudden interest and he rested his head on his palm.

“Is that so? Now I'm listening.”

“Nagare's got some..special accommodations, so he can't look for clansmen himself.” Iwafune sighed, rubbing at his forehead. “It's hard to explain here. But somehow turns out he can reach out through the internet with his powers. He has some idea of starting up some kind of...app, I think it's called?”

“You are old, aren't you?”

“Compared to young kids like you I was always a relic,” Iwafune said with another laugh. “He needs some outside help setting up the servers. He's got a...he called it a 'beta' version? Anyway, it's in development but even the Green King can't keep the place afloat alone. He asked if we could find some assistance to take care of the finer points of coding and that's when I remembered you. I know it's been a long time since you were one of my clansmen and you've got that kid of yours now too, but if you could do this old man a favor I'd appreciate it. I can make it worth your while too. Probably.”

“The Green King, huh?” The other man snickered. “Sounds interesting. Where are you setting up these servers? That old fart in Mihashira probably wouldn't like that kind of thing out in the open.”

“We've got a place,” Iwafune said, waving a hand vaguely. “I can take you there whenever you're ready. So what do you say, Niki-kun?”

Fushimi Niki took a long drag on his cigarette and smiled.

“Why not? Sounds fun. Just one thing, old man...”

“Yes?”

“You got a problem if I bring my little monkey along?”

“Saruhiko.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, eyes focused on the screen of his PDA as his fingers flashed across the keyboard.

“Saruhiko. Iwa-san asked you to finish cleaning, did he not?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue again and kept typing.

“It is important that we are prepared to welcome our new member. Though it is a shame that Niki could not be here. I'm sure he will return within a few weeks, Saruhiko.”

“Hopefully not,” Fushimi muttered under his breath.

“Did you say something, Saruhiko?”

“Nothing.” Fushimi shut his terminal and sighed, glancing over at the figure in the corner. “The code is done, Nagare.”

“Excellent. I look forward to rolling out the finished version of j-cube shortly. Our userbase will be pleased.” Hisui Nagare smiled at him, voice and face as always seeming strangely flat to Fushimi but he had gotten used to it.

“Excellent! Excellent!”

“See, even Kotosaka praises you.”

“Hurray,” Fushimi grumbled dryly. He had not gotten used to the bird. It had been four years since he'd been dragged down here by that guy, and he was never getting used to the bird.

“Are you feeling unwell?” Nagare asked, looking at him curiously. “I'm sure your father will be back soon, Saruhiko. If you'd like, next time I will ask him to take you along.”

“I'm fine.” Fushimi could hear the strained edge to his voice but he knew Nagare wouldn't catch it, he never did. Never noticed the way Fushimi grit his teeth at every mention of his father's name, how he flinched whenever he came back home and that guy was there waiting for him.

Niki always played the game perfectly, too. He usually showed up when Iwa-san was out or busy and whenever he saw Saruhiko Niki would smile and give him a stiff hug, all but laughing as he greeted his 'little monkey.' Nagare seemed to think the whole thing was the way a family would act, and never noticed the mocking undertone to Niki's voice. Never noticed the way all those presents Niki would bring Fushimi never seemed to stay intact for long, or how Fushimi always ended up exhausted and bruised after 'helping' Niki practice a new mission.

That was what that guy's job was, or was supposed to be. Fushimi ran the servers mostly by himself these days, with Nagare's help. Niki usually only stopped by now and again, claiming he was busy 'scouting out new locations around the city.' As far as Fushimi was concerned those 'locations' were probably gambling dens and seedy bars, but Nagare never said anything about it as long as Niki came back with a nice new spreadsheet of mission parameters.

Niki had come up with the idea of the missions too, because it took too long for anyone to make points in j-cube. He'd created the game – and Fushimi still couldn't beat him at it, something which set his teeth on edge every time – and it was popular among jungle users. They'd even managed to hand out power to a handful of n-rankers that way. But j-rank was still near impossible to win on j-cube rankings alone (especially since Niki was occupying the first hundred or so ranks via sockpuppet accounts, because he said it was boring if the game could be won so easily). So Niki had suggested they run missions around the city, getting the stupid brats who made up most of their userbase to do some spying on the other clans and make mischief for them. It was working, so far, but Fushimi was getting sick of being the guinea pig whose job it was to make sure the mission could be completed in the time parameters. He got every mission first, dragged out of his corner of the hideout to run around on the streets following Niki's ridiculous and usually intentionally vague instructions. Of course Niki would iron out all the messy points by the time he gave the final mission to Nagare and Iwa-san – it was only Fushimi who got to deal with the original mess. And there was no point in bringing it up because Iwa-san and Nagare wouldn't ever believe someone like him, who was only j-rank because that guy had dragged him down here one day and told him to enjoy his new home and get to coding.

“In any case, I'm afraid the room won't be clean before Iwa-san returns,” Nagare said. “I will have to apologize to Iwa-san on your behalf, Saruhiko.”

“Can't that old man clean the place himself?” Fushimi leaned back on his hands. “He's the one always fussing around with the mop. What's the point of cleaning this place anyway?” His eyes were hooded as he stared upwards into the deep darkness that hung above them in place of a roof.

A fake little room, the place he'd been obligated to call home for four years. Well, it wasn't like he could complain. A fake room, a fake home, it suited him just fine. It wasn't any better or worse than that big house had been, not really.

“Iwa-san thought it would be nice to decorate for the new arrival,” Nagare said. “After all, this is the first time anyone has reached j-rank since you joined us.”

“Is it wise to just let anyone down here?” Fushimi asked coldly. “What if this is some kind of ploy by the Gold King to find were we are?”

“Don't worry, Saruhiko,” Nagare said serenely. “Our new friend has been playing the game for years. It seems he did a splendid job in completing many of Niki's missions.”

“So an idiot who knows how to run around town, then,” Fushimi said. “That doesn't make it any better, Nagare. We need to put in more safeguards. Even an old man like Kokujouji's going to figure it out eventually if we're not careful.”

“I will leave it in your hands, Saruhiko,” Nagare said. “We will need allies if we intend to make our dream come true. I look forward to greeting our new arrival.”

“Just don't expect me to make nice with him,” Fushimi stated. “You're too trusting sometimes, Nagare.”

“I suppose. That is why I have you and your father, to be my right hands.”

“Tch. That's what I mean,” Fushimi muttered. Nagare gave him a curious look and Fushimi shook his head. “Never mind. How long is Iwa-san going to be, anyway?”

“All right, kids, I'm back!” Before Nagare could reply Iwa-san stepped into the room. He stopped, looking around blankly. “What's this, you two didn't clean up at all?”

“Iwa-san! Iwa-san!” Kotosaka settled himself onto Iwafune's shoulder.

“Kotosaka, I thought I told you to keep an eye on these two troublemakers,” Iwa-san said with a laugh. “They didn't get anything at all done.”

“My apologies, Iwa-san,” Nagare said.

“I was busy,” Fushimi mumbled from his corner.

“I guess Niki's not here either? Ah, well, I suppose he's all right though. Anyway, you two! I guess we haven't got anything good prepared, but greet your new friend anyway.” He turned and gestured at the person poking their head in the doorway behind him to step inside.

“H-hi!” The kid took a nervous step forward and Fushimi found himself craning his neck just a bit to get a better look.

“What, this brat?” Fushimi clicked his tongue. “That guy's getting lax with the missions if any elementary school kid can get j-rank this easily.”

“Who the hell are you calling an elementary schooler?” The kid immediately got angry and Fushimi smirked, really it was too easy to rile him up. “I'm in my third year of middle school, asshole!” Iwa-san gave him a disapproving look – Fushimi had to roll his eyes, apparently attempting to kill the guy running the country was just mischievous kid pranks but cursing is bad – and he laughed sheepishly. “Anyway, um, nice to meet you I guess. My name's Yata.”

“Yata?” Nagare repeated the unfamiliar name. “Pleased to meet you, Yata. I am jungle's King, Hisui Nagare. You have already met Iwa-san. And this is Saruhiko, who maintains the network.”

“S-so you really are a King?” Yata stepped forward almost nervously. “I mean...you really are, right? You're going to change the world. That's what Iwa-san said.”

“I am,” Nagare said. “And I require your help to make my dream a reality, Yata.”

“My help...” The kid seemed absolutely awed, and Fushimi idly pulled out his PDA and began scrolling through jungle's network. “But you have all those superpowers, right?” He held up one hand and Fushimi realized for the first time that the shrimp had been dragging a baseball bat behind him. It lit up green as he held it.

“Yes,” Nagare said. “I have power. But even my power alone is not enough to realize my dream. That is why I have been seeking for trustworthy people whose assistance can be relied upon.”

“You can definitely rely on me!” Too enthusiastic, way too enthusiastic, and Fushimi rolled his eyes. “I heard about it from Iwa-san, about how you want to save people. Like...like a hero does.”

“You still believe in heroes? At this age?” Fushimi laughed harshly and Yata shot him a glare. “Really, that's so amusing...Misaki.”

“Wh--wha--” Yata's face went almost as red as his hair. “How the hell did you know that, asshole?!”

“It's on your profile, idiot.” Fushimi held up his PDA. “Yata Misaki. What's wrong, Misaki? Didn't want your hero to know your real name?”

“Don't call me that!” Yata said.

“But it's your name, Misaki.”

“Now, now, Saruhiko.” Iwa-san broke in between them. “Misaki's just got here, so don't you two start fighting already.” Yata's face went red again as Iwa-san said his name and Fushimi's smile widened. “Anyway, I brought us something special.” He held up the bag in hanging from one arm. “A real sushi platter! In honor of our guest. So let's all sit down and eat, all right?”

“Not hungry,” Fushimi said flatly, pulling up another screen and going back to his typing. “I have coding to do.”

“Saruhiko...” Iwa-san shook his head. “Come on, at least eat something. You two are about the same age so you should get along, right?”

“With that midget?” Fushimi clicked his tongue again.

“Who the hell are you calling a midget?” Yata snapped. “Anyway, how am I supposed to get along with such an asshole, huh?”

“Saruhiko.” Nagare's cold voice cut through the air. “You will eat with us. You and Misaki are comrades now. I expect you can get along.”

“Right, right.” Fushimi closed his PDA again as he grudgingly pulled up a seat as far as from Yata as he could manage. Yata was obviously torn between wanting to stare worshipfully at Nagare and wanting to glare at Fushimi.

It wasn't like any of it mattered to Fushimi anyway. If the loud idiot wanted to keep spouting stupid crap about 'heroes' that was none of Fushimi's business. As long as Fushimi could get his work done, that was all that mattered.

Even so, he certainly didn't intend to spend any more time with this Yata Misaki than he absolutely had to.

Chapter Text

“Tch.” Fushimi clicked his tongue quietly as he dragged himself into the practice room. The music wing was quiet at this hour, only morons and the hopelessly incompetent willing to wake up this early just for practice purposes.

Morons, the hopelessly incompetent and the stupid cellist bastard who had decided that Fushimi somehow needed special practice sessions. Fushimi didn't see the point of that at all -- his technique was flawless, he knew that, had struggled and trained and worked his way to as close to perfection as he could manage. Had studied technique even though Niki burnt his scores and Kisa threw away his books because there was neither money nor fame in a violin of all things and she had determined that her son would have a useful career. He'd learned half his music by ear and the rest had been hastily memorized in the dark of night under blankets and covers because it was easier to practice when there was no outside evidence of it. At the very least Fushimi was confident that his skills were above those of the remainder of the violin section if nothing else, and yet here he was the only one dragged into a practice room at six in the morning to be tutored like an amateur.

He stepped into the empty room, Munakata having apparently not shown up yet. If that bastard no showed despite forcing Fushimi to wake up this early Fushimi swore he was going to stuff Munakata's bow down his throat.

The practice room seemed wide and hollow with no one else there but him, only the chairs and empty music stands as company. Fushimi sat down heavily in a chair, pulling his violin case close to his chest. Carefully he undid the clasps and pulled out his instrument, running his fingers along the curves of the wood. It had cost him months of savings, hiding the money from Kisa's disapproving glares and Niki's wandering hands. The violin itself had been harder to hide, his skin constantly humming with nervousness whenever the instrument wasn't in his hands. He'd lost two cheap early violins, after all, one thrown out by Kisa when she had decided that he was spending too much time on what was meant to be a simple extracurricular and one broken apart in front of his eyes by Niki, who had seen his attachment and found it amusing enough to destroy.

Fushimi shifted in his seat and he grimaced at the way the sound echoed off the walls. He always loathed it somehow, silence in places where music should be, and he carefully took the violin from its case.

Munakata had named it 'Subaru' two days ago, claiming that a name would allow him to become 'better attuned to his instrument.' Utter stupidity as far as Fushimi was concerned but Munakata had apparently urged the entire strings section to give their instruments names and he didn't intend to exclude Fushimi from that tradition. For his part Fushimi hadn't really cared about the name and so Munakata had been the one to christen the violin, eyes shining in amusement as he named Fushimi's instrument for a constellation, no doubt trying for some kind of connection between Fushimi's violin and Munakata's cello Tenrou.

Fushimi didn't see the point to such sentimental things like naming your instrument. All a name did was signify an attachment, as if it was a pet and not a tool to be used. An important tool, perhaps, but still a tool in the end. That his hands knew the feeling of every curve of the violin all too well, that his fingers brushed the strings with practiced ease, that the bow fit perfectly into the crease of his palm...all of that was immaterial. At the end of the day, a violin was only a thing to be used and discarded when that usefulness was past, like everything else.

His hand gripped the bow carefully as he raised the violin into position. It only took a moment to sift through the notes in his mind, scores played over and over and committed to memory. Fushimi took a deep breath, raised his bow, and played.

Music filled the room, flowing and practiced and Fushimi let his instrument do the work for him. There were times when he'd grown to hate music, to hate those notes dancing on the pages that fluttered away as Kisa ripped them from his hands, and there were still a handful of pieces he never wanted to hear again (and some he never wished to see either, one time favorites burned up by Niki in the fireplace, notes that turned to ashes whenever he tried to remember their place and he could never grasp them at all without them slipping through his fingers). But for the rest -- sound and measure, notes on a scale, filling his ears and his head, making things quiet in an entirely different way. His mind was always louder than any mere sound unless he filled it with his own music.

He had a metronome but never used it, didn't need anything but his own breathing to keep time. He did it flawlessly though, he knew it in his bones, held each note the exact right length, crescendo and decrescendo, perfectly in time and always the correct notes. Fushimi knew the notes as completely as he knew the instrument, pulling them out from the violin as easily as his own fingers pressed against the wood and the strings.

Fushimi breathed, in and out, the sound of the violin in his ears and his mind. It felt calmer now, the nervousness that had been running through his body finally easing with every note.

"Very impressive." Fushimi paused and looked up, not entirely surprised to find Munakata standing there in the doorway watching him.

Fushimi still wasn't completely certain what to think about Munakata, all things considered. Fushimi's initial impression had been that Munakata had to have been some kind of sheltered rich kid (not that Fushimi could make noise about that, he supposed) and that he had clearly grown up a musical prodigy, nurtured and praised and given every opportunity to indulge in the thing he enjoyed. Munakata Reisi, Fushimi was certain, had never had to hide his sheet music between the pages of a math textbook in order to save it from the fireplace. By all rights Munakata should have been the type of person that Fushimi hated the most. And Fushimi had hated him at first, the day he'd been assigned first violin and been immediately introduced to the orchestra's principal cellist.

But then he'd heard Munakata play and as much as Fushimi would have liked to deny it he had been captivated.

It wasn't just skill or precision, though Munakata had both of those in spades. There was just...something, about the way Munakata played the cello that made Fushimi's entire body hum with a strange sort of energy that he couldn't quite name. It was the sort of music he might have liked to play and was certain down to the depths of his being that he would never be able to, for all his precision and skill.

"Tch. You're late," Fushimi stated coldly, lowering his violin. "Were you intending to help me practice or did you just want to eavesdrop?"

"My apologies," Munakata said smoothly, stepping into the room. Fushimi noted that he was carrying a violin case rather than his usual cello. "I was called away to assist some underclassmen on my way here. I did enjoy listening to you play, of course. You are quite talented, Fushimi-kun."

"But you're still making me do this stupid 'special practice,' right?" Fushimi sighed. "Let's get this over with already. I want to go back to bed."

"Patience, Fushimi-kun." Munakata set down the violin case and began to open it. "Even the greatest of players may require additional practice at times. And as I mentioned to you the other day, I believe I may be able to assist you in becoming even more proficient than you currently are. Your playing is extremely precise, after all."

"That's a bad thing now?" Fushimi clicked his tongue and tried to keep his hands steady where he held the violin, that woman's voice already echoing in his ears.

"Why must you insist on that ridiculous violin all the time? How many times have I told you, such wasteful pursuits will do nothing for your future. Or do you really think anyone would be willing to pay you for such amateurish music?"

"Not at all." Munakata's smooth tones broke into his thoughts. "In fact such skill is rare, and praiseworthy. There is great potential in you, Fushimi-kun. I simply wish to help nurture it to its fullest extent."

"In order to make the strings section better than the brass?" Fushimi said acidly. Munakata's distaste for the hoodlums that made up the orchestra's brass section was well known.

"Perhaps," Munakata said with a slight smile. "I confess, Kokujouji-sensei did entrust me with maintaining the high skill level of the strings section. However, my motives for requesting this extra practice with you were self-motivated as well."

"What the hell does that mean?" Fushimi asked warily. Munakata always danced around his meanings and it was far too early in the morning for Fushimi to bother trying to decipher them.

"It means, Fushimi-kun, that I wished to hear your music." Munakata smiled, and Fushimi was struck suddenly speechless.

"I thought you played the cello." He redirected the conversation instead, nodding at the violin Munakata had just removed from the case. It was clearly an expensive one, far superior to the one in Fushimi's hands and he was keenly aware of it again, the difference between a prodigy and a person who'd just taught himself between study breaks.

"The cello is my preferred instrument," Munakata replied. He'd clearly noted Fushimi's attempt at changing the subject but seemed content to allow it anyway. "But I have of course studied various members of the string family. It has been some time since I have had the opportunity to play the violin, however, so I beg your patience with me."

"Hmph. Right." Fushimi rolled his eyes. He had no doubt that Munakata was about to outplay him easily, just to show him how much he was lacking.

"Oh, is the monkey trying to make music?"

Fushimi was always lacking, after all.

"I have brought music for us, of course," Munakata continued. "I had thought that a duet piece would be appropriate. I trust you are familiar with most of the common works?"

"I don't play duets," Fushimi said coldly. Munakata only laughed in reply.

"Then I shall teach you something new already."

"What's the point? I play better on my own anyway."

"Yet you have joined our orchestra," Munakata noted.

"I didn't have much choice," Fushimi muttered sullenly. His scholarship depended on his music, after all, and joining the orchestra had been a requirement. His parents certainly wouldn't be assisting him with his tuition and without the scholarship there would have been no choice but to attend whatever high-end university Kisa would likely have chosen for him.

"Nonetheless, you are part of an orchestra now and learning to play in concert with someone else is an important skill to master," Munakata said smoothly as he prepared his bow. "And the ability to play in smaller groups is beneficial as well. Should you choose to attend a competition, for example, being able to play in a duet or a trio can be a useful talent."

Fushimi didn't reply. He'd attended a few competitions, secretly applying and then taking buses and taxis to the location. He'd always played solo, without even a piano as accompaniment.

He played best on his own, after all. He didn't expect anyone to match him and so no one could expect anything of him, his fate hanging upon nothing more than his skill and his alone.

"Ah, I believe this piece should be appropriate." Munakata handed him several sheets of music and Fushimi took them reluctantly, setting them up on his stand. "Now, play as you would normally. I will match myself to your time, as we have no metronome."

"Is this really necessary?" Fushimi muttered even as he brought his instrument back up to play.

"As I said, Fushimi-kun...I wish to hear your music." Munakata carefully arranged his own sheet music on the stand in front of him. "Please begin."

Fushimi eyed him warily for a moment and then sighed. Clearly there was no way he was getting out of this, so he might as well give in. His eyes scanned the music for a moment, mentally going over the rhythm and pattern of the piece. It wasn't a piece he was familiar with playing -- a duet, after all, and he didn't play duets -- but that also meant there was no chance of it being one of the scores whose notes turned to flames in his mind and so there was no worry of having to explain to Munakata why he was suddenly unable to play a simple piece of sheet music.

Munakata brought his own violin up, the move practiced and elegant as he inclined his head just slightly to indicate that Fushimi should begin. Fushimi took a small steadying breath and touched his bow against the strings.

The first note flowed easily from the violin and a moment later he heard Munakata pick up his own part. Fushimi kept his eyes on the score, keeping the time easily in his own head -- three-four time, so one two three one two three, eyes keeping pace on the page as he played the notes.

"Stop, if you would." Munakata's voice snapped him out of his playing and Fushimi's instrument went quiet.

"What now?" Fushimi snapped, irritated. "That was perfect."

"Indeed," Munakata said, and there was something severe in his tone that made Fushimi grimace. "Your notes were indeed perfect. But it is not mere notes I expect you to play, Fushimi-kun, but music.”

“Aren't they the same thing?” Fushimi said darkly.

“To the untrained ear, perhaps,” Munakata said and Fushimi bristled slightly. “And beyond that, this is a duet. Tell me, Fushimi-kun, what did you think of my playing?"

"I didn't hear it," Fushimi said dismissively. "I needed to concentrate on playing my part."

"A duet is more than simply two musicians playing at the same moment," Munakata said. "Playing your own part flawlessly will mean nothing, if you fail to concentrate on the sound of the whole. Once again, Fushimi-kun."

He raised his bow and Fushimi did the same, trying to swallow down the sudden frustration building up inside him at being scolded despite not missing a single note.

Another moment's breath and Fushimi began again, already working out the tempo in his mind once more. He'd already more or less memorized the first few stanzas and he let his hands move on their own as he tried to listen to Munakata's violin.

There was a momentary clashing of sound, a missed note, and with a scowl Fushimi focused his attention back on the score. This was why he'd said it was pointless, he'd barely begun and already he'd missed a note–

"What is that dreadful screeching?" Kisa's face, blank and cold as she looked down at him, and he lowered the violin.

"Stop." Munakata's voice broke in again and Fushimi waited for the inevitable words of rebuke, the disappointment at his failure to even play his own part correctly. Instead Munakata only looked at him curiously. “Well, Fushimi-kun? What did you think of my playing?”

“Why does it matter?' Fushimi muttered bitterly. “I missed a note–”

“Is that why you believe I stopped you?” Munakata asked.

“Why else would you have stopped?” Fushimi tapped his bow lightly against his thigh, a nervous habit he'd never quite managed to break. “I missed a note and ruined the duet, right?”

“On the contrary, Fushimi-kun. Your playing was perfect as usual. It was I who missed a note.”

“That's why I don't like duets – wait, what?” Fushimi started in confusion. He'd heard the missed note clear as day but the idea that Munakata, the perfect upperclassman with a mastery of multiple instruments, could have been the one responsible hadn't even occurred to him.

“As I said, the violin is not my strongest instrument,” Munakata said. He seemed more amused than anything, as if a missed note was nothing more to him than a hair that had been blown out of place by the wind. “In fact, when it comes to this instrument I do believe that you are far more technically proficient than I.”

“Then why did you drag me out here for lessons?” Fushimi asked, annoyed. “If you don't have anything to teach me then this is a waste of my time.”

“There is more to music than technical accuracy, Fushimi-kun,” Munakata said. “That is what I am attempting to teach you. Your technique is flawless, Fushimi-kun, and I believe that may be where your fault lies. In order to learn to play more than simple notes that first thing we must do is teach you flaws.”

“That doesn't make any sense,” Fushimi said, exasperated. “I hit the notes as required, I keep time, I follow the score. Flaws in the musician only serve to ruin the music.” He could feel the bitterness seeping into his voice on the last few words, remembering the coldness in Kisa's eyes and the mockery in Niki's as they watched him struggle to produce a single beautiful note from the violin.

“Perhaps,” Munakata said. “Certainly in individual competition such a sentiment as mine could prove costly, where notes are expected to be perfected. And I would not suggest that you sacrifice your ability to play at all in service of an abstract goal. My point is this: when one places too much value on accuracy and precision over all else then there is a sense of...shall we say, freedom that is lost as a result. Your playing is exceptional, Fushimi-kun, but I believe it could only become more so once you learn to allow yourself to truly feel when you play.”

“Because music is about feelings,” Fushimi said acidly. Munakata laughed quietly.

“I believe perhaps we need to try a different approach.” Munakata reached over and took the sheet music from Fushimi's music stand, switching it with his own. “I shall take the lead this time. Please memorize your section of the score.”

“What?” Fushimi said blankly.

“I would like you to memorize the music in front of you,” Munakata repeated serenely. “Two minutes should suffice, I think.”

“You want me to memorize this entire score in two minutes?” Fushimi repeated. He'd memorized sheet music before, of course – it was the only way, when it became clear that he couldn't risk leaving it lying around his room. But two minutes for an unfamiliar piece, and a piece that he had already played part of the counter-section for and thus already begun committing to memory, that was stretching even his limits.

“Not at all,” Munakata said. “I am asking you to memorize what you can of this piece in two minutes. Then we shall play it again.”

“That's ridiculous,” Fushimi stated. Part of him wanted to throw the music on the floor and storm out. It wasn't as though he needed this, needed to stay here just to be ridiculed for his inevitable failure when he missed the notes he hadn't had time to commit to memory.

Munakata was still looking at him calmly though, a slight smile still on his face, and part of Fushimi suddenly knew that no matter what mess he made of this music Munakata would not ridicule him for it.

“Fine, fine.” Fushimi laid down his violin and leaned over the music, letting the notes burn themselves into his mind. “Two minutes, right?”

“One minute and forty-three seconds currently, to be exact,” Munakata said and Fushimi snorted, eyes not moving so much as an inch from the score in front of him.

“Are you prepared?” Munakata finally spoke again approximately two minutes later as he removed the music from Fushimi's stand. “I shall begin. I will play through the first several lines of my part multiple times so that you may orient yourself. Please feel free to join in as you wish.”

Without waiting for a reply Munakata raised his violin, his eyes now intent on his own sheet music. There was still a spark there though, even as his expression settled into one of concentration as he began to play.

Fushimi's mind immediately followed the line of the notes, the ones he'd played himself just a few minutes ago and he tried to keep them from mentally replaying and overwriting what he'd just memorized. Despite that he found himself suddenly caught up in listening to Munakata's playing.

It wasn't, as he'd expected, technically proficient. In fact there was a distinct sense of messiness to Munakata's playing that didn't suit him at all, completely at odds with the smooth perfection of his usual cello. Fushimi could immediately catch the occasional note that didn't quite flow, the momentary scratchiness of the changes between them, and somehow it made him feel almost more relaxed, knowing that even a person like Munakata had his weaknesses as well as his strengths.

It only took a few repetitions before Fushimi had a handle on Munakata's timing. He raised his bow, eyes half-closed as he went over the memorized music in his head one last time and then began.

He thought he saw Munakata smile a bit as they began to play together but Fushimi couldn't let himself focus on it, too occupied with trying to visualize the score in his head. As it was he knew that he wasn't quite perfect, there had been time to memorize the notes but little else and he could only guess at when to make his playing louder or softer. As he played he tried to keep half his concentration on the sound of Munakata's violin, trying to match the volume and pace of his playing to Munakata's.

Suddenly there was a slight skip, the smallest hitch in Munakata's playing and Fushimi found himself half a beat behind despite having kept time perfectly in his head. Fushimi fumbled for a moment, bow scratching against the strings roughly and he winced at the poor note, almost stopping. But Munakata was still playing, continuing the piece with no indication at all that he had noticed Fushimi's missed note, and somehow Fushimi knew that if he stopped playing Munakata would simply continue the piece to the end alone while Fushimi sat there awkwardly waiting.

The notes felt like a blur in his mind but Fushimi found his place and began again. His own playing sounded frantic to him in a way he didn't like but that made it sound more matched, somehow, like a perfect counterpoint to the almost serene mess of Munakata's.

He had nearly settled into a rhythm when Munakata skipped a beat again. This time Fushimi found it easier to compensate, having been half-listening for it. The section they were at was fast and he increased his pace momentarily to make up for the lost beat, slowly working into a crescendo and this time Munakata followed suit to match him rather than the other way around. They were still playing to Munakata's timing though and with the notes running a steady line through his mind Fushimi found himself listening to Munakata's music and his own as they played.

Munakata's violin technique really was lacking, Fushimi thought with a slight smile. Even without having memorized Munakata's entire part of the score it was easy for his ears to pick out moments where the notes didn't seem to be quite right, either missed or poorly played, and yet somehow he found himself captivated by the way Munakata's bow played the strings. There was something calm and steady in the beat of Munakata's music now as it adjusted itself to Fushimi's, a cool blue wave that swept over him and would drown him if he allowed it. Fushimi's own music seemed to swell in counterpoint to it and though part of him was dimly aware that he was surely missing some notes – for all he'd tried even Fushimi couldn't memorize an entire score in two minutes and he knew it, knew the notes were blurring together in his mind the further they played – but he couldn't conceive of stopping now. His own music seemed to entwine itself with Munakata's, two violins not quite in concert and yet perfectly matched anyway, Fushimi's sharp precise motions and Munakata's steady blue, and it felt like nothing he'd played before.

It felt...free, somehow, and Fushimi relaxed.

Munakata let the final note linger in the air for a moment and Fushimi followed suit, the sound echoing in his ears followed by silence that was so sudden it also made him feel dizzy for a moment. Fushimi lowered his violin, one hand touching the music stand as if to steady himself.

Then the silence was filled again, by the sound of steady clapping. Fushimi glared up at Munakata, who continued applauding anyway.

“Excellent,” Munakata said and Fushimi clicked his tongue.

“I missed half the notes,” Fushimi muttered. “I told you this was a stupid idea.”

“Perhaps,” Munakata agreed pleasantly. “Yet you played splendid music, Fushimi-kun. I must thank you for allowing me the privilege of hearing it.”

He smiled again, not the same blandly pleasant smile Fushimi was beginning to associate with him but something bright and brilliant, something that made Fushimi's heart pound as though he was in the middle of a difficult piece of music with no score at all to guide him.

“Your playing was terrible,” Fushimi stated, looking away with a scowl as he tried to recover himself. “Honestly, what was that? I stopped making mistakes like yours in middle school.”

“It seems I have need of more practice,” Munakata said, not at all offended. “Though I imagine I should have plenty of time to work on my technique, if you will allow it. I would be pleased to have another opportunity to listen to your music again. Shall we say this same time, tomorrow?”

Fushimi opened his mouth, prepared to refuse. This had been the stupidest excuse for a practice he'd ever had, after all, and he didn't play duets.

But he could still feel it in the beating of his heart, deep in his bones, that cool wave of blue and the exhilarating pulse of the music that he and Munakata had played, and Fushimi found himself nodding.

“Tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Fushimi was completely, absolutely exhausted.

He leaned heavily on the bathroom sink, staring at himself in the mirror. He looked like shit – his always pale skin nearly white despite the hot shower he’d just taken, his hair limp and tousled and there were dark circles clearly visible under his eyes. He ran his hands under the water and slapped his palms against his cheeks, trying to restore some color to his face.

He’d been working overtime for the past week and a half and Fushimi suspected that he could count the hours of sleep he’d gotten on one hand. There had been a situation involving a particularly dangerous Strain that Scepter 4 had needed to apprehend, one whose list of crimes had quickly included murder. As Scepter 4’s third in command, his presence had been vital for the operation’s success and there was no way he could’ve taken time off for anything stupid like sleep.

And he certainly couldn’t have taken time off for personal matters, even if he’d specifically requested it two months in advance.

“Saruhiko? You sure you’re okay?” It was Misaki’s voice, muffled by the closed door between them, and Fushimi ran his hands under the water again.

“Don’t be so impatient, Misaki.”

“All right, but if you don’t come out of there in the next ten minutes I’m breaking down the door. You’ve been in there over an hour.

“I’m fine.” Fushimi ran a hand through his hair, trying to get it to look something like presentable. Luckily his normal style wasn’t exactly put-together, so hopefully Misaki wouldn’t notice anything strange.

“Saruhiko…we can just stay home if you want.”

“I said I’m fine. I’ll be out in a minute.” Fushimi swallowed a yawn and forced himself to stand straighter. He still felt like shit but at least he looked slightly better. He only needed to hold out for a few more hours anyway.

Normally after working so much overtime he would’ve been more than happy to climb into bed and sleep off the after-effects until he felt better, regardless of whether Misaki had made plans or not. But there was something uncomfortably like guilt gnawing at the pit of his stomach and he pushed himself away from the sink and reached for the doorknob.

He’d intended to take the week off, to spend time with Misaki. Even though they lived together sometimes it felt like they were only acquaintances sharing space – Fushimi gone at all hours on Scepter 4 business and Yata off at his variety of part time jobs along with handling whatever issues came up at Homra. Misaki had clearly been looking forward to finally having some time together and even though he’d known how dire the Strain situation was the disappointment in his voice when Fushimi had informed him that their plans for the week would have to wait had been palpable.

The 20th of July had come and gone three days ago and Fushimi had spent the entire day at Scepter 4 headquarters, barely able to do more than fire off a quick ‘happy birthday’ text before being buried under piles of paperwork. Misaki hadn’t said anything about it specifically but there’d been a forced cheer in his voice when he’d told Fushimi not to work too hard and as much as Fushimi tried to ignore it, it had been bothering at him ever since, there in the back of his mind like an itch that wouldn’t go away.

Not that he owed Misaki anything – or maybe he did, and he knew it. That was something he’d been trying to work on, the part of him that always wanted to toss off those disappointments as unimportant, as expected, acting as though a broken promise and a broken date were nothing. But deep down he knew that it wasn’t – it had been important to Misaki and he’d destroyed it. It nagged at him and he’d found himself picking at it like a scab all that day and the next, every day forward from Misaki’s birthday on, the plans they’d made that he’d completely ruined.

So when the Strain was finally caught and Munakata had placed a hand on his shoulder and told him to go home, Fushimi had done so. Misaki had texted him – ‘Wanna go out someplace when you get back?’ – and even though every muscle in his body was screaming for him to just lie down in bed and sleep for the next three days the memory of that disappointment had made him send back a quick ’okay.’

Misaki had been excited and smiling when Fushimi had walked through the door, full of ideas about where they should go. His enthusiasm had dimmed considerably upon seeing Fushimi’s disheveled state and he’d nearly suggested that they postpone things for now but Fushimi had told him not to worry about it, claiming that all he needed was a quick shower and he’d be fine.

The shower had not been quick, and he was not fine.

“Saruhiko, are you sure you're–” He stepped out of the bathroom and nearly ran over Misaki, who was standing in front of the bathroom door with one arm raised as if he really had been planning to break it down.

“I’m ready.” Fushimi stuffed his hands into the pockets of the overly large hoodie he’d pulled on. Misaki gave him a curious look.

“Saruhiko…you know it’s really hot out there, right?”

“Movie theaters are always cold.” Fushimi clicked his tongue as he stepped past Misaki, doing his best to look as though he wasn’t about to pass out any second. “So? Are we going?”

“You know it’s really okay if we stay here,” Misaki said, following after him. “I mean, we could play video games, or–”

“You already bought the tickets though, right?” Fushimi said impatiently. “I’ll be fine. I needed a break anyway. So let’s go.”

“All right.” Misaki gave something like a fond sigh, hand brushing against Fushimi’s shoulder as he walked by. “Just don’t faint on me?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, eyes rolling at the absurdity of the comment, and then the world promptly decided to shift in front of him as he took a step forward. He recovered almost immediately, placing a quick hand on the wall to steady himself as he shot Misaki a furtive glance.

Misaki was already halfway out the door, no indication at all that he had noticed the slip, and Fushimi grit his teeth.

It was just a few hours. He could last a few hours, for Misaki’s sake.

“Come on, Saruhiko, you have to order some food!”

“Not hungry.”

Fushimi stared at the menu in front of him, entire concentration focused on keeping his eyes open. The movie they were planning on seeing wasn’t starting for another hour and so Misaki had suggested they go to a nearby cafe and have a quick snack.

He was still feeling lightheaded and it had taken effort to keep his mind focused on Misaki, who had been chatting animatedly the whole walk to the cafe. Fushimi had found himself losing the thread of the conversation and the quick look of concern Misaki had given him had made him feel like kicking himself.

After everything Fushimi had done to him, Misaki deserved to have one good day at least and so far Fushimi hadn’t been able to even manage giving him that. He’d covered the moment’s hesitation with an easy lie, pointing out a nearby billboard advertisement for some new skateboard shop and that had been enough to divert Misaki’s attention from the small slip. Misaki hadn’t stopped glancing back at him though, looking as though he wanted to say something and wasn’t quite sure how to word it.

“You’re going to get sick one of these days, you know.” Misaki sighed heavily, eyes still scanning his own menu. “At least get a sandwich or something? For me?”

“I’m not…” Fushimi stopped himself, grit his teeth. “Fine. I’ll eat…something.”

“Are you two ready to order?” The chirpy voice of a waitress broke in as if on cue. Misaki’s face immediately went red, fumbling with the menu as he tried to look anywhere but at her face and despite his exhaustion Fushimi couldn’t help but smirk a bit. Clearly, some things never changed.

“Ah, um, I’ll have…I’ll…” Misaki swallowed hard, closed his eyes and pointed. “This! I’ll have this.”

“Coffee,” Fushimi said shortly, handing the waitress the menu. Misaki gave him a stern look and he sighed. “Fine. And a flan.”

The waitress smiled and took their menus. Misaki kept his head down the entire time and Fushimi rolled his eyes. As soon as she was gone Misaki gave him an exasperated look.

“Flan, Saruhiko? Really?”

“I don’t want to hear that from someone who doesn’t even know what he ordered,” Fushimi said darkly. “You told me to get food, I got food.”

“I meant you should get something with nutrition! Seriously, Saruhiko, you look like I could snap you in two. You look like Anna could snap you in two.”

“You look like the waitress could snap you in two, since you’d be too busy blushing and stuttering to fight back,” Fushimi said idly and Misaki glared at him.

“A-anyway!” Misaki coughed and then leaned forward, looking at Fushimi with uncharacteristic seriousness. “Saruhiko…we don’t have to go to the movie if you don’t want to, okay? I mean, this is fine. We got to spend a little time together at least.”

Fushimi didn’t reply, unable to meet his eyes. His hands twitched slightly and he shoved them back into his pockets, trying to look calm.

He knew it, or at least he was trying to know it. It had taken them a long time to get to the place they were now – sitting together like this, calm and easy in a cafe as if it was the most natural thing in the world. And he knew too that if he told Misaki the truth, if he said he wanted to go home, Misaki would smile at him and reach out a hand and say 'let’s go.’

But there would be that tremor in Misaki’s smile again and the waver in his eyes and Fushimi wouldn’t be able to silence all the voices already whispering in the back of his head that Misaki could do better, that he was already ruining things and didn’t Misaki deserve someone who wouldn’t find impressive new ways to fuck up every good thing that came his way.

“Stop worrying about it. The movie you picked better not be stupid, that’s all.” Fushimi’s mouth snapped shut on the last word. This was definitely not the way to avoid ruining things, and he shifted. “It’s been a while since we saw a movie together. I was…looking forward to it.”

He had to force the last few words out through his teeth but it was worth it for the way Misaki brightened noticeably.

“Here you are!” A few minutes later the waitress returned, setting the coffee and flan in front of Fushimi. The coffee smelled good but his stomach was already churning at the thought of eating anything. Misaki would be watching, though, so he’d have to try.

Or maybe not, as the waitress returned a moment later with the largest, most ridiculous parfait Fushimi had ever seen and set it right in front of Misaki.

“Ah, w-wait, this is–” Misaki stared wide-eyed at the parfait. It was probably bigger than his head, and there were two spoons sticking out of it.

“The Strawberry Heart Cake Lover’s Parfait, right?” the waitress said, still smiling. “The one you pointed to.”

“Uh…yeah…” Misaki’s face dropped considerably and Fushimi couldn’t help the sudden shake of his shoulders as he tried to swallow back his laughter. Misaki glanced up at him from around the parfait and despite the situation there was a ghost of a smile hovering around his lips. “Hey, don’t laugh, Saruhiko! You’re helping me finish this, right?”

“Me?” Fushimi clicked his tongue and took a sip of his coffee. “You’re the one who ordered it, Misaki.”

“Well…it’s for two, isn’t it?” Misaki said, all false casual, and Fushimi felt his own face growing hot.

“I’m not eating that,” Fushimi stated. His stomach did another flip and he looked back down at the small flan that suddenly seemed infinitely more appetizing.

“Hmmph. I guess it’s too much for you, huh, Saruhiko?” Misaki had to stand in order to look at him over top of the confection between them. “I guess I can’t expect a delicate guy like you to be able to handle something like this.”

“Don’t think that will get me to help you with your girl’s dessert, Misaki,” Fushimi said pointedly.

“You seem awfully scared about trying any of my girl’s dessert,” Misaki shot back. He grabbed one of the spoons and held it out. “I bet you couldn’t even eat more than a couple bites of this.”

“Tch. I’m not falling for it.” The sickly sweet smell of the thing was making him feel like he might throw up and Fushimi took another quick sip of his coffee.

“Can you just give me a hand with this already?” Misaki sighed, completely exasperated. “Saruhiko… ugh, fine! Please, okay? Help me out here.”

Fushimi eyed him coldly. There was no way he was eating so much as a bite of that thing.

Misaki was looking at him with something like pleading in his eyes, face slightly hopeless as he fiddled with the spoon. There was chocolate sauce dripping onto his hands.

Fuck my life. Fushimi grabbed the second spoon from Misaki’s hand and reached over to take a bite.

He was going to be sick. He was definitely going to be sick.

Fushimi tried to keep himself from clutching at his stomach as he leaned against the wall of the movie theater lobby, playing with his PDA while Misaki paid for popcorn at the concession stand. Why the hell Misaki was insisting on popcorn when they’d just been forced to shovel down the most disgustingly sweet thing he’d ever had in his life was a mystery.

Fushimi’s stomach did another small flip just to remind him it was still there and Fushimi felt his eyes trying to slide closed again. He wondered if Misaki would notice if he fell asleep in the theater.

Probably. Fushimi sighed. Maybe if he was lucky the movie would be interesting enough to keep Misaki’s attention the whole time and Fushimi could catch a brief nap.

“You ready, Saruhiko?” The smell of popcorn accompanying Misaki’s arrival was almost enough to send him running for the bathroom but Fushimi bit his lip and pocketed his PDA instead, shrugging.

“About time. Do you really want popcorn after that…thing, Misaki?”

“Ugh, don’t remind me, Saruhiko. This is to get the taste out of my mouth.” Misaki tossed a piece in the air and caught it with his mouth. “Anyway, this’ll be so cool! It’s been ages since we’ve seen a movie together.”

“Yeah.” Fushimi couldn’t help a small smile at that, despite his nausea. The last time they’d seen anything together had been in middle school – a snowy day in December, when they’d had nothing to do and Misaki had dragged him to see some action movie that had come out months ago. The theater had been nearly empty, and warm, and they’d sat side by side whispering to each other the whole time about the plot and the special effects and the stupid one-liners. The memory made his stomach feel a little calmer.

They walked together into the theater and Fushimi immediately felt better about his decision to wear a hoodie. The theater was absolutely freezing and he couldn’t help but give Misaki a triumphant smirk.

Then Misaki’s hand reached out and grabbed onto his and he froze.

“Okay, it’s a little cold,” Misaki muttered. “But! That’s only because you’re a fucking twig, Saruhiko. You don’t see me shivering, right?”

“Because you’re a walking heater, idiot,” Fushimi replied, rolling his eyes and trying not to focus on the way Misaki was still holding onto his hand.

“Whatever. Front or back?” There were only a few people in the theater and the two of them clearly had their pick of seats.

“Back,” Fushimi said immediately. It would be easier to take a covert nap in the back rows.

They settled into a pair of seats directly in the center of the back row, the popcorn between them. Fushimi tried his best to ignore the smell, keeping his eyes averted as the previews began.

“So? What movie are we seeing, anyway?” It occurred to him that he hadn’t bothered to ask.

“I’m not really sure what it’s about,” Misaki admitted with a mild shrug. “But it’s got that guy in it! You know, from the movie we saw that time in middle school? The one with the funny hair who did the weird line readings that made you laugh.”

His eyes were shining even in the dimmed lighting of the theater and Fushimi found himself caught once again, entranced by that gaze no matter how many times it came his way – disbelieving, a little, that Misaki would still look at him like that after everything, and even if he’d wanted to he couldn’t hate it.

“So you bought tickets to a movie you don’t even know the plot of, just because of an actor you watched eight years ago?” Fushimi scoffed, trying to recover himself. The low lighting was already making his eyes hurt. “What if it’s some kind of stupid romantic comedy?” He couldn’t help a slow smirk. “There might be kissing, Misaki.”

“Shut up!” Misaki said immediately. “Anyway, the poster didn’t look like a romance or anything? It looked like there was action and stuff. It’ll be fine.”

It’ll be fine,” and Fushimi couldn’t help but sigh twenty minutes later as the movie was in full swing. Misaki was staring at the screen with a fixed expression, hands gripping the armrest of his seat tightly.

“Misaki.” Misaki all but jumped at the sound of his whispered voice.

“W-what?”

“You know this is a horror movie, right?” Of course he hadn’t, or they wouldn’t be here.

“Sure I did! I totally knew!” Misaki’s voice was shaky and thin and his eyes kept darting back to the screen. “Crap. Don’t open the door, don’t open the door…”

The actor on screen ignored Misaki’s whispered protestations and proceeded to blindly open a random door inside an unexplored crumbling building regardless of the fact that it probably hadn’t been properly inspected in decades and could come crashing down on him at any moment (and besides what kind of idiot explored an abandoned building at night without at least bringing along a single weapon, as far as Fushimi was concerned someone so stupid deserved to get axe murdered or whatever it was that was about to happen).

Something jumped out at the screen and Misaki gave a high pitched screech, popcorn flying everywhere as he latched onto Fushimi’s arm.

“If you’re scared, we can go,” Fushimi said mildly.

“Fuck you! I’m not scared.”

“You’re clinging to my arm like a three year old, Misaki.”

“I’m just…making sure you’re all right,” Misaki muttered. “Anyway, this is like…a date, isn’t it? People on movie dates hold onto each other. It’s…required, or something.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue in reply. A badly-rendered CGI ghoul appeared before the actor onscreen and Misaki choked back another scream, fingers digging into the fabric of Fushimi’s sleeves and showing no sign whatsoever that he intended to let go. Fushimi bit back a sigh. So much for getting any sleep.

The actor onscreen avoided the ghost and continued his exploration of the house while Misaki pushed even closer to Fushimi, eyes fixed on the screen and breath catching with every creak of the floor and ominous hissing of the wind, so close that he was nearly halfway onto Fushimi’s seat. Despite the chilled theater Fushimi’s face felt distinctly warm.

He supposed the nap could wait.


“I can’t believe you bought tickets to a movie without looking up even the barest details online.” Fushimi flinched slightly as they stepped out of the movie theater into the bright sunlight. With Misaki clinging to him he hadn’t managed to get even so much as a catnap in the theater and he was starting to feel stretched thin and cranky.

“The poster looked cool, okay?” Misaki crossed his arms. His face was still a little white and there was popcorn in his hair, a fact which Fushimi didn’t particularly feel like informing him of. “Anyway it was okay, wasn’t it? The CGI was cool.”

“You had your eyes covered for most of it.” Fushimi rolled his eyes and took a step forward. His vision swam suddenly and he stumbled slightly, barely managing to catch himself before Misaki could notice.

“I did not!” Misaki snapped. “I was watching the whole time!”

“Really? Even the part where the woman’s ghost came out of the closet wearing only a–”

“O-okay, maybe not that part,” Misaki said quickly. He sighed, running a hand through his hair and then looking down in confusion at the stray bits of popcorn stuck to his palm. “Well, anyway. Thanks, Saruhiko.”

“For what?” Fushimi clicked his tongue and tried to focus on keeping his steps from weaving.

“For coming with me on this stupid date,” Misaki said with a small laugh. “I know you’ve been super busy lately and all. Sorry for dragging you around all day.”

“Don’t apologize to me, idiot.” He was tired and the words came out harsher than intended. Fushimi’s hands clutched slightly at his stomach, which had started churning again. “You don’t have to apologize to me.”

“Saruhiko? Are you all right?” Misaki was immediately at his side, all concern, and it made Fushimi’s teeth clench.

“I’m…”

Everything seemed to float in front of him for a moment before turning upside down and then cold, and then black.

“Mmm…” Fushimi opened his eyes groggily. He was aware of something soft beneath his head and he shifted, trying to remember where he was and what had happened. There was a blanket wrapped around his bare shoulders and he realized that someone had taken his hoodie off.

Everything was fuzzy too and he pawed at his face for a moment before his brain caught on to the fact that his glasses were missing. He tried to sit up, looking around in mild confusion for a moment before a wave of dizziness overtook him and he laid his head back down. The pattern of the bedspread beneath him was clear enough to see at least and familiar, and he realized that he was back in his own bed at the apartment he and Misaki shared.

His head was pounding terribly and there was a foul taste in his mouth. Fushimi grimaced and curled up a little more under the blanket.

“Saruhiko? You awake?” Misaki’s hushed voice floated into the room. Fushimi’s eyes squinted slightly in anticipation of the light switch being turned on but Misaki left the light off as he approached the bed. There was the sensation of a weight settling down on the mattress beside him and a gentle hand touching his shoulder. “Hey. How’re you feeling?”

“Like shit.” Fushimi sighed heavily and rolled over to face Misaki. Even in the low light and without his glasses he could see that Misaki’s face looked a little strained, his smile frayed at the edges. “What happened?”

“Well, first there’s the part where we left the movie theater and you threw up in the middle of the street,” Misaki said and there was a clear note of concern underneath the broader annoyance. “Then you fainted and nearly gave me a fucking heart attack. Damn it, Saruhiko, I thought you’d just died or something! I had to carry you back here.”

Threw up and then fainted, and on top of that got to be carried home by Misaki of all people. Fushimi pulled the blanket over his head.

“…Sorry.” It sounded petulant and fake to his own ears and probably even worse to Misaki’s.

“Saruhiko…” He heard Misaki sigh but the hand remained soft on his shoulder. “You could’ve just told me, you know.”

“It wasn’t important.”

“The hell it wasn’t important, Saruhiko!” Misaki snapped. “I called that stupid boss of yours when I got you back here. When were you gonna tell me that you’ve been awake for thirty six hours straight?”

“I had coffee,” Fushimi said, well aware of what a thin excuse it was. He sighed. “You would’ve been disappointed though, right?”

“Huh?” He could hear the confusion clear in Misaki’s voice even without needing to see his expression. “Wait, Saruhiko…did you think I was gonna be mad that you decided to actually get some decent fucking sleep for once?”

Fushimi didn’t reply, clicking his tongue quietly instead. There was the sound of Misaki shifting and he wondered if he’d done it again – messed up something without even being sure what, and it irritated him how much he cared.

“Saruhiko…okay, yeah, I was a little annoyed when you had to stay at work on the days we were supposed to have to ourselves,” Misaki said quietly. “But I get that stuff happens sometimes. You don’t have to overdo it just to make things up to me, you know? I’d rather you just tell me things honestly instead of fainting from exhaustion and making me carry your stupid fainted ass home.”

Fushimi kept his face pressed into the pillow, hands clenching slightly.

“Can you look at me, at least?” Misaki asked.

“…Fine.” Fushimi raised his head just a little. His vision was still blurry and this time he couldn’t quite make out Misaki’s expression staring down at him. Misaki’s hands were gentle though, running through his hair.

“The movie and the cafe and everything were kinda fun,”  Misaki said quietly. “But…the reason I wanted to do all that stuff wasn’t just to do it. I made all those plans because I wanted to spend time with you. Even if it’s just this, that’s fine too. You don’t have to actually knock yourself out to make me happy.”

“I didn’t do it for you,” Fushimi grumbled. It was a lie and they both knew it was a lie, and Misaki’s hand didn’t stop stroking his hair.

“Right, right.” Misaki laughed softly. “Just promise you’ll tell me the next time you feel like shit, okay?”

“I guess,” Fushimi murmured. He still felt worn out but somehow it was a little better, with Misaki there next to him, and he found his hand reaching out to grasp Misaki’s.

“You want me to stay here until you fall asleep again?” Fushimi clicked his tongue and Misaki laughed. “All right. Get some rest, you stupid moron.”

There was still the mild taste of disappointment in the back of Fushimi’s mouth, the feeling that maybe he’d ruined something or destroyed something yet again, and he supposed when he woke up he’d be properly embarrassed by the mental image of his passed-out body being carried all the way home by Misaki.

But for the moment, with Misaki’s hand still gripped tightly in his own, Fushimi couldn’t feel anything but contentment.

Chapter Text

Fushimi Saruhiko was crying.

Yata really wasn’t certain how exactly things had come to this. Well – he was, he just didn’t know how it had gone this way so fast.

It had been approximately three weeks since the defeat of Hisui Nagare and the destruction of the Dresden Slate. In that time his relationship with Saruhiko had gotten better, slightly – they weren’t at each other’s throats anymore, true, and they’d even spent some time together just hanging out like in the old days. There was still an awkwardness between them though, a hesitance that was entirely different from the easy camaraderie of their middle school days, and Yata didn’t at all like it. On top of that Yata still didn’t know why they’d separated in the first place, still had no idea what had caused Saruhiko to leave him behind in the most painful way possible.

Saruhiko had promised to talk to him. All right, maybe not exactly promised – it was an ‘I’ll think about it,’ a maybe when you got right down to it, but Yata had been optimistic. Saruhiko, on the other hand, seemed perfectly content to let things stay the way they were forever, to stay stuck in their little bubble of half-friendship where they didn’t hate each other anymore but they weren’t really friends either. Yata had tried bringing it up himself a few times, tried to suggest that maybe they just sit down and lay things out and have a proper talk. Saruhiko always seemed to sense when it was coming though and always had a new excuse: had to get back to work, had to go take care of an emergency that had come up, had to change the subject. At this rate they were never going to get things out in the open and after years of wanting nothing more than for his best friend to come back Yata was ready to stop deflecting and finally understand.

He’d been complaining about it earlier that day, collapsed on a stool at Bar Homra with his head resting miserably on the counter. Saruhiko had by some miracle agreed to spend the evening with him – they were probably just going to play video games at Yata’s apartment and Yata had offered to cook him dinner and in truth Yata hadn’t been entirely certain if he was looking forward to it or not. Once the idea that Saruhiko might come see him just to hang out would have had him over the moon but now all he could think was that the evening would be full of tense silences he didn’t know how to fill, of dancing around each other and never meeting where they needed to, always at cross purposes and talking around the things that really mattered.

And the most frustrating part of all, that all of it could be avoided if only Saruhiko would talk to him. Except Saruhiko wasn’t talking to him because Saruhiko was an asshole who couldn’t speak his own feelings honestly unless in imminent danger of death and maybe not even then, and Yata was at his wit’s end trying to figure out what to do about the whole thing.

Yata had rambled about it a bit, sitting there at the bar with Kamamoto next to him and Kusanagi across the counter, complained about stupid Saruhiko and his stupid emotional constipation or whatever the hell it was. By the time he was done Kamamoto had been patting his shoulder comfortingly and assuring him that he’d figure something out. Then Kusanagi had smiled a bit and held up the wine glass he was polishing in his hands.

“Well, Yata-chan…as they say, ‘in wine, there’s truth,’ right?”

“Wait, wait, wait, Kusanagi-san…you want me to get him drunk?” Yata had been a bit taken aback by the idea. It felt…sneaky, somehow, like cheating, but on the other hand it wasn’t like Saruhiko was giving him much of a choice.

He hadn’t intended to do anything terrible, of course. The plan had been that Yata would just offer Saruhiko a drink and then maybe after a few glasses Saruhiko would be in more of a mood to talk. Yata had agonized a bit over what to buy – he wasn’t sure Saruhiko would be up for the kind of cheap beer most of the Homra guys liked to have whenever they came over and he didn’t exactly have a lot of extra money lying around to spend on fancy champagne or anything like that. In the end Kusanagi had given him a list of a few good but fairly inexpensive kinds of wine and Yata had stopped at a convenience store and bought a couple boxes.

Saruhiko had shown up at his door a few hours later, hovering in the doorway with the slight hesitance Yata was quickly coming to associate with him and didn’t particularly like. Yata had invited him inside, trying his best to sound smooth and casual as he offered Saruhiko a drink. They were both old enough for alcohol now, after all, and they hadn’t had much opportunity to drink together yet. Saruhiko had just walked past him without a word, sitting down on Yata’s couch still in his coat and scarf and with a stance that suggested he expected the coffee table to jump up and bite him any minute. He hadn’t really responded to Yata’s question, just shrugged as though he didn’t care, which Yata took as a good enough sign and he’d poured them each a drink.

In the end, it turned out that there were two things Yata had failed to take into account when he made this plan: one, Saruhiko had freakishly low tolerance for alcohol and two, Saruhiko was a weepy drunk.

Yata supposed that the first one of those was understandable, now that he thought about it. Saruhiko was still as skinny as ever, after all – even skinnier, really, though it was easy to forget with Saruhiko’s slender frame half-buried as always under the layers of his uniform and weapons and everything, the long coat and the scarf still wrapped around his neck but his wrists as always bird-thin and delicate, all bones. It was no wonder two drinks had been enough to have him red-faced and slurring as he leaned against Yata’s shoulder.

Yata hadn’t really expected the crying, though. If anything that had been the thing he’d worried about the most with his plan, that Saruhiko being Saruhiko would almost certainly be a grumpy surly drunk and the whole thing would just backfire on Yata and leave him with a Saruhiko even less willing to open himself up than when he was sober. And yet here they were, with Yata still working his way through his first glass of wine and Saruhiko sobbing messily against his shoulder.

“H-hey, Saruhiko, it’s all right, really.” Yata gently attempted to pry Saruhiko off his shoulder and was rewarded by Saruhiko clinging even tighter, bony fingers digging into Yata’s upper arm and face still pressed into the notably wet collar of Yata’s shirt. “Come on, calm down.”

“Missed you,” Saruhiko mumbled into his collar, words half-muffled by sobs and the fabric of Yata’s shirt. “Missed you. So much. Been so long and…missed you. Misaki’s smell. Misaki’s hair.”

“Yeah, yeah, I missed you too, okay?” Yata patted his head hesitantly, not entirely certain if the action would get his hand swiped at or not. Saruhiko made a hiccuping sound and Yata tried rubbing slow circles on his back. “It’s been a long time since we got to hang out together.”

“Because I ruined it.” Saruhiko gave another hiccuping sob. “’S what I always do. Ruin things.” He sniffled loudly and his fingers twitched against Yata’s skin. “It was all…all gonna be destroyed. Had to break it first because…because.”

“What are you talking about?” Yata carefully took hold of Saruhiko’s shoulders and tried to get him to look up. “Hey, Saruhiko…come on, stop crying, all right? We’re friends again aren’t we? You know I..” Yata coughed. “I was really excited about hanging out with you today. It—it felt like old times again, when it was just you and me.”

“Just me…and Misaki?” Saruhiko looked up at him hazily. His eyes were unfocused and bloodshot and his cheeks were distinctly flushed. There was a definite slur in his voice.

“Yeah, just the two of us.” Yata couldn’t stop the thin brittle smile that made its way across his face. “I didn’t think you’d say yes for a minute there. I guess…it just feels like I don’t really know you anymore? And it sucks because I want to know you. You were my best friend and I…I miss that. I miss us.” Yata swallowed, steeling himself for the question he knew that he had to ask. If he didn’t do it now he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to again, at least not in a way that would get him an answer. “You were the most important person in the world to me and you—you just left, like it didn’t matter anything at all to you. And I was pissed about it for a long time too, so much that sometimes I thought maybe it’d be okay the way we were, like I could just hate you and things would be easier. But when that King of yours told me about your mission and everything…all I could think was that you’d die without me ever getting the chance to really understand you. I wasn’t gonna let that happen, not again. So—so can you just tell me already? You said you’d figure out how to say things in a way an idiot can understand. I’m listening now, Saruhiko. Tell me why you left.” He swallowed hard, his own eyes stinging and Yata wondered if maybe Saruhiko wasn’t the only weepy drunk in the room. “Tell me what I did to make you leave.”

“Not you.” Saruhiko leaned against his shoulder, eyes downcast and still wet with tears. “Always me. It’s always me. That…society, didn’t fit.”

“Huh?” Yata was starting to wish he’d at least managed to leave Saruhiko coherent enough to form a proper sentence. Or maybe Saruhiko was trying to make sense, in his own way, and Yata only needed to find the thing that would finally help him decipher it.

Never fit.” Saruhiko looked down at his hands. “I was afraid. Of that person.”

“Someone made you afraid?” Yata said slowly, feeling a sudden rush of anger. Had Saruhiko been bullied in Homra, was that it? Had someone made him feel bad and Yata hadn’t seen, hadn’t known, had let it go on and that was why?

“Because I knew I was going to have to leave,” Saruhiko continued, stumbling slightly over his words. “I was…not like. Everyone. I didn’t worship him. He says, he says, ‘fine the way you are’ but that wasn’t ever…I wasn’t ever fine.”

“Saruhiko…” Yata wished he was smarter, could figure out a way around all the haze in Saruhiko’s mind and grasp the truth quickly and easily, so they could be friends again. “I don’t understand, okay? I know it’s probably kinda hard right now but I’m an idiot, so you have to say it plainly.”

“You’re not.” Saruhiko’s fingers tightened around his arm again. “Misaki’s…Misaki’s not an idiot. Better than me, always better than me. Misaki fits in everywhere. I don’t.”

“Yeah you do.” Yata tried his best to sound encouraging. Saruhiko looked like he was about to start sobbing again any second and then he’d be even harder to understand. “You fit in with those Blues, right? And…” He took a deep breath. “And you fit in at Homra too, right?”

“No.” Saruhiko looked away, a small sob almost like a laugh escaping his lips. “You still don’t see. You never see me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Yata couldn’t help the frustration running through him. “Who else do you think I’ve been looking at since forever? You’re my best friend, you idiot, of course I was looking at you. You’re…you’re the one who left.” He forced the anger down, eyes blinking rapidly to dispel his own tears. “If you were unhappy there, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because. You were.” Saruhiko swayed against him and Yata suddenly wondered if Saruhiko was going to throw up and maybe it would be better to move him somewhere that wasn’t leaning against Yata’s shoulder. “Everyone understood but you. Everyone. They knew I…didn’t fit. Because I was afraid, because I wasn’t…I wasn’t one of you. He knew it. He knew it was a mistake.” He held up one hand, staring at it blearily. “ 'Take this hand.’ I was a mistake from the start. Because it hurt and it didn’t, it didn’t hurt Misaki, just me, always just—I didn’t belong and Misaki belonged and Misaki didn’t understand when Misaki was—was the only one who did. I took his hand for you even though I was afraid but I…I couldn’t…” He shook his head, words dissolving into a random collection of slurred sounds Yata couldn’t quite sort through. He’d heard enough though, and he gently pried Saruhiko away from his shoulder, holding onto him so that Saruhiko could look him in the face.

“Wait. You were…afraid? Of Mikoto-san? Why didn’t you say something?”

“Mmm.” Saruhiko wavered back and forth, eyes unfocused and cheeks red. “It didn’t matter. He knew I didn’t belong. Just…just a matter of time, until I had to leave. So I didn’t need any of that…comrades, any of that…” He waved a hand vaguely and Yata just stared blankly back at him. “Misaki didn’t need me anymore anyway. You had him. We weren’t…we weren’t the same, anymore.”

“So what?” Yata growled, almost shaking with the frustration of everything – that he still couldn’t completely understand, that they’d let something that seemed so stupid go on so long, that he’d missed so many years when they could have been together all for something that didn’t seem to make any sense. “If you’d told me I would’ve understood. I would’ve tried. I mean – yeah, Homra was everything I’d been looking for. But I thought it was what you wanted too. If you’d just told me…”

“If I have to say it, it doesn’t matter.” Saruhiko shrugged with his whole body, wavering again as though he was about to faint and Yata wondered if he should find somewhere for Saruhiko to lie down.

“That’s stupid, Saruhiko.” Yata wanted to punch him, almost, if that was what it took to get things through Saruhiko’s head. He’d forgotten about it somehow – how much of an idiot Saruhiko was sometimes, about things that it seemed everyone should know. “You just had to talk to me. That’s what friends do. Yeah, I didn’t get it. I still don’t really get it. But you didn’t understand me either, you know? If you had, you would’ve known that all you had to do was say the word and I would’ve tried to make things better for you. I don’t know what the hell I could’ve done to—to make sure all this didn’t happen. But I would’ve tried.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Saruhiko pulled away from him then, swaying as he tried to struggle to his feet. “It would've—would’ve been destroyed, would’ve broke, would’ve burned–

His legs promptly slid out from under him and Yata scrambled to his feet, just catching Saruhiko before he fell.

“H-hey, careful!” Saruhiko sagged against him and Yata shifted a bit under his weight. “Um…you should probably lay down somewhere, okay? You’re probably gonna have to stay here tonight anyway, no way am I letting your drunk ass go back to your place alone.”

Saruhiko murmured something incomprehensible against his ear and Yata sighed a bit as he adjusted his grip. Carefully Yata half-dragged Saruhiko into the bedroom, wondering idly if having Saruhiko throw up on his bed was going to be any better than having him do it on Yata’s shoulder.

“Okay, down you go.” Yata tried to lower Saruhiko onto the bed but suddenly he found a bony hand twisting in the fabric of his shirt and Yata was dragged down onto the mattress beside him. Saruhiko was staring at him with a vaguely dazed expression, eyes half-lidded and Yata could smell the alcohol still on his breath.

And lying there side by side Yata could see it through the dip in Saruhiko’s shirt collar, the mess of burnt flesh visible on Saruhiko’s skin.

“Why did you do that to yourself?” Yata found himself reaching out as though to touch the scar and Saruhiko didn’t move, didn’t even flinch, eyes dark.

“Anthill,” he said, shrugging.

“What?” Yata’s brow furrowed, curious, and he thought that he must definitely be drunk himself or else he would have pulled his hand away, not reached out further so that his fingers pressed against the ruined skin. It felt rough under his fingers, painful, and he wondered how it must have felt for Saruhiko all this time.

“It was an anthill.” Saruhiko said it as if it should make perfect sense with just that, and Yata tried to shake his head even as his fingers continued to travel carefully across the scar.

“You have to be clearer than that.” Yata said the words slowly, deliberately, trying to keep his focus when Saruhiko was looking at him that way, breath hot against Yata’s skin. “I’m an idiot, remember? Say it like an idiot can understand.”

“It was…a perfect system.” Saruhiko stumbled slightly over the last word and he was blinking away tears again. “No one…everyone had a place? No one was…unneeded. It was…a precious thing and then.” He shrugged. “That guy burned it.”

“Wait. Burned it? Who…” There was a sinking feeling in the pit of Yata’s stomach, the slow realization that he was about to hear something he wouldn’t like but that he needed to hear. “Saruhiko. What…” He swallowed. “When was this? Did I know you then? How did it get burned?”

“Six. I was six.” Saruhiko’s head fell back slightly, hands pressing against Yata’s own as Yata continued to touch Saruhiko’s scars. “It was mine, and that guy burned it.”

“So…by 'that guy’ you mean…your dad set something on fire? Something you cared about?” There was a definite sick feeling in his stomach now, along with the desire to hit someone who had been dead for years.

“Not for the last time. Everything I loved…poof. Covered in gasoline.” Saruhiko laughed quietly then, soft, broken, and it hurt Yata’s ears to hear it. “So this time, I thought I’d be the one who lit a match.”

Yata felt a horrible rush of understanding, the explanation he hadn’t wanted to hear and suddenly he found his arms wrapping around Saruhiko, pulling him close.

“You idiot,” he murmured into Saruhiko’s hair. “You stupid, stupid idiot. Why did you do that to yourself, you stupid…we weren’t going to be destroyed. You didn’t have to do that.”

“Someone was going to set it all on fire,” Saruhiko whispered and Yata could feel his shirt getting wet again. “Misaki didn’t understand. Misaki loved Mikoto more than anything, and I would just be…anyone. It broke. I decided to break it. Otherwise it would hurt too much, when it broke.”

“You didn’t have to do that,” Yata repeated it, as if saying the words could make them sink into Saruhiko’s mind. “We wouldn’t have broken at all, you stupid idiot. Even if you didn’t belong…even if I didn’t understand…it doesn’t matter. You were important to me, you jerk. Did you think I was just…just gonna throw you away because we didn’t want the same thing anymore?”

“Wouldn’t you?” Saruhiko looked at him, alcohol on his breath and eyes wet with tears and suddenly he was reaching up, hands grasping at Yata’s shoulders as he pushed himself up and pressed his mouth against Yata’s.

It was clumsy, awkward, a mess of mouth and tongue and scrambling hands as Saruhiko pushed against him. Dimly Yata knew that he should push Saruhiko away – he was drunk, after all, clearly not in his right mind at all and there were still tears drying on his cheeks and a desperation to his movements that was entirely unlike the usual Saruhiko with his impeccable control and cold hands, but even so there was something so right about it, about Saruhiko’s lips on his that made it impossible for Yata to pull away. He leaned into the kiss instead, tugged Saruhiko closer, hands so tight around his arms that Yata was sure there would be marks left tomorrow on Saruhiko’s skin.

Saruhiko pulled away then, panting hard, and stared at Yata with eyes still shining with tears.

“Saruhiko…” Yata touched his cheek, lightly, and Saruhiko smiled.

And then promptly threw up all over Yata’s bed.

“I’m going to kill you, Misaki.” Saruhiko was half curled up on Yata’s couch, clutching a pillow to his chest. His hair was a mess and his face was pale and sickly. “Once my brain stops trying to leak out through my ears, I’m going to kill you.”

“Yeah, yeah. Here, drink.” Yata set a glass of water down in front of him and Saruhiko curled up tighter around the pillow, glaring. “Come on, stupid monkey, stop looking at me like that. It’s not my fault you’re a lightweight.”

“Tch. It’s not my fault you decided it would be a good idea to get me drunk.” Saruhiko’s voice was decidedly sulky and Yata laughed quietly as he sat down on the couch next to him.

“I wasn’t trying to get you drunk,” Yata said. “I just wanted you to talk to me.”

“You got your wish, then.” Saruhiko’s voice was flat and cold, fingers clenching around the pillow.

“Saruhiko…” Yata sighed, running a hand through his hair. “You could’ve just talked to me.”

Saruhiko didn’t reply, eyes downcast.

“You gotta trust me sometime, you know,” Yata added a little irritably and Saruhiko clicked his tongue.

“Says the person who got me drunk.”

“I said that was an accident!” Yata shook his head. “And anyway, you threw up on my bed so I think we’re kinda even now, right?”

Saruhiko shrugged, pointedly looking away. Yata rolled his eyes and reached for him, tugging lightly on Saruhiko’s arm and causing him to overbalance, nearly falling into Yata’s lap.

“Misaki, what the hell are you–”

“Can you just try a little, okay?” Yata said, holding Saruhiko’s face between his palms in order to force Saruhiko to look at him. “I care about you, Saruhiko. I’ve always…you don’t have to set it on fire, you know? We’re not gonna break. You don’t have to…you don’t have to be so afraid, all right?”

“I’m not afraid,” Saruhiko muttered. “Why the hell would I be afraid of an idiot like you?”

“I don’t know, you were the one crying on my shoulder all night,” Yata shot back and Saruhiko glared. “I’m serious, Saruhiko. Even if I don’t understand it doesn’t matter. Make me understand. Don’t stop talking to me until I understand. I know there’s some stuff in your past and everything that you don’t like talking about” – “I was six” and Yata knew he would never forgive that, never forgive that guy even if he was long dead, for everything he’d taken from Saruhiko that even Yata couldn’t entirely give back – “and that’s okay too. But if you let me in a little I promise I’ll listen. So…just don’t turn away from me, okay?”

Saruhiko was still staring up at him and with a sudden rush of feeling Yata leaned down and kissed him, slow and gentle and he could feel Saruhiko relax in his arms as he carefully returned the kiss.

“Promise me you’ll try, okay?” Yata murmured quietly as he pulled back.

“…I’ll try.” Saruhiko’s response was grudging but clear, and Yata smiled as he leaned down again. Saruhiko angled his head up to meet his, and Yata held up a hand between his face and Saruhiko’s.

“Hey, Saruhiko…your breath kinda still smells like vomit, you know?”

Saruhiko glared in reply and threw the pillow at him.

Chapter Text

The walk home was long and dark.

Totsuka had always been too light, a butterfly that could blow away with the wind. Somehow that made it seem all wrong how heavy he was in Kusanagi's arms, skin cold and clammy against Kusanagi's chest. The blood had long stopped flowing but it still congealed against Kusanagi's clean white shirt and made a stain. There was no helping that though, not really, and Kusanagi didn't bother to shift his grip. He'd wash it tomorrow.

Behind him there was a soft sniffling sound, quiet hiccups punctuated by Yata's shuffling footfalls. It would have been lighter, Kusanagi supposed, if they'd both carried Totsuka home. But he had been the one who had said he'd bring Totsuka back to Mikoto, and Yata's shirt was covered with enough of Totsuka's blood as it was. Yata didn't need this memory to add to what he'd already gathered, didn't need to recall carrying the body home in his arms. Kusanagi kept his steps even so that Yata could keep up and didn't ask him to take any of this burden too.

We should have brought the car.

He hadn't even thought about it at the time. All that had mattered was getting to Totsuka as fast as possible. They'd been able to figure out where he was fairly quickly, the rooftop of the Hirasaka building. Yata knew the back roads of Shizume even better than Kusanagi did and it was quicker to follow his directions, running through alleys and side streets as fast as their legs could go. It had seemed more sensible to make it there with his own legs rather than worrying about traffic jams, about inconvenient stoplights. Better to be moving than stopped waiting and impatient when every moment counted, when every breath could be Totsuka's last.

There was no point in beating himself up about it now, Kusanagi knew that. Perhaps the car could have gotten them there faster, perhaps not. The only difference was whether they got to hear Totsuka's last words or not. Kusanagi had realized it the moment they saw his body laid out on that roof – there was no way they could have saved him, not if they'd arrived five minutes earlier or ten. No doubt Totsuka was beyond help from the moment Kusanagi had heard his voice over the phone, weak and shaking speaking Kusanagi's name, and suddenly Kusanagi couldn't recall how Totsuka's voice had sounded saying it before. In his head that would always be the echo, Totsuka's voice fading as his life bled out on the rooftop.

Another soft hiccup behind him, and Kusanagi straightened up slightly.

“We're almost there, Yata-chan.” His voice didn't shake. Maybe it would hit him later, alone in the bar, or sitting on his bed. Maybe it would be like a punch to the gut or a slow slice to through the stomach that oozed and bled the same way Totsuka's wound had. Maybe later he would cry or curse. But right now, with Totsuka heavy in his arms, so much heavier than he'd ever been before, Kusanagi couldn't afford to cry.

Behind him he heard something like an affirmation, Yata swallowing hard and trying to keep steady a voice that was thin and hollow like a reed.

“Kusanagi-san—Kusanagi-san, I can--”

“Don't worry about it, Yata-chan.”

“But—but I can--”

“Yata-chan.” His voice was gentle and didn't shake, his grip didn't waver. “You've done enough. I've got him.”

Yata swallowed again and nodded, choking back another sob. Kusanagi looked back and gave him an encouraging nod – not a smile, not quite a smile because he couldn't do what Totsuka had done, couldn't fake things that easily, and he couldn't be Totsuka. But Yata seemed to gather himself, walking forward with eyes still red from tears, and Kusanagi turned his face back towards the road in front of them.

We'll have to tell Anna too...no, she'll already know. Anna always knew those things. She'd be supporting Mikoto right now too, even through her tears. He would take that over when he got back, let her be a child and cry all for her own sake. He would have to make sure she wasn't watching when he brought the body back in though. He didn't want her seeing it until they'd cleaned him up a little, washed the blood out so that Totsuka would only look as if he was sleeping.

He would have to call the rest of Homra. Kamamoto first, he was reliable, he could be trusted to get the word to the rest. Kusanagi would need to contact Scepter 4's Lieutenant himself though. They would surely have heard of it by then – Scepter 4 kept tabs on the entire city, and he hadn't exactly been stealthy about taking Totsuka down off that roof. Someone would have heard the gunshot and seen them walking away. He would need to tell her what had happened and make sure Scepter 4 stayed out of this.

Then there was the matter of the funeral. Totsuka didn't have any family, so Homra would take care of that. Mikoto would probably want to...well, that was for later too. He needed to get Totsuka home first.

He didn't recall the streets being so narrow here, or the shadows stretching on so far. Kusanagi kept a steady pace this time, nothing like how he'd run through them on the way to the rooftop. Maybe he should have had Yata take his skateboard, get there quicker. But that wouldn't have done any good either. It would still have been too late, and Yata would have had to wait there by himself while Totsuka died in his arms anyway, hoping fruitlessly that Kusanagi could do something when he got there.

I did come for you. It was a cold comfort. He'd told Totsuka to wait and promised that he'd get there. Totsuka had smiled a little as he'd died. It wasn't really comforting, but Kusanagi could almost pretend that it was.

The walk was longer than he'd expected. Surely they must almost be back. He could still hear Yata trying to pull himself together and Kusanagi gave him the courtesy of not looking back.

“Almost there.” Such hollow words, but he heard Yata give something like an affirmative. They had to be almost back now.

Yata held onto Totsuka's camera, because Kusanagi's hands were full. He'd watch the tape later, once they were back. There were too many things he had to take care of first. Kusanagi adjusted his grip – really, when had Totsuka ever felt this heavy – and cataloged it in his mind. He couldn't leave Totsuka in the bar. Probably best to take him into the basement, lay him out. Kusanagi would need to call someone to clean up the body. If they could get the bullet out he might be able to find out what kind of gun it had come from. He didn't want Anna to see him bringing the body in, so once they got in sight of the bar he'd send Yata ahead.

Mikoto would want to get revenge.

Kusanagi knew what that meant and for just a moment his hands trembled on Totsuka's skin. It was only a moment though, and Kusanagi gathered himself. Too many things to do. They would have to hold some kind of funeral. He'd need something to cover Totsuka's body with. He'd need to send out summons to the rest of Homra's gang, even the ones he rarely saw, make sure everyone focused on finding the killer.

Ah. He'd forgotten to order new wine for the bar, hadn't he. Anna's cake was still in the fridge too. Kusanagi needed to balance the books for the week, he'd been in the middle of that when Totsuka called. Mikoto was probably out of cigarettes. When had he last put gas in the car.

Totsuka's hobbies were still scattered all over the bar. He'd have to clean them up some time.

A cigarette would have been nice, but his hands were full. Kusanagi kept walking, counting the steps in his head, adding ledgers and mixing new drinks, planning a funeral, and Totsuka's body was too too cold in his arms, too much of a weight.

It would all hit him later, Kusanagi supposed. Homra needed him now, so there was no time for anything else.

Yata sobbed quietly in his wake, and Kusanagi walked forward.

Miles to go.

The bar was quiet as Kusanagi poured out a pair of drinks.

Everyone was gone. He supposed Kamamoto had taken Anna home with him and he hoped she would be able to get some sleep.

Mikoto's body was in the basement, covered by a sheet, and Kusanagi lowered his head, pressing the glass to his forehead before taking a long drink. The brandy burned down his throat.

He would have to take care of all the arrangements. Mikoto didn't have any family either, now that Kusanagi thought of it. Cremation would probably be what his friend – his King – would have wanted, so Kusanagi would have to take care of that too. He didn't bother to take the piercing from Mikoto's ear. Blood would mingle into ash, just as Mikoto would want.

At least I brought the car this time.

He'd driven home with Mikoto in the back seat. Kamamoto had brought his motorcycle, so Kusanagi had asked him to go ahead and take Anna back. He couldn't ask her to ride in that car the whole way back with Mikoto's wound still bleeding out sluggishly in the backseat.

If he was a different person Kusanagi supposed he would have been angry. If he was a different person he would have yelled at that body, shaken Mikoto by the shoulders, demanded answers. But he'd known what the outcome would be the moment they went to Ashinaka, so this time Kusanagi had prepared. He'd brought the car.

It would have been more fitting to leave Mikoto upstairs on the couch – his usual couch – but Kusanagi doubted it would meet the standards of the health code to have a dead body in the bar. So the basement it was, again. He'd burned the other blanket so he'd gone upstairs and taken one off Mikoto's bed instead.

The bar's lights were off but streetlights still streamed through the window, illuminating the bar in patterns of moonlight and shadow. Kusanagi's own shadow was just to his right, slightly off center, and if he looked at it out of focus he could almost pretend there was someone in the next chair, reaching for the glass of brandy.

Totsuka's things were still there in the corner. There was a pack of Mikoto's cigarettes next to the ashtray. He'd have to throw them all away.

It would all hit him later. He was sure of it.

Kusanagi took a cigarette from Mikoto's pack and lit it, even though it wasn't his brand. The smell that filled the air was familiar and a little sickly, and he leaned his head back.

They never drank that bottle of wine, did they? And he never helped Totsuka with his last hobby. What had he last told Mikoto here, before they went to check out that lead about the gun, before Mikoto had turned himself in to Scepter 4? No, before that – what had they talked about, before Totsuka left the bar that final evening. That last supper, in the restaurant, Mikoto staring askance at the strawberry fizz. He couldn't remember the taste of the food anymore.

There was too much to do, and Kusanagi didn't have time to remember it. He'd carried Mikoto from the snow to the car, from the car up the steps into the bar. He should probably be the one to send Mikoto off too, even if his fire wasn't as strong as Mikoto's. Would it be cruel to invite everyone else, make them attend again after they'd already watched Totsuka turn to nothing on the beach. Would it be crueler if he did it now, alone, and denied them all a chance to say goodbye.

He shifted, and the chair scraped against the floor. Light reflected through the untouched glass, amber shadows on the floor, and a haze like ghosts moving through the air. Kusanagi couldn't recall the last time he'd drank alone.

Red burned at the tip of his cigarette, and Kusanagi wondered how to mix a strawberry fizz.

He chuckled quietly and the echo sounded lighter and softer, a voice saying 'it will be all right.' It wouldn't be, he knew that. But that was for later. He had too much to do tonight.

Maybe he would take a trip. Germany was nice this time of year, wasn't it? Kusanagi brought the cigarette to his lips again, Mikoto's taste, Mikoto's red. He should have pierced his ears.

Kusanagi let the cigarette die in the ashtray and took another drink. His hand flashed out, nearly of its own accord, and the next thing he knew the glass beside him was a scattering of shards on the floor, spilled drink drying on the old wood. Kusanagi stared down at it and added another thing to the list.

I'll have to clean up the glass. When was the last time I swept the floor?

That would be for later too. He'd find time to cry later, he supposed. He'd feel it later. Right now, he needed to finish his drink and get Mikoto's body ready for the funeral. He'd need to make arrangements for the bar, and for Anna. He'd have to stand there on the beach alone this time, surrounded by mourners, and put reassuring hands on shaking shoulders. He needed to get his affairs in order, needed to make sure Anna was taken care of, that his businesses could run for a while without him. He should call Seri-chan, let her know he'd be away for a while and if she could keep an eye on everyone he'd appreciate it.

His drink was empty, so Kusanagi poured himself another. He needed to make phone calls, needed to write letters. Needed to put up some pictures on the wall, and take others down. Needed to figure out when his shoulders had started shaking, so he could make them stop.

Shadows danced on the wall, empty chairs and emptying glass, and Kusanagi at the bar alone.

It would hit him later. But for now there was too much left to do, and he had miles yet to go before he could sleep.

Chapter Text

Totsuka-kun calls it ‘gay chicken.’

Munakata has never heard of such a game, and indeed he isn’t certain what a gay chicken has to do with the way he and Suoh remain constantly at odds. Being the student council president, it is simply Munakata’s job to keep an eye on those wayward youth who require more guidance in life.

Suoh in particular has clearly from the start required more guidance than most. Munakata has caught him twice now smoking behind the school during lunch break in just this week, and it’s only Wednesday. There was also the matter of sleeping during homeroom, getting into various fights with other delinquents and the issue of his hair color, which Munakata suspects is not quite as natural as Suoh wishes everyone to think it is.

It is for this reason, and this reason only, that their paths cross more often than not. Naturally if he had his way Munakata would see no reason to spend time with such an incorrigible person. Munakata has far better things to do than pin Suoh to a locker and lecture him on the proper way to wear a school uniform (it was Suoh’s friend Totsuka Tatara who also described Munakata’s actions as 'pinning him up against a locker.’ For his part, Munakata was simply trying to make certain that his words were being properly heeded, and he’s always thought it best to maintain close and consistent eye contact when trying to make one’s point in a clear and concise manner).

Totsuka has been giggling about it for nearly two weeks for some reason. In fact, it occurs to Munakata that there has been some school gossip in general about his relationship with Suoh – why they need to 'get a room,’ and what exactly they are supposed to do there, he’s not entirely certain. Somehow Munakata suspects that everyone’s gotten their 'relationship’ – if that’s even the best term for it, and he doesn’t believe it is – entirely wrong.

“'Gay chicken,’ Totsuka-kun?” Munakata attempts to slide the lunch tray under Suoh’s arms, Suoh having rested his head on the cafeteria table in an apparent attempt to sleep through lunch, utterly ignoring the importance of proper nutrition and its relationship to school performance.

“It’s a new game, Munakata-san!” Totsuka nods his head emphatically. On his opposite side Suoh’s other friend Kusanagi Izumo groans and puts a hand to his head. Suoh doesn’t even so much as grunt, and Munakata considers 'accidentally’ hitting him in the head with the tray. “No one’s sure who’s winning yet, you or King.”

“I was unaware we were playing a game.” Suoh snores, and Munakata’s elbow just somehow manages to find the back of his neck. Suoh doesn’t even blink, much less wake up.

“That’s the fun part.” Totsuka’s eyes are shining and Kusanagi’s very deliberately not looking at any of them. “You see, Munakata-san…” He leans over to whisper the rules in Munakata’s ear.

“I see.” Munakata considers. He hadn’t expected Suoh to play this kind of game, but then again Suoh’s thought process is as always entirely opposite of what Munakata would assume any normal person’s should be. That he’s possibly being toyed with and hasn’t noticed until now is perhaps a bit irritating, as Munakata has always been quite proud of his observation skills. That he might be losing is even more bothersome.

Not that Munakata would care about such things. Munakata has had his entire career path complete with schooling and eventual government position mapped out since he was five, and so far his plan has been proceeding just as he’d hoped. Something as trivial as this…'gay chicken,’ being played by a layabout with no ambition at all like Suoh, that is not and has never been in his calculations.

Suoh snorts and Munakata looks down, just in time to meet his gaze. Despite having presumably slept through the entire conversation Suoh is smirking, and Munakata’s eyes narrow in displeasure.

Munakata decides that he will not be losing to such a person, not even in the most trivial of ways, and that is the absolute and only reason that he grabs Suoh by the collar and hauls him up so that they are face to face before promptly and purposefully pinning him to the lunch table with a kiss.

Munakata is still unsure as to precisely what kind of game gay chicken is supposed to be, but either way he intends to be the winner.

“Suoh, please refrain from snoring during the movie.”

Mikoto looks at him sidelong, eyelids heavy over piercing eyes, not so much sitting in his seat as draping himself over it like some manner of large sleepy cat. Munakata suggested the movie, a fascinating true crime documentary that he’s been wanting to see for weeks. Suoh agreed, presumably in order to keep from losing the game too badly.

(They have been playing gay chicken for three months. So far, they have been on five dates, three of which were initiated by Munakata. Mikoto has gained a brief lead by being the first to kiss with tongue. Munakata is determined to regain his advantage and assumed that making out in a movie theater would at least give him enough points to draw even, if Suoh could stay awake long enough for Munakata to initiate the kissing.)

“ ’S boring.” Mikoto yawns, head thrown back, hair tousled. One leg is propped up on the armrest between them, and Munakata irritably shoves it back down. Mikoto grins in response, that absolutely infuriating – (intoxicating) – grin of his, and Munakata is not amused.

“My apologies. Perhaps a children’s movie would have been more to your taste.”

“Not my fault you suck at picking out dates, Munakata.” Mikoto reaches over and grabs a fistful of popcorn out of the bag propped on Munakata’s lap, tossing it into his mouth. Bits of it stick to his hands and he wipes them on his pants, even though Munakata brought plenty of napkins for just this reason.

“I have not been impressed with your abilities in that department either, thus far. Please use a napkin like a civilized person.” Munakata holds one out and Mikoto very deliberately wipes a hand on his pants again, still smirking.

He is honestly the most irritating man Munakata has ever met. Munakata has no idea why anyone would willingly subject themselves to spending time with such an insufferable person – the wild red hair, the slow rumbling voice that drawls out nothing but nonsense, those golden eyes that look like they belong to some beast from the savannah. A person with no plans and no ambition, who had looked at Munakata’s carefully laid future path and rolled his eyes, wondering why Munakata willingly chose to put himself in society’s cage.

“Being this close to you absolutely disgusts me,” Munakata says, taking one of Mikoto’s hands and very slowly putting his mouth around one of the fingers.

Within five minutes Suoh has his back against the flat of the chair with Munakata leaning over him and Munakata’s certain they both hate it, breathing each other’s air, and as soon as he stops kissing Mikoto’s lips he intends to say as much.

Munakata is fully aware that Suoh is entirely unequipped to handle a proper wedding, which is why when the time comes he takes matters into his own hands.

Certainly he’d been surprised, when Suoh had decided to escalate things by proposing. Until that moment Munakata had assumed that his lead was secure, having initiated physical relations months ago. Surely there was no way Suoh could top that (well, topping had been another issue entirely, which Munakata had intended to thoroughly discuss if Suoh hadn’t told him to shut up and take his clothes off). Suoh had responded by stopping by the small government office where Munakata was currently working as an intern and all but tossing a ring at him.

“Oya? Such an unexpected gift. I was unaware that you were fond of fine jewelry, Suoh.” Munakata had put the ring on his finger, admiring the perfect fit while Mikoto just shrugged.

“Figured a frilly guy like you would expect a fancy engagement ring.”

(Suoh works as a bouncer and Munakata doubts that it pays much, so he made certain later to thank Kusanagi Izumo for the ring.)

Proposal being now off the table, Munakata knows there is only one way to maintain his lead in gay chicken. He knows that Suoh will be working in Kusanagi’s bar in the afternoon, so he makes certain to stop by and drop the paper off in Mikoto’s hands.

“What’s this?” Mikoto unrolled it, leaning against the bar and letting his cigarette get irresponsibly close to the paper in his other hand.

“A marriage certificate. Please be assured that I have made certain everything was executed according to law. If you would sign here please.”

There’s a slightly bemused look on Mikoto’s face as he grabs a pen from the bar counter and signs his name before handing the certificate back to Munakata. Munakata feels the pleasant flush of victory as he places the paper back inside his jacket pocket.

“Very good. I will see you back tonight at our apartment for the wedding night.”

“Oi. Munakata.” Munakata stops at the sound of Suoh’s voice and turns. Suoh has one hand resting on his chin, leg propped on a chair, a puff of cigarette smoke billowing in the air as he gives that smile Munakata has become all too accustomed to (the one that perhaps, if Munakata were in the business of giving up points, would make a pleasant twinge run down his spine).

“Yes, Suoh?”

“Hope you planned a good honeymoon.”

Munakata returns the smile with his own triumphant smirk. Naturally he already has the plane tickets ordered.

They’ve adopted a cat.

Munakata picked it up from some foster for troubled pets or something like that. Its name is Saruhiko and Mikoto’s pretty sure the damn thing hates his guts. The stupid thing hisses whenever Mikoto walks by and it’s already turned two of his pillowcases into fancy ribbons and stuffing. It spends half its time clawing up the sofa and the rest of the time outside baiting the neighbor’s chihuahua

“Suoh. It is your turn to feed the cat.”

“Eh?” Mikoto opens his eyes and sees Munakata there staring down at him, standing beside the couch. There’s already grooves in the cushions from how often Mikoto’s slept there. It was his decision to buy it, since Munakata insisted on picking out the wallpaper and the flooring and every other bit of the apartment.

“I have fed Saruhiko already today, and I have work to finish. If you could feed our cat, please.”

Our. Mikoto snorts, not even bothering to get up.

“It’s your stupid cat.”

“Our cat, Suoh.” Munakata leans down to pet the cat and Mikoto swears the little demon takes a swipe at him, which Munakata easily manages to avoid. “He is hungry. If you could feed him.”

Mikoto huffs but sits up, rubbing the back of his head as he swings his feet over onto the floor. Saruhiko promptly claws his ankles and Mikoto leans down to pick it up by the scruff of the neck.

“Adult cats are not meant to be carried that way.” Munakata’s tone is filled with light admonishment and Mikoto sighs, putting the cat back on the floor. Saruhiko promptly hides under the couch, blue eyes glaring balefully out at him. “Remember to heat the food up before you give it to him. And do not use the old bag, he does not eat anything older than four days.”

Damn picky cat. Mikoto stretches, heading towards the kitchen.

“Suoh.” He glances back and Munakata smiles triumphantly, the ring on his finger reflecting gold off the rims of his glasses. “I believe I am winning.”

“…Right.” Mikoto disappears into the kitchen, looking for the cat food. He doesn’t intend to let Munakata win forever, of course. The bastard’s insufferable enough as it is.

Eventually Mikoto will probably tell him, that he stopped playing gay chicken years ago.

Eventually.

Chapter Text

“Come on, Saruhiko, take your shirt off already.”

    “Tch. This is stupid.” Fushimi sat on the table with his arms crossed, body closed in and tense, the line of his shoulders held high as if he could keep Misaki out by body language alone. Yata sighed heavily, putting one hand to the side of his head.

    “Look, it’ll help, all right? That King of yours said the muscles might tense up in your leg and that a massage could help.”

    “My leg. So you don’t need me to take my shirt off. Since when do you know how to do a massage anyway?” Fushimi scoffed lightly, one hand falling down absently to brush against his upper thigh. Beneath the fabric of his pants he could feel the bandage still wrapped tightly around the wound that had not quite healed completely yet, a slowly growing scar. Two weeks had passed since he had returned from the depths of jungle and after a week of being told he needed to ‘rest’ he’d finally been allowed back on light duty to get some actual work done. His absence had clearly been felt at Scepter 4, judging by the mess that had greeted him when he’d arrived in the office, and he’d spent the last several days trying to get things sorted into something resembling sensible shape.

    He’d been living with Yata for most of those two weeks – a temporary arrangement, at least as far as he was concerned. They’d talked, but that was nothing. It didn’t change the years that had come before, the things that had been said and done. Fushimi knew that, and he didn’t expect things to be forgiven and forgotten.

    Yata seemed to have other ideas though, and navigating that was its own mess. And Fushimi, in his own way, was trying.

    But that didn’t mean he had to consent to a massage, and he didn’t know why he’d even nodded when Yata had brought the possibility up.

    “One of Chitose’s friends showed me how to do some stuff a while back. You gotta stay loose in order to ride a skateboard, you know? What’s wrong, you worried I’m gonna bruise your delicate skin or something?”

    There was a soft teasing edge to the words and Fushimi looked away with a huff.

    “Saruhiko, listen. You’ve been super stressed lately, right? Even an idiot like me can see it. Every time you come back from the Blues’ place you look like you wanna stab someone. And I saw you limping! Just let me try to help, okay? If it’s uncomfortable you can say so and I’ll stop.”

    Fushimi glanced back from the corner of his eye, another refusal lingering on the tip of his tongue. Yata was staring at him with a look of not-quite-exasperation, like a parent trying to cajole a troublesome child and the expression couldn’t help but stir old memories in the back of his mind, empty rooms and cold rain against the window – “If I was your mom I’d be totally pissed!”, pineapples in porridge – and Fushimi gave a sigh that he felt down to his bones.

    Maybe he hadn’t changed at all, that he still wanted to call out even when he knew better. His leg was throbbing slightly but the pain in his back and shoulders was worse, his eyes sore from staring at a screen too long, a line of tension along his spine that made his whole body feel coiled like a spring. And here was Yata again, without being called, offering warm hands and easy smiles, and Fushimi still didn’t know how to vocalize the things he wanted.

    Change, as if he could.

    “Fine.” Yata’s entire face brightened at the word, so easily pleased by even the smallest of peace offerings. “But you had better be decent at this, Misaki.”

“Don’t be such a worrywart, Saru!” Yata wound up one arm as if preparing to play baseball, a confident shine in his eyes. “You’ll feel way better after this, trust me. It can’t hurt to try anyway, right?”

    Fushimi clicked his tongue in reply and Yata rolled his eyes, still grinning.

    “So take off your shirt and lie down.”

    “You’re going to do this on the kitchen table.” It was a flat statement, not a question, and Yata flushed slightly.

    “Hey, it’s not like we have a massage table lying around! I put a towel down, it shouldn’t be too hard on you.”

    “People eat on these things, Misaki.” Fushimi managed a mocking lilt to the last word, the sort of thing that only a month ago would have made Yata flinch to hear it, and the fact that it just made Yata smile wider now caused an odd sort of fluttering feeling in Fushimi’s chest. Immediately he turned away and peeled off the layers of his uniform, coat and vest and shirt, feeling cold even though Yata’s – their – apartment was kept as warm as he remembered. He’d wondered, too, when he’d agreed to move in, if Yata had always kept the place at just this temperature or if he’d turned up the heat as soon as Fushimi had given his consent to 'give it another try,’ knowing how quickly Fushimi got cold.   

He hadn’t been feeling quite that way lately, those old chills fading away in ways that Fushimi couldn’t entirely understand. Things that changed, and things that didn’t. Navigating temperature was a concern he hadn’t considered, because he wasn’t used to this sort of thing. He hadn’t told Misaki that he’d gotten used to cold because Scepter 4 didn’t have heat in the dorms, and he didn’t know why he hadn’t said anything when he could have at any time.

    Fushimi reached around and carefully unhooked the knife harness last, feeling naked without it even though he was still mostly clothed. He heard Yata make a sound like a cough and there was a flustered edge to his voice when he spoke.

    “So, um, go ahead and lie down. I’ll start with your back.”

    Fushimi shrugged in agreement, not looking up – somehow he couldn’t bring himself to take in Yata’s expression right now, because his face was feeling hot again even though his torso was cold. He climbed onto the table, lying down on his stomach with his arms crossed beneath him and his chin resting on the back of his palms.

    “Well?” Yata was hesitating, and Fushimi clicked his tongue. “You were going to give me a massage, right, Misaki?

    “G-give me a sec, okay!” Yata fumbled with a small pale pink bottle, unscrewing the lid and rubbing pearl white cream between his fingers. A scent like vanilla lingered in the air, slightly artificial, and Fushimi wrinkled his nose.

    “What is that?”

    “Um…massage cream? It’s supposed to be good for your skin, and the scent’s kinda…soothing, I guess? Anyway, it’ll help with friction and stuff.”

    “How professional,” Fushimi said dryly and Yata gave a sheepish laugh.

    “Sorry I couldn’t find anything that smelled like 'blood and flesh.'” Fushimi ducked his head and Yata gave a triumphant grin as he moved to position himself alongside Fushimi’s back. Fushimi couldn’t help but tense momentarily, waiting for the touch of those fingers on his skin, but Yata seemed to be wavering beside him.

    “Misaki…?” Fushimi murmured the word with his head still down, and he could see Yata’s body jump slightly.

    “S-sorry.” There was a touch of fingers on his back, light at first and a slight cool shock from the massage cream, and then Yata pressed his palm into the small of Fushimi’s back. “I just didn’t…”

    “Didn’t?” Fushimi prompted, when the silence had gone on too long.

    “Saruhiko…did you always have all of those…?” Fushimi could feel Yata’s fingers dancing carefully over a thin line along his skin, where Fushimi knew a red band lay flat like a cattail across the width of his back. It dug into his sides and up along the shoulders, slightly burned in, and Yata’s fingers followed the scar.

    “There wasn’t time to adjust the harness.” Fushimi’s voice was matter of fact, calm. He usually took the harness off to sleep, kept it oiled and clean, adjusted the fit as needed. But the last few months, doing his best to gather jungle points and then stepping right into the belly of the beast, it wasn’t really all that surprising that he’d felt it necessary to leave it on even when he slept. The straps had begun digging in after a few weeks and he knew the scars wouldn’t heal easily, but it was a sacrifice he’d been willing to make.

    It wasn’t as if he’d held any illusions then anyway, as to his odds of surviving the mission. What were scars to a dead body, after all?

    “Saruhiko…” Yata’s voice dug deep into him along with the press of his palm but he didn’t say anything else, kneading at the skin, and Fushimi gave a soft hiss when he pressed too deep against one of the scars. “Sorry.”

    “It’s fine.” Fushimi’s voice was short and clipped. There was a ghost of hesitation in the air, as if Yata wanted to say more, but nothing came and Yata’s fingers curled along his spine. Fushimi could almost imagine new scars growing there, small red marks in the form of Misaki’s fingerprints, that would sink down inside and mark themselves on his bones.

    He didn’t change, even after he’d burned everything and left it all behind. Misaki’s touch still made him feel like he was on fire inside, no matter how much he tried to maintain ice in his veins.

    “Tell me if it hurts, all right? This is supposed to make you feel better, so…” Yata’s hands grasped his shoulder blades that jutted sharp into Yata’s palms. Fushimi shifted, lowering himself forward, mouth set in a line and silent as Yata put more cream on his hands and worked the vanilla scent into his skin. Yata’s hands kneaded upwards, slightly rough, and Fushimi couldn’t help a small grunt. Yata paused for just a moment, obviously waiting for the order to stop, and then started again when no reply came.

    It felt…not bad, if Fushimi had to admit it. He could feel the callouses of Yata’s hands against the scars and marks on his own back and Yata’s movements weren’t unpleasant – not entirely gentle but then that wasn’t the sort of person Misaki was, Fushimi didn’t expect any sort of gentle treatment. But it wasn’t entirely rough either, careful in a way that seemed unlike Yata and yet perfectly suited to him at the same time, as if Yata was concentrating wholly on the pale back in front of him, doing his best to heal rather than hurt.

    The small of Fushimi’s back began to itch and the vanilla scent was tickling his nose again, and Fushimi tried to keep his focus on the feeling of those hands on his back. This wasn’t bad. It was… familiar, even though Yata had never done this for him before. But there was a closeness to it that reminded Fushimi too much of the old days, of falling asleep on each other’s shoulders during a long bus ride, of cutting each other’s hair, of bandaging each other’s wounds after a fight. The sort of thing that made him want to relax even as it made him want to get up and run, the old fears burning through his veins again, warning him it wouldn’t last.

    His chest itched, and Fushimi’s fingers clenched slightly with the desire to scratch. The vanilla scent had turned acrid, into smoke and fire, and he took a steadying breath and tried to focus on Yata’s touch.

    Nothing was going to burn. He had to try and believe that. If he didn’t, he’d never move forward and he was trying, trying to be something more than what he’d always been. Fushimi took another deep breath, let the scent of the air linger in his nostrils. Vanilla, and Misaki.

“Saruhiko. Hey, Saru, you awake?”

    “Tch. As if I could fall asleep with the way you’re manhandling my back.”

    “I told you to say if it hurt! Anyway, turn over.”

    “Why?” Fushimi tensed again, face buried sulkily in his arms. Lying on his stomach wasn’t so bad, because he didn’t have to look Misaki in the face.

    “So I can get your chest too. I told you, this’ll help with the stress.”

    “Fine, fine.” Fushimi gave a heavy sigh, just to make certain Yata knew what a favor Fushimi was doing for him by following directions, and then propped himself up on his arms. There was a light draft across his bare back and the absence of Yata’s fingers was somehow palpable. Fushimi swung his legs back over the edge of the table and then lay back down. The ceiling light above him seemed too bright and it made him feel light-headed as he leaned his head back.

    “Relax, okay?” He heard Yata shift, a step closer, and Fushimi kept still. One of Yata’s hands touched the lower area of his stomach and Fushimi could tell by the searching of his fingers that Yata was feeling upwards towards the curves of his ribs. Fushimi risked a glance at him; Yata’s brow was furrowed and his lips were pursed in clear disapproval of Fushimi’s condition but he didn’t say anything, just placed his other hand alongside the first and kneaded upward. The sensation was unexpected and Fushimi heard his own breath hiss between his teeth. Yata paused for just a moment, waiting again for the order to stop, but Fushimi kept his eyes averted and no order came. The hands moved again, further up, and then Yata stopped.

    “Misaki?” Fushimi glanced up at him again but Yata didn’t even seem to notice. His gaze was pinned to Fushimi’s chest, drawn there as if by a beacon, and his fingers had stopped moving just inches from the mess of mangled flesh that had once been the spot where his Homra tattoo had been clearly visible.

    “S-Saruhiko…” Yata looked up before Fushimi could look away and his face was painted with a hundred expressions that flitted by one by one – horror, concern, sadness (betrayal) – and Fushimi couldn’t help but watch him. When Misaki felt something he felt it with his whole face, emotions written like a book across the arch of his eyebrows, pages between the downturned corners of his mouth that moved in a paragraph of harmony all together.

    Whenever he thought of Misaki it was always that sort of novel in Fushimi’s head, wholly joy or wholly anger, betrayal, everything, Misaki showed it in every part of his expression. Fushimi had never been able to capture those words in his own face and so he returned Yata’s look with a flat emptiness in his own expression, mouth a thin line of secrecy, sealed shut.

    “It doesn’t hurt.” Lies still tasted bitter, even after all this time, but Fushimi was well used to bitterness. If it made Yata feel better, that made it fine.

    “It hurts.” The book of Yata’s expression was scrawled dark with anger and something old and poisonous crawled up Fushimi’s throat, the desire to laugh, to tease, to draw out all that fury onto his body. His skin felt tight, all the work Yata’s hands had done loosening the strings undone and wound back into a spring, waiting to snap. “Dammit, Saruhiko, why….!” Yata shook his head and his fingers dug slightly into Fushimi’s skin. The pain felt dull, like a blade.

    “It doesn’t matter anymore, right?” They were past it. The scar was still there, ugly and red and ingrained in his body, disease in his blood, but they’d moved on. This was all that was left.

    “Yeah, it does!” Yata swallowed hard, one hand moving away from Fushimi’s skin, hovering against Yata’s own chest where Fushimi knew the twin to his own mark lay, untouched and clear. “Saruhiko….I know – we talked, and you explained and I mean, yeah, I kinda get it but – say I’m an idiot again, okay?” Yata took a deep breath, steadying himself with a maturity that shouldn’t have been possible for Misaki (but then, Yata had changed too, hadn’t he, when Fushimi wasn’t looking). “Explain it to me in a way even I’ll understand. Why did you do it?”

    “Why?” It was like bile in his mouth and Fushimi spat the words out as if trying to rid himself of a poison. “I had to. That was what changed everything.”

    “I know you didn’t want stuff to change. But you didn’t have to—you didn’t have to hurt yourself!” Yata’s words were choked and his eyes were shining as his fingers unconsciously traced the edges of the scar, and Fushimi felt lightheaded for a moment as he realized that the pain in Yata’s voice wasn’t the same as before, not the pain of a remembered betrayal – Misaki was concerned. For him.

“I didn’t want it.” Dull words, like the mud dragging him down in his brain, and Fushimi leaned back to look up at the ceiling. “This thing…” He clicked his tongue, disgusted. “You said it, right? Our pride. Homra’s pride. So I didn’t want it.”

    “Homra’s…” The word slowly died on Yata’s lips, and Fushimi heard the rustle of fabric as the line of Yata’s shoulders tensed and he leaned in. “Is—is that what you thought I…? I wasn’t talking about Homra, you idiot!”

    “What else would you be talking about?” Fushimi clicked his tongue again, raising himself up on his arms so he could look Yata in the face. “Suoh Mikoto’s pride. If that was the important thing to you, I wanted to burn it. The pride that took my place, I didn’t need anything like that.”

    “I meant our pride.” Yata’s face was turned down and his fingers trembled on Fushimi’s skin. Fushimi stared at him and suddenly Yata looked up again, eyes wide, face filled with an emotion that made Fushimi’s chest feel tight enough to cut off any breath he could draw. “It was ours. You and me, Saruhiko.”

“Don’t lie.” Fushimi threw the words back at Yata, even though he knew that Misaki couldn’t lie to save his life.

    “I’m not lying!” Yata leaned forward and Fushimi almost fell back, their faces too close for his liking even though Yata’s hand had been on his chest all this time. “Listen, Saruhiko….yeah, it meant Homra’s pride for a while, because you were gone. But when we got these – okay, it was cool having something Mikoto-san gave me, something that would always be here. Yours too, though – Kusanagi-san said it, right? No one else had these in the same place. Just you and me, we’re the only ones who matched. And it was like – like even the Red power was saying it, that yeah, Saruhiko and I are meant to be together forever. Sometimes when I put my hand on it I felt like I could hear your heartbeat, you know? Like this was something that was sending my thoughts to you, that you could feel me and I could feel you. When I said all that stuff when you – that time in the alley, about this being our pride, I meant us. You and me. For me – for me, this always meant you and me first.”

    Yata was looking at him so intently now, that open book scrawled across his face, every feeling, no lies, no artifice, no trying to make him feel better. Just Misaki’s face, feeling everything, and Fushimi’s eyes slid to where Yata’s other hand was pressed again his own clothes, right above Homra’s mark.

    “Anthill. It was an anthill.” Fushimi didn’t expect Yata to understand that when he hadn’t explained anything about it yet – he’d explained things, sure, and they’d talked, but there were things Fushimi held close to his chest still, as if he was afraid letting them go would let all the cracks inside of him burst and everything would come spilling out like a flood, leaving him empty.

    He’d destroyed it because destroying this precious thing would hurt Yata the most.

    He’d destroyed it because destroying this precious thing would hurt himself the most, so he would never forget that he couldn’t have anything precious.

    Yata leaned back anyway, and nodded. There was a shadow in his eyes as looked at Fushimi’s scar, the hand moving away from his own chest to hover over Fushimi’s mark again, not quite touching, and Fushimi wondered if somehow Yata had understood the thing he couldn’t bring himself to explain in words.

    100 points.

    “You can touch it.” The words came out before he realized, and Fushimi leaned back again.

    “Huh?” Yata blinked, glancing over at him.

    “A massage needs to get everything, right?” Fushimi’s words were clipped and he kept his face averted, as if he was only talking sense. “If you need to touch it for that, go ahead.”

    He could feel Yata’s eyes on him, surprised, and then Yata licked his lips and nodded.

    “Tell me if I hurt you at all, okay?”

    “You won’t.” The scar still hurt sometimes, itched and burned even in open air, and Fushimi’s own fingers well knew the best ways to bring out those sharp stings of pain. But Misaki’s hands weren’t his own, and Fushimi knew this touch wouldn’t bring him pain, not anymore.

    The touch was slow and hesitant at first, entirely unlike the Misaki who always ran headfirst into everything. It was careful and fluttering, as if Yata was pressing his fingers against the throat of a baby bird, an awkwardness that spoke of someone trying to keep their own strength in check. Yata’s fingers traced the edges of the scar, mapping the corners of the burnt flesh. Fushimi didn’t flinch and that seemed to make Yata bolder, moving his fingers along the old traces of the Homra mark that were still there – still there, would always be there, a reminder of something dead and gone, a past that he’d tried to throw away but which remained even so. It felt alive under Misaki’s hands, burning in a way it hadn’t for years and Fushimi could almost hear it in his ears: a heartbeat, matching his own, skipping beats as those fingers kneaded against the charred mess of his skin, gentle, soft massaging circles, and it wasn’t anything like pain.

    “Saruhiko…?” Yata’s voice sounded worried and Fushimi turned to meet his gaze.

    “Keep going.” Yata’s heart was beating wild – or maybe it was his own, or maybe both in the same time, and he wondered if Misaki could still feel it as his hands worked along the scar. His other hand matched the motions on Fushimi’s other side, one hand against the scar and one against unbroken flesh, each with the same slow reverent touch, Yata’s hands tracing patterns down his sides and back up again. Fushimi’s breath caught in his throat and he felt rather than heard Yata’s do the same, heartbeat stuttering a staccato beat against his ribs, Yata’s fingers pressing in along the old scar. It might have been pain but he couldn’t feel it that way now, not against Misaki’s fingers – Misaki’s hands weren’t his own, Misaki’s fingers weren’t here to tear at that flesh until bled. Misaki’s hands were searching, curious, careful, mindful of his feelings when even Fushimi himself tried to pretend they didn’t exist, and his back arched slightly up from the table as Yata continued his slow careful exploration of Fushimi’s skin.

The vanilla scent lingered in the air again, and Fushimi sneezed.

    “Saruhiko?” Yata’s motions slowed and then ceased, and Fushimi thought Yata’s face looked slightly red. Fushimi’s own face felt hot and he dismissed it as a side effect from staring up at the ceiling light so long.

    “Are you done?” He hadn’t expected the hoarseness of his own voice.

    “Huh? Oh, y-yeah, I think so!” Yata jumped slightly, shifting as if he was a child hiding a secret. “Did…was it okay? Do you feel any better now?”

    Fushimi sat up slowly, one hand going reflexively towards the scar on his chest and then moving away – somehow it felt like it wasn’t his own hand that he wanted to touch that spot now, not anymore.

    “It was…fine.”

    “Oh. Um, good? Here, you can put your clothes back on, I’ll start cleaning up here…” Yata turned away to screw the top back onto the bottle of massage cream as Fushimi swung his legs over the side of the table. It was definitely his own heart that wouldn’t stop pounding but he could feel the echo of Misaki’s too, like a song in his ears, one that he hadn’t heard in a long time but still knew all the words to.

    “Misaki…” Fushimi pressed the back of his hand against his mouth, hunched his shoulders and the let out a slow breath between his teeth.

    Change, right?

    “Yeah?”

    “….Thanks.”

    Yata’s head whipped around to look at him, eyes wide, and this time Fushimi didn’t look away. A slow smile spread over Yata’s face and up to his eyes, like sunlight creeping across a plain, and Yata laughed.

    Fushimi’s skin was still tingling all over with the memory of Yata’s touch, and it didn’t take even a moment’s thought for Fushimi to smile back.

Chapter Text

It starts the day after he killed Suoh Mikoto.

Munakata wakes up that morning and he feels a tightness in his throat, irritating, because all he did was his duty – Munakata's decided on his chosen path as a King and all he did was what the Blue King had to, so he's not going to allow himself to look back, or to regret. His throat hurts though, like he can't breathe, and it's strange because he's never suffered from allergies or anything of the sort. It feels like something's stuck there, roots reaching up from his chest and clawing up his throat, and Munakata thinks 'this isn't grief.'

He gets up, changes into his uniform, and coughs up a flower petal.

From that point on it's a regular occurrence, always there in his throat, settling in his chest. He can feel it like a plant growing between his ribs, branches and leaves winding around to make a cage of his heart. He knows it will only grow thicker, vines and thorns, and maybe someday it will squeeze so tightly his heart won't be able to beat. But until then the flowers crawl their way up his throat, a constant cough that won't go away. Munakata's good at hiding it of course, because he's always been the sort of person who maintains perfect poise in every situation. He sits in his office and listens to Awashima give her report of the Ashinaka High incident – which is what they're calling it, not the Colorless Incident, not the Red King's grave – and he nods and gives his orders, and when she's gone he coughs flower petals into his tea. The petals are red like blood, floating in the cup, and perhaps there's something thin and amused in his smile as he stirs the tea with his finger.

A week passes, a day, a month. A new Red King rises out of the ashes of the old, and there are still flower petals in Munakata's throat, dotted like blood on his lips. When he meets Kushina Anna at the foot of the Mihashira building she looks at him for a long moment – 'I will not blame you for it, but I will not thank you either,' and he has not asked for either from her – and he suspects she can see it, the cage of branches and deep red blossoms holding his heart in check. There is red shining deep in her eyes and it's nothing at all like Suoh's, because Munakata knows Suoh's red. The bright burning fire that could tear everything to pieces, heat in those rough hands that had torn at his flesh like a wild beast, fire in the mouth and tongue that entangled with his, burning in the way only a wildfire can, like a thing that knows it must burn its brightest fast because once that fire dies there won't even be ashes behind.

(No blood, no bone, no ash. Mikoto has left none of those in this world now, and another flower falls from his lips.)

In the chamber of the Slate Munakata sees him sometimes, out of the corner of his eye. It's only a flash, here and there, and Munakata can't help but wonder if this is the Slate playing its own games. The Slate is alive, after all – no one who has sat in this room with their hands pressed against the glowing stone trying to tame the god that gave them life in the first place could deny that. Sometimes there are whispers in the back of his mind, promising him beautiful dreams and what this power could do, and Munakata never dwells on those. He's made his choice. He will not regret his choice.

Every time he leaves the chamber there are flower petals scattered on the surface of the Slate, but no one else enters this chamber and so it's simply his secret alone.

Munakata coughs into his hand, red petals fluttering in the wind, and he can feel the clock ticking down in his mind. It's aggravating, perhaps – he had more that he wanted to do, and of course it should be Suoh who still drags him down in the end.

(“You're an idiot, Munakata.” Biting his lips, blood dripping down like flowers, and Munakata pulls back Mikoto's head by his hair and tells him to be quiet.)

He knows the condition his Sword is in and he knows what is – still – growing in his chest. Munakata can calculate how the growth inside has increased with the cracks above his head, and he knows exactly how much time he has left. He will make the most of it.

Suoh Mikoto is smoking a cigarette just around the corner and Munakata can smell the smoke, but he keeps walking. A thorn pricks in his heart and this time there may be the smallest speck of red blood marring the petals that fall from his mouth and scatter away in the wind.

No blood, no bone, no ash.

“This isn't like you, Munakata.”

He planned everything perfectly, because that is who Munakata Reisi is. He knew what his duty would be the moment he stepped onto the ground at Ashinaka High, and he knew what his duty would be when he walked through the streets of Shizume City towards jungle's hideout with Zenjoh Gouki at his back. In the haze of the Gray King's power no one is able to see the petals flying in the wind and it's easy to explain away the blood as being from the wound on his head.

('Unlike me? Perhaps.' Once he would have smiled back at that, refuting the words even as he entertained them. But Suoh was that kind of person, who dragged out all the contradictions that Munakata had spent such time quelling. Perhaps he had always been unwell, that he'd entertained this in the first place. Perhaps that seed had been there from the start, waiting to be watered in the blood that he'd spilled – that he hadn't wanted to spill, and that was the truth of it, but it changed nothing so why did it matter – and he'd been absolutely lost from the start, from the very moment he'd been caught by the eyes of the beast and decided to take on himself the task of taming the untameable.)

The Sword of Damocles shuddered above his head and Munakata covered his mouth again, petals crushed between his fingers. If this was the end, that was it, he supposed. Unlike what it was meant to be, and unlike himself, but his plans had run dry and the thorns were starting to squeeze at his heart, vines cracking his ribs.

And then –

The Red King.

It was just another illusion, he knew that. Kushina Anna stood there alone, and no one was behind her. Perhaps it was only the Slate again, one last machination from a cornered beast, thinking this might cause him to do – something, to stop this.

But Suoh Mikoto looked right up at him, that lazy half smile on his face that Munakata was so used to, mouthing words that weren't an apology – it wouldn't be like that man at all, to apologize now, and it wasn't what Munakata wanted from him anyway – but which resonated in his ears anyway, shuddering their way down his throat, reaching for his heart.

A red flame burned through the plant rooted there, burning each and every vine and seedling, each small red blossom, each thorn sheared away-–

-and for a moment, perhaps, embracing his heart, leaving a burn scar on the surface where no one could see--

The Sword above his head shattered into thousands of glowing blue shards, and one last petal fluttered from Munakata's mouth into his open palm.

There was the faintest whisp on smoke lingering on the tips of his hair, Suoh's brand, and Munakata shook his head with something like a smile on his face.

“Truly an unreasonable man.”

Nothing answered him, but for the first time in a long while his heart seemed to be beating free.