That last fight had been indescribably brutal.
You don’t really recall the specifics. At some point it had just boiled down to you and your demons flinging Bufudyne and any of its variations with wild abandon, frantically beating back what seemed to be an endless horde of fire-spewing monsters. Amongst gabby incarnations of Pele and vicious copies of Orthrus, there’d been an unholy scattering of Cerberus demons, along with a wickedly hidden Wendigo casting Ice Wall, because, well, fuck you, that’s why.
And just when things couldn't possibly get any worse--they did. In the form of a Surt ripping out Megidolaons.
…You are exhausted.
But, you’ve stopped Tokyo from burning down this day, which is a plus. You slouch back to Kinshicho smelling—and looking—like you just threw yourself headfirst into a furnace and miraculously survived. The acrid stink of smoke clings to your skin and smolders in your hair in the form of unpleasant sparks that Diaharan won’t put out, and you’re reminded that healing magic restores the body, but doesn’t do jack in regards to providing you with actual energy. Walking is a chore.
Surprisingly, Dagda has nothing to say about this.
Once you make it to the underground that’s been your home since childhood, you decide to pay the Hunter’s Association a visit to confirm the defeat of the Hellfire Hordes, which had been terrorizing Tokyo as of late. This had been a hit ordered by disgruntled relic hunters who were none too pleased about all the priceless artifacts going up in smoke due to demonic incineration, and at the very least, that means you’re about to rake in a nice paycheck and some interesting relics before you sleep.
It's kinda why you took the quest, after all.
(That, and no one else was qualified to do it besides Flynn—and Isabeau, maybe.)
You slide open the door and blink stupidly at the bartender as she calls, “Welcome! Take a seat and I’ll be right with—“
Oh. Right. She’s training to replace her dad—Boss.
“—Nanashi?! What happened?!”
Quite unprofessionally, Asahi abandons her post and swoops in on you before you can even utter the term “Challenge Quest”. She ushers you toward the front, promptly changes her mind, and instead catapults you into a discreet backroom filled with boxed food and old cans waiting to be served to Hunters. Not all of the goods were watched over by armed guards.
“Ow,” you remark in an extraordinarily deadpan fashion, because she’s gripping your hand so hard that the circulation is getting cut off, and there’s a lot of burns there. Asahi’s gaze is unamused—she thinks you’re being a smartass, undoubtedly—before she takes in the sight of your scorched palms. Immediately, she folds both of her hands over yours and sighs deeply.
“I told you to let me go with you,” she pouts, squeezing with infinitely more gentleness than before.
You see her reach for her phone in the dim yellow light, and you tap the back of her hand with a shake of your head.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing. They’re already healing up. See?”
Asahi is unconvinced. She keeps holding your hand, and you see the way she hesitates before she brings her other hand to rest on top of yours in a double grip. You cock your head to the side but don’t comment; you let her have this, because she worries. It’s what she does.
“But did you have to tackle it right away? You should’ve at least waited for Navarre to come back from Mikado, or for Hallelujah to finish up his business with the Ashura-kai.”
You shrug. “The demons weren’t going to wait.”
Flynn didn’t have to do all the difficult missions. The poor Samurai had tangled with a pair of Fiends just the day before, if his report to the Association was to be believed.
Her smile is fond when she shows it, a slow spread across her lips that you realize you totally just stared at. You’re quick to remember where her eyes are again, and look, she hasn’t noticed, by some miracle.
She says, “That’s what makes you a good Hunter, Nanashi,” as she lets go of you and drifts to the back of the storage room. When she returns, it’s with an old first aid kit that has surely seen better days; (like the rest of Tokyo).
“If you don’t want to coat it with magic, then we’re putting something on those burns, at least.”
You open your mouth to argue, but Asahi has that stubborn set to her jaw that used to make her father groan in defeat. You remember he told you she’s just like her mother.
You put your hands out again for her inspection.
“…Jeez, Nanashi. Weren’t you wearing a glove before?”
“Uh,” you reply, ever eloquent.
“I guess even the demons don’t like your weird fashion sense,” Asahi teases as she spreads a pale yellow salve across your skin. The sting of the burns eases to a dull ache, but Cherubim’s spell from before had already done the bulk of the work. Her fingers feel smooth and light against your calloused palms, and you laugh despite yourself when you see her pull off the seared remnants of your glove.
“It’s not funny, Nanashi! That fight must’ve been terrible!”
“Not as bad as Shesha.”
She pouts again. “That’s not saying much. There’s a whole world of badness between Shesha and the first step of the scale.”
“…So, where did the Hellfire Hordes fall on the scale?”
Standing is feeling less and less like a good idea as your exhaustion catches back up to you, so you sit on a nearby box as Asahi works. “Somewhere between Lucifuge and Samyaza.”
“They just kept coming…”
You yawn, closing one eye and debating whether or not you want to actually eat something before you crash onto your bed. It’s night, apparently, which is great and dandy because the big hole in the Ceiling means you can actually see the stars if you look at the sky from the right angle. You’re not feeling it tonight, but maybe later, since Asahi enjoys it.
…It’d be nice to get the gang together, you think. Just go up to the surface and have some kind of picnic or whatever. Bask in the sunlight. Maybe once Toki gets back from her quest to help Gaston expose some leftover Maitreya-loving heretics hiding out in Ikebukuro.
It occurs to you that Asahi should seriously be done by now, because you’ve been sitting here pondering what kind of food to bring along on this hypothetical picnic escapade for the last several minutes; or, at least, it certainly feels like this is taking longer than it should. You look over at Asahi, and you realize why that is.
She’s paused to look at your hand. Not the one that the Hordes had charred the glove straight off of, but the other one, the green-printed one. Your tattoos remain in bright, clover-shaped defiance, utterly untouched by the burns, even though the rest of the skin around it is moderately pink and soft red. She traces the tips of her fingers along the edges of the designs.
You wonder if she’s always been able to see them. This is the first time she’s really commented on them.
“Hey, Nanashi,” she begins, quiet. She won’t meet your eyes.
You’re silent, but she knows you’re listening.
“About…you. I don’t mean you-you, but, I mean, you’re a Godslayer, so I…”
She doesn’t have her thoughts organized. You can tell. Deep in the recesses of your soul, Dagda pulls back, either uninterested in eavesdropping or else giving you both some privacy. You think it may be a combination of both.
Asahi bites her lip. “You don’t seem any different. But…you were dead, weren’t you? And Dagda brought you back. He keeps you alive. And ever since the Cosmic Egg, it’s also because of Nozomi and Danu that you’re…”
You remember the old Dagda’s fury as he condemned you to die, because you would not abandon them all for your own sake. You close your eyes for a moment.
“This…bothers you a lot," you mutter. You don't know how you feel about this.
...Words are not your forte. She smiles, and it’s painful, because it touches your heart and her eyes.
“I keep wondering what I could have done differently. We’ve already avenged Nikkari and Manabu, I-I know, but I…” She twines the fingers of one hand through yours, tattoos and all, and she’s cool against the lingering heat. “There’s nothing I can do. I can’t help you, Nanashi. Keeping you alive like this is the only option that we have.”
She kneels down, placing her a bit below your eye-level. You’re feeling incredibly useless right now, because you don’t have the words to comfort her. You don’t know how to ease what she’s feeling.
“I’m sorry, Nanashi.”
And you say, “It’s not your fault,” almost immediately, because it really isn’t.
Asahi looks up at you, startled by the speed and ferocity of your response.
“I—I know but…What are we going to do, Nanashi? I mean, are you…What’s going to happen to you? Are you going to get older, or are you going to stay the way you are, just the same as when Dagda resurrected you? We don’t know what’s going to happen!”
“I’m going to be here. And so will you. It’s not going to be any different.”
You’re trying to sound calm, but you think you sound dismissive.
The way she’s biting her lip, you think she’s going to make it bleed. You blink away the image of a reptilian grin and goggles covered in red.
“I don’t want you to fight alone,” she whispers. You barely hear her. “I don’t want you coming back one day and you’re…you’re without anyone. I don’t know if Godslayers are immortal, but I want to be with you, Nanashi. We’re supposed to be together.”
Isn’t that. Was that. A confession. Or.
(Your mind’s eye is like a theater—or at least, you think so. You’ve never seen one that hadn’t crumpled in on itself from disuse. But you’re seeing your childhood with Asahi and your foster father, and you’re seeing every stage of your life with her, because she’s always been there. Always.)
Contracts are not eternal. At least, not with this new Dagda, who still sees light in the dark. But without a contract, you would...
You slide off of the crate, crouching beside her; you haven’t released her hand. Her free hand is pressed over her mouth as she stifles a sob, and you see the way her eyes are shut so tightly, like she wants to escape the sight of Godslayer-green tattoos and scars and irises.
“Hey,” you say, though the beginning sounds all wrong. “We’ll worry about that when it gets here—if it gets here. We don’t know what’s going to happen to me. I might age just fine. We can ask Dagda, Danu…anyone you want. Just…don’t cry.”
You laugh. Quietly.
“…You know I suck at stuff like this.”
Asahi looks up at you, swiping some lingering tears from her eyes. “Wh-What?” she laughs, shaky but sincere. She pushes you lightly. “You really are terrible at this…I forgot…’
But, she’s smiling.
You’re not given any warning. She just…does it.
Asahi throws her arms around you and pulls you close, hiding her face in your shoulder. You think it must be super unpleasant because you still look and smell like you came out of a furnace (remember?) but she doesn’t care, or maybe, cares too much. She’s leaning against you, taking none of her weight for herself, and you wrap your arms around her, resting your back against the crate, and you let her have this, because there’s no reason not to.
Not a single one.
“We’re always going to be together,” Asahi says again into the quiet. It's a promise.
You hear the distant bustle of the bar just on the other side of the backroom’s door.
“Yeah. Of course.”
You told Boss you’d watch over her, after all.
Time passes without incident. Eventually Asahi pulls away, tucking strands of black hair behind her ears. A red blush scatters across her face that rivals the hue of your burns.
“O-Oh, wow, okay, I really didn’t mean for that to happen…”
“A lot’s been going on,” you say simply, after delivering a massive yawn.
For once, she doesn’t elaborate, she only sits beside you, there in that room with the shelves of aluminum-canned food and creaky metal shelves. Side by side, in a modest space, with dim lighting and laughter just on the other side of the wall.
You take her hand in yours—the one without tattoos.