All That We Are

 

Chapter Ten

 

The rest of the house felt unreasonably quiet when Yata slunk out of the bathroom. Not that it was ever quiet there – the sound of some kids’ program on the TV and the shuffling of movement in the kitchen were like nostalgic background noise. But considering everything that had just happened, he was kinda feeling self-conscious.

Somehow, despite it being irrational, he expected everyone to be able to tell what happened just by looking at him.

That thought caused a tingling rush of mingled pleasure and embarrassment and something that felt like release. The entire conversation with Saruhiko – with Fushimi, he corrected himself; they were starting fresh, after all – had felt like it lifted something crushingly huge from his shoulders. He couldn’t even really sort out just how he felt right then. Even just the little act of making small talk – of exchanging glances here and there as they washed – made him feel like his body had started to tremble. It was kinda like when they’d first met, but with the enormous wealth of their shared history behind it. Somehow it didn’t seem right to just describe the sensation with something as simple as ‘excited’.

He was fucking happy. So happy he could’ve cried. It was overwhelming, but he welcomed it.

Despite all of the painful things that Fushimi had said, and the knowledge of just how much he himself had missed back then, it was an incredible feeling to finally have everything out in the open between them. Yata hadn’t even realized he was still carrying some of that shit with him, but he was relieved to have it aired. He felt oddly light now, dazed and maybe sorta confused despite the pleasure.

Where did they go from here? What should his next step be? He still didn’t really know.

That was mostly why he’d gotten dressed and left the room while Fushimi was still in the bath. He needed some space to process. And from the look they’d exchanged, he got the sense that the feeling was mutual.

Sharing an understanding again… That was another one of those strange but amazing things. Yata felt the grin building on his face as he stepped out toward the kitchen area, letting his feet carry him on their own carelessly. They weren’t totally in sync – that’d never be a thing again, and he was okay with it – but they didn’t have that feeling of disconnect any more.

It was… awesome. Seriously.

His mother was in the kitchen, humming lightly as she chopped vegetables, with her cooking tools arranged neatly in front of her and meat spread out already in the saucepan with the heat still turned off. The arrangement was so familiar that he had another wave of nostalgia, momentarily distracted from his earlier thoughts, and blinked as the realization hit him that this was the exact same kind of setup he used when he got ready to cook.

Guess it's normal. She was the one who'd taught him, after all. Still, he hadn't thought about that in a long time, so it seemed weird now.

"Done already?" She didn't even slow her hand, much less turn, but he could hear the smile in her voice. "You could've taken your time. Minoru's not home yet, and your father won't be back for a while."

"Yeah, well." He aimed a sheepish grin at her back, reaching up without thinking to rub the back of his neck. "Thought I'd give Saru – Fushimi more time in the tub. He's kind of a workaholic; he could probably use the extra relaxation, y'know?"

At that, she did pause, knife stilling momentarily. It was only for a second or so, and then she abruptly started up again. "Hm, all right." Her tone was oddly speculative. "Did you grab the basket with your dirty shirts?"

"Ah..." Right, that. "I forgot."

"Honestly, Misaki." The reprimand in her tone was mild and laced with humor. "Well, go get it, and you can meet me in the laundry room."

"R-right, yeah." Feeling properly chastised, he turned to head back. "Be right there!"

Retrieving the basket didn't take too long, but she still beat him to the tiny laundry room, and was setting up the rack when he came in.

"We'll still get a few hours of daylight, I think," she mused as he set the basket down on the washing machine, stepping back for a second to inspect her handiwork and giving a little nod of satisfaction before turning to offer him a smile. "I'm not sure if they'll be dry by the time you leave, but..."

"It's okay." He shrugged. "If we gotta leave 'em, I can bring dad's shirts back and pick up our stuff later."

Now that he was here, it didn't really feel like such a big deal to come back once in a while.

She shot him an approving look. "Thank you, Misaki." A fond little smile spread on her lips. "It's comforting to see that you managed to grow into a reliable adult." The curve of her mouth took on a teasing edge. "With how little you call home, I'd wondered, you know."

He choked a little at that, sputtering. "H-hey, hang on a – "

"Ah, but then, I know my son." She patted his shoulder lightly. "I didn't have any real doubts. It's just that a mother can't help but worry, you know?"

Yata squirmed a little, feeling that tendril of guilt worming its way into his thoughts. "Sorry. It's just that I'm sorta – "

"Busy, right? It's fine." There was a tiny hint of something wistful in her gaze. "One day I'd like to hear more about your life. If you feel like sharing it, I mean."

He blinked at her, a little surprised. Truthfully, he hadn't explained much to his family the few times they'd been in contact. It was kinda hard to admit 'hey so I joined a gang, but they're really cool' and even harder to come up with something like 'oh and we all have powers and there's these underground clan wars going on'. Even if he'd wanted to, he wasn't sure they would've bought any of it.

Still... she hadn't asked many questions. And now that she'd made that small admission, it struck him that she'd probably held off because she sensed his reluctance to go into detail in the first place.

Mom's always one step ahead... Yata shrugged awkwardly. "Eh, well... It's sorta complicated."

"I guess it must be." She gave his shoulder one more pat, and reached over to take the basket, turning her attention to the machine. "Don't worry too much about it. Take your time, and when you feel up to it, just tell me the parts you feel like can. All right?"

There it was again - she saw through him. Damn, she's sharp... Seriously, this was just like when he'd tried to sneak out of the house to move in with Fushimi.

That brought up a recent memory. "Oh right.” Yata cleared his throat, feeling a little awkward about it as he watched her measure the detergent with casual ease. “I wanted to thank you for... those flowers. Y'know, in the book you gave me?" He scratched at the back of his head, offering a sheepish grin. "I kinda just opened it a few months ago, but it actually helped me out with some stuff. So, yeah, thanks."

“Flowers? Oh.” After a moment of confusion, his mother tilted her head with a responding smile. “You seemed so happy when you brought those home, I thought it’d be worthwhile to save them.” A hint of something rueful slipped into her expression as she bent to load their dirty shirts and jackets into the machine. “Now that you’re an adult, I feel like you should know I assumed you got them from a girl you liked.”

He blinked, taken off-guard. “Eh? A…” The words sunk in; he gaped, incredulous. “Huh? A girl?”

“Honestly, it never crossed my mind that it might be Saruhiko-kun instead.” Shutting the washer door and straightening, she he reached out to squeeze his shoulder again. “It seemed so obvious after you said so. You two really were close.” A funny sort of look crossed her face, the smile shrinking to something more lopsided as she tilted her head.  “Sorry to ask out of nowhere, but… you and he… are you…?”

With the conversation from earlier still on his mind, Yata caught her meaning without much trouble. “Soulmates?” Without waiting for confirmation, he offered a rough grin. “Don’t worry ‘bout it. And no. Well” – at that, he shrugged a bit awkwardly – “actually, more like I dunno yet.”

She let out a slow breath. “I see.” One eyebrow arched. “‘Yet’, hm?”

Goddamnit. Yata felt heat rising fast on his cheeks. “I – well – that is – ” He eventually gave up trying to fumble through an excuse and settled for a muttered, “It’s complicated, okay?”

“Ah, another ‘complicated’ thing.” His mother smiled with fond tolerance, letting her hand fall from his shoulder. “Well, we all have secrets.” At that, she pressed her lips together, studying him with uncharacteristic hesitance. “I know I haven’t ever mentioned it, but the truth is, I have a soulmate mark myself.”

“Eh?” Yata blinked at her, surprised by the sudden and unexpected confession. True, he hadn’t known for sure, but… “A-ah, well, I sorta guessed that maybe… y’know…”

“It’s under my right armpit,” she continued patiently, and then exhaled slowly, offering a small half-smile. “Your father has one, too – on his left hip.”

That took a little while to sink in, but the obvious implication – soulmate marks that didn’t match – struck him like a sucker punch. Yata gaped at her, incredulous. “Wait – wait, they don’t – ?”

“They don’t match,” she supplied, voice calm and even. Turning to face him fully, she crossed her arms casually over her chest, leaning her hip against the active machine. “Your birth father was my soulmate.” As if that wasn’t enough of a shock on its own, she added, “Your step-father has an ex-wife as well.”

He hadn’t heard much about his birth father – next to nothing, actually. Yata preferred it that way. The handful of knowledge he did have didn’t inspire a lot of confidence in that half of his lineage. His mother had been granted full custody of him and a restraining order on top of that, which he hadn’t understood until he was a bit older. She didn’t talk about his birth father much, and the simple knowledge that he was a ‘bad guy’ had stifled any curiosity Yata might’ve felt.

He hadn’t minded, because… he was his mother’s son. Not his father’s. A good guy, not a bad guy.

It was something he’d almost forgotten, it had been so long ago. Back then, he’d been so desperate…

Yata shook his head, trying to clear that confusing series of thoughts from it. Never mind that. “But… if you were soulmates…?”

“Why did I decide to leave?” she filled in, when he left that hanging. Her smile turned a bit wistful. Without warning, she reached over to cup his cheek. “Because of you.”

The gesture had his skin prickling up; it had been years since he’d felt his mother’s touch. Yata blinked, startled and a little overwhelmed with a mixture of embarrassment and nostalgia. “Me?”

She nodded. “He would sometimes… well. Nothing that seemed serious, at first. He was impatient. Maybe a bit harsh. It wasn’t personal – that’s what I told myself.” That came with a sharp inhale, her eyes taking on a pained look. “One time he shoved me – I hit a door frame – and I had a bruise on my face. I remember sitting on the couch, trying not to cry and thinking of how I could cover it up, and you tried to sneak out of your room before your nap was up. You were only just two.” The pain seemed to fade out into a kind of fond remembrance. “Such a handful, even then. You looked up and saw me, and did that little laugh of yours and ran over – you were already running, even though you fell a lot. And when I stood to pick you up, I had this thought…” She pressed her lips together, eyes a little too bright as she smiled. “I thought, what if he does this to my baby? What if one day instead of laughing, my little boy is sitting here and trying not to cry, trying to think of what he did wrong?” Her thumb stroked his cheek lightly. “I couldn’t stand to think that, so… in the end, I left.”

He wasn’t sure how to react to that story. Yata stared back dumbly for a moment, his mind reeling as it sunk in. True, he’d always known that his birth father was no good, but it seemed to mean so much more now. The revelation felt like it shocked him to the core. Even though they were soulmates…

It was just like Mikoto and his soulmate – the match that ‘couldn’t have worked’. It really wasn’t that simple, was it? This shit happened all the time, and he knew, he’d heard about it – but it didn’t feel real when it was other people whose matches ended badly. This was right in his face though, and he couldn’t ignore or deny it any more. Not with his mother standing here telling him every painful detail. There were a lot of people – good people; people he knew – who went ahead and did what they had to in order to be happy.

In the end, he and Fushimi weren’t the only ones who wanted to be together no matter what ‘fate’ or whatever had to say about it.

“And if you’re not my soulmate, then – then fuck soulmates!”

“If that means a cheesy picture on my forehead, then fine, I’ll take it.”

Yata shut his eyes, feeling the helpless edge of a smile forming on his face even as his shoulders slumped a little. He let out a soft, rueful ‘heh’, and then opened them again. “So that’s what happened…” He made an effort to straighten. “Sorry. Guess me talking about soulmates and all didn’t help much, huh?”

She shook her head. “I came to terms with it a while back. And you were so young… I didn’t want to spoil your excitement.” Her eyes were intent on his face, as if searching for something; there was a brief pause before she continued. “I wanted to tell you when you left, but part of me thought maybe it’d be better if you didn’t know. There wasn’t much time to decide, but…” That came with a helpless little shrug. “I’ve wondered since then if that was the right choice. It’s the hardest part of being a mother. ‘Should I intervene or let him be?’ ‘Am I doing this for my sake or his?’ I ask myself those questions a lot.”

It was kinda unnerving to have his mother now talking to him as if he were an adult on equal footing with her. What am I s’posed to say to that? Not once had he really thought about her being a normal human with flaws like everyone else – but that reality was hard to avoid now, with all those facts out there. Yata cleared his throat, feeling awkward about it, and managed a weak, “O-oh.”

His mother gave a soft, amused huff. “I guess I should stop embarrassing you, huh?” She patted his cheek softly before pulling her hand back. “Still, it seems like you’ve become a good man all on your own. Maybe I didn’t need to worry so much.” Her accompanying smile was bright. “I’m proud of you, Misaki.”

A good man… He’d been so sure he knew what that meant, but somehow after today it felt like a shakier foundation than he’d thought. His definition kept changing, anyway. What the hell really made you a ‘good’ man? And did he really have what it took? What was it about him that made her think that?

Somehow, at the back of his head, he could hear the clear memory of Kusanagi’s voice: “If you haven’t yet, you should start thinking about what kind of man you want to be.”

Yeah, fine, but what the hell kind of man was he now? Now that he thought about it directly, he wasn’t sure. Not Homra’s Yatagarasu. Not Saruhiko’s soulmate. Not his mother’s son. Or – well – maybe all of those things, but not just them.

It was kinda too much to try and sort out right then. Yata pushed that stuff aside and reached up to scratch at the back of his head, still feeling a little bit of a pleasant buzz from the praise despite his embarrassment. “Heh… thanks!”

 “You don’t need to thank me.” Her smile widened even further, lines forming at the corners of her eyes and open fondness in her gaze. “Though I wouldn’t object if you came back to see me once in a while. I can’t help but worry, you know!”

Weirdly enough, he thought he kinda did know. Yata swallowed, just starting to process now that she’d admitted to leaving her first husband – her soulmate – for his sake. If he thought back to what he remembered about those years before her new husband came into the picture, she’d always seemed content. It hadn’t felt like they’d needed anyone else to him, so when she’d brought in someone new, he’d felt… not good enough. As if he couldn’t make her happy on his own. And it had seemed at the time like he’d been left behind for the new family she was going to make. But hearing the whole story now, he thought he felt the force of her love bearing down on him in a way he couldn’t ignore.

He hadn’t been the only person to make his mom happy, yeah, but he’d given her the strength to make herself happy. And even if she hadn’t needed him like she had when it was just the two of them, she’d definitely wanted him.

Some small, persistent sore point that he’d long since gotten used to and forgotten about felt like it eased a little within him. “Yeah.” Yata swallowed around the ache rising at the back of his throat in response, and felt the same wide smile spreading on his own face, a perfect mirror for his mother’s. Feeling fully confident and enthusiastic about it for the first time, he responded, “Yeah, I will.”

 


 

 

Dinner was not as awkward as Fushimi had anticipated. If nothing else, he’d expected a certain amount of uncomfortable small talk, but the familiar, chatty nature of Yata family dinners came back to him as they set in. It brought on a set of strangely conflicting feelings. When he sat down at the table, the sharp nostalgia gave him the sense that it had barely been any time at all since he’d been an awkward teenager, unsure of how to act in the face of their overwhelming closeness. But at the same time, it felt like it had been a lifetime since the last dinner he’d had there.

Well, something like that, I guess. Fushimi had to resist the urge to click his tongue, the aftereffects of his conversation with Yata still lingering in his mind. Mingled bafflement, uncertainty, and a strong sense of release overlaid his thoughts, making him vaguely light-headed. It wasn’t necessarily a bad feeling – after all of it, he felt strangely refreshed – but to be honest, he was getting a little tired of going through these life-changing events.

Right then, he thought he’d take a week of nothing but fixing the mistakes on his co-workers’ reports over another emotional upheaval. Enough was enough.

Yata’s family home was worn and warm, unchanged by the passage of time that had noticeably altered its inhabitants. It was a little on the stuffy side and there was a cramped feeling with the small amount of space and the large number of people crammed into it. Or… not really ‘large’, especially when compared to the amount of staff at Scepter 4. But with the level of energy and lack of breathing room, it felt like a lot more.

I guess that’s to be expected, huh?

The conversation was… busy. If Minoru wasn’t firing out a series of questions, switching direction almost at random between himself and Yata, Megumi was chiming in with starry-eyed comments on the answers. Occasionally, they’d get into arguments over who got to speak, which Yata’s mother would break up sternly with an order to eat quietly. In those brief periods of respite, she and her husband would fill the sullen resulting silence with warm chatter about jobs and daily life happenings.

It was… not exactly unpleasant, even if the loud voices of the kids left him with a bit of a headache by the end.

Still, the highlight of the evening was being able to surreptitiously watch Yata’s face when he was engaged in conversation. As usual, his emotions came through in his expression without any kind of filter: embarrassed, annoyed, proud, cheerful, and even the occasional sad moment. It was entrancing, particularly with the knowledge of their earlier conversation sitting not far from the forefront of Fushimi’s thoughts. The rush of affection that would surge through him at the slightest motion or change in expression was still a touch bewildering, but he couldn’t say he minded it. Having the weight of that shared understanding behind it made the overpowering emotion a lot less intimidating.

Not to say it wasn’t still, but he at least felt capable of facing the implications squarely.

As the only other person there who knew what had happened during the time being asked about – or at least, more about what had happened than everyone else at the table – Fushimi found himself running interference based on Yata’s reactions. If something on Yata’s face registered those sad or unpleasant emotions, he would redirect the conversation to prevent any prodding. It was a surprisingly gratifying, even if it just meant that he could see the discomfort lift from Yata’s shoulders and his expression clear. That he could do something for Yata, even if it was simply sparing his pride in front of his family, gave him immense satisfaction.

The times when Yata caught on, he’d met Fushimi’s gaze long enough to give him a smile, eyes bright and warm, and it had sent his heartbeat into a frenzy. Which was stupid, but… also not unpleasant.

Despite all of that, he was still relieved when it came time to leave. There was only so much he could take all at once, and Yata’s family was as exhausting as they were welcoming.

“That’s it, huh?” Yata was clearly in high spirits as they walked down the street away from the house. In the dim light left by the rapidly dying day, the outline of his face seemed sharper. He was grinning to himself, looking content; when he turned to meet Fushimi’s gaze his eyes were bright. “Thanks for coming with me!”

“It’s not a big deal.” Fushimi shrugged his shoulders just a bit, feeling vaguely uncomfortable with the gratitude. “I don’t really mind.”

“Right, that’s what you said.” Yata accepted that without question, his expression and posture relaxed. He turned to face the street in front of them as they walked side by side, unhurried. “Kinda nice to see everyone again, actually. Minoru and Megumi are getting pretty big…”

“That generally tends to be the case,” Fushimi responded easily, content with the new direction to the conversation. It was a relatively warm night, though he could feel the edges of a chill in the slightly damp places left on his shirt and jacket. It wasn’t terribly uncomfortable, though – and he had to admit, he wanted to draw this out purely for the pleasure of having that familiar presence beside him. They didn’t have to be heading anywhere particular or talking about anything specific. Just the simple reality of being together was enough.

At this point, it was impossible to deny how much he’d missed this kind of thing. It wasn’t exactly the same as it had been, but he was fine with the changes. There was something extra to their interactions now… something new, and awkward, and exciting…

Something he wanted to cherish, if he could figure out exactly how.

“Smartass.” There was a grin in Yata’s voice as he answered. He nudged Fushimi’s arm lightly with his elbow. “Come visit again with me sometime, huh?” The invitation was barely out of his mouth before he was hastily adding, “Ah – I mean – actually, you might be expected more, if we – y’know – ugh…” When Fushimi turned to look at him, he was grimacing, a slow spreading flush visible on his cheeks even in the poor lighting. “Damnit… you know what I mean!”

“Do I?” The tease earned him a glare; Fushimi hummed lightly, and then smiled. “Well… I guess I do.”

Yata’s eyes seemed to glow, illuminated by the growing dark. “Yeah, you’d better.”

The buzz of anticipation and pleasure in his stomach heightened even as they turned to face the road in front, their conversation turning to something inconsequential. It was easy like this, despite the fact that they’d so recently unloaded the burden of their broken relationship back in Yata’s parents’ bathroom. Or maybe because they’d done that. Fushimi felt comfortable, despite the vague discomfort that came with his awareness of the awkward attraction between them. That wasn’t something he was particularly unhappy with, anyway. And the air between them felt clearer – more open. He could breathe properly. There was nothing left to wonder any more either, other than the obvious.

So where do we go from here?

It turned out that question hadn’t only been on his mind, because when they came up to the point where they’d have to separate – Scepter 4 headquarters being in the opposite direction of the Homra bar and the apartment he hadn’t seen yet – Yata took in a long breath and let it out, clearly gathering his nerve. He turned as they came to a stop at that crossroad. “So? What’re you gonna do now?”

Fushimi shrugged, shoving his hands into his pockets as he turned to meet that expectant gaze. “Nothing much. The usual.” He let out a short sigh. “There’s a lot of work to be done still. I’m going to be busy most of the time.”

“Right, yeah.” Yata reached up to rub at the back of his neck. “I… got some stuff to figure out, I think. I mean, pretty soon there’s gonna be no more clans.” His lips quirked up into something of a rueful smile. “I only just got thinking about it now, but outside of being Homra’s Yatagarasu, I dunno who the hell I even am. Kinda weird, huh?”

Oddly, it wasn’t. “Not really.” If he stepped back and looked at it, this was yet another area where the two of them were the same – and complete opposites at the same time, as improbable as that sounded. They were both trying to define themselves in a larger world, after all… just somehow starting at opposite ends. “Believe it or not, I might know a thing or two about having ‘stuff’ to sort out.”

Yata looked startled for a second, and then his face softened again as he huffed out a short laugh. “Yeah, true! What the hell, huh?” The grin that spread on his face was sharp. “Maybe you could teach me a thing or two by now.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, without much real irritation behind it. “Don’t count on it.”

He got another huff of a laugh for that. “Right, got it.”

There was a short but mostly comfortable silence that spread between them after that; it was like the moment itself held its breath, in some weird way. A strong feeling of anticipation seemed to hang in that brief pause.

“So…” As usual, Yata was the first to break it; he let his hand slide free of its hold on his neck, stuffing both it and its counterpart into his pockets. “Let’s – let’s keep in touch, huh?” His eyes were bright again. “I’ll definitely call you, so…”

That look was doing some funny things to Fushimi’s stomach. He raised an eyebrow to cover it. “I’ll be ready for more attempts to rupture my eardrums, then.”

That earned him a disgruntled scowl. “Look, that’s different, okay? Anyway, you guys need to keep off our turf! But never mind that now!” The glare that accompanied it was piercing. “You could call me sometimes too, y’know.”

He could – although he wasn’t sure if he wanted to make that promise. Fushimi frowned back, caution urging him to give a noncommittal response. “I don’t exactly have all that much free time, if you hadn’t noticed.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Abruptly, Yata’s expression turned up in a brash grin. “Sounds like something you’d say when you wanna do a thing but might not in case it makes you look too much like you care.”

The unexpectedly sharp response had his skin prickling up. Annoying. Fushimi clicked his tongue, deliberately not answering.

“Heh! Thought so.”

“Shut up.”

Yata made a soft, amused huff, but obligingly let it drop. “Anyway, don’t be a stranger, huh? If you see me around, make sure you stop and say hi or something.” His grin turned a bit crooked. “You’re not gonna say you’re too busy for that, are you?”

Fushimi let his eyes go lidded, offering a slow smile in return. “I guess I can manage that much.”

“Right?” The grin widened out again. As that hung between them, Yata shifted on his feet . “So…”

“It’s late, huh?” Despite the reluctance he felt tugging at the back of his mind, there was still practicality to be considered. He did work the next day, after all. Fushimi half-turned, not quite breaking their shared gaze. There was no real point in dragging this out if they’d said everything they needed to, but some small indulgent part of him wanted to hold onto the moment just a tiny bit longer. “See you, Yata.”

“Y-yeah.” There was a beat of obvious hesitance, and then Yata let out a huff, reaching up to scratch the back of his head as his face split again in a rueful smile. “Fuck, I just can’t get used to that. Y’know what, screw it!” The smile widened out into another bright grin. “Since we got a thing between us, I’d say we’re close enough to be using first names, right?”

Fushimi blinked, thrown off of his pace by the sudden declaration. Despite the seemingly flippant manner it had been tossed out, the look in Yata’s eyes was serious. First names… As the reality of that sunk in, he briefly shut his own eyes, unable to quite process the feelings settling in his chest. It was similar to the remembered sensation from the first time they’d done this, but somehow deeper. As if there was a wealth of meaning behind it now that hadn’t been there when they were younger. Close enough, huh? Fushimi let out a small, amused huff to cover the confusing emotions, opening his eyes again. “Speak for yourself, Misaki.”

“Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?” Misaki’s eyebrows furrowed, a puzzled little frown replacing the previously confident expression. “You’re still gonna let me call you ‘Saruhiko’, right?”

“Who knows,” Fushimi responded breezily. There was warmth building within him, pleasant and promising, and he didn’t bother to suppress the smile building on his face. “I’ll think about it.”

Misaki scowled at him. “Asshole.”

“Mm.” Fushimi drew out that hum, savoring the mood between them in that moment – after everything, he felt more content than he would’ve anticipated. “Well, maybe ‘Saruhiko’ is the better alternative.” He met that fiery gaze with his own lidded one. “Since it’s you.”

The pleasant buzz that passed between them in that moment was more than promising enough.

 


 

 

“A skateboarding competition?” Kusanagi blinked, momentarily taken aback, and then his expression settled into something of a rueful smile. “Didn’t know that kind of thing existed. Sorry, I guess I haven’t paid much attention.”

“Don’t worry ‘bout it.” Yata waved a dismissive hand, grinning across the counter as he pulled back the flyer. It was still early in the morning, so the bar was mostly empty, but he hadn’t felt like waiting for the others to show up before bringing up his news. “Same here, anyway – only reason I got this is because my new boss gave it to me.”

“New boss, huh?” Kusanagi raised a good-natured eyebrow at him. “Should I be worried?”

“Ah – ” The guilt he had halfway harbored since taking the job flared up again; Yata stared back helplessly. “No, I mean – I’m still gonna help out here, just – ”

Kusanagi held up both hands to forestall that. “I was kidding, Yata-chan! Seriously, don’t let it worry you.” Lowering his arms, he leaned against the counter. “So? What’s the new job?”

The rush of enthusiasm that came with the mention of it was enough to bury that initial guilt. “It’s at a sports shop – you know that one that I go to, up by the park?” Yata braced his elbows on the counter, leaning forward without thinking. “Well, last time I went to get wheel bearings for my board they had a sign looking for people, so I gave it a shot and the owner hired me.” Once he was going, he ended up blurting the rest eagerly. “He’s actually really cool, saw me skateboarding a couple times and that’s why he brought up the competition and all!”

It was the interest that got him more than anything – the fact that this person he barely knew had been impressed enough by something Yata had worked to get good at all on his own that he brought up a competition. He couldn’t really describe how gratifying it had been. Skateboarding had always been his thing, something he’d picked up without the help of red aura or Saruhiko’s intellect. It was just something he’d wanted to do, something he’d sweated and swore over, trying again and again until he could land the jumps and pull the tricks. Having someone without any stake in it tell him he might be good enough to compete and have a real chance of winning, of going somewhere with it…

Hell, he didn’t know what to think, but it felt good.

“That so?” The look in Kusanagi’s eyes as he straightened was somehow knowing. “Don’t know much about skateboarding personally, but I’ll make a point to come cheer you on either way.” He offered a searching smile. “How’s the job, by the way?”

“Great! They really like me there!” First time he’d felt like he could sorta make friends on the job – that it would be something more than just a place to earn cash until he had to ditch it to deal with Homra business or get laid off in the off season or something. It was a weird feeling, but he didn’t mind being greeted heartily when he walked in the door and asked about his life as if his boss actually cared. “The owner even wants me to teach his kids skateboarding. It’s kinda cool, y’know?”

“Glad to hear it.” That came with a nod. “Sounds like those two things should keep you busy for a while, then.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Yata reached up to rub at the back of his neck, a mixture of pride and excitement brewing within him. That tiny remaining edge of guilt compelled him to add, “I’m still gonna be around, though – I mean, I won’t be that busy.”

“No more or less than the rest of us, you mean.” Kusanagi shook his head. “I meant it when I said not to worry about it, Yata-chan. This place isn’t going anywhere any time soon – it’s fine to just come by to hang out. Most everyone here is balancing work, hobbies, and friends the same way.” He raised an eyebrow before adding, “And maybe a love life too, in some cases.”

There was no indication that he meant anything particular by that, but Yata felt his face growing hot all the same. “R-right.” His fingers curled at the back of his neck, the reminder of that other recent development in his life spinning slowly to life within him and bringing mingled pleasure and embarrassment with it.

He hadn’t exactly talked much with Saruhiko these past couple of weeks, but the times that they had talked had been… different. Not so much what they said – they still fucking argued, sometimes over stupid shit or even just for the hell of it – but the underlying tone of it had changed. He felt a lot more certain than he had before, and he got a sense that it was mutual. It was amazing how much it had helped to find out Saruhiko felt the same about him – how much of a boost it had given him to feel the answering desperation in that kiss and the way that Saruhiko had looked at him…

“There’s nothing else I’ve ever wanted as much as you.”

Those words still made him shudder, even now. It was hard to believe it was even real, that someone had really said it to him and meant it. That Saruhiko had said it. The look on his face was still etched into Yata’s brain, and his heart raced when he thought about it even for a second. From the tense line of Saruhiko’s jaw to the way his eyebrows had bunched and even in how his eyes had wavered… The open vulnerability in that expression had left Yata stunned. He would never have guessed that Saruhiko could make a face like that if he hadn’t seen it for himself.

He wouldn’t have expected his own feelings to be answered that strongly. It was… sorta overwhelming, even as he selfishly took pleasure at being the focus of that look. He couldn’t help it.

Then again, Saruhiko always had that effect on him, so he shouldn’t be surprised.

Kusanagi seemed to pinpoint his thoughts accurately, to Yata’s mortification. “How’s Fushimi these days?”

“Eh? Uh. G-good. I guess.” His fingers twitched against the uncomfortably warm skin at the back of his neck. Yata let them slide free, slouching forward in his seat. Unbidden, the remembered sight of Saruhiko’s lazy smile and lidded eyes from when they’d last parted rose in his mind, and he had to swallow, mouth suddenly feeling dry. “Haven’t really seen him much since that one time.”

That was mostly his own fault, though it wasn’t like Saruhiko wasn’t busy all the time, as usual. Yata was starting to get some of that old confidence back – when he brought up that familiar contact, there wasn’t so much nagging doubt that his call might not be welcome. Aside from a few bland comments about being having work to do, Saruhiko seemed content enough to take his calls. And despite his earlier words, there had been one or two calls from his end, too. It was obvious he was trying, and that knowledge felt like it sat warmly in Yata’s heart, forcing a helpless little smile out of him whenever he thought about it.

So yeah, it was on him. He’d kinda been holding back, and he thought Saruhiko was probably following his lead and waiting for a cue. And it wasn’t like he didn’t wanna give that cue – he was gonna do it one of these days, because he wanted to be with Saruhiko. More than anything else right now, he wanted them to be together – wanted to date, wanted to kiss, wanted to touch and go further, to finish up what they’d started back in their shitty shared apartment when they were barely old enough to give it a go. All of those things were never really far from his mind. He wanted them, badly.

But there was all that other stuff too, the things he hadn’t quite sorted out. The thoughts that had started to form at his family house, when his mom had praised him.

What kind of man do I wanna be? He didn’t think he’d find the answer without having a chance to sort it out in his head. And he was doing that – working through it slowly, trying out things that appealed to him here and there and figuring out where Homra’s Yatagarasu ended and the rest of him began. With the new job and the competition and more frequent calls home in between Homra’s business, it really felt like he was starting to piece it together.

If he’d started something with Saruhiko, he didn’t think he could’ve made it this far. Somehow, he got the feeling if he’d given in to that impulse right at the start, he’d have lost himself in the rush.

Never needed to be soulmates for things to be that strong between us, huh? It was kinda scary how deep those feelings ran, but at some point he wanted to give in and get swept up in it. He just had to build himself up first so the current didn’t rip him to pieces in the end.

It was really fucking hard not to be impatient, though…

“Hm.” Kusanagi gave him something of a thoughtful look. “Well, I guess Scepter 4 keeps him busy too.”

“Y-yeah. Right.” Yata laughed a bit nervously. “Th-those Blues don’t know how to take a break, that’s all!”

He got a pair of raised eyebrows for that, but fortunately was spared any further comments by the gentle step that signaled Anna’s descent from the upstairs rooms. “Good morning,” she greeted them, stepping into the room with quiet grace.

“Anna!” Yata stood hastily, seizing on the excuse to drop that subject with more than a little relief. “Morning!”

She smiled at him, that warm little upturn of her lips. “You look happy today, Misaki.”

“A-ah, really?” He reached up again reflexively to scratch at the back of his head, still edgy from the recent conversation. “I guess I did get a new job and all… and, well, y’know, some things happened…”

“Yata’s competing in a skateboarding competition,” Kusanagi cut in easily. When Yata stole a startled glance at him, he was smiling with a certain amusement. “It seems like it’ll be before you start your school semester, Anna, so if you want I’ll drive you to watch it.”

“Thank you, Izumo.” Anna’s smile widened; she glanced over to meet Yata’s gaze again, and when she spoke again, her words were sincere. “I want to see Misaki compete.”

“A… hah… Right?” Feeling more than a little flustered, Yata straightened, drawing himself up as much as possible. Her enthusiasm left him with a giddy sort of pride blooming in his chest. “I’ll make sure to put on an awesome show, then!”

Anna nodded, stepping across the room towards him. “I’m glad,” she added, voice quiet and clear, “you found so many things to be happy about.” As always, it felt like her eyes stared directly into his soul, reading everything and still smiling back quiet acceptance of all his flaws. “You’ll always have a place to belong to here, so don’t worry.”

A place to belong to. Even now, those words held a significant meaning for him. Yata felt the familiar warmth building at the core of his being, and smiled back at her without holding back. This was a place he belonged, yeah. But he was getting a bigger picture now – that he was a person who existed separate from this place and all the others who belonged here just the same. And he could have other places he belonged to – his family home sometimes, or even his new workplace. In the rink at a skateboard competition, if he managed to keep at it and do well.

At Saruhiko’s side too, some day in the future.

And outside of belonging to all of those places, he was still himself.

In front of him, Anna’s eyes crinkled with the widening of her smile. “Me too,” she said cryptically, and then turned to climb into a seat at the bar. “Can I have some orange juice?”

“Orange juice it is,” Kusanagi responded easily, picking up a glass. “I’ve got hotcakes in the back too, if you’re ready for breakfast.”

She nodded. “Thank you.”

“Pleasure to be of service.” He brandished the glass with a bit of a flourish. “Yata-chan, can you do me a favor and go get them for me? They’re just in the warming tray of the oven.”

He was already moving before the sentence even finished. “Got it!” As he pushed through into the back room, he added over his shoulder, “Be right back!”

There was a mirror on the wall when he entered the kitchen, right beside the door – probably something used to check the presentation and all when serving customers – and Yata's eyes caught on the movement made by his reflection. As the door swung shut behind him, he paused, coming to face his image head-on.

The guy in front of him had angry-looking eyes, a down-turned mouth, and raggedly cut hair poking out from beneath a somewhat lumpy hat. His shoulders were a bit hunched and his gaze was dubious, as if he wasn't quite sure about what to make of what he was looking at.

Fucking figures. Yata felt a reluctant smile tug at his lips, and watched his reflection smile ruefully back at him. On a whim, he muttered, "Hey."

It felt stupid – even dumber when he could see the pink spread on his cheeks as they warmed in response to the useless action – but at the same time there was something weirdly satisfying about it. Yata cleared his throat and went on, keeping his voice low. "Yata Misaki, right? Heard you're a pretty cool guy."

The reflection gave him a halfway-embarrassed grin, as if it didn't know what to do with the compliment. Hell, he wasn't really sure himself, but...

Not Homra's Yatagarasu. Not Saruhiko's soulmate. Not my mom's kid.

Yata Misaki.

The grin became less self-conscious with that thought. Yata reached out and lightly fist bumped the frame, feeling a little less foolish somehow, before moving to head further into the kitchen.

"Can't wait to get to know ya."

 

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