The marks were on the backs of their hands.
More specifically, the hands they’d been clasping as they had sex. It wasn’t until the need to sort out all the gross leftovers from the whole business became too much and they’d started to awkwardly separate that Fushimi had noticed. And Misaki had discovered it at approximately the same moment, muttering a small, “oh,” even as Fushimi stared at his own hand.
It was probably inevitable that he’d feel the pit of dread forming in his stomach, but it was still unsettling. He’d reconciled himself to the idea that they very well could be soulmates, and it wasn’t as if his resolve to be with Misaki had lessened simply because it turned out to be true.
A glance up revealed that Misaki had shifted back to a more comfortable position, tilting his hand slowly to different angles as he studied the mark. His eyebrows were bunched together, a tiny hint of a frown on his face as if he wasn’t sure how to feel about it.
That makes two of us, then…
The longer the silence stretched out between them, the more reality seemed to trickle into Fushimi’s awareness. The dim yellow lighting from the lamp beside the bed set shadows in the corners of the room, giving it a less savory appearance despite the reputable nature of the place. The walls were a bland off-white, the carpet a nondescript grey, and the generic bedcover they sat on felt scratchy and cheap.
It wasn’t the best choice for a first time, maybe. That hadn’t been foremost in his mind when he’d planned this, and he was aware that Misaki wasn’t going to be particularly fussy about it. He didn’t exactly care either. But with his current mood…
Fushimi turned back toward the side of the bed, moving to sit with his feet on the floor. His back was to Misaki this way and he wasn’t sure if that might send the wrong message, but there was a giant knot of mixed feelings that had risen up within him and he wasn’t entirely sure how to go about unraveling it. The pit in his stomach felt like it was expanding out, churning unpleasantly as it threatened to consume him.
This whole business was frustrating. He’d settled it, hadn’t he? Why should it come up again?
Oddly, it helped to actually look at the mark itself. The entire back of his hand, from the knuckles to the wrist, was covered in a mass of tiny, beautifully detailed flowers, which he recognized immediately despite not having bothered with the gift Munakata had given him. Forget-me-nots and lily-of-the-valley, carefully mixed and overlapping so the white and the pale purple-blue wove into a small pool of contrasts.
If he shut his eyes, he could still see the bundles they’d exchanged as kids. The flower arrangement on that balcony, years ago. The single, squashed blossom in the tiny book he’d been given on his return.
He wasn’t sure what these flowers meant to Misaki, but for himself…
‘The return of happiness’… right?
At some point while he’d been lost in his thoughts, Misaki had started to shift on the bed, shuffling himself up until he could settle into place on Fushimi’s left and bumping their bare shoulders together as he did. “Hey,” he started, voice oddly subdued.
Fushimi glanced sideways at him, feeling a tiny spark as that direct gaze met his. “’Hey’?”
“Shut up, I needed an opening.” A little hint of exasperated amusement lightened up Misaki’s expression for a second, but his eyes were still serious. He took in a breath. “You’re not freaking out on me, are ya?”
Was he? Fushimi frowned a bit, trying to consider that honestly. “Not… exactly,” he responded cautiously, after a brief second. “Just thinking.”
Misaki snorted. “Right, ’cause that’s so much better.” He shook his head, a rueful grin starting on his lips. “I know what happens when you get thinking too much.” Despite the certainty in that statement, he reached up to rub at the back of his neck almost anxiously. “Actually, truth is… when I saw this” – at that, he lowered his hand to tap at his wrist – “even though I knew it didn’t matter, I couldn’t help but feel a bit happy.” He shrugged, a nervous little jerk of his shoulders. “Old habits, or whatever. So I thought if that’s what I felt, you probably felt the opposite. Y’know?”
That resonated. Fushimi stared back at him wordlessly for a moment, struck with the familiar flood of feelings from one of Misaki’s uncommon bullseye responses.
It helped. Knowing that he wasn’t alone, even if their feelings didn’t match exactly, was somehow reassuring. He wasn’t the only one struggling with this, not quite knowing what to expect or where to go next. His own helpless insecurities that he didn’t want to acknowledge were reflected back at him from Misaki’s gaze, but there was no sign of regret or reluctance to move forward. And if he searched carefully, he found that he didn’t feel those things either.
It was… encouraging. In a way.
“Heh.” Misaki’s face lightened into a wider smile. “I’m right, huh?”
Okay, that was kind of annoying. Fushimi clicked his tongue, turning his gaze aside. “Shut up.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He could hear the amusement in Misaki’s tone at that, but it faded off into a kind of wistful note as he spoke again. “Y’know… Well, yeah, you probably know, but I’ll say it anyway: I can’t always be right. I fuck up a lot. Pretty sure I’m gonna do it with you, too.” When Fushimi glanced at him, he was staring forward, shoulders hunched and eyebrows bunched as he worked his with through those musings. “I’m not… I can’t be perfect. I can’t even be like I was before. A lot’s happened.” He took in a long breath, turning his gaze to meet Fushimi’s almost nervously. “I’m not... always strong.” The words were reluctant, almost grudging. “There’s some nights it just hits me all at once, and… ugh.” He blew out the rest of that breath, scowling with clear embarrassment. “And it’s frustrating, but I’m working on it, okay? I wanna be better. But right now, that’s… pretty much all I got.”
‘All’, he says… As if Fushimi hadn’t already decided that he wanted everything Misaki had to offer. Maybe he hadn’t made it clear – or maybe he hadn’t even fully acknowledged it in his own head – but there was no question in his mind that he would take all of it. Misaki’s strengths, Misaki’s weaknesses. His flaws and his charms, his vulnerabilities and his unthinking loyalty, his blunt carelessness and his brash, oblivious nature… And his devastating, heart-rending honesty.
All the little things that annoyed him, all the small points and gestures that lit a fire in his soul. They were part of the same whole, and he wanted to embrace everything that was Misaki and take him in. He wanted to know the shadowed places inside Misaki; to help him navigate them during the times when he got lost. And he thought – he was sure – he wanted to let Misaki into the shadowed places inside himself too. To accept the hand that stretched out towards him, and to offer his own in return.
It was still a frightening thought, opening up that much, but he couldn’t deny the appeal. One day, he thought he could probably manage it.
Well… One thing at a time, I guess.
Making an effort to stem the hint of a tremor in his fingers, Fushimi reached out to deliberately take hold of Misaki’s right hand, raising it enough so that he could bend and press his lips to the center of the mark that mirrored his own. He let the touch linger, lifting his gaze to take in Misaki’s startled face. “I’m fine with this,” he mumbled, lips brushing the skin beneath, “if you are.”
It took a moment for that to sink in, but when it did, Misaki’s eyelids lowered halfway, mouth spreading in a wide, promising smile. The affection and relief in his gaze took Fushimi’s breath away. “You know it!”
“I kinda love you.”
There was still anxiety within him – uncertainty and wariness and maybe a bit of fear – but that pit of dread in his stomach had gone. Fushimi smiled back, not helplessly but consciously, and allowed himself the moment of happiness.
For now, this was enough – and they could work together on the rest.
It was late the next morning when Yata made it to Bar Homra. He and Saruhiko had said their goodbyes early – because of work, as usual – but he’d taken the time to go home and get a change of clothing. It would’ve been weird to show up at Homra in a rented suit. Plus, if he showed up in the same thing he’d worn the night before, it was sorta… well…
Okay, everyone was gonna know what happened anyway, but still!
He felt kinda weird – different, in a way. Not just because of the brand new mark on his right hand, but it was like the experience had changed him. The way most people talked about sex, it was pretty casual – transactional, even, like the act itself was no big deal – but what happened between the two of them somehow… felt bigger.
Well, we are kinda dating now, I guess. The thought brought a grin to his lips, a little well of excitement building within him. They’d made it official before even going to sleep, because he’d wanted to hear it clearly. He was dating Saruhiko.
Maybe that was the big difference.
Yata slowed his skateboard as he approached the familiar building, kicking it up and hefting it easily in his left hand. He reached up to adjust his hat against the glare from the sun, hesitating for a moment as he stood in front of the door.
Gonna have to tell ’em sooner or later. It wasn’t like he could hide it with his hand covered in flowers.
A quick glance down at the mark was enough to steady him – honestly, even if he wasn’t putting a lot of stock in soulmates any more, he got a little guilty pleasure out of the fact that they did have matching marks again. It felt kinda like they were connected, though probably the sex had a lot to do with that. And washing up together. And sleeping in the same bed. And kissing each other goodbye. And… well… okay, dating in general kind of did it. He was happy. And even knowing it was illogical, it felt like the mark was a visible reminder of that bond. It just… helped to look at something that really felt like it reflected back his feelings. Plus, he had good memories associated with those flowers. They’d even helped him figure some stuff out.
So yeah. It was cool.
Squaring his shoulders and drawing up his determination, Yata reached out to pull the door open and step inside. “Yo!”
“Yata-san!” Kamamoto greeted him heartily from a stool at the bar. “Where’d you get off to last night? I was looking around for a while, y’know.”
“Right, sorry.” Yata shrugged, offering a sheepish grin, and glanced around the room. “I kinda got busy with something.”
It was unexpectedly busy inside – well, relatively so, anyway. Fujishima and Eric sat on the couch, a card game of some sort spread out on the coffee table in front of them and Anna hovering over it with interest. Chitose was huddled at a table, nursing a drink – hung over, probably – with an unsympathetic Dewa focused on his PDA in the chair across from him. Bandou and Akagi sat together at the bar, on the opposite side from Kamamoto.
Whoa… everyone’s here today? That was rare…
Kusanagi offered him a smile from behind the bar when his sweeping gaze got to that point. “Nothing troublesome, I hope.” He looked like he was about to say more, but then blinked, looking mildly startled. “Ah…”
He’d noticed, right? Yata reached up to scratch at the back of his neck, feeling the weight of eyes on him as he started to gather the attention of the others in response to that reaction. “Heh… uh…” He lowered the hand again, hunching sheepishly as he held it out. “About this… I mean, well… obviously, right? Hah…”
There was a stark moment of silence in the room as he tried to find the right words.
“Misaki.” Anna’s voice cut into his thoughts abruptly. When he glanced over, startled, he found she’d crossed the room to him sometime while he was fumbling with it, and was giving him an expectant look. “Can I see?”
“Uh. Yeah. I guess.” It wasn’t like he could refuse her anything, even if she wasn’t technically his King any more. Yata felt his cheeks grow warm all the same, holding out his right hand somewhat awkwardly. “Go ahead.”
She took it, bending her head for a better look. Her expression was intent as she studied it, and after a second or two of what felt like tense silence, she extended one small finger to brush lightly along the lines of a petal, a tiny smile building on her lips. “Pretty…”
Not sure if I wanna hear that as a guy… If anything, the rush of uncomfortable warmth rising up his neck got worse. Yata coughed lightly, but didn’t end up having the chance to respond.
“Congrats, Yata-san!” Kamamoto finally shattered the silence around them, jumping up off his stool to stride over and pound him heartily on the back, a broad grin on his face. “That’s great news!”
“Heh.” Chitose had looked up from his drink, a weary but knowing smirk on his face. “So that’s what you meant by ‘got busy’, huh?”
Yata sputtered at that, floundering indignantly for a response. Fuck… I mean, he’s not wrong…
“Seriously?” Bandou squawked, sounding indignant. “Yata found someone before I did? What the hell?”
“San-chan… if you say it like that…”
“Yeah, congrats. Or something.”
“Good for you!”
The sudden influx of comments was almost overwhelming – in a good way. Yata recovered enough to grin back, his earlier embarrassment melting in the face of that familiar sense of comfort at the good will around him. As he was basking in the claps on the back and the enthusiastic words, he somehow caught Kusanagi’s eye from where he’d stayed behind the bar.
His older friend shot him a smile, eyes knowing. “Congratulations,” he offered, in a normal tone that still somehow carried over the ruckus. “Been a long time coming, huh?”
Shoulda figured he’d know. Yata ducked his head, grin turning rueful. “Yeah.” He felt a little sheepish at being seen through, but it wasn’t bad. In a sense, he welcomed it – that someone who knew about him and Saruhiko would wish him well with full sincerity. It was pretty gratifying. “Thanks.”
Given how things had worked out, he couldn’t say he regretted the ‘long time’ part at all.
Fushimi couldn’t say he wasn’t tempted to find himself a pair of gloves before he went into work that morning. The potential inconvenience and the awkward prospect of having to come up with some way to avoid explaining himself had outweighed the potential benefits, but he’d still seriously considered it just to avoid the annoyance that was likely to follow.
Really, it would have been a lot less of a hassle if their marks had been in an easily concealed spot. On his back would have been convenient. Or even his elbow, or on the shoulder. Hands were just too noticeable.
At least it’s not on my face… Even if there were no bad memories associated with that, it would’ve just been too obvious.
It wasn’t like he was ashamed to be dating Misaki. More like the opposite, really – it was hard to believe that was actually where they were now, after everything. Hard to believe that they’d spent an entire night together after having sex, talking about small things in a shared bed until they’d fallen asleep, and then kissed each other goodbye in the morning. The connection between them was unquestionably real, and he still felt that tiny stirring of wonder and cautious happiness when he thought about it. He didn’t mind if everyone knew – at the very least, there’d be no confusion. But at the same time, he didn’t enjoy the attention that was likely to come with the display of a soulmate mark, of all things. That kind of thing really was his own personal business, and not anyone else’s.
Not that this stupid soulmate system cares about things like privacy, huh?
Regardless, trying to hide it was just going to prolong the inevitable. Fushimi frowned to himself, forcing his pace to remain steady as he headed for the workroom. If he didn’t go out of his way to draw attention to it, maybe his co-workers would take the hint and not bring it up.
Even as the thought crossed his mind, he was aware that it was an unlikely prospect. Fushimi clicked his tongue, reaching for the door handle. Might as well get this over with.
As luck would have it, only Enomoto, Kamo, and Fuse were in the room when he entered, all bent over their various workstations. Fushimi breathed out slowly, exchanged brief, polite greetings, and sank down at his own machine to check the status of his recent work. He was probably going to be out in the field again, considering how many strains were still either in hiding or waiting to be rehabilitated.
If he was lucky, it’d be by himself. Less stupid questions that way.
The reprieve was short-lived; he’d only just settled in his seat and unlocked his workstation when the door to the room opened and the remaining five members of the Special Operations Unit swarmed into the room, raising the noise level by a multiple of about one hundred.
“Man, why’d we have to be at work so early after a party, huh?” Domyoji complained.
Hidaka huffed a brief laugh. “At least we all got time off to go to the party – that’s kind of amazing with everything going on, don’t you think?”
“Akiyama and Benzai even had to leave early,” Goto put in, mildly. “Did you guys actually sleep?”
“A little,” Akiyama responded ruefully.
“I could go for more.” Benzai’s voice was dry.
“Yeah, I’ll bet!”
Noisy. Fushimi kept his eyes on the monitor, trying to drown out the rest of that inane babble. Learning to care about these idiots did not include automatically being more interested in random conversation, as it turned out. He liked them well enough – when they weren’t going out of their way to annoy him – but he still had no tolerance for time-wasting.
“Oh – Fushimi-san.” Akiyama approached him; when he glanced up, he got a small polite smile. “I was wondering if you could pull up the – ” He stopped. Blinked. And then utterly an uncharacteristically unprofessional, “Ah.”
There it was. Fushimi clicked his tongue, frowning back. “If you have something to ask, go ahead.”
“Eh – no. Sorry.” At once, Akiyama seemed to recover himself, though he looked a little bemused. “I suppose congratulations are in order?”
Wonderful. “Don’t bother.”
“Congratulations for what?” Hidaka shifted in to peer curiously over Akiyama’s shoulder, and abruptly did a double-take. “W-Whoa, Fushimi-san! Is that a – ?”
“Let me see!” Domyoji imposed himself in front of them, leaning in. “Oh – hey, a soulmate mark! Congrats! I’m jealous, Fushimi-san!”
That seemed enough to set off the floodgates.
“Fushimi-san has a soulmate mark?”
“Wait – you mean… our Fushimi-san?”
“You know another one?”
“Ah… no, but…”
“Congratulations, Fushimi-san! That’s great!”
“What’s going on in here?” Awashima’s stern voice cut through the babbling voices. When Fushimi glanced over, she was standing at the entrance, hands on her hips and expression critical. Munakata stood directly behind her, straight-backed and unconcerned as always, eyeing them all with what appeared to be great amusement.
Just my luck, I suppose… Fushimi clicked his tongue again. At least the interruption seemed to have stopped people from congratulating him. “Just a bunch of people unable to mind their own business.”
Awashima shot him something of an exasperated look. “That’s not exactly what I – ” Her eyes seemed to catch on his hand then, and he could see them widen slightly. Her tone, when she spoke again, was stunned. “Fushimi… That’s…”
“My, my.” Munakata tilted his head, smiling placidly as he met Fushimi’s flat stare. “It appears that congratulations are indeed in order.” His gaze was knowing. “However, we must not let such matters interfere with our daily tasks. Wouldn’t you agree, Awashima-kun?”
She straightened. “Yes, sir!” Facing the rest of them, she ordered, “You heard the Captain – carry on with your work.”
“Yes ma’am!” was chorused across the room, and that was that.
Well, mostly. As she strode forward, Awashima paused at Fushimi’s desk just long enough to let her expression soften into a small smile. “Congratulations,” she told him in a warmer undertone, and then straightened and carried on. “Enomoto – I’ll need those files I messaged you about.”
“Yes, Lieutenant. I’ve got them!”
As everyone shuffled around to start or continue their work days, a light touch on Fushimi’s shoulder caught his attention again. He looked up to meet his boss’s calm gaze with some surprise. “Captain?”
“A lovely bouquet, Fushimi-kun,” Munakata told him quietly, something a little less amused or interested in his eyes. It felt more like he was delivering a personal exchange than anything. “Be sure to treat it with utmost care.”
Care. Just like all of these well-meaning busybodies around him. Fushimi couldn’t help the small, rueful smile that tugged at his lips, but it didn’t matter. Even through the annoyance, he couldn’t help but continue to do that, could he? All of these idiots were the people he cared about, after all, and he’d look after them even when it was a pain.
And Misaki, of course, was no different. “You don’t have to tell me that.”
He was going to do his best this time, and leave no room for the bigger regrets.
It was well past dark when the gate leading in to Scepter 4 headquarters creaked open, allowing a bespectacled young man in uniform to step through. His shoulders were slightly hunched and his glasses wide-brimmed in an unfashionable style. “You didn’t have to come get me,” he drawled.
Waiting in the shadows for him was another young man, slight and athletic, with a skateboard tucked under one arm. “What, not happy to see me?” he scoffed. “You don’t even know the way to my place, remember?”
“GPS is a thing, Misaki,” the first man said, halting a short ways from the second and reaching up to adjust his glasses. “Anyway, I can follow directions fine.”
“Yeah, yeah.” The second man half-turned, taking a step in the opposite direction and waiting for his fellow to fall in step beside him before continuing. “Let’s get going already. It’s late.”
“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”
“Do you seriously have to make a smartass comment about everything?”
The street was empty, the lightning poor as they stepped across the boundary that marked the edge of Scepter 4’s grounds – as the two men walked along next to each other, bantering lightly, their shoulders were close and their hands brushed frequently. The first man’s left and the second man’s right.
Invisible to the casual observer, the marks on those hands could’ve blended together into a single bouquet: imperfect and flawed, but unquestionably beautiful.