All That We Are

 

Chapter Two

 

It was a late October afternoon when Yata flung open the door to Homra bar enthusiastically, not minding the various scrapes on his arms and legs from the latest scuffle. Some of the chill that was starting to fill the air with fall setting in wafted into the building behind him, snaking around his legs in contrast to the hearty warmth hitting him full-force from inside. "Yo!"

"Not so rough," Kusanagi scolded him from behind the bar.

"My bad!" Even that couldn't take the shine off of his latest victory. Yata hurried forward, skirting the tables and chairs with casual ease and grinning widely. "We got the bastards, Kusanagi-san! Those assholes that were roughing guys up in Homra's territory won't be back any time soon!"

"That so?" He got a raised eyebrow and a bit of a rueful smile. "Funny, I don't remember giving that order..."

Yata stopped by the bar, puffing his chest out with pride. "Those small fry are no big deal for us – you don't need to worry about it, Kusanagi-san!"

Before there was a chance for his older friend to respond, a familiar chuckle came from the other end of the bar. "You really have a lot of energy, huh, Yata-chan?"

"You bet!" His grin widened without any effort on his part, the usual warm fondness sprouting in his chest as he turned to his left and took in that gentle smile. "You shoulda seen it, Totsuka-san! I scattered them up real good, and then Saruhiko picked them off – it was seriously so cool!"

Kusanagi took the opportunity to interject as he caught his breath. "Ah, Fushimi was with you? I should've guessed." There was an amused edge to his gaze when Yata turned back to him. "Did he not come back with you?"

A little of the good mood evaporated with the reminder. "Ah – right, well." Yata reached up with the hand that wasn't holding his skateboard to rub at the back of his neck, shrugging a bit. "He went home. Guess he wasn't feeling great or something."

It was probably his imagination. Actually, it definitely was – he and Saruhiko were partners, after all. Soulmates. He was still sure of that, even if Saruhiko didn't talk to him much lately... It was just how he was sometimes. And they were busy with Homra’s business, after all. Just because it seemed like Saruhiko was avoiding touching him as much as possible... it didn’t mean...

Well, if he thought about it, that wasn't new.

'Cause of me, right? Ever since that night they didn't talk about, nearly a year ago when they'd still been on their own. That stupid kiss. It wasn't like things had gotten awkward or anything – mostly, Yata was pretty sure they just acted normal afterward. And he wasn't gonna bring it up, not when it was obvious that Saruhiko didn't... want to.

He hated it, right? That's why.

It was his fault for pushing it, he knew that. So, whatever. Not like they needed to do... it. If Saruhiko didn't want to, then that was that. It kinda stung - he wasn't sure what about him was such a turn-off – but the important thing was being together, right? They were Homra's Vanguard team now.

And they had the matching marks. Yata let his hand slide down so his fingers curled over the familiar spot on his chest. It never failed to cheer him up when he thought about it. Their Homra tattoos weren't exactly like soulmate marks - they were in the exact same place instead of being mirror images - but it was close enough to validate what he was sure of in his heart.

He was Saruhiko's soulmate, whether they confirmed it or not.

Just, there was one kinda annoying problem...

"Hm, really?" Totsuka interrupted his thoughts, tilting his head with a look of mild concern. "Hopefully he's not coming down with a cold or anything."

"Nah." Yata shook his head, summoning up a bit of his previous grin. "I mean, yeah, he used to catch cold pretty easy, but it hasn't been so bad since we moved in together."

"Ah, I get it!" Totsuka brightened at that, then smiled warmly at him. "You take pretty good care of him, then, huh, Yata-chan?"

Somehow, that was kind of embarrassing; Yata felt warmth rush up to his face and waved his hand in denial. "N-not really! I just cook sometimes, y'know? Normal stuff." He hastily moved on past it with, "Anyway, since we joined, I'll bet our aura takes care of stuff like colds! Right?" He turned his hand over and clenched it into a fist, grin widening again as he lit it up with fire. "Mikoto-san's powers are really amazing, after all!"

“Not in the bar,” Kusanagi warned him and shook his head when Yata sheepishly retracted his aura. “I think you’re expecting too much of it, Yata-chan.”

"No way! I'm sure I don't even know half of how awesome it is!" It was from Mikoto, after all - Yata was pretty positive Mikoto could do almost anything. He could still vividly recall how his King had sauntered coolly towards the crowd of masked Jungle users and wiped out everything aimed at Saruhiko without seeming to bat an eye.

That was the moment it had struck him how truly powerless they were all along. He was Saruhiko's soulmate, and he still hadn't been able to do anything but tremble like a scared little kid and beg a stranger for help. The memory of that helpless terror still haunted him, vivid in his dreams. He'd woken up, shaken and sweaty, more times than he cared to admit from visions of being too late - of Mikoto not being there and Saruhiko's beaten and bloody form crumpled at his feet.

But... now I can protect everyone. He was a part of Homra now. Just the thought of it filled his soul with warmth. He was someone with amazing powers, amazing skill, and the ability to kick the asses of anyone who threatened his friends. He was unstoppable, and nothing could shake him!

All thanks to Mikoto, who was a real life hero. Mikoto, whose powers had chosen Yata and allowed him to be a small part of something amazing. Mikoto, who had given him a place to belong and the identity he'd been waiting to step into his entire life.

Homra's Yatagarasu.

It even sounded cool in his thoughts.

"I can see it's pretty pointless to try and convince you otherwise." Kusanagi's tone was ruefully amused; he offered a small smile. "Try and mind your limits, would you, Yata-chan?"

Yata shrugged. "You worry too much, Kusanagi-san! They didn't even land a solid hit on me. Besides, I had Saruhiko along."

Totsuka chuckled again. "Is that supposed to be better or worse?"

"Huh?" Yata blinked at him. "What's that mean?"

"Never mind." Kusanagi shook his head. "Let's just say the two of you are a recipe for disaster, and leave it at that."

"No wonder you got those matching marks, hm?" Totsuka added, playfully.

Yata reached up to brush his fingers over the familiar spot at the front of his shirt without thinking, and felt his face heat as he noticed his friend's smile widen. "Y-yeah, well..." He let that trail off, clearing his throat. "Totsuka-san, you don't have a soulmate, do you?"

At that, Totsuka blinked, seeming a little surprised by the turn in conversation. "Me?" He recovered quickly, an easy smile spreading on his face. "No way – you think I'm that type, Yata-chan?"

If anything, the uncomfortable flush on his face intensified. "Ah - no, I didn't mean – "

"It's fine, it's fine – I'm just teasing." Totsuka waved a careless hand, and his eyes softened a little. "Well, I don't have a soulmate, but King does."

Yata felt his eyes widen, a little shock running through his system. "M-Mikoto-san does...?"

"Totsuka," Kusanagi said, a hint of a rebuke in his voice.

"Sorry!" At once, Totsuka's smile was all cheer. "Don't mind me, gossiping away." He raised a finger to his lips with a wink. "Maybe keep that to yourself, okay, Yata-chan?"

Kusanagi shot him a glance with an undertone of something that Yata couldn't understand. He barely paid it any mind, still reeling over that unexpected revelation. Mikoto-san has a soulmate...

Who could possibly be awesome enough to match up to his King?

It was obviously too late to ask now, though. "Y-yeah." Trying to push his curiosity aside – he wasn't gonna be the one to blab on about Mikoto's personal business when he was trusted with that kinda secret, after all – he shrugged awkwardly, and shifted focus. "What about you, Kusanagi-san?"

He got an amused smile for his trouble. "Yata-chan, let me tell you something – when you've got a little more experience under your belt, you'll learn not to expect every affair to result in a match."

Totsuka hummed a little. "You mean you hope none of those affairs result in a match. Right?"

One of Kusanagi's eyebrows twitched; when he spoke, his voice was deliberately even. "Now, listen..."

Yata was too impatient to wait for their banter to continue; the subject made it feel like something had swelled close to bursting in his chest, and he couldn't keep it in. "But finding your soulmate's a good thing, right?"

"Ah..." Kusanagi blinked, looking a bit taken aback for a moment, and then his expression cleared. "Not to say it's a bad thing..."

"Not everyone's looking, though," Totsuka added; when Yata turned to look at him, his smile was warm and his eyes strangely knowing – with a hint of some other, implacable undertone mixed in. "After all, not everyone can expect their best friend to be their soulmate."

Kusanagi let out a soft sigh, but said nothing.

It felt like there was something significant going on, but Yata couldn't quite put his finger on what he'd missed. The 'best friend' part already had him squirming with embarrassment on his feet. They don't know, right? I mean, they can't...

He wasn't even sure if Saruhiko knew all of it, and he kinda wanted to keep it that way, considering how things had gone last time. After that aborted kiss, it had started to feel like he'd fucked up – opened some kind of floodgate within his own heart that didn't have an 'off' switch. Everything had been so easy before they'd done it, and now...

It was embarrassing, but he couldn't stop thinking about it.

He wanted... all kinds of things. Stuff he wasn't even sure about. That kiss wouldn't leave his head; the soft, warm sensation of Saruhiko's lips and the slick interior of his mouth under Yata's tongue. It was intoxicating; addicting. He'd only done it once, and he was... he was fixated. When he thought about it, it was like his brain was swallowed in heat and his body trembled in a way it never had.

Saruhiko didn't want to, so he couldn't... he shouldn't think about those things. It was just that he couldn't help it. Sometimes it felt like he couldn't control his own body or mind at all.

It was kinda freaky, in a way.

"Yata?" Totsuka's mildly concerned voice broke into his thoughts; when he glanced up, startled, his friend was eyeing him curiously. "Something wrong?"

"Eh... no! N-nothing!" Yata swallowed hard, feeling flustered. This was the last time or place he wanted to get swallowed up by that shit. Forcefully pushing the thoughts aside, he reached up to rub at the back of his neck. "Just kinda spaced out, sorry!"

"Mm... Are you sure you didn't catch whatever Fushimi's got?" Kusanagi frowned a bit. "Maybe you should head home too, Yata-chan – don't push yourself."

"Nah, it's fine!" Yata quickly brushed that off, managing a grin. "I got stuff on my mind, that's all." It was better not to be around Saruhiko anyway, if he was thinking like that – he'd be back to normal again later, and it'd be no problem. "Anyway, I wanna stay and hang out with everyone!"

"Right? Me too." Totsuka met his gaze and smiled back, cheerful as ever. "How about helping me cook something while we wait for King and Anna to get back, hm?"

"All right!" Yata quickly leaned his board against one of the stools, feeling recharged. "Let's go!"

"Make sure you clean up when you're done," Kusanagi called after them.

Waving in acknowledgement, Yata hurried after Totsuka and shoved those troubling thoughts as far to the back of his mind as he could get them.

 


 

 

Misaki was late again – Fushimi could tell without even checking the time when he heard the door to their place open.

There were no windows, so he couldn’t tell anything based on the amount of light in the room. It was either shitty flickering light or pitch black, nothing in between. That hadn’t bothered him much when they’d originally moved there, but after a year and a half he was beginning to find it irritating. He was tired of squinting at his screen.

Considering how mind-numbingly boring it had become to pass his evenings at the Homra bar watching Misaki laugh like an idiot, he was spending a lot more time squinting lately.

The main reason he could tell it was late was because the narrow hallway that led to their apartment had a window that faced west, which caused the evening sun to bathe the entire stretch of it with bright light. It was nearly June and the light lasted longer these days. But when Misaki had charged in, there was no illumination.

Well past sunset again, huh?

“Oi! Saruhiko! You awake?”

What do you think? The lights were out, his computer was off, and he was wrapped in his blanket on the loft, his back to the room. It was as if Misaki couldn’t read even the most obvious situation any more.

It wasn’t even so much that Misaki was hitting zero points at all times – lately, it was as if he didn’t even care about aiming for the one hundred point responses. He was just a long stream of half-assed mid-point interactions lately. It was tiresome.

Nothing but Homra, Homra all the time…

He heard Misaki moving around on the ground floor, cursing under his breath as the door shut with force and the sound of footsteps and then rustling as he dropped whatever was with him carelessly. Then a brief moment of silence, a sharp huff of breath, and the unmistakable sound of the ladder to the loft being climbed.

"Saruhiko?" Misaki's voice had lowered in volume, sounding almost tentative now. It made Fushimi's skin feel like it was prickling up, hearing his name in that tone. "You're awake, right?"

Take a hint, idiot. He deliberately kept his breath even, hoping that a lack of response would deter whatever had prompted Misaki to try and get his attention now.

He could feel it when Misaki rested some of his weight on the loft, and the prickling intensified, almost a shiver under his skin. It was unnerving to be so aware of it, but that couldn't be helped. As much as he found Misaki to be tedious lately, he couldn't help but feel a pull in that direction as well. In a crowded room, his eyes would be drawn to just one person - at times when they weren't together, he found himself seeking out that singular presence. There were moments when he would look at Misaki and an ache rose up within him, nearly choking him. It was as if he couldn't properly breathe, but in an entirely different way than how he felt at Homra. This wasn't so much stifling as it was him drowning, with conflicting and overwhelming feelings surrounding him until he choked on them.

He wanted Misaki to leave him alone, but he also craved Misaki's presence. It was an unpleasant loop.

Another impatient-sounding huff of breath came from the direction of the ladder. "I'll just go ahead and say it," Misaki muttered. "If you're asleep, whatever, fine – but if you're just pretending to sleep, then at least listen, okay?"

Despite his words, he paused there, shifting with obvious agitation. Just say it and go away, Fushimi thought at him. Misaki's discomfort and uncertainty made him feel restless and antsy. Already he could feel the energy building in his own body; he wouldn't be able to sleep for a long time now, after this.

It wasn't as if Misaki needed anything from him. Misaki had Homra now, and that was clearly enough. There was nothing that Fushimi could do for him to evoke the sparkling eyes and bright smile he'd once taken such satisfaction in. Everything that Misaki needed, wanted, or might be impressed by was already there in front of him, at Bar Homra. Suoh Mikoto had given him the life he'd always wanted, along with everyone else in the red clan. The things that Fushimi could do were no longer of any use or interest. Not to Misaki, and not to any other person at Homra.

"You should stay later at the bar sometimes," Misaki went on, blithely unaware of Fushimi's internal reasoning. "Some of the guys said it earlier, that it’s like you don't like hanging out with us. I know it's not true and all – "

That shows what you know. It would've been a zero point answer if he'd put any effort into reaching it at all.

" – but it kinda looks that way, s'all I'm saying." There was another short pause, and then Misaki's voice lowered even further, almost to a mumble. "'Sides, we gotta stick together, right? Homra's Vanguard team."

That unwelcome reminder made the space beneath Fushimi's left collarbone feel like it was itching - a kind of biting sensation that made him want to reach up and dig his fingernails into it. At first, the placement of the mark - a matched set with Misaki's - had been something of a triumph. They'd successfully passed the installation of the power they'd sought all that time, which helped soothe some of the sting of his earlier failure, and the symmetry felt like a proof that there was a connection between the two of them that wasn't related to soulmates.

It was a short-lived delusion. Misaki's views on soulmates hadn't changed - if anything, the following days and weeks and months made it clear that he considered the marks to be some kind of divine proof that they were soulmates after all. With that question seemingly settled in his brain, he'd clearly moved past it, and the need to prove anything in that sense had been satisfied.

As if it proves anything... Don't be stupid.

They had never talked about that failed attempt, nor had Misaki tried to get him to do it again. Nothing about their everyday interactions had changed in the slightest, but still, something was different. It was like opening Pandora's box; the inclusion of physical cravings and urges and inclinations he hadn't known he was capable of plagued Fushimi at the most inconvenient times. He knew the taste of Misaki's mouth and the warmth of Misaki's body leaning intimately close, and there were times when he'd look at Misaki's lips or fingers or the slope of his neck and want to touch - want to feel...

It was overpowering. Irritating. The want never lost any intensity, even after all this time. Sometimes his body ached with it, and he wasn't sure how to make that feeling stop. It only added to the mess of conflict in his mind when it came to Misaki.

And all the while, it had only taken a pair of Suoh Mikoto's brands in similar spots to satisfy Misaki. There was nothing he needed from Fushimi any more.

Well, there is one thing...

Near him, Misaki let out another sigh – softer this time. “Anyway, that’s all,” he muttered, and his weight shifted again, sinking back onto the ladder from where he’d been leaning against the loft. “Night, Saruhiko.”

There was the clatter of movement as he descended the ladder and started to get ready for bed. Fushimi stayed where he was, not moving until he heard the bathroom door open and shut. Then he let out his breath in a long rush, dissatisfaction seeming to prickle at every pore in his body.

It was so irritating…

There was still that one thing, though. Fushimi shifted his knees up further and pulled the cover tighter across his torso reflexively. One thing that Misaki wanted from him that he couldn’t get from Homra or Suoh Mikoto, or anyone else. Fushimi could still hold onto that tiny bit of satisfaction within him, even if it felt like a pale and useless echo of what he’d had in the past.

Even if it was only real because Misaki believed it.

Matching marks or not, there was still no true confirmation of soulmate status between them, after all.

 


 

 

Normally Yata wouldn't have gone back home in the middle of the afternoon, especially not when most of Homra was at the bar, but Totsuka had pointed out that Saruhiko still hadn't showed up yet. They were all trying to show solidarity for the Minato twins, hidden from those stupid Blues, and if Saruhiko wasn't there, it kinda looked like maybe he didn't agree with it.

Which was impossible – this was just how Saruhiko acted sometimes, getting moody or bored – but not everyone knew him as well as Yata did. That was exactly why he'd mentioned it back in the summer, though he wasn't sure if Saruhiko had been awake or not.

He probably didn't hear me, right? It made sense. That had been over three months ago – if Saruhiko had heard him, he would’ve said something or just quietly changed on his own. And Yata hadn’t exactly brought it up since. He was gonna fix that now.

The early October sun was hanging low enough that the window on the sliding door that led into their building was reflecting light back at him. Yata squinted, pulling up his skateboard just in front of it and grabbing it in one hand. When he reached out to grab the handle, it was sun-warmed, an odd contrast to the chill hanging in the air.

The sweat that had formed on his body from the minor exertion had cooled while he stood outside, but it felt uncomfortably warm again when he stepped inside, the lack of ventilation in the hallway mixing unpleasantly with the sun beaming in relentlessly through the window. It was something of a relief when he swung open the door to their apartment and felt slightly fresher air strike him.

That slight discomfort mixed with his impatience had Yata carelessly calling out, "Saruhiko!" before even stepping over the threshold. He leaned his skateboard against the wall by the entrance as he stepped in, letting the door swing shut behind him.

It was noticeably dimmer with the sunlight closed out; Yata blinked a few times as his eyes adjusted. He could see the edge of the glow from the computer screen before he'd even turned the corner and looked up. There was no sound of rapid typing coming from above; when he took in the familiar figure on the loft, Saruhiko was staring blankly at his screen, eyes dull and a small frown on his face. "What, Misaki?" he asked just as Yata was getting ready to call out to him again. He sounded almost bored.

Yata scowled, a bit irritated with the tone. This is what I get for thinking about you? "What are you doing? How come you're not at Homra?"

"Is there some reason I should be?"

The offhand answer caught Yata off-guard; he blinked, staring at Saruhiko's unaltered expression with mild confusion. Why would you need a reason? We're always there. "Huh? I mean, everyone is – "

A loud scuffle cut him off; Saruhiko had abruptly shoved his keyboard away from him.

There – he was coming after all. Yata felt a small rush of relief – but it was short-lived as he watched his friend hunch over the desk, showing no signs of moving toward the ladder. What gives here?

After a second or so of confused silence, Saruhiko finally mumbled, without looking up, "Why does it matter what 'everyone' is doing?"

"What?" This was getting dumb. Yata let out a sharp breath, heading for the ladder to get up to the loft. "The hell are you talking about, Saruhiko? Everyone's there, so c'mon – don't you wanna hang out?"

His fingers had just closed around the bars when the sound of more shuffling came from above him. When he looked over, it was in time to watch Saruhiko set one hand on the guard at the edge of the loft and hop deftly over.

There was a second of immediate, instinctive alarm before Yata remembered that – right – they were red clansmen now and a jump like that was no big deal. Still, he didn't normally see Saruhiko pulling that kind of stunt often. It was... impulsive. Reckless. Normally, his partner was too cool and calculating for that kind of stuff.

The momentary panic morphed into something completely different as he watched Saruhiko land gracefully, like a thin, lanky cat. Somehow, that move had been really cool, actually. It sparked a little hint of something dangerous in Yata's stomach – a blend of admiration and attraction, and maybe a hint of some of the less innocent feelings he'd been repressing lately.

For that reason, when Saruhiko straightened up, raising his head to look directly at him, Yata felt like his throat was closing up. He swallowed hard, unable to think of anything to say in that single instant.

He's so...

All the things that would fit at the end of that thought based on his current mood were way too damn dangerous. Yata's mind raced frantically, looking for the words that would make this situation normal again.

Saruhiko wasn't going to give him that time, apparently. Without changing that dull-eyed, bored expression, he strolled towards where Yata was standing at the ladder, pace unhurried.

Unable to think of any other course of action, Yata half turned to face him as he approached, ending up shifting entirely around with his back towards the ladder as Saruhiko stopped in front of it and faced him, all without saying a word.

The silence was starting to make him nervous. Yata cleared his throat, frowning back a bit defensively. "Wh-what is it?"

"Nothing." Saruhiko drew the word out almost mockingly. He tilted his head to the side, a small smile turning up the corners of his mouth, and then abruptly leaned forward, bracing his hands on the bars beside Yata's head. "You still wanted to see if we're soulmates, didn't you, Misaki?"

The words had a small surge of shock sparking out from his core. Yata stared back, not quite believing what he'd heard. Wait... is he saying...? Since that failed attempted, neither of them had even mentioned soulmates. And now out of nowhere, it was coming up? Plus, Saruhiko was so close; it was almost impossible to look away from the cool blue of his eyes. Yata felt a little like he was drowning.

"I – " His voice cracked; he swallowed and tried again. "Yeah! O-of course! I mean, I know we are, but..." Instinctively, he reached up to clench his fingers in the fabric over his left collar. "I-it'd be cool to have the marks, right?"

"Mm." Saruhiko leaned in closer without answering, and Yata's heart seemed to kick up even further, a small ache building in the pit of his stomach. He shut his eyes without thinking as he felt the brush of breath on his face. "Then," Saruhiko mumbled, almost a whisper, and closed the small amount of remaining distance between them.

The moment when lips closed on his was electric. Yata felt a tiny noise escape his throat, but barely paid it any mind, his awareness shifting entirely to the contact between them. A warm shudder ran up along the line of his spine and he pressed into the kiss, his whole body seeming to throb with want.

He was kissing Saruhiko. Actually, Saruhiko was kissing him, with enough force to push his head back against the bar behind it, and Yata found he didn't mind. At all. His head was spinning, pleasant reactive tingling spreading through his body as reality settled in.

He couldn't believe this was happening. It was like a really vivid dream.

If it is, I don't wanna wake up!

Saruhiko's tongue prodded at his lips and Yata parted them immediately, inhaling sharply through his nose as they connected, a foreign wet heat invading his own mouth. The slick pressure of tongue ran along the roof of his mouth, his gums...

It was hard to keep up. Yata was vaguely aware that he'd looped his arms around Saruhiko's waist, fingers clenching in the fabric of his hoodie. Saruhiko was being much more aggressive than before, barely giving Yata time to collect himself and adjust to the overwhelming rush of sensation before spurring things onward, almost as if he were impatient for something. His lips moved with his tongue, his breath an erratic fan against Yata’s cheek. It was clumsy and heated and somehow frenzied – he could barely keep up.

This is…

There was a telltale ache between his legs; he was strongly aware of it even as his thoughts were swallowed by the warm fog settling over his brain. The fly of Yata's shorts felt gradually tighter as that troublesome part of his body stiffened in response to the pleasant feelings coursing through him. He didn't have time to be embarrassed about it, though, because Saruhiko made a soft hum against his mouth, the vibration seeming to reverberate through Yata's entire frame. In almost the same instant, he leaned in further, bringing their bodies into contact, one of his knees shifting between Yata's thighs.

Something between a gasp and a moan escaped Yata's throat as he felt pressure against the half-hard lump between his legs. It triggered a sharp, sweetly potent sensation that sparked through his body like lightning. The kiss broke with the movement of his mouth, but he didn't even have time to think, much less speak, before Saruhiko was chasing his lips again, and Yata felt the unmistakable press of an answering erection against his hip.

Fuck... It was going so fast. His head was spinning. It felt like he couldn't breathe; there were too many new feelings, and he couldn't even begin to process it all. His fingers clenched on Saruhiko's hoodie, a tremble starting in his limbs. Wait - wait...

No. Almost as soon as that protest formed in his brain, Yata was crushing it ruthlessly. He couldn't wait. This was too important... this was his soulmate... There might not be another chance if –

The thought had barely crossed his mind when contact abruptly ceased. Saruhiko's mouth withdrew from his, the warm pressure of his body lifting. A rush of cold air seemed to immediately move in to occupy the space in his wake.

Yata opened his eyes, still feeling dazed as he blinked at his friend. "Sa.. Saruhiko...?"

The tilt of Saruhiko's head had the light hitting his glasses, just enough to obscure his eyes from sight. There was a noticeable flush on his cheeks; his lips pursed and then twitched down into a frown. He clicked his tongue and reached up to deliberately run the back of his wrist over them, as if to wipe away some unpleasant taste.

What's happening? The haze over Yata's thoughts was starting to clear, and he felt the warmth that had gathered on his own face intensify as reality set in. He was still hard, body tense in the wake of their contact, but he didn't get what was going on now. And Saruhiko wasn't meeting his gaze, much less explaining. He swallowed almost painfully, and tried again. "Oi, Sar – "

"I changed my mind." The mumble of Saruhiko's voice was slow, but there was a sharp edge behind the words that made it almost resentful. He reached down to pull Yata's still fingers from his clothing, disengaging enough to take a step back, and turned without raising his gaze, expression obscured. "I don't want to."

They were the same words he'd used before, but there was something in them that had an unpleasant sort of dread settling in Yata's stomach. He swallowed again, staring mutely at the back of his friend's head. Somehow, he couldn't think of anything to say.

It didn't even feel like there was anything he could say. The situation was so far out of his control that his head felt like it was reeling. What the hell was going on?

"You wanted to go to Homra, right, Misaki?" That slow, drawling tone was back in Saruhiko's voice. He stepped away, moving towards the bathroom door. "Go ahead. I'll catch up with you in a while."

The soft click as the door closed behind him, cutting him from view, felt somehow final.

Yata slumped back against the ladder, letting out a whoosh of air and feeling as if his strength had momentarily given out. His body was still on edge, vaguely turned on, but the swirling mass of emotion in his head was layered with heavy confusion.

Saruhiko had... had tried to confirm the soulmate bond between them, right? That was what that was about? Yata frowned, trying to sort through it in his head. Somehow it had gone wrong again, but he still couldn't see where. He hadn't pushed. Saruhiko had initiated everything, had taken the lead and been in full control, and still... still he couldn't seem to want to do anything further.

At least, not with Yata.

A tiny but potent spark of hurt flared up in his chest, the ache rising to the back of his throat, and Yata's fingers clenched into fists. He'd been telling himself all along that he was okay with it if Saruhiko didn't see him that way, so it should've been fine, but somehow, it still hurt. Somehow... he still couldn't help but desperately wish that his feelings were returned.

You really can’t see me that way, huh? It’s impossible for you, isn’t it, Saruhiko?

Well, they were still soulmates, even if it wasn't confirmed. Yata repeated that thought to himself a few times, trying to recover his optimism. It didn't matter if they had... that kind of relationship. They had a bond. That was the important thing here.

Yata reached up to set his palm over the familiar spot at his collar again, shutting his eyes against the sting behind them. It almost felt like he could feel the lines of the mark through his shirt, burning up against his hand – a solid, comforting reminder of the most important things in his life.

As long as they were still together, the rest didn't matter... right?

 


 

 

With the adrenaline wearing off, the pain at Fushimi's collar was starting to become borderline unbearable. The nauseating scent of burnt flesh rose up from the mangled mark, nearly choking him. And yet, despite both of those things, he couldn't seem to wipe the twisted grin from his face. His mind was whirling, still not recovered from the high.

The image of Misaki's enraged eyes hadn't left him, and he couldn't help but laugh breathlessly and tip his head back against the back seat of the car, just thinking about it. There goes your pride... there goes your so-called 'soulmate'...

He was aware of the driver – a blue clansman he hadn’t been introduced to – shifting uncomfortably in the front, and had a sense that he was being eyed periodically in the rear view mirror. Fushimi ignored him. He’d already brushed off the alarmed offer of medical aide when he’d returned to the vehicle, and he was aware that the impression he was making on this guy wasn’t terribly favorable right now. That could be corrected later once he took on a certain amount of work and was able to prove his ability. At the moment, though, he couldn’t care less.

Misaki had been desperate – furious. Fushimi shut his eyes, breathing slowly as his brain and body were flooded with feelings. That face he made…

It wasn’t the sparkling eyes he’d been so proud of, but these eyes delved into his soul. It was invigorating. A new mark of accomplishment and a fitting replacement for what he’d lost. This was the right path. The more he thought about it, the more certain he was.

Despite the fact that he’d come up with the idea on the spot. It wasn’t like him to act on impulse.

Well, the result is the same. Burning the mark had been dual purpose: he was rejecting both Suoh Mikoto's Homra and Misaki's views on soulmates, all at once. The moment when he'd felt the rush intense pain and watched the anger and hurt in Misaki's eyes melt into shock and horror, it felt like the best kind of gratification.

He'd never felt more alive.

Well... other than maybe one time. When Misaki had kissed him for the first time...

There was no point in thinking about that, honestly. Fushimi clicked his tongue, wincing as he lifted his head and carefully curled the edge of his shirt away from the burn scar to allow it to breathe. The residual longing – for Misaki's touch, Misaki's taste, Misaki's reactions – was nothing but an additional burden. Regardless, the second "attempt" had given him all the confirmation he needed. The one thing that would keep him shining brightly in Misaki's world, unable to be forgotten and discarded regardless of Homra filling all of Misaki's needs.

With the matching mark destroyed, there was nothing to suggest that they were soulmates, and Misaki would never be able to let go of the possibility, even as he learned to hate Fushimi wholeheartedly.

In the front of the car, the driver cleared his throat. “Are you sure you don’t want – ?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue sharply, irritated at having his thoughts interrupted. “There’s a medical station at headquarters, isn’t there? Just drive.”

The man looked vaguely disgruntled, but he didn’t comment further.

Good. There was no point in interacting with these people. He wasn’t joining Scepter 4 to make friends. That was a pointless business in the first place – look at how well it had worked the first time he’d done it.

Well, that’s been fixed, hasn’t it? The old hint of an ache that had started to build when he’d told Misaki that he was leaving was lost in the heat of their exchange. In the heat of Misaki’s aura surrounding his body – the heat that had filled his voice when he’d passionately declared that he would kill Fushimi.

The prospect of Misaki chasing after him, burning gaze fixed on him with murderous intent, was invigorating. After nearly a year of not being needed for anything aside from half-hearted company when nothing else was available, the furious rage that Misaki directed at him now made his body tremble with anticipation.

What will I be to you now, Misaki? The so-called ‘soulmate’ that got away?

"Fucking traitor!"

Another little burst of laughter escaped his throat, and Fushimi's smile widened. He carefully pried his fingers from the collar of his shirt again, allowing it to cover the mangled mark. It was nearly agonizing when the fabric brushed against his open wound, but he didn't mind it.

This is how it has to be, isn't it?

With all the satisfaction and the certainty that filled him as the car sped him away from his past at Homra and towards his future at Scepter 4, Fushimi still couldn't help but see the overlaying images of Misaki's eyes, one set filled with burning rage and the other brimming with hurt and desperate confusion.

And somehow, there was still a bitter edge that curled in the core of his heart.

 

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