All That We Are

 

Chapter Three

 

"You're looking tired, Yata-chan," Kusanagi remarked, breaking Yata out of the half-doze he'd fallen into in his seat at the bar. When he looked up, a wry smile met his gaze, the reflection of the afternoon sun and the colors from the moving walls glinting from the sunglasses above it. "Sure you don't want to wait for this housewarming party? You need a couple days to settle in, right?"

Yata straightened, managing a small grin despite his weariness. "Nah, it's fine! I'm good!" He didn't have to fake it when he leaned forward with enthusiasm. "I've been looking forward to this!"

For more reason than just one. Saruhiko had left... rejecting Homra, rejecting Yata, rejecting everything... just a little more than a month ago. Since then, it had been impossible to sleep in the old apartment; the memories started to overwhelm him, and the ache filled his body, leaving him restless. Kusanagi had been generous enough to both allow him to stay a few nights in the basement of the bar and to help him find a new apartment with rent that could be afforded by a part-timer who'd dropped out of middle school. Moving so quickly had been tiring, but... he needed it.

If he stopped to think about it for too long, his thoughts led him into a tangle of confusion and hurt. Dwelling on it left him in worse shape than trying to pretend it hadn't happen. He couldn't sleep, and he knew he wasn't performing as well as he could for Mikoto's sake.

More than anything, that gave him incentive to get past this. He had to. Homra was his life. His reason for existing. Everything that made him who he was tied him to this place and these people.

Well, almost everything – but it wasn't like he had a soulmate by his side now anyway...

"How is the new place, anyway?" Kusanagi asked him, setting a cigarette between his lips.

"Good! I got my own bathroom, even." That was one of the things Saruhiko had insisted on for their old place, and it wasn't easy to find for cheap. Once again, he really had a lot to be thankful to his older friend for. "Kinda nice that it's smaller, y'know? Less..." He waved a hand, not sure how to get across his feelings on this one. "... space."

Less memories. Less emptiness. Less loss.

Kusanagi gave him a sympathetic look, but didn't comment. "Well, glad to hear it." He hesitated, seeming to think about adding more, but the door opened behind them before he could.

"We're back!" Totsuka's cheery voice announced to the room, accompanied by a rush of crisp November air. He was turning to grin back over his shoulder as Yata looked up. "Bring it over this way, King!"

"Mikoto-san!" Yata brightened at once, straightening automatically as his hero stepped in across the threshold, Anna trailing behind with one small hand clenched on his jacket. "What did you... ?"

His voice trailed off as he caught sight of the bundle in Mikoto's hands – and not so much out of surprise that his King of all people would be carrying a bouquet of flowers. Yata's eyes were immediately drawn to the tiny blue and white flowers that dotted the arrangement, accenting and contrasting the larger blossoms that made up the bulk of it.

"Fine." Saruhiko sighed more than spoke the word. He held his bundle out, the delicate blue petals nearly touching the tiny white buds in Yata’s hand.

Their fingers brushed during the exchange, and then the blue flowers were in Yata's hands and the white in Saruhiko's. Somehow, observing the exchange had warmth building in Yata's chest; he grinned back, unable to keep it inside. "Thanks!"

"It doesn't matter to me, so I don't need thanks."

That had been such a 'Saruhiko' thing to say. Yata almost found himself smiling over it now, and had to fight back a fierce lump that tried to rise at the back of his throat. He blinked rapidly, trying to push back the sting that came with the memory.

Those flowers really matched up well, huh?

Then again, he'd thought that Saruhiko had matched up well with him too, back then.

"Earth to Yata!" A hand waved in front of his face, and then Totsuka's smile entered his line of sight. "Are you getting enough sleep? I think you just about dozed off mid-sentence!"

"Eh? Oh." He managed a sheepish grin in return. Just forget about that stuff. "Sorry! I'm fine – just thinking, y'know?"

"About the new place?" Totsuka's smile was guileless, but somehow Yata got the impression he'd been seen through. "Well, that's understandable – and, oh, that reminds me. King!" He turned and waved in Mikoto's direction. "You still have to give Yata our housewarming gift."

"Yeah." Mikoto moved as if to take a step forward, halting when Anna gave his jacket an urgent little tug. He tilted his head down at her. "You wanna take these?"

Anna nodded her head.

"All right." The flowers were lowered to her height.

She grasped the wrapping of the bouquet in both hands and stepped up to Yata's seat at the bar. "Misaki." The flowers were presented to him, a serious expression on her delicate little face. "Congratulations."

"A-ah? For me?" Yata could feel his face growing hot – seriously, flowers? He wasn't a girl, after all... But then again, he couldn't really say anything bad with Anna giving him that earnest look as she held them out. He took them from her as carefully as possible, smiling back awkwardly. "Th-thanks, Anna!"

"Tatara and I picked them," she reported - and, after a brief pause, added, "Mikoto helped."

Totsuka chuckled. "In his own way."

"Really?" That at least had him straightening in his seat – if his King had helped to pick the flowers out, he'd gladly accept them. Yata found himself grinning, spirits raised. "Thanks!"

"Don't mention it," Totsuka answered cheerily, taking a seat beside him at the bar.

Mikoto offered him a small edge of a smile before reaching up to take the remains of his cigarette from between his lips. He stepped up to put it out on the tray Kusanagi had set on the bar earlier.

Yata eyed him for a second, searching over what small amount of skin he was exposing in hopes of catching a glimpse of the soulmate mark that Totsuka had been talking about before. He still couldn't quite wrap his head around the idea of someone being able to match up to Mikoto, of all people – who could be that awesome? The soulmate mark had to be super cool!

But even if it was, he still couldn't manage to catch a glimpse of it.

Maybe Totsuka had just been teasing him. Yata tried to shrug it off, turning his gaze on the flowers instead. The bulk of them were red and pink roses, with the smaller flowers filling in the gaps between the larger ones and also nestled around the edges to create contrast. The pale blue color of the tiny blossoms that Saruhiko had traded with him back at the beginning of their last year of school almost looked purple in this arrangement.

Without thinking, he reached out a finger to touch one gently, like he'd done while walking home on his own that day. His mother had put them in water for a few days afterwards, and then they'd vanished – probably thrown out after they started to wilt. He hadn’t paid much attention back then, too busy actually being with Saruhiko to get sentimental over stuff like flowers.

Staring at them now, he could almost remember exactly what it was like back then, when things had been easy. When he could see those fleeting smiles and content looks on Saruhiko’s face and take pride in the fact that he was the cause. When they worked together as partners and they shared those looks, smiling with their eyes and knowing they had a perfect understanding of each other. When he could feel that unmistakable presence at his side – when he could reach out his hand and feel it brush against Saruhiko’s cool one. When he was happy and secure with the thought that Saruhiko was his soulmate and they'd never separate.

Hah-fucking-hah.

"You like forget-me-nots?" Totsuka's voice cut into his thoughts yet again; when he looked up, he was being studied curiously. "I thought they were a nice touch, too."

"Eh? Uh..." Yata felt his cheeks warm again, and waved a hand quickly. "N-not really! These ones – and the white ones, too – they were just in our senior year photos, that's all."

"Oh? Yours and Fushimi's, huh?" Totsuka's gaze was warm and understanding. "The white ones are called lily-of-the-valley – that's what the store clerk said, anyway."

"Ah... oh." Inwardly, Yata cursed himself for saying 'our' again - he was having trouble getting out of the habit when talking about his past. Honestly, he hadn't realized how many of his experiences – how many good times – were all shared with Saruhiko until this stuff started coming up. He cleared his throat around another of those pesky lumps, hoping to change the subject. "Well, it's not really a big – "

"Oh, I just remembered!" Totsuka snapped his fingers, brightening. "There was a story about those two flowers, wasn't there?" He didn't wait for a response, leaning forward against the bar counter. "Kusanagi-san, you were the one who told me about it – how'd it go again?"

"Was I?" Kusanagi shook his head, a bit of a rueful smile on his face. "I don't remember that, honestly..."

Anna had pulled herself up onto a stool, and leaned forward in much the same way Totsuka had. "Izumo," she prompted.

"Well... I guess I might remember a couple of the details." He brought a hand up to his face, looking thoughtful. "Let's see..."

Despite himself, Yata was a bit interested; he turned in his seat, setting the flowers carefully on the surface of the bar as he gave his older friend full attention.

"From what I remember, the flowers all had some kind of party for the turning of the season," Kusanagi started. "Forget-me-not and Lily-of-the-valley were a princess and a prince who met there and fell in love. At first sight and all that – you know the way these things go." He shrugged. "But forget-me-nots are a spring flower and lily-of-the-valley only blooms in the summer. They could only meet once a year when the seasons crossed." That came with another wry smile. "These kinds of loves tend to end up like that, I guess."

Something about the story didn't sit well; Yata frowned back, a little unsettled at the abruptness of it. "The hell? That's pretty depressing, y'know..."

Kusanagi shook his head. "I didn't write the story, Yata-chan."

"Yeah, but still, c'mon!" He let out a sharp breath, dissatisfied. "That's not really how it ends, is it? They just can't meet at all, except once a year?" Turning his head towards the girl beside him, he urged, "Anna probably wants more too, right?"

A tiny nod answered his inquiry. Yata turned back, triumphant. "There, see?"

"Mm. I'm not sure if I'm remembering it all, to be honest." Kusanagi shrugged, meeting Anna's expectant gaze with a slightly apologetic smile. "I'll see if I can find the book one of these days, all right?"

Yata slouched in his seat, barely appeased. His eyes were drawn again to the blue and white blossoms in his bouquet, and he felt his frown deepen, a tiny ache stirring to life at the back of his chest once again. "Lame..."

"Not every story needs a happy ending," Kusanagi pointed out, raising an eyebrow when Yata turned his baleful gaze up. "Perhaps the moral here is that 'true love' only takes you so far. At some point, personal choice and hard work are going to play into it. Right?"

That wasn't really much help. Yata shook his head. "Think they were soulmates?"

There was a brief, almost startled pause. "Does it matter?"

Yata blinked at him, taken off-guard. "Of course!” It should’ve been obvious, right? Without thinking, he confidently added, “If they're soulmates, they'd be able to get around any kinda trouble no problem, wouldn't they?"

From the couch, Mikoto made what sounded like a self-deprecating chuckle. "Is that how it works?"

"Mikoto-san?" Yata turned to stare at him, confused. His King had a small, humorless smile on his face, eyes closed as he took a long drag from his cigarette. He didn’t open them even as he breathed out, smoke clouding his expression.

The reaction didn’t make sense. But… you've got an awesome soulmate. Right?

"Well, maybe being soulmates wouldn't help so much in this case," Totsuka pointed out lightly. He offered a bright smile when Yata turned back. "Anyway, these are flowers we're talking about, right? They might not have soulmates at all."

"Yeah, right." That cleared up the weird mood, at least a little. Yata managed a sheepish grin back. "Sorry. That was kinda dumb of me, huh?"

It was obviously where this stuff was coming from, and just as obvious that he needed to get over it already. It had been over a month. Saruhiko wasn't coming back - wasn't gonna realize suddenly how much those Blues sucked and how great Homra was. Wasn't planning to stand by Yata's side and be his partner the way they'd always talked about, or his soulmate the way he’d always hoped. He wasn't sure where it had gone wrong, but it was final – as final as the fact that Saruhiko didn't feel the same way about Yata that Yata had always felt about him. There was no point hoping for anything from that guy – he was a traitor and an asshole, and the sooner Yata kicked his ass, the better.

And still... there was that small side of him that he couldn’t quite silence. The side that still remembered all of Saruhiko's rare smiles and his soft mumbling as he outlined his clever responses to all of Yata's crazy ideas. The side that kept him up on those long nights, staring up at the bottom of the loft in their shared apartment and trying not to cry or to scream with furious frustration. The side that just couldn't accept that things could be over after so many years of happiness. The side that believed Saruhiko would surely come back one day. Back to Homra, and Yata.

He tried to repress it as much as possible, but it was fucking hard.

“Not really,” Totsuka answered him. “You’re an idealist, Yata. I think sometimes your view of the world is brighter than the rest of ours.” His smile softened a bit. “Maybe there’s times when things aren’t as clear as you’re thinking, though.”

Yata blinked and then frowned, struggling with that for a moment. It felt like there was probably something deep behind it – though it was hard to say with Totsuka sometimes – but he couldn’t figure out what. “I don’t really get it,” he admitted after a second, offering a shrug and a rueful smile. “I’m not real big on that ‘unclear’ stuff, anyway – I’ll just follow Mikoto-san.” That brightened his spirits again – he had a real purpose here, after all. “That’s Yatagarasu’s reason for existing, right?” He clenched his fists with enthusiasm, letting his grin widen. “Keeping up Homra’s greatness!”

“Whoa – so cool, Yata!” Totsuka praised him heartily, and Yata felt his heart warm.

This was where he belonged – these were the people he belonged with. Nothing else mattered. Not even his soulmate. Not even Saruhiko.

It helped if he kept repeating that to himself.

 


 

 

Fushimi hadn’t made a particular effort to run into Misaki. He was kept busy enough at Scepter 4, after all – in addition to his regular work as part of the Intelligence division, Munakata seemed to think of him on a regular basis regarding all manner of complicated or troublesome jobs. There was no time to be idle or to seek out unnecessary incidents.

For the most part, he preferred it that way. When he was busy, he didn’t have time to dwell on Misaki’s reactions – both the ones he had lost and the ones he’d seemingly gained. Gradually, over the weeks, he grew numb to the absence of that enormous presence in his life. He got used to waking up alone – to the lack of lively chatter and expressive smiles and general warm chaos that had filled his life for that brief, ultimately doomed period of his life.

He tucked back any evidence of the ache of loss in his soul and worked until late at night on whatever was handy so that he wouldn’t spend too much time alone with his thoughts before giving in to sleep.

There were still times when it was unavoidable and thoughts of Misaki haunted him. Fushimi’s memory was exceptional, but when it came to Misaki the recollections were clearer than most. He could see the way Misaki’s emotions reflected on his face with perfect clarity, even after months of not having a visual reference. The way his eyes seemed to shine when he was excited, the warm amber in his pupils seeming to intensify. How his lips turned up from that natural downturn into a smile so wide it should’ve been impossible. The wicked curl it took and the way his eyebrows came down when he was caught up in a moment of recklessness.  Rather than dwell on any of that, Fushimi felt it was easier to manipulate the direction of his thoughts. If he was going to think of Misaki anyway, then he would draw up the image of those burning eyes in his mind’s eye. That rage, that passion, that singular focus. It was intoxicating enough to overpower the others. In those moments, he would smile to himself as anticipation rushed in to fill the gaps in his heart that had been left as casualties of believing in something as banal as friendship.

Sooner or later, they were bound to meet; he didn’t have to rush it.

He was right about that – a little over a year after his initiation ceremony, Munakata requested his assistance in tracking and dealing with a drug-trafficking strain with night vision powers, working under the codename ‘Mole’.

A strain who conveniently happened to be operating in Homra’s territory.

It was Misaki’s involvement that led to the series of screw-ups resulting in the two of them not only alerting Mole to their presence but also to their being blasted through the floor into an uncharted tunnel with no cell service. Misaki always had that effect on him – blurring his senses, making him lose himself. It never led to anything good in the end. To make matters worse, Fushimi had managed to injure his leg, and Misaki was dumb enough to fuss over him even now – which he told himself was pointless even as his muscles tensed and something within him tightened, mingled discomfort and pleasure creeping into his awareness as a result of the attention.

I don’t need it. But even after he’d said as much, nothing seemed to change.

“… Hey.” Misaki’s voice was quiet, his eyes hidden by the rim of his beanie as he kept his face turned down to focus on the wound he was tying off on Fushimi’s leg. His fingers were rough, but his touch was gentle – much the way Fushimi remembered it. “Can I ask you one thing?”

You’ll ask anyway, even if I say no. The thought was involuntary – a casually and swiftly selected product from his store of knowledge about Misaki’s habits and behavior. Fushimi was silent, still moderately unsettled by the way Misaki had gruffly taken charge of looking after him.

The mood of this encounter was wrong – it had been wrong from the start. He hadn’t expected to see Misaki in the first place. Somehow, when they’d broken that window in their confused scuffle at the start and light had flooded into Mole’s darkened hideout, seeing his former partner’s familiar, shocked face had momentarily paralyzed him. It felt like every inch of his skin had prickled, and the burn scar that he’d not allowed to heal properly had flared up, the sting seeping directly to his bones.

Misaki…

He hadn’t even been able to properly draw out the barbs and taunts he’d crafted in his head previously, falling back instead on half-hearted scorn once he’d composed himself. It was that lack of focus – the sudden rush that had come with their unexpected meeting – that he blamed their current failure state on.

“Why…” Misaki tipped his head further forward, still braced on his knees by Fushimi’s wounded leg. “… did you betray us?” His hands, clenched into fists by his lap, trembled; his voice rose in volume a little, throbbing with that familiar, rich emotion that characterized it. “Always… I never understood, but I wondered.” He took in a shaky breath and added, “Since I didn’t know, I was even more annoyed…”

Of course you were. Of course you didn’t understand. Agitation was building already beneath Fushimi’s skin. He didn’t want to sit here another second and listen to Misaki talk like… that. Like he couldn’t even manage to be angry. It made Fushimi’s fingers twitch with an impulse he wanted to suppress, not even knowing what course of action tugged at him. The best thing to do would be to stand right now, brush off Misaki’s questions with mocking half-truths and bring them back to a standing he was comfortable with.

Even as he was shifting to do just that, his brain took the liberty of sneaking another half-formed notion into his consciousness that caused him to freeze in place.

Of course he’s not angry – he still thinks we’re soulmates.

He was still processing that when Misaki raised his head, eyebrows bunched together and eyes dark with desperation. “What was Homra to you?” he demanded, passionate frustration laced in every word.

… Tedious. Fushimi clenched his teeth. He wasn’t sure if the thought was in answer to the question or just his reaction to what was always – always – on Misaki’s mind. Possibly both. Forcibly drawing himself back until control, he ignored the open question, responding instead with his own: “Do you still have some delusion that we’re soulmates, Misaki?” Lowering his lids and allowing himself a small, mocking smile, he added, “Is that why you’re helping me?”

The derailing had the desired effect; Misaki’s eyes widened and he flinched back, as if Fushimi had moved to hit him.

Not that he’d flinch if I was hitting him… Words were more effective.

It took only a few seconds for Misaki to compose himself. His eyes narrowed, going flat and serious, and his lips turned down into a frown. When he responded, his voice was low and heated. “That’s got nothing to do with this!”

The lack of immediate denial was enough of a response. Fushimi clicked his tongue, somehow dissatisfied despite having predicted correctly. “What? You’re still holding onto that delusion? You must a complete idiot.”

Even in the dim light from the torch, he could see the darker color spreading on Misaki’s cheeks. “Shut up! Not like it’s your business what I think.” His eyes were flashing, a mix of hurt and anger and confusion. “You fucking left, asshole!”

That’s right. This was more like it. Fushimi could feel that invigorating rush spreading along his veins, causing a light buzz to run through his body. The scar at his collar throbbed in furious counterpart, and he allowed the smile to spread on his face. “Hurts, doesn’t it? Hearing the truth, I mean.” He let out a small huff of a laugh. “Don’t you get tired of being in denial, Misaki?”

“I said shut up!” At that, Misaki actually grabbed his collar and leaned in, the anger in his eyes momentarily overpowering the other emotions. “The hell do you know about that stuff, anyway?” he snarled. “You don’t believe in a single goddamn thing!”

“So?” This was good – that gaze was fierce and passionate. Fushimi felt almost drunk on it. His smile widened further, fueled by something almost manic within him. “Confirm it for yourself.” He reached up to run a finger along the opposite line of his shirt collar from where Misaki’s fist was clenched, pausing deliberately to trace a circle where the mangled mark was hidden. The resulting catch of breath was sharp and immediate, reaching his ears almost before he saw Misaki’s eyes go wide and then narrow even further, wavering with emotion. Fushimi hummed mockingly, lowering his eyelids to half-mast as he returned that desperate glare. “Unless you really are too worried to find out that the person who betrayed your precious Homra isn’t your soulmate after all?”

The taunt seemed to push him past the breaking point. With an agitated sound that came out much like a growl, Misaki violently tugged at Fushimi’s collar, jerking forward to aggressively bring their lips together.

There it is… The adrenaline that had been building in Fushimi’s body abruptly spiked, as if he’d suddenly gone up in flames. Misaki’s scent was all around him, Misaki’s breath hitting his face in ragged erratic bursts, and Misaki’s lips against his, warm and fierce and desperate.

It took his breath away. A low noise escaped him, and Fushimi could barely register the sensation of it vibrating in his throat, much less summon up any annoyance over the slip. He’d forgotten how strong the feeling was – how good it felt to have Misaki just like this.

The contact was not as harsh as he would’ve expected; even with his pride and fury driving him, somehow Misaki still managed that signature mix of rough and gentle. His mouth fit fervently against Fushimi’s, eyes closed tightly and fingers trembling noticeably where they were still clenched in the fabric of the white work shirt. When his tongue engaged, it was tentative in seeking access, as if he were somehow uncertain of how welcome the more intimate touch would be. Still, Fushimi parted his lips, pressing back, and Misaki made a small, raw sound in response as their mouths opened to each other.

Yes. Intoxicating was the word. Overwhelming. Fushimi breathed out sharply through his nose, reaching up without thinking to slide his fingers along the fine hairs at Misaki’s nape and hold him firmly in place as their tongues met, slick and heated. Misaki…

It felt like an eternity – or an instant – before their lips parted, slow and reluctant. Misaki's eyes were clouded with desire when they met his, and somehow the sight played into the swirling mass of confusion and longing in his own head.

How long since he'd wanted like this, fervently and passionately? He could barely remember.

Misaki made another of those little sounds, frustration and longing present in tone when he murmured, "Saruhiko..." His voice had none of the rage from before, but that deep, unrestrained emotion was still present. When he reached up to brace his free hand on Fushimi's shoulder, even the hesitant touch felt scorching.

It was suffocating but addicting, that feeling.

Only Misaki...

A faint shuffling drew his attention, the unmistakable step of someone attempting to go unnoticed, and Fushimi stiffened, the hazy bubble that seemed to have enclosed the two of them bursting at once and all of his senses on alert. Misaki seemed to realize it in the same moment, eyes going alternately wide and then narrowing, just before there was the click of a gun cocking.

They dove at almost the same moment, just as the shot rang out in that previously quiet space, and Fushimi came to a crouch ready for action, trusting without looking that Misaki had done the same. It was a moment of unquestioning synchronization.

How ironic…

"Crap..." Misaki hastily retrieved the torch and flung it, revealing the hooded form of their adversary for just a moment. "It's Mole!"

That brief moment was enough; acting on instinct, Fushimi flicked several of his knives free of their holsters and flung them, causing another pause in the shots being fired, before diving after Misaki to the back of the crates in the tunnel.

Now that his mind was clear, awareness of his own carelessness was sinking in. I got carried away. Even as he focused his thoughts on the immediate problem, the edge of frustration plagued him. The purpose had been to goad Misaki into action and pull back, but somehow, he'd lost sight of that in the middle of that rush of feeling.

Stupid. Irritation threaded sharply into Fushimi's thoughts, and he clicked his tongue sharply, not bothering to hide it. One moment of weakness could have brought everything he'd managed to build tumbling down.

He didn't want Misaki's half-hearted feelings. What he wanted...

What he wanted was...

The memory of those burning eyes still held out strongly in his mind's eye, more clear and meaningful than any unsettled longing or tension. It doesn't matter, does it? There was no path left other than the one he'd set out for himself.

Once they crushed Mole, he'd do the same for this tentative thing in his hands as well.

 


 

 

The first time that Yata clashed with Saruhiko after the incident with Mole ended up setting the pattern for just about every future encounter they had.

It was nearly a year and a half since Saruhiko had left Homra – a year and a half, and Yata still had the blind hope beating in his chest that things could turn around. He tried to crush that urge as much as possible, but it haunted him randomly. When he stumbled across a picture from the past. When he saw a blue clansman. When he came across the contact in his PDA that he couldn't manage to make himself delete. Memories of Saruhiko were everywhere; he could trip over them if he wasn't careful.

And Saruhiko had made his feelings clear as fucking day, even if the reasons behind them were still a mystery. Bitter frustration nearly overpowered Yata whenever he thought about how things had gone in Mole’s tunnel. That kiss had caused the hope and longing within him to spike, his feelings for Saruhiko leading him to blindly believe that things would be fixed between them after all. It had really felt like there had been a response – something that had resonated with the desire that had clouded his thoughts and filled his body to the brim. Saruhiko’s mouth had been active against his, responsive and urgent in his movements. There had been heat between them – a connection that Yata had wanted to grasp at with both hands and cling to.

All of that, and still… Once his emotions were worked up to a fever pitch, with his heart racing in his chest as he looked up for a reaction, everything had been smashed in an instant with a mocking smile and disdainful words. Worse, Saruhiko had lowered his collar to show off the remains of his mark – the other half of the set that had meant everything to Yata – and the sight of the angry burn scar searing out the neat lines of Homra’s symbol had etched itself into his memory with a cruel precision.

It was a painful counterpoint to the already fucked up scene in his head from a year ago.

He couldn’t even think about it without that ache returning, full force. His heart felt too raw. It was obvious Saruhiko didn’t want anything to do with him, other than to mess with his head. Yata had been stupid for thinking otherwise, even for just that short time.

The hell did I do to make you hate me so much? He couldn’t understand, no matter how hard he tried. Why the hell was it so easy for Saruhiko to turn his back on Homra – on their obvious soulmate connection – on the things that made up Yata’s whole being? Everything had seemed fine before…

The easiest way he'd found to deal with the painful emotions and blind, stubborn hope was with rage. Fuck that traitor! The fire burning within him rose up eagerly in response to the call. I'll beat the shit out of him! His aura's song rang out in all corners of his soul, demanding violence. He's not my soulmate, goddamnit!

The last one still felt hollow, no matter how many times he repeated it.

In general these days, though, thinking of Saruhiko left him hollow. Fury was all he could think of to fill in the space. That edge of bitterness, frustration, and confusion never left, but at least he couldn't hear the persistent call of hope at the back of it all.

Either way, Homra was busier than ever, and he was Yatagarasu before anything else. It wasn't unusual for him to be scouting ahead for a bust on some violent gang or drug ring operating in Homra's territory.

Or in this case, a smuggling operation for goods extorted in other regions of the city.

None of these assholes have any business pulling that shit on Mikoto's turf! Yata pushed his foot into the ground hard, picking up more speed on his board as he raced for the warehouse in question. They think they're so tough 'cause they're strains... That's nothing to Homra!

When he approached the warehouse itself, he slowed. Not out of caution or any need for stealth – that wasn't his style – but definitely out of surprise. There weren't any guys posted on the outside of the building, and no sign of patrol. It was like the place was deserted.

They jumped ship? Yata frowned, briefly mulling it over. It wasn't impossible, but he doubted there'd be any tip-off that Homra was onto them. Kusanagi had been doing this for ages, and he knew how to cover his tracks.

Doesn't matter anyway. Impatience and anticipation spurred him on – he was feeling hot-blooded and restless with the promise of a fight, and he wasn't gonna waste time sitting there thinking about it. He'd find out when he got inside. Shaking off the last bit of uncertainty, Yata pushed off again on his board, heading for the large, closed warehouse doors.

He didn't bother to even check if they were unlocked, expending a bit of aura to burst right through and roll inside before encasing himself with red to cover his ass in case of enemy fire. It was a trick that had worked a few times in the past. As he sped in, he braced himself for the start of the action, checking his surroundings for opponents.

Nothing. The warehouse was still and quiet, the air stale and muggy from the early summer heat outside, with nothing in sight but large crates stacked towards the back and along the sides of the huge, empty space. The only light came from the late afternoon sun beaming in through the door Yata had just broken through.

What the hell?

Through the silence of the seemingly empty building, a familiar mocking voice rolled in. "Is that flashy entrance meant to compensate for some other deficiency, Misaki?"

The sound of it had Yata's breath catching in his throat, almost choking him. He tried to recover himself quickly, whipping his head up as his eyes narrowed, and caught it just as his former best friend stepped out from the shadows cast by some of the boxes to his right. "Saruhiko!"

"What a coincidence that Homra would also target this place." There was a lazy smirk on Saruhiko's face, but his eyes were sharp behind his glasses. "Don't tell me that all of you are coming here, Misaki. These small fry barely took a handful of one of our squads to subdue."

Yata clenched his teeth, focusing on his irritation to avoid the swelling of emotion within him. "None of your damn business! And quit using that name already!" It wasn’t like they were close now. Hell, it had been a long time since they'd even met. And this wasn't the Saruhiko he wanted to see. The one he wanted was someone he'd only caught glimpses of at their last meeting, and he wasn't sure how much of that was his own wishful thinking. "The hell are you Blues doing here, anyway?" he snapped, drawing himself up. "This is Homra's turf!"

"Is it?" Saruhiko let his eyes go lidded, smirk widening as he drew the words out. "That meaningless territorial crap doesn't make a difference to Scepter 4, you know. Strains were involved here, and that makes it our business." He raised both eyebrows. "But then I suppose you wouldn't know anything about business, would you, Misaki?” The name came out with deliberate emphasis. “Seeing as how Homra just lounges about until some stupid group manages to irritate your lazy King...”

"Don't you talk about Mikoto-san like that!" Yata squeezed his hands into fists, feeling the fury building within him and allowing it to spread like the heat of his aura. "As if a traitor like you has the right to even mention him!"

"What?" Saruhiko let out a small, deranged-sounding chuckle. "Are you worried, Misaki? You think your pride will be damaged just because I used the name of your precious Mikoto-san in vain?" He tilted his head, still smirking in that infuriating way. "Or maybe it's because you can't reconcile someone your feelings told you was your soulmate talking poorly about the thug you blindly wag your tail at?"

"Shut up!" At that, Yata could feel his aura building around him, furious red igniting on his skin. "Stop talking like that! Stop saying that name! You're not my soulmate! You're nothing but a traitor!"

"Ah..." Saruhiko made a low, mocking hum. "Maybe so, but you still believe it, don't you, Misaki?"

It was the truth of it that cut into him more than the taunt. Yata kicked off the ground on his skateboard, rushing towards his opponent in a blind rage. "Shut up!" he bellowed, aiming directly for Saruhiko's face with his flaming fist.

He was dodged easily, and had to block three of Saruhiko's knives by rolling back and flipping his board up, putting himself in a defensive stance and allowing Saruhiko the chance to draw his sword. The emergency sword draw was announced in a breathless, gleeful tone, and Saruhiko huffed a mocking laugh. "Maybe I am your soulmate, Misaki... Can't I predict your moves well?"

Yata snarled wordlessly at him, dropping his defensive stance and shifting effortlessly back onto his board again for another rush attack. It felt like his vision narrowed down to the obnoxious blue coat on Saruhiko's thin frame; this time he aimed a kick at Saruhiko's midsection, spun with it as he was dodged again and followed up by ducking under the sabre to try for an uppercut.

It connected solidly, which was enough of a surprise that Yata reeled back instinctively, his anger abruptly tempered by the sensation of bone against his fist and the sudden spark of fear and panic in his brain. I hurt him?

There was no time to regret or even examine where that thought had come from, because Saruhiko immediately followed up the advantage created by that moment of indecision and kneed him in the stomach. The combined pain and shock knocked the breath out of him, and Yata barely kept on his board, reeling back to briefly regroup.

Saruhiko laughed again breathlessly, his eyes alight with a manic glee. He barely seemed to have noticed the angry red mark on his jaw. "Or," he drawled, reaching his free hand up deliberately towards the collar of his shirt, "maybe I destroyed that, too."

He could’ve looked away. Could’ve, but didn’t. Yata felt frozen in place, following the movement with a kind of sick dread. He knew exactly what he was going to see, but somehow it was like his brain wanted to punish him, forcing him to stand still and stupid as the fabric of Saruhiko’s shirt was pulled back to reveal his mangled Homra mark.

And everything came rushing back, striking him hard.

That memory haunted him more than anything; over a year later, he could see it clear as day, Saruhiko's flaming hand rising to engulf the mark that Yata had taken such pride in. The rush of panic and shock and sick horror as he saw Saruhiko's face twist with pain and then settle into a kind of warped smile, eyes almost crazed, was still sharp and immediate in his brain. It was like he could redo the entire scene but still only react in the same helpless way.

Once again, it was easier to let rage overwhelm him than to give in to that pain. “Saru,” Yata growled out, fists clenching and eyes narrowing dangerously as he let his aura burst free, engulfing him fully again. Every nerve ending on his body cried out for action. Satisfaction. Violence.

You’re not my soulmate, traitor!

With a wordless roar, Yata raced for his opponent, his body acting on impulse as he struck with fists and feet, following relentlessly when Saruhiko ducked and taking advantage of the additional speed his board offered as he both took and received hits. Cuts and bruises were landed on his skin, but he barely felt the pain. His brain was on fire; all he could see in his mind was the mangled remains of that mark, and his soul cried out for vengeance.

Outside of it all, he could hear the breathless sound of Saruhiko's laughter, and it only fanned the flames of his rage.

"I'll kill you!"

"Yata!"

The sharp interjection of Kusanagi's voice cutting through the noise from their fight abruptly snapped him to attention. Yata swung back on his board, disengaging instinctively. His adrenaline was still at a fever pitch; he kept his eyes on Saruhiko's blue-clad body, feeling like all the blood in his veins was screaming at him to continue. "But... Kusanagi-san..."

"That's enough, Yata." It wasn't Kusanagi who answered this time, but a deeper, more evenly toned voice. Yata's head whipped back instantly this time, his skin prickling and dread forming into a knot in his stomach as he met his King's steady gaze.

"M-Mikoto-san..." Dropping his head immediately, Yata rolled backwards and further from the fight, his whole body feeling the surge of guilt and shame. "Sorry."

How could he have lost himself so much that he'd disappointed his King? Yata hung his head further, unable to sort the waves of blending and complicated emotions that crashed within his body as he felt mortification spreading out across all of it. His hands, still clenched into fists at his sides, shook. He hadn’t been able to help it. It was like he lost a part of himself in Saruhiko’s presence. There was nothing but helpless impulses and want.

And all of it unreciprocated.

The ache that sprang up in response to that fact only frustrated him further. When was he going to let it go already?

“Long time no see, Fushimi,” Kusanagi said conversationally. Yata glanced at him, and noticed he was casually holding a hand out as a wordless instruction to the obviously steaming clansmen behind him. There was something of a hard look in his eyes. “I take it you’ve hauled off our opponents then, have you?”

The sound of Saruhiko's tongue clicking sharply with annoyance cut through the tension in the air; Yata heard the grating of the sabre being sheathed and turned with a narrowed gaze. It was not returned, but the expression on his former friend’s face was wary and watchful. “Sorry. I’m afraid you’ll have to make due with just me if your thugs are feeling violent.”

Several of Yata’s friends made bristling noises at that; there was a murmur of discontent. Yata felt his muscles tensing despite the earlier order, the urge to respond to the mood settling in the room tugging at him.

It bothered him that he wasn’t sure what kind of response he’d make…

“Now, now, there’s no need to be like that!” Totsuka’s bright voice broke through the muttering; he pushed his way to Mikoto’s side. “Nobody here wants to gang up on a lone guy when he hasn’t done anything against us, right?” He turned with a knowing sort of smile. “King?”

But he did do something against us, Totsuka-san! Yata felt his frustration mounting. He didn’t want anything but permission to continue his own fight; the idea of his comrades mounting an attack on Saruhiko sat like cold dread in his stomach. But saying that Saruhiko hadn’t done anything wrong… that was… He betrayed us!

He had left, burned the mark, thrown it in their faces…

“Yeah.” Mikoto looked up slowly, regarding Saruhiko with measuring eyes. It lasted for only a second or two, and then he was turning back, glancing at Kusanagi only long enough to add, “Let’s go.”

Mikoto-san…?

Kusanagi let out a small, amused-sounding huff. “Well, there you have it,” he announced loudly. “Back off, boys.” His gaze turned back to Saruhiko, slow and speculative. “Do me a favor, Fushimi,” he added, sounding deceptively mild. “Pass a message on to your Captain. Tell him it’s bad manners not to alert the clan whose territory he happens to be infringing on when he assigns his missions in the future.” That came with a sharp smile. “I’ll let this first offense pass with just that.”

Saruhiko let out a heavy sigh. When Yata looked at him, his eyes flickered from Kusanagi to Mikoto’s retreating back, and his shoulders were still tense. “Don’t act like I’m still one of your clansmen,” he muttered. “Carry your own messages next time.”

Kusanagi’s answering smile had a hint of amusement in it. “I’ll count on you just this once.”

“Nice to see you again, Fushimi-kun,” Totsuka interjected, offering a warm smile and a wave as he turned to follow his King. “Come on, everyone – King’s orders, remember? Out, out!”

“You too, Yata,” Kusanagi added with a hint of warning in his voice.

There was no arguing with that tone. “Got it.” Yata skated over obediently, pausing before the door to cast one more look at his former friend. Saruhiko’s face was shadowed, but even without seeing his eyes properly, Yata could tell his gaze was returned.

It sent a shiver down his spine that was hard to shake off. Some of his wounds were starting to sting, but he was barely aware of it, all of his attention focused on the biggest sore spot in his life. He made a sharp ‘ch’. “You’re lucky Mikoto-san was feeling generous today!”

Saruhiko let out a small huff of what sounded like sardonic laughter. “Lucky, huh?” Almost to himself, he murmured, “Is that what you think?”

Yata scowled back at him, clenched his fists briefly, and then forced himself to turn around, following after his clan and King without looking back. Despite his injuries, it felt like his heart had taken the most beating; it was aching like anything.

We’re not soulmates, he reminded himself, trying to squash that feeling. He’s a traitor!

The words still felt hollow to the core.

 

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