All That We Are

 

Chapter Four

 

One of the things Fushimi learned shortly after taking over the position of commander of the Special Operations Squad was that Scepter 4 had bi-annual conferences with the prime minister's office. It wasn't terribly surprising; despite the fact that the Gold King – and by extension Scepter 4 – maintained autonomy over the country's actual elected leader, the meetings helped to maintain the illusion of unity.

As if the Captain won't just do whatever he pleases anyway...

Well, it was no concern to him in the end, but as third in the line of direct command at Scepter 4, he was apparently expected to attend the conferences when not otherwise engaged, and he hadn't been able to come up with a good enough excuse to satisfy Munakata, so there he was.

I swear that man is a sadist. Fushimi clicked his tongue, moving at a slow pace around the large banquet hall. So far, the combination of the motion and keeping his focus on what work he could manage from his PDA seemed to give the others in the room the impression that he was busy with something important, because he hadn't been approached for any inane small talk since they'd dissolved the conference for this "social break". He hadn't bothered to even make a pass at the food trays that had been set out. There were servers making rounds with fancy-looking drinks, but he'd avoided them as well, wanting to keep the impression that he was engaged with business of some sort and not looking for idle conversation.

Idle was the right word for just about everything here, too. The room was not as opulent as most of Scepter 4's main headquarters, but the walls were lined with the moving wallpapers that were currently in style: in this case, garish red stars circling on sparkling gold background with thin white lines sliding down the frames behind them. The ceiling was vaulted, and the lights appeared to be imitation chandelier - tiny mountings lined with digital "crystals" to give them the appearance of grandeur.

That was Fushimi's impression of the prime minister's office in general: a fake fancy exterior to mask the lack of substance within. These so-called "conferences" really were just a waste of time.

On one side of the room, he could see Munakata talking with the prime minister and several attendants. On another, Awashima seemed to be giving instructions to Akiyama and Benzai, who had been the "escort" for this event – which in Fushimi's opinion was a waste of their time and talent.

As his eyes fell in that direction, he noticed the two of them glancing towards each other; Akiyama gave a small nod and Benzai's lip twitched, as if he wanted to smile but was still in control of his professional appearance.

Something anxious stirred in the pit of his stomach. Don't be stupid. Fushimi clicked his tongue and turned his gaze sharply back to his PDA, deliberately repressing any discomfort. He was still not used to the idea of a soulmate bonding that actually seemed to function, despite all of the hype suggesting that this was closer to the usual experience. But he'd spent enough time around those two to have his doubts squashed, at least as far as their match was concerned. Their partnership was efficient, they seemed to be on unreasonably good terms personally, and there was an air of contentment about them that was almost impossible to ignore. It was unnerving.

Well, not everyone can be on that guy's level, can they? The image of black and white dice over a wicked smirk flickered at the back of his mind.

Whatever mood that hadn't been soured before definitely was now. Fushimi deepened his frown, glancing furtively around the room for anything that would allow for an acceptable exit plan. Despite the airy, temperature-controlled atmosphere, the place felt suddenly stifling and he needed a break of some sort.

There was a small balcony near the back of the room that overlooked the grounds; after a few second's thought, he made his way in that direction. Technically, I won't be leaving the area, so it's not like anyone can complain. It wouldn't be difficult to find him if he was needed for something, anyway.

It was actually warmer outside than it was inside, which was a bit jarring but not too uncomfortable. Summer was just starting to bleed into fall at that point, so there was a hint of crisp chill that lingered despite the warmth from the sun.

The seasonal crossover was always annoying. Fushimi clicked his tongue, moving away from the door and eyeing his surroundings without much real interest. The balcony was large and had an ornate gating around it – solid wood painted white and carved to look like marble. It matched the interior in that sense, though the color scheme was markedly different.

On the corners of the gate's ledge, someone had secured flower pots, and when he caught sight of those, Fushimi momentarily paused, struck by a sudden and vivid memory.

Tiny blue and white blossoms, each contained in a separate bundle.

The sense of seasonal crossover in the air, warm and cool mingling uncomfortably.

Misaki's eyes, bright and sparkling, above a vivid careless grin. "Thanks, Saruhiko!"

How useless. Despite the thought, he moved towards one of the pots, reaching out to idly brush one of the tiny white blossoms with a finger. When mingled with the near purple of the blue flowers, somehow they seemed less of a pure shade than before – more of an off-white.

Then again, maybe it was his own blindness that had made them seem so pure before. Fushimi felt a sudden, irrational surge of something like bitterness and longing rise up within him. Trusting any kind of emotion hadn't ever led to anything worthwhile. Even now, he was still clinging to the memory of Misaki's impossibly wide smile and the way his eyes had shone... It was disgusting. He could summon a rage from Misaki easily. That alone could light a fire in his soul and give him all the gratification he needed.

But still, he felt dissatisfied, somehow – even hollow. If that made any sense.

"You're fond of flowers, Fushimi-kun?" Munakata's voice interjected itself into his silent musing.

Fushimi withdrew his finger immediately, turning to give his boss an irritated look. "I'm not really fond of having people sneak up on me," he responded, ignoring the question.

"My apologies. It was not my intent." Munakata smiled back, unperturbed. He stepped forward, gaze sliding from Fushimi to the flower pot. "This is an attractive combination. Forget-me-not and lily-of-the-valley, if I'm not mistaken."

What does it matter? "I wouldn't know."

"Is that so?" He got another sidelong gaze. "Gardening can be an enriching area for study. You might consider it sometime if you ever feel the urge to expand your field of knowledge." Munakata's eyes returned to the arrangement, a thoughtful sort of look in them. "These two flowers are quite interesting if you consider the meaning behind them, for instance."

There was a pause, as if he were waiting for a response. Fushimi didn't bother to give him one, despite the faint edge of curiosity. Knowing the meaning of a flower was pretty much useless when you got down to it; if it wasn't explained, he didn't lose anything.

Well, if I really wanted to know, I could look it up.

Munakata's smile widened just a tiny bit – Fushimi got the sense he'd just been seen through. After years at Scepter 4, he was starting to get used to the feeling, but it was still kind of irritating. "The forget-me-not is said to be associated with the concept of undying love. A connection that endures over time, and remembrance through parting." Once again, Munakata turned his gaze, this time inclining his head slightly as well. "Given that, I would say it's been aptly named – wouldn't you agree?"

Fushimi clicked his tongue, a little unnerved at the way that casual description seemed to strike home. He deliberately pushed the feeling down. "It would be stupid if they hadn't bothered to match them."

"Indeed." Munakata made a small, amused sound, turning back to the flowers once more. "Lily of the valley, on the other hand, takes its root in the meanings associated with all manner of lilies: purity, chastity, and humility, for instance. But there is one that I find rather intriguing." When he turned again, there was a knowing edge in his gaze. "'The return of happiness'."

That simple pronouncement had Fushimi's skin prickling beneath his work coat. He clicked his tongue again, turning from his boss's keen eyes. "That's pretty arbitrary."

"Perhaps. But then, it is not the flowers themselves that hold meaning." Munakata unexpectedly leaned in, bending forward as if to take in the scent from the bouquet. "It is the humans who encounter them that find and take meaning from such things."

That doesn't make it less arbitrary. Fushimi frowned, intending to say as much, and was brought up short when he turned his gaze back to his boss. With his body bent forward and his head tilted at that angle, it was possible to see the back of Munakata's neck, normally obscured by the high collar of his uniform. There was a bright, flawlessly crafted image imprinted in that stretch of skin: a sleek, burnished red sword. Not like the Sword of Damocles that appeared when he activated his sanctum, but a standard broadsword with an elaborate hilt that was encrusted with dark blue gems.

That kind of unnaturally precise image could only be a soulmate mark.

For a long moment, Fushimi was silent, pinpricks of shock spreading along his skin. Seriously...?

"Is something the matter, Fushimi-kun?" Munakata straightened, and the image of the sword was once again concealed. Their gazes locked, and there was a short beat before he smiled again, shutting his eyes. "Ah. You noticed that... irregularity, did you?"

Fushimi quickly recovered his equilibrium, clicking his tongue in response. "You didn't take a lot of pains to hide it just now."

"No. I did not." Munakata once again opened his eyes, calmly returning Fushimi’s stare. "Though, to be clear, it was not my intention that this should remain hidden, necessarily. More to the point, it is not of significant importance." He reached up to press his glasses higher on his nose, momentarily blocking his eyes from sight. "Merely a distraction."

So you say. It wasn’t difficult to put the pieces together from that much information – and the fact that there was no sign of a regular lover on the side. Not that Fushimi took particular pains to keep tabs on his boss, but Munakata could generally be found at headquarters during all hours of the day unless there was an emergency situation to be dealt with. If he did have a lover, they would have to be incredibly patient – or one of his clansmen.

Somehow, that prospect seemed unlikely. Rather, based on the nature of the mark, Fushimi had a feeling…

He clicked his tongue, pushing that stray suspicion aside, and muttered, “Soulmates really are useless, aren’t they?”

It was meant to be an offhand observation, but Munakata seemed to take it as a conversational opening. “Oh?” His tone was one of keen interest, but surprisingly, the next words out of his mouth were, “As a matter of fact, I agree. However, I must confess to being curious.” His gaze was speculative when Fushimi bothered to meet it again. “What reason do you have for making such a contrary statement, Fushimi-kun?”

He could still see the black and white dice clearly in his head, a memory that had etched itself onto his brain for life, apparently. How depressing. Fushimi deliberately set that aside, crossing his arms and keeping his tone neutral despite the discomfort building in the pit of his stomach. “Nothing that special. There are too many flaws.” Once he’d started on the subject, it was easier to carry it forward, listing the things that came to mind immediately. “The matching system can’t be proved to be anything but completely arbitrary, it blatantly excludes anyone who can’t physically participate, and there’s no way to remove a mark if you find out later that your so-called partner isn’t who you thought they were when you made your hasty decision.” Another little shiver of unpleasant nostalgia wormed its way through his body at that; he deliberately ignored it. “You could end up wearing the brand of someone you loathe until the day one of you dies, all because you couldn’t resist the prospect of fifteen minutes swapping bodily fluids with them in a seedy motel room.”

He paused there just long enough to recover his breath and to confirm that Munakata was still patiently waiting for the rest of his response, and then continued. “Good luck finding someone else if you don’t want whoever you’re stuck with in that case. More than likely, people just stay in unpleasant situations out of fear of being alone.” He clicked his tongue. “It’s a system that might as well be designed for abuse. Those who want to take advantage will, and those who aren’t bright enough to see through it will become victims.”

“I see.” Munakata spoke again once he’d confirmed that Fushimi had finished. “So your objections lie with the way in which the system is utilized by those who are subject to it.” His gaze had a thoughtful edge to it. “Of course, there is no argument to make against the potential of such matches occurring. Indeed, there is evidence to show that your concerns are, in fact, founded in certain cases.” There was a brief pause, and then he smiled again. “However, my objections lie with the interpretation of the term ‘soulmate’.”

It was always difficult to know what to expect with him, but Fushimi still found the edge of confusion that came with those kinds of statements to be slightly disorienting. He frowned in response. “How do you mean?”

“In my observations, it appears that the common practice is to equate the term with ‘life partner’,” Munakata explained, turning to regard the flowers again with calm, thoughtful eyes. “I am not of the opinion that the two are related – at least, not under the terms that seem to result in the so-titled ‘soulmate’ matches.” He reached up again to push his glasses on his nose. “There seems to be a base level of compatibility required for a match to be formed, but no consideration made for the situation, feelings, or personal choice of the participants.” At that he shut his eyes, making a small, amused noise. “Rather a short-sighted system for lifetime partnerships, if one takes into account the varying complications resulting from human thought and emotion.”

Fushimi hadn’t considered that angle – not that he gave soulmates a lot of his time and energy these days other than where they related to his complicated relationship with Misaki. He narrowed his eyes. “You hate this ridiculous system as much as I do, then.”

“No.” Munakata turned again to regard him, with perfect calm. “By my estimation, the system itself is neutral. It is the interpretation of the terms that will lead one astray.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue. “Are you being cryptic for the sake of it?”

“My apologies. Allow me to explain in greater detail.” Munakata shut his eyes again. “Upon being presented with a soulmate match, one is being granted information. The choice of how best to apply the knowledge lies in the hands of the participants.” When he opened his eyes again, the depth of emotion in them was difficult to place. “Regardless of the social narrative, in many cases the wisest course of action may simply be to abandon the match.”

Somehow, the words resonated. Fushimi stared back, feeling like his soul shivered lightly within his body. He couldn’t seem to muster a proper response.

“However, such is not always the case.” The mood seemed to lift; Munakata smiled beatifically, tilting his chin and directing his gaze back to the glass doors leading inside.

When Fushimi followed the gaze, his eyes caught on Akiyama and Benzai engaged in a polite but clearly intent conversation inside the room. Neither was smiling openly, but there was a subtle lean in their posture, as if they were drawn in towards each other. It was simply and casually intimate, without breaking professional conduct in the slightest.

The shiver within him intensified.

“It is not a pair of soulmate marks which results in a functional match,” Munakata continued, a hint of gentle fondness in his tone. “Regardless of how any relationship is formed, it requires constant maintenance and open communication from the participants.” When Fushimi turned to face him again, he offered another cryptic smile. “The rewards, however, are many.”

Something small and restless stirred to life in his stomach, an edge of longing for something that he couldn’t define. It was similar to the bitterness that clung to the back end of his encounters with Misaki – the dissatisfaction that lurked at the outskirts of his thoughts when they fell in that direction. Fushimi clicked his tongue, struggling against the ache in his chest.

He was fine without Misaki’s affection. It was a choice he still considered the best of his options, back then. But in his weaker moments, his thoughts were haunted by that warm smile and those fond, sparkling eyes. By the taste of Misaki’s cooking and the sound of his laughter.

The press of his lips, the warmth of his body, the tentative touch of his fingers on Fushimi’s skin…

Don’t be stupid. Forcibly pushing those thoughts back, Fushimi deepened his frown. “You know – ”

“Captain.” Awashima’s crisp, businesslike voice interrupted him. When he turned, she was standing at the door, her PDA held out in her hand. “I’ve received some intel regarding a Class 5 criminal strain engaged in a hostage situation at the outskirts of Shizume City. I’ll need your authorization before proceeding.”

“My, my.” Munakata turned to step towards her, his eyes going sharp with keen engagement as he did. “It appears that our visitation will have an abrupt end.” As she automatically shifted aside, he moved past her into the hall. “Please begin preparations as you see fit. I shall make our apologies to the prime minister.”

“Yes, sir.” She inclined her head with brusque respect, before looking up sternly. “You too, Fushimi.”

He clicked his tongue, without much feeling. “Got it.”

She tucked away her PDA while waiting for him to move through the doorway and then fell in step beside him. “I’ll need to inform Akiyama and Benzai as well – we’ll prepare the vehicle while waiting for the Captain.”

That was just logical – Fushimi responded with an automatic affirmative before giving her a sidelong glance. “Intel about a strain on the outskirts of Shizume, huh? Whose intel would that be?”

Her return gaze was cool and even, with only a raised eyebrow to mar it. “I won’t waste my breath answering questions you’ve already answered for yourself.” A short sigh came with that. “He and I agreed to trade information when it didn’t interfere with the interests of our clans. It’s been beneficial in a number of ways.”

Beneficial, is it? Fushimi clicked his tongue again, not bothering to reply. Not for the first time, he wondered if she and Kusanagi might have a matching set of marks in some easily hidden place. And like every other time, he immediately dismissed that line of thinking. Not like it matters to me.

It wasn’t like any of it mattered – not her, not Akiyama and Benzai, and not Munakata with his so-called “distraction”. He hadn’t joined Scepter 4 to make friends in the first place.

All the same, that sense of restless discontent continued to plague him.

 


 

 

The Homra bar was closed.

It was past two in the morning so that wasn’t unusual, but it was unusual for the lights to still be on and for there to still be people sitting inside in perfect silence. A fresh haze of cigarette smoke hung over the room, contributed to by the two adults who had gone through who knew how many without even speaking once. The atmosphere was thick and heavy.

Yata wasn’t sure when the others had left. It was just the three of them now – Kusanagi behind the counter, Mikoto on the couch, and he with his elbows resting on the bar, staring at its surface as he tried to make some sense of the emotions that raged stormlike in his head.

Totsuka-san… There was an ache in his chest. In his throat. All through his body. He trembled with it.

After the funeral, his grief had been nearly overpowered by fury, and it had been easy to retain his energy. He was going to find the bastard that had killed Totsuka and beat him to death with his own hands if he could. That rock-solid certainty had kept him going, his mind burning with thoughts of vengeance all through the trek back to Homra from Totsuka’s final resting place.

Now, with no viable actions to take and only the shared grief to keep him company, he couldn’t seem to muster it. Totsuka was gone, and Bar Homra felt unbearably cold, despite the stuffy atmosphere.

Yata swallowed hard. There was weakness settling in his body and soul, his helplessness from the previous night still lingering. For the first time in years, he had felt powerless – unable to save a precious friend even as he held that friend in his own arms. Unable to do anything as Totsuka’s breath left him, his body growing heavy and his eyes dark and sightless. The scent of blood was still sharp and overpowering in his memory, almost choking him even now.

I should’ve gone with him. I could’ve done something. Those thoughts wouldn’t leave him alone – the what-ifs that he couldn’t silence. In front of him, his hands clenched into fists, so tightly that his knuckled ached.

At least it dulled the pain inside of him just a little.

A heavy sigh from the couch cut into his thoughts; Yata lifted his head as Mikoto rose to his feet, putting out his cigarette on the ashtray sitting on the low table in front of him as he did. “I’m going up,” he said slowly.

Kusanagi nodded. “Check on Anna, will you?” he asked, voice subdued.

“Yeah.” As Mikoto turned, his gaze met Yata’s. He didn’t immediately say anything and it didn’t seem like his expression changed. His steps were heavy and measured as he detoured slightly by the bar. As he was about to pass, he reached out with one large hand and set it on Yata’s head over the beanie. Holding it there for a single, almost comforting beat, he said in an even lower tone, “Get some rest.”

It wasn’t often that Mikoto made gestures like that. Yata turned on his seat to stare after him, reaching up with one hand to tentatively touch the same place that his King just had. Mikoto’s retreating back was wide, his fur-collared jacket giving him a wild edge. He was still every inch the titan that Yata had placed all of his hopes and dreams on when he’d joined Homra.

Still, when their eyes had met just then, there had been something impossibly tired in his hero’s gaze.

In the midst of his grief, he couldn’t help but wonder… If Mikoto really did have a soulmate, where were they? Wouldn’t they rush to his side at a time like this? He’d never seen any trace of this person and their absence was a huge jarring disconnect, especially right then. He still wasn’t sure if they were really there or if it had just been teasing on Totsuka’s –

Ah.

Even just thinking about him in passing had Yata’s eyes stinging, the ache in his body throbbing in response. He swallowed again, lowering his hand and struggling to recover his equilibrium. Totsuka-san…

“We’ll get that bastard for sure, Mikoto-san!” he managed to choke out, drawing up a fervent determination from the very base of his soul. “I won’t stop until I find him, I swear it!”

Mikoto didn’t turn, but he did pause on the stairs – just long enough to rumble back, “Yeah,” before continuing on.

Yata clenched his hands into fists again in his lap. His eyes were burning now, unshed tears gathering around the edges of them and causing his vision to wobble. The anger churning in his belly was like the tiny flame of a match next to the raging inferno of his grief, but it helped to keep him grounded.

“You should do as he says,” Kusanagi told him. He sounded weary as well, but it didn’t seem as if he was planning to head out any time soon. When Yata turned back to face him, he was lighting another cigarette. After he’d finished, he added, “There won’t be much time for breaks from now on. Rest up while you can.” Their eyes met, and a hint of knowing sympathy crossed his features. “You can take the couch downstairs if you’d rather not leave, Yata-chan.”

For a moment, Yata blinked at him, not quite catching up, and then he managed a small nod, hands slackening again as the offer processed. “Ah… thanks.”

Honestly, he hadn’t been home – or slept – since… then. After they’d brought Totsuka’s body to the bar, Kusanagi had told him to wash up and go home, and he’d gone along with it but he hadn’t returned to his apartment at all. He didn’t remember much of the night, only that he’d skated for hours by himself, grief and fury and pain clouding his thoughts as he pushed his body to the limit. He could only recall the sting of the wind on his face, the tears that wouldn’t stop blurring his vision, and the comforting feel of the wheels beneath his feet grinding against the pavement.

The sun had come up and he’d been back at the bar within the hour, finding the doors open and Kusanagi at the counter already. Neither of them had bothered to ask if the other had slept.

“Don’t worry about it.” Kusanagi lifted the cigarette from his lips, one corner of his mouth tilting upward without much feeling. “Just go try and sleep, if you can. I’ll wake you when it’s time, all right?”

There wasn’t much point in asking ‘time for what?’ Yata nodded again, turning on his stool to hop to his feet. He wasn’t the only one focused on revenge right now. When he looked back again, Kusanagi had replaced his cigarette. There were shadows on his face, both ominous and weary all at once.

“Kusanagi-san…” His voice was foggy and hoarse. Yata cleared his throat and tried again. “Aren’t you gonna sleep?”

He got another small smile for that, this time with a hint of fond tolerance. “Don’t worry about me, Yata-chan – I’ve been around long enough to know my limits.” His eyes turned serious. “You should go lie down, at least.”

A million possible responses were fighting for the chance to jump up the back of Yata’s throat. ‘What if I can’t stop picturing it?’ ‘Maybe we could stay up together.’ ‘Are you thinking about what it was like as much as I am?’ ‘Can’t we just talk for a while?’

The one that nearly made it was, ‘I dunno if I wanna be alone.’

It would’ve been lame of him to say it. More than lame – he’d be a burden on Kusanagi. Yata clenched his hands into fists again, swallowing back all of that weakness. He was Yatagarasu, Homra’s vanguard, not some scared little kid. “Yeah, I got it.”

Tomorrow, they’d be turning Shizume City upside down and shaking it to flush out Totsuka’s killer. Homra was out for blood, and he wanted as much of a piece of that as he could get. Yata drew up his fury and determination with all of his remaining energy, letting them fill him and tempering his resolve. “I’ll find that guy, Kusanagi-san,” he declared fiercely. “I won’t let him get away with this!”

Kusanagi nodded in acknowledgement. “I’ll be counting on you.” He blew out a puff of smoke, face still shadowed. “Go sleep while you can.”

That was a clear enough dismissal. Yata trudged out of the room, leaving his skateboard at the bar and heading down the stairs leading into the basement.

This was where they’d set up the projector to play back Totsuka’s videos. The lights were off, but with moonlight filtering in through the window in that small brick room, he couldn’t help but see it as he turned at the bottom of the stairs to face the couch. The pale bluish-white light glinted off of the metal parts, causing it to stand out: a shadowed specter in the dark.

It felt as though his chest squeezed inward at the sight. Momentarily struggling for breath, Yata stepped forward, turning automatically when he reached the couch to face the wall where the videos would have been projected.

There weren’t going to be any new ones now. Not videos, or songs, or strange new recipes. No gently teasing smiles. No warm enthusiasm. No more joking around about silly things or talking cheerfully while they cooked together.

“Totsuka-san,” he mumbled under his breath, feeling his eyes sting again. His head was starting to throb now too, as if in counterpart with the ache in his body. Breathing hadn’t become any easier. “Sorry.”

As if that single word unlatched a floodgate within him, there were tears obscuring his vision yet again, fast overflowing and running down his face. Yata allowed his legs to give out, sitting heavily on the firm surface of the couch and letting his head drop, elbows braced on his knees and forehead on his clasped hands. He shut his eyes, tears squeezing out from behind the lids and sliding down his nose.

There was no shutting out the reality. Totsuka was gone.

In that empty, dark room with no one to either burden or confide in, Yata let himself cry openly.

 


 

 

It wasn’t the first time that Fushimi had worked alone after hours, but the melancholy atmosphere in that dark room was new.

Part of that may have been because he hadn’t bothered to turn the light on after returning to headquarters and setting to work. There was something ridiculously melodramatic about sitting alone in the dark with moonlight seeping in through the open window and the glow and hum of his laptop illuminating his immediate surroundings even further. But he could’ve turned the light on – could’ve got up from his seat and done it right then – and he hadn’t. Somehow, being alone in the dark stilled that restless uncertainty within him. The air felt stale, and the lack of presence in the room was calming.

It was ridiculous that he even needed to be calmed – that there were even feelings he needed to quiet in this way – but there was no denying it.

Right at that moment, it helped to focus on practical matters. There was a pile of paperwork that had been steadily growing as Scepter 4 focused on the hunt for Totsuka’s killer, and with the death of the Red King, those conditions were unlikely to improve any time soon.

The death of the Red King. Fushimi’s fingers stilled on the keys. He couldn’t seem to keep the weight of that reality from his thoughts for long.

It shouldn’t have affected him, one way or another. He had always been scared of Suoh Mikoto – even now, that feeling of being suffocated hadn’t vanished when they were near each other. He’d barely been able to look the man in the eye without flinching. And Totsuka Tatara had been a thorn in his side in many ways – always poking in with that unflinching curiosity and his uncanny habit of ferreting out the secrets Fushimi kept locked away from even himself. There was no reason to feel much for the passing of either one.

And yet, he couldn’t forget…

The deep, measured voice: What do you want to do?

The deceptively light tone: Why did you choose this path?

A surge of feelings that were either unfamiliar or simply too troublesome to classify rose up, and Fushimi shut his eyes to block it back. That was a mistake as well – behind his eyelids, he could see the memory of Misaki’s diminutive frame amongst his fellow clansmen, tears streaming openly down his face as he stomped his foot and shook his fist and chanted with all his might.

“Stupid Saru!”

He hadn’t been aware that Misaki had known he was watching until he’d shouted that out.

It was possible he’d just guessed. One of those rare moments of perception that Fushimi had classified with a points system – 100 points – years ago. All the same, his skin had prickled and his stomach had twisted uncomfortably. But he hadn’t looked away, even when Misaki turned and met his gaze with a furious, grief-stricken expression. That look had given him chills, and even if he had the kind of memory that let him forget things, he didn’t think he’d have ever forgotten that.

The restlessness within his body seemed to churn to the surface, but he still had no idea where to direct it. Restless and aimless – those were the words he could use to classify his feelings right then.

There was a gentle step behind him. “Working late, are you, Fushimi-kun?”

Fushimi opened his eyes, not bothering to turn as he made a small sound of acknowledgement. “I could ask you the same.”

“I suppose you could.” Munakata came to a stop next to his chair, falling silent at the same moment. The air was thick between them during that small break, as if all the words they wouldn’t or couldn’t speak were crammed into the empty space. Then he spoke again. “It would be remiss of me if I failed to remind you that there is no obligation to remain, regardless of the work load. Such things can wait, after all.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue half-heartedly, still without looking up from his screen. “It’s less of a pain if I do it now.”

“I see.” The pitch of Munakata’s voice had softened slightly. “Do as you see fit.”

Nothing in the silence that spread between them had cleared; it still stretched out heavily, as if carrying the burden of the things weighing on Fushimi’s mind that he didn’t particularly want to acknowledge. He stared resolutely forward for a moment, unable to properly focus on the words displayed on his screen.

Homra is really over now. He’d felt it coming with Totsuka’s murder – there was no way Mikoto would be able to continue as King without the tapering his presence provided. But this was the first time he’d thought it so clearly, and with such finality.

The Red King was dead, and the Red Clan would dissipate. It was inevitable.

For all that he’d let his resentment brew during his time in Homra, Fushimi didn’t find himself taking any particular pleasure in that notion. Rather, it seemed as though a cold lump had settled in his stomach.

What will you do now, Misaki?

Even just that bit of speculation brought the restlessness back, full force. He could barely breathe around the sudden longing that overtook his brain – a longing whose aim he still couldn’t seem to place.

More out of an attempt to distract himself from those burdensome thoughts than anything, he glanced at Munakata for the first time. His boss stood solemnly at his side, hands clasped behind his back and posture unbent. He was bathed in moonlight, face angled towards the window, and the light reflected from his glasses, making his expression difficult to place. There was no smile on his face.

His sword was notably absent from his belt.

In that moment, Fushimi found his own words from months before returning to him: “You could end up wearing the brand of someone you loathe until the day one of you dies”. Without thinking, he glanced up at the collar of Munakata’s uniform.

From that angle, of course, he couldn’t see whether or not the mark had vanished.

Lowering his gaze again, Fushimi let out a long breath, clicked his tongue, and tried to turn his attention back to the work in front of him.

 

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