All That We Are

 

Chapter Seven

 

The glowing numbers on Fushimi’s PDA read ‘1:15’ when he checked it as he left his dorm room. He clicked his tongue, letting his hand fall to his side heavily before sliding the device back into the pocket of the slacks he’d pulled on. Above his head, one of the faulty hallway lights buzzed spitefully at him, but he ignored it, pulling the door shut behind him and moving on without a backward glance.

Since they’d joined forces with Homra to coordinate their defense and attacks against Jungle, sleep had been fleeting. Not because they were particularly busy – if anything, it had been less hectic after the initial awkwardness had been sorted – but because his brain didn’t seem to want to shut up and leave him alone.

It bothered him. Not even just ‘it’ – everything. Fushimi narrowed his eyes, trudging down the hall to the shared kitchen area. Munakata’s somber but steady agreement to the dubious proposal of ‘alliance’ offered by the flaky Silver King, his gaze still clear and confident but with an underlying weariness, had been unsettling. Fushimi wasn’t sure why he’d felt that way, but somehow despite all of the sound reasons offered, he got the sense that this wasn’t the direction his superior would have chosen under ordinary circumstances. He was fairly certain in that moment that Awashima had shared the sentiment; the look they’d exchanged felt like it had said it all.

This isn’t normal. The restlessness he’d been plagued with on and off – more so since the Captain’s Weismann levels had begun to rise – had stirred to life again even before Misaki had voiced his honest enthusiasm with the idea.

Misaki… Why would he be in favor, anyway? Hadn’t he always hated Scepter 4? Something bitter curled at the corners of Fushimi’s mouth, tugging them downward as he thought about it. That hatred – that sense of ‘other’ – had been the only thing tying them together since he’d left Homra. If Misaki could stand there and proclaim his support so loudly and obnoxiously, then what was left?

What was it that tugged at him now, if the urge to rile Misaki to a fury had faded? Why was he still so fixated, so certain that there was something he wanted desperately to do?

Aside from the obvious… Fushimi clicked his tongue, pushing aside the disturbingly clear memory of Misaki’s flushed face and heated eyes. Not that he didn’t have those thoughts too – he’d grown used to them by now – but setting that still-burning flame aside, this wasn’t a physical urge. It was mental. Emotional. He’d felt enough longing in his lifetime to be able to place it, but what he couldn’t place was the aim.

If not bright-eyed admiration or blazing hatred, what exactly did he want from Misaki?

As he rounded a corner in the dimly lit hallway, Fushimi noticed a glow emanating from the opposite end, a telltale sign that the kitchen light was on. It was quiet in the dorms – everyone either sleeping or on duty – which was why he hadn’t bothered to do more than pull on a pair of pants and a hoodie after getting out of bed. The intent had been to look for something that could effectively distract him from the struggle to sleep without keeping him awake even longer.

It was probably a pointless effort, but lying there stewing in his thoughts had made this seem like the better option.

There was the sound of movement from the kitchen, but no voices – which probably meant only one person, or possibly two. That was manageable. Fushimi turned to step inside, the bright light from inside the room contrasting enough with the dim hallway that he squinted for a moment at the empty table before looking past it to see Akiyama at the counter in the kitchen area.

“Fushimi-san.” The older man looked a bit startled, but his expression softened into a smile easily. “Evening. You’re up late.”

So are you. But then again, Akiyama had been on duty until just a short while ago, so it wasn’t worth pointing out. Fushimi made a non-committal noise in response, moving past the table toward the kitchen. “I needed something to drink.”

Akiyama nodded in acknowledgement. “I was about to brew some water for tea – if that’s what you’re here for, I’ll add some for you.”

“Yeah.” As he reached the entry to that small space, Fushimi paused. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

There was a short moment of silence, more pronounced with the lack of chatter in the air. This area normally got a fair amount of traffic in the evenings, but things still hadn’t quite stabilized since Jungle had been keeping them on edge. There was an anxious atmosphere that pervaded not only the dorms but all of Scepter 4 – a vague uneasiness that hung above everyone’s heads and spilled into their interactions in even the most casual moments. The alliance with Homra, while not universally popular, had lightened that mood some, but not much. Like everything else, that cheer felt… forced.

Even if only he and Awashima were truly aware of the Captain’s Weismann level, the strain that Jungle had been forcing on them was enough that even the lowest ranks felt the vise closing.

Once again, Fushimi felt a surge of that now-familiar restlessness, and pushed it back irritably. For some time now, it hadn’t just come up in response to Misaki, and he didn’t quite know what to make of that either. Munakata’s chipped Sword of Damocles… Awashima’s increasingly careworn face… The strain he could see right now in Akiyama’s shoulders even as he carefully prepared the kettle. It was the same strain he’d seen in many of his co-workers’ postures, and it stirred that same feeling.

Wanting to do something without knowing what was aggravating. Fushimi clicked his tongue, letting his eyes drift in search of a distraction.

As Akiyama lifted his arm to place the kettle on the element, Fushimi’s gaze was drawn there, to the clear and precise image of an orange kitten’s face displayed in beautiful detail just below the inward bend of his elbow.

He’d seen the mark before, of course – both Akiyama and Benzai seemed to prefer short sleeves in the dorm – but it never failed to make his skin prickle, the fine hairs rising in response to the emotion it elicited. It wasn’t even unpleasant these days, more of an uncomfortably strong awareness that drew up a slew of particularly clear memories.

The black and white dice, of course, but also that sharp burnished sword at the back of Munakata’s neck. The solemn expression on his face, accompanied by some emotion Fushimi couldn’t place. Awashima’s small, rueful smile as she described her own situation.

Misaki’s bright, triumphant grin in the moment when they’d received their Homra marks in the same spot… The way his eyes had brimmed with emotion in the brief instant before he’d let out an ecstatic whoop and thrust both fists into the air.

It was both painful and seductive, now. Fushimi reached up without thinking to dip his fingers under his shirt, the small rush of pain drowning out the memories. “Why a cat?” he asked abruptly, pulling his hand back as he sought to move past the moment.

Akiyama blinked at him, obviously caught off guard by the question. “Huh? Oh…” He smiled again, tilting the arm up slightly. “This, you mean?”

Isn’t it obvious? “Yeah.”

“I’m not sure if you’ll believe it, honestly.” The smile turned a bit lopsided. “Some of the others probably think I made it up, and Benzai refuses to confirm or deny it for me, so…” He offered a small, helpless shrug. “I guess you can judge for yourself. The truth is, when we were rooming together as cadets ages ago, I had a hard time getting close to him. You know how quiet Benzai is.” That came with a fond look, Akiyama’s eyes going momentarily distant. “Well, one day I was coming back from shopping and I caught him on the street feeding a stray kitten.” The gaze turned down to the design on his arm with that, smile widening just a fraction. “Cliché, isn’t it? He didn’t see me, and I didn’t say anything, but I remember thinking that side of him was sort of interesting. So I bought some cat food and left it on his desk.” He looked up to meet Fushimi’s eyes again. “He never said anything – I think he was embarrassed, actually – but I kept it up until we graduated. We ended up gradually getting closer, becoming partners, and… well… the rest, obviously.” That came with a small, awkward shrug and apologetic smile.

His reactions, more than the cheesy story, were what struck Fushimi: the obvious contentment in his expression and the way his eyes gained that tiny bit of warmth as he spoke. It was consistent with what he’d seen before of their partnership, but still somehow more real – more unavoidable – now that Akiyama had spoken directly about it.

It shook him. Munakata’s narrative – and even Awashima’s, if he stretched it – could fit with what he’d always thought about soulmates, but Akiyama and Benzai were so outside of what he expected that he wasn’t sure how to take them. It brought a tiny thread of doubt to life within him, wriggling wormlike into his thoughts and stirring up feelings he didn’t particularly want.

There was no way that soulmates were good – he’d seen enough evidence to dismiss that theory outright – but if they weren’t necessarily bad, then…

He wasn’t sure, and that was irritating. Fushimi clicked his tongue softly. “Didn’t that change things?”

“What?” Akiyama’s expression was quizzical. He glanced again at the mark on his arm, and his face cleared. “Ah, this? Well, we’d already been together for some time beforehand, so it didn’t make much of a difference.” He shrugged again. “By that point we were already in Scepter 4, so there weren’t any restrictions on us – aside from some teasing, we didn’t encounter much trouble.”

That wasn’t exactly what he’d asked. Fushimi resisted the urge to click his tongue again. “You didn’t suddenly start seeing stars in each other’s eyes then, I take it,” he muttered, almost under his breath.

Akiyama’s ears were sharp; he shot Fushimi a startled look. “Well, no. I mean, of course not.” The smile he offered was just a bit bemused. “I’ve always felt that these marks reflect the state of our relationship, rather than the other way around. They’re just… there. It’s like exchanging rings, but automatic.”

Fushimi made a soft, derisive sound, dissatisfied with that explanation. “Involuntary, you mean.”

“I guess you could look at it that way.” Akiyama let out a small sigh, still smiling despite his acknowledgement of the unpleasant reality. “But we went into it knowing that it could happen. Both of us were fine with either outcome – it wasn’t like it would change things between us.”

Wouldn’t it? Would they really have been okay with continuing, without that all-important soulmate connection? Fushimi thought back to Awashima’s words, about making the active choice not to pursue it. He could still clearly remember how Munakata had spoken about choosing to disregard the outcome. Not everyone was like his classmates, buying into the hype. Not everyone was like Misaki, thinking it was a perfect system.

It isn’t perfect, not even close. It’s rotten to the core…

When he looked up at Akiyama’s calm and certain expression, he felt the foundation of that belief crumble a little within him.

Fushimi clicked his tongue, irritated with the direction of his thoughts. “You actually talked about it?” he asked almost snidely, trying to bury the rest.

“Of course,” Akiyama responded patiently, politely ignoring his tone in favor of responding honestly. “We talk about everything. Even the small things.” He tilted his head a bit, almost as if to question the direction of the conversation. “I think that’s what got us through the tough spots. If you can talk about what’s bothering you and trust your partner to listen and address it, even if they don’t understand why, then you’re in a good situation.” He offered another small shrug. “Though that’s just my opinion. Maybe other people’s experiences are different.”

The words touched on something within him that Fushimi hadn’t realized was still quite so sensitive, causing his breath to catch momentarily as a chill ran along his skin. An uncomfortable blend of realization and mortification came along with it and he made a noncommittal sound in response, turning his gaze aside as something hurtful rose up alarmingly at the back of his throat.

It doesn’t matter now. But still…

When they were young, he had never explained anything about his situation to Misaki. Not his family, not his thoughts about it, and definitely not his own feelings. They had talked, of course, but not about anything substantial. Instead, he’d relied on Misaki’s instincts and his ability to reach 100 point answers without Fushimi having said anything.

Stupid. Swallowing against the rush of emotion, Fushimi mentally berated himself. Without thinking, he reached up to touch the remains of the mark at his chest, fingers curling at the tips but not digging in. Not even tucking under the fabric of his shirt. Just… there.

It wasn’t like Misaki had minded. Those things had become routine between them, a comfortable loop of not talking and not listening, and somehow still forming an understanding. And now, as he fit it into those terms in his head, he could see exactly where it had fallen off the track. Nothing had changed between them at all. Fushimi had still not spoken, and Misaki had continued to blissfully make assumptions as he always had, failing to recognize that nearly all of them were wrong.

The problem wasn’t Homra, though maybe that was the catalyst. The problem was that their system had been flawed from the start. It was no wonder things had fallen apart between them.

Once again, Fushimi felt that restless urge swirling around the mess of emotion that had already formed in his body. He didn’t know what to do with it, didn’t know what he wanted from himself, and it was starting to grow from irritating to aggravating that it kept coming up. He let out a sharp breath, resolving to push it back.

The revelation, if you could call it that, didn’t change things. Not everything could be fixed just by realizing how it had broken. He didn’t need that relationship they’d once had, not anymore.

Not that he was sure what he needed, these days…

The whistle of the kettle cut into that thought, followed by Akiyama’s voice. “Looks like it’s ready.” He was reaching out to lift it from the heat when Fushimi glanced up again. “Here, I might as well pour for both of us…”

Two cups had already been set out beforehand, so there was no ‘might as well’. Rather than being annoyed by that, though, Fushimi felt a little of the storm in his thoughts settle. Courtesy was such a common habit of Akiyama’s that it had stopped being remarkable. In a way, there was some comfort in it.

That was a ridiculous thought. But still, Fushimi didn’t feel any particular dissatisfaction as he accepted the steaming cup. Again, as it had when he’d worked with Awashima nearly a year ago, it felt like the restlessness within him stilled naturally. “Thanks.”

Akiyama smiled back at him. “You’re welcome.”

When he returned to his room with the cup in his hand and the echoes of the conversation faded into a memory, somehow Fushimi felt he’d be able to sleep that night after all.

 


 

 

“Fushimi-kun.”

The familiar timbre of his boss’s voice calling his name had Fushimi halting immediately at the back of the lecture hall. He backtracked to meet up at the top of the stairs leading up from the seats. “What is it, Captain?”

Munakata’s expression was unreadable – not the usual keen interest in his eyes that Fushimi was used to from his time working for Scepter 4, but the serious frown adapted for opponents or those whose capability or loyalty were in question.

It fit the situation. At the moment, the Dresden Slate was under Scepter 4’s jurisdiction and yet the Silver King felt confident enough to throw together half-baked schemes regarding its protection. If Munakata had been anything more positive than neutral in this situation, Fushimi would have questioned whether he was even the same person he had been.

Though, considering how distant he had become since taking control of Mihashira Tower, that scenario wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility.

Somehow, the thought came with a sinking feeling in Fushimi’s stomach.

There was a cool directness in Munakata’s gaze now. “What are your thoughts regarding the plan proposed by the Silver King?”

Fushimi paused only long enough to consider their surroundings. The hall had been chosen for its soundproofing, and then thoroughly searched for recording devices. Further, most of the audience had cleared and those remaining were quite firmly out of hearing distance.

In that sense, it was at least as private as Scepter 4’s headquarters, if not more so.

Which meant he could speak openly. “Do you want my honest opinion?” Pausing only long enough to be sure no protest was incoming, Fushimi went on. “It’s shaky at best. We’re reliant on a certainty that we know everything Jungle is capable of throwing at us. Given the source” – at that, he shot a dubious glance toward the podium that the Silver clan was still gathered around – “I’m not sure if we can boast that. Frankly, I don’t even know if our best surveillance is capable of giving us that information.” He frowned. “The possibility of something unknown tipping the balance is higher than I’d like.”

“Those are my exact thoughts,” Munakata agreed, obviously without pleasure. “I must admit, I had hoped for better, but given the circumstances, we must endeavor to make use of what resources we have available.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, unsatisfied with that response. “Don’t you think a backup plan of some sort might be necessary? This is the Slate itself we’re talking about, not clan territory.”

“Indeed.” Without changing expression, Munakata lowered his voice. “To that end, I have a mission for you, Fushimi-kun.”

 That was unexpected. Fushimi blinked, momentarily taken off-guard, and then straightened. “What are the specs?”

“Unfortunately, I have nothing so official for you in this case. However, I believe that this is a mission that would only retrain any possibility of success in your hands.” Munakata reached up to push his glasses higher on his nose, remaining stony faced as he continued. “Should the Silver King’s plan fail, my orders are to infiltrate Jungle’s base and provide assistance in the reacquisition of the Slate.”

The bluntness of that order felt like a blow – a sucker punch, more like. Fushimi stared back, momentarily caught speechless.

It wasn’t that so much the danger to his own person that threw him as it was the sheer recklessness of the idea. Yeah, he was used to being Munakata’s trump card in all manner of situations where someone who didn’t necessarily play by the rules was called for, but this was… Frankly, there were even more unknown variables in this plan than the previous one, and cold practicality reminded him that he, himself, was perhaps the most unpredictable. Not that he expected to fail, but leaving the entirety of such an important situation in one person’s hands was extremely careless.  Besides that, while he couldn’t say he didn’t like having complete autonomy, given that it was his preferred working condition, it hadn’t escaped his notice that he’d be entirely on his own – no backup for the backup plan, more or less. No superior or subordinates. No home base to retreat to. There would have to be zero contact with Scepter 4 for the plan to succeed, and even if it did succeed, the probability that he’d live to see any of them again was…

He wasn’t sure why that thought bothered him, but something unpleasant was stirring in his stomach in response all the same.

Don’t be ridiculous. Swallowing back those misgivings, Fushimi returned his boss’s gaze evenly. By proposing such a wild solution, Munakata was placing complete trust on him, evidently without the slightest misgiving. And given the state of his Weismann level lately…

That was a sobering thought, but it seemed to do the trick, a sense of purpose overwhelming the discomfort from earlier. “’Assistance’ is pretty vague, you know,” Fushimi pointed out, implicitly accepting the order. “Is there anything specific you’re looking for?”

Munakata inclined his head just slightly. “I shall trust in your judgement when the time comes.”

There was that word again. Trust. Something about it stirred up that restless longing, implacable as always. Fushimi studied his boss’s face, a little shiver of something that he couldn’t classify as either pleasant or unpleasant running through his body as he considered the implications.

He still didn’t know what it was he was looking for or what would satisfy that feeling, but it didn’t matter. Any mission that Munakata could throw at him was what he’d promised when he’d joined Scepter 4, and this wasn’t going to be his first exception.

Munakata glanced at the podium again, where Kusanagi and Anna seemed to be moving on towards the exits at the front. Awashima still waited at the bottom, obviously on Munakata’s orders, her expression grim.

No doubt he wouldn’t be able to mention this to her, either. Vaguely, Fushimi wondered how she’d react. How would his subordinates react? It was obvious that none of them could be told what was happening without compromising the integrity of the plan, so…

It’s not like it matters. He hadn’t joined Scepter 4 to make friends. He wasn’t interested in comrades or cooperation or anything as banal as friendship.

That assertion felt unexpected hollow right at the moment.

“If you should have any messages to leave behind,” Munakata said, drawing his attention again, “you may entrust them to my care.” A pause. “Though I cannot promise to personally deliver such things, you can rest assured that they will be received by the intended recipients.”

That was clear enough. In case you die. In fact, in case both of us die, because that’s as likely an outcome as any. It was a depressing thought – that he might die alone without knowing whether the mission’s success meant anything in the end.

Messages, though…

Immediately, Misaki’s face came to mind, with such immediacy and clarity that Fushimi couldn’t resist the urge to click his tongue, frustrated with himself. There was no reason to leave something behind for Misaki. There was no relationship between them – not friendship, not intimacy, and definitely no soulmate bond, despite the number of so-called ‘attempts’.

Still, his chest clenched painfully at the thought of leaving things as they were.

Munakata seemed to take something away from his silence, continuing smoothly. “In any case, there will be time to consider the offer – along with any additional requirements on your part. As I’m certain you are already aware, it would be prudent to make such arrangements well in advance.”

That’s obvious. Fushimi shrugged it off, mentally doing the same for his earlier thoughts. “I’ll think about the requirements,” he responded evenly. “As for messages, I don’t have any. Feel free to tell everyone whatever you want if things don’t work out.”

If you’re even alive. It was a depressing thought; Fushimi ruthlessly shoved back the restlessness that came with it.

There was no point in dwelling on that.

“I see. Very well, then.” Munakata unexpectedly turned, moving to step back down the stairs. “Please do keep me informed of any resources or assistance that I might prepare for you.”

Somehow, the move caught him off guard; given that his boss had taken the time and energy to come up here, Fushimi had expected him to simply exit at the top of the room. Perplexed, he stared at Munakata’s back, and as he did, his eyes lifted automatically to the area normally hidden by the high collar of the pristine blue uniform – the area that had previously held the intricate sword design.

Previously… because there was nothing there now.

He’d suspected it, but the confirmation still had Fushimi’s breath catching in his throat, eyes widening as his previous theory became reality. “It really is gone, huh?” he murmured out loud, a little stunned despite his own prior certainty.

Yeah, he’d known, but still…

Munakata’s measured steps halted. He turned again, this time with a more somber and less intent expression. “Yes,” he admitted without any hesitation or shame. “Indeed it is.”

Having a soulmate mark vanish from your skin had only one possible explanation. Fushimi took in a breath, not quite sure of how to react. Despite his views on soulmates, even he had to admit what a cruel irony the situation had created. “Seriously… Talk about a shitty system.”

After everything, it was difficult to say that with confidence – even as the words left his mouth, they felt uncertain. Weak.

That fact seemed to not be lost on Munakata. “Is that your impression?” He raised an inquisitive eyebrow, still unsmiling. “All things considered, the so-named ‘soulmate system’ is not precisely where I would first think to direct any bitterness.”

That was clear enough – and, if he were being fair, true. The number of complications in this situation made the soulmate connection almost negligible. Besides that, he’d never put any stock in soulmates or their significance before. Still, he kept coming back to them; kept assigning them importance that they shouldn’t have held.

Kept thinking back to the look of horror on Misaki’s face as he burned his half of their matching set from his skin.

The memory didn’t fill him with excitement the way it once had; Fushimi felt his fingers twitch, the urge to reach up and scratch at the mark nearly overwhelming. There was a dull sense of resignation at the center of his memories, a perfect storm of lost chances and missed opportunities. For what, he still couldn’t place. Or maybe it was just his brain not wanting to process it – refusing the logic and cold, hard truth that he didn’t want to face.

The fact of the matter was that Misaki had always been at the back of his thoughts, but his own feelings were changing. No longer were the shining eyes and expectant smile tied to that fleeting warmth and overwhelming bitterness. There was no excitement, no burst of feeling, at the thought of that burning gaze and enraged expression. And something within him twisted when he thought of Misaki’s dull eyes and defeated posture. Seeing Misaki now, regardless of his expression or mood, stirred to life those aggravatingly implacable urges that eluded his understanding again and again. He was trying to avoid acknowledging it, but the fact was, what he thought he was feeling was the one thing he’d told himself over and over that he wouldn’t.

Regret.

It was that irritating thought that manifested in a scowl as Fushimi turned his gaze aside. “You don’t regret it, then?” he muttered, letting his eyes glance over Awashima waiting with her arms crossed and her posture tense at the bottom of the stairs and the three members of the Silver Clan still gathered at the podium, smiling and laughing as if they had no cares in the world.

Must be nice…

“Regret? No.” His boss’s somber tone drew him back to the conversation. When he turned back, the gaze he was being fixed with was surprisingly weary. “Not in the sense that you’ve implied. I have many regrets of a different nature around that time.” Munakata shut his eyes, as though momentarily caught up in reminiscence. “Perhaps there is some error in my way of thinking; perhaps not. But I cannot find it within me to regret a connection I had formed, regardless of how ill-advised or reckless it may have been.” He opened his eyes again, regarding Fushimi with some unreadable emotion. “Regardless of how or why that connection was severed.”

The words seemed to resonate with his feelings. Uncomfortably so, in fact. Fushimi clicked his tongue, letting his fingers hang limp to avoid the tingling desire to dig into his wound again.

Digging into old wounds was a habit that was hard to break, it seemed.

When the silence had stretched out just to the point of awkwardness between them, Munakata finally spoke again. “Forgive me for the abrupt change of subject, Fushimi-kun.” He reached up to adjust his glasses again. “I cannot help but find myself reminded of our previous conversation on the subject. Have you, by chance, had the occasion to expand your knowledge on the subject of flower meanings?”

What. Fushimi furrowed his brow, unable to follow the thread of his boss’s thoughts. “Was there some reason I needed to?”

“No. I simply thought that you might find something of interest or value in the topic.” For the first time during the entire encounter, Munakata smiled. It was a small, rueful upturn of his lips. “In particular at this point, the two variations we had observed on that day may hold some relevance.”

If anything, that was even more confusing. Fushimi clicked his tongue again, frowning back. “It doesn’t help when you’re deliberately vague.”

Munakata dipped his head forward in acknowledgement. “Perhaps it was impudence on my part that prompted the mention. Please think nothing of it, Fushimi-kun.” When he raised his eyes again, there was gravity in them – something steady and implacable. “My apologies.”

It didn’t feel like he was referring to the impudence with that. Fushimi was silent, watching without response as his boss turned and made his way back down the stairs, back straight and pace unhurried but inexorable.

 


 

 

As it turned out, being conscious of Munakata’s dangerously high Weismann levels did not prepare him for actually seeing his Sword of Damocles splinter violently in the air above Mihashira Tower.

The air was crisp enough that Fushimi’s breath created a cloud in front of him; if he hadn’t had his head tilted up, it might have fogged his glasses. As it was, it felt like the enormous blue Sword hanging in the air had frozen at a rapid pace and parts of it consequently shattered, splinters flying off. At the same moment, his heart felt like it had jumped into his throat.

His first irrational, half-panicked thought was that it would break and begin to fall. Beside him, Enomoto gasped audibly, amplifying the initial shock.

In the next moment, with the Sword still hovering and showing no further signs of damage – or descent – fear settled into something more like dismay.

We’ve lost, haven’t we?

He’d felt it coming with the arrival of the Grey King, worse when the helicopter had appeared: a slow sick dread at having his worst suspicions confirmed. That logical observation he’d thrown out with nothing more than cynicism after the presentation had proved correct in the worst way, and he couldn’t do more than stand in the cold outside the building and watch.

Now what?

It was a rhetorical question; he knew what.

Shutting his eyes against the cold air, Fushimi lowered his head, exhaling sharply and feeling the warmth of it billow around his mouth for just a second. He’d spent a considerable amount of time thinking about this, so it wasn’t that he wasn’t prepared. But the sinking feeling that had struck him when Munakata had given him the order had returned now, tenfold.

Time to become a traitor again, huh? It shouldn’t have been so uncomfortable. He had done it before. There were those in Scepter 4 who wouldn’t find it so hard to believe – most of them, probably. He hadn’t joined to make friends. He didn’t intend to have any significant attachment to that place, or the man who led it, or any of the people he’d worked alongside.

Still, he couldn’t help but think about Munakata’s calm, considering looks… Awashima’s head bent forward as she worked in silent concentration across from him… Akiyama’s small, kind smiles…

Misaki’s face, eyebrows knit together as he met Fushimi’s gaze with uncharacteristic hesitance, clearly uncertain how to act around him any more…

His heart beat faster, that restless ache building to a crescendo as he considered what was coming. It was far too likely that after today, he wouldn’t be seeing most of these people again. And now that it was too late, it occurred to him that maybe he really had wanted to leave messages behind.

If nothing else, Misaki… Emotion rose up fiercely at the back of his throat, nearly choking him. Right.

Maybe there was still time.

 

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