All That We Are

 

Chapter Eight

 

“Chase after me…”

Those words – now a memory from several months ago – were playing over in his head as Yata pushed open the door of his tiny apartment, trudging inside in frustrated defeat. His shoulders were already slumped, and as the rest of the world was closed out behind him, he shut his eyes and let out a loud, long sigh.

It was dark inside, so much that he couldn’t see for a moment even when he opened his eyes again, blinking owlishly as they adjusted. Yata didn’t bother to turn on a light just yet, kicking off his shoes and setting his skateboard beside the door. “M’home,” he mumbled – a habit he’d kept up here and there despite living alone.

Right now, it felt like he needed the comfort of that routine.

What kinda thing was that to say, anyway? Yata scowled into the room without any real target. His head – and heart, if he felt like admitting it – hurt trying to figure out what Saruhiko was thinking. When he’d been approached after the failure at Mihashira Tower, it had felt… off. He couldn’t explain it. Saruhiko had riled him, effortless as always, but it hadn’t seemed like his heart was in it. And when he’d walked away, when he’d glanced over his shoulder with that look, it had sent chills down Yata’s spine even without the words that came with it.

“’Chase after me’, huh?” he muttered out loud, and made a soft ‘ch’. What did that mean? What was he supposed to do? He’d already scoured the city, checking everywhere he could think of whenever he had a spare moment. Was that not what he was supposed to do? What else could those words possibly mean?

Why don’t you ever come out and say what the hell you’re thinking?

Following that moment, Saruhiko had gone straight to the Blue King and left, so the timing was too obvious. There was a message in those words, but he couldn’t figure it out. Hell, he still didn’t know why Saruhiko had left a message with him of all people. Wasn’t he hated? Hadn’t that been made clear already?

And then if anything, today had only made things more confusing. Why the hell would that asshole betray the Blues, join those Green bastards, and then turn around and warn Yata’s younger brother off of Jungle. What sense did that make?

What the hell is he playing at?

It was like a goddamn puzzle game, but with the most vague, frustrating clues ever. He wasn’t even sure if he was supposed to figure them out. Maybe Saruhiko was messing with him. Wouldn’t be the first fucking time.

Still, he couldn’t forget that look, the impression of a something haunted in Saruhiko’s eyes. He couldn’t shake the feeling that it had been an appeal of some sort, though he didn’t know what for. When Saruhiko had turned to walk away, Yata had reached out for him without thinking, acting entirely on instinct and struck by the sudden fear that if he didn’t follow immediately, something terrible would happen.

And then it did, but for some reason Saruhiko had stopped to help Minoru. Why? Why?

Yata stepped into the main part of his apartment, pausing for a moment to frown at the mess on the floor. He’d pulled out the boxes of stuff he’d brought here and stowed in the corner from the time when he and Saruhiko had lived together, desperately hunting for clues. It had been useless, of course, but he still hadn’t bothered to clean up, focused on his increasingly frantic search. At the time he’d been driven by fear that Saruhiko was already dead – had died alone – and he’d burned with the need to prove that possibility wrong.

All the while, there had been one thought he couldn’t seem to shake, always lingering at the back of his head and stirring up an old ache whenever it slunk to the front somehow: If we were soulmates, I could look at the mark and know he’s still alive.

It was the first time he’d thought of a bond between them in purely practical terms. But that uncertainty had nearly eaten him up inside.

I should put this shit away. Yata moved to regard the scattered mementos for a second. At least this would give him something to do other than waiting for the Greens to make their move or wracking his brain over Saruhiko’s inconsistent motivations. He took time to flip on the light, which weakly illuminated the entire room, casting some shadows around the corners, and then folded to his knees in order to get started.

As he was tucking some stuff back into one of the boxes, a tiny speck of light blue caught his eye inside. Yata paused, going in for a closer look without really thinking about it. He’d left a few things in the boxes – stuff that didn’t have anything to do with Saruhiko or the two of them together – but there was a chance he’d overlooked something.

The blue he’d seen was a tiny petal – or rather, half of a petal, hanging out from between the pages of a large, worn book.

The hell? Yata reached in automatically to pull the book loose. It was the collection of children’s stories that his mother had given him, way back when he’d left his family house. Finding it now, after having just met her and turned down her invitation to visit with them for the first time since he’d left, he felt a little guilty for having packed it up without even looking at it once.

Well, it had been a weird gift for a teenaged son leaving the house, even if there was sentimental value.

At the moment, he was more focused on the petal poking out from the top of it. The shape and color were strangely familiar, and as he pulled it up for a closer look, Yata felt recognition strike him like a jolt of electricity.

He could still see Saruhiko’s face clearly, so young back then – they were both so young and stupid, really – with a wary look in his eyes but with the corners of his mouth tense as if he wasn’t sure whether to smile when he handed over his tiny bouquet of flowers.

Can’t be… Yata leaned back to sit cross-legged, maneuvering the book into his lap as he carefully opened it to the page that the petal was leaning out of. There was a tense, churning anticipation building in the pit of his stomach even as he did, and the sight that greeted him met that expectation spectacularly.

The page was lined with the tiny, delicate flowers, green stems stark against the pale blue of the petals. Some were turned upside-down, and some were facing upwards, all of them scattered haphazardly across the large, age-worn page.

Something tight and painful was forming at the back of Yata’s chest, rising slowly towards his throat as he stared down at the part of his mother’s gift he hadn’t even realized was there. She kept them. He’d definitely never told her where they came from, so he just had to assume she’d guessed the importance and patiently pressed each one, preserving them for the sake of one single precious memory. Like a snapshot in time.

When he reached out to gently touch one, it felt dry and brittle against his fingertip. Ready to break apart in an instant, reduced to dust with the slightly pressure.

Still, something about the sight of those severed blossoms struck him as unexpectedly beautiful.

Back then, we didn’t worry about all this shit. Yata swallowed hard around the lump forming in his throat, feeling his shoulders slump forward as he stared down. Back then, they had been the most important thing in each other’s lives and it had felt like they could do anything. Back then, it seemed like nothing could tear them apart and no one could come between them. Back then…

He’d thought Saruhiko was his soulmate and they’d surely be together for the rest of their lives.

Maybe if he actually had been… If they’d actually confirmed it…

Even as that thought occurred to him, a second memory surfaced – yet another instance where these flowers had been involved. That moment was clear now in his mind: the warm air in the bar contrasted by the chill from outside, and a bouquet dangling carelessly from Mikoto’s hand. The sight of Totsuka’s bright smile overlaid it, bringing a sting of tears to his eyes even as that kind, cheerful voice came back to him.

"Well, maybe being soulmates wouldn't help so much in this case.”

At the time, he’d shrugged it off without really thinking about it, but somehow now after everything, the words resonated. Never found out if that was really the end of the story, either. Yata shut his eyes for a moment, trying hard to process the two things in his mind and why he felt so strongly that it meant something to him.

Would it really have changed things, if he and Saruhiko were soulmates?

With that question in his mind, somehow he couldn’t help but think of Saruhiko’s face and the deliberate motions he’d made as he’d scorched the Homra mark from his skin in front of Yata’s eyes. The memory wasn’t any less painful now than it had been at the time, but now at least he thought he knew the aim.

That move was pointed at him. At them. Everything between them. And he still didn’t understand why Saruhiko had done it, but…

It was Kusanagi’s voice that came to him next: “In the end, they’re just a set of marks, after all.”

If the matching Homra marks meant nothing to him – if they meant nothing to him – then soulmate marks wouldn’t have stopped him either. Yata opened his eyes again, staring down at the page full of dried forget-me-nots as realization struck home.

Everything – every last thing – about his relationship with Saruhiko would have been the same. Yata had already believed they were soulmates anyway. Saruhiko didn’t believe that being soulmates meant anything. Having the marks wouldn’t have changed either of their minds, wouldn’t have changed how they treated each other or their parts in the game of Kings and clans and powers.

And if they had done it and not been soulmates… If it turned out his feelings were wrong…

No, that wasn’t right either. Yata grimaced, swallowing again as he worked his way through this. It wasn’t that his feelings were wrong. Hell, he didn’t even think feelings could be wrong – they were just there, whatever you did about them. And when it came to his feelings for Saruhiko…

Those had been there all along, and the belief that they were soulmates had come after.

Yata had believed his feelings were telling him that they were soulmates because he wanted it to be true. Desperately. And that hadn’t changed, even after Saruhiko left him. Even after they’d fought and hurt each other and he’d drowned himself in rage and confusion and bitterness. He hadn’t been willing to let it go, somewhere deep down.

It wouldn’t have changed a damn thing if they weren’t soulmates. He’d still have those feelings. It wasn’t like he would’ve left Saruhiko. It wasn’t like he wouldn’t have cared when Saruhiko left him. He couldn’t even imagine getting to that point. Like Kusanagi had said, it wasn’t about the marks. It was about his goddamn feelings, and always had been.

That was why he wanted to understand Saruhiko. Even now, he still thought of him as an important person. With or without soulmate marks.

Even now, the truth was…

The truth was, about Saruhiko, he was actually… actually, his feelings were…

Doesn’t matter. Yata abruptly shut the book, locking away those blossoms and twisting his lips back into a scowl as he felt the ache in his body intensify. He could feel the stunning weight of that revelation, but it sat heavily on his soul, an unhelpful addition to a problem that he still had no answer for. He knew how he felt, but it wouldn’t do him any good. Saruhiko was gone, closed off in Jungle’s base, wherever that was, and he wouldn’t take Yata’s calls or contact him or even give him another tiny, vague, stupid clue what to do next.

Those feelings in his heart… The truth was that he didn’t know if there’d be an answer for them, ever.

Still, though… Yata took in a breath, raising his head to start at the faded wall of his shitty little apartment as he allowed determination to burn through into his core. Still, that wasn’t going to stop him from trying. One way or another, even if it was at the very end, he was going to work to reach Saruhiko. And when he did, he was getting answers, even if he had to shake them loose.

Now that his feelings were clear to him, he would try his best, and leave behind no regrets.

 


 

 

It wasn’t until he was leaning back heavily against one of Scepter 4’s armored vans with his wound freshly bandaged under his jeans and weariness making him feel boneless and dizzy that everything started to solidify in Fushimi’s mind.

Kamo, who’d treated and bandaged the stab wound on his leg as best he could with the limited medical facilities on hand, had offered to drive him back to headquarters where he could have it dealt with properly, but he’d turned the offer down despite the throbbing pain. Firstly, because they were in the midst of scouring the ruins of Jungle’s base for any remaining clansmen and sparing even one man for a short period of time was going to be inconvenient. With his blue aura back at… well, not quite full strength, but at least a more familiar level, the wound wasn’t more than bothersome, although he’d been warned that it would scar in the end. There was no reason to make the extra trip just for that. And secondly because… he didn’t want to.

As tired and sore as he was, Fushimi hadn’t found it in him to even become frustrated at not understanding his own motivations. Instead, he simply accepted the feeling, affirmed twice to Kamo – who had looked mildly concerned – that he was fine, and stepped gingerly back outside to watch the cleanup.

It’s a mess as usual. The wry observation came to him automatically, his old habits falling back into use after only a few hours of being back with Scepter 4. The sky was rapidly darkening, casting shadows across the wreckage and along the faces of his fellow clansmen and the demoralized Jungle members they led back to the containment vehicles.

Across from him, Enomoto was balancing one of the work laptops on one arm while typing furiously with his other hand. Hidaka stood beside him, complicating the matter by leaning into his personal space to see the screen, and to his other side Domyoji leaned back against the side of their vehicle, his head tilted back and arms tucked behind it as if waiting for results of some sort.

Do they really have time to be slacking off?

If he’d been allowed, he would have investigated to ensure that they were being efficient with their time, but one of the first things Awashima had told him – in a flat tone, as if heading off mischief from a child – was that he was not to resume acting duty as Scepter 4’s third in command until he was once again in possession of his sword.

Munakata had shot him a partly amused and partly apologetic look. “Forgive me, Fushimi-kun,” he’d added. “I’m afraid there has not been much time to properly prepare for your return. Once this matter” – he tilted his head as if to indicate the disaster around them – “has been settled, I shall, of course, organize a ceremony to reinstate you in a manner befitting the occasion.”

Fushimi had clicked his tongue in response, without much real feeling. “I don’t exactly need a sword to start the paperwork, do I?”

Awashima’s gaze had been mildly exasperated, but Munakata had not batted an eye. “I think it best in this chaotic time that we take care to observe the formalities.” The smile he directed at Fushimi had been fond, but edged with weariness. “Please take the additional time to rest and recover.”

Recover. Somehow, he didn’t think it was just the wound on his leg that had been referred to. Fushimi shut his eyes momentarily, mentally recalibrating. He’d had to do so several times since returning, and it helped a little, but he had still not quite found his footing. Months had been spent in Jungle’s base, on constant edge against possible slip-ups and retaliation – despite the faux friendliness from three of the four core members, he had no illusions about how his presence was interpreted. The timeframe was even longer if the weeks he’d used to rank up were included. It had been a long time since he’d been surrounded by familiar faces in blue uniforms and the security of armored vehicles belonging to the organization he’d pledged to serve years ago.

It hadn’t felt quite real. Since coming back, there were a few fragments of clarity in the midst of what seemed like chaos. Giving his brief report to Munakata, who had seemed in less than perfect condition himself but who had nodded and carefully listened to each statement, offering a simple thank you at the end that had somehow filled Fushimi’s chest with warmth. Watching Awashima’s eyes widen when she’d spotted him, a play of uncharacteristically open relief spreading across her expression followed by a fierce, emotional determination as she strode over and reached out without hesitation to pull him into a hug. The sound of familiar voices calling out around him.

“Is that…?”

“It is!”

“Fushimi-san!”

“Fushimi-san is back!”

“Was he really working undercover?”

“I told you!”

“Fushimi-san!”

Even the sudden rush as the Special Operations Squad members swarmed him hadn’t quite registered, despite how sharp it remained in his memory. Hidaka had stepped in the moment Awashima had released him, his eyes flooded with emotion as he enveloped Fushimi in a fierce bear hug. Domyoji had enthusiastically thumped him on the back in the same moment, nearly knocking the breath from his lungs, and Akiyama patted him on the shoulder, offering his usual kind smile. The others had been full of questions, Enomoto bright-eyed as he asked if Fushimi had learned anything about Jungle’s infrastructure and Fuse just as eagerly demanding to know how he’d worked his way to the inside so quickly. It had been overwhelming – not to mention perplexing – to be the source of that much attention all at once, so Fushimi had stood there in agitated silence until Awashima broke things up by announcing that any questions and other discussion would have to wait until his injuries had been treated.

The mention of his wound had worked its magic, and he’d been bustled off to a makeshift medical station in one of the vehicles before he’d had a chance to properly take everything in and adjust. The rest of the debriefing and the entire process of bringing him up to speed had taken place in the back of a van as he was patched up.

One thing that stood out from that moment had been glancing back and catching the eye of his boss, who had offered him a small, knowing smile as he followed behind.

What was that about, anyway?

Fushimi still hadn’t shaken the uncertainty within him. The enthusiastic welcome felt like some part of a dream, despite the fact that he knew this was reality. Some part of him was still down in that cold base, expecting to wake up to another endless round of pointless freedom and an unstructured existence. He fought back a little shiver, unsure what to make of the warm rush of relief that flooded him as he reminded himself that it wouldn’t be the case.

He was alive, and he’d been welcomed back to his clan with open arms.

Even without the ‘welcome’ and the ‘open arms’ parts causing additional confusion, he was still adjusting to the other part. His clan.

It didn’t feel unpleasant to think that way.

“Here you are, Fushimi-kun.” Munakata’s calm, even voice cut into his thoughts. When he looked up, his boss was offering him another of those oddly gentle smiles, his hands clasped behind his back. “I had thought that you might choose not to return to headquarters just yet.” He tilted his head. “Prudence compels me to remind you that rest may be a wise course of action, given your condition.”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, again without any real annoyance. “I could say the same to you.”

“I suppose you could, at that.” Munakata’s smile gained a slight rueful edge, a small hum of amusement accompanying the change in expression. “Quite the pathetic pair, are we not? Awashima-kun is likely to scold the both of us.”

That statement was enough to make him raise an eyebrow, gaze shifting meaningfully to the red mark on his superior’s cheek. It was already starting to form into what would be a very noticeable bruise. “I think she’s already scolded you plenty.”

Munakata actually winced at that, then lowered his head and shut his eyes with resignation as he smiled again. “Indeed she has. Unfortunately, there is little I can say in my own defense; as it lies, she had the right of it.” He lifted his gaze again, straightening. “In any case, my purpose in seeking you out was not to question your decisions. Although it is true that I do not have your sword on hand to return to you, I have thus far neglected to mention that I had prepared some small token in the event that there was occasion to welcome you back.”

‘In the event that there was occasion’, huh? That drove home just how close they’d come to there not being any such opportunity. Fushimi shut his eyes briefly, trying not to dwell on that thought. It was over now anyway, and it was useless to focus on could-have-beens.

It had been closer than he was comfortable with. If he hadn’t opened the door… If Misaki hadn’t come…

Misaki. Fushimi felt his fingers twitch, but he didn’t have the urge to scratch at his scar the way he had in the past. There was an itch in his brain when he thought about Misaki now, similar to the restlessness he’d come to expect but now almost at the forefront of his thoughts, as though he could reach up and scratch it. Somehow, when he’d offered to explain… When Misaki had turned and smiled at him – not the bright smile of their past but with something like relief, as though an enormous weight he’d been carrying had eased… In that moment, Fushimi had felt the longing he’d struggled with for all those years grow still. It had been… nice. And that was as baffling as everything else; he didn’t know where to start with any of this, although he had a sense that the answer might be close.

Well, it can wait. It would have to, anyway.

Munakata continued after a short pause, as though he’d anticipated Fushimi’s lack of response. “Fushimi-kun, I owe you my deepest gratitude for your part in this affair. Were it not for your actions, there is a strong possibility that I would not be present to address you at the end of this.” His gaze was quite serious as he let that heavy statement rest.

Fushimi swallowed against a rush of confusing emotion. He’d known, of course. Awashima had taken up the task of filling him in on the specifics of the situation, her usually brisk voice weighed with the strain of her own feelings. But somehow, hearing the fact spoken directly – that he had managed to save his King directly through his own actions – filled him with a deep satisfaction. The feeling was so similar to what he’d experienced hours before with Misaki that he had a momentary sense of dizzying Deja-vu. It felt as though something that had plagued him relentlessly for as long as he could remember had been soothed.

His King. He still wasn’t used to that, either. But the truth of it reverberated in his soul.

As he dealt with that, Munakata reached into the front of his blazer, retrieving a small book with a plain, hard cover. “Though it is a trifle when held against what you have done, I hope that you will accept this small token.” He held out the gift.

Fushimi took it from him, eyeing the cover with a certain amount of wariness. “’The Language of Flowers’,” he read out loud, and looked up to raise an eyebrow. “You’re really pushing this, huh?”

Munakata’s responding smile was beatific. “My thought was that it might serve as a reminder.” He tilted his head again. “I took the liberty of marking the page that held what I considered to be the most relevant content, given the circumstances.”

Fushimi turned the book to verify, and found that one of the pages had been folded at the corner. He carefully slid his finger in against it, propping it open. “I don’t see what’s so relevant about – ” As the sides of the book parted and left him with a full view of the page, his breath caught, that complaint going unfinished.

In between the pages, a small, bell-shaped flower had been pressed, the stem of which was still attached. It was bedraggled and limp, and compared to the crisp color of the pages it seemed to be a faded shell of what could have been a vibrant white. But the bud was intact, though flattened, and it stood out against the text behind it, still lovely despite all it had been through.

Lily of the valley. Fushimi’s brain recognized it immediately, supplying a sudden, sharp mental image of Misaki’s young, smiling face in the early Spring sunlight. He stared at the bud for another second or so, caught up in the feelings triggered by that clear memory, and then blinked as a thought occurred to him, gently nudging the flower out of the way to see the contents of the page.

Next to the entry for ‘lily of the valley’, a small portion of the meaning had been underlined: the return of happiness.

“Forgive me, Fushimi-kun,” Munakata’s calm voice broke through his reverie. “It seemed a fitting sentiment.”

‘Forgive me’, he says… If he had not been so distracted, Fushimi would have scoffed at the non-apology. That was on purpose. Somehow, his boss had a knack for getting straight to the heart of a matter. This gift was so transparent that he might have rolled his eyes in a less vulnerable moment.

As it was… With the recent revelations of Munakata as his King and Scepter 4 as his clan… With the memory of Awashima’s face when she saw him again… With the weight of all of his co-workers pressing in around him…

It was more than just his safe return – he knew that without probing too deeply at his boss’s intentions. It was… them. All of them. Fushimi raised his head in time to see Akiyama approach the three in front of him, his expression dubious as Hidaka scratched sheepishly at the back of his head. Enomoto’s shoulders were hunched but he still had a rueful smile on his face, and Domyoji was grinning, his hands tucked behind his head. Nearby, he saw Benzai escorting a pair of Jungle clansmen, and Fuse waiting at the van to take over. Goto and Kamo were conversing over a set of papers, their expressions intent, and Awashima stood with her back straight giving orders to a set of troops, who saluted her sharply before turning to trot off.

He had played a role in securing their happiness. He had protected them – taken care of his clan.

Taken care of his… important people. The ones he cared about.

There. That was it. The itch. That was what it was.

Now that he knew, it seemed obvious. So simple. Fushimi recalled standing outside of his family home with the half-baked plan for taking care of a bouquet of flowers, and grimaced. All this time, that restlessness… It was just something as basic and flawed as this. He should’ve known. After all, he was human. He wasn’t special or above anyone. He had urges and wants and emotions just like everyone else, but he’d denied them for so long that somehow he’d convinced himself they didn’t exist.

And somehow, in trying to do that, he’d also managed to twist them into something unpleasant.

At that thought, Fushimi lowered his gaze again, reaching out to tap the bottom curve of the flower with his fingertip idly. Misaki, too. It was the same – always had been; he could never not care about Misaki – but he’d failed to see it. Or had stubbornly refused to see it. He’d wanted so badly to be of importance to Misaki that he’d categorized it as an achievement, assigned points to the reactions, and organized the entire business in his head as if it had been rules in a game.

Thinking back to it now, Fushimi couldn’t help but grimace. It hadn’t ever been anything as easily classified as that, but he couldn’t see it. Hadn’t wanted to see it. Hadn’t wanted to admit how much he’d desperately needed to be able to take care of Misaki, because he’d had no clear idea on how that process even worked or how to do it once Homra had stepped in and seemingly taken it over.

It was no excuse, but it was an explanation.

Maybe that’s the way I should start that conversation. He’d promised to explain things, after all. There were a lot of things that needed to be said between them, unspoken hurts and half-truths and a painful, intense longing on his part that hadn’t been explored, but there had to be a starting point.

It was too much to think about just then. Fushimi shut his eyes against the influx of emotion. Some tightly held tension had been released within him, but it came at a price. He felt exhausted, mentally drained, despite the warmth of the revelation and the dubious security of mutual feelings.

At least… mutual feelings with his co-workers. With Misaki… well… that was a different situation entirely.

“An overwhelming sentiment,”Munakata observed quietly. When Fushimi glanced sharply at him, he was staring ahead with a small smile on his face, eyes keen. “Is it not?”

Fushimi clicked his tongue, shutting the book in his hands abruptly and turning to face forward. “You don’t have to be so cryptic,” he muttered, without much feeling.

Munakata hummed softly – a light affirmative. “My apologies.”

Silence fell between them, but there was nothing heavy or awkward about it. Somehow, it seemed like nothing else needed to be said.

 

Next