All That We Are

 

Chapter Nine

 

“Yata-san…” Kamamoto’s voice broke into the intense staring match Yata had started with his PDA. His friend offered a sympathetic sort of half-smile when he looked up. “You’ve been frowning like that for a while now. Can’t be that hard a call to make, can it?”

Yata scowled back, frustrated, and let out a sharp ‘ch’ before turning his glare off to the side. “Yeah, easy for you to say,” he grumbled, hefting his skateboard under his free arm a bit. He accidentally made eye contact with a woman in a business suit as they passed on the street, and she averted her gaze before he could even get embarrassed, hurrying along as though nervous.

A half-mortified flush spread up his face; Yata cleared his throat, trying to get past the moment. Don’t accidentally scare people, goddamnit! He and Kamamoto probably looked like street punks walking around downtown Shizume in broad daylight, which was almost the truth. Despite the fact that they were working to fix up the mess of strains and stray color-users left behind by the Slate, just their appearance was bound to make ‘normal’ people nervous.

It had been weeks now – weeks, and the most contact he’d had with Saruhiko had been getting into arguments with him over clan territory.

Yata reached up to scratch the back of his head with agitation, ignoring Kamamoto’s searching gaze. Things were… different between them. He should’ve been grateful. After that tense moment in Jungle’s base, it felt like he and Saruhiko had reached something of an understanding, but it was still just a dent made in the huge wall they’d built between them over time. The atmosphere was awkward at best – tense at worst – and every time they spoke, even if they weren’t arguing, it felt like they were both dancing around the heart of the issue. It was as if neither of them knew how to act around each other.

Sometimes, when he let doubt consume him, he wondered if Saruhiko even wanted to try…

As if that guy wouldn’t say so if that was it. Yata tried to brush that insecure thought from his head, narrowing his eyes as he thought it through. If Saruhiko didn’t want to try, he wouldn’t have been awkward about it at all. He would’ve made it clear that Yata’s efforts were unwelcome. It wasn’t like he was the type to ever hold back when something was annoying him, after all. That had been one of the things Yata liked about him – one of the things they had in common, actually.

The fact that the nervous energy between them felt entirely mutual actually gave him some hope in a weird way. Saruhiko wouldn’t have been anxious if this wasn’t as important to him as it was to Yata. Right?

“You should just do it, Yata-san,” Kamamoto rumbled at him. When Yata glanced up at him, he offered a grin and a thumbs-up. “That’s your signature style, right? Dive in head-first, and let the details work themselves out?”

That was kinda true. Yata shot him a disgruntled look. “This isn’t a fight, dumbass – it’s totally different!”

Kamamoto shrugged, looking a little bemused at the clarification. “Right, if you say so, but what’s so difficult about making a phone call? Is it some kinda sensitive family business, or…?”

Yata blinked at him, momentarily caught off guard, and then let out a rueful ‘heh’, shoulders slumping as he released his breath in a huff. “Yeah, something like that.”

‘Family’ really wasn’t far off, because the truth was that his mother had been pushing the whole thing about bringing Saruhiko over for dinner much harder lately, and he was starting to run out of excuses. Avoiding her calls only made it worse when she managed to catch him off-guard with one later on too. It wasn’t like he was opposed to going home – it was gonna be awkward, sure, but now that things had settled down, it was doable. But bringing Saruhiko over, when they hadn’t even settled things between the two of them properly yet…

Hell. He wasn’t even sure Saruhiko wouldn’t laugh in his face when he brought it up.

Yata grimaced, trying to shove back that thought. There had been too many years of Saruhiko pushing him away and deliberately stepping on his feelings. Despite knowing that there had to be something more complicated behind it than derision or hatred and that things were gonna be different now, he couldn’t shake the pattern off so easily. Honestly, he still hadn’t quite adjusted to the idea of them being on good terms again. He was happy, sure, but it kinda felt like the whole thing could fall apart if he looked at it funny. It made all of his moves and actions come out clumsy and tentative, and he was starting to get really frustrated with himself for that.

In short, something had to give.

Kamamoto was shaking his head, oblivious to Yata’s inner thoughts. “You won’t get anywhere avoiding family, Yata-san,” he pointed out, with something of a rueful note in his own voice. “You’d better call ‘em and sort it out before it gets bad. Just” – he brought up a hand and clenched it into a fist, with an encouraging grin – “rush in head-on and sort it out. Right?”

Those were his own words; he was sure he’d said that exact thing before. Yata shot his friend a flat look. “Look, this isn’t your business, okay?”

Kamamoto seemed to deflate a little at that. “Yeah, f’you say so.”

Past the irritation, he couldn’t say it wasn’t decent advice. Yata reached up to scratch at the back of his neck again, aggravated, and waited a few more paces as they came out to an alley. “Just… Okay, fine. Wait here.” He stopped by the entrance to fix his friend with a scowl. “Don’t listen in, got it?”

The stupid grin he got back came with an overly enthusiastic thumbs-up as well. “Got it! Good luck, Yata-san!”

‘Good luck’, he says… Yata slouched into the alley and slumped against the wall, setting his skateboard to the side and trying not to think too hard about the last time he’d called Saruhiko in a place like this. He wasn’t sure what Kamamoto would have to say about who he was calling either. Maybe nothing – maybe he’d get a dubious look and a rough sigh.

He’d probably deserve it, too, because this was dumb! There was no reason he should be afraid to call.

Still, even with that, once he’d got the screen up and scrolled down to the right place in his contacts, his finger hovered over the name ‘Fushimi Saruhiko’ indecisively for a second or two.

Goddamnit… Yata scowled, frustrated with himself, and forced his hand to move. I’ll just… figure it out. Whatever.

The ‘calling’ screen flashed up and he listened to it ring, trying to ignore the anxiety brewing in his stomach. It only went off twice before the ‘click’ of the call connecting sounded, and then… silence.

What the fuck? Yata felt his eyebrows knit together, frowning at his PDA in bafflement. “Saruhiko? You there?”

A brief pause, the sound of some motion, and then Saruhiko’s low drawl came across the line. “You’re breaking your trend. I expected to be yelled at.”

“Hah?” The frown twisted down into a scowl, a little twinge of irritation rising. “I’m not always yelling!”

If he thought back, though… Guiltily, Yata realized he had only been calling lately when he had some beef with the Blues. Things had been hectic. And he wasn’t quite used to normal conversations with Saruhiko. And… maybe if he was being honest, he kinda didn’t want to be the one to initiate this time. Every single time something important happened between them, it was always him pushing. Was it really that bad if he wanted Saruhiko to come to him with that explanation he’d promised?

Yeah, I’ll probably never get it in that case.

“If you say so,” Saruhiko responded breezily. “So? If you’re not calling to yell, what is it?”

Right. That. Yata grimaced, and then decided ‘fuck it’ and dove right into it. “Mom’s been bugging me about you and me going over for dinner sometime soon.”

There was a marked pause, punctuated by a very audible intake of breath. Yata was just starting to squirm, ready to brush off the whole thing and take it back when Saruhiko responded, tone wary. “How soon is ‘soon’?”

“Eh?” Yata blinked – he hadn’t expected that. “Uh… well… long as I give her a date, I think it’s good? When’s your next day off?”

“Hm.” Saruhiko drew out that hum, clearly thinking it over. “Two days from now. I’ll have to let them know I’m actually taking it, though.”

“You seriously work on your days off?” Somehow, that wasn’t surprising. Yata found himself grinning a bit ruefully. “Damn, you government types don’t like taking breaks, huh?”

“Things are busy right now, if you hadn’t noticed,” Saruhiko responded. His tone was flat, but there didn’t seem to be any irritation or mockery in it. “Anyway, since I’m off all day, just figure out a time with your family and let me know. I can meet you by the bar.”

“You’ll go?” A little wave of surprised pleasure surged up through Yata’s body. Somehow, he’d expected to have to fight for it a bit more… He really is trying, huh? Even that tiny bit of proof had him shutting his eyes for a brief second, savoring the relief and happiness. “Awesome! I’ll call her right away!”

“Fine. Just message me the details.”

“Right.” Now that they’d reached this point, Yata was at a loss. He could feel a million and one other questions at the tip of his tongue – You wanna hang out on one of those days off, maybe? Should we just message each other random shit like we used to? Are you ever gonna really talk to me? Explain stuff like you said you would? – but he wasn’t sure of the timing. Or if he even wanted to put them out there.

Why’s it always me? That self-conscious thought kept those questions in. Yata cleared his throat. “Well, see ya, then.”

“See you,” Saruhiko echoed, in that soft mumble. There was an edge of something that might have been hesitance or maybe even fondness – unless that was wishful thinking – and his tone drew out like it sometimes did.

It made Yata shiver, a little twinge of something that definitely wasn’t remotely platonic starting in his belly and spreading out through his body as the call clicked off. He lowered his hand and leaned heavily against the wall behind him, letting his head fall back with a thud. What am I doing?

All the times in the past when he’d thought about his feelings, it hadn’t been this stupid and awkward. But then he’d always had some kind of ‘out’. When they were younger, it was because he’d convinced himself they were soulmates. That made it easy – he didn’t have to be worried or anxious or uncertain because Saruhiko was going to be beside him regardless. And then later on, when he’d sorted that out, it had been more important to find Saruhiko and figure out where they stood.

Well, now they were friends again – sorta – and he still didn’t know where they stood.

Maybe he’s just not into it. Yata swallowed hard, lifting his head. Despite the number of times they’d kissed and the remembered intensity in every encounter, the truth was that he didn’t know how to interpret Saruhiko’s actions towards him. It had felt like things were going well – and he’d enjoyed it while it was happening; had thought that Saruhiko enjoyed it just as much – but after everything that had happened, he had trouble trusting his own instincts. He couldn’t separate how desperately he wanted there to be something more-than-friends between them from trying to piece together whether there actually was.

There was also the fact that Saruhiko had always been the one to pull back and put an end to things, even if he’d initiated it. Maybe it was just some twisted form of messing with him, taunting him with his own soulmate obsession and the feelings that brought it up. Saruhiko had done a lot of that, so how was Yata supposed to know one way or another if any of it had been genuine?

When it came down to it, they’d fucking kissed, and even more than kissed, but he had no idea how Saruhiko felt about him.

So lame. Yata let out a huff, partly amused and partly frustrated. He didn’t really have it in him to wonder if he and Saruhiko were soulmates, either. That was kind of a secondary concern, if it was even a concern any more. He wasn’t totally sure about that part, but he was sure that he… had feelings for Saruhiko. If there was something to be pursued between them, he wanted to do it.

On top of all of the other problems, there was also the fact that he couldn’t do it as Homra’s Yatagarasu. And he definitely couldn’t do it assuming he was Saruhiko’s soulmate. But he didn’t know how to act as just plain Yata Misaki, either.

“Don’t forget that’s only a part of who you are as a whole,” was what Kusanagi had said. But he hadn’t said how to figure out what the other parts were. Did personalities even section off like that? It was confusing.

“Yata-san!” Kamamoto’s voice called out from the head of the alley. He was peering in curiously. “Did you call yet? How’d it go?”

That was an effective distraction. Yata shot him a glare, waving impatiently. “I told you to wait, stupid!” He raised his other arm, bringing up the PDA again. “I gotta make one more call, so just stay put, will you?”

“Got it!” Kamamoto responded, flashing him another thumbs-up before ducking back out of view.

Yata busied himself with bringing up his mother’s number, successfully pushing the more complicated stuff back as he focused on the immediate matter. But still, that one persistent question nagged at him, tugging at the back of his mind even as he tried to ignore it.

Now what?

 


 

 

Now what? That was the first thought to surface in Fushimi’s brain as he stared dumbly down at the neatly folded shirt he’d been handed.

“I’ll leave the basket here for you to put your dirty shirts in,” Misaki’s mother said, fixing them both with a stern look. “I’m taking Megumi to the store to pick up dinner ingredients. Wash up and change while I’m gone, and I’ll get the laundry and dinner going when I’m back. Got that?”

“Yes,” Fushimi answered automatically, at the same time as Misaki mumbled, “Yeah, mom.” They exchanged a sheepish look.

Honestly, it was like being thirteen again.

The entire day had felt like that, though – ever since they’d met up to visit Misaki’s family together. From talking about inconsequential things to teaming up automatically so they could save Misaki’s sister from an errant Slate-caused accident and all the way to spraying themselves with soda, despite the fact that it had been an accident on his part and Misaki’s way of making him feel better about it on his part.

And now here they were being scolded right in Misaki’s family’s tiny, neat bathroom, and ordered to wash up by Misaki’s mother.

It was nostalgic. Maybe too nostalgic, honestly…

Fushimi couldn’t help but turn his eyes aside, avoiding Misaki’s direct gaze. It felt like they were trying to fall back on a previous rhythm without any idea of how to interact now as adults. He was having trouble avoiding the pitfall of those easy patterns, despite the fact that he could recognize them. It was awkward, trying to find a space and a level of comfort to start talking – and since he hadn’t, Misaki was pushing forward instead, making assumptions like he had before and taking over the difficult work of what should’ve been communication between them. Hitting the mark too, which had a seductive security to it. But…

That’s not what I want now, is it? He got the impression that it wasn’t what Misaki wanted either; despite the casual ease, a lot of it felt like desperation. Tugging at the frayed ends of what was there once, at a loss on how to piece together something natural.

Out of all that, the only certain thing in Fushimi’s mind was that he wanted there to be something natural between them. Some closeness, a bond, a sense of shared feelings… Trust, maybe. Probably.

It was easier said than done, of course. Given their history, he couldn’t exactly blame Misaki for not trusting him. It stung, but he had no choice but to accept it, seeing as how it was a direct consequence of his own actions. Logically, that meant if there was going to be trust, he was going to have to take the lead, but the idea of trusting someone other than himself, even Misaki – or maybe ‘especially Misaki’, considering how much potential there was for pain – went against every ingrained instinct he possessed. Despite recognizing that he would have to do it if he wanted this to go anywhere, he didn’t have the slightest clue how to lower those particular walls.

He wasn’t entirely sure if he wanted to, honestly, despite the longing that still churned about in his body. The idea of putting himself out there like that was… unnerving.

Regardless, it was clear that they couldn’t build anything substantial between them by relying on their previous habits. There wasn’t enough there. And they’d changed. Which they obviously both knew, and it was causing no small amount of awkwardness and strain.

Fushimi clicked his tongue. Emotions were so needlessly complicated…

“All right. I’ll leave you boys to sort out who washes first.” Misaki’s mother offered them a fond smile, turning to step back out of the room. “Minoru will be home from his study session in a half hour or so, so don’t drain the tub water, Misaki!”

“Got it,” Misaki muttered at her retreating back. He turned to face Fushimi with something of an apologetic look. “So, uh, we can both wash, but sharing the tub might be kind of…” At that, he reached up to rub at the back of his neck, embarrassment clear in his expression. “Y’know.”

“It’s fine.” It wasn’t fine – there was already a knot in his stomach before he’d even considered the implications of ‘washing together’, much less ‘sharing a tub’. Fushimi turned his back, feeling awkward as he reached down for the hem of his shirt and trying hard not to let it show. “You go ahead.”

“You sure?” There was the sound of rustling behind him – Misaki following his lead, no doubt. Fushimi tried not to think about it as he lifted the shirt over his head.

“I’m not doing you any favors,” he drawled back. “If someone has to go out and make small talk with your family while waiting, I’d rather it wasn’t me.”

Misaki huffed out a laugh – muffled slightly by fabric as he was probably doing the same thing Fushimi had just done. “Yeah, shoulda guessed. Jerk.” His voice came out with a kind of rueful fondness, but before there was time to react to that, Fushimi heard more sharp rustling behind him followed by the soft ‘thwack’ of Misaki’s shirt hitting the basket as the result of a careless toss.

That didn’t help with the earlier thoughts. Fushimi made a low, distracted hum in response to the good-natured insult, eyeing the article of clothing for a moment. He was suddenly and uncomfortably aware that its presence meant that Misaki was standing behind him naked from the waist up. It made him keenly conscious of his own uncovered skin, the fine hairs rising at the back of his neck in response, and he had to fight the urge to click his tongue as he slid his own shirt the rest of the way free, discarding it directly on top of Misaki’s.

What a pain...

It was impossible to quell the awkward curiosity stirring within him now. He hadn’t seen Misaki without clothing since they were teenagers trying to conserve water in their cheap apartment. And that had stopped after the first failed attempt to confirm a soulmate bond, thanks to his discomfort and how easy it was to arrange things so that the timing didn’t work out.

In short, it had been years, and things were different. They were different. Physically as well as anything else. He knew it well; there were places he’d touched on Misaki’s body, soft and firm points that he’d mapped out with his fingers without ever having –

Don’t be stupid. Fushimi firmly clamped down on that errant thought, making a ruthless attempt to discard it as he started to undo the waistband of his pants. He scowled at the discolored panels on the wall in front of him, frustrated with his lack of control. This wasn’t the time, and it definitely was not the place.

If there ever will be a time and place for that kind of thing… He didn’t even bother to suppress the cynical voice that slid across his mind in response, bending to remove his jeans. It was true, after all. That kind of relationship wasn’t a sure thing, even if he and Misaki both wanted it. Things were… complicated.

That Misaki cared about him, he’d stopped doubting. Misaki had come after him, without understanding and with nothing between them aside from a broken and twisted relationship. It was one of those overwhelming truths that Fushimi still struggled with. Misaki’s attachment had survived in the face of all the hate Fushimi had carefully and meticulously tried to cultivate in him. The depth of those feelings felt unrealistic – an illusion; something he didn’t have any right to.

As if that matters when it comes to feelings… He was starting to realize that in the process of coming to terms with his own. Emotions didn’t follow logic. There was no objective ‘right’ to any of it. Things just were, whether they made sense or not. In the end, he and Misaki were just two people who were drawn together – that was the simple and yet powerful truth of it.

Unfortunately, that was where the simplicity ended. Fushimi forced himself to consider the cold, hard logic at the core of the issue. Feelings may have been uncontrollable, but actions were not – and they typically had consequences.

In short, even if none of the other complicated factors between them existed, he couldn’t avoid the fact that acting on those feelings meant that eventually the problem of soulmate bonding was going to come up.

There’s no guarantee that we are. It was the first thought to jump up in response to the subject, his hackles raising in immediate defense. That was the thing that nagged at him as he considered how to approach the topic. If something did happen between them and it turned out they weren’t, would Misaki be okay with it?

If it turned out they were, would he be okay with it?

In the end, it came down to trust again – of Misaki, and of himself. And frankly, he didn’t know that he was capable of either.

Sometimes, though… when he thought about the moment he’d exhausted his resources, facing down the high probability of death, and he’d heard the sound of Misaki’s voice calling out to him…

Maybe…

It’s useless to think about that now. It was only going to make things more awkward. Fushimi finished undressing and set the rest of his clothing aside, wrapping one of Misaki’s family’s towels around his waist. It was softer than the ones at the Scepter 4 dorms. This room was tidier too, despite the cramped quarters. The lighting was dim but pleasant and the air was fresh, although it felt stifling at the moment considering everything.

Behind him, he heard Misaki take in a deep breath, and then let it out in a long ‘whoosh’. “Hey. You ready?”

At least he wasn’t the only anxious one. Oddly, that gave Fushimi a little more confidence about the situation. “You say that like we’re getting ready for a fight.”

“Shut up! This is weird, okay?” Misaki’s voice was an odd blend of frustrated and flustered. Without waiting for a response, he blustered on. “All right! Fine! I’m – I’m turning around. Got it?”

Do you really need to announce it? Fushimi felt the smile curling warm at the corners of his mouth, and didn’t bother to stop it even as he turned as well. “Yeah, yeah.”

They somehow managed to face each other at approximately the same moment. Fushimi caught the way Misaki’s eyes widened slightly and felt his own breath halt abruptly in his throat. His skin prickled with mingled surprise and embarrassment, a warm tendril of something that was a little too sharp to be quite pleasant stirring slyly to life within him.

Misaki was stunning. He’d known it, been powerlessly charmed by the play of wiry muscle and the thin, smooth line of waist and hips even when they were covered, but he wasn’t quite prepared for the intensity of his own reaction. It was as if his previous logic had flown entirely out of his head, any cautionary thoughts stilling momentarily as his eyes trailed over the flat plane of Misaki’s stomach and the slender but firm muscles of his calves and arms. An appealing flush seemed to spill from Misaki’s face down along the line of his neck; as Fushimi stared, fascinated, the muscles in his throat moved in a nervous swallow.

There was heat on Fushimi’s face as well, an uncomfortable warmth that he couldn’t help but be conscious of despite everything. He was aware of Misaki’s gaze on him, searing into his skin in return, but it felt like a secondary consideration. He’s... Misaki is…

Even as he wracked his brain for a word to finish that thought, it occurred to him that he didn’t really expect to find one that would do both the sight in front of him and the feelings coursing through him any kind of justice.

It was stupid, but probably couldn’t be helped.

Fushimi’s eyes found the proud outline of the Homra insignia on Misaki’s collar barely a second later, and he had only a second to feel the beginnings of apprehension before the swift intake of Misaki’s breath told him they were in sync there as well.

Right…

That was it, wasn’t it? Their unfinished business.

“Why – ?” The word came out fast and harsh, thick with emotion and just as quickly halted, as though Misaki had blurted it without thinking but then caught himself. When Fushimi raised his gaze, it was almost exactly as Misaki turned his away, eyebrows bunching together and lips tightening down in a scowl. The play of desperate emotion in his eyes was impossible to miss; he seemed to be making an effort to get himself under control.

‘Why’, huh? Something inside of Fushimi seemed to twist painfully. That’s the big question, isn’t it?

He didn’t have a chance to act on the feeling, even if he could have worked out what to do, because the next second Misaki was clearing his throat, drawing in a breath, and then abruptly lifting his head again, a sharp grin on his face. “Why didn’t you get someone to look at that already, dumbass?” He braced a hand on his hip, waving the other vaguely in the direction of Fushimi’s collar and raising an eyebrow. “It looks like shit.”

“Oh, really?” The flippant responses was out before he could process, his brain falling back on the habit of allowing Misaki to direct the flow of conversation even as the blatant disconnect in the atmosphere registered. “I hadn’t noticed.”

He wanted to ask something else, though, didn’t he? Discomfort was already building at the pit of his stomach; the urge to turn aside and brush this off was strong. Fushimi clenched his teeth, fighting with himself – forcing himself to examine the strange dissonance in Misaki’s behavior. So why…?

There it was again: ‘why’. Always, always ‘why’.

“Heh.” That came out as something of an amused huff. Misaki shut his eyes with the easy grin still on his face, apparently willing to do the work of brushing the moment off all on his own. “The hell? Aren’t you s’posed to be the smart one here?” He shifted, as if to turn toward the shower head. “Anyway, let’s – ”

“’Smart’?” The sharp repeat was out of his mouth before he’d properly thought about it. Fushimi’s fingers twitched in reflex as something dark churned within him, discomfort and anxiety rising. He forced himself to swallow, lowering his voice to a mumble as Misaki turned again to shoot him a startled look. “Is that what you think?”

“Saruhiko?” Misaki’s voice was confused, but there was a note of underlying wariness. It was there in the way Misaki looked at him, too – a kind of inward cringing, as though he were bracing himself for a blow. “What’s up?”

It stung. More than he would’ve expected. Which was ridiculous, because he had cultivated that look himself. Quite purposefully too, over the years of baiting and taunting and trying to match his laugh with the echo of a ghost he should’ve exorcised long before. What right did he have to be hurt now that Misaki didn’t trust him?

No right. Fushimi drew in a sharp breath, forcing himself to continue to meet Misaki’s direct, questioning gaze as he fought the instincts screaming for him to back down and let this pass. The path of least resistance stood before him: say something vague, brush it off as nothing, and go ahead with bathing and having dinner as if nothing were wrong. He could do just that and there’d be no consequences. No risk. No putting himself out there, no laying himself bare and at the mercy of someone else’s judgement. Misaki wouldn’t even question him.

Misaki wouldn’t question him, even though he desperately wanted to.

Nobody would push him to put himself out there.

Nothing would change.

In that instant that he stood there, momentarily paralyzed with indecision, the vivid memory of Jungle’s darkened base rose sharply in his mind. In front of him, Misaki’s face seemed to blur out into the smudged and sweaty version of that time, the corners of his eyes crinkling with a wide, unrestrained smile. In the depth of his gaze, a myriad of emotions played out: surprise, pleasure... relief. There was something cathartic in it – not only from Fushimi having made the halting promise to explain himself, but also from Misaki’s elated reaction. In that moment, there had been no room for doubts.

He wanted that moment back. More than anything. More than his own comfort.

As the vision faded, leaving him faced with Misaki’s furrowed brow and puzzled frown, Fushimi felt a certainty form in his brain, mingled with dread and a nearly overwhelming anxiety. There was only one path he could see that would lead in that direction now.

Trust has to be earned, after all. Doesn’t it?

His fingers were trembling. Deliberately, Fushimi reached up with his right hand and ran a fingertip lightly under the line of his burn scar. He could hear the way Misaki’s breath shuddered, eyes following the motion with unconscious intensity. “If I were really so smart,” Fushimi murmured, keeping his voice low to avoid the possibility that it would shake, “I wouldn’t have done this in the first place.”

At that, Misaki’s gaze rose to meet his, lips set in a firm line. He didn’t speak, but the way his jaw visibly clenched said enough. Go on, that look seemed to urge. Don’t stop now.

“You said the Blue King was my King all along, but that’s not the way I saw it back then.” Now that he was speaking, it was a tiny bit easier to let the confused mess of his previous mentality bubble to the surface. Fushimi lowered his finger, sliding his hand up instead to brace it in front of the scar. “I was stagnating in Homra – it was sweltering. You don’t know – ” He drew in a frustrated breath, cutting that line of thought off ruthlessly. “Anyway, that’s not the point. There were a lot of things happening.”

Someday, maybe, he’d tell Misaki the details. About his family and their peculiar cruelty. About Aya and her involvement with Jungle. About his irrational fear of Mikoto and the sense of inferiority it had brought with it. All of those little points of insecurity and vulnerability that had converged inside of him, causing his resentment and frustration to brew to a boiling point.

Right then, he didn’t think he could manage that much; it would have to be enough to summarize it. “To be honest, I wanted to feel useful. Needed.” He could feel the small, sardonic curve of his lips and didn’t bother to hold it back. “There were a lot of reasons for it, but I wasn’t getting that feeling where I was.”

“How can you say that?” Misaki blurted, abruptly breaking his silence. His face had contorted, an angry red starting to pool under his eyes and his furious gaze wavering with thick emotion. He sucked in a breath, seeming to try and get hold of himself again. “I mean – I get it, yeah, you’re better suited for the Blues, but we needed you!” His mouth trembled; he visibly forced it into a scowl. “I needed you, goddamnit!” He shook his head furiously. “Just… for right now, forget about Homra, forget clans, forget Kings – forget all of that stuff!” When his face lifted again, his expression was a twisted blend of indignation and anguish. “Why did you destroy it, Saruhiko? Why’d you have to fuck us up?”

There it was again… One hundred points. The thought felt hollow alongside the ache that was rising fast at the back of Fushimi’s throat, his heart thundering in his chest as he stared back at Misaki’s furious, pained face. That system had been designed to rate his own satisfaction at his most important person’s efforts, and it was only in this moment that he realized how fucked up it had been – how fucked up he had been. Maybe how fucked up he still was, if he’d started to fall back into that habit. This wasn’t a game. Misaki had aimed right at the heart of it, but it wasn’t for Fushimi’s benefit alone.

It wasn’t just his feelings on the line here. This was both of them. Everything that was ‘them’.

There was no other choice but to be brutally honest from this point on. “Why do you think? I was stupid.” Fushimi shook his head, allowing a helpless little smirk to spread on his lips. It was the only way he could keep from drowning at the moment. “You keep saying you’re the idiot, but do you know what kind of thoughts I had back then? I thought this mark” – he tapped a finger meaningfully on his covered scar – “was all you’d wanted from me. Any sort of matching marks, right?” Registering the sharp intake of breath and the way Misaki flinched back at the words, he continued, dragging the words forth painfully. “It seemed easier to keep your eyes on me if they were full of hatred. Like that, you’d never forget me.”

“You… fucking – !” Once again, Misaki sharply cut himself off, jerking his head to the side and down as his shoulders bunched up, hands balling into fists at his sides. His face twisted again, teeth clenched and eyes narrowed against the dangerous shake in them. His body trembled noticeably as he fought for control of his emotions; when he swung his gaze back up, it was fiercer than Fushimi had seen it. “What the hell were you thinking, ‘all I wanted’? D’you have any idea how fucking important you were to me?”

“Was I?” Somehow, that assertion lit a fire in Fushimi’s belly; despite everything, he still found the sharp edges of a grudge that had simmered at the base of his soul. His eyes narrowed, bitterness beginning to run its old, familiar course through him. “Did I even stand out from the crowd, when you had Mikoto-san in your sight?” The hot defensive note in his own voice felt like it carried barbs with it, scraping against his throat as he finally released them. “Was I your first choice to talk to, to laugh with, to spend your free time on? Maybe you forgot that I was sitting there, with all your new friends and your shiny, important King to impress.” Something hot and painful stung at the edges of his eyes and the topside of his mouth; he lowered his voice. “Maybe since you didn’t need a soulmate bond any more, you didn’t need anything from me.”

“Fuck you, Saruhiko! Is that what you fucking thought?” Misaki was glowering furiously at him now, his eyes noticeably wet and his teeth bared. “Yeah, maybe I had new friends! Maybe I looked up to Mikoto-san – he saved your goddamn life, asshole! And maybe I found it awkward to be around you sometimes – can you blame me? You think I didn’t notice you pulling away from me? I fucking did! I thought – ” His face contorted again, mouth working for a bare second as he struggled. “I thought it was me! Because of that – that failed… when we tried to be soulmates!” The red on his face was spreading like a rash. “It’s weird, right? Isn’t that why you got all moody? You pushed me away, you didn’t want me – what the hell was I s’posed to do with all those feelings? I thought if I laid off for a while, you’d – ”

“’Laid off’?” Fushimi repeated, cutting into that heated rant abruptly. “Is that what you call leaving me to sit in a corner by myself while you laugh and boast and show off for Mikoto-san? Don’t make me laugh!” He returned the glare with all of the venom and resentment still steeped in the back of his consciousness. “When I told you I was leaving, all you cared about was ‘Homra’s pride’ this, ‘matching marks’ that – if I hadn’t done what I did, you’d have branded me a traitor all on your own!”

That hung in the air between them for what felt like a very long moment.

Misaki looked about ready to punch him in the face, lips curled back from his teeth and shoulders shaking as if his body were incapable of containing the emotion escaping through his eyes. He was clearly fighting himself. After a second or two of almost unbearable silence, he gritted out, “You didn’t even try to explain. Not a goddamn word.” The muscles in his throat moved in what looked like a painful manner as he swallowed. “You didn’t give me a chance. You didn’t give us a chance. You seriously – ” At that, he had to stop and take in a sharp breath before choking out, “You seriously didn’t think anything was worth saving between us?”

The hurt that throbbed in his voice resonated against the stinging at the back of Fushimi’s eyes. He breathed out, releasing his hold at a last on the simmering poison that he hadn’t even realized he’d been carrying. Now that it was out there, all of his pettiness and insecurity and envy, he felt both renewed and empty, a blend of relief and weariness washing over him. “I didn’t,” he admitted heavily, lowering his voice again and feeling another stab of guilt when Misaki flinched again. “But… I never was good at sorting out my own feelings.”

Misaki’s mouth twisted in a scowl; he let out a bitter-sounding ‘ch’. “No fucking kidding.”

“I’m glad we can agree on my emotional incompetence,” Fushimi responded dryly. The interjection made it easier to breathe; the air felt clearer. “Just to make it clear, I didn’t tell you all of that so we could argue about it or because I believe it justifies anything. That’s just the ugly truth of it.” He drew in another long breath, trying without success to steady his quickened pulse. “And for the record, it was never about whether or not the things between us were worth it. I didn’t believe they could be saved, and the only thing on my mind was keeping you in my life, however I had to do it. It was selfish and twisted.” That came with another sardonic little smile he couldn’t keep in. “It turns out I was the one who didn’t understand anything. Pathetic, huh?”

Misaki grimaced in response. “Not just you.” Part of that glare had softened, but the depth of emotion in his eyes was piercing. “You’re not the only selfish one. There’s a lot of things I didn’t even try to understand.” He let out a long, shaky breath, and then offered a weak grin. “Easier to deal if you just assume everyone thinks and feels like you, huh?”

The unexpected candor caught him off-guard. Fushimi stared for a moment, caught up in a sudden rush of seductive gratification that came with the raw admission. Then he shook his head sharply, rejecting the easy escape hatch. “Well, it’s not like I told you otherwise. And there are a lot of excuses I could make for that” – there hadn’t exactly been an abundance of healthy relationship models in his early life, had there? – “but it’d be a waste of breath. Excuses don’t change facts, do they?”

He wasn’t expecting an answer, so the lack of response in that pause wasn’t surprising. Misaki was giving him something of an uncertain look now, but the set of his shoulders and jaw gave the impression of being poised for action. Maybe he was debating whether to challenge that assertion – to excuse everything on basis of intentions and wipe the slate clean. That was how Misaki thought, at least where it concerned offenses committed against him.

Not this time. That deliberate thought was enough for Fushimi to steel himself against what was coming. He wasn’t interested in having his pride or his feelings spared at the expense of letting things go at this point. It was painful, and he felt like he was suffocating, but he couldn’t afford to stop. Not with the stakes this high.

“I can’t even say I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he murmured. The truth behind those words was sobering now that he could process the implications. “I did. I wanted to. I wanted your attention, however I could get it. There’s nothing redeemable at all in it.” Getting that harsh reality aired brought back the sting at the back of his throat and eyes. When he spoke again, it came out in a miserable mumble. “I’m sorry.”

Misaki sucked in a breath, looking momentarily stunned. He opened his mouth, clearly looking to interject, and Fushimi cut him off again, determined to force the rest of it out before any response could be made. “You know… I used to think you could only be either at zero or a hundred, but in reality, it was me. I was the one who could only accept either all or nothing from you, and if it was less than all, I’d make it nothing.” With the throbbing of an ache in his throat, even that low mumble came out sounding wretched, but he kept going. “For what it’s worth, I could never erase your importance in my life no matter what I tried.” He shut his eyes against the persistent sting. “I should have tried to understand sooner. For that, on top of everything else… I’m sorry.”

There was a lengthy pause as that settled in the air between them.

It was broken by Misaki sucking in a breath, shaky and ragged, and the sound of it had Fushimi’s eyes opening. “You asshole,” Misaki choked out, and that seemed to be enough to release the flood on his end. His eyes overflowed, angry tears streaming down his face as his mouth tightened into a frown against the violent trembling of his lips. It took him several fierce, determined breaths before he could gather himself enough to continue. “What the hell were you thinking, keeping all this bullshit to yourself, huh?” His tone was defensively pugnacious. “I dunno what the fuck that means – ‘zero’ or ‘a hundred’ or whatever – but you’re not the only one being ‘all or nothing’! You can’t hog all the blame to yourself!” He reached up to swipe furiously at his cheeks, scowling as if his own tears had pissed him off. “If we’re talking selfish, how ‘bout the way I thought? You had to be Homra, and my soulmate, because I fucking wanted you to be, so there was no room for you to be anything else.” He grimaced again. “I kept telling myself if we were soulmates, it’d fix everything, but really, I just wanted you to be what I expected. Even when I was trying to understand, I never stopped and thought about what you wanted to be.” At that, his fists tightened at his sides, jaw tightening and eyes narrowing as if to focus the intensity of his gaze. “Yeah, okay, you fucked up, but so did I! We’re both idiots in the end.”

With that last assertion, the energy seemed to drain out of him at once, shoulders slumping and fists going slack at his sides, but he managed to look up and fix Fushimi with a small, weary smile all the same. “So I’m sorry too. And I’m sick of this, goddamnit! I want – ” At that he hesitated, a hint of apprehension his gaze, before stubbornness settled over his expression again. “I want you. Not you as part of Homra or you as my soulmate or any of that garbage I told myself. Just you, Fushimi Saruhiko, the person I couldn’t let go of no matter what.”

His eyes weren’t sparkling, his grin wasn’t bright, and there was no unabashed admiration in his tone, but it felt like Fushimi’s heart gave a squeeze in his chest, his breath stolen. The Misaki in front of him wouldn’t have fit on so neat a scale as ‘zero or a hundred’. Not with the uncertainty and the wariness and the myriad of cracks and imperfections spelled out in the dull gleam in his eyes, the desperate edge to his smile, the worried crease on his forehead. This wasn’t his memory of Misaki in the past, who’d pulled him along with bright smiles and unwavering enthusiasm, introducing him to affection that he hadn’t recognized at the time. This was Misaki as a whole: unquestioningly flawed and with a painful past behind him, shattered in ways that Fushimi didn’t understand yet – maybe never would – and still willing to stand and dust himself off to face the world with a brash grin and hope in his heart.

That imperfect reality set Fushimi’s soul on fire. The depth of longing – of want – within him was more than he’d thought himself capable of.

He was still struggling to come to terms with that when Misaki ducked his head, reaching up with an unsteady hand to rub almost defensively at the back of his head. “Ah… my bad.” The corners of his mouth quirked, gaze skittering off to the side nervously. “I got carried away. It’s just… I mean, it’s true, that’s how I feel… but…” The red on his face didn’t seem to be entirely from the earlier emotional outburst; it was spreading all the way to his ears. Misaki made a soft, frustrated sound and jerked his head up again, eyes brimming with stubborn embarrassment. “It’s not like I’m expecting a response or anything! You don’t have to – to let me down easy or – I mean…” He swore under his breath, scowl deepening, but his gaze was intent. “It – it’s fine if you don’t want me, all right? I get it.”

He thinks that? Fushimi stared back, torn between bafflement and frustration. It hadn’t occurred to him that there was any ambiguity when it came to his attraction. “What are you talking about?” he muttered, falling back to a defensive tone on instinct. “I don’t want you? You’re the one who was only interested in soulmates this whole time.”

“Hah?” Misaki stared at him incredulously. “The fuck? Every time that – that sort of stuff happens, you pull back and mess with me! Why wouldn’t I think you don’t want me? You’re confusing as hell!” He let out a low, frustrated growl. “Goddamnit! Anyway, I don’t give a shit if you’re my soulmate or not! I said I want you, remember?” His jaw set stubbornly, gaze turning into a glare. “And if you’re not my soulmate, then – then fuck soulmates! Who cares about that bullshit anyway?”

‘Who cares’… Those words set off something of a ‘ping’ at the back of his chest. “Stop me if I’m wrong, but I think ‘fuck soulmates’ is kind of the point,” he drawled, instantly falling back on an easy response to cover the moment. Unfortunately, it was impossible to keep his voice from shaking.

He doesn’t care?

Misaki’s shot him a disgruntled look, the color on his face intensifying. “Shut up – you know what I meant!”

He did – it was starting to sink in, and now that he had the space to process it, the sincerity of that assertion felt like the last piece of a puzzle he’d been working at for ages. Not just about Misaki’s feelings, but also his own. Everything about the soulmate system that he’d allowed himself to grow bitter over – that he’d speculated about in terms of the people around him. The pair of black and white dice above that hateful smirk. The intricate sword that Munakata refused to regret even after it had vanished from his skin. The marks that Awashima and Kusanagi could’ve had that they’d never felt the need to try for. The kitten face on the inside of Akiyama’s arm that he could smile fondly at just for the reminder of the connection it represented.

“It wasn’t like it would change things between us,” the echo of Akiyama’s voice reminded him, and he couldn’t help but shut his eyes, the helpless edge of a rueful smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

Right. Either way, it doesn’t change things, does it?

Maybe it was a strange thought to be comforted by, but it didn’t matter. Fushimi let out a small huff of breath and met Misaki’s gaze squarely. “I don’t care either.” That sting was back behind his eyes – the direct result of the emotions welling up within him. “I want you. If that means a cheesy picture on my forehead, then fine, I’ll take it.” He paused to swallow back the lump rising at the back of his throat, and his voice came out low and suspiciously thick when he continued. “There’s nothing else I’ve ever wanted as much as you.”

Misaki’s eyes wobbled dangerously, mouth twitching for a moment as he struggled, and then he seemed to gather himself all at once. The intensity in those eyes triggered a sudden and instinctive response within Fushimi, and when Misaki surged up, reaching to grab hold of the back of his neck and pull him in, he was already moving to match that action, taking hold of Misaki’s shoulder and all but falling down into him. They crashed together in the middle, lips connecting with urgency, and it was as if the world around them shattered into insignificant pieces.

The warm, desperate pressure of Misaki’s mouth… the uneven rhythm of their breath fanning out frantically between their faces as they adjusted… the scent of sweat and cola and that unique something that he associated with this person who was so important to him… Nothing else could have possibly mattered more in that moment. The intoxicating feel of their lips working together, mutual desire passing between their bodies as their mouths opened hot and eager to each other, felt like the culmination of a lifetime of longing.

It was several long seconds before reality seemed to reinstate itself, the desperate roar of confirmed feelings settling into a more manageable rushing of satisfaction and physical sensation.

Misaki’s tongue was slick and active against his, shoulder tense beneath his hand. Fushimi was suddenly aware of the warm skin against his fingers – of Misaki’s near naked body so close to his own that he could almost feel what it would be like to press them together. His fingers tingled, and he had the errant thought that he could reach out and put his free hand on Misaki’s hip, could feel more of his skin and the firm muscle beneath…

The pleasant ache that notion stirred in his body was overwhelming. Fushimi made a soft, unconscious noise against Misaki’s mouth, torn between the natural inclination to pull back and stop this before it got out of hand and the powerful urge to keep going and see where it led.

He’d never really been good at resisting – not with this kind of temptation, anyway. But…

Misaki made the choice for him before he could spend too much thought on it, turning his head to break the kiss as he braced both hands on Fushimi’s shoulders to push him back. “Sorry,” he muttered, before Fushimi could do more than blink against the dizzying disconnect as they separated. When their eyes met, he was flushed with desire but his gaze was serious. “I can’t… I mean, fuck, this is my parents’ house.” He grimaced again. “Plus, I think… I dunno… I need time to… uh…”

Now that the immediacy was over and his head was clearing, Fushimi couldn’t help but feel a tiny stream of relief trickling through. “Yeah,” he murmured, sparing Misaki from any further stuttering. The moment was too raw – too fragile. Even if they had been in a better location, with his emotions on edge and the understanding between them so fresh, he didn’t think he would’ve been in a good headspace for it.

Unfortunately, his body seemed to not have gotten the message, but that was only a minor nuisance. Fushimi reached up to readjust his glasses, which had gotten jostled during the kiss, and tried not to think about it. “I agree.”

The tension seemed to leave Misaki’s shoulders at that; he grinned back, eyes softening with relief as he stared back at Fushimi’s face. “Right? Anyway, I was thinking maybe… we should start over. Or something. Not like forgetting the past or anything, but just…” He reached out with his right hand to take hold of Fushimi’s left, carefully sliding his fingers into the spaces between Fushimi’s. His gaze flitted back up from their joined hands, and he offered a half-smile. “Something new. Y’know?”

That tiny gesture was enough to stir a frenzy in his chest. “Yeah. Probably.” Building things from scratch again, huh? It didn’t scare him as much as he might’ve expected. Fushimi squeezed his fingers just a bit, taking in Misaki’s hopeful face. An idea had just occurred to him – if he wanted to start off in good faith, it was probably the best way to make his intentions clear. I’ll need a clean slate, after all. He cleared his throat and added, “Fine by me. Yata.”

If he was going to earn that trust back, he’d do it thoroughly and without cutting corners.

For an instant, Yata’s eyes widened. He blinked once, and then his face split into a wide grin.

“Yeah!”

 

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