He had been careless.
Struggling for breath, Karasu stared down at the mess of glass and water glittering at his feet in the low light of the storeroom. It soaked into his suited feet, dripped from his hand; there seemed to be so much more of it now, splattered across the floorboards. Dispersing the water molecules should have been as easy as absorbing the glass still embedded in his fingers, but when he tried to focus on either, his concentration crumbled, like the glass tumbler had, beneath the memories of another dam breaking.
They still flickered through him, flashes of remembered sensation that burned him from the inside. The smell of freshly mowed grass in the park where the Dragon Knights had taken Haruka. The terror in her eyes, the rage that flooded him as Atori told Isuka to crush her to death. The raw energy that drove his fist toward Isuka's massive chest.
Blood dripped into the puddle, diluting to faint curls of translucent red, barely visible against the wood. His hand didn't so much hurt as throb distantly. Isuka had bled when Karasu's spin weapon lopped off his arm, but not when it blew him almost in half.
Would Fukurou bleed, when the time came?
"Karasu, are you okay in there?" It was Haruka's voice, her hand on the doorknob. The roiling panic in Karasu's chest rose up his throat, but even if he'd had time to get rid of the mess before she could see it, he couldn't seem to make his body move.
The door swung open, and Haruka blinked at the puddle at his feet. "Whoops -- let me get you a towel." And then she was gone.
A thread of relief wound its way through the nausea, loosening his throat enough to let him suck in some air. His concentration still too scattered for quantum manipulation, he forced his hand to unclench and tried to get a hold of one of the larger slivers, but his fingers shook out of proportion to the task. He could see Isuka looking up at him from where he lay in the grass, his body beyond mending, his face reflecting peace that Karasu hadn't known in years. Focus, he told himself.
He had forgotten how close the linen closet was to the storeroom. Instead of making her way back through her room, Haruka flung open the door from the hallway and stumbled to a halt, clutching her towel to her chest. Involuntarily, Karasu's hand clenched shut, driving the glass in deeper, and the dustpan she carried clattered to the floor.
"No, don't!" Her hands curled around his and pried open his fingers. "Sit down."
Her words got through to him where his mind's commands had not, and Karasu let her steer him back into the corner, where his knees gave way. She knelt in front of him, her hands taking hold of his wounded one, and her fingertips found the largest piece still lodged in his palm, a shard about a centimeter long. Even in her grip, his hands wouldn't stop shaking. "Hold still," she told him, and worked the shard free. It throbbed and stung and was of no consequence. She laid it on top of the storage box next to her and skimmed her fingers over the smaller slivers still buried in his palm.
"I can absorb it," he choked out. She shouldn't have to clean up his messes. "You don't need to --"
"You didn't get like this just trying to pick up the pieces, did you?" Haruka's gaze traveled to the mess on the floor, where the tumbler's flat-bottomed base lay on its side like a broken crown, and then back to his face. "Karasu, what's wrong?" she asked, her hands warm on his. Incredibly, there wasn't so much as a shadow of accusation in her eyes.
"Isuka," he whispered.
He didn't know why, after the horrors of dragging Haruka out of La'Cryma, this memory was the one that had dug its hooks into him. Isuka had been his comrade, a quiet man and stalwart fighter Karasu hadn't known well, beyond the strange intimacies engendered by war. Karasu had not wanted to kill him, but he couldn't regret having done so to save Haruka's life. So why could he still see Isuka's ruined body, the smile on his face? It was afterward, his body spasming in an uncontrolled highside, when Karasu had almost brought down Hakodate's dam -- almost killed not just Isuka but Haruka, the reason he had killed Isuka. The reason for everything he had ever done. Because of the memory that Isuka's death had triggered.
That parting, the one that nearly destroyed him five years ago, engulfed him again now, and he curled forward, gasping. He could see Haruka's hand on the glass, the encouraging smile she wore just for him, before the water rose up around her. He had left her to that. Left her to die. Bile rose up his throat.
He wasn't fit to save anyone.
"Karasu," whispered the Haruka who was here with him now, still holding his hand, and his consciousness wavered between them, two women speaking his name with the same voice.
But this Haruka wasn't saying goodbye.
He fought down the stomach-twisting nausea as Haruka examined him, and when that didn't help, he concentrated on her touch. One hand on the back of his, the fingertips of the other probing the skin of his palm, nails catching on slivers of glass and, with careful precision, tugging them free. The slight, stinging pain was almost a relief.
"I think that's the last one." She laid it aside with the others and poured a little of the water from his bottle into a corner of the towel she carried with her to dab at the wounds. There was no need for that, and Karasu closed his eyes, concentrating. As the largest wounds began to close by themselves, Haruka let out a squeak, but she did not lose hold of his hand. "Are you feeling any better now?" she asked.
"Yes," he said, stlll breathless. Perhaps he was, given that his self-consciousness at her proximity was returning, though he couldn't quite bring himself to pull back his hand. "Thank you."
Her eyes catching the light that crept in under the blinds, Haruka smiled, that sweet, sunny smile he had always loved. "Sometimes Yuu gets like this, too. He just needs a little time." Her face turned somber again. "Karasu, who is Isuka?"
He swallowed, his throat as dry as La'Cryma's blasted landscape, and wished more than ever that he hadn't crushed the glass tumbler. "Isuka was the Dragon Knight I killed outside the dam."
A shadow fell over Haruka's face. "The big man who tried to kill me."
"I'm sorry I ever let it get that far." He squeezed her hand. "None of them will hurt you again. I swear it." He thought of Fukurou, and his chest went tight.
She shook her head fiercely. "But this is hurting you. I don't want you to have to fight your friends because of me." She looked down at her knees. "I don't want you to have to fight with Isami."
The tightness twisted into pain.
Haruka's eyes pleaded with him. "Isn't there some other way?"
If there was, Karasu couldn't see it. He searched her eyes, wondering what he could say to reassure her.
She dropped his hand and flung her arms around his neck, bony knees digging into his thighs. His hands, not knowing what to do with themselves, settled lightly on her back.
"You're my friend, too," she said into his hair, her words tight, and they cut him like glass. "I don't want you to die."
Perhaps Isuka's death still haunted him in part because, when Karasu killed him, he hadn't yet allowed himself to voice the decision he'd already made in his heart -- that if need be, he would cut down anyone or anything that threatened Haruka's life. In his mind's eye, he could see Fukurou perched on the roof as they spoke this evening past. His wry smile, his calm confidence, the years of hell they had gone through together. All a dream now, one of endless possible realities.
I'm sorry, Isami.
"Please don't die," she said again, hugging him so close that she must have been able to feel the pounding of his heart. For just a moment Karasu let himself take comfort in her embrace, and then he eased Haruka back, far enough to see the tears on her face.
"I won't," he said, in as gentle a tone as he could muster.
She was his living heart. He would have to stay alive, to keep her beating.