He kept telling himself he was doing this for Rin’s sake.
If Tsubasa pushed himself too hard, gripped his weapon too roughly, attacked with too much aggression that prompted Rei to call him out on his unprecedented, unnecessary recklessness - he told himself it was because Rin needed her, it was because his sister had been crying non-stop these past few days and he couldn’t stand the thought of her in pain any more than he could stand the thought of her being gone, gone, gone–
There was raw anger churning in his gut and it coursed through his limbs and suddenly, carelessly, his weapon was knocked out of his hands. Defenseless, a sword came dangerously close to cutting open his neck and–
“Careful,” Kouga warned him. “We can’t die here.”
Tsubasa didn’t reply. He didn’t need to.
It took them three more days until they reached their destination, and in those days Tsubasa felt as though he was suffocating. And yet–
–There! Entangled in the limbs of a soul-sucking Horror was the Makai Priestess they all were after! Something in Tsubasa snapped, and he pushed himself, gripped his weapon roughly, attacked with much aggression and reckless abandon–
And it was only when he’d managed to pull her out of the Horror’s embrace and into his own that Tsubasa was able to breathe without difficulty.
For Rin, he thought, watching in something akin to fascination as she opened her eyes and whispered his name. It’s all for Rin.
Beyond just a ring that brought about Gremlin’s destruction, the Hope ring turned out to be an open pathway to where she was.
It had been like walking in a dream for him; all there was, was light - soft, warm light that never felt threatening or invasive, but inviting. Home. He’d never felt so at peace before, and it was such a lovely feeling - something he’d never experienced in his entire life.
Dimly, he wondered if he could stay.
Then he saw her, and his breath was caught in his throat. She’d never looked more beautiful than she did now while she stood amidst a field of fragrant flowers, gathering blossoms in her arms and smiling, smiling, and he must have choked out her name because she looked at him in surprise and her eyes lit up in pleasure and she laughed–
She extended her hand to him, and he grabbed it without a second thought and she was warm, so warm and she was here with him again and it was terrible and painful in its simplicity. Who knew how long they have, this time; who knew when he’d see her again, touch her like this–
I came to bring you back home.
No; I am home. There’s no other place I’d rather be in.
And she looked down at her flowers, then at him, and she gave him a smile so pure and lovely and god, he resisted the urge to grab her and hold her tight despite missing her so badly his teeth ached. Her absence was a gaping hole in his gut that seemed to fester as time went by and now that she was here–
Would you like to stay?
And it was tempting, oh so tempting to say yes. But he had things to do back home and really, he couldn’t, couldn’t–
She laid a hand over his arm.
I missed you. Haruto - stay with me.
And really, there was no other answer he’d rather give.
Not when she was looking at him like that.
Hyde was pretty damn certain the mixture of ‘herbs’ slathered haphazardly over the large gash on his arm was doing more harm than good in terms of actually 'curing’ his wound.
Still, it had a cooling effect that was soothing, and he sighed as he positioned himself in a more comfortable angle against the cave wall, intending to get some rest while he could.
He closed his eyes, pressed on his wound to keep the herbs in place, and quietly said, “Moune. You need to conserve your energy. Stop fidgeting and sit down.”
“I’m not,” came the automatic reply - but the footsteps he’d been incessantly hearing slowed down, then halted altogether, and he heard a rustling of clothes somewhere on his left indicating that she’d finally positioned herself to sit near him. What caused her to finally listen to his advice was something he didn’t know, nor wanted to know. He was just grateful for it.
“Onii-chan and the others should have found us by now, don’t you think? What’s taking them so long?”
“It’s a large forest,” he answered, his brows creasing at the petulance in her tone. “It was a deep ravine.” Add the fact that the explosion caught them all off-guard, causing the five of them to hurtle downwards at breakneck speed. Currently, there were no assurance that the other three were even together.
And with their inability to answer Moune’s calls, there were no assurance that they were still alive.
Of course, he didn’t have to say that out loud, lest he wanted to deal with a panicking teammate. Hyde needed her calm and collected to make it easier for both of them to handle their current situation - especially since she’s unhurt, while he, on the other hand–
“How’s your arm?” Then he heard her shifting closer to him and soon, he could feel her hovering beside him. “You’re still bleeding, Hyde!”
He winced as indelicate hands began to press down on his wound. Hyde opened his eyes, found that Moune had torn a piece of her jacket to tie it around his arm as a makeshift tourniquet before he could even stop her. “It’s fine. I’m fine, Moune.”
“You’re not,” she emphatically said, “You’re old so you’ll heal slower. I’m just helping you.”
He was about to rebuke such a false and unnecessary statement when she made a sound suspiciously like a sob at the back of her throat, and she looked away and–
“–are you crying?”
“Shut up!” But Moune did rub at her eyes just so she could glare at him. “Us Landicks don’t cry. We’re not Skicks.”
But one could easily see that she was as worried about Eri and Alata as she was with Agri, despite her harsh words. Hyde definitely could, having been around her for quite some time now.
“Come morning,” he said, in a tone that booked no argument, “we’ll be leaving this cave and surveying the surrounding area. We’ll find them, Moune, if they don’t find us first.”
And she blinked at him with huge, huge eyes, and she’d looked so lost and young that for a moment Hyde was reminded that she was little more than a child. Then she drew her face closer to his and now he was the one blinking because–
“Do you swear? On your life?”
And he found himself looking into her eyes, and clearing his throat, and replying with nothing more than, “Of course,” because never before had he felt so uncomfortable and warm until now.
Apparently, that satisfied her enough to flash him a feline smile and draw away from him. “Yosh! Tomorrow we’ll be getting out of here - and you better not slow me down, old man!”
…honestly, she was such a child.
“Too stiff,” a voice called out to him, somewhere from his left. “You need to learn how to focus.”
“I already know how,” came his gruff reply. How dare this woman question his abilities? His skills were undeniable, self-evident. Aoi Tsubasa wouldn’t be able to garner top marks if he didn’t know how to focus, would he? Why–
–a ball hit him square on the face, disrupting his thoughts and focus. Tsubasa cursed aloud, then ripped off his blindfold in haste. The sudden influx of light in his eyes had him blinking until the blurry image of the woman in front of him wasn’t so blurry anymore.
Yuki Ritsuka stood holding another ball against her hip, and he could tell she wassmirking, even though the sides of her mouth hadn’t moved. He would accuse her of laughing at him, but then, this woman was known in this university for not laughing or smiling at all.
Some whispered she didn’t know how, and Tsubasa believed them.
“You did that on purpose,” he said, stepping closer to her.
She raised a brow at him. “And if I did?” Ritsuka challenged. “Will it change the fact that you weren’t focused enough to dodge?”
He would rebuke that statement with everything he had, but a part of Tsubasa knew she was right - and hated her for it. Little did she know that she was partly to blame why he couldn’t focus right. If she wasn’t here, he could’ve probably–
“Let’s do it again,” he said instead, moving his hands up, intending to blindfold himself.
But she was shaking her head, and without warning threw the ball at him. This time, without the blindfold hampering his sight, he was able to catch it. “You’re wasting my time,” she said, not bothering to mince her words. “Call me to train with you only if you’re ready.” And Ritsuka walked away from him, without another word.
Tsubasa glared at her retreating form, silently cursing her for being so good and for knowing and rubbing it in his face that he couldn’t beat her, not yet, not right now–
One day, he thought, making a pact with himself that very moment. I’ll make you see my worth. I’ll make you recognize what I’m capable of.
Just you wait, Ritsuka - I’ll make you realize I’m your equal in every way.
“Ryusei-san, is everything okay?”
“Why did you ask?”
“You haven’t said a word to all the things I’ve–” Tomoko’s eyes widened, and she blinked and seemed flustered for a bit and said, “I haven’t… bored you, have I?” She looked horrified at the thought.
He smiled and shook his head. “Of course not.” Pause. “But I’ve always wondered - would there be any difference if you opted to use fresh insects instead of dried ones in your, er, concoctions?”
Her eyes lit up, and gamely she obliged his request, just as he knew she would.
And while she talked, he silently cursed himself for fooling her.
Because unbeknownst to Tomoko, Ryusei was bound to leave the country tonight.
He didn’t know how long he’d be gone - the instruction manual didn’t say - and he was forbidden to tell anyone, much less her, about it.
It was an unfair clause; one that basically told him he couldn’t say goodbye to anyone, because no one knew what he’d done. No one knew he’d applied for a chance to be trained as an agent for Interpol. No one knew he’d passed with flying colors.
No one knew that tomorrow, he’d be halfway around the world with absolutely no way of reaching him, and that he only had until tonight to sever his ties from his family and friends for a future only he was aware of.
This was a goddamned test of his resolution and strength of character, but it was one he had no plans of failing, no matter how much he loathed it.
In the past week, he made certain he bade all his friends farewell without being too explicit about his actions, and it had worked perfectly well. He’d fooled them all, made them think he just happened to be around their area and spontaneously thought about dropping by for a visit - a trip to the space center, Yuki-san? JK, about that song you mentioned–? Gentarou, isn’t this the spare part your grandfather wanted?
But when it came to her, he just couldn’t do it. Couldn’t see Tomoko in person and pretend he was fine, pretend he was going to be around her come next month, next week, tomorrow–
This was a coward’s way out, Ryusei thought, carefully keeping his cool, collected facade for as long as he could. He’d carefully positioned his computer so it was facing the door, not the neatly packed bags beside the bed, and called her. She’d seemed surprised at first - he never called her this way - but didn’t reject his attempt.
He couldn’t say goodbye in person but he had to see her, and this was the best he could do. Ryusei kept his hands on his lap, to keep himself from reaching out and tracing her face on his screen.
She would be devastated, he thought, and it would be his fault, and he wasn’t certain if him not being able to see her pain was going to be a blessing or a curse - or both.
Please don’t hate me. I’ll never forget you. I brought your doll with me; you told me he’ll keep an eye on me, right? I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I can’t stay. I’m sorry I won’t be here tomorrow, but I’ll be back, I promise I’ll be back for you–
He smiled. “I have to go.” Quietly, he added: “I’m sorry.”
It was an odd thing, she thought. Every time, he would take the chair opposite hers and partake his meal whenever she did. He did so precisely and without fail everyday, and she entertained the notion that he was doing so to keep her company.
Not that it was anything new; she was rarely alone anyhow. Every time she took a stroll along the corridors and exterior of the ship, the captain would be two steps behind her. Every time she thought to step outside, the princess and the doctor would go with her. Every time she sat just to breathe, the earthling would take it upon himself to keep her entertained.
And now here he was, quietly devouring his meal just as she did.
Of course, the only difference was that he rarely looked at her, much less talked to her - unlike the others who actively engaged her in nonsensical, sometimes tiring, conversations.
She’d asked the princess about it, once. What she got in return was a flustered, wide-eyed look and an indirect apology for being the wrong person to ask.
Well, she supposed the right person to ask was sitting in front of her now.
She threw her fork down at her plate, and was rewarded for her efforts with a surprised look from him.
“Just what is your problem, Joe?”
Funny that he was looking at her as though she’s lost her mind - and yet he still hadn’t spoken a word, damn him.
“You sit there and eat with me and yet you act like I don’t exist! What’s your problem? Do you find me so unworthy of your goddamned attention that you won’t even look at me?”
His mouth hardened, and there was an undecipherable look that crossed his face at her questions.
“My problem,” he said, not quite meeting her eyes, “is that you’re sitting there, but it doesn’t feel like you truly are.”
It took her precisely three seconds to get his meaning. Glaring at him, she said, “Well, I’m sorry I’m not acting like the Luka you knew.”
Quietly, he reached across the table for her hand - then visibly flinched when she yanked it away.
Was it her imagination, or did he look pained for a second, there?
“I’m sorry, too.”
vii. hiromu/yoko (feat. ryuuji)
It had been quite a while since Ryuji saw either Hiromu and Yoko. As such, this visit to Yoko’s school - courtesy of an invitation from her - was a welcomed opportunity for him to talk to and catch up with the two younger, former Go-Busters.
He patted his pocket to make sure he didn’t forget his gift - a pack of the most popular sweets in Japan right now. Ryuji had made an extra effort to get it despite its short supply, as his way of reminding Yoko that, though he might not be around her as much as he was before, she could always depend on his as her surrogate older brother, as opposed to the father-figure they all imposed on him. He was, after all, merely thirty years old!
Ryuji hadn’t bought Hiromu a gift - not that the younger man was expecting one. At least, that’s what Ryuji hoped. He didn’t know what to get him anyway. He did bring Nick a can of Enetron though, and–
“–are you sure?”
He paused, recognizing the voice floating along the corridor as Yoko’s. But something wasn’t right; surely Yoko didn’t talk that way - in a shrill manner that was nearly headache-inducing?
“Of–of course. I’ve never been more, er– certain in my entire life.”
Now that one was unmistakably Hiromu’s.
Ryuji frowned. What the devil were they talking about?
And then came a shriek that was nearly inhuman in its loudness, and Yoko said, “I’ve been waiting for you to say something my entire life! You’ve made me the happiest woman in the world! Asking me to marry you… this is truly a dream come true to me!”
The can of Enetron in his hands slipped from his grip without him noticing it.
Hiromu coughed. “I– I can assure you that it is mine as well. I will, um. I will love you forever, and if you bear my many, many children–”
There was an audible snap in Ryuji’s brain and his eyes locked on to the source of the voices. Beyond the door to his left, Hiromu was proposing to Yoko. Hiromu! Proposing! to Yoko! The very thought was alarming and angering and had caused his temperature to rise and his thinking to cease, so strong was his desire to throttle Hiromu until he was unconscious. No one could propose to Yoko without his consent!
He marched towards the door, and when he went inside the room he could see that Hiromu and Yoko were alone - alone - and Hiromu’s back was to him and Yoko was reading something but had looked up when he swung the door so hard it left an imprint on the wall it was attached to, and Hiromu was turning but then Hiromu was suddenly crumbling to the floor and holding his face because Ryuji had hit him square on the jaw.
“Ryu-san!” Yoko rushed towards Hiromu and was holding him and looking at Ryuji like he’d gone mad. “What are you doing? Why’d you do that?” She placed a hand on Hiromu’s jaw. “Are you all right?”
There was a ringing in Ryuji’s ears as he looked at the scene before him. “You’re asking me? I should be asking you two what you’re doing!” He pointed at Hiromu. “You’re proposing to her? She’s too young! She’s not ready! I will not agree to your marriage. I will most assuredly not!” And he fixedon him a look of utter betrayal. “I trusted you, Hiromu! And this is how you repay that trust? By asking for Yoko’s hand without consulting me first?” And then he looked at Yoko pleadingly. “And you! Yoko-chan… how could you accept his proposal just like that? Please, please think about it first– you’re too young–”
The looks on Hiromu and Yoko’s faces were priceless as they silently stared at him.
“You really think Hiromu’s…?” Yoko looked as appalled as Ryuuji felt.
Hiromu jumped away from Yoko, then sputtered, “I wasn’t actually proposing to her!”
“Don’t lie to me!” Ryuji practically screamed, and why was Hiromu still breathing, again? “I know what I heard!”
“No, you don’t!” Hiromu said, and the urge to maul him was rising again and–
–Yoko stood between them, and glared at him so severely Ryuji was taken aback. “That’s me practicing for the play later!” Yoko replied, now realizing fully what was going on. “I asked Hiromu to help me with the lines because none of my classmates are here yet and I wanted to make sure I got them all right! And I did, didn’t I? I memorized them all?” She turned towards him questioningly.
Hiromu shrugged. “You should try to control your shrieking - it’s annoying.”
“But I’m in character!”
“Oh, so Momoko-san’s supposed to be an annoying character?” Hiromu then nodded to himself. “That explains so much–”
Yoko planted her fists on her waist. “No, she’s not! She’s supposed to be a lovable character and that’s why everyone she meets falls in love with her!”
“That’s not how I–”
“–play?” came Ryuji’s soft, confused voice.
“Yes,” Yoko hissed, turning her attention to him again. “Why’d you think I invited you two in the first place?”
Ryuji found, to his horror, that he had no answer to that.
“Stupid Ryu-san,” Yoko said, before taking Hiromu’s arm. “I don’t want to see you until after the play, you hear me?” She jutted her chin upwards. “Come on, Hiromu– I still have to practice some more scenes with you!” And out the door they went, Yoko practically dragging Hiromu with her.
The relief that Ryuji felt was truly immense, and laughing a bit to himself, he sank on the floor as the absurdity of what just happened hit him. Well. Of course Hiromu wouldn’t be proposing to Yoko - and in her school, of all places! Ryuji made a mistake, and he’d just have to apologize to both of them - especially to Hiromu - for what he’d done.
He spotted what seemed to be a booklet on the floor beside him; this one probably belonged to Hiromu, as Yoko’s temporary practice partner. How could Ryuji have forgotten why Yoko invited them here? She would be playing a minor character in a major school production and he could remember her being so proud when she told him about it–
Ryuji flipped through the pages casually, spotted the ending, and felt his blood turn cold again.
Yoko’s character was going to have a kissing scene with her partner.
And the murderous feeling and intent began anew.