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When you first met Shinohara Yukinori, you had no clue that he would be your husband in the future.

That spring was, in your opinion, boringly average. Why you were even at school on the first day or high school was beyond your comprehension. Well, that was a lie. You knew why you were there, you just didn’t like to think about it. For one, it was better than being at home, and for two, running around with your "friends" in broad daylight was boring. Friends, hah, they were your gang, not your friends, there was no use pretending. You called them your Fleet, despite how much that name made you cringe, but hey, you’d been in middle school and the name had seemed cool at the time. To them, you were their Monarch, partly because you ruled them with an iron fist, and partly because a monarch butterfly looked delicate, until you learned that they were carnivorous. (The idiots who thought the name had anything at all to do with your brightly dyed, screaming orange hair quickly became acquainted with your trusty metal bat.)

A hard poke to your shoulder made you shift your dark brown gaze from the sky outside the window. Roused from your thoughts, you took in the face and annoyed expression of one of the three people you actually considered friends. Aura Kiyoko was beautiful even then, but she was also fierce. You and she had been friends the longest, since your first day of middle school when you had ended up ganging up on a bully. Clearly, she wanted your attention – or, rather, she wanted you to pay attention. Kiyoko and your two other best friends, Mado Kasuka and Kureo (who refused to answer to anything but Mado Kureo even then, certain he was going to marry pretty, talented, so-very-out-of-his-league Kasuka when they were older), kept telling you that you were smart enough to do well in school if you would just pay attention, but everything was just so fucking boring, so why should you? It wasn’t like you intended to go to college or anything, or honestly even finish high school.

You had no clue what you wanted to do with your life, probably just get a job or something, anything to get you away from your parents. After all, they were sure you weren’t going to amount to anything, and when you were with them, all you ever did was scream at each other. Well, unless one or both of them were drunk, in which case it’d be you screaming and them throwing punches. But whatever. You didn’t care, you just wanted to be gone. Another poke, this time from behind – Kasuka – made you sigh irritably and turn your attention to the teacher. You were, apparently, being assigned partners. For what, you had no clue, and honestly didn’t care. Nobody else wanted to deal with you, so you’d end up paired with Kasuka or Kiyoko, since when you were paired with Kureo, you ended up punching him. But that wasn’t what happened. You were paired with a boy who looked eager to please, and even more eager to follow the rules.

Speechless, you shot up from your chair, and just, stared at him. Then you got your first detention of the year.

"What the actual fuck?!"

"Hey, hey wait up! M-Misao, we need to talk – !"

Misao. Fidelity. Gods, you hated your name.

Growling in frustration, you whirled around so quickly your ankle-length uniform skirt nearly tangled up around your legs.

"Look," you snarled, jabbing a finger into the ridiculously tall boy’s chest, not for a second giving a shit that he was built like he could snap you in half. "I don’t give a fuck about what we’re supposed to be accomplishing together – "

"It’s an English project – "

" – but you aren’t my friend. I don’t like you, I don’t even know you, so don’t you fucking dare assume I want anything to do with you!"

"I-I like your hair!"

"And for another – what?!"

...What the fuck was wrong with this kid? Here you were, busy ripping him a new one, and he just – ! Unbidden, one of your hands – chipped and messily done black nail polish catching the light – came up to touch your hair. Dyed screaming orange, most people felt it was an eyesore, but at least if you kept it long, maybe they wouldn’t have said anything, but no. You liked it short. For the moment, the front barely brushed your jaw, before tapering upward toward the back. Starting at your ears, a few inches of your hairline was also shaved. It was stupid, according to most people, and delinquent to everyone else, but according to your friends, it was weird and wild, just like you. To have a complete stranger compliment your hair, especially someone who looked like he’d die if he ever didn’t follow every rule to the letter, it wasn’t something you’d ever expected. It floored you, to put it mildly, but it also made you angry because you could feel a traitorous blush heating your face.

"Just – ugh! Forget it. Leave me alone."

Shoving your hands in the pockets of your heavy coat, your turned and stalked off, ignoring as he called after you.

Shinohara Yukinori didn’t leave you alone for the rest of that week, or the rest of the year.

If there were anything you hated more than when your friends showed up in the morning to drag you to school, it was when you were forced to interact with the boy you had started to call Mr. Popular. Everyone seemed to like him, fuck, even Kasuka and Kiyoko had accepted him into your group without your consent. (They didn’t need to ask Kureo because Kureo liked having another guy around and probably would’ve agreed with Kasuka, anyway.) The kid was fucking everywhere. He was in all of your classes, and since you were partnered in English, your stupid teachers thought that was an invitation to make him your partner for every-fucking-thing else, too. He even sat with you and your friends at lunch, which pissed you off more than anything else did. Neither of you had a choice in class, but this? Fuck it, you needed a break. Stalking out of the classroom, you headed for the roof, praying he wouldn’t follow. Of course, the gods never answered you before, so you should have expected that he would.

Pulling a pack of cigarettes from your pocket along with a lighter, you hoped he’d at least be quiet.

"Those are going to kill you, you know."

…Why did you ever even try?

Angrily, you exhaled smoke right into his face, grinning vindictively when he coughed and stepped back.

Still, you couldn’t resist needling him, finding out why he was so insistent on getting to know you.

"Why do you even give a fuck? I’m just some crazy chick the idiot staff insist on partnering you with… Don’t you have anything better to do than annoy me?"

"I don’t think you’re crazy, Misao."

Just like always, he ignored your warning growl when it came to him using your first name.

"I think you’re wild, maybe misunderstood, but not crazy. I think people look at you and see someone so different from what they perceive as ‘normal,’ that they can’t help but be afraid. So, rather than admit that they’re afraid, they call you crazy instead."

…Who the fuck did this kid think he was?! Advancing, glaring and shoving the cigarette close enough to burn him, you snarled, "You don’t know shit about me, Yukinori," you spat his name like a curse, like acid, "so don’t for a second think that you do."

 Satisfied that he was properly cowed, you proceeded to casually press your cigarette against the inside of your wrist to put it out, just below the cuff of your uniform shirt. You were so used to it by now, both from yourself and from your parents, that you didn’t even hiss or wince at the pain anymore. After all, if you cried in front of your parents – a mistake you hadn’t made in years – it would just mean more pain for you in the long run. Then, there was a hand gripping your wrist, and your first instinct was to lash out, clawing and biting and thrashing. But he held firm, even if his grip was gentle. That was what stilled you, more than the fact that he was daring to touch you without your permission in the first place. For a moment, you couldn’t help but marvel at how he held you so carefully, even though you’d been nothing but cruel to him. And then he was pushing up your sleeve, to get a look at the burn, and you were fighting against him again.

You only allowed him a hint of scars (old and jagged) and cuts (fresh and new), before wrenching away.

Slapping him across the face was satisfying. You hoped he didn’t see you crying as you turned and ran.

Either way, he didn’t call or chase after you.

He stopped pestering you after that, though he never stopped trying to be your friend.

It took until the beginning of the next school year, but you finally let him. When you weren’t busy being focused on hating him, mostly over the month-long summer break and then the two weeks you had over Christmas, you discovered that Shinohara Yukinori was altogether too sweet for his own good. Too giving, too generous. You told him bluntly that his generosity would get him killed someday, even if you found it endearing. It was an interesting change of pace, if nothing else. It went without saying that the four of you would put your lives on the line for each other, but Yukinori was different. He was the kind of man to protect anyone he felt needed it, to give just because he felt it was the right thing to do. It might have been partially that nature that drove him to doggedly pursue a friendship with you, but you never asked, and he never told you. Either way, it was nice, and you found that you enjoyed his company. The four of you were for rabble-rousing; the five of you were for just having fun.

Things settled into an easy routine. Somedays, all five of you would be present at school. Some days, it would be just the other four, you yourself off raising Hell when you didn’t feel like dealing with class. Sometimes it was three, whichever of Kasuka, Kureo, or Kiyoko deciding to spend the day keeping you in the grey area of the law, rather than outright outside of it. Other times, when the four of you decided that school could go fuck itself, you could be found drinking stolen alcohol in abandoned buildings somewhere. The rarest days of all, though, were when you showed up at school just long enough to drag Yukinori away from it. He protested the first dozen times, but after that, just sort of accepted that it would happen whether he liked it or not. It usually happened when you noticed he was burning himself out, spreading himself too thin, giving too much of himself to really be sustainable. Those were the days that you didn’t break any laws other than skipping school, and you found you didn’t mind.

Second year passed that way, and everything was good for the first little bit of third year. Then you and Kiyoko walked in on Kureo and Kasuka kissing, and everything changed. At first, it was just weird. After all, two of your best friends were sucking face. But then you realized that you and Kiyoko needed to get out of there immediately, before something friendship-breaking happened. Grabbing her elbow, you all but dragged your oldest friend out of the room, shouting that you’d just be going, and that they should come find or text you later. ("Later" ended up being hours.) You didn’t just drag Kiyoko downstairs and out of Ksauka’s house, you dragged her right to her car and shoved her into the passenger seat. Stealing her keys, you drove all the way back to her house. Then you dragged her upstairs to her bedroom. You held her while she cried, and then you let her kiss you because you knew she needed it. Kiyoko was beautiful, you’d readily admit it. She was attractive, you didn’t care about gender, and she needed this.

Your first time was with your oldest and best friend the night she got her heart broken.

You and Kiyoko didn’t date. You refused to be her replacement for Kasuka, even if you would let her fuck you with her fingers and her mouth if it got to be too much to bear, seeing the woman she loved be with someone else. Slowly, though, even that stopped being a thing, as Kiyoko started seeking solace elsewhere, not wanting to hold you back. Not that Kasuka and Kureo dated, either, but at least the five of you knew that a shift in the relationship had taken place. And then Kasuka – beautiful, exceptional, fierce Kasuka – graduated early. Which meant she started attending the CCG’s Academy a year early, as well. It hurt Kiyoko, but you knew it hurt Kureo more, so you didn’t comfort either of them. You had always known what the three of them wanted to do, that they wanted to help people, and it actually kind of made you sick to think about. How could they help anyone, when they couldn’t even help themselves?

At least with Yukinori, you could understand it. It was in his nature to love people, to protect them, so to want to fight for humanity was right up his alley. You always just worried if he’d be able to do it when the time came, to take another’s life, even if that person were a ghoul. As for yourself, well, Tokyo’s underground didn’t fear you without reason, trusty metal bat permanently stained with blood from wars you had either waged or gotten dragged into, but all that you had won. But then it happened. Yukinori, bless his soft heart, followed you after school one day following winter break. Apparently, he wanted to talk about next year, about what you planned to do after high school was over. He wanted to know what your plans were, where you wanted to go, what you wanted to do, what you wanted to get out of life. It was annoying, and reminded you of the day you had met him, but he wouldn’t leave you be.

You never planned to walk into an ambush just outside your territory, or to have him caught up in it.

When the dust settled, the idiots who thought you’d be an easy mark because you were alone were all either dead or unconscious. You were panting, barely still on your feet. Bruised and dirty, uniform probably ruined, you were bleeding from various cuts and scrapes. Not that you cared about any of that. Reaching out a hand to steady yourself against a nearby building, you looked over your shoulder to where Yukinori had backed up against the wall, eyes wide. Well, at least he wasn’t terrified, just looked shaken and unsettled. Grinning around your fatigue, you asked him if he was alright, or if he were reconsidering joining the Academy. After all, if he couldn’t handle humans fighting, couldn't handle the ugly side of those he wanted to protect, then how was he going to be able to kill ghouls when it came down to it? What you never expected, was for him to lunge at you and gather you in a hug so tight, it nearly knocked the air from your lungs. You could feel him crying into your shoulder, despite the height discrepancy.

"Hey, hey, easy big guy," you murmured. "C’mon, your parents are probably worried sick…"

It was the first time he patched you up after a fight, but it wouldn’t be the last.

Even from the moment fourth year started, you knew you wouldn’t graduate.

You didn’t have the grades for it, had barely managed to scrape by the last three years. And, really, you didn’t care enough to fix it. Your friends knew what they wanted, Hell, Kasuka was already everyone’s favorite at the Academy, and you… You were just trash. You had no prospects because you didn’t want them, fuck, you hadn’t even applied for any colleges. Your parents hadn’t wanted you since you were born, you’d started school thinking your name was “brat,” and the first friend you’d ever made was Kiyoko. Of course, in that place, in deep enough a sinkhole of self-loathing that you were beginning to consider cutting deep enough to just be gone, something changed. Well, maybe "changed" wasn’t quite the right word. You just… became aware of something that you hadn’t noticed before. It happened all at once, and left you floored, wondering how you hadn’t seen it before. (You also spent a good bit berating yourself for not perceiving it.)

Yukinori looked at you the way Kureo looked at Kasuka – like you'd hung the sun in his sky.

It wasn’t Valentines Day, or even White Day. It was just… a normal day. At lunch, the four of you were talking about how Kasuka was doing, and Kureo started rambling, this stupid infatuated look on his face. Kiyoko looked away, pretending to gag even if you knew that it still stung whenever Kasuka came up in conversation. You laughed and rolled your eyes, looking to Yukinori to “commiserate” with – and caught that same look on Kureo’s face directed full-force at you, by the guy with the huge heart and constant smile. Feeling yourself flush, not unlike that day on the roof four years ago, you quickly stood up and ran, muttering something about needing a smoke break. You weren’t surprised when Yukinori followed you, you really weren’t. It’d become a thing between the two of you that he’d light your cigarettes. It might have seemed weird, but it was better than him berating you the whole time, and it meant that you were both happy. You got to smoke, and he was sure it wasn’t getting out of hand.

But even when you burst out onto the roof, you just wheeled around, staring at him in shock.

"What the fuck?!" It was altogether reminiscent of your first encounter here. You were furious, and he – he was just staring at you like you were a wild creature he wouldn’t have minded being mauled by. How the fuck hadn’t you seen it before now?! How were you so blind?! "What the actual fuck, Yukinori?! You – you’re a good person! You want to help people! You’re generous, and kind, and wonderful, and I – I’m a cancer!" There it was, something you’d been thinking since you couldn’t remember when. "I’m a delinquent with no future and no past worth talking about! I’ve wanted to die since before I can remember! I’m trash, I’m not going anywhere, I’m not worth anything, let alone your love!" You were backing toward the edge of the roof, toward the one place where there wasn’t fencing around it. If you actually intended to jump, you had no idea, but you couldn’t let him ruin himself by loving you. "I’m worthless," you repeated. "I’m worthless, my parents are right, and – and – I SHOULD BE DEAD!"

But he just caught you around the waist, and held you while you screamed and sobbed.

Shinohara Yukinori was the one who convinced you to clean up your act. To knuckle down and actually start studying for real. Convinced you that you were worth something, at the very least to him, that you could and did have a bright future ahead of you. It didn’t happen right away, but over the course of that year, you realized it was more comfortable to live than to hate yourself. It wasn’t easier by any means, but it was… lighter, gentler, less strenuous. Kiyoko was surprised, and then smug, gloating that she had told that you could do it, and that Yukinori would be a good thing. Kureo just sort of remained floored permanently for the entirety of that year. Your grades slowly climbed up from the grave, and you started actually enjoying class. Mostly because Yukinori made things easier to understand, and that understanding helped you in class, but whatever. You still punched the first person who said anything sarcastic about it hard enough to break their nose.

However, around winter break, you realized that there was something else you had to do. Something that college entrance exams couldn’t prepare you for. Something that not even the boy who you were starting to realize you had fallen for that day on the roof four years ago could help you with. You had to retire the Fleet, as it were, though it wasn’t going to be anywhere near as easy as it sounded. Leaving a gang was one thing, and often led to permanent injury, but to actually disband one? You were going to be lucky if you survived this. Still, it had to be done if you wanted to move on. If you wanted to walk out from the shadow of everything your parents had put you through, so that you could stand in the sun beside Yukinori, then you had to do this. You had to break the last thing that kept you shackled to your violence and your self-hatred. Hiding your school bag in the bushes, you walked out to face the gang you had built from the ground up in middle school.

By the time the dust settled, you were left broken and bleeding, but victorious in your own way. It nearly took everything you had to crawl over to where you had left your stuff, and even digging out your cellphone nearly made you black out. Your vision was swimming as you selected his number from memory alone, laughing when he picked up frantically. Of course you hadn’t told anyone, they never would’ve let you if you had.

"Hey, Mr. Popular, you got a first aid kit?"

"Misao, what the heck?! Misao?"

There was no response because you finally passed out.

You woke up in the hospital a day later.

Kiyoko and Kureo were pissed off, but that was normal when you had a brawl without them.

Kasuka found it hilarious – of course she did – and she knew it was just the kind of stunt you’d pull.

And apparently Yukinori had introduced you to his parents as his girlfriend.

All in all, not a bad way to wake up after nearly dying.

To say that you were floored when Tokyo University accepted your application, despite your grades the previous years, would have been an understatement. Not that Yukinori seemed surprised. In fact, he even said that he would have been surprised if you somehow hadn’t gotten in. He didn’t deny it when you pointed out that he was biased because you were his girlfriend, but he also insisted that grades weren’t everything, and that your drive alone would have been a reason for them to accept you. To which you responded that he was one to talk, since getting into the CCG’s Academy was an entirely different ball game from wanting to study medicine. It might have seemed out of character for you, but those that knew you – your best friends, and the man you might have been dreaming about marrying – understood why. Up to that point, your life had been steeped in violence, and you had meant it when you said that you were done living in the shadow of your trauma.

(In a more symbolic way, you grew out your hair and dyed it blonde.)

Honestly, over the next four years, your relentless drive was what kept you going. Being alone wasn’t something you were used to anymore, something you hadn’t experienced since you met Kiyoko on your first day of middle school. But that loneliness, that ache, ended up driving you forward all the harder. What most students accomplished in four years, you tackled in three, and followed that up by immediately applying to medical school. While your best friends were learning how to best keep humans safe from ghouls, you spent your days learning how to keep children safe from their own bodies. Of course, as the Academy only contained courses for two years of study, they were done before you even finished college and moved on to medical school. Truth be told, it was somewhat nerve wracking to know that they were out in the field fighting against humankind’s largest threat, while you were busy studying, but you kept your mouth shut about it. It wouldn’t do them any good to know you were worrying, and it would only distract you from your studies, so you pushed it away as best as you could.

Seven years after graduating high school, at twenty-five, you started your internship. That was also the year that Kasuka and Kureo got married, finally, though the occasion was bittersweet for Kiyoko and you knew it. On the one hand, it was wonderful to finally see two of your best friends tie the knot, but on the other, you felt bad because you knew what it meant for your oldest (first ever) friend. It finally confirmed what Kiyoko had been trying to deny since you were all seventeen: that Kasuka could and would never be hers. Your first instinct was to do what you had done back in high school, to offer yourself to her, but you held back. It wouldn’t have been fair to Yukinori, nor would it have been fair to Kiyoko, and besides, she ended up going home with one of Kasuka’s other bridesmaids, so you weren’t too worried about her. (If Kiyoko threw herself into her work after that, well, that was just her way of grieving something she felt disgusted for even wanting.)

Not that you had the time to worry about it. If you had thought college and med school were insane, you hadn’t prepared yourself for being an intern, essentially the bottom of the heap. Eighty-hour shifts and back-to-back shifts were common, to the point where you ended up sleeping at the hospital more often than not. Miraculously, being so busy didn’t strain your relationship with Yukinori, or your bonds with your friends. It was something you sometimes worried about, but at least on the romance front, getting to curl up with your boyfriend once a week was enough. (Since you had nowhere else to go, getting an appointment with Yukinori had been something of a no-brainer.) It was almost dizzying how quickly time went, but the fact that you suddenly found yourself engaged near the end of your internship and close to the beginning of your residency was something like a reprieve from the insanity. Despite having his own work to deal with, though it all Yukinori was your safe harbor, just as he’d always been.

After finally completing your residency four years later, the next thing on the agenda was your wedding. However, much had changed over the least eight years. Kasuka and Kureo had had a daughter, Akira, who you hardly knew aside from as one of your patients. You knew she was the spitting image of her mother, which honestly worried you, though more for Kiyoko’s sake than anything. Despite that, however, Kiyoko kept a calm exterior as best she could. Sometimes you wondered if you were the only one who noticed that she flinched whenever Akira referred to her as “Aunt Kiyoko,” but kept your mouth shut about it. It wasn’t your place, and you very much doubted Kiyoko would have allowed you to comfort her, anyway. The closest she ever came to asking for comfort, was when she would ask you to spar with her. Despite having almost wholly left violence behind, you kept your skills sharp as you could. (You were reformed, not stupid, after all.)

But then you were swept up in wedding planning and work, and time got away from you again.

Less than four years later, Kasuka was dead.

Kureo was shattered, but you were unsurprised that he didn’t let himself break completely. He had Akira to look after, and both he and his now-deceased wife had known what they were signing up for when they entered the Academy. Kiyoko was similarly affected, but rather than obsessing over Kasuka’s murderer, the One-Eyed Owl, like Kureo, she buried herself even deeper into her work. Around that same time, two events took place that changed things for your group even more than Kasuka’s death had. Firstly, Kiyoko was promoted to the rank of Special Class Investigator, and suddenly she was much too busy to spend more than the occasional night out with you, Yukinori, and Kureo. (You liked to think the fact that your dragging him out on weekends helped keep Kureo even slightly sane.) Secondly, and more important to you and your husband’s lives, was that you found yourself pregnant. It was odd adjusting to not drinking coffee, and to have to cut back on your work hours, but you managed.

It was a quiet pregnancy, as were your subsequent second and third pregnancies, each with roughly three years between them. Adjustments needed to be made, and though you were loath to hire a nanny, with both yourself and Yukinori working full-time jobs, it wasn’t something you could exactly avoid. Given your own childhood experiences, one might have assumed that you were nervous about being a mother, but you actually found yourself quite calm. After all, you had the perfect example of what not to do in your own parents, so you figured that being kind, but firm – you already knew Yukinori would let the children get away with murder so long as they were happy and safe – was a good place to start. Despite Kasuka’s death shaking you all to your very core, your group was still together, and you had reason to believe it would remain so. After all, once things settled, even Kiyoko had more time to spend with you again, and things settled into a comfortable routine.

Work, take care of the children, take some time to yourselves, and live.

For ten years following Kasuka’s death, things were quiet.

You realized that you had taken that quiet for granted, when your husband was partnered with an eccentric child by the name of Suzuya Juuzou. (He may have been almost nineteen, but that meant nothing, as you knew well.) You had heard of him from your husband over the past three years, since Yukinori had rescued Juuzou from his “mother,” a horrible ghoul known as Big Madam. Despite not being privy to all the details, you didn’t need to be. Even from the first time you met him, the day Yukinori gave him his first quinque, you saw yourself in him. Broken beyond doubt, abused beyond measure, lashing out at the world because of everything it had put him through. Not that he ever spoke about anything of the sort with you, but if you gifted him a set of new needles and higher-quality thread for his nineteenth birthday, well. Let it never be said that you didn’t have as much of a hand in rehabilitating him as your husband did.

Then came the Owl Suppression Operation in July.

Your oldest child had just started fourth grade, while your youngest had just started attending school in general. Juuzou had been losing some of his violent tendencies, though surprisingly he had never intentionally frightened the children. Things had been going well, and in the space of one night, everything had changed again. Suddenly, despite what you told Juuzou, you were the one shattering, and after having barely healed from Kureo’s death the previous year, it took everything you had to hold yourself together for your children. You had no other choice. Kiyoko had been growing distant again, and with Akira dealing with losing both boys she loved, Juuzou coming to terms with the fact that he could love (not to mention having lost a leg), there was no-one for you to turn to but yourself. Lest you turn back to old habits – namely, self-harm and drinking – you sought out an old friend from your internship days.

Tomoe Hotaru was the most respected psychiatrist in her field, and the only person you could think to turn to.

Seeking out Hotaru for your own benefit turned out to be almost prophetic.

Had you been a moment later, or Juuzou any surer about his course of action, you would have arrived to a gunshot rather than a scream. As it was, you held him close on the floor of his apartment for what felt like hours, his screams bouncing off the walls of the near-empty space and his tears soaking into the front of your blouse. You had seen him slipping, knew the symptoms of suicidality like the back of your hand, but you hadn’t known what to do. To intervene would likely have spooked him away, this child so much like an abused and wounded cat, but obviously waiting hadn’t been the correct course of action either. However, just as you resolved to speak, the child you cradled against your chest spoke instead. He trembled as he did so, fingers fisted in your white lab coat, clinging for dear life.

"I – n-need help, mom."

It was a tiny, broken admission, and would have floored anyone else coming from this seemingly invincible boy. But not you. You knew what it was like to reach that point, and now, without the person that had saved you both, you knew that you had to be the one to pull Juuzou up and out of this sea he was drowning in. It didn’t even register right away that he had called you "mom" rather than "Mrs. Shinohara," but when it did, you just held him that much tighter, pressing a kiss to his forehead and then the crown of his head. Nuzzling into white hair that should have been fluffy and beautiful but was now dull and limp, you murmured the only response you could think of.

"I know, sweetheart, I know."

Teaching Juuzou how to dye his hair was the highlight of the recovery process.

Even if he himself didn’t realize why he had chosen black, though he would say it was to conform, you knew better. You knew that it was the same reason why he started acting more subdued, why he started wearing nearly all black. He was mourning, even if he didn’t realize it, subconsciously terrified that the man who was like a father to him would never wake up. And yet, despite subconsciously mourning your husband’s near death, he was still living. Most weekends were spent with you and the children, nor would it be out of the question for him to drop by to bother you during your shifts at the hospital. Seeing Hotaru kept you both afloat, though there were times you did need to remind him to take his medication, if it became obvious that he had forgotten. Learning to swim again was hard for both of you, though after so much tragedy in your life even before now, you were more adept at dealing with it than your adopted child. (Though not legally, Juuzou might as well have been.)

Meeting your son’s boyfriend was something of an amusement, some time around two years after everything had happened. You could tell that Abara Hanbee had a good head on his shoulders, even if the poor boy did cry as you less than kindly interrogated him, sized by a sudden surge of protectiveness. Still, despite having something of a lacking backbone, he balanced Juuzou out, and you could tell even then that he was hopelessly in love with your boy. It made you feel just a bit old, you couldn’t help commenting, during your next visit to your husband. You were aware that Juuzou visited, too, but neither of you spoke of the times your grief drove you back to Yukinori’s bedside. Your own appointments with Hotaru had dwindled to twice a month, though you knew that Juuzou still saw her once a week, with numerous other appointments scattered between as things came up. You didn’t begrudge him needing it; you had had over twenty years to deal with your own trauma, after all.

One year became two, two became three, and before you could blink, nearly four years had passed.

As the monster Dragon devoured the city, all you could do was hold your younger children close, and pray.

You prayed for Juuzou, fighting the monster.

You prayed for Hanbee and the rest of Juuzou’s squad, supporting your oldest child.

You prayed for Kiyoko, doing everything she could even without legs.

You prayed for Yukinori, begging with everything you had that he would wake when the madness ended.

You prayed even though by all rights you should’ve lost faith decades ago.

But you didn’t pray for yourself, as those were the prayers the gods had never answered.