Chapter 29: Act 5, Part I
The settled dust revealed the once covered myriad treasure which was Metropolis. Akiteru stared at the sight. A part of him wanted to cry. He had seen countless pictures of the city, photos from before the city’s mysterious end. There were few photos of the time between when it became a ghost town and the calamity which caused the miasma. It was only after it was shrouded by red mist that everyone had cared about the secrets that lay beneath.
Akiteru lay his eyes on the sight of the city before him, and his eyes softened. “So… in the end… you’re just like me,” he whispered to the ancient ruins, “Some innocent bystander… dragged into the claws of war, the struggle for power…”
Approaching him now was a soldier. “Sir.”
Akiteru Tsukishima forced another fake smile. “Alright. Let’s go back home.” His smile almost faltered. Lucky, it didn’t, not that he really meant it either. “The Emperor needs to know about this…”
“Shall we open a communication channel, Sir?”
“No.” Akiteru shivered. “It’s better I tell him about this, personally.”
Shira—the Glorious Capital City of Shira. Kageyama watched it from the window before the ship docked. He took his time, wandering the streets of the upper city. His hand eventually rested on the fountain in the centre of imperial plaza. He sighed, quietly. It was here it all began for him. A simple race between him, and his new commander, Shouyou Hinata, ended up as their fates twisted forever.
It was just their iron will determination. How they twisted and clashed… born from light and hope, turned into bladed beasts, volatile and destructive.
Kageyama hummed. He knew, even now, that he didn’t know what a true war between aAoba and Shira at full strength would do to this world. Throw Kara in the mix, and… “This planet will end.” He looked outwards, seeing the streets of Shira.
Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. I will protect this place… no matter the cost.
From what he gathered, Kuroo and Yamaguchi had already made their reports. Kageyama wasn’t purposefully making Ushijima wait, but when he opened his mouth—
“It’s fine.” Ushijima crossed his arms. “It seems you have… reaffirmed something in yourself, Second Lord.”
Kageyama did so. He explained, in detail, each moment that he could recall of the Summit. “What we need right now is…”
He felt it.
An explosion in his mind, rippling waves of purple and red flames. He could hear a distant noise, like a scream, or a choir, and the world around him was no longer his concern. He turned away from Ushijima, and took a step towards the window that showed all of Shira before him.
Ushijima said, “Kageyama?”
Kageyama found himself reaching, a hand trying to grab something in the distance. He pulled his arm back, and took a stumbling step backwards. “Something…” Kageyama turned away, with unfocused eyes, holding his hand close to his chest with his other hand. “Something just…” His eyes widened. “Something just happened…”
Ushijima frowned. “Second Lord?”
Shirabu huffed. “Great, now he’s gone fucking crazy again.”
“No.” Ushijima’s eyes narrowed. “His Metropolitan DNA is reacting…”
Kageyama turned towards him. “You.” He shivered. “You know what this is, Sir?”
Ushijima only glanced over to Akiteru.
Akiteru gave a small nod.
“Second Lord – you are dismissed for now.”
“Until we have the answers, I will not bother you with our hypotheses. I will also let you know no one is to see Sugawara without my explicit permission. Do you understand?”
“I…” Kageyama closed his eyes. “May I see him, First Lord?”
“Yes…” Ushijima sighed. “Briefly.”
Kageyama said nothing as the elevator descended to Block Z. He remembered the first time he went down here… It was with Iwaizumi, it was then he had seen Sugawara in flesh. All those wires wrapped up in him.
“It was the only time I disobeyed Oikawa…” Kiyoko let her eyes drift. “I did not know who replaced King Suguru… until I saw him, hooked up to all those demonic wires…”
The doors opened.
He stepped out.
The engineers and doctors turned. “S-Second Lord!”
“Resume your work,” Kageyama said quickly. He did not need them saluting him when they could be saving his brother’s life. “I’m here for personal reasons only.” He stepped closer to the bird caged, caught in midflight. Forever.
Kageyama examined him. He seemed… thinner. Faultier, maybe… but relaxed. Kageyama’s eyes softened.
“His health is improving,” came Narita’s voice, who stood next to him and looked up. “It’s the first time in a long time his health has improved… but….”
“But if I need the Mark III in combat,” Kageyama supplied, “It would kill him.”
“Yes…. Ushijima told you?”
“No.” Kageyama glared. “My connection to him is stronger than ever.” Yes, even if they weren’t linked by thoughts… He reached out, carefully.
“S-Sir, you shouldn’t—”
Kageyama stood upon the platform, despite protest, and his fingertips gently touched Sugawara’s hand. He felt a heartbeat echo in his mind; and, slowly, Sugawara’s fingers clasped around his. Kageyama’s eyes softened, and he squeezed them shut.
Narita watched, biting his lip.
Kageyama slipped out of Sugawara’s grip, and stepped off the stand. He sighed. “For all I’ve known him, for all he’s spoken into my skull… it’s… that was the first time I ever touched him…”
Narita blinked. “A-Ah… I guess that’s true… You met him after he became, this. Right?”
“Well.” Kageyama closed his eyes. The touch was oddly familiar. It resonated in a way he didn’t mind. “First time since I was a child, anyway.”
“He used to carry me around everywhere,” Kageyama whispered. “He loved me.”
“Old memories of yours…?”
“Not mine. I was too young.” Kageyama turned away from Sugawara. “They were his memories. He was thinking… of me.”
Narita stared for a long moment.
“Thank you for caring for him, Doctor.”
“I’m not here for my rank,” he clarified, “I’m here for personal reasons. Thank you, Narita. I owe you one…” He thought of his suit. It turned one into—“I owe you a thousand.”
Kageyama left the room. He had somewhere else to be. Somewhere he must be.
Kageyama went the only place he could go. It was as though Shira was the one covered by a red miasma. There were only a few safe havens, only a few places he could breathe with ease. He followed his feet and found himself to the only place he truly wanted to be.
Kageyama opened the door and stepped in, bag in hand. He heard some chit chat from the kitchen and closed his eyes. He wanted to push out all the thoughts of the war, and focus instead on the voices he expected to hear.
“Will it be sweet?” Natsu’s voice shone like a ray of light. “We should add more sugar!”
Kageyama stood at the doorway of the kitchen.
“No, no, no!” Kindaichi sighed as he was mixing a big bowl. “Not everything is sweet, Natsu!”
“Aww, why not?” Kunimi sat on the kitchen table, legs dangling. “We can add a little more sugar, can’t we?”
“No!” Kindaichi whined, “You gotta do the cooking by the book! Stick to the recipe!”
“But!” Natsu pouted. “But I want it to be sweet! Auntie! Tell him to make it sweet!”
Auntie just laughed, but her eyes slowly drifted over.
Auntie stared at him, eyes wide. Her lips tugged into a big smile. She got up from the table, ignoring the ruckus of the kitchen, and walked over. She whispered, “Kageyama.”
Kageyama made a small noise.
Auntie pulled him into her arms.
Kageyama’s eyes widened, and he shut them quickly. He melted into her hug and shivered.
“You looked like you needed one.” She pulled away to examine him.
“I did,” he whispered.
Auntie noticed the bag in his hand, so she took the other one and held it with both of hers. “Welcome home.”
Kageyama’s vision blurred.
“Soldier’s don’t cry,” Auntie teased with a laugh. “Well, at least not in front of others. It’s good to cry, though. It reminds you that you’re human.”
Am I? Kageyama nodded. “It’s been… a stressful time.”
“Auntie!” Natsu called out, then—”Kageyama!”
Kindaichi paused the stirring and turned quickly.
Kunimi threw his head back, mouth open.
“Kageyama!” Natsu bounced across the room.
Kageyama silently thanked Auntie as she stepped aside. He bent down to grab the barrelling Natsu and pulled her up, letting her sit on his arm as she hugged him. He didn’t exactly have experience doing this, but he had seen others do it enough.
“You came back from your mission!” Natsu beamed. “Did—” Her little eyebrows furrowed. “Did you get hurt?”
“No,” he lied.
“You have both your arms?”
Natsu checked each one. “And your legs?”
“All your fingers?”
“And all my toes.”
Natsu hugged him again and squeezed. “Did you get me a present?”
Kageyama smiled. “Yeah.”
Natsu made a happy noise and she laughed. “Is it true you sent Yuutarou here to help us?”
Kageyama glanced over.
Kindaichi had flour on his face as he patted his apron. “Hey man…”
Kunimi slipped off the table, crossing his arms, eyebrow raised.
“I sent Kindaichi here,” Kageyama agreed. “He… didn’t have much to do, and you guys needed an extra hand… Kunimi on the other hand…”
“Well.” Kunimi sighed, throwing his head back a bit. “Kindaichi spent so much time here, I wanted to see what was going on. And apparently you spent a lot of time here too, so. Hm.”
“Yup!” Natsu nodded. “So they’ve been helping lots! And Kunimi’s really good at math so he helps me with my homework! Apparently you’re all friends from your academy days!”
“Yes.” Kageyama felt his cheeks get hot. “Y-You’re, um. Baking?”
“Yuutarou’s been wonderful,” Auntie added. “He knows a lot of recipes I don’t.”
Kunimi walked over. “Natsu.”
Kageyama caught the hint and offered her.
Kunimi took her, comfortable as ever with her on his arm.
Kageyama turned to Auntie. “How. Have you been?”
“Better.” She nodded. “Most of the housework is done. I go on walks. Natsu’s got company. How are you?”
“Um.” Kageyama bit his lip. “Been better?”
Auntie’s eyes softened. “Did you—”
“Was Shouyou there?” Natsu asked. “On your mission.”
Kageyama stared at her. “Yes.”
“Did you punch him?”
“He didn’t come home yet!” Natsu yelled, “So you have to punch him!”
Kageyama blinked. Well. Technically he did punch Hinata, but—“No I didn’t punch him.”
“Um.” Kageyama watched Kindaichi go back to mixing something. “What are you making?”
“Scones!” Kindaichi smiled. “Well, mini scones. Uh. Cheese scones. It’s only ten minutes once we put them in the oven. Have you eaten, buddy?”
“Not really, no.”
“Great! We can have like, a light lunch or something.”
Soon enough, everyone sat at the table. Kageyama watched them all bicker. Kunimi teased Natsu, and Natsu teased Kindaichi, and all of it seemed to click into place. When Kageyama closed his eyes, it was almost like there was no war. Except…
A distant sound of Hinata’s laughter was like an exploding star in the darkness of Kageyama’s mind.
The emptiness followed him everywhere.
Soon enough the scones were done. Auntie served rich black coffee with it, and Kageyama added milk, while Kunimi drank it black. Kindaichi added a bit of milk and sugar, while Natsu mostly had a cup of milk with very little coffee. It was served alongside a plate of cut cheeses and some grapes. It was nice. Kageyama much preferred this little makeshift lunch over any of those political dinners at the Summit.
Kunimi turned to Kageyama. “You haven’t said anything in a while. You okay?”
“Uh.” Kageyama stared at him. “Mm.”
“That… The Voice, thing. It’s not…” Kunimi frowned. “It’s hard to explain it. But you seem… empty. In a good way.”
Auntie bit her lip.
Kindaichi’s eyes shifted to Auntie’s expression, then to him.
Natsu was slowly nibbling on her scone.
Kageyama could see Kunimi about to change the subject, but—No. He was—“I’m.” He took a cautious breath. “A lot happened… when I was gone.”
Auntie only asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”
“Yes. Actually, there’s…. there’s something I wanted to tell you, you and Natsu.”
Auntie’s chest tightened.
“It’s—” Kageyama bit his lip. “It’s about me.”
“I… discovered. I mean. Who I was… before I was adopted. My origins, my past…”
Natsu put the scone down.
Kindaichi just stared.
Kunimi swallowed hard.
Auntie breathed silently.
“My name, originally, my first name I mean… Kageyama.” He looked up. “I am Kageyama Sugawara.” Nothing moved. “I am… Koushi Sugawara’s… biological… younger brother.”
Kunimi blurted out, “Huh?”
Kindaichi just blinked.
Auntie made a small noise, as her eyes moved to the floor. “Then I… had best apologise…” She moved some of her grey, dying hair behind her ear. “For… gun in hand, I killed your parents.”
Natsu made a noise as she looked between the two of them.
“From what I understand, Auntie…” Kageyama avoided her gaze. “The… the living conditions we were in, were…”
Kageyama looked up.
“I don’t know where you were,” Auntie whispered, “But Koushi said he lost his little brother… that he was, gone. I assumed dead… I think Koushi did too. Koushi… he begged my sister to take him… begged me… the way he was so… malnourished. Sickly. He was… covered in bruises… whip marks…” Auntie’s unfocused eyes were as though she forgot where she was. “I did what I had to. In the end… Koushi cried, but he thanked me for it.”
“I see.” Kageyama’s throat tightened. He looked down at his plate, half-eaten mini scone. “Then… thank you. For giving my brother a home, a life... for giving him love.”
“He was…” Auntie almost laughed, and her eyes shone bright with wetness. “He was a very easy boy to love.”
Kageyama’s chest squeezed on itself.
“How is he…?”
Kageyama frowned. He shut his eyes. “… Alive.”
Natsu whispered, “Kageyama…”
Kageyama looked at her.
“Does that mean… your family?” Natsu squinted. “So… like… you can’t be Shouyou’s boyfriend anymore?”
Kindaichi shot him a glare.
“Natsu,” Kageyama said simply, “I will marry Shouyou.”
Kunimi paused for a moment. He wasn’t smiling. Though the others were.
Natsu’s eyes lit up.
“And then we’ll all be family. Well.” He glanced to Kindaichi and Kunimi. “We already are, in a way.”
“Idiot.” Kunimi smiled as he sipped his coffee.
Kindaichi just laughed.
“Hm.” Natsu hummed thoughtfully. She looked at his drink. “Kageyama?”
Kageyama glanced back at her. “Yes?”
“Koushi… he’s… He’s the voice in your head, isn’t he?”
Kageyama’s eyes widened.
Natsu looked up at him.
Kageyama saw those small brown eyes, like warm cedar. “Yes.”
Auntie shot him a glare. “Kageyama—”
“Wait!” Kunimi almost dropped his coffee mug.
Kindaichi made a loud bark. “S-Second L-Lord Sugawara is—”
Kageyama murmured, “The Mark III System.”
Auntie breathed. “Kageyama…”
“She already figured it out,” Kageyama pointed out. “There’s no point hiding it anymore, Auntie.”
Auntie deflated in her seat. “Natsu…”
Natsu blinked. “I figured it out… a long, long time ago…” She smiled. “Sometimes, Shouyou would stop, and whisper things to himself… He’d talk to The Voice in the same way he talked to me or Auntie… like we were family…. And he always seemed to know what to say, after that voice talked to him… for a while I thought maybe it was dad and mom looking over us… but I figured out pretty quick it must have been Koushi.”
Kageyama swallowed hard.
“Koushi, he’s…” Natsu laughed. “He’s kinda been… watching over us, in his own way… right?”
“Y-Yes.” Kageyama’s eyes softened. “He’s… He loves you, so much, Natsu.”
“Really!?” She bounced up in her chair. “Wh-What is he saying now?”
“He’s.” Kageyama tensed. “He’s… sleeping.”
“Mm… it’s, um… very hard for him to do his job… so he needs his rest right now.”
“Good!” Natsu nodded. “He needs to sleep and rest!”
“Yes.” Kageyama breathed carefully. “He does.”
Auntie took a cautious breath.
Of course she would. Kageyama knew Auntie worked directly on the Neuro-Axis system. She, above all else, would know that Sugawara did not require sleep.
Kunimi and Kindaichi both seemed still in shock.
Kageyama swallowed hard. He finished his coffee and put the mug down. “Th-Thank you for the food…”
Natsu paused. “Y-You’re going?”
“Y-Yes.” Kageyama looked away. He scratched the back of his head. “I need to go talk to my papa and my dad…”
“Oh.” Natsu nodded twice. “That’s good! Go talk to them too!”
Kunimi’s eyes softened. “Kageyama…”
“I-If you need anything, man.” Kindaichi bit his lip.
“I know.” Kageyama’s heart beat with heavy warmth. “I have… incredible people I can lean on. Thank you.” He stood up, and paused for a moment. “Natsu.” He motioned to the bag at the doorway. “Don’t forget your present.”
Kageyama was pulled into a tight hug. And he melted into his papa’s arms. Ittetsu squeezed him, but eventually pulled away. Kageyama noticed he had a smile on his lips as they parted.
“You should have said something,” Ittetsu whispered. “We just made dinner – do you want? There’s plenty.”
Kageyama blinked. Had it already been dinner time? He had gotten called in several times since leaving Hinata’s home. He supposed it was already dark, so it probably was dinner time.
“Tobio?” Ukai walked over, huffing. “Gonna answer us or just zone out? Geez – you haven’t changed one bit from when you were a kid!”
“I became Second Lord didn’t I?”
“H-Hey!” Ukai laughed. “Since when did you have such a sharp tongue!?” He smirked and put a hand on his hip. “So. Dinner? You in?”
“A-Ah.” Kageyama blinked. “Let me get changed… I’m, tired of this suit.”
He used some spare clothes in his childhood room and walked downstairs. Loose, comfortable clothes. They were nice.
“Dinner’s gonna need a bit more time,” Ukai muttered. “Stew needs to reduce a bit more.”
“Sure.” Kageyama scratched the back of his head. “Um… there was something I… wanted to talk to you about.”
Ittetsu froze. Ukai paled.
Kageyama sighed. “Why does everyone… do that…?”
Ukai chuckled. “I mean, maybe you could give us some context. Like… I want to talk you about the coffee machine. Or the next winning lotto numbers.”
“Oh.” Kageyama nodded. “I wanted to talk about me… who I am.”
Ittetsu nodded twice. “That does nothing for my anxiety.”
Kageyama pursed his lips. “Um. Can we. Sit?”
“Oh boy,” Ittetsu whispered.
“Stop that!” Ukai called out and walked over to the couches. “Come on.”
Kageyama sat, and took a moment. “Over the course of the last mission… I discovered…” Who I am? No. Who I was? Maybe… No, Kageyama knew who that person was, but… He closed his eyes. “My past.”
Ukai’s eyebrow went up. “Your past…?”
Ittetsu took a cautious breath. “You mean…”
“My, um. Lineage…. My history… my bloodline.”
Ukai tensed. “Tobio…”
“My full name is Kageyama Sugawara.” Kageyama looked up, hands shaking. “I was… born in one of the five houses of Metropolis…” He looked away. “I… I’ve done a lot of thinking. Um.” He bit his lip. “And the conclusion I’ve come to… is…” He shut his eyes. “I am Ukai. To the end.”
Ukai stood up and grabbed him, squeezing him in to a hug. “You idiot.”
Kageyama hugged back. “I’m sorry, Dad, I just… I just…”
Ittetsu pulled him away from Ukai only to hug him himself. “There’s no shame in finding out who you are. It’s not any slight to us to find out who your biological parents were…” He squeezed Kageyama tight. “Family is who you make for yourself. Sometimes those are biological bonds, and sometimes not. You’ll always have a home with us.”
Kageyama pulled away. “I just… wanted to say…” Still, he couldn’t meet their gaze. “Thank you. For everything you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t have had parents without you… I wouldn’t have learned hand-to-hand, or done acrobatics. or… hell, I wouldn’t be able to fucking read or write. Or to love. Or… I just…” He squeezed his eyes shut, shaking. “I don’t regret it, though, signing up for the military… even if I did it behind your back. I never thought it would get me this far, but… I don’t know what I’m saying! I just!”
“Shut up.” Ukai ruffled his hair. “You’re our son. And that’s that, Tobio.”
“Kageyama,” Ittetsu hummed. “You know… you always liked that more than Tobio. I guess it was your first name back then…? I mean, sounds like Sugawara was your last n—wait, Sugawara!?”
Kageyama huffed and smiled. “Y-Yeah…”
Ukai made a loud noise. “Well, I’m still going to call you Tobio instead of Kageyama.”
“Yeah, that’s. That’s fine.”
“Hm.” Ittetsu looked up. “It’s funny, way back in the day, there was this lady who told me that Kageyama—”
“That.” Kageyama looked at him. “That was a trained assassin, Papa. I’m just glad Dad wasn’t with you, or he would’ve recognised her.” He looked away. “She would’ve had to do something about that…”
“Wait.” Ittetsu paled. “Wh-What!?”
Ukai swallowed. “What.”
Kageyama laughed. “It’s… it’s a story, I guess…? Um.”
“Well.” Ukai sighed. “Stew’s ready. We got time for a story, probably a few stories… let’s talk over dinner.”
“Yeah.” Kageyama smiled, finally looking up. “We have time.”
Chapter 29: Infodex 29, Rebellion - Part 1
The slums of Shira were nothing like the slums of Metropolis. Here, there was no running water, barely any electricity, and a complete lack of heat. A single man wandered through the den of the Leftovers. That’s what they were called, after all – Leftovers – those left over from Metropolis’ vanishing act. The Leftovers gathered here, children running around broken pipes and sand, a wasteland.
A single man wandered through their homes. He could feel a hundred eyes on him.
The man didn’t care for them. He only went to find his target.
An older fellow, someone who refused the orders.
“Papa!” one of the children screamed.
The man acted fast, pulling a titanium handgun and firing a single shot.
The screams erupted all around him.
The older person’s head hit the sand, missing a chunk, seared blood spilling onto the ground.
The man put his gun away and put a single hand up. The screams subsided. He sighed and cleared his throat. “As long as you don’t cause problems for me,” he told them, as all generations had been told, “I will never hurt you.” He kicked the body at his feet. “If you do cause problems… this is what happens.”
The children watched, eyes wide, silent.
The man knew he should leave, but a tickle of curiosity itched the back of his throat. “A question,” he called out to them. “Which one of you is Sugawara…?”
None of the kids reacted.
The man’s eyes drifted along the crowd. It usually didn’t take long for one kid to push another forward, and yet…
The man’s eyes widened a little. He pulled out his gun and aimed for a random child—
The man glanced over his shoulder. Oh. The child had not been pushed… he had volunteered. The man pulled his gun away and turned to face Suga. His eyes drifted past Suga, to another child around the same age. That… must be Kuroo. Little Emperor, huh…? His eyes moved back to his target.
Sugawara was only five, hands balled up in fists, fire in his eyes. “Wh-Why do you want to know?”
“Wh-Who…” Sugawara was shaking. He was only a child, after all. “Who are you?”
A girl by Sugawara’s side adjusted her glasses. “The King…?”
So, Suguru thought, it seemed even the Leftovers had heard of his Kingdom… though it wasn’t too much of a surprise. Suguru had old Metropolan blood – it must have been a far off fantasy for them all, for them to one day get out of this dump and be princes and princesses. He breathed through his nose as he stared at Sugawara. “I just wanted to say hello…” His eyes narrowed dangerously. “I wanted to know your face.”
Chapter 29: Act 5, Part II
Kageyama woke up in the comfort of his silk sheets. The rich life, he remembered, is what he had now. He rolled onto his back and stared at the dark ceiling. His blinds weren’t black-out blinds, but they did a fantastic job in blocking out at least ninety percent of the light and sound. He hummed. He closed his eyes and sighed. Sugawara, any new messages?
Kageyama relaxed against the sheets, causing them to crinkle.
Kageyama’s eyes softened.
He shivered as he took a deep breath. He sat up and grabbed his tablet that rested at his bedside. He opened it and scanned both his right eye and left fingerprints to gain access to all his messages. He revised most of them, quickly discarding whatever didn’t seem promising. He sighed a little, and forced himself out of bed.
Breakfast was just some overnight oats and tangy yogurt. He didn’t care about much else. He figured he’d get coffee when he got to Main Command.
He revised even more messages on his phone as he ate.
A mission report from Daichi, that he was CC’d on for no reason.
A shift in supply lines.
Aoba’s new movement patterns.
Data projection on Kara’s current funding.
He finished eating and threw himself in the shower. After drying, he donned the Mark III and soon after the cape that signalled him Second Lord.
He stared at himself in the mirror for a moment.
Kageyama sighed. “Better get to work.”
And soon enough, he did. He entered Main Command, coffee in hand, and watched as Third Lord Michimiya saluted him.
Kageyama didn’t return the salute, just made a small motion with his coffee cup.
She chuckled at that. “We’re narrowing down where Kara’s base is. It’s obviously underground,” she said as she motioned to a map, “But we’ve narrowed it down to this region here. Considering it could be legit anywhere on the coast, I say it’s pretty good that we narrowed it down to this patch.”
Kageyama hummed. That was near where Sei’s coastal yet nomadic tribe was at. His eyes narrowed. “Status of the Miya twins, and their operations?”
“Gone.” Michimiya gave a long sigh. She put one hand on her hip. “They up and left, vanished. They’ve always been secretive… but I guess it was a fake base after all. Aoba’s little hidden spies…”
“Did we see that one coming?”
“I mean. With Iwaizumi, we knew,” Kageyama pointed out. “With this one?”
Michimiya sighed yet again and glanced over Kageyama’s shoulder.
Kageyama glanced behind him.
Third Lord Sakusa approached, metallic mouth guard covering his entire jaw. “Not in the slightest. We were entirely, masterfully blindsided. If anything… our records state Sei joined the Summit roughly when we first started learning about Iwaizumi… It’s possible then, that Iwaizumi was only one small percentile in how deeply they’ve penetrated us.” His eyes glanced away. “Our spy network… this was my failing, Second Lord.”
“Hm.” Kageyama glanced aside. Was this where he was supposed to be an authority figure, or a supporting one? He looked to the map again, as if to signal he was thinking about something. He was just stalling for time. Did Hinata ever stall for time when his subordinates talked to him? “Aoba has blindsided more than just our spy network. Your network has done well to remove many leeches out of our city, from both Aoba and Kara. Continue to do so.”
“Y-” Sakusa made a small noise. “Yes, Sir.”
Michimiya smiled. “C’mon. It’s time for us to head out.”
Sakusa nodded. “Yes.” He glanced to Kageyama. “We have a mission we must see to personally. We will be back in time for the meeting.”
“Yep.” Michimiya smiled. “As long as we’re not d-dead!”
“We’ll be fine,” Sakusa assured. “We’ll take our leave.”
Kageyama turned to them and gave a nod. As they left, he remembered he did indeed have a meeting with the Third Lords at noon. He sipped his coffee. He didn’t know what the meeting was about. He licked his lip. This coffee needed more milk—it was fucking bitter.
Noon rolled around soon enough. It was technically his lunch break, so he grabbed another coffee. He scarfed a croissant down as he walked to the meeting room. He made sure to dust off any croissant flakes off himself. He had to look ‘professional’, and all that. The Third Lords… While Kageyama trusted them, he could also feel their… dissatisfaction with him. He didn’t want to play games; and, yet, that was probably what he had to do.
But he would play their game of politics his way.
It’s no different than a battle, Kageyama thought, I just need to set the rhythm and pace, and make it so they can only barely keep up.
The sliding door hissed open.
Kageyama stepped in, cape swirling a little behind him.
He was early—but the rest of them were already there, too.
“If we’re ready,” Kageyama said as he sat at the head of the table, “Let’s begin. What can I do for you?” Nobody replied, and Kageyama tried not to let his anger run through his breathing. “Shirabu?”
Shirabu clicked his tongue. A smile tugged at his lips.
At least I can trust him to never hide his fangs.
“To put it bluntly, Kageyama,” Shirabu barked, “Sugawara has been running the role of Second Lord for you, as he did with Iwaizumi. Systematically, and technically, he hasn’t once stopped his duties ever since he became Second Lord. These tasks are high in number, and you aren’t experienced in them. They fall on your shoulders, Ukai.”
“Sugawara and I have gone through each and every task required by the Second Lord together, multiple times,” he returned—and he struck again before Shirabu could—“You are right, though. I will not be able to do them as fast as an automated system, but they will be done… one way or another.”
Shirabu’s eyes narrowed.
Sakusa raised an eyebrow.
“As I am our last Mark III unit, and a primary offensive now that we have lost the Datekou, I need to delegate tasks to those who can deal with them more effectively then I can.” Kageyama looked around the room. “Michimiya.”
Michimiya blinked. She opened her mouth to speak—
Press the assault. Kageyama raised his voice a barely notable amount, “I would like to delegate supply lines to you, as that is your specialty. I have faith you can do this without a Second Lord’s approval.” His eyes turned to Daichi and Yamaguchi. Only so they can barely keep up. As soon as he noted recognition in their eyes—“Daichi. You will be dealing with all communications with Aoba. Yamaguchi, I will give you Kara to do the same. The communications with these two forces have – in large part – been an utter waste of our time… so I will apologise in giving you these tasks.”
“Uh—” Yamaguchi stuttered.
Daichi smirked. “It’s fine. We’ll notify you if there’s anything worthy of your attention.”
“Immediately,” Kageyama agreed. “Kuroo.”
Kuroo stiffened. “Yeah?”
“I’m delegating the Fuku Circle to you. With Sei’s betrayal, we must be aggressive on our international ties before Kara swoops in again. Work alongside Yamaguchi in creating counter tactics.”
“Sakusa.” Kageyama glanced over. “You are free to move your spy network as you wish. I have no need to overlook your work.”
Sakusa tensed, but nodded.
“If you want to move into any Sector 4 marked areas, however, I ask that you either get permission from myself, the First Lord, or Sugawara if he regains stability.”
“Of course, my lord.”
Shirabu’s eyes dawned on him.
“As for you,” Kageyama murmured. Play the game. Play the tactics. “I am completely unaware of the social and political climate of Shira. For now it is in our favour, if reports are correct. I need you to ensure domestic support of the military actions, as well as work on any method to improve our public image amongst all three social groups of our nation.”
“Upper, mid, and lower class, huh?” Shirabu crossed his legs and sat back. “Don’t worry… I am Emperor Consort of this nation. I will not allow anyone to look poorly on Ushijima… or you.” His eyes narrow. “For as long as you remain useful to Ushijima, that is.”
Kageyama did not roll his eyes, though he wanted to. “I will also give you another task. I will not be able to work effectively as a point person. I entrust the task of communications amongst Sovereignty to you, Shirabu. You will ensure that we do not only appear cohesive, but are cohesive. Scheduling meetings and reporting to the First Lord, these will be your tasks.”
“Hm.” Shirabu clicked his tongue. “Well, you’re playing to our strengths at least.”
I haven’t won him over, Kageyama reminded himself. I haven’t won any of them over yet… except Tadashi. But I will. He moved his neck slightly to work out a kink. “I will take care of the rest. I won’t allow the work to pile up for Sugawara once he recovers.”
“If,” Sakusa corrected. “If he recovers.”
“Yes.” Kageyama showed no weakness. “If he recovers.”
Daichi breathed in sharply – it was almost silent, except.
Except you can’t fool a Mark III. Kageyama registered that reaction, even if no one else did. He noted it. But. It’s not my concern now. I can’t support him if I want to support the whole damn world. I’ll entrust that task to another. His eyes danced to Yamaguchi for a split second before looking forward again. “Alright. Anything else?”
Yamaguchi took a deep, deep breath as he left the meeting. His head was down, and his shoulders sagged. When a hand graced his arm, he tensed, and backed away. He blinked for a moment, realising it was Kuroo. He registered Kuroo’s wide eyes, and he gave a soft noise. “S-Sorry.”
“N-Nah. Did I spook you?” Kuroo chuckled. “You spooked me with that reaction… Lost in thought?”
“Mm.” Yamaguchi looked away and down. “Something like that.”
“Tadashi… I wanted to ask you something.”
“Is it?” Yamaguchi looked up. “Is it because I got assigned Kara communications? And not you?”
“No.” Kuroo let out a weak laugh. “Don’t worry about that stuff… I just… I wanted to ask you… about, um.”
Yamaguchi tensed. “About…?”
“Well.” Kuroo looked around and sighed. “You mentioned you were kind of… having an affair of sorts, right? You wanted to fix things…”
“O-Oh.” Yamaguchi’s head shot down. “Th-That.” He bit his lip. He took a deep breath and forced himself to look up at Kuroo’s face. “I… I mean, I haven’t fixed it yet. I haven’t even talked to that person, I um. I mean, with everything going on—”
“No that’s fine!” Kuroo smiled. “I didn’t. I didn’t mean to sound impatient, or that I was pressuring you to do it right away, I just, uh… I wanted to know if you were, okay?”
Yamaguchi blinked. “Oh.” His cheek warmed. “I…” Odd, he couldn’t fight the smile that formed on his lips. “I, um. Thanks… for checking in on me.”
Kuroo gave him a smile.
God, Yamaguchi realised, I could kiss him right now. His eyes widened. “A-Anyway!” He grabbed his stuff. “We’ll talk later soon bye!”
“Huh?—Wh – bye!”
Kageyama did his best to stick to a work week. He got called in repeatedly during his ‘weekend’, and it meant very little time for himself, or time with those who motivated him to keep protecting Shira. But. Every once in a while, Kageyama booked a day off and made it clear that even if Aoba destroyed the capital city, this was his day to himself.
The Third Lords, surprisingly, did not put up a fight.
Kageyama assumed it was because of two factors: One, he took the days off so rarely that they were not too inconvenienced by them, and; Two, they were slowly starting to trust him more.
Kageyama shook his head, attempting to shake the thoughts off like little droplets of water on his hair after a shower. He wore plain clothes today – a black button up shirt, sleeves rolled up, and a pair of navy jeans, with a white belt tying them together. He hummed.
He would not think of work today.
It was no surprise that he found himself at Natsu’s house.
When he got there, Kindaichi was doing laundry, while Kunimi was cooking. It was clear that Kunimi had no idea what he was doing, but he was trying. Kindaichi always was the best chef of them all, but Kageyama wondered if Kunimi had no idea how to do laundry right either. The thought made him smile. Guess there still were things they would all learn about each other.
As Kageyama stepped inside, words slipped from his mouth, “I’m home.” He paused. Blinked. He tilted his head, and felt the heat rush to his cheek.
Kunimi laughed without turning away from… whatever he was doing in the pot.
Auntie had been going over some papers and she laughed as she looked up. “Good timing. Dinner is almost ready, isn’t that right Akira?”
Kunimi made a non-confident noise.
Auntie hummed. “Kageyama, could you grab Natsu? She’s probably upstairs.”
“Sure.” Kageyama turned away from the kitchen, towards the main entrance where the stairs were. Oh. He. He had never been. Upstairs. Kageyama paused and looked up. That’s where Natsu’s room was, obviously. He took a curious first step and breathed carefully. He went up the stairs and looked down the hallway. Natsu’s room had her name stuck on her door with big block letters of various colours. He poked the door but she wasn’t inside.
Her room was rather… simple? Orange sheets, blue pillow cases. She had some toys on the floor, but it was still relatively tidy. All except her desk—she had the colouring book Kageyama had gotten her as a gift open. She was a few pages in, with coloured pencils scattered all over the desk. Kageyama didn’t go in, but he could tell she seemed to be enjoying it, colouring with vim and vigor.
Kageyama stepped away from Natsu’s room and looked around. There was a bathroom in the hallway, but the next door…
There were a few doors after that. He assumed the farthest two were Auntie’s or Sugawara’s. Another door must have been Natsu’s parents’ room, but this one.
Kageyama swallowed hard.
He pushed the door open, and his eyes softened.
Shouyou’s room, huh?
The floors were wood, but there was a cozy wide rug next to the bed. Natsu was on her knees, laying things out from a big tub onto the carpet, as if carefully deconstructing it.
Kageyama glanced around the room.
Kageyama’s head snapped to her. “Hello.”
Natsu gave a big smile. “This is Shouyou’s room!”
“Mm.” Kageyama glanced around. Orange bedcovers, but with a black duvet. Everything was organised—meticulously. Probably by Auntie. The arrangement of all the objects, so calm and calculated (unused) didn’t taste at all like Hinata’s wildfire personality. He walked over to Hinata’s desk, where several pictures had been printed and framed. He noticed a few. Natsu, Auntie, the others… the two Tanaka siblings… Noya… He picked up a picture frame carefully. “Who’s this?”
Natsu got up and walked over. “Oh! That’s!” Her shoulders locked back. She lowered her head, looking away. “That’s… Asahi…”
“Asahi…” Kageyama put the picture back. He looked above the desk, where a corkboard had even more photos pinned to them. There were also some scrap notes, sticky notes, and scribbles. A few of the drawings, Kageyama could tell, must have been drawn by Natsu. His eyes softened… but they fell upon a… necklace? It was hanging on a thumb tack. The cord was black leather, but the necklace itself. He touched it. It was cool metal, of a sorts. It was familiar in feeling.
The shape was somewhat of a rectangle, longer than it was wide. It had small square segments chipped away or added at the ends. There was a faint blue lining on the inside of the border. It almost seemed to glow.
Diamgen radiation? Kageyama tapped it. It was harmless, but diamgen had indeed modified whatever chemical had been within the inside lining of the border. It gave off a crystalline glow, and Kageyama could feel his mind resonate with it in a way.
Natsu was quiet, but made a soft noise, as if signalling she wanted to speak but didn’t know how.
“If he hung it here,” Kageyama whispered, “It must have been important to him. He didn’t take it with him, though. Why?”
“U-Um.” Natsu looked at her feet. “Asahi gave it to Shouyou as a gift… It’s the um… metallic, fibres… of the original Mark I.”
“Yep!” Natsu looked up, smiling. “The very first one ever! They took it apart. And made it into that.”
Kageyama moved the rectangle aside, and tilted his head. “And this?” There were two amulets tied to the necklace. He hadn’t noticed the second one at all because of the resonance from the first one.
“It’s a Metropolan quart. They cut a plus sign out of it, and put it on the necklace too.” Natsu looked to the pictures. “Shouyou wore it everywhere everywhere… but when Asahi…”
“Hm.” Kageyama stared at it. The original Mark I. A Metropolan quart. Hinata’s favoured possession. He lowered his head slightly as he put the necklace on, letting it rest against his chest. He stroked both amulets with his thumb and turned to Natsu. “Is this… okay?”
Natsu smiled and nodded twice. “Yup yup!” She opened one of the drawers and grabbed a leather bracelet, a loop of four small leather cords. “He also wore this. It… um… it doesn’t have any meaning, but he always wore it…” She looked away, a small blush on her cheek. “He promised me one day it would be mine… I thought about wearing it now, but it doesn’t fit… maybe if Shouyou saw you wearing this… he’d remember about me, and come home.”
“He’s never forgotten you,” Kageyama assured. He took the bracelet and slipped it on. “Don’t worry about that. What were you doing in here?”
Natsu straightened her spine. “I was, um. Ah…”
Kageyama smiled. “It’s okay. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
Natsu looked up at him.
Kageyama squatted down so they were the same height. “Come on. Kunimi made dinner for all of us.”
Natsu smiled and nodded. “Okay, let’s—”
“Natsu?” came a voice. Auntie poked her head in. “Of course that’s where you two would be.”
Kageyama stood up. He was about to speak, but he saw Auntie’s eyes drift to his necklace. His throat tightened and he blurted out, “I’m sorry—”
But Auntie smiled. “It looks good on you.”
They had dinner together, eventually. Kageyama took one bite of the chicken and rice and stared at Kunimi. Kunimi scoffed, as if offended by the look. Kageyama had no idea what kind of look he was giving. “This is horrible.”
“Wh—” Kunimi gawked.
“It’s not bad!” Kindaichi defended, “It’s, uh. Definitely mushy but it tastes good.”
Natsu smiled. “I like it!” She shovelled it in her mouth with a spoon.
Auntie chuckled. “Flavour is excellent. Texture is, well.”
Kageyama took another bite and shot Kunimi another look.
“Hey, I’m just helping out!” Kunimi shoved another spoonful in his mouth. “Let’s see if you can do better.”
“I will,” Kageyama assured.
Kindaichi chuckled. “Ooo, it’s on!”
Kageyama and Kunimi both shot him a glare.
Auntie laughed. “I think dinner is fantastic, Akira. Don’t worry. But, Kageyama… why don’t you invite your parents over to my house?” Her eyes warmed. “Dinner at my house, a little soiree. I’m sure you can show off your cooking skills then.”
Natsu looked up. “But then Koushi is going to tell him what to do, by talking in his head.”
“Oh, Natsu.” Auntie laughed. “Last time Koushi cooked, he burned water.”
Kageyama snorted. His heart was warm, yet he was suddenly hyperaware of the emptiness in his mind. A form of loneliness he had been trying not to think about for some time. He put another spoonful of Kunimi’s goop in his mouth and tried to wash that away.
The five of them decided to take a small walk around town. Natsu wanted to see what Kageyama’s neighbourhood was like. Kageyama considered the thought and threat of paparazzi, but decided it was fine. They walked around the slums for a while. Natsu held Kageyama’s hand, and eventually tugged on it.
Kageyama glanced down. “Hm?”
“Kunimi and Kindaichi…” Natsu pointed to them. They were several steps ahead. “Are they… dating?”
“Um. No. But.” Kageyama sighed. “But…”
“But they both like each other, right? Like, they like like each other. Right?”
“So they’re not dating… yet.”
“Right. Not yet.”
“Then. We should!” Natsu tugged his arm. “We should make them date together!”
Kageyama looked down at her. He was about to say one thing, but the determined look in those brown eyes made him hum instead. “Okay. Let’s do it.”
Kunimi and Kindaichi walked side by side. Over the walkway, lights were hung in strings across lampposts, for some holiday or another. Kunimi didn’t care. He never was a festive person. Kindaichi was talking about his recovery, and the outpatient care he was getting. Kunimi listened, and he did truly care, but his attention was caught by something.
He was a soldier after all.
Certain paths were darkened, and Kunimi realised they were being led somewhere. He hummed playfully.
“Anyway,” Kindaichi went on, “That’s when I told them I was just a Private. I guess they thought I must’ve been some big-wig hotshot, considering I have the Second Lord coming to see me. Hey Kageyama—” He glanced behind him.
Kunimi didn’t have to check to know—
“They’re… all gone?” Kindaichi paused, but as Kunimi kept walking he soon caught up. “Uh. We’re all alone?”
“It seems that way.” Kunimi couldn’t help the small upward tug to his lips. “Well… we might as well play along.” He paused, as did Kindaichi, and they stared at a little cafe, dimly lit, and a table ready for two. He huffed and glanced at Kindaichi. “Shall we?”
Kindaichi’s cheeks went from zero to a hundred—and Kunimi had to wonder how they weren’t giving off steam with how red they became.
Dimmed lights, flickering candles. Kunimi was half-ready to punch someone if they were about to be offered dinner, as if Kunimi’s meal wasn’t enough, but as soon as he sat—the owner put down two wide mugs, almost bowls.
“A cappuccino, extra, extra dry for you,” he said to Kunimi, and then turned to Kindaichi. “And for you, Sir, a hazelnut hot chocolate.” He bowed before leaving.
Kindaichi looked at Kunimi.
Kunimi glanced over. “Oh my god…”
Soon enough, small plates of cakes and croissants covered their table. They were more samplers than anything else, but the number of small plates made the brown wooden table look like white porcelain.
Kunimi grabbed his spoon and moved some of the rich foam of his cappuccino. So. Kageyama had noticed his favourite drink, after all. He liked his cappuccinos ridiculously dry—dry as in more foam and less milk. His drink was essentially two shots of espresso, which he liked untouched by milk as he did his coffee, and an incredible amount of rich foam on top. Not a drop of milk in his coffee. He glanced up to Kindaichi.
Kindaichi drank from his bowl of hot chocolate and his eyes widened. “Damn this is really good!”
Kunimi couldn’t help but smile. His spoon moved over to one of the cakes. Pistachio ganache, if he recalled correctly. A layer of dark chocolate sponge cake, a thin layer of milk chocolate, and then a vibrant green pistachio cream above. It was topped with the thinnest layer of dark chocolate, making it both dark and colourful. His spoon moved down, scooping up a layer of each before he put it in his mouth. He made a noise.
Kunimi nodded twice.
Kindaichi went for the strawberry shortcake next, which seemed to consist of sponge cake, strawberry-infused whip cream, another layer of sponge cake, and then white chocolate and strawberries on top.
Kunimi was sure it was too sweet for his tastes, but Kindaichi would adore it no doubt.
Kindaichi looked up and smiled. “This is, uh. Nice!”
“Yeah.” Kunimi’s eyes softened. “So… is this, a date?”
Kindaichi’s cheeks warmed and he looked away. “I… mean… If, um. I think… I think so?”
“Do you… um. Do you want it to be…?”
“I…” Kunimi’s heart flooded warm. “Yes.”
Kindaichi’s eyes widened. “Really? You’re—you’re not just saying that, right? Like. I know there’s a lot of, like, shebang and everything… I don’t want to pressure you or—”
“Yes,” Kunimi repeated. “I want this to be a date.”
“Oh.” Kindaichi nodded, eyes wide. “Okay. Are you… sure?”
“We’re on a date,” Kunimi said, matter-of-fact, “And I want to be on a date with you. Right now.”
Kindaichi’s face was blank for a moment, but the world’s smallest smile formed on his lips.
Kunimi laughed again.
“Have I…” Kunimi tilted his head to the side. “Have I ever told you how cute you are?”
“Wh—” Kindaichi jolted again. “Wh-What!? Me? No. You’re! You’ve. Uh. Never. Mentioned anything like that.”
“You are.” Kunimi closed his eyes softly before opening them again. “I’m happy that I know you.”
Kindaichi stared. “R-Really…?”
“Yes.” Kunimi tilted his drink so he could sip the espresso.
Kindaichi remembered his drink and sipped it as well. He took a bite of one of the small croissants as well.
Kunimi eyed the little croissant flakes on Kindaichi’s lips. He thought about kissing them off. He glanced back to Kindaichi’s eyes. “I was… scared… when I thought you were gone.”
Kindaichi glanced away. “A-Ah… that feels like… forever ago now.”
“I’m… happy for you.”
“N-No, I mean.” Kunimi closed his eyes for a moment. “I’m not sure what I want to say.”
“Take your time.” Kindaichi smiled. “I mean I never know what I want to say, honestly. I just kind of talk a lot, and talk out loud. I think I’m doing that right now, but I’m not sure.”
Kindaichi’s cheeks warmed.
Kunimi sighed. “You make me smile a lot. Thank you.”
“Well. I mean. You’ve got the world’s most gorgeous smile, so.”
“No, like. Actually.” Kindaichi grinned. “Akira, I think you’re… perfect.”
“Wh—” Kunimi stared. “Me?”
“I’ve been crushing on you since forever, but… you probably know that. I’m pretty obvious.”
“When?” Kunimi asked, “I mean, when did you start?”
“God.” Kindaichi looked up as he puffed his cheeks, thinking about it. He hummed. “I think the first time I met you. You were making one of your handmade grenades. I think the first thing you said to me was ‘Don’t talk to me I’m busy’.”
Kunimi’s smile dropped. “Was it.”
“Then you threw your grenade, and it blew up. The blast was way bigger than you expected.”
“O-Oh.” Kunimi looked away. “Right… I was, um. A troubled teen…” Was he starting to sweat? “I got detention for two weeks after that…”
“I did too,” Kindaichi pointed out. “I had nothing to do with it, but nobody believed me.”
“Oh.” Kunimi blinked. “I remember meeting you in detention… I, uh… I never knew why you were there.”
Kindaichi laughed. “Because of you!”
Kunimi huffed through his nose, glaring at his mug. “I… uh…”
Kindaichi smiled. “Yeah, I think I got a crush on the class deviant. You were smart, perfect grades, would’ve been an ideal student if you didn’t like to blow shit up all the time.” He scratched his cheek. “But that was then. We were just kids… You and me, now, as adults… it’s different. You’re different.”
Kunimi looked up. “And you still… like me?”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, right?”
“Right.” Kunimi relaxed in his chair. “I… I like you, a lot.”
“Yeah… I just… took a long time to figure it out.”
Kindaichi looked away. “I mean, I feel like I kinda knew?”
“Huh?” Kunimi looked up. “How…?”
“Well, I don’t know. It was the way that like… When you were worried, the first person you came to was me. Always.”
“Yeah… So when I was gone…” Kindaichi looked away. “I imagine that was pretty hard for you…”
“You know…” Kindaichi laughed. “Everyone said you were always so observant. But for how perceptive you are of others, you’re not really good at figuring yourself out.”
“Funny.” Kunimi smirked. “For how unobservant you are, you seem to know a lot about yourself… Hm… I guess I could, learn a thing or two from you.”
Kindaichi laughed, grinning.
“And.” Kunimi couldn’t help but feel his smirk grow. “You’ve also got the nicest smile.”
Cheeks bright red, Kindaichi’s eyes widened. “H-Huh!?”
Kunimi sipped his drink.
Afterwards, the two of them walked together. Kindaichi offered to walk Kunimi home. Kunimi wanted to object, since he would rather walk Kindaichi home, and maybe learn more about his new place, but he quickly realised his own place was on the way for Kindaichi. It made more sense this way. He conceded, this time.
“Um.” Kindaichi looked down at the stairs as they walked. “Akira…”
Kunimi shivered from hearing his first name from that voice. “Yes?”
“I, uh. I know I have… I’ve got some, memory issues and stuff…”
Kunimi walked along the outside balcony towards his apartment. A part of him hoped it was just Kindaichi trying to remember his room number, but—
“But.” Kindaichi paused, in front of Kunimi’s apartment. “You, me… I… um…”
Kunimi internally sighed. Well, he supposed he knew what he was signing up for when he accepted this ruminating fool. He put the back of his hand to Kindaichi’s cheek, silencing him, and Kunimi offered a warm smile.
Kindaichi looked up, swallowing hard. “I just mean…”
“Don’t,” Kunimi whispered. “Don’t worry about any of that.”
“Are you su—”
Kunimi crossed the distance, pressing their lips together.
Kindaichi’s eyes widened, and he shut them quickly. His hand moved to Kunimi’s hip, and he pulled him a bit closer.
Kunimi smiled into the kiss, feeling nothing on him but the cold night air and the warmth of Kindaichi’s lips.
Kindaichi eventually pulled away. “A-Akira…”
Kindaichi sputtered some nonsense.
“I could…” Kunimi looked away. “I could forget the war with you, you know? I could forget the whole world with you… Thank you. For. Um. Staying with me, even with my need to push everyone away. I won’t be an easy boyfriend to be with… especially not with me going off on missions, but…”
“I mean,” Kindaichi interrupted, “Even if we weren’t dating, I would still be worrying about you anyway, so…”
Kunimi laughed. He kissed Kindaichi’s cheek. “Thank you for the evening.”
“Y-You’re w-welcome!” Kindaichi bounced on his feet. “I mean, I, uh, I didn’t really do anything, but—”
Kunimi kissed him again.
Kindaichi muffled a noise into the kiss.
Kunimi pulled away. He unlocked his door and stepped in. He gave one last look before closing the door and putting his back against it. In the dark of his apartment, he grinned.
He heard a loud, “Yes!” from the other side.
Kunimi burst out laughing, imagining the big fist pump Kindaichi probably did.
Kindaichi yelped and footsteps signalled his speedy retreat.
Kunimi kept laughing and closed his eyes. “Oh, Yuutarou…”
Chapter 29: Infodex 30, Ceremonial Blade
In the depths of a museum, the ancient blade – simply known as Aoba’s Ceremonial Blade – is a weapon on display, behind several layers of protective glass. It is one of the relics left behind of this time, after the events of the Spire.
Known for being an anti-Mark III weapon, it’s properties changed once it pierced Kageyama’s thigh, as it was covered by both Mark III fluid and Kageyama’s blood. The blade is known to spontaneously storm rings of electricity. Due to its volatile nature, researchers have not found a way to safely study the weapon.
It is unknown how it found its way from outer space.
Chapter 29: Act 5, Part III
Yamaguchi got out of his bed slowly. He stretched. Half-asleep, he stumbled to the shower. The accommodations of being a Third Lord was the highest luxury he had ever experienced, but the only thing he really cared about was the fact that he could use as much hot water as he wanted. Military barracks were not known for their endless supply. He did a half-asleep cost analysis in his mind: If the nation paid more for military hot showers, would the boosted morale make the military more effective? Effective enough to get its money-worth of the investment to boost hot water tanks in military quarters?
He rinsed out his shampoo and soon enough stepped out of the shower.
He grabbed a bathrobe and put it on.
Yamaguchi sighed. He forgot to turn on the coffee pot before his shower. That was his usual routine—turn the machine on, shower, and then there was a hot cup of coffee waiting for him to drown it in cream in sugar.
He walked back to his room, and heard his phone beep.
It was from Kuroo.
One word: Breakfast?
He smiled, and quickly typed a reply.
He took the bathrobe off and quickly dressed. He opted for a loose grey shirt, button-up to make it professional enough, and a pair of tight black skinny jeans. He had to wear his thin grey cape, his Third Lord signifier that fell sidelong on top. He was only working for a few hours today. Technically it was his weekend, but Daichi was working off-site yesterday, so they couldn’t compare notes.
Soon enough, Yamaguchi headed down to the lobby of his apartment building and saw a car waiting out for him. The door slid upwards as he walked over, and Yamaguchi slid in.
“Morning, Tiger.” Kuroo offered a wink.
Yamaguchi yawned and closed his eyes, leaning back on the seat. “Mornin’.”
“What? No good morning kiss?”
“Hm. You’d blush and crash if I did.”
“Tch.” Kuroo hit the speed, and the car blasted forward. “You’re usually a morning person, munchkin.”
“Seven days in a row,” Yamaguchi murmured. “I just want to sleep.”
Kuroo laughed. “What do you want for breakfast?”
“Coffee… and a wrap.” Yamaguchi stretched. “What about you?”
“Coffee and wrap sounds good to me,” Kuroo said with a smile. “We can pass a drive-through or something.” He swerved a hard right, and his car signalled blue plasma to let him know he had almost collided with another hovering car. “Ah shut up,” he told the machine. “You know, Tadashi, you’re the only person who doesn’t complain about my driving.”
“Fine by me. I don’t really care about that stuff?”
Yamaguchi laughed. “Well.” His eyes, open now, looked to the road. “You’ve never actually gotten into an accident, and you drive frequently. Statistically, this is actually quite a safe ride. It’s just an emotional fear response your passengers are dealing with. You’re kind of a brat for scaring them, though.”
“You’re a brat too.” He pulled up to a drive-through. “You want the bacon wrap or the sausage one?”
Yamaguchi hummed. He didn’t really like either option, really. “Sausage.”
“Alright.” Kuroo moved to the window. “Two coffees – lots of cream and sugar in both. One bacon wrap, and one sausage wrap.”
Yamaguchi zoned out for a bit. Eventually the warm cup of coffee was placed in his hand, and he took a bite of his wrap. He took his bite and began chewing.
Kuroo leaned in a little as he tried to look over a corner. “So…”
Yamaguchi swallowed his bite. “I know what you’re gonna say.”
“Yeah… I know. I gotta wrap things up, and take care of that thing.”
“Yeah…” Kuroo hummed. “Ha.” He smirked. “Wrap things up, huh?”
“Shut up.” Yamaguchi took another bite of his wrap, but he couldn’t help but smile. A chuckle escaped him.
“God, Tadashi, you know I might fall for you.”
Yamaguchi froze, eyes wide.
“I mean, you laughed at my joke. You honestly enjoyed it.” Kuroo looked at him and smiled.
Yamaguchi looked away. “It was a cute joke, okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m just glad I met you.”
Yamaguchi cheeks warmed. He bit his lip, before he decided to take a chance.
Kuroo made a small noise as he noticed Yamaguchi shift in his seat.
Yamaguchi kissed Kuroo’s cheek. “Good morning.”
Kuroo blushed, and almost crashed.
Kageyama’s morning routine was autopilot until he arrived at Main Command. Even then, the first few conversations were done without much thinking. It wasn’t until Third Lord Sakusa approached him that Kageyama’s mind jolted.
“Do you know a Goshiki?”
“Yes.” Sakusa hummed.
“I do.” Kageyama eyed him. Of course Sakusa must have already known of his friendship with Goshiki. “Why?”
“He is one of Kuroo’s units. He has recently provided my team with some intel… it has tipped the scales, slightly, in our favour.”
“Goshiki,” Kageyama murmured. How long had it been since he had seen Goshiki anyway? Was this what Second Lord meant—that he had to choose his limited spare time with extreme caution. If not, it would be months before he saw Goshiki again, no? He ignored that thought. “May I see the file?”
Sakusa grabbed his phone and sent it.
Even without Sugawara, Kageyama mentally reviewed the file with the Mark III and he hummed. “The file is very detailed, and not very succinct.”
“My spy network values this kind of descriptive data.”
Kageyama glanced over.
“Everyone thinks reports should be cut short, but no.” Sakusa crossed his arm. “We need every element of the equation if we are to strike fast and true.”
Kageyama reviewed the file again. Kageyama had given Goshiki a special order, but had not heard back yet. Of course… even if Goshiki completed such a plan, he would not contact Kageyama. He could not. It needed to a secret… and yet… Kageyama wondered if it was faith misplaced. While Goshiki was a true friend, would he accept a mission of this level of controversy…? Goshiki was an ideal soldier, making him the wrong choice for this mission.
Because Goshiki was an ideal soldier, he would be easily overlooked as someone to complete this mission.
Kageyama had taken a gamble, but he felt faith in his choice.
“Sir.” Michimiya approached. “We’ve narrowed down the location of Kara’s base roughly thirty percent. It’ll still take some time to pinpoint it, but we’re getting there.”
Kageyama eyed her. “Is there new information that’s helping us narrow it down?”
“Yes, and no.” Michimiya sighed. “We’re mostly using regional information, and analysing the supply lines.” She smiled. “Ennoshita may have betrayed Shira, but he’s running his supply lines similar to how I run mine. Ever since my team got on board with the analysis, we’ve helped cut out impossible trade routes.”
Kageyama nodded. “And?”
“Well. It’s gonna be an uphill battle. Ennoshita designed this thing with our scanners in mind. Kuroo’s working with Daishou and Shibayama to gain some… non-traditional scanners. That’ll help out. But right now they have satellites, and they are bouncing proxies forty times over. It’s endless.”
Endless. Kageyama looked at the map and his eyes narrowed. “Hinata… where are you hiding?”
The map displayed the entire region.
Kageyama frowned. “Michimiya. They would need a way to transport supplies quickly to their underground location. They would have to have some system to do that.”
“Yeah…” She walked over so they were side by side and she crossed her arms. “We did manage to possibly find a shuttle. The tunnel collapsed when we got close.”
Kageyama’s eyes narrowed. “Meaning?”
“There’s a self-destruction sequence that will keep them hidden from us.”
“Third Lord Yamaguchi,” Sakusa added, “Has tasked drones with sweeping the plains in an attempt to collapse tunnels. Even if they do not give us much data, it will still be a heavy setback for Kara if their supply lines thin out little by little over the course of a few months.”
Kageyama nodded. “A little unconventional, but I like it… Yamaguchi is good at unconventional.”
“So I heard.” Sakusa glanced at him. “Apparently you were once tasked with ‘spooking’ a set of Aoba camps once.”
“We held them at bay,” Kageyama murmured. “But unconventional is what we need. There is no way Kara would allow us to dig or discover their underground channels. They would have the drop on us, and eliminate our units. They know they can’t fight us, so they seek ways to incur a disadvantage on us.”
Sakusa nodded. “Exactly. They are perhaps an even trickier foe than Aoba…”
Kageyama sighed. “Why couldn’t we war with simple nations…?”
The door to Main Command opened with a hiss.
“Sir,” came a usual voice.
Kageyama blinked. “Let him through.”
Kunimi threw his sniper over his shoulder. “You’re not playing favourites for me, are you, Second Lord?”
Kageyama walked over. “What do you want?”
He offered a datapad.
Kageyama took it and hummed.
“My squad was sent out East to gather some intel.”
Kageyama only raised his voice to say, “Sakusa.”
Sakusa walked over.
Daichi, who had just arrived, also moved towards them.
Kageyama looked at Kunimi. “Can you confirm these?”
“Not entirely,” Kunimi replied cautiously, “But even if this is preliminary data… Kara is getting a lot of resources from the Black Market. They’re importing fossil fuels, hydro energy, electroids, atomia, nitrogen caliber crystals… and, of course, diamgen.”
Kageyama’s chest tightened.
“I don’t know what it’s all for,” Kunimi murmured, “But, Sir, the last time someone was hoarding supplies to this amount…”
“It was when Aoba lifted off the ground,” Kageyama whispered, “So, then, Kara will not sit idly as Aoba attempt to change the war again…” He glanced to Kunimi. “Anything else?”
“That’s all, Second Lord.”
Kunimi saluted. He paused, for half a second, before giving Kageyama a warm smile and a wink, before he turned around and left the room.
Kageyama fought back the urge to smile and focused on the others who had gathered around him.
Michimiya watched him go. “A friend?”
Sakusa interjected, “A childhood friend from his days in the academy.”
Kageyama squinted at him.
Sakusa murmured, “Spy network.”
“Well.” Kageyama looked back at the data. “Daichi. Can you and Tadashi analyse this as soon as possible? I want Sakusa and Michimiya briefed as soon as possible on your findings.”
“Understood.” Daichi took the datapad. “Yamaguchi asked me to meet him outside soon. I’ll do that now, and update him. Let me know if anything changes, Kageyama.”
Kageyama nodded. “Will do.”
Yamaguchi was nervously shaking. He got a quick text from Kuroo—a simple good luck. With way too many emojis. He sighed. The door to this small lounge opened, and it made him hitch his breath. It wasn’t surprising, of course, as the door was unlocked, but—
“I’m here,” he called out.
Daichi walked in, holding a datapad. “There you are.” He put the datapad down on the table and took a seat next to him. “We have some data to go over, and I…” He paused, eyes glancing over Yamaguchi’s form.
Yamaguchi was sure he looked like prey hiding from a predator right now. He tried to breathe calmly, but—
“What is it?”
Yamaguchi looked into Daichi’s eyes, seeing nothing but warm concern; and, yet. He looked away.
Daichi frowned for a moment, more of a pout really, and tilted his head. He looked away. “Is everything alright?” But, even as he spoke, the threads wove together, forming a soft tone, and understanding tone. “Are you… unhappy?”
“I…” Yamaguchi shut his eyes. “I can’t keep doing this.”
Daichi looked away. “Tadashi…”
“This,” Yamaguchi whispered, “This is something we shouldn’t have ever started…”
Daichi pursed his lips. “I… I see.”
“I enjoyed it,” Yamaguchi admitted, “Listen, I did. I really did. I know this whole thing was fucked up, and I know… like… I was supposed to be your student, and…”
“You,” Daichi interrupted, “You came on to me.”
“No that’s—” Daichi looked away. “That’s unfair… I shouldn’t… blame you. Did I…?” He shut his eyes. “Did I pressure you?” He opened his eyes, needing to see Yamaguchi’s face. “Did I… take advantage of you, because of my rank?”
“No!” Yamaguchi sighed. He put his head in his hands. “It’s just… It’s not right. It’s unprofessional… and that’s the least of my worries. I’m sorry. You’re right—I came on to you. I started this. I was desperate… I was hurt… and I knew I could have you if I wanted to. If anything… I probably took advantage of you…”
“Is it Kuroo?”
“Is that it?”
“Or is it because you saw Tsukishima again?” Daichi’s tongue danced like a serpent as he hissed, “You always followed him around like a puppy, anyway.”
Yamaguchi felt his chest crack. “Daichi.”
Yamaguchi turned to him, eyes wet. “You never loved me.”
Daichi stared, and his eyes softened as he looked away.
“You never loved me, and that’s fine. I knew it. I always knew it. You took me out to dinner… you bought me gifts… you made love to me… but you didn’t love me. We made all these rules, about how it wouldn’t influence our work… we—”
“Is it because we’re the same rank now?” Daichi’s eyes narrowed. “It’s not thrilling enough for you?”
“Daichi, don’t be mean.” Yamaguchi closed his eyes. “Look, I… It’s not that and you know it. I just… I can’t live like this anymore, running around people’s backs… with a man who’s engaged—”
“Engaged to a husk!” Daichi stood up. “A dead body! An electronic system that won’t even talk to me! I did everything for him! I did everything I could, and he—” Daichi’s eyes widened. He shut his mouth, breathing in sharply from his nose. He turned away, looking down.
Yamaguchi brought his knees up on his seat and hugged them. He pressed his face into his knees. “You… you’ve never worked it out… I know it hurts for me to cut this off, without warning… but I was just a distraction… I was just someone to cheat on him with, because he shut you out. In a way, he left you… and you wanted to find a way to leave him back.”
Daichi walked over to the window and breathed hard. He squished his eyes shut, hissing a breath in, before blowing it out in a huff. “He… he won’t speak to me…” Daichi attempted to breathe easily, but another huff left him. “I tried, Tadashi… I tried, and tried, and I have tried! But…” He turned back to face Yamaguchi. “Engaged? To who? Is that thing even Suga anymore? Do I even love him anymore?”
Yamaguchi looked up to face him. “You say his name when you have sex with me.”
Daichi’s face cracked, and he looked away. A wave of shame crashed upon him, and he sighed. “I…”
“You didn’t know?” Yamaguchi offered a pained smile. “I never minded it. I knew you were using me… like I was using you. And, honestly? I know it’s not right, but I don’t regret it…? It helped me get through it, you know? It let me hate Tsukki… it let me hold on to that hate when I had nothing else to hold on to. It got me through it, until I was ready to move on.”
Daichi stared at him.
Yamaguchi stood up carefully. “Daichi, I’m sorry—”
“No.” Daichi nodded. “This. This is for the best. We shouldn’t have ever done this in the first place. I’m…” He looked away. “I’m sorry… I said some… horrible things to you just now…”
“It’s okay.” Yamaguchi smiled. “You’re angry, but I know you’re not angry with me… you’re just angry with how the world is… how it’s taking one more comfort away from you. Right?”
“Yeah.” Daichi sighed. “I don’t regret what we’ve done?” He frowned. “I… maybe that’s a horrible thing to say, given Koushi, but…”
“Talk to Koushi about it,” Yamaguchi said firmly. “As soon as he wakes up… promise me.”
Daichi looked at him. “I will.”
“Good.” Yamaguchi closed his eyes. “Thank you… for everything.”
Daichi walked over. For the last time—and they knew it was the last—Daichi kissed him once on the forehead, and once on the cheek. “Coworkers, from now on.”
“Coworkers,” Yamaguchi said, “And friends…”
Daichi blinked. “And friends.” He nodded.
Yamaguchi let a tear fall as he nodded as well.
And Yamaguchi was left alone. He sat on the couch chair of the lounge and pulled out his phone.
A quick text to Kuroo. Two words: It’s done.
His phone rang.
Yamaguchi jumped, but answered it. “Kuroo?”
“Not really,” Yamaguchi’s voice quivered. He stared at the datapad Daichi had left on the table. “I think I’ve got a lot of work to do this afternoon. I feel like a mess.”
“Want me to get you ice cream, babe?”
“Holy shit, fuck yes.”
Kuroo laughed over the phone.
Yamaguchi blinked. “What?”
“Nah, nothing. It’s just nice to hear you swear. I’ll go get you some ice cream… then I’ll put a meeting or something in your calendar with me so everyone leaves you alone for a bit. Sound good?”
“Yeah.” Yamaguchi smiled wide. “Yeah, it does.”
Kageyama moved with a certain amount of finesse that seemed to mesmerise everyone else. He didn’t really understand why, though. He just moved quickly with a knife, leading with his finger, as he chopped the onions. He moved them to a bowl before grabbing the potatoes. They had already been scrubbed, so he diced them with ease. He moved the potatoes to another small bowl, but he filled this one with water. A little water to start working down the starch.
The rice was his favourite part. He swished it in a bowl with three fingers, moving clockwise for a second, counter-clockwise for half a second, then clockwise for a second. Clockwork. He poured out the whitish-water and rinsed it again, pouring out the less-whitish-water again, and again.
As he worked, he felt someone lean on him from behind.
Kageyama only made a small, “Hm?”
“It’s not every day, you know,” Kunimi’s teasing voice spilled over him, “That we get the Second Lord himself to cook for us, ne?”
Kageyama huffed. “No ranks in the home.”
Kunimi just chuckled, as he got off.
Kageyama continued, and began simmering the onions with the celery and carrots. He added a pinch of salt to help them sweat and stirred. A couple spices were also mixed in, as well as chopped ginger and garlic, creating the base.
“Yo,” Kindaichi hummed. “It’s starting to smell pretty damn good!”
“Leave him be,” Kunimi murmured as he swung an arm around Kindaichi’s waist.
Kindaichi went bright red.
Kageyama could see them through the reflection on the fridge, and he smiled. “Go set up the table.”
“Fine, fine.” Kunimi pretended to yawn, as his arm slowly slipped away from Kindaichi. “Ordering us around, huh?”
Kageyama continued to work. The rice was on high, then set to a simmer; and, finally, it was left to steam to get the perfect texture. The curry on the other hand began to develop as well—he added the potatoes and simmered for a few minutes, letting the whole house smell like a rich, deep flavour. He finally added the finishing touch, coconut milk, and mixed it in, making it creamy and giving it body.
Auntie walked over and inspected the curry. “Want a little trick?”
Kageyama looked at her cautiously.
“I always added a bit of orange juice to my curries.”
“You—” Kageyama huffed. “You and your citrus…”
“What? Just try adding a bit of zest. I’m serious.”
“Just a bit,” Kageyama repeated.
After a while, Kageyama could let both pots rest with the lid on, turning off the burners beneath.
The doorbell rang.
Auntie smiled. “Must be our guest.” She walked over the front door.
Kageyama quickly washed his hands and went to join them.
Auntie’s eyes were sharp. “Keishin.”
Ukai met her glare with his own. “Auntie.”
Kageyama blinked – so he used the nickname too?
Auntie cracked a smile.
They embraced quickly, patting each other roughly.
“You know.” Auntie pulled away. “You look good for your age.”
“Ah shut it.” Ukai grinned. He moved to the side. “This is my husband, Ittetsu Takeda.”
“H-Hello!” Ittetsu offered a bottle of red wine. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
She took the bottle and smiled. “You shouldn’t have, thank you. Come on in.” She stepped away from the entrance. “I’m sure you know everyone else.”
Ukai let out a loud, “Kindaichi!”
Kindaichi gave him a high-ten and smiled. “Hey!”
Ittetsu on the other hand glanced to Kunimi. “How are you doing, Akira?”
Kunimi pulled him into a big hug, getting a loud meep, and laughed. “I’ve been… doing well, actually. Thank you. How have you been?”
Auntie glanced over to Kageyama. “Your friends get along well with your family, it seems.”
“Y-Yeah.” Kageyama watched them interact, as Ukai pulled Kunimi into a big bear hug, and Kunimi pretended not to like it. Kindaichi, on the other hand, gave a much more muted response to Ittetsu, who seemed to appreciate it nervously. “I… never had a lot of friends growing up, so… my parents know these two really well.”
Auntie smiled. “I see.” She glanced around. “Where’s Natsu?” She looked pensive for a moment, and glanced to Kageyama. “Would you mind getting her?”
“Sure.” Kageyama looked over to the kitchen. “Dinner’s ready to be served. I’ll grab Natsu.” He ducked away from the party and walked up the stairs again.
Up the stairs again.
Kageyama’s thumb graced the necklace with the plating of the original Mark I, and he glanced at Hinata’s room. He wanted to go in there, but he shook his head out of it. He went to the room where Natsu’s name was written. He knocked. “Natsu?”
A quiet, “Kageyama…?”
Kageyama’s chest tightened. “Can… Can I come in?”
Kageyama swallowed hard before he opened the door. He closed it behind him, shutting out the loud conversations from below. He instead focused on Natsu, who was in bed, sheets drawn up over her. His chest squeezed on itself as he walked over. He didn’t know what to say. He sat on the edge of the bed and looked down, away from her. “We’re going to have dinner soon… and want you to come down… My parents are here, so…”
Natsu didn’t move.
Kageyama breathed carefully. What would Shouyou do? Ask what was wrong? All of his words danced in his belly and got stuck in his throat. He opened his mouth, but nothing came. Well… if he couldn’t do that, then he would just—Yeah—Kageyama would just. Be. Here. Until Natsu was ready. He glanced over to her, and waited.
Soon enough, Natsu peeked out of the covers. “They… won’t like me.”
Kageyama’s eyes softened. “Why… do you think that?”
“People often don’t like me…” She looked away, at the wall, and pulled the covers up to her next. “Always.”
Kageyama breathed carefully. “What do you mean?”
“They won’t like me… Your parents just won’t like me… At school, they kick my bag… they pull my hair… they say my brother’s a traitor… he’s the Highmaster of Kara…”
Kageyama’s eyes moved to the floor again.
“I’m not likeable…”
Kageyama closed his eyes.
“It’s better… if I don’t go… You’ll have more fun… if… I don’t go…”
“Natsu,” Kageyama whispered. He took a cautious breath. “Come here.”
He half expected her not to; but—instantly—she bolted to his side, and pressed her face into his side.
Kageyama scooped her up in a hug, for the first time realising just how small she was as she cuddled into his chest. He closed his eyes and bit his lip. “Natsu… listen.” He thought back to his own school days. “It’s… easy, to think people won’t like you, but you won’t know until you try. The thing is, everybody’s different. Everyone will see you differently. Sometimes people see you as weird, other times special, and sometimes someone will look at you in a way you never thought someone could see you.”
“It’s hard to take a chance, but you are likeable, Natsu.”
Natsu peeked up at him.
“You’re fun, and you make everyone smile.”
Even if you’re not smiling on the inside. Just like him. Just like Shouyou was—
Natsu whispered, “Are you sure…?”
Kageyama thought back to all the times people told him that he, himself, was likeable. How empty the words sounded. Kageyama shut his eyes, trying to remember what worked. What was it that—
“Kindaichi likes you,” he pointed out.
Natsu blinked, thought about it, then nodded.
“Kunimi likes you.”
Natsu gave a small smile, and nodded.
“I like you.”
Natsu blinked. “You… do?”
“I—” Kageyama stared. “Of course I do… Why…?”
“You’re not just… taking care of me… because I’m Shouyou’s sister…?
“Of course I like you.” Kageyama frowned. “I wouldn’t marry Shouyou if he had a dumb sister I didn’t like.”
“I’m… gonna be your sister in law, one day!”
“Can I be the flower girl at your wedding?”
“You’ll be the maid of honour.”
“On Shouyou’s side, or for you?”
“For me,” Kageyama promised.
Natsu grinned wide. “What if Shouyou wants me to be his maid of honour?”
“Too bad.” Kageyama frowned. “I said it first.”
Natsu laughed, and nodded.
“Now…” Kageyama pulled away. “Let’s go down, okay?”
Later that evening, after dinner, Natsu was wanting to know everything about Kageyama’s childhood from Ukai. That was, until Ukai mentioned martial arts, and Natsu demanded she get lessons. Kindaichi got caught up in planning to take her to and from the slums safely, so Auntie wouldn’t worry. Meanwhile, Ittetsu and Kunimi got caught up in some other conversation.
Kageyama watched it all.
He watched it all, under the warm lights, and he heard all of them laugh, watched them all smile.
He wanted to cry.
Kageyama’s eyes widened, and the world pulled away from his feet. His bracelet gave off a small hum. Suga!?
Mmm… the voice sounded distant but yet, What’s wrong, Kageyama? I felt… your sadness… but when I looked… it seems like a happy moment to me, no?
It’s. Kageyama swallowed hard and looked away. It’s you… and Shouyou…
Me and Shouyou…?
Everyone’s here… but you two aren’t. You’re missing… and I just… Kageyama closed his eyes. I wish you two were here. That’s what I was thinking…
My mind was no longer what it used to be. And, honestly, how could it be? If you took out a hard drive of a computer, smashed it against pavement, and put it back in… how could you honestly expect it to run the way it before?
My processes all seemed to shatter, and mix up. The gears in my mind no longer spun, but now punched, cracked, and crinkled against each other.
Still, I was around. A little bit. After all, I… could never really be turned off.
I guess Daichi was right. I was just a machine, a husk… but I came out of my sleep for a short moment, only a few hours. I thanked Kageyama, for what he said to Natsu, for being there for her when neither myself nor Shouyou could. Kageyama… he deserved more. He deserved everything. Kageyama was hurting inside, too, but he never let it show.
Kageyama, the Second Lord.
Professionalism forced him to hold an aura, and a distance.
Kageyama, the person, the human…
In a way, Kageyama was many people. But we all are, to an extent. It’s how we all live. Some people call themselves a brother, or a father, but in different settings they are the son. We humans are built to have multiple identities inside us… the problem arises when there is a divide that can no longer be reconciled.
Kageyama, the peace-loving human… and Kageyama, the prime wheel of the war machine.
I remember, much earlier, Kageyama recognised it in Hinata. That… discrepancy. Hinata the Human, and Hinata the Commander… Kageyama was smart, as he always has been (in his own way). He saw himself falling down the same rabbit hole, just as Hinata did. He saw himself building a family around him, his anchor amidst the war, just as Hinata did. He thought over the memories of those pictures, of the Tsukishimas, of the Tanakas, of myself, and Daichi, and Noya and others… how Hinata built a childhood around them.
That family shattered, and it broke Hinata.
Kageyama wondered if his own family would shatter.
Would he, someday, have to hold a gun to Kunimi’s head?
Would he have to aim at Kindaichi? Auntie? His parents?
The world was a fickle place, and Kageyama knew it. It was a fickle place, full of beautiful things, and how easily broken they all were…
But my mind, it was numb, it was weak… but I wanted to be there, for Kageyama, for… my brother.
Well, I wanted to anyway.
Kageyama walked quietly down the streets, to his own place. Under streetlights and light rain, his footsteps were quiet. His thoughts were quieter. Suga…?
It was quiet in his mind.
Well, kind of.
There was a constant fading in and fading out, but it was weak. It was weaker each time, and Kageyama couldn’t tell when their conversation would soon end. There was so much he wanted to tell Suga, and yet Suga could barely hold a conversation.
Kageyama stepped into the lobby of his condominium. He entered the elevator and hit the button to the top floor. Soon enough, he entered his home.
Suga? He tried again. Are you there?
Yeah. I’m here.
Kageyama’s chest relaxed. He sat down, in the dark room, on one of the chairs at his dining room table. He could feel Sugawara’s wavelength in his mind, like a long lost friend’s gentle embrace, and he focused on it. His brother. The thought itself was powerful enough to send the world back, and yet it made him smile.
A knock at his door.
Kageyama grabbed his gun.
Nobody should have access to the top floor, unless—
Kageyama moved to the door and aimed. “Who is it?”
A muffled voice replied, “It’s m-me. Daichi.”
Kageyama put the gun down.
He opened the door.
Daichi entered and looked down. “Kageyama, I—” He glanced to the gun in Kageyama’s hand. He looked up.
Kageyama glanced at it as well. He turned to Daichi.
Daichi looked at him.
He looked at Daichi.
“Did.” Daichi sighed. “Did I spook you or something?”
“It’s quite late,” Kageyama pointed out. “And nobody, except sovereignty, should even be allowed to access my floor… so…”
“Ah.” Daichi looked away. “Sorry… what. What time is it?”
“I… see. I didn’t…” Daichi sighed again. He rubbed a hand over his face. “I didn’t realise. I’m sorry, Kageyama.”
“It’s fine.” Kageyama frowned as he looked him over. Daichi was ragged. Kageyama turned to his kitchen. “Can I get you a glass of water?”
“I want answers.” Daichi looked up at him. “I need answers.”
“Tell me!” Daichi stepped in and shoved the door closed behind him. Without the hallway light, the entrance sunk into darkness. “Tell me… why does he go quiet around me?”
“Ah…” Kageyama blinked as he stared at Daichi.
Daichi only glared.
Kageyama looked away for a moment.
“Why?” Daichi stepped forward. “Why!? Why!?” He raised his hands slightly, as if he was going to shove Kageyama, but pulled away. “You’re in his brain aren’t you?—You could know, couldn’t you?”
I love you.
Kageyama’s eyes widened. He breathed. “I love you.”
Daichi’s eyes also widened, and he took a step back.
“That’s. From him. Not. Me.”
“I—” Daichi huffed. “I know that, I just—he? He’s… online?”
“Suga!” Daichi grabbed Kageyama’s arms. “Are you… in there, Koushi?”
Daichi blinked as Kageyama repeated it.
“He’s…” Kageyama looked away. “He’s very weak right now. Now isn’t the right time to—”
“I need to know!”
Kageyama frowned. “What—?”
Daichi began, “I need to—”
Kageyama ignored him.
This needs to happen now.
If it doesn’t happen now, it won’t ever happen, Kageyama!
“Are you?” Daichi’s grip loosened slightly. “Are you talking to him now?”
“Yes.” Kageyama bit his lip. “I’ll… convey what he wants to say to you. Just… talk to him, directly.”
“Koushi…” Daichi pressed his forehead against Kageyama’s. “Can you…” He took a deep, steady breath. “Can you feel me? Are you in there?”
Daichi hitched his breath for a second. “Why…?” He squeezed his eyes shut. “Why won’t you fucking talk to me…? Do you have any idea how much it’s hurting me? Destroying me…? To see you, every day, talk with everyone else, but you can’t with me…? Was it me…? Was it something I did?—You’re dying, Koushi, and I—And you never told me! All this time! All this time, I could have been with you, talking with you, being with you… but the clock’s running out, and it’s fading, and, I, and… I… There’s so many things I want to say to you. I love you, Koushi.”
The floor was ripped from Kageyama’s feet. An tsunami-like presence washed over him, pulled him deep into the ocean of Sugawara, and he let Sugawara move his mouth as he whispered, “I love you too, Daichi…”
“And I hate you.” Daichi’s grip tightened. “I hate you for what you did to me. You were the love of my life, my best friend, my confidant… I… I’m not like you. I was never like you. I had no one—I have no family… You. You opened your world to me, and then you left me. You tore yourself away from me, and you… you went to a place I couldn’t go, couldn’t follow you, couldn’t bring you back… You broke me.”
The rain and storm twisted in the ocean, thunder booming faraway, but the light cracking the scene in brilliant heat.
“I’m sorry…” Daichi whispered, voice wet as his grip was shaking. “I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’m sorry… I’ve been… for years, I’ve been running away. Running around, fooling around with people… I’m always craving it, your touch, your morning kisses, the way you’d melt into me.”
Sugawara, somewhere, his presence wanted to scream into the night and rain.
“The way we laid together, late at night, staying up, talking about nothing, even though we both had to wake up early for a mission the next day…”
“What?” Daichi’s voice choked, and his next sentence died as he swallowed it down.
“What can you possibly say to me now, Koushi?”
“You’re sorry? That’s—”
“I miss it,” his voice gentle, a calm wave over Daichi’s flames, “I miss it too, more than I could ever explain… but it’s… it’s not something I can have… It’s not something I can experience, being the way I am now… It… it hurts to even think about it… The more I could pretend I was just some artificial intelligence, the easier life was… The more I played the game, played along, played my part in this war machine… the easier the years became… I’m not human anymore, Daichi, and I can’t. I can’t face it! I can’t… I just, I can’t… I miss you, I love you, I—”
“Koushi—” Daichi pulled him close.
Another voice, “Sawamura.”
Daichi’s eyes snapped open. He looked up.
Tobio Kageyama Takeda.
Daichi stared, but before his shame could register—
“I will,” Kageyama whispered carefully, “Give full control of my body to Sugawara now.”
Daichi blinked. “What do you mean?”
Kageyama’s posture shifted, shoulders softening, head down, almost shy?
Daichi almost took a step back, but instead whispered, “Koushi…?”
Daichi’s eyes widened. He felt Kageyama’s arms around his neck, but—the softness to it… the way those arms hung limp, hung loose, almost as if to tease… That grip, that way of holding, undeniably it was—“K-Koushi?”
Sugawara pressed their foreheads together. His throat trembled as he whispered, “Daichi.”
Daichi’s eyes widened, flooding with tears as he pulled Sugawara close. “I’m.” He shoved his head into Sugawara’s neck. The height was wrong, but the touch, the warmth. “Koushi… I can’t handle this anymore… I can’t take this. I’m not enough. I’m not strong enough, I…”
“I’m here…” Sugawara kissed Daichi’s cheek. “I’m here, okay?”
“I don’t know how long.” Sugawara’s knees shook. “I don’t know, Daichi, I don’t… but tonight… I’m here.”
Daichi kept his eyes closed in the dark, and pressed their lips together. The way Suga kissed—like a gentle flame, a teasing storm—Daichi’s tears fell as he pulled Suga closer.
Sugawara pushed his tongue between their lips, and then shook once, making a noise and pulling away.
“Wh—” Daichi looked at him. “What’s wrong?”
“I haven’t…” Sugawara wiped tears away with his wrists. “I—” He breathed. “I haven’t had any physical contact in so long, i-it’s a-almost—”
“Shh.” Daichi held him close. “I’m here.”
“It’s—” Suga’s breathing twisted to heaved, pained breaths. “It’s a nightmare! Every day is a nightmare, Daichi! I can’t—I don’t want to be a machine anymore! I can’t! I don’t want to go back there! I miss this! I want this! I want to be free, I—”
Daichi kissed his jaw. “I’m here.”
Sugawara’s words strangled in his throat and he pushed his lips against Daichi’s. “Tonight,” he said with a hint of heat. His fingers ran through Daichi’s hair, like coming home after a painful vacation. “Give me tonight, please… I… I don’t know when I’ll be able to do this again, if I’ll be able to do this again—”
“Koushi.” Daichi kissed him roughly. “Are you sure?”
“Please,” Suga whispered, “Please, Daichi… I miss you, I love you, I want you… I’ve thought so many thoughts about you, I just want to be with you right now—”
“I…” Daichi swallowed hard. “I… You were, but I…”
“What? Your affairs? The people you were with?” Suga huffed. “I knew all about it, Daichi! I don’t care about that!”
“Daichi!” Suga kissed him and pushed him against a wall. “I pushed you away, and I pushed you away… What’s wrong with getting comfort where you can find it?”
Daichi’s body relaxed for a moment, and he looked away. “Where did we go so wrong, Koushi…?”
“We didn’t.” Sugawara pressed their foreheads together. “We didn’t go wrong… This world asked more and more from us, and we gave everything we had… we did everything right…”
“Sometimes, Daichi—you do everything right in life, and everything still fucks up!” Sugawara grabbed his arms by the biceps, squeezing. “I love you, I love Shira, and I don’t… I don’t regret the choice I made! It’s a nightmare, but it’s my way to fight! It’s my way to bring about a world that I want… but I—”
Daichi looked at him.
“When this war is over, and we’re both free…” Sugawara looked up. “I want you there, by my side…”
Daichi’s eyes softened. “You’re dying, Koushi…”
“I am.” Sugawara’s vision blurred. “I—”
“War,” Daichi whispered, “Sometimes it feels like we’re only fighting, to keep the war machine spinning…”
“Forget that.” Sugawara kissed him. “Forget all of that.” He pulled Daichi away from the wall, and slowly led him to the bedroom—as it was, years ago, in the Second Lord’s apartment. “Come.” He pulled Daichi on the bed, and then—
Sugawara flipped him and threw him down on the bed, landing on his back.
Sugawara climbed on top of him, straddling him. He cupped Daichi’s face in his own, running his fingertips over that face as he had done a thousand times, admiring every cell. “I need this… please…”
Daichi pulled Sugawara’s head down and brought their lips together. “I chased… I chased after others, chased after anyone I could… trying desperately to find something to replace you… I’m sorry.”
“I never blamed you,” Sugawara whispered against his lips. “I was cold, cold and mechanical, and I shut you out—”
“I never once stopped loving you, Koushi.”
“I know.” Sugawara gave him a gentle kiss. “We agreed to spend the rest of our lives together, you know?” Tears fell from his eyes down onto Daichi’s face, and he laughed. “Forever and ever… I love you, Daichi.”
The unmutable notification from his phone stirred Kageyama out of sleep. His mind had been shut out, as he consented to let Sugawara do whatever he wanted with his body. He woke up sore, mentally cursing Sugawara and Daichi for the hickeys that were no doubt littering his body. He hoped none of them were visible.
His phone beeped again.
He glared in the darkness.
Three in the morning, Kageyama guessed. His internal clock has been trained by the Mark III. Daichi was gone. He grabbed his phone and flipped it open. Why the hell was it making noise any—
Kageyama had to blink a few times before he could read the message, though it was short. He grunted and pulled himself out of bed. If Ushijima wanted to meet him now, then he would get what he wants. Kageyama grabbed his clothes off the floor, rolling his eyes at how carelessly they were thrown.
At least someone had fun…
Though, if he had to be honest, it was only fair after everything between Hinata and Kageyama. Ugh. He squished his eyes shut. He didn’t want to think about that, his older brother technically being there in spirit when they did what they did.
Whatever, it is what it is. It’s fucked. He winced in pain. Like I was, apparently.
His phone beeped again.
Ushijima was requesting him.
Kageyama pushed all other thoughts away.
Ushijima was very much against the idea of disturbing officers during their sleep, unless it was absolutely necessary.
Kageyama’s chest tightened.
He knew what this meant—
Another beat, another twist.
“Something,” Kageyama whispered, “Something in the war’s just escalated…”
Ushijima stood, alone, in Main Command. The large windows at the front, which usually gave view to the kingdom of Shira, instead became a monitor and screen for the starry sky. Holograms formed shapes of stars and nebulas, galaxies and the universe.
Ushijima stood, alone.
His royal guards, Tendou and Semi, were sent away despite their protest. Shirabu was most likely still awake, waiting for him. Despite Shirabu’s annoyance with the unfulfilling life the Ushijima Bloodline had given him, he was forever loyal when he sensed something was wrong. Ushijima had no doubt a warm cup of herbal tea would be waiting for him as soon as he got home.
Ushijima stared at the constellations. “Nekomata…” He closed his eyes. “You fool…”
The holograms hummed as they moved slowly in their orbits.
“This…? This is what you were planning?” Ushijima shut his eyes. “This is what you did… to your own people?”
“Is it so different than yourself, First Lord?”
Ushijima’s eyes widened, and his body tensed. That voice. He turned—
A spectral shape, in blue hues, took shape of a humanoid that was walking towards him.
No. Ushijima’s eyes glanced to the floor. The humanoid was making the motions of walking, but it did not touch the floor. It merely hovered. He looked up. “Sugawara.”
“Hm.” Sugawara’s eyes had a distant look, as if he was reviewing files as he approached Ushijima. “I believe Aoba has some form of… device, that allows a holographic form of me to wander of my own volition. It seems in my transference, I have gained the coding to create this form here.”
Ushijima stiffened. “Creating a hologram of such level…”
“Nekomata’s tablet,” Sugawara murmured. “It seems Aoba knows a lot more about it than we expected, and it’s unsurprising considering their recent move on the Fuku Council in an attempt to steal it. It’s interesting… the ability for a hologram to hold form, mass, by electron bonds between atoms… It sounds like something out of a fairy tale.” His eyes closed. “Just like the Mark III. Just like me…”
Ushijima took a cautious breath. “Did you… recently awaken?”
“I had some personal matters to take care of,” Sugawara admitted. “I thought if I took care of that, I would be free to work hard for Shira… but it seems I might’ve, um, used too much energy in taking care of those personal tasks.”
“You… will not last?”
“My body is recovering,” Sugawara admitted, “But my consciousness is fading fast… I will die, Your Majesty.”
Ushijima looked away. “Koushi, I…”
“I knew hooking up to this thing was a death wish…” He looked away as well. “Still, back then, I believed… but it’s funny, I can’t seem to remember what it was that I believed in.”
Ushijima nervously rubbed his wrist. “Is there a way we can—”
“No. I’m afraid Kageyama is too powerful for me. When we first connected, I was constantly overtaking him by accident. I forced him to see my memories, my dreams, visions of my past… My consciousness was always dominant always his, but now… now it’s clear that Kageyama is overtaking me. The Mark III System is degenerating. There is no way to fix this, except…”
“Except.” Ushijima’s eyes drifted over to the exact point of the star charts he was looking at before.
“This is it, then?” Suga drifted closer, seeing a pillar that hung in outer space. “This is the super weapon, Kenma?”
“Nekomata hid it the only place he could hide something of this size,” Ushijima whispered, “There.”
“What exactly is the scale of this?”
Ushijima walked over to one of the tablets and tapped.
A single dot formed next to the pillar, barely visible.
“That is the size of an average male human.”
“I…” Sugawara’s eyes widened. “This is taller than any building on this planet… Where could you even hide something this big?” His eyes shifted to the stars all around him. “Of course…” He turned and looked around at the galaxies. “Outer space.”
“Metropolis disappeared at the height of a conflict between Shira and themselves… It was hundreds of years ago, and not much is known. The main reason for this is…” Sugawara nodded to himself. “Metropolis launched a costly effort to destroy all of Shira’s satellites. While this ruined our communications, and was a formidable strategy, Shira was able to press the attack because of just how many resources Metropolis spent on the satellite attack…”
“Or at least,” Ushijima murmured, “That is what the victors of history wrote.”
Sugawara looked at him. “Then Nekomata created a cloud for us to never see his intentions; and, until now, hundreds of years later… until now, we still haven’t uncovered the truth.”
Ushijima hummed. “Even now, Sugawara, there is very little we know. However… where there are Metropolan facilities, there is diamgen.”
“Diamgen,” Sugawara repeated, “And Metropolitan data…”
Ushijima took a cautious breath. “I…”
“You don’t want to get my hopes up,” Sugawara didn’t look at him as he hit the nail on the head, “But you think there is a way to save the Mark III system up on this… tower? Spire…?”
Ushijima said nothing.
Sugawara turned to him, and opened his mouth, but his form wavered. He looked at his hands, flickering, and took a cautious breath. “Looks like my time’s up…”
Ushijima’s brows furrowed, and his lips quivered. “Koushi, I—”
“Everything we do is for Shira,” Sugawara said softly, “Even this.”
“Yes…” Ushijima looked away. “I’m afraid the next time you sleep, you might not wake up.”
“I have no regrets, First Lord.”
Ushijima watched as the blue particles dispersed, no longer being able to hold mass or form. Ushijima walked over to where the sparkling blue dust was, and his eyes fell on the Metropolan structure hanging in the air. “So this is it, then…” Ushijima’s eyes narrowed as he reached out for the pillar. “Aoba’s final gamble… whoever wins the spire, wins the war.”
The door opened with a hiss behind him.
Ushijima did not react.
“You called me, First Lord?”
“Yes.” Ushijima turned his body and looked back to the entrance of Main Command. “I have your next mission, Kageyama.”