Actions

Work Header

This Is Love (I've Never Loved So Much)

Chapter Text

“Do they know about all this?” Furihata blurts out as Yumeko finishes explaining things. Yumeko blink slowly at him. “The Miracles, I mean. Have you told Murasakibara, at least?”

“Ehh, why would I? Atchin isn't interested in things like this.”

“But they could be in danger!” Furihata says, getting to his feet.

“They were fine, until Akachin started stirring things up,” Yumeko says, closing her laptop and looking bored with the conversation.

“Yes, that's concerning too,” Furihata says. He thinks this new context about what Masaomi is doing with the Legacy explains a bit about why Akashi was so adamant that Furihata never meet his father. And while he's once again irritated (and distressed and sick and anxious) that Akashi hadn't explained things, he still feels that he has to talk to Akashi right away, in case the Miracles don't know about their connection to the Legacy lines.

“I have to go,” he announces. “Thank you, Yumeko-san.”

“It's probably dangerous for you to be alone,” she drawls, but she doesn't make any move to stop him.

“That doesn't matter. I need to talk to Akashi.” And really talk about things, because dear God, what had he been thinking? He didn't want to break up! But they definitely needed to have a conversation.

Furihata moves to the exit and opens Yumeko’s door—

—only to see a very startled Akashi with his fist raised to knock.

“Furihata,” Akashi says.

“Akashi,” Furihata says, and then he feels a bit awkward at his own response. He wasn't expecting to have this conversation so soon. “What are you doing here? How’d you even find me?” He blurts out, even though that's the very last thing he should be concerned with right now.

“I—I had help from my father,” Akashi says, more stiff and awkward than Furihata  remembers ever seeing him before.

“Your father!” Furihata exclaims.

“Oi,” Yumeko mutters from her couch. “You're in my doorway.”

“He said you were probably with Yumeko-san, as she was the only one who could be blocking his attempts to track your phone. Furihata, I—I'm here to win you back.”

“Guh, get out of my doorway,” Yumeko says, as Furihata stands there, stunned.

“But—I—” Furihata starts.

“I should have told you all the relevant information from the start. I understand it was wrong of me to keep that from you. I have only ever wanted to keep you safe and happy, but you had the right to know what you were getting into, when we started dating. I—I'm sorry.”

Furihata is still stunned speechless. He's not sure if Akashi has ever apologized before—not like this, where he's admitting that he was wrong.

“It was wrong of me to use Absolute Order on you, too, even if it didn't—even with you being who you are. I will not force you against your wishes. If you no longer wish to be with me—”

“No!” Furihata exclaims, suddenly terrified decisions will be made for him. “I don't want that. I don't want to break up.”

“You don't?” Akashi says, sounding relieved and hopeful.

“No, of course not. It's just—it hurt, a lot, that you didn't tell me about all the things you've been through. Or about the Legacy. I just—want you to know that you can trust me.”

“I do trust you. Furi, you're one of the few people on this Earth I actually trust. I understand that my reasons for keeping you in the dark were faulty, but it was never because I did not trust you. I—” Akashi swallows and looks at Furihata straight on. “I love you, Furi. I promise I will do better to convey my feelings, if you give me the chance.”

It's the first time Akashi has ever said that. The first time this Akashi has said that, at any rate. Seijuurou has said it many times.

“It wasn't all your fault,” Furihata says, flushing. “If I wasn't so insecure all the time, we probably would’ve had this conversation a lot sooner, so I'm sorry too.”

“Insecure,” Akashi repeats.

“You know,” Furihata says, a tad helplessly. It's embarrassing to say it out loud, but in an effort to communicate better, he says, “You're so out of my league it’s crazy. You're good at everything and sometimes I have no idea what you even see in me. I’ve been half-expecting you to break up with me for these past few months, so I guess I just thought this is what you wanted.”

“I see,” Akashi says. He clears his throat. “I must apologize again, Furihata. Your insecurities are also my fault. I have obviously not done a good job in loving you.”

“What? No, that's—that's just me,” Furihata says, smiling weakly. “I told you, I'm just no good—”

“You are the most amazing person I have ever met,” Akashi interrupts. “I am grateful, every day, for your love. If you don't realize this, that means I have failed to convey it to you.”

“Oh,” Furihata says, but he has no words. Then he doesn't need words, because he's in Akashi’s arms and they're kissing, and everything feels perfect and wonderful.

“I was scared to lose you,” Akashi says between kisses, “I hate being scared of anything, but I could not bear it if I lost you. I don't ever want to go back to the life I had before you were in it.”

“I'm sorry,” Furihata says, over and over again, because he's sorry he ever said the words we should break up, and he's sorry that he didn't have the courage to stick around and let Akashi explain things, and he’s sorry he didn't trust that Akashi loved him.

“We will be better at this,” Akashi says, when they break apart.

“We're going to be great at this,” Furihata reaffirms, feeling breathless.

“Geh, teenagers,” Yumeko says, and she throws a pillow that lands nowhere near close to hitting them. “Get out of my doorway.”

Furihata startles, realizing where they are after somehow forgetting everything but Akashi. Akashi also looks confused, like he has no idea what they're even doing here.

“Akashi,” Furihata says urgently, suddenly remembering what he needed to say to the Miracle, “about your father and the Legacy—”

“Forget him,” Akashi says. “And forget the Legacy. I've decided to just let them destroy each other.”

“Oh. Well, OK. But do you know about the Legacy’s connection to Teiko?”

Akashi looks at him sharply. “What connection to Teiko?”

*

Masaomi pulls up to the assisted living facility and squashes down all uncomfortable feelings. All things considered, he's been inherently distrustful of the elderly ever since his grandfather tried to kill him. But besides that, he’s always figured that anyone who's been alive that long is a crafty bastard you can't trust.

Considering who he's here to see, he’s probably not wrong.

With a smile and a bribe he gets directed to the right room with little fuss. He enters the room and looks around—mostly to take in any potential threats, before concentrating on the old man.

“I find it abominably creepy that you have that picture on your wall,” Masaomi remarks, gesturing to a framed copy of the Pulitzer photo of Youji finding the Miracles. “But not as creepy as the photo you have on your bed stand. How did you even get a copy?”

“Hello, Akashi-kun,” the old man says pleasantly. “Will you take a seat? A relative of mine was able to procure a copy and he thought I would like to have it. Please stop looming.”

“I like looming. By ‘relative,’ I'm assuming you mean your cousin, AKA my son's basketball coach?”

“My, my, you do know lots of things. Honestly, I expected you much sooner, Akashi-kun,” Shirogane Kouzou says.

“You're a hard man to track down,” Masaomi allows. He looks at the creator of Teiko and wonders if there's any point in destroying this man. “I'm sorry, I don't mean to harp on this, but we really need to talk about the inherent creepiness of these photos. Do you think of them as yours?”

Masaomi has seen the photo at the man's bed stand before. It's in a personal photo collection of Seijuurou's—a group photo of all the Miracles in casual clothes. Seijuurou explained that it was taken during Kuroko's birthday party, and that Momoi had sent everyone copies. The explanation implied it was the first group photo they had taken with each other since they left the JSDF base. It was probably the only group photo they had of each other where they all more or less look happy.

Shirogane smiles, looking for all the world like a harmless old man. “Is it really so hard to fathom that should I care about those children?”

“Considering what happened to those children?” Masaomi raises his eyebrow. “Yes, rather.”

Shirogane just smiles a sad sort of smile that Masaomi honestly can't stand. He feels that some people don't have the right to the sad old man persona, and people who create human experimentation facilities that routinely tortured children fall into that category.

“I will not try to argue my innocence, Akashi-kun. I know what blood is on my hands. But I had a very different picture for what Teiko could be. What I wanted it to be. Unfortunately, I had to work with human partners, and human corporations, and they had very different ideas. Suddenly success became the most important factor, and it no longer mattered what was done to achieve that.”

“You wanted a much more benign human experimentation facility,” Masaomi says dryly. “The kind where the lab grown children are raised with hugs and kisses.”

“I told you, I am not seeking absolution. I'm only trying to explain that what Teiko became was not what I wanted.”

“What did you want?” Masaomi asks. Since that is, more or less, one of the things he came here to find out. “As I understand it, you were a bit of a Legacy rebel. Founding a genetics facility made you rather unpopular with the Legacy crowd.”

“Yes, and it's fascinating that you know that,” Shirogane remarks. “Although I can't say that I'm surprised. The Legacy has a very ancient tradition of superiority, but there are honestly not that many of us left. Less, as time goes on, and intermarrying with humans has become a genetic necessity. Fewer and fewer of our children survive the transition into their powers at fifteen. We're a dying race.”

Masaomi literally has to bite his tongue to keep himself from saying something particularly scathing. Rudeness will not get him the answers he's looking for. “So you thought you'd skip the ‘breeding’ part of the breeding cult and grow kids in labs. Makes sense. And humans got involved, and changed your—entirely benevolent reasons for creating Übermensch, I'm sure—to more malevolent reasons, and then they kicked you to the curb. Am I right?”

“I had a heart attack and had to retire for health reasons, but yes, that is more or less accurate,” Shirogane says. “They were my children. All the Teiko children were my children. They were my hope for the future. I hated seeing what was done to them, and I rejoiced when I heard some escaped, even as grieved for the loss of all the rest. Just because you don't believe me, Akashi-kun, doesn't make it untrue. I am not sure why you are here, since clearly you know what happened.”

“I have the basic bullet points, I'm trying to fill in the gaps,” Masaomi says, finally pulling up a chair to sit next to the man. “You create Teiko. Humans take control. The Legacy declares war.”

“The Legacy is not a uniform entity,” Shirogane says. “Sagittarius-line, Scorpio-line, and Pisces-line are the ones who found the genetic impurities abhorrent to their perception of what we should be. The others are largely indifferent. It is quite possible that things could have remained peaceful for a very long time, except that you declared war on Sagittarius-line.”

Masaomi tilts his head, staring at the old man. “I believe you actually think that. How quaint.”

“What do you expect to get out of this?” Shirogane asks. “There was peace. The Legacy would have left those children alone. And now Yamazaki Kenji will not rest until he destroys them all. I am not so far removed from everything. I know what you have been doing, and what you are unleashing. If you actually cared about that child you took in, you would not be doing this.”

Masaomi's lips curl into something that is not a smile. “What a delusional and willfully blind accusation that is. Especially coming from you, Shirogane-san. In this one instance, I am not the one who opened Pandora's Box. You did. I am the one trying to close the lid.”

The old man looks at him and Masaomi knows that he is being judged. The man is an Aquarius-line, or hydrokinetic, according to Mayuzumi’s intel. It hadn't taken much for Masaomi to make the connection on how the ability to manipulate water might come in handy with bioengineering. This look now is one Masaomi knows well—it is the look of someone wondering if it would be better to kill Masaomi right here and now.

“Why are you doing this?” Shirogane asks.

“Because Yamazaki Kenji is looking for an immune human,” Masaomi says bluntly. “I know why he is. Do you?”

Masaomi can see on Shirogane’s face that he does. “It doesn't matter. He won't find one; they don't exist.”

“They do,” Masaomi returns. “There is at least one known case, which means there might be others. And you're being particularly obstinate now. Even if there was no such thing, he is still looking. So this? This is me shutting that box right now.” He can't help the fury that leaks into his voice, and Shirogane visibly recoils when confronted with his wrath. If there was no other reason, Masaomi thinks he would take out Yamazaki Kenji solely because he was looking for an immune human.

But he'd also hurt Youji.

Is it for this that I am a dragon, Shiori? Masaomi thinks. He knows that even if everyone else condemned him, Shiori would understand.

“What do you want from me?” Shirogane asks, resigned.

Masaomi does not have the time to feel triumphant. He quietly explains what he needs for the man who founded Teiko.

*

After Akane finishes talking she finds that she is surprised by how attentive Rui has been this entire time. This is the first time Akane has ever told anyone the whole story, and she's not sure how she feels about this.

“I was there,” Rui announces. Akane keeps silent, waiting for Rui to fill in the gaps herself. “In Beirut. I remember the green soldiers. I even killed some of them. I might have killed her.”

“No,” Akane says after a while. “You know that you did not.”

Rui snorts and looks at her, eyes flashing in anger. “You can't know that.”

“I am certain.”

Rui's eyes are very much like a lion's; she stares with such intensity it makes Akane feel slightly dizzy. “Do you have free will?”

“Do you?” Akane returns.

“You're dodging the question.”

“I am not. If you consider yourself as someone with free will, then I must be as well. As much as any sentient creature is free to determine their own fate.”

“You stay with your master. You basically admitted you stick around in order to fulfill your intended purpose,” Rui grows a little heated. “And that's what you mean by comparing yourself to me, isn't it? I was sold to Archer, and I wanted to stay with him, even after he threw me away. That's why you think I don't have free will.”

“That's not it, not exactly,” Akane says gently. “You wanted to stay with Archer-san  because you were bound by your own affections. In that way, I am the same as you, and we are the same as anyone else. Free will is never truly free. The choices anyone makes are always determined by the people they love.”

With that reminder, Akane sighs. She walked away from Masaomi in a moment of irritation. Truthfully, she cannot leave him alone right now. One way or another, he will need her help.

Even so. Akane looks at this woman that, irrationally, she wants desperately to save, and she feels the need to at least warn her of what is to come.

“Archer-san is going to die,” she says bluntly. “Very soon. Masaomi-san is going to kill him. Does that distress you?”

“Archer dying?” Rui asks. There's a very long silence as she thinks about this. All things considered, the answer should be a simple one, because Archer has been very cruel to Rui. Akane laments the fact that love does not stop just because cruelty exists, and thinks about how not everyone gives their loyalty to people who are deserving of it. (And you? she asks herself. Would people think the same thing of you?)

“It doesn't matter,” Rui says, not answering Akane's question. Which, Akane thinks, is in and of itself an answer. “You're wrong. Akashi is just a human, and Archer will never be brought down by a mere human.”

Akane smiles slightly. “Masaomi-san is not human.”

“No?” Rui says.

“No. He's a dragon.”

*

Akashi takes in this new information with his standard silent processing. They’ve moved away from Yumeko’s hotel, and for lack of a safer location, they returned to Akashi’s house. He hadn’t been ready to see anyone else and was a little surprised to find the house empty, but took that as an unexpected blessing. It would have been too dangerous to continue this conversation somewhere public, where enemies could be lurking. Furihata looks at him nervously, and Akashi wants to kiss the nervousness away. He is not going to run off now, not when he just got a second chance.

“It doesn't matter,” Akashi says. “My only concern with the Legacy is that they seem interested in acquiring an immune human. If they insist on targeting you, I will fight them, but I do not need to seek out a war with them.”

“Your father is,” Furihata points out. “According to Yumeko-san.”

“Yes. I suspect he has reasons of his own.” He understands now why Masaomi was interested in an immune human. From the beginning, the interest must be purely about a means of one-upping the Legacy. That's at least one less concern for Akashi. (He also said he met one, Akashi thinks, idly. But he is beginning to suspect that whoever Masaomi was referring to, he still knew nothing about Furihata).

“So...we just ignore it then?” Furihata says.

“No,” Akashi says reluctantly. “I suspect we need to present the information to the other Miracles. I suppose they should know about our origins. They should have some say on what our next course of action is. But Furi... I find that I am alright not pursuing this. Unless the Legacy strikes out against us or you, I see no need to continue fighting.”

Does it change anything, knowing that a Legacy-line person was responsible for creating Teiko? Ultimately, Akashi decides it does not. Whatever happened to him since he was created, it really had very little to do with the founding of Teiko.

“I am tired,” he announces, meeting Furihata’s eyes. “I'm very tired of fighting all the time. I would like peace.”

Furihata reaches out and takes his hand and holds it, squeezing. “Then I want that, too. We don't have to do anything.”

Akashi leans down, resting his forehead on Furihata’s shoulder. What he wants to do is to go somewhere far away, just with Furihata, and do all the things that couples do without worrying that someone will abduct them or target Furihata in some way.

Is that something he can have? Is it foolish to think that's something that can be obtained?

“Akashi?” Furihata says, uncertain.

“I am alright,” he says, breathing in Furihata’s scent. He could have lost this. “I find that I do not know what I want to do.”

“That's OK, we can just stay here until we figure it out.”

Akashi nods, not letting go of Furihata. That sounds nice.

*

“What are you going to do?”

Youji barely registers the question. Everyone is looking at him for direction, and Michiru looks like she will beat the answer out of him if she has to.

“I'm going to find Masaomi,” Youji replies.

“Yes, great,” Michiru says, exasperated. “That's been the plan this entire time! We still don't know where he is.”

“I'm going to find him,” Youji repeats. “Me. I need to go talk to him on my own.”

“That's bullshit,” Sayuri snaps. “If this is what we think it is, that man could make his own Teiko. He could—”

“No,” Youji cuts in. He holds onto the notebooks with all of Masaomi's writing. “That's not what this is about. Masaomi wouldn't do that.”

“You can't know that!” Sayuri says, her anger practically a visible aura. It is unlike her. Sayuri was every inch the daughter of Setsuna and Shirgure; she very rarely displayed a temper. “And this isn't something that only affects you. Everyone in this room cares about the Miracles. If what this says about Beirut is true, then—”

“If this is true, then my wife and your mother died because of the confrontation between Teiko and the Legacy,” Youji finishes for her. “Yes. I know.”

He doesn't doubt for a second that it is true. He doesn’t need to wonder why Masaomi wouldn't have told him this information about why Hinami died. It was very much like Masaomi not to, and if their positions were reversed, Youji probably would have done the same thing. Kept quiet.

“Masaomi, too,” he says suddenly.

“What?” Sayuri says.

“You said—‘everyone in this room cares about the Miracles.’ That applies to Masaomi too.”

“Youji,” Michiru says, her voice odd. “I know you want to think the best of him, but even you've got to admit that Masaomi's relationship with Seijuurou is weird. Do you remember his reaction when Seijuurou was abducted?”

“Better than you,” Youji says. He knows a lot of people only saw Masaomi react flippantly when his son was abducted. They thought that he hadn't joined the search and subsequent rescue for his son. Youji knows better. Masaomi had cared, and he’d cared a lot.

“You're blind about him,” Michiru says, exasperated. “Even Shiori said so. Shiori always said that you were the only person in the world who actually believed Masaomi was a good man.”

“Masaomi is a good man,” Youji says. “And he cares about his son.” He starts to move away, but halts abruptly. “Sensei?”

Of all the people in this room Youji thought would try to stop him from leaving, Kishitani Ryohei is last on the list. But there he stands, blocking Youji's path, with the resoluteness of mountains.

“I can't let you leave the room with those notebooks, Kasamatsu-san,” Ryohei says.

Youji taps on the notebooks idly, and then smiles slowly. “Are you going to stop me, Sensei?”

“Yes, Kasamatsu-san. I am. Those notebooks should not exist. Not with what they contain.”

For all that Kishitani Ryohei seems like a complete pushover, Youji has seen glimpses of steel that make him suspect that Ryohei has his own secrets and is not to be underestimated. But if there's an obstacle in his way, Youji will take it down. Period.

Michiru moves between them, and when she stops, she's restraining Ryohei. “Let him go, Sensei. We'll just have to trust him on this.”

“Sakurai-san,” Ryohei says, startled by her apparent side-switching.

“Obaa-san!” Sayuri exclaims. “We outnumber him! This is stupid!”

 Michiru meets Youji’s gaze, and it's a complicated expression. They've never talked about it, but Michiru once saw him nearly kill six men all on his own, and he suspects she's thinking about that now. They’ve been friends long enough that she’s willing to trust him, even if she thinks he is being very stupid right now. He thinks they've been friends long enough that she will have his back regardless. It was that history that united them on the night they met the Miracles.

He knows they've been friends long enough for her to know exactly what to say in order to effectively gut him. He knows this because she says, “Don't do anything that would make Hinami ashamed of you.”

Swallowing hard, he says, “I won’t.” Then he leaves in pursuit of Masaomi.

*

“We're really just going to let him leave?” Sayuri explodes.

“Don't be absurd,” Michiru says, releasing Ryohei. “But we had no chance of stopping him. Not when he was like that.”

“We could have tried,” Sayuri says darkly.

“We are going to do better than try, we are going to make sure those two don't do any more damage,” Michiru says in a tart voice, taking out her cell phone.

“Who are you calling?” Ryohei asks.

“Stronger reinforcements,” Michiru replies.

*

All things considered, Youji understands Ryohei’s objections to the removal of the notebooks. There's a small part of them that regrets taking them. The notebooks and what they contain positively burn in his hands.

It's not like he actually has some insight into where Masaomi is. He just knows he has to be the one to confront Masaomi, and he has to do it alone.

He doesn’t trust himself to drive right now, so he gets a cab instead. He also wants his hands free and his concentration solely on tracking down Masaomi, and takes the opportunity to try calling Masaomi again, but it once again just goes to voicemail.

“Masaomi,” he says to the machine. “I need you to call me back. I need to talk to you. I need—”

What does he need? How can he convey how desperate he is? All of the sudden he wants to babble into the phone. I'm in love with you. I fell in love with you so many times ever since I met you. No one thought I was worth loving until you did and I don't know who I am without you. “I need you, Masa-chan. Always have. Whatever it is you're doing, just talk to me. We'll get through it together.”

He hangs up and feels a wave of desperation all over again. He feels so lost and he wants Masaomi to find him.

The notebooks still feel like some infernal device in his hands. He should just destroy them right now.

He sighs and tells himself to stop being so pathetic. He calls Yukio, thinking he probably should have done that hours ago.

“Where are you?” Yukio demands.

“In Kyoto. Where are you?”

“Also Kyoto. In a hotel. It seemed weird to stay in the house.”

“Right. And you sent Michiru.” Hard to believe this all happened in the span of one night. He looks out the window and realizes the sun is coming out. He's been chasing Masaomi all night long. “I'm sorry. I must have woken you.”

“It's fine,” Yukio says gruffly. “Just come home already.”

“There's still some stuff I have to do. Listen. Yukio—I know I don’t talk to you about a lot of things. I should have told you a lot of things before now. I should have apologized a long time ago.”

“Dad—” Yukio starts, sounding alarmed.

Youji feels like he has to tell Yukio. Now. All of the sudden it's important that he tells Yukio all the things he never told him before. “I'm sorry I left you.”

“Don't worry about it,” Yukio says, a tad impatient. “I told you to go, just—”

“Not tonight. When your mother died. I'm sorry I left you alone with your brothers.”

There's a long silence, and Youji swallows, his throat tight. “That's why it makes you nervous that Ryouta loves you so much, right? Because you don't want him to love like that. Like I did. I should have been a better father to you.”

“Dad, what's going on?” Yukio demands. “You talk like you're dying.”

“I'm not. I'm sorry. Sorry, I know this came out of nowhere,” Youji says, rubbing his eyes. “It's been a long night. I'm not in danger, I promise. I’ve just been thinking a lot about the past, lately. Your mother would be so proud of you, Yukio. She would have been ashamed about a lot of the things I did since she died. Taking in Ryouta—that was one right thing I did. But even that I—I sacrificed so much of your childhood.”

“Dad, you're being stupid,” Yukio says, still sounding afraid. “You’re a great dad. Stop talking like that.” Then, sounding incredibly young, younger than he’s heard Yukio be in a very long time, he says, “You're scaring me.”

“I know. I'm sorry,” he says. He looks at the notebooks in his hands. He wonders if people ever do right by their children. “Don't worry about me. I just had to tell you that while I had the courage.”

“You're being weird.”

“It's been a really long night. I'll be home soon, I promise.”

“You’d better,” Yukio growls.

“I will, I will. Good night, Yukio. Or morning, I guess.”

“Yeah, good night, Dad.”

Youji hangs up his phone and wonders what the hell he's supposed to do now.

And then a car crashes into the side of his cab.

*

Masaomi drives back to his Kyoto house with fourteen names and a target on his back. Shirogane’s remote location is far enough that it gives him a lot of time to think about next steps. This is the final piece of his long plan, and he knew going into the meeting that once he gathered this information, it would have a relatively narrow window of effectiveness. Having the fourteen names would actually mean implementing his plan.

It's not that he's stalling, exactly. He’s known ever since that moment in the hospital room after Iwatobi that he was going to do whatever it took to keep Youji safe. The more he looked into the Legacy, the more he knew it wasn't just about Youji. It was about the Miracles too. His own son would never be safe unless Masaomi did something to interfere.

But in the end, when he started putting the pieces together, it wasn't just Youji or Seijuurou. It was about Shiori, and what she had been willing to die for. He tries not to spend too much time thinking about what Shiori would think of his actions— he’s sure there are a million ways she would have been thoroughly disappointed with his actions. But now. Now, on the brink of something terrible, he thinks about Shiori, and he thinks about his grandfather, and he thinks about what it means to be Pandora.

Is this what you wanted, Shiori? Masaomi wonders. Or is this what you were afraid of?

There would be no turning back from a move like this one. He knew that even when he first started formulating his plan. It is something even Youji would never be able to forgive him for, and that is definitely a reason to pause before doing something so catastrophic.

He’s sure, if given enough time, he could probably come up with a plan that wouldn't be quite so... supervillain. One that wouldn't make Youji hate him forever. And he knows the fact that he is seriously debating doing this now is because he saw Youji laughing on a date with another man. That's somewhat appalling, considering the nature of his plan, but there's a petulant part of him that's thinking, If I've lost Youji anyway, then I might as well be a supervillain.

Somewhere, Shiori is laughing at him.

Somewhere, Hinami is shaking her head.

Akane is the only one who knows the details of his plan, and all she had said was, “This is exactly the sort of thing I am supposed to prevent you from doing.”

He'd debated equivocating but instead all he said was, “Are you going to?”

She'd said, “I guess we'll find out if you ever try to go through with it.”

But Akane had walked away. And Seijuurou had gone to find his boyfriend. And Youji...

Masaomi decides not to think about Youji. Not yet, he decides. He has fourteen names. Sure, he deliberately provoked Kenji to come to Japan, but he doesn't have to enact this plan just yet.

He comes to that conclusion just as he pulls into his Kyoto estate, and a bullet shatters his car window, narrowly missing his head.

*

Akashi pulls away from Furihata and lets out a long sigh.

“Akashi?”

“We will have to talk to my father,” he says with supreme reluctance. Then, just to reaffirm what he means, he adds, “Together.”

“We don't have to,” Furihata says quickly. “I don't want you to do anything you—you really don't want to do.”

Akashi searches Furihata’s face and thinks about how much he loves this man in front of him. He thinks about how much, in that one moment, he truly desired peace. It is not something that could have ever been imaginable for him before he met Furihata. Akashi Seijuurou, and GM-R0102 before him, is not someone who would have longed for peace. In fact, he had been very scornful of those (i.e., Kuroko) who wished for it.

But for one moment, he thought about a future where he could just be in love with this man and he never had to worry about someone trying to hurt the people he cared about, and he wanted that future more than anything.

Just as quickly as he had the thought, he realizes how impossible it would be. He would never have that peace, not while the Legacy-line wanted an immune human.

“You are right. I should have talked to my father from the beginning. I should have introduced the two of you in a normal fashion and explained to him that you are important to me. I,” Akashi swallows and he hates how difficult this is for him, “I am sorry to have put you through this. But, if you are willing to bear with me, I would like to try and correct that now.”

“Of course I still want to meet your dad. I mean, properly,” Furihata says, but there's a twinge of doubt in his voice. “Do you... trust your dad?”

Before, it would have been easy enough to be scornful of the very idea. But. “Yes, I believe that I do.”

He has to trust someone, after all.

“OK. Do you think he'll come back here, soon? Or should we go find him?”

Furihata says that so simply. He has more reason than anyone to not want to talk to Masaomi, but he so easily accepts that this is something Akashi wants to do, and Akashi once again feels so lucky to have him in his life.

“I am sure he will—” he breaks off abruptly.

“Akashi?”

“Furihata,” Akashi says, his voice low as he remains calm. Then he abandons that and lets Seijuurou take over. “Kouki, I need you to stay close to me and remain calm.”

“Why? What's happening?” Furihata is already growing alarmed, and Seijuurou feels very conflicted on how to proceed.

“I just heard gunshots coming from outside,” Seijuurou says, keeping his voice level. “I believe we are under attack.”

*

This will be an incredibly stupid way to die, Masaomi thinks as he crawls out of his car to use it as a shield. In fact, being gunned down in front of his own house while he's completely defenseless is definitely on Masaomi’s Top Ten Least Preferred Ways to Die.

The gunfire ceases. “I could have killed you with that first shot,” a husky but undeniably female voice says. “But I was unfortunately instructed to bring you in alive.”

The voice gets closer, until there's a blond woman in front of Masaomi with a gun pointed straight at him. (At this point, Masaomi vows to keep a gun in all his vehicles at all times, Japanese gun laws be damned.)

“So be a dear and cooperate, won't you?” she says.

Weighing his options, Masaomi decides to stay on the ground behind the car. He is fairly certain this woman would not have come alone, and he'd rather not be standing in line of sight of potential snipers. He sits up straighter, though, relaxing his stance to show that he is in no way cowed by this encounter. Coolly, he says, “I assure you, I have never been cooperative in my entire life.”

“Are you expecting reinforcements?” The woman says, mockingly. “Your house is shockingly devoid of bodyguards at the moment. And you won't get aid from the freak, we've taken precautions.”

That's a fairly ambiguous statement, but Masaomi makes a point of never being too worried about Seijuurou's well-being. Even assuming Seijuurou is at home now—and there's no reason to expect he would be—Masaomi is sure that his son can handle any potential threat that might come his way.

“Yes, I dismissed my household staff for the week. Please feel free to take this as a sign that I was not particularly concerned with your existence.” And he hadn't been, really, when he was planning this week. He figured that between Seijuurou, Ryouta, and Youji, there wasn't any physical threat those three couldn't handle any better than Masaomi's usual bodyguards. Of course, that was when the risk of threats was minimal—before Masaomi had called Yamazaki Kenji and essentially dared him to hunt him down.

In retrospect, Masaomi could have put a little more thought into that.

“I am perfectly willing to shoot you in non-vital areas,” the woman informs him.

Masaomi looks her up and down. “You don't look like a super soldier. So not Sagittarius-line. Scorpio-line, I'm guessing, by your gloves and the fact that you're working with Archer. Which means you are perfectly capable of incapacitating me with just a touch of your pretty little hand, no guns required.”

“Oh, but I'm getting the distinct impression I would enjoy shooting you,” she says.

“Most people would,” Masaomi allows. He tilts his head and continues his assessment. “You're, what, late thirties? Early forties, tops, and French, I'm guessing by your charming accent. You speak Japanese, which I'm guessing was a college elective. And right-handed.”

“Are you trying to build a suspect profile?” she says, sounding amused.

“Narrowing my options,” Masaomi says. “Aha! You must be Sophia Angier.”

The woman stiffens and aims her gun at Masaomi's head. “There's no way you could have known that.”

“That's why you want me alive, isn't it?” Masaomi says, a tad mockingly. “For what I know.”

She narrows her eyes and says, “I'm beginning to think I should just kill you right now and save us a lot of trouble later on.”

“You will not,” says a new voice in icy, imperious tones. “You will aim the gun at your own head. Everyone in the vicinity will drop your weapons and step forward to where I can see you.”

“That won't—you can't—no way,” Sophia says, even if she raises the gun to her forehead. Other people started merging from various vantage points, with their hands in the air.

“Father, this was sloppy. I believe I get a thousand points for this.”

Masaomi gets up and brushes his clothes with as much dignity as possible in this scenario. “I'll allow it, because I'm sure I'll catch up eventually, but you get minus points for presentation, Seijuurou, and you lose on originality.”

It's his “other” son standing there, Masaomi can tell by his one gold eye. Seijuurou always defaults to this personality when about to do something particularly nasty, so Masaomi has no doubt that he's about to kill these people.

Masaomi surveys the new crowd—counting Sophia, there are four Legacy-line assassins. The other three are wearing helmets. “Oh, I see. That's what you meant by ‘precautions.’ You thought if they couldn't hear Seijuurou’s Order they would be safe.”

“Foolish,” Seijuurou's says, his lips curling.

“Indeed,” Masaomi says, sharing his son’s disdain for these people who didn't do their research. “That's an Aries-line failing. The Red Zeros are much more advanced.”

Seijuurou reacts slightly to that, and Masaomi realizes he hadn’t known about the Aries-line. Huh. Masaomi had moderately assumed Mayuzumi would report all his findings to Seijuurou, but apparently that boy actually obeyed his non-disclosure contract. Masaomi will have to give him another raise.

“You didn't know that. I'm giving myself 500 points,” Masaomi informs him, thinking it was probably a bad idea to antagonize his son while he is glowing red and holding a gun.

Seijuurou fixes his stare on Masaomi. “Well, Father? Shall I kill them now?” He's not really asking for Masaomi's opinion—Masaomi can see that in his eyes. These people came into Seijuurou's territory with the intent to harm.

“Do it,” Sophia spits out, her gun still pressed to her temple. “Others will come.” Seijuurou returns his attention to her and Masaomi knows that she's sealed her fate with that pronouncement. Masaomi internally sighs and readies himself to call some of his special “fixer” employees who handle body disposal.

“Seijuurou!” A new voice from the doorway cries out, and Seijuurou's boyfriend appears.

“Go inside, Kouki,” Seijuurou says, still glowing red. Masaomi bites back an exclamation, moving towards his son—

But Furihata just says, “No, Seijuurou. You shouldn't. Not like this. They’re unarmed now.”

Well.

Then.

“Kouki,” Seijuurou says.

Furihata is close to Seijuurou now, and seems to possess a real disregard for his well-being, because he touches Seijuurou's face. Even Masaomi would not try to approach Seijuurou when he’s in this kind of mood, glowing red, and currently possessing the minds of armed gunmen.

“Akashi said he wanted peace,” Furihata says. “I think you do too, Seijuurou. I don't know how we can have that, but I want it too. I want it for you.”

Masaomi tries to parse out who the heck Furihata is talking about when it finally clicks. Furihata is calling Seijuurou by his first name. It would be disrespectful, he said.

Dear God, he differentiates between them, Masaomi thinks. He calls one Akashi and the other one Seijuurou and he's dating both of them.

Masaomi has no idea if he finds that adorable or appalling.

At this point, he is fairly content just to watch how this will play out.

Seijuurou is still glowing red, but he's looking at his boyfriend. After a few seconds tick by and what feels like hours to everyone he is currently controlling with his Order, Seijuurou turns to the Legacy assailants and says, “Go to sleep.”

So, one by one, they all drop to the ground.

Masaomi has had very few opportunities to see Seijuurou’s abilities up close and working on multiple people. He knows what Seijuurou can do, but it’s certainly impressive to witness firsthand.

“This is not a solution, Kouki,” Seijuurou says.

“Fortunately, I have one in mind,” Masaomi says brightly. “I have people who can take care of these folks here,” he waves at the fallen Legacy soldiers with one hand and takes out his cell phone. “After that, I think the three of us should have a discussion, don't you?”

Seijuurou meets his eyes and there's a guardedness there that Masaomi has come to interpret as his son contemplating whether or not to murder him.

And Jesus, no wonder the kid’s been on edge this entire time.

He must have really not wanted Masaomi to know that Furihata Kouki is an immune human.

*

Masaomi has a subsection of employees he likes to call Jacks—the Jack of All Trades who excel at doing a little bit of everything. In times like these—when he needs to disappear a mysterious group of people in a way that will not disturb his future son-in-law—they're the people Masaomi can rely on to handle things efficiently and discreetly.

“What are you going to do with them?” Furihata asks.

“Just dose them with some good old-fashioned chemical amnesia and drop them off in Costa Rica,” Masaomi says. “They’ll have an epic hangover and no memories of the previous week.”

Furihata looks mildly alarmed but not inherently terrified, so all things considered, Masaomi thinks he will probably do OK in this family.

“So,” Masaomi claps his hands once. “Now that's all settled. You know, Seijuurou, you could have saved us all a lot of time and hassle if you just told me your boyfriend was immune to your abilities. I wouldn't have spent so much time worrying that you were raping him.”

Seijuurou—now with two red eyes—just seems mildly annoyed by the statement, but Furihata exclaims, “What? You thought—that's terrible! Akashi would never—he doesn't even want to have sex with me!”

Now Seijuurou exclaims, “What. I don't what? Furi—”

Masaomi has to give this to the kid, he has certainly done an amazing job at breaking Seijuurou without even trying. Masaomi is pretty sure he's never seen his son sound so horrified or at a loss for words. “Furi, of course I—how have I done such an appalling job at being your boyfriend? How can you think for one second that’s not what I want?”

Furihata looks abashed. For a moment, Masaomi feels distinctly like a creeper standing here, because they’ve both clearly forgotten he even exists.

“You always pull away whenever we do anything,” Furihata says. “And I'm totally OK with respecting your boundaries—”

 “I have no boundaries,” Seijuurou says.

“But we don't do anything,” Furihata cries out. “We got more action when we were in prison together.”

Masaomi's brows raise. He figures he shouldn't be listening in, and was about to make an exit before that line. And Seijuurou's flinch.

“Yes. That's why I—why I've been trying to take things slow,” Seijuurou says. “I know that what happened between us was not entirely—your idea. I'm aware that it was not entirely consensual on your part.”

“Yes, it was!” Furihata says indignantly, even as Masaomi hones in on that confession.

“Furi, I believed that if they didn't think you were my lover, they would kill you. As did you.”

“Yes, that doesn't mean it wasn't consensual!” Furihata says, clearly frustrated. “Have you really been thinking I didn't want to this entire time?”

Seijuurou swallows. “No, not exactly. It's just—I was not anticipating what it would mean to me. When I proposed our charade, I did so in order to save you. But I ended up needing you. I was ashamed of taking too much. I needed you so much.”

Some people don't want an ocean. Some people want a safe harbor.

Masaomi really should have listened to Youji more.

“They were torturing you,” Furihata says, low and pained. In a small voice, he adds, “I needed you too.”

Now feeling like he has the last of his mysteries figured out, Masaomi clears his throat. Both boys startle and turn to him; clearly they had forgotten his presence. “I hate to break this up, but we do have some more pressing concerns.”

Seijuurou takes Furihata’s hand in his and meets Masaomi head on. “Father, this is Furihata Kouki. He is my boyfriend and my most important person. I intend to marry him and I will destroy the whole world to keep him safe.”

“Akashi!” Furihata says, bright red. Masaomi wonders if the kid knows Seijuurou is being serious. He's beginning to think Furihata probably does.

But Masaomi certainly knows Seijuurou is being serious. And he knows why Seijuurou had avoided this meeting until now. (After all, hadn’t Masaomi done the same thing? Really, this kid is exactly like him, for better or worse).

“It’s lovely to meet you, Kouki,” Masaomi says. “Fortunately for both of you, I already have a plan in place that will ensure Kouki’s safety forever. It will keep all the Miracles safe forever.”

Seijuurou looks wary, and at this point, Masaomi is not sure he is unjustified. “Convenient. If you had such a system in place, why would you not use it until now?”

Because I have to be a dragon. He can't say that, but he knows his son—sees it in his eyes. Seijuurou understands. He knows better than anyone else what it means to be the monster so that others can be safe.

“I see,” Seijuurou says.

Furihata looks at both of them, confused. “What are you going to do?”

“Right now? I'm going to send an email.”

*

It's one of those life-threatening moments that’s over before Youji's life can even flash before his eyes. He registers the pain but immediately moves into survival mode, and everything he does next is purely automatic.

Youji manages to unbuckle and crawl through the shattered window. He checks on his cab driver, but it doesn't take much to verify that the man is very dead. He searches for the other car from the collision, still thinking at this point that it must be some terrible accident—

“You have more lives than a cockroach.”

Youji reaches for a gun that isn't there and curses silently. “Maybe you just suck at this, Kenji,” he says, trying to keep his voice even. Oh God, he's in a lot of pain right now, and he has no idea if anything is broken.

“You've been lucky,” Kenji says conversationally. He's holding a gun pointed at Youji. “Someone always seems to swoop in to save you. And, I suppose, I haven't really been serious. There was a part of me that always hoped you'd come to your senses.”

Youji snorts and then immediately regrets it when it causes a flare of pain throughout his body. It was tempting to say, You attacked me with ten of your friends on a moonless night, beat the shit out of me, staked me in the ocean like an old-time execution. Was that you not trying?

But he doesn't want to bring up what they did when he was sixteen. He's not a scared kid anymore. Even seeing him in Iwatobi ten years ago wasn't enough. Seeing him point a gun at his sons was what it took for Youji to lose his fear of his childhood tormentor. Now, he looks at this man and thinks, I am going to kill you.

“I heard recently the Legacy-lines thought I was going to be the next Sagittarius Elder,” he says. “Is that why you didn't want me to take your special cult ceremony? Because you knew I'd be better than you?”

“You would never have been worthy of our Ceremony!” Kenji barks out. “You would have never made the transition!”

“No?” Youji taunts. “Honestly, this whole breeding cult thing makes so much sense. I was always stronger and faster than other people, and that was without the Ceremony. I think I am stronger than you, and I think you knew that—”

Kenji fires the gun, which is what Youji was counting on. He moves a half second before Kenji pulls the trigger and tackles Kenji to the ground, knocking the gun out of his hand.

It’s a short-lived advantage, because Kenji does possess inhuman strength, and Youji is already injured. Youji gets a few good hits in before Kenji sends him flying.

Instead of retrieving his gun (which would have been the sensible thing to do, Youji thinks), Kenji kicks Youji in the ribs, causing him to cough up blood. Youji tries to roll away but Kenji kicks him again. Kenji picks him up by his neck and punches him in the face with fists like ten pound weights, and he hits Youji again and again. Youji struggles for some kind of upperhand, but in the back of his mind, he knows he's not going to make it out of this one.

Yukio, Ryouta, Mizuki, Ren, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry. Masaomi.

Masaomi—

Youji drops to the ground and he can breathe again. His ears are ringing loudly and his head is spinning, so he's not sure what's happening. Except that, improbably, someone must have “swooped in and saved him” because Kenji has gone flying. There's a woman standing in front of him. She has long brown hair and the way she stands—ready to defend—is so familiar it's painful.

“Hinami…?” Youji starts, because for just one second she looks just like her, he'd swear it was her.

But the woman bends down and touches his face. “Not quite, Youji-san. I am sorry.”

She gets up and pulls her loose hair into a ponytail, winding it up into a haphazard bun, and it's only then that he recognizes Hinamori Akane.

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Kenji move, and he tries to shout a warning. But there's no need—Akane moves faster than the eye can track, and she matches Kenji blow-for-blow. When she knocks him to the ground, she stomps on his right arm, causing a loud crack! sound in the air.

“You don't heal broken bones all that well do you, Yamazaki-san?” Akane asks with the same neutral voice he’s heard her use while she's managing Masaomi's calendar.

Kenji spits blood out. “What are you?”

“Better than you,” Akane says, and she kicks him in the ribs, causing him to once again go flying with another crack! sound.

Youji pulls himself up, his hands on his ribs. His mind isn't fully able to focus, but he has no idea what he's seen. The only inevitable conclusion would be that Hinamori Akane is not human, but that seems impossible. He's known her for almost ten years...

(And in those years, she hasn't aged much, has she? Says some rational inner voice. Yeah, but women don't age much, Youji tries to reason with himself. You don't know many women, his voice reasons back.)

 There's not much point in arguing with himself. He keeps his eyes on Kenji, so he sees when Kenji finally picks up his discarded gun.

Except when Kenji points and fires rapidly, he aims for Youji.

*

Moving so fast Youji later wonders if she teleported, Akane stands directly in front of him as a shield. Youji lets out a sharp yell as the bullets hit her—it breaks his heart to think that anyone would die for him, and cannot stand to watch this woman die for him—but Akane remains standing. She moves back slightly as bullets hit her, and Youji can hear the sound of bullets hitting metal. He wonders, briefly, if she's wearing a suit of armor.

But at the same time, he can't think too much about what's happening. Kenji keeps firing until he runs out of bullets, and Youji honestly thinks it's a miracle that a stray bullet hadn't hit him. Akane kneels on the ground.

“Akane!” Youji says, getting up, she holds out a hand as if to stop him, her eyes fixed on Kenji.

Kenji is staring at Akane with open disgust, and Youji (shamefully) is staring as well.

The bullets hit her, after all. Only she isn't wearing armor.

She is the armor, Youji thinks, as he sees where the holes have opened up her skin. There are holes throughout her body, tearing apart her skin—centered on her chest, but also on her arms and legs. Underneath her skin there are exposed wires and broken metal.

Akane tilts her head and says, “You should check your email, Yamazaki-san.”

Youji blinks at this non sequitur, and Kenji ignores her entirely.

“You're a monstrosity,” he says, his lips curling.

“You really should check your email,” Akane says. That's what makes her seem the most inhuman. Looking as broken as she does, she should not sound so calm and so unconcerned. “The entire Sagittarius-line will regret it if you do not.”

“Is that a threat?” Kenji says, but Akane doesn't respond.

Not taking his eyes off her, Kenji reaches into his pocket and pulls out his smartphone. What he does glance down, Youji wonders if he could take the opportunity to catch Kenji off his guard. But Akane holds out an arm, as if to keep him in place.

Youji keeps his eyes fixed on Kenji, prepared for any slight movement. Kenji's face is a fascinating thing to watch. First, there is derision, then his face grows still, and then pale.

“You—!” He starts, looking at Akane, who only looks coolly back at him. But then he swears and turns around, climbs into his car, and drives away.

Leaving Youji behind, thoroughly confused.

“Akane-san,” he says delicately. “Thank you for saving me. But I've got to say... I have a lot of questions.”

“Understood,” Akane says, bending down to hold out a hand to him. She winces, like she’s pain, but helps Youji to his feet. “If it is alright with you, Youji-san, I would prefer you hold off on asking your questions until you can speak with Masaomi-san.”

Her speech patterns are familiar too, Youji realizes. He has no idea why the similarities never occurred to him before.

“I don't know where he is,” Youji says, since seeing Masaomi was what he’d been trying to do all evening.

“I do,” she says. “He's back in his house.”

Of course he is. Youji snorts but then winces, because now that the adrenaline is dying down he is slowly becoming aware of the tremendous amount of pain he’s in. Akane puts her arm around him and positions herself under his right arm so that she can help raise him.

“Are you... OK?” Youji isn’t sure if this qualifies as a question she’d prefer he didn’t ask. He feels like it would be rude to ask, Are you in pain?

“I am fine,” she says, with the same cool expression she always possessed.

“Wait, hold up,” he says, and he hobbles over to the overturned cab to retrieve the notebooks. If Akane recognizes them, she doesn't reveal that on her face.

Youji pauses for a minute to look at the cab driver—caught up in the fact that someone died for him after all, and feeling an extraordinary amount of guilt due to Kenji’s sense of collateral damage.

“I will call 119 to alert the police of his circumstances,” Akane says, returning to her position of supporting Youji. “But it is most likely best if we are not here when they arrive.”

“Yeah,” Youji says, with a twinge of guilt and regret. “OK. Let's go see Masaomi. He has a lot of explaining to do.”

*

“Youji! What hap—Oh.”

Masaomi rushes over to them when they go through his doorway, immediately swept up in concern. But he quickly notices Akane's condition and then the notebooks in Youji's hands.

“Ah,” he says.

“Indeed,” Youji says.

Masaomi glances reproachfully at Akane. “You could have warned me.”

“I could have,” Akane agrees. She steps out of her position supporting Youji, and Masaomi immediately steps in to take her place. “I will be in your lab conducting repairs. Youji-san has many questions for you.”

“Thanks,” Masaomi says sardonically.

“Masaomi,” Youji says, after Akane leaves and Masaomi has helped Youji towards his couch when he can lie down. “Is she a robot?”

“Artificial intelligence,” Masaomi corrects.

“Did you build a robot?”

“I built an artificial intelligence. Don't call her a robot, it's a slur.”

“Oh, sorry,” Youji says immediately. Then he says, “Wait, how can it be a slur, robots don't exist!”

“It's a slur because she doesn't like it,” Masaomi says pointedly.

Youji covers his face with the hand not holding the notebooks. “Oh, God. Masaomi. I don't even know where to begin.”

“I could start from the beginning,” Masaomi offers. “But, uh, the story doesn't exactly reflect well on me.”

“I assure you, my opinion could not be any lower at the moment,” Youji growls. He looks at his friend and feels incredibly tired. The last time they spoke, Youji had been furious with him for interfering with his date and leaving their children unsupervised in a dangerous situation. That feels like weeks ago now, and Youji has learned a lot about the terrible things Masaomi has been doing in his off-hours since then.

But Masaomi had been his last thought when he was about to die. He felt like his entire life flashed before him, starting from when he met Masaomi—when his life truly began.

“Please,” Youji says, his voice softer, pleading. “I want to understand.”

“Yeah,” Masaomi says, his eyes on the notebooks and Youji's hands. “I'll do my best.”

*

Masaomi doesn't start right away. He insists on treating Youji's wounds and heating a pot of tea on the irori near the couch, to the point where Youji accuses him of creating an ambiance.

“It's a long story,” Masaomi says tartly. “I just think you might as well be comfortable when I regale you with the history of my sins.”

“You're procrastinating.”

“And you probably need a doctor,” Masaomi returns as he finishes wrapping a bandage around Youji's waist. He sits on the edge of the couch Youji is in, and with the burning fireplace, Youji can't help but feel a little resentful of how domestic it all seems.

“OK. So. Akane,” Masaomi says. “The thing you have to understand is, I was really mad at Shiori when she died.” He looks at Youji, who nods but doesn't want to say anything, in case it distracts Masaomi from continuing his story. “When she died, she made me promise not to ever participate in genetic engineering.”

Youji grips the notebooks he's refused to let go of this entire time.

“I could have saved her,” Masaomi says. “I know I could have. If she told me when she first got the diagnosis, I could have rewritten her genetic code so that she wouldn't have the disease that killed her. She knew that, and chose to say nothing. She didn't want me to build a better human.

“And Youji—I was so, so mad at her. I didn't understand—I thought she didn't trust me. So I made the promise not to do any genetic engineering, but because I was angry at her, I built a better human anyway.”

“Akane-san,” Youji says. “You named her after yourself.” In the past, he’d briefly thought about how funny that a woman named Akane would work for a man named Akashi, but he never wondered too much beyond that. Why should he have?

Masaomi doesn't say anything, not right away, and then something horrible occurs to Youji. “Hinamori. You also named her Hinamori.” He's not sure why he never noticed the characters in her name before, never thought twice about it. “Masaomi—”

“The original artificial intelligence was a base program patterned after Shiori,” Masaomi says. “I wasn't—that wasn't out of spite. Or—whatever. In order for the program to respond like a human, I needed to give examples, so I fed the program every correspondence and recorded conversation I had of Shiori, and her personality became the baseline for the AI.”

“Masaomi,” Youji warns.

“And then Hinami died the day before I was going to complete the program,” Masaomi says. “So I use her personality as a base too.”

Why?” Youji exclaims. “Why would you—” he can't even finish the sentence. He's not sure what he's even feeling.

“Because I miss her,” Masaomi says simply. “Because Kasamatsu Hinami was the only adversary I have ever genuinely respected. And because in the end, I thought of her as a friend.

“And because I wanted a fail safe. That's what Hinami was supposed to be. If I ever decided to cross the line, I knew Hinami would stop me. I was always comforted by that. When I heard she died—I knew there was no one left who would ever oppose me, if I ever did something truly evil. So I designed Akane to stop me, if I ever went too far.”

Youji still has no idea what he's supposed to feel. Is he horrified? Angry? Sad?

“You built a—machine,” he can't say robot, “and you created her to be like Hinami and Shiori.”

“I like to think of her as if Shiori and Hinami had a daughter,” Masaomi says helpfully.

“Christ, Masaomi,” Youji says. “Why didn't you tell me?” He wonders if it would help things now, if he'd known about her all along.

“I couldn't,” Masaomi said shortly. “She went live right after Hinami died. I couldn't tell you then. And afterwards—I lost my opportunity.”

“Don't give me that,” Youji snaps. “It's been ten years. You could have told me at any point—”

“She didn't want me to,” Masaomi cuts in. He gives Youji a resolute look. “That's what I mean when I say I lost the opportunity. Because I started seeing her as a person, and not just something I created. And she said she never wanted me to tell you. I couldn't ignore her wishes on that—not if I wanted to respect her as her own person. Then Teiko happened and I—I had a little more context for why Shiori wanted me to make the promise that she did, and I came to—not regret what I’d done to Akane, but accept responsibility that in the end, I wasn't much better than the Teiko scientists.”

“They didn't ever treat their creations as people,” Youji says, because he wants to give Masaomi that much, at least. Then he frowns. “What do you mean about Shiori and Teiko?”

“Ah,” Masaomi says, giving him a lopsided grin. “Picked up on that, did you? As soon as I saw the Miracles, it occurred to me this must have been what Shiori was afraid of. I thought she was just being prescient—I always thought she had some very witch-like powers. It was only recently that I realized that she had actually met them.”

“What do you mean?” Youji asks sharply.

“Shiori met the Miracles, don't you remember?” Masaomi asks. “In Cairo.”

“What—” Youji frowns. “The glowing children,” he says, horrified. He’d completely forgotten about Shiori’s glowing children. “No. Surely not...?”

“I verified it later that the Miracles were at the Science Conference,” Masaomi says. “Honestly, I was kicking myself for not making the connection sooner. It had occurred to me, it just didn't seem possible. Not until I learned about the possibility that immune humans existed.”

Youji startles, and Masaomi notices the reaction. He frowns for a second before comprehension dawns. “I take it you knew about Furihata-kun?”

“You know—” Youji bites out.

“As of an hour ago.” Masaomi frowns again and then says, “You would have told me, when I was wondering if their relationship was consensual, so I take it you could not?”

“Seijuurou was very concerned,” Youji says.

“Yes,” Masaomi says, surprising Youji. “I'm beginning to realize that not encouraging an open dialogue with my son had some drawbacks. Don't say I told you so.”

Since Youji had opened his mouth to say just that, he shuts it and then says, “Well, I did tell you. It seems sloppy that you didn’t think immunity was possible. You were tracking that, weren’t you? R1-HK1?”

Masaomi looks mildly impressed. “You have had a busy night.”

“Why’d you name that after Hinami?”

“Because she had to possess it. The resistance gene. Your son has it, after all, and it’s genetic. You don’t have it, pure Legacy-lines do not, so it came from Hinami. R1-HK1 is actually why I didn’t think immunity was possible. Resistance to psychic abilities is a genetic ability that some humans possess, but resistance is not immunity. At least not yet. It might develop into full immunity, over time…” his voice trails off, then he shakes his head. “The thing is, Shiori didn’t have the gene. I have her DNA on file, and I checked. Full immunity isn’t linked to R1-HK1.”

“OK,” Youji frowns, because he feels like they’re moving away from the real concerns. He never questions for a second why Masaomi would have his wife’s DNA on file. It seems like a very Masaomi thing to do. “I still don’t see what the connection to Shiori is.”

“Because I had already thought about her glowing children when I found out about the Miracles,” Masaomi says honestly. “I dismissed it as a passing thought because it didn't make sense for her to be the only one to have noticed them. But when I learned about immune humans it all came together. That she must have met them, and she must have known even then that they were in a horrible situation. God, Youji. I wish I'd listened to her when she tried—at any rate, soon after that she found out she was dying, and she had limited options. So she made me promise not to research genetic engineering because she knew there was no way it wouldn’t get out.”

“Then what is this?” Youji says, because listening to Masaomi’s story hadn't been enough to make him forget what was in these notebooks.

“Ah, yes, those,” Masaomi says. He looks at the notebooks. “This is going to be somewhat difficult to explain, but the Miracles have a similar genetic base to the Legacy line, and I needed to map out the genetic code to the Miracles so that I could isolate what made them different from the Legacy line.”

Youji opens his mouth, but he realizes that even though he doesn’t entirely know what that means, he can think of at least one reason why it would be important to know the difference between the Miracles and the Legacy. He looks at the notebooks. “Why did you write it down? That's not like you.”

“For the very simple reason that you can't hack a piece of paper,” Masaomi says. “And for one other reason.” He takes the notebooks out of Youji's hand and then promptly throws them in the fireplace.

Youji cries out on instinct, but then meets Masaomi's gaze. Masaomi is staring at him with solemn intensity. “That was the only copy of my work,” Masaomi announces. “And now it's gone.”

Youji tears his gaze away to watch the notebooks burn. He didn't understand the science in those notebooks, but if he had to guess, he's pretty sure they contain the secrets to making Successes out of all fourteen Teiko Projects.

“Tea?” Masaomi says, catching Youji's attention with an offering. Youji takes the cup and drinks automatically. Mostly as something to do, but when he takes his first sip he realizes how dry his throat has been.

This has all been too much. When he looks at Masaomi, it strikes him that Masaomi looks like someone who has been waging a private crusade. This must be what kings look like, Youji thinks idly.

“Why do it at all?” Youji asks quietly, and he’s specifically talking about what was in those notebooks, but he probably also means everything. All the horrible things.

Something in Masaomi's expression clouds. “I told you. I needed to map the Miracle's genetic structure so I could differentiate it from the Legacy-line.”

“But—why?” Youji asks again, and he feels like this is one of those things that there's no coming back from. He knows, deep in his bones, that whatever Masaomi has been doing, it's something immense and apocalyptic.

“Because I loved too much,” Masaomi says, which is not an answer at all, but seems particularly significant, coming from Masaomi.

“What—what are—” Suddenly, Youji feels drowsy, and he's having difficulty concentrating and making his thoughts align. He looks down at the teacup in his hands and it drops to the floor. “You son of a bitch.”

“Now, Youji, you need to rest,” Masaomi chides. “And I need to be something terrible right now, and I can't be that person while you're around.”

Youji wants to cuss Masaomi out some more for drugging him—he also desperately wants to stop Masaomi from doing whatever he's about to do. Most of all, he wants to get Masaomi to stay. But his body is heavy and sleep is already taking him. Adrenaline had kept him going for most of this traumatic evening, but after staying up all night and sustaining all his injuries and after finally reaching a safe place where he could rest, it wouldn’t take much to knock him out entirely. Masaomi probably knew that.

Masaomi bends down and kisses Youji on the cheek. “Everything will be better when you wake up,” he promises.

Youji is pretty sure he falls asleep after that, because he dreams Masaomi presses a kiss against his lips.

*

Masaomi forces himself to leave Youji on the couch. Seeing Youji bruised and bleeding is the final confirmation. Seijuurou, Youji, Akane—these are the people he cares about most in the world, and Masaomi needs to keep them safe.

He heads down the hall to check on Akane first, but on the way he almost (literally) runs into Furihata.

“Sorry,” Furihata says, as if they actually had bumped into each other. “I wanted a glass of water, so—”

“You're allowed to go to the kitchen,” Masaomi says, faintly amused when Furihata trails off.

“Right,” Furihata says, looking at Masaomi curiously. “You're going to do something dangerous now, aren't you?”

“What makes you say that?”

Furihatas shrugs. “You have the same look Akashi gets sometimes.”

Masaomi studies the kid and realizes that he made a lot of assumptions about the kind of person Furihata was from the start.

He hasn't really had time to think too much about Furihata’s immunity. It seems insane to think there are two known immune humans, and Masaomi married one while his son started dating the other. Masaomi had been ready to stop Archer’s plan based solely on his outrage on Shiori's behalf.

“I said I was going to keep you safe, Kouki, and I meant that.”

“You—” Furihata starts. He flushes, as if embarrassed by what he's going to say.

“Yes?” Masaomi teases. He's still trying to figure Furihata out, even if now isn't the time.

“You don't have to fight alone.”

Masaomi blinks, not sure if he heard correctly.

“You look like Seijuurou did when we were in the second Teiko. Akashi said you were like a Red Zero, and I think I understand that a little better now.”

Furihata meets his gaze when he speaks, and Masaomi thinks he understands at least a little bit of what Seijuurou sees in him.

“Don't worry about it, kid,” Masaomi says, ruffling Furihata’s hair as he walks past. “I am exercising my god-given right to be parental for once.”

Furihata looks like he's going to say something, but he changes his mind. Masaomi pauses before he turns back. “Have you ever heard the story of Pandora?”

“Pandora?” Furihata says, surprised by this random change in topic. “You mean the Greek myth? She's the reason we still have hope, right?”

Ah, Masaomi thinks. “Yes, that's right.” He leaves a very confused Furihata standing in the hall to go in search of Akane.

*

He finds her in his lab, plugged into a laptop as she works on her own calibrations. There is a pan of flattened bullets next to her.

“Did you get them all?”

“Not quite,” Akane says, defaulting to her cool emotionless voice. He knows this is a choice on her part—he programmed her with a full array of human emotions, but she seems to like not revealing anything. “There are two that will need a more substantial repair session to remove, but they are not hindering movement, so I will take them out later.”

He nods. This is something else she preferred—running her own repairs, instead of relying on him. In all areas, he tries very hard to respect her preferences.

“Thank you,” he says, swallowing. “For saving him.”

She meets his gaze. “I did not do it for you.”

“I know,” he says. “But still. Thank you.” He clears his throat. “I'm going to end this tonight.”

“I know,” she says, returning her focus to her work. “I monitor your emails.”

He stands there, feeling rather awkward about this whole thing.

She lifts her gaze again. “Did you want me to stop you?”

“No,” he says. He's not sure if she could, at this point. Short of killing him. But he thinks perhaps he should at least give her the chance to stop him. After all, that's why he created her.

“Hinami would have.”

Akane isn’t looking at him now. She just stares off to the side, as if she's remembering something. “Yes,” she says, off-hand. “Kasamatsu Hinami would not have approved of what you are about to do. And she would have done anything she could to stop you, short of murder. But Nakahara Shiori would have understood.”

“And Hinamori Akane?” he asks lightly.

“I understand as well.”

He waits to see if she's going to say more. After a while, he realizes she doesn't need to. He built her to stop him from doing things like this, but in the end, she is her own person. And she can make her own decisions.

“Do me a favor and look after Youji and Kouki?” He asks. “I don't believe the Legacy will send anyone to my house again, but you're the only one I trust to keep them safe.”

“Seijuurou?” she asks.

“He gets a choice too,” Masaomi says.

“I will keep them safe until I die,” Akane says. For her, there is no stronger promise, because she will never die.

“Thank you,” he says.

There's a chance he'll never see her again after tonight. There's a lot of different ways this all could end without him ever coming back. He doesn't want to be sappy though, so he's not sure what else there is to say.

Ultimately, he decides there isn't anything else he can say, so he turns around and starts to leave.

“Masaomi-san,” she says, just as he's about to disappear from her line of sight. He pauses but doesn't turn back. “Thank you for creating me.”

There's nothing he can say to that either, so he doesn't.

*

Seijuurou is already waiting for him. “Furi says that you are most likely about to do something dangerous.”

“Perceptive kid,” Masaomi says, genuinely impressed. He's a little bit like Shiori after all, even if they have completely different personalities.

“He doesn't want you to suffer, despite the fact that I repeatedly reassured him that your suffering was a perfectly acceptable outcome.”

Shiori would have loved him, Youji had said. Masaomi had dismissed that, because Shiori had loved him after all, so her love was not an assessment of character. But she had also loved Hinami, because Shiori appreciated goodness.

“I am not going to suffer, Seijuurou. I'm about to do something exceptionally evil right now. Something I am sure your Kouki will disapprove of, if he knew about it. At this point, you are the only one who could probably stop me, although it is not in your best interest to do so. What do you say to that, Seijuurou?”

He can't help but set this one final test for Seijuurou, as incredibly unfair as it is. Perhaps because he owes it to Kasamatsu Hinami to see it if there is anyone who will stop him. But also because he wants to know what Seijuurou will do. He wants to know who Seijuurou is now.

“I cannot be your conscience now, Father, if that is what you were looking for. We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”

Masaomi startles—surprised in this moment when he had assumed nothing could have surprised him. “You’ve read Mansfield Park?”

“Yes,” Seijuurou says, his own eyes flickering in surprise that Masaomi recognized his quote. “It is Furihata’s favorite book. I am surprised that you have.”

That is... actually a little rattling. Oh well. All the more reason to keep the boy safe.

“Then I've made my choice. Do you want to help?”

“I will not leave Furi alone right now.”

“Akane will look after him.”

“Would you trust her to look after someone you love?”

“Seijuurou, I am.”

Seijuurou considers this statement. He must have seen Youji sleeping on the couch when he came outside, but when he speaks, all this says is, “Very well, Father. Let's finish this.”

*

They don’t leave right away. Masaomi had given an evening time for his meeting—a lot of the people he invited to this soiree had a long way to travel after all—and he still has some preparations. Youji is still sleeping on his couch when they leave, and Masaomi briefly wonders what explanations Seijuurou gave to his boyfriend.

Everett Wyndham-Smythe is standing outside the location Masaomi had put in all his emails as a meeting place. Masaomi eyes Seijuurou and mildly wishes there was a way he could have this conversation without Seijuurou around, but he figures the cat's already out of that particular bag, so it probably doesn't matter.

“What the hell are you playing at?” Everett snarls at Masaomi.

“I'm not playing at anything, I assure you,” Masaomi says.

“There are thirteen people in that room—thirteen people who have never unanimously agreed on anything—and they are all united by the desire to kill you,” Everett says. “Fourteen total, of course, because frankly, after that email you sent, I want to kill you.”

Everett's looking at Masaomi up and down, and Masaomi knows he's debating whether or not he can grab his arm. If Seijuurou wasn’t standing right there, he might try.

“Were you serious about Youji?” Masaomi asks abruptly.

“Is that why you sent the email?”

“I sent that email for a lot of reasons. I'm just curious.”

“I am serious about Youji. I intend to date him,” Everett says.

“You won't.”

“So you are in love with him.”

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same,” Masaomi says, which is more for Seijuurou’s benefit. But since there's no sign of recognition, Masaomi assumes Furihata isn't a fan of Wuthering Heights.

“That didn't work out so well for Heathcliff and Cathy,” Everett says, because he's American and clearly has read the book.

“I know. Think on that, won't you?” Masaomi says, entering the building.

He's thinking about another Wuthering Heights quote.

If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.

It's more relevant to their current circumstances. The literary allusion is probably lost on Everett, but Masaomi thinks Shiori would have appreciated it under the circumstances.

*

Inside, thirteen men and women are sitting around a table. Fourteen, as Everett slides in and takes a seat. The Fourteen Elders of the Thirteen Legacy Lines. (Gemini-line having two, as was fitting for the line that only produced twins.) It had been surprisingly difficult to figure out who held the title of “Elder” in any particular line. Masaomi had assumed it was an inherited position, until it became impossible to track. Upon realizing it was a title that moved around in secrecy, and hitting the limits of what he could figure out through hacking, Masaomi knew he needed someone in the Legacy for the names of all fourteen Elders. It seemed fitting, in a dramatic irony sort of way, that the person to give him the names had been the man who created Teiko.

“You will not move,” Seijuurou says, glowing red. “You may speak, but no one else will move from your seats, and none of you will cause harm to my father or I through words, action or intention.”

“Thank you, Seijuurou,” Masaomi says, taking his own seat at the table. It's set up board-meeting style, so everyone can see one another.

“Is that why you brought us here?” An elderly Indian woman says in English. She is the Elder of the Cancer-line. Unlike some of the others in the room, she remains calm, and doesn't attempt to struggle against Seijuurou's Order. “So that you could kill us all?”

“I very much hope we can reach an accord without any deaths,” Masaomi says agreeably. “Except for Kenji here. Kenji is going to have to die, but there's no reason the rest of you should. Assuming you're sensible.”

“One of us will not leave this room alive,” Kenji says, finally stopping his struggle against the Order. “But it will not be me.”

“Dear man, you were dead as soon as I stepped into the room,” Masaomi says.

“You have us,” a Russian man says. The Elder of the Aries-line, who possesses similar abilities to Seijuurou. “And you have our attention. That email you sent was enough to prove that you are a threat. You did not need to summon us here to grand stand.”

Masaomi smiles, a dangerous movement that would indicate to people who knew him better that he is about to show his hand. “Oh, but you see, I have yet to threaten you. The email you all got was not the threat, it was proof.”

“You clearly want to tell us something, Akashi,” Everett says. “It's best that you do so without wasting any more of our time.”

“Gladly, Everett. Twenty-seven years ago, Shirogane Kuuzou of the Aquarius-line split off from the rest of the Legacy in order to build a genetic experimentation facility.”

“You're here to give us a history lesson?” Someone exclaims. The Aquarius Elder, Masaomi notes.

“It's relevant to our current situation, I assure you,” Masaomi says. “Shirogane did this in order to preserve and better the Legacy lines. He thought science could improve upon natural selection.”

“He was wrong,” a British woman says. The Elder of the Scorpio-line. “It was unnatural and not what we stand for. Shirogane should have been executed for his betrayal.”

“That's a debate for another time,” Masaomi concedes. “But I am very glad to hear you agree that it was an executable offense, as that leads me to my next point as to why Kenji has to die.

“But to return to Shirogane. He had a vision of furthering the Legacy-lines, and he did so by recreating Legacy abilities. Using Legacy genetics as the foundation and modifying them with human and animal genetics, Shirogane recreated twelve Legacy-lines with the twelve Project classes. Ah, I see by your faces that not all of you made that connection. Yes, some were more obvious, like the Aries-line ability of hypnotism and the Red Project Group for Absolute Order. Some Project Groups ended up widely deviating from their original base, like a Scorpio’s ability to cause pain which manifested as the Brown Projects’ pyrokinesis.

“But the astute learner will note, there were not twelve Projects, but fourteen,” Masaomi says.

“You're enjoying this,” Everett accuses.

“Very much,” Masaomi says. “There were two Project Groups entirely created by human scientists, and not by Shirogane himself. The first was Silver, which was not a true Project line but an experimentation to see if multiple abilities could be designed in one person. That was later  hilariously inadvertently paralleled by the formation of the rebel Ophiuchus-line,” he nods to the  blue-eyed man who has kept his distance from the other thirteen people. “Which only leaves the Rainbow Projects.”

“Get to the point, Akashi.”

“I'm sorry, do you have somewhere to be?” Masaomi grins. “The point, my dear Elders, is that there is no Legacy-line equivalent of a nullification ability. I suppose the human equivalent would be natural immunity to psychic interference.”

It is actually rather impressive the way that Seijuurou doesn't react to that statement. Not visibly, anyway. But Masaomi knows his son very well, and he knows he is paying attention.

Masaomi returns his full focus to Yamazaki Kenji. “That is why you're gathering humans who possess the resistance gene, isn't it? And why you've been desperately searching for an immune human. You want to start a new Legacy line, the old-fashioned way with selective breeding.”

“I see to the future,” Kenji says, and it has the rhetorical patterns of a motto that must mean something to the Legacy.

“And I suppose it doesn't matter at all how the person in question might feel about being the progenitor of the new line.”

“They would be honored,” Kenji says. He tilts his head. “This is personal to you. You mentioned that you knew an immune human.”

Masaomi doesn't look at Seijuurou. “I did. Her name was Akashi Shiori, and she would have spat on your legacy.”

“Your wife,” Kenji says.

The ironic thing is that an immune human wouldn’t help Kenji at all. The resistant human would suit his purposes better. While Masaomi has yet to test Furihata for R1-HK1 (and he’s pretty sure Seijuurou might murder him, if he tries) Masaomi is already fairly confident Furihata doesn’t possess it. Whatever causes full immunity isn’t genetic.

“Here's the thing, Kenji. I am deeply insulted on Shiori's behalf, even if she died long before you would have been a threat to her. But that's not the point. The point is you're doing it again. You're starting Teiko all over again. And this, I cannot abide. I will not let you or any other person, Legacy or otherwise, decide they can play God and build a better human.”

“Even if you killed everyone in this room, it would not stop the Legacy,” Kenji says.

“I already told you. I'm not planning on killing everyone in the room. Just you.”

Kenji opens his mouth to respond, but then stops, a strange expression coming over his face. Blood starts dripping from his nose, but Kenji is still under Seijuurou's Order, so he can't move to wipe the blood away. Then blood comes from his ears, then his mouth, then he slumps over the table and quietly dies.

The whole thing takes about thirty seconds.

The people in the room are all the leaders of their respective Legacy-lines. They are the strongest, most ruthless people of their line—anyone who finds themselves in that kind of position of power would have to be—and probably a fair amount of them are used to death.

But a fair amount of them are struggling with their own horror and revulsion to what they just witnessed.

“What was that?”Everett says. He’s one of the ones who looks absolutely horrified.

“That is a virus I have genetically modified,” Masaomi says. “It targets a specific genetic code. It kills within seconds and there is no cure.

“I call it Pandora.”

*

“You monster,” Everett says, and Masaomi smiles to himself, because the man has clearly figured it out.

“You each got an email today,” Masaomi says conversationally. “In that email was a list of names. Every name, in fact, of each individual within your own line, either active or potential. This is proof that I know who you are. If you do not agree to my terms, then I will release the Pandora virus on a global scale, and everyone on that list will die.”

“You wouldn't,” the Aries-line Elder says, cutting through the clamor of the other Elders. He's clearly the leader among leaders. “You're bluffing. As you have just stated, your own son has a genetic base similar to the Legacy-line.”

“Very glad you brought that up, I do so love to brag. No. I have spent a considerable amount of time painstakingly mapping out the genetic codes of the Teiko Projects. I know exactly what the difference between the Projects and the Legacy is, and the Pandora virus will only annihilate the Legacy.”

“There are children on that list,” the Ophuicuis Elder bursts out. “Innocent people—”

“Yes, Nanase-san,” Masaomi cuts in. “That is why I invited you to this party. To confirm that I will not discriminate between saints and sinners. I bear you and yours no ill will, Nanase-san. But if the Legacy does not agree to my terms I will wipe out every last one of you. Your Legacy will come to an end.”

A few more shout at him; others continue to stare at him in horror, some in speculation. Masaomi lets them absorb all of this. He does not waver for one second with his resolve. He wants them to know that he is capable of this evil. Because he is capable of this. Hinami had  known that from the moment she first met him. His grandfather had known too.

Seijuurou is looking at him. He is still glowing red, the others are still under his Order. He doesn't make any movements to stop him. Masaomi idly wonders what Seijuurou is thinking.

“And what exactly are your terms, Akashi?” The Aries Elder asks when the rest finally quiet down.

“No more genetic experimentation,” Masaomi says firmly. “That's non-negotiable. In fact, let's just make a blanket rule against anything that requires locking children up.

“And you leave the Teiko Projects alone. You will never, ever, do anything or say anything that will lead to harm to the Teiko Projects, or the people involved in their lives. And just so we're all very clear, if I suddenly drop dead for any reason, the virus will be released worldwide. I am not an idiot.”

“What if you have a heart attack?” Everett asks.

“Pray I don't,” Masaomi says viciously.

There is a long pause, and when it’s clear he's done talking, the Aries Elder raises a brow and says, “That's it?”

“I'm a man of simple needs,” Masaomi says. “Peace for me and mine. You stop interfering with humanity. I become the boogeyman you tell your children about. Because I will be monitoring your behavior.”

There are still a fair amount of people who are looking at Kenji’s body as a shining reason as to why they should cooperate.

“You will not live forever, Akashi,” the Aries Elder says. It’s an observation, not a threat. “Our Legacy will outlive you.”

Masaomi's legacy is Hinamori Akane, and all things considered, she will live forever. “I would not count on my mortality if I were you.”

“How exactly are we supposed to come to a reasonable accord?” Everett asks.

But before Masaomi can respond, a new voice says, “Perhaps I can be of some assistance with that.”

*

Masaomi was not expecting any more guests to this soiree of his, and he's a little put out when he sees General Fujimaki Takaya and a few of the leading officers in the JSDF standing in the doorway. It's a little bit like he's just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar by his parents, only replacing “cookie jar” with “threatening genocide” and his “parents” with “national government.”

Sakurai Michiru is standing behind the general, and Masaomi makes a note to deal with her later, since she is obviously the reason for the general’s presence now and she’s glaring at him with murder in her eyes.

“Ah, General. So good of you to join us,” Masaomi smiles pleasantly.

“Indeed. I have been hoping to talk to representatives from the Legacy at some point, and here they are, all gathered in one room. Seijuurou-kun, please release them, there is no need to be so rough with our allies.”

Seijuurou considers this. He doesn't look at Masaomi because God knows Seijuurou would never seek permission or consultation from Masaomi. Masaomi wants to point out this is a bad idea, because everyone in the room has superpowers, and they're probably still a little pissed at Masaomi's threat to kill their friends and family.

But Seijuurou, like Masaomi, must have noted the way Fujimaki said “allies.” The general comes in warm and reassuring, and he must seem like a fresh breath of sanity after dealing with Masaomi. This bad tyrant/good tyrant thing they have going for them could not be more convenient if Masaomi had planned it.

After Seijuurou releases his Order, there is a momentary pause where everyone in the room seems to be waiting to see if someone will attempt to kill Masaomi. When no one does, the Aries Elder fixes his stare on the general. “And you are?”

“General Fujimaki Takaya, on behalf of the Japanese government,” the man says smoothly. “We have been hoping to negotiate peace with the Legacy for a while now. We are in the 21st century after all. There's no reason you should keep hiding.”

“That is not how we do things,” the Aries Elder says.

“But perhaps it is time to change,” Everett says, and he looks pointedly at Masaomi. This is actually a fairly impressive display of quick thinking on Everett's part, and it makes Masaomi hate him a little more for doing something impressive.

Because Everett, at least, it's still thinking about Masaomi’s threat. He has three children who appeared as names on his list, after all. If the public becomes aware of the Legacy’s existence, it would be that much more difficult to wipe them all out from existence.

At least, that's what Everett is banking on. Masaomi smiles just at him, conveying that he would not be stopped by public opinion.

“Libra-line is willing to discuss options with you, General Fujimaki,” Everett says.

“How lovely. I think we can begin discussions now. Akashi-kun, thank you for bringing us together, but it's about to get very political in a few minutes.”

Masaomi can take a hint when he hears one. The general most likely realizes that Masaomi’s presence would most likely hinder any possibility of peaceful negotiation. He’s rather impressed with the general’s willingness to be alone with a group of superpowered humans, but you don’t get to be a four-star general without a certain kind of iron strength. “And we all know how much I hate politics. I said my piece, I'll leave you to your happy negotiations.”

“We will have to catch up later,” General Fujimaki says, and he's smiling when he says it, but there's an edge to his voice. Masaomi knows full well that what the general is actually saying is, we will have to talk about your genocidal impulses. Masaomi is honestly kind of looking forward to it.

After this unexpected conclusion to the encounter, Masaomi exits.

*

When they are well away from the meeting room, Seijuurou says, “That was a risky bluff, Father.”

Masaomi looks incredulously at his son, because he genuinely assumed Seijuurou understood him better than this. “Are you joking right now? I wasn't bluffing.”

“I know,” Seijuurou says. “I was.”

Masaomi startles, and Seijuurou meets his gaze. He has one red eye and one gold. “I very much wanted them to believe in your sincerity. But if you actually did attempt to kill that many innocent people, I would stop you.”

“You would?” Masaomi says, a little shocked. He might have expected this from Seijuurou's “other” personality, but not from this one.

“You were right. Kouki would not approve. And I find I want to be the kind of person that Kouki would approve of.”

“It would have been an end game kind of move,” Masaomi says. “Only if I lost everything else.”

If Youji were killed, or Seijuurou was. If there was no reason left to preserve the humanity inside of him.

“Yes,” Seijuurou says.

They stand there in companionable silence, perhaps each thinking about how easy it would be to become a monster. Masaomi has to wake up everyday and choose to be good. Seijuurou must do the same.

Abruptly, Masaomi says, “You didn't want me to meet Kouki because you didn't want me to know how much you cared about him.”

“Yes. Just like you did not want me to realize how much Youji-san meant to you.”

“Yeah,” Masaomi says, pausing. “I'm beginning to think perhaps people were right when they said competing against each other was not a good basis for a father-son relationship.”

“Nonsense, Father,” Seijuurou says. “Everything is better now that we understand each other, and know where the lines are.”

“Yes,” Masaomi agrees, thinking that weirdly, despite everything, they probably do understand each other better now.

“Akashi Shiori,” Seijuurou announces, as an abrupt change of topic. “How do you know she was also immune?”

“Because she remembered you,” Masaomi says. “I'm assuming you told Kuroko to wipe her memory?”

“Black. But yes. I also Ordered her to never tell anyone what she saw.”

“Ha,” Masaomi says, thinking that it only made sense that no one would be able to order Shiori to do anything. “How long have you known she was my wife?”

“Since I saw her photograph,” Seijuurou returns. “How long have you known that she met me?”

“Honestly? Not until just now. I didn't even know she met Miracle until about a month ago.”

Something passes over Seijuurou's face.

“What?” Masaomi says.

“Nothing. I suppose ever since I saw her photograph, I assumed she was the reason you took me in.”

“Really?” Masaomi says, surprised.

Seijuurou hesitates, and then he says, “She saved my life. She pretended to be my mother around the enemy. She also called me Seijuurou.”

Shiori would have known that's probably what Masaomi would have named a son. For a second, he wonders what it would have been like if she’d been here to raise Seijuurou with him...

“She is your mother,” Masaomi informs him. “She's the only wife I'll ever have, so that makes her your mother.”

Seijuurou nods, and Masaomi gets the sense that he doesn't mind this idea.

“I am going home now,” Seijuurou announces. “I think it is best I talk to Kouki more. I will be taking him back to Tokyo.”

Masaomi can't help but saying slyly, “His parents aren't expecting him home for another two days. You could probably take him to a hotel. You know, in case you needed some time to talk.

“Your suggestion is duly noted, Father, but as per usual, completely superfluous.”

Masaomi laughs as Seijuurou departs. But he sobers quickly as soon as he’s left alone. He has to grab onto a railing to support himself.

He'd come too close to the edge, and that's a very hard thing to come back from. Once you put yourself in the mindframe to commit an unforgivable atrocity, it's very very hard to walk away from that. He murdered one man tonight already, and he'd been prepared to murder thousands of others. Now that Seijuurou isn't here, he feels slightly crazed from the adrenaline. He should call Akane. He needs to be restrained when he's like this. The part of him that’s still rational recognizes that he needs to be kept away from people right now. And above all, he can't go home when he's in this state, because he needs to be kept away from—

 “Masa-chan?”

Something inside him shatters.

*

“Masa-chan?” Youji starts carefully, to catch his attention. He sees Masaomi stiffen, and things must be bad, because Masaomi is usually more careful than that. He very rarely visibly reacts to anything.

He’d been roused on Masaomi's couch by a concerned Kishitani Ryohei. After the doctor did a more thorough patch job—muttering about hospitals the entire time—he'd filled in a few details for Youji. Mainly, that Michiru had called General Fujimaki and a few higher-ups in the JSDF, and convinced a severely irate Araki Yumeko to track down Masaomi’s whereabouts.

Youji had only two texts from Michiru herself to update him on the situation:

Your psychopath just threatened genocide.

I'm pretty sure he murdered your brother.

Youji isn’t sure how Michiru expects him to feel about the situation, but his first thought is concern for Masaomi. But then he figures that all things considered, Masaomi will escape from this unscathed and without a prison sentence. He might even enjoy the challenge of the JSDF authority finally realizing how dangerous he is. His second thought is that he needs to find Masaomi.

So he does. “Masa-chan,” he starts again.

“You need to leave,” Masaomi cuts in, his jaw clenched. He finally turns around and looks at Youji, and if Youji hadn’t been expecting it, he'd have taken a step back. He has never seen Masaomi like this, not with him. But there's something dangerous about him right now. Something that radiates malice and violence.

Youji knows that people think he's naive about Masaomi. He knows that even Hinami and Shiori had believed that he was blind to Masaomi's character. There was nothing he could do to make them understand that he knew what Masaomi was capable of, but even with that, he believed in Masaomi. So he doesn't take a step back at the sight of the danger unsurfaced; he takes a step forward and Masaomi takes a step back, proving once and for all that Youji was right all along about who Masaomi is.

“I mean it, Youji. You don't know what I've been doing—”

“You threatened to kill everyone in the Legacy,” Youji says, smiling. “And you killed Kenji. Come on, Masa-chan. Give me a little credit. I knew what you were planning when I saw the genetic maps.”

Masaomi remains very still.

Youji takes another step forward. “Really, Masa-chan. I've always known who you are. And I killed your grandfather, remember? I'm not exactly a saint.”

“I would have killed them all,” Masaomi says. “I still might, if they give me a reason.”

“Yeah, I know. But they won't. You saved us, Masa-chan.”

Masaomi smiles—but it's a cruel smile and his eyes are still hard. “Oh, Youji. You need to walk away right now. I am very much in the wrong mood to deal with you at the moment.”

Youji shrugs. “That's too bad, because I'm staying.” Masaomi once stayed with Youji at his worst. Staying is the very least Youji can do.

“Don't you understand?” Masaomi says. “I almost committed genocide tonight, Youji, and I'm still in the mood to do something unforgivable. If you don't leave right now, then I'm going to take it out on you.”

He's still trying to warn Youji away. It makes Youji feel a little sad, because despite it all, Masaomi is still trying to be good. When Youji was at his lowest he had lashed out at Masaomi—both verbally and physically—and Masaomi had weathered all of it. Masaomi had been the only one willing to stay with him then. Youji must have been a very bad friend these past few years, if Masaomi doesn't understand that Youji would do the same thing for him. “It's OK, Masa-chan. If you need to take it out on someone, then take it out on me. I'm still on your side.”

But instead of being hit or some other violent act, Masaomi pulls Youji forward. Masaomi wraps one hand around Youji's waist, and pulls him close to his body, and before Youji can startle at this unexpected proximity to Masaomi’s body, Masaomi proceeds with a demanding, all-consuming kiss.

This is so surprising that Youji doesn’t react at first. But Masaomi is a very talented kisser—he remembers that well after their first kiss to cheer up Shiori. After the initial surprise passes, Youji's body reacts instinctively with enthusiasm for this new turn of events. Most of Youji's thoughts have completely whited-out in the shock, but the rest of Youji is very eager to go with the flow.

Masaomi pulls back, causing a pang of disappointment in Youji, although he doesn't move away from the close hold. “You're kissing back.”

Masaomi sounds confused, which just makes Youji's confusion expand. “Uh...Yeah. Was I not supposed to?”

“It is... unexpected,” Masaomi says carefully. “Do you not understand what's happening here?”

Oh, Youji’s disappointment grows. Maybe he doesn't understand what's happening here. “No. I guess maybe I don't. What's happening here?”

“I am going to fuck you,” Masaomi says succinctly, which succeeds in re-invigorating Youji’s attention.

“Right here?” He feels the need to ask, since they're still about two hundred feet away from various high-ranking JSDF officers and Legacy Elders.

“Well. No,” Masaomi says. “I suspect not. But imminently.” He looks at Youji, conveying that he still thinks Youji is missing the point. “I am talking about sex, Youji. Specifically, me taking off all your clothes and fucking you until you can’t think of anything but my name.”

“Yeah, OK,” Youji says, and he feels hot, and hates that he’s blushing about Masaomi. “I hope you have condoms and lube, because I sure don’t, and it would just be traumatizing for everyone if I have to steal some from my sons.”

Masaomi doesn't laugh. That hard and cold look returns to his eyes, as he uses one hand to trace Youji's jawline and lips. “Are you sacrificing yourself, Youji? Is that what this is?”

Now he’s thoroughly confused about what's happening here. He's not sure what this is for Masaomi—if sex is some sort of outlet for thwarted homicidal impulses or whatever and if Youji is just a convenient warm body at hand—but he figures he might as well lay out his cards on the table. “I've been in love with you for a while, Masa-chan. Having sex with you wouldn’t be a sacrifice, it’s been my mastabatory fantasy for the past few years.”

Now, Masaomi releases him, which is once again disappointing and also... painful. He wasn't expecting the rejection, and it hurts when Masaomi springs away.

“You liar,” Masaomi says, sounding genuinely angry. “You don't want me.”

I don't want you?” Youji repeats incredulously.

“You never have,” Masaomi insists, and now Youji is getting angry with the injustice of it all.

“Excuse me, you're the one who's heterosexual!” Youji exclaims. “You were the one who didn't want me!”

“That's bullshit!” Masaomi says indignantly. “I have always wanted you. You were the one who—fuck, Youji! I was never your type and you made that clear!”

“What? When?”

“Always!” Masaomi says. “History professors, Youji! People twice your age, beefy athletic meatheads—you always brought home people who were nothing like me.”

“In college?” Youji says, because what the hell, Masaomi makes it sound like this is something he thought about since...

“Yes, college.”

“You date supermodels!” Youji says. “Female supermodels, and actresses, and it wasn't—” he swallows, throwing away his last bit of pride, “and it wasn't up to me to tell you I was interested in having sex with you, when the one time I tried, you thoroughly rejected me.”

He expects some sort of rejoinder to this—some other wildly absurd accusation. Except Masaomi just blanches. Youji doesn't know what to do with how stricken Masaomi looks. In a quiet voice, Masaomi says, “Youji, I almost raped you that night.”

Youji has to stare at him, completely flabbergasted by this interpretation of what happened that evening. “What are you even—what?” Youji says. “Masaomi, I showed up at your door, I climbed on your lap, I stuck my tongue down your throat. After repeatedly being told to stop by you. How do you even—what the fuck, I'm so confused.”

“You were drunk,” Masaomi says, still in that quiet, strange voice, like he didn't hear Youji at all. “And I was very, very tempted to ignore that and have sex with you anyway.”

“Masaomi,” Youji says, realizing that Masaomi is being serious about this.

“And after,” Masaomi says. “After, when you were chained to my bed, I wanted to go back. Almost did. I couldn't—I couldn't—you have no idea what it's like to realize you're capable of something like that.”

“Masaomi,” Youji says, helplessly. “I'm really glad we didn't have sex that night, because I was really messed up back then. But even if we had, it wouldn't have been rape. There's not a single moment in my life I wouldn't have been perfectly willing and eager to have sex with you.”

Masaomi makes a strangled sound in his throat. “God, this is ridiculous.” Youji agrees, because by the sounds of it, they could have been having sex for years now, and that's just completely unfair.

But then Masaomi is kissing him again, and it's a homecoming and a benediction all rolled into one. Youji feels like he's been on a very long journey just to get to this moment.

When they break apart again—which is more like coming up for air—Masaomi says, “You know, I do have condoms and lube at home, but remind me to make a point to steal some from Seijuurou later, because that would be hilarious.”

*

“Um. Why, um, are we stopping here?” Furihata says, looking around at the expanse of the hotel suite.

He's blushing faintly, and Akashi is resolutely ignoring all of Masaomi’s earlier insinuations. “I thought we should talk more thoroughly before going home, and I didn't want to do it at my house, where my father might interrupt.”

“Oh,” Furihata startles. “But I thought you'd settled things with him?”

“Yes, I no longer believe he is a threat to you,” Akashi reassures. “He is, however, exceptionally nosy and annoying, and I would rather talk to you alone.”

“Fair enough,” Furihata smiles, sounding amused.

Akashi remains grim. “Furi, I want to once again apologize for withholding so much information. I should have thought about how that would make it seem like I did not care, when the opposite is true.”

“It was my fault too,” Furihata protests. “I should have been better at communicating how I was feeling.”

But Furihata had tried, even Akashi can see that now. “I think I must tell you what happened tonight.”

He doesn't want to—he somewhat feels like Masaomi’s endgame is something best kept under wraps. But he's not ever going to make the same mistake, so he launches into the whole story, up front about his own part in the threat and the murder of Yamazaki Kenji.

Furihata’s eyes grow increasingly wide through this recitation, and when Akashi has finished, Furihata looks a little bit like he's been hit over the head. “Do you think he actually would have done it?”

Akashi hesitates but says, “Yes, if given the proper incentive. I would have tried to stop him, but yes. I believe this is something he could do.”

“Wow. OK. Is that something we need to be worried about in the future?”

“No,” Akashi says, because he's thought a lot about this. “I believe now that the JSDF are involved, and the Legacy knows what the stakes are, it will not come to that.”

“Were they really hoping I could be a new line of immune humans?”

“Yes, I have no reason to doubt that was their intention.” That certainly galled. The idea of anyone using Furihata for breeding purposes makes it very tempting to let Masaomi carry out his genocidal campaign.

“Your dad is... kind of extreme,” Furihata says. “But, I guess I'm glad we are safe now. I'll have to thank him.”

Akashi looks at Furihata curiously but realizes that he means it. I'm glad we're safe now. Maybe they actually are safe now. Akashi turns to look out the window, struggling with his own emotions.

“Akashi?” Furihata reaches out to touch Akashi’s hand. “What's wrong?”

It takes Akashi a while to figure out the words for how to phrase what he's feeling. “When the Special Diet ended—when Orange came back to save us all—I didn't know how to celebrate. It was very hard for me to accept that—I could feel safe. I suppose I still don't know how.”

“You don't have to process things right away,” Furihata says simply. “I think peace is something that comes gradually.”

Gradual. That seems manageable. “Yes. Thank you, Furihata. Are you all right?”

“Yeah. I think I am,” Furihata smiles. “I'm just really glad we're here.”

“At the hotel?” Akashi says, confused.

Furihata blushes, “No! I mean, here in this moment. After everything. I'm really glad we're here, talking to each other. It's just good not to have secrets from each other anymore.”

“Ah,” Akashi says. “Yes. Well. There's probably something else I should mention.”

“Yes?” Furihata says, warily.

“When we first met... when I invited you to the basketball game.”

“Yeah?”

“I was trying to ascertain the extent of your immunity, and whether or not you were a threat,” Akashi says, apologetically. “I intended to—dispose of you, if you were a threat. Sorry.”

Furihata blinks. Akashi braces himself for—anger, sadness, tears—but then Furihata just bursts out laughing.

“Oh, man. Wow, OK. I feel a little justified then, I totally went into that meeting thinking you wanted to kill me.”

“Well,” Akashi says, but he doesn't have anything to follow that statement.

“And then we got abducted,” Furihata says, smiling, “and you protected me anyway.” Furihata’s smile falls and he grows serious. “Akashi? Do you think… if we hadn't been abducted together...do you think we still would have ended up dating each other?”

Akashi thinks about this. The second Teiko had been a life-changing experience for both of them. Akashi is not even sure if he would be the kind of person Furihata would even want to date, if it hadn't been for that experience.

“I would like to think so,” Akashi says, honestly. “I believe that every version of myself would always fall in love with you, Furihata. Even those versions that were not always worthy of your love.”

“That's insane,” Furihata says. “There's no version of you I wouldn't love.”

Akashi smiles, and hopes that's true. “Now, we're just being circular. It is getting late. Would you like me to summon the driver to take us back to Tokyo?”

“Sure,” Furihata says, still blushing. “Or, you know. We could stay here for awhile.”

Akashi smiles and then purrs, “What an excellent idea, Furi.”

*

Akane walks into her penthouse and is mildly surprised to find that Rui is still there.

The Teiko Project is sitting on Akane's couch, eating soba and watching TV. “You have, like, a million channels,” Rui says when she notices Akane.

“Do I?” Akane says, sitting down on the couch on the opposite side. “I never watch TV.”

“What a waste,” Rui says, turning the TV off.

Akane debates what to say next, but ultimately decides that nothing will be gained from being circumspect. “Yamazaki Kenji is dead.”

Rui doesn't say anything right away, and nothing shows on her face. “Your boss, I imagine? You seemed so certain he would kill Archer.”

Even if she is mildly irritated with how Masaomi has behaved these past couple of days, she still feels loyal enough that she will not confirm that statement.

“He was going to kill Miracle’s boyfriend,” Rui says.

For Rui, there is only one person who gets the name “Miracle.” “He tried to kill his father tonight, but I intervened.”

Rui looks at her now, as if trying to see if she's injured. “He said that. That he was going to kill the Kasamatsu family. His brother, and the three children.”

Akane tries to get a read on this woman. She finds that she has no idea what's going on through her mind, so she asks, “Did that bother you?”

Rui looks away and shrugs. “I don't know. Maybe. I don't—I don't know what I am anymore. I don't know anything anymore.” She holds her knees to her chest and wipes at her eyes, moving her face so that her long yellow hair serves as a screen. Akane does her best to pretend she doesn't see Rui's display of emotion.

“I have spent my entire life afraid that I would fall in love with Kasamatsu Youji,” Akane says, conversationally. “In a way, I have three makers, and they all love Youji-san. I was afraid that would mean I would love him too, so I didn't want to know him.”

Rui looks at Akane, with an expression that manages to convey, What the hell is your point?

“I realize now that I do love him, I suppose I could not help that. But I am not in love with him. My choices are my own.”

“Am I supposed to get something out of that?” Rui says.

“It is my way of letting you know that you have options. And that it's OK if you don't know yourself just yet. Many people don't.”

“I don't have options,” Rui says. “The Legacy wants to kill me—”

“I have it on good authority that the Legacy would no longer dare to hurt any Teiko Project,” Akane cuts in. “Not anymore.”

Rui falls silent as she thinks on that, but then says, “Miracle wants to kill me too. All of that Generation.”

“Maybe,” Akane says. “But they won't. They're all trying to be better people.”

“They’ll lose in the end,” Rui snorts. “Nature wins out.”

“Perhaps. But there's no way of knowing that until the end.”

“You're an optimist, aren't you?” Rui says, a tad disgusted.

“Yes. I rather think I am,” Akane thinks on this revelation about herself and finds that it pleases her. “At any rate. You are welcome to stay here, as long as you like. Masaomi-san, the Legacy, and the Miracles, will not need to know that you are here.”

There's another silence, and then Rui says, “Why? Why do you even care what happens to me?”

Akane mulls over her response, but once again decides honesty is the best route. “I suppose I don't care about you in particular. Not yet. But I find that I want to do things that are not defined by Akashi Masaomi. Finding you was coincidental.”

Another person might be insulted by that. Rui can easily read through the lines. It didn't have to be you. It could have been anyone. I decided I wanted to make my own choices and here you are.

“What do you want from me?” Rui asks, but her voice is more curious than challenging.

“I wouldn't mind a roommate. It gets quiet here.” This doesn't seem to satisfy Rui, so Akane adds, “I am not a Yamazaki Kenji, who needed a weapon. Nor an Akashi Masaomi, who needed someone to hold him back. I don't need people. But I would like a roommate.”

“Yeah, OK,” Rui says, turning the television back on. “It's not like I have somewhere else to be.”

That's probably as enthusiastic as Rui can be at the moment. Akane finds that she can  accept that. And, because she doesn't have anywhere else to be for the evening, she decides to stay there and watch television.

*

Kasamatsu lets out a long sigh as he hangs up the phone. Kise looks down at his own cell phone that has a single text from Akashi: We don't need to worry about the Legacy anymore. I'll fill you in later.

“Was that Youji-san?” Kise asks, keeping his voice light.

“Yeah. Apparently he's sticking around Kyoto for a couple more days. I could murder that man,” Kasamatsu says, but a tension he's been carrying is visibly lifted. “After his last phone call, I seriously thought—God. He was talking like he was dying. I'm so mad at him right now.”

Kasamatsu had been very freaked out by his father's last phone call. He might have gone searching for him in the night, except Kise had to be the coaxing voice of reason.

“I'm glad he's OK,” Kise says, still keeping his tone neutral. He's pretty sure he is glad. But he's also still...very confused about what he's feeling right now.

“Yeah, me too. Something must have gone down, because he said we didn't need to worry anymore. He better be a lot more detailed when we get back home, otherwise I will kick his ass.”

Kise flinches and Kasamatsu finally notices. “What's wrong? You've been kind of—quiet.”

“Yeah,” Kise says, struggling once again with his own emotions. “I'm—I guess I'm rather upset with your father. And I'm not entirely sure what to do with that.”

“My—what?” Kasamatsu’s brows raise, and Kise realizes he's probably never referred to Youji as your father before. “Why?”

“Senpai,” Kise exclaims, because this is exactly what is distressing Kise so much. The fact that Kasamatsu doesn't seem to understand why Kise would be upset. “I just—” all those times people reacted to something Kise said about Teiko, Kise never fully understood why so many people needed to cry about it. But now he gets it, just a little. He can't stand the idea of a young Kasamatsu Yukio in pain, long before Kise knew him, or could have done anything to save him.

“He left you alone for two weeks. I don't—why aren't you mad at him?”

Kasamatsu looks away.

I don't understand you, Kise had said.

Yeah, but I really, really need you to try. Kasamatsu had said. Then, haltingly, he talked about how Youji had fallen apart after his wife died. How he disappeared for two weeks, and Kasamatsu had to take care of his brothers.

All the while during Kasamatsu’s stilted confession, Kise had this growing horrified realization—My God, this is why you're like this. This is why you didn't realize that I loved you, why you've always been uneasy with my confessions, why you've never wanted to get too close.

I don't want to be your sole reason for existing, Kise. I can't be. If anything ever happened to me, you need to carry on.

Kise wasn't—and still isn't—sure how to promise that. He recognizes all at once that he is very similar to Youji, and for the first time, he's a little ashamed about that.

Sometimes I can be a very shitty father, Youji had said to him once. And this must have been what he was talking about. Kise's not sure how to reconcile the idea that someone he admired and respected could also have done some really terrible things.

“I love my dad, Kise,” Kasamatsu finally answers. “I think he's done a lot of good. Especially over these past few years. I think... part of having parents is eventually there comes a time when you realize they're just people. They have their own tragedies and worries and they mess up, like all people do. I think a lot about my mom, too. She was my hero and then she died, and now it's unimaginable to think she could have ever made a mistake, or had any doubts or moments of weakness. And that makes me sad, because I'm sure she must have messed up sometimes too, and I'm sorry I'll never get the chance to know her as an adult. She’s always going to be on a pedestal for me, and I’ll never know what she was like at her worst.

“My dad does his best. And if we ever have kids, that's what I'm going to try and do too. That's all any of us can do.”

Kise falls silent and wonders if maybe all this time he had put Youji on a pedestal. When he'd met Youji, he was unlike any other adult Kise had ever met, and it was so easy to admire him for that. It is a bit... frustrating to have Kasamatsu explain all this so plainly. Kasamatsu sounds so wise and mature, and it just makes Kise feel like he’s still a child, and there's no way he can ever close that two-year difference between them.

Then the rest of what Kasamatsu says catches up with him. “If we ever have kids?” Kise repeats delightedly. “Senpai! You mean—”

“Shut up. I was speaking hypothetically,” Kasamatsu says, flushing.

“But you've thought about us having kids!” Kise says. “That means you're thinking about our future, and staying together forever, and growing old together—”

“Of course I have, idiot,” Kasamatsu says gruffly. “I'm in this for the long haul. I love y—”

Kise interrupts him within an enthusiastic and thorough kiss, and Kasamatsu responds in kind.

Kise still isn't sure that he wouldn't fall apart if something ever happened to Kasamatsu. There's a part of him that still wants to hunt down any possible threat to Kasamatsu and quietly eliminate them.

But he understands Kasamatsu a little better now, and finds that at the very least, Kise is going to try his best.

*

Youji wakes up in Masaomi’s bed and it takes him a few seconds to realize that last night hadn't been just an enjoyable dream. It actually happened. This is the real world, and Masaomi loves him.

“It is somewhat depressing to think we could have been doing this for years,” Youji remarks, lying next to him. Because Masaomi is in the bed with him. Because this is actually happening.

“I’m not sure that’s true,” Masaomi says, his voice sober. “I think I had to be in a genocidal sort of mood before I ever could have allowed myself to make a move on you.”

“Not sure how to take that,” Youji says, wrinkling his nose.

“I always loved you too much. It’s… still dangerous, I think. To let myself love you.”

“You’re an idiot,” Youji says, fondly. Because it’s Masaomi, Youji knows what he means. And he’s not going to let Masaomi ruin this. “Is it really because of what happened that night? I can't believe we both walked away from that incident thinking we had taken advantage of each other.”

Masaomi frowns disapprovingly. “I wish you wouldn't be so flippant about that. It's the only time I've ever felt guilty.”

That's the only time...well, that’s absurd, considering you went out of your way to do nothing wrong. You're really not as evil as you think you are. You didn't do anything.”

“Because Akane stopped me,” Masaomi says. “I'm still not sure what I would have done if she hadn't—why are you looking at me like that?”

“She was there?” Youji exclaims, dismayed.

“Oh. Yeah, she lived in my basement for the first few years of her life.”

Masaomi's basement is the underground wing of his estate, which is still grander than Youji's whole house. It is somewhat humiliating to think there was someone else in the house the night of Youji's drunken embarrassing seduction attempt.

Then something else occurs to him, and he just says, “Huh.”

“What?”

“I was just thinking—she really is a different person from our wives. Shiori or Hinami  probably would have told you to go for it.”

Masaomi stares at him for a second, and then he throws his head back and laughs. “Yeah, they probably would have. If there is a heaven, I hope they were both watching us last night and eating popcorn. Shiori always wanted to get the poses right for her sketches.”

Youji laughs, thinking about the sketches Hinami had about the house as she helped write the story for Guns and Flowers. “Yeah. I think they would have enjoyed the show.”

Masaomi rolls over so that he's covering Youji. “Well,” he purrs, “I think it's time for a repeat performance, don't you?”

At some point, they're probably going to have to sort out what this means. It never occurs to Youji to think for one second that this isn't for forever. Whatever this is, it's something they've been building towards for years, and no matter what else the future brings, Masaomi is a permanent feature in his life.

So they have the rest of their lives to figure out things. “Hell, yes,” he says, pulling Masaomi in for a kiss.