Chapter 1: Chapter 1
“I have a question, and something tells me that you’ll most certainly have the answer for it.”
“Oh, really?” With hands sore, clenched tight around his make-shift stir-rod, tired, half-open eyes stare up at the man at the mouth of the cave. “You know, you need to tell me what the question is before you expect me to answer it.”
“I suppose you’re right.” The mask, fastened over the taller man’s lips, shifts with the obvious smirk coming from right under it. “You see, Senkuu-kun, according to our arrangement, you create revival fluid for me in this cave, yes?”
“Arrangement?” Senkuu tilts his head to one side, even as his hands continue to move. Continue to stir. “I dunno if that’s what I’d call it, sir.” He places an overabundance of fake-emphasis on the unneeded word.
“Well, whatever you’d like to call it. Your situation demands that you, Senkuu-kun, create revival fluid, yes? And, as you do so, Taiju-kun and Yuzuriha-kun continuously provide you with the materials you need to continue doing so, correct?”
“I guess you could say that.” Senkuu’s head tilts the other way, this time. Eyes not leaving the pot under his stir rod, full of the very material that he knows the man sitting at the mouth of the cave needs so badly. Or perhaps he simply wants it. Senkuu hasn’t given much thought to motivations. Not when he’s been dedicating brainpower to other things. More important things.
“Well, Senkuu-kun, from what I can tell, Taiju-kun and Yuzuriha-kun have been gone all day.”
“Leave as soon as he wakes up. Don’t take anything that you wouldn’t normally take. Hide these in your clothes. Walk fast. Be long gone by the time he realizes that you’re gone at all.”
“Yeah? Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? According to our arrangement at least.”
“Yes, of course, but they are also meant to make at least one stop during the day, to ensure that you have the supplies to continue making the fluid. Correct?”
“Don’t come back. Not during the day. Don’t stop, even for a minute. Taiju, carry Yuzuriha if you have to. Get away, far enough away that he can’t follow you without risk of losing me. He won’t risk that.”
“Maybe they couldn’t find enough grapes by then.” A frown forms on his lips. “They’re probably on their way back now.”
“Somehow, I doubt that is the explanation, Senkuu-kun.” He can practically hear the smile in the towering-man’s voice, and he hates it. It draws his lips right into a frown and has his grip on the stir-rod tightening. “Would you like to tell me the true explanation?”
“What is there to tell?”
“Listen up, oaf, first things first. I want you to find Gen. Okay? I want you to find Gen and pour one of them on him. I want you to make sure he’s okay. That’s what I want you to do first.”
“Yes, Hyouga?” He looks up at the man, tight, small, fake smile plastered across his lips as he speaks in a light, fluffy, fake tone.
“Would you like to begin telling the truth now?” Hyouga’s hands are tight around the shaft of his spear, and he moves the weapon forward, only slightly. The blade isn’t pointed forward, but Senkuu can see the veins on the back of his hands beginning to show, and he can tell that the one standing at the mouth of the cave is mad.
“Senkuu, try… please be careful. Don’t make him mad, okay?”
“I am telling the truth. Why would I lie?” He furrows his eyebrows, pulling his face into a deadpan frown. “Lying doesn’t end well with you, right, Hyouga?”
“I dunno if there’s a way to avoid that here, oaf. You just focus on keeping Yuzuriha safe, okay? Focus on finding Gen. Please.”
“It seems you remember that, if nothing else.” Hyouga’s voice is as smooth as honey. It’s something that Senkuu has noticed from the very beginning. There’s never emotion in it. The most he’s ever heard is an undercurrent of anger, a glimpse of enjoyment, the edges of a smile. “So, Senkuu-kun, I think I’ll give you one more chance to start telling the truth.”
“Make sure you tell him the truth.”
Senkuu blinks, eyes darting down to the pot of fluid that he’s working on right now. The make-shift stir rod, already dripping wet from every other pot it’s been used for, has started to feel so comfortable in his hands. But his hands don’t feel comfortable around it.
“Tell him I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”
“Taiju and Yuzuriha,” His head moves up, eyes half-closed and lips curling into a smile, “aren’t coming back.”
“See, Senkuu-kun? Was that so difficult?” He sees Hyouga adjusting his grip on the spear, and he knows what’s coming next. He feels his own hands releasing the stir rod, taking a step back. He knows that there isn’t anywhere to go. Three or four more steps back and his head will be against the back wall of the cave. But, he supposes, making sure the pot of fluid doesn’t get smashed now will mean less work to do later, once this part is over.
“Tell him that I love him. Okay? Yuzuriha, can you make sure that at least one of you tells him that?”
“Thank you for your honesty.” The spear drops out of Hyouga’s grip. They both know that he doesn’t need it. Without Taiju around, Senkuu really doesn’t stand anywhere near even half a chance if he even tries to fight back.
Senkuu takes another step back. Maybe he’s trying to delay the inevitable, what he knows is coming next. But his lips are still curled into a smile and his eyes are narrowed in some attempt to convey determination.
“Don’t you dare come back for me until you know you can win.”
The first hit has him reeling. His cheek screams and he can almost taste blood in his mouth. He doesn’t think that Hyouga knocked a tooth loose. When one of his hands comes up to check, the spear-user slams his wrist back, pinning him against the back wall of the cave.
“Now, Senkuu-kun, I do hope that this will teach you better than to lie to me. Don’t you?” Hyouga’s other hand, the one not keeping Senkuu’s wrist pinned against the harsh rock of the cave. “Unfortunately, since I still require your skills, what I am able to do to you is limited, don’t you think?”
“Guess so.” His smile twists into a grin. “If you want me to do my work properly, you’ve gotta be real careful how badly you mess up my body. If I can’t focus, then the product won’t be up to snuff.”
“But, you see, what does the reason matter to me?” Hyouga’s eyes open. Something Senkuu rarely ever sees. “As long as you make revival fluid, as long as I get what I need from you, your health is of no concern to me.”
“Don’t you dare come back until you know you can win.”
“Yeah?” He cocks his head to the side. “Give it a try, see how well that works out for you.”
“Don’t you dare come back until you can win.”
“Is that a threat, Senkuu-kun?”
“‘Course not, Hyouga. I’m not really in much of a position to make threats, am I? What, with you looming over me like a damn tree and with your lion paws about to snap–“
A snapping sound rings through the cave, and Senkuu has to slam his teeth down on his bottom lip to suppress the scream that wants to get out. It comes out a soft whimper and his eyes squeeze closed.
“Ah, my mistake.” Hyouga coos, fingers still wrapped around the wrist that he just snapped. “Did you not want me to do that?” The taller man tilts his head, and this is one of the rare times that Senkuu can hear a touch of enjoyment in his voice. “Do you need this to create what I need from you?”
He doesn’t say anything, eyes focused on the mouth of the cave. Staring just past Hyouga’s head.
“Good luck, you two.”
“Senkuu-kun, you ought to pay attention when I’m speaking to you.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
Chapter 2: Chapter 2
“Taiju-kun, I th-think you can put me down–“
“Senkuu said to carry you! He said not to stop for even a minute for the entire day!” Taiju’s head doesn’t shift, expression doesn’t change. He doesn’t even change the angle of his eyes to check on the girl in his arms, holding three earthen jars in her arms, all with tanned leather stretched over their tops. The fluid that, in this Stone World, is far more valuable than gold ever was.
“Y-Yes, but the sun’s going down and–“
“We can’t be certain how far we are from the cave! And we have to get as far away as possible before we stop!”
The girl, Yuzuriha, looks up at him with somewhat-wide eyes. He knows that the way she looks at him right now, the almost-sheepish expression and the way her face looks as though she’s about to burst into tears, isn’t directed at him. He knows that her arms are focused on staying tight around the bottles in them. He knows that she isn’t upset because of him.
But, seeing that look in her eyes, seeing her look as though she’s about to break down, brings something to the forefront of his mind.
“We’ll stop for the night once the sun goes down, Yuzuriha!” He calls. Some part of him knows that he’s being too loud, but the rest of him has to figure that, if they’ve been running long enough for the sun to be going down, they’re probably well outside of earshot of the cave.
“Okay, Taiju-kun.” Even now, even here, her voice is soft. So soft. It sounds like music to his ears and brings a smile to his lips. He loves the feeling of her cheek pressing against the bare skin of his shoulder as she leans into him. He loves the feeling of soft, short hair rubbing against him. Hair that, until a mere few weeks ago, was so much longer.
He doesn’t like to think about that day.
So he doesn’t.
“There.” He blinks, following Yuzuriha’s arm as she points. Ultimately ending with her finger directed towards what he thinks is a cave and, for a moment, he’s worried that they’ve ended up back where they started. For a moment, he thinks that they’ve failed before they’ve even begun. Her eyes, wide and soft, look up at him with a small smile playing over her lips. “It’s a good place to rest, no? If Hyouga-kun came after us, he wouldn’t think to look in a cave like that. We could also build a fire, and if it rains we’ll be safe.” She shifts, eyes meeting his. “I think we should rest there tonight.”
“Ah! Yuzuriha, you’re so smart!” A huge smile explodes onto his face, legs shifting beneath him to go charging towards and into the cave. He just manages to catch the sight of a light blush dusting her cheeks and the sound of a soft chuckle leaving her lips.
He waits until they’re inside the cave, safe under the protection of rocks and branches, before he stops moving. He freezes, completely, still holding Yuzuriha in his arms.
“Ah, wait, Taiju-kun.” His gaze shifts right down to her and he can hear her arms shifting, the earthen pots softly tapping against each other as she moves to make sure they’re all securely in her arms.
“One’s for Gen.”
Taiju shakes his head.
“Alright,” She smiles up at him and his arms shift, carefully setting her back onto her feet. “Thank you, Taiju-kun.” She crouches, setting the three pots on the ground before standing once again and taking a brief look around. “We should probably build a fire next, yes?”
“Yeah!” Taiju pumps a fist. Even now, his boundless enthusiasm is something that will never leave him. “I’ll collect the wood!”
“Taiju-kun don’t go far–“ She blinks and, by the time her eyes are open he’s already out of the cave and rushing around. By the third time he crosses the cave’s entrance, the stack of wood in his hands is taller than his hair. “Ah, I think that’s enough–“
“Are you sure, Yuzuriha??” He calls back, heels grinding him to a halt just outside the mouth of the cave.
“Yeah!” She calls back with a wave and a smile, her eyes moving to search the floor of the cave for another, smaller stick that can be used to make a spark. Something taught to her long ago. What she thinks is months ago, now. She hears the thick stomping sound of Taiju rushing back into the cave and dropping the wood in his hands onto the ground. “Taiju-kun, you can build a fire, right?”
“Yes!” He jumps right in, crouching into a half-sitting position and sweeping the sticks into a pile while Yuzuriha takes a seat on the ground. Her hands, delicate and soft and precise, roll the stick between them until a spark lights and the pile of wood bursts into flames. “WOAH!! Yuzuriha, you’re so cool!!” Taiju’s hands, balled into fists, fly towards the ceiling and Yuzuriha smiles up at him.
“Ah, but Taiju-kun, you’re the one who managed to gather everything I needed so quickly!” She smiles up at him. A smile so bright that Taiju feels as though he’s looking at the sun, and he has to blink to let his eyes get adjusted to just how bright she is.
I love her so much.
His eyes are glued to her every movement as she settles next to the fire, holding her hands out towards the orange flame, and he almost jumps forward. He almost moves to push her back, because the flames are so close to her fingers, and yet they’re far enough away to keep her safe.
He sits next to her.
“Yeah?” His head jerks to look at her.
“…do…” Her voice is so quiet, soft, gentle, delicate, and he can feel nothing but pure adoration washing over him. “…Taiju-kun… do you think… we did the right thing..?”
“The right…” He blinks, mouth twisting into a deep, frustrated frown. “This morning. You’re talking about this morning, right, Yuzuriha?”
She nods, short hair bouncing with every movement, and the motion is nothing short of mesmerizing for him.
“…do you think we did the right thing, Yuzuriha?”
“…I don’t know.” Her words are so quiet that Taiju almost misses them. “I… really don’t know… Senkuu-kun… of course I trust him.” Her knees tuck up and into her chest. “…but… Taiju-kun… what if…”
“What if…?” He wants to let her speak her mind, he doesn’t want a single worry to be a secret between the two of them.
“…what if… what if Hyouga-kun kills him..?”
“He won’t!” Is the first thing that jumps to Taiju’s lips and then to his brain. “Remember, Hyouga needs Senkuu alive to make the revival fluid! That was the deal they made when–“ He stops himself with a blink. He doesn’t like thinking about that day. He doesn’t like talking about that day.
So he doesn’t.
“…yeah. I guess… that’s right.” She nods, but the frown doesn’t dissolve off her lips. “Taiju-kun..?”
“…I don’t… I don’t know if we did the right thing.”
“Why do you think that, Yuzuriha?” Is all he can think to ask. He doesn’t know what else to say. He wants to make this all go away, to make her smile, to make it all okay. But he knows that he can’t. He hates that he can’t.
“…you… you know… you had to protect Senkuu-kun… from him..?” Her body shifts, hands extending forward to rest on his shoulder, to trace the bandage that Taiju keeps forgetting that he has wrapped around his left bicep. “…that’s just what you do, Taiju-kun. You take the hit… that’s meant for those you care about.”
“But now… but… Senkuu-kun isn’t strong like you are..!” She looks up at him, hands wrapping around his arm. “He’s not… he’s not durable like you… he can’t… he can’t…”
“Yuzuriha… Senkuu will be fine.” His hand moves up to take one of hers. Even with her hands so much smaller than his, he tries to keep his grip loose. He tries to keep his fingers relaxed. If she wants to pull away, he tries to keep it clear that she always has that option. “Senkuu is the one who told us to leave, right? Senkuu trusted us to save Gen! Senkuu trusted us to save him, Yuzuriha! We can’t let him down, can we?”
“…no. You’re right, Taiju-kun.” A soft, teary laugh pushes past her lips, and one of her hands, the hand that isn’t in Taiju’s grip, moves to wipe her eyes. And Taiju has to blink to realize that Yuzuriha was crying.
Yuzuriha is still crying.
“Th-Thank you, Taiju-kun.” She laughs, hand gripping his. Her smile, even through tears, stays soft and kind and he can’t help but think that those 3,700 years were so worth it.
“Taiju-kun… T-Taiju-kun, I think we should rest.” She nods to herself. Her grip on his hand stays strong, and he can’t help the small blush that starts crawling its way up his face. “If we want to be able to find Gen-kun, then we should be well-rested, right? We have… we have a lot of space to cover..!”
“Of course!” He pumps his free hand once again.
“Never lose that boundless enthusiasm, oaf. It’ll go a long way in a hopeless situation.”
I’ll do my best, Senkuu.
And we’ll save you.
We’ll definitely save you!
Chapter 3: Chapter 3
“Were you thinking that they would save you?”
“No.” Senkuu’s eyes are closed. Arm outstretched before him. Not necessarily by choice, but he doesn’t really mind it too much right now. “Does it matter? They’re gone, and I’m still here. So who cares?”
“Well, Senkuu-kun,” Hyouga’s grip on his wrist tightens, just for a second, just long enough to draw a hiss from Senkuu’s lungs, “Now that you and I are the only ones here, we’ll have to grow our numbers. Don’t you think?” The tall man, hands currently fastening two lengths of bamboo to Senkuu’s wrist in a make-shift splint, speaks as if it’s no big deal. “Since I can’t leave the mouth of this cave while you’re in here, and you can’t exit the cave either, we need at least one more person to collect your materials, no?”
“I guess.” A frown tugs his face downwards. “Or, y’know, you could just let me leave. And then you wouldn’t have to worry about it at all.” His mouth twists into a light smirk, which earns nothing more than a harsh, yet short, tug on his wrist and a hiss from his lungs.
“So, Senkuu-kun,” Hyouga’s eyes leave Senkuu’s wrist in favor of simply staring right into Senkuu’s crimson irises. “I suppose we have two choices, no?”
“Two?” He raises an eyebrow and tilts his head. “Are you gonna let me do the choosing?”
“Perhaps.” It’s another of the times that he can hear Hyouga’s smirk in his voice. It’s a disgusting, awful sound, and he would be more than happy if he never had to hear it again.
“Well, if you want me to make a choice, you have to tell me what my options are.” He narrows his eyes, staring at his own wrist. At the bandages and bamboo that are meant to keep his wrist still.
“Well, Senkuu-kun, we can either spend our time hunting down Taiju-kun and Yuzuriha-kun–“ Senkuu’s eyes widen, his mouth drops open. He’s about to say something, he’s about to protest, about to jump in and say something, anything– “Or, you’ll be coming along as I revive a few of my dear friends from the old world to do so down the line.” Hyouga’s head tilts right, eyes barely open, and his fingers release Senkuu’s wrist. “You see, Senkuu-kun, you did nothing but make the situation worse for your friends. Had they simply stayed put and accepted their role in my new society, the three of you would have remained untouched. I would have kept you three safe. And yet, here we are.” The towering man climbs to his feet, and Senkuu has to look straight up to even come close to meeting his eyes. “I think we’ll go with our second option, do you agree?”
He blinks, closes his mouth, and nods.
“So, Senkuu-kun,” Hyouga leans down, just enough to keep his face mere inches from Senkuu’s. “Once we find them, once we have enough manpower, how do you think I should remove your precious friends from this world?”
His mouth begins to open. There are a million thoughts flying through his head. Promises to make, apologies to issue, pleas to choke through tears that aren’t even there. Minutes pass, neither of them moves a single muscle, and Senkuu can’t help but think of all the ways things could have gone differently.
“Well,” Hyouga is the first to break the silence. “I suppose you don’t need to come up with a response just yet. Once we have enough people on our side, I will consult you again, yes?”
He swallows, hard, and his mouth doesn’t open.
His eyes widen. Hyouga’s hand closes around his jaw.
“You should really answer when one asks you a question.”
A broken wrist takes eight weeks to heal.
Senkuu knows from experience, and he knows from research. Not his own experience, mind. He knows because once, long ago, Gen Asagiri made a mistake on stage and a loud snap rang through the captivated crowd. But, of course, Gen Asagiri’s show kept going until the very end, where he took a bow and thanked his audience for their dedication.
Senkuu isn’t sure how long it takes for a broken jaw to heal.
Senkuu has never broken his jaw before. He doesn’t know anyone who’s broken their jaw before.
He feels Hyouga’s hand tightening around his lower face. He can hear the resounding snap before it even comes.
“Y-yeah.” He forces the word out of his mouth. “Yeah, sure, whatever.” He pulls his head backwards. Well, he tries to pull his head backwards. Hyouga’s grip doesn’t loosen, doesn’t relinquish.
“Senkuu-kun.” Hyouga’s mask is no more than three inches from Senkuu’s lips, and his eyes are so close that Senkuu could headbutt him with no problem. He takes a moment, less than a moment, to think of how that scenario would play out for him.
Hyouga’s other hand comes up to rest on Senkuu’s cheek. Soft. Gentle. Senkuu wants nothing more in the world than to pull right away from that touch. Hyouga’s hand is too big, and his fingers are hooked around the back of Senkuu’s head.
“Be sure not to disappoint me.”
Chapter 4: Chapter 4
“Taiju-kun,” Yuzuriha’s voice is what coaxes him out of sleep. It isn’t panicked or loud or desperate or even rushed. It’s soft, sweet, and kind. Different. Different than it has been, and hearing Yuzuriha’s voice so calm so early in the morning has a kind smile on his lips before his eyes are even open.
“Taiju-kun?” She whispers his name again, and his eyes drift open. Two different sets of brown meet, and he wants nothing more than to cup her cheek in his palm. She is leaning against him, after all. She did fall asleep with her head on his shoulder and their hands intertwined. Are they close enough for him to cup her cheek? Will he make her uncomfortable if he reaches for touch so intimate?
“Ah, good morning!” She chirps, smile coming to her lips as she moves a hand to his left arm, the arm with a set of make-shift bandages still wrapped around it. “Taiju-kun, should I change these or clean them or–“
“Good morning, Yuzuriha!” He stretches his arms high above his head as he pulls himself into a sitting position. “Do you need to?” He tilts his head just enough to convey curiosity.
“I’m not sure.” She sighs. “I’m not a doctor… and Senkuu-kun didn’t mention anything about it…” A small frown takes over her face as her fingers run across the bandages. “I think it’s alright. If Senkuu-kun didn’t say anything about it then it should be fine, right? He doesn’t… well he would have told us if it was something we should really be concerned about.”
“Of course he would!” Taiju’s voice is booming and positive. Enthusiastic. “If Senkuu didn’t mention it, then I don’t think we should worry! We probably don’t need to change it– Wait. Why do people change bandages anyway?” He tilts his head to the side, eyebrows furrowing in confusion.
A soft giggle comes from Yuzuriha’s throat and the sound fills Taiju’s chest with nothing but warmth. “Taiju-kun, it’s important to clean wounds because they can get infected. And, here…” She pauses. “…in this world, an injury getting infected is much worse than it would be in our world.”
“Right! I remember!” He nods, crossing his arms over his chest. “But, remember, Senkuu had us all awake before Hyouga woke up and he was showing you how to change bandages the night before.” Taiju nods to himself. “Do you need to change them that often?”
“I don’t think so.” She frowns. “We’ll do it tomorrow morning, I think. As long as we’re careful, and we clean it well, it should be fine.”
“Alright!” Taiju practically jumps to his feet, fists clenched and smile on his face. “We should go, right? We should start looking for Gen! Then, we have enough for three people right? Then, after we save Gen, we go find someone who can help us beat Hyouga!”
“Senkuu-kun said… where was Gen-kun when it happened..” A frown pulls at Yuzuriha’s lips as her hand raises to her chin. “Senkuu-kun said it, right? He gave us his best guess… That Gen-kun was… what was he doing…” Her face twists into a deep frown. “Doing a show..? They weren’t together. We were at school, and he didn’t find Gen-kun outside the cave.” Her eyes dart to Taiju. “He told us what direction to go, right?”
“Yep!” A huge grin comes over Taiju’s face as he raises a fist in the air. “He said to just head that way,” He paused to give his arm the chance to catch up with his words, pointing out the mouth of the cave. “And, eventually, we should be able to find him, right? Somehow?”
“…Yeah. I hope so.” She smiles, standing from her place on the ground. “I think we should focus on finding Gen-kun before we worry about food or anything. Since we’ll have to account for whoever else we might wake up too…” She stoops, scooping the three earthen jars into her arms and starting towards the mouth of the cave.
“Yuzuriha, I’ll carry them!” Taiju smiles, beams, more like, and reaches his arms out towards her. Offering to take, to share, her burden.
“Ah, thank you, Taiju-kun.” She smiles, letting the far stronger boy scoop the jars from her arms and wrap them up in his own. “Be careful with them. If one breaks, or we drop one, we can’t get any more.”
“I know.” He nods. “Trust me with them, Yuzuriha! As long as I have your trust, I definitely won’t drop them!”
Another soft laugh comes to her lips, and she raises a hand to cover her mouth.
“Okay, Taiju-kun,” Her hand drops, and the sight is enough to stop Taiju dead in his tracks, just outside the mouth of the cave. “I trust you. Don’t let me down~”
“I won’t!!” The words jump past his lips before they even enter his brain, and he can feel his cheeks heating up with a bright blush. “You can rely on me, Yuzuriha!!”
She laughs again, and all Taiju can think is how damn lucky he is that he even gets to hear such a wonderful sound.
“I know, Taiju-kun.” She steps forward, short hair swishing in the wind as she spins on her heel. It’s the happiest he thinks she’s been since the very day so much hair flew off of her head.
He hates thinking of that day.
“Let’s go find Gen-kun.” She nods to herself. “And let’s save Senkuu-kun.”
So he doesn’t.
He wears a beaming smile, bigger than any of them have been able to wear in weeks, and follows Yuzuriha. Their treasure, their most valuable possession, their only possession, held tight in his arms to keep it far off the ground and safe from any potential risks either of them can think of. Certainly anything that he can think of. If he tries to think, something he would rather avoid right now, he would, inevitably, realize that Yuzuriha’s shoulders are tense. Her head swings around and around. Her eyes are wide and her hands are tucked in front of her chest to slow their shaking.
If Taiju noticed, he wouldn’t be able to tell if her hands are shaking out of fear, anger, nerves, maybe even temperature.
If Taiju noticed, he would end up lost in thought. He would end up struggling to figure it out.
If Taiju noticed, he wouldn’t ask.
Chapter 5: Chapter 5
“…Taiju-kun… any luck??” Yuzuriha’s voice calls from what Taiju thinks is farther away than the two of them really should be. When he jerks his head to look for her, it takes him more than one second to find the short hair and pale clothing of the other un-petrified human.
“Taiju, keep Yuzuriha safe.”
“Not yet!!” He calls back, one arm waving through the air while the other shoves a pile of branches aside. There’s a statue, barely three feet away from him. No cracks, no broken pieces, completely undamaged. But it isn’t Gen, it isn’t who they’re looking for. So he set it aside, as carefully as he could with a whole stone statue, and moved along.
“What about you, Yuzuriha!?” He shouts back, voice booming loud enough that he has to cover his mouth with the realization that maybe, just maybe, Hyouga is, in fact, following them. And maybe, just maybe, he’s giving their position away with effortless ease.
“Nothing yet!” She calls back. He does know, at least, that Yuzuriha can’t be making the same progress that he is. Even as far away as she is, even with the grace and care that she can apply to every statue that makes its way under her gaze that Taiju just can’t provide. Neither of them is making any progress, and he can see the sun beginning to set in the sky.
But he keeps working.
“I want you to find Gen.”
“I’m going to find Gen.” He says the words to himself. There’s nothing in them but pure determination. “I’m going to find Gen.” He says them again. He says them again, and again, and again.
I’m going to keep my promise.
I’m going to save Senkuu.
We’re going to save Senkuu.
When did he end up in front of the fire?
Why are his hands empty?
He could have sworn they were full of broken branches and rocks in pursuit of a goal that now, sitting across the fire from Yuzuriha, seems entirely unattainable. It’s only been one day, he thinks, and he’s starting to think that, maybe, Yuzuriha was right.
“Taiju-kun?” She repeats his name, leaning forward just enough for her eyes to end up in his line of sight without him even moving.
“Ah, sorry!” He bursts into a full, boisterous laugh and his hand jumps to rub the back of his head. “I think I got lost in thought!” He laughs again, eyes staying closed as he does.
“Ah, alright.” She tilts her head, slightly, with a small frown still playing on her lips as she watches him. “…Taiju-kun.”
“…I know it’s only been one day–“
“We’ll find him, Yuzuriha.” He smiles so big and so bright, as much as he can get into one smile. “We can’t give up! Senkuu needs us to find him, right?”
“I know.” She nods. “I’m sorry, Taiju-kun, you probably think I’m being such a pessimist.” She laughs a soft, low, gentle laugh.
He shakes his head. “You’re worried about Senkuu.” He brings a smile to his own face, almost by force. “Why wouldn’t you be worried about Senkuu? We had to leave him–“ He blinks. He pauses. His mouth drops open. “Ah.”
“Nothing, nothing!” He laughs again, lifting a hand to wave her away. “I’m fine, Yuzuriha! You know me, I could keep going all night if I had to!”
She laughs. “Well, you don’t have to. It’s probably better that you don’t, actually. If you want to keep your stamina so high, you should really rest!”
He nods along, watching the way her hair sways with the movement of her mouth and the way her clothing shifts as she gestures with her hands, and everything he sees in her makes his smile that much bigger.
“Hm?” She blinks, stopping completely and meeting his eyes with her own.
“Your hair looks nice like that.” The words come to his mouth before his mind and he nearly jumps to cover his lips with a hand. His eyes are wide and his smile is just about to drop when her lips twist into the brightest smile he thinks he’s ever seen on anyone.
“Thank you, Taiju-kun.”
He swears his heart skips a beat.
He knows that a bright blush is climbing his cheeks faster than he could ever run, and his words are coming out as a jumble. Or maybe those are just the thoughts in his mind, but the expanding feeling of warmth in his chest is something that he never thought would be so freeing.
I love her so much.
“Tell Gen I love him. Yuzuriha, make sure one of you tells him that.”
We’re going to win.
We’re going to save you, Senkuu.
We’re going to save Gen.
No matter how long it takes.
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
“T-Taiju-kun… we… we..”
“We can’t give up!” Taiju’s voice is determined, loud, just as it always is. He’s the same old Taiju, he thinks. He wants to be.
“I want you to find Gen.”
“Senkuu trusted us to do this! We can’t just give up–“
“Taiju-kun, we… we can’t just leave Senkuu-kun with Hyouga-kun… we…” Her voice, soft and sweet, is so distraught and Taiju hates the sound in her voice. He hates it. He wants, more than anything, to hear her laugh and see her smile. “We just left him..! We… there’s no way for us to even know if he’s alright, or what Hyouga-kun is doing to him and… we can’t, Taiju-kun, I don’t think… I don’t think I can take it.”
Even as she talks, even as he can hear her voice breaking under its own pressure. Taiju doesn’t stop digging. He’s pulling branches, dirt, rocks, statues, anything in his way to the sides. He’s practically digging through dirt.
We can’t lose.
“I want you to find Gen.”
We can’t give up.
“I want you to find Gen.”
We have to find him.
“We can’t!” He hears himself shout. It isn’t a harsh or violent shout, and he knows that Yuzuriha won’t take it that way. “We can’t give up, Yuzuriha! Senkuu trusted us to save Gen! He trusted us with Gen! We can’t let him down!”
“Taiju-kun, it’s been over two weeks–“
“I can’t give up!” He throws back. “I can’t give up!” He says it again, and again, and again, and again. “Senkuu didn’t give up on saving you, Yuzuriha! We can’t give up on saving Gen!”
“Taiju-kun, we’re not giving up, we just can’t leave him alone with that man –“
Taiju’s head turns, looking over his shoulder. His eyes meet Yuzuriha’s, and she freezes. The tears, beginning to well up in her eyes, come to a complete and total halt.
“Did we bring any extra clothes with us?”
“Extra…” She blinks. “I… um. We have our Winter clothes that Senkuu made us wear out just in case. Taiju-kun–“ She blinks. “…Taiju-kun–“
Taiju turns his head again, back to what caught his attention in the first place.
“Yuzuriha, I think we need those clothes.” Is what he manages to say, and he can hear her scrambling around behind him. He can hear the earthen pots clinking together and Yuzuriha’s footsteps. His hands close around the stone statue before him, crouched in what looks like a pose one would make before an audience.
I guess he was at a show, after all.
He pulls the statue up, out from under the mountain of dirt, and he can hear Yuzuriha’s gasp as she rushes back into his line of sight. All that’s in her hands is the deep purple jacket that Taiju remembers Senkuu bragging about being able to dye all that time ago, and the thought brings a smile to his lips.
“Taiju-kun, put him down right here!” Yuzuriha points him to a specific spot on the ground and Taiju practically jumps to do what she says, setting the statue down between them.
A moment of silence passes between them.
“…wow…” She blinks, set of clothes still clenched between her fingers as she pauses. “…wow.” She repeats the exclamation, eyes wide and struggling to blink. “It’s… It’s odd.” Her head tilts to the side, just enough to make the confusion clear in her eyes. “…we’ve seen so many statues, we keep seeing so many statues, but…” Her brow furrows. “…it just… doesn’t feel real. Until now, I guess.” She laughs, softly. “I know… now that it’s someone that I know…” Her hands move across the clothing in her hands, visibly checking for any tears or imperfections in the fabric. “…it’s just starting to hit me, I guess…”
“…yeah.” The smile over Taiju’s face now is more nostalgic than anything. “I guess so.” He tilts his head to the side, eyes scanning the statue in front of him. “Though, seeing Gen without that smile he always has is super weird!” A hand comes to his chin as he continues to examine the statue. “And, y’know, seeing him without Senkuu is even weirder!”
Yuzuriha’s laugh is the next thing to come into his ears as she finally moves forward, starting on her small quest to slip the clothing around Gen’s body without causing it any damage. Her fingers, slim and delicate and dexterous as ever, work their magic faster than even Taiju could ever expect, and soon enough Gen is completely dressed in what was once their Winter clothes, brought just in case.
Taiju thinks, for a moment, that this is probably why Senkuu wanted them to bring the clothes.
And, once he thinks that, he realizes that he’s definitely right.
Senkuu really does think of everything.
“Alright.” Yuzuriha is the first to break their short silence. “Taiju-kun, we should… we should do it now, right?”
Both of them pause, just for another moment, before their eyes meet and both of them nod. Yuzuriha turns, fingers closing around one of their earthen jars and moving to remove the tanned leather stretched across the top.
Taiju keeps his eyes on Gen for now. He can see the indents of a smile on the statue’s face, though he knows that isn’t Gen’s real smile. He’s seen Gen’s real smile, and that isn’t it.
“Alright.” Yuzuriha’s voice comes from over his shoulder, and she steps right back into his line of sight as if she had never left. “Alright.” She repeats, and he can tell that she’s nervous. Maybe she’s afraid that the formula isn’t right, that she won’t pour it right, that she’ll drop it last second, anything in between.
“Yuzuriha.” Her eyes jump right into his and he grins, he beams , at her.
She smiles right back, and her hands reach out. The two of them wrap their hands around the earthen jar, fingers overlapping as their grips both tighten.
“Three.” Yuzuriha’s voice is strong, determined, and Taiju loves the sound in her voice.
He struggles to think of a single thing that he doesn’t love about her.
“Two.” He jumps in with the next number.
“One!” They shout simultaneously, and the jar tips forward.
And the stone begins to crack.
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
Gen Asagiri wakes up in a daze.
The first moment is odd, because he knows for certain that he would describe this as waking up. He knows that he is waking up, yet he comes back to consciousness with his eyes already open and his hands already moving. He falls right onto his hands and knees, and the first thing that registers is that he most definitely isn’t in the performance hall anymore. His fingers hit what most definitely feels like dirt under his hands, and the clothes that stretch over his skin are rougher than the perfectly tailored suit that he wore for his magic show.
His first thought is to reach for his phone. Which is supposed to be in his back pocket. Just like it always is during his performances. His first instinct is to reach for his phone because, just before everything slipped away, just before everything went dark, he felt his phone buzzing. He was in the middle of a performance, of course, so he couldn’t reach to check. But he knew who it was. The moment he felt his phone vibrating, he knew who it was.
The first voice he hears is familiar.
He blinks. There was something covering his eyes, but now it’s gone. He can see, and all he can see is the dirt beneath his feet and the grass under his hands and the deep purple of what looks like the most primitive clothing he’s ever worn. He’s confused. He wasn’t wearing this before, and he wasn’t standing in a field before, and he sure as hell wasn’t anywhere that Yuzuriha Ogawa would be at this time of day.
“…huh?” He would think that his first words would be more articulate than that. He is the world’s best smooth-talker, after all, he’s meant to be better than that when he speaks, even in an uncertain situation. However, if he isn’t mistaken, and that voice really belongs to Yuzuriha Ogawa, there isn’t much of a reason to force his public perception onto his face. Yuzuriha Ogawa means Taiju Oki, and Yuzuriha Ogawa and Taiju Oki mean Senkuu Ishigami.
And Gen doesn’t feel the need to hide himself behind lies in the presence of Senkuu Ishigami.
“Gen-kun!” The voice chirps again, and Gen blinks the fuzziness out of his eyes. The grass becomes clearer and he looks up. It’s just as he expected. Yuzuriha Ogawa means Taiju Oki, and Yuzuriha Ogawa and Taiju Oki means–
He tilts his head to the side.
There’s so surprise in either of their eyes. In fact, they look as though they were expecting his reaction as he climbs to his feet, dusts himself off, and looks around. The clothing is absolutely primitive, if well-made. If Yuzuriha Ogawa had any hand in making it, which seems likely at the moment, he would expect it to be the absolute pinnacle of quality. Though there are no shoes, and he’s curious exactly how he got into what appears to be the middle of a field in completely different clothing and no shoes.
“Where am I?” Is the next question he asks, tucking his hands together and into his sleeves. “What exactly is going on?” He tilts his head, staring at the two familiar faces.
They look different.
The most obvious is Yuzuriha. Her hair is at least 7 inches shorter than it was the last time he saw her, which he’s certain was only a day or two ago. And he has to wonder exactly what prompted her to get such a drastic hair cut so suddenly.
Slightly less obvious, but he still notices, is the lines that mark both of them. Taiju has them over his eyes. They almost look like make-up, but Gen has no reason to believe that Taiju would ever wear what is essentially the equivalent of stage make-up. So he tilts his head.
“What is going on?”
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
What’s going on again?
It’s a question that he finds running through his mind far more often than it should be.
How long has it been, again?
His wrist isn’t healed, he knows that. He thinks that’s going to be his new way to figure out exactly how long he’s been here, how long since he’s seen his friends. His wrist was snapped the day they left. A broken wrist takes 8 weeks to heal. It’s almost as though Hyouga provided a perfect way to measure time for him.
He’s almost grateful for it.
And yet, his hands are still stirring.
Stirring and stirring and stirring.
His eyes feel heavy more often than they don’t, his back aches, his arms scream, but he ignores it. He shoves it down down down. He can’t stop. He can’t stop moving. He can’t.
The bruise on his cheek, the bruise on his left eye, cut just next to the bruise, all give him more than enough reason to keep stirring. To keep working. Not to slow down.
He thinks, if he’s right, it’s been about fourteen nights since the two of them left.
He’s going to run out of alcohol soon.
His lips part, and his throat feels so dry.
“…Hyouga.” His voice is too quiet, too rough, too not him, for him to believe that it’s coming from his own lungs. He can feel his grip on the rod in his hands weakening, but he keeps going. He doesn’t let go. He doesn’t stop.
“Yes, Senkuu-kun?” It’s another time, another of the rare moments, where a smile can be heard in the man’s voice, and Senkuu has to wonder if he noticed the problems with his voice. He has to wonder if he can see the way Senkuu’s eyes hang half-open and his shoulders shake under the weight of his own arms.
“…throat…” He breathes the word through barely-parted lips and looks up. His neck is beginning to ache. “…water. Water.”
“Ah, you’re thirsty? Does your throat hurt?” Hyouga tilts his head to one side, arms wrapped around the spear at his side as he stares at Senkuu. “Have you made enough revival fluid to bring a person back to life?”
It’s a question that Senkuu has been avoiding the answer to for almost two weeks. He made enough for three people, if he remembers correctly, and gave it all to the others, to his friends , while telling Hyouga that he had yet to make enough for one. If his rate of production hasn’t decreased, which is most likely has, then he should have made enough for at least another two people. He knows that there are two Earthen pots to the side, full to the brim with as much fluid as can fit into them. But Hyouga doesn’t know how much they need for one person. There’s no way for him to know that.
Once Senkuu tells him, once Hyouga revives his first person, he’ll know.
But his throat hurts.
“Yeah.” He looks up, half-hidden irises staring at Hyouga’s blank expression. “Yeah, there’s enough.” He whispers. He can feel his grip getting looser and looser every moment that passes. “You… Are you going to revive someone?”
Hyouga’s eyes move just enough for Senkuu to see the smile beneath the mask. Or at least to see that there is one. He can feel the rod finally slipping from his grip as he takes a step back. Then another one. One of his hands comes up to his face, covering his eyes with one hand as he tries to blink himself back to reality.
Hyouga’s going to revive someone.
Should make it easier.
For me, here, at least.
His free hand finds the back wall of the cave, and he lets it guide him into a sitting position on the cave’s dirt floor.
“Senkuu-kun, what are you doing?” Hyouga tilts his head to the side, which Senkuu can only barely see through the spaces between his fingers and the blurriness of his vision.
How much sleep have I gotten this week?
Taiju and Yuzuriha left almost two weeks ago, I think. Maybe longer? How long ago did Hyouga break my wrist again?
Why does everything look so blurry again?
“Taking a break.” He replies with a quiet, drowsy texture to his words. “…hands hurt.” He mutters. And it’s true. His hands ache and his wrist is throbbing and throbbing and throbbing .
“Well, Senkuu-kun,” Hyouga takes a step towards him. “If you’re really so thirsty, then we’ll have to go wake my dear friend.” The other comes forward, footsteps loud and harsh against the cave floor. He sets his spear to the side. They both know he doesn’t need it. “To ensure that you are never left without the supervision you need to accomplish your task. Yes?”
“Whatever you say.” He breathes out between his words, staring up at Hyouga in an exhausted daze. “There’s enough for a person.” He repeats, moving his undamaged hand to point to the earthen jar off to the side of the cave. He thinks that’s how much he’s made, but it doesn’t really matter.
One person is already too many.
One person already makes things harder for his friends.
Before Senkuu can even register, Hyouga is looming over him. He sucks in a deep breath, tilting his head back to meet the towering man’s eyes.
“Come on then, Senkuu-kun. You need to stand up if we’re going to go wake someone up, yes?”
I guess we’re leaving the cave.
He tilts his head to one side, not necessarily out of choice. His neck aches. Not that the movement helps much at all, his shoulders ache too.
“I guess so.” He nods as much as his aching neck will allow. “Would be helpful if my wrist wasn’t broken, y’know.” He mutters, struggling to find purchase on the slippery (is it really slippery? Or do his hands just hurt too much?) dirt floor. He pulls himself to his feet, undamaged hand leaning him against the back wall as Hyouga takes a step back to, at the very least, allow him the space to climb to his feet.
“Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about that.” Hyouga smiles. “It is already broken and, as of this moment, you have yet to re-invent the cast.”
“Guess so.” He mutters, blinking his eyes as far open as he can get them.
What’s going on again? Why am I up?
He feels Hyouga’s hand closing around his wrist, and he sucks in a harsh breath. His eyes press closed, and he waits for Hyouga to tighten his grip. Maybe even break the bamboo that’s meant to keep his wrist in place and help him heal.
“Come, Senkuu-kun. We both know that I can’t simply leave you here, no matter how exhausted you may seem.” The towering man pulls and Senkuu hisses, body jerking forward with the movement. Hyouga’s other hand, his free hand, moves to grip Senkuu’s undamaged, relatively undamaged, wrist while releasing the one kept in a splint. And Senkuu can’t help feeling just the smallest bit grateful for the mercy being offered.
He hates that the first thought that comes to him is to be grateful.
What’s taking them so damn long?
“Don’t you dare come back for me until you know you can win.”
“After all, Senkuu-kun, how do I know that your plan isn’t for Taiju-kun and Yuzuriha-kun to be waiting not far from the cave? Perhaps they are simply lying in wait for me to disappear, if only for a moment, so they can come and rescue you before disappearing for good. Or perhaps you yourself are simply pretending to be so exhausted so you can slip away when my guard is down, yes?” There’s a smile under the mask, and Senkuu doesn’t think he has the energy to even bother trying to argue or disprove the man’s words.
There are enough bruises dotting his skin for the moment, he thinks.
“Senkuu-kun, what did we say about responding when one speaks to you?” He can see Hyouga tilting his head, he can feel him about to tighten his grip. He can hear the resounding snap before it even happens.
“I got it. I got it.” He mutters, nodding along with his own words. “I got it.” He repeats it one last time, taking a step towards the towering man despite the logical part of his mind, what is usually his favorite part of his mind, practically screaming at him not to do that. Bad idea bad idea. “Are we gonna go do that or not?”
“Of course.” Hyouga’s grip on his wrist lessens and then releases. “Get the formula, Senkuu-kun. If you don’t mind. ”
“‘Course, Hyouga.” A small grin works its way onto his lips as he pushes his way off the wall and makes his way to the earthen jar, tanned leather stretched across and fastened to the top. His fingers close around the jar. His fingers are shaking. He can feel it against the rough material between his hands. He tightens his grip, he tries to, anyway, but it seems to only make the shaking worse.
His mouth dips right back into a frown as he stares down at his hands.
I doubt much of anything I make will be much good if my damn hands can’t stop shaking.
I doubt much of anything I make will be much good if my hands don’t stop shaking.
He blinks again, mouth slowly forming a smirk.
I doubt much of anything I make will be much good with my hands like this.
He turns around at the sound of Hyouga’s footsteps coming towards him once again.
I gave them enough for three people.
And Hyouga has enough for one.
He smirks, eyes half-open and fingers suddenly freezing against the jar in his hands.
That should be enough, for now at least.
Hyouga moves forward, hand closing around the jar with the clear intent of pulling it right from Senkuu’s grip.
Senkuu doesn’t fight back. He doesn’t bother with it. He knows better than to fight a losing battle, and the jar ends up between the giant fingers that Senkuu knows could shatter it with only a momentary lapse in grip.
“Wonderful,” Hyouga smiles right down at him. “Well then, Senkuu-kun, let’s go, shall we?”
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I know it’s a lot to process,” Yuzuriha is the one to speak first. “I didn’t really believe it when I woke up either,” She takes a step forward, and Gen honestly can’t say that he doesn’t believe them. Yuzuriha and Taiju are not two people that Gen knows as liars. He’s never known them to even come close to bending the truth. They’re just as honest as Senkuu, if more naive about their honesty. “But… really all the proof is around us.” Her hands are together, fiddling with her fingernails. It’s something typical of those who are nervous or those who are lying.
“So,” He tilts his head to the side. “Allow me to summarize everything that you’ve told me.”
Both of them practically snap to attention with a small nod from Yuzuriha and a continued stare from Taiju.
“All of humanity was turned to stone, which I can clearly see from the several statues surrounding us,” He makes a sweeping gesture with one hand, “as well as the stone fragments that are surrounding me.” He nods to himself. “And I have been trapped in stone for 3,720 years, approximately. The two of you, along with Senkuu-chan, who is not here, have been awake for approximately a year. And now, you two have found me and poured nital over me to release me from the stone as well.” He nods along. “Alright, so far there is little evidence that proves you wrong outside of how unbelievable the entire scenario is in general. However, you two are generally quite honest.” He nods along with his own words. “And I see no reason for you to craft such intricate lies to simply justify my presence in some odd field.” He tilts his head to the other side. “However, you have neglected one important detail.”
“Senkuu-kun.” Yuzuriha nods before he can even say the name.
“Yes.” Gen follows up, eyes passing between the two. “Where exactly is he? You’ve told me that he was awake before either of you, yet he is nowhere to be seen.”
“Senkuu is with Hyouga.” Taiju says the words simply, with no introduction or clarification or anything. Gen can’t say that he would ever expect anything different from Taiju, though the sentence sends about one thousand new questions through his mind, and he turns to Yuzuriha.
“Senkuu-kun is…” She pauses, eyes glancing towards Taiju for a moment, as if trying to find the words to explain something that’s hidden just behind her lips. “…Taiju-kun and Senkuu-kun revived Hyouga-kun while they were under attack by a group of… lions?” She turns her head to Taiju, as if making sure that her information is correct. He offers nothing beyond a simple nod and Yuzuriha returns her attention to Gen. “Hyouga-kun saved them from the lions and cooperated for a little while before–“
“He broke a statue.” Taiju jumps in. “He broke someone’s statue on the beach. So we revived Yuzuriha and tried to run away.”
Yuzuriha nods, and Gen can’t help the thought that crosses his mind that these two truly are perfect for each other.
“But Hyouga-kun… took me hostage.” She looks down, and Gen can see the look in Taiju’s eyes that says that the rock-solid boy wants nothing more than to avoid this topic completely. “And he cut my hair, when Senkuu-kun tried to bluff his way out…” Her eyes dip to the ground and Gen can immediately diagnose the guilt he sees in her eyes. “…Senkuu-kun agreed to do whatever Hyouga-kun wanted.”
“And what, exactly, did this Hyouga-chan want?” He tilts his head to the other side.
“Senkuu is in the Cave of Miracles, where there’s… Nitric Acid?” Taiju looks to Yuzuriha for confirmation once again. “It’s one of the ingredients of the revival fluid!”
“Yes.” Yuzuriha dips her head in a nod. “Hyouga-kun… wanted Senkuu-kun to make the revival fluid for him. He won’t… let him leave the cave of miracles. So Senkuu-kun told us to sneak away when Hyouga-kun sent us to get more grapes to make more alcohol for the formula. With all of it that he had already made… so we could wake you up.”
He blinks, head tilting up and then back. “I’m sorry?” His head drops to the right. “He asked you to leave so you could revive me?”
Both of them nod simultaneously, and Gen can’t help the warm feeling that blossoms in his chest upon seeing their reaction. He can’t help the warmth in his chest that came with Yuzuriha’s words in the first place.
“I see.” He nods. “So Senkuu-chan is still in this cave with this Hyouga-chan.” He tilts his head to the side, eyes running over the two of them once again. “Now, I must ask, exactly how did Taiju-chan receive that injury?”
“Ah!” Taiju’s hand jumps to the bandages around his bicep. “Senkuu said something that made Hyouga angry. And Hyouga picked up his spear and–“
“I see.” Gen’s eyes are wide as he jumps on top of Taiju’s words. He’s certain that he doesn’t want to hear the rest of that story. He’s more than certain that he doesn’t want to hear either of these two tell the rest of that story. “So, even after that, Senkuu-chan is now alone with this Hyouga-chan?”
Both of them nod.
“And how long, exactly, has it been since the two of you left Senkuu-chan with this Hyouga-chan?”
“About two weeks.” Yuzuriha is the one who answers. “We’ve been looking for you the whole time… we really didn’t think we would be able to find you… we were about to give up when Taiju-kun suddenly dug you out of the ground.”
“Senkuu told us not to go back until we could beat Hyouga!” Taiju jumps in with a pumped fist. “So we can’t give up! We have to figure out a way to beat him and save Senkuu!” As always, Taiju’s enthusiasm is nothing short of infectious. Even only being in front of him for about ten minutes has a smile inching its way onto Gen’s face.
“I see.” He nods again. “So, Taiju-chan and Yuzuriha-chan, do you have any plan for how you are going to become strong enough to beat this Hyouga-chan?”
“Senkuu-kun gave us enough revival fluid for three people.” Yuzuriha points to the two earthen jars sitting on the ground. “He made us promise to use the first one on you, and then the other two are so Hyouga-kun can’t use them, and so we can revive someone else to help us.”
“I see.” He feels like a broken record. “So the question is who exactly should we revive in order to defeat Hyouga-chan and rescue Senkuu-chan.” He looks between the two of them. “Do not worry, Taiju-chan, Yuzuriha-chan, with a mentalist as spectacular as myself on your side, there is no chance of failure! Senkuu-chan will be free and within our grasp in no time!”
He can see both of them perking up within seconds, and it manages to bring some kind of cheer to his own smile. These two, even with how little time he’s spent with only them, have never managed to bring anything less than a smile to his lips. He finds it interesting just how different Senkuu Ishigami’s friends are from him, though he supposes that must be part of their charm.
“Woah! Yuzuriha, there’s no way that we can lose, we have Gen on our side now, and enough revival fluid for a whole two more people!” Taiju pumps his fists in excitement and a soft chuckle comes through Yuzuriha’s lips. The moment that the sound hits his ears, a soft blush lights up Taiju’s cheeks, and Gen knows the entire story between them already , but he’s certain that he’s completely caught up on almost a year of progress now.
Ah. That’s it.
They look older.
His eyes comb the two before him once again.
Perhaps more mature as well?
His head tilts back, hands tucked into his sleeves as he stares up at the sky.
…how different will Senkuu-chan look?
“Yes, Yuzuriha-chan?” He moves to look at her head-on, head tilting left and charming smile gracing his lips.
“Senkuu-kun… Senkuu-kun gave us a few messages for you.”
“Ah, really?” He blinks.
“Yes, um.” She glances to Taiju for a moment before looking at Gen once again. “He says that he’s sorry he couldn’t be here for your revival, he… he really wanted to be the one to revive you himself… so he’s sorry.”
Gen nods, the words bringing a nostalgic smile to his lips to replace the cheery one. Such a sentiment truly is just like Senkuu Ishigami.
“And,” Yuzuriha continues. “He… um… well…” He can see a light blush climbing up her cheeks as a hand moves to the back of her neck. He has to wonder what exactly the message might be to have Yuzuriha Ogawa acting so awkward around it. “He… um… wanted us to tell you… that he loves you.”
How many times has Senkuu-chan said such a thing to me?
He blinks, head turning away from the two before him, along with the rest of his body. He stares off into the distance, head tilting up to look at the sky once again.
Once? Twice? Thrice, perhaps, if subtext counts?
He can feel the smile playing across his lips.
And yet, that is the message that he asks his friends to relay.
“Well, then let us form a plan to rescue Senkuu-chan from this Hyouga-chan, yes?”
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
“So, of course, we want to figure this out as quickly as possible.” The conversation takes a long pause as the two of them smile and say that they have a cave nearby. Yuzuriha explains, briefly, what the two of them have been doing for the past two weeks as Taiju marches about three feet ahead of them with his signature smile and upbeat attitude. Most of it was simply searching for him, and Gen finds it fascinating that they were so close to giving up, apparently, when Taiju found him.
These two, Gen has always thought, are not the type to give up. Certainly not easily. Certainly not when it’s something important.
This situation must be serious.
Though, somehow, it seems oddly fake. Surreal. As if he’s trapped in a dream that is going on just a bit too long. It’s an odd feeling. Knowing, deep in his gut, that something is wrong, and yet not being able to truly accept such a thing. Perhaps it’s the overwhelming changes that come with the whole situation. Perhaps it’s the lack of time between when he learned and right now.
Coming across the cave is like a slap in the face. Not that he didn’t believe them, of course he did, of course he does, but seeing the evidence of two people living in a cave for what he knows is several days, the remains of a fire, the earthen pots full of different plants and mushrooms, the natural way that Taiju falls into setting the two jars of revival fluid into one spot, all only serves as more and more of a wake-up slap as to what is truly going on around him.
“Are you hungry, Gen-kun?” Yuzuriha smiles at him as she makes her way over to one of their pots, pulling a selection of mushrooms and plants from their stores. “We don’t have many options,” She chuckles, “but we have more than enough for all of us to eat, at least!”
“Taiju-chan, is Yuzuriha-chan a good cook?” Gen’s attention shifts to the boy that Senkuu always calls simple. He’s certain that, when Senkuu says that, it’s always a compliment. So he sees no reason why he can’t refer to Taiju the same way.
“Absolutely!” Taiju practically shouts, fists thrusting into the air and head nodding vigorously. “Yuzuriha is an AMAZING cook!!”
Gen’s eyes dart to Yuzuriha, seeing the blush light up her cheeks as she adds the selected plants and mushrooms to what he can tell is a stick that’s been used for cooking previously.
They are quite perfect for each other.
“So, Taiju-chan,” He takes a seat in front of the now-roaring fire, hands still tucked deep into his sleeves as he watches the flames dance before his eyes. “You managed to keep yourself awake inside of a stone statue for 3,700 years, huh?” He tilts his head. “How exactly did you manage such an incredible feat? What were you thinking about for all of that time?”
“Ah, I was–“ The simple one blinks and a small smirk comes over Gen’s face and a hand comes to his lips. “I was thinking about how I needed to stay awake and finish my homework!”
Gen has to fight to keep himself from laughing at the other. It really might be the worst lie that he’s ever heard, even coming from someone as honest and earnest as Taiju, who he’s certain has never told a lie before this one in his entire life short of perhaps lying to the Hyouga that they keep mentioning in order to escape with their lives. However, Gen wouldn’t consider lies told out of necessity to be the same as lies told for personal comfort.
And this, most certainly, was a lie told for personal comfort.
“So, Taiju-chan, you spent 3,700 years thinking about nothing but the homework you had to get done, and that kept you awake for 3,700 years. ” He pulls the thread. He isn’t sure exactly why he feels the need (or perhaps it’s simply a want) to pull the thread at all, but the two of them are so clearly meant for each other that he just can’t help himself.
“Yup! It worked!” He laughs, a hand coming to the back of his head as Yuzuriha sits across from them by the fire. Her hands are careful, elegant, around the base of the stick as she roasts the plants and mushrooms, and Gen can’t help but be wowed by just how clear her expertise is.
“I suppose it did.” He smirks, though he decides to leave the thread be for now. He supposes that, if it’s truly been a year and Taiju still has yet to tell her, there must be a reason.
“Anyway, Gen-kun.” Yuzuriha smiles at him over the roaring flame. “While it’s cooking, do you… well do you have any idea where to start?” She laughs a soft, awkward laugh. Which really tells Gen that neither of them thought beyond reviving the magician himself. Something that Gen might have expected of Taiju, but not of Yuzuriha.
She must have been truly worried for Senkuu’s safety.
Just who is this Hyouga-chan, anyway?
“Well, I’ve only been in this world for a total of perhaps an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. So, I am uncertain if I am quite… equipped to craft a well-thought out plan yet.” He laughs, head cocking to the side. “But I will most certainly be working on it for the foreseeable future.”
“Moving around is probably best, right?” Yuzuriha continues with a nod, if only to acknowledge that she heard Gen’s concerns and is considering them. “If Hyouga-kun is following us… or he managed to wake up another person and is having them look for us…”
“Yes, if you look at it that way, then I suppose you are correct.” Gen nods along with his own advice. “If Senkuu-chan is continually making revival fluid… then I would assume that he’s made enough by now for Hyouga-chan to revive another person. We will have to take such an addition into consideration when deciding who to revive next.” He tilts his head. “It ought to be someone powerful, yes? If this Hyouga-chan was capable of overpowering even Taiju-chan, then we need someone who is both powerful and willing to throw a punch.” He cocks his head to the other side as the two stare at him.
“Do you have someone in mind, Gen-kun?” Yuzuriha tilts her head to the side with a touch of curiosity to her eyes.
“Well, perhaps.” He focuses on the fire. “Though, if it took you two a whole two weeks to find myself, I cannot be certain how long it will take to find this individual. Since the two of you had some idea of my location… I can’t be certain where he was when it happened, nor do I know much of anything about navigation.” He frowns. “However, since we are in a hurry, evidently…” His eyebrows furrow as he glares at the fire with a frown. “At the very least, we have Taiju-chan’s boundless stamina to help us search, yes~?”
“Yeah!” Taiju jumps right in and the simple one is so predictable that Gen almost finds it funny. He completely understands how someone like Senkuu Ishigami finds a person like Taiju Oki to be such a comforting presence. “I don’t even need to rest! If it means we can save Senkuu faster–“
“Now, Taiju-chan, don’t say ridiculous things.” Gen forces a laugh past his lips. “Should you truly try to go however long this may take without sleep, then you will only serve to exhaust and injure yourself, and neither of those things would be of any help to Senkuu-chan.” He can see Yuzuriha nodding enthusiastically out of the corner of his eyes and it has him holding back a soft chuckle. “The best thing we can do for him, until we manage to find this individual, is to simply care for ourselves and search for him. If we go in at less than 100%, then why bother going in at all?”
“He’s right, Taiju-kun..!” And Gen can tell that this is a discussion that these two have been having over the course of the whole two weeks. Probably even longer.
“Alright! If resting will help Senkuu, then I’ll get more rest than I ever have before!”
“Anyway, Gen-kun,” He moves to meet Yuzuriha’s eyes. “Who is this individual that you’re thinking of?”
“Ah!” A smirk spreads across his lips, and he knows that, if Senkuu were here, he would be relentlessly teased for his ever-present flair for the dramatic.
“None other than the Strongest Primate Highschooler himself!”
“That’s right!” A hand rises to meet his mouth, holding himself in a pose that’s more than typical of a magician such as himself. “We’ll be reviving Tsukasa Shishio!”
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
“Y’know, I’m gettin’ real sick of you saying my name like that.”
“Since Homura-kun is out for the moment,” Hyouga’s eyes are impossible to read, as always, “I figure it’s about time that we discuss our next revival, yes?”
“What’s there to talk about? D’you care about my opinion at all?” He cocks his head to one side, the rhythmic motion of crushing grapes between his fingers is just as painful, annoying, infuriating as stirring is. Though, at least, his shoulders don’t ache with the continued motion of his arms. At least it’s just his fingers.
“Well, Senkuu-kun, I do think it’s important for us to talk about it.” This time, when Hyouga begins stepping towards him, he doesn’t let go of the spear in his fingers. And both of them know that Hyouga doesn’t need it, so the fact that it stays clenched between his thick, powerful fingers has Senkuu’s eyebrow flying up. “Since, perhaps you noticed? One of the jars of ‘revival fluid’ that you made was missing.” Senkuu hates to admit, even if it’s only to himself, that he didn’t notice. He normally prides himself on his powers of observation, but his mind has had such a singular focus on what his hands are doing, on how his friends are doing, on if they’re okay , that he hasn’t noticed much of anything beyond that.
“Yeah, and? Did you revive someone else?” A smirk comes over his lips as his eyes dart right up to Hyouga’s.
Not that it matters all that much if he didn’t notice.
Not that it matters all that much if Hyouga took a jar without telling him.
Not that it matters all that much.
“No, Senkuu-kun, you see, that’s the problem.”
Not that it matters.
“Homura-kun returned with an empty jar, yet there was no one with her. She tells me that she followed the steps exactly as you explained them to us, and yet no one emerged from the stone.” Hyouga’s footsteps are heavy, bordering on violent, loud, he’s certain that the sound is intentional. “So, Senkuu-kun.” The man takes a pause, and Senkuu’s head turns to look up at him head-on.
“Do you have an explanation for this?”
His wrist isn’t healed yet.
He knows that, and from the brief testing he’s managed to do on it, he’s sure that it won’t be healed for a while. But the bruises on his face are beginning to fade, which means it’s been about a week and a half since he received them. At least, the older ones are beginning to fade. He knows that there are new ones, on his palms and his cheeks and his eyelids and possibly even his neck. He can’t see himself, so he can’t be certain.
If he’s been here for almost four weeks, alone, then where are the other two?
Are they okay?
Have they found Gen?
Are they reviving another person?
Are they alive?
No. Of course they are.
Those two aren’t the type to give up.
“What kinda explanation, Hyouga?” He raises an eyebrow. “I gave you the right steps and you took the formula. If something went wrong it was clearly on your–“
There’s a hand around his throat.
His head slams into the back wall of the cave, and he gasps violently for air. His hand, the one not attached to a damaged wrist, flies up to wrap around the base of Hyouga’s palm. It takes another moment for his other hand to come up to join. He really shouldn’t be surprised that such a towering behemoth of a man can hold him up with one hand, but somehow he still finds himself awed by it. From what he can see, which admittedly isn’t much, his feet are about a foot or two off the ground as he kicks at Hyouga’s torso in almost desperation. His air isn’t cut off – he can still breathe. But it’s a struggle. As he pulls at Hyouga’s fingers with his own, he struggles to get air past his throat.
“Was it, Senkuu-kun?” Hyouga’s eyes are open, mere inches from his own. Senkuu’s crimson irises dart right at the appearance of Hyouga’s spear. The blade, at least, now only centimeters from his skin. “Truly?” The man tilts his head left, and Senkuu tries to follow. Eyes still glued to the (somehow) shining stone of the blade. “ What did we say about lying, Senkuu-kun?”
He can’t help the smirk that crawls over his face, cocking his head as far to the left as he can in a clear struggle to keep the head of the spear as far from his skin as possible.
“I didn’t lie. I told you how to apply the formula.” The smirk doesn’t fade, even as it fails to show in his voice. “You’re the one who took the formula without saying anything. There was no way for you to know if that was made right, so really that’s on–“
The blade presses into his cheek.
“Senkuu-kun.” Hyouga’s face only draws closer.
“Yeah?” He can feel his smile twitch under the building threat of the blade against his skin.
“I believe that doing as you’re told from now on may be in your best interest.” The blade comes down, and Senkuu presses his teeth together with as much force as is needed to prevent the hiss that desperately wants to escape his lungs. He can feel something sticky, slimy, wet, awful sliding down his cheek and dripping off his chin. There’s a distinct burning to it. Which, he’s sure, only comes from the body’s reaction to being sliced open. “ Don’t you think so, Senkuu-kun?”
“Yeah. Whatever you say, Hyouga- sama. ” His smirk only widens as Hyouga’s grip grows subtly tighter. He knows that, logically, he really should be placating the man who currently has a harsh, tight grip around his throat.
But, sometimes, he really just can’t help himself.
“Hm.” Suddenly, he’s falling. Hyouga’s grip is gone and Senkuu crashes into the floor of the cave with a small yelp and a grimace from the hit of the harsh dirt. His hand flies up, fingers sliding over the open cut on his cheek. There’s blood visible on his fingers the moment that they come in front of his eyes, and he can feel the red liquid spilling off his skin. “Senkuu-kun,”
He doesn’t get the word out before a shout wrenches its way through his throat. His legs kick out, entirely involuntary, and his back arches against the back wall of the cave, struggling to get the head of the spear out of his shoulder.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fu–
He feels the blade twist. Hyouga twists it. Senkuu finds himself squeezing his eyes closed and his hands flying up to grip the shaft of the spear. Pulling and pulling and pulling but it won’t come out. And suddenly Senkuu has a much deeper appreciation for all those times Taiju has taken a hit for him. His breath is heaving and there’s sweat falling in front of his eyes. He can hear what sounds like whimpering coming from somewhere. Somewhere close. And it takes him almost a whole minute to realize that it’s coming from him.
“ How about you get back to work, and this time you continue working properly , to ensure that I don’t have to sully the blade of my lovely spear once again?” The smirk in Hyouga’s voice is more than audible, and all Senkuu can do is nod. He doesn’t want to bother with anything that even has a chance of angering his captor more.
“Wonderful~” The blade leaves his shoulder, and Senkuu sucks in a long, deep breath of relief. His hand jumps to cover the wound as best he can while his lungs work to calm his breathing. When he pulls his hand away, just for a moment, just so he can lean forward to check the severity of the wound, he feels a wave of dizziness wash over him.
He doesn’t think he’s lost enough blood yet for that.
And yet he feels lightheaded.
“…Hyouga…” He mutters the name of the man towering over him. He would call for Homura, or Taiju, or Yuzuriha, or anyone else , but no one else is here and he doesn’t have what he would need to handle this himself. His head is pounding and it feels like it’s spinning.
“Can’t…” He exhales a harsh breath.
Not that Homura would be much better.
Can’t do it on my own.
Only logical choice.
Won’t say no.
Needs me to be able to…
“I can’t… work, if I can’t move my shoulder.”
“Ah, I see.” This time, he can hear the spear being set aside. This time, even as he flinches away from the touch, it doesn’t bring unnecessary pain.
Need to stop the bleeding.
Can’t do it myself.
He can feel Hyouga pulling the top of his tunic down, just enough to get a good look at the wound. He can feel the man’s fingers dusting over the torn skin, tracing the lines that Senkuu is more than certain will scar, and he feels a disgusted chill run up his spine.
Don’t touch me like that.
He doesn’t say anything.
Hyouga stops, stares at the blood now staining the tips of his fingers, and Senkuu can see the smile leaking onto his lips.
“Perhaps I went too far, Senkuu-kun. I am sorry.” Hyouga’s hand is on the wound again, gentle. No pressure. There’s hardly any additional pain and Senkuu has to wonder just what the man is hoping to get out of this.
“Hm.” He doesn’t say anything beyond that. The small hum, which he can only hope that the other will simply accept as an answer and move on, is all he can muster. He really doesn’t think that taking anymore of a beating will be beneficial to either of them, especially himself, at the moment.
“Unfortunately, Senkuu-kun, we don’t have bandages, you know. All we have is rope and tanned leather. So, I suppose we will have to settle for something more primitive, hm?”
“Guess so.” He nods along, leaning his head back against the harsh rock wall of the cave.
He can hear Hyouga shifting as his fingers leave the wound, and he breathes a small, barely noticeable breath of relief through clenched teeth.
It’s about another moment before air is being sucked right back in between those clenched teeth as he feels rope being fastened to his arm, and then around his torso. There’s a stretch of leather covering the wound in his shoulder, but the rope itself is annoying enough to make Senkuu think that the make-shift bandage just might not be worth it.
Not like he’s really planning on making any more revival fluid.
“There you are, Senkuu-kun.” Finally, Hyouga’s hands leave his skin, and Senkuu has to hold back another deep breath of relief.
Wonder what he’s gonna do next time.
He forces the same confident smirk to his lips as he puts a hand against the wall, hoisting himself to his admittedly shaky feet. Hyouga’s hands close around the shaft of his spear again, and the weapon leaves the dirt floor once again. Hyouga doesn’t point it at him, and his footsteps don’t have the same violent weight to them as the towering man makes his way back to the mouth of the cave.
Alright. Four weeks and counting.
Might wanna step on this whole escape plan thing, oaf, Yuzuriha.
Dunno how much longer I can hold out against this guy.
His fingers settle back into the routine of crushing grapes fairly quickly, even with the new throbbing pain in his shoulder.
I’m counting on you guys.
Don’t let me down.
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
“WOAH! WE DIDN’T EVEN THINK OF THAT!! DID WE, YUZURIHA!?” Gen is almost blown away from the sheer volume of the simple one’s voice. He can physically feel himself leaning back while Yuzuriha seems wholly unfazed, and Gen is certain that this level of excitement is entirely typical of Taiju.
“Taiju-chan, if you knock me over with your voice then I won’t be able to aid in the search for Tsukasa-chan.” He feels an exasperated smile slip onto his face. While he understands how Senkuu became attached to such a loud personality, he himself finds Taiju’s boundless enthusiasm to go just a touch too far on occasion.
“Oh, sorry!” Taiju’s laugh is just as enthusiastic as his normal speaking voice, if a touch quieter. Perhaps he finally remembered that there is still a strong possibility that they are being pursued.
Though, if he were to really think about it, Gen himself would have trouble believing that there was a strong possibility of them being pursued.
It all feels so… off. Odd. Almost inauthentic. As if he’s trapped in a bad dream that even 3,700 years wouldn’t be able to wake him up from.
Perhaps this is some kind of elaborate nightmare.
Perhaps it isn’t.
His eyes aren’t truly focused, even as he watches the two before him trading banter that borders on flirtatious, and he truly wants to jump in and simply say something that will get the two of them to just seal the deal already.
Ah, but Senkuu-chan wouldn’t approve of such a tactic, would he?
Even so, I suppose that it is none of my business, how long it will take for those who are so clearly meant for each other to actually form a pair.
Then it hits him.
Perhaps this doesn’t feel real…
…because Senkuu-chan isn’t here with me?
He nods to himself, hands tucking themselves into his sleeves once again. It must simply be the habit left over from all the time spent on stage.
That must be the explanation.
“Well,” He brings a smile to his lips. Even with his proficiency in hiding emotions behind a thick wall of lies, he can’t be certain that this smile makes its way to his eyes. “After a good night’s rest we ought to begin our search, yes?”
“Of course!” Yuzuriha has a bright smile on her face. She almost always has that same bright smile. It’s almost admirable just how genuine that smile continues to be, even in such a hopeless situation. Even with the knowledge that someone so important to all three of them is, apparently, in such danger…
Gen doesn’t like to think about it.
Perhaps that’s why it doesn’t feel real.
“Anyway!” Yuzuriha suddenly jumps up, stick full of plants and mushrooms still in hand. “I think it’s done! Senkuu-kun said…” She takes a moment to allow her eyes to comb the contents of the stick. “Yeah! It should be done!” She smiles, moving to pull a few of the plants and mushrooms from the stick. “Gen-kun! I’m sorry we don’t have any plates,” She chuckles softly. “Would you mind holding your hands out?”
“Ah, of course.” He nods, doing as Yuzuriha instructed. She places a small selection into his hands before moving on to do the same for Taiju. He stares at the mushrooms and plants for less than a moment before picking one up and sticking it right into his mouth. It really doesn’t have much of a taste, at least not one that he would recognize. He has to wonder if that has something to do with the millennia spent in stone, or perhaps the lack of the seasonings that used to define almost everything that touched his tongue.
Yet another slap in the face.
What an odd world I find myself in.
“Thank you very much, Yuzuriha-chan.” He smiles at the girl, not wanting to be impolite to those who are so close with someone he values so highly, those who have clearly been the ones to rescue him from his stone prison. He takes another bite. There’s not much that can be done about the bland taste and annoying lack of seasoning, so he decides not to mention such a thing.
Ah, what I wouldn’t do for a nice bowl of ramen and a bottle of cola…
“You’re welcome, Gen-kun!” The girl practically lights the entire cave with only her smile, and, for a moment, Gen can completely understand how the simple one is so infatuated with her.
The cave falls into silence. It’s a comfortable, repetitive kind of silence that Gen knows he’s fallen into several times. He could almost swear that Senkuu Ishigami is sitting just behind him, working on an experiment at his desk while Byakuya Ishigami prepares dinner in the kitchen with constant, loud commentary and a hand slapped on Gen’s back as soon as he walks through the door.
A nostalgic smile ends up crossing his lips.
“Gen-kun? Is something…” Yuzuriha begins to ask a question, but her voice trails off before the sentence can complete itself. His first thought, perhaps simply out of habit, is that she’s hiding something.
However, when he gives it another moment of thought, this is Yuzuriha Ogawa. Yuzuriha Ogawa doesn’t hide things from those she trusts, perhaps too much. She and Taiju Oki have far too much in common, after all, and her heart is so big that it could likely fit the entire population of Japan if she managed to meet every single one of them.
So, after giving it another moment to properly stew in his mind, he decides that she was going to ask him a question, but decided that she already knew the answer, or that asking such a question would, potentially, only serve to upset him, and cut herself off before either scenario could unfold. He finds that to be the more likely explanation.
She was going to ask if anything is troubling me, I suppose.
He frowns, staring into the food still held in his hands.
Though, she likely figured that what is ‘troubling’ me is obvious enough without needing any form of formal explanation from myself.
He breaths a soft sigh.
“I am quite alright, Yuzuriha-chan. I am merely worried for Senkuu-chan’s wellbeing and would like to begin the search for Tsukasa-chan as soon as possible.” He stuffs the last of the food between his teeth and resists the frown that wants to come over his lips. The last thing he needs is to make either of those with him upset right now. “And, I believe, in order to do so we ought to get our rest, yes?”
It takes a moment for the both of them to turn to each other before looking at him with matching smiles.
They truly are perfect for each other.
“Of course, Gen-kun!”
“Yeah! Let’s get some REST!” Taiju somehow even manages to sound overly-excited about going to sleep, of all things, and Gen has to hold back yet another laugh.
I am quite excited to see how much you’ve changed in the time we have been separated.
Please do hold on,
We’ll be there as soon as we find our fighter.
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
The cave floor is uncomfortable.
Of course, that fact is more than obvious. From the rough dirt that presses into his back to the small stones that make lying flat absolutely miserable, the cave floor is the absolute definition of discomfort.
But now, with exhausted pants coming from his lungs, fingers and clothing stained by blood, grape juice, and what he has to assume is sweat, tanned leather that’s meant to keep him warm and safe torn by Hyouga’s spear, and eyes slammed closed, all that can come to the forefront of his mind is how he wishes that the floor of the cave were more comfortable.
He wishes he could fall asleep.
But his breathing is too loud. His movement is too labored. His shoulder throbs too much.
Stabbing was last night?
How long does it take for those to heal?
Don’t have proper medical attention, no stitches, can’t do those myself and definitely not asking them to do them.
If it isn’t healed by the time they get back Yuzuriha can do it?
Dunno if we’ll have the stuff we need by then. We don’t even have bandages. Had to use this damn rope and leather…
How much am I bleeding anyway..?
One of his hands, the one without an attached splint, comes up to sit on top of the attempt at a bandage. The leather almost feels wet to the touch, though he can find a way to twist that into the deep purple grape stains that coat his fingers.
It’ll be fine. Hyouga won’t let me die. Not until he gets what he wants.
And I won’t give him what he wants.
Even with eyes closed, a small smirk comes to his lips. He tries to shift, move himself, to get the more jagged rocks out of his back and legs. It doesn’t really work, but it’s enough to at least get one away from the back of his neck and relax his breathing.
How long do stab wounds take to heal..?
Wait, I already asked that.
He frowns, the movement of his lips dragging his closed eyes into an expression that could almost resemble a pout.
Usually… 10 days..? That’s probably for small ones. Bigger ones? It’ll definitely leave a scar. Not that those are that big a deal, I guess. Once it’s a scar the only concern is reopening it.
He brings his arm back down, resting it across his stomach and taking a deep breath.
I’m getting so sick of the smell of this damn cave.
That dripping sound is gonna drive me crazy.
My arms hurt.
My fingers are sticky. There’s grape juice everywhere. I have to do all the grunt work myself, again.
I miss them.
He blinks, eyes opening to look at the blank, dark roof of the cave, hanging right above his head. The stalactites loom high above, hanging from the ceiling from bases wider than their tips, and he has to admit that the sharpness that some of those formations manage to achieve is fairly intimidating. He would consider himself lucky that he doesn’t reach a height tall enough that he has to duck to avoid them. Though, he supposes, that he has to be grateful for them. He would still be trapped in stone, possibly even for another few millennia, had they not been dripping nitric acid.
He breathes a heavy exhale.
Of course, without the nitric acid, I wouldn’t be trapped in here.
What time is it?
When’s Hyouga even gonna make me get up?
Maybe he’s gonna leave me alone today. He did stab me in the shoulder last night. Probably wants to make sure I don’t bleed out in the middle of making his revival fluid, or ruin it with my blood or anything.
The smirk finds its way back onto his face. Hands shifting, if only to find some position that might be more comfortable for his continuously throbbing shoulder and aching muscles.
Not like it really matters.
It’s not technically lying if you just don’t tell the truth, right?
His eyes fall closed again.
I wonder where Gen’s mark will be.
His mouth twists into a face of focus. His eyebrow furrows in deep thought, solely focused on bringing an image of Gen as he remembers him to the forefront of his mind.
Black hair, delicate, almost effeminate features, he’s the exact opposite of the oaf in basically every way. It’s almost funny just how different they are, yet they always managed to get along.
He smiles, almost nostalgic, at the happy memories that come with the thought.
The smile melts right off his lips.
I wish I could be there.
I wish I could see you.
He sucks in a soft breath, eyes blinking open just in time for the sunrise to come up in his peripheral vision. Just in time for him to see Hyouga’s eyes blinking open from the mouth of the cave, and to slam his own eyelids closed once again. If nothing else, letting that man believe that he’s asleep might buy him a few more hours before that smooth-as-honey-voice calls him back to the conscious world.
Delaying that as much as possible is the biggest favor he can do for his screaming arms, throbbing shoulder, aching fingers.
I miss you guys.
I miss you, Gen.
The thought comes into his head of its own accord. It’s not something he’s ever really considered before. Missing one specific person. Of course, he’s missed people before. He misses Taiju. He misses Yuzuriha. He misses his father (He doesn’t think anyone wouldn’t miss their father in any situation that was anything like this one). But he doesn’t miss them the same way. He doesn’t think that he misses them the same way.
Is that normal?
Guess I’ll have to ask him about it.
When he thinks about it, now that he’s alone (well, as close to alone as he can currently get) with his thoughts once again, the feeling of missing the magician is much more familiar than he would have thought. It’s something that he felt during his 3,700 years of solitude. It’s something that he felt all those millennia ago, even when the magician was just a phone call away.
Come to think of it…
He had just texted him when it happened.
We had a date that night.
He blinks again.
When did I start calling them dates?
If he wasn’t trying to keep up a façade of sleep, he would have burst into a soft laugh. Maybe out of embarrassment, maybe out of realization.
I guess… we were dating for a while, huh?
…that’s why I miss him so much.
He smiles to himself, small sigh escaping through his closed lips once again.
…is that love?
He opens his eyes, just for a moment, before closing them again.
I’ll have to ask.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
“H-How long… how long have we been searching again..??” Yuzuriha’s eyes are those of exaggerated exhaustion, almost to comical levels. “How long…”
“Almost two weeks!” Taiju shouts from what must be at least 20 feet away with the same vigorous excitement that Gen has come to expect from the simple one, and even more. This is a situation that would, more often than not, drag someone right back down. But not Taiju. Not the simple one. If anything, he seems as though the longer this goes on, the more enthusiastic he becomes.
Perhaps it’s Taiju’s way of channeling desperation, is the conclusion that Gen comes to when he thinks about it for more than a moment. According to them, it’s been four weeks, a whole month, since they left their friend in the care of what they’ve only described as a ‘madman.’ Yuzuriha’s hair is beginning to grow out once again, and Gen has to wonder if she’ll be asking one of the two of them to cut her hair again any time soon. She had continuously mentioned how much she liked it short, ever since the different style of her hair came up in conversation for the first time.
Gen would say that it suits her.
But they don’t have scissors. Nothing they have access to at the moment even comes close to resembling scissors. The closest he can think of is a stone blade, similar to what she described as the thing that cut her hair off in the first place. Though, at the moment, they haven’t bothered to craft one of their own and Gen doesn’t think that any of them wants to take the time out of their search to do so. It’s fairly low on their list of priorities.
Of course, Gen is certain that Senkuu can craft scissors for them.
“If it’s been almost two weeks…” Yuzuriha’s voice is soft and concerned, just as Gen would expect from one such as her. The tone borders on afraid, and Gen is certain that he knows exactly what she’s about to say. “…maybe we should just make a plan now–“
“Yuzuriha-chan,” He smiles, making his way over to the girl with nothing but doubt in her eyes. His hands, just about hidden in his bulky sleeves, come to rest on her shoulders with a gentle care that Gen doesn’t think he’s used on much of anyone in years.
Well, technically millennia, but he supposes that his time trapped in stone doesn’t truly count.
“It’s going to be alright, Yuzuriha-chan.” He smiles at her, a bright smile that he knows Senkuu Ishigami would never fall for. But Yuzuriha Ogawa is not Senkuu Ishigami. “If Senkuu-chan said not to return to the cave until we can most certainly defeat Hyouga-chan, then we must remain focused on finding Tsukasa-chan. If this Hyouga-chan is as strong as you claim he is, then I doubt we will have any chance at defeating him if we don’t revive Tsukasa-chan.”
“I know…” Yuzuriha whispers, and he thinks that she doesn’t want Taiju to overhear them. Perhaps she thinks that her negativity will only serve to put a damper on his enthusiasm.
Gen honestly doesn’t think that such a thing is possible, but Yuzuriha knows Taiju better than he does, so he supposes that he can’t really speak much to how he may react to her negativity. Perhaps, with Taiju being as in love with her as he is, Yuzuriha’s pessimism may just be the solution to the impossible equation of how to get Taiju Oki to drop his smile.
“I know that you’re worried, Yuzuriha-chan, but, should we return before we can defeat Hyouga-chan, we will likely only make things worse for Senkuu-chan, yes? Should any of us get injured, or Hyouga-chan seize the opportunity to use Senkuu-chan as a hostage, the situation could spiral very far out of control very fast.”
“I know… I know that…” He can see the doubt beginning to melt from her eyes. “…I know that…” She says it again, eyes beginning to fill with what he’s fairly certain are tears. His mouth falls slightly open.
Perhaps Taiju-chan is better suited–
“Sorry… Sorry…” She whispers, fingers coming up to stifle the tears that are about to spill past her eyes. “Ah… I think I’m just getting nervous…” She laughs softly, tearfully, as if she doesn’t truly mean her words, but she wants to. She wants to believe what she’s saying. “It’s been almost a month, and we just can’t be sure…”
“I know, Yuzuriha-chan.” He manages to bring a convincing smile to his lips. It’s his biggest strength, after all. “It will be alright. Once we revive Tsukasa-chan, we’ll go right to Senkuu-chan, yes?”
She nods, bordering on enthusiastic as a genuine smile forces its way past her tears. “Right..! Right!” She sucks in a deep breath, looking around for a moment before she meets Gen’s eyes once again. “Sorry, Gen-kun, I think… it’s just such a…” She pauses, tilting her head, as if searching for the words to describe exactly how she feels. “…it’s just hard, not being able to do anything.”
“Yes, but we are not doing nothing, Yuzuriha-chan. We’re doing exactly as Senkuu-chan told us, yes?”
She blinks, as if a realization is dawning on her. “Ah.. yes! We are!” She nods with enthusiasm, and a cry of excitement comes from the simple one. Gen honestly can’t be sure exactly where he is, but the sound is close enough that Gen is certain Taiju could come running within seconds. “If we’re doing what Senkuu-kun asked then…” She breathes a heavy breath, and Gen thinks that she still isn’t convinced.
Not that she needs to be convinced.
If Gen knows anything about Senkuu Ishigami’s friends, anything at all, it’s that they have nothing but absolute, complete, undying faith in Senkuu Ishigami.
Even if they may doubt themselves, even if they may worry for him, their faith in him will never fade.
Gen should know.
He’s among them.
“Now, Yuzuriha-chan,” He smiles again, one hand coming to rest on her cheek and wipe the tears still gathering in her eyes. “Let’s return to the search, yes?”
“Mhm..!” She nods with enthusiasm, pulling away from his grip and turning. He ends up watching her back as she runs in the opposite direction. Likely off to meet up with the simple one to continue their search together.
What truly reliable friends Senkuu-chan has~
I’ll have to let him know once we manage to see him again, I suppose.
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
“Senkuu-kun, remind me, exactly how long have you been here?”
His head is tilted back, he can’t bring himself to lift it any higher. He would, he wants to , but something stops him. His neck, back, arms, shoulders, everything , aches. His eyes are tired, weak, barely more than half-open as he stares straight up at the tower of a man. He knows that the woman, shorter and yet still stronger, is not far behind. But there isn’t much that he can do about that, and there isn’t much that she can do that the man with a grip on his spear can’t do.
“Um… total?” His head falls to the side, just enough to look as though it’s intentional.
“No no, I apologize. I suppose the way I phrased the question was confusing.” Hyouga’s voice, smoother than honey, has the touches of a smile to it, and Senkuu feels a breathy chuckle forcing itself past his lips. “Senkuu-kun,”
“How long has it been since your precious friends abandoned you?”
“They didn’t.” Is the first thing that comes through his lips. It isn’t like him, to jump to speak before he’s thought to consider what consequences his words may have. Though, he has to consider the circumstances. The dryness of his throat, the aches in his limbs, the heaviness of his eyelids, the sharp, constant pains of hunger in his stomach. He supposes that anyone, perhaps even the oaf, would be acting different in this situation.
“Oh, my apologies.” Hyouga’s smile becomes even more obvious in his voice and the sound makes Senkuu’s skin crawl. “How long have you been here on your own?”
A broken wrist takes eight weeks to heal.
Senkuu knows that Hyouga hasn’t touched the wrist that he snapped that first night. He knows that there hasn’t been any additional damage done to it, no matter how much time has passed. That’s something that he knows. He’s been keeping careful track of the healing of his wrist. He’s been testing it, almost every day, checking its progress.
A broken wrist takes eight weeks to heal.
He breathes a heavy exhale.
And mine is healed.
“Eight weeks..?” He blinks, head shifting to the other side. “Around there. Something like that.” He exhales sharply. “Maybe longer?” He looks up again. “Why?”
“Well, Senkuu-kun,” Hyouga leans forward, down, closer to Senkuu’s face, and he wishes that he had the physical strength to shove the tower away from him. “That’s quite a lot of time, hm?” Hyouga’s head tilts to the side. “And exactly how long has it been since you produced a usable pot of revival fluid?”
That’s where this is going.
“Dunno. I haven’t been keeping count of that kinda thing. I haven’t stopped making it though. I mean, you know that. You keep taking it while I’m asleep.” His mouth twists into a smirk. He’s sure that it only comes to his face out of habit. Maybe even as a defense mechanism. Maybe so Hyouga can’t see the spark of fear that flashes through his eyes.
“Well, Senkuu-kun, as you clearly know, none of those pots of revival fluid have worked. Not a single one.” Senkuu can see Hyouga’s hand clenching around the shaft of his spear.
Shoulder is basically healed. It’s scarred, I’m sure. But it’s definitely not bleeding anymore. So that’s good, I guess.
“And, Senkuu-kun, you know that our deal had Yuzuriha-kun being allowed to live only under the conditions that you create revival fluid in this cave for me, correct?”
“Yeah.” He breathes a tight laugh. “But Yuzuriha’s not here, is she?”
“No, I suppose that she isn’t.” There’s a smile under Hyouga’s mask. Senkuu knows Hyouga’s expressions well by now. He can see a smile in the man’s eyes, and he can hear his voice filling with what Senkuu would call glee if he heard it from anyone else. “I suppose that is the reason you refuse to hold up your side of our deal, Senkuu-kun?”
“Dunno. Maybe.” He takes a deep breath. His muscles tense and he braces himself for something, anything, that Hyouga can throw at him. Even with everything, even with eight weeks here, alone, trapped, with the two who hang over him right now, he’s sure that the man has been holding out. Holding out because he thought that Senkuu was being productive.
That lie really was good for surviving, huh.
“So, Senkuu-kun, you have two options.”
“Yeah?” He manages to cock his head to the side on his own this time, hands struggling to prop him up in a way that could potentially be interpreted as comfortable. Definitely better than lying on the floor of the cave.
“One, you can go back to doing what our deal entails. That is, you can continue to make revival fluid that actually works , or.” Hyouga’s eyes open, and the intensity of his irises has Senkuu sucking in a deep breath. It has him staring up with wide eyes of his own and his shoulders tensing under the sheer pressure of that look. “ Or, Senkuu-kun. I can do to you what I would have done to your dear friend. ”
“Yeah?” He knows that the cocky tone to his voice is probably the opposite of the attitude that he should have at the moment.
Hyouga’s hand closes around his jaw, and the feeling of the man’s way-too-powerful fingers on his face is way too familiar for Senkuu to not immediately make an attempt to jerk his head backwards, hands sliding along the dirt beneath his palms in a desperate attempt to get himself away from, out of, Hyouga’s grip.
He knows it won’t work. He isn’t illogical enough to think that he, even in a moment of adrenaline or desperation, has a chance of wriggling free of the man’s grip. But he does know, for certain, more certainty than he’s ever had about anything in his life, that he isn’t going to take whatever the man is going to do lying down. He isn’t going to just let it happen.
He spits in Hyouga’s face.
“Fuck you.” He hisses.
It takes all of one second before his head is slammed backwards, right into the wall of the cave, with a violent force that can only be matched by the harsh snap that came when Hyouga first broke his wrist, all those weeks ago. The movement is so sudden that he ends up squeaking out a cry of pain between clamped teeth and throwing a hand up to feel the back of his head. As much as he can while it’s being firmly pressed into a wall of rock. With both of Hyouga’s hands pinning his head back, Senkuu is fairly certain that the towering man has just chosen for him.
Not like I would have chosen different.
“Homura-kun, if you would.” Senkuu can see just enough to see Hyouga gesturing with his head. He can’t see where he’s gesturing, what he’s gesturing to, but he can hear the light but firm footsteps of Homura shuffling around the cave. He can hear earthen pots clinking together and manages to catch one in her hands out of the corner of his eyes.
What the hell..?
Is he gonna make me drink that or something..?
He blinks, watching Homura as she comes to stand level with his face. Her eyes, bordering on soft, stare right down into his. The jar of what he knows is failed revival fluid, mostly nitric acid, he knows that he didn’t put nearly enough alcohol in that one, sits in her hands, waiting for her to tip it forward or simply set it down.
Yeah, that would do it.
His eyes are wide. Even if it takes him a while to realize it, they’re wide and border on afraid. His crimson irises dart between the two of them. He knows that he can’t escape. He knows that, no matter what he does, he can’t get out of this.
Think. Think. Think. Think.
The jar tips forward.
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
There are loud footsteps.
The first thing that registers in his mind is that he can hear loud footsteps, shouting, someone’s cry of rage or something similar, more footsteps. Someone is shouting his name. He can hear that.
The second thing that registers is that anything is registering at all.
It takes him a whole second to register that he’s alive.
He can hear footsteps crashing ever closer, and he can feel himself jumping. He can feel his shoulders tensing and his arms curling, as if to cover his chest and stomach from anything that may come at him. He feels himself curling forward, eyes squeezed as tightly closed as he can get them, and he’s still trying to figure out why, how , he’s alive.
Did they just knock me out?
Then what did they do..?
He was pissed, there’s no way he just left me alone.
He hears something slam into the ground, barely a foot from his head, and he flinches against the noise. He flinches against the noise and brings his arms up to his face. He doesn’t know what it is. But he can hear more shouting, and it doesn’t sound like Hyouga. Hyouga doesn’t shout.
He feels himself freeze.
His breath catches in his throat.
“…Yuzuriha..?” He tests out his voice. Those who are alive can talk, he figures, and they’ll be heard when they do.
“Senkuu-kun..!!” She calls right back, and he breathes out a sigh of relief.
Okay. I’m alive. We know that now.
He can feel a set of hands moving to lift his head. Soft. Gentle. And he knows that it isn’t her. Yuzuriha’s hands don’t feel this way. Her hands are smaller than these hands. Her hands aren’t this long, slim, delicate.
His mind practically short-circuits right there. He doesn’t know what to do other than let the slim, delicate, almost effeminate hands lift his head into what most definitely feels like someone’s lap. He can feel himself smiling, he can feel himself shifting to look up, even with his eyes closed. He can feel his eyes opening.
He can hear someone gasp.
He can’t see him.
The only sound that reaches his ears is the continued shouting that sounds like it’s coming from outside the cave. There’s one hand, one of those slim and delicate and almost effeminate hands, resting on one of his cheeks. He doesn’t know where the other one is.
Why’s it so dark?
“Gen??” He calls out again. One more time, for the voice that he heard before and the hands that he can feel on his skin.
“…Senkuu-chan.” His name comes from right above him, and he feels the smile come right back the moment that he hears Gen’s voice in his ears once again. “Senkuu-chan… it’s me.” He can almost, almost , hear a smile on Gen’s lips. There’s something blocking it. He doesn’t know what it is.
He blinks again. Trying to get his eyes adjusted to the dark, if nothing else.
But there’s nothing.
Why can’t I see?
“Senkuu-chan, I’m right here.. okay? I’m right…” Gen’s voice drops off, and Senkuu hears a gasp that sounds more like Yuzuriha than anyone else. He can feel another set of hands, smaller and just as gentle, dancing over the holes in his tunic, finding the blossoming bruises and spilling wounds that he knows are there.
Were they going to wait for me to bleed out..?
Did I just get lucky..?
“…Gen..? Gen…” He lifts a hand, just one, up. Trying to find the magician’s face. It takes a moment for him to feel the backs of his knuckles brushing again what he’s certain is Gen’s cheek. “Gen… I…”
“…Senkuu-chan…” One of Gen’s hands grips Senkuu’s. The grip is soft, careful, as if Senkuu’s hand will snap right off should he grip him even a little too tight.
“…Gen… I can’t…”
Why’s it so dark?
Why do my eyes hurt so much?
His eyes widen.
His mouth drops open.
…I guess that makes sense.
“Senkuu-chan, it’s me… I’m right here.” He hears the magician’s voice, just about as close to whispering as he could possibly be. “C-Can…”
“…I can’t see you…”
He hears another harsh gasp, he thinks it was Yuzuriha again, and he can practically feel Gen letting out a deep, harsh breath. He can almost hear Gen’s mind whirring, searching for something to say.
“…Senkuu-chan…” It takes a moment for the magician’s fingers, light as a feather, to move across his face. His eyes close, not that he was using them anyways, and Gen’s fingers press into his eyelids. Gentle. Soft.
“I think… I think he…” He sucks in a deep breath. He feels Gen pulling his hand up, he feels his own palm pressing against Gen’s cheek. He can feel something different in the magician’s soft skin. He can feel something with soft ridges and that’s when he realizes that his hand is on Gen’s petrification mark.
He won’t get to see it.
He won’t get to see him.
I won’t get to see him.
“You… you…” Gen’s voice is hesitant, something Senkuu can barely remember ever hearing, even long before now. Even all those millennia ago. Even before the stone.
“Senkuu-kun… S-Senkuu-kun…” Yuzuriha’s voice is soft, and he has to guess that she noticed the hesitation in the magician’s voice. He can hear her coming closer, he can feel her fingers pressing against his cheek, and he squeezes his unusable eyes as far closed as he possibly can. He fights the instinct to jump right out of his skin at the unexpected, unseen, touch. “Senkuu-kun… I’m…” Her voice is teary, quiet, almost nervous, and Senkuu hates it. He hates it almost as much as he hates the way that Gen can’t think of anything to say.
“I’m so sorry… I’m so sorry… that we took so long… I’m so sorry…” Even if he can’t see them, even if he couldn’t see them, he knows that there are tears in her eyes. He knows that she’s about to explode into barely controllable sobs. “Senkuu-kun…”
He doesn’t know what to say.
So he doesn’t say anything.
He just listens. He listens to Yuzuriha’s sobbing, Gen’s troubled breathing, the sound of what is clearly a fight happening outside.
He just listens.
Everything is so loud.
He shifts, hands coming up to grip what he’s almost certain is Gen’s clothing. The soft inhale that he hears all but confirms it as he shifts, burying his face in Gen’s torso. His hands pull gently on the fabric as Yuzuriha carefully pulls at the tunic that still covers most of his torso. He thinks she’s trying to get its shredded remains (at least he thinks it’s shredded, it certainly feels like it is) away from his skin so she can look at the injuries scattered across it.
“…Gen.” He whispers the magician’s name, and he can feel two arms wrapping around the back of his head. He can feel the slim, lean, kind arms pulling him closer. He can feel Gen curling around him.
“…I’m so sorry…”
“…I’m so sorry that we took so long…”
He sounds just as upset as Yuzuriha.
He sounds like he’s going to cry.
Senkuu hates it.
“Hey, Gen,” His head angles up, he can’t say that he looks up. But his head angles up and towards the magician. “I… I wanted to ask you something.”
“…yes? Anything, darling, anything–“
He breathes a heavy chuckle at the sound of such a soft nickname. It’s something he never thought anyone would call him. He can feel the soft blush coming over his own cheeks, and that’s not something he ever thought he would feel either. Definitely not in a situation like this one.
“…I think that’s the first time you’ve called me a nickname.” He mutters, low enough that it’s possible for Yuzuriha to miss his words. But, even if she did manage to catch them, Yuzuriha is not someone who Senkuu particularly minds being present for moments of intimacy. He knows full well just how many of hers and Taiju’s that he’s witnessed.
He hears what sounds like a breathy chuckle coming from the magician curled around him. “Yes, I suppose it is. Would you prefer I stick with your actual name, Senkuu-chan?”
He shakes his head. “No. It’s fine.”
He definitely never thought he would be agreeing to nicknames like that.
He definitely never thought they would bring a warm, comfortable feeling to his chest, even among all the pain, aches, tension, discomfort,
Is that love?
“…I think I love you.”
There’s a brief pause. As if he’s said something shocking.
“Senkuu-chan, I thought we established that 3,700 years ago.”
He pushes a laugh past his lips, pressing his face closer to Gen’s torso.
“…I guess we did.”
Chapter 17: Chapter 17
It’s a slap in the face.
Gen freezes, watching as Yuzuriha drops to her knees on the other side of the scientist that they came all this way for, dedicated all this time to, worked so hard for, and he doesn’t know what to do. He doesn’t know what to say.
He thinks it’s the first time in his life that he’s been at a complete loss for words.
He most certainly can’t think of another one.
His mouth drops open, staring at Senkuu Ishigami with wide eyes. There’s no other word he can think of to describe the sight beyond pitiful.
He hates it.
He hates seeing him like this.
“…Senkuu-chan…!!” His voice is strangled, rough, almost choked, and he never thought that he would be able to hear tears in his own voice. But he can.
He hates that too.
“Senkuu-kun..!” Yuzuriha calls next, he can see her hands scrambling over something, what he thinks must be the makeshift bandages he saw her working on about a day ago, when she mentioned that they would most likely need such a thing. They perfectly match what Gen remembers Taiju wearing on his arm when the pair first revived him.
“…Yuzuriha..?” The scientist’s head shifts, and Gen can almost imagine that nothing is wrong. He doesn’t grimace when he moves, and that’s enough for Gen to feel some kind of plausible deniability in his gut. A part of his body that he doesn’t exactly have a good relationship with.
“Senkuu-kun..!!” Yuzuriha calls back, and her eyes dart up to meet Gen’s. As if she’s trying to signal him to do something, and he manages to read the mood better than Senkuu would ever be able to.
He drops to his knees, as close to Senkuu’s head as he thinks he can get. He doesn’t know what to do, for the first moment, hands floating just around Senkuu’s neck, cheeks, skin.
I don’t want to hurt him.
Where is he hurt? Where…
What did that bastard do?
He inches closer, as close as he can get, and slips his hands under the scientist’s head. He lifts him, carefully setting the other’s head into his lap. He doesn’t know if it will help, he doesn’t know if it will make the one who’s trembling like a leaf in the wind feel any safer, but damn if he isn’t going to do everything in his power to make him comfortable.
It takes a moment, barely a moment, but he can see a soft smile come over the scientist’s lips. He can see the scientist shifting his head, as if to look up, even with closed eyes, and–
He feels himself gasp.
He can’t stop himself. A hand flies up to cover his lips as he stares in silent shock at the open eyes of the face in his lap. He stares in silent shock at the marks, deep yellow and resembling what Gen recognizes as acid burns, covering Senkuu’s eyes, skin, everywhere above his nose.
Gen doesn’t say anything.
Gen can’t say anything.
It takes another moment, just one more, before his hands begin to move. He thinks they move on their own as they come to dance across the marks on Senkuu’s eyes. Gentle, careful, he thinks he’s trying to be both of those things. He wants to be both of those things.
“Gen??” The scientist calls for him once again, and Gen breathes in a tight, harsh inhale. He only hopes that Senkuu didn’t catch it.
“…Senkuu-chan.” The scientist smiles again, and the sight brings, at the very least, the beginnings of one to his own lips. “Senkuu-chan… it’s me.” He doesn’t know why he says it. Perhaps he thinks it will help relax Senkuu’s shoulders. Perhaps he thinks it might relax his own.
He watches the scientist blink. Once. Twice. Three times. And Gen knows what it is. He knows, for sure.
It must have just happened.
Just before we got here.
He hasn’t opened his eyes yet.
He doesn’t know yet.
“Senkuu-chan, I’m right here… okay? I’m right...” His voice drops off as his head tilts up to where Yuzuriha is sucking in a sharp inhale of her own. Her eyes, wide and practically in shock, flit to his for under a second before resuming focus on Senkuu’s torso.
Gen hadn’t noticed all the holes in Senkuu’s tunic before.
Gen wishes he had never noticed.
“…Gen…? Gen…” He blinks, eyes darting back down to Senkuu just as he feels something brushing against his cheek. It takes a whole moment for him to realize that it’s Senkuu’s hand, the back of Senkuu’s hand, and that the scientist had reached out for him. “Gen… I…”
“…Senkuu-chan…” His hand comes up, pulling Senkuu’s into his grip. Gentle. Careful. He’s almost afraid that anything too tight will bring a hiss to Senkuu’s lips and a wince to his face.
“…Gen… I can’t…”
His lips drop open once again, and he wants to say something. He wants to whisper reassurances, he wants to press his lips to Senkuu’s forehead. He wants to smile and brush Senkuu’s hair away from his face and say that everything will be okay.
“Senkuu-chan, it’s me… I’m right here.” His voice is quiet, as quiet as he thinks he can make it without just whispering into his ear. “C-Can…”
Can you look at me?
Can you see me?
“…I can’t see you…”
He breathes. It’s a heavy, painful breath. He can hear Yuzuriha gasp, but he ignores it. He ignores it. Keeping a grip on Senkuu’s hand and taking a harsh inhale. He can feel his muscles tightening. He can feel his grip growing tighter. He can feel his entire body clenching.
“You… you…” His voice is hesitant. His chest aches, hurts, burns. He’s never felt something like this before. This intense, immeasurable desire to punish someone.
Gen Asagiri doesn’t think he’s ever truly wanted to kill someone until this very moment.
His eyes are narrow, determined, focused. So much so that Yuzuriha’s words, her apologies, her tears, fly right over his head. He barely registers that she’s even there anymore.
“…Gen.” The soft sound of Senkuu whispering his name snaps Gen right out of his short-lived trance. It takes less than a moment for Gen to drop Senkuu’s hand and lean forward, arms moving to wrap around the scientist’s head. Careful. Gentle. Comforting. He hopes so, at least.
He pulls Senkuu closer. He pulls him close enough that he can feel him exhale into his clothes, he pulls him close enough that, when he curls forward, wraps himself around the scientist as much as he can without risk of suffocating him. He can hear Senkuu’s breathing. He can hear his pulse.
“Senkuu-chan… I’m… so sorry…” He whispers, right into Senkuu’s ear. “I’m so sorry… that we took so long…”
A moment passes. A long, quiet, moment where Gen could swear that Senkuu’s breathing has slowed. Calmed, even. As much as he hates everything about this situation, everything about what’s going on right now, he likes the feeling of Senkuu, comfortable in his arms.
He likes the feeling of the scientist breathing against him.
“Hey, Gen.” Senkuu’s head twists up, towards Gen, and he wishes that he could say that Senkuu looks up.
But he can’t.
“I… I wanted to ask you something.”
“…yes? Anything, darling, anything–“ He blinks, hearing the scientist break into a small fit of heavy, weighted laughter. He blinks, staring down at the other in some kind of light shock. Perhaps it’s because of how he already feels so stretched, high-strung, volatile. Perhaps he’s simply reeling, searching for an explanation.
Perhaps he’s simply curious.
“…I think that’s the first time you’ve called me a nickname.” Senkuu answers his question just as Gen is opening his mouth to ask it, and the answer brings a smile right to his face. Even with the low tone of his voice, the quiet intimacy of such a sentiment, Gen can’t help the soft blush that crawls up his cheeks.
He can’t help feeling so very blessed that the boy in his arms is his.
A soft, light, breathy chuckle passes his lips. “Yes, I suppose it is.” He lifts a hand to brush the hair from Senkuu’s face. Gentle, soft, delicate. “Would you prefer I stick with your actual name, Senkuu-chan?”
The scientist shakes his head. He tries to, at least. And Gen can’t help but keep his smile for a little bit longer.
“No, it’s fine.”
Gen can think of a time when Senkuu most certainly would have rejected any nickname Gen might have given him. Most certainly any as sappy and romantic as ‘darling.’
He likes the warmth that the thought brings to his chest.
It’s almost nostalgic.
“…I think I love you.”
He blinks. Eyes widening slightly as he stares right down at the boy in his lap.
I suppose that’s four times?
Five, if you count when Yuzuriha-chan said it.
He smiles, leaning his head as close to Senkuu’s as he can without pressing their foreheads together.
“Senkuu-chan, I thought we established that 3,700 years ago.”
Senkuu laughs and, even here, even now, the sound is enough to leave Gen with some kind of hope.
“…I guess we did.”
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
By the time the sounds of the fight finally come to a halt, Yuzuriha and Gen have managed to pull Senkuu high enough to get him all the way into Gen’s lap. His arms, sore and aching and exhausted, are tight around the magician’s neck while Gen keeps his arms tight around Senkuu’s torso. Senkuu’s forehead stays tucked tight into Gen’s neck, eyes pressed closed. Not that it would matter much if his eyes were open.
Yuzuriha’s hands, soft and gentle and typically kind, are stained with blood. Gen can see it, bright and red and covering her fingers.
It doesn’t suit her.
“They have been dealt with.” The booming voice of Tsukasa Shishio is the first that comes to his ears and he can feel Senkuu jumping in his grip. He tightens his arms around the scientist with a soft smile on his lips. “What should we be doing with them, Gen?”
“Senkuu-chan?” He keeps his voice low, practically at a whisper. “What do you think we should do with Hyouga-chan and Homura-chan?”
“Don’t kill them.” Is the first thing that Senkuu says, and Gen has to smile at just how predictable the scientist really is. “Tie them up. We can leave them somewhere far away and… figure it out, I guess.” On the other hand, there’s a new element to him, something different, that has Gen frowning and struggling to figure out what exactly Senkuu wants him to do.
But Gen knows that the absolute last thing they need is to put unnecessary stress, unnecessary questioning, unneeded pressure, onto the scientist, still trembling like a leaf in the wind. Even when held tightly in Gen’s arms, he shakes as though he’s standing atop a snowy mountain without a coat.
So he doesn’t ask.
“Did you hear that, Tsukasa-chan?” He turns his head to look at the absolute monster of a man. His sheer size is almost intimidating enough for Gen’s mouth to drop open, even though he’s the one who revived the Strongest Primate Highschooler.
The man nods, hair bobbing along with his movements. And Gen is practically mesmerized by everything about him. It’s awe-inspiring, just how absolutely terrifying this man would be, had he not just defeated the evil that they had been struggling against for so long.
“Do not worry, Senkuu Ishigami,” There’s a smile on Tsukasa’s lips, and the look is intimidating enough without the oddly soft, kind expression in the wrestler’s eyes. “I will be certain that you will never have to deal with those two again.”
He turns, stepping away with those intimidatingly huge footsteps that have Senkuu practically jumping in Gen’s grip once again. The magician smiles softly, bringing a hand up to run through the base of Senkuu’s hair with gentle, comforting precision.
“Senkuu..! Gen! Yuzuriha!” Taiju’s voice is just as boomingly loud as Tsukasa’s, but it doesn’t even come close to triggering any kind of flinch, jump, or motion from the scientist in his arms. “The sun’s going down! And the fire is ready..!” Gen nods, head turning to look right into Senkuu’s eyes.
Not that it matters.
“Senkuu-chan, do you wanna go sit by the fire?”
The scientist is quick to nod, and Gen has to take a full pause to try and work out exactly how he’s going to get the one clinging to him like a monkey outside when his own strength is roughly equivalent to that of a water flea with limp noodle arms.
“Senkuu-chan, can… can you stand? I’ll help you, you can lean on me.” He smiles softly, pressing his cheek to the other’s forehead. “But I’m pretty sure I can’t lift you on my own.” He chuckles softly upon feeling Senkuu’s arms tighten around him, just for a moment, before he nods and begins to shift.
By the time the both of them are on their feet, Senkuu’s breathing has picked up and the shaking in his limbs has gotten bad enough that Gen is certain he would collapse if the magician didn’t have both arms wrapped around him.
He has to wonder, just for a moment, how long that shaking is going to last.
Not that it matters.
“Here, c’mon, Senkuu-chan.” Gen keeps his voice low, soft, encouraging. He doesn’t move. He lets Senkuu take the first step and only follows once the other has both feet firmly planted on the ground. It’s safe to say that the trip that would normally be short and easy, only about 20 feet from the depths of the cave to where Taiju set up a campfire for them, takes far too long. Gen can see the both of them, both of Senkuu’s friends, both those who have known the scientist for their entire lives, with eyes wide and mouths pressed closed. They don’t say anything.
Not that he can blame them.
“Senkuu..!” Taiju is the first one to speak up, and Gen has to smile at the look that comes over the scientist’s face as soon as he hears the simple one’s voice. A look of complete and total comfort, safety, almost adoration.
He almost wonders if that’s what Senkuu looks like when he looks at him.
“What is it, oaf?” A smirk comes over the scientist’s face, and the sight of it has a smile coming to Gen’s lips.
A moment of silence passes, and Gen doesn’t think he’s ever seen a look quite like this one on the simple one’s face. He would be hard-pressed to even begin trying to describe it.
“Do you need any help..!?” Taiju practically leaps forward with a renewed look of determination. “I can carry you, if you want..!”
“No, no.” Senkuu shakes his head, holding up a hand to signal a stop. “I’m fine, oaf, just sit down.”
As much trust as Gen knows Taiju has in Senkuu, he knows a look of doubt when he sees one. And the look in Taiju’s eyes is doubt.
Not that he can blame him.
“Yes, I’m sure.” Senkuu breathes a harsh, almost annoyed, exhale.
Taiju’s head turns to meet Yuzuriha’s eyes. The two spend a few moments staring at each other before they both nod and take a seat by the fire. Gen can’t help but notice the way that Yuzuriha shifts ever closer to Taiju, even if he doesn’t seem to notice himself.
As perfect as they may be, I suppose that doesn’t grant him the power of observation .
“Alright, Senkuu-chan, right here.” Gen smiles, hands shifting to rest on Senkuu’s back instead of focusing on holding him up. The scientist moves to rest his hands on Gen’s upper arms, leaning his weight into the magician as he lowers himself to the ground. “That’s it, Senkuu-chan.” He whispers, practically forcing the encouraging tone into his words as the two of them take their places on the ground.
There’s a moment, however brief, where they’re separated. Senkuu sitting on the ground while Gen is focused on making sure he’s solid, unwavering, unable to fall. There’s a moment where Gen has no hands on the other, there’s a moment where all he can do is look at him.
There’s a moment where he simply stares.
There’s a moment where his eyes land on the petrification marks, shockingly similar to his own, that run up Senkuu’s face. There’s a moment for him to think just how much those marks suit him. There’s a moment for him to frown at the marks that spread across his eyes. There’s a moment for him to notice the long scar running up Senkuu’s cheek. There’s a moment for him to notice the dirt, blood, tears, sweat, everything in-between, caking the scientist’s face. There’s a moment for him to notice, to really notice ,
That Senkuu really does look older.
How long has he been awake, again?
It doesn’t matter, I suppose.
He takes his seat beside the scientist, delicate smile dancing across his lips as he raises a hand. Careful, gentle, he cups Senkuu’s cheek in his palm. Thumb running across the scar that he knows for certain was never there before with gentle precision.
He notices the way that Senkuu tenses up beneath his touch.
He notices the way that Senkuu’s eyebrows furrow and he begins to pull away. Just for a moment. He starts to pull away, but stops himself. He stops himself and his lips squeeze shut and Gen feels as though he’s about to cry.
“I know.” Senkuu doesn’t even let him get the sentiment past his lips. “I know, Gen.” The scientist doesn’t say another word. He doesn’t move.
And yet Gen can still feel him shaking beneath his touch.
Even as his eyes close, even as he leans into the magician’s fingers, Gen can still feel him shaking beneath the touch.
So he shifts.
He inches closer, hand leaving Senkuu’s cheek, and wraps his arm around the other’s shoulders. He pulls him closer, just enough to let Senkuu lean his head against Gen’s shoulder.
Gen can still feel him shaking.
“Where did Tsukasa-kun go?” Yuzuriha’s voice is a sudden interruption that drags Gen right out of his focus on the scientist beside him.
“He went to take care of Hyouga and Homura!” Taiju is the one to jump in with an answer. “Tsukasa is such a good guy, Senkuu! I think you’ll really like him!”
“Yeah?” Senkuu’s voice is low, tired. “Dunno. He seems like a decent guy, I guess.” He glances (or would be glancing) towards Gen with curious eyes. “What did you have to do to get him to help?”
“Ah, Senkuu-chan you’re so cynical~” Gen coos with a soft laugh. “Truly, all we had to do was revive him and he agreed to do anything we needed of him. It’s quite interesting. I suppose he truly is a creature of honor, hm?”
“Yeah, I guess.” His brows furrow in something beyond hesitation and perhaps a touch of fear, and Gen is sure that he knows exactly what the scientist is thinking.
“Is something…” He blinks. “Is something the matter, Senkuu-chan?”
Other than the obvious, of course.
“No.” He shakes his head. “Just a bad feeling, I guess. Dunno if I’m the best gauge of something like that right now.”
“Hm.” Gen has to admit that this is the most he’s ever had to deliberate over what an appropriate response to what is essentially an off-handed comment might be. Though, he supposes there isn’t anything about this situation that would allow him to take his typical approach to interaction. He settles with keeping his mouth closed, and instead pressing his lips to Senkuu’s forehead with gentle care and the intent to comfort. “Well, then I suppose we’ll have to keep careful tabs on him, hm?”
“Guess so.” Senkuu’s eyes close, not that it would matter if he kept them open, and Gen can’t help but smile at the feeling of the scientist leaning into him more and more.
He can’t help but wish that the situation around them were different.
“Senkuu-chan,” He leans in closer, enough that he doesn’t think the other two will be able to hear him. “I love you.”
“…hm.” Even with the relatively deadpan response, he can see the soft smile that takes residence on the scientist’s lips. He can feel the shaking begin to lessen, if only slightly, and he can feel the tension almost melting out of his shoulders. “I thought we already established that, Magician.”
He laughs, pressing his lips to Senkuu’s forehead once again.
“Yes, I suppose so.”
Chapter 19: Chapter 19
By the time Tsukasa Shishio returns, Senkuu is halfway to sleep.
He thinks he is, anyway. His eyes, useless as they may be now, feel heavy and his focus is wavering. Even with comfortable, soft, comforting arms wrapped around him, he feels as though he’s drifting away.
Not that he really minds.
If he’s going to sleep, this is how he wants to. Comfortable. Safe. Gen’s fingers are running through the base of his hair, and every few moments the magician will whisper some kind of comforting sentiment right into his ear, and Senkuu can almost forget exactly where they are right now.
Senkuu can almost forget everything that got them here.
He doesn’t move when he hears the loud, thumping footsteps that really can’t be anyone other than the wrestler that Senkuu knows is the only reason he’s even here right now. He knows that he should lift his head, say something, probably a teary thank you or a compliment of some kind. But he can’t shake some feeling, deep in the pit of his stomach, that something is absolutely, completely and totally off about that man.
He can hear Gen whispering some kind of greeting, and he thinks that the magician has mistaken him for being asleep. All of them, even the oaf, have hushed voices and kindness in their tone. He’s almost grateful for the calm quiet that comes from the tones of their voices. It has his mind edging ever closer to the rest that it so desperately craves. It has his sore, aching, tense, hurting , muscles coming ever closer to some kind of relief.
I should really get around to re-inventing painkillers.
His train of thought stops, dead. He would blink, if his eyes were open.
…can I re-invent painkillers like this..?
It’s a terrifying thought.
He doesn’t want to think about it right now.
He tries to breathe a deep exhale, but it doesn’t relax him. It doesn’t lessen any of the tension in his shoulders, his neck, his arms, anything.
Even now. Even here. Even with Gen’s arms wrapped around him and the soft, comforting sound of his voice,
How do I make it go away?
“Ah, Gen, would you mind waking Senkuu up?”
His eyes almost snap open the moment that he hears Tsukasa’s question. Almost. His arm, already wrapped around Gen’s torso, tightens just a bit, just enough for Gen to know that he is awake.
“Hm? Why, Tsukasa-chan?” Gen’s head tilts closer to Senkuu’s, and the feeling of Gen’s cheek pressing against his hair would normally bring a smile to his face. “I think we ought to let Senkuu-chan get his rest, don’t you?”
“I would only like to ask him a few questions, since I have yet to get the opportunity to actually speak with him.” He would expect to hear a loud thud when the man sits down, but it never comes.
“What kinda questions, Tsukasa?” Taiju asks a question with such characteristic obliviousness that it almost draws a laugh from Senkuu’s lungs. “Maybe we’ll know the answers!”
“Hmmm.” There’s a momentary pause, where Senkuu would imagine that the man has a hand over his mouth. “How complicated to make is this revival fluid that we’ve just fought over?”
Everyone freezes. Even with eyes closed (not that it would matter if they were open), Senkuu can tell that everyone is frozen in place. He can feel Gen tensing around him, and he’s sure that, the next moment he gets the chance, Gen is going to whisper something about how Senkuu was right to have that bad feeling.
“Tsukasa…” Taiju’s voice is oddly hesitant, not something that Senkuu thinks he’s ever used to describe the oaf’s voice.
“I don’t think we need to discuss this right now, Tsukasa-chan.” Senkuu can hear the tight semblance of a smile in Gen’s voice. It’s a sound, a look, that Senkuu is very familiar with. One that, when given to those who don’t know the magician nearly as well as Senkuu does, often inspires nothing but pure terror.
Somehow, Senkuu doesn’t think such a reaction will come from the man who defeated Hyouga within minutes.
“Senkuu-chan is asleep, and I doubt that Taiju-chan and Yuzuriha-chan know how to craft the revival fluid on their own, yes?” Senkuu can feel Gen’s head turning towards where he thinks Taiju’s voice was coming from.
“Nope. Senkuu had to do everything! All we did was get the materials!” Taiju’s open honesty is something that Senkuu always thought to be a strength. He still thinks it is. Something that sets the oaf apart from so many other people in this world that Senkuu might not feel inclined to place his trust in. Even now, Senkuu can’t be sure if what Taiju said is beneficial or not. These kinds of situations aren’t his strong suit. Never before, and especially not now.
He really doesn’t want to deal with this right now.
I just want to rest.
“Ah, I see.” Tsukasa’s voice is contemplative. “Then, I assume that Senkuu is the only one of us who truly knows the accurate formula?”
“Yup!” Taiju calls right back, and that was a mistake. Before any noise can be heard, before anything can follow, even like this, Senkuu knows that Taiju just made a mistake.
“Gen, can you please wake him up? I would like to ask him about it.”
“Sorry, Tsukasa-chan, I’d much rather let Senkuu-chan rest for now.” He can hear the sing-song sound to Gen’s voice that almost, almost , pulls a smile to his lips. “You can try to ask in the morning, if you’d like.”
Stomping footsteps make their way closer, and Senkuu has to tighten his grip around Gen’s back to stop himself from jumping at the sound.
Why is everyone so damn loud?
He can feel Gen’s head tilting back, presumably to look straight up at the hulking mass of a man. And Senkuu knows, right there, that his bad feeling was right.
“I believe all of us would much prefer to get this out of the way now, Gen.”
Senkuu’s eyes fly open the moment he hears a cry of shock, followed closely by a shout of “YUZURIHA” and a following cry of pain from what he knows is Taiju’s voice. He can feel Gen’s grip on him tightening, even while the magician’s mouth stays glued closed and Senkuu stares straight ahead into the blackness.
“Ah, Senkuu.” He can hear a smile in Tsukasa’s voice and, if nothing else, this man’s voice is far more expressive than Hyouga’s ever was. “I see you’re awake. Wonderful. It saves me the trouble of bringing you back to consciousness, yes?”
“Senkuu-chan,” Gen’s voice is silent, barely even a whisper. “H-Hyouga-chan… and that woman, they have Taiju-chan and Yuzuriha-chan. Hyouga-chan just–“
Senkuu doesn’t need to hear the rest of what Gen was going to say.
“Tsukasa,” He interrupts, he doesn’t let the magician finish. “You know, I don’t really know you, but I figured that you’d at least be classier than pulling shit like this on someone who can’t even see anymore.”
“Well, I suppose you were mistaken then, Senkuu.” He can hear shifting, muffled speech that he’s sure is Yuzuriha saying something reassuring to Taiju, or perhaps the other way around, and he can feel Gen’s arms tightening. He can feel his own muscles stiffening.
I just want to rest.
“Now, Senkuu,” Tsukasa’s voice is just as smooth as the honey that used to coat Hyouga’s. “I do have a few questions for you about this revival formula.”
“Yeah? And why should I bother giving you an answer?”
Some part of him knows that saying that was a bad idea, but hearing the soft yelp that comes from Yuzuriha’s lungs, in Yuzuriha’s voice, nearly stops his heart right there and has his entire body tensing even more, if that’s somehow possible.
“YUZURIHA!!” Taiju shouts her name, and Senkuu jumps right out of Gen’s grip. Right to his feet. He keeps a hand on Gen’s shoulder.
His legs hurt.
His legs are sore.
His torso hurts.
“Stop. Don’t touch them.” He clenches his teeth and he can feel Gen standing to meet him. “I’ll tell you what you want to know. Get that bastard away from them.”
Gen’s hand rests on his back, and Senkuu ducks his head down, pressing his eyes closed.
Hyouga probably told him that they’re the best way to get me to do what he wants.
Hyouga figured that out a long time ago.
Not like lying would do any good here.
I just want to rest.
“Are you certain, Senkuu?” He’s sure that the man’s head is tilting to the side as he stares down at the scientist who can’t exactly stare back. “You don’t know what I’m going to ask of you yet. Or what I’m going to ask you to do.”
He feels Gen’s grip tightening.
“I don’t care. Don’t touch them.” He wants to move, he wants to move to wrap an arm around the magician. But he doesn’t. He stands stock still, staring straight ahead into the darkness, the only thing he can see.
“Alright then, Senkuu.” The man takes a step forward, and Gen’s grip tightens again. Senkuu has to steel himself, clench his entire body, to stop himself from flinching, jumping back, at the sound of bare feet slamming into the leaves. “Won’t you be kind enough to tell me the correct formula for the revival fluid?”
He pauses. He only pauses for a moment. One of his hands finds Gen’s arm and squeezes.
He recites it, word for word as he once did to Hyouga. In a situation that, oddly enough, reminds him quite a bit of this one.
Once his explanation is over, he can hear a sharp breath of relief, a cry of ‘YUZURIHA!’ And the scuffling of someone across a dirt floor. He can hear continued harsh breathing, and he breathes a sigh of relief.
“They let go of Taiju-chan and Yuzuriha-chan.” Gen whispers into his ear once again. “Taiju-chan is holding her.”
“Senkuu, I must ask a question.”
“Another one?” He tilts his head to the side. “Can’t imagine that I have much of anything else that you would want.”
“Before I pose it, I suppose I should say that I have no intention of hurting your friends. All of them will be allowed to accompany me or leave as they please. Though, I suppose it would be in their best interest to stay by my side.”
“What’s your damn question, Tsukasa?” His jaw is tensing too. Eyebrows tight and scrunched in some combination of frustration and anger.
I just want this to be over.
“Senkuu, Hyouga tells me that you are determined to, against all odds, revive the entirety of humanity and return civilization to its former glory through the power of science. Is this true?”
“Yeah, it’s true.” He nods, knowing that Gen is probably cursing him for his stubborn honesty. “Is that your question?”
“No. My question,” His voice softens and Senkuu feels a chill running up his spine. Gen’s arm is tight around his back and Senkuu wishes he could feel comforted by it. “Senkuu. If I were to leave you alive, I’m certain that you and your friends would work together and seek to rebuild scientific civilization. Correct? If I leave you alive, you may become a considerable threat to my interests.”
“Senkuu-chan, a threat?” Gen jumps in just as Senkuu opens his mouth to respond, and Senkuu can feel Gen’s fingers balling around his clothing. “Truly? You look at Senkuu-chan and see a threat?” He can hear Gen pushing a laugh past his lips and has to hold back his instinct to throw in some snide remark. “Senkuu-chan can barely even lift his own bag to get to school most mornings! Taiju-chan has had to help him with his scientific materials for their entire lives, right, Taiju-chan??”
“Yeah!” Taiju jumps right in, and Senkuu knows exactly what they’re trying to do. He can’t be sure that it will work, but he knows what they’re trying to do.
“Hm. I suppose you’re right.” He can tell, even unable to see, that Tsukasa has tilted his head to the other side in a way that Senkuu can’t help but see as patronizing. Not that it should matter in a situation such as this. He can practically feel the wrestler’s eyes combing his entire body, and he really just wants this to be over.
I just want to rest.
He can feel his hands starting to shake.
“You’re right, Gen.” Tsukasa repeats the sentiment, as if hammering a nail into a plank of wood. “He is weak. Weak and a threat to others. In this state ,” Senkuu can feel Gen tensing against him. He can practically hear the thoughts flying through the magician’s mind, and he can certainly hear the shuffling of what he thinks are Taiju’s and Yuzuriha’s feet against the forest floor. “It wouldn’t be long until you got every one of your friends killed, just attempting to keep you safe. Don’t you agree, Senkuu?”
“I did not ask you , Gen.” And Senkuu steps in front of the magician. It’s a momentary impulse, he would call it an instinct, that has him pushing the other behind him and his head tilting up. Even though he can’t see the threat looming over him, he’s determined to stand his ground. “Ah, I see.” Tsukasa takes another step forward, Senkuu can practically feel himself shaking under the violent weight of Tsukasa’s footsteps.
The feeling of Tsukasa’s face, mere inches from his own, is far too familiar for Senkuu not to take a shaky step back and feel the violent trembling in his hands.
“Senkuu, do not fear. I will put you out of your misery right now. It will be quick and merciful. You will feel no pain.”
One hand comes up, rubbing the back of his neck as a smirk comes to his lips.
“Yeah. If we can’t convince you otherwise,” He reaches for Gen’s hand with his free one. He takes a moment, just one, to link their fingers as a loud crack comes from his neck. He can only hope that the magician managed to notice. “Then I guess the best thing you can do is just make it quick. It’ll be pretty illogical for you, me, and them to let me bleed out forever, huh?”
“Don’t worry, Senkuu. I’ll simply snap your cervical nerve. It will barely take a moment. You’ll fall asleep and then you’ll die. You won’t feel a thing, and I most certainly won’t miss.”
A moment of silence flies by, and Senkuu can hear what he’s sure is Taiju getting to his feet. He thinks he knows what Taiju is going to do.
“OAF!” He shouts, smirk melting right off his face. “Don’t you dare move a single step.”
Hyouga and Homura are there. They’ve likely already attacked them. If Taiju tries to interfere, Yuzuriha–
“Stay right there.” His voice is deep, bordering on angry.
No one is dying today.
No one but me, I guess.
“Senkuu-chan.” Gen’s voice is right in his ear. “S-Senkuu-chan..!”
“It’s fine, Gen. He’s right.” He thinks those words are a lie. It might be the first time he’s told a lie to someone so important. It might be the first time he’s told a lie out of anything other than survival.
Perhaps Gen truly has rubbed off on him.
“Take care of each other, okay?” He says the words quietly, and he thinks that Tsukasa is giving him a moment to say goodbye.
“Wait, wait–“ He doesn’t think he’s ever heard such desperation in the magician’s voice before. He doesn’t think he’s ever heard him be so strained. He doesn’t think he’s ever wanted to cry over someone’s tone of voice before.
“I love you.” He feels his smirk coming back. “But I guess we already established that, huh?”
Tsukasa takes a step forward.
I hope this works.
He lets go of Gen’s hand.
This better work.
He pushes the magician away with all the strength that he can muster. There’s a small gasp that he could never mistake, a short cry, and Senkuu is sure that there are tears in the other’s eyes.
I love you, Gen.
He can hear Tsukasa’s arms come up, he can hear three voices screaming in protest in almost perfect unison.
Tsukasa’s hand hits the back of his neck, and there’s a resounding snap.
There’s a scream that he knows doesn’t come from his own lungs.
I don’t want to die.
And yet, he can’t help but feel relief.
At least, once everything goes black,
Nothing hurts anymore.
Chapter 20: Chapter 20
Gen thinks it’s the first time he’s ever addressed someone without the honorific that he’s become known for. Something that’s become little more than habit to him flies so far from his mind that he doesn’t even notice that he’s neglected it until a full minute later. He feels himself surging forward, even though Senkuu had shoved him back. He feels his face growing wet, he doesn’t know what from, as he watches Senkuu Ishigami’s body fall backwards.
He dives forward, arms outstretched, and catches the scientist before he can hit the ground.
“SENKUU..! SENKUU!!” His voice is loud, violent, desperate, it’s almost a scream. He pulls the body up, into his arms, he holds it tight, he holds him tight, his face is wet. Why is his face wet? He doesn’t know. It’s not a question he thinks he’s capable of devoting any brainpower to at the moment. His arms are tight, oh so tight, around the torso of someone so important and all he can do is scream.
He can hear more shouting, running, screaming, crying. That must be why his face is so wet. That must be why his breathing is so far out of control. That must be why his chest is heaving and he can’t breathe.
It only takes another moment, possibly less, for two more people to crash into the leaves around him. Gen only just manages to notice the bright stream of crimson running down Taiju’s arm, the matching lines of the same color dripping off of Yuzuriha’s chin as it trails down the side of her face.
“Senkuu-kun…!” Yuzuriha is the first of the two who manages to say something comprehensible. Taiju is mostly relegated to violent scream-sobbing and honestly Gen can’t blame him. He doesn’t think there are any words passing his own lips other than the same screaming of
“SENKUU!!!” He cries, hand moving to rest on the scientist’s cheek. He’s careful, gentle, hesitant, even with the intensity of everything swirling in his chest, stomach, everywhere .
He stops screaming, long enough to breathe. He breathes, he sucks the air in through clenched teeth and muted sobs as he presses his forehead into Senkuu’s neck. Silent, he knows the water falling off his eyes is likely going to show on the body’s clothing, but there’s nothing he can do about that. There’s nothing he can do.
There was nothing I could do.
“I love you.”
“But I guess we already established that, huh?”
“…I love you.” The words come out between painful, harsh, voice-breaking sobs and Gen wishes he had said them earlier. He wishes he had been coherent, articulate, before. He wishes he could have said them right back.
“You all are his friends. You should give him a proper burial.”
Gen thinks that, if he didn’t already know exactly how that scenario would play out for everyone involved, he would make a serious attempt to murder the man who dared speak those words.
“T-Taiju-chan.” He says the other’s name softly, quietly, almost inaudible over the continued sobbing that comes from all three of them.
Gen doesn’t think he’s ever felt this way before.
He doesn’t think he’s ever cried this much before.
He doesn’t think he’s ever held anyone this close this tight before.
The simple one, eyes leaking tears like a faucet leaks water, stares right into the magician’s eyes. Yuzuriha isn’t far behind, and Gen can’t help but think that Senkuu would be beyond furious if he saw the blood dripping off both of their skin.
A long moment passes, Taiju and Gen simply staring each other while Yuzuriha sobs into her hands. Gen’s fingers alternate between tight on Senkuu’s cold skin and so loose that the body could slip right from his grip.
“Taiju-chan.” He says the simple one’s name again, waiting for him to get what he was trying to say. “I… I think… we should listen to Tsukasa-chan…”
As angry, furious, as the words made him, Gen has to acknowledge just how little he wants Tsukasa, Hyouga, and Homura hanging over him while he clings to the body of the scientist like a climber clinging to a lifeline.
“Listen…” Taiju’s eyes are still, wide, and almost blank, even with the tears that stream out of them like the flow of a river. It takes another moment before the simple one nods and inches forward, arms moving to scoop the limp scientist into his arms and stand on shaky legs.
Gen’s arms feel empty.
Gen feels empty.
There was a time he felt this empty.
Staring down at empty hands, trembling like a leaf in the wind, Gen knows that he’s felt this overwhelming emptiness before.
He remembers long nights, alone in an apartment far grander than he could ever need, phone never more than five feet away from his fingers. Not that it would ever ring.
Until that day.
“Oh, so you’re the one who wrote those trashy psychology books, huh?”
And the bright light of science chased the cold void away.
But it was never like this.
It was never this sudden.
It was never this painful.
He feels a set of hands on his shoulder, and he looks up. It’s probably better for him to look up, to leave that position of pathetic crouching over a body that isn’t even within his grasp any longer. Yuzuriha is there, eyes wide and soft and sad, and he knows that she wants him to join them. They’re all going to go together.
He struggles to his feet.
He doesn’t think he’s ever felt himself shake right to his core quite like this before.
He feels Yuzuriha’s hands closing around his own. She squeezes, gently, and pulls him away. Taiju is the head of their little line, and Gen glances over his shoulder, just for a moment, to look at the two towering male figures and the one short and slim female figure.
He only looks back for a moment.
Yuzuriha pulls him through the trees.
And, when Gen’s head turns, he only looks forward.
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
“Gen, how far should we–“
“Don’t stop.” Gen whispers the words under his breath. “We’re not stopping.” He doesn’t know when the two of them decided that they would be listening to him and him alone on stuff like this, but he’s honestly more grateful than anything that the two he’s left with are two people that he knows he can rely on. Two people who he knows will never let him down.
“Until we can’t walk anymore. As far as we can possibly get.” His voice is quiet, low, and borders on harsh. “…as far away as we can possibly get, from them.”
I never want to see them again.
I never want to hear their voices again.
His teeth press down on his lips. Soft. He doesn’t want to draw any blood. The last thing any of them need is more crimson pouring from their skin, with no bandaids to fix cuts like that on Yuzuriha’s forehead, and only the most primitive of normal bandages to conceal the one on Taiju’s upper arm, no more injuries are necessary.
The forest is silent.
Other than the crunching of leaves beneath their feet, there isn’t a single sound coming from the trees, and Gen would, normally, enjoy such a soft silence.
Gen isn’t enjoying the silence now.
Because Gen knows that, if things were different, if things had gone differently, it wouldn’t be silent.
Perhaps Senkuu would be whispering into his ear, breathing heavily, pointing out trees and flowers and anything that they may pass by.
“See? That one’s called the Acer palmatum. They’re pretty common, actually. You see them all the time, but not a lot of people know the Latin names of all these plants.”
He remembers staring, head angled slightly down, at the scientist with a look of nothing but awe. He remembers, even as the scientist continued his passionate explanation on a subject that Gen had mild interest in, just watching the way his lips pressed closed between every word, the way his eyes twitched every time he shifted his gaze between different plants. The analytical pistons firing behind his eyes every moment that they remained among the leaves.
He remembers reaching his hand out.
He remembers seeing Senkuu come to a complete halt.
He remembers the two of them standing completely still, right in the middle of the paved path of the park, for a solid minute as Senkuu tried to process how the magician had just grabbed his hand.
“Keep going, Senkuu-chan.”
He remembers Senkuu continuing his explanation.
He remembers the smile that stayed on the scientist’s lips for the rest of their walk that day.
I want to see him smile again.
I want to see that smile again.
“…Gen-kun.” He blinks, snapping right out of his trance at the sound of Yuzuriha’s delicate voice. His eyes snap up and she looks as though she’s about to break down. Gen is almost surprised that Taiju hasn’t set Yuzuriha’s tears to the top of his priority list, though he supposes that a situation like this is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to someone like Taiju Oki.
“…we…” Her voice is choked, tearful, pained , and Gen knows that his own voice sounds the same way. He knows that Taiju’s voice will sound the same way. There isn’t any other way for them to sound right now. He can’t imagine ever sounding any other way.
Nothing aches, nothing screams, nothing tenses, nothing is sore.
But everything hurts.
“…we should say our goodbyes… right..?”
Yuzuriha stops walking to stare at him. And Taiju stops too. Both of them, bloodstained and tear-soaked, simply stare at Gen with wide eyes as he stands rooted in place.
I don’t want to say goodbye.
“…Taiju-chan, can… can you put him down..?”
Taiju doesn’t hesitate, even for a second, to set the scientist’s body on the leaf-covered floor of the forest.
This time, when Gen drops to his knees, this time he hears what he’s sure he’s been hearing all along. This time he hears the soft clinking of what is most certainly an earthen pot against something else. He isn’t sure what else. But he knows that he hears the jar and he practically tears his jacket open, staring at the jar of what he knows is revival fluid that he nearly forgot was tucked right into his clothing this whole time.
He remembers that loud crack.
His eyes widen.
“…Taiju-chan.” The simple one’s eyes jump to meet the magician’s, and Gen doesn’t know what exactly to say. There have been a lot of firsts today, and many of them have been very far out of character to him, but struggling to speak with Taiju?
That most certainly is a startling first.
“Cracking his neck.” Gen stares down at the body of the scientist between them. Yuzuriha enters his field of vision, taking her place at the simple one’s side. “C-Cracking… Senkuu-chan never used to do anything like that..! And it definitely wasn’t that loud, right..??”
He stares at the two of them as they look at him, then at each other, then down at the body of the scientist, then back at him. A whole minute passes of silent, uncertain contemplation. And, by the time they open their mouths to confirm it, Gen is already certain.
“…turn him over.” He issues the command in a soft, desperate, hopeful voice, and he knows that the feeling is infectious, because they have it too. Their eyes are full of some kind of desperate, clingy, end of the line, last thread, hope.
Taiju flips Senkuu Ishigami’s body over.
Please be right.
“Stone..!” Taiju is the one to make the observation, his thick, powerful fingers resting on the spot of solid stone that covers the top of Senkuu’s neck.
Exactly where Tsukasa Shishio was meant to snap it.
Gen’s hands scramble to pull the earthen jar from his clothing. He can feel, see , his fingers shaking against the rough surface of the thing.
Is this how the stone works?
Will it heal him?
Did it shield him?
He takes a deep breath, fingers fumbling to pull the tanned leather off of the opening.
He gave them enough for three people.
One was for me.
He struggles to keep his hands still. Still enough to be accurate. Still enough not to spill what precious fluid they have left. The other two are watching him with wide, hopeful eyes.
We can’t lose you.
He holds the jar forward, close enough to the scientist’s neck that there’s no way for him to miss.
I can’t lose you,
He tips the jar forward, just enough for the fluid to spill right out. Right where he intended.
Please come back.
The stone cracks.
Chapter 22: Chapter 22
Happy birthday Senkuu~!
When Gen Asagiri gets a text, he always knows who it is.
There are only two people who text him. Most of those who need his attention simply call, and when he doesn’t bother to pick up they don’t bother to call back.
Only two people bother to send a text when Gen Asagiri doesn’t answer their calls.
The first is his manager. Typically texts are about the next show, checking on preparations and readiness, availability, perhaps even asking if he’s feeling alright after a few days of radio silence.
Not that it would matter if he was sick.
As they say in his business, the show must go on. It’s a motto that Gen Asagiri has become very familiar with.
The second person to send constant buzzing to his back-pocket is Senkuu Ishigami.
More often than not, those messages are invitations. Asking for the magician to join him and his friends in their next experiment, asking the magician to join him and his father the next time they go out for ramen, asking the magician if he wants to meet up after Senkuu gets out of school that day, or the next day, or any time soon. Sometimes texts are there to confirm shows that Senkuu bought tickets for weeks in advance. Sometimes it’s just a simple ‘hello.’ A ‘good morning.’
No matter what the message might be, it always brings a smile to Gen Asagiri’s lips.
A typical return message might have Gen declining an invitation because of a show that Senkuu hadn’t managed to snag a ticket for, because he has an appointment with his manager, because he told his manager he would be staying home and he can’t risk someone taking a picture of the magician out with someone that his manager doesn’t know.
Occasionally, Gen will accept Senkuu’s invitation.
Those days, the days where he’s free to spend his day how he chooses, where he’s free to waste hours upon hours wandering through a park, or sitting in some combination of comfortable silence and idle chatter, seeing sci-fi movie after sci-fi movie, watching ridiculous experiments unfold before him,
Those are Gen Asagiri’s favorite days.
Those are the days that Gen Asagiri wishes would never end.
Those are the days where the emptiness that he’s become so comfortable with, the emptiness that he once chased away with fervent passion for his chosen profession, severe dedication, doesn’t even cross his mind. Those are the days where he feels nothing in the pit of his stomach except warmth,
Those are the days,
Where Gen Asagiri feels whole.