They were never going anywhere, him and Gin.
They start gravitating towards each other from his day one with the Black Lizards. It was only natural - Hirotsu was... an okay guy, Tachihara supposes, but he fell way out of their age range to really be friend to either of them.
Not that it was that simple from the start and, on more than one occasion, Tachihara found himself with a blade of Gin's knife pressed to his neck, seemingly out of sheer frustration. The two of them were different in almost everything and the same in their stubbornness, which could not possibly be a good sign. Proud, unwilling to compromise, they were both full of sharp edges and it took them some time to figure out how to even start growing closer without cutting each other. It also didn't help that he did not yet properly feel like he was - the reckless, cocky, devil-may-care personality he chose to adopt as his cover still felt odd and uncomfortable. Like with a pair of new shoes, he needed to walk his fair share of miles in it to make it his, to adapt to it and let it adapt to him. He knows that, but what that means is that his early interactions with everyone were awkward and clunky and felt an awful lot like a guessing game of what would this new Tachihara do?
However, slowly but surely, they make it work and it's just as surprising as it is welcome. The new Tachihara - the one he's slowly becoming - is loud like an explosion and he can talk at the pace of a round from a machine gun if you let him. The thing is, Gin lets him, resigning himself to sharpening his knife in comfortable silence that seems to come naturally to him. They compliment each other well, Tachihara's noise and Gin's quiet. Eventually, they learn how to translate their dynamic to the battlefield, with Tachihara providing diversion and Gin working his sneaky magic behind enemy lines.
As their cooperation grow more natural, so does Tachihara's new personality. The lines dividing new and old him blend away and dissolve into nothingness. The reckless, high risk-high reward stunts he pulls become the means of getting an adrenaline rush he's gradually come to crave. The self-assured, toothy grin feels less like a grimace with every passing day and his mouth fluidly molds into its shape. And when he tells some terrible jokes around Gin, he could swear it's with genuine intention to make him laugh.
It's with that final observation that he realizes he might have a problem.
There are so many reasons why that is a bad idea. First, Gin is a Port Mafia member, and the last thing Tachihara needs is getting tangled up in a romantic relationship with an enemy. Second, Gin is so completely different from him, he's not sure they'd even make a day together without some blood being shed - even despite their newbuilt rapport, all it takes for things to escalate into threats is one bad day, one wrong word, one wrong look. Finally, Gin was... well, a guy. Tachihara took no shame in who he was, but he wasn't exactly sure if Gin would be as accepting and he was a little hesitant to find out - especially with so much more than his personal romantic success on the line.
He finds out after a mission gone south, the aftermath of which has them catching their breaths is some remote alley after what he'd call a tactical retreat. Tachihara gasps frantically, his lungs burning as he leans of a dirty back wall of some building, when he notices Gin clutching his stomach and wincing in pain. Fuck, that was not good. All thoughts of his own injuries immediately fly out of Tachihara's head as he asks:
- Shit, man, you okay?
Gin lets go of his stomach and mumbles something vaguely affirmative in response, but Tachihara is not convinced. Gin's expression is hard to read thanks to the mask, but Tachihara had spent enough time with him to pick up on little details indicating he's very much not okay.
- Y'know, if you're hurt you better tell me before your guts start falling out of you.
All he receives in response is another grumble and at that point, he's had just about enough. He grabs Gin by the arm, his second hand moving to dip beneath his shirt and inspect his stomach for wounds (because to hell with boundaries, he's not letting Gin bleed out on his watch because of childish stubbornness). Not the smartest move - his back is against a wall and a blade bites into his neck before he even has a chance at grazing Gin's skin with his fingers.
- Hands off, creep - Gin hisses with voice like shards of glass, cold and sharp.
To his glare Tachihara replies with one of his own, golden irises molten with anger.
- You're hurt, dumbass - he's almost afraid to talk, afraid Gin's blade will pierce the skin the second he as much as swallows, but at this point he knows that not yielding is the only way of maybe geting to him.
- Am not - Gin replies in his favourite brief manner before finally letting go of him and putting that cursed knife back into its sheat.
Really, this was getting annoying.
-Yes, you are - he insists, awfully aware of how much they sound like children right now. Good thing Hirotsu wasn't here - Look, if...
- I'm on damn period, if you really need to know so bad!
For a second Tachihara's thoughts come to a screeching halt, because something's seriously not computing here, before, practically on a whim, he spits out his first guess:
- Wait, so you're, like, trans?
Gin blinks at him with an unreadable expression, before saying, in a voice that sounded too soft and too high and holy shit how did he not notice before...
- Is that seriously your first conclusion, Gunpowder Brain?
For once, the insult really sticks. He does feel like his head was filled with gunpowder, which then detonated at the spark of synapses, leaving him with nothing but dull rattling sound in his ears. Cause no, Gin Akutagawa is not a trans guy, she's a she, a girl. An actual, honest to gods girl.
(As they come back to the HQ, they stray for a moment to buy pads and painkillers and if it wasn't for fear of her blade, Tachihara would've laughed, because he was buying pads with the fearsome Black Lizard member and there was not a single damn thing that wasn't funny about it)
Not that this revelation really changed much, because guy, girl or whatever else, it was still Gin. She was still dance of light and shadow personified, agile and lean, with eyes pale and bright like the moon and hair black like the night sky. She still walked with grace of a cat and still could cut through your flesh like one, using blades in place of claws. And Tachihara still loved - her, him or them. Didn't matter.
Yeah, why not?
It didn't have to be anything big. The love, that is. People make love out to be much bigger of a deal than it has to be anyway. Tachihara might've easily been casually, non-commitally in love with her. It was not the kind of love that he would have to carry on his back along with the weight of responsibility it brought - it would never end with a wedding, a house, a cat or dog and a bunch of kids. These kind of things just didn't happen in their line of work and Tachihara didn't want them anyway. Experience taught him that this whole notion of "happiness in the family" was a pile of shit and it terrified him to think what kind of broken abominations they would raise, were they to have children together.
As far as he was concerned, Gin shared these sentiments. It was what made being in love with her so easy, so comforting. He knew she would never expect that of him, expect anything of him. It made things simpler and more complicated at the same time.
The first time he cracks and kisses her, they're on top of the skyscraper the HQ is located in, looking down on the city. The ground and sky seem to have flipped on their head, because above them, they can only see dirty orange, light polluted nothingness, swirling with clouds brown like sewers water, while the landscape below pulsates with miriad of makeshift stars, the glow radiating miles into the sky and tinting their faces in shades of dimmed neon.
The next night is an assignment, so the plan is simple - tire themselves out tonight, sleep through the day, wake up... well, maybe not rested, but not feeling like shit either. Besides, they're both nocturnal anyway.
Unlike usual, Gin's face is completely uncovered and though she doesn't say much, it still makes her so much more emotive when contrasted with her usual masked indifference. There is so much meaning to be read into the melancholic curve of her lips and shadow gathering at the corners of her mouth.
When he leans in, it turns out much less smooth than he intended - he failed to take into account just how bloody windy it will be up here and a lock of Gin's hair gets caught up betwen their mouths. He pulls away and spits on the ground before remembering he shouldn't probably do so. Thank his luck, Gin doesn't seem to mind as she lets him tuck that inconvenient loose hair securely behind her ear. Things escalate quickly from there - one second he's tracing the line of Gin's jaw with his finger, the next she already has him underneath her, pinned to the concrete and is kissing him for all he's worth. The force with which she tackled him onto the ground nearly sent both of them tumbling over the edge - as far as Tachihara was concerned, it might've as well, because his mind is spinning and it really does feel like he's falling. Her lips are chapped, a little bit dry - no trace of lip balm or anything - but it's so completely, throughoutly Gin it almost hurts, and he can't help but be captivated.
That little gleam in her eyes he noticed when she pressed her forehead to his might've been the only real star he saw that night.
They weren't going anywhere. As such, they were free to go wherever they wanted. They took liberties with this, let themselves test out the waters and see just what kind of togetherness suited them best. Sometimes it would be Gin inviting herself into his appartment through a window left ajar (because Gin had a nasty, glorious habit of slipping through the tiniest of cracks and weaseling her way into places she shouldn't) to watch a shitty movie curled up on his couch. Sometimes it would be standing beside each other on the battlefeld, fighting in a fluent, intuitive harmony he thought was reserved for his old team (he's not sure when they became "old" and "previous" in his mind.) - which would inevitably end with him laying awake at night, images of Gin slicing someone's neck open spinning in his mind as he wonders if he'd rather marvel at them or try to forget. Sometimes he would actually take her out somewhere nice so the two of them could play pretend and have a shot at normalcy, at being just two ordinary teens on a date - no one needed to know about gun holsters underneath his jacket or knives drowned securely in waves of Gin's white summer dress. Sometimes she would patch him up after missions, hissing at him through gritted teeth to not die on me, you idiot, or I'll find an Ability user capable of bringing you back just so I could personally slit your throat.
(Sometimes those wounds would be from hits he took for her, when his instinct kicks in before reason does)
Sometimes she would come into his bed. This usually happened after a particular kind of mission, the kind that leaves them with no major injuries but with adrenaline still sizzling through their blood and deep appreaciation for the fact they're both alive. It's at those moments when the realization hits them that they are essentially just two hormone-packed teens with blood on their hands, so hey, let's live it up while we can.
He treasures those memories, for reasons other than you might suspect. With Gin it's all bites, scratches and bruising grips, and yet, despite all the roughness, there is something unbelievably tender to it. Gin is not much for physical contact - in her profession someone trying to touch you usually meant they wanted to hurt you. Someone actually touching you meant they might just have the chance. So it never fails to leave him in awe how she lets him of all people grasp her like this, lets him map out the hidden contours of her body, hold her in his arms, do things to her, until...
(She liked calling him Tachi every time Tachihara was too distant and formal, while Michizou felt too intimate. He usually just called her Gin - there already was an Akutagawa in the Mafia, and though Gin loved shadows, she would never walk in that of her brother)
When she first stays the night it doesn't spell any big change. It's not a step forward - it just so happens that after they have a field day, exhaustion blacks her out in his sheets during those thirty seconds it took him to get rid of the condom. He's surprised to find her like this - she looked peaceful and if he didn't know any better, he would even think her innocent. She must really trust him if she allowes herself to be unconcious around him.
He has no problem with letting her stay, though he does take the couch for the night.
She's not there when he wakes up. There is one set of dishes in the sink and he wonders how she managed to get herself breakfast and clean up without waking him. He chucks it up to her being Gin and pays no mind.
That time was the first and there are plenty more to come. They grow into their own set of weirdly intimate and yet completely mundane, almost domestic rituals. There is no longer need for Tachihara to be relegated to the couch. He learns that Gin is a light sleeper, waking up if he so much as stirs (so she didn't let her guard down completely around him after all. Perhaps that's better for her), what she likes to eat for breakfast and how she drinks her coffe.
Really, it should worry him how easy it was. There is only reason why it doesn't...
There is one mistake Tachihara is proud he's managed to avoid: he never let himself believe this would last.
(With that one concern out of the way, he was happy to indulge into plenty other mistakes, but these ones he didn't feel like thinking about. )
They were never going anywhere.
Which might've been why it was so easy to stab her when the time came. After all, with no clear beginning and no destination in sight, putting a knife in her guts was just as good a way to end it as any, right?
That was what he told himself anyway when he watched her bleed out on the ground, her perfect monochrome marred with red. It was only after he returned to the Hunting Dogs when he noticed something missing.
Missing? No, that was not it, was it? He didn't feel the emptiness of something not being there anymore. If anyting, it was an exact opposite - it was an excess. He already forgot how much he managed to put aside when he went undercover (and them maybe let his cover ingrow just a bit too deep - just enough for it to hurt when he had to pull the roots out). Now the weight of all goals, ambitions, old grudges, revenges to be executed and responsibilities to be taken care of crashed back down on him. With Gin, he wandered across the barren, roadless wilderness, and now he found himself back on a straight path - oh, but did he still remember how to follow it? He felt like a dog, let out in the park to run around for a while, just to be leashed again when it was time to stop playing around and come home.
Yes, him and Gin were never going anywhere.
But at least it felt good along the way.
The air at the cemetery smells of the ocean. The wind is quietly rustling through the tree lining the alleys. The salt it carries crystallizes on bone white tombstones.
There is no salt on the one Tachihara is looking for - it's still too fresh for that, its edges not smoothed by the elements. It stands incospicuously in one of the endless, almost industrial-looking alleys. Akutagawa G. rests peacefully between Wataya N. and Hirasawa S. and all three of these names will be equally meaningless to most people passing by.
Tachihara sets a small boquet of chrysantemums on the ground. They're white - Gin was not the one to appreciate an excess of colour. Then again, Gin was not a type of person to appreciate flowers at all, but, as awkward and clunky as it was, it was the only way of honoring her memory he had left.
That's when he feels it.
He would lie if he said it surprised him - in fact, he was expecting it at some point, and though he didn't come here waiting for it, he wasn't going to fight it.
He registers the ability before he does the user.The sensation is a little like knowing you're being watched. It's not picked up by any sense in particular, it's just there, overbearingly so, uncomfortably tickling at the back of his nerve endings and making the hair on his nape stand up. It's a presence of a non-being, of something composed entirely out of negative. A presence of absence.
It scoots closer to him and brushes against the back of his neck. It's like a spark of static electricity, initial sting leaving numbness in its wake. He can't see it, but he knows it left a cut. He can imagine blood trickling out of the thin scratch of his flesh.
Soft cough. Heavy boots on the grass. He doesn't need to turn around to know they're black.
- It was either very brave or very foolish of you to come here.
The cemetery is silent. Tachihara knows this kind of silence. He's experienced it on duty more than enough to recognise it - it's an inhale of the universe before all hell breaks loose. Which it inevitably will, because what can you possibly say to a guy whose sister you killed just to show up at her grave with flowers?
He just hopes it won't hurt.
He hopes it will.