Akaashi watches as the soul cries over a body, bent over and shaking.
He lowers down his hood and looks around his surroundings. It's been a while since he last saw snow fall in the city. His breath comes out as thick puffs that coil stubbornly around his head as he strides through the field, lights glittering far away.
The soul looks up, teary as he stops.
"A-Are you an angel? P-Please help, the body...I mean, my body. It feels so cold," The soul is so bright that the snow looks grey as he continues to hold his body. Akaashi can barely tell apart his features. "Please. I think my body is close to dying."
He offers his hand to the young man in front of him, "Come, let's go somewhere warm."
The soul scrambles backwards from him, attempting to drag his body with him but crying out when his hands phases through like fog, "No, no, no I can't! I c-can't, I can't be dead. This is a shitty dream! Please mister, you have to call 110, please!" The man sobs, clasping his hands together, "Please I'll do anything, just save my body!"
Akaashi scowls, pointing his finger as the man curls over his body and continues to sob. A blue ball of light shoots out of his finger, hitting the man who slumps over.
He approaches the soul, bending down and wondering how he can transfer him with the least amount of physical contact. With the soul slumped over completely over his body, there was no quick way to get this over with. He grits his teeth, bracing himself as he heaves the soul over his shoulder.
He gives the distant lights a final look before turning in place and disappearing.
"That's your body."
Akaashi watches his body sways in the wind, a thick lead of rope around his neck. There are cheers. The royal family he was sworn to protect watches on as the crowd spells his downfall. He touches his neck expecting to feel rope, but he feels cool skin instead and turns his head towards the voice.
A handsome man wearing an all black ensemble smiles sadly at him. His eyes are green-grey. He extends a hand, "Come with me."
"Who are you?"
" A Reaper," The man answers. He jerks his head towards a lonely path winding away from the capitol, "Come, it's better for souls to depart right away or you'll spend millenniums wandering around lost."
Akaashi accepts his hand, surprised at how cold it is. It was colder than plunging his hand into the river at winter. The man's face twists for a second before smoothing over, "Reaper?"
"Answers will be given in due time. Just...trust in that I have the best interests at heart for you."
He watches as the soul he saved bow his head to him. Akaashi stares without seeing him, watching the soul— Kentarou— walk forward towards a giant wooden door that had opened onto a golden walkway.
He'd abandon hopes of crossing over a long time ago. The reaper who had saved him explained that he would need to pass time working before attempting to pass. No matter how he pushed his way onto the bridge to follow his souls, an invisible force would hold him back at his bar.
Kentarou turns back, a tiny figure shrouded among golden mist, waving.
Akaashi doesn't wave back, watching the doors to the afterlife slam shut.
"Always so speedy to get them out of here," Kuroo remarks. He's gazing out the window at a replica of Tokyo glittering below him. "I'm surprised you came and ask me to play his memories back to him. To think that my beloved mentor acknowledges my existence after four sun cycles of cold shoulder, I could cry."
Akaashi appraises his fellow Reaper with a cold look.
"He assaulted someone, stole their money and ran off before his car crashed into a tree," He scoffs, "Dying in a field from hypothermia is what he deserves. I wanted to make sure he remembers and reflects on that."
"...That's harsh, Akaashi," Kuroo frowns, rolling up his sleeves to expose his forearm tattoo. It reads, And that is the curse of the Haven, where reapers are to complete their Payment. It is only when the Payment is fulfilled that our souls can be weighed and Judged. "We don't judge souls and he was sorry, wasn't he?"
"Sometimes sorry isn't enough."
Akaashi keeps his chin tilted upward as Kuroo stays silent, his mouth thinning. They disagree on this topic sometimes.
Kuroo brings a glass full of amber liquid to his mouth, swallowing. "Look Mr. Popular— Hey! Where are you going?"
A golden card appears from thin air and floats down into Akaashi's waiting palm. He briefly scans it before sending it flying, the card bouncing off Kuroo's forehead, "Fishing another soul to receive Judgement, what else do you think?"
"Oh come on, give it to another Reaper, I haven't talked to you for days!"
Akaashi turns in place and scowls at Kuroo before his body lands in Shibuya.
His days blur.
His mentor tells him that he can sympathize with them, yes, but he shouldn't grow too attached to souls.
Akaashi frowns, watching Iwaizumi hover as he comforts the soul of a seven year old girl, jiggling his leg up and down as she sniffles. He ignores that input and creates clay out of his palms for her to play with, distracting her.
" Assaulted and then murdered," He says quietly, frowning. He can't understand why Iwaizumi's sympathy is lacking, though he feels faint from the memories he sees.
Iwaizumi looks at him like he's a lost cause. Perhaps he is.
Assaults, murders, overdoses, suicides, rapes, divorces, financial ruins, drownings, arsons, diseases. He plays a game with himself: what is the possible cause of death the moment he lands on the living world? In an open field, it's probably not arson unless he smells smoke and gasoline.
His second game: how long can he hold onto a soul's hand to escort them to the Haven before he flinches from their memories?
The more deaths he sees, the more memories he consumes, the more he wishes humanity to crumble.
When Iwaizumi passes to the afterlife, there's no one to stop him from descending into full body numbness. He escorts souls and sees them off as quickly as possible. He receives gold cards after gold cards; every soul's name become letters to him, every painful and happy memories is dull and nothing more than something bothersome.
The days are long. The nights longer. Will he be trapped here forever, existing as a tarnished soul, left to wander between the two worlds until the end of time?
Was there even an end of time?
He stares down at the card, sighing.
Kuroo Tetsurou, Reaper.
He looks up, watching a glittering soul stand next to a collision on a narrow road. The cars, upturned like turtles, are still smoking and the driver of one of the cars crawls out of his vehicle through his window, wiping blood away from his forehead as bystanders yell for help.
"Come with me."
The soul flinches at his voice, turning to him, "Y-You can see me?"
"We are alike," Akaashi offers, looking at the scene and seeing the driver of the other car not moving. He wants to get this over as soon as possible and go sleep. It's the only break he has from his immortality, "Let's go, I have a lot to explain to you, Reaper."
The soul hurries after him, casting the wreck one last glance before the telltale sirens of ambulances is heard in the distance, "Hang on, what do you mean by 'Reaper'? Is that what you are, a grim reaper? And is that what I'll be too in the afterlife?"
"Yes, I'm a Reaper," Akaashi slows down as he phases through people running towards them. Kuroo yelps when his leg phases through a man pedaling furiously on a bike with a stack of newspapers in his basket.
"And this is the afterlife? But you're so young."
"No, this is worse than the afterlife," He smiles with a twist of his mouth.
Kuroo stares at him, loss for words.
Akaashi offers his hand and waits for Kuroo to trust him, bracing himself against the onslaught of memories. They teleport to Akaashi's haven and he immediately releases Kuroo's hand.
Kuroo glances around, eventually dropping onto the couch as Akaashi waves for a tea set to float over, "Sit."
"From this day forward, you belong to the Haven, a rest stop for souls awaiting to cross the bridge to the afterlife," Akaashi recites the words Iwaizumi had spoken to him a long time ago. "We Reapers escort souls and house them until they can pass," Akaashi gestures to the fireplace and couches, "Once you're ready, I will lead you to your new floor, the 94th."
Kuroo winces, looking down at his arm and watching as black ink spreads over his skin. He squints, "...What's this Payment? And Judgement?"
Akaashi points to the smaller of the two double doors at the end of his room next to the floor-to-ceiling windows, "That door leads to the afterlife. It will open when a Reaper has done enough to complete their Payment."
"What's my Payment?"
"I don't know. It's different for every Reaper."
Kuroo looks down, knitting his hands over the ceramic cup, "...Why me?"
Always the same questions. Haven't they realized that life isn't fair? That fate doesn't have favorites and will condemn people as they see fit? "It's because you've committed a sin in your past life."
Kuroo laughs bleakly, "So this is the accumulation of all the bad things I've done in my past life?"
"Life isn't fair."
"...So this is it? I do something bad so this is my price?"
"No, i t must be something so grave that it deserves a punishment here. Lying to someone or cheating in an exam won't cut it." He knows that personally.
Kuroo is red in the face, "But I don't even remember what I did!"
He frowns slightly, "...You can't remember what you did in your past life?"
"I can't. That's not normal I'm assuming?"
"But I saw your memories...I think. It was when our hands touch," Kuroo gestures with his hands and a curl of golden smoke stream out to form semi-solid humans running around in a garden. Akaashi stares at it with alarm. The smoke turns into his past self sitting down and grinding some herbs.
Akaashi refuses to blink at him, keeping his face impassive as he swallows, "Reapers, when they touch other Reapers or souls, can see past memories, though we cannot project those memories like you can. It must be your gift then. Reapers have a variety of powers. Some have superhuman strength, some can control objects with their mind."
"I see," Kuroo mumbles, he looks down before peering up at him, curious, "Can I ask another question?"
Akaashi waits warily, gesturing with his hand for Kuroo to continue when he hesitates.
"Why did you kill that man?"
Akaashi wraps his hand with a tea towel as he examines Kuroo's head injury, turning his jaw left and right, "I don't see anything serious. I doubt it'll do anything but fade since we're already dead."
Kuroo mumbles, "Sorry."
"You fought with your assignment?"
"He was an ass. He deserved it."
He hums, unraveling the towel and stepping back, "It's your first day. Now you'll know what not to say."
Akaashi crosses his arms, sitting back and watching Kuroo hold up a hand mirror to pick at the scab. He has a feeling Kuroo will never learn.
Kuroo teleports right into his lap one day, jolting Akaashi out of his slumber.
Once Akaashi has blindly thrown him off, Kuroo star-spangled on his floor, the older man wheezes, "I have a soul stuck in the living world and I can't drag him here."
Akaashi points to his gloves, falling back on his pillows, "Obviously. You have gloves on. You can't drag them anywhere without skin contact."
"Good night, Kuroo."
Days of injury checking turn into days of Kuroo lounging on his couch, pilfering the soda water from his fridge and convincing Akaashi to watch the television with him. The days passes quickly with a nuisance Akaashi has to watch over. Seasons pass by in snapshots of their descend into the living world, always Kuroo running after him in the crowded city streets. The nights are filled with endless conversations about life, death and philosophical findings.
He doesn't have friends. Not even acquaintances.
But he supposes Kuroo is exception.
The new soul is even more troublesome than Kentarou.
Bokuto Koutarou gazes around the space at the fake city view, at the full bar, at the couches and fireplace crackling. Akaashi isn't even sure if he heard what he'd been explaining for the past half hour as he leans back onto the couch, "That's all. Any questions?"
"So let me get this straight: this isn't the afterlife? This is like...the before to the afterlife? Is that what you're telling me? The before to the afterlife is an expensive looking hotel bar with good Tokyo views?"
Akaashi reminds himself to be calm, "Yes."
"Why can't I just...roam earth or whatever?" Bokuto suspiciously squints at him. "And what happens during Judgement? Are you dead too?"
"Because that's the rule. We Reapers pick up souls that have departed their physical vessels and house them here temporarily. As for what happens during Judgement, I don't know."
"And you're dead?"
"Yes, just like you."
Most souls would fidget or look away when Akaashi confirms it, but Bokuto nods along to him instead, looking far more relaxed than any souls Akaashi has ever seen. He's comfortable enough that he's snacking on the salty olives from the snack bar.
He wants to ask why Bokuto isn't ruffled in the slightest, but that would mean talking.
Akaashi gestures to the large wooden doors to the left of the floor-to-ceiling windows, "Once those doors open, walk into it to reach to the afterlife," He stands, looking down at Bokuto and frowning, "Showers and bedrooms are in the hallway behind the bar. Stay in your room or roam around, I don't really care."
He waits until Bokuto nods several times in understanding before sweeping out away and retreating to his room, keen on sleeping the rest of his day away.
He has some stock simmering on one burner, two sets of knives chopping onions and potatoes, a peeler hovering over the sink working on carrots and himself on another burner dropping a thick slab of meat on a cast iron pan. When he turns around to watch the peeler, he catches Bokuto watching him.
Bokuto points to him, "Curry!"
Akaashi nods, turning back and lifting the lid. He turns the steak over, the other side of the uncooked meat hissing as it touches the hot pan. He only wants to sear it before cooking it through in the curry.
"But you said the dead don't need to eat so why all this food? And alcohol?"
"Comfort," Akaashi waves over Bokuto's empty coffee cup from the counter down into the sink. He thinks of the mother and twins he took in and how they were comforted by something so simple as the onigiris he hurriedly made, "Eating food is inherently human. Most souls still consume food out of habit. You still feel it, don't you?" He looks up from the carrots and into Bokuto's amber eyes, amber like Kuroo's bourbon. "The hunger pangs."
Bokuto's face turns red. Akaashi watches as the flush spreads along his cheeks and further down near his jawline. The soul had taken a leaf out of Akaashi's uniform, wearing a black dress shirt and pants instead of his tattered clothing. Where Akaashi keeps his tucked in, Bokuto's is untucked and the first two buttons are left open.
"You only have one soul here at a time?"
"One assignment. The number varies, the largest I've had was a family of three," Akaashi spares a glance at the fireplace. A lump of clay shaped like heart glitters in the artificial sun. He turns back to the burner and lifts the steak out of the pan to rest on a cutting board. Bokuto is silent again, watching him rotate between the stock bubbling and the pile of vegetables.
"So what do you do here then?"
He breathes in calmly, looking for patience, "I house souls."
"I got that, but what do you do when you're not housing souls?"
"Exist against my will."
Bokuto grumbles, "Aren't you a cheerful one."
Akaashi has nothing to say, stirring the curry until a thick blanket of silence descends upon them. He should have willed curry into existence instead of slipping into habits.
"You know...I think this is pretty neat."
"Neat?" Akaashi hisses, "How is this neat?"
Bokuto spreads his hand around, a large smile on his face, "Think about it! You've been alive longer than most and you know so much history! What about all the music you can explore and listen to? All the hobbies and different things you could try out? Books and magazines you can read! Time doesn't exist for you!!"
Akaashi deflects, looking down. He sees his reflection on the side of a knife, his face pale, hair long, eyes dead.
"Time exists for you. It doesn't for me."
Bokuto drops the conversation there as they listen to the curry bubble. Half an hour later, Akaashi's ladling curry out into a bowl when Kuroo walks in with an apron over his ankle length pants and long sleeved shirt, grinning, "Oh, we have company! Hey there, new soul."
"Go away, I'm busy," He says uselessly, watching Kuroo extend a hand to a confused Bokuto.
Curry splashes his skin. Akaashi stares at his hand turning from pale to an angry pink, the ladle by his shoes. He whips around.
"'Kuroo-san?'" He echoes to himself.
Kuroo blinks, staring wondrously at Bokuto before his knee buckles and he falls.
Bokuto jumps out of his seat in worry, "K-Kuroo-san? Akaashi, what's wrong wi!—"
"Don't touch him!" He runs around the kitchen, pulling the towel from his back pocket and using that to shake Kuroo's shoulder
Kuroo lies on his side, gasping and holding onto his head. His eye flutters open and Akaashi sees his pupils glow an electric blue as he continues to shake his head in pain. Akaashi curses, slipping his arms around Kuroo's shoulder and under his knees, lifting him up and running to set him down on the couch. He runs in the coffee table, seeing a low rise apartment building in the rain and the sound of bike bells in his head.
"Kuroo," He limps closer to tap his cheek using the cloth as a barrier. Kuroo slumps over, mumbling nonsense. "Kuroo!"
Akaashi slams Bokuto against the wall, pressing his forearm forcefully against Bokuto's throat and feeling spittle splatter his cheek, "What did you do to him?"
"N...Nothing!" Bokuto rasps, nails scrabbling against his arm. "He j-just looks a lot l-like someone I knew! Back...back when I was alive!"
A heavy thud resounds behind and Akaashi abandons Bokuto for Kuroo, who lies on the rug moaning in pain. He pulls an afghan from the couch and uses that to roll Kuroo on his back as he lies there, gazing at the ceiling and wheezing. His skin is covered in a sheen of sweat.
Akaashi stares down helplessly. He's treated human patients in his past life, but he doesn't know anything about Reapers. He thought they were indestructible.
His blue eyes flickers to Akaashi, "...I remember," He shudders as another wave of pain hits his head, "...I remember everything. My life, my name, my past, my death...." Kuroo sits up, leaning against the sofa as the blue fades from his eyes, reverting to a warm amber, "You're little Koutarou-chan, aren't you?"
Akaashi whips his head to Bokuto.
"You...you're Kuroo-san?" He nervously looks at Akaashi like every word out of his mouth could spell death.
"How do you two know each other?" Akaashi sharply cuts in, still gripping Kuroo's wilting shoulders.
"He...I remember when I was a child that the Manager-san who works at the corner store would always give me a free ice cream from time to time," Bokuto clenches his fists together, awkwardly fussing with the cuffs of his shirt.
Akaashi tries to think back to the brief flashes of Kuroo's life he's seen whenever their skin touched. He doesn't remember one particular child standing out in the sea of faces. Something shakes his elbow.
Kuroo draws one arm out, turning over his forearm to show a blank canvas. The tattoo is gone.
Akaashi doesn't know what to think. He breathes out shakily, legs giving out under him. Kuroo's now just like any other soul Akaashi has ferried from the living world to the afterlife.
He swallows, loosening his grip on the afghan and retracting his hand back to his side. Kuroo stares at him like a lost child.
"You've repaid your sins," He quietly says, swallowing many times and loosing his grip on Kuroo's shoulder. The afghan is scratchy against his palms, "...You can pass on."
They all leave in the end. How many millenniums have he spent alone?
"Will you be okay?"
He looks up sharply, looking into the expression he hates most on Kuroo. It's a mixture of worry, concern and pity again.
"Why won't I be?" He challenges him quietly, though his voice falls short of being angry.
Kuroo looks towards the fireplace, struggling for words before he settles for a huff of laughter, "I should have expected that answer. I guess I shouldn't dawdle around if my gate is open. Come with me?"
When they manage to stand, Bokuto is nowhere in sight.
Kuroo looks left and right, frowning. He gives Akaashi a pointed look that he ignores, choosing to go to the kitchen to manually turn the burner off.
"You scared him."
"I can apologize later."
He and Kuroo are silent as they exit out of Akaashi's haven to slip into a nondescript hallway with an elevator at the end. They enter and press a button to the 94th floor.
Kuroo exits first and Akaashi sweeps his gaze around at the cafe with a large, darkly stained wooden board at one wall with the slogan, Remember the Simple Times. The displays are full of vibrant cakes, sandwiches and gelato. Where there's free space vertically or horizontally, pots of plants have taken over as a frond of leaf pats Akaashi's calf gently when he walks by. Kuroo's windows faces a street filled with people slowly wandering around, leading their dogs along.
And all the way at the end of the cafe, Kuroo's personal door is wide open. The golden bridge to the afterlife awaits him with its swirling mist and thick fog. They're the only ones there.
"Here, to join the rest of your collection," Akaashi feels Kuroo reach for his fingers, his warm hand ghosting around his own as he presses something into his palm.
He shuts his eyes. Bottles of alcohol, Kuroo laughing with his parents, plum blossom petals dancing in the air, an orange tabby that comes in front of the store often looking for pets and belly rubs. He opens his eyes when Kuroo retracts his hand, looking up.
There's a certain glint in his eyes, he knows Kuroo is about to say something that'll make him angry.
"I can stay and wait for you, I'll ask the Head Reaper—
"Don't be stupid," He harshly snarls. He glares angrily at the floor, a ball of emotion welling up in this throat, "You get to leave, that's a good thing."
Kuroo forces a smile, swallowing, "Alright.... Take care of yourself and make friends with the other Reapers. Don't push yourself too hard, okay?"
Akaashi nods once, clutching the object in his fist. Kuroo hopelessly looks at him. He feels so far away from Akaashi even though it seemed like yesterday when Kuroo latched to him and was never more than a footstep behind him.
Iwaizumi left. Now Kuroo is leaving. Why is he always left behind?
Kuroo takes off his apron, placing it on the serving counter and looking around his cafe for one last time. He doesn't look back as he crosses, body immediately obstructed in the thick fog.
Akaashi stares at where he left until his eyes become so dry he instinctively blinks.
And when he opens his eyes, Kuroo and the cafe are gone. He's back in his bedroom.
And he is alone.
He opens his hand, seeing a sculpture of a cat sitting made from clay. The black paint glitters in the morning sun. His throat strangely swells as he holds onto the cat.
When he musters enough energy to move, he goes outside and places it among the other clay collection he has, turning around to take his note off the kitchen counter when he comes face to face with Bokuto. The sun is setting, throwing the room in deep oranges and light purples.
Akaashi nods. There's a strange tightness in him, like a creeping regret that he should have said something to Kuroo before he left.
"Forever?" Bokuto clarifies softly.
They stand there for so long before Akaashi walks away, lighting the note he left on fire from the burner.
A hand lightly tugs on his elbow, spinning him around as he trips over his feet to follow Bokuto back out to the couches, "Hey! Bokuto-san!"
"Sadness isn't a good look on you," Bokuto snaps his finger to the stereo system build into the wall and Akaashi feels offended when his haven responds. A happy, breathy voice belts out as Bokuto puts one hand on his waist, stepping forward.
Darkness disappears into lights, The lightest feeling dawns with a new day, Floating...
Akaashi automatically steps back, too shocked to respond to the comment. He pours all of his attention to his feet, simultaneously listening to the downbeat of the music and trying not to lose track of where Bokuto's feet are as Bokuto spins him around the space.
...Looking back now with perfect eyes, If only I could just save this sight, But it slips away...
"When I don't want to feel anything, I dance," Bokuto explains, lifting Akaashi easily past his shoulders as if he isn't a solid seventy kilograms.
Akaashi's mind spins with Bokuto's memories— flashes of bright stage lights, deep V dress shirts, girls with elaborate curls pinned to their skulls, a much younger Kuroo crouching down and offering ice cream with a smile, lots of hot muscle patches.
...A bird is singing now, A calm wind pushes through the pines, I can see the color of her hair, The tears of her eyes...
The color of Kuroo's hair, brown in direct sunlight. He had never seen Kuroo cry, but he had definitely seen Kuroo's face twist in grief, seeking his company after a particularly heavy soul he had to send off.
His chest hurts, and his concentration shatters like a too delicate toy. He stumbles against Bokuto, feeling his hands catch him around the waist.
...Waving goodbye, So goodbye, We must say goodbye, We must say goodbye...
A group of friends running down the street, a yellow kite against the wide blue sky, a feeling of lightness, exam papers, school graduations, buttons.
Akaashi steps back, keeping his voice cool. Bokuto's hand slips off his waist, "Don't assume you know me."
Bokuto frowns, "I didn't assume. You looked upset and I thought dancing would take your mind off it—"
...If only I could save this sight, But they fall away into the rush of days, Another life is calling my name.
He whirls around, marching to his room. There's a buzzing on his skin. His breathing is labored. He feels so painfully alive even though he knows that he has no heart beat. He's still thinking about Kuroo's goodbye to him— and that stupid song echoing in his head, We must say goodbye, We must say goodbye—
He's steps away from his bedroom when a hand clamps around his wrist, spinning him around. Akaashi sees Bokuto's eyes plead at him.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed and forced you to do things!"
More memories. Kuroo frowning at a stack of bills before hurriedly stuffing them away and ringing Bokuto up, Bokuto waving to a crowd holding a trophy with his dance partner. A drunk who stumbled against him at the metro station and Bokuto falling, seeing a train that's not stopping at the station come closer and closer.
Bright lights. City lights. He remembers his mentor's words, to never form bonds with souls.
Akaashi glares at him, twisting his hands out of Bokuto's grip and slamming the door at his face.
He looks up into his mirror to see his reflection gaze back at him, expecting flushed cheeks. He tries smoothing his eyebrows out to no avail, becoming more frustrated the longer he feels anger simmering below his rib cage.
"So annoying," He says, flopping back into his bed and staying in place for the remainder of the day as he tries to stuff his feelings back into whatever crack had opened. He presses two fingers to where his jugular vein should be, feeling nothing but pulse-less cool skin.
"Izumi, you're here more often than I want you to," He looks down at his sister resting on the futon as he fusses over her. Her servants leave with a wave of his hands and stands outside her room.
Izumi laughs weakly, "What can I say, you're my solace."
He rolls up the hems of her robes, seeing bruises on her arm and frowning, "I thought the last time I gave you some of my blood was last week. It shouldn't be bruising this quickly. Did you notice a change in yourself? Infection? Fatigue? Rise in temperature?"
His little sister shakes her head, "I'm fine. And the twins are fine," She caresses her small bump.
He jots down the information in his book, careful to write in code and leaving some characters unwritten on purpose. No one would understand what he'd written down if they were to pilfer his office when he sleeps.
"You look tired, Kei-chan."
"Not anymore than you."
She scoffs, "Please, all I do is sit around and take care of the catty wives of the generals and host parties. I wish someone really told me how dull a Queen's life would be."
He flicks her gently on her forehead, opening the trunk he carries with him for visits and deciding that he'll make her some ginseng tea, "Don't say that, the court will twist your words. And those parties are good to make alliances with the stronger families. If...your children would receive your ability to spontaneously bleed until you're drained of blood, the kingdom would never survive."
"You sound like you've uncovered something," She watches him steep the ginseng roots in a bowl of hot water, watching steam curl up around them. "Did you find something during your travels?"
"I did. There was a similar case in another village, but the patient is a male and bled uncontrollably when he fell and cut his head open. The only other recording of it was a village elder who had passed, and it seemed that in her line the ability manifests only in the males. Therefore you having it...might just be a spontaneous course of bad luck."
Izumi looks down and pats her belly, humming, "I guess if one of them is a boy then the royal line is ruined."
"I haven't explored other testimonies. Let's just be patient. Here, take a sip," He lifts her up to sitting position and offers a cup.
He wakes in the middle of the night, mind buzzing with thoughts and faded memories. He turns his head to the left and sees the fake lights of Tokyo glittering up at him.
An endless sea of buildings. He hates it, longing for open fields of rice and sunrises peeking through mountains.
He quietly slips out of his room to the couches. His haven is covered in shades of indigo, the occasional bursts of neon green and pink shining through from the billboards below.
There's a pulsing in his head as he goes up to the fireplace, grabbing Kuroo's cat and a misshapen heart. He rolls them in his hands, the clay comforting him slightly as he leans back against the couch.
It's been a very long time since he dreamed of memories. He can still hear his sister in his head and smell the scent of ginseng, not knowing that it would be the last time he would see her alive.
He holds the cat up, "This is unbelievable but I actually miss you, Kuroo."
The cat doesn't reply. Akaashi doesn't expect it to, but the cat is cool in his hands. He presses the misshapen heart and cat to his temples for some headache relief, freezing when he feels his body compress and stretch out like he took a trip to the living world.
He lands painfully on the floor of his Haven and scrambles up, huffing and looking left and right before seeing his past self interact with the family of three that the misshapen heart belongs to.
"—that you, Kei-chan?"
He stares at his sister and her children, remembering the first few souls he had to escort and the cold shock when his own family had passed soon after him.
His past self nods, paler than usual as his sister sighs and slumps onto the couch. The twins shrivel and bury their faces into Izumi's lap.
"What are you doing here? What happened?" Past-Akaashi croaks. "Why are you here? You don't look a day past thirty. Did you bleed out? I...I thought I found you a living donor who could give you blood if things were...were to go wrong with me."
Izumi smiles and pats the heads of her children who seem old enough to stand and talk, though they're shooting scared looks at him instead, "The Royal Family found out about me and killed us. The future Crown Prince cannot be liable to a familial disease even if he hasn't manifested it."
Past-Akaashi stares at her, knitting his hands together as he sits on down on the opposite couch.
"It didn't help that...that you killed the King. Everyone turned on us."
"Who's the King now?"
"The second brother."
"Who is a much wiser man than the King," Past-Akaashi snarls, "Who fed you the poison?"
"It doesn't matter now does it? What's done is done," Izumi calmly says, pulling the sleeve of her robes to hide the bruising on her arms. Fresh souls carry with them whatever scars their bodies have before it eventually fades with time, "Please sit back down, Kei-chan, there's nothing else you can do."
"I do not regret killing your worthless excuse of a husband. You are not a toy to break when he has fits of rage!" Past-Akaashi walks up and down the couch, eyebrows pulled together. From where Akaashi is standing, his past self only took several minutes of deep thinking to calm down.
"I'm sorry that happened, I hope it was painless," He says quietly.
Izumi's mouth quirks up as she gazes around the room, "Tell me about yourself, what are you doing here? What is this place?"
He smiles without really any hint of happiness, "This is my payment for killing the King. I have to stay here for a bit and work before I can pass to the afterlife which you can go to through those doors over there. Once they open, that is."
"Then all the Reapers...have committed a grievous sin?"
"I would assume so," He shrugs.
"Oh Keiji," She leans forward and holds his hand, so warm to his cold ones. "I'm sorry."
He shakes his head, "I would do it over and over again to save you."
"You shouldn't have...I'm not worth it," She holds a hand up when he snaps his head up to argue, "Compared to you, my skills lie in entertaining the court. I don't save lives."
"Does that matter? A life is still a life."
"His life was also a life."
Past-Akaashi stares at her, his jaw clenching, "...He doesn't count."
"And why not?"
"Because he was a horrible person!"
"Yet he still had a family when he passed. Just as me, just as you," She quirks up her lip, "It's not so black and white, is it?"
His past self quivers. Akaashi stares at him before looking away, knowing that his sister was right.
"Mama hungry," A small voice pipes up.
"Hungry?" Izumi repeats in a thick voice, wiping her eyes quickly. The twins nod. She turns to him with watery eyes, "Do you have food?"
Past-Akaashi nods, leaping to his feet and gesturing for them to follow him to the kitchens.
The memory blurs and he sees his ceiling again.
His eyes pricks at the thought of his sister and he sits up, gazing out at the artificial scenery. For so long he's suppressed his emotions for that was the downfall of him. He completely lost control the day he found out the King was mishandling his sister and wrath took over. And what good did it do in the end? He indirectly led his sister and her family to their deaths.
He doesn't remember how to cry, but his heart aches again as he thinks of Kuroo and Iwaizumi, of his sister and her family waving to him on the bridge, of souls moving forward while he stays stuck in place.
Then he feels a jolt of pain from his chest. He chokes, breathing hard and wondering what had happened before the pain becomes tenfold and he falls on the couch, feeling his arm burn. He bites his tongue and stifles his pain, shakily unbuttoning his left cuff and shoving the fabric of his shirt up to see that the tattoo is fading.
He chokes, twitching and falling over the edge.
A white shoe comes into his vision as he blinks, cheek pressed against the floor. He feels the wards around his Haven shimmer as the intruder stands. He looks up to see a man in white turning left and right around the room, the eyes on the back of his hands blinking at him. Whereas his eyes are brown, the ones on the back of his hands glow an electric blue, darting everywhere.
Oikawa looks down. The Head Reaper rarely visits unless there's something pressing, and this is the first time he's doing a house call. The collar of his shirt is unbuttoned low enough that Akaashi can see the slightest brand of a tattoo around his neck. The dark symbols shimmers on his skin, warping and twisting as if it's alive.
"Akaashi," He sees him press his hand around his arm, "Well, you've noticed it then."
"You've repaid your Payment in full, Akaashi, you may go. I'm here to take care of your unfinished business."
"What's...what's going to happen to Bokuto-san?" He wheezes, still quivering from the aftershock. Greens and pinks dance on his floors. From here he can see the slightly dip he put on the floorboards from years of pacing back and forth.
"Reassigned. I'll escort him to another Reaper myself."
Akaashi feels exhausted. He feels like he's been emotionally wrung dry and left in the sun. And he can't leave now.
"Can the gates wait?"
Oikawa arches a brow, "You don't want to pass right now?"
"No, I have an apology to make," Akaashi stands to his feet shakily. Oikawa peers down at him with an unreadable look.
"I suppose I can let you do that, I'll just pilfer through your coffee-table books, shall I?"
"Wait! Oikawa," He takes a step forward before Oikawa moves, "Why did they wipe off Kuroo's memories as a human?"
Oikawa's eyes briefly glows an electric blue, "The Payment is always something the Reaper wishes before they die," He tells him with a smirk, "Come on, Akaashi, you were my best Reaper. I'm sure you could have figure it out with some critical thinking."
Oikawa steps forward and makes himself at home on Akaashi's couch, grabbing one of the books on the table and flipping through it.
Akaashi stares at him, feeling like he could punch Oikawa for being so cryptic. He doesn't though, turning around and seeing the smaller of the two wooden gates open, golden light shining onto the floors. He avoids it, going straight to Bokuto's room as irritation settles in. He knocks on the door for the briefest moment before it swings open.
Bokuto's eyes are rimmed red, "A-Akaashi!" He sniffs, "Look, I'm so sorry for what happened yesterday—"
"I should be the one apologizing. I'm sorry for my rude behaviour earlier. And for slamming you into the wall," Akaashi fiddles with his hands, "Reapers can see the memories of souls they touch, see. Every time we escort them here physical contact is needed...and therefore we see glimpses of their lives."
"Oh.... You could see Kuroo from mine. That...must hurt a lot."
"...It did," He agrees monotonously, "May I come in?"
Bokuto beams a smile at him, gesturing to the only chair in the room as he sits on the edge of his bed. Bokuto's room looks exactly like Akaashi's room, though smaller. They have the same cream bedding, the same pale grey walls, the same steel and dark wood furniture. The only noticeable difference was the lack of blackout curtains in Bokuto's room.
Bokuto breaks his train of thoughts, "Can you see my current thoughts through touch?"
"No. Only memories of when you were alive."
"I see..." Bokuto blushes, looking out to the window, "Why can Reapers see memories?"
Akaashi shrugs, absently rubbing his arm. The pain had worn off into a dull, barely noticeable ache.
"You never bothered wondering?"
"Perhaps it was a reminder to us Reapers, who have committed grievous crimes, of humanity. We spend so long ferrying souls back and forth that a lot of us would grow numb if it were not for brief reminders what being alive felt like," He remembers the wise words of Iwaizumi before he passed through the golden mist. "Or maybe it was to relate to souls."
"Only the act of taking a life makes you a Reaper. All the reapers here in the building have killed someone."
"So that means you and Kuroo—"
"Have killed people, yes, whether on purpose or indirectly," Akaashi shrugs, scuffing his shoes on the ground, "I'm not proud of it anymore. I was, at first, because I killed in what I thought was a righteous path, but a kill is still a kill. Actions have consequences."
"What if you do something worse than that? Like, like I don't know—"
"The rules of this place goes as such: kill a life and you become a Reaper. The rest of the sins will be Judged accordingly when souls pass," Akaashi explains. "The soul may be redeemable in the end, where they're sent to be reincarnated with no memories of their previous lives. The irredeemable ones are sent to live out the rest of their lives on the ground floor of this building, trapped in the marble floors for all of eternity."
"...Oh," Bokuto tries to sound enthused. Akaashi can tell he just overshared a lot more information than he should. "So...did Kuroo kill anyone? Directly?"
"No, he drove after drinking," Akaashi shrugs, "He didn't mean it, but like I said, a life is a life. He paid for his sins."
Bokuto nods, looking out the window. Akaashi joins him too, watching the clouds drift lazily as trains come in and out of Shibuya station below them.
He swallows, "May I?"
Bokuto stares at his palm in confusion, slipping his hand into his as Akaashi waits for the inevitable kaleidoscope of memories.
But there's nothing but the warmth of Bokuto's hand and the feeling of skin.
"I'm moving on, Bokuto-san," He turns his gaze to Bokuto, whose mouth drops.
"You're a soul again? Wow! How? That's great!" Bokuto cheers, "But you don't look happy."
He shrugs, looking around his Haven, "I used to hate it here, but I've grown accustomed to the life of a Reaper. It's a lot to process in the past couple of days. Kuroo left so abruptly and now my time is up."
"You have to leave now?"
"I think so," Akaashi stands, dusting lint off his shirt, "I've kept someone waiting."
The door to Bokuto's bedroom opens.
"Come on, I have the paperwork of souls to expedite into the afterlife," Oikawa calls from the end of the hallway, voice fading away as he turns, "I'll wait at the elevators for Bokuto-san. You know what to do."
"Who is he?"
"The Head Reaper, Oikawa Tooru-san. He lives on the ground floor with all the condemned souls."
"That must be fun," Bokuto mumbles, moving forward.
Akaashi stays in place, weighed down by anxiety when Bokuto turns. He stares at the door way with a restless energy with a buzzing energy in him.
Bokuto wordlessly extends a hand, tugging Akaashi along.
They gaze out into the main area, the sun streaming in from the windows. His personal door is wide open, beckoning him forward with its golden bridge and swirling mist. He's never looked at it closely before, but along the arches are tiny symbols he's only ever seen on Oikawa's neck.
He sees two figures step forward slightly out of the haze, waving at him. He doesn't believe it.
"Kuroo? And Iwaizumi-san?" He touches the door frame, croaking, "Why...why are you here?"
"I wanted to wait for you," Kuroo calls out, grinning. "It got lonely quickly, Iwaizumi can attest to that. We bumped into each other near the middle and talked for ages before deciding to hang around and wait for you."
"But..." He turns to Iwaizumi, "But you were gone for so long."
"Has it been really that long?" Iwaizumi puzzles, cocking his head to the side, "Time must flow differently."
A touch on his elbow breaks him out of his reverie. Bokuto smiles at him, squeezing his hand, "Go."
He hesitates, staring at the gates. Freedom is close. It's only a few steps away, but he turns back to Bokuto who's still earnestly smiling at him.
Akaashi bows his head, curving his spine and holding it for several seconds, "Thank you so much, Bokuto-san."
"Me? What did I ever do?" Bokuto sheepishly laughs, "I'm just a passing soul."
"You catalyzed my change," Akaashi tips his chin towards Kuroo, who's waving to Bokuto, "And his too. Without you we may have been stuck here for all of eternity."
"Nah," Bokuto disagrees casually.
"I'm a firm believer that sometimes things happen for a reason, whether it may be cruel and unfair, eventually something good will land in your lap. Maybe this what's suppose to happen, you just needed to be patient. I could be bitter that I died in an accident, but my death lead to meeting you and Kuroo, didn't it?"
"An interesting thought."
Bokuto smiles, putting his hands in his pocket and teething forward and backwards on the balls of his feet, "Hey Akaashi? If I don't see you where the bridge ends, I'll hopefully see you in another life."
"I'd like that."
He gives his Haven a last look and he watches Bokuto walk towards to the elevators. He waits for the tell-tale ding before stepping back, watching the doors slam in his face.
And just like that, his home for the past few millenniums is gone.
Iwaizumi greets him with a handshake and a clasp on his shoulder when he turns. Kuroo tears up as Akaashi tip toes and voluntarily hugs him.
"Thank you for coming back to me," He says into his ear before pulling back. "And I'm sorry."
"What are friends for?" Kuroo laughs, throwing his arms around Akaashi and Iwaizumi and spinning them around to the golden bridge and beyond, "Come on, let's go face the next adventure together!"
("My name is Akaashi Keiji and I play setter," He steps out of the line of first years and bows sharply to the floor, "I look forward to working with you!"
"Setter? I like him already!" Someone gleefully cheers.
The coach yells at a second year bouncing up and down to take laps as the rest of the club members sigh.
The second year wearing a colorful t-shirt wilts visibly but makes his way towards the entrance of the gym with a pout where Akaashi is standing nearby.
Just before he steps out, the second year turns his head and grins knowingly at him, "Hey again, Akaashi.")