“It seems that things have changed in my absence, Second Lieutenant Koito.” Tsurumi’s voice is even, the warm light of the lanterns flickering off the gleaming enamel of his headplate, of his perfect, predator’s smile.
Koito can almost feel the heat of Tsukishima beside him, his presence, a solid warmth and comfort that Koito has grown to rely so much on over these last months. They stand shoulder to shoulder, only inches between them in the quiet space of Tsurumi’s tent, ready to receive gospel from their master. It’s not a new position, they have been here many times before, tents and offices across Hokkaido, but Tsurumi is right. Something deep and integral has shifted.
The rising panic in Koito’s chest is no longer elation.
It’s unbelievable, almost, how a few short months have put paid to years of obsession. How this man beside him has become his first thought, his first fear, the name on his lips in the face of every danger. Tsukishima has become so much more than Koito ever expected him to be. But nothing, it turns out, was as Koito has always believed it.
The realization had come slowly. It was not easy to break an obsession that has shaped the trajectory of his career, of his very existence. But for his entire adult life, Koito Otonoshin has been an idolator of a false god, a god of lies, a traitor to his command and his country.
Since the day a suave and seemingly prescient man had exploded to his rescue, uniform torn, hair dishevelled, perfectly sculpted face alive with the passion for justice, Koito has loved First Lieutenant Tsurumi.
Even now, it’s so hard to admit how misguided that love was.
For years he has relived the memory —through his days in the academy, through his officer’s exams— his father’s first praise for him, and in the background, Tsurumi’s approving smile. On that day Tsurumi had saved Koito in more ways than one, had brought him the thing he always craved, always believed he deserved, and never got to experience. And on that day, Koito had secretly pledged his life to him.
Every step since then has been in Tsurumi’s service. Koito has struggled, and persevered through the hardships of training, through the scorn of his peers at being a naval man trying to make his place in the army, and he has never doubted the hand on his tiller. Late nights, body battered by the brutality of honing his skill with weapons, he had remembered the words of praise on his father’s lips, and the kindness in Tsurumi’s smile, and he had known he was on the right path.
He has lived for that smile, fought for that smile, killed for it. It has been the beacon, drawing Koito forward, the flag he would follow into any battle.
It has always been a lie.
Now, in the face of that smile, a cold shiver of fear runs up Koitos spine. Tsukishima’s words in Odomari echo in his head:
“If it comes down to it, First Lieutenant Tsurumi would have no issue erasing you as well.”
It hadn’t seemed possible then, that Koito could ever betray his commander, the man he has loved in secret since he was barely more than a child, the man he has killed for without question, hands and blade bloodied. Koito’s world has always been Tsurumi’s approval. It was unthinkable that he could stray.
Learning that the source of his devotion was always a manipulation, a setup, had shaken Koito; but it hadn’t taken him long to turn his quaver of doubt into fuel for his obsession. Tsurumi is a master of his craft, an incredible intelligence officer capable of enacting plans that span decades, stratagems so vast and complex that Koito could never hope to understand them. Even with hurt twisting in his gut, Koito had assured himself (and Tsukishima as well) that Tsurumi’s goals were noble, that the ends justified the means, that his ruse to ensnare Koito and his father —the support of an Admiral— was nothing but an exquisite display of forethought. He had reminded himself that Tsurumi had gone to all that trouble for him, had seen something important in him even as a second son, the dregs of his illustrious family.
The revelation that he is just another pawn had only further cemented Tsurumi in Koito’s mind as an untouchable power, a military deity, worthy of unwavering devotion.
But there are specific conditions in which cement must be poured, lest it crack and erode. It must set somewhere dry, away from frost or heavy weather. And on that day in Odomari, shrieking with glee at the thought that Tsurumi believed he was special, Koito’s heart had been a brewing thunderstorm.
He does not know, exactly, when the first crack appeared, when the temple where he has so long sat in worship began to crumble. But the pain in Tsukishima’s face on the day Ikarmat gave birth had been a chisel. And since then the walls have been falling around him as he tries over and over to shore them up.
Koito was born into a military family, has always known the importance of loyalty, of following orders. It had never occurred to him that morality might conflict with the aims of his superiors. The military is the swordhand of Japan, and it’s goals are inherently noble. Seeing Private Tanigaki, blood on his face, shielding his pregnant lover with his body had shaken Koito to his core. And he had understood then, for the first time, what it means to be in command. That every officer in the machine of the military is a man, just like he is, and that every one of them is fallible. Orders come not from beating breast of his glorious country, but from human mouths, and even Tsurumi, his idol, can choose the wrong path.
Because there was no reason that an innocent woman and her unborn child should die.
It was so simple in that moment, to let them go. No other option. And catching up to Tsukishima at the kotan had only served to prove Koito’s convictions.
Tsukishima may have chased Tanigaki like a starving dog, drugged, and wounded, and relentless, but when Koito had looked into the barrel of his gun he had seen the tick at Tsukishima’s temple, the wild conflict raging in his heart even as he held his hands steady, pistol trained on Koito, rifle on Tanigaki’s nascent family. Tsukishima had not wanted to shoot any of them that day. He would be haunted for the rest of his life by the blood of a child, the blood of his commanding officer, but he could not waver. He could not cease. Because to cease would be to realize that his soul was worth saving, that he deserved to live without the weight of that guilt.
And only then had Koito begun to understand how deep Tsukishima’s trauma runs.
Guns lowered, and just the two of them, talking outside a hut bustling with the fear and promise of new beginnings, it was the first time Koito had ever seen his quiet, stalwart sergeant truly lose his composure. Tsukishima had broken down, yelling, and shaking, and so far from the mask he has always worn, that Koito couldn’t help but want to fold him away from the world, take his hand and run until there was nothing left to catch them. It’s a child's fantasy, one he had known better than to entertain, but it was there nonetheless. He cannot help the feelings Tsukishima evokes in him.
It had twisted Koito’s heart to hear Tsukishima’s history, the secret painful parts of himself that he always plays so close to his chest, that Koito had never known to look for, because he had never understood how broken a man like Tsukishima could be. And worse than all the heartbreak Tsukishima suffered is its consequence: the darkness he endures still, the belief that his life is worth nothing, that he is nothing, beyond redemption. Seeing that hurt in Tsukishima’s soul had changed something in Koito, broken something irreparably, a fatal wound bleeding in his chest where once only blind adoration had been.
Looking back, Koito doesn’t know how he could ever have not seen it. How had it not been clear to him that this patient, caring man —who even then he had wanted to pull to his chest and comfort— was so damaged inside? There is so much pain bubbling under the surface of Tsukishima, a viscus black pit of guilt, and horror, and self-loathing. For years Tsukishima has held the shattered pieces of himself together with nothing but Tsurumi’s words, and his own indomitable loyalty.
It was only later that he understood how much it meant for Tsukishima to trust him with his story, but Koito had known then, that he would never truly be able to understand the breadth of Tsukishima’s pain. And he had known also that he would do anything to take it away from him, to stand before the monster in Tsukishima’s mind, sword in hand, and protect him from all the things that haunt him.
If only that same monster's claws were not pierced deep into Koito’s own heart as well. If only now, standing before him, Koito could feel that same courage.
“First Lieutenant Tsurumi would have no issue erasing you as well. And i’ll be the one who has to do that dirty job.”
Koito hadn’t believed it at the time. He hadn’t believed he could ever betray Tsurumi. And even staring down the barrel of Tsukishima’s pistol, knowing nothing but an order could hold the bullet in its chamber, he hadn’t wanted to believe it. He had seen the pain and resolve warring in Tsukishima’s face, and he had wanted to believe that he would not pull that trigger. Because Tsukishima had saved him, because he had kept saving him, had put his body in the way of a bomb blast to protect Koito. Because Koito believed that Tsukishima loved him.
Because he loves Tsukishima.
Koito had promised him, after the new baby was born, and the chaos had calmed down, that Tsukishima could follow him, that he could trust him, that Koito would protect him from the horror of his past. He hadn’t understood then, how impossible that promise had been. He’d been foolish to believe he could ever hold a candle to the roiling guilt of Tsukishima’s sins, could chase them away with only the power of his own love for this scarred, damaged man.
He should have known better than to believe he could ever replace Tsurumi in Tsukishima’s heart, the way Tsukishima has replaced him in Koito’s own. Tsukishima may have held Koito at night, and kissed him in quiet moments, in kotans and inns across Karafuto, but they both carry a photograph of Tsurumi close to their hearts. Koito should always have known where Tsukishima’s deepest loyalties lie.
Despite everything they have lived through together, every promise Koito has whispered in the dark, fragile, and hopeful, and true, Tsukishima will not disobey a direct command from his superior. Koito is no match for First Lieutenant Tsurumi, not in rank, or in ability, or in the hearts of his men. He couldn’t even lie well enough to avoid this situation. He couldn’t keep the dissent in his heart from showing on his face when Tsurumi had welcomed them back into his fold.
Koito can practically feel the tension in Tsukishima’s body beside him, the fingers white-knuckled around the barrel of his rifle, the vein in his forehead that gives his inner turmoil away, even as he holds himself perfectly still, the picture of the good soldier, the ideal military man.
Koito knows that if he turned now he would see the same pain and fear ticking under the surface of Tsukishima’s face that he had seen in Odomari when Koito had first questioned Tsurumi’s plans, and again at Asirpa’s kotan as Tsukishima had admitted to the horror that haunts him. He knows, also, that Tsukishima’s unshakable calm is not because he is a good soldier, but because he believes himself to be a bad man, unsalvageable, beyond all forgiveness.
“I wish i could say you have served me well, Second Lieutenant,” Tsurumi says, “but that wouldn’t be true, would it?” His looks resplendent in his fur coat, hand on the hilt of his sword where it hangs from his belt, fingers stroking almost imperceptibly. “You’ve made quite a nuisance of yourself at times, haven't you?”
It’s almost enough to turn Koito’s pain to rage, that Tsurumi would insult him now, that after all these years he’s finally dropped the pretense because Koito is no longer more useful to him alive than dead. It burns like a coal, smouldering in Koito’s chest, not anger, but shame ; because even now he cannot escape the longing Tsurumi has always stirred in him. He has lived for this man’s praise, for his approval, for his love. For years he has been everything to Koito, untouchable, unreachable. Perfect.
Even knowing that Tsurumi is a traitor, that Koito has done no wrong in defying him, he cannot help but wonder for a moment if he has made a grave miscalculation. Not because Tsurumi will surely kill him now that he has been found out, but because part of him still believes that Tsurumi is omniscient, that it is he, Koito, who does not see the bigger picture.
It’s stupid, but this is the power Tsurumi has always had over him. Standing in his presence Koito feels like nothing more than a silly boy.
“Ah, well,” Tsurumi says, “at least you have served your purpose.”
All Koito’s carefully honed reflexes are useless as panic sets in, he wants to turn to Tsukishima, to grab his hand and run from this room. He wants to beg Tsurumi to do this himself, not to make Tsukishima fire the shot that ends his life. But Koito knows that Tsukishima had been right:
“I’ll be the one who has to do that dirty job.”
He had hoped, when he held Tsukishima in his arms, fighting off the chill of another endless day of travel in the comfort of each other’s bodies, that he could save him somehow, protect and distract him from his pain. He had entertained the fantasy that his love would be enough to blanket Tsukishima’s self-loathing, fill in the cracks of his shattered heart with gold, and mend a thing that has been broken longer than Koito has even understood what love is. That it can hurt as much as it can heal. He sees the folly in that naïvity now. Repairing Tsukishima’s fractured love would be more like casting gold than kintsugi. The shards of him are so fragmented, the gaps between them so large that there is almost nothing left to piece together.
He hopes that this moment will not be the final, pulverizing blow of the hammer. The thing that breaks Tsukishima irreparably. But already he is so far gone.
More than anything else, Koito wants to reach out to Tsukishima now, to touch him one final time, absolve him of the sins that Koito has never known how to reach. Even in the face of his own death he wants to comfort Tsukishima, not because Koito is a selfless man, but because Tsukishima is. Because he does not deserve to be haunted for whatever remains of his life, no matter what he has done in the past, no matter what he is about to do. Tsukishima is a good man in a terrible situation, and Koito is more sure of this than he has ever been of anything in his life. It is not his fault that he cannot disobey the coming order, that he would break himself apart piece by piece until his body is just as shattered as his heart, because Tsurumi’s will is Tsukishima’s function.
It doesn’t matter that Koito has seen the good in him, that he knows Tsukishima can be so much more. In his own mind, Tsukishima is only a tool in Tsurumi’s hands, a loaded gun, a trigger just waiting to be pulled.
“Fire at will,” Tsurumi says, and Koito does not close his eyes.
He does not let his fear, or his pain, or his anger show on his face. He does not want to die, but he will not grovel before this man who has held Koito’s life in his hands since he was a boy of sixteen, has shaped it through lies and promises.
He will die like a man, standing proud and serving his country as his father had always expected of him. And though it pains Koito to know that his father will likely never know the truth of his death, he will face it in a way that he knows the man would be proud of. Perhaps at least his brother will see, perhaps Heinojou will welcome Koito into the afterlife with the same kindness he had always shown him as a child.
Out of the corner of his eye Koito can track the movement of Tsukishima raising his rifle, but his gaze remains fixed on Tsurumi’s terrible smile. He does not waver despite the pounding of his heartbeat, the fear and disbelief roaring through his blood. He wants to turn, would give anything to have Tsukishima, rather than Tsurumi, be the last thing he sees in this world, but he has nothing left to give and he cannot be so cruel. He will not haunt Tsukishima with the hurt he knows he could not keep from his face if he allowed himself to look into those kind dark eyes one last time. Let Tsurumi see his hate instead. Let Tsukishima see him die proud.
When the bullet explodes from the rifle, the sound is so loud that Koito doesn’t even feel the shot.
The deck of the ship rolls beneath Koito’s feet, his stomach churns as his hands grip the railing. “Tsukishima!” he calls again, more insistent. Fifteen hours into this journey, and he hasn’t slept a wink. He’s exhausted, and he’s cold, and he feels like hell, sweat prickling on his skin despite the brusque sea breeze.
What a way to start his first solo command.
Koito hadn’t wanted to leave Tsurumi’s side. He understands the importance of this wild goose chase, hunting down the Ainu girl and her traitorous companions, but couldn’t someone else have been sent haring off to Karafuto with a ragtag band of men who obviously don’t respect his authority? He’s gotten to spend so little time with Tsurumi lately, and his chest burns with the longing of it. Every moment in Tsurumi’s presence is a treasure more valuable than gold.
Koito will just have to prove himself on this mission. He can already see it, the pleased look on Tsurumi’s face when he returns victorious, child and all her knowledge in tow. Maybe Sugimoto the Insufferable will even find a way to finally get himself killed out in the middle of nowhere, and Koito will be free of his obnoxiousness. He can dream at least.
Yes, Koito will return, and Tsurumi will praise him, and Koito will not even shriek or fall to the floor. He will maintain his composure, and make his report in perfectly coherent Japanese, and then perhaps First Lieutenant Tsurumi will even lay a hand on Koito’s shoulder and Koito’s chest will swell with elation and pride. And after… After he will treasure this memory as he treasures every time Tsurumi has touched him, will store it away for his most difficult (and his most private) moments.
At least he has that to look forward to.
“Tsukishima!” Koito yells a third time, and really, he expects better of his sergeant, Tsukishima at least has always treated him with the respect he is due as a superior. Nevermind that he is off on the other side of the deck, and the wind is snatching Koito’s voice away. Tsukishima should be more attentive to his needs.
He turns at the sound of Koito’s voice and approaches steady-legged, despite the rock of the ship. And Koito is more impressed than he ought to be. He comes from a long line of navy men, has spent countless hours in his youth exploring the ins and outs of watercraft, dreaming of one day following in the footsteps of his brother, and his father, and his grandfather before him. Koito is no stranger to the sea, but this infernal sickness has plagued him since his brother's loss. He cannot feel the rock of the waves beneath him and not imagine the smell of blood, thick and choking in his throat, gorge rising. It is a weakness he had always meant to overcome, but in the end, avoidance had been a much simpler strategy.
“Sorry, sir, i couldn’t hear you,” Tsukishima says, coming to stand at Koito’s shoulder. The wind whips at the hem of his long coat, drawn tight around him against the chill of approaching winter, his hands are shoved deep in his pockets. The bags under his eyes are just as stark and evident as always, and Koito wonders about them. It’s as if the man never sleeps. Really, Tsukishima ought to take more pride in his appearance; Koito only hopes he doesn’t look comparably bad for his own rough night.
“Nevermind that!” he snaps, “Tell the cook to prepare me some ginger tea.”
Tsukishima’s face is a mask of impassivity. “Sir, i don’t think-”
Koito cuts him off, not interested in any protest. “Nonsense, Tsukishima, everyone knows ginger tea is a remedy for upset stomachs; they're bound to have some on a ship.”
Tsukishima’s brow wrinkles slightly. “Are you feeling unwell, sir?”
Koito flaps a hand quickly, wishing Tsukishima would be a bit quieter because Sugimoto is only a few meters off and Koito can practically feel his ears pricking up. The last thing he needs is to let Sugimoto see any weakness in him. Thankfully Sugimoto seems occupied staring out over the sea with furious intensity, as if he could make the ship go faster through the sheer force of his passion for their quest.
“It’s nothing,” Koito insists airily, “just a bit of indigestion. The meal they served us last night was truly dreadful. Are they trying to poison us, do you think? Perhaps you should be the one to make me that tea after all.”
“I’m not sure the cook would take kindly to that, sir,” Tsukishima says, and Koito sighs.
“Well you’ll just have to insist then, won’t you, Tsukishima?”
Koito does not catch Tsukishima’s response, because just then, the deck lurches, and Koito finds himself gripping the railing with white-knuckled dread as another wave of nausea washes over him. Tsukishima does not even stumble, his small body rocks with the ship, and Koito is sure he would be annoyed at that if he didn’t feel so ill. Sugimoto, at least, has not fared so well. He is sprawled on his ass on the deck, and Koito does not bother to suppress his laugh as Sugimoto picks himself back up and comes running towards them, chasing after his runaway hat.
It rolls to a stop at Tsukishima’s feet, and he picks it up, handing it back wordlessly when Sugimoto skids to a halt in front of them. He is the last man Koito wants to talk to right now, but Sugimoto’s obnoxious face lights up with the chance to recover some of his own dignity.
“What’s wrong with you?” he smirks, “aren't you supposed to be a navy brat? Is Lord Koito, son of the mighty admiral, feeling a little seasick?” He grins as he jams his hat back down on his head, and Koito could punch him... if he could only let go of this railing.
“Piss off, Sugimoto,” Koito fumes, “And don’t speak to me like that, i am your superior officer. I should have you disciplined!”
“Hey, you’re not my superior officer,” Sugimoto laughs, “I’m not in the 7th.” He hooks his fingers through his belt loops, and starts away, the smug little shit, only turning to deliver one final jab. “What are you gonna do anyway, spank me?”
“First Lieutenant Tsurumi put me -!” Koito starts, but another rock of the ship makes his stomach lurch, and Sugimoto stumbles, cursing, which is a better retort than Koito is in any state to come up with at the moment anyway. “Really Tsukishima,” he sighs at Sugimoto’s retreating back, “the man is insufferable. What am i to do with him?”
Tsukishima’s face remains unreadable, and Koito sighs again. Would it really be so much to ask to have just one person on this godforsaken trip on his side?
“Why don’t you come take a seat, sir?” Tsukishima asks, and there’s a gentleness in his voice that surprises Koito. His hackles are still up, but Tsukishima is not patronizing him. He just sounds tired, and Koito finds he feels for the man. He’s not used to dealing with the lower ranks, but as a sergeant, Tsukishima must put up with this insubordinate nonsense all the time. There really is so little class in the rank and file.
Tsukishima does not presume to touch him without invitation, but when Koito sways on his feet without the help of the railing, Tsukishima’s hands come up as if on instinct, and Koito holds out his elbow for support. It’s comforting to have someone to lean on, and that Koito supposes, is how the military is supposed to function. He is supposed to be able to rely on his subordinates, to count on them to have his back. Tsukishima may not talk back for him, but he is here, supporting Koito when he needs it, and perhaps that is an integral part of command as well. Yes, Koito must earn his subordinate’s respect with his own wit and merit. It would be unwise to expect Tsukishima to fight his battles for him.
Tsukishima really is the ideal sergeant, and Koito marvels that he’s never properly appreciated that fact before. It really is different having his own command. Usually, his concern is only for his superiors, for Tsurumi. But here Koito must think also of his men. Being out in the field really is nothing like what they prepare you for in the academy. Koito will have to remember that.
“I’ll go see about that tea now, sir,” Tsukishima says, as he helps Koito to sit on a heavy crate stacked on the deck with its peers. “It’s best if you stay here. The sea air is good for nausea.”
“Yes, very good. Thank you, Tsukishima.”
Koito almost wishes he would stay with him. The small human comfort of touch feels like too much to give up right now, but he dismisses Tsukishima with a firm nod, and watches his back as he departs, solid and steady as ever despite the pitch and roll of the waves. He really is a competent and reliable man, and Koito will remember that too. He’s learning so much on his first command already.
Of course Tsurumi had been right to send him on this mission. Tsurumi is always right, and Koito has every intention of doing him proud.
He only hopes it will not take very long. He can’t wait to be back at Tsurumi’s side.
At first, Koito doesn’t know what has woken him. The world is fuzzy darkness, sleep aching behind his eyes, but the harsh sound of breath is not his own. Koito has never been a heavy sleeper and is unused to sharing a room; as a child his house was large and largely vacant, as an officer, he has his own private space in the barracks. Only in the academy had he slept in a dormitory, and he had never gotten used to the quiet sounds that other men make in their sleep, or in their secret wakefulness.
Tsukishima’s breathing sounds panicked, frantic in the quiet space, and Koito registers slowly that it must have been a gasp that roused him from sleep. A painful, hungry sound, an angry ghost dragging both him, and his sergeant from their dreams.
Koito’s first instinct is annoyance. This is the first real bed he’s slept in in days, terribly uncomfortable as the straw mattress may be, and the day had been long and exhausting. He wants to pull his pillow over his head and retreat back into the cozy darkness of his mind, away from this cold room, this horrible Russian village. His nose and ears feel frozen, and the lure of rest and blankets tugs at his hazy mind, but something about the urgency in Tsukishima’s panting breath will not let him return to sleep.
It worries Koito.
He is no stranger to nightmares. After his kidnapping it had taken weeks for him to sleep through the night, haunted by the surety of his own death, the fear that every creak was an intruder, come to abduct him in the night, succeed where the others had failed. He had been far too old to climb in bed with his parents, and had nowhere else to seek comfort, so he had lain awake, blankets tucked tight to his chin, knife clutched between aching fingers as panic held him frozen in place.
The familiarity of it makes him feel for Tsukishima, a man, not a child, haunted by the memories of things that Koito can only imagine. Being in close quarters with men who have actually lived through war has taught Koito that there is much he does not understand about its horror. There is a quietness to the veterans sometimes, a reverence that seems as unfounded as their frequent callousness. And none of them sleep well.
Koito can hear the shift of Tsukishima’s body, only a few feet to his left, rolling over, trying to force his rigid body back into relaxation with a stretch. It’s a quiet sound, a human sound, and Koito’s own muscles ache with the familiarity of that tension. He wants to offer comfort to Tsukishima somehow, the comfort he never had as a child, alone in his too-large bedroom with its looming shadows. It’s a strange impulse, but he doesn’t question it. After all, Tsukishima has been his only ally on this trip. But Koito does not have any idea how best to handle this situation. He has never been the best at understanding the needs of others.
“Tsukishima…” he calls out softly, and the sound of the other man’s rustling abruptly ceases, only his still disturbed breath making his presence known.
“I’m sorry, sir. Did i wake you?” Tsukishima’s voice is quiet, barely above a whisper in the cold room, but he still sounds more shaken than Koito could even have imagined, and Koito knows he has made the right choice in speaking.
“No, no, not at all,” he responds. “These beds are terribly uncomfortable, aren’t they?” He has no idea what he’s saying really, but it’s easy to let his mouth run off with him once he gets started. And perhaps that will be enough. Perhaps it will be enough to distract Tsukishima and let him know that he is not alone. “I’ve always preferred Japanese-style beds myself,” Koito goes on, sighing dramatically, “but i suppose that would be too much to expect from these Russian heathens.”
Tsukishima is quiet for a moment, but Koito can still hear the sound of his breath, slower now, more even. His voice, when it comes, is just a murmur in the dark. “You should go back to sleep, sir,”
“As should you, Sergeant Tsukishima,” Koito responds, and he wonders if he’s done enough, but this moment feels unfinished somehow, a connection that has not quite been made. He pauses, trying to gather his thoughts, find a line he can cast out with.
“The truth is, i’m really quite cold,” Koito grumbles at length, “do you think the innkeeper might give us some more blankets if you went to ask him?”
“It’s the middle of the night, sir, i’m sure he’s sleeping.” Tsukishima sighs, and now at least he sounds a bit more like himself.
“Yes, well, if he didn’t want to be disturbed he should have given us sufficient blankets to begin with,” Koito pouts. “Really, Tsukishima, it’s ridiculous, don’t you think?”
“I can stoke the fire, sir,” Tsukishima offers, and Koito hears the rustle and creak of him disentangling himself from his own nest of blankets, without waiting for assent. He really is such an attentive man.
“Yes, a very good idea, thank you, sergeant.”
Tsukishima hisses as his feet hit the cold wood of the floorboards, and Koito does not envy him. The very idea of it is awful and Koito feels a bit bad for making Tsukishima get out of bed, but something in the atmosphere has shifted. The room feels calmer now, safer for the little bit of normality they have shared, and so he does not regret it.
As Tsukishima opens the door to the small masonry stove set into one corner of the room, Koito wonders idly if it might be better if he did not return to his own bed, but instead climbed in with Koito. His skin would be cold, surely, his hands and feet icy from the ambient temperature, but perhaps, sharing heat, they might warm each other. And perhaps, with their bodies pressed close together, there would be no space for another nightmare.
It surprises Koito how much it matters to him that Tsukishima sleeps through the rest of the night. It surprises him more how nice the idea of sleeping beside him sounds, wrapped safely in the warmth of Tsukishima’s strong, scarred arms. It’s not something he’s ever really considered before, the touch of his sergeant. It’s not something he’s ever imagined himself wanting. Tsukishima is far from the kind of man who usually draws Koito’s interest.
And yet, as he nestles back into his blankets, Koito finds the thought strangely enticing. He rolls it over in his head as the room warms, and he drifts back to sleep; Tsukishima’s chest pressed to his back, arm draped easily around his waist, lips to Koito’s nape, holding him. It’s such a comforting fantasy, and wrapped in it, Koito sleeps easily through the rest of the night.
In Toyohara, Koito is surprised to discover he loves the circus. He has seen circuses as a child, remembers the excitement, the lights, the feats of strength and grace; but beyond childish fancies, he has never imagined he would ever be in one.
But performing suits Koito like a glove; the adoration of the crowd, the race of his heartbeat as he leaps through the air, every eye on him. It’s elation. It is everything he has ever wanted, but in a very different, and strangely civilian form. His whole life has been a set course, deviating only from navy to army. He has never dreamed of anything else for himself, but now, here, he almost wants to.
For as long as he can remember, Koito has known two things: that he is exceptional, and that it has never been enough.
No amount of accomplishment has been able to outshine the circumstances of his birth. To the children he grew up with, he was always the spoiled little rich boy. To his peers in the academy, he was the Satsuma with the laughable accent, overly dramatic, overly eager to please. To his parents, he has always been the second son, trapped in the shadow of a perfect brother, who in life could do no wrong, and in death could never be equalled.
Koito does not blame his parents for the depth of their mourning. He does not blame them for his own long loneliness, but he has felt its effect. He has always been hungry for praise, for honour, for encouragement. And since he first stepped foot into this cavernous tent, he has received little else. The Yamada troupe adore him, and even hours later the cheers and cries of the audience still feel like fire in his blood.
He had not expected to be nervous in the moments before stepping out into the ring, and yet, as he heard the announcement of his name, the cheer and then hush of the crowd, it had thrilled through him, shuddering excitement with that electrifying twinge of fear. He had not let it show. Calm and cool he had strutted into the ring, he had beamed and bowed, and begun with a flourish, climbing the bamboo pole, performing the tricks that came so naturally to his trained, athletic body.
It does not matter that in the end, his act had not gone as planned, that the sight of his treasured photograph of First Lieutenant Tsurumi had knocked aside all Koito’s composure and brought him back to the reality of his life. The audience had adored him all the same, had screamed and cried out for him, watched him with rapt attention as he somersaulted through the air, only one thought on his mind. His photograph of Tsurumi is his most prized possession. He cannot lose it.
Even floating on the high of adulation, thrilled and worshipped by the crowd, pride like wings holding Koito aloft, it had only taken one glimpse of Tsurumi’s regal portrait to remind Koito that this is not his life. Much as he may enjoy it, this is not what matters. Tsurumi is Koito’s true path to joy. Tsurumi is his only road to acceptance, to recognition, to greatness. It is to Tsurumi that he owes everything. And so he had dove. And as the show had gone on, only an obstacle in Koito’s single-minded focus, the audience had worshipped him nonetheless.
He is still thrumming with pleasure their delirious voices.
Koito had been angry with Tsukishima for the photograph. Angry in that hot and fleeting way, the raging, panting emotion of his performance still surging inside him, muscles tight, breath coming hard and fast. Even later, when he had collapsed off-stage, photograph pressed to his heart, and then his lips, his body had still been shaking with the excitement and praise of the crowd. Even now, he can still feel the smug pride of their elation.
He can’t believe that Tsukishima tricked him like that. Tsukishima! Who has been his most trusted companion, his only friend in this endless wilderness of snow, and dogs, and people who do not listen to his commands. He had looked so silly in his dancing-girl outfit, absolutely ridiculous in trim and frills, and still, when Koito had blown his kiss to the audience, and witnessed their swooning adoration through the bright haze of limelight, he had wondered if Tsukishima was watching him. He had wondered what it would feel like to catch his eye, to wink and blow the kiss to him. It was a fleeting thought. Just a moment in the explosive emotion of his performance, but it had thrilled Koito.
He has thought often, lately, of how Tsukishima might respond if he were to make an advance, and Koito is not sure what is holding him back. Not rejection certainly.
Koito is not inexperienced in the things that men and women do together, (the things that he has learned he definitely prefers to do with other men.) The young officers in his peer group were rich, and the whores in the city were plentiful. And though there are still intimacies that Koito has never had the inclination or opportunity to explore, he is no stranger to the feeling of someone else’s hands or lips on his cock. The military is full of pretty pent up boys, and Koito is no different. He has had his share of fumbles in the dark, of sword-rough fingers against the smoothness of his skin, muffled gasps of pleasure in quiet, hidden rooms.
He is sure Tsukishima is the same. It seems most military men are.
Koito has heard the rumours in Asahikawa, the whisper that Sergeant Tsukishima is the First Lieutenant’s dog in more ways than one. Koito has never given them much credit, caught between his disinterest in Tsukishima, and the stinging bite of jealousy. Surely if Tsurumi wanted to sleep with one of his officers he might choose Koito? It’s not as though Koito hasn’t made himself available, made his interest as clear as he knows how while keeping his dignity intact. (He will never let himself be seen as so desperate as Private Usami. —Though he does struggle to maintain his composure in the face of his idol. It is so difficult to think clearly when he is in Tsurumi’s presence.)
But the fact that Tsukishima also keeps a photograph of Tsurumi means something. And it changes things for Koito, brings the stark realities of what has probably gone on between them to light. It is hard to imagine them together, painful in a way Koito does not want to address, so he pushes it aside. It is ridiculous to be jealous of Tsukishima, but now, at least, Koito can understand what Tsurumi might see in Tsukishima. There is a quiet power to him, a terrifying kind of competence that deserves reward. He is loyal, and even-tempered, and never shrinks back from doing what is required of him. The events of the night have only served to hammer that point home.
In the midst of the Russian assassination attempt, Tsukishima had been the first into the ring, exploding to action despite his ridiculous frilly skirt, dispatching men twice his size with his bare fists and dragging them away while Koito was still gauping at Sugimoto, wondering if he truly was determined enough to stick a sword through his own gut. (A pity, really, he wasn’t given the chance to find out). And in the aftermath, Tsukishima had changed his clothes and conducted the interrogation in the fluent gibberish of Russian with a calm determination that Koito cannot help but respect.
There is a quiet kind of confidence to Tsukishima, in the way he moves through the world, always deferential, and yet always ready, always there to do what needs to be done. It fascinates Koito, makes him want to ask questions, turn over stones inside his small sergeant and see what he might find. He does not know what it would take to raise emotion in him, to make Tsukishima blush, or laugh, or cry out in pleasure. It seems almost an impossibility, but, Koito realizes, he wants to find out. He wants to know more of Tsukishima, he wants to see what lies beneath the surface of this man he feels so solidly at his back.
He wants to lie beneath him and see what secrets he might uncover.
Koito is still dressed in his circus costume when he finds Tsukishima, the fabric strange and comfortable, giving him a freedom of movement he is not used to in his uniform. He can feel the ground beneath his feet through the thin soles of the jika-tabi , the earth heavy and solid after his time in the air. Elation still thrills through his blood from the show, the smugness of his own performance, the admiration of his talent and skill. He feels unstoppable.
There is dirt beneath Tsukishima’s nails from burying the corpses of the Russian secret police officers, and his face set in a solid, emotionless line. He looks tired, but he always looks tired. And once again, the anxiety shivers through Koito, brief and unexpected, just as before he took the stage. He does not know how Tsukishima will respond, but in this moment, the possibility of rejection seems so foreign. Koito knows he is an attractive man. He knows he could have his choice tonight. And he has chosen Tsukishima.
Tsukishima’s face remains unreadable as Koito lays a hand on his shoulder and pulls him aside, into the quiet shadows. His heart is beating too fast, a hammer in his chest as he opens the front of his uwagi exposing the long lines of his torso, the smooth skin and sculpted muscle beneath. Is there interest in his stoic sergeant’s eyes? Tsukishima is far too disciplined to ever let his gaze linger, but Koito knows the effect he has on men inclined in his direction. And he has felt that from Tsukishima at times, if only in the quietest, most restrained way.
“Tsukishima, i want…” Koito falters, unsure how to put voice to this thing that moments ago seemed so simple. But Tsukishima does not make him finish. Tsukishima does not push him away.
“Yes, sir.” His voice is quiet, demure, and his dirt-stained hands are cold against Koito’s too hot skin, but when Koito pulls him close, Tsukishima lets himself be drawn in. He lets Koito tug him out of his coat and shirt, pressing close to his skin, and his body is hard, and strong, intoxicating; and as Koito touches him, he warms.
And this may not be the stuff that Koito’s dreams are made of —wringing out pleasure in secret, in a secluded corner at the edge of civilization— but it is easy, and it is good ; and when it is over he finds that he does not want to let Tsukishima go.
So Koito holds on, face buried in the hot muscle of Tsukishima’s shoulder, and Tsukishima holds him. And for a time, this is all that matters.
The journey north is endless frozen monotony. Koito should be thankful, he supposes, that they do not meet any more human adversity as the dogs pull them from kotan to kotan across the endless stretch of barren white, but he is not. He is cold, and he is bored.
The days are short with winter, but still, the hours feel long. Koito’s body aches for movement, sore from sitting, thighs tight around the sled to hold himself in place; his nose runs, and his eyes burn with the sun reflecting off the snow, but feeling Tsukishima behind him, strong arms wrapped around Koito’s waist is a small taste of happiness and comfort in an inhospitable wasteland.
This is good, this thing they are doing. This thing that they still have not spoken about, but is occupying more and more of their nights.
Koito finds himself making every excuse to be close to Tsukishima now, leaned up against one another when they have stopped in the evening, sharing quiet words, and quiet moments. Not that he should need an excuse, really. It is clear what is happening between them, that they both want this, that they both enjoy it.
But still, it is hard for Koito to say out loud what is coming to know in his heart. That being close to Tsukishima feels better than he could have ever imagined. That he makes these long, uncomfortable days far from Tsurumi feel lighter somehow. Even enjoyable. Koito wishes only that they could be doing this somewhere else, somewhere civilized, where his shirts could be clean, and his body rested. Somewhere he could show Tsukishima the best of himself. (Though part of him knows that without this journey, the chances of having made this connection are slim. So in a way, he is grateful even for this.)
There is precious little privacy when travelling with three other men and two children —sleeping all crammed together in one-room huts at the charity of their Ainu hosts— but they make due, stealing kisses and surreptitious touches until they are wound so tightly together that it is a wonder they do not receive more snide comments from the others. But perhaps Sugimoto and Tanigaki, too, understand what it is to take comfort in another soldier, to come to rely more and more on the man at your side until he occupies not just your days, but your thoughts, and your dreams as well.
Still, it is only at the lighthouse, sheltering away from the storm that they are able to really be alone together. The other men are packed together like tinned fish atop the pechka , but the chimney rises through the centre of the house, radiating heat through the wooden walls; so when Koito and Tsukishima choose the missing daughter’s bedroom rather than the kitchen floor for sleep, no one questions it. Sugimoto makes an off-colour joke, and Koito bites back, but that is the extent of it. Tsukishima does not get involved. With the exception of the incident with the photograph, he never does.
There is so much of Tsukishima Koito still does not know, but of one thing he is certain. Tsukishima is a good man. He is kind, not only to their party, and the civilians they have met along the way, but even to the sled-dogs, and his patience seems endless. Koito has never seen him angry, has never seen his composure slip. It’s difficult to believe that this is a man who once upon a time killed his father, that only the grace of the First Lieutenant has kept him from a life in prison.
It stands so at odds with the man Koito knows, who avoids conflict, never getting involved in Koito’s various squabbles, only resorting to harsh words or violence when there is no other option. It is a strange balance to watch, Tsukishima’s duty warring with the clear kindness inside him.
He is a closed book, does not share his history or the things that haunt him in his dreams. He is conservative with his emotion and affection, but he will kill without hesitation when the situation demands. He will always do what is needful, and he will never complain. Years of service have moulded him into the perfect soldier, the perfect tool, obedient above all else. But Koito has come to suspect that Tsukishima truly does not enjoy fighting, that he is a man who would rather live a quiet life, far away from the ambition of the military.
Koito wonders sometimes why Tsukishima is here at all. And then kicks himself for wondering.
The answer is as clear as a frozen winter sky; when all life ice, and even breathing is painful. It is unthinkable to walk away from Tsurumi’s inner circle, impossible to abandon their master.
The photographs they both carry speak that louder than any words, and though Koito often wishes he could get more answers out of Tsukishima, more confidence and trust, these are words he is glad remain unspoken. They share something, the two of them, something deep and penetrating, bright and heavy as gold. And Koito is afraid that to acknowledge it might shatter the fragile understanding growing between them.
It is a strange idea to Koito, that some things are better not to talk about. He values honesty and communication, and has never been a keeper of secrets. It is hard sometimes for him not to push, not to ask, but there are some answers he does not want to hear. He wants desperately to know where he stands in the hierarchy of Tsukishima’s affection, but he is also afraid of the answer. First Lieutenant Tsurumi occupies so much space in both of them. It seems impossible that there is room for anything else, that he does not divide them as keenly as he has brought them together.
And yet, more and more often, Koito realizes that it has been days since he last thought of Tsurumi; that out here, with miles of forest and experience between them, Tsurumi is beginning to feel more like a shadow on his heart, the ghostly artifact of a double-exposure, not erased, but covered over by something new. Something here. By a man he can hold in his arms at night and feel, hot, and hard beneath his lips, by quiet words, and quieter sounds of pleasure, stolen in secret at the ends of days. By something real .
This lost girl’s bedroom is the first time in weeks they have had thick wooden walls separating them from the elements, and though the blizzard rages outside, loud and furious, it is cozy in the little space. The single bed is small, but when Tsukishima makes a pretense of setting out his bedroll on the floor, Koito quirks an eyebrow at him in the half-light and tells him not to be ridiculous.
Tsukishima regards him quietly for a moment before assenting. “Yes, sir.”
Koito does not understand why he always holds back. They both know how this night will play out. He wonders if it is because he is Tsukishima’s superior, if it is out of respect for rank, or if there is something deeper that lets him never step over that line. Never assume, or ask, or take. He does not worry that it is because Tsukishima is uninterested in him, that he only touches Koito out of duty, not desire. It is clear once they have dispensed with the formalities that Tsukishima also wants.
“Really Tsukishima, there’s no need to call me sir at times like this.” He pats the bed beside him, and Tsukishima comes over to sit, hands on his knees, reserved still. As if they have not both been waiting for just such an opportunity, as if this is not the first real privacy they have had in days.
Koito snorts, but he is surprised to see the ghost of a smile on Tsukishima’s lips, and he draws back, feigning a gasp. “Sergeant Tsukishima, did you just make a joke!?”
The smile disappears from Tsukishima’s lips, but it is still there in his eyes, warm, and secret, and Koito could not stop himself from leaning in to kiss Tsukishima if he tried. There is so much he wants from this man, so much he is unsure how to breach, because Tsukishima is taciturn, and though Koito is anything but, he does not have words for the things growing inside him. But lips and tongues are good for more than just words. With his mouth on Tsukishima’s mouth, it is easy for Koito to make his feelings clear.
They fall back together, stripping out of jackets and shirts atop musty quilts, bringing heat to a bed that has long lain empty. Tsukishima feels so good beneath him, thrilling and warm in a way that makes Koito’s heart ache. He cannot get enough of the taste of his lips, or the rough slide of his skin. He wants to touch Tsukishima everywhere, drag his mouth over every inch of his body, kissing skin and scar until they are so lost in each other that nothing else exists. And for once, there is nothing holding him back.
Koito runs a hand up Tsukishima’s chest, feeling the scarred muscle, so strong beneath his fingers, so powerful, and so male. There is nothing soft in Tsukishima, at least not on the surface, not until you peel back the layers of his stoicism and find the gentleness inside. That gentleness is so obvious here though. It seems impossible there was a time when Koito did not know it, could not see the man that his sergeant really is. It’s in the way he touches Koito, in the way he kisses him, almost reverently. It makes Koito feel safe, it makes him feel cared for, even if he has no idea how Tsukishima actually feels. Whether this is just release for him, or if it is coming to be something more.
Something like it is to Koito.
It is not urgent as they move together, as cheeks flush red, and lips bruise from kisses, and the air around them grows heavy with desire. It is easy. Their bodies fit together like they were made for this, like nothing could be so simple as touch. Koito gasps as Tsukishima’s hand strays down his belly, rough fingers against tingling sensitive skin, pushing into his trousers. And Koito wants everything. He wants this more than he knows what to do with, knows how to process, so he just lifts his hips, and feels Tsukishima’s mouth against his mouth, lips between his teeth as a quiet moan bubbles up from deep in Koito’s throat.
Koito rolls onto his side, pulling Tsukishima with him, tasting the heat of his breath, the hunger growing in both of them. There is so much heat growing between them, and Koito gasps again as Tsukishima’s hand wraps around the straining hardness of his cock. His palm is rough, and there is no space to move, still trapped in the confines of his trousers, but even this first touch is elation. Koito is so desperate to feel him. To feel all of him. Touch every part of Tsukishima.
He wants to reach inside him and break him open, see all the secret parts of him, not just what he chooses to show. He wants to touch Tsukishima like Tsukishima has touched him, show him the same beauty that is blooming like a garden behind Koito’s closed eyes. Because despite every experience Koito has had in the past, it has never felt so good, so safe, so right, as this.
Koito’s body shudders as his hands grip tight on Tsukishima’s muscular shoulders, sliding down his back. He does not know if the tremor in them is pleasure or nerves, does not know what is coming over him as he arches into Tsukishima’s touch, as he pulls his lips away from Tsukishima’s lips to bury his face in the hollow of his neck, gasping for air, even as his hips push forward, crushing the space between them.
He cannot get enough, and still, they have barely begun. And all at once, Koito is so aware of his inexperience, because he does not want this to just be a fumble in a dark room. He does not want to cum shaking in Tsukishima’s hand, as he has done so many times before. He wants to feel Tsukishima’s body around him, or inside him, wants the full naked press of his skin, sliding sweaty, gasping for air as they lose themselves in each other.
Tsukishima is always so diligent in giving Koito pleasure, so attentive to the things that make his toes curl, make his eyes squeeze shut as he bites down on his own lip and shakes apart in Tsukishima’s arms. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by his skill as he undoes the buttons at Koito’s waist with his free hand so he can grip him properly and start to stroke. It is so easy to get lost in the pleasure of Tsukishima’s grip, but Koito wants more than this. He wants so much more. Here, and now.
“Wait!” Koito gasps into the hot skin of Tsukishima’s neck, “slow down.”
“I’m sorry, sir.” Tsukishima pulls away, and Koito feels the loss of him with every part of himself. He is aching, fire under his skin, pulsing not just from the desperate hardness of his cock, but radiating through him, consuming him like an inferno.
“No, i just…” Koito falters, all his words failing him in the face of this need that feels so large, so pressing inside him. He worries his lip between his teeth. “I want to touch you too. ...I want to do more than this.”
Tsukishima is still against him. And it is not that Koito has not also given him pleasure in the last weeks, has not also had the feel of Tsukishima in his hand and the taste of him in his mouth, but Tsukishima must be able to read the tension in him. He must be able to sense the hunger and the nervousness in Koito through all the places their bodies touch, and he understands. He knows what Koito means. What he cannot say.
Koito cannot make out the expression in Tsukishima’s eyes in the half-light, but they are open, looking at him from the flush of his cheeks, and he looks so beautiful. Vulnerable almost, as though this means something to him too. As though it is not only Koito who feels like his soul is too big to fit into his body, like it is swelling to fill the entire room, the entire universe.
Tsukishima pulls his hand slowly away from where it still rests in Koito’s trousers and Koito shivers. “Have you done this before, Second Lieutenant, sir?” Tsukishima asks, and his voice is so gentle, so quiet, and yet, Koito feels it like an earthquake.
“Of course i have!” It comes out flustered, embarrassed, and Koito feels himself flushing deeper. Because he hasn’t, not really, not like this. “It’s not like it’s difficult...”
“Of course not, sir,” Tsukishima says, and Koito knows Tsukishima can see right through him, can feel his truth in the tremor of his hands against Tsukishima’s back; but he doesn’t push it. He’s far too obeisant to contradict. “How do you prefer it?”
A thousand fantasies spin through Koito’s head. The ways he’s been touched, the ways he’s wanted to be touched, the things he’s imagined Tsurumi doing to him while alone in his bed at nights. Imagined for years as he touched himself, as others touched him. “I like...”
But this feels nothing like he’s always imagined Tsurumi; Tsukishima is so honest, kind in his gentleness, not teasing, or thrilling, or sharp. And, Koito realizes, for maybe the first time in his life, that he isn’t wishing the person who’s naked skin is pressed up against his own was the first lieutenant. That he hasn’t been wishing it for a while.
He’s happy to be touching Tsukishima. He cares for Tsukishima. Cares more than he ever knew, more than he ever expected. His heart is full to bursting with the closeness of him, with the desire for him, the warmth of his powerful body and the gentleness on his usually stoic face.
Koito doesn’t want to live out his fantasies, pretend Tsukishima is someone else the way he always has with other men, each filling the secret, sacred role of a faraway wife, a lost lover, an unreachable commanding officer. He wants to be here, in this room, in this forgotten lighthouse, present with Tsukishima. And he doesn’t know if that’s what Tsukishima also wants from him, if he’ll be imagining someone else as they move together, taste of sweat on their lips. But he hopes. Koito hopes that Tsukishima also wants him.
It hurts to imagine that he might not, really. To wonder if Tsukishima also dreams of Tsurumi, or if it’s someone else he wishes Koito were. It shouldn’t hurt. It’s just how this game is played in the army, but it makes Koito want to write his name in lust over every inch of Tsukishima’s body, not to lay claim to him, or to own him, but just to prove that he was here, that this was him , that he was the one to bring Tsukishima pleasure tonight, not some spectral imagination.
He wants to show Tsukishima everything he can be, every trick he doesn’t know —has never had the opportunity to learn. He wants to be everything that Tsukishima wants, not because he’s standing in for the fantasy, but because he’s better than any imagining. He wants to give Tsukishima everything.
“How do you like it?” Koito asks, and Tsukishima looks slightly perplexed, as if the idea had never occurred to him that Koito might care about his pleasure, that anyone might. As if he does not deserve to have a preference.
“It’s simpler if–”
“That’s not what i asked. How do you prefer it.”
Tsukishima is quiet for what feels like an inordinately long time, body warm and gorgeous in Koito’s arms, eyes down now, not meeting Koito’s gaze. There’s a warm blush across his cheeks, not just heat and arousal, but something deeper, something like fear, a look Koito has never imagined on his resigned sergeant’s face. Tsukishima takes a slow breath, and Koito waits for him, hoping he will reveal himself, hoping he will trust Koito with this smallest confidence.
“...I like to receive.”
Koito’s heart thrills, but his mouth is already running off with him. “Really Tsukishima, that wasn’t so difficult, was it? I’m happy to fuck you in most any way you desire.” He’s acting like he’s back on solid footing, but really it feels as if the world has dropped out from beneath his feet, blood rushing to his head, spinning as he falls. Gods, it’s so easy to fall.
“Roll onto your back,” Koito instructs, but all his half-formed plans and ideas for how to do this fly out the window when his mouth meets Tsukishima’s again. He can’t think while he’s kissing him, can’t breathe, lost in perfect, overwhelming heat.
In the end, it is Tsukishima who takes the lead. He is so patient in showing Koito what to do, how to prepare him, oil-slick fingers pressing into the tight heat of Tsukishima’s body. And it is not that Koito doesn’t know the pleasure this can bring, has not tried it on himself, but it is so different , to be touching Tsukishima, to feel the give and shake of his body, and the thump of his heartbeat pulsing from within.
Koito feels like he can’t catch his breath, can hardly think for the excitement shuddering through him. Tsukishima looks so beautiful laid out before him, knees splayed wide, eyes tight shut. His body is relaxed, pliant around Koito’s fingers, but each deep breath shudders into him, and escapes on a quiet muffled sound that makes Koito’s heart soar. He reaches out with his free hand and tangles his fingers in Tsukishima’s, rough palm to rough palm, squeezing, and he feels as though his heart might burst out of his chest when Tsukishima squeezes back.
It is a pleasure all in itself to bring Tsukishima pleasure, and Koito almost forgets his own hunger in the face of it. It is only when Tsukishima tells him with a gasp to stop, that he is ready, that Koito’s blood thrills with anxiety and promise.
He wants this, is so desperately ready as well. There is some fumbling to get into position, to align himself correctly, but Tsukishima is patient, and encouraging, waiting for him as Koito trembles. And when he at last sinks into the blinding heat of Tsukishima’s body, it feels like Koito’s world is ending.
Tsukishima is so tight around him, so hard beneath him, arms strong and solid around Koito’s back, and Koito can’t even move at first for the pleasure of him. He is so overwhelmed, shaking at the perfect fit of their bodies, at the feeling of Tsukishima’s skin, hot and alive beneath him, around him. Tsukishima kisses him then, breathing encouragement into Koito’s mouth, telling him how good he feels, how well he’s doing. And Koito would be embarrassed, probably, but he is too far gone, all the blood with which he might flush already burning under the surface of his skin. Igniting him.
Tsukishima strokes a hand down Koito’s back, the other coming to cup his face, so kindly, so gently, and it is only then that Koito realizes his eyes are squeezed shut, forehead pressed to Tsukishima’s forehead. He opens them, and through his hazy vision, he catches Tsukishima’s gentle smile, and something tight and beautiful swells in Koito’s chest. This is everything. This is perfect. And Koito cannot get enough.
He starts to move, gently, and Tsukishima sucks in a breath, and then they are both gasping, quiet in the charged space. They cannot be too loud, cannot wake the house, but Koito wants to. He wants to shout for the pleasure and emotion swelling inside him, he wants to sing from the rooftops that he has found heaven, that this is what life is, this is what bodies are for.
It is slow at first, as Koito finds his rhythm, pressing over and over into the gorgeous heat of Tsukishima’s body. But though he has never done this before, the flow of it is natural, so easy to get lost in. His body knows what to do, even if his mind is so fractured by pleasure that he cannot keep track of where he ends and Tsukishima begins. The sensation inside him is blinding, breaking him open as he rocks against Tsukishima, and Tsukishima holds him, powerful thighs wrapped tight around Koito’s hips, pulling him always closer.
Tsukishima’s hand comes again to Koito’s face, pushing back sweaty strands of hair, tangling there, And his eyes are closed, not looking at Koito, but the look of his face is almost blissful, almost serene, more open than Koito has ever seen him, and Koito is melting at the sight of it. It feels impossibly special that he is here with Tsukishima, that he is able to bring him pleasure, to give him this one small gift. Koito wants to give Tsukishima everything.
“Here, let me,” Tsukishima breathes against Koito’s skin, holding him close. And then he is rolling them over, still holding Koito, still clamped tight around him, and he is grinding down, and Koito is gasping at the feel of him. He is so close, buried so deep in the tight heat of Tsukishima’s body, sliding against him, into him, always further, always more. He rocks his hips up, and Tsukishima presses down, and it is so much, and he is so beautiful. Tsukishima is so beautiful.
Koito doesn’t know how he could ever have thought anything different, does not know how he could have missed this, how he could have sat in the banya with this man and thought of anything other than how much he wanted to touch every part of him. He runs his hands over the solid muscle of Tsukishima’s chest, pushing him back so he can see more of him, so he can trace the topography of scars cutting across his body with hands and eyes. Tsukishima is so strong, so much smaller than Koito, but so powerfully built. He is all hard muscle, and flushed skin, harsh sculpted beauty that would take Koito’s breath away if it were not already gone, sucked out of him by every roll of Tsukishima’s hips. The sparse hair on his chest is rough beneath Koito’s fingers, the scars that mar his flesh flushed darker for the blush burning beneath his skin. They cut across his shoulders, his torso, hard ridges beneath Koito’s touch, twisted tissue where once he bled.
The worst of them is enormous, an ugly tear, harsh from navel to hip, a history of unbelievable trauma. And Koito cannot think about how it might have taken this remarkable man away from him. How each scar is a second, and third, and tenth chance at life, resilience and determination knitting Tsukishima back together where the world has tried to tear him apart. He has been so damaged, and yet he is still here, still so beautiful, so strong.
Koito does not know who Tsukishima would be without his scars, but he wishes he could heal every one of them, could take away all the pain that has ever haunted this man, all the nightmares that follow him still. He wants to take Tsukishima away from all of this, from danger, and pain; to a place where they can be together, to a place where they can do this, can kiss, and touch, and love, and forget the world that has shaped them, forget who they are in the pleasure of discovering each other.
And in this perfect moment, it doesn’t even feel like a silly fantasy. It feels like a promise. And Koito is alive with it.
Tsukishima rolls his hips, and Koito shakes beneath him, hands running down Tsukishima’s arms to once again tangle in his fingers, clasping tight as the pleasure inside him grows to blinding. This is so much better than anything he has ever felt. So much more. He guides their joined hands to Tsukishima’s cock, where it stands, flushed dark, and hard against the base of his stomach, pulls away to wrap his fingers around it.
Tsukishima’s eyes fall open, his back arches. “Please, sir, i cant–”
“Don’t call me sir,” Koito gasps, “not now.”
“Please… I won’t last.” His body is shaking, pushing into every stroke of Koito’s hand even as he bites his lip and looks down at Koito with eyes that are almost pleading. It is a strange look to see on his face, so much vulnerability from a man who shows so little, and Koito feels like he is drowning in it.
“I want you to cum, Tsukishima,” he breathes. “I want to feel it.”
He is so close to his own edge, so close to falling over it, spiralling into ecstasy, but he does not want to fall without taking Tsukishima with him. He wants to share this pleasure. He wants to go down together.
Even now there is so much control in Tsukishima. As if he cannot let go, as if he does not know how, but Koito is determined. He pulls Tsukishima down with his free arm, bringing him close again, where he can kiss him, where he can breathe in all his tension and channel it back into the places their bodies are joined, mouths, and hands and hips. His hand strokes over Tsukishima’s cock, and he rocks up into him, filling him over and over until Koito’s whole body is shuddering with the strain of holding off his climax, and Tsukishima is panting above him.
His nails dig hard into Koito’s shoulder, his mouth open and gasping against Koito’s lips as his whole body locks with tension. And when he cums Koito can feel it through every part of him, splashing hot over his chest, spasming and clamping tight around him, pleasure layered over pleasure, so overwhelmingly tight, perfect and blinding. And in an instant, he too is lost. Koito bites his own lip, hard, trying to contain the cry that wants to tear its way from his throat, the ecstasy bursting inside him as he shatters, spilling deep in Tsukishima’s convulsing body.
Afterwards, they lie together in the small bed, skin to sweaty skin as their breathing slows, and Koito is speechless for all the pleasure and emotion still glowing inside him. He feels as though he has never before in his life been warm, as though he has never known comfort before this moment; because all past experiences pale in comparison to the feeling of having Tsukishima in his arms, of holding him close, and knowing that he is here, and he is alive, and for tonight at least, he is his.
“That was wonderful,” Koito sighs, nuzzling his face into the comforting heat of Tsukishima’s neck. “...was it good for you as well?” He feels suddenly and strangely embarrassed, worried that through the lense of inexperience he is viewing something mundane as something extraordinary.
“You did very well, sir.”
Tsukishima is already pulling away to clean up, but there’s a smile in his voice, even if his composure is back in place, and Koito wants never to forget it. He wants to bottle it up and keep it with him forever. He wants to make Tsukishima smile again and again, every day for the rest of their lives.
“I told you not to call me sir!” Koito admonishes, but he too is smiling. And then he is pulling Tsukishima back into him, making space for him in the small bed. He presses his lips to Tsukishima’s lips over and over, kisses that hold no hunger now, only comfort, soft in the shuddering aftermath. And it is perfect, it is beautiful, and nothing in Koito’s life has ever felt so easy, so right, as this.
They curl together on their sides, wrapped tight in the warmth of blankets, Koito’s lanky body held loosely in Tsukishima’s strong arms. His back is pressed to Tsukishima’s chest and he can feel each breath that fills him, and the exhale, warm from Tsukishima’s lips close against his skin. They fit together easily, perfectly, even though Tsukishima is so much smaller —with their hips level, thigh to thigh, Tsukishima’s head rests between Koito’s shoulderblades— but it is comfortable like this, being held, and Koito would not change it for anything.
And as drifts off to sleep, warm, and content, and happy, Koito knows one thing. That nothing he has ever felt before, no lust, or infatuation, or obsession, has ever come close to what he feels for Tsukishima.
He knows that he is in love.