Yata Misaki was six years old, when he stopped believing in soulmates.
He always had before, the same as any child would. His tattoo had appeared two days after his third birthday, a small sliver of black along his right arm. At first he'd thought he'd just gotten some dirt on his arm and had tried to rub it off with his hand before his mother saw it and scolded him for getting messy. Eventually she'd realized, picking him up and swinging him around happily as she told him that this mark would be what would lead him to the person just for him.
It looks like a fire, doesn't it, Misaki? The mark was red and gold and orange, and he would spend hours staring at it in the mirror. At one point he'd even taken a red marker and had drawn flames all over his left arm too until his mother scolded him and made him stop.
His mother had magenta-colored marks that reminded Misaki of ribbons. His father had something like waves in the same color. One day when they were all on the couch watching a movie Misaki sat in his mother's lap and looked over at the spot where his mother's ribbons brushed against his father's waves, where they pressed against each other perfectly. It reminded him of a drawing that someone had folded in half, the two pieces fitting even though they weren't quite the same.
Soulmates. So that was what they were – two parts of a whole, two pieces of the same drawing. It had seemed like an amazing thing, the idea that his flames would one day match someone else's tattoo perfectly just like that.
“It's just not working.” His mother's voice was gentle as she stroked his hair. “Your father and I...we aren't soulmates. We were wrong.”
Misaki knew things weren't good sometimes. His dad wasn't ever home and sometimes his parents fought when he was. His dad smelled funny on the days he came home late and once he'd almost run into Misaki when Misaki was playing with his toys in the hallway and he'd yelled so loud Misaki had started to cry even though he was a whole six years old and not a baby.
The divorce was slow and strange. They sat him on a wooden chair in the corner of a wide room while his mom and dad stood side by side and weird people in suits inspected their arms. At the end of it someone gave a paper to his mom and a paper to his dad, the two of them not even looking at each other the whole time. One of the men in suits said it was done then, that a mistake had definitely been made, and they weren't soulmates so the divorce could go on.
But they made a picture. He hadn't said it because his mom had told him to sit in the corner and be quiet and he was trying to be, because his dad had made her cry again and he didn't want to make her cry too. But he wanted to ask about the paper and why all the guys in suits were lying. They were a match, he'd seen it.
That night when his mother put him to bed Misaki finally found the words to say it.
“But---you were a match.”
His mother's eyes widened for a moment and then she smiled in a way that didn't reach her eyes, and she leaned down to kiss the flames on his right arm.
“We weren't the right match.”
So there can be right and wrong? He found himself wondering about it again half a year later, leaning against a tree and trying not to wrinkle his good clothes while people surrounded his mom and his new dad, congratulating them. The wedding was three weeks before his birthday and his stepdad had promised him a new bike. It was hot out and the grass was extra green, and Misaki wondered if he could find some beetles.
He'd seen the way his mother's ribbons matched Yata-san's circles, and that was like a picture too. So there was more than one way to make a match. But if that was the case, how did you know if it was right at all?
“Whose child is that?” One of Yata-san's relatives was looking at him and talking like she didn't think he could hear her.
“That's...you know.” The person next to her wrinkled his lip. “The child. Hers.”
“From the wrong match?” The woman leaned back a little and Misaki looked down at his clothes, wondering if he'd gotten mud on them. Maybe that was why she'd sounded so upset.
“It's amazing he married her still, considering...” The man waved a hand and Misaki wondered what that was supposed to mean. He decided to go find his mother, standing up and wandering over towards the buffet tables with their bright pink tablecloths.
“I heard she had a child.” Someone else was talking about him again, but no one was looking at him. “Such a shame.”
“The poor thing. Being born to two people who weren't even soulmates.”
“I mean, I know it happens, right? But it can't be good, when your kid's dad isn't your soulmate. Who knows how he'll grow up?”
“Hopefully they'll have some other kids soon. She deserves a child born out of a soulmate bond. It's a shame, how her tattoo is so simple. It's so easy for that type to find a wrong match and they don't even think about it before they choose.”
“They should just keep a close eye on him, that's all I'm saying. You never know how children like that are going to grow up.”
Children like that? Misaki pulled up one of the pink tablecloths and slipped underneath the table, staring down at the grass. A beetle climbed across his shoe, antenna waving. He wanted to scream at those ladies, that his parents had been a match. How did they know that it was wrong? How did they know that this one wasn't wrong?
How does anyone know? He felt irritated and his eyes itched as he looked down at his own tattoo. His mother had told him that it would match someone, someday. But it could match anyone, right? If anyone can make a picture how do they know what's good and what's bad?
“Misaki?” A small square of light fell over him and his mother's face stared at him from the other side of the table. “What on earth are you doing down there, you'll get your clothes dirty!”
“Mama...” There was a hiccup in his voice and he didn't know where it had come from, but his mom's eyes widened.
“Are you okay, Misaki? Did you eat too much, does your tummy hurt?”
“Mama...is there something weird about me?”
“Weird...what makes you say that?”
He told her, and her eyes flashed as she slid down under the table next to him.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with you.”
(Certain relatives of Yata-san's would never visit them again.)
Afterward Misaki tried not to think about it much, but the words wouldn't stop turning around over and over in his mind. He sat in his bed that night looking out the window and staring at his arm.
Two halves of a picture. One that was wrong, and one that was right. Was there a way to check? Did men in suits appear and fuss over your arms and tell you the answer, and they'd just missed his parents on the first try?
“There's absolutely nothing wrong with you.”
Misaki ran his fingers down the flames on his arm and decided that it didn't matter. If you could be right and then suddenly wrong, what was the point anyway? Soulmates might as well not exist. They probably didn't exist.
He was twelve, when he started to believe again.
When he was twelve, he tried to save a gloomy kid in glasses from bullies and failed. He climbed over a bathroom stall and watched that same kid get revenge, and then together they chased after a blimp in the middle of the night.
And when he was twelve, he sat on a school rooftop with Fushimi Saruhiko – Fushimi Saruhiko, who always wore long sleeves, who was the subject of rumors that he didn't even have a mark and Yata didn't believe that in the least because after all Saruhiko had told him it wasn't true, and Yata believed him – and Saruhiko asked him why he always wore his shirts with one sleeve.
“It looks cool, doesn't it?” He meant that. Yata had always been proud of his mark, that bold red fire.
He hadn't really meant to say anything more. Telling people you didn't believe in soulmates was just asking for it – people gave you weird looks, for one thing, or told you to go away. Even his mother's smile had dimmed and her eyes had gone dark when he'd told her, and she'd just patted his head and said he'd understand when he was older and he'd never said anything about it again because he knew she'd just get that look again. It made him think of gossiping relatives and hiding under a table, of people murmuring that you never knew how a child born to people who weren't soulmates could grow up.
But Saruhiko was....different. Saruhiko was amazing. Saruhiko was....
So Yata had told him, about how he didn't believe in soulmates, and he'd waited for an answer. He didn't know what he'd expected – that cold mocking tone Saruhiko used whenever Yata said something stupid, maybe, or another comment about not being interested in Yata's business.
“What the hell does that mean, 'fine'?”
“That's fine too, isn't it? I don't believe in it either.”
The words had been hushed and emotionless, the same tone Yata was getting so used to, but Yata felt his chest swell up with an emotion he couldn't even begin to name.
Saruhiko didn't believe either. The two of them, they didn't need stupid shit like soulmates, not when they were together.
He ran all the way home, feeling so light he could fly. He sat in his room, trembling with something like excitement and he couldn't stop sending Saruhiko messages on his PDA. He thought maybe Saruhiko would get mad, or tell him to stop, but Saruhiko kept replying every time. Saruhiko, who didn't believe in soulmates, just like Yata.
And even as Yata thought those words he found one hand closing around his right wrist and wondering what was hidden under Saruhiko's sleeves.
Wondering, if they really were a match.
He couldn't stop thinking about it, after that. Yata was pretty sure he knew where Saruhiko's tattoo was located – Saruhiko always clutched at his left arm whenever he was nervous or uncomfortable, and once Yata had spotted him slipping thin fingers up his left cuff and thought he saw Saruhiko's nails scratching against something red on his skin.
Yata knew it could have been anything, that hint of red. A bruise, from Yata holding his arm too tightly whenever they went somewhere, or a cut from scratching too hard. But he felt light-headed whenever he thought about it, red on Saruhiko's wrist.
If Saruhiko's tattoo was on his left arm and Yata's was on his right, that meant they'd connect when they held hands. Sometimes he woke up from dreams of holding Saruhiko's hand tightly and Saruhiko's sleeves fell away and there was an amazing pattern in red there, mathematical figures and rotating planets and it fit perfectly, perfectly, against Yata's own.
He never asked to see Saruhiko's tattoo, but he thought about it sometimes. Yata always fell asleep first at sleepovers but he normally woke up before Saruhiko did and sometimes he would sit up and look at Saruhiko asleep in Yata's bed, curled up under a pile of blankets as if Saruhiko was trying to hide himself beneath them. Yata would lean forward a little, reach for Saruhiko's left sleeve...and then pull back and lie down again. Saruhiko would never forgive him if he looked without permission and Yata wouldn't risk losing Saruhiko for anything, even confirmation of a real soulmate.
And besides, I don't need to see. Yata knew it, that there was no way to tell for sure which match was right and which match was wrong. But he knew it, deep down inside he knew it – he and Saruhiko were just right.
And then they turned fifteen and the evening was cold and their plan to take down jungle failed, and Yata saw flames on someone else's arm.
It wasn't something he thought of much anymore, the type of person whose arm might match his – unless that person was Saruhiko, anyway, and under his bed Yata had pages and pages of notebook paper where he'd scribbled images in red pen of what he thought Saruhiko's tattoo might look like. It wasn't flames, usually, because Saruhiko didn't remind him of fire. Saruhiko was like...wings, something that flew to heights Yata couldn't even imagine. Yata wondered if Saruhiko's tattoo might look like feathers or planets, like rockets exploding in the air, like fireworks.
He had left those pages behind, when he and Saruhiko moved in together. If Saruhiko found them he'd wonder about them, after all, and even Yata could figure out by now that the tattoo was a sore point Saruhiko didn't like touched. But he dreamed about it all the time, about Saruhiko climbing down from the loft one morning with sleeves rolled up and a tentative smile on his face.
Beyond that, though, Yata hadn't even considered anything else. He didn't look at other people's tattoos when he walked down the street, didn't bother with online search engines (not that he could make a profile on any of those sites himself and he certainly couldn't have asked Saruhiko to help him with that). And he'd all but forgotten those words on the day of his mother's wedding, about how people with simple tattoos could so easily find the wrong match.
The wrong match, there in front of him, he knew that. But a match.
Without even moving, Yata knew. He didn't need to press his arms against Suoh Mikoto's to confirm it. It was obvious from a look, and from the way it felt like his very soul was shaking as he stared at the bonfire in front of him. Dimly he felt Saruhiko grab at his left sleeve, hesitant, and Yata wanted to turn and smile at him, tell him it was okay now, they'd been saved, but he couldn't get his mouth to work.
That night, lying in his own bed staring up at the bottom of Saruhiko's bunk he found himself unable to sleep, mind whirling with everything that had happened. Mikoto's arms and Saruhiko, who had almost died. He remembered those dreams again, of Saruhiko climbing down to him and holding out his arm.
“Saruhiko...did you see it? Mikoto-san's arms were...”
A match. Mikoto-san and I are a match.
“Saruhiko? Are you still awake?”
He shifted, fingers splayed against the red of his skin, waiting for a reply.
Saruhiko...can I see yours too?
Saruhiko didn't reply, so he didn't say it.
Simple tattoos could match anything, Yata knew that. But it didn't change how he felt about Saruhiko, not then.
Being in Homra...it was the best thing to ever happen to him, or the best thing besides Saruhiko at least. But it was strange too, being in a place where so many people were almost a match – a variety of possibilities and places where arms could fit. In a way Yata could finally see why all those kids at school had always wanted to hang out with people whose tattoos were similar to their own – but at the same time he had no idea why anyone would ever want to, to be surrounded daily by reminders that no mark was all that special, was that different, and that all around you were a million pictures that might fit together and that maybe any moment men in suits would show up and tut tut over whether or not you got to say if that picture was the right one.
And then there was Mikoto-san, whose tattoo should have been simple but somehow was completely unique, beyond anything Yata had ever seen before. His own flames seemed like a child's scrawl next to the magnificence on Mikoto's arms. In the end a soulmate tattoo was only color on skin but Mikoto's was the first one Yata had ever seen that looked...real.
They were nearly a match, too. Sometimes it made a shiver run down Yata's spine, thinking about that moment he'd taken Mikoto's hand and seen their marks press against each other. Sometimes he would find himself wondering about it for just a moment, that but what if... that made his breath catch and his fingers brush against his own inadequate flames that would never match that bonfire.
In the end it was just a push, though, a sign. Even if they could match at almost someone else could match at certainty (and whenever he thought that he always found himself glancing at Totsuka, at Kusanagi, and wondering what pattern those arms made against Mikoto's skin). Deep down, Yata knew full well that Suoh Mikoto was never meant to be his soulmate. They were two halves of a picture drawn by different artists, the same inspiration but in wholly different styles.
And really, it didn't matter that the two of them wouldn't fit right and Yata knew it, because Saruhiko was still there too. All Yata had to do was look at him, see that mark on Saruhiko's chest that matched his own, and Yata just knew: there's the other half you've been looking for. It wasn't something he could explain – out of all of Homra Saruhiko was the only one whose mark Yata had never seen, and yet here he was deciding all on his own that they were soulmates. He was doing it all wrong, against everything he'd ever heard.
But he was sure.
This person is yours. This person was always meant to be by your side.
Yata believed in it. He believed like he was three again, that they were really two halves of the same whole, two pieces of that folded picture. He couldn't imagine a world where Saruhiko wasn't by his side, after all. They had to be soulmates. He just had to wait for Saruhiko to get more comfortable, for Saruhiko to open up more, for Saruhiko to figure out what Yata already knew. It was weird, that for once he'd realized something ahead of Saruhiko, but Saruhiko had always been slow with emotion stuff. He just had to wait, and believe, and one day he'd have proof etched right there on Saruhiko's left arm.
(And sometimes, in his dreams, Saruhiko would look at him and Yata would look back and then they'd both lean in together and their lips would touch, light, their hands grasping for each other and he'd pull Saruhiko close and kiss him until neither one of them could breathe, and then Yata would wake up sweating and have to go take a cold shower to calm himself down.)
And then Saruhiko wasn't there anymore.
Yata didn't know how it had happened, what he'd done wrong. He and Saruhiko were soulmates, right? They were meant for each other.
Saruhiko had been growing more and more distant from him, a few miles further each day until it felt like somehow their orbits had changed entirely when Yata wasn't looking. And there was a bitterness in Saruhiko's voice when they talked now, something heavy that made Yata want to reach out his hands again and offer to lighten whatever burden it was that Saruhiko was so obviously silently carrying. Saruhiko didn't say what was wrong in so many words but later, when it was too late, Yata always wondered if he'd missed something, if the truth had been buried beneath the bitterness and gloom and the long sleeves of Saruhiko's shirts and Yata had simply overlooked it all this time. It shouldn't have mattered though, not when they were soulmates.
Shouldn't have, until Saruhiko left.
In a twisted way Yata thought he should have been happy. Because Saruhiko leaving felt like part of his soul really had been ripped out, like that perfect picture had been torn in two and he was just a ragged edge waving in the wind. He'd heard that it could hurt sometimes, when two soulmates found each other and then were torn apart again, and Yata thought well, if this is what it feels like then see, Saruhiko, we really were soulmates.
He wanted to believe it. He wanted to keep believing, even as Saruhiko threw that belief back in his face every time they met. Saruhiko, who had changed his hairstyle and his smile into something that made Yata think of a lingering ghost. Saruhiko, who wore a modified version of Scepter 4's uniform that only reached to his elbows and had dark blue gloves over the rest of his arm.
Saruhiko, who didn't seem to care at all about what he'd broken and Yata couldn't help but think: was it really just me, all along?
Saruhiko had been the one to make him believe in soulmates when he'd been so certain that they couldn't exist and now Yata could feel that belief breaking again, a million scattered pieces (three sharp burn lines like the marks of fingers across the mark that was their pride, the second heartbeat Yata couldn't feel anymore) and his own mark seemed to be mocking him with all the things it almost fit and all the things it never would.
Saruhiko was an asshole, Saruhiko was a traitor, Saruhiko was the enemy.
Saruhiko was still his soulmate, and even broken Yata couldn't stop believing.
Yata wasn't sure when he'd started to lose hope. If it had started a year ago or six months, if it had crept up on him slowly from the first day he'd seen Saruhiko in the Scepter 4 uniform or if it had bled out suddenly like the knife thrown into his arm.
He didn't look at Saruhiko's left arm anymore, at those blue gloves that didn't show even a hint of what was beneath. Maybe the tattoo there had always been blue anyway – and not wings, not fireworks, not anything that would flow easily into Yata's flames. Maybe all that was underneath those gloves were deep blue scratches like scars from a knife, that would only fit against the marks of one Saruhiko's fellow blue clansmen. Maybe it didn't matter that Saruhiko was gone, because Saruhiko had never really been his to begin with.
Other matches began to fade too. The butterflies on Totsuka's arm, spattered with blood from where he'd laid it against a wound that was bleeding out. Yata could still remember the funeral, staring with weary eyes at those blank white arms that didn't fit anything at all, not anymore.
And Mikoto's bonfire, whitened to nothingness, the other half of the picture torn away and gone, forever.
It broke into pieces, one by one. Homra falling apart at the seams, a scattering of photos and an empty bar, and only Yata there trying desperately to pick up the pieces. Trying to hold things in open hands as everyone else walked away – no matter that they were all of a piece, fire and smoke, a group of near-matches and not-quites, and it wasn't enough to hold them together with Totsuka and Mikoto dead and Kusanagi gone. It was enough to make Yata question it all again, what the heck the word 'soulmate' could really mean if they'd all fallen apart this easily despite how closely every single one of them matched. Maybe that was the curse of a simple tattoo, that matched too easily, pictures made of tissue paper that tore into pieces the moment they were touched.
It was like Saruhiko all over again. Left behind without a word, like a piece that didn't fit.
(“There's absolutely nothing wrong with you,” and he wanted to believe, he really did.)
It finally snapped that day in the rain. Yata wasn't even sure why he'd been out, where he'd been going. Sometimes he just skated around the city to give himself something to do, to remind himself that he was still here in the world where everyone could see him. It was cold and he didn't bother to cut the right sleeve off his shirt. It wasn't like that mattered anyway, not now.
He was huddled under an awning waiting for the rain to stop when the first knife flew past.
Seeing Saruhiko again...it hurt, more than he wanted it to. It hurt so much it made his vision go red, his head pound, and Yata suddenly wanted him to feel it too. Saruhiko, who had left him behind so easily, who wouldn't show anyone his arm like a stupid stubborn child. If he'd only let Yata see it once all of this could have been avoided, they could've been together...
Or not. Those close matches hadn't meant anything to anyone but him, so why should this be any different?
Even so, it hurt more than anything else.
“After all, I'm not the one who lost...a soulmate.”
The words made him want to scream, to lash out at something, fight until all the heaviness in his limbs was gone and replaced by adrenaline, until his heart beat fast enough to remind him that he was still alive.
I did lose a soulmate, you bastard. You left and I lost my soulmate, and you didn't even care.
That was really why he said it, in the end. He was angry and hurt and he wanted someone else to feel that too. Wanted to know, maybe, that deep down Saruhiko was still able to feel pain like a normal human being and not the shadow of someone else that he'd become.
“What would a guy who doesn't even have a soulmate know about that anyway?”
The moment he said it Yata regretted it.
Saruhiko went utterly pale – even more so than he always was, chalk-white as if he was about to faint, body jerking just slightly as if he'd been the one impaled by knives. Saruhiko's eyes were wide and blue and for a moment so heartbreakingly empty that Yata wanted to reach for him somehow, to say – something, to do something, fix what he'd broken, heal what he'd so deliberately inflicted –
“Saruhiko...Saruhiko, I'm sorry--”
“It's fine.” Saruhiko's voice was so hollow. “It's about time you figured it out, Misaki. I don't have a soulmate. And I don't care.”
It hurt. It hurt, it hurt, it made Yata want to run after Saruhiko and grab him and yank his left sleeve down, scream at him to stop being like this when they were a match, they had to be a match.
Or maybe they weren't.
Yata sagged against the wall, arms wrapped around himself. Dimly he knew that he had nothing to apologize for, not really – Saruhiko had goaded him into it and besides, Saruhiko had done so much worse to him than that one little question uttered thoughtless in the heat of anger. But even so, he felt...he felt like shit, was what he felt like. The person who had said those words to Saruhiko wasn't the sort of person Yata wanted to be, regardless of what Saruhiko had become.
And even so there was that little voice in the back of his head, whispering: but I was right, wasn't I? He hasn't got a soulmate, and neither do I. Saruhiko and I aren't soulmates at all. Because if we were...
It hurt too much to think about, somehow even deeper a cut than any of his other losses had ever been. Yata pushed himself off the wall and went back to the bar, clutching at his right arm the whole way.
When he got back he settled himself on the couch and pulled up some of Totsuka's old videos, ones from when Saruhiko was still in Homra. He watched them all, sitting bolt upright and keeping an eye out for any small flash of color, the barest hint of something marked onto Saruhiko's skin.
Nothing, nothing, and Yata knew there was no point in believing anymore.
(It still didn't stop the dreams.)
If Saruhiko was dead, Yata was certain that he would know.
For a month he'd worried, for a month he'd found himself searching without meaning to, sending texts that went unanswered and emails that were ignored. Saruhiko was missing, Saruhiko had left Scepter 4, no one knew where he was. He could be dead, for all anyone knew.
(A soulmate would know, and Yata sent three more texts.)
Eventually the answer came, that Saruhiko was still alive but with jungle now. He'd betrayed his clan a second time and joined the enemy.
It made Yata want to break anything he could get his hands on, made him want to punch something (or someone). How Saruhiko could do this, again...there had been moments, lately, where he'd almost begun to understand why Saruhiko had left Homra. But jungle...there was no explanation at all for that.
He still sent emails, a text, trying to ask why. He knew Saruhiko wouldn't reply but he tried anyway, one hand holding tight to his right arm. Well, what had he expected, really? It wasn't like they were soulmates, not really. It wasn't like they meant anything to each other now. Maybe none of them ever had, him, Homra, even Scepter 4 and the Blue King – just another string of strangers to Saruhiko, no one he'd bother to give any of himself to. All of them just a string of places, of faces, nothing and no one that held any importance for him at all.
“Homra's Yata Misaki-kun.”
He'd left the bar for just a little while, to clear his head (and to circle the city one more time, check the old haunts one more time, just in case) and returned in time to see none other than the fucking Blue King himself walking out the door. Yata immediately fell back against the side of the building, letting him walk by before reaching for the door. That was when he'd heard his name, and stopped.
“What do you want?” Yata leaned on his skateboard, trying not to show any sign of being intimidated. He didn't owe this person anything, certainly not respect. This was the person who had let Saruhiko leave so easily, after all.
“I understand you've been friends with our Fushimi-kun since before you joined Homra.”
“He's not my friend!” The response was automatic and even through the refusal he could hear his mind whispering otherwise.
Saruhiko was more than his friend. Saruhiko was...
Even now, Saruhiko was...
“It may come to be that he will share my destiny and have to die. Should that happen, I apologize in advance. It was not my wish that things should unfold this way.”
“What—what the hell does that mean?” Cold, seeping into his skin from somewhere outside, and his stomach dropped even as he found his fingers brushing against the flames on his left arm. A month's worth of unanswered mails, and he felt so cold. “Didn't he betray you guys too? He...that asshole betrayed everyone and joined the Greens, didn't he?”
“By my order.” The Blue King's voice was calm, collected, but Yata wanted to think he saw regret somewhere in those dark eyes. “Before the Christmas mission, I gave Fushimi-kun my orders. If through some unforeseen intervention the mission should fail and the Dresden Slate be stolen, he was to use whatever means available to infiltrate jungle's central command. As one who was once part of Homra and then defected to join Scepter 4, he was the only person I could trust a mission of this kind to.”
“But...” Yata felt a sudden spike of something like panic, something like fear, and his fingers brushed against his bared right arm. He saw the Blue King's eyes dart momentarily towards the movement and suddenly Yata found himself wondering if this person had seen what Yata never had. “That's dangerous, right? If he's outed, he could be killed by the Greens! How the hell could you send one of your people to do a mission like that? He's...” Yata swallowed, recalling a sea of red flames, sparks and smoke on a hundred arms, only a fraction of which had returned to watch their phoenix rise from the ash. “He's a match for you too, right?”
“Oh? What an interesting thing to say.” Munakata raised an eyebrow. “Have you seen Fushimi-kun's tattoo, Yata-kun?”
“I...haven't, but...” Yata clenched a fist, feeling his whole body start to shake from something even stronger than fear, stronger than anger. “But you're his King, right? Kings and clansmen normally...match. So...” Yata swallowed, words feeling like a weight on his mind. “So that guy could even be your soulmate, and you sent him somewhere he could get killed!”
“Perhaps.” Munakata raised an arm, rolling down a fraction of one sleeve and Yata could see blue peeking out from beneath along with something like stars. “Tell me, Yata-kun...if Fushimi-kun was, would it matter to you? For all you know, you may well not be a match for him at all, whereas I may fit him perfectly. That being the case, would you have no qualms about my decision to send my own soulmate into danger?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Yata's head was spinning, as though there was something hovering along the very edges of his mind and no matter how much he reached for it he couldn't quite grasp it.
“After all, a connection between soulmates is greater even than that of a King and his clansmen,” Munakata continued, undaunted. “Were I so willing to send even the other half of myself into danger, despite what the consequences may be, would you as an outsider have any say at all? You and Fushimi-kun are old friends, yet this bond would override that, would it not?”
“That's bullshit.” Yata's fingers dug into his palms, entire body rigid with anger. “You can't – he'll die, right? You sent him down there to die, and now...”
“I did no such thing.” Munakata's voice was suddenly stern. “True, Fushimi-kun's life is in danger now. He did, however, choose this mission of his own free will. Our situation is dire, after all – we cannot allow jungle to continue to have their way. This was the only gamble I could make, to bet all my plans of Fushimi-kun's skill and loyalty.” His eyes met Yata's, cool blue that somehow felt overwhelming like a wave, hard to breathe through. “And you, Yata-kun? If Fushimi-kun truly were to betray me, his life would be guaranteed. I will tell you this – the marks on his arm that you believe match mine may match another's as well. There are many places where Fushimi-kun may curve himself into the shape he wishes, in order to belong. Knowing that, knowing that one of the many possibilities may exist where Fushimi-kun does indeed belong more to jungle than either Homra or Scepter 4...what would you do?”
“I...” Yata's voice died in his throat, frustration building up deep inside. What could he do, if Saruhiko decided that was the place where he belonged? They weren't friends anymore, after all. Yata didn't have any claim to him, not really, not anymore.
Except that he felt it so sharply, every moment they'd been apart. Except that he'd been certain all this time that Saruhiko was alive even though he couldn't explain why. Except that all he'd ever wanted was to see what lay beneath those long sleeves and suddenly that didn't matter at all, who Saruhiko matched, where he was 'meant' to be. There had always only been one person Saruhiko was supposed to be next to, from the very start.
“I'm going to go after him,” Yata said sharply. “What the hell do you mean, 'belongs' in jungle? Saruhiko...Saruhiko belongs to me. I'm his fucking soulmate, and if he dies I'm never gonna forgive you for this!”
“Is that so?” There was something oddly triumphant in Munakata's smile that made Yata feel as if he'd stepped into someone else's plan without realizing it. “I see. Very well. Good luck, Yata-kun.”
He turned and walked away then and Yata barely watched him go, already reaching for the door to the bar again. He had to talk to Anna and Kusanagi. He had to find a way to get into the Green clan's base, to save Saruhiko.
His soulmate was waiting for him and Yata wasn't going to be left behind again, not this time.
When he was three years old he'd believed in soulmates. When he was six he'd stopped.
When he was twelve he'd met Fushimi Saruhiko, and it hadn't mattered whether he believed in soulmates or not because he knew.
And Saruhiko, too, he realized, had been lying to him all this time – Fushimi Saruhiko, who claimed not to believe in soulmates but who believed more strongly than anyone, who was more certain of their existence than Yata had ever been. Saruhiko believed so strongly that it hurt him, made him hurt himself, because just as much as he believed in soulmates he also believed that he didn't have one.
Their arms pressed together there in the dark underground, side by side, and there was no match there. Looking at the place where their marks met, the scars from Saruhiko's hands the only thing that fit into Yata's flames, and Yata knew that they would always be a mismatch, the two of them.
But he also knew, knew deep down in the very depths of his soul, knew with every breath, every heartbeat–
–Saruhiko was his.
“I'm going to go change.”
“What? No, no – Saruhiko! Come on, it's hot as fuck out there. I'm not letting you faint again, okay.”
“I'll stay home then, if you're that concerned about what I wear.”
“Saruhiko.” Yata sighed covering his face with his hand for a moment. “Come on, I promised my mom that we'd have lunch with her. Minoru and Megumi have been asking to see you for weeks, you know? We don't even have to make small talk or anything. It'll take like an hour and then we can come back and you can put on a stupid hoodie or a coat or something else that's way too heavy to be worn in this heat and faint on the couch all you want, all right?”
“Tch.” Fushimi clicked his tongue, one hand twitching for a moment as if he had been about to clasp his left arm.
His partially bare left arm, soulmate tattoo for once clear for all to see. Unlike his usual attire Saruhiko was wearing only a short sleeved button down shirt, no gloves or fabric or anything to hide the complicated mix of red, blue and green that crawled its way up his arm.
Even Yata didn't get to see that tattoo very often and he couldn't help but look at it as Saruhiko shifted and scowled in front of him, that tapestry of colors and shapes moving as he pulled his arm back out of sight and Yata sighed again.
“Why does it matter what I wear?” Saruhiko muttered, looking away. “Your family isn't going to care what I'm wearing.”
Or not wearing and Yata could hear the hesitance, the reminder that this way everyone would see that tattoo on Fushimi's arm – the tattoo that didn't match Yata's, so obvious when they stood side by side, and the questions that would follow.
Yata thought of men in suits staring at markings on arms, and scowled.
“Because we're just going out together and it's hot out and I want to hold your fucking hand, that's why,” Yata stated, voice firm. Saruhiko started slightly in surprise, eyes shifting for just a moment to meet Yata's before sliding away again. “Come on, Saruhiko. Please? Just once I'd like to go out with you in the summer and not have to worry about you fainting before we get back.”
Saruhiko didn't answer, still looking away, and Yata waited for him to consider it. Yata knew that Saruhiko was still trying to work his way through whatever issues he had regarding that mark on his arm – and more importantly, the way it didn't match with Yata's, not the way it was 'supposed' to. Yata had seen him, after all, whenever they passed a 'normal' couple walking by hand in hand and side by side, perfect paintings matched on their arms. Saruhiko always pretended like he didn't care about that kind of thing, complaining about stupid lovey-dovey shit and wondering why anyone would do it in public, but Yata more than anyone could recognize the storm clouds that brewed in his eyes every time.
They wouldn't ever have that picture, Yata knew that. Sometimes it made him feel tense too, the knowledge that he was...taking something from Saruhiko, in a way. After all, unlike Yata's tattoo that could match who knew how many types of people, Saruhiko's was...special. It was the sort of mark that would only ever match one person in the world, one true and real soulmate, and that match wasn't Yata.
(As to who that match was...sometimes Yata remembered it, that moment in the heart of jungle's headquarters, and that bratty Green kid calling Saruhiko Hisui Nagare's soulmate. Yata hadn't believed it then and he didn't want to believe it now either – he was Saruhiko's soulmate after all – but Saruhiko had never said anything more to him about it and Yata could never bring himself to ask. But he still wondered, sometimes, just what he'd helped Saruhiko lose that day and if Saruhiko was all right with it, when Yata had so little to offer in return.)
“...Fine.” Saruhiko's mumbled answer made Yata glance up at him. Saruhiko was still looking away, body held too still as if he was afraid that the slightest twitch of movement would cause him to fall apart, but the affirmative had definitely been there. Yata couldn't help the smile that crossed his face as he grabbed Saruhiko's arm – the left one, fearlessly, and fuck anyone who saw – and pulled him close.
“It'll be fine, okay?” Yata murmured into his ear. “I mean...no one's gonna say anything and even if they do, I'll kick their asses, all right?”
“You don't need to protect me like I'm a child, Misaki,” Fushimi said coldly, but he didn't push Yata off. “Well? Are we going or are you going to cling to me all day instead?'
“Yeah, yeah, I'm ready.” Yata kept hold of Saruhiko's wrist as he dragged Saruhiko towards the door. “It's not gonna take too long and I bet you'll be way more comfortable than if you had on all those stupid layers like usual.”
Saruhiko gave another click of his tongue and half a shrug, his body tensing again as they stepped out the door into the sun. The sky was bright and clear and the air was slightly sticky in a way that made Yata feel like he needed to breathe a little deeper. He felt Saruhiko hesitate beside him, Saruhiko's eyes darting momentarily towards the red flames on Yata's bare right arm, and then he took a deep breath and Yata felt Saruhiko's hand entwine itself with his.
“Let's get this over with. It's stuffy out here today.” Saruhiko muttered the words into his collar but his hand remained tight in Yata's, mismatched tattoos close together but not quite touching as Yata led Saruhiko forward.
“You wanna take the train over?” Yata asked him. “I mean, it's not too far to walk but with the weather and all. And since you're so delicate.” Yata couldn't help but add the last with a wicked grin. Saruhiko gave him a dark look, resting his chin on Yata's shoulder as they walked and looking sullen. He was clinging a little too tightly though, and the reply mumbled into Yata's shirt was a clear affirmative.
“It better not be too crowded,” Saruhiko grumbled.
“I'll protect you from the crowds,” Yata teased, tugging a little on Saruhiko's arm. “The place where we're meeting Mom is right by a station too. It probably won't be that crowded, not when it's this hot out in the middle of the day.”
“Tch.” A soft tongue click next to his ear.
“Sorry not all of us get to drive fancy vans and make so much money it doesn't matter if cab fare's expensive,” Yata said. “The train's not that bad.”
“It smells.” Fushimi wrinkled his nose and Yata rolled his eyes fondly.
“Sorry, princess.” He poked Saruhiko's side playfully and got a half-hearted glare in return. Yata grinned back and Saruhiko ducked his head again into his collar, and it was impossible to tell if the flush on his cheeks was from the heat or from something else.
He'd stopped thinking about his tattoo at least, which was what Yata had been hoping. There were other people on the street but it wasn't crowded enough that they couldn't walk side by side on the sidewalk and even though Yata couldn't help but notice a few eyes sliding down to look towards Saruhiko's left arm no one stopped and stared and no one said anything.
If anyone does I'll punch them. Yata's hand tightened a little over Saruhiko's and he felt Saruhiko pause slightly before squeezing back. This is my soulmate. Fuck anyone who says otherwise.
The train station wasn't as bad as he'd feared, and it was at least a little cooler underground. Saruhiko hung back and stared down at his PDA as Yata bought them tickets, speaking up only to note that Yata had accidentally tried to go through the gates to the wrong station and then rolling his eyes when Yata insisted that he knew that.
“Look, we can even sit. Happy now?” Yata threw himself down on the wide seat, leaning back with his arms behind his head. A few more people had stepped into their car but it wasn't quite standing room only yet and that seemed to relax Saruhiko a little, who always seemed to have the look of a caged animal when he was anywhere near a packed crowd. He'd always been like that – dragging Yata to the roof when the cafeteria was too crowded, finding them an empty hidden corner in the library on hot days when all the rest of the world was trying to hide from the sun too. Yata patted the spot by his side and Saruhiko nodded silently before sitting down and staring back down at his PDA.
So much for a romantic train ride. Well, it wasn't like the subway was really romantic or anything, and it wasn't like Yata had been entertaining visions of protecting Saruhiko from a groper or something like that, but he'd been hoping they could at least talk a little. Yata shifted, considering, and then smoothly stretched out his arms as if yawning, his right arm falling casually over Saruhiko's shoulder.
“Misaki.” The tone was flat and unimpressed.
“W-what?” Yata couldn't help but notice the slight defensiveness in his words.
“You're not a teenager in a movie theater.” Saruhiko looked up from his PDA, rolling his eyes. “Honestly, Misaki, is that the best you can do?”
“H-hey! You're the guy who wouldn't know romance if it bit him on the ass! I was just trying to get comfortable.” To make sure everyone knows you're mine. He tried to say it with his face more than his words, but Saruhiko seemed to be reading between lines that were from an entirely different book sometimes when it came to the two of them.
“Tch. Fine.” Saruhiko looked back at his PDA and Yata felt his heart drop. A moment later though Saruhiko leaned back just slightly – just enough so that he was resting against Yata's arm as much as Yata was putting an arm around him, and Yata felt a smile wind its way across his face as the train started to move.
This wasn't so bad after all.
Yata adjusted his position against the seat, not entirely uncomfortable, and then he felt a soft touch against his shoulder. The shape of Saruhiko's name rested on his lips and then dropped off and Yata felt himself freeze as he realized that Saruhiko's head had drooped against his shoulder, Saruhiko's eyes closed and an unexpectedly peaceful expression on his face.
Ah... Yata felt a moment of panic that he couldn't explain, the sudden feeling like he was seeing something he shouldn't, or that he was about to break something that had been handed to him. Now that he thought about it, Saruhiko had been working late the last few days, coming home well after the sun had gone down, Yata going to bed alone and waking up to Saruhiko's always oddly cool body curled close against him as if exhaustion had overcome the usual barriers that kept him on the far side of the bed more nights than not.
There was a steady lull of chatter around them, small talk and phones ringing, the sharp whistle of a moving subway car, the rumble of wheels and the shake of the walls around them. Even so Saruhiko was asleep against Yata's shoulder, soft hair half obscuring closed eyes with long fine eyelashes that could have been painted on, mouth slightly open and breath light against the fabric of Yata's shirt. Yata's whole body felt alive with the awareness of how close they were all of a sudden, his mind afire with the embers of memories – bus rides home late after spending all day at the game center, one earbud in his ear and the other in Saruhiko's, music playing in the background and Saruhiko's entire body pressed close against him, those invisible walls that had always surrounded Saruhiko brought down by the weight of exhaustion and Yata's own sleepiness fended off by the knowledge of its rarity.
How many times had he thought about it then, too, with Saruhiko's head on his shoulder, covered arm so close to his own, what could happen if the bus hit just one bump, if they went around just the right curve. Half asleep in fading light, dreaming awake about the million ways that sleeve could fall back and Yata would be able to see their patterns pressed together, the picture he'd been longing for right there in front of his eyes, a shadow for the two of them,
Yata's eyes slid downward, right where skin met skin. He'd lowered his arm just in time and Fushimi's bared tattoo was right there beside his, Saruhiko's amazing patterns, curls of color and light and the faintest marks made by nails and knives but still – always the most captivating thing he'd ever seen. It put his own tattoo to shame, red flames far too simple and far too ordinary, and it was hard to believe they could ever be a match. But still, Yata could see it, plain as day to his eyes – they didn't match at all but they did, maybe not in the way he'd seen all those evenings in the haze of dreams on a late ride home, but it was still a match. It wasn't the picture he'd planned, but he couldn't look at the places where his skin met Saruhiko's and ever think that was wrong.
“Don't just look at it, they'll notice you.” A hissed whisper to his right, and Yata raised his eyes.
He'd almost forgotten the rest of the world existed and suddenly it came crashing down on him. People were staring at them.
People were staring at his tattoo, and at Saruhiko's, and then leaning in and whispering to each other, shaking their heads, and Yata felt something uncomfortable turn around and around in his stomach.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with you,” and Yata raised his chin defiantly, and grasped Saruhiko's hand even tighter.
“Hey, Saruhiko.” Yata lightly shook him. “Come on, this is our stop.”
“Misaki...?” Saruhiko stirred, blinking sleepily as he raised his head from Yata's shoulder and Yata almost wished he'd let them just miss their stop, so he could enjoy Saruhiko sleeping against him a little longer.
“Yeah, I'm still here.” Yata smiled at him. “This is where we get off. You awake?”
“Tch. I'm fine.” Fushimi ran a hand through his hair, looking annoyed as if Yata had somehow forced him to fall asleep. “It's too hot in here too.”
“That's why we're getting off and going to the cafe.” Yata tugged at Saruhiko's arm to help him up, skin against skin, and for a moment their tattoos were pressed up against each other again. Saruhiko didn't seem to notice, still shaking off the last remnants of sleep, but Yata couldn't help the way his eyes lingered over it, as if maybe if he looked long enough he'd be able to find the match hidden within the curves of their colors.
They left the station, pushing past the crowds of people trying to get on the train and even through the din of the crowd Yata could hear Saruhiko clicking his tongue in irritation. Yata gave him a quick apologetic smile and then dragged him out into the street, looking around for the address his mother had given him.
“There.” Saruhiko's hushed voice by his ear, nodding towards the small cafe a few feet from them. Even as Yata turned to follow his gaze a flash of red hair came rushing at them.
“Big brother!” Megumi slammed into Yata's legs and he almost fell, Saruhiko's hand on his shoulder the only thing keeping him upright. Megumi grinned up at him, the red flower petals on her left shoulder bright in the sunlight, still at the age where showing off her tattoo was considered the norm.
Well, I always showed mine. Yata smiled a little sheepishly as he knelt down to ruffle his sister's hair. Saruhiko shifted behind him and Megumi turned her head, smiling widely.
“Saru!” Even Saruhiko's reflexes weren't fast enough to outrun a determined little sister and in moments Yata found his legs freed as Megumi slammed into her new target. Yata could see a slight twitch of Saruhiko's fingers – whether to reflexively pull down the long sleeves he wasn't wearing or to reach for a knife Yata didn't know, but after a moment Saruhiko's body language relaxed slightly and he gave Yata a flat look as if to ask what Yata intended to do about this.
“Ah, mom.” Yata waved at his mother as she approached, feeling suddenly a little awkward. He'd only visited his family a few times once everything with jungle had died down and somehow even after all that had happened it was hard to push away the old feelings of not belonging, the reminder that he was the only one in the family who wasn't the child of soulmates.
His eyes slid to his mother's wrists and he found himself nervously running fingers along his own tattoo, trying not to glance back at Saruhiko. She would definitely see it, the way he and Saruhiko didn't make a match, and his stomach twisted nervously at the realization.
“It's good to see you again, Saruhiko-kun.” His mom had already moved on to Saruhiko, who was still trying to extricate Megumi from his leg. He looked up as Yata's mom approached, shoulders slightly hunched in a way that reminded Yata immediately of when they'd been kids and he used to try and sneak Saruhiko in through the window on cold school nights, insisting that hiding in his room would be better than spending the night at an internet cafe.
His mom had always known, though, that Saruhiko was there. She'd never scolded Yata for it and she'd never kicked Saruhiko out even though she would never let any of Minoru's friends stay over on a school night.
“...Yeah. Nice to see you.” Saruhiko nodded, one hand jerking up about to touch his tattoo and then being forced back down by strength of will. Yata could tell though by the way he was standing that he was just waiting for Yata's mom to say something, to stare at it, and Yata held his breath.
“Megumi, let go of Saruhiko-kun. Come on, let's join Minoru and your father inside. We were just making sure you two had the right place.”
His mom gingerly pulled the complaining Megumi's hands from Saruhiko's legs and turned her around to lead the way back to the cafe, eyes not even resting for the briefest of moments on Saruhiko's tattoo, and Yata smiled.
Saruhiko clicked his tongue again quietly, hands stuffed in his pockets, and Yata tugged a little on his wrist.
Saruhiko looked down at Yata's hand, eyes hooded as if considering, and Yata gazed back at him firmly. Something like a soft sigh blew from his mouth and Saruhiko pulled his hand out his pocket, letting Yata's fingers entwine with his as Yata pulled him towards the cafe.
Hand in hand, both tattoos bared, and Yata didn't relax his grip at all as they headed inside after his family.
“See, it wasn't so bad after all.” Yata waved a final goodbye to his family before turning back to grin triumphantly at Saruhiko, who was already staring down at his PDA in stubborn defiance of Yata's rightness. “I think Mom was happy to see you. It's been forever since we had lunch with them, right? Probably not since middle school.”
“It was fine.” Saruhiko shrugged. “Your siblings are just as loud as you, Misaki.”
“Come on, you liked it. They were so excited to see 'Saru-nii-san' again,” Yata teased with a grin, and Saruhiko rolled his eyes.
“You're supposed to be their brother.” Saruhiko clicked his tongue. “I guess it wasn't terrible.”
“I told you no one would say anything.” Yata's tone softened slightly and he could see Saruhiko's fingers twitch around his PDA. “I mean...we didn't really say it but I'm pretty sure Mom knew. And Minoru thought your tattoo was cool, right?”
“Kids think any tattoo with more than one color is cool.” Saruhiko's voice was flat and Yata nudged him with an elbow.
“I think it's cool too though.” Saruhiko looked momentarily off balance, a rare moment of being caught by surprise, and Yata was able to enjoy it just long enough for Saruhiko's expression to settle and he clicked his tongue again. There was a definite flush on his cheeks though and Yata couldn't help but smile triumphantly.
“Can we go now? I'm hot.”
“Yeah, yeah, we'll head back – you know you probably wouldn't be this hot if you hadn't drunk three cups of coffee, at least get it iced --” Yata ran a hand through his hair and then stopped. “My hat!”
“Hm?” Saruhiko raised an eyebrow.
“I left it back at the cafe, Mom made me take it off remember?” His mother had made a comment about hats not being 'appropriate during mealtime' and Yata had found himself automatically pulling off his beanie like a scolded child who had forgotten to wash his hands before a meal, all while Saruhiko snickered audibly beside him. Yata had set the hat on the edge of his chair for the time being and he'd completely forgotten about it until now. “I'm gonna go back and get it, you go on ahead, okay? I'll meet you at the train station.”
Yata turned and trotted back towards the cafe before Saruhiko could reply, ducking past the greeter's station and into the cafe. Even though lunch time had passed it was still considerably crowded and Yata found himself standing awkwardly in the middle of the cafe, trying to remember what side they had been sitting on.
I think it was over this way? Yata ducked a little to try and make himself inconspicuous as he headed towards the far side of the cafe. Had they been next to a window? He'd spent most of the time talking and trying to make sure Saruhiko didn't pull out his PDA and start ignoring everyone, and he hadn't really been paying any attention at all to where they'd been sitting.
“Did you see those two earlier?” Two waitresses walked by, changing the silverware at a nearby table, and Yata found himself instinctively flattening his body against the nearest large plant.
“You mean the guy with the tri-color tattoo?”
Yata froze, back stiffening.
“Right, that one. It was so cool, wasn't it? I wish mine was like that.”
“I know! It was way more complicated than mine, it's not fair.”
“But you saw the guy he was with, right?” One of the waitresses lowered her tone, almost conspiratorial, and Yata found himself leaning in to listen even though he knew he wouldn't want to hear it.
(Under a table staring down at green grass, and even if he didn't understand he'd known those people were talking about him.)
“They weren't, like, together together though? I mean, even if he was flaunting a tattoo like that...”
“Yeah, but you don't flaunt it unless you're with someone, right? Only little kids do that.” The other waitress pushed in a chair and Yata almost jumped at the sound of the legs screeching on the floor. His heart was pounding and he tried to make his feet move, to go grab his hat and leave, but he was rooted to the spot.
“They were definitely together.”
“But they...” The other waitress pressed a hand to her mouth, as if trying to digest some juicy gossip too good to speak out loud. “They didn't match, did they?”
“No way. You saw that tattoo. Can you believe it? There's no way they match.”
“It's...” The waitress snorted. “It's kinda full of himself, isn't it? To hook up with someone like that.”
Yata's hand was definitely closed into a fist now, girls or no girls. That they were going to say that sort of stuff about Saruhiko...
“I feel bad for the tri-color guy. I mean...with a normie type, like that? Really?”
“That's what I'm saying! Like, I know not everyone gets something really cool and different, but flames like that? So basic. And he thinks he can nab someone with a special tattoo? It's just gross, showing that kind of thing off.”
“He probably thinks he's so much better than everyone else, hooking up with someone whose tattoo is that different. Just because you can match almost anyone without even trying doesn't mean you can just take someone else's one and only soulmate.”
“Super shameless. Guys like that want to be so special and they're just not, you know?”
Yata felt a sudden burning in his cheeks, as if the flames on his arm had crept up his body and left the afterburn behind, still smoldering. His left hand closed over his right arm, fingers creeping along the flame marks that he'd once been so proud of, and he forced his hand down.
They don't know anything. He was Saruhiko's soulmate, right? Yata knew that, and Saruhiko knew it. That was all that mattered.
Yata grit his teeth and turned on his heel, moving so fast he knocked the plant over and had to scramble to grab it. There was a noise of surprise and Yata looked up to see the two waitresses staring at him, open-mouthed.
“I, um...I left something? I'm just...gonna go.” Yata dropped the plant and whirled to make his escape. He stumbled over a chair as a figure suddenly moved to block his way and a black beanie was shoved in his face. “Wha...Saruhiko?”
“You were taking too long.” Saruhiko stood there with one hand on his hip, face flat and expressionless, and Yata couldn't tell if he'd heard any of the same conversation that Yata had. “We were sitting on that side.”
“I-I knew that.” Yata grabbed his hat and pulled it over his head, grabbing Saruhiko's wrist with his other hand and tugging him forward. “Come on, let's go. I'm getting tired too.”
“Misaki...” There was something odd in Saruhiko's voice and Yata didn't dare turn to look at him, pulling him towards the train station.
Yata glanced back at him but Saruhiko was already looking elsewhere, anywhere but at Yata's hand on his, and the crowd was pressing close around them.
It wasn't until he pulled Saruhiko onto the train beside him that Yata finally noticed it, the thing that Saruhiko had certainly realized right away. He had held onto Fushimi's wrist the entire way, the same way he always tried to do when they were together, because it didn't matter who saw their arms pressed close and he wanted Saruhiko to know that.
Except this time he had reached out with his left arm, and grabbed Saruhiko's right.
Yata ran into the apartment at top speed, dragging Saruhiko along behind him, and even so they were both absolutely soaked by the time they closed the door.
“What the hell, it wasn't even supposed to rain today...” Yata pulled off his soaked-through shirt, tossing it haphazardly on the floor. He'd worry about it later, when his head stopped pounding.
He'd tried to forget it, the whole way home. The train ride had been tense this time, an unspoken thing like a brick wall that separated him from Saruhiko, and even though Yata knew he should reach for that hand again he just couldn't bring himself to do it. Sitting there with his hands frozen by his side, filled with the wild feeling that he touched Saruhiko's arm then those flames on his own arm would crawl right off onto Saruhiko's skin and turn to real fire, burning everything away, and Yata hadn't been able to move an inch. Saruhiko hadn't slept this time either, just looking out the window in silence, and there was nothing Yata could do but shift awkwardly beside him trying to make small talk, tongue tangled in his mouth, tripping over words that should have come easily.
“It's not you. There's nothing wrong with you.” He wanted to say that. He wanted to reassure Saruhiko, that it wasn't his tattoo that was the problem – it wasn't either of their tattoos, not really. Yata's faith had withstood stronger stuff than gossip from a couple strangers, he wouldn't bend this easily. He still knew it in his heart, in his soul – arms didn't matter, marks didn't matter, people in suits who told you you'd made a mistake didn't matter. Saruhiko was his soulmate.
But still...Yata was only giving up a hundred, a thousand maybe-matches, a faceless crowd of people that didn't mean anything to him. Saruhiko was giving up on one, on Yata's word. Yata had been the one who kept coming back, who hadn't let Saruhiko deny him. Yata was the one who kept saying they were soulmates, whether their arms agreed or not. And it was hard not to wonder, if he'd just worn Saruhiko down in the end because Saruhiko knew that his only match was gone.
Yata gave a heavy sigh and threw himself down on the couch, heedless of his wet pants and damp hair. His head was really pounding now and his whole body felt sore, as if he'd run a marathon.
This was supposed to be a good day, too. It was going to be like this. He'd known that going into it, what it was like to be soulmates with someone who all convention in the world said wasn't meant for you. He'd always built confidence up like a shield, ready to deflect any sharp words with a scoff and smile in Saruhiko's direction, with a touch of Saruhiko's hand and a protective kiss on the lips – this person is mine, and fuck you if you think otherwise. It was so easy, when people looked at Saruhiko and shook their heads. Being brave for Saruhiko was nothing. Yata would kick the ass of anyone who tried to make Saruhiko feel lesser because of what he'd been born with, because of marks that didn't match what other people expected.
He'd been so busy being brave for Saruhiko that he'd let himself forget it, how simple his own tattoo was. Let himself forget, what he was taking away with his own selfishness, that he couldn't bring himself to ever let Saruhiko go.
The couch dipped beside him and then there was a sudden weight in his lap. Yata opened one eye and froze, looking down at Saruhiko lying beside him with his head in Yata's lap, position slightly stiff and awkward with their height difference. Saruhiko's face was turned away but his left arm was splayed over his forehead, tattoo clear even though his eyes were hidden. Yata sucked in a breath and held still, not wanting to disturb the moment. Saruhiko's shoulders were lined with tension but his breathing was even, and without thinking Yata reached over and pressed his right palm to Saruhiko's left. There was a pause and then Saruhiko's hand closed over his, holding tight.
“It...wasn't so bad, right?” Yata's voice was thin, tight with forced cheer, and he knew he wasn't fooling Saruhiko at all. “Mom didn't say anything.”
“Tch. She wasn't going to say anything with your siblings there, idiot.” Saruhiko's voice was sullen rather than sharp.
“I really think she didn't mind though.” He thought of perfect pictures again, and those men in suits. “Since it's you – since it's us.”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“I mean...she always liked you, you know? And she--” Yata swallowed hard. “She knows how much you mean to me. I mean – I know –” There was a lump in his throat that wouldn't go away, choking him like a chain around his neck. “I know my tattoo's pretty plain and yours is – yours is amazing – but we still – we can still make our own match, right?”
Silence lingered in the air following his words and Yata bit his lip as he tried to force his mouth to smile.
(He would be fine once the rain stopped, once he slept it off. Yata had withstood stronger stuff than this. Yata knew he wasn't much, not compared to Saruhiko, and all he had to offer was that shaking smile.)
“...'S not plain.” The words were so soft Yata almost didn't hear it. He felt it though, Saruhiko's hand tightening over his.
“It's not plain.” Saruhiko's arm was still over his forehead, tattoo and wet bangs hiding his expression entirely. His voice was deliberate though, as if he was taking a moment to be sure each word formed properly before leaving his mouth. “Misaki's tattoo. It isn't plain.”
“I mean – I know it's not boring?” Yata didn't know why he felt so awkward, why his face felt so wet when they'd already gotten in out of the rain. “Everyone in Homra has cool flame tattoos like this so—”
“It isn't like theirs, either.” Saruhiko's voice was absolute, as if he was telling Yata the answer to a math equation that should have been so obvious anyone could solve it. “When you run it looks like wings, like it's going to fly away from your arm. When the light hits just right the flames start to pulse, like I'll go blind if I look at it too long. It looks best in the summer, when you smile. It lights up everything – your smile and the tattoo and the flames. I hate fire, except on Misaki's arm. If I was going to be swallowed up, I wanted it to be by those flames.”
“Saruhiko....” Yata felt breathless, and Saruhiko deliberately lowered his hand as he stared straight up into Yata's eyes.
I could be swallowed up too, you know? He couldn't look away from that gaze, steady and blue. Yata thought he could stare at Saruhiko forever and never get bored, never want to see anything else.
“It's not plain or boring. Everyone else was just marks on skin. Misaki's tattoo...” He released Yata's hand and reached up to place a hand on the side of Yata's face, and Yata found himself moving his own arm so that their tattoos were side by side again, that imperfect match that had never for a moment looked wrong. “....it's the sun.”
(Saruhiko believed in soulmates more than anyone, and maybe it was Yata's turn to trust a little.)
Yata's fingers ghosted along the lines of Saruhiko's face, their arms pressed close as Saruhiko's fingers touched his lips, Yata leaning down and Saruhiko leaning up and a match between. Fuck arms, Yata decided, patterns that didn't fit, simple lines that could mean anything to the right person, fuck perfect pictures drawn in straight lines and matching colors. This – their hearts beating at the same time, breathing synced, Saruhiko's hand that had always fit in his own hand, Saruhiko's head that fit in his lap – Saruhiko's quiet smile and Saruhiko's lips that fit perfectly against his, soft, urgent, warm – that was the only pattern they had ever needed.