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i. (17)

 

Tokyo looks different at night.

Not just because of the swathing darkness that envelops it now at the end of all things, so complete without the hum of people, the flickering of lifeblood and lights through its streets. It feels colder, more unwelcome than ever. A broken kaleidoscope of everything humanity used to be. Shattered and bent skyscrapers dragged back down to earth from their lofty pursuits, cracked asphalt and toppled cars grown over with twisted vines and tough grasses. The city now has a life entirely of its own, and as Guren looks down from a still intact building roof it's hard not to feel it staring straight back at him, omnipotent eyes knowing and wary.

He bundles down further into the jacket he'd swiped from one of the guard stations, it's thin sleeves not doing much against the bite of early February wind chills. Each push of air through his lungs pools in the air like smoke, curling and spinning until it disappears again into the atmosphere. There's a crying jolt of metal from the door to the roof behind him, the distinctive sound of rust and scent of decay and then-

"Sorry to keep you waiting,"

Shinya crosses to Guren's niched out post at the edge of the roof railing in a few easy strides, leaning in ever so slightly to see his face. "I thought I didn't recognize that jacket. You almost had me panicking here."

He fights the smirk that quirks at his mouth, "I thought it takes more than that to make you panic."

Shinya raises a single eyebrow in mock surprise at this observation and hands Guren a thermos of tea, probably something strong and bitter, exactly the way Shinya likes it.

The way Shinya likes it, also known as, the way Guren despises it.

He brings the container to his lips, feeling the steam warm on his face, the scent of lavender and honey and the thick taste of licorice. 

"What we're doing isn't exactly allowed."

"Sneaking out into the city at night without orders to drink tea isn't wrong."

"Not wrong, but also against the rules."

"Yeah, yeah. Rules." It's just a mutter, hardly perceptible as he passes the tea back to Shinya, feeling its warmth leach from his fingers back into the dense air.

He senses Shinya staring from the corner of his eye, aware of the way his thumbs skim across the ridged edge of the lid, patient and steady. The quiet settles in the space between them, comfortable like an old friend.

"You didn't call me out here in the cold just to stare at ruins, right?" Shinya's voice is soft against the white noise, empty wind in empty metal. It reminds Guren of afternoons spent kicking each other around school desk legs, Shinya turned around and elbows in his personal space, doodling on the edge of his paper. It's the voice Shinya uses when he thinks someone might be listening. 

"Kureto is planning something." he starts, trying not to let the impending question creep into his voice but ends up sighing deep and meaningful. 

"Please, be more vague with me, why don't you-"

"Shinya,"

"Okay." They’re close enough now that their shoulders brush and Guren can smell the sharpness of the tea as Shinya bites back a laugh and takes a drink. "Okay. Sorry. I'm listening." 

His eye roll is almost involuntary, more reflex than anything else, but the irritation is vague and passes almost faster than Guren expects or wants it to. He lets a deep breath steady his head again and continues,

"I don't know what he's trying to do but...it won't be good. For any of us." He stops, words failing him for a moment, unties his tongue and flicks his eyes down to the cement barrier his arms lean on. "We have to know what's going on. I need someone on my side in there. I know it's selfish but..." He steals a glance Shinya's way and meets dripping glacier eyes, a gaze possessing a silence he could cut with a knife. They're both just seventeen and weary, a half tick away from disaster at any given moment.

Shinya's mouth twists jaggedly, eyes suddenly more amused and molten, a look of understanding rather than confusion. "You want me to be your double agent."

"Do you refuse?"

Shinya half tilts his head, mulling an answer, testing how it feels in his mouth. A sigh rolls and takes shape in the night air, and Guren quickly finds himself a little fascinated with the sharp curve of Shinya's jawline, outlined in gray moonlight and shadow. Shinya's face is all edges and slopes, molded by high expectations and long nights spent alone.

"You're so shy sometimes it's almost cute, Guren." He lopsided grins and before the other can even begin constructing the vitriol insult no doubt trying to form in his head- "You know I'd follow you anywhere."

Something begins to feel lighter in his chest, a weight he didn't know was there alleviating ever so slightly, billowing up and down to the edge of his fingertips. He looks out at the decrepit remains of their world one more time, hostile and relentless in its pursuit of their vitality. The last person who would follow him to the edge of the earth had died, body and soul cloven cleanly by him and him alone. It stings like a micro tear in his muscles that will never go away, the planting of a once beautiful idea, a vicious itch that never leaves his head. 

But things are shifting.The world is out to get them but they are learning how to walk on their own again, fight with their own two hands once more. There's something shifting not only in the world but in him, and running chilled fingers one the edge of the human shaped emptiness inside him feels like only further proof.

Shinya is not Mahiru.

"Even into hell?" It's a joke that holds the weight of a sincere question, and they both know it.

Shinya glints at the promise of mischief and, in his best and most terrible Hiragi fashion, grasps Guren's hand in his own, bringing it to his lips faster than they can both blink. He looks up through long lashes, satin in his voice and promise heavy on his tongue.

"Even into hell."

 

ii. (18)

 

There are few things in this world that disquiet Guren more than hospitals. Vampires and demons near the top of the list before have since dropped down due to mere exposure and exhaustion. But hospitals remain a constant, with their floors of bleached oppression and walls full of empty promises. Nothing can save you, in the end. Every principle in this world had taught him that. Death is a cruel mistress with obsidian eyes and a caustic sense of humor.

Death is a reality in this place that's all too real; the second kind of prison a person can live in, the other option being cornered against monsters and the cliff, one push away from falling into oblivion. He'd always considered himself a self righteous human -  one that could look into that enticing facade and spit at its feet. Listening to the muffled beep of the heart monitor, it's easy to have that kind of brazen courage. The thin cotton sheets still let him shiver despite themselves, and bleak sunlight trickles through a crack in drawn curtains.

There's a sharp ache in his shoulders and another pang behind his ribs. The memory of the attack flicks past his mind in sparks; chills creeping down his spin, sketched darkness and crimson eyes, the unmistakable dripping of iron forged blood. How long has it been? Days, weeks, hours; time was beginning to lose its meaning now, ever since he lost his reason to keep track of it, even if only for the sake of seeing how much longer they have left.

He tries not to think it, not to let the infection of a thought focus in his head, the sadness thick and choking, flooding his mouth, lungs, his bloodstream.

They’re fine. They’re not dead. They can’t be.

The throb in his heart pulses acutely, poison of a different kind, of a cursed blade ripping through his lungs. There's a lump already forming in his throat when a dark form stirs gently to his right, a ripple on the surface of still bleach water, "Ah, good. You're awake."

Shinya's voice is lilting ocean fire against the blistering headache already forming in the back of his skull. Legs crossed, hair half tangled and loose from the usual style he's taken to, slicking it back to reveal diamond cut eyes and a cowlick hairline. Guren would be lying if doesn't admit he's not equal parts glad and annoyed to see him. But that's the way it goes with them, the way it always has.

"Of course it's you."

"You could at least try to sound a little more pleased."

"Now, now, you know I'm a lot of things Shinya, but a liar isn't one of them." The retort feels real and sharp in the air, and the obstruction in his throat lessens, even if just a notch.

Amusement blooms at the edge of Shinya's mouth "Of course not."

"So," he starts, shifting his head on the excuse of a pillow to better see the other’s face, "What's my damage?"

Shinya looks back up from where he'd glanced down at a slim novel in his hands, flicking a stray strand of dirty moonlight hair back into place.

"Two broken ribs, puncture wound to the left shoulder blade, concussion, and a bruised wrist." He lists them off like one would a list side effects for a particularly nasty drug, overly cheerful and ending with an exasperated smile that barely reaches his mouth. "You really outdid yourself this time."

Guren scowls and does his best to groan, which ends up being more painful than it's worth. "Those bastards-" he leaves the sentence hanging in the antiseptic air between them, almost afraid to finish it. "How're the others?" The question feels dense and buoyant in his mouth, undulating out seeping despair into the atmosphere.

Shinya bites his lip and seems to take a very deep interest in his book again. When he looks up, resting chin in his hand his expression is far away, the set of his mouth belonging to someone else. He doesn't need to say anything. But Guren needs him to. He needs to hear it. Crush that part that feels it's weak to love others, carve tally marks with each instance into his collar bones so that he'll never forget.

"Shinya."

His gaze has gone cold and dewey, a strange far off thing. Sometimes it's startling how quickly Shinya can switch the human part of him off, stuff his emotions in a box to give away for cheap pocket change. He's just a month past nineteen and childish roundness has altogether disappeared from his face, any cracks filled with steel resolve and angled cheekbones. He’s severe looking, violence in the pouring rain. Grinding of ice against calcite teeth and cracking spiderweb windowpanes. It strikes something of a hot anval at Guren’s throat, piercing and resonating into every edge and corner of his body.  

"Sayuri is in critical condition. Everyone else is alright, more or less." When Shinya looks at him now his eyes are freshly frozen lake water, "You took the brunt of it for their sake."

The relief floods his senses as he shuts his eyes and lets the exhaustion crash through his body, relief scalding in sinewy muscles. She's not dead. She's alright. She'll be okay. I haven't wrecked it yet.

"Don't look so happy that you almost died, moron." Shinya's voice is brambles and thorn pricked roses. It's familiar, the barbed unimpressed nature, enough to let the sunshine seeping through the fluttered curtains drain into his skin. He opens his eyes to Shinya's face no more than four inches from his own, brows drawn close and aristocratic lips curved in an almost pout.

"I'm not happy. Just tired. And you're the moron, staying behind for such a fantastic mission."

"Mm is that right? Then I take it you're not interested in what I have to say about a special vampire extermination squad?"

The shock must muddle his face because of the small grin forming on Shinya's. His crooked smile is dark velvet and silk. He knows how to strike directly at Guren’s nerves, single each one out and play them like guitar strings.

"What're you talking about?" his tone is cautious, trying not to let the burning curiosity singe through in its apparentness.

Shinya hums low, puts his index finger to his lower lip as if he'd forgotten anything said just moments before, his mouth the set of someone else and eyes seeking a forgotten nothing. In a single swift movement, he cards his fingers through Guren's hair, a touch so light Guren could've simply imagined it, traced fingertips like petals on the wind. The kiss Shinya plants on his forehead is real and heavy. It's tangible and true and aching; affection that doesn't crush and stifle but heals.

"On second thought, you should focus on getting better first. Can't have conspiracy while our leader is still on bed rest!" he murmurs the conjecture, drawing back to full height and smoothing the cuff of his uniform jacket, shit-eating grin more than beaming in its thrumming intensity and distinctive rhythm of self preservation.

"Shinya, you ass," He chokes on the laugh bubbling in his annoyance. Unexpected and yet not entirely unwelcome, “Go die already.”

"Don’t think so. You might miss me."

"Yeah, whatever helps you sleep at night."

Shinya's shoulders shake with laughter and it echoes in the tiny hospital room, sunlight wet on their backs as it soaks into the room, breathing life into something long decayed.  And for the first time Guren thinks with no more than a wisp of a thought, I could really get used to that.


iii. (19)

 

He isn't quite sure when it all happened. When the hushed whisper of a sensual dream turned into a manifestation of need and want, of desire. When did he begin searching for the pale stretches of skin between Shinya's shirt sleeves, waiting on the lazing of ivory stitched muscles to catch sight of neck lines, sloping clavicle, the twist of air that tickles the shell of his ear? He notices the quietest ruffling of shirt collars and adjusting of expression. The way Shinya catches his bottom lip against his teeth while he reads or the supple line of his brow when lifted in surprise.

It's a peculiar longing that is more an inconvenience than a strong place to hold at first. He's weak to the mere physical presence Shinya holds around him, weak to the flush of blood in the curve of his cheeks, the constellation of freckles at the inside of his wrist. Guren goes about his days feeling like a one hit knockout and Shinya resists the urge to stare from behind pages of old books.

The tension is firm high strung cable between them anchored by Shinya's devotion and undermined by Guren's self doubt. It is okay to want, to need, to hunger for. That's what the delicate stirrings of the voice inside him whispers, caressing his thoughts with pale shivers and underlying motives.

Your body can have what it wants, so long as you know your heart belongs to me.

It takes time; Guren years where it takes Shinya months, to learn the way a body fits against another. He is gentle where Shinya is rough, fast where he is tender. When he kisses Guren it's always enough to hit walls, pushing into corners of rooms or smooth polished marble floors, a swathing of pearl satin sheets. Shinya kisses like he fights; a desperateness he could burst apart within a split second and quiet urgency, like the sand may run to the bottom in a matter of moments. He kisses like he's running out of time.

The first time is a long time coming, both could've and should've called it by a long shot, a constant on the horizon that neither truly wanted to acknowledge. It’s after a too long meeting where Kureto talks too much and Guren resists the urge to punch his jaw four times instead of the usual two. There’s talk of the words seraph and human experimentation, words that keep his brain ticking into late hours, make him tap on the edge of the balcony railing absently as Shinya bides his own time with side eyed glances.

It's the first time Shinya kisses him, really kisses him, lips chapped with winter and tongue like spearmint and sin. Guren scrapes his teeth on Shinya's bottom lip and they pull away a mess of copper tainted blood and too much shared air that could only breed ardor in the minuscule space between them 

"Sorry-" Their second kiss is a burn that pools and tumbles down to his abdomen, the tips of his fingers and toes. "S'okay." He's faintly aware of Shinya nodding, the fumbling of their hands in an attempt at togetherness for the first time.

"Can we just-"

"Yes."

The walk to Guren's room is far too long, so treacherous a time that by the second the door shuts he’s aching. Aching with the want for this newfound craving, the desire to feel Shinya's skin and brush over every edge and corner of him, map out each new imperfection and spiral of white dawn light scars. As soon as the door clicks closed Guren's backed against it, Shinya's eyes heavy lidded like lust and maybe something else, something Guren chooses to ignore for the sake of the present. Their mouths ghost and drift for a while, unsure whether to start here, or there or here. 

Almost hesitant, Guren swipes his tongue across Shinya's jawline, drawing out a stifled sharp inhale, a sigh into Guren's ear, the sound bruising heavy with need. He plants kisses and drags teeth down the expanse of Shinya's neck, struggling with the buttons of their uniforms as smooth thumbnails trail red marks on his throat. Shinya whines raspy against his ear and it shoots through him like lightning, sparking synapses into overdrive. He draws back and Shinya nearly smashes back against him, teeth clacking and slightly bleeding lips, digging his hands under Guren's now undone jacket and shedding it off along with his own, wristwatch catching on a sleeve. 

"Do you have any idea," he starts between a breath of clean air, "how long I've wanted," he drags Guren's lip between his teeth and sucks on his tongue like an apology, "to do this."

He smiles against Shinya's parted mouth, breaks contact to bump their foreheads less than gently together to began undoing the opac buttons of the other's shirt. "Enthusiastic, are we?"

Having already made quick work of Guren's button down, leaving it crumpling beside uniform jackets heavy with honors and silver ornaments, Shinya's eyes glint in the low hanging lights through silvering eyelashes, smile suddenly turned coy as he ducks low, his lips crushing desire against the curve of Guren's abdomen.

"Like you're one to talk. Look at the state you're in." The words themselves force a low moan from his lungs, a deep sound yanked from his gut.

Shinya's hot breath beckons against his skin, making the heat rise from his face all the way down his neck and up his ears. The sound of his belt clinking undone reaches through the fog of his conscious and he struggles for a moment to get a register on his limbs again, but soon enough to grab Shinya's hand and lean in so that they're just an inch away.

"Wait."

Looking at Shinya now Guren can see the effect of pure unadulterated want. Normally clean combed hair come completely loose, pale strands falling across Shinya's face dusted in sunset reds, lips looking raw and breath drawn short. It strikes Guren as being different, this feeling of being pulled apart and put back together all at once. This is different than what he felt for Mahiru. It's a push pull against the tide and licking sugar off the edge of the world. It feels dangerous, lethal. He realizes that it is.

He isn’t aware of Shinya moving them, pulling Guren by the hand, until the side of the bed knocks the back of his knees. Shinya rolls his shirt over his head and leaves its inside out impression of him to fade in a rumple on the bedroom floor. He tilts his chin up almost defiantly, pushing their hips together, grinding against a pressure Guren is suddenly acutely aware of. Their hands roam, a little more desperate now, Guren sliding down the etched lines of Shinya’s spine and over the jut of his hipbones, sitting on the bed to press his mouth and nip at sensitive nerves.

Shinya’s breathy moans are louder now, dragging and clawing through Guren’s hair before reaching for his own belt and tugging off his pants, unassumably giving Guren the same opportunity.

“Oh,” The words are blown from his chest, face to face with Shinya bare except for short black underwear, the swell of his erection obvious and close. The hands that had dropped into his lap run first up and then down Shinya’s sides, unsure of where to go, where to admire first. Shinya’s fingers are soft through his hair now, rolling back and skimming thumbs along his temples. He leans forward into the touch until Shinya’s hands are moving down his neck, down his chest, forcing him to move further up the bed. His movements feel more clumsy and thick limbed compared to Shinya’s as he settles in his lap, the brief brush of their still clothed cocks sending ripples of anticipation down his spine.  

When Shinya kisses him this time it’s slow, trembling smoothness as he runs his tongue along the cut’s in Guren’s lip, skimming half-moon traces on his shoulders with the pads of his thumbs. The slightest shift downwards makes arousal swing sharp, Shinya beginning to slowly circle his hips in a delicious cycle that makes his cock flush even harder. 

“Shinya,” he manages to choke out, breathing faster by the moment.

Shinya wraps his arms around Guren’s neck, pulling the hair at his nape enough to sting, eyes blown wide and mouth halfway open, out of breath, “Guren,” the name falls from his lips and collects in the huffs of his panting breaths.

The friction between them now is almost unbearable, and when Guren moves to carve passion with his teeth against Shinya’s chest it only grows stronger, spreading across their bodies like wildfire. He traces each pale scar with his tongue, holding gently between his teeth to scrape their entire length, feeling the vibration of Shinya’s groans and whines against his torn lips. The rhythm in Shinya’s hips stutters for a moment, grappling for stability when Guren bites hard against his shoulder, sending the pain straight down to cock pressed flush against Guren’s.

“You know this is, mmnf, great and all but, ah, did you... come prepared?”

Guren moves to nose at the juncture of his throat and jaw, nipping softly and dragging Shinya’s earlobe in the sharp of his teeth, “Prepared for what?”

With just one swift push Shinya lay underneath him, legs on either side of his hips, face trapped between his elbows. Shinya’s mouth upturns in bemusement before Guren steals it, slipping in and running his tongue along the roof of the other’s mouth. Shinya’s gasp against his lips is audible when he rolls down hard and sweet and low, thrusting them together.

“You dirty bastard,” is what Shinya smiles up into his mouth, legs hooking firm around his hips and ass, only urging him to go faster, harder. He manages to dredge the words up from somewhere in his mind that can still think rationally, string the sentence together in the haze that’s taken over. His hips lose momentum at the sudden derailment of his thoughts, and Shinya looks like he’s about to complain when Guren bumps their noses on accident and says:  

“Can I...touch you?”

Guren waits for the wisecrack, the friendly venom he’s grown so used to over the years, but all that comes is “Do you really have to ask?” breathed reverent on his cheek, inviting like winter and voice like fresh picked persimmons.

Taking Shinya in his hand is different than how he’d imagined. Not that he’d thought about it in detail, but in his head his cock was lighter, his reaction more dramatic, all gasping breath and curses that hang in the air. In reality, Shinya moans his name against the hollow of Guren’s neck, scrambles for purchase, dragging fingernails against his outer arm. His cock is more curved and wet in his hands, easy to slide against and thumb along the edges, fits nicely in the crook of his mouth. He tastes from base to head, bitter and sweet yet sharp and addictive.

“Guren...please, please, oh god,”

Shinya moves his hands from a grip on the bed sheets to the sides of Guren’s face, “Here...wait...let me-” he swallows hard, stuffing back the noises rising in his voice, “Let me...do you.”

“But-”

“No if... we come... we come together.”

It strikes funny in Guren’s chest, a twinge that makes its home around his heart all warm and fuzzy like drinking too much red wine. He snorts and presses kisses from Shinya’s naval back up to his chin. “Aw babe, that’s sweet." 

When Shinya reaches down Guren swears there are sparks when he finally gets a hold on his cock. His attempt at a purr is hard fought, but ends up sounding more wrecked than Guren originally ever thought possible “Watch…it, Ichinose.”

With each stroke of his hand Guren feels himself come a little more undone, unravel a little bit more between Shinya’s slender fingers. The heat building in his abdomen is like nothing he’s ever experienced, rich and indulgent like he’s never known. Shinya is firm and slow, taking his time to drive Guren to the edge, thumbing his tip and working steady against his length. No matter how hard he tries to bite back the whines they force their way past his consent, spilling out against Shinya’s shoulder and almost makes him lose his grip on the other.

His orgasm blows through him like a riptide, and he digs his nails against Shinya’s ribs, imprints of little crescents when Shinya full throat broken moans and comes in between them, back arching up against Guren’s chest as his arms grow weak and they fall together, his name reckless and punching through his chest.  

For a while it’s all heavy breathing and rapid rising chests, Guren littering lazy kisses against Shinya’s cheek, neck, and shoulder, fitting himself with the other’s arm as a pillow under his head, hands and legs absentmindedly tangling together. The air is thick and bourbon sweet as he comes back down, anchored by the slow drag of Shinya’s thumbs on his knuckles.

“So...how long did you wait, exactly?” His voice is light with afterglow, and the smile Shinya flashes looks like it belongs to him, lifted more on the left than the right, cheeks dimpled.

“Don’t flatter yourself too much, Lieutenant Colonel. ”

 

iv. (21)

 

Guren dreams in violent tremors. Shakes that don't just rattle his backbone but destroy the foundations, slick terrors that crawl and latch onto the base of his skull, bloom red spider lilies of anxiety to nightmares that plague not only his dreams. 

It takes a few years of rewinding and reliving to realize the night terrors are more of a memory than a figment of his fears manifested to truth, that his dreams have become more reminders than new creations. He thought they would eventually subside, fade into the white background noise of his hectic, uneasy everyday life. Mahiru would become no more than a reminiscent turn of phrase and the sword in his hand nothing but a shackle for his own vices.

But the nightmares do not stop.

Her, always her, violet and shiny ribbon promises, I love you, won't you stay with me forever? Always Kureto's voice like a death sentence ringing through his bones, sweaty grip on the hilt of his practice sword, the fleeting yet prevalent thought that eventually drowns out his senses like a saltwater wave: I should die too.

Mahiru's space in his head isn't a shrine but  a cooperative occupation, two tenants sharing a floor and two bedrooms with the doors nailed shut. Every time in his dreams the sword lodges in her chest without his hands having to move, flipping the switch off without him even flicking a finger. Then they spiral, the two of them at the bottom of the ocean, lover and once beloved. Mahiru is silent for a while until her mouth twitches in crisp pieces, steely tongue and pearl of a voice:

"If you killed me, you can kill them too, right?"

In the murky ink black surrounding them they draw out slowly, the pale outlines that even if he doesn't recognize immediately the pang in his chest tells him all he needs to know. 

There's Sayuri, gentle smile and red dusted ears and petite pleading hands. Mito and the hard set line of resolve between her teeth and strong shoulders pushed back. Goshi with the amused crook in his eyes and ear piercings glinting through ruffled hair. Shigure all cold confidence and steady gaze. There's his faceless parents, blurred with the long passage of time, and Shinoa Hiragi, pigtails and tilting head inquisitive, the same brilliant eyes of the one impaled on the blade now in his hands. There's even that kid Yuuichirou, Hyakuya, acute and slightly scowling through sniffling tears, his clothes bloody with grime and his own family's life.

And there's Shinya. Always Shinya last, clear and pronounced in the seething darkness. He looks on the edge of a jabbing tease, eyes bright and poised ready to dodge a sideways punch.

Suddenly the illumination of the others sputters and clouds his vision, and the next time he looks down its not lavender but moonlight that he sees, silver instead of violet bleeding the last of his life onto Guren's sword.

There's red on his hands, under his fingernails, in the cracks of the ground, every body in a lifeless bleeding heap all around. It's always the same, this crushing massacre he can't remember committing, knows that he would never. Yet can't shake the responsibility and blame, the gravity of it devastating on his shoulders and under his ribcage. The scream from his lungs is silent as Shinya looks up with crimson tears in his eyes and says, "I'm sorry."

He wakes to the sound of summer wind against window panes, the soundless signals the stars send across the night sky. He’s sitting up but can’t remember moving, feels the faint traces of the movement in his hips but cannot check their validity. His body’s frozen, seized and locked up rigid as a string pulled taut. Moonlight pours across the room and hovers at the edge of the sheets like a ghost. There’s a hand on his shoulder, shaking, a voice; all things he wants, things he should know, respond to, but finds himself unable. The grip of dread and impending bloodshed around his stomach keeps him still.

The first thing to become more clear is the voice, ringing in his ears like metal on glass. Raspy with sleep and a lack of it, barely existing in the temperate air, “Guren.” 

Then the sense of touch, sensation running warm on both of his shoulders, running drifts through his damp hair. “Guren. Hey.”

Eventually the vice hold on his muscles melts away, leaving nothing but a reminiscent chill like fresh dew on long grass fields. “Come back.”

He can see the soft trace of Shinya in the darkness, still too dense to make out distinct features. Shinya's voice comes again, a little shakier tilting than before with something Guren can't quite identify, a small in between spaces thing, "Come back. Come back to me."

The veins through his wrist pulse back with life he can feel when he sets a trembling hand on Shinya's cheek, letting it slip down and rest at the junction of his neck and shoulder blade. "Come back to me."

His tongue feels like sandpaper and parched desert in his mouth, the words half a choke when he only manages, "Shinya-" a gulp of air cold as January, "Shinya,"

"I know. It's alright. I’m right here." 

It's easy to anchor himself here, in a time of night and quiet promises sealed between tangled cotton sheets and purple blossoming skin. It's easy, tying himself with the tangles in Shinya's hair and the pale storm of his arms. Breathe in, breathe out, let the oxygen be a gratuity, not a noose. Mahiru slips away from his conscious and curls up somewhere deep in the recesses of his head, and soon it becomes too much work to dig her back out until she wishes to be found again.

It would be so simple to remember Shinya like this, warm sturdy presence beside him and uncut facial lines so unlike those of his daylight hours expression. It would be simple to pretend they were both faceless nobodies in this war, living and dying for each other like not a single other person in the world mattered. Forget responsibility and honor and abandon it for something lighter, easier to carry on his shoulders.

Saying he loves Shinya might not be an accurate way to sum things up. He wants to love him, but isn’t sure how. It’s all about wanting and the purest actions of it with Shinya. Shinya the realist who still speaks in jokes and subtle jabs.

Love may not be the right word, something diminished down to four letters like that didn’t feel all encompassing enough. He was starting to think there wasn’t such a word that existed to describe what Guren senses stirring in his chest when he looks at Shinya now, hibernating heart and twisted birdcage bones feeling foreign in his own body.

It's on rich summer nights like these in the aftermath of bloodbath dreams, Shinya holding him like he's something breakable, that he wishes in earnest, wouldn't it be nice if we were both somebody else entirely? They could grow up as apartment floor neighbors and Shinya plays his music too loud on Sunday afternoons, or they could be backpackers across the country together and see the sun set against purple broken teeth mountain ranges. A million degrading pieces of stone and granite outlined in fuchsia light, a hundred golden bottles pouring out the sun.

 

v. (26)

 

When they go after Crowley Eusford for the final time, a last ditch effort after four previous failures, Kureto's words from so many years ago tap on his ears, begging for an audience.

"Exterminate them. Destroy all of the vampires."

In a small part of his brain, he knows it's useless. Guren is aware of the slacking in his resolve and hunch in his comrades backs, but his rationalization is that cultivating monsters under their skin in exchange for victory may be too steep a price to pay. Years of burying friends, of burying family, don't even appear to be enough. If the heavens or humans used this as justification he doesn't want it anymore. At some point ends stop justifying means. The pain slip knotting around his heart was beginning to lessen but it meant nothing for what was ahead of them.

They're backed into a corner, he and Yuu and Kimizuki. There's a wedge between him and the others, no doubt strategically driven there by a certain pair of flicking red eyes and sickeningly playful voice. Crowley intended to finish what their past business together had left unattended so many times, and the ambition of it felt palpable in the air. Death was here, but this time it's gaze fixed on Guren.

He wanted to order a retreat hours ago, had even told others to go, pull back the people he cares about into the sanctity of the city to regroup, but the higher ups had been firm and true to their own nature this time: come back victorious, or do not come back at all.

They do win. Their victory is soaked in desolation and balanced on the edge of a single life.

One thing Guren has learned on the battlefield whether fighting vampires, demons, or himself, is to never look in one direction for too long. Never study one situation for a while and forget about all the others going on around in the muck and chaos of sword and bow; cursing, poisonous, lightning.

He's always been comfortable in dirt caked battlegrounds and broken peeling fights. Fighting is easy. A niche of his brain that was good to settle against, let his arms and blade do the talking rather than his smart mouth. Thinking becomes a side obligation and his tendons know these movements, covet them glinting arrows. 

Fighting feels like home.

Which is maybe why, in retrospect, Shinya's death is more shocking than it would have been otherwise. If he had died a different death, bled a different way, disappeared in a more dramatic fashion.

There are no final words passed between them. No gentle promises of waiting in the dark or meeting again on the horizon. Shinya coughs black clotted blood against his shirt and traces the edge of Guren's jaw, the collar of his jacket, messy dark hairline. Like he's trying to stitch Guren back together before he even has a chance to fall apart.

"I told you to run," He wants to say, "Why the hell would you come back for me."

He wanted to say. Wanted, yearned, wanted, needed, wanted. Should've.

Didn't.

Guren just holds Shinya's head in his lap, watching him huff in staccato breaths and shutter upset veins and arteries. Watch the gash from the top of his neck and the curve of it across and down to the bottom of his ribs turn black uniform into oblivion. Shinya's warm life drenching his hands uncertain where to hold, under his head, the cusp of his face. The smell of Shinya’s blood smothers him, a scent he will try to scrub off for years but lingers like a ghost.

So many things still to do and touch and discover and know. He wanted to spill everything into Shinya's struggling lungs like the used oxygen could preserve them a little bit longer. Just a little bit more time.

Time. They'd had so much of it. So much more of life. More than he and Mahiru. More than they knew what to do with. They were ready and hungry, grabbing at any chance for more of it like little street children with grubby finger pads.

From their first meeting in first year of high school, spindly bones poking through unmuscled frames and Shinya always flicking his erasers under Guren's desk as an excuse for conversation. He was nerve wracking and underhanded to Guren, his love rival in name only. Shinya used to be shorter than him.

He'd watched him unspool like a thread and drawn taut in practiced paper rustled spell casting, expressing drawn serious and shoulders deadly broad. Guren had seen the child that was never truly there fade into sculpted thunderstorms.

He fell in love with Shinya watching him fall in love. Sneaked glances and avalanches in his chest and quiet thumb wars under full tables. He loves bitterly strong tea and his hands are always cold. There's a scar shaped like a lily pad on the bottom of his spine and one of his front teeth is crooked ever so gently. He loves mystery novels and doing everything Guren hates. He clenches his jaw when he's nervous and loves Mozart. Shinya had cracked him open and exposed all the throbbing, blistering parts of his soul and carved them right out. Guren would know him by the sound of his steps on the ground. He would know him in death at the end of the earth.

Guren isn't sure how long it takes for Shinya's body to grow cold in his arms. When he dares a look up and searches for Crowley all he finds is a pile of ash, Yuu with a sheathed blade and pain dripping from his lashes. It's raining. 

When he looks down onto Shinya it's suddenly sickening, the injustice of it all. He wipes the last traces of blood from Shinya's cracked lips and brushes his thumb along his closed, bruising eyelids. He gets rid of what was left in his stomach on the grassy hill next to the road. 

Yuu is saying his name and Kimizuki hangs back, mouth smashed together in some kind of grimacing frown. Looking closer Guren can see he's trying not to cry.

Shinya would probably tease him for not crying. Shed at least a single tear over me, o Almighty Guren, cuffing him behind the ear or smiling coyly through fallen out of place hair. The thought alone is enough to rip one out of him, spiteful and hot while he grinding on his bottom lip to keep anymore from escaping.

He carries Shinya back into the city, back to their crumbling thing they would like to call a civilization, in all its wretchedness and depravity. Now he's lost his eyes and ears and hands in that filth. In a cruel final kind of irony he realizes, from the very beginning, losing Shinya would’ve always meant losing himself. He simply didn’t realize until now. And with the crippling weight of Shinya in his arms, Mahiru in his head, and vampires at his back, it's a wonder he hasn't lost it yet.

And looking from rusting red of sunset against dissipating clouds heavy burdened with rain to the blank slate of Shinya's face; eyes of ice and fire and words warm and filling like golden whiskey, Guren Ichinose thinks, Maybe it's about time.