Urie didn’t like to admit it, but Shirazu was concerning him lately. Whenever the worries would surface, he would push them back down and think of his career. He had to focus on getting promoted. This squad was inefficient, and he didn’t want to be working with them longer than he had to. Saiko was a NEET, Mutsuki was a coward, and Shirazu…. well, Shirazu was pretty good. Though he was unreliable. Recently he had become too caught up in emotions. Actually…. He had always been this way. His entire reason for working was to earn money for his sister’s operation; his emotional connection to her was his motivator. Shirazu had never done anything without being emotionally connected to it. His empathy during Nutcracker’s death had rendered him a useless team member. Despite all of this, Shirazu was dependable in some ways. Urie could always count on him to be following him on dangerous missions, he always knew when everyone’s birthday was, he always had everyone’s best interest at heart. Shirazu was simple, sure; he didn’t think logically even half the time. His thoughts were less words and more feelings. Shirazu was empathetic, he could easily pick up on others’ moods and knew when to be quiet… most of the time. He liked picking fights with Urie, and always had to have the last word. But Urie couldn’t bother thinking about this now, he had to be ready for the mission tomorrow. He tucked these thoughts of Shirazu away and settled down onto the bench of the bench press, turning his music up.
The battle strategy was prepared beforehand. It was the usual setup: Shirazu was to stay in the background and use long-range attacks; Saiko was to keep to his shadow while charging up a special attack. Mutsuki and Urie would be on the front line, using close-range attacks and covering the others’ weak spots.
It had not taken long for the battle to commence. This ghoul was an S-rate, albeit not much of one. Current information pointed to them being a lone ghoul, unaffiliated with any top organizations. Still very powerful, they had been getting into altercations over territory with the larger organizations and causing unrest for everyone, human and ghoul alike. They had to be exterminated to keep the larger organizations at bay until they too could be vanquished. Known as the Renegade ghoul, they had finessed their use of their bikaku and had acquired a terrifying accuracy. They were needle-like, Urie was looking at them now. He made a mental note of the two main protrusions erupting from the small of their back. The kagune were thin, and could probably be broken easily, but on the other side of the coin they could probably regenerate just as easily. The Quinx needed to find a way to get around this.
“Shirazu! (Stop messing around.)” Urie called, causing the taller man to snap his head towards his direction. “How is Saiko?”
We will need to destroy all of their kagune at once and take advantage of the short time it takes for all of it to regenerate, Urie thought. Unless we want to wear down the number of their RC cells until they don’t have enough to regenerate their kagune. But I don’t want to be here for very long. I want to have time to finish that painting today.
Shirazu turned back towards Urie after confirming with Saiko: “10 seconds!” he shouted in response.
“Mutsuki!” he barked, catching a quick glance from him in an effort to let him know Mutsuki was listening. “Get to your position!”
Mutsuki grunted as if to answer, and ran towards the other end of the room. Saiko now had a clear shot at the target. Within seconds, the ghoul was bombarded with extensions of her kagune. Their kagune were splintered into still thinner pieces until they were nonexistent. Mutsuki and Urie move in laterally, hoping to corner the ghoul and attack in their moment of weakness, but they couldn’t attack them enough, not fast enough. They simultaneously dropped to the floor in order to avoid the onslaught of spines now spewing from the ghoul’s kagune.
Damn it. Urie cursed to himself. He used his kagune as a small shield over his face and scanned the area. Saiko was nowhere to be seen, Shirazu was missing as well (typical.), and Mutsuki was curled into a ball on the opposite side of the room, quivering. He seemed to be using himself as a shield for himself: he was covering his neck with his hands, tucking his head in between his knees, and facing away from the source of the attack. He was taking the brunt of the offense with his back, needle-like clusters of RC cells pricking out of the arch in his spine.
Mutsuki… (He hates needles…)
He took his focus off of Mutuski for the time being and noticed that Shirazu wasn’t missing, and if he had been, he had returned by now. He didn’t get to watch him fight for long; however, because there’s only so much time you have when taking on an S-rate ghoul all by yourself. (Even if it’s a shitty one). Urie saw Shirazu, he had thought he had disappeared but then he saw him, and he was fighting, and Urie saw him take a piercing blow to the torso. Urie didn’t want to think about it, but he couldn’t stop himself. There were a million tiny quills ingrained within his muscles and penetrating deeper to his organs. The ghoul was still commanding these parts of their kagune, and the quills were turning out Shirazu’s viscera, absolutely shredding him. And it was Urie’s fault. Urie was a useless squad member. He couldn’t even be there to protect his own squad leader. If he was a squad leader, could he even be considered responsible enough to command his own squad?
Everything was slipping away—out of mind, out of sight, out of reality. He didn’t want to face it. This wasn’t happening. The ghoul had fled at this point, there was no reason for them to stay if all of the squad had been rendered useless. Or missing, Saiko was still missing. Urie ran over to Shirazu as fast as he could. He was having trouble walking; his whole body was so numb; he was so consumed by whatever it was he was feeling that he could barely move. He couldn’t place his finger on the feeling. It was probably a million different emotions, all bundled up in a knot in his chest, constricting his heart, keeping the oxygen from being pumped to the rest of his body. He felt so cold and dizzy, that could be the only explanation. Within a minute, Urie was by Shirazu’s side. It didn’t matter. He hadn’t been fast enough. Everything was happening too fast. He might be sick.
Not knowing what else to do, Urie turned over Shirazu’s fallen body and cradled him in his arms. He looked over his body. Some of the kagune pieces had come out in his entrails. There was no use pulling them out now, even if by some miracle Shirazu was still alive, it would only lead to unnecessary blood loss.
Shirazu’s eyes fluttered as if he was aware of Urie’s thoughts and meant to tell him that he wasn’t dead. One last argument, always putting his last word in.
“Urie…?” Shirazu croaked. His breathing was now noticeable and labored; he began choking. Urie gently lowered Shirazu into his lap so that he had more to rest on than his hands, and so that his back wouldn’t be bent at such an odd angle. He moved his left hand under the base of Shirazu’s skull, his palm gingerly holding up the back of his neck. His other hand slid gently along his spine and past his kakuhou until it supported his rear. Shirazu was now curled in on himself, the position of his body preventing more large pieces of his body from falling from his torso. He appeared to be at least a little more comfortable in this position, he had stopped coughing for now. “Urie…?” He repeated.
Urie hushed him; it was the only sound he could muster through choked tears. He was surprised when the sound was returned to him—Shirazu was shushing him on his deathbed. Urie forced his eyes to stay open, to look at Shirazu in his last moments… he couldn’t avoid his gaze as he was dying. It would feel disrespectful.
“Yes, Shirazu… It’s me….” He managed to get out. At this confirmation, Shirazu smiled.
“Urie, I…” he paused to regain control of his breathing, “...have to tell you something… …-thing I was never able to tell you when I was alive….”
Urie managed the best he could not to scream at him. “No, no, Shirazu, please, you’re not dying, stop, you can’t just give up, please, please, what about your sister…”
Shirazu shushed him again. “Please, Urie, I don’t h…have much time… to… speak….” He struggled to say. Urie closed his mouth and nodded, he wouldn’t let even his ragged breathing keep him from hearing whatever Shirazu had to say next.
“Kuki… I… love you….”
Urie couldn’t believe what he was hearing. There were so many questions he wanted to ask. Why now of all times? Why wait until he was dying? Yet at the same time, there were so many questions he wanted to ask himself. Hearing these words from Shirazu felt weird. They brought up tons of thoughts within Urie, thoughts that had always been ignored until now. The thoughts were mostly visualizations, and upon imagining them the feelings he had pushed into them when he shoved them away began to resurface. Memories of Shirazu’s messy hair, and the thought (how does he pull it off?). A reminiscence of his wet muscles as he haphazardly walked out of the bathroom in a towel. Urie had come to take a shower after him when he heard the water turn off. He was surprised to see Shirazu half-naked, and the memory never left him. It was only now that he finally realized why it bothered him so much. And he remembered yesterday too, when he was so concerned about Shirazu lately. He had never acknowledged it before, but he cared very much for Shirazu. It was as though all he needed to recognize his own feelings was to hear that Shirazu reciprocated them.
A throaty noise from below him snapped Urie out of his thoughts. He had been staring blankly at Shirazu’s face for a minute or less, not very long, but an eternity to someone on their deathbed. Shirazu was still smiling up at him.
“I’m… sor-….sorry I’m such… a… c-coward… I… couldn’t…” He started gasping for air. It was too hard for him to talk at this point. His light was flickering. Urie had to tell him fast or he would die never knowing that his love was reciprocated. He cleared his throat and spoke up as much as he could manage, the best he could manage. He didn’t want to scream at him as he was dying, but he desperately needed to be heard over the hacking fit.
“Ginshi, I love you too.”
He smiled back down at Shirazu, Shirazu seemed to be smiling even brighter now, the last of his light, burning brighter as it finally fizzled into smoke.
Urie never forgot that day. He sat now, locked in his room, the same as he’d done for the past week. It’d only been a week. He couldn’t stand it. Shirazu’s absence was visible everywhere he looked: in the unused silverware Mutsuki kept forgetting not to set on the table, the door to Shirazu’s bedroom he walked past every time he actually did come out of his room…. There was no avoiding it, by this point he just dove straight into the thoughts of his lost team member.
Shirazu’s memory consumed him; he paid attention to all of the feelings he had left unacknowledged, unfelt. He felt them now, but he knew it was too late. Urie kept blaming himself, unconditionally—he would never forgive himself for being so selfish and only caring about furthering himself. He should have learned more about his teammates to understand better how they would act. He should have taken this into account on missions. He should have realized sooner that he was not the only person on a team, not the only person that mattered….
Urie sighed, his chest was hurting similar to that day; a constant ache reminding him of such a terrible loss and failure. He didn’t do much of anything now but paint, a meager attempt to pull some of his feelings out of the lump in his chest. He mixed the ochre oil paint with a tiny bit of violet to dull the color, proceeding to darken it slightly with some brown pigment. Shirazu’s hair color. Pouring some linseed oil into the color, he dragged his brush through it to mix in the binding agent. Scooping up a thick glob of the paint, he stroked it across a portion of the large canvas in front of him; the hair was the last thing he needed to do. He dabbed his brush in the pale yellow color he mixed earlier and smeared it on portion that needed to be highlighted. He dipped into a bright, orangey yellow and brushed it on around the pale yellows… Such sunshiney colors fit Shirazu. He’d had a hard life, yet so resilient. The sun rose every single morning whether it was seen or not; so it was with Shirazu.
“Do you have a sweetheart at home?” A superior officer asked. They were at a company party celebrating promotions. (And those who actually survived that last mission) Urie thought. The superior cleared his throat and asked the question again, “Do you have a lover, Urie-san?”
Urie heard him this time and turned. All he said was “no” before walking away. He picked up some alcohol from the refreshments table and tried to lighten up. No way he would get drunk or even tipsy at a company party, but God, he would do anything right now to take his mind off of the fact that his soulmate was a world apart from his. He could never marry for the rest of his life, because it would mean disgracing what could have been—no, what should have been. The best he could do for them both was to continue living. Shirazu would want Urie to live…. He didn’t want them to take care of his sister anymore, but Urie couldn’t grant that wish. He felt a personal responsibility, she was Shirazu’s younger sister, and should have been his sister-in-law….