a/n: this is a series of (sorta) individual bits of tatsujun fluff and angst set during innocent sin; most chapters correspond with one dungeon and one ward of sumaru.

crosspost from ao3.

Maya shoots the both of them a sympathetic smile, just a tad too tired around the edges. "Tatsuya-kun, why don't you see Jun-kun home?" she asks, voice still bright, and pats their shoulders one last time before taking off for the day, taking the shrine's stairs two at a time. Tatsuya sighs.

"You needn't," Jun says shakily, then, thin lips yet searching for a shape to settle into. "Or rather," he concedes, and ultimately chooses to suck his already chapped bottom lip between his teeth to gnaw on, "I don't want you to feel like you have any obligations towards me. I'll be fine."

And it's unfair- truly, it is- but Tatsuya can't help but doubt that he'll be just fine. It's in the way Jun is digging the frayed crescents of his bitten nails into his palm; in the way his thin shoulders are so tense, his muscles tremble under the strain; it's in his swollen eyes and his teeth that keep digging and digging into his lip, digging further and further until they draw blood, and then further and deeper still, always digging and—

It's not for a lack of sympathy that words refuse to come; things are painfully difficult, because of course they are, and not sparing Jun any kind thoughts would be way easier, but— Tatsuya frowns and studies his shoes. He regrets not being more eloquent; conversation has always been hard for one Suou Tatsuya. But with the fight still trembling in his muscles and the day's events bearing down on him just as heavily as a decade's worth of misplaced sentimentalities and forgetfulness that now burns like inches of steel lodged below his shoulder blade— his throat constricts like an erratic pulse.

Although lightheaded and if only by habit, he fumbles for the lighter inside his pocket. The scratched-up metal against his palm and the familiar motions of snapping the cap, over and over, soothe his nerves, if only a bit. It lets him meditate, in a way- lets him choose his words carefully while grounding him enough not to let his thoughts grow wild and frenetic.

"Let's go," he chooses, mumbled under his breath, as though he were a shy eight-year-old pulling his friend with him when no one would come fetch him for the third time that week to invite him into his own dysfunctional haven of a home life.

Jun stares at him, then, so painfully tired. His face is pale where it isn't bruised or dirty, the split in his chapped bottom lip mirroring the worn and torn seams of his uniform. "I don't…" he starts, weary and uncertain, and his hands curl into fists, seeking to grasp nothing at all. "I don't want to, yet."

And Tatsuya can't help but think of the crumpled form of a woman on the floor, of the single, rueful glance Jun cast in her direction as he followed the rest of them and ran, of all the things he maybe wanted to say- wants to say- but couldn't and can't and never will. Home, to Jun, will never be more than empty rooms and dead silence- cold retribution for crimes committed out of loneliness and sadness and innocent goodwill.

"Then I'll stay with you," Tatsuya informs Jun- his friend; perhaps even best friend, somewhere deep down, in some terribly introspective crevice that can still childishly forgive and forget and isn't yet too bitter to move on- because he looks haunted, still, by the past day and the weeks and months before that.

And maybe it's that haunted tiredness and undying loneliness that makes Jun give in with a sigh and little protest. "Thank you," he replies, lip twitching as if to add some more. He thinks better of it, though, and instead walks the few metres to the seemingly endless flight of stairs attaching the shrine, almost surreally frozen in time, to the rest of the city.

"Once we go down there," Jun starts, loud into the distance, yet quiet on the wind, "everything will be real." His thin shoulders are tense and squared; Tatsuya can only stand and watch his back as he regards the cityscape- anything beyond that feels invasive, feels beyond his control, feels frightening.

The sun begins to set to their right, hazy reds and oranges softening edges of everything in sight. Even Jun's frayed, almost threadbare nerves unravel in it, until his tense posture eventually sags, hanging calm and relaxed. Many metres below them, the city slowly begins to glisten and glitter with artificial light- brighter than the old petroleum lamps scattered about shrine grounds.

A few stars attempt to outshine the remainder of day, pitting their feeble white light against purpling pink and faded yellow. Tatsuya moves to stand beside Jun at last, with his distorted, elongated shadow swallowing up Jun's slighter one. "We used to watch the stars from here," he says, and Jun starts upon hearing him speak as if not expecting it.

"Yes," he replies after missing a beat, and Tatsuya can't help but raise a brow. Jun offers an apologetic expression, backlit strangely by the sunset, and needlessly brushes some hair into place. The look in his eye is distant, as if he still wasn't quite there yet. Tatsuya wishes he knew how to reach out to him properly, but an appropriate action won't come to mind, and words are even more elusive.

He's angry in a way he can't understand—in a way he frankly doesn't want to understand, and he is all the more sympathetic for it. He toys with the lighter in his pocket as if it could offer him advice. Its surface is scratched up and worn, but it still shines. It's been tossed around and refilled countless times, but it still works. A little finicky, but fine. Tatsuya sighs, because the analogy is not lost on him.

Night encroaches on them slowly, like giant, purple claws capturing Xibalba in their grasp. The winds are picking up, turning chillier by the second. Jun doesn't seem to notice, his gaze long since back on the city before them, not seeing a thing.

"I'm sorry," he whispers eventually, just before the sky turns pitch dark, and Tatsuya looks up to find Jun's eyes on him. The old lanterns on the shrinegrounds flicker. Shadows pass across Jun's face, shuddering and casting his face in darkness.

Tatsuya's stomach drops, plummeting to the surface of the forgotten ground kilometres below, and he feels almost dizzy with it. It's agonising—the longing to reach out and offer comfort to someone who used to be close—and still can and would and should be close—and the uneasiness and uncertainty keeping him from doing so. There's nothing he can do, and even less he can say, but idle silence is so much crueller; even Tatsuya knows as much.

"You should stop worrying for today," he offers. It's not an olive branch, let alone acceptance, but it's a start, weak as it might be. It's a stalemate, the beginning of reconciliation, peace at least offered to a warring mind. And when Jun shoots him a wretched little smile in reply, it almost seems like he understands his efforts. It's gratifying, and Tatsuya feels something unravel within himself.

"Do you want to get going?" he asks, indicating towards the city, the world and everything beyond that.

And Jun inhales, squares his shoulders and nods.