Disclaimer: Not mine.
Further warnings: focussed entirely on Fuji and Tezuka
Author is no native English speaker (always glad to accept corrections)
A/N: I'm terribly sorry for taking about two month to update. bows Life somehow got in the way and the only thing that calms my conscience is that at least there was no cliff-hanger. Anyways, on to the last chapter! (I'll put the story as 'complete' now, but I'll still add the take-out scenes in the future).
A big thanks to everybody who reviewed! That meant very, very much to me and was the main reason why those 14 chapters from the first draft ended up being 23 today. Thank you.
BB: I'm very glad you liked the way the fic played out. And I hope you'll like the epilogue too, even if there's not much plot here anymore.
Kalista Jia: I couldn't make the ghosts entirely bad in the end, even though I tried in the beginning. They just ended up having a motive and actually acting nice on occasion… Thanks for reading!
CrystalKitteN-MeW: I'm afraid the action part of the story is over (but there might be some more in the take-outs) – since especially the epilogue is just, well, an epilogue sweatdrop. Thank you very much for reviewing!
Valeriana-kun: Thank you so much for reading and liking the story!
Yoshikochan: I'm glad you liked that. relieved writing romance isn't so much my thing, but I suppose practice helps. I hope I'll answer most of the remaining questions in the epilogue, though I'm afraid neither Yumiko nor the regulars will get a lot of screen time. But they're mentioned ;. Thank you very, very much for your review!
a1y-puff: Thank you very much for reviewing. It's reviews like yours that inspire these bonus chapters after all. And I had a great lot of fun with the details – especially the ravens. As for the regulars, I'm afraid they won't really show up in the epilogue, but they're mentioned; and while that's not a lot, it's a little at least. ; I hope you'll still like the epilogue, though.
Sango Hikari: If you want to draw it – please go ahead! There's another romantic scene coming up (even if the setting is morbid), and I hope you'll like it. Thank you very, very much for your review and while the sequel still might take some time, the idea is there.
Fresh, white snow crunched underneath his polished black shoes.
Silence hung thick in the air, broken only by solemn footsteps and wind, as it hissed over the snow-covered landscape and barren trees. Maybe, if he strained his ears, he would be able to catch a faint sound from a car passing; a sign of life from the metropolis they hadn't even left.
Yet this remote part of the world remained utterly silent and Tezuka kept his head bowed. Nobody of their little party spoke a word and while some might have rightfully called it cold not to shed a tear at a young child's funeral, he couldn't quite help himself.
When thinking about it…
When recalling all the things that had happened…
It appeared as if his heart, too, had frozen. He could still feel the horror – ice crawling through his veins, slowly, ever so slowly but unstoppably approaching his heart and closing in – that had befallen him when his mother had told him –
- or had it already set in far earlier?
His memory was blurry, but that had to be natural, he supposed. The shock had come crashing down when his mother had told him a young girl died – just at the moment he had wished to put everything behind him.
Just after he himself had so narrowly escaped death.
Within this black and white landscape those realities appeared even more pronounced. Dimly he wondered how Fuji was fairing, so quiet and almost ghost-like beside him. Today, colour seemed to have been bleached out of him; honey-brown hair hidden underneath a black hat. And those open eyes were reflecting the grey, snow-filled clouds above, aimlessly wandering over the gravestones surrounding them.
Tezuka wanted to reach out and hold his hand.
Whether that gesture would serve to sooth the visible tension in Fuji's shoulders, assuage the feelings of guilt attacking Tezuka or something entirely else, he couldn't tell. But he was quite aware of Yuuta and a still unhealthily pale Yumiko walking behind them and thus refrained from doing as his heart desired.
She'd been discharged barely a week ago, but had insisted on coming to the funeral. Tezuka Ayana had not deemed it a good idea, but the oldest Fuji sibling had waved all worried inquiries aside with a characteristic smile.
Tezuka had yet to speak with her. He didn't really know if he wanted to, even if she would most certainly be able to answer the last of his remaining questions. But for this he'd have to face the memories of that night again.
And the memory of Fuji's deathly-still body in his arms was one he never wanted to recall.
Yumiko hadn't approached him either – only a slight, knowing smile on her lips flashed into his direction and he'd been left to wonder. How much did she know? She'd been the one to summon the girl's spirit from those that the ghosts had amassed – did that mean she knew her brother had been as good as dead?
Did she, by chance, know what had been needed for Fuji to be called back?
What Tezuka had done?
Underneath those black leather gloves, his fingers remained cold as death.
Eventually, the small group came to a stop in front of an open grave. For once, the silence was broken by an even voice directing solemn words at the group – Tezuka heard none of them.
They hadn't even known the girl. None of them had.
Still, that young, 6-year old child had died for their sake – somehow. Tezuka's mind told him, it wasn't his fault and he shouldn't feel guilty about a murder he hadn't committed – though there was this invisible thread connecting her death to his life. Hadn't she been killed, only because he'd escaped?
But then again, should he have let himself get killed so that she would have lived? And wouldn't Fuji, too, have died as a consequence?
It was a miracle, Tezuka resumed, that he hadn't broken down crying yet. But then, neither had Fuji, even if the haunted look in his eyes remained until today. Both of them were clinging onto their roles, in school and at home, and as far as Tezuka could tell none of the other regulars had noted anything amiss.
Or, at least, nobody had demanded for them to tell the truth, yet.
Tezuka himself had felt Oishi's worried glances often enough, knew what Inui was thinking when that pen stopped flying over the pages of his notebook for several seconds and a frown settled over the dataman's features.
And he had little doubt Kawamura, concerned as he always was for Fuji's well-being, had missed the lingering paleness of his friend's face, or that Kikumaru would have failed to note all those times Fuji's smile had faded.
But maybe, maybe after today's funeral procession had finished, they would be able to leave this behind.
The urn was being lowered when Tezuka's mind returned to the present. There weren't even ten people gathered around the grave; not one a member of the girl's family. Until the end there hadn't been a missing person notice fitting her description – and Tezuka had to wonder which was sadder; that she had died that young and violently, or that her family obviously had cared so little.
Another cold gust of wind brought the unmistakable smell of snow. The clouds appeared even darker than before and Tezuka couldn't quite suppress a small shudder. In front of him, first his father and grandfather stepped forward; followed by his mother together with Fuji's.
And then slow, certain steps carried him and Fuji forward to the open grave.
Holding his breath for a moment, Tezuka couldn't ward off the memories. The girl had seemed nice enough. Even if he'd only met her ghost.
Still – or even more so – Tezuka hoped, wherever she was now, things were better. Blinking back the liquid burning in the corners of his eyes he glanced over to his silent companion. Fuji appeared lost in thought, an almost gentle smile on his face.
He'd never met her, had he?
Maybe out of everybody present Tezuka was the only one who could claim to even have known the girl they were burying – as far as he knew, neither Fuji nor Yumiko had ever exchanged a word with her (or her ghost).
Fuji caught his glance and returned it calmly. Simultaneously, both raised their hands and let go off the small flower bouquets – and when Tezuka looked down again, the urn had been buried underneath a heap of flowers and earth already.
The colours down there were dazzling in their brightness, vibrant in comparison to the snow-covered outer world of blacks and whites. Tezuka didn't let his mind linger on the allegory implied, but turned away with a sense of reassurance pacifying his soul.
Fuji remained silent by his side, not quite a smile on his face, but he too seemed to feel that with this funeral the entire affair was ending. Finally, after all those near-death encounters, moments spend between plain disbelief and heart-wrenching desperation, life returned to what it used to be.
Maybe not completely, Tezuka amended, ignoring that he stopped feeling his toes from the cold that easily seeped through his dress shoes. He'd gained new insights concerning his perception of reality. And while his outlook in general may have remained unchanged, he wouldn't deny that his horizon had certainly widened.
But not only concerning ghosts.
And since they were the last to remain as even Yuuta and Yumiko had left for a warmer place, Tezuka reached out and grasped Fuji's hand. Blue eyes blinked at him in surprise, but then a warm smile spread over pale lips.
As they turned to leave this quiet world of black and white, he looked around once more. Letting his gaze sweep one final time over grey gravestones and dark, leafless trees, Tezuka thought next time he'd come here it might just be spring.
"I guess I really owe her a lot." Tezuka sighed. Fuji pressed his hand in return; warmth transmitted even through two layers of cloth.
"I may not have met her." Fuji replied with the hint of a smile, "But I'd like to imagine that things ended according to her wishes – she helped you, didn't she?"
Tezuka nodded. "She did."
Fuji's smile widened beautifully. "I owe her a lot, too, then. But how about, instead of thinking about what we owe her, we simply accept what she did and return to pay our respects once a month or so?"
"We should." Tezuka said, and something soft and cold touched his cheek. Glancing upwards in surprise, he felt another ounce of freezing softness settle on his forehead.
Fuji blinked, blue eyes widening abruptly. "It snows!" he exclaimed in almost childish joy. Seeing that bright spark glittering in Fuji's eyes warmed Tezuka's heart and he could feel the heavy atmosphere lift slowly.
The air was cold and fresh; and it seemed as if heralded a change. Right now the shock was still deep, Fuji had yet to completely recover and Tezuka to stop having nightmares, but seeing Fuji smile this widely he felt certain that things would get better.
That someday in the future he'd be sitting in the sun with Fuji, relaxed and happy – and these days of anxiety nothing but a distant memory.
Tezuka felt a faint smile crawling onto his lips, and with one last glance assured himself that there was nobody else left on the graveyard. Maybe their families were wondering what was holding them up, but then he guessed nobody would question why Fuji and him stayed behind.
Taking a deep breath, he uttered those three words that had been so difficult to pronounce not too long ago.
"I love you, Syusuke."
And now, they tasted almost sweet; even if their beauty was paling in comparison to the expression on Fuji's face. Directing the most heart-warming smile at him Fuji stepped closer and tilted his head back.
"I love you too, Kunimitsu." He whispered in return and Tezuka leaned down.
Lips met and the world that had seemed so empty before turned tranquil. Snowflakes danced in the air, slowly descending; little crystals adorning Tezuka's dark hair, melting on Fuji's cheeks.
Automatically Tezuka's arms wrapped themselves around the smaller figure in front of him, drawing him closer and Fuji's hands reached over his shoulders, one burying itself in Tezuka's hair.
He wasn't feeling the cold anymore, and he didn't want to let go. Fuji neither, so their noses remained connected, even as they had to break that long and tender kiss for oxygen. Blue eyes met brown and there was no denying the mutual affection.
Would they ever have dared to confess without those events transpiring, Fuji wondered. Would either of them ever have had enough courage; would have overcome the denial and risked their friendship for something more?
With a slight smile Fuji stretched, connecting their lips once again. There was no hurry to their kiss; both savouring this precious, shared moment away from prying eyes.
Everyday life provided them with few chances to openly display affection, but the little gestures were all over the place. Fuji was rather certain his sister knew, and Inui might be able to figure them out if he had an idea of what to look for.
The way Tezuka's expression tended to soften when looking at Fuji. Or how Fuji now always set next to Tezuka during lunch break. Or simply the amount of laps Kikumaru found himself running after his glomp-attacks for 'disturbing practice'.
But people had yet to find out. And, Tezuka thought, closing his eyes, whatever they would say, and even if he didn't know just how their relationship would develop; if those feelings in his chest remained as strong as they were now, no disapproving society would ever convince him to abandon Fuji.
He'd had a taste of what true loss felt like. And he never wanted to experience it again.
So he'd keep holding onto the things his heart truly treasured; even if it meant abandoning long-time convictions or breaking with traditions. Fuji meant too much to him to let go.
With a quiet smile Tezuka disentangled himself, but kept their hands connected. He shivered slightly from the cold; but his cheeks were probably just as flushed as Fuji's. No matter how icy the temperatures or how many snowflakes were falling, this kind of cold couldn't touch that warmth that had spread inside his chest anymore.
"Let's go." Tezuka said and received a quiet "Yes" from Fuji in return. And together they started walking away