How Many

Written for hanakotoba challenge. Well that was the intention anyway.

A weird way to write 'thistle' into a fic. Because my muses always want to mess me up. I swear to god, this was not a fic that thistle got thrown in... the fic started with the thought 'thistle', 'thistle', I like the word 'thistle' and grew into THIS. ...

Sighing, Tezuka ignored the giggling banter of the girl who had seated herself across from him, and sipped at his white brandy on the rocks.

His glasses glinted in the dim bar light, thankfully concealing his shifted pupils, which were busy searching for a certain line of vision. Somehow, he always kept Fuji in sight. His lithe classmate - no, fellow graduate - was near the other end of the bar, laughing over some beers with Eiji and Oishi from the reconnaissance section.

He didn't properly dismiss himself, but he found himself drifting over to where his three friends were chatting. He nodded in greeting, which made Fuji break out into laughter, teasing him about how hard could it be to open his mouth and say hi. When Tezuka didn't speak, but continued to sip his drink with an unchanged expression, the tensai laughed even harder.

"Nya, Tezuka," Eiji shouted, taking the volume in the bar full of celebrating students as an excuse to talk even louder than usual, "Fujiko says you two have your first assignment together!"

Banging the counter with his glass, Tezuka felt a throb in his temple as he murmured, "That's supposed to be classified."

"Our assignment, or that we're working together?" Fuji giggled, his flushed cheeks matching Eiji's hair color. Tezuka grabbed his hand and pulled him away from the bar, deciding he shouldn't let his new 'partner' get drunk any further. Laughing, Fuji waved bye to their friends and allowed himself to be dragged out.

The night breeze hit them soothingly as they stumbled through the swinging doors - well, only Fuji stumbled, he couldn't seem to walk in a straight line, and Tezuka guided his tilting friend down the street. Luckily their apartment complex was only a few blocks away.

"Nee, Tezuka..." Fuji spoke more quietly now that he was out of the celebratory atmosphere and into the cool air. He gripped Tezuka's arm almost painfully, using his friend as support, but at least he seemed a little more sober. "We should move in together -"

- Tezuka almost tripped over his own feet -

" - since we have to live next to our assignment, nee?"

Hopefully masking his embarrassment over his presumptuous reaction, Tezuka deadpanned, "Our apartments are right next to each other."

"But we have to move for the assignment, so that'll be more convenient," Fuji grinned, still excited as he'd been when he first heard about it from the commander. "We're protecting someone called Barako right? Even though that's only a pseudonym."

Nodding, Tezuka reprimanded, "Even so, it's not a name you should throw around casually. What we're protecting is called Barako, but the enemy will also being looking for a Barako. Only those with a certain rank are allowed to know Barako's birth name."

Coming off his high with the talk of work, Fuji relinquished his death hold yet kept his hand lightly against Tezuka's. A small smile on his face, he whispered, "Nee... I'm glad that we're working together."

"As am I," came the honest reply. Tezuka did not pull his hand away, though he was no longer needed as support, making the tiny smile grow.

They had just about reached Fuji's door. "Nee... I'm really drunk right now. I don't think I'll remember any of this tomorrow."

Blinking, Tezuka opened his mouth to say something, knowing that Fuji never lost a night to alcohol - even after spending the whole night puking, the tensai still held everything in that photographic memory of his. But before the bespectacled man could ask a question, his companion cut him off-

"I'd be really, really happy if we moved in together, but it's up to you. I'll forget about this tomorrow, so you have to tell me if that's what you want, okay?" The smaller man suddenly seemed very nervous, as he turned to face Tezuka directly. Tezuka's eyes widened behind his frames as the tensai put his hands on either side of his head, and drew their lips together.

3 years later

Just before he stepped out of the doorway, Inui turned back and gave him that knowing look, the one that Tezuka knew was there even though he couldn't see beyond the glare of those thick rimmed glasses. He'd thought he couldn't feel any more guilty but that look was sending frogs hopping around his stomach.

"Tezuka, we can't keep doing this."

"I know."

"Every time I use this technique, he's at risk for psychological damage, more so considering-"

"I know." Tezuka shook his head, not really wanting to hear it. "... I spoke to the higher ups. This will be our last use of... this method. If the same thing happens, we'll move to something else."

The spikey haired doctor stared at him for another minute, but the brunette remained seemingly unnerved. Sighing, the data lover turned and left.

Even alone, Tezuka's expression remained stoic and guarded. But he sat on the loveseat for several minutes without moving.


Fuji waved cheerfully at him from the across the cafe, where he and a blond girl had commandeered a table.

That must be her, the bespectacled captain thought as he made his way over to them. She was certainly pretty enough, with dark blond hair and cool blue eyes, but lips dripped down in a perturbed frown, as if she smelled something nasty nearby.

"She said to call her Reiko," Fuji beamed, the excitement over his first assignment keeping his spirits high. "We haven't really talked about anything yet though, like living arrangements."

"You don't have to talk about me like I'm not here," snorted the blond. She folded up her menu and set it on the edge of the table.

Tezuka considered himself a non-judgmental person, but there was something about her he didn't like.

They were served drinks and pastries, though both Tezuka and the girl only ordered coffee while Fuji drank something strangely orange colored and frothing. The girl's nose twinged but Tezuka had grown to find the tensai's unique tastes endearing.

They discussed practicalities, like who would sleep in what room, when they would go grocery shopping, how they'd divide up chores. Then they decided who would accompany the girl at what times - mostly Fuji would take her shopping and to work, and he'd have a part time job nearby as a cover. Tezuka had too many other duties to handle, he said, so he'd stay with Fuji during the times that the blond 'wanted her space.' There was no point in body guards that weren't always with you, Fuji laughed, but zipped his lips when the two others glared at him.

They turned to discussing the academy, teachers they missed, and talked about who specialized in what. Reiko said she could use any type of weaponry, and Fuji asked if that had something to do with Barako's mysterious powers.

"I don't have any powers," she quipped. "I was trained as a protector, like the two of you. That way I can protect myself."

Caught by curiosity, Fuji asked, "Nee, I heard that when Barako awakens-"

"Hey," she snapped, "Is this the person that's supposed to protect me?"

The girl glared pointedly at Tezuka. who hadn't been contributing to the conversation much. He knew what she was inferring, and now he knew he didn't like her.

"Is... this your answer?"

Fuji's eyes glowed as he looked around the room. It was organized, clean, definitely arranged by Tezuka who the tensai often teased as being OCD, but there were little touches here and there that Fuji felt like he himself would have made. Photos from their academy days taped on the walls, a lamp shade decorated with pressed flowers. They had two separate twin beds on either side of the room, but it was still... their room, their one room that they'd share, so that Reiko could have the other room in the apartment.

"I've finalized the arrangements," Tezuka deadpanned, and was rewarded with a pure smile from the lithe brunette. Cerulean eyes shimmering, Fuji settled onto the bed with the black sheets that was obviously supposed to be Tezuka's, compared to the other side which had blue plaid. He laughed quietly to himself, joking in his head that Tezuka was too shy to give a simple yes.

He had not thought his feelings would be accepted so easily. It had been a bold step, making a move on his seemingly straight best friend, though Fuji had decided after two years of growing feelings to take a chance on their day of graduation. But these last few weeks, he'd noticed Tezuka would stay closer to him, sit closer, stand closer, so that their hands were barely touching, or something they would touch, or Tezuka's hand would brush his thigh, and Fuji would blush and feel wanted. They hadn't discussed the kiss, but that was how Tezuka was - he didn't talk, he showed. And this room, that he seemed to so carefully have put together... it already smelled like both of them intertwined.

Tezuka sat next to him on the bed, though Fuji thought the old Tezuka would have scowled and shooed him off. This time, they didn't only brush fingers, but wove them together.

Laughing, Fuji snatched the envelope off the table, away from a scowling Reiko and a sighing Tezuka.

"Ah, is this the update on our assignment? It's addressed to you." The honey haired brunette had barely glanced at the papers before Reiko tore them out of his hands and crumpled them into Tezuka's.

"Captain Tezuka?" Fuji blinked. "Since when were you ranked higher than me?"

"Since your professors noticed your special skill was eating tubes of wasabi," the girl scornfully answered in place of the captain, before grabbing her fencing bag and slamming the door behind her.

"A thistle and a mini rose," Inui whistled, admiring the small potted plants sitting side by side at the entry way. "That seems like something Fuji would do."

Tezuka gave him a look.

"...You should have gotten rid of them," Inui sighed. "Besides, if he figures it out, he'll think they represent you and Reiko, which is just-"

"He won't misunderstand," said Tezuka flatly.

Pausing, Inui's glasses glared in the sun. "Tezuka, you didn't."

But Tezuka refused to listen.

The few times Tezuka was alone with Reiko, she was perfectly pleasant. Well, she wasn't sunshine and cupcakes, but she was an ordinary, nice girl who was helpful around the apartment and mindful of her surroundings. He'd seen her at the shooting range and she was definitely competent as a partner. Tezuka couldn't help but think her maturity shot down ten levels whenever Fuji was around.

Speaking of the lithe brunette, he was busy mixing walnuts into the banana pancake batter, his usual smile plastered on his face as he continued his routine of making breakfast as always. It was a little sad, how hard Fuji tried to please her, though for their assignment all he had to do was keep her safe.

As had been the growing trend, she ate her portion in silence, then stomped back to her room and closed herself in. Fuji sighed, his friendly mask fading now that the two lovers were alone, but Tezuka felt too guilty to comfort him.

He felt pity for Reiko too, especially considering the last notice they'd gotten. The enemy was on the move.

Fuji's eyes sparkled with laughter, his body slick with a post-coital glow that Tezuka couldn't take in enough of. A smile ghosted over the bespectacled man's lips, almost unnoticeable except to the blue eyed brunette. 'What is it?' his stoic hazel eyes tacitly asked.

"It's only been a year since we left the academy, yet you've grown so much. Here-" The tensai giggled as he poked his lover's biceps, "-and here-" then his abs, "And-"

Tezuka grabbed his hand with a scowl before he could get to the next part.

This only made Fuji laugh harder. "You sure you don't want me to touch it, even though it's still so perky?" His mischievous grin could rival the Cheshire cat's.

Tezuka stared intensely into cerulean orbs before pouncing.

Multiple rounds left the tensai tired by happy. The tensai never questioned the bespectacled man's experience at love making, though Tezuka could tell he felt hurt. The captain could only be thankful the question hadn't been asked yet. They had barely enough space on the tiny bed, but that only meant they had to be closer. He held the lithe brunette tight against his body, their bare skin warm and moist, and no matter how many times they did this, Fuji had the most adorable blush that crossed his cheeks when they shared such intimate moments.

The tensai was staring blankly at Tezuka's shoulder, when quietly he said, "Nee... Tezuka, this is something I've never told anyone before..."

Tezuka rubbed the tensai's back comfortingly, though inside he felt his heart sink.

"...I don't remember my parents. I can't remember anything from before I was 10." Fuji looked up at him for encouragement, and continued after receiving a slight but meaningful nod. "I remember history and math, but I can't remember my classmates, or my brother's face, or what my father did for work. My sister comes to see me from time to time, or else I think I'd forget I had a family." His tiny voice gave away his exhaustion.

"Your mother was a foreigner, right?"

"Yes. But I only know because my sister told me," he sighed. "Apparently she was from a very wealthy family. But I don't even know what country she came from, or why she came here, or how she met my father... I... I thought I remembered her, but when I try to think of her face, or...or her name..."

"...Fuji..." Tezuka stroked his hair tenderly, a soft look in his eyes. A thin layer of moisture coated those beautiful cerulean orbs, making him want to kiss them. But Fuji had more to say...

"Ano nee... lately, it's been... happening again. Me, forgetting things... periods of time. Days, weeks, months... there are things that happened that I feel like I should know, or like I vaguely remember but not clearly enough to be certain of. I have these moments of deja vuu..."

Heart wrenching in his chest, Tezuka was thankful his personality stopped him from blurting everything right there. Instead, the words that came from his mouth were, "That's normal, to forget things."

Fuji gave him a look.

"Normal for everyone but you, Mr. Photographic Memory." Tezuka continued, giving him a comforting smile, well, his lips upturned enough that it was a smile for him. "We all have things we forget, especially our childhoods."

Laughing, though it sounded strained, Fuji teased, "That must suck, having a normal memory." The laughter sounded a little like crying. "... I hate it."

Tezuka held him tightly, willing him to relax, to fall asleep. "... I'm sorry."

Tezuka was starting to hate it.

Each time he heard it, each time he was told, it was the same thing. Except the end, that part was new, and it scared him that Fuji was saying such things.

He wondered how many more times Fuji would open his heart to him.

And how many more times Fuji's heart would be erased.

He came home one day to find Fuji sitting quietly on the couch, staring blankly at a thistle flower in his hands, eyes open and lips parted slightly as his mask was gone.

"She handed me this, and said it's my mother." A tiny sadness drifted through the blue, as he rolled the stem with his fingers. "Do you see the resemblance?" Fuji held the spiky flower next to his face with a forced small smile, as if Tezuka was supposed to compare the two.

Feeling irritated, Tezuka knew he would have to have a talk with Reiko, about what she had done and about plucking a flower off his potted plants. He understood the blond was stressed, but if this continued...

"She... reminds me of my mother." Fuji's eyes pierced through his with startling clarity. "I think she looks like my mother did. Tezuka, I ... I almost remember..."

Without hesitation, Tezuka took the smaller brunette in his arms. You don't have to know anything, he wanted to say, but perhaps it was already too late.

"I wanted her to like me. I still want to help protect her, but she hates me."

Fuji remained stiff despite his comforting embrace, the thistle clenched tightly in his hand.

"She likes you, Tezuka. No, don't look at me like that. She told me so. That she can understand you better, because she is much more like you than I am..."

Squeezing tightly to comfort him, Tezuka swore to himself he wouldn't let go.

"Stay here," she hissed, pushing the lithe brunette into the bushes. He was too shocked to protest as she took off running.

Between the leaves, he could see the owner of the footsteps appear. A lean, tall man in a black suite with long coattails sauntered into view, wearing an ebony masquerade mask, that covered his upper face and ended with a pointed, drawn out tip over his nose, reminding Fuji of a crow.

A familiar chill crept down his spine, and he found himself frozen on the ground, even as Reiko's pounding footsteps disappeared as they grew more distant.

He heard the man laugh, a chilling, predator's caw, before vanishing with a mysterious speed.

He had to run back to the apartment to get his gun. He was ashamed he hadn't carried it with him, even though they'd only gone downstairs to take out the recyclables, knowing his carelessness was part of why Reiko hated him. Given their situation, he felt like she had every right to.

He took off running in the direction she'd gone, closing his eyes and focusing all of his senses. He'd been told not to use this ability, but now was the time if any for him to break that order. He could feel the power rise within him, reaching out like hundreds of stretching vines, that curled and searched the air as a vision of the area around him formed in his mind. He could see, with something far more powerful than his eyes, where the girl had taken off to.

What scared him was that he couldn't see the masked man. He could sense some sort of power blocking his. Shivering, he wasn't sure whether to be upset or relieved that Tezuka had gone to the Academy for a meeting with their superior. Knowing his lover was safe was the only comfort he could find in the situation, even if the bespectacled warrior was the strongest of the three. But Fuji had the feeling that the being he was running after so foolishly was not something the well-trained captain could easily handle.

He did not know really where he was going, or even what sort of things he passed to get there. He was following a vine, an invisible line he had created to connect himself with Reiko as he followed her... and the man. Though he could not sense the man directly, he could see as he passed it the taints of darkness around the path, like black rose petals that had fallen to the ground. That was the image that came to him, even as he ran through the barren city streets and into a lightless alleyway.

Reiko had run into this building. The rusting iron door swung invitingly open, and despite his previous urgency Fuji found himself carefully stepping inside. His mind felt strangely empty as he slumped through the abandoned warehouse; he didn't notice how exhausted his legs were and somehow he wasn't panting. No, he was holding his breath.

He pointed his gun before him, pointing at the tall figure, even before he could see into the small, dimly lit room at the hall's end. His eyes adjusted to the lack of light as he entered, and the first thing he saw was piercing yellow eyes from behind the mask.

Then... blood.

Blood on the walls, blood on the floor, blood covering her clothes and skin and staining her golden locks red. Blood dripped down the man's arm from his fingers, which stretched apart like claws, pointed upward as if they'd just come from ripping into the girl's chest.

The man stood over her torn body, her limbs twisted on the floor, her gun sitting loosely in her hand. Fuji's own gun shook within his own, and though he kept it pointed at his enemy, his knees gave way and he collapsed half way onto the ground. It was not his gun shaking, he realized, but himself, his hands, his eyes, his whole body shook with terror. the man gave him a disinterested glance, before returning to stare at the mangled body before him.

"I thought if I killed her, she'd awaken. But all she did was die," he sighed, flicking the blood off his hands. Fuji felt droplets splash onto his cheek, but he was too terrified to move, nevertheless speak.

The man gave another sign, carelessly flicking a black rose onto the corpse, as if it were some sort of calling card, before drifting from the room. The tapping of his shoes against the cement floors sounded like drum beats in the brunette's ears, even as they diminished into nothing.

Then it was quiet.

She had done her job at the cost of her life, like her predecessors. Tezuka only understood now, having seen her mutilated body, that she had volunteered only out of love for himself. He'd hardly known her but she must have come to love him during their academy days, like so many other girls who'd thrown themselves at him. He never understood why.

He prayed for her soul, that she did not regret her sacrifice, and that it would not be in vain.

Fuji was still shaking as Tezuka carried him bridal style into their apartment. The tensai was in such deep shock that he hadn't spoken a word since the captain had found him, trembling and frozen next to Reiko's corpse, a gun still in his hands, pointed at an empty wall.

After placing him gently on the couch, Tezuka made a phone call, then sat down besides his lover with a calm, impassive face. He was concerned, but he knew how this would end. It was becoming a familiar pattern.

He took the small brunette's face in his hands, hazel eyes meeting wide, shaking cerulean ones. He rubbed his thumb across the tensai's cheek, wiping away the splotches of Reiko's blood. "Shh..." He whispered soothingly, " Inui will be here soon... all of this... will go away..."

"Th-that mask..." Fuji's voice was shaking so hard he could barely speak, his eyes staring out at nothing. "That man... he was the one..."


"He killed my mothe-"

Tezuka cut him off, pinning him to the couch with a firm but gentle hug. He could hear the door swing open, the familiar even tapping of his old friend approaching. As Inui set down his brief case and began arranging the items he would need, Fuji started squirming as uncertainty overtook him.

"Tezuka..." Fearful breaths puffed from the small brunette's mouth as he stared beyond Tezuka's shoulder at the bespectacled scientist. Overcome by Reiko's murder, the returning memories of his mother, and what was before him, the tensai was breathing too quickly, his body threatening to shut itself off.

"Fuji," Tezuka's hold and voice were firm. "I'm going to tell you something because I need you to calm down. You have to be calm for this to work right. Reiko...shh, be still- " The tensai was starting to struggle, his eyes not on Tezuka but on the needle Inui was filling from a small vial. "Reiko was a decoy. She knew how dangerous this job would be when she accepted it. She wasn't the real Barako." Exhausted, Fuji could do little as his lover presented his arm to the data man. Tezuka held him still as the needle pricked his vein, a clear liquid disappearing from the tube.

"Once you realize you're Barako, it won't be long before you awaken. We... I don't want this to happen. So we came up with this deception so that we could protect you without you knowing it."

Setting the needle aside, Inui placed his hand over Fuji's eyes, his fingers digging across the tensai's forehead and into his temples.

"This way will be less painful," Tezuka choked, wiping away the tears that rolled down pale cheeks. "You won't have to remember her, or how she died, and... hopefully you won't awaken."

These was the only times he could ever tell the truth.

"Tezuka," Fuji whimpered, as realization came to him, "How many times-"

But then his voice cut off, and he grew still and silent.

"Tezuka, is this your answer?"

Fuji always looked so happy when he saw their room, the one that they arranged together.

Chuckling when Tezuka responded with only a grunt, the tensai drifted inside, collapsing playfully on the bed with the black sheets. "I'm disappointed, though, that there's two beds instead of one," the tensai beamed, sure that his joke would make the captain's eyebrow twitch, but was surprised by Tezuka's smile that came instead.

This way, he never changes.

Instead of the popping vein Tezuka had the first time this'd happened, the captain pounced upon his shocked beloved, pinning him to the bed. Blue eyes widened and an adorable blush spread across his cheeks. Of course, this Fuji was, at least in his memories, a virgin, and certainly had no idea of all the things they'd done together underneath these sheets.

I know I'm being selfish. But...


I'll lie to you, again and again, how ever many times it takes, to keep you here with me.

"I love you."

AN: GAAAH this fic needs to half be rewritten. -huff, puff-

(Now go re-read the fic two more times, and everything will make sense. XD Promise.)