Yamato scowled at the hand mirror he kept secreted in his desk for these occasions.
It didn't help. In fact, it made it worse, or at least more noticeable. When how able those around him were to notice a certain something was the entire problem?
If he was still only dealing with his subordinates, he could have waited a day or two more. Fumi was observant, but she wasn't the sort to pay attention to minor details of personal appearance, while Makoto was the sort to think she was hallucinating or some rot like that.
Hiro, though? And it wasn't as though there could possibly be a worse time for… certain things to come to light. Not when word could reach the factions opposed to JPs, that 'Clicky' person or whatever his name was.
Yamato had come too far and his ancestors had given too much for him to fail now, and to fail because of what that… Because of what was done to his clan?
There was nothing for it, he thought as he took the file that accompanied the mirror out of his desk. Set with industrial diamonds, it was meant for sharpening steel, but it could be used to remove an edge as easily as to make one.
Shuddering at the memory of the feeling, in anticipation of the sound it made, Yamato steeled himself and raised the file to his mouth.
Drew it over the tip of the first of his fangs.
The first few passes wouldn't hurt, it was just the sound, conducted through the bone straight into his brain. But soon enough, the file was scraping against exposed root as well as enamel.
Yamato remembered fighting his mother, when she used to do this for him. How she'd apologized, almost in tears, telling him (and herself) that it really was necessary, that the civilian world wouldn't accept those who were different. The Hotsuin were useful, but was that part of why their lives were treated so lightly? Why this country was so willing to sacrifice them?
Normally it only had to be done every few months, but one of his subordinates, meaning to be helpful, had cast a healing spell on him.
The nerve of that…
But in a world that cared only about strength and ability, no one would care.
(Hiro wouldn't care.)
All his work would be undone in a handful of hours, he knew, when he performed the ritual to summon the Dragon Stream. He wanted to wait, to try to stay away from the civilians until then, but he reminded himself again that he couldn't take that risk. Not now. Hiro might want to visit him, and what if he saw? What if he realized?
Painkillers were obviously out of the question, not when he had a ritual to perform in a handful of hours. He couldn't afford to have anything clouding his mind when he unleashed the power that man gave the Hotsuin clan. Anything else clouding his mind.
Yamato Hotsuin did what was necessary, no matter how hard it was. That was why he was strong. That was what made him different from the men who knew they were sending his clan to die and did nothing…
Familiar rage and old pain mingled with the pain he felt now, the agony simply more fuel for the fire.
The ritual worked, Io was still alive and while Mizar was still alive, clinging to the top of that building for dear life, all they needed to do was get up there and pry its fingers loose. As much as Hiro hated that he was now doing this for the eleventh time, it helped to know what he was up against.
It helped, when he screwed up the ninth time and Io died (because he thought 'of course she's going to be fine,' because he hadn't realized that of course their bonds were the only things keeping any of them alive), that it had happened before. That all he had to do was survive until the end of this, and then wait for Polaris to go back on their bargain, destroy the new world.
He could almost thank the damn thing: so far this time no one… Well, no one in his fate viewer had died, at least. His parents were still dead, but he knew they could be brought back.
The first time this repeated, when no one remembered, and he had to realize that they were dead again, had to watch Io cry after her mom died again… He'd sided with Ronaldo the second time just to see what would happen, since he wouldn't let that be the end, not after Joe died because for some reason he wasn't where and when he'd been last time.
Then the food ran out, everyone simultaneously starving to death, and it was a relief to wake up in his own bed, to eat a big breakfast even with the exam to get to and find himself perfectly willing to proceed with the plan instead of trying to save everyone by running around screaming about the earthquake and getting locked up like a crazy person.
He hadn't realized how much of a good thing selfishness was until he'd spent several weeks facing the inevitability of everyone's deaths, unable to save anyone if saving everyone wasn't possible.
Hiro was divided between killing Polaris (if they could keep the damn thing from escaping) and trying to bring everyone back to life again. If only there was some way to make sure that it would stick this time. But the longer he managed to keep everyone alive, the more he wanted them to stay alive. If they didn't kill Polaris, there was no guarantee that this time, Yamato's seal would keep the attempt to wipe the failure from history from sticking. That was why everything kept looping backwards to the time the seals went to full power: at that moment in time and space, all of them were protected from Polaris' power. Time and space were the same thing to the septentriones, or time wasn't anything special. So, to protect the space of these cities, the Dragon Stream also had to protect the time they existed in, keep it from being erased.
He hadn't liked taking the risk of going along with Yamato's Meritocracy last time. Polaris had seemed too pleased by the idea of it, far more pleased than with Ronaldo's ideals, and Polaris was the strongest. When it could do this to all of them?
Hiro had stood there, in that instant realizing why the Anguished One was so dead set against this (but not enough to prefer to see humanity dead, even when he'd been willing to die himself, a being inflicted with this fate). Had they just told Polaris how to take away their free will? Would he end up like the septentriones, unable to really turn against Polaris? Even Alcor had to show up to defend Polaris, bar the door to him, do what he was created for, over and over again. And he was the rebel, the cast-out one.
It was such a relief when Polaris destroyed that world, too. Even though Hiro wished he'd had more time: after he'd defeated Yamato, Yamato was finally willing to tell Hiro what he knew of how it all worked but Hiro knew there were still things he was holding back. He hadn't wanted to tell Hiro about Alcor, about the Hotsuin, and Hiro had to fight him, had to prove he was the strongest and deserved that information on every little point, dragging everything he could out of him over that handful of days…
That was what was bugging him, he realized, Io's arms around him and clinging to the ears of his hood.
Yamato was supposed to have called them by now. That was why Io hadn't hugged him in the other timelines when she survived: they were distracted by the call, and the need to prepare to finish off Mizar.
His phone wasn't ringing, but even though Alcor had sent him the fate viewer clip of Otome that time, he hadn't sent Hiro one of Yamato. When Yamato's death should have been certain, in the timeline where Hiro didn't get the clip, didn't go save Otome, and Yamato was stranded when Alioth came down. So the 'death clip' must have been there, in the Akashic Record, but Alcor hadn't sent it. Just Otome's.
So Yamato could be about to die, this winning streak could be about to be over, he could be about to lose a friend (because Yamato was a friend, he had kept them all alive and cast mazandyne to hurl them away from the tower even as it collapsed on him) and he wouldn't know until it was too late.
Yamato was fine every other time...
…Hiro had done something different this time, he realized. He'd gone to see the magic circle with Ronaldo, but he'd explained about the ritual so Ronaldo didn't think the circle was for anything evil. Which meant that Ronaldo might have figured out that Yamato would be there, alone, right now, and that after the ritual was cast they wouldn't need Yamato anymore. Hiro might have managed to convince Ronaldo to leave Yamato alone for awhile, but that time would run out. If Yamato was tired after the ritual, that would be the perfect time to kill him.
The dragon stream was still there, right? Hiro pushed Io away so he could turn around and see that for himself, ignoring the others as they asked what was wrong. "Take care of Io, and Mizar!" he told them, because he didn't want her to exhaust herself following him, and he didn't want Makoto to come with him in case Ronaldo really was there. Not when Ronaldo really would kill her.
He had, one time, when Hiro had looked at the death clip and thought, 'Oh, he's not really going to do it.' He'd already worked on Ronaldo's issues that time, and he knew the guy, after siding with him. Ronaldo was far from a bad guy.
But he really would kill her, if she got between him and Yamato, and Hiro had been too busy to track down Airi's father in that timeline. Or this one, either.
Was it really true that he could only save so many people? That saving Joe and Io meant not saving Airi's father?
He wasn't dead yet, Hiro told himself. Probably. People could die in other ways, and the man was never on his fate viewer, especially this time when Hiro had only spoken to him once.
So… No, he couldn't give up. Not yet. Not even after a hundred times.
Yeah, Hiro thought, losing the token pursuit easily and ducking behind a wall to start hitting buttons on his cell phone, he really had to side with Yamato again next. Fumi really was a genius, and being able to tell her to work on whatever he wanted her to work on?
Like, for example, an app that would let him access those teleporters no matter where he was. He was just lucky the magic circle was important enough to have a receiver close by, otherwise he would have had to try to figure out what was the closest he could get and run the rest of the way.
He frowned when he heard shouting, but at least if Ronaldo was shouting at Yamato, Yamato wasn't dead yet?
What had to be Yamato's voice proved it, but the sound… It was hard to Hiro to make out words over the pounding of his footsteps on the stairs, but when he finally paused long enough to grab the door handle, he heard, "Don't look at me!"
Yamato was wailing? Yes, there was still anger there, not pure distress, but Yamato?
"You monster!" And there was triumph in Ronaldo's voice as he said that. "I'll kill you and put an end to your evil ways!"
Not that likely, Hiro saw as he opened the door, when Ronaldo had gotten himself caught somehow, chained up in midair.
Ronaldo grinned when he saw him, and there was that triumph again. "Hiro!"
"Hi-Don't look at me!" And yes, Yamato was wailing, not turning around to see Hiro but wrapping his arms around himself, like he was trying to hide, and why was he chained down too? Was it part of the… Whoa!
Hiro managed to dodge the chains that he could see as they chimed towards him, but the ones that just appeared, starting with a link or a half-link in empty air? Dozens of them swarmed him, sections of them vanishing and reappearing, and when they had him trussed up tight Hiro felt himself vanish, dragged through somewhere else towards Yamato.
He should have felt more nervous, maybe, but it didn't feel like an attack, it felt like someone grabbing him desperately, like Io or Daichi when they were panicked and wanted to make sure that he was still alive, that they were still alive. Yamato was the nervous one, cowering at where Hiro's feet were now. "No, why are they bringing him here, I don't want him to see… Don't look at me!" Yamato ordered, voice breaking, making him sound like an even younger teen trying and failing to pretend he was all grown up, that he was strong and didn't need anyone.
"It's too late: he can see now, see that you really are a monster! I should have known: you were a demon, all along! You and the Hotsuin clan!"
Yamato let out a bitter laugh. "Demons?" You fool. "I'll crush you…" The chains around Ronaldo tightened, and the man let out a grunt, but he remained uncrushed, Hiro could see out of the corner of his eyes. "Why can't I… Why won't they kill you! I can still control the Dragon Stream… This has to be his doing somehow!" Yamato finally raised his head to snarl at Ronaldo, which was much more like him.
"What?" Hiro asked. "Why don't you want me to look at you?"
"Is it the fangs? Airi has fangs." So did plenty of other people. Hiro had found himself wondering why he never noticed anything like this before, if it had something to do with people who used the summon app getting turned into demons, until he got concerned enough to ask one of the Ticos, he forgot which one. Apparently it took sight to see the death clips, or something, but most people who had that sight never actually used it. The fangs had always been there, he'd just never seen them before.
…Except he'd actually seen Yamato's mouth close up quite a lot, looking him in the eye and trying to tell if he was lying and how. Hiro was pretty sure he would have noticed fangs, during that almost-week of interrogation. He thought he'd seen flashes of them some other times, but…
Theoretically, he'd be bothered by how ruthless he'd been to Yamato, except that Yamato hadn't really minded it. Not at the time, and Hiro wasn't sure how much of that was Polaris' doing and how much was Yamato.
The way he looked to the side now: in the world of merit, that would have meant that Yamato didn't want to say it, but by making it so obvious that there was something to be said? If he really didn't want Hiro to force it out of him, he would have made a better attempt to hide it.
The way they were positioned right now, it was like Yamato was kneeling at his feet in chains, and didn't that bring back memories.
Hiro would have felt weird about chaining Yamato up if he'd been in his right mind at the time: he'd felt really weird about it when he woke up in his own bed, in his own home, the morning the world returned to the way it had been, but at the time it had just been a way to keep Yamato aware of who was stronger, a way to save time. For him, at least. For Yamato, when all of them were programmed to submit to the strong?
When letting Yamato suck him off, kneeling at Hiro's feet in chains, had seemed like a favor to Yamato? Something to prove to him that he hadn't displeased Hiro too badly, despite how difficult he was being?
So… yeah, Hiro would have noticed if Yamato had fangs, he thought, blushing.
Yamato was almost shivering at his feet, but the chains were sliding down his pants legs in what felt almost like a caress, the way Yamato had petted his hair and body, sitting in his throne before Hiro took control, the links oddly flat except for a twist… Were the chain links mobius strips?
And they were the exact color of Yamato's hair, too. That sheen wasn't metal, now that he looked at it more closely.
Mobius strips: strange geometries. The heat of these chains, exactly like Yamato's skin. The way Yamato was so awkward, understood next to nothing about people: Hiro had thought it was just because of his training, but seeing him like this, like when the final septentrione was forced to reveal himself for what he was, he reminded Hiro so much of, "Alcor."
Yamato jerked back, staring up at him with wide gray eyes. How did he know that name? Why had he said it here, now? Was he calling the fallen servant of Polaris to save him?
The chains tightened around Hiro protectively, possessively, and that was when Hiro was sure, "They're a part of you, aren't they? You're descended from Alcor?" he asked that question a little doubtfully, because even if the Ticos showed that Alcor was capable of having children of some kind, anyway, the idea of Alcor doing anything as human as having sex… Well, was kind of hilarious now that Hiro thought about it. Reminded him of Yamato and takoyaki, only Alcor would probably be more willing to try new, human things.
"Descended from that, that…" Yamato looked murderous, and Hiro would have been certain that he was murderous if he wasn't Hiro, and he didn't know Yamato. If he hadn't already made sure to grow close enough to Yamato that Yamato wouldn't want to lose him. Would blame any bad behavior on other people and try to murder them instead, which wasn't necessarily an improvement… "He's the one that did this to us! That bound my clan to the fate of protecting Japan, to dying for the sake of this country and its people! He made us like this!"
"Made you like him," Hiro realized, just like he'd realized several times ago why Yamato forgave Alcor as Alcor died barring the way to Polaris, even though Alcor didn't want to stop him.
"Supposedly," Yamato said, a bitter twist to his lips, "It couldn't be helped. In order for us to be able to connect to the energies of the dragon stream, he had to change us, to give us those capabilities. And the only models he had for managing energies like this, for this sort of administrator position, were himself and his kind. He did this to us, made us monsters," Ronaldo's word, "so that we would fight and die for humanity, for a country that cares nothing for the lives of monsters! These chains: he claims to value human free will, and yet he placed them on my entire clan! And now I'm the only one left, generations of Hotsuins have thrown their lives away for a country that refuses to change, even revolution only places different corrupt rulers in power!" He met Hiro's eyes now, his own narrow, fear of rejection overpowered by hatred of Alcor for now. "But how do you know his name? He's never told it to you." Never revealed his true nature. "Unless you've met with him in secret?"
Hiro wasn't surprised that Yamato had been monitoring their encounters with his enemy, or at least having Makoto report on them.
He was saved from trying to come up with something that would deflect Yamato's suspicion from Hiro and his wrath from Alcor (who was already going to suffer more than enough, enough that Yamato would be satisfied), when he noticed that Yamato's eyes were becoming unfocused, almost glazing over as he looked up at Hiro.
"What?" he asked, blue eyes blinking innocently at the other teenager.
"You do shine." So that was why Alcor called him Shining One. "I can't see it, but I can feel it. Those parts of me can feel it," Yamato said with distant disgust mingled with… was it longing? "Is that why he courts you, tempting you with knowledge and power like my clan? You shine, like a star, like the master and kin who cast him out because he pled for our sake." Supposedly. Yamato's tone tried to be mocking, but he was clearly distracted, sightless eyes not leaving Hiro's face even though somehow Hiro knew that Yamato was too far gone to pay attention to what they saw, not when he was trying to pay heed to other senses. Alien senses. "Is the Anguished One looking for a replacement for Polaris? Does he want you to take him in, let him kneel at your feet?" The chains around Hiro tightened for a moment, before resuming that drift along his clothing, reminding him of their presence, staking that claim and trying to make it a pleasant one. Now, now Yamato was snarling again, though.
Yamato pushed himself up, higher but still on his knees, to lean against Hiro, face against Hiro's abs, and Hiro realized that it wasn't quite Yamato's doing when he felt Yamato try to pull back. The chains around the teenager's shoulders chimed, but refused to budge. Instead, they pushed him harder against Hiro, and Hiro tried to think of icebergs, Mizar, anything but the memory of Yamato's mouth. OF that coaxing enthusiasm, that eagerness to please. Because if he reacted now, there was no way Yamato wouldn't feel it.
"I can't control them," Yamato said, somewhere between anger, embarrassment and wanting Hiro to know that Yamato wasn't taking these liberties of his own free will. "They wouldn't let me get up to put my seal back on, and then that idiot came barging in here." Clearly Yamato had been able to grab him, but not finish him off, not even in order to keep him from bearing tales to Hiro.
"What happened to your cell phone?" He'd been calling them while they guarded Io, and it didn't look like Ronaldo had gotten close enough to Yamato to take it away from him.
"I dropped it," Yamato said shortly, grateful that one of these parts of him had cast a mute spell on Ronaldo (finally!), so Ronaldo couldn't chime in with, 'he screamed like a little girl and flung it into the air when he realized someone had seen him like this.'
"But they started acting differently before Ronaldo came in here?" Hiro asked next, because of Ronaldo's arrival wasn't what made the difference from all the other times, then what had?
"I have no trouble controlling the dragon stream," Yamato said, looking as though if he could control these chains properly, if they were acting like the parts of him they were, they'd be lashing, "but when I tried to seal them away again… This has to be his doing somehow. To turn you against me, have you for himself!" How dare he! "Or is he the reason you haven't asked whether or not I'm a servant of Polaris in disguise, plotting to betray the human race? Because he already revealed himself to you?" So Hiro believed that not all septentriones were enemies?
Actually, Hiro wasn't considering asking that because he already knew that Yamato was plotting to betray the human race, for a certain value of betrayal. Yamato certainly thought the change to a merit system would be an improvement over how humans were now, and it was certainly better than being completely wiped out by Polaris. Unless they could beat Polaris somehow and make it stick, then the only way to survive they had was to placate Polaris, make it happy enough with how humans existed to let them continue to exist in peace.
If Yamato's merit system was enough to do that, then Hiro wouldn't have come back after the last time.
Yamato's eyes narrowed, taking Hiro's silence as proof he'd guessed right. "That trash! He wants you to fight Polaris, doesn't he! Waste all your power and potential on a fool's errand! Polaris is the administrator of worlds, he can't be defeated! Even Alcor admits he can't defeat Polaris, can't even raise a hand against his master! Our only hope of survival is to convince Polaris that if he removes the flaws that are why he wants to destroy us in the first place, we will no longer be an unsightly blot on his creation! Fighting him was clearly what he wanted me to do, the reason he gave my clan this power in the first place, to waste our lives even though he knew we couldn't save humanity! See? I had to use the power of the dragon stream, the barriers are down now: all my clan's struggle and suffering, all for this moment, and all the power he gave us could do was buy us a handful of days!"
Hiro wondered if Yamato had noticed that when he grabbed Hiro, looking up at him so fiercely, his hands were on Hiro's ass. Probably not, since this was Yamato.
…This was definitely not a good time to remember spanking Yamato, one of the times he was especially difficult. Especially when the chains were lashing now, channeling Yamato's rage at the thought of Alcor, of anyone but especially Alcor, taking Hiro from him. So Alcor wasn't the reason they were acting up? Hiro doubted it. Not because this part of Yamato was still hostile to Alcor. No. Alcor had let them use his own summon app to kill him: he wouldn't restrict Yamato's free will, not even the homicidal, or astrocidal impulses.
He doubted it because after finally figuring out how to react to Alcor, what made him happy and therefore willing to keep talking, he knew he just didn't think in those terms, Septentrione or not. Creation of Polaris, who definitely did think in those terms, or not.
It made sense, in an ugly way. As insurance. Alcor was the Sword of Polaris, the most powerful creation of the administrator and controller of worlds, and yet Alcor had no real ability to have power over other people. Forget physical attacks, he was incredibly weak to any form of psychological warfare. It said a lot, that he still defended humanity even when Polaris would surely have used that vulnerability against him. Alcor was absolutely miserable and flat-out wanted to die, but he still helped them instead of begging the forgiveness of Polaris and the other septentriones, pleading that he'd do or believe anything if they'd let him back into the hive mind and end what had to feel like eternal lonely torment, for a timeless being.
After seeing so many times how grateful he was for death, how much of a relief it was for him, Hiro had almost taken Alcor off the list of people he was determined to have survive all this. Because was that really fair to him, after all he'd done for them? When an ending was what he wanted, didn't they owe it to him?
…It was a bad idea to be thinking sympathetically about Alcor when Yamato was watching him for thoughts like that, about ready to go flying off the handle. Yamato didn't deal with stress or embarrassment well, or rather he channeled it into anger really well, and when he had someone to kill?
Someone who was going to die for trying to take Hiro away from him!
Seeing Yamato this pissed off wasn't going to help Ronaldo thinking that he was a monster.
Seeing Alcor get swung upside-down in the air he'd appeared in the middle of, blinking at the sight of the Shining One and Yamato Hotsuin, wasn't going to make Hiro think that he was a monster, though. The septentrione seemed aware of the chains coiling around him, certainly, but not bothered by them. Anything but. "Yamato Hotsuin?" he started to say.
"Why were you hanging around my Hiro, you piece of trash!" the head of JPs demanded furiously, fangs bared.
For some reason the chains let Alcor put his hand to his mouth in that familiar gesture, when Hiro couldn't even get his arms free to put a hand on Yamato's head to try to calm him down. He looked distressed, but not because of Yamato when he said, "The Shining One is not yours, Yamato Hotsuin. The Will of the Species is not yours to dictate, and never will be." If Alcor had anything to say about it.
Not that he did: Hiro knew that very well.
Yamato shook him now, and Alcor still looked like he wasn't bothered by the chains, even if they belonged to his enemy. Like being encircled was entirely too familiar, too natural to him for him to possibly see it as a threat.
Mizar, Hiro realized. Mizar had tentacles, and, "Mizar's your companion star, isn't he? He was, I mean. And he's going to die soon." The others would figure out that they needed to head over there and finish him off even without Yamato or Hiro there to point out the obvious. Fumi would know that the dragon stream's power wouldn't last forever, too.
"Yes, Shining One," Alcor confessed, bowing his head. "What he and the others are trying to do to humanity is wrong, and yet… I am sorry I could not bring myself to help you, as I did with Alioth and Megrez."
"That's fine." They'd figured out how to kill it on their own, was what Hiro didn't say.
That didn't win him any sympathy from Yamato. "And so you attached yourself to Hiro's aura, spying on him?" For comfort? "Touch him again, and I'll kill you!"
"But you have already made yourself my enemy, Yamato Hotsuin," Alcor said reasonably. "You seek my destruction, and I seek yours. I will not permit you to meet with Polaris and have him take away humanity's free will. When you hate me for the edits I made to your clan's files, why do you want similar edits made to your entire species? Your Reason will make humanity more like us, bound to obey the strong and yet be thrown away by them as unworthy no matter how much we…" Alcor bit his lip. "I never meant for your clan to suffer my fate, Yamato Hotsuin." And he couldn't bear for the species he had aided to suffer that fate, not because of him, not because of how he had tried to aid it.
"You're weak, and deluded, and you use others because-" Yamato said, both out of hatred of Alcor and in defense of his world of merit.
"I am the strongest of the Septentriones," Alcor said calmly. "My title is the Sword of Polaris: I was created to be the strongest being in existence, save for him."
"How would you feel," Hiro asked, "If I 'cast you aside?' Not because you were weak, or unworthy, or anything you could fix, but because we disagreed? Because I thought your world of merit wasn't a good idea, while you couldn't just abandon your ideals and what you think is right? What if we disagreed so much that even after I kicked your ass, you still couldn't bring yourself to go along with it?" Hiro knew what would happen: would Yamato realize? Would Yamato admit it, that there were problems with his vision of the ideal world? That the paradise he was trying to bring into being wouldn't be any better than this world, and would really just be worse? "There are different kinds of strength, Yamato. Strength in battle, strength of conviction, the power we get from each other: in a merit system, the stupid people would try to just take take take, to use others up to get stronger themselves, and then those others wouldn't have any power left to give them. So everyone would just end up weaker, in the end, because they wouldn't have been watching out for the other people they used to get their strength from.
"Ronaldo doesn't have it right either: if you worry about other people but forget to worry about yourself, then you'll just throw away all the effort they put into helping you, because you won't value it. You can't, if you don't value yourself." Hiro remembered that, remembered watching people try to fight over who got to eat the last of the food, until it got to the point that everyone refused to eat. "You're actually a pretty good boss, Yamato: you look after your people and it doesn't really occur to you to be unfair to them, because that would be stupid. I thought you knew, though, that most people are that stupid. I get that you think that in a world of merit, the worthy will rise to the top, but how do you define worthy?" Even over that week, the ones who were able to hold on to power were the ones who managed to care enough about their underlings to keep them in top condition. The ones who gained power were the ones able to take in those thrown aside and grant them strength, make them grateful. But then, wasn't that strength? Enough strength of will to fight the programming even when it kept them from being aware that there was any reason to do so. Kept them thinking that what they were doing was underhanded and wrong. "And Polaris? Really is that stupid. And unfair. Really unfair," Hiro added, because making them do this over and over again because the damn thing kept going back on its world was fucking cheating, no matter how happy Hiro was that it gave him chances to save people.
After all, breaking a promise wouldn't matter, you could get away with it, if you could just destroy the file that held that inconvenient little promise. Hiro had no idea why he alone held on to his memories: the one thing he did know was that Polaris had seemed scared of him, the time Hiro and Daichi tried killing the damn thing. It had run away before they could finish it off, and they were stuck on tiny islands with a limited food supply – thank goodness for demons – until the damn thing got its courage up enough to come back and start trying to erase them again.
It said that the only reason they could do it, or contemplate, it, or something like that was because of Hiro, so what was it that put Hiro outside of Polaris' control? Alcor was the one who knew the most about the Shining One thing, but so far Hiro hadn't figured out how to get him to talk about it, if Hiro could even understand the answer, because that meant revealing he was a septentrione, and whenever Alcor did that, he expected to die very shortly and wouldn't stand around talking forever. Although Hiro had gotten better at delaying the reluctant assault.
Anyway, "No matter what you do, people are going to disagree." Even people who had fought beside each other to save what was left of the world for a week. "When it's important enough to them. Polaris' power is the most important thing to him, but he made Alcor to care enough about others at least enough to serve Polaris instead of his own ambition, right?" Yeah, maybe part of Yamato's disdain for Ronaldo was that Ronaldo's ideals of helping others reminded him of Alcor, and how that worked out for Yamato's clan? "Because having servants just like Polaris himself, that would stab him in the back all the time? That would be great. Just what the big bastard deserves." Hiro couldn't help smiling at the thought. "I'm not saying that the old world wasn't messed up, and that what happened to your clan wasn't unfair. Having to fight alone, with no one coming to help you: that could still happen in your world of merit, though." It happened all the time. "They disagreed with the people in power, wanted to change things." No wonder Hiro had thought they might be related to Alcor, really. Although Yamato was more like… Well, the only Septentrione they'd ever managed to actually piss off was Polaris, but Yamato wasn't that bad.
"Shining One, how do you know all of this?" Alcor wondered, making that little frown. Humans couldn't access the Akashic Records, he'd managed to get that hammered into his head, but that meant there were only certain ways data could get into their memory files. He turned over and floated closer to the Shining One, and even though Alcor didn't notice both Yamato and Hiro wondered why the chains weren't stopping him, when Yamato had to want to keep Alcor away from his Hiro, right? So even if they were controlled partially by his subconscious or something, they should still be trying to hold the septentrione back.
Pulling him down suddenly when he got too close seemed about right, but then they saw that awkward tangle of thin limbs get straightened out into a kneeling position, almost like Yamato's. Alcor's surprised glance at Yamato made the Hotsuin even angrier – no, the word was jealous. The one he was angry at was himself, for letting Alcor look up at Hiro like that, all vulnerable and wondering if he had a place here.
Yamato didn't even know the word moe, Hiro was fairly certain, or else he'd be more worried. Didn't know that weakness could be just as tempting as strength, especially when he was looking at something strong that had been made weak, and still had such a strong will under there. It wasn't that Hiro minded fixer-uppers: look at Yamato.
That was when Yamato managed to move despite the chains, far enough to tackle Alcor, and Hiro wondered if it was because of the merit system programming (even if it should have never existed now) that his first reaction was to be extremely pleased that two damn strong (and hot) people were fighting over him. It reminded him of when Io had gotten upset enough over Yamato taking up all of Hiro's time and attention to challenge them both, making a fairly good attempt at crowning herself God-Empress Io. Well, when you were in a world of merit, and you'd made a sun god your bitch… It was hot, was what it was.
At least in that momentary fantasy Hiro was the referee of this little wrestling match instead of a spectator, actually doing something to keep them from hurting each other too badly. Even when he wanted them to win Alcor was not a pushover, and he did want Yamato dead. At some point, the necessity of doing something about those hands around his throat would overcome Alcor's reluctance to harm humans, and then Yamato was going to get so ill-starred being poked a few times would finish him off, Hiro just knew it.
"How dare you try to take my place with Hiro! I'll kill you!" Yamato raved, and Hiro wondered exactly when Yamato's place had become kneeling at Hiro's feet instead of the other way around. Well, he knew exactly when it happened in the merit timeline, but…
Thinking like this wasn't helping him get down there or save Yamato's life. Did Alcor's body null strangle damage or something? Why weren't those hands crushing his throat… Except Yamato's hands weren't quite touching Alcor's throat, were they? There were chains wrapped around it, and Yamato was trying, and failing, to push in the chains.
When Hiro realized this was when Alcor asked, "Why are you protecting me, Yamato Hotsuin?" sounding puzzled and touched and Hiro really wished he could facepalm, because wrong thing to say.
"You!" This was your fault! "You're the one that did this to me, and now Hiro thinks I'm a monster like you!" Now Alcor was making Yamato's own body betray him!
"Actually…" Hiro started to say, because being like Alcor didn't make someone a monster. It made them like a stray puppy or something. Alcor was one that had been abused by his former owner and needed to be lured carefully with soft words – Hiro still hadn't managed it – while Yamato was half-feral but hungry enough for companionship to pounce desperately on any bone you tossed him once he knew you, a few of them all it took to make him your best friend for life, but still. Maybe not human, or entirely human in Yamato's case, but not monsters. "Don't worry, Yamato. I still like you. Actually, this explains a lot." So this was what Yamato had fought against his own merit system, desperate to hide it from Hiro even in the world where it shouldn't have mattered. "Like why you don't understand how normal people work at all." At least he was better at it than Alcor? Although even though Alcor couldn't really understand humans, he still had compassion for them, while Yamato's lack of understanding made it hard for him to figure that out.
Yet, when Hiro sided with him, and they met that dying man trying to bring one last scavenged candy to his daughter… At least Yamato was able to realize that there was something there to be understood, something that didn't fit with his theories about how the world worked and how to make it stop sucking. That it wasn't as simple as 'some people suck, so getting rid of them will fix the problem.'
It wasn't that Yamato was a sociopath, it wasn't that he was incapable of understanding people or being nice to them. He was just ignorant, like that puppy or like a little kid, and it was kind of cute.
…Why yes, one of Hiro's childhood ambitions had been to grow up to be a Lion Tamer, why did he find himself thinking of that now? "But I would like it if you and Alcor could kiss and make up." Hiro remembered telling Yamato and Io to do that.
If it weren't for, well, what happened to all the people Hiro or someone else sensible weren't personally in charge of, Hiro would have thought that yeah, the merit system did kind of rock. Good times.
"Shining One?" Hiro hadn't expected Alcor to nod, and lean up and do that literally. Yamato hadn't either, which left him gaping like a fish.
Hiro's inner… Well, he couldn't blame this on the merit system. His inner teenager was disappointed there wasn't any tongue or anything, just a brief press of lips. "Was that right?" Alcor asked, pressing his hand to his mouth again, blushing.
"Stop-Stop wrapping yourself all around him like that!" Yamato ordered, brain apparently deciding that hadn't happened. Alcor was still hogging the light.
Alcor frowned. "Are you really unaware that you made room for me, Yamato Hotsuin? And I think that was right… One of the Hotsuin tried to explain kissing to me, but I could never remember when you were supposed to use your teeth and when you weren't…"
Hiro realized that right, the Hotsuin had to be pretty smart, if Yamato was any example. So Hiro couldn't possibly be the first person to realize that Alcor was really, really molestable. "On the neck, right?" he found himself asking, almost out of morbid curiosity.
"Yes, that was where he used his. Mostly," Alcor corrected himself. "It was very kind of him, to summon me for such small things just to try to make me feel less lonely."
"Shut up," Yamato said, blushing furiously at the thought. "And don't try to get Hiro to, to… to try to warm your bed out of pity!" He glared down at the Anguished One. "Is that why you made us like this? So we could do what the others used to, and connect… to… your… mind." Yamato said the final words as though becoming enlightened, smiling with triumph more vicious than Ronaldo's.
Alcor cried out with surprise beneath him, and Hiro tried not to think that was hot, really he did. When Alcor threw his head back, neck exposed, and pleaded, "Don't, Yamato Hotsuin," with hopeless desperation mingled with want that made it clear that even though Yamato was still most likely his enemy, he was so very lonely. He did miss this.
"Like stripping the insulation off a wire," Yamato said thoughtfully. "Did Polaris intend to cripple you, or are these scars just what happened when you were torn away? They won't protect you from me! I'll find out everything you know, everything you're scheming to do to Hiro, and I will create my ideal world! A world where no one will care about blood or race, a world where Hiro will be mine!"
"Stop it, Yamato!" Hiro said, and knew it was too late not just when round, ribbed lengths of what could almost be steel cable appeared, some of them with chains wrapped around them, others running through the middle of the links of the chains, but when Alcor started to weep.
It wasn't crying: crying meant crying out, making noise. Wanting someone to help.
Alcor wept soundlessly, believing that no one would come to help him. That no one would care, that he was alone, and that kind of despair? Like Io after her mother died, and even the merit system couldn't have kept something from tightening in Hiro's chest at that, everything that made him who he was knowing that he had to fix this.
Ronaldo wanted a world where everyone had to feel compassion, Yamato wanted a world ruled by the worthy, but Hiro, Hiro just couldn't tolerate a world where people felt like this. Ever. It was just that he accepted that he'd have to make the world a place where this didn't happen not by changing the world, but by doing it the hard way and fixing people. Making it better for them.
Because he just couldn't stand this. His arms flexed in the chains, wanting to grab the septentrione so he knew that someone was there, and not just because they hated him like Yamato. That someone wanted him there, wanted him to be okay.
Alcor looked like a painting, and Hiro wondered for a moment if he was warped to think this was beautiful, but didn't people think Romeo and Juliet was a beautiful story, despite being a lot of really fucked up, stupid and tragic stuff that shouldn't have happened? But that was life, and truth was beauty, and this was how Alcor really felt. Even as he tried to save humanity, he was hurting so much inside, and caring about what happened to others when he was in this much pain? Wasn't there something noble in that, beautiful in that, even if Yamato couldn't see it?
"Shining… One…" Alcor managed to force out, and Hiro realized it was a warning when Yamato looked up at him, eyes wild.
That just made it worse, didn't it? Hiro wanted to tell Alcor to, 'Worry about yourself,' because when you cared about someone else, then you needed that person to be a little selfish, to worry about themselves, because otherwise they could end up in pain like this and then you both just suffered.
"Humans aren't meant to think the way we do. I tried to preserve the Hotsuin clan's humanity, but he remembers… Impossible things," Alcor went on as Yamato stood up, his feet not touching the ground. "Records of things that haven't happened."
Yamato sunk his teeth into the side of Hiro's neck, and suddenly it all made sense. If Yamato was part septentrione, but normally kept that part of himself sealed? And even when it was unsealed, the thoughts of that part of his mind were foreign enough they were practically subconscious, hard for the normal Yamato to understand?
A jumbled sound came from Yamato's lips, against Hiro's marked skin, followed by, "Overlord," and Hiro knew that yeah, this was all his fault.
He didn't think this part of Yamato would really have cared about what happened on the failed resets, and would have wanted to ignore the time Hiro helped Ronaldo win, but when, last time, Yamato finally got what he wanted? When he and Hiro became lovers, and Yamato had a worthy master to serve?
If this was some kind of mind merge or hive mind thing, then being connected to a(nother) septentrione would have let this part of Yamato, the one that seemed to remember, overpower (or outvote) the human consciousness.
And of course this part of Yamato wouldn't have wanted to be suppressed by the part of him that didn't remember, didn't know what the hell was going on. Thought that Polaris would keep its word. Not when this part remembered getting his ideal world, getting everything he'd ever wanted, and then having it snatched away from him. No, this was Yamato, so he'd be stubborn and vicious and get Hiro back.
Hiro was just glad he'd managed to impress on Yamato that there would be no killing people, dammit, or Hiro would be very upset, as that was clearly the only reason Ronaldo was still alive and Alcor wasn't damaged. More damaged.
Yeah, this Yamato definitely remembered the world of merit. Remembered how to undo Hiro's pants with his teeth, even.
Hiro tried to think of the audience, of Ronaldo and how everything Yamato experienced right now was probably getting fed right into Alcor's mind, but Yamato was sexy when he was hungry and vicious and wanted Hiro.
Wanted Hiro enough to find a way to remember, when everyone else kept forgetting and Hiro couldn't bring himself to tell them the truth. Not when they had enough despair to deal with. To tell them that even if they managed to survive and get a happy ending, it would all be for nothing? Hell no. He'd decided a long time ago to bear that burden alone.
At least Hiro finally managed to get his hands free, clearly because Yamato wanted Hiro to touch him. Well, wouldn't that kill two or three birds with one stone? There was this Yamato, this timeline's Yamato (who was worried that Hiro thought he was a monster) and Alcor (who needed hugs and would hopefully feel them). Also, he should probably try to make it clear to Ronaldo without being tasteless about it that he certainly wasn't being raped, because Ronaldo was a cop and Hiro could only imagine how much he would hate seeing someone raped right in front of him while he was powerless to do anything.
Hiro still managed to get his jacket off and throw it so that it covered Ronaldo's face. "Sorry!" he said, clearly only half-meaning it.
Under the merit system, he would have wanted to show off that he was the strong and worthy one and that meant that he got Yamato, the former overlord, but Yamato was going to be embarrassed enough as it was whenever he recovered enough ability to care about other people's opinions.
Embarrassment wasn't enough to keep Hiro from giving himself a mental high-five when Alcor's occasional noises changed from surprise and uncertainty to enjoyment, and finally an enlightened, "So that is how that is supposed to feel."
The thing he said that about… While it raised Hiro's estimate of how many bases that Hotsuin had gotten to with Alcor, at least it proved that the Hotsuin really had been trying to make him feel good, and not just taking advantage of the septentrione's innocence and vulnerability. If anything, it made Hiro feel for the guy, because heaven knew (even if Polaris wouldn't care) how many times Hiro had tried to make Alcor feel better, only to fail. It sucked, to see someone hurting like that and not be able to do anything, but at least Hiro wasn't the only one who had ever tried.
Another really good excuse Hiro had for having sex right now was that Yamato was always easier to deal with during a food coma or the afterglow, when the warm fuzzies were temporarily overpowering his adolescent rage at, well, everything. If Yamato's goal here to be reunited with Hiro, then proving that Hiro still wanted him would show that the mission was accomplished.
Then, if they could work out some more controllable way to help Yamato wake up this part of his mind and get his memories back, then Hiro could grab him one of the first few days and take that seal off, whatever it was. Having Yamato on your side made everything so much easier.
For one thing, it meant you weren't fighting him. Fighting Yamato was a bitch. Alcor was easy by comparison, and Alcor was the Sword of Polaris. Hiro doubted that it was only because of how Alcor had helped the Hotsuin Clan at his own expense.
What had Trumpeter said? "Humans have become such dreadful beings," that was it.
That might be the real reason Polaris kept deleting them. Not because they weren't evolving enough, but because they had evolved too much. Come too far, grown too strong.
Not only could they kick Polaris' ass, but they'd stolen the loyalty of the most powerful of his servants. If Polaris' arrogance wasn't hiding fear, then he was an even bigger fool than Hiro already knew he was. After all, he was the one who'd picked a fight with humanity by killing billions of people, he was the one who'd refused to listen to Alcor and instead tried to break that will, the will Polaris made in the first place. If he'd had any respect for other people at all, he wouldn't have done such damn stupid things.
…Yeah, maybe Hiro had a responsibility to keep Yamato from growing up to be any more like Polaris.
No, that was unfair to Yamato. At least Yamato was willing to listen. More than that, he was eager to learn.
"Hiro… I missed you so," Yamato said afterwards, sounding almost dreamy, pale fingers in Hiro's hair. "Part of me remembered fighting Polaris with you, creating our new world, but I couldn't… I was powerless, all I could do was watch. I couldn't connect to the mind of my former self until he released that seal."
"I remember," Hiro reassured Yamato, taking one of those hands and entwining their fingers together. "Even that wasn't the first time."
"I'm aware of that, but the other times…" Hiro felt Yamato shrug, lying underneath him. Yamato didn't care about the other times, not compared to when he was Hiro's lover.
"I only went along with your world of merit because I was pretty sure Polaris would betray you too, and I'd be back to square one. I figured that while it lasted, I could get you and Fumi to tell me what you knew and work on some things for me," Hiro confessed, because friends should be honest with each other. "Your world of merit wouldn't have worked out any better than Ronaldo's ideal did."
Yamato made a noncommittal sound, not really caring, but, "Even in that world, I was still too afraid to tell you the truth of what was done to my clan."
"You really meant to create a world where people would be happy," Hiro said, more than half for Ronaldo's benefit, "but it's just not that easy. Paradise is like purposes: it's something we have to create for ourselves. Heaven is the company you keep, not the place you are."
"And you'll fight me if I try to bring about the world of merit instead of restoring the human world." Even though he couldn't see Yamato's eyes right now, with their cheeks pressed together, Hiro could still imagine the thoughtful look in them.
"Yes," Hiro said bluntly. "Because I don't want to end up like Polaris. I don't want to ever get rid of you or hurt you because I feel threatened by you. There are people who think that a benevolent dictator is the best form of government," it wasn't just Yamato, "but being made to think that way made it really hard to be benevolent."
"You don't want to treat me like Alcor," Yamato translated. "Or the way the government and Yatagarasu have treated my clan." One of the Four Great Summoner clans, yes, but corrupted by a foreign god. Even more expendable than the Kuzunoha name-bearers. "Hiro… why are you so perfect? Why do you shine so? Even Alcor doesn't know. Well," Yamato amended that statement, "Now that he knows that these events have become a cycle, he thinks it's because you have become a nexus, the focusing point of humanity's will to survive and the power of friendship," or some rot like that. Yamato didn't think enough of humans to believe that just being more human, that being a vessel of the will of a species like humanity, would make Hiro this wonderful.
"It's a secret," Hiro said cheerfully, as he had before, in other conversations. "If I am getting stronger every time, though, that's good news," that was a reason to hope he could end this eventually. And if Alcor would keep getting drawn to him more and more every time, then he could save him too, surely.
He'd wondered before if it really was just that he was getting to know them better, or if it really was easier to grow close to them every time. It was nice to think that they remembered on some level, that their bonds didn't just disappear. If their bonds, if those feelings really did keep building and building, if it was their power that was shining through him? That was a nice thought. And it would explain a lot.
Io, Io could have been hiding a crush on him for months before they met up in that train station, but how else could he explain Makoto? It said something about Otome's devotion to others that she wanted to hook him up with either her friend or her daughter instead of taking him for herself even in the world of merit: she really was suited to Ronaldo's world. Or rather, she didn't need to be altered to conform to Ronaldo's ideals. If anything, it made her care less about other people's feelings, because she'd no longer been able to care about the fact that her daughter wanted her to live…
He and Daichi were friends, but where had the desperate conviction and strength of will come from, that made Daichi crush that truck into Dubhe even when he should have thought that it wouldn't have worked? It seemed so out of character for him, and yet Hiro could absolutely count on him coming to their rescue.
"I wonder if the others remember too, on some level? Even if they aren't part septentrione, so it's probably harder for their minds to sort data like that." See, Yamato? Hiro didn't think it was a bad thing. "You didn't manage to kill Ronaldo's mentor, by the way. And the two of you do get along pretty well. Actually, I kind of wonder if that's why he gets so angry with you, now that I think about it. You died to save me and him once, and most other times he's the one who goes to ask you why you wanted a world of merit, after I kick your ass, and helps to convince you to join me instead of finishing you off."
"When he came in the part of me that remembered realized that he could be useful, help to bring you back to me," Yamato agreed. "He's still a fool." An incredibly annoying one.
"So's Jungo, but Keita and Airi like him anyway," Hiro pointed out. "Think about Jungo. He's really strong: you should see him if you threaten his cat. I mean really strong. He's not all that smart, but at least he's smart enough to know his limits. And he helps a lot, even helping other people get stronger. Where is someone like that supposed to fit in your merit system? The old world was pretty messy and messed-up, but at least people could find or make places for themselves where they fit in."
"Right." More or less. "The world has a lot of great stuff that you just don't know about yet. I said I'd teach you, remember?"
"You want to bring the world back the way it was before." Instead of trying to salvage Yamato's idea of a world of merit.
"Of course. Io's parents died, Yamato. So did mine, and Daichi's, and Hinako's entire family… You know how upset you are that your clan died. Multiply that by… everyone, and that's how wrong it is, to just give up on saving all those people because we don't care enough."
"…I didn't think of it that way."
That, right there? And the way Yamato had said it, as thought he felt really stupid for not thinking of something that should have been so obvious? That was proof he wasn't a monster, forget a sociopath. There was a difference between not thinking of something because he didn't know how to look at things that way and not caring about something because it had occurred to him and he'd decided not to care. So Hiro squeezed his hand. "Tug Alcor over here, will you?"
"You're the one with extra limbs," Hiro pointed out. "I'd have to get up to do it."
Since Yamato didn't want Hiro to get up, Alcor bumped into their side a second later.
"In the world of merit, you were the strongest, so everyone wanted your time and attention," Yamato said sulkily. "And you deserved to have as many of them serve you as you wanted."
"Yeah, until I got Io and Makoto to beat them off with sticks for me, it wasted a lot of time," Hiro agreed. Wait, so Yamato's jealousy was now working for Hiro for once? Score!
After all this time, Hiro knew better than to do a lot of things, and one of them was to underestimate the power of Yamato's jealousy.
"You can have Io and Makoto," Yamato said grudgingly, although Hiro knew the real reason was that Yamato knew he could control Makoto, so he wasn't competition, and Yamato had found Io kicking his ass that time damn sexy, "and Alcor."
That surprised Hiro for a moment, but if Yamato could link his mind to Alcor, that meant that all the time and attention Alcor got from Hiro would be time and attention that Yamato got too. So this was less generosity than tactics, Yamato trying to maximize his percent share of Hiro. Still, at least he was willing to do it by sharing now, which was incredible progress. Incredible in the sense of not credible, until Hiro remembered that right, Yamato was linked to Alcor right now and Alcor would think in terms of sharing and generosity and so on. So Hiro lowered his raised eyebrows.
"Yamato Hotsuin," Alcor said so very gratefully, and with his cheek pressed against Yamato's, Hiro could feel the smirk.
Alcor was very emotionally vulnerable, and Yamato was a predator. So, he'd gotten inside Alcor's mind, looked for the septentrione's weak points, and was ruthlessly exploiting them. When Alcor missed his companion star, missed the minds connected to his, and now Yamato had taken their place?
Hiro wasn't going to point out that Yamato's victory was going to result in Alcor being much happier and better off, but if they were linked now? Seeing Alcor die (like the Hotsuin) had made Alcor and his pain real to Yamato before. Yamato had forgiven him before once he understood what Alcor had gone through, so it was possible.
So Hiro would just let Yamato tell himself that he was winning and let him be smug for now. He could pet him on the head and tell him how nice he was being to poor Alcor and how happy Hiro was that they were playing nice together later.
Wetness against his shoulder: was Alcor still shedding tears? Where was he getting all that water from? Right, not human. Hiro could feel the slight tremble in those unpadded limbs as he clung to them both.
Where Yamato saw weakness, Hiro saw the strength it took to endure this, to choose to endure this for the sake of other people instead of just going along with Polaris, but as long as Yamato only saw weakness he wouldn't see threat, so this was fine for now.
"You don't want anyone else, do you?" Yamato asked.
"Not really." Too much work. Not that he was reluctant to put in work for the sake of relationships, but one of the things he'd learned from this was to take relationships seriously, and he didn't know if he could look after any more people and their issues and needs well enough, even with Io's help. Well, there was Daichi, but Hiro couldn't tell if Daichi had been attracted to him in the world of merit because he was actually into Hiro or because of how the merit programming had screwed with their friendship. With the entire concept of friendship. A give and take relationship between equals just couldn't work that way in the world of merit, but at least it hadn't destroyed their bond, just warped it into something else. Hiro still grimaced at the memory. "And Makoto's really more into Ronaldo, once they get to know each other."
Yamato made a note of his employee's (fortunately) poor taste. Yes, it was a good thing he'd let he buffoon live, since he could be used to distract Makoto from Hiro.
By, for instance, throwing him at her when she finally arrived and ordering her to leave them be.
Then Yamato thought better of it, and ordered her to fetch coffee. Coffee and takoyaki.
"Hot alien twins," Daichi repeated, once again qualifying it with, "If you're into guys."
"They're not actually twins," Hiro reminded him.
"They're finishing each other's sentences!" Or rather Yamato was explaining what the hell Alcor was talking about.
"And Yamato's not an alien."
"He's got tentacles! Chains, whatever." Daichi groaned, hanging his head. "Dude, you're my best friend, but seriously, why do you get all the luck? Hot alien twins."
"Are you jealous?"
Now Daichi held up his hands, alarmed. "One of them's Yamato. Better you than me, man." Daichi wasn't into guys, but Yamato was not the kind who took no for an answer, and he had tentacles? Daichi knew what would have happened under those circumstances. "Better you than me."