Within the golden clansmen, the ‘rabbits’ were a completely special existence. The golden clan’s installation where each person’s ‘talent’ was drawn out to the extreme. Amid that, there are some who received supernatural powers, and others who only had what civilians would call ‘talent’ drawn out to the extreme. And also, there were those who hardly had anything drawn out at all and had their own lack of talent thrown in their faces.
The ‘rabbits’ were a group of those who received top class abilities. They were a group who wore the same outfit and the same masks, making it impossible to tell them apart, but within them there were a countless number of those who had combat power that would beat even the strongest clansmen from other clans. The only one who knew their identity and their numbers was the golden king himself. And those ‘rabbits’ were now jumping lightly down from the great hole to land on the ruins below. Actually, it couldn’t be said that they jumped. They floated through the air, and softly reached the ground. There was probably someone within them who could move things about with their power. It was likely the same power that smacked Mizuchi a moment go.
There were three ‘rabbits’. All of them were tall. A great power could be sensed within them, but that presence was quiet.
"Seems like they came for the cleanup." A familiar voice came from above.
Looking up, Kusanagi who had probably been behind the ‘rabbits’ was standing at the edge of the hole and looking down.
"Yo, good work." Kusanagi waved one hand at Suou from where he stood. He had gotten his shoulder and arm dealt with, but his shirt was still all bloody. Suou saw that and frowned.
"What’s with that look?"
"…you don’t need to point that out first thing in a situation like this. Leave me be. It’s actually pretty embarrassin’." Kusanagi looked at Mizuchi and smiled wryly.
"The chief layin’ over there is done for. You don’t need to deal with him anymore. Let the ‘rabbits’ have him."
Suou didn’t reply, but he didn’t try to stop the moving ‘rabbits’. They went by him and surrounded Mizuchi. Kusanagi jumped down. Totsuka ran over to him, holding Anna’s hand.
"You okay? You hardly ever get hurt like this. What happened, seriously?"
"…like I said, don’t ask…" Kusanagi looked awkward, then suddenly glared at both Totsuka and Suou.
"More importantly, I told you guys not to go overboard, right? What’s this?"
The building was full of huge fissures and was beginning to fall apart as it burned. Even now, small fragments were falling from above, and unpleasant noises heralding destruction could be heard. Totsuka smiled as if to change the subject.
"Ahaha… looks like we’re gonna get buried alive if we don’t get out quick."
"Jeez… the Strains above ground have already run away. Right now, Scepter 4’s leader is sending out evacuation orders to the workers and blues still inside." Kusanagi’s expression as he said that was complicated. Suou looked at that silently, then looked up.
"…two Strains ran away a minute ago."
"Another ‘rabbit’ grabbed them. The ‘rabbits’ should be taking out the other Strains down here in the basement now."
Let’s get on out too, Kusanagi said while looking down at Anna who was holding Totsuka’s hand.
"You’re with us, right?"
Kusanagi spoke to Anna as though treating her as an equal, not a child. She nodded. Totsuka pulled their connected hands and let her go, so she could go to Suou instead.
For a few seconds, Anna looked up at Suou in an unsure way… then she gently took his sleeve.
When he saw Suou and company come out of the cracked, burning Center, Yata’s expression sparkled and he raised his voice. Fushimi looked up when he heard Yata’s voice and looked over.
Suou, Kusanagi, and Totsuka. And behind Suou, Anna was holding on to his clothes. Her own blue clothes were dirty, but she seemed to be safe. Fushimi let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding in.
As Suou and company left it, the Center finally began to collapse. It didn’t take long for it to finish after it began. It fell apart as if sinking, and the hallway connecting it to the hospital also broke off. The research facility turned to garbage, and it burned.
The members of Homura and the members of Scepter 4 who were treating those injured, the Center’s workers, and the escaped Strains all watched in silence. Within that, Yata alone paid no attention to the destruction and happily ran to Suou. Fushimi noticed and clicked his tongue. Totsuka said something to Yata as he approached, then looked behind Yata, and caught Fushimi’s eye. Totsuka smiled and went over.
Fushimi clicked his tongue again.
"…thanks." Fushimi replied in a sulky way to Totsuka’s smiling words.
"Anna-chan’s just fine."
"…why are you telling me."
Totsuka shrugged a little. Fushimi glanced at him out of the corner of his eye.
"…so, what happened?"
"The Center’s chief, Mizuchi, got taken away by the ‘rabbits’. The goldens will probably deal with him… the building’s like this, so I guess the Center’s done for for the moment."
There would soon be another facility for educating Strains, probably. But it’s after this whole mess. They would have to be sensitive towards problems. Fushimi looked up at the flaming mountain of ruin, then spoke softly.
"The ‘rabbits’ got here late."
"Yep, they sure did."
"I wonder if they wanted to see the end of Mizuchi’s experiment first." When he said that as if he didn’t care, Totsuka smiled wryly and said ‘maybe’.
What, exactly, is the ‘Slate’. Certainly it wasn’t only Mizuchi who was searching for that answer. Totsuka and Fushimi stood next to each other and watched the flames, when several members of Homura came up to talk to Totsuka. Totsuka replied cheerfully, and gave some orders. The members listened obediently and moved to follow those commands. Fushimi watched out the corner of his eye, then felt kinda uncomfortable.
"I guess we need to leave soon. Saru-kun, we should-"
"Why are you an executive of Homura even though you’re so weak?" The words he had always thought of but never said out loud came spilling out, maybe because of all the stress he had felt today.
Totsuka’s eyes widened. Fushimi thought he’d finally get scolded, and that he might feel a bit better if he saw the guy who was always laughing get angry at having his pride hurt. However, once Totsuka got over his surprise at the sudden question, he just smiled as usual.
Fushimi lost his voice in response to that truly cheery tone.
"…well, that might be saying too much, but I’ve just been hanging around King ever since he was in highschool. When he became king, me and Kusanagi were nearby, so, well, I guess it just happened?"
Even if that was the case at first, within a team where it could be said that strength was everything, the fact that Totsuka could remain in that seat without question and was even looked up to was probably his specialty.
"…you might actually be suited to be king, too." When Fushimi said that in a cynical mood, Totsuka went ‘wha’ and widened his eyes.
"Even if you don’t control them with power, they follow you… it’s special, isn’t it."
"You shouldn’t say something so stupid." He was still smiling, but Totsuka’s voice was serious. Fushimi frowned questioningly and looked at him. Totsuka was smiling, but it wasn’t his usual friendly smile, and it seemed even cruel.
"A guy who’s obsessed with something can’t become a king."
Because he said it while looking so straight at Fushimi, Fushimi felt uncomfortable. Even though they were supposed to be talking about Totsuka, he’s the one who felt awkward. He ended up shutting up for several seconds as he considered his response, then finally just turned away with a click of his tongue.
"I don’t get what you’re talking about."
He said that quietly, and Totsuka grinned. That expression had returned to his usual smile, and it just annoyed Fushimi further.
"I hate you."
"Oh? I actually kind of like you, Saru-kun."
"……please stop calling me that." He accidentally said that childishly. Totsuka looked surprised for a moment, then smiled in a way that was half teasing, half glad.
"…you finally said what you wanted to, Fushimi."
When Fushimi opened his mouth to respond, he heard the members of Homura behind him make a fuss.
Hearing other members make a fuss from a ways off, Yata looked around.
A member of Homura yelled that worriedly, and it reached Yata’s ears. His expression tensed and he ran over.
In the shadow of the hospital which was a little ways off from the earlier battlefield, Kamamoto’s large, fallen body and the familiar Strain boy sitting next to him, and the surrounding members of Homura entered his sight.
When Yata kneeled next to him and lifted him up, Kamamoto moaned and opened his eyes. Yata grabbed his collar and dragged his face close.
"Hey! What’s wrong!?"
"Whaddya mean, Yata-san!? Why are you collapsed over here!? Did they get you?!" Kamamoto looked confused as he sat up, then looked around.
"No, I’m not… actually, what was I doing…"
"I dunno! Did you hit your head or something!?"
Kamamoto turned around and around, scratched his head, then suddenly his expression changed and he went ‘ah!’.
"That’s right! Kushina-neesan was…!"
Hearing that, Yata’s expression changed.
"Something happened to nee-san!?" When he asked in a shout without realizing, everyone in the courtyard turned.
Suou and Anna were behind Yata. Hearing Honami’s named, Anna’s eyes wavered. She clenched the hand holding on to Suou’s clothing, so that her small knuckles turned white. Anna watched Kamamoto while her eyelashes wavered.
"…what happened." Suou asked in a deep voice in Anna’s place.
Kamamoto looked back and forth between the two of them while his meaty face shivered and replied.
If you were to look at Totsuka from a bystander’s point of view, his past isn’t a very happy one. He doesn’t remember his real parents’ faces. When Totsuka was three years old, he was apparently told “Wait right here” and abandoned in a park.
He was adopted by the childless couple who first spoke to him, but the husband of that couple was hopelessly fond of gambling, so his wife lost her love for him and left. When that happened, Totsuka wasn’t taken along, and was left with his pathetic adoptive father.
Knowing those circumstances, most people make very sympathetic faces. But that’s off the mark. Totsuka doesn’t particularly feel anything towards the fact that he was apparently abandoned. He didn’t resent the parents who threw him away, nor did he particularly want to meet them. It wasn’t as though he felt resigned, it was simply that he very casually accepted the situation with the feeling that “Well, lots of things happen in life”.
To Totsuka, this world was so filled to the brim with interesting things that a bit of trouble surrounding his past wasn’t enough to make him feel unhappiness. Totsuka, who was interested in everything, knew of more games that cost nothing than anyone else. He could play all sorts of songs on the trashlike harmonica from his home and was good at catching kabuto beetles. His house was small, but he had a secret base made of a main building and two vacation homes. He also became absorbed in all the different kinds of games you can play with a single ball and ran around with the neighborhood children.
His gamble-loving “father” was truly hopeless as both a husband and a father, but if Totsuka thought of him as a bad friend then it wasn’t bad. Sometimes the man would wander off and leave their home and not come back for weeks on end, but Totsuka would just understand it as “He got invited away by the wind again, didn’t he” when that happened. After a while, the father would come back, give Totsuka a cheap souvenir and take him out to play as though trying to apologize. He’d take him to a nearby mountain. Mountain climbing was a young Totsuka’s favorite hobby.
There were plenty of times when they’d have no money and the gas or electricity would be stopped. One time they had the water stopped, and one time they even had all their life lines cut.
"Sorrrry." At times like that, even his father would look down and apologize. Honestly, it might have been better to have the man reflect on his actions more, but Totsuka would always end up smiling and comforting him.
"It’s fine, it’s fine, it’ll all work out somehow!"
When they ran out of food, Totsuka would also go out, look at a book of wild plants while picking edible grasses, and make a meal out of it. Totsuka’s young childhood was full of original ideas.
"You’re a cold-hearted guy." When Totsuka’s adoptive father said that with a sulky face, Totsuka had just gotten into middle school, perhaps.
"Even though the parents who threw you away must be pained by having abandoned you in the past, you don’t care about that at all and just live on nonchalantly. Heck, even though I really think it’s a shame you’ve got such a hopeless dad, because you’re like that I can’t get better at all."
"Hey, don’t make it sound like it’s my fault." When Totsuka said that exasperatedly, his father obediently said "sorry" in reply.
"But, really, you’re cold-hearted."
"You get interested in anything, but you don’t cling to anything." Totsuka didn’t really know if that would make someone heartless, but it was true that he wasn’t attached to anything. In Totsuka’s eyes, the world was overflowing with truly interesting things, but he had never feared losing any of it, and he had hardly ever felt loathe to part with something he lost.
"I hope you’ll be able to find something so important you’ll want to cling to it, too."
And then Totsuka met Suou.
On the day of Totsuka’s adoptive father’s funeral, Suou and Kusanagi came.
Kusanagi was dressed properly, but Suou came towards the end of the ceremony wearing his usual outfit.
"You know, I’ve been called ‘cold-hearted’ by that man before." After the simple ceremony ended and so did the cleanup, Totsuka was talking to Suou. Totsuka was smiling, as usual.
"At the time I was like ‘what’, but I might be cold-hearted after all." Suou didn’t say anything, and just stood there with an expression that made it hard to tell whether he was listening or not.
"That man, well, honestly he was pretty hopeless, his wife ran away, and he was super poor, but he only did what he liked and didn’t have a bad life… I might really be heartless if that’s the kind of thing I think about rather than being sad."
Totsuka had liked his father. He hadn’t felt any filial love, but he had liked the man as a pleasant person to live with. But even after he died, no tears would come out. Suddenly, Suou’s hand grabbed Totsuka’s head.
"Ow!" He was released right away. Totsuka held his head, with its hair now messed up from the rough handling, and stared.
"Come on." Said Suou as he turned around and started walking away.
"You wanted to see me be king, didn’t you."
He smiled, and went after Suou.
That night, Totsuka spent his time as usual in the bar HOMRA.
After closing, when he tried to get behind the counter and help with the cleanup, Kusanagi tried to be thoughtful of him since he had just lost a relative and told him he could rest. But Totsuka somehow couldn’t bear that kind of consideration, and said “I’m bored” jokingly while helping out anyway.
For a while, the only sounds filling the dark bar were that of glasses being washed and silverware being stacked. Suou had already gone upstairs to sleep. While wiping off the dishes with a cloth, Totsuka listened to the upstairs. There wasn’t a single noise. “I wonder what kind of dream King is having” Totsuka thought quietly to himself.
"I wonder if King regrets it" Totsuka sighed with a vague smile. Kusanagi stopped what he was doing looked in Totsuka’s direction questioningly.
"Becoming a king." Totsuka had a faint smile on his face, but these were feelings that he had had secretly kept deep within his chest for a long time. Kusanagi frowned in a troubled way.
"…well, he was forcibly chosen by the "Slate", so it ain’t like he had any choice in the matter."
Totsuka was about to nod and say I suppose, but before he could, Kusanagi spoke again.
"What about you? Have you got some regrets?" Totsuka’s eyes widened a little as he looked at Kusanagi. Kusanagi was smiling wryly in a way that was even more mature than usual.
"That you called that guy somethin’ like ‘King’. That that guy wished to become a king."
Totsuka wasn’t able to reply right away. Totsuka, who normally never became speechless, ended up clamming up for a few seconds, then finally smiled limply.
"…Well, you see, Kusanagi-san. I don’t regret it." He again recalled the voice of his father when the man had called him cold-hearted.
…Even if I find something so important to me that I want to cling to it, in the end, I’m still cold-hearted and selfish.
"Ain’t that just fine, though?" Said Kusanagi with a small smile.
"Anyway, it ain’t like me and you made that guy into a king. We shouldn’t be so full of ourselves." Kusanagi said it so jokingly, Totsuka also brightly replied mockingly.
"But, you know, they say there’s power in words, don’t they? Maybe the "Slate" noticed that person because I wouldn’t stop calling him a king."
"You’re a moron, aren’t you."
"…yeah, I’m a moron." Said Totsuka while still smiling.
Totsuka decided this would be the end of those useless doubts. Suou had become king. It was what Totsuka had always wished to see vaguely, and yet since the time they had met.
Totsuka would from now on and forever continue to push Suou forward as king. With all his body and soul, he would continue to push Suou forward, while protecting this place that was created with Suou at its heart and the threads that tied Suou down.
Chapter 6. The girl in red
Opening his eyes, Kusanagi looked blankly up at the white ceiling for a while.
His back was hurting, probably because he had been sleeping on the sofa. Why am I sleeping on the sofa? He thought about it for a moment with his groggy head, then immediately remembered. While biting down a yawn, he got down off the sofa and onto his legs, which had been sticking out. He headed towards the bedroom.
Kusanagi cracked open the door and looked at the two sleeping on the bed. Suou, asleep facing the edge of the bed, and Anna snuggled up to his back. They seemed to be sleeping well, and he could hear them breathing peacefull. Kusanagi smiled wryly and shut the dor.
They ended up clearing out the closet on the second floor of ‘HOMRA’ and renovating it a little to be Anna’s room. It was still in progress, so for the time being, she was going to stay at Kusanagi’s apartment- but since she held on tight to Suou’s clothes when he brought her over and wouldn’t let go, he ended up sleeping over too. Considering everything that had happened to her, they didn’t have the heart to go against her will.
…he thought it probably wouldn’t be a very good habit for her to get into, but he decided they ought to spoil her for today and chased Suou (who was making a face) into the room with Anna. To Kusanagi, it was actually rather unusual and enjoyable to see Suou giving in to Anna’s request despite giving such a pained look.
Kusanagi took a short shower, put on some pants, then tended to the injuries on his arm and shoulder. He held one end of the bandages in his teeth while he wrapped them up. After that, he picked up his phone while toweling off his hair. The person he phoned picked up within a few seconds.
"Hello. Good morniiiing."
"Mornin’. Totsuka, when will you get here?"
From the background of Totsuka’s reply, which was for some reason phrased as a question, Kusanagi could hear the sounds of cars and people arguing.
"Are you outside right now? Are you already coming over?"
"Yeah. I’ll be there in about ten minutes."
"Did you already eat?"
"Nope. Ah, I bought Anna some strawberry jello and blood orange juice, so include that with breakfast."
"Got it. Do you want your eggs in an omelette or with bacon?"
"Make it how Anna likes it."
"She’s still asleep. I’ll wake her up when the food’s ready."
Kusanagi slipped into a shirt as he was holding that idle conversation. At the same time, he paused for a moment when his eyes settled on his own back being reflected in the mirror. On his right shoulderblade, there was the ‘proof’ that he was Suou’s clansman. Seeing that, Kusanagi thought of Anna and absentmindedly let out a bitter laugh.
Anna had become a member of Suou’s clan.
What Kamamoto told them after he woke up hadn’t been very straight to the point. The only thing that was clear was that Honami had come to the Center. And that the ‘rabbits’ appeared there. That’s where Kamamoto’s memory cut off. The one who explained the situation was the Strain boy evacuating from the Center who had seen what happened.
According to him, the ‘rabbits’ approached Kamamoto who had run up to Honami and he had collapsed onto his back after one of them waved their hand in front of his face. Honami panicked and tried to see to him, but one of the ‘rabbits’ did the same thing to her. When the ‘rabbit’s’ fingers, poking out from their long sleeve, sparkled, Honami apparently also fell like a doll with its strings cut. A ‘rabbit’ caught her, then took her away.
Afterwards, the ‘rabbits’ caused a stir by arriving in the middle of the mostly settled fight between Homura and Scepter 4 in the courtyard. Within that fuss, the Strain boy hadn’t been able to decide what to do, so he just went up to the fallen Kamamoto and was sitting by his side. Hearing this, Anna’s already pale skin became even whiter. With a stiff expression, she took a red marble from her pocket, closed her eyes once to calm herself down for concentration, opened her eyes wide, then peeked into the marble.
The time Anna spent staring at somewhere through the marble was about thirty seconds. However, to those watching around her, it felt like a very long time. As she looked into the marble, those around her made no noise or movement. It was a tense atmosphere where they couldn’t. Eventually, Anna relaxed. Her tensed body loosened, and she dropped the arm holding that marble. It wasn’t possible to tell immediately from her expression whether this was from shock or relief.
"Honami is okay." She spoke in an unreadable voice. Kusanagi became uneasy seeing Anna claim things were alright with such a stiff look, and he asked while watching her.
"…nothing happened to her?"
"Nothing happened." Said Anna shortly as she looked down.
Kusanagi looked at Suou. Suou was frowning and looking down at Anna.
After arriving, Totsuka had to help prepare breakfast.
"Every time I come over, this place is so clean it gets on my nerves."
Totsuka looked around the apartment while cutting tomatos up into bite sized pieces. The counter kitchen was big enough for two people to work in it without feeling cramped, the wide living room was nice and sunny, and light softly filtered in through the large window.
"The enrichment of necessities results in the enrichment of life." Said Kusanagi as he tilted the fry pan and folded the omelette. The cheese in the eggs melted and sizzled. Anna looked in from the bedroom, perhaps lured in by the smell. Totsuka smiled at her.
"Good morning, Anna. Where’s King?"
"Tell him breakfast’s ready and get him up."
Anna obediently nodded to Kusanagi’s words and returned to the bedroom. Even though he’s the one who asked, he became a bit worried about whether that guy who was horrible about waking up could be awoken by a quiet little girl shaking him.
"What are we going to do about Anna’s clothes for today?"
The blue clothes she had worn yesterday were in tatters from getting dirtied and touched by embers in the fuss. And anyway, if possible, she’d rather not wear them again.
"Wonder if she can’t wear my shirt. If she put it on, it’d be like a one piece dress, wouldn’t it?"
"Maybe… but wouldn’t it be kinda indecent? Somehow."
As they were talking, Anna reappeared. Who knows how she managed to wake him up, but Suou was behind her. After coming out looking sleepy and in a bad mood, he scratched his head and collapsed into the living room’s couch. Kusanagi smiled wryly and slowly poured some fresh coffee from the server to a cup. Today, they were planning on going to buy clothes for Anna.
After finishing breakfast, they managed to get together Anna’s clothes for going out. When they asked her if she’d rather wear her messed up blue clothes from yesterday or Kusanagi’s shirt, she ended up choosing the shirt. Totsuka gathered it up at the shoulder and pinned it with a safety pin, then tied a cloth cord at the waist like a ribbon. The sleeves, which were too long, were also tied up at the shoulders with cord. The shoulders, full of pins and cords and other things, were hidden under a scarf, so that it looked surprisingly like just clothes of that design and actually looked cute. As they walked through the town, Anna held on to Suou’s clothes, and was looking all around uneasily. Totsuka spoke to her from behind.
"Head on in to any store and pick the one you like, okay?"
It was a street with various clothing stores, but Anna just walked by them all while looking troubled at them from outside.
"I guess it might just make it harder to say anything’s fine." Totsuka tilted his head at Anna, who shrunk back a little.
"Is there any kinda outfit you particularly like?" When Kusanagi asked, Anna’s gaze still wavered in an unsure way.
"I guess she doesn’t really fit the image of a normal kid. Maybe she’d look good in a frilly dress kind of thing after all?"
"But that’s that Center chief’s taste, isn’t it."
"Mm, I guess…"
As Totsuka and Kusanagi talked and twisted their necks, Anna looked up at them and spoke.
"I liked the shape of those clothes… Honami also said they were cute."
Kusanagi felt guilty about making Anna bring up Honami, but she looked peaceful.
"Hurry up and choose."
Suou glanced back at Anna and said that like this was a pain. He sounded bored already, even though they hadn’t entered a single store yet. Anna didn’t look scared at all by his bad mood, and if anything she seemed to calm down a little and looked around the area. Suddenly, her eyes stopped on a certain shop’s window.
Taking along Anna who had confirmed Honami’s safety through her red marble, Suou left the Center and headed towards Honami’s apartment.
He felt a little regret.
The reason why she had left the bar- not only left it, but probably gone to some extreme lengths to do so as he had left some Homura members there- was likely because he hadn’t explained things to her properly. It wasn’t something that could be explained away easily, and Suou was bad at talking over things or persuading people in the first place. But he hadn’t felt like leaving it up to Kusanagi or Totsuka either, and had ended up practically threatening her. In the end, those threats hadn’t worked on her. He should have known how stubborn she was when it came down to it.
Anna didn’t say a word. When they arrived at Honami’s apartment, she also didn’t speak as they went up the stairs, and simply held on to Suou’s clothes as she moved her legs. Anna had confirmed Honami’s safety with her power. In which case, it had to be the case. As he thought that, Suou rang the doorbell. There was an immediate response. After the sound of someone rushing through the apartment, the door opened.
"Oh my, Suou-kun."
Honami saw Suou at the door and a smile bloomed on her face. Suou frowned questioningly at how normal her smile was. Suddenly, Honami’s eyes landed at Anna, who was beside Suou. However, she didn’t act glad at Anna’s safety, and merely tilted her head in confusion.
"…Is this Suou-kun’s little sister?"
…So that’s how it is.
Suou bit down bitter feelings in silence. He had certainly considered the possibility of Honami’s memories being sealed by the ‘rabbits’. There wasn’t any other reason for them to have gone out of their way to take her. If she had been made to not remember what had happened at the Center today, then while his feelings on that were complicated he did think it was for the best.
Suou looked down at Anna. She showed no sign of being moved, and stared up at Honami. While searching for Honami with her powers, Anna had likely learned of her condition. She had already known that her presence in Honami’s heart had been painted over, and she had accepted it.
…You oughta cry.
Suou thought that as he looked at Anna’s doll-like expression. Even if crying and begging Honami to remember her wouldn’t break the ‘rabbit’s’ spell, it would certainly move Honami’s heart. Even if Anna right now was a complete stranger, if she cried and wanted for Honami, then Honami would probably try to accept her. She’s that sort of person.
But Anna didn’t shed a single tear.
"It’s okay." She said that in a clear voice to Suou, while looking at Honami. As though she had seen right through Suou’s heart. Honami spoke in a confused voice.
"…Suou-kun… is something… wrong?" He looked at her and frowned.
"…what’s wrong with YOU?"
Honami was crying.
Her eyes were open wide, and shedding tear after tear. She looked confused as she caught her falling tears in her hands. She stared at them in confusion, as Suou could only watch. Suddenly, Anna moved. Her small hand took Honami’s. As though trying to comfort Honami, Anna held Honami’s pale hands tightly, and slowly changed her expression.
Letting go of her doll-like expression, she loosened her tight face. It turned into a smile, a smile that even Suou would have to laugh at as awkward.
"Don’t cry." With that awkward smile, she spoke kindly to Honami.
Honami blinked. Tears were spilled by her long eyelashes.
"You’re…" Honami looked at Anna in a way that was confused, that was pained, that was fretful. Suou saw that and let out a long sigh.
"I’m sorry I was a bad student until the end." He said while roughly wiping her tear-streaked cheek on his palm.
"What are you saying?"
"…no." He laughed a little, bitterly.
He turned away. ‘Suou-kun?’ She asked in a confused way, but he didn’t turn around again. After a pause, Anna’s tiny footsteps followed. He listened to that as he silently walked away. They left the apartment, then passed through the park across from it. Without speaking a word, and keeping up a strange distance. Suou frowned in a foul mood, kept his hands in his pockets, and just slowed down enough for Anna to keep up.
When they passed the park’s entrance, Anna abruptly stopped behind him. After going on a bit further, he stopped and turned around. Anna was staring at him with a transparent expression. It was an empty park. Suou didn’t know this, but it was the place where Totsuka and Kusanagi had once tried to convince Anna and failed.
Anna called him quietly, and held out her hands to him as though asking for something.
"I want Mikoto’s red."
Suou shifted slightly inside at those straightforward words. Anna was both an immature and dangerous Strain. As Mizuchi had been obsessed with her, she also held an ability that would make her easily targeted by others. Going by how the ‘rabbits’ had erased her from Honami’s memory, it likely meant that they no longer thought it safe to leave her with civilians. However, it was just after that fuss. The red clan wouldn’t allow for her to be taken in by the golden clan. In other words, the golden clan was compromising by allowing the red clan to keep Anna.
It could also be seen as the red clan being told to take responsibility. However, even now, Suou was still unsure.
…Am I scared? Of being entrusted with one brat’s life.
The heaviness he felt as he increased his comrades. Sometimes, Suou would feel a discomfort he could do nothing about as he was entrusted with people’s lives and feelings as king. It slightly resembled fear.
"I don’t plan on throwing you out… but I can’t guarantee anything, either."
"That’s fine." Anna replied immediately to Suou’s unfair wording.
"I’m going to follow Mikoto because that’s what I want to do." Her eyes didn’t waver.
"Mikoto doesn’t have to promise anything."
Suou felt as though he had completely lost to her, and smiled a little, bitterly. He slowly held one hand out to her. In front of her, his hand was surrounded in red flame. The red glow reflected on her pale cheeks and danced. Anna’s eyes, which could only see red, stared at his flame.
"Can you take this hand?"
Suou said that in a way that was still a little unsure, but Anna didn’t hesitate even a moment. She grabbed his hand with both of hers, and treating it as if it were a precious treasure, she hugged it to her chest. The fire spread from Suou’s hand to her whole body. It was a flame of providence, which would never burn her.
Scepter 4 was to be disbanded.
The first person Shiotsu informed of that was no his own subordinates, but rather someone who used to be his comrade.
"I dragged it on for ten years, but… really, I should have done it back then… like you."
The person on the other end of the phone didn’t try to reply. He never said anything more than he needed, only did what was needed, and had decided his own retirement.
"Directly after the previous leader’s death, when you left Scepter 4, I felt like I had been abandoned and resented you… but your decisions are always correct."
The burden of being replacement leader had been too heavy for Shiotsu. He had tried to carry around a burden too heavy for him to walk around with, and let the important things spill out of his hands as everything became twisted.
"If you had become the replacement instead of me, maybe things would’ve been different… Zenjou."
The man who had once been the blue king’s right hand made no reply after all to Shiotsu’s whisper, which was like a complaint. Shiotsu smiled bitterly at this situation, where he seemed to be talking to himself at a terminal.
"Anyway, I just wanted to report. I guess it’s something you wouldn’t be interested in anymore, though."
Zenjou called his name. Across the terminal, his deep voice struck Shiotsu’s ears.
"I’m sorry." It was a flatly delivered apology. But Shiotsu smiled wryly as he felt the many meanings stuffed into those short words.
"…that’s my line."
Another blue king would surely be born someday. However, Shiotsu was no longer fit to serve the new king. He closed his eyes, then imagined the new king in his mind.
Ending his call to his old acquaintance, Shiotsu finally noticed a presence within the room. Minato Hayato and Minato Akito, the twin brothers, were standing at the door.
"Scepter 4’s disbanding?" Said the older black-haired twin, Minato Hayato, in a dazed voice. The twins, who had always worn masklike expressions, were visibly shaken.
"Meaning, Scepter 4’s going to get taken apart along with the Center?" The younger brown-haired twin, Minato Akito said that. His voice was wavering thinly.
Shiotsu softened his wrinkled expression.
"…yes. But, either way, it was about time."
Shiotsu felt guilty as he watched the twins’ faces. They had become clansmen as children, and what they used for support after their king had died on them was their ‘cause’. However, that cause had become twisted as the twins became stronger. ‘Rules’ became everything, and they judged anyone who broke those rules under the name of their cause. However, in the end, that cause was nothing but an excuse for them to use their special powers.
"I’m sorry." Shiotsu said quietly.
He was responsible for these two remaining children as their bodies and not their hearts grew, and for letting them grow twisted. He remembered the look on their king’s face ten years ago as the two of them begged to be made clansmen and he allowed it.
"…a new blue king will be born, I’m sure… If you two want to serve them, you’ll probably need to change."
The twins twisted their faces at Shiotsu’s words.
"…It’s not like,"
"-we want to serve a new king."
Shiotsu smiled wryly at the twins, who shared their words between them. He remembered how the two of them had innocently looked up to their previous king.
"Yeah." To him as well, there would only ever be one king.
'Yeah', he whispered to himself once more, relaxed as he let out a long sigh, and quietly closed his eyes.
Deep red clothes with lots of lace.
The sleeves were flared, and so was the skirt that went down just a bit past her knees. Placed on the side of her hair was a little red hat. It was tied down on the opposite side by a red ribbon. Her shoes were also red with shiny enamel. Wearing that, Anna looked down at herself, and turned around and around trying to twist around and see herself from behind as well. As usual, it was difficult to read her expression and tell whether she was excited about her new clothes or confused by them.
However, the air about her was soft.
Anna and company who returned to ‘HOMRA’ were welcomed by the members of Homura. Everyone knew that she had become Suou’s clansman. They were a bit unsure how to act, since they had never had someone like a little girl for a clansmate before, but they still welcomed her brightly.
"Man, you really do look better in red, don’t you?" Yata tried to do something unusual by praising a girl’s clothes, but it seemed like it hadn’t really gotten across, and Anna just tilted her head in confusion. Kamamoto brought a bunch of candy and spread it out across the table.
"Here, eat whichever one you want."
As always, Fushimi watched from as distance as the members of Homura fussed around Anna. Suou sank into the sofa beside Anna, and watched her and the guys around her sleepily. Kusanagi was working on the preparations to open the bar that night. Totsuka was also behind the counter and helping out.
"Mikoto always put on a face like he didn’t know what to do with her, but now that he’s given up, they might actually get along pretty well." Said Kusanagi from behind the counter as he watched the two of them. Totsuka smiled and nodded.
"Doesn’t look like there’d be much conversation, though."
Totsuka suddenly thought about something while checking on the ingredients.
"Say, if Anna had really become king… I wonder what kind of king she’d have been." It was the sort of conversation that could be had because Anna was safe. Kusanagi smiled and joined in.
"She’s a bright kid. She might’ve actually been a much better king than someone like Mikoto." He said that jokingly, and Totsuka lightly laughed.
"I bet they would’ve gotten along as kings, too."
While finishing up the cooking Kamamoto had started for them, Kusanagi looked away a little as though thinking.
"…before that, I wonder… what exactly IS a ‘king’, anyway."
Mizuchi, who had been charmed by the ‘Slate’ into his own destruction. He didn’t feel even a shred of desire to understand that guy, but even then, he also felt like he wanted to know about the ‘Slate’ which chose ‘kings’ and gave them power.
"To Mikoto, a throne is just a chain." Kusanagi said that quietly, like he was talking to himself.
Totsuka, Kusanagi, and the other members of Homura, were all chains holding Suou down. Totsuka was well aware of that, and thought that that was his most important role.
And now, Suou had put on a new, innocent chain.
"But I won’t let anyone say he’s unhappy." Totsuka told Kusanagi with a smile.
He couldn’t truly understand the smoldering gloom within Suou, or the burden Suou held.
However, Totsuka didn’t believe that this place called Homura which had gathered around Suou was not giving him any sort of repose.
"It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine, it’ll all work out!" When Totsuka said that so optimistically with a smile, it infected Kusanagi and he smiled back.
Within Anna’s left eye, there was a faint warmth.
That was the proof of the flame she received from Suou. She didn’t have the same ‘proof’ on her skin that her comrades did. She was a bit disappointed by that, but if she looked closely into a mirror, she could sometimes see the ‘proof’ in her left eye.
Surrounded by everyone on the bar’s sofa, Anna gently put her hand to her chest. She had the red she received from him in there. When she was beside Suou, the red within her body would lightly hold heat, and become warm. Anna looked quietly up at Suou sitting beside her. He was staring off into space sleepily. His form took on color within her formerly monochrome world. Suou’s body was always faintly surrounded by the fierce red light he held, which was more beautiful than anything else. As though looking at a treasure, Anna dearly burned Suou into her eyes.