He hears his own voice, rough and harsh in the burning air, unexpected even to himself: “Shinomori, take him.” He doesn’t have time for surprise at the lucidity, in enunciation and purpose, of the command. His arms are freed of the weight they bore even as he starts to move.
Suddenly there are other voices crying out, telling him… something… but he barely hears. There’s no room for anything in his mind but that absolute necessity to get across, to get to him. He’s running, raging forward with burning legs and lungs until he can push off the jagged edge.
He’s flying, the flames licking at his feet, in his heart no doubt he can make this distance. Then he hits, grunts with pain, spatters blood over the chaotic stone as he half-crumples, and staggers forward.
He’s caught before his unsteady inadvertent steps can fail entirely. He’s shaken, and that means he’s shaken.
“Ahou! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He clings to him, and Saitou does not disengage. “Bastard! Do you really think I’m gonna let you die without me?!”
“You absolute idiot.” It’s an intense, bitter, adoring expostulation as Saitou crushes him in his arms.
He shakes his head at Shinomori, and the sight of the Okashira fleeing through the shattered door with his red-headed burden is the last they see.
For, as they pull each other close for the first and final time, the world fades around them — the heat of the fires, the choking atmosphere, the memory of horror… even the pain occasioned by their contact… it all dissolves.
It’s the perfect mixture of hopelessness and contentment for escaping reality. The task is complete, freeing them from the need for further action except to save their lives… which, by now, seems impossible — and why bother, when the disaster has brought about the concession they might never otherwise have made?
All is calm as eyes close and lips meet — indeed, it’s a placidity they would probably never otherwise attain — and they simply concentrate on what they can only wish they had adequate time for. It isn’t a fantasy, denying what’s happening around them. It isn’t a speculative dream, dwelling on what might have been. Simply admitting what they’ve been reluctant to confess until now…
That there is no pain in this, because they are together…
That they can let go in each other’s arms…
Back in 2006, I wrote this with the intention of its being the narration for a comic. At the time, I actually started drawing the comic, and I’m sure some of that crappy art is still kicking around somewhere. Of course I never got farther than a tiny, tiny bit of the way done with it and then stopped, because comics and I rarely get along. Then this sat in my Saitou and Sano folder for seven years unposted because I assumed it wouldn’t make sense on its own. Eventually I read it again and went, What? Yes, it would! So here it is.
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This story is included in the Saitou/Sano Collection 2 ebook.