Hiyori's end comes on slowly, but much too fast. One day she skips coming to Kofuku's after school. When Yato and Yukine stop by to check on her, she gives them a strained smile and says she isn't feeling well. She's already in bed, and they settle around and entertain her with stories of the day's misadventures. She smiles, her eyes brightening, and they assume she'll be back in a day or two, just as soon as her cold clears up.

Within three days, she's in the hospital. Yato doesn't understand exactly what's wrong with her, and he never quite figures it out. He's no doctor. But Hiyori's parents are, so she's in good hands.

"It's just a precaution," Hiyori reassures them, her smile uncertain.

Yato and Yukine exchange looks and press themselves against the walls to stay out of the nurses' way while they wait. Ayakashi quotas are put on hold and phone calls go unanswered. They spend a lot of time at the hospital.

Yato is the first to realize how dire the situation is. He is no doctor, but he has lived for a millennium and seen plenty of death. There's a look to people, when they're dying. Or maybe he just has some kind of sixth sense, some magatsukami curse that draws him to death.

But he knows. He doesn't want to believe it, but it hits him like a freight train while he sits by the bedside and Yukine chatters away blithely about what they'll do once Hiyori is better. Hiyori is smiling even though she's looking thin and ill. She looks like she might recover and check out of the hospital in a few days, even if she's looking a little haggard now. But she won't. Yato prays he's wrong, but the premonition lodges itself between his ribs and sticks there.

"I finished all my math problems," Yukine says. He waves the page around as proof, but doesn't hand it over. "Not that you want to look at math while you're sick, obviously. But when you're better, we can go over them and you can assign me some more."

"Very good," Hiyori says with a smile, her voice thin and papery. And now there is a shadow in her eyes that makes Yato wonder if she suspects too.

Yukine tells her about how stupid Yato has been and that a new restaurant is opening up soon that they should try once she's recovered. Hiyori smiles and nods along. She casts a look Yato's way, eyebrows raised. Wondering why he's barely said a word, probably. Yukine doesn't seem to notice, which is just as well. Yato looks away.

He comes back that night, sneaking out after Yukine is asleep and ghosting through the corridors that they've come to know far too well over the past days. Hiyori is awake when he slides into her room like a shadow.

"Yato?" She notices him before he comes up with anything to say and sits up with a pained wheeze, propping herself up on a pillow. Yato circles the bed and sits in the chair so that she can see him more comfortably. "Is everything alright?"

He stares at her, his throat closing up. "Hiyori…"

"You already guessed, huh?" She looks down at her hands clasped together on top of the thin hospital blankets. They look pale and knotted and downright skeletal in the moonlight slanting through the window. "My parents are freaking out. They're still trying everything, but… I don't know. All the IVs and pills in the world don't seem to be doing much good. Everything hurts all the time, and… I'm just so tired. I just want to sleep sometimes."

"I'm sorry," Yato rasps. He reaches out and clasps her hand in his. She lets him. "I haven't told Yukine anything yet. I can't imagine…"

"You don't have to," Hiyori says gently. "He'll find out soon enough. I might tell him, when he asks again. But I like seeing him optimistic. I like hearing his stories and all the things he wants to do when I'm better. Everyone is so grim around here sometimes. He's a ray of sunshine right now. It's nice that someone can still hope."

"I wish…"

"What do you wish?" she asks when he trails off.

Yato only shakes his head. Gods' wishes don't mean anything, anyway. Gods grant wishes—they don't make them. And whatever Yato is wishing for right now, he knows he can't have it.

For an instant, the answer splashes across his mind with blinding clarity: make Hiyori a shinki. He dismisses it just as fast, knowing that's no answer at all. He knows it's impossible. He could never save her that way.

He wonders if she has thought of that possibility yet. Even knowing she would lose her memories, would she dream of that second chance at life? Yato is suddenly afraid that she might ask. She might ask him to name her when she dies, and he can't do it. He can't bear the thought of saying no to her, wrenching away the last hope of some kind of life.

But she does not ask. He doesn't know if it's because the possibility hasn't occurred to her or because she does not want to become a shinki at all. He does not ask.

Hiyori pulls her hand away and gropes at the bedside table. Her fingers close around something, and she offers it to Yato. Her arm trembles with the effort of staying outstretched in the air.

Yato stares at the five yen coin in her palm like it might bite him.

"I asked my mom to bring me one," Hiyori says with a laugh like a faint huff of air. "You'll take care of Yukine, won't you? Maybe you can even look over his math problems."

He closes his eyes and fights to pull in a breath past the pressure squeezing his chest like a vise. "Yeah," he croaks when he catches his breath. "Of course."

Hiyori presses the coin into his palm and folds his fingers around it. "I know you will. We always knew this would have to happen sooner or later. It's just sooner than we expected."

"That…doesn't really make it any better."

"No, not really." She looks away, as if that will hide the shadow in her eyes. "But you'll be okay."

Yato is not convinced of that. He has loved and lost and pushed on before, so he supposes he will be able to do it again. But not for a long time. Hiyori's death is going to hurt, and he does not think Yukine will handle it well at all. Maybe neither of them will.

"I just…wish I could do something," he says bleakly.

He is a god made for killing, for death and destruction. He has learned to save people too, over time, but it is not his forte and always seems to come second to calamity. It's too easy to mess up. And there is nothing here for him to fight. At least he would have a chance against an ayakashi or rogue god. But against Hiyori's own body? He is no healer, no savior. But he has never before wished so much that he was.

Hiyori looks back over and reaches out to take his hand. "Just being here is enough," she says gently. "It means a lot, having you and Yukine here. I… I'm really glad that I got to meet you, even with all the trouble you caused me. We had a lot of good times and adventures, and I really enjoyed being a part of your world. Thank you for giving me that and always looking out for me."

Yato sniffs and rubs the back of his free hand across his nose. His eyes sting, but he doesn't cry. It wouldn't be fair to make Hiyori comfort him more than she already is when she is the one who should be getting comforted in the first place.

"I think it was always more of you and Yukine looking after me," he says, clearing his throat.

She laughs breathlessly. "That too. You're a trouble magnet."

"Yeah." Yato takes a deep breath and looks down at their joined hands. "It meant a lot to me too, that you wanted to stay with us in our world. It made me happy that you always remembered me and stuck around even when I drove you crazy. I haven't loved anyone like I've loved you and Yukine in a long time. I'm going to miss you a lot. You deserve better."

Hiyori just smiles and squeezes his hand, and they sit together until daybreak.

Two days later, she says goodbye to Yukine. He does not take it well.

"No, that can't be right," he says desperately. "You'll get better. You can't die."

Hiyori looks worse than ever. Her skin is pinched and pale and papery, drawn tight over her bones. She has been wasting away right in front of them, disappearing a little more each time they blink. Her voice is weak and raspy, very nearly a whisper, and her breaths rattle in her chest. She sleeps more and more, but she does not slip free of her body. That seems like a cruelty compounded on all the rest, that she can't even escape her failing body and be free for a few minutes.

Her parents poke their heads into the room frequently and hover, but for now they have gone because they think she is sleeping. The monitor beside the bed beeps steadily. If it were to hiccup, a swarm of doctors and nurses would be here in five seconds flat.

"Not even my parents think I can pull through now," Hiyori says. "They've tried everything. I'm sorry, Yukine. I wish it didn't have to end like this."

"No, it can't–" Yukine looks around wildly, and his gaze fixes on Yato. "Can't you do something? Fix her? You're a god, aren't you?"

Yato looks away. "I am not a god of healing. I can't cheat death like that."

"But there are tons of other gods, right? Can't one of them do something?"

Even if they could, Yato doesn't expect they would go out of their way to help some no-name magatsukami, his wild-eyed hafuri, and a human too entwined with the Far Shore. He has no friends in high places to advocate for him and little to bargain with. Maybe he could ask Bishamon if she had any thoughts, but… It seems too late to him. The big-shot gods are more inclined to preserve the natural order of things than upend it. Yato is not convinced that they could be persuaded to snatch a human back from the jaws of death.

"I don't know," he hedges. "Maybe if–"

"It's okay," Hiyori says quietly. "I'm…okay with it. I don't really think there's anything else to do now and… I'm ready to let it go and just find a little peace before I'm gone. You'll be okay."

"No!" Yukine says. "Yato, say something! Tell her not to give up."

At times like this, Yato wishes he wasn't the adult, the old one, the god. The one the children look up to for answers. It's okay when they dismiss him, when they think he's childish and stupid and hopeless, but when they remember that he knows more than they can imagine, that he's the one with the power to protect them and the knowledge to explain the world, the pressure is unthinkable. The truth is that he doesn't have all the answers and never has. Sometimes they seem to forget that he is a magatsukami, first and foremost—he is nobody's savior.


"No!" Yukine cries again, his hands clenching into trembling fists at his sides. His pupils are blown wide, his eyes much too big for his face. He has just caught a glimpse of the world's dark underbelly that no child should have to see, and Yato cannot protect him from that. "You can't let her die. Please, Yato."

Yato hunches his shoulders. The begging tears at what's left of his heart.

He and Hiyori trot out platitudes and reassurances, say that everything will be okay, try to stay calm and talk Yukine off the ledge, but Yukine is inconsolable. He wavers between grief and fear and anger, because that is always how he has handled pain. And unfortunately, Yato has never been any good at comforting him.

"Can't you just tell me what you've been up to at Kofuku's?" Hiyori coaxes. "I like hearing your stories about what's going on outside."

It takes some convincing, but Yukine grudgingly tells a stilted story of the dinner Kofuku ruined last night by deciding to play chef when Daikoku wasn't looking and throwing in an unholy mixture of incompatible spices. Hiyori smiles, her eyes crinkling at the corners. Yato and Yukine do not.

"I can talk to Bishamon tonight and see if she has any ideas," Yato says when Yukine steers the topic back to the elephant in the room. "Until then… Let's just do our best to support Hiyori while we're here, okay?"

And so he manages to successfully lead away from the issue again, but now he is the one who has to come up with things to talk about, because Yukine is silent, staring at the far wall blankly. The conversation is awkward and stilted, because no one can forget the cloud hanging over them. Nothing will be the same again.

Yato never gets the chance to ask Bishamon or search for that last desperate way to save Hiyori. Before he and Yukine leave for the night, the monitor beside the bed shrills loudly and Hiyori goes into convulsions, her body shaking and her eyes wide and sightless. A swarm of doctors and nurses descends on the room in five seconds flat. They shout back and forth to each other, checking equipment and trying to stabilize her. When she flatlines, her parents wear identical expressions of devastation, like they have just lost their entire world.

"Can't you do something?" Yukine demands as the doctors try to resuscitate Hiyori. He is as white as a ghost, and desperation is written into every line of his face. He is crying. "Yato, you have to save her."

Yato's heart has twisted itself back into a tangled knot, and not only from Yukine's emotions. He has never before felt as helpless and utterly useless in all his long life as he does right now. He loves Hiyori fiercely, with the same fervor he loves Yukine and Sakura, and maybe that was his mistake, because everyone he loves like that seems to be torn away much too soon.

"I can't," he rasps. "I can't save anyone."

"That's stupid. You save lots of people. There has to be something you can do."

But Yato is watching the silvery shimmer in the air above Hiyori's body as the monitor wails its long, flat note. "It's already too late."

Hiyori's soul doesn't quite form up into her image and solidify, but hangs in the air like a silvery mist for a moment. It is not the kind of soul that will get stuck and linger between the Near and Far Shores. In a few seconds, it will dissipate and move on. And that's good, really. It means that Hiyori will find peace long before any of the rest of them do. She won't be forced to wander the twilight realm of ayakashi and gods, torn apart by phantoms or sheltering with another god for protection, starting a brand new life without any memories of her past. And they will never see her again.

Yato is no stranger to loss or the slow march of eternity, but his heart squeezes tight and it's hard to breathe, and he feels the future opening up bleak and empty in front of him, threatening to swallow him whole. He will pull himself back to his feet again, just like he always does, but it will be a long time and it will hurt very much and he feels unmoored and hopeless.

"No!" Yukine says again, but maybe he catches sight of the soul already beginning to shimmer out of existence, or perhaps the steady drone of the flatlining heart monitor has finally broken him down into accepting the inevitable. For a moment, his face crumples into something bleak and hopeless too. But then it lights again with wild, feverish hope. "Can't you make her into a shinki? If she's– That's how we can save her, right? Even if we can't stop her from dying, you can give her another chance to live. We can still all be together."

What little is left of Yato's heart cracks right in half, and he realizes with a blinding, white-hot flash that he is going to lose everything.

"I can't," he says, barely a whisper.

"What?" Yukine steps back, eyes wide and accusing as if Yato has just slapped him. "Why not? We have to do something. We can still save her, Yato! It might not be the same, but at least she would still be here."

"I can't name her. It wouldn't work."

Yato had been hoping against hope that Yukine wouldn't think of this possibility. He can't even bear to think of it himself.

"She does everything for you!" Yukine bursts out, clenching his hands into fists. "You have to help her! She would help you. You can't just let her go without even trying to help!"

"It wouldn't save her!" Yato cries, burying his face in his hands so that he doesn't have to see the last remnants of Hiyori's soul vanishing into the ether or Yukine's grief-stricken, accusatory face. "I can't do it. It would only make everything worse."

In his mind's eye, he sees Sakura's skin warping and bubbling, sprouting weeping ayakashi eyes as she twists into something terrible and inhuman. He remembers the sharp tug of resistance as he grasped Hiiro tight and ripped the blade through what was left of Sakura. He still knows that guilt and grief, carries it like a weight on his chest even to this day.

He can't do it again.

He had allowed himself to imagine naming Hiyori for a few short seconds, but he knows better. If he names Hiyori, Yukine won't understand why they can't use her name anymore. Even if he accepts a new name, how long would he last before accidentally calling her by the name he's always known her by or talk about the times they'd shared while she was alive? He would slip up sooner or later, especially since he doesn't understand the root of the issue or why it's so dangerous. Or someone else would first. How many people know Hiyori by her relation to Yato? The gods might be careful to keep her human name and past life secret, but all those shinki who don't know any better? How long would it be before someone called her Hiyori and she remembered everything?

He can't imagine watching Hiyori warp like Sakura, can't imagine killing her. And when Yukine sees her transformation upon learning her name, it could trigger him too. Or if Yato has to use him to kill what's left of Hiyori… Yukine would never survive it. He would cross the line all on his own in a haze of guilt and grief and pain, and what then? Yato would be left with two ayakashi, the last one standing, the one who is supposed to put them out of their misery. He doesn't think he could do it.

Naming Hiyori would not save her. It would only damn both her and Yukine, and Yato would never survive it either. They would all kill each other. Everything zeroes out in the end.

But he can't tell Yukine that, because he can't explain why.

"If you don't save her, I will never forgive you," Yukine snarls.

Yato pries his eyes back open, but Hiyori is already gone. "It's too late," he says, defeated. "She's gone."

Yukine stares back in silence, a war raging in his eyes—a war mirrored in Yato's chest. "I hate you," he says finally. "I hate you for abandoning her. You didn't even try. You just sat there and did nothing."

And because Yato can't explain why, he is afraid that he will lose Yukine too after all. But at least Yukine will live, and that has to count for something. It has to count, or it never mattered what he did at all. He wants to think there's a way for at least one of them to survive this.

"I'm sorry," he says, and he means it.

Yukine stays in bed for three days with the covers pulled over his head, eyes aching and swollen, sobbing his heart out and occasionally drifting into hazy snatches of sleep or nibbling halfheartedly at the food Daikoku brings before pushing it away. Yato tries to comfort him at first or at least sit with him, but Yukine bats at him with closed fists and wails at him to leave. Every once in a while Yato still pokes his head into the room to check on him, but for the most part he stays away.

That's good. It gives Yukine the chance to mourn Hiyori first. He can't believe she's gone, just like that. It's not that he never realized she would die someday, being human and all, but somehow he always expected her to grow old first. Maybe even forget them and move on to live a normal life, although he didn't like to think about that either. He had been afraid of her forgetting them, but he had never truly expected her to die.

He still can't believe it. Should he have guessed, when she was in the hospital for all those days? But she had seemed okay. Sick, yes. In pain, yes. Tired, yes. But dying? No, he hadn't seen that coming. He had still expected her to recover in a few days and go over his math homework with him, pointing out his mistakes.

The thought of the math homework she'll never check makes him start crying again. He can't believe she'll never assign him another problem or tease him about the silly mistakes he makes. He can't believe she won't be there to roll her eyes at Yato's antics or tag along when they hunt ayakashi or eat dinner at the table with everyone. He still feels like she might walk through the door at any second. But she doesn't. He knows, deep down, that she never will.

When he finally emerges from his cocoon, feeling like a swollen-eyed zombie shambling through the motions, he finds Yato slumped at the kitchen table with Kofuku and Daikoku. Yato looks awful, face drawn in exhausted lines and dark circles ringed beneath his eyes. Good. He should feel awful.

Yukine isn't sure whether it's entirely fair to blame Yato for Hiyori being gone, but it feels right enough. Even if Yato couldn't have saved her from dying—which Yukine can concede, since even gods are not all-powerful—he could have given her the same second chance at life after death that he had given Yukine. Yukine had begged him to. And he had refused. That Yukine can blame him for.

"Yukki!" Kofuku says, startled. She and Daikoku look drawn and red-eyed too. "You're up! How are you…? Won't you at least eat something? You haven't been eating enough lately."

Yukine's gaze slides back to Yato, who winces at whatever he sees there and drops his eyes.

"I want you to release me and go," Yukine says hollowly.

Yato swallows hard, the lump in his throat bobbing up and down. "I…"

"Whoa, whoa, time out," Daikoku says. "It's a terrible tragedy, but there's no need to–"

"He just stood there," Yukine says, implacable. "He didn't save her."

"Yato-chan isn't a healing god," Kofuku says gently. "Sometimes there's really nothing we can do."

"But he could have named her. He could have saved her like he saved me."

The blood drains from Kofuku's face all at once, her skin taking on the grayish-white cast of curdled milk. Yukine doesn't know what's wrong with her. Maybe she hadn't quite made that connection yet.

"I told you." Yato presses his hand to his face, his shoulders hunching. "I couldn't do that."

Yukine sneers at him. He can't think of a genuine reason why Yato couldn't have made Hiyori a shinki, and if there is one, it's Yato's fault for hiding things again instead of explaining.

"You do realize that it wouldn't be the same?" Daikoku asks slowly, cautiously. He is looking at Yukine like he might be a wounded animal. "She wouldn't remember–"

"I know that!" Yukine spits. "But at least she'd be alive, sort of. At least she'd be with us, and she'd have more time to live."

"Oh, Yukki," Kofuku says, her eyes filling with tears. "Yato-chan couldn't have done that. He couldn't have saved Hiyorin."

"That's what he says, but he can't seem to come up with a good reason why." Yukine glowers at Yato. "I told you, I'll never forgive you for not saving her. You need to release me."

Yato drops his hand. He's looking a little gray too, his eyes shadowed and old.

"Yes, if that's what you want," he murmurs. "But not yet."


"Everything is still raw. We shouldn't be making permanent decisions when we're in such a volatile state. If you still want me to release you in a few days, then I will. But take a little time to think it through first."

"I have thought it through," Yukine growls, even though he hasn't, exactly. Hiyori has occupied most of his mind, but now his anger at Yato swells too. All he knows is that he will never be able to forget or forgive Yato for this, and he can't see a way back for them.

Yato pulls himself to his feet and drifts across the room, past Yukine and out the door. "Think a little more," he says tiredly.

Yukine shrinks away from him as he leaves, the door to the shrine slamming shut. He stares at the closed door, and it's a long time before anyone speaks.

"Yukki," Kofuku says finally, "it isn't Yato-chan's fault."

"Maybe not, but he didn't do anything to help."

"He truly couldn't have named Hiyorin."

"Well, why not? What doesn't anyone want to tell me?"

Kofuku bites her lip, and Yukine and Daikoku look at her expectantly. "I-I… It just wouldn't have worked. Not the way we would have wanted. Hiyorin wouldn't have come back the same."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Yukine demands.

But Kofuku doesn't seem to have an answer for that.

"Just think about it before making any hasty decisions," Daikoku says when she doesn't answer. "If Yato releases you, he won't be able to name you again later if you change your mind. See what you think once you've had the chance to come to terms with things and you aren't so angry anymore. The guy's an idiot, but he means well and you're a good team. It won't be the same without Hiyori, but… Don't throw away what you have left too. It's bad enough that you already lost her. Maybe you should try grieving together instead of turning on each other."

"If he releases me, would you be willing to give me a name?" Yukine asks Kofuku.

He knows that she doesn't really want to and that Daikoku wouldn't be pleased either, but they seem like the safest bet. He thinks they've become enough of a little family now that they might make an exception for him.

Kofuku winces and exchanges a look with Daikoku. "If it comes to that… Well, you always have a place here. I can name you if you really want, as long as you realize that I might not ever be able to use you in your vessel form. You know how much damage Kokki can do. Ebi-chan or even Bisha might be willing as well. Just… Think it through first. This is kind of a last resort. You should work things out with Yato-chan, Yukki. If you make him release you… Nothing will be the same, and you won't have each other anymore."

"I don't want to work things out with him," Yukine says, turning away.

That's all he needed to know. He could live with being Kofuku's shinki and staying here, as long as Yato isn't always hanging around. Or if he is, he could try Bishamon, maybe, or Ebisu. Just as soon as Yato lets him go.

"Yato-chan is devastated too, you know," Kofuku adds. "You were both so close to her. And now it's just the two of you. You're still a family, you know."

Yukine sets his mouth in a grim line. "Not anymore."

Despite Kofuku and Daikoku's pleading, Yukine can hardly stand to be in the same room as Yato anymore. When Yato comes back from wherever he sulks off to, Yukine retreats to their room and tells him to stay out.

Yato does not try to sleep in the room they once shared. He doesn't seem to be sleeping in the shrine at all, but Yukine does not ask about it. He disappears for hours or sometimes days at a time, and then comes back to hesitantly try talking to Yukine or bringing small gifts.

Yukine is not interested in any of it. He snaps and snarls and pushes Yato away as best he can. Yato hovers around uselessly, looking like he's searching for the words to fix things and coming up empty, until Yukine manages to say something cruel enough to chase him off again.

"I'll never forgive you."

"I hate you."

"It's all your fault."

"You let her die."

"She wouldn't forgive you either."

"Just release me already."

Yato still refuses to release him, growing quiet and distant whenever Yukine brings it up and disappearing shortly after, but it's only a matter of time. For all of Yato's many faults, Yukine knows he won't keep him trapped here forever if he truly wants to go. Yato is hoping to hang on long enough that Yukine will change his mind, but Yukine is slowly wearing him down, refusing his peace offerings and keeping up his demands.

It's only a matter of time until they finally break apart.

Bishamon looks up at the knock on the door. "Come in," she says, but Kazuma is already poking his head inside.

"Veena, Yukine is here to see you."

He looks troubled, and Bishamon feels her eyebrows rise. She doesn't know why Yukine would come here, especially without Yato. She hasn't seen either of them since Hiyori died, which she only found out about when she went to Kofuku's for the prediction of evil omens and heard from her.

"Oh," she says. "Alright. You can bring him in here."

Kazuma pushes the door the rest of the way open and ushers Yukine inside. He steps in behind him and shuts the door again.

Yukine's face is set in hard, grim lines, and Bishamon thinks that he looks much older than when she saw him last. He stands awkwardly in the middle of the floor, looking out of place, and Kazuma shoots Bishamon a helpless look over the top of his head.

"Why don't you sit down?" Bishamon asks, gesturing to the chair in front of her desk.

Yukine makes no move to sit. "I want to ask you something," he says. "No one else will tell me."

This is not a promising start, and it puts Bishamon on guard.

"What do you want to know?" she asks cautiously.

He stays quiet for a moment and then says, "Yato didn't save Hiyori. I'm not stupid. I know maybe he couldn't have stopped her from dying. But afterwards… He could have made her into a shinki, and he didn't. I know she wouldn't have remembered anything, but she would have gotten a second chance like me and we could have started over. Maybe she'd even remember something eventually. But he wouldn't do it, and no one will tell me why."

Bishamon's heart drops into her stomach and twists into knots. Yato, she thinks, where are you? You need to talk to your shinki. This is far outside her wheelhouse and not her place at all. This is something Yato should work through with Yukine, and she doesn't envy him the task. She would be overstepping herself to decide what Yukine should believe on the matter—that is Yato's responsibility and right.

"What, ah… What did he say about it?" she asks awkwardly.

"Just that he couldn't do it and it would have made things worse. And Kofuku said it wouldn't work, that Hiyori wouldn't come back the same. But why not? Every time I ask, they just brush me off. It worked for me. Why wouldn't it work for her? Why did Yato leave her to die? I can't forgive him for that."

Kazuma looks puzzled too, and Bishamon's heart beats too fast in her chest. She wishes he hadn't stayed in the room now, even though she usually prefers his company. This is dangerous ground.

She has to say something. If she brushes Yukine off, Kazuma will have questions. If she claims ignorance, she isn't sure they'll believe her. Can she come up with a convincing enough lie or half-truth to satisfy them?

It truly is not her place to answer these kinds of questions for Yukine, but… Truthfully, she likes Yukine and wants him to find some kind of resolution. It doesn't seem like Yato is helping him with that, so someone ought to. And… Well, she likes Yato too, in a masochistic, begrudging sort of way. She owes him a lot, and maybe this is one small way to repay her debt. If he is too heartsick and rattled to come up with a convincing explanation to save his relationship with Yukine, then maybe she can do it for him.

"They're right," she says slowly, picking her words with care. "You understand that with Hiyori's condition… She was already half-ayakashi, or something close enough. She had a precarious position between the Near and Far Shores. Turning her into a shinki and removing the protective influence of her human side… She would have fallen over the line. Maybe not immediately, but within a few days or weeks or months. She would have already been halfway there, and any little thing would have pushed her over.

"And if she turned into an ayakashi, there would be no way to save her. The only mercy left at that point would be to kill her. And if Yato had to use you to kill her… Would you have ever forgiven yourself? If anything, it would probably push you over the line too. You would both become ayakashi, and Yato would have to kill you both.

"He's a fool, but there's no denying how much he cares for you and for her. If he could have saved her, he would have. You know that. By letting her go, he was protecting you. He didn't want to lose you too, and Hiyori's end would have been a lot messier. I'm sorry about what happened, but it's not Yato's fault. He just didn't want to lose you along with her."

Yukine stares at her for a long time, storm clouds swirling in his eyes, and she can't read his thoughts or tell if he has accepted her explanation. Finally, he looks away.

"Why wouldn't he just say that, then?"

She shrugs. "I don't know. You would have to ask him that. But if I had to take a guess… It's an ugly truth, isn't it? It's hard to think about such a horrifying possibility. He probably wanted to protect you from that too."

Yukine stares at the floor, the seconds ticking away. Finally, he rouses himself.

"Thank you," he says. "For telling me when no one else wanted to. I… I think I should go now."

He turns and walks back out of the room like a sleepwalker, his expression glazed over. Kazuma shoots Bishamon a concerned look before following him out.

Bishamon leans back in her chair and sighs, running back over her words and turning each one over in her head, searching for anything she might have said wrong, anything that might give away something dangerous if Kazuma or Yukine look closely enough. She thinks it was a solid enough explanation, but a niggling discomfort lurks at the edges of her mind.

Kazuma reappears a few minutes later, still looking troubled. "He's gone. He seemed very…out of sorts. I don't think he's handling things well, especially now that he's turned on Yato."

"Check in on him now and then if you'd like. I won't stop you."

"Yes, maybe I will." Kazuma hesitates and then says, "Was that the truth? About Hiyori crossing the line?"

Bishamon picks up a pen from the desk, twisting it around and around in her hand. "Yes. That much is true. It would never have worked. I'm pleasantly surprised that Yato had enough presence of mind not to name her. He's impulsive enough that he might have done it without thinking through the consequences."

Kazuma considers this and then seems to accept it. "Maybe, but he isn't stupid."

"I'd beg to differ."

But she can't hold it against him. She thinks that in Yato's place, she might not have been able to come up with an excuse either, but she hopes he comes back to his senses soon enough to salvage his relationship with Yukine. Yukine seems ready to crack and do something regrettable if Yato doesn't take him back in hand, and that would be a shame.

There is really little more that she can do for them at this juncture, but she hopes that having this justification in place is at least a start.

Yukine leaves Bishamon's mansion troubled. He has finally gotten the answers he was looking for, and they are not the ones he expected. They are bitter pills and itch at his skin uncomfortably, because they make it sound like Yato was right all along and Yukine has been blaming and hating him for nothing. Yukine doesn't like that. He doesn't like to be wrong, and he would rather be angry than…

Well, he supposes that's the way it's always been, isn't it? Isn't that what nearly killed him and Yato in the beginning, when he descended into anger and bitterness rather than grief for the life he'd lost? It had been easy to blame Yato then too, for things that were maybe more Yukine's fault than anyone's, or just due to the unfairness of the world. Yato has always been an easy target. Maybe he makes himself that way, or maybe Yukine does.

Yukine wanders the streets restlessly for a long time, turning Bishamon's words about this way and that as he tries to digest them and figure out how they fit into this whole mess. He's no closer to finding an answer when the sun begins to go down.

"Where's Yato?" he asks when he admits defeat and returns to the shrine.

Kofuku and Daikoku exchange a look. Yukine hasn't asked after Yato in days, not unless he's making sure he isn't around.

"He hasn't been in all day," Daikoku says. He presses his lips together in a tight line before adding, "Or yesterday. He hasn't been around as much, especially not in the evenings."

Of course not. Yato has been giving Yukine the space he asked for. The space he demanded. And…Yukine thinks Yato has been avoiding him more and more because he's afraid of the day he finally has to release him. Maybe it's not fair that Yukine has been steadily pushing Yato out of the home he tried to build here for the both of them, but if there's only space for one of them, Yukine will not volunteer to be the one to make his own way. Yato is used to living on the streets and fending for himself.

Yukine lets out his breath. It's probably just as well that Yato isn't here. Yukine doesn't know what to say to him yet, hasn't worked out how to feel about him or how much blame he truly deserves or where to go from here, and he isn't sorry to postpone that conversation for another night. Because he thinks that they will need to talk. There would have always needed to be a confrontation, if only to bully Yato into releasing him, but it's starting to look more and more complicated.

Yukine hardly sleeps that night, trying to sort out his feelings and decide what he needs to say to Yato. By morning, he has gotten exactly nowhere, but as it turns out, he needn't have worried. Yato does not show up the next day, or the one after that.

Kofuku and Daikoku are worried. Yukine catches them whispering with their heads bent together when they think he is upstairs.

"He has to be fine," Daikoku says. "He's used to being on his own."

"Maybe, but he's so depressed," Kofuku says. "You saw him. He always looks terrible now. He loves Yukki and Hiyorin so much, and losing both of them… I'm worried about Yukki too, but at least he still has a place here with us. Yato-chan is going back to nothing. The three of them were so good for each other, and Yato-chan and Yukki made such a great team. It's so sad."

"Yes, well… I keep hoping Yukine will come around. I don't…think Yato will take it well if he has to release Yukine. And Yukine… I worry that he will fall apart again and cross the line if he doesn't start pulling himself back together soon."

Yukine doesn't want to hear any more. He tiptoes back upstairs.

The next day, when Yato still doesn't appear, Yukine waits until after dinner and tells Kofuku and Daikoku that he is going out. The days are long now, and he has another hour before night falls in earnest. A good incentive to take care of business quickly and without procrastination.

He sets off down the street, his strides quick and purposeful. He still has no idea what to say to Yato or what he wants to happen, but it seems like all the time in the world isn't helping him find an answer. All he does is keep running himself ragged searching for the right path forward and only ending up wandering in circles instead. He supposes that when he got too caught up in his head, he always used to find his answers by talking it through with Yato. Even if Yato's advice sucked, just venting to him and getting that shred of support or comfort or rare gem of good advice helped him pull himself back together.

Although no one knows where Yato is and it will be impossible to find him if he doesn't want to be found, Yukine has an idea. Yukine thinks that Yato does want to be found, or at least wants to keep the possibility open. He is staying away because Yukine wants him to, not because he does. If he has even the slightest hope that Yukine might seek him out sooner or later for a reconciliation or even just another fight, he would stay somewhere obvious.

Sure enough, he is already tucked into Tenjin's shrine for the evening, sitting in the corner with his knees drawn to his chest and staring out at nothing with glassy eyes. This seems mind-numbingly boring and like a complete waste of time to Yukine. He hopes Yato hasn't just been sulking out here for days at a time and has actually done something useful now and then.

"You really don't have anything better to do?" he asks.

Yato flinches in surprise, and his eyes flick to Yukine standing in the entrance. He stares for a moment, and then he unfolds his limbs and rises to his feet. A stiff tension tightens his shoulders and squares his jaw, and he unconsciously angles his body in a shadow of a fighting stance. He is preparing for an attack, pulling in his vital parts for protection and polishing up his armor. He is expecting an attack from Yukine, of course. He is expecting to get hurt.

"Yukine?" he asks, and his voice sounds thick and raspy. "Are you…? Did you need something?"

He looks awful, his eyes painted with black circles and his face pinched and gaunt. Yukine isn't sure how much of it is from grief and how much is from dealing with his shinki's wildly uncontrolled emotions. Yukine does not exactly feel bad that he has been hurting Yato, but… Maybe a little bit.

"I talked to Bishamon."

Yato stares at him some more and then closes his eyes. "Right," he says softly, suddenly sounding resigned. "Did she say she would name you?"

"What?" Yukine asks, taken aback. He shakes his head. "No, that's not what I talked to her about. Anyway, Kofuku said she'd give me a name if it came to that, but she wants me to work things out with you."

"Yeah…" Yato sighs. "She would do right by you, at least. Is that what you've decided to do?"

Yukine flaps his hand impatiently. "Forget about that for now. I told you, that's not what I talked to Bishamon about. I asked her about Hiyori. About why you wouldn't name her."

Yato goes very still, and the shadows in his eyes leave them dark and haunted and too big for his face. "What did she say?"

"She said that if you named Hiyori, she would have ended up crossing the line because she was already half-ayakashi or near enough. And then we'd have to kill her, and that would push me over the line too. Is that true?"

For a second, Yato stands frozen. Yukine isn't even sure he's breathing. Then his face crumples all at once. If Yukine has been able to hold on to his bitterness before, it's hard now when all of Yato's raw pain is laid bare across his face in an instant. His heart thaws just a little, even if he keeps his arms crossed over his chest.

"Yeah," Yato rasps. His voice wavers and breaks, and he tries again. "I… I couldn't watch her die like that. It's such a horrible… And you would… I loved her as much as you did, Yukine. I would have done anything to save her if I saw a way, but… I couldn't see one, and I couldn't risk you dying too."

Yukine searches the barren planes of Yato's face, the bleak voids of his eyes, the breaking wreck of his voice. He finds truth there, and he isn't sure if that makes him feel better or worse.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asks.

"I…" Yato's shoulders slump, and he rocks back a step and stares at the floor. "I didn't want you to… I've lost a shinki like that before, crossing the line, and it's awful. I didn't want you to think of Hiyori like that. Does it make you feel any better, knowing? Or does it just hurt more?"

Yukine has no answer to that. His heart is all twisted up either way.

"You can't protect me from everything," he says. "And you shouldn't always be hiding things. Sometimes I deserve to know the truth."

Yato presses his hands to his eyes. They tremble.

"You're right. I'm sorry. Just… It was already so terrible, losing Hiyori. I couldn't watch you die too."

Yukine watches him for a while. He is still a snarled mess of competing emotions, but Yato looks very small and sad and has this terrible habit of painting himself in a bad light when he is not the villain at all.

Yukine steps forward, hesitates, and puts a hand on Yato's arm. Yato startles and peers at him from between his fingers.

"I'm sorry too," Yukine sighs. "I'm still mad, but… I shouldn't have blamed you for everything either. I know that you would have saved her if you could. Maybe I just needed to hear why you couldn't."

"It's okay." Yato's smile is wobbly. "Better to be angry at me than at yourself."

Yukine closes his eyes. He doesn't want to examine that too closely right now. Yato has always been a convenient punching bag, for better or worse.

"I don't want you to release me," Yukine grumbles. "We'll just…need to figure some things out. Let's go home, Yato."

He offers his hand, and Yato eyes it like it's a trap about to spring shut. His lips tremble, and his eyes are shiny with unshed tears. Then, finally, he reaches out and folds his fingers around Yukine's.

When Kazuma comes hurrying down the hall to meet Yato at the door, he looks pale and nervous.

"Is everything alright?" he asks, eyeing Yato up and down.

Yato nods and slouches down. "Yeah. I need to talk to Bishamon."

Kazuma purses his lips and turns back down the hall, leading Yato past gaggles of shinki wandering about their business. "I assume you know that Yukine was here, then."


"And… Are you okay? You look horrible, and Yukine did too."

Yato shrugs. "I guess. We'll see. He's…not exactly stable right now."

Kazuma eyes him sidelong. "Is he stinging you?"

"Not exactly. He feels pretty justified, although he's started cooling off a little. His emotions have been all over the place, though."

"Well… I hope you work it out with him soon. I'm sorry about Hiyori."

Yato nods. His chest still seizes out of time with his heartbeat, and the headache he's been nursing for days throbs dully behind his eyes. He's exhausted and sad and everything hurts, and he just can't stomach small talk right now.

He stops a few feet down the hall while Kazuma sticks his head into Bishamon's study and announces his presence, then follows after when he's summoned.

Bishamon watches him guardedly, her jaw set. "What is it?"

"I don't want anything," he reassures her. He glances back at Kazuma hovering behind him near the door. Bishamon waves her hand in a dismissal, and Kazuma purses his lips but retreats from the room, closing the door behind him. "I just wanted to say thank you. For talking to Yukine. I…couldn't come up with a good explanation for him. Your story was more believable than anything I could have made up. And nearly true."

Bishamon looks like she wants to say something, but then sighs and says instead, "Of course. It wasn't a problem."

Yato looks away. What she isn't saying is that he failed in his duty to Yukine, failed to talk him down off that ledge and protect him adequately from the truth, and left her to do his job for him. He knows it too. He's been searching for the way to make Yukine understand and mend their ties, but he feels too shattered and out of his depth to figure it out. He has never been any good at being emotionally supportive even at the best of times. Hiyori was always the one who stepped in for him and helped Yukine when he didn't know how. But now she's gone, and Yato is on his own. He owes Bishamon for stepping in this once, and it's kind of her not to say what she's thinking about it.

"Yeah," he says quietly. "Still. Maybe I panicked a little bit. I couldn't… Anyway, it seems to have helped. He's talking to me again, at least. And stopped asking me to release him, for now. Maybe…" He sighs and scrubs at his face with his hands. "I have no idea what's going on in his head, and I don't think he does either. But I think having an explanation will help him come to terms with it, with a little time. So thanks, really. I think he needed that, and…I wasn't able to give it to him."

Bishamon looks more intensely uncomfortable the longer he talks. Maybe she had been hoping to sweep the whole incident under the rug.

"He's that bad, huh?" she says finally.

"Yeah. He hasn't really been himself, and I'm an easy scapegoat. I'm hoping that he'll be able to sort himself out and…"

He trails off. He hopes that Yukine will stop blaming him, hating him. That things will go back to normal and they can be partners again. He isn't sure about that part, though. Maybe some small part of Yukine will always blame him, the way a child resents a parent when he realizes for the first time that even a father or mother is only human too and can't do everything after all.

And… Yato is afraid that some small part of himself might always resent Yukine too, for turning on him so quickly. For blaming and hating and demanding to be set free. Maybe that isn't fair. Yato understands that Yukine's grief trends towards anger, and he knows that being unable to offer an explanation opened him up to censure. But it still hurts. He will always love Yukine, he will always forgive Yukine, Yukine will always be his kid, for as long as he allows it, but Yukine has hurt him too. Yukine has dug at his exposed underbelly and hooked in his claws where it hurts. Yukine weaponized Hiyori's death and plunged the dagger straight into Yato's heart.

Yato understands, truly. He wants to work things out with Yukine and put things back to rights, as much as they are able. He wants them to be able to heal together. When it comes down to it, he will stand by Yukine's side no matter what. But it might not be quite the same as before, even if Yukine finds it in his heart to forgive Yato.

"Good luck," Bishamon says. "I hope the two of you work things out soon. I'm sorry for what happened to Hiyori and how Yukine reacted. It's…not your fault, you know. Even when it feels like it. I understand. You did the right thing. It would have killed you all to name her."

Yato closes his eyes, breathes in and out slowly a few times. He knows that. And the other gods understand too, in a way shinki can't. They understand what secrets would have been uncovered and how terrible the price would be. And he knows full well what would have happened. He learned his lesson from Sakura. In any case, he is a god, and gods' actions are always just.

He knows all of these things, yet guilt hangs over him in a thick black cloud anyway.

"Yes," he says anyway. "Exactly."

He thanks her one more time and leaves, summoning a wan smile for Kazuma's benefit on the way out and escaping back to the lower realm. He can't bring himself to face Yukine or the others just yet, so he roams the streets instead, aimless as a wandering ghost. He glimpses echoes of Hiyori dancing along the power lines, hurrying down the street towards the school in her uniform, ducking into a store to buy food to share. People rush about every which way in a loud, chaotic mass, but the city feels so empty and his heart yawns wide and aches. For a girl so small, Hiyori managed to fill up every corner of this city.

Sometimes he catches a glimpse of Yukine's ghost too, of the smiling boy who followed along beside them and laughed and teased. Yato misses that boy too.

Eventually, he winds up under the sakura tree and stands just outside the shade it casts, hands in his pockets as he watches the leaves sway in the wind. It isn't blooming yet, but he sees ghosts there too. He misses Hiyori and Yukine and Sakura. If he had panicked and named Hiyori, he fears that all three of them could have shared the same fate. But Hiyori and Sakura are still dead, and he feels like he failed them. There must have been something he could have done. But Hiyori was dying either way. The best he could do was cut her free and save Yukine. Yukine has not thanked him for it so far and he does not have to, but Yato hopes that he will come to appreciate being saved in time, even if Hiyori was not.


Yato nearly jumps out of his skin. He whirls around and blinks at the ghost.


Yukine presses his lips together and looks at the ground, his shoulders hunching up about his ears. "You've been gone all day again."

"Oh." Yato looks back at the sakura tree. "Sorry. We can go back, if you want."

"What were you doing?"

"Just thinking, I guess."

Yukine follows his gaze back to the tree. He doesn't know anything about Sakura, but a hazy sort of understanding clouds his eyes anyway.

"Remember when she invited everyone out here for a picnic and didn't even warn us Bishamon was coming? But it worked out."

"Yeah," Yato says quietly.

"Or that time you drew capypers all over her homework and she didn't realize until she'd turned some of it in? She totally freaked out."

"Yeah." When Yukine hesitates, worrying his lip uncertainly, Yato pulls himself together and searches for a memory of his own. He should at least make an effort. "How about the time I got up early to tamper with your math homework so all the answers were wrong? The look she gave you when she started checking them…"

Yukine huffs out a breathy, surprised sort of laugh. "Oh yeah. She thought I was really stupid for a second, until you started cracking up." They lapse into silence for a minute or two, and then Yukine says, in a small voice, "I miss her."

Yato closes his eyes. "Yeah. Me too."

"I…miss you too." This is said more grudgingly, and there is still a sharp edge buried somewhere underneath, but it sounds genuine enough.

Yato swallows and looks back at him. "I miss you too."

Yukine looks up at the sky and puffs out his cheeks. "Look, I'm still working through some things. And maybe you are too, I don't know. I guess I hurt you too. But I'm your hafuri, and I said I'd stay forever. We both miss Hiyori. We can miss her together. Come home, Yato. We'll work it out. I'd hate to lose you too."

"…Yeah. I'd…like you to stay."

"I just said I would, didn't I? Come on. We have work to do." Yukine hesitates, looks away. "You're a real pain," he says more quietly, "but I still love you anyway."

Yato's lips tremble, and he presses them together tightly. His eyes burn.

"I love you too." He hesitates, unsure if he is still allowed to touch or if it would be crossing a boundary now, but then walks over and drapes his arm around Yukine's shoulders to steer him back the way they came. "Let's go home, then."

The gesture is familiar, almost comforting, and he's missed it. Yukine does not push him away or yell, just fixes his gaze on his feet and walks alongside him.

And maybe they are still both full of jagged, broken pieces, maybe things are not the same, but if they are together, there is still a hope worth fighting for.