Bishamon & Kazuma
I was really surprised when Bishamon came all the way down to Yomi to try and rescue me. She had to have known it was a lost cause, that this was a fight she couldn't win, but she still put herself at risk to try saving me, despite all our differences. It meant a lot that someone would keep trying to save me even when there was no real hope.
Yukine pounded on the door to Bishamon's mansion. When no one answered fast enough, he banged some more. He had already checked with Tenjin and Ebisu and some of the others before begging a ride to Takamagahara, and he had turned up exactly nothing. But Bishamon and her crew patrolled the lower realm on a regular basis and maintained a constant presence in Takamagahara. If anyone had seen something, it would be them. The sick feeling that had nested in the pit of his stomach swelled and roiled. He had been afraid to come here because it was their best chance. If Bishamon hadn't seen anything either…
"Coming, coming," grumbled a voice from inside. "Calm down." Kinuha pushed the door open and fixed Yukine with an irritated look. "What–?"
"I need to talk to Bishamon or Kazuma," Yukine interrupted. "Right away."
Hot tears burned at the corners of his eyes again, threatening to leak out. They had been more or less continuous since he had gone to see Hiyori this morning and she had looked right through him before politely asking who he might be. He shouldn't cry, he reminded himself. It would hurt Yato. Giving in would mean that he thought Yato was gone, and he wasn't ready to admit that yet.
"Are you alright?" Kinuha asked, her exasperation melting away. "You look terrible."
"Just– I need to talk to them."
She gestured him inside. "Wait here, alright? I'll be right back."
She took off down the hallway at a brisk trot, and Yukine wedged himself into a corner to wait, shifting from foot to foot. He nearly followed after her, but for all his frantic impatience, he would grasp at anything to delay this for a moment more. A couple of shinki drifted past, but he pressed himself against the wall and no one paid him any mind. They all had their own lives to live, things to do. Yukine had too, until today. It seemed like his normal daily activities had just about run their course.
Kinuha reappeared a moment later and beckoned him back down the hall. "They'll see you now," she said.
"Thanks," he muttered, trotting after her.
She eyed him sidelong and offered him a fistful of tissues. She had never struck Yukine as the more empathetic type and had never shown much of an interest in him before, and the unexpected kindness of the gesture made him tear up again. He mumbled his thanks and took the tissues, scrubbing at his face and blowing his nose.
Kinuha led him down the hall and ushered him into Bishamon's study, closing the door softly behind him as she retreated again.
Bishamon looked up at him from behind her desk, and Kazuma rose from his chair and turned towards the door. They exchanged a quick look, eyebrows raised, and looked back to Yukine.
"What's wrong?" Bishamon asked.
"Have you seen Yato?" Yukine demanded.
"Not for days. Did he run off on his own again?"
"Yes. No. I don't know." Yukine fisted his hands in his hair, lips trembling. The panic was building again, leaving him feeling wild and unmoored. "I mean, I thought he did, and I was really annoyed about it, but he hasn't come back and…"
"Calm down, Yukine," Kazuma said, gently but firmly. "You know that getting worked up will only hurt Yato."
"I hope that it does!"
"That's not very kind. You know how he is. Sometimes he disappears for a while, but he always comes back when he's ready."
"But I'm not sure that he will!" Yukine said, raw anguish making his voice bleak. He hoped he was hurting Yato, because that meant Yato still existed to be hurt. But if Yato could feel Yukine's panic, wouldn't he have come back? "It's– I saw Hiyori today, and she didn't remember me or Yato. He's been missing for days and I've been so annoyed with him, but Hiyori doesn't remember. What if…?"
Nearly identical expressions of alarm crossed Bishamon's and Kazuma's faces.
"Hiyori doesn't remember anything?" Bishamon asked.
Yukine shook his head. "She's been so busy lately, and I know her life has been moving on, but… I can't believe she just forgot. And this whole time I've been mad at Yato, and he's…"
"Doesn't he have any more believers by now?" Kazuma asked. "It's been years, and you've worked hard at it."
"I don't– I don't know. It's hard to tell. I mean, people definitely remember him more, at least here and there. But stable believers? I don't know… I think that was only ever his dad and Hiyori, and without them… But he could still just be wandering around on his own! He does that sometimes. Not as much as he used to, but maybe… So I was hoping that if maybe you had seen him recently…"
Bishamon and Kazuma exchanged another look, and Yukine did not like the grim set of their lips.
"We haven't seen him," Bishamon said slowly, and the air rushed out of Yukine in a whoosh, his body crumpling around him. "But we also haven't been looking. We could keep an eye out for him."
"You could help me look, couldn't you?" Yukine asked, hanging on to one last sliver of hope.
Kazuma could always be persuaded to do favors for Yato, and even Bishamon had mellowed towards him. They'd had years to lay old grudges to rest, and even though Yato and Bishamon still bickered, they had developed their own kind of friendship. Even Yukine had eventually let go of Kazuma's and Bishamon's transgressions while hunting Yato's dad, more or less. Things had worked out in the end, they had survived, and broken bonds had been mended. Surely, they would help now.
"Of course," Bishamon said, her eyes gentle. "We will help you look."
But even with everyone out looking, no one found any sign of Yato. And truthfully, Yukine did not really expect them too. Not after he found Yato's phone in their room. All of Yato's things were left behind—things he would never have left home without.
Yukine did not advertise this piece of information. Bishamon and her team were the best chance they had of finding some sign of Yato, and if she knew that the chances of finding him alive had dwindled to almost nothing… Well, Yukine thought Yato was gone, but that didn't mean he was giving up just yet. He couldn't bear to stop looking.
So he did not tell Bishamon, but when she stopped by the shrine to check in while he was still out searching the streets, Kofuku did. Yukine came back to Bishamon and Kazuma sitting with Kofuku and Daikoku in the kitchen, faces grim as they discussed the issue of the phone.
"You can't stop looking!" Yukine cried, bursting into the room and making them all jump.
Everyone looked tired and sad and resigned. He hated it.
"I want to find Yato-chan too," Kofuku said, "but don't you think–?"
"He could still be out there somewhere!"
Kofuku sighed and leaned her head against Daikoku's arm. She looked more careworn than Yukine had ever seen her.
"We still have a job to do, Yukine," Kazuma said, eyes shining with regret. "We can't abandon our duties forever if it's unlikely that he's coming back."
Yukine's vision went blurry, and he blinked rapidly to clear the tears. "He might still show up," he insisted, but his voice sounded shaky and raw to his own ears. "Maybe he's in trouble somewhere, and that's why he hasn't come back."
Kazuma opened his mouth, closed it again. Kofuku shut her eyes.
"Look, Yukine," Bishamon said gently. "We need to attend to our duties as well. We've let some things slide lately. But we'll keep an eye out while we're working, and we can keep looking around for him in our spare time. Alright?"
Yukine's lips trembled as he nodded. He wasn't sure if she was just humoring him or really meant it, but it was kind of her to say so when she knew it was a lost cause.
Truthfully, I respect the way Bishamon handles her shinki. I mean, it's risky and maybe kind of stupid, but the way she's built a family with them is sweet, and it's impressive that she can handle so many at a time.
Yukine mashed his lips into a tight, unyielding line, clenched his fists at his sides, and held Bishamon's gaze steadily. She looked uneasy but thoughtful.
"Are you sure about this?" she asked.
Yukine did not feel sure at all, but he didn't see that he had much of a choice. It had been weeks with no sign of Yato, and even Yukine's stubbornness could only hold out for so long before turning to delusion. He knew Yato was gone, had known for a while now, and refusing to accept it didn't make it any less true.
Even once he had called off the search, he had waited a few more weeks. Maybe partly because some naïve part of him cherished the unspoken, feverish hope that Yato might still turn up one day when they least expected it, laughing at the whole debacle like one big joke. If that happened, it would be bad news if Yukine had already moved on.
But Yukine knew that was only a fantastical daydream. Mostly, he took the time to grieve. He needed some space, to drift unattached in his misery with only Kofuku and Daikoku to murmur and fuss over him from time to time. He couldn't jump straight to another master right away, and any new master wouldn't thank him for the constant pain of his grief.
Now, though, he realized that he was stuck in place. He had done as much as he reasonably could in his crucible of solitude, and now he was just drifting in circles and moping. To move on, he needed to jar himself out of his comfortable melancholy and get back to living. Kofuku and Daikoku had begun bringing up the topic more and more frequently too, even if they did it gently and backed off when he resisted. But he knew they were right.
"Yes, of course," he said.
Bishamon exchanged a look with Kazuma, who seemed unconvinced. Yukine shot an uneasy glance over his shoulder at the closed door behind him, needled by the irrational fear that one of Bishamon's many shinki might have their ear pressed to the other side, listening in on his private shame. He hadn't even told Kofuku and Daikoku that today was the day before running off. While he could have used their support, he didn't want them to actually witness this.
"Are you sure you don't need more time?" Kazuma asked. "You've suffered a great loss, and once you take a new master, that loss will become theirs too and you won't be able to leave your feelings unchecked any longer."
Yukine didn't take offense. Kazuma didn't want Bishamon to be hurt, any more than Yukine would have been happy to watch a new shinki hurt Yato. And there was a deeper truth layered there as well: once Yukine had to worry about hurting a new master with his grief, he wouldn't be able to dwell on his emotions freely anymore. But perhaps that wasn't such a bad thing. They weren't abating fast enough, and it did no good to dwell on them if they would end up ultimately pushing him over the line.
"I understand," he said evenly. "And I would be a nora, so there's also that consideration."
Bishamon flapped her hand impatiently and stood, rounding the desk to stand beside Kazuma. "That's not an issue. I would, of course, be happy to offer you a name if that's really what you want. We would be happy to welcome you into the family. I just want to make sure that you're ready first and have thought through your options, because it will be difficult enough without having regrets later."
"I've thought about it," he mumbled, looking at the floor.
He could have taken Kofuku up on her offer, but… Well, she and Daikoku had already done so much for him. He didn't think Daikoku would object to Kofuku naming him the same way he had back in the very beginning, but it would still shift the dynamics. Kofuku might get in trouble with the heavens for naming another shinki, and she didn't deserve more hassle. She probably wouldn't be able to use Yukine in his vessel form either, for fear of storms and bad luck, and while Yukine still didn't truly feel like working with anyone besides Yato, he thought he would like some kind of partnership again someday. He liked having a purpose.
He still might have chosen to stay with Kofuku and Daikoku despite all that, but that shrine was full of ghosts now. When he woke in the morning, he expected to hear Yato mumbling in his sleep on the other side of the room. When he woke gasping from nightmares, he expected Yato to sit up with him until he calmed down. When he sat at the table to eat dinner with Kofuku and Daikoku, he expected Yato to come charging down the stairs to inhale his portion. When he was doing chores, he expected Yato to come sneaking through the window, hoping no one would notice him.
Hiyori's presence lingered too, although more faintly than it might have a couple of years ago. She hadn't been spending as much time at the shrine as she moved on with her life and grew busier and busier, and often they had met at her place or to go out instead. But Yukine could still catch glimpses of her out of the corner of his eye or hear snatches of her muffled voice if he ever lost his focus and drifted away from the present. She had built a home and family with them, and she was woven into the fabric of the shrine as much as any of the rest of them.
It was driving Yukine crazy. As much as he loved Kofuku and Daikoku and their home, he couldn't take living among the reminders of all he'd lost day in and day out. Sometimes the air got thin and hard to breathe inside, until he worried he'd choke on it. He needed a way out, at least until he figured out how to cope with it.
Kazuma sighed. "You have to be ready to integrate with the team and get your emotions under control.
He didn't look entirely convinced, but he didn't offer further protest.
"Right, then," Bishamon said. "Let's do it."
Yukine squeezed his eyes shut, and he didn't open them until it was over. This might be necessary, but it still twisted a knife in his heart. He did his best to smooth the pain away, but he didn't look at Bishamon to see if his discomfort showed on her face.
The new name had inked itself across the back of his hand, much like Kazuma's. He didn't look at it too closely. It itched, and he felt like a second, ill-fitting skin had settled over him, too tight in some places and loose in others. Everything felt just a little bit off, like the world had tilted a couple of degrees and he was seeing everything from a slightly skewed angle.
He didn't realize he was trembling until Bishamon put a hand on his arm.
"Come on," she said gently. "Let me take you to your room, and you can have a few minutes to yourself. It's not really made up for you yet, but we'll set it up later and you can get your things from Kofuku's."
He shut himself in the room she showed him to, curling into a tight ball on the bed and struggling to breathe. Even his breathing and heartbeat felt out of sync, too fast or too slow or too painful or something. He tried not to spiral downwards, he really did, but tears dripped down his face anyway.
Taking another name was a new beginning, but it was an ending too. He pressed his fingertips to his old name—true name—stamped on his collarbone, and wondered how he would be forced to change and adapt to this new life. Wondered what he would be forced to leave behind.
He had pledged his eternal loyalty to Yato, and he had meant it. Yato was his master and friend and something like a father. Yato and Hiyori and Kofuku and Daikoku were family. It hurt to sever those ties. Maybe he wasn't ready, after all, to let that go and put his best foot forward with Bishamon.
But he also had no choice, so he cried silently for an hour or two and wished fiercely that Yato would walk in the door and then dried his eyes.
Kazuma did not scold Yukine when he saw his reddened eyes, and Bishamon did not comment. They took him back to Kofuku's shrine despite his halfhearted protests.
"You're upset," Bishamon said. "We'll go with you. Anyway, I'd like to talk to Kofuku."
Yukine just sighed. He had bigger problems.
Kofuku burst into tears when she saw him. "You should have told us," she said. "We would have come with you. You don't have to do everything alone."
Yukine did not tell her that he was going to have to start learning to do things without her and Daikoku if he was joining a new household. This had seemed like a good place to start.
"Sorry," he said. "I just wanted to get it over with."
"You'll be moving straightaway?" Daikoku asked. When Yukine nodded, he added, "Make sure you come back to visit. Can we help you pack?"
"No, that's okay. I don't have much."
"It's going to be so empty without you too!" Kofuku wailed, and Daikoku looped an arm around her.
Yukine averted his gaze and mumbled his excuses, escaping upstairs to pack while the other gods and shinki talked. He went through his room slowly, packing away all of his things and putting everything into order. He made it take as long as possible before slinking back downstairs.
Kofuku's eyes were red, but she wasn't crying anymore. Daikoku looked tired and grim.
Bishamon looked at Yukine over their heads as he trudged down the stairs. "Have everything?"
"Yeah." Yukine hesitated, then shifted Yato's shrine to one arm to hug Kofuku with the other. "Thanks for everything. I'll miss you, but I'll come back to visit."
Kofuku began sniffling again and threw her arms around him. "You'd better! You'll do great with Bisha, I know you will. But you have a place here too."
Yukine swallowed hard and nodded. Daikoku rested a hand on his shoulder, and Yukine stiffened. In another world, Yato would have been the one throwing an arm around his shoulders and laughing: 'That's my kid!'
"Do your best," Daikoku said. "And let us know if you need anything. We'll be here for whatever you need."
"Of course," Yukine said, looking away and disentangling himself. "Thanks."
When he glanced up, he noticed Kazuma narrowing his eyes at him.
"Leave the shrine, Yukine."
Yukine stared at him. "What?"
"Leave Yato's shrine here. It's not proper to bring another god's shrine into a god's home, especially one you're pledged to. You can come back and visit it here."
Yukine held the shrine tighter, his heart jumping into his throat. "No way! I'll keep it."
Kazuma blew out a breath. "Kofuku never minded having it here, but it will be a distraction in Bishamon's home. You need to connect with her and our family, and that will be a process. It will already be hard enough without clinging to the remnants of your former master."
"Kazuma–" Bishamon started.
"No. This is unfortunate but necessary. Yato's shrine will be a focus for grief and nostalgia for the past. It will hinder the process of integrating with our team. When he has settled in and found his place with us, he can retrieve it if he still wants to. Until then, I think it would be best if he focuses on forming a relationship with you and the others. He is Yato's hafuri first and foremost, and developing the same kind of loyalty to you will take time. It will take longer if he is still holding on to all the pieces of Yato that he has left."
"That's stupid," Yukine snarled, backing away and glaring. "The shrine is mine now. I won't let it go."
"Yes, that's exactly what I'm worried about," Kazuma said with a sigh. His expression was tired and regretful and careworn, but it had a steely edge to it. He wasn't going to back down. "You said you were ready to start setting your grief aside and forming a new relationship with us. Leave your old one behind until you've made progress on that. You need to leave room for us. When you've achieved that, you will be able to hold what's left of Yato while maintaining your place with us."
Yukine had never hated Kazuma more than he did in that moment, not even the first betrayal using spells to make him spill secrets about Yato's father.
"Leave me alone," he snarled. "Who are you to tell me that? You can't just make me get rid of Yato's things. They're mine now."
Bishamon leaned in close to Kazuma. "Is this a fight worth having right now?" she asked softly. "While he's still so upset?"
Kazuma set his mouth in a grim line. "It will be less painful if we nip it in the bud now."
"He's right, Yukki," Kofuku said quietly, and Yukine whipped around to blink at her in disbelief. She pursed her lips and looked away. "Worshipping at the shrine of one god in another's home is disrespectful without having an understanding. I never minded, but you also weren't pledged to me. But more than that… If you hang on to Yato-chan too tightly now, you won't leave room to form the bonds you need to with Bisha and her shinki. Give her a chance first. We can keep Yato-chan's shrine here for now, and you can come visit it whenever you want. It's okay to remember Yato-chan, but do it here and focus on Bisha in her space. Maybe you can bring it back with you later, when Bisha thinks it's okay."
Yukine gaped at her, the betrayal rendering him speechless.
Daikoku glanced between the gods and Kazuma and then looked at Yukine. "We'll take care of it," he said. "Maybe we can reassess in a few weeks and see where things stand, but we should defer to our gods' judgment, don't you think?"
Yukine's trembling hands tightened on the shrine until the wood creaked. "I hate you all," he rasped, low and angry and sure.
His eyes flashed as he stomped across the room and thrust the shrine into Kofuku's hands. He could fight it, hang on and never let go, but with everyone arrayed against him, he felt backed into a corner and helpless. He regretted it as soon as the shrine left his hands, wishing his anger hadn't pushed him into rashly throwing it into their faces, but his pride wouldn't let him change his mind or beg for it back.
He turned on his heel and stormed past Bishamon and Kazuma back outside into the sunlight, leaving Kofuku crying behind him.
I would rather die than admit this, but I used to catch glimpses of Bishamon around when I was a kid, and I always looked up to her. Just a little bit. She seemed like the kind of god I would have wanted to be, if things had been different.
"You have to listen," Kazuma said, frustration making his voice sharp. "When you're working in a team, you have to work together. Let me guide you. I coordinate everyone. I need you to– Hey! Where are you going?"
Yukine stalked off without a backwards look. "Leave me alone. You aren't my boss."
"Leave it, for now," Bishamon murmured.
"He can't just storm off in a huff whenever he doesn't get his way. He needs to know his place on the team."
"I understand that, but let it go for today."
Kazuma sighed. "He's going to get hurt if he doesn't start putting his heart into it. Or get you or one of us hurt."
"I know. Let it go for now."
Yukine pushed his way into the mansion, and the heavy doors shut on the conversation outside. He strode past the twins and Kinuha lingering in the hallway, whispering together and eyeing him sidelong. They could gossip all they wanted.
He had messed up again while hunting ayakashi, badly enough for Bishamon to send them home early and Kazuma to launch into yet another lecture. Bishamon might take the rest of the crew out to finish the job without him. He hadn't asked.
No one was hurt, at least, but it had been a close thing. He just couldn't stand waiting around for Kazuma's orders when he thought he saw a better way. The problem was that if he took the initiative to strike on his own, it inevitably threw a wrench into whatever Kazuma was trying to do, sending everything tumbling down around their ears. Yukine did not like working with a team and listening to a constant stream of instructions, and it didn't help that he was still angry about the shrine affair and not in the mood to take orders from Kazuma.
Kuraha opened his mouth as Yukine swept by, but was soundly ignored. The twins had been charged with making Yukine feel at home and introducing him to all the other shinki living in the mansion, and Kuraha was supposed to be his mentor and a steady guiding presence. Yukine had not given them the benefit of his full cooperation thus far, although he was less hostile than to Kazuma's advances.
He went to his room and slammed the door shut behind him with a satisfying bang. Yato's cash bottle sat on the small desk, and he gave it a gentle shake as he passed by, just to hear the coins clatter together inside. Then he collapsed on the bed and buried his face in the pillow, breathing harshly into the silence as he fought down his anger. His hand slid into his pocket and closed around the hard plastic case of Yato's phone. He held it to his ear and pulled up the voicemail greeting.
"Hello! Thank you for calling! Fast, affordable, and reliable! Delivery god Yato at your service! Leave a message, and I'll get back to you right away!"
Yato's tinny voice was jarring in the silence. Yukine played it again, and again. This was the only snippet of Yato's voice he had left, and it was better than nothing. He couldn't hold a conversation with Yato anymore, but at least he wouldn't forget the sound of his voice. Some days it filled in the cracks in his heart, and others it only made them yawn wider. Today, it hurt.
Kazuma and the others were silly to have focused only on the shrine. Yukine could hang on to Yato just as tenaciously through the name stamped on his collarbone and the coins they had painstakingly earned one job at a time and the messages lodged in the phone Yato had carried everywhere. He could even scroll through the text messages when he was in the mood, but he couldn't bear to read Hiyori's responses most days.
He stayed curled up in bed for a long time, only moving to wriggle beneath the covers and draw them tight around him. What else could he do? Kofuku and Daikoku and Kazuma had betrayed him, Bishamon wasn't Yato, Hiyori was off living her own life, and the other shinki here who he'd once been friendly with only seemed intrusive when he was stuck working with them. He wanted the life he'd had before, and that wasn't coming back.
It was a long time later when someone knocked on his door. He kept quiet and hoped whoever it was would assume he was gone or take the hint and go away. They did not. The knock came again, and then the door opened and closed quietly. He kept his face pressed into the pillow, hoping that if he ignored the intruder, they would tiptoe back out.
"Don't mind Kazuma," Bishamon said. "He can be strict, but he's just worried about you. He means well."
Yukine sighed into his pillow. He did not want to talk about Kazuma. But he sat up and stared sullenly at the floor beside Bishamon's feet. She was technically his master now, and he was doing his best to give her a grudging kind of obedience out of respect for that. Even if she wasn't Yato.
"Yeah," he grumbled. "Fine."
Bishamon stood still for a minute, considering something, and then said, "Come with me. We're going on a mission."
Yukine looked up at her then, wary. "Doing what?"
Her eyes glittered solemnly as she regarded him. "We're going to hunt some ayakashi together, just you and I."
"We…are?" Yukine asked, puzzled. Bishamon never went hunting anything without a full complement of shinki, and she went almost nowhere without at least Kazuma trailing after her. "Why?"
"Kazuma isn't wrong: you need to learn how to work with us as part of a team. But you're used to working solo with just Yato. You're used to having more freedom of movement and choice rather than following someone's instructions, because you worked with Yato so closely that you two could anticipate each other's moves and alter course if you saw something the other didn't. When you're working with a team, you need to follow the coordinator's lead, and that is Kazuma. But it's good to have someone still thinking independently too, who can take the lead or make a quick judgment call if necessary. The rest of my shinki are well-conditioned to follow Kazuma's orders. You are not, so you will be that independent mind.
"In order to make those kinds of decisions, though, you need to be able to work with me like you would have worked with Yato, so we're going to go out together and get used to each other's style of fighting. With the caveat that you do need to follow Kazuma's orders and be a team player. But I'd like to develop a good one-on-one working relationship with you as well, like you're used to. I think that will help you find your place on the team too, and you'll be able to see why Kazuma gives the direction he does once you're used to my fighting patterns. I think it's worth a shot, don't you?"
Yukine stared at her, mouth slightly agape. He had not expected such an empathetic, reasoned answer. Bishamon was trying to meet him halfway, looking for a way to connect with him when he had been steadfastly holding himself apart. He hadn't expected it of her. Maybe he should have. She had always cared about her shinki and tried to connect with them, and she had become more adept at it over the years. Perhaps he had just never quite thought of himself as her shinki yet. He still thought of himself as Yato's.
But if she was going to try, he owed her at least that much. After all, he was her shinki now, and he'd requested it himself. Sooner or later, he would have to start acting like it.
"Kazuma agreed to it?" he wondered aloud. It didn't sound like something Kazuma would approve of.
A sheepish smile stole over Bishamon's face. "He doesn't know yet. I'll talk to him after. For now, it's just between you and me."
Despite himself, Yukine felt a reluctant smile quirking his lips upward in return. He wouldn't mind keeping a little secret from Kazuma, even if only for a little while. It felt strangely satisfying to be doing something he wouldn't approve of after having to listen to him bark orders all day.
"Well, okay," he said. "I guess we can try it."
Bishamon's smile turned a little hesitant, and she beckoned him out of the room after her. She strode down the hall with quick, purposeful strides, smiling and greeting the shinki she passed, and Yukine followed more quietly behind, trying to hide in her shadow. They made it down to the lower realm unmolested.
"Kazuma doesn't like when I wander the lower realm alone," Bishamon commented as they walked down the street. She watched a little girl waving her stuffed toy in her mother's face and smiled. "He worries something terrible."
"He likes to be in control," Yukine muttered.
She snorted. "That too."
They found an ayakashi the next street over. When Bishamon summoned him, the name on her tongue sounded strange and ill-fitting, but she said it gently. Yukine obeyed. Bishamon had allowed him the courtesy of keeping the name he wanted in his daily life, and he needed to accept the one he was summoned by in exchange.
His form was not that unfamiliar. He had retained swords as his vessel form, and he knew how to be a sword. Bishamon's hands felt unfamiliar around him, though, and the way she held him felt awkward. Different. But he supposed that was what they were trying to change.
They took down the ayakashi, but messily. They were out of sync, moving just a little out of time with each other. Bishamon did not fight like Yato did. Her gestures were sharper, more practicality than artistry, and her favored strokes were different. But in her defense, Yukine supposed that he didn't fight like her other shinki either. She was used to having an entire team and Kazuma for guidance. She was a competent swordsman, but she favored other weapons these days. Matching Yukine's rhythm did not come naturally to her either.
Yukine steeled himself and did his best. They reached out, testing each other, learning each other's shapes and movements.
By the time Bishamon called a halt and released Yukine back to his human form, they had found an uneasy truce. They were still an awkward pair, but they were meeting somewhere in the middle and had taken out the later ayakashi with more ease.
"That was good," Bishamon said. "I think we've made some progress."
"It's a start."
"Yes." She hesitated and then added, "I know you're angry with Kazuma about the shrine, and you have a right to be. You just have to understand… He thinks it's for the best. If you're hanging on too tightly to Yato, we won't have the chance to get used to each other without him getting in the way. I honestly have no problem with you bringing his shrine here, and you're welcome to once Kazuma thinks you're ready. We have different ideas on how to help you mesh with our family, and we don't always agree. But we all have your best interests at heart too. Don't be too hard on him."
Yukine huffed out a breath. "Whatever."
"I know that your loyalty is to Yato first and might always be. You pledged your loyalty to him, and you were his hafuri. I know that taking another master isn't easy for you. But give us a chance, Yukine. Give me a chance to earn your loyalty too, and we can be a good team. It might take time, and that's okay. I'm never going to replace him, and it's not disloyal for you to live on with another master now that he's gone. We can make it work."
Yukine swallowed hard and looked away, his eyes misting over. He wanted Yato so badly that it hurt.
"I liked Yato too," Bishamon said. "We had our differences and didn't always get along, but he was a good ally, and eventually a friend. I respected him a lot, and I enjoyed working with him despite the hassle. We had a rocky start, but grew a lot closer over the years. You and I too, right? We had some rough times with the sorcerer, but we've patched things up since then. And Kazuma always had an incredible amount of respect for him.
"We won't be the same. You know that. I think you'll like being part of a team, if you give it a chance, and having friends around would be good for you. But I know you're also used to being someone's one and only. We can meet somewhere in the middle. You should try to integrate with the team. And realize that Kazuma is my hafuri and outranks you here, the same way you would have outranked anyone else with Yato, and you need to follow his directions. But I would like to develop a personal relationship with you. If you're upset, you can talk to me the way you would have talked to Yato. And we can do this again sometimes, go out just the two of us. It won't be the same, but we can build that kind of relationship too, alright?"
Yukine sniffed and dragged a hand across his eyes. He had enjoyed fighting one-on-one again, just him and his god. It wasn't the same, but that didn't mean it couldn't be good. It was kind of Bishamon to be willing to put in so much effort for one black sheep. He didn't think he'd ever be able to talk to her or fight with her the same way he had with Yato, but maybe they could find their own way. And as long as he had that, maybe he could figure out the team situation too.
"Alright," he croaked. "I'd like that."
Bishamon smiled at him, and he smiled shakily back.
The next day, Yukine joined the team without complaint. Kazuma opened his mouth, looking like he was ready to pick up yesterday's lecture where he'd left off, but then took a deep breath and closed it again.
"I'll do my best," Yukine muttered.
Kazuma eyed him sidelong, eyebrows raised, but didn't comment.
And Yukine did. He did his best to follow Bishamon's lead from the tentative rhythm they'd worked out yesterday, and he followed Kazuma's instructions to the letter. Even when he thought he saw a better way, he let it go and followed orders. Someday, he might be trusted enough to make his own judgment calls, but for now he tried not to make waves.
"You did well," Kazuma said when they called a halt for the day. He regarded Yukine curiously. "You've improved overnight."
Yukine scowled and looked away. He could feel Bishamon's amusement.
"That was great!" Karuha said, beaming.
"Loads better than yesterday," her brother added.
Yukine huffed and shot a glance at Bishamon. She smiled at him.
"Welcome to the team, Yukine," Kazuma said more gently, and he smiled too.
Yukine looked away, but he let the twins drag him inside and consented to eat lunch with them and a handful of the others. If he was going to be part of this team, he might as well do his best.
I would have loved to have a shinki like Kazuma. Maybe there was a time or two when I thought that I might have listened to Hiiro and made him a nora or told Bishamon the truth and taken him in if she rejected him, but… I did not do those things. Kazuma did a lot for me, and I wouldn't do that to him. He always came back and he was my friend, and that was enough.
When the knock came at his door, Yukine hastily shoved the notebook under his pillow and scrubbed the tears off his face.
The door swung open a couple of inches, and Bishamon peered inside. "May we come in?"
She pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped inside. Kazuma trailed after her, closing the door again behind them. They looked at him and then exchanged a glance.
"Are you…alright?" Bishamon ventured.
"Yes, of course." Yukine straightened up and tamped down the storm swirling inside him. "Am I hurting you? Sorry."
He expected that was why Kazuma had accompanied her. Kazuma was all about subtle and not-so-subtle reminders to keep his emotions under control. But Kazuma's face was not lined with disapproval today. If anything, he looked politely concerned.
"Never mind that," Bishamon said. She crossed the floor, hesitated, and then perched on the end of the bed a healthy distance away. "We knew the anniversary would be difficult."
"We just wanted to check in on you," Kazuma added, shifting uneasily.
He and Yukine had slowly reached more of an understanding over the past year, but this was a little outside his comfort zone. His default was still to suppress emotions and not hurt Bishamon.
"I'm fine," Yukine muttered.
"You don't feel fine," Bishamon said gently, and he looked away. "I know it's not the same, but you can talk to me too."
Yukine had not really taken Bishamon up on her offer to talk through his feelings and problems before. It didn't feel right. He had only ever really let his guard down like that with Yato and Hiyori, and even then it had been occasional and difficult. Yato had always said to talk things out instead of bottling them up, but Yato wasn't here anymore.
"How did it go with Kofuku and Daikoku?" Kazuma asked. "Did you at least have a nice time? I mean, well… Not nice, just…"
The barest hint of a dry smile tugged at Yukine's mouth. "It's fine. I get it. And yeah, it went okay. It's always nice to see them. I was thinking that maybe I could visit more frequently and start helping in the shop again. You know, when we aren't patrolling and things here."
"I think that's a great idea," Bishamon said. "You can have your own life outside these walls too. Kofuku and Daikoku are your family too."
"As long as it doesn't interfere with your responsibilities…" Kazuma shrugged. "I think it's a good idea too."
They lapsed into awkward silence, no one sure what to say.
Then Bishamon took a fortifying breath. "If there's anything we could help with, let us know. You don't have to do everything on your own, you know. We'd like to be able to help."
Yukine looked at her and let out a breath of his own. She and Kazuma and the other shinki had done their best to make him feel welcome and include him in their family. Maybe it was time that he offered something in return.
"Something did happen, actually," he muttered.
"What's that?" Kazuma asked.
Yukine hesitated and then pulled the notebook out from beneath his pillow, running his hands over the cover. "I found this under one of the floorboards in our old room. Yato… Yato wrote it. It's just a bunch of random things and observations. Things he thought about. Things about himself, or what he thought about us. I've been… I've been reading it. That's probably what… I thought I'd be able to handle today, but this caught me by surprise, I guess. It's just…like seeing a whole new side to him, the things he didn't tell us. I wish he'd told me himself, while he was still here."
The tears were welling up in his eyes again, and he tried vainly to swallow them down. The ache was still too new and raw and bittersweet. Yato felt just close enough to touch, but also impossibly far away. Yukine wanted him so badly right now that it took his breath away.
"I'm sorry." Bishamon reached out and placed her fingers lightly on his arm. "It's hard to find pieces of someone once they're gone. You want to know someone when they're still around, not when it's too late."
"Yato didn't like to talk about serious things," Kazuma said with a sigh. "He was always like that. I'm surprised he even wrote any of it down. But he opened up a lot more once you and Hiyori were in the picture. He might have told you more himself, if he'd had enough time to come around to the idea. Or maybe he wanted you to find it someday."
Yukine didn't know. He'd like to think that Yato might have told him these things eventually, one bit at a time. In truth, Yato had. Not these specifically, but other, smaller things. He had opened up a little more over the years. But the deep feelings or complications of his past… Those were things he hadn't liked to share with anyone. Maybe if they'd had a decade, a century… Maybe then they would have shared it all.
But Yukine didn't know. Maybe it didn't matter. It would never happen now. This was what he was left with. And while it wasn't exactly the intimacy he wished they could have had, it was something. Yato had left him a collection of fragments, of thoughts and feelings and secrets, that he could try to puzzle out if he so desired. And Yukine did. Even if Yato was gone, Yukine still wanted to understand him, feel a little closer. It was a gift with sharp edges that tasted of cobwebs and dust, old and outdated and past its usefulness, but it was still important to Yukine.
"He wrote some things about you guys too," Yukine said. "Would you like to see?"
He was no great solver of puzzles, and maybe these pieces belonged to the people they were about as much as they did to him.
Bishamon bit her lip. Kazuma closed his eyes, and then sat down on Yukine's other side.
"Yes," he said, and his voice sounded rough. "If you don't mind."
Yukine flipped through the book slowly, pointing out whatever caught his eye. Bishamon followed along in silence. Kazuma occasionally offered a comment or short huff of laughter.
Bishamon looked away when they were finished. "He, ah…" Her voice caught, and she cleared her throat. "He was an annoying bastard, but he was a good friend. He came through for us many times. And I…respected him too."
"It's so like him," Kazuma said with a laugh like a sigh. He didn't offer any further explanation of what he meant by that. "Thank you for sharing. Would you…like to hear some other stories too? I knew him for a long time, and I have all kinds of stories. I didn't want you to get too caught up in mourning him, so I didn't offer before, but if you need…"
Yukine looked at him with new eyes. "Like what?" he asked, voice trembling.
It had never really occurred to him to ask Kazuma or anyone else about their experiences with Yato. Kazuma had known Yato for ages. Kofuku and Daikoku and Tenjin and even Bishamon had known him far longer than Yukine had. Now that Yato was gone, their memories and the things he'd left behind were all they had left of him.
These fragments tucked between the pages of the notebook were precious, but maybe they weren't all Yukine had left. Maybe Kazuma had some pieces of his own too, and all the others. Maybe if Yukine asked, they could all give him a little insight, a little closure.
Kazuma's smile was a little sad, and he looked away. "Well, this was a few hundred years ago, but…"
Yukine leaned in close, enraptured, ready to gather up all the pieces and fit them into the puzzle that was Yato.
For a long time, Kazuma was the only one who believed in me. Even when he thought I was crazy, he never said so. He supported all my schemes and encouraged me to try again when I failed, and that's why I kept trying.