When I first met Yukine, he reminded me of myself, a little. All that misguided hurt and anger and loneliness, the lashing out and destructiveness, the searching for a purpose and place to belong. Maybe that's one of the reasons I was so determined to shake some sense into him. He was always a good kid deep down—he just needed someone to fight for him and give him a second chance.
Yukine was already walking away when Bishamon called everyone's names and summoned them back to their human forms in the front hall. He had done his part and tried his best to focus on their storm chasing and ayakashi hunting. All things considered, he thought he had done alright. Not even Kazuma had complained or reprimanded him.
Now he should be free to barricade himself in his room and read over the notebook once again, one passage at a time, searching for any hidden meaning he might have missed and trying vainly to puzzle out the enigma that was Yato. Kazuma might not approve, but Yukine had performed his duties satisfactorily and was trying to keep his emotions under control so as not to bother Bishamon. That was the best he could do.
"Good work, everyone," Bishamon said. "Grab some dinner if you haven't eaten yet. Yukine, may I have a word?"
Yukine stopped in his tracks and turned slowly around. Shinki gave him curious or sympathetic looks as they traipsed past towards the kitchen. Kazuma leaned in to whisper something to Bishamon, but she merely offered him a fleeting smile and waved him off. He retreated reluctantly, nodding to Yukine as he went.
"What is it?" Yukine asked, wishing he were free to leave with the others.
Bishamon tilted her head down the hall. "Walk with me?" She started back down the corridor, turning away from the kitchen, and Yukine reluctantly trailed behind and then fell into step beside her. "You did well today. You've been improving in leaps and bounds these past few months."
"Kazuma is pleased with your progress, as am I. You have become a valuable asset to the team, and it's nice to see you settling in and making friends. I hope you are learning to like it here as well?"
"I mean, yeah? I've been getting used to it. It's been nearly a year now. Everyone has been great."
"Very good. I'm glad to hear it. If there's anything we can do to help make you more comfortable, you should of course let us know."
Yukine had had enough. All of the beating around the bush was making him nervous.
"Okay, what is this really about? I'm sure you didn't just want to talk about how I'm settling in after a year."
Bishamon sighed and looked up and down the hall. "I thought we could talk in my office."
Yukine supposed that made sense. With so many shinki residing here, it was foolish to hold a private conversation in the hall if you didn't want someone to wander by or overhear. Knowing that the mystery topic was something Bishamon wanted to make sure stayed private did nothing to alleviate his anxiety, though.
Bishamon mercifully dropped the small talk while she ushered him around the last corner and into her office. Yukine sat down and watched apprehensively as she rounded the desk and sat on the other side.
"Right," Bishamon said, steepling her hands on the tabletop. "No need to look so worried. I just wanted to check in on you and make sure you're doing okay. I know that the anniversary was hard, and finding Yato's notebook really rattled you. How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine," Yukine muttered, staring down at the polished woodgrain. A thought occurred to him, and he added more apprehensively, "Have I been hurting you?"
"No, it's fine," Bishamon said a little too quickly. "But I know you've been struggling with it, and I wanted to check in. I'm in your corner, you know. If there's anything I could do to help…"
"It's fine," Yukine mumbled. "Thanks for checking."
She sighed. "I'm not Yato, and I'm not trying to replace him. If you don't feel like you can talk to me about all the things that are bothering you like you did with him, that's fine. Just… I'm your master now, and I want to build a stronger relationship with you where you feel safe bringing things to me if you want to. I am not replacing Yato, but I am your partner too now."
Yukine knew she was right, even if he didn't like to think about it. It wasn't fair to keep his distance just because she wasn't Yato. She had been understanding of his hang-ups and patient with his grieving, but he had pledged himself to her. He owed her the same degree of respect and loyalty that he had owed Yato.
But he still felt, irrationally, that accepting Bishamon fully was a betrayal to Yato. And there were just some things he wasn't ready to talk about with her or anyone. Without Yato or Hiyori to confide in, he would rather keep some things to himself.
But he supposed he owed Bishamon something.
"I'm fine," he said again. "It's just… This notebook is driving me crazy. I wish Yato had told me these things himself instead of hiding them until it was too late. I wish I had known."
"He really did like keeping things to himself," Bishamon said. "I guess that living under the sorcerer's thumb for so long really messed him up. He was getting better, but it was slow going sometimes. I think that if he'd had enough time to sort himself out, he would have opened up about some of those things, but I guess that doesn't really help when we never got there. And then there are all the things you never told him."
Yukine squinted at her, not liking the feeling that this was somehow getting turned back on him. "What do you mean?"
"You aren't always very open about your emotions either, are you? I'm sure there are things you didn't talk about. You wish you had the opportunity to tell him things too."
He squirmed in his seat. "I guess."
Bishamon hesitated, fiddling with a pen on her desk, and then said, "I'm going to make a suggestion. You can follow it or not, or maybe you can think of something that would suit you better."
"I was thinking that maybe you should try writing to Yato."
Yukine stared. "Write to Yato? But…"
"Yes. Like a letter or a journal, or something like the notebook he left you. The notebook stirred up a lot of angst, but it's also going to help you find some closure, right? It was a way for Yato to communicate with you even past the grave, so to speak, even if the communication is only one-way. You can do something similar. Even if he's never going to read it, you will. I guess that ultimately you'd really be writing to yourself, but still. There are things you still can't talk to me about, but maybe you could talk to him. It might help you sort out some of your thoughts and feelings, and I bet it would be cathartic."
"I don't know…" Yukine hedged. He had never been the journaling type, and the whole idea sounded kind of hokey.
"Just think about it. It's entirely up to you, and I won't bother you about it or barge in. But you have a lot to say, and you should find a medium to say it."
"I'll think about it."
"Great. And if you do need me for anything, I'll be here. Please don't hesitate to bring any concerns to me. Kazuma is a big proponent of shinki hiding their problems in the hopes that I won't get hurt, but that strategy backfired before. I'm trying to encourage more open communication, and I know you're used to a more open relationship as well. I won't butt in where I'm not wanted, but please feel that you can come to me with anything you'd like."
"Okay," Yukine mumbled. "Thanks. Can I go now? I'm starving."
"Yes, of course. Get some dinner. Just think about it."
Yukine stood and fled the room with as much dignity as he could muster. The whole conversation left him feeling uncomfortable, and it gnawed at him long after he wished he could let it go.
Yukine is a great guidepost. He gives good advice, and even in situations where he doesn't know enough to lead the way, his steady presence points me due north. The kids tend to assume I have all the answers or know what to do, but sometimes it's nice to have someone else help point the way when I have no idea what is the right thing to do. I trust him more than anyone.
Bishamon's idea nestled in the corner of Yukine's mind like a morsel of food stuck between his teeth, just enough of a nuisance that his tongue was always probing at it, trying to pry it free. The fact was that there were things he wanted to say to Yato, even if he wasn't entirely sure what all of them were yet. But what good was it to say the words if Yato wouldn't be there to hear them? It felt stupid and pointless. The only reason the notebook meant anything was because Yukine was still around to read it and share it with everyone else. If it had stayed hidden under the floorboards forever and Yato's words had never come to light, would it have counted for anything?
He tried to think of another way to work out the problem like Bishamon had suggested, but there was nothing that would bring Yato back or carry Yukine's words to him. Every strategy seemed silly and meaningless.
The only thing that didn't seem completely futile was swapping stories like he had done with Kazuma. Hearing things about Yato that he hadn't known before and sharing his own stories. But that was just like the notebook again—learning the hidden facets of Yato too late. He had performed the same ritual with Kofuku and Daikoku, learning about Daigo and other events long before his time, and it had been nice. But when Kofuku sighed and murmured about keeping pieces of Yato alive, Yukine didn't feel that. Yato still felt very much gone, and no one would want to sit around reminiscing about a dead person all the time. It was bittersweet, and Yato was still out of reach.
So he had gotten exactly nowhere, but he kept thinking about it because he knew very well that he was obsessed with the notebook. He needed a way to move on, like he had with Hiyori, more or less. A way to still miss Yato and love him and cherish his memory, but without interfering too much with the life he was building now. He might have started finding some kind of balance over the past few months, but the notebook had shaken everything up again, and he figured that he wouldn't have been so easily thrown off kilter if he had actually been that steady in the first place.
"What are you thinking about so hard?" Daikoku asked, nudging Yukine in the side as he slid past with a box of product to stock the shelves. "You're going to give yourself a headache keeping your face all scrunched up like that."
Yukine started at the intrusion into his brooding. He had been sorting through his box on autopilot, the process still second-nature from all the time he'd spent helping in the shop back in the old days. The simplicity of the task gave his mind the freedom to wander, and he realized that he hadn't been paying attention to anything at all.
"Oh," he said, flushing. "Nothing, really."
"Is it about Yato-chan's notebook?" Kofuku asked. She sat behind the counter, ostensibly poring over the ledger as if they couldn't clearly see that she had tucked a magazine inside to read instead.
Yukine grimaced and looked away, throwing himself back into sorting out product. "Sort of," he muttered.
"And sort of not?"
"…And sort of not."
"Don't get too caught up in it," Daikoku cautioned. "It's special, but make sure you're still stable and not in any danger of crossing the line because you let things spiral."
"Yeah, yeah. I know."
"Maybe talk to Bisha," Kofuku suggested. "She's your master now. She should be able to help."
Yukine sighed heavily. "Yeah… She's trying. I just…"
"What is it, Yukki?"
"I don't know. It's just not the same. And it's kind of stupid, but it feels like I'm betraying Yato if I accept too much from her. I pledged my loyalty to him, not…"
Daikoku blew out a breath and leaned back, abandoning the stocking. "It's not stupid. I think it's a natural feeling, even if not the most justified. But you did pledge loyalty to Bishamon too, if grudgingly. She's your master now, and it seems like she's done a good job looking after you, hasn't she? I don't think it's strange to feel conflicting loyalties, but I do think it's something you'll have to work through. Give her a chance. Change is hard, especially when paired with loss, and you've gotten more than your fair share of both. It's a process. Just don't give up on it."
Yukine mumbled his halfhearted agreement. He already knew all of that, obviously. Somehow, it didn't change his feelings on the matter. He had come to the conclusion that emotions were messy, illogical things that didn't always listen when the brain tried to marshal them.
Kofuku slid off the chair, feet thumping against the floorboards, and crossed the room to bend over Yukine and take his face in her hands.
"No one doubts your loyalty to Yato-chan," she said seriously. "You did everything right by him, and I never saw him happier than the years he had with you. He valued your loyalty and guidance very highly. But he would also want you to be happy again and live. He fought so hard to give you that chance to keep living, and he was always looking for ways to make you smile and support you through your problems.
"It's not the same with Bisha, but it's important that you have another guardian and build a new life for yourself. With how much he valued life, he would want you to make the most of yours. You were Yato-chan's kid, and I know he would be proud to see how far you've come and what you'll accomplish in the future. And you know Daikoku and I are proud of you too, don't you? We know it's been hard, and you've grown so much despite everything. You're going to go really far."
Her unusually solemn expression blurred behind a film of tears, and Yukine sniffled loudly. Kofuku's face softened as she pulled him into a hug. Daikoku abandoned the produce to join in.
Yukine huddled in their embrace and buried his face in the crook of Kofuku's neck and cried silently. They let him cry himself out, and when he had finished, he found that he felt strangely lighter than before.
I never thought I'd have a hafuri. I mean, I could barely even convince a shinki to stay for more than a few weeks. Truly, I don't deserve it, but… I want to, someday. Yukine is amazing, and I want to be with him for as long as I can. Eternity is a long time, no matter the oath of loyalty a hafuri swears, but I'll take as long as I can get.
Yukine was flipping through the notebook yet again when a knock sounded on his door. He started guiltily and shoved the book under his pillow before sliding off the bed and padding across the room to crack the door open.
"Can I come in?" Kazuma asked.
Yukine stood aside and opened the door farther. "Sure. What's up?"
Kazuma stepped inside and glanced around the room before returning his attention to Yukine. "I have something for you."
He pulled out the hand tucked behind his back. His fingers were wrapped around Yato's shrine.
"We think it's time for you to have this back now," he said. "Admittedly… I still think it might be a little too soon, but you've made good progress. And I suppose you'll obsess over the notebook anyway if you can't have this. Veena said it was time. She never entirely agreed with the boundaries we set around it. It belongs to you now, and she thinks you should be able to keep it and make your own decisions. She's sometimes too lenient, but she's also smart and sometimes better at empathizing than I am. You're clever too. I'm sure you'll be able to balance this better now that you've had time to process some things."
Yukine hardly dared to breathe. He took an abortive step forward before falling back again, and Kazuma reached out farther, proffering the shrine. Yukine leaned in again and reached out cautiously, half expecting the shrine to be tugged out of his grasp. But his fingers closed around solid wood, and Kazuma let go.
"I can keep it?" Yukine asked in a small voice, retreating a few steps. He stared down at the shrine, running his finger over Yato's name scratched into the wood in Hiyori's handwriting. It was a small intersection of the people he'd loved and lost that made tears well in his eyes.
"Yes," Kazuma said gently. "It's yours. Maybe it will help you find some closure, along with that notebook. Veena is okay with it, and Yato would want you to have it. You were the only shinki that really loved him in a very long time, and he loved you more than anything. He would want his shrine in your care, just like how you always protected him when he was here. You are still Yato's guardian. Even as the world forgets, you will remember. He would want it that way."
The tears spilled over as the crack in Yukine's heart split open again with a pain like a gunshot. He hugged the shrine to his chest and lowered his head, the tears dripping down his cheeks to fall on the little roof and soak into the wood.
"S-sorry," he said, choking on the words. "I…"
"It's okay," Kazuma murmured. "We knew you'd cry. And really… I know I taught you not to, but Yato always said you should, and it worked for you. He was clever too, when he wanted to be. It's okay, Yukine."
Yukine sat down right there on the floor and cried, his shoulders heaving as he gasped for breath. Kazuma sank to the ground beside him, and after a moment, Yukine leaned into his shoulder.
Yukine cried for a few minutes before pulling himself back together. Yato had always said it was good to let his emotions out instead of bottling them up, but there was also a line between indulging emotions and letting them hurt his god.
"Thank you," he rasped.
"Yes, of course." Kazuma stood and brushed off his pants, but hesitated in the doorway. "For what it's worth… I was loyal to both Veena and Yato as well, for a long time. It's possible to be both, even if you have to choose a priority. Veena was always my priority, and Yato was yours. You were, are, and always will be his hafuri. We understand that. But in time, maybe you will learn to prioritize your own future instead of the past, and that doesn't have to mean abandoning Yato. It's okay to divide your allegiance between them, as long as you are still doing your best to move forward with us. Maybe I was unfair to push you about it so much. If I had to move on with another god, it wouldn't be easy for me to let go of Veena either. It's not all or nothing. You can have a little bit of both."
Yukine studied every inch of the shrine long after Kazuma had slipped quietly from the room, running his hands reverently over every surface and edge. He had seen it at Kofuku's, of course, but somehow it felt new and different to have it back here with him.
He was immeasurably grateful to Kazuma for bringing it back, and to Bishamon for convincing him to. And Kazuma's little speech was something to chew on as well. Yukine had struggled with his necessarily divided loyalties, and hearing the problem accepted in such an understanding fashion by his mentor soothed some of the sting. Maybe the answer was in there somewhere, if he could find it.
Everyone had done their best to support him, and he had made a lot of progress with their help. But there were some things he needed to do himself, and maybe it was time to do them.
He grabbed a pen and crawled back onto the bed, digging out the notebook from beneath the pillow. He flipped it open to the last page Yato had written, read it one more time, and turned it over. It took a long time of staring at the blank page before the words would come, but then he took a deep breath and began to write.
All these things in your secret notebook… I wish you'd told them to me yourself. I always wanted to know you better. I shouldn't have had to wait until you were gone.
I was supposed to protect you, and it hurts that in the end I wasn't able to do anything at all.
You were always a good god. Even though your father messed you up and you did a lot of bad things too, you took naturally to helping people. You always said that I was guiding you to become a god of fortune, but the truth is that you were always a good person all on your own.
You absolutely deserved every good thing you got from us and a hundred more besides, and you'd be stupid to think otherwise.
It meant a lot, that you went through so much to save me in the beginning. You gave me so many chances instead of giving up on me. Why would you be surprised that I'd stick around and pledge loyalty to you? You were my guidepost first.
You could be ridiculously gullible and naïve, but sometimes seeing the world through your eyes, with that childlike excitement, made it seem like a better and happier place.
You were always an amazing artist. Your drawings were beautiful, even if I didn't say so. You had so many random talents and were good at so many things. I was always secretly impressed.
It always made me happy when you called me your kid. I wish I'd told you that, instead of brushing you off. You were the best family I could have asked for.
No matter what anyone else thought, you were my god of fortune, and Hiyori's too.
Sometimes I would trade in my earnings at the shop for five yen coins and sneak them into your cash bottle. You always deserved to get paid more for the services you did anyway.
I know I called you names and said mean things a lot, but I also thought you were brave and loyal and funny and strong and kind and smart when you wanted to be. I should have told you that more too.
I miss you every day. I miss your laugh and your stupid jokes and the sheepish look you'd wear when I found out you'd been buying dumb charms again. I miss the way you called me your kid and flung your arm around my shoulders. I miss fighting with you, killing ayakashi and knowing you so well that I could anticipate every move. You always filled up the room, and everything feels empty with you gone.
I will always remember you. No matter what, you won't be forgotten. Everyone misses you a lot—maybe even Hiyori, in some secret, subconscious part of her mind. You made such a big impression on us that you could never truly disappear. I wish we had more time, but I'm grateful for what time we had. You will always be at the center of my heart.
I don't know if I ever told you this, but I love you. I always did, and I always will.
Yukine sat back and dropped the pen, flexing the fingers of his cramping hand. His words looked dark and jagged against the page, and a tear dripped down his nose and splashed down right in the middle of them, wrinkling the paper and making the ink bleed.
He sniffed hard and scrubbed at his eyes. He had already done enough crying for today.
Flipping back through the pages slowly, he reread his words. Strangely enough, writing everything out had helped him articulate his own thoughts and feelings. It didn't exactly make him feel better, though.
These were all things that he should have said to Yato, but he hadn't. Now it was too late. Yato was gone. Now that Yukine was finally ready to say everything he had bottled up, there was no one left to hear it. He couldn't even talk to Hiyori to get her advice and comfort.
It made him feel more alone than ever.
I wonder if Yukine knows I really mean it when I call him my kid. He treats it like a corny joke sometimes, but I really do love him. I'm not any kind of father—I've had one of those, and I'd never want to become that—but I'd like to be some kind of guardian or friend. Family, I guess. I want to build a family with him.
Yukine hesitated outside Bishamon's office, rocking back and forth on his heels. He wasn't sure if this was a good idea, and generally he tried to avoid tough conversations. But something would have to be done sooner or later, and he needed to put in the effort to build the relationship with Bishamon. Baby steps.
After a few minutes of dithering, he rapped on the door.
"Come in," Bishamon said. She was looking through a stack of papers, but set them aside when Yukine entered the room and shut the door behind him. "Yukine? What is it?"
"I, uh… I wanted to show you something."
He slunk across the room and sank into the chair across from her. Bishamon watched him intently, and he stared down at the tabletop to avoid her eyes.
"What is it?" she asked again.
"Well… You know how you said I should write a letter or something to Yato? I honestly thought it was kind of dumb, but I finally did it anyway."
"Oh? Do you think it helped?"
Yukine shrugged. "I don't know yet. Maybe. I guess it helped me start untangling and sorting out my feelings, at least. Just… He's never going to read it, you know? I know this was really supposed to be an exercise for me, but… I should have told him those things myself. Before it was too late. It's like now that I'm finally ready to open up about them, he's not here to hear it."
Bishamon sighed. "Yes… That's a tough spot to be in. This might sound kind of silly, but… Have you tried imagining his reaction? Maybe he'll never read them himself, but you knew him well enough to have an idea of how he would have reacted. It's still one-way communication, but maybe channeling him like that is a way to feel closer to him and find some closure on this issue in particular. You're probably tired of hearing people say that we keep pieces of the dead alive through us, but even if it's not the same, it's still a way of interacting with our loved ones who are gone."
Yukine did think it sounded silly, but he supposed that Bishamon's last advice had been solid enough despite sounding strange.
"Right," he muttered. "Actually… I was wondering if you would read it? Yato isn't here to hear it, but maybe if someone was… You told me to talk to you about my problems, like I would have with Yato, and you're my master now. It's not the same, but I want to build a life with you, and maybe that means sharing what's going on with me."
Bishamon went very still. "Are you sure? I didn't mean that you needed to show me. It can be private."
Yukine shrugged and toed at the floor. He wasn't sure that he really wanted anyone pawing through his private thoughts, but he couldn't share them with Yato or Hiyori anymore, and maybe he needed an outside perspective. Or at least to not sit and stew in his angst until he exploded.
Yato had built their relationship by encouraging Yukine to bring him his problems and talk about things that bothered him. Bishamon had encouraged the same, but Yukine hadn't been ready to give more than a grudging inch here and there. Maybe part of moving on and finding closure was finding someone else to be his confidante and putting in the work to build that relationship with Bishamon without worrying that he was betraying Yato.
He slid the notebook across the desk and stared very hard at the woodgrain. After a moment, the pages began to rustle. He stayed quiet, and neither of them said anything for a long time.
Finally, Bishamon let out her breath in a soft sigh. "Thank you for sharing. Sometimes it's hard for me to figure out what's going on in your head or how to connect with you, and it helps to get a feeling for how you really think and feel and what things are eating at you. I would like to keep our lines of communication more open in the future as we learn how to understand each other better."
"Yeah," Yukine muttered.
Wood scraped against wood, and he looked up to see Bishamon pushing her chair back. She stood and rounded the desk, leaning over to meet Yukine at eye level, and took his face in her hands. Her eyes were solemn but soft, and Yukine stared back in bewilderment.
"Yukine," she said, "Yato already knew those things, whether you told him in as many words or not. I watched the two of you, and you had amazing communication even when you didn't talk about things. You both showed how much you cared for and respected each other in so many ways. He knew that you loved him and liked being his family and were always going to be loyal to him.
"And… I know how frustrating the notebook has been for you, but you already knew those things too, didn't you? Maybe we didn't know some of the specifics, but all the big things? You knew that he loved you and saw you as his kid and had absolute respect for your guidance. Yes, it would have been nice to discuss these things with each other and use the words. But Yukine, most of these things weren't secrets. These are things that you always shared with each other."
Yukine's heart seized, squeezing so tightly that he couldn't breathe. The pain was blinding and bittersweet.
Was this the truth he had needed to hear all along? He hadn't known that Yato hadn't believed in capypers or had been the one to make Nora into a nora or had sneakily cleaned things around Kofuku's shrine. But he had known how much Yato had cared. Maybe he had let all the small things blind him to the fact that all the big ones were not secrets after all and never had been. They were just a written articulation of Yato's feelings, in the same way that Yukine's messages were.
And if Yato had already known the things Yukine wanted to say, then it hadn't been too late after all. Things were still broken, Yato was still gone, but Yukine wasn't just shouting into the void.
And he could imagine Yato's reaction to reading through the scribblings. He could imagine the tears gathering in Yato's eyes even though they refused to fall, the casual clearing of his throat and brush of the back of a hand across his eyes, the wobbly smile. 'Silly kid,' Yato would say. 'I already knew that. How dumb do you think I am? Come on, kiddo. What do you say we pick up Hiyori and get some ice cream?' And when they walked out of the room, Yato would drape his arm around Yukine's shoulders and squeeze tight. And even though Yukine might grumble and roll his eyes, he would lean in close because he had always loved the feeling.
Yukine's entire body began to shake as he crumbled to pieces right there in the middle of Bishamon's office, and every tear he'd held back to try sparing her his pain broke free in a series of body-wrenching sobs. In a way, this new knowledge made him feel lighter, more secure, like the closure he had needed. But it hurt too. It hurt more than anything. It was bittersweet, letting go.
Bishamon wrapped her arms around him tightly, rocking him back and forth gently and murmuring sweet-nothings into his ear. He grabbed on to her for dear life. Her arms were not the same shape as Yato's when he had hugged Yukine, and her words were not the ones he would have said. But maybe the essence was the same.
It's too bad I won't reincarnate. I think a gentler version of myself would suit Yukine better.