The King and the Traitor.
Fushimi thought visiting him once wouldn't hurt.
A reason like this by no means would make a good excuse, nevertheless he made his way to the cell where Suoh Mikoto was held for that exact reason.
The moment he heard that voice, his body went limp on a conditioned reflex.
The man on the other side of a small gridded window didn't even spare a single glance to him. He lay motionless on the cot with his back to the door. Fushimi was sure he didn't make a sound when approaching, and yet...
"How... do you know...?" His vocal cords were stiff, and it felt as though the words had to force their way out around a lump in his throat before they could become a sound. It had been 2 years since he left Homura, but the moment made him realize that some things hadn't changed. He still found it difficult to breathe around this person.
"Hmph," Suoh snorted by way of reply, his shoulders shaking a little. It was probably supposed to mean that sensing the presence of someone upon whom he had bestowed part of his power was an easy task for a king. Suoh's "red" still dwelt within Fushimi, in a nook of his being.
Silence, unbearable to Fushimi, fell on the both sides of the gridded window.
It was always like this at those rare times when he and Suoh were alone.
"The rarest two-persons photos where it's possible to fit commentary in my collection are those with King and Anna, and with King and Fushimi," he was often told in the past. "All because to the beholder, it seems like for King and Anna the time moves at a pace unique for them, while in case with King and Fushimi it's as if the time comes to a standstill, frozen." There was once an irresponsible person he used to know who had entirely too much fun for his own good. And now, the past tense here was quite literal.
"You like it here?" came a low languid voice.
Nothing but the back was visible from where he stood, and for a moment Fushimi seriously considered the possibility of the shoulder blades posing that question, before he replied with as much peevishness as he could muster.
"I can't say I particularly like it here... but it's better than when I was there."
There was no way Suoh actually cared, and a completely unconcerned noncommittal 'I see' from him only proved the assumption right. Fushimi felt a pang of annoyance at the indifferent non-response.
Addressing the shoulder blades, he asked adding bite to his tone, "Yata... and the others aside, but what about Anna? If, by some chance, you really--"
This time, there was no reaction of any kind from the shoulder blades, not even a twitch.
You're so unfair, Fushimi thought. Trying your damnest to self-destruct and not giving a rat's ass about the feelings of all the people you gathered around you who adore you... That makes you the worst kind of person, don't you think?
"It would've been so much better if all those 'friends' hadn't gathered around you..." he grumbled under his breath, and the shoulder blades snorted a little again.
"You're probably the only guy to actually honestly tell me that. And that's good, you're fine the way you are, Fushimi. Now, don't overstay your welcome and go back to that 'king' of yours."
Fushimi was on his way back to the floor where the information room was located, climbing the fire escape stairs when on the upper stair landing he saw a glimpse of a foot in the standard issue boot. It almost looked like its owner was lying in ambush, waiting for him. Probably the captain, he thought but then realized with a start that the uniform was female.
Awashima, one hand holding a tablet PDA, the other on her hip, regarded him with a stern look.
"If you're going there, let somebody know, will you. Going alone to meet Suoh Mikoto without notifying anyone only invites unnecessary misunderstandings."
"...It might not be a misunderstanding, you know. What if I were in cahoots with Homura?" he retorted, lips pursed.
For a moment, Awashima's eyes widened slightly before narrowing to slits as she humphed letting a slight smirk tug on her lips.
"Suppose there really is a traitor who's trembling while covered in cold sweat; I'd say at the very least it's safe to assume he's not switching sides because he likes it. It's time for your report. The materials are ready, I hope?"
Fushimi, rendered speechless for a moment, balled his sweaty palms into fists at his sides. "Tch," he clicked his tongue. "Who you're telling this to. Of course they are."
Awashima turned on her heels walking away with a perfect posture, and Fushimi trailed after her.
The drawing of a big red flower
I only wanted to make Mikoto's red even more beautiful, this was Anna's excuse.
"Greetings! ...Huh? No one's home?"
"No, no, you're wrong, Yata-san, Anna is home!"
"Shut it, Kamamoto! I can see that without you! It's a figure of speech!"
Bickering like this, Yata Misaki and Kamamoto Rikio stepped into the bar HOMRA.
Indeed, just like Yata said, at a glance it seemed there was no one inside. The classic interior of the establishment was devoid of customers - the time was well before operating hours, so that was only to be expected. Conspicuous absence of Kusanagi Izumo, the owner of the bar doubling as the bartender, however, was not.
Sending a glare Kamamoto's way, Yata shifted his eyes somewhat timidly to Anna. "H-Hi there, Anna. Do you happen to know where Kusanagi-san went to?"
Anna was quietly sitting on one of the couches found inside the bar. The delicate girl with snow white hair and porcelain white skin clad in a gothic dress with lace truly looked like a doll. Focusing the gaze of her emotionless eyes on Yata, she shook her head. "No, I don't".
"I see. What about Mikoto-san, then?"
"..." Anna blinked once and pointed her finger to the opposite couch. "He's here".
Yata swallowed whatever he wanted to say and exchanged glances with Kamamoto.
Although they couldn't see him from where they stood, the Red King, Suoh Mikoto, was apparently lying on the couch opposite of the one occupied by Anna. He was napping, most likely. It wasn't rare for Suoh to sleep all day long, just like wild lions in the savanna did.
Oh shit, we disturbed him... But he didn't wake up, did he? Terrified, Yata and Kamamoto carefully tiptoed closer to the couch and peered into Suoh's face. They didn't mean to interfere with his sleep, of course, but they felt obliged to at least greet him if the ruckus they made did rouse him from his slumber after all. Checking if it did or not really was their sole intention. However...
Yata should've noticed the signs. For one, Anna, who was very quiet and obedient even at the best of times, this time around was even quieter. For two, there was a red pen clutched tightly in her small hand. And for three, there were tears welled up in her red eyes...
He really should have noticed all of that earlier.
But Yata and Kamamoto, being the idiots they were, hadn't and thus ended up seeing that, 'that' being the drawing of a big red flower. As to what it was drawn on... Suoh's face had been chosen as the canvas for the drawing. The face of the Third and the Red King, King of Homura, the living legend of Shizume-chou who burned down all of his enemies with not even ash remaining... had a big red flower drawn on it.
Without thinking, Yata and Kamamoto turned and stared at Anna. Only then had they finally noticed the signs - Anna's odd quietness, her teary eyes and the red pen still clutched in her hand.
"I only wanted to make Mikoto's red even more beautiful", she said with cast-down eyes. "I'm regretting it now".
I'm regretting it, too, Yata thought to himself. Why did we have to choose a critical time like this to show up at HOMRA?! Why does Kusanagi-san, who's supposed to be the second-in-command, have to be absent at an explosive time like this?!
Maybe they should've made a break for it the moment they saw that... no, they couldn't. Kusanagi Izumo might have been a shady and seemingly flippant man, but he was not the type to run away abandoning a friend in need. And now was Anna's time of need.
Yata felt ashamed for regretting ever coming to the bar today. If anything, the chance to help Anna should be viewed as honor!
"Yata-san, what should we do?!" Kamamoto cried barely audibly.
Raising his right hand to quiet Kamamoto down, Yata glared at him. "C-C-Calm down, Kamamoto! Prepare yourself for the worst! Anna's predicament is our predicament... So we gotta do something!"
"N-Nothing less from you, Yata-san! You're so cool!"
After giving a thumbs up to the deeply moved Kamamoto whose plump body was trembling, Yata held out a hand to the girl. "Anna, first, gimme that pen".
Anna cocked her head to the side questioningly but did as instructed. Yata examined the pen. Of course, it had to have the sign 'permanent' innocently branded on it.
Kamamoto, who peered at the pen over Yata's shoulder, offered in a whisper, "Yata-san, as far as I remember, you can erase the permanent marker with alcohol!"
Then, an epiphany hit Yata: alcohol is contained in liquors; they were currently at a bar; they had all the alcohol they could wish for literally within an arm's reach!
"Kamamoto! Get me the strongest liquor you can find around here!"
Not wasting any time, Yata and Kamamoto got behind the bar counter and began to examine the liquor bottles lined up there in a tight row. They found vodka, rum, liqueur, bourbon and even something that was closer to gasoline rather than alcohol; Yata poured a little of each onto a dustcloth. The scene was enough to make Kusanagi faint miserably had he been there to bear witness to it.
"Just you wait, Anna! We'll fix this mess for you!"
"O-Okay". Anna nodded in awe as Yata rolled up his sleeves and started his approach to the sleeping Suoh.
With care of a mine picker he brought the dustcloth soaked in liquors with high alcoholic content to the floral disk of the big flower on Suoh's face.
"Don't talk to me right now! I'm trying to concentrate!" Yata snapped back in a strangled whisper and rubbed the cloth against Suoh's face attempting to wipe off the doodle.
Were King to wake up right now... Yata felt terrified imagining just what would transpire then. There was no one among the citizens of Shizume-chou who hadn't heard about Suoh's power. No ash would be left from someone like him, that Yata was sure of.
"Shit...! I'm sweating...!"
As sweat permeated into his eyes, Yata's hand became shaky. He had to close one eye at the stinging pain but then felt a hand sweeping across his brow. Anna was holding a handkerchief wiping the sweat off his forehead gently.
"Misaki, do your best".
Yata's eyes widened upon hearing her voice as if he was surprised, but a moment later a broad grin lit up his face.
"Sure! Leave it to me!"
His smiling face was the face of a man ready to sweat and bleed alike for the sake of his friends.
"I'm back~! ...Huh? Yata and Kamamoto? What are you doing?"
The first thing Totsuka Tatara saw when he entered HOMRA was Kamamoto with his face buried in his hands and a despairing Yata on the floor.
"Useless... Absolutely useless, now we're all done for..."
"I'm a total good-for-nothing... I can't even help a single friend...!"
It didn't look like the two wallowing in misery and muttering something would give Totsuka a coherent answer any time soon, so he placed his shopping bags on a table and went to Anna who sat solemnly on the couch with her eyes cast down. As he got closer, his eyes descended on the face of Suoh who was apparently napping on the opposite couch. "Whoa."
The situation was turning out really precarious. It seemed that originally there was something drawn on Suoh's face with a magic marker, but due to the wrong approach to removing it, the red ink smears now covered the entirety of King's face. Simply put, it was an intricate mess with the Red King being stripped of his royal dignity to its last vestige. Oh well, not that Suoh gave a damn about such things in the first place.
Totsuka got the gist of what had happened from seeing a despondent-looking Anna, the red pen on the table, and the two morons despairing on the floor. Still, he felt the need to ask, "It's Anna's doing, right?"
Anna flinched and gave a tiny nod.
"W-Wait a sec, Totsuka-san! It's my fault!"
"Yeah, right, Yata, now be quiet for a minute."
After quieting Yata down with his smiling face, Totsuka lightly stepped closer to Suoh and shook him by the shoulder. "King? Kiiiing? Would you please wake up for a bit?"
Suoh groaned unhappily and sat up. Anna tensed straightening her back, while Yata and Kamamoto stopped breathing altogether. Totsuka, looking carefree as ever, took a stand mirror and thrust it at Suoh. Suoh stared at the reflection of his face.
"....Whadda hell?" A low murmur resounded in the room instantly freezing the very air in it -- only for Totsuka to thaw the atmosphere back to normal a moment later.
"Anna doodled a little on your face, King. Yata and Kamamoto tried to wipe it off but failed, and what you see in the mirror is the combined result of that."
"Anna. What are you supposed to say at a time like this?" Totsuka asked in a kind yet firm voice making his meaning clear.
In reply, Anna got up and bowed her head to Suoh. "Mikoto, I am sorry."
Suoh watched the bowing Anna lazily.
"I saw a field of red flowers on TV, it was very beautiful... and you, too, said it was beautiful... that's why I..."
Totsuka didn't really get the logic behind her need to draw a red flower on Suoh's face after seeing that, but he still smiled broadly and, placing a hand on the top of Anna's head, bowed his head as well. "That's how it is. So please forgive her".
Suoh gingerly touched a hand his face. "I'm not really mad or anything... But you better hope it washes off."
"It will, it will, don't worry. Kamamoto, go to a drugstore and fetch a bottle of nail polish remover, would you. You know, the one they use to get rid of manicure."
"R-Right! I'll be right back!" Kamamoto sprang to his feet and ran out of the bar.
As Anna followed Kamamoto's retreat with her eyes, Totsuka stroked her head once more and said lightly, "If you mess up, all you need to do is apologize, OK? Without trying to cover up your mistake."
"...Okay. I understand." Anna nodded her head, and a smile finally returned to her face.
Seeing that, Totsuka nodded a few times, "That's better," and shifted his gaze to Yata who looked deeply relieved, too. "You should apologize as well, Yata. To Kusanagi-san."
"Ho-ho, I see. There goes my reserve of premium grade Absinthe and Spirytus... Oh, and you even used my Cadenhead Enmore, huh..."
Yata span around to look at the bar counter. Having popped up seemingly out of nowhere, there stood Kusanagi with his arms folded across his chest and a smile tugging at his lips. His eyes behind the sunglasses weren't smiling, however. It was hardly surprising, considering that his prized collection of vintage liquors was currently lined up in a row before his eyes with all the bottles opened. To make things even worse, there was a dustcloth soaked in the aforementioned liquors lying right there, on the counter.
"I take it, you wasted my best liquors on some dustcloth, eh, Yata-kun? Now I know beyond doubt just what you really think of premium alcoholic beverages..."
"N-N-No! It's not like that! Kusanagi-san, I didn't meant to...! I-It's just--!"
"Yata, Yata. You should apologize properly."
"I-I am really sorry!!!"
Kusanagi's eerie smiling face was now looming over Yata who immediately fell flat on his ass.
"Let me tell you something. Apologizing for your messes to earn forgiveness... It only works when you're still in grade school!" the bartender shouted and whacked Yata on the top of the head with all his might.