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"You're so lucky," the women in the shopping district say when they see Flame for the first time. "I certainly couldn't afford a SOLtis for around the house." "But don't you think it's a little flashy?" and Kiku forces a smile. Invents a lie about how Takeru is friends with the sister of SOL's president (which isn't really a lie) and that's how they got one (that part closer to a half-truth).

"And Takeru thinks he looks cool like this," she adds with a shrug. "Like Soulburner, right?"

Flame is silent through the entire conversation, like a proper SOLtis should be and the moment they're alone again Kiku apologizes. Although for what she's not sure. Humanity in general, maybe.

"It's all right," Flame says, understanding to a fault, as always. "They don't know. They can't know."

But Kiku is still painfully aware of how wrong it is. Knows that Flame deserves better than this, deserves better than to be thought of as a thing that is owned. He's important to Takeru so that means he's important to her as well.

She only knows the vaguest outline of what happened during the months Takeru was in Den City a few years ago. She knows he's Soulburner. Knows he's a hero. Knows it all had something to do with when he went missing as a child.

And when he came home again after that she knew he was suffering.

He talked about it eventually. About Flame. How he was the only good thing to come out of the hell he was put through. How he couldn't protect him and his voice had been so ragged in that moment it made Kiku's own chest ache.

She wanted so badly to help him in that moment. To somehow ease the pain in his heart, but all she could do was be with him. Hold him close when he got too quiet until the pain was manageable.

They marry almost right out of high school. Something that concerns her parents (they're both so young, they have plenty of time) but Takeru was anxious. Maybe because he already lost so much, he fiercely clings to what he still has. Unwilling to waste any more time because he is far too aware of how quickly it can all be torn away from him.

And even if they're young, even if things are a little difficult, they're still happy.

Then Flame comes back.

Takeru kept his duel disk on the shelf. It left out simply because it was a necessity for entering Link Vrains, and even that he all but stopped doing after a while. Eventually, like the photos of his parents, it became a reminder of something lost. Something that is glanced at every so often with sadness before moving on until one night it lit up on its own.

They had been watching TV when it happened, curled up side by side and Kiku remembers the way Takeru went still in that moment. Stillness followed by a faint tremble as the light faded and a small dark head poked out from the duel disk's screen. Bright yellow eyes blinking at them and Takeru's voice was nothing but an agonized croak.

"Flame?"

"I'm sorry it took me so long," the tiny creature said in response, and in that moment Kiku knew everything was about to change. Her right hand absently moving to touch the wedding band on her finger, as Takeru staggered to his feet to retrieve the disk from the shelf and hold it close. A smile on her face as she stood as well.

"I'll give you two some privacy."

In response Takeru's head jerked upwards his mouth opening to protest but Flame beat him to it.

"No, please. Stay. I know how important you are to him. I've--" Flame pauses, glancing away bashfully. "I've been watching when I could. From a distance."

"Just watching?" A faint frown creases Takeru's brow and Flame fidgets, lowering into the duel disk a bit.

"I apologize for that. I would have contacted you sooner but we were all afraid of what might happen if we left Cyberse again. Ai especially. He insisted we remain hidden."

"I get that. But why now?"

"Amusingly enough, it's because of Lightning."

She sees Takeru go still at that, his jaw clenched tight enough that a muscle there jumps before he relaxes enough to speak again. "What did he do?"

"He went to see his partner, and the world didn't end. In fact they're quite happy. And so, the rest of us are taking our second chances. Ai is still a bit worried but Playmaker is calming him down."

Even with that explanation the frown still didn't smooth out of Takeru's brow. His voice still tight as he asked, "Did he--?"

"Don't blame Playmaker." Flame replied, seemingly knowing in an instant where the question was about to go. "Yes, he knew. He was instrumental in our return but our hiding was not his choice and I won't allow you to blame him. I won't even allow you to blame Ai fully. I agreed with him. By the time we were fully resurrected you'd moved on. I felt it best--"

"But now you come back." Takeru's voice sharp, agonized enough that flame flinched in response.

"I'm selfish, I suppose." Flame turned his body away as best he could while sitting waist deep in a duel disk, his head lowered. "At most I wanted to see you one last time. To properly say goodbye."

"That's--"

"You're not saying goodbye." The words are enough to surprise everyone, even Kiku herself, when they escape her. But she didn't stop. Her heart racing as she looked down at Flame. "Not if you don't want to."

"But-- you two...."

"He loves you." It felt so strange to say, but at the same time she felt no jealousy towards Flame. Nothing but a strange sort of warmth from finally meeting the one who meant so much to Takeru. "And you're a part of him. Of course I want to know you."

She's not sure why she did it, impulse likely. But in that moment she leaned down and brushed her lips against the top of Flame's head. And she knew.

It would be just as easy to love this part of Takeru as she loves Takeru himself.

That was two months ago, and now they have this. Flame accompanying her shopping and jealous comments from people who see him as a thing, a fancy toy that two just-married kids shouldn't be able to afford.

It's enough to make her want to scream, even when Flame wraps his arms around her and insists that it's fine, and Takeru is even more agitated. He paces the apartment when he hears, his movement sharp edged and furious until Flame conjures a tentacle or three to catch and pull him into the embrace as well. Something that had shocked Kiku the first time she saw it, but now....

Now it's just another part of Flame. Extra arms to hold them both tight.

There are days when she wonders what her parents might think. They get the same story most people do, that the SOLtis was a belated wedding gift from Aoi Zaizen. They don't know that Flame is special. That she's falling in love with him as much as she loves Takeru. That Takeru loves him as much as he loves her.

That she can't imagine things any other way now. Can barely remember what it was like with just her and Takeru curled up in bed together without multiple extra arms curled around them.

She can't imagine it and she doesn't want to.