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i.

 

They’re eight years old and Mika thinks, so this must be what love at first sight feels like.

 

It’s not like in the movies. Yuu walks into the orphanage and scowls at him instead of swooning. Yuu drops down to one knee and unpacks his duffel instead of popping open a ring box. Not that Mika expects either of those things. He’s more than content with the infantry of butterflies squirming in his gut. They sputter and scramble up his windpipe every time Yuu glares in his direction. 

 

He has the prettiest eyes.

 

Mika might be in love with them.

 

“Go on,” whispers Akane’s dulcet voice in his ear. She can’t be bothered to conceal the mischief dancing across her visage, even when Mika pegs her with the dullest look he can muster. She knows, of course. There is little about Mika that evades Akane’s attentions. “The director wants you to greet him. Make him feel welcome.”

 

Mika gazes mournfully at the love of his life. Yuu yanks clothing free of his bag like he has a personal vendetta. He’d sooner get a punch than a kiss out of this one, Mika thinks. He can work with that.

 

“Okay.” Mika plasters on his best smile. Time to make an award-winning first impression. “I’ll make him feel so welcome, there’s no way he’ll ever want to leave!”

 

Akane stares at him like he’s lost his mind, and in a way, Mika guesses he has. 

 

Eight years old, and Mika feels the words I love you rolling behind his teeth, so he balls a fist and throws it.



ii.

 

“I love him,” Mika says, years later, hand limp around a potato.

 

“Yes,” Akane hums. She plucks the poor thing from his nonexistent grip, cleaves the rest of the skin away, and drops it in with the rest of the pile. They’re making stew. “Is there anything else you’d like to say? Anything new or interesting?”

 

Mika blinks at her. Beyond the kitchen, the orphans squeal and shout and tumble across the den floor to the tune of Yuu’s groans. They’re playing knights again, Mika thinks, and Yuu has grudgingly assumed the role of the grumpy dragon. Mika’s tempted to sneak a peek around the corner, but Yuu won’t let Mika catch him playing pretend—so planted Mika remains, with potato juice drying on his palms.

 

Twelve years old, and love should be the absolute last thing on Mika’s mind—but between big brother duties and late night rendezvous at the mansion up the hill, somehow Mika always finds time to sneak a glimpse of those pretty eyes.

 

Twelve years old, and his love at first sight has yet to dim.

 

“You’re not stupid, Mika,” Akane tells him. She hops on a stepstool, picks up her potato-laden cutting board, and tilts it into a bubbling pot. Mika watches white chunks cascade down. 

 

“I’m kind of stupid,” Mika mumbles. Another gleeful shriek erupts from the room adjacent, and Yuu’s flabbergasted bellow trails not far after. Mika snorts into his elbow. “I’m really, really stupid, actually.”

 

Akane whacks him lightly with a wooden spoon. “Well, you said it, not me.”

 

They laugh. They laugh so loudly, in fact, that Yuu’s head pops out from behind the wall—hair in disarray and cheeks crimsoned—to yell at them. Somehow, Mika’s the one that’s breathless.

 

Hello, butterflies.

 

“Shut the fuck up, both of you! The kids made me do it!”

 

“Yuuichirou Hyakuya, I know I didn’t just hear you say a bad word—”

 

“Ooooh, Yuu-nii’s in trouble!”

 

“Come slay the dragon with us, Akane!”

 

“Hold my spoon,” says Akane. It’s all the warning Akane offers him before she shoves it into Mika’s hands and hikes up her dress. The children scream in delight. The color drains from Yuu’s face.

 

Mika stirs the stew and daydreams, indulgently, about what life outside Sanguinem’s walls will be like.



iii.

 

“Just go, you idiot! GO!”

 

Mika stares at Yuu’s dwindling back and thinks himself a coward. That wasn’t what he wanted to say.

 

Mika is a coward, but he’s not cruel.

 

Head drooping, Mika chuckles. He selfishly, hopelessly, allows those words to occupy his dying breath.

 

“You finally called us family…” His tears dribble into the pool of blood on the tile. There’s so, so much. “Yuu-chan…I love…”

 

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

 

“Well now, Ferid. I’m very displeased.”



iv.

 

Sixteen years old, and Mika thought the butterflies were dead until he took a sword to the chest and a pair of emerald daggers to the eyes.

 

They’re not dead. They’re the polar opposite of dead, in fact: rioting through his insides, propelling blood up his throat till Mika dispels them with a wet cough. Red splatters across Yuu’s cheek. Mika has never seen him so dumbfounded.

 

(It’d be adorable if it weren’t so terrifying.)

 

“…Mika?” Yuu whispers.

 

I love you, Mika replies in his head, lips moving numbly around the syllables. 

 

Yuu’s brows crease; their furrow deepens. Mika drinks in the sight of him like a dying man. Time has done nothing to Yuu’s beauty—it could never hope to ruin the wild tousle of his bangs, harden the soft edges of his jaw, or fracture the brilliant gems of his eyes. Mika takes it in. And he thinks he could find peace here, with Yuu’s demon curse burrowed neon between his ribs.

 

Mika has long since surrendered to reality. He’s a vampire, after all. Yuu is beautiful, and Yuu will never gaze at him with warmth in his eyes ever again.

 

That’s not what happens.

 

Yuu cries. Yuu reaches for him. Yuu hollers are you my family across the whole damn battlefield, gone silent as a funeral, and somehow that carves away more of Mika’s soul than his blade ever could. 

 

I love you, Mika thinks, and whisks him away from the bloodbath.

 

I love you, Mika thinks, and hugs him fiercely on the rooftop.

 

I love you, I love you, I love you, rattles like a mantra in Mika’s skull as he watches, helpless, despaired, as his love sprouts skeletal wings like black ichor, and his sword finds a home next to Mika’s heart a second time.

 

Butterflies, butterflies. Mika puts Shinjuku behind him and stares down at his ash-smudged hands. He remembers the hammer of Yuu’s frenetic heart against his skin and flushes, in spite of himself.

 

Butterflies—what are they good for?



v.

 

The second Yuu shouts across the road that he’s found a car, looks driveable, Mika nearly shoves past him in his haste to get to the side view mirror. The glass is splintered beyond comprehension. Scowling, Mika scurries around the front.

 

“Hey—Mika, what’s gotten into you?!”

 

The mirror on the left-hand side has a big shard of glass left largely intact. Mika leans in and stares.

 

“Mika, are you listeni—oh. Ohh.”

 

“As I suspected,” Mika mutters in a short, terse tone. “They’re ugly.”

 

“What?! No, they’re not.”

 

At that, Mika finally glances away from the pits of scarlet gazing back at him in the mirror. Yuu has his arms crossed, cheeks puffed, eyes narrowed. He might be trying to scold him. Mika would have laughed at the thought, had his stomach not been churning with the visual confirmation of what he has become.

 

“I’m a monster,” Mika says, defeated.

 

Yuu’s cheeks balloon bigger. “What the hell, Mika? Don’t say that shit about yourself.”

 

“It’s just the truth, Yuu-chan. I’m a monster. That’s my punishment for drinking your blood.”

 

"Stop spouting crap!” 

 

Warm hands clap his shoulders. Mika sucks in a sharp breath as Yuu whirls him around, glaring straight at him with a gaze like swirling, spitting fire, bright and righteous. Twice today, Yuu has pinned him with that look. Mika faintly recalls the sting of grocery store shelves digging into his flesh. 

 

“You’re not a monster,” Yuu says slowly, evenly, as if explaining to a child. Mika feels at once endeared and insulted. “You’re my family, my best friend, and the person I would go to hell and back for. You mean too much to me for you to just say shit like that about yourself.”

 

Mika becomes vaguely aware that his mouth is open. He hurries to snap it shut, fangs clacking painfully, and prays he hadn’t resembled a dying fish. 

 

“And besides,” says Yuu, releasing him at last. He reaches behind Mika to pop the driver’s door open; it bounces off Mika’s hip, and he huffs. “If you’re a monster, then by the same logic, I’d be a monster too.”

 

“You could never,” flies from Mika’s mouth without a second thought. His vision swims green. Yuu’s beam is dazzling.

 

“Glad we agree! Now, if you could just scoot over…”

 

Mikas’s body deflates, releasing tension he hadn’t noticed he’d been holding. He chuckles. 

 

“I’m not letting you drive, Yuu-chan.”

 

“What?! Come on, Mika, you’re so mean!”

 

Somehow, moments like these make those three little words a little less daunting.



+i.

 

He needs to say it.

 

Mika feels twelve again, one-armed and numbed to bone with the terror of leaving something so important unsaid. He feels that same terror again now. It curdles in his chest, bludgeons his brain, grips him with an urgency he has not quite felt since before Yuu’s blood hit his tongue and stripped the ghost of his humanity away—and, oh.

 

Yuu is crying.

 

“MIKA!” screams his love. 

 

It’s a bitter battle to pry an eye open. Mika strains to pick out Yuu’s voice from the seething crackle of magic surrounding him and the ringing of his own ears. 

 

It hits Mika that this might be the last time he hears Yuu call to him. The horror and dismay of his realization give Mika the final push he needed: he chokes on his words, but they are not the ones he needs.

 

“Yuu-chan…don’t…cry…”

 

He needs to say it. He’s running out of time.

 

Yuu wails and wails below, but past his anguish—the roar of a distant engine cloys Mika’s ears like a sweet, sweet blessing. Slowly, achingly, Mika shifts his gaze to the car hurtling towards them at breakneck speed. The humans. Yuu’s new family.

 

They will shoulder Yuu’s burdens when Mika is gone. A relief like no other wracks Mika’s broken frame.

 

Yuu-chan…you’ll be fine. I know you will.

 

He’s out of time.

 

He’ll say it.

 

The magic thunders. Yuu screams. Warm, salty tears kiss a line down Mika’s cheek, and he can’t help but smile. 

 

And the butterflies sing.

 

“Yuu-chan…I love you.”

 

“MIKA—”

 

Boom.