Title: Tell Me How It Feels
Spoiler warnings: AU set post-series, so vague spoilers for the whole thing
Warnings/kinks/advertisements: Character death
Summary: Jin isn't sure how to be human anymore, but Ryuuji is eager to help him figure it out.
Author's Note: So I had originally written this piece for GingaYellow, but somehow I missed the fact that character death was in the never-ever list, hence why the actual gift was some fluffy Kuuga fic. I figured I could still post this, though, and hopefully someone will enjoy it.
Tell Me How It Feels
Ryuuji holds tight to Yoko, the girl sobbing against his chest; Ryuuji's hand reaches up and clasps on tightly to Hiromu's shoulder as the cry echoes and re-echoes around them.
They did it.
They defeated Enter; they defeated Messiah; they saved the world.
And all it cost them was their parents and their childhoods and one of their friends.
"No no no no." Jin's voice breaks on the final repetition, and Ryuuji can't look away from where the man—his mentor, his friend, his ally—kneels by J's body, his fists rhythmically striking the metallic chest. A coating of fine red-black lines is spreading across J's armor, looking like a terrible comixture of blood and rust.
Ryuuji needs to do something. He needs to move from his spot, from his place as the center and ground for the younger Go-Busters. He needs to call for someone to come get them—to come check Jin out, make sure that he's really here, really real, that J somehow managed the impossible and brought Jin alive out of hell.
He needs to sort through the conflicting emotions tearing through his head, because Jin is alive, and that is a wonderful relief, a joy so bright it almost burns; but J is dead, the Buddyroid that Jin created and loved, the friend who protected Jin is dead, and even staring at the still body Ryuuji finds it hard to believe.
"Jin..." Yoko pulls away from Ryuuji's embrace, taking a tentative step toward the man still mumbling negations to himself on the ground.
Jin's head snaps up, and there is so much grief and anger in the snarl he throws at them—so much agony in the tears on his face—Ryuuji can't blame Yoko for taking a step back, until she is pressed against Ryuuji again. Jin's voice is a husky growl when he speaks. "This wasn't what was supposed to happen. I was supposed to die. Me."
"But you're alive." Hiromu speaks in a quiet voice that still somehow manages to hold more authority than any other person Ryuuji has ever known. "He thought you were worth dying for. So be careful what you do with those hands, Jin. You're only human now."
Jin looks down at his hands, covered in the rust-blood that has now completely encompassed J's body. "I'm... alive. I'm... back."
"You're back, senpai." Ryuuji shifts Yoko over into Hiromu's arms and takes the handful of strides to Jin's side. Kneeling down, he lays a hand on Jin's shoulder. "Let's take J back to headquarters, all right, and make sure there's nothing we can do to help him?"
"I'm not a child, Ryuuji." Jin stiffens under his hand. "I'm older than you by a good fifteen years. Don't patronize me."
Ryuuji finds himself studying Jin, his hand clenching tighter, trying to feel the difference between this—between Jin, alive and whole and human—and what he's felt before when touching Jin. Trying to find any traces of the time that Jin spent in subspace, but Jin looks just the same now as he did the day he vanished, and that makes them almost the same age.
As if it matters, age in years when you've been through a war together, and Ryuuji shakes the thought free. "What do you want to do, then, Jin?"
Jin stares down disconsolately at the metal body, but he doesn't reach out to punch it this time. "Let's... let's take him home."
Ryuuji nods, helping Jin to his feet, and they move to stand with Hiromu and Yoko, the Go-Buster survivors waiting for debriefing and a chance to move on.
Ryuuji finds Jin in his research lab.
It's where he expected to find him. It's where Jin has been for the past twenty-four hours, confirming what they all knew from the moment J collapsed after the battle and Jin, miraculously, re-appeared. Though Jin has tried everything he can to restore J's functions, the Buddyroid is well and truly gone, his physical body decaying, his mental processes irretrievably lost.
"Sen—" Ryuuji stops dead as he realizes that Jin isn't staring at something in his hand, but rather at his hand, at a thin trickle of blood running from the tip of his index finger down into his palm. "Jin, what—"
Jin starts at the sound of his name, turning to meet Ryuuji's eyes. He grabs a cloth from the table beside him and wraps it around his finger, clenching his hand into a fist. "Ryuuji. Hi there. I promise, this isn't what it looked like."
"Really?" Ryuuji narrows his eyes. "So you weren't sitting there watching yourself bleed?"
Jin hesitates a moment, opening and then closing his mouth. "All right, point conceded, that part was exactly what it looked like. But I didn't intentionally hurt myself, and I was going to wrap it up as soon as it happened but..."
Ryuuji pulls on the door-handle, ensuring that it's closed tight behind him, that they have some privacy. "But?"
"But it feels... different. Hurts differently. More, I think, except then I try to remember what it felt like when I wasn't... here like this, and I think maybe it hurts less now." Jin's left hand curls around his cloth-shrouded right, a protective gesture. "I did the best I could to mimic sensation. It's all in the mind, after all, and pain is a good way to keep from injuring yourself."
"That's what it evolved for." Ryuuji settles down on the desk in front of Jin, keeping his eyes on the other man. "To remind us not to do something that's hazardous to our health."
"And taking damage was hazardous to my health." Jin's mouth turns up in a slight smile. "As you saw."
Ryuuji nods, trying not to shudder as he remembers looking down at the body that was only partially there.
"And now I'm human again. Now all those not-quite-right feelings are back, but it's been fifteen years and a life-time and it doesn't feel right now. It doesn't feel... real." Jin's shoulders lift in a brief shrug, his right hand rising to hover closer to Ryuuji. "Which is why you found me looking like an idiot, standing there watching blood drip down my hand."
"I haven't called you an idiot so far." Ryuuji takes Jin's swaddled hand and carefully undoes the impromptu bandaging. Jin has largely just succeeded in smearing the blood around on his hand, though the bleeding has mostly stopped from the gash in his fingertip. "Though I can, if it'll make you feel better."
Jin raises his left eyebrow. "There are very few people who will feel better about themselves after they're called an idiot. Though if I had known that was the way to motivate you..."
"I do not like being insulted." Ryuuji gives Jin's shoulder a gentle shove, holding onto the man's right hand to keep him from wheeling his rolling chair away afterward. "Now hold still. I'm going to go get the first aid kit and get this bandaged up for you. How did you do this?"
Jin nods his head toward the white sheet that shrouds Beet J Stag's body. "On him. Just... making sure I hadn't missed anything."
Ryuuji nods. "And had you?"
"No. Nothing I can use to fix him. The note we found yesterday explained... pretty much all of it."
Head bowed over Jin's hand as he applies an antibiotic ointment and uses a butterfly bandage to pull the gash closed, Ryuuji nods again. It had been a brief note, in J's looping script. Enough information for them to start piecing together the how of Jin's survival; enough mention of choice and wanting Jin to live happily, like a human bug in a human forest, to make them all cry. "This cut is pretty deep in the middle. Are you up to date on your tetanus shot?"
Jin laughs. "I have no idea. Do I count or not count the fifteen years where I didn't age?"
Ryuuji finds himself smiling as well. "I suppose it depends on how badly you want to experience more pain."
"Not that badly." Jin shakes his head, pulling his hand free and wheeling the chair away from Ryuuji. "It'll be fine. It can at least wait until I've experienced a few things that aren't painful."
"Oh?" Ryuuji smiles as he watches Jin's retreat, crossing his arms over his chest. "And what kind of sensations have you had that aren't painful?"
"I'm not sure you're mature enough to appreciate all of them." Jin's crooked grin is just as infectious as ever, though it fades as he turns back to his work, to the notes he's been taking.
"Maybe you could tell me about some of them as they occur." Ryuuji makes the suggestion quietly, not wanting to sound as though he's pushing. Not wanting to let on that his mind is really interested in what Jin might have meant by things he's not mature enough to understand—as though being twenty-eight and having fought a war and saved the world wasn't enough to grant anyone maturity.
Jin hesitates a moment before nodding. "I... might like that. If you were interested. A sort of scientific investigation into the differences between being a highly impressive and realistic program—if I may say so myself—and being... well, whatever being human actually means."
"Should I consider this to be the first data point? Because that means I need to go grab a lab book and start taking notes."
Ryuuji ducks the bloody cloth that Jin throws at his head.
"You'll have to be careful there, Jin." The name only catches a little bit in Ryuuji's throat, a familiarity that he doesn't usually allow himself but that he wants right now, with this grieving, brilliant, wonderful man who is somehow miraculously alive. "Now that you've got real blood you could have real blood-born diseases and—"
Jin has terrible aim. He mutters about it being his human body's fault when he finally runs out of small innocuous objects within arm's reach; Ryuuji's suggestion that it's just how amazing Ryuuji's training has been earns him only an eye roll.
They settle down to work together, sorting out the data from their last fight, working their way carefully through the method that J had used to save Jin's life, challenging and counter-challenging each other.
They both fall asleep in the lab, heads pillowed on jackets, notebooks open before them, and though he wakes sore, Ryuuji doesn't regret any of it in the least.
Ryuuji has to remind Jin to eat.
It's not that Jin doesn't enjoy eating. When food is in front of him, Jin seems to be magnetically attracted to it, nibbling on everything, his face showing a deep contemplation that most people reserve for prayer.
"Nothing tastes quite right." Jin shrugs when pressed. "Even chicken doesn't taste quite like chicken. And while I won't say everything tastes good, everything tastes. It's... intense. Subtle. Conflicting. Like discovering every spice all over again, and finding out that what you thought was cinnamon is actually nutmeg, only with every flavor. Does that make any sense?"
"It's what you feel. It doesn't have to make sense." Ryuuji keeps a notebook in his back pocket, and he records everything that Jin tells him about learning to be human again, so both of them will have access to it in the future. "But you do have to remember to eat. If you don't, you're not going to last very long in that human body of yours."
"It's hard, though. Hunger's such a weird feeling, and I get so wrapped up in everything else that I don't notice it and then the next thing I know you're banging down the door angry because I apparently haven't eaten in thirty hours." Jin spins his chair in a circle, nibbling on a cucumber.
"I will set an alarm for you, if you need." Ryuuji reaches out with his foot to stop Jin's spin. "Because you really can't keep missing meals. It's not healthy."
"Nonsense. I'm the healthiest forty-something-year-old the doc's ever seen." Jin's smile has a slightly bitter edge. "If they didn't know better, they'd swear that I'm in my early twenties."
"Not if you keep missing meals and refusing to sleep."
"I am sleeping quite a lot, thank you! More than I did before."
"Sleeping in your lab because you can't keep your eyes open anymore doesn't count."
Jin huffs out a breath of frustration. "Why not?"
"Because it's ridiculous." Ryuuji considers the man before him and decides to change tactics. "And because there's a lot of sensations that can be found in bed, you know. Lots of tactile—"
"All right! All right." Jin stands hastily, his face flushed dark, an expression that Ryuuji hasn't seen much before. "Point made. I will try to remember to both eat on a regular schedule and sleep in a bed. All right?"
"And you'll tell me what it's like." Ryuuji can't quite keep the grin off his face. "How sleeping in a bed compares sensation wise to—"
Ryuuji has gotten very good at dodging what Jin throws.
Or perhaps Jin is intentionally missing.
Either way, they're both laughing when Ryuuji ducks out of the lab, something Ryuuji suspects they both need.
Jin helps him study.
Or perhaps it's better to say that they help each other study. Jin is still the more advanced student—while Ryuuji has been keeping his fighting skills intact Jin has been attempting to catch up on fifteen years worth of research—but they're on a much more even playing field than Ryuuji had expected.
It's comfortable, studying together in one of the climate-controlled laboratories, and Jin never seems bothered by the fact that Ryuuji's first action when they take one over is to lower the temperature by several degrees. It's better safe than sorry with regards to over-heating, after all, and the intellectual rigor of studying with Jin can be quite intoxicating.
Everything about Jin can be intoxicating, if he allows himself to think about it too much. The way that Jin still insists on dressing, in a comfortable shirt and ripped jeans. The way that Jin has of being boisterous and loud and talking over you unless you talk over him in return, and it gets everyone invested and interested and keeps Ryuuji from over-thinking his arguments and thus saying nothing.
The way Jin looks, sprawled out in one of his rolling desk chairs, tentatively touching each finger-tip with a pen nub because it feels different.
The way Jin will send his chair spinning, laughing like a child, giddy because he loves the feel of vertigo, because he definitely hadn't gotten the programming for that one right.
The way that Jin's smile lights his eyes, the way his lips look when he's laughing, the way—
Ryuuji forces his eyes away from Jin, straightening in his chair, forcing his mind away from where that line of thought wants to go.
It's not the first time he's found himself starting to fantasize about another man, about the way their lips would feel or how their body would meld against his. He's had fantasies about both men and women for well over a decade, and he long ago accepted the way his tastes are.
Especially since it didn't matter, since he was a Go-Buster first and foremost, a soldier and a spy and hopefully a savior of the world. He didn't have time for dating and romance, especially since he also had to watch out for Hiromu and Yoko.
Especially since he had to watch his body temperature.
"Ryuuji?" Jin's tone is curious, a clear question in his voice.
"Huh?" Ryuuji looks up from the paper that his eyes had been staring blankly at. "What?"
"I asked if there was something fascinating written there, because you all of a sudden stopped talking to me." Jin wheels his chair closer. "Am I being that boring?"
"No. You can be a lot of things, but boring isn't really one of them." Ryuuji smiles, trying not to let his mind jump back onto the track it had been on before. Though it's true that he doesn't need to be a Go-Buster above all else now—though he can go back to being a scientist instead of a soldier—this is Jin. This is a man he's known, at least vaguely, since he was a child.
A man he's fought beside.
A man who has a body the same age as Ryuuji, and even if he's not conventionally handsome he's so vibrant and alive...
Jin studies him, head tilted slightly to the side. After a few seconds he nods to himself, a very slight motion. Holding his right hand out, fingers splayed, palm toward Ryuuji, he nods toward Ryuuji's hand. "Put your hand against mine?"
Ryuuji can't help the startled look that he's sure appears on his face. "Huh?"
"You said you wanted some more tactile information to put in that notebook of yours. So put your palm against mine." Jin waggles his fingers in invitation.
Reaching out hesitantly, Ryuuji presses his hand tentatively against Jin's.
Jin's fingers press back with unexpected force, a blazing heat in the cool room, a slide of flesh against flesh that could never be mistaken for anything else.
"Ah." Jin sighs, a sound that seems to be pulled from the very base of his being. "I've missed this. Touching someone. Feeling someone. Your hands are so calloused... I guess that's what happens when you fight a war, huh? But each finger has its own core of heat, and the way two palms press against each other, the way there's always space between, the friction of contact and the emptiness of bones that don't quite meld... there's nothing in the world like touching another person. Nothing."
Jin's chair slides incrementally closer, a millimeter for each word, a centimeter for each second, until the chair bumps against the desk Ryuuji is leaning on. Jin's face is close, so close, his breath a warm breeze on Ryuuji's face, and if Ryuuji leans forward just a little bit—
And then Jin's foot catches the desk, pushes off, sends him rolling away. He smiles at Ryuuji, and there is warmth in his eyes, a devil-spark of understanding. "Write it down in your notebook, all right? I think I'm going to call it a night. I'll see you in the morning."
"Right." Ryuuji's voice is husky, and he has to clear his throat. "Morning."
"It'll come faster than you think." Jin's hand claps against Ryuuji's shoulder as Jin shrugs into his jacket and heads for the door. "Though if you want other things to come faster... a little less thinking, a little more acting. Just a suggestion."
Ryuuji sits in the lab for several minutes after Jin has left, his hand clenched into a fist. Only when the last trace of warmth, the last tingle of contact has faded does he gather his own belongings and head for bed.
He had to think before he acted. He had to consider what it would mean to Jin. He had to consider what it means to him, to risk that kind of contact—that kind of rejection—from one of the people he most respects.
But given how Jin acted...
Next time Ryuuji won't hesitate.
They never quite manage to kiss.
It becomes a game of sorts, a sign that the lesson is coming to an end. Jin is always the one to start it, requesting that Ryuuji do something for him.
Brush my hair.
Touch my face.
Hold my hand.
Rub my back.
So many small things, little gestures of contact and connection, and Ryuuji always acquiesces, his own part of the game easy to remember. Tell me how it feels.
And Jin does.
In poetry, sometimes, a rush of comparisons, sometimes contradictions, and it's all Ryuuji can do to hold them in his mind long enough to capture them on paper. In awkward, broken prose sometimes, Jin stumbling over words and concepts, frustration evident in the tension of his body as he tries to remember how to describe feeling, how to vocalize sensation and want.
Ryuuji's notebook begins filling up very quickly.
He studies it, sometimes, when he's not with Jin. Running his fingers over the words, tracing the course of Jin's return to humanity and their budding almost-relationship, he wonders that something so miraculous is happening.
He isn't prepared for the notebook to be snatched from him.
"What's this?" Yoko dances out of his reach, the notebook held securely in her hands. "What's making you make that funny face?"
"Nothing!" Ryuuji lunges for the book, knowing even as he does that this is just going to encourage Yoko. What else is he supposed to do, though? If she notices what he's written—the way it's written—if she's able to put it together—
"Oh." Yoko stops dead, her eyes glued to the page. "Oh."
Snatching the book out of her fingers, Ryuuji shoves it back into his pocket. He can feel his cheeks and forehead burning, and he forces himself to close his eyes, to breathe deeply. Of all the stupid things that might push him to overheat, he will not let this be one of them.
"Um..." Yoko's voice is tentative, as hesitant and uncertain as the touch on his arm.
Ryuuji opens his eyes, staring down warily at the young woman. He knows better than to trust that she'll stay timid. Like the rabbit her powers suggest, she can be fierce and dangerous if angered.
"That was... about Jin." Her hand tightens on his arm. "And it was research, but it also... wasn't."
"It's research." Ryuuji shifts, uncomfortable under Yoko's piercing stare as her eyes narrow. "Of a sort. It's for him. So later he can remember the various things he's said, the transition that he went through."
"Hmm." Yoko studies him suspiciously. "Have you kissed him?"
The young woman jumps back, a broad grin on her face. "Do you want to kiss him?"
Ryuuji gives an exasperated sigh. "What happened to you being jealous of anyone trying to get close to your people?"
"Silly, you're both my people." Yoko gives him a look that implies he's just said something incredibly foolish. "If it makes you happy—if it makes Jin happy—then kiss him. We've all had enough sadness lately. Time to have something good happen, right?"
Ryuuji stares at Yoko.
"You'll agree with me once you have time to process it." Giving him a jaunty wave, she skips toward the door. "I'm going to the mall. I'll see you for dinner."
By the time he remembers that Yoko's not supposed to go anywhere until she proves she can pass one of her remedial tests, the girl's already long gone.
Ryuuji touches the notebook where it sits in his back pocket, thinking about what she said.
"Tell me how it feels."
Jin whispers the words against Ryuuji's mouth after their first kiss, his voice breathless, his tone sounding almost desperate. His hands are both wrapped in Ryuuji's hair, holding him in place.
"Uh..." Ryuuji swallows, forcing his eyes to open and focus, trying to remember how to put words together into something like a complete sentence. "I don't know."
"Make something up." Jin smiles, but there's a bit of a tremble to his lower lip, a burning light still shining in his eyes that Ryuuji suspects isn't just due to how good he is at kissing. "I always make something up, don't I? Answer your question. Tell me how it feels."
Ryuuji raises his own hands from where they are clenched on the hem of Jin's shirt, resting them instead against Jin's chest, pushing back slightly to give more room between the two of them. His right hand brushes up against something hard under Jin's shirt, the boxy shape hanging from a leather thong, and he quickly shifts it to the side.
They all know Jin wears the piece of black wood around his neck these days. He's seen it before, when Jin is changing or after showering or when it slides out from under the concealing fabric.
The light in Jin's eyes dims, and he pulls further away from Ryuuji. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't've done—"
Ryuuji closes his hand into a fist, catching Jin's shirt and the black rectangle that it hides between his fingers. For a moment Jin resists, pulling back; then he allows Ryuuji to pull him closer, until only a breath separates them again. "It feels like summer. Like the heat of the sun exploding everywhere, on my lips, in my belly; like the static charge that comes before a storm; like the thrill that comes before I... before I overheat, but without the loss of me. So how does it feel to you?"
For a moment he thinks Jin isn't going to answer. Then Jin's hand snakes up between them, slides over Ryuuji's, both of them holding the shrouded token of the past. "It feels like other kisses I've had. Like skin and muscle and bone all meeting, everything made impossibly sensitive by nerves that you never think about until they aren't there anymore. It feels like something new, like something wondrous, like you... like faith and strength and determination. Like... like being alive. Like being human."
"You are." Ryuuji wishes he weren't already holding so tight to Jin, wishes that he could clench his hands into tighter fists without running the risk of breaking something precious to Jin. "You are both alive and human, and that was a pretty damn good first kiss."
"It was." Jin smiles, a crooked grin that takes on a shy edge as he glances away from Ryuuji. "You're sure...? I mean, I'm twice your age."
"Even if we put aside the fact that I'm well past the age of consent, I'm not like most people my age." Ryuuji leans forward, until his forehead rests against Jin's. "We went through a war together."
"So did Yoko, but there's no way I am ever going to consider dating her."
"Good, because I'd have to punch you if you did." Ryuuji releases Jin's shirt so he can give the man's shoulder a shove. "And you don't want to be punched by me when I'm angry."
"I wouldn't. You know that." Jin waves a placating hand. "But it does sort of invalidate your we-are-warriors-age-doesn't-matter argument, right?"
"You always acted too young for your age; I've always acted too old for mine. It means we meet in the middle." Where Jin's body places him, now, years erased as though they never physically existed.
"You've always been forced to be too old for your age. To take care of Hiromu and Yoko. To take on the responsibilities that no one else could." Jin's hand reaches out, toys with the hair falling around Ryuuji's left ear. "But you're not anymore. You're studying for college. You can go and be and do anything you want."
"And this is one of the things I want." Ryuuji snatches Jin's hand out of the air, holds it in a firm grip. "If it's something you want..."
"I've enjoyed flirting for the last few weeks." Jin's expression is pensive for several seconds. Then he smiles again, giving a brief, honest laugh. "You might regret deciding to do this, you know. I'm told I'm not the easiest man in the world to get along with."
"Good thing I am then, huh?" Ryuuji returns Jin's smile.
"Hold on to that thought. And tell me where you got your notebook." Jin slides closer, reaching around Ryuuji to touch the notebook in his back pocket.
Ryuuji takes a deep breath, reminding himself that the room is cool, that he checked the thermostat himself, that this isn't overheating. At least not in the way that he's used to.
Jin's smile widens. "If you're going to be keeping notes on how this goes and what I say, I think I'm going to have to commit my own scientific investigation, too."
Tell me how it feels.
It feels like too much and too little, stealing kisses and touches and glances as they both work at deciding what they're going to do with the rest of their suddenly-available lives.
Tell me how it feels.
It feels like being in college again, Jin laughs, his thumb rubbing circles on Ryuuji's side. It feels like having vistas opened and worlds to travel, in all its terrifying, wonderful glory.
Tell me how it feels.
It feels like it's not quite real, like he's not quite human, like he's not quite like his class-mates. He has seen classified science that they can only dream of. He has faced a being who was not quite human and not quite program and not quite god; they are terrified of failing their next exam.
"Don't worry." Jin punches his shoulder lightly. "They'll grow up. Whether they want to or not, reality will find them. Besides, you really could have put a bit more thought into that last project of yours."
"I was trying to when someone distracted me." Ryuuji grabs Jin, using just enough of his enhanced strength so Jin can't squirm away. "No idea who that could be, huh?"
"Never met someone so foolish in my life." Jin plants a kiss between Ryuuji's eyes, and when Ryuuji's hands loosen dashes away, laughing the whole time.
Tell me how it feels.
It feels like being side-swiped by a car, Jin whispers late at night. It feels like everything is normal, like everything is fine, and then all of a sudden it's not. All of a sudden there is a color that he can't quite name, can't quite remember; a texture that is so familiar and so strange it makes his throat close. It feels like he's playing at being human, and usually he's doing well but sometimes he forgets how it's supposed to go and how do you do that? How do you forget what you are?
"What you are is right here. And even when you weren't human, even when you were trapped in subspace, you were human."
Jin doesn't answer, his hand wrapped around the necklace he now wears above his shirt.
Ryuuji holds him, understanding that sometimes nothing is the best thing that can be said.
Tell me how it feels.
Like drowning. Like drowning but drowning in pleasure, drowning in joy, drowning in power, like he can do anything, tear down anything, and it is the most powerful, terrible feeling in the world.
Jin holds him tight, giving silence, giving time for him to say more.
"You may not have been human. You may have been trapped in subspace. But I..." Ryuuji draws in a deep breath. "I haven't been human since I was thirteen, and I never will be again."
"Depends on what you mean by human." Jin's lips press gently against his neck. "Because you're one of the most human people I know, Ryuuji. Though I understand why you take it with a grain of salt, since one of my other favorite humans was..."
Jin's voice chokes off, and Ryuuji can feel the press of the black rectangle into his back, through both their shirts. Taking Jin's hand, he squeezes it gently. "I agree with you about that."
"Good." He can feel Jin's smile pressed against his shoulder. "Then that means you'll have to agree you're still human, too."
Ryuuji decides not to argue, instead reveling in the feel of Jin's fingers across his abdomen, the warmth of Jin's lips on his neck.
Sometimes what he is doesn't frighten him, and it never frightens Jin, and that will have to be good enough.
"Do you want to come to my place?"
Ryuuji freezes, his drink half-way to his mouth.
Jin laughs, a constrained giggle that quickly degenerates into full-bodied mirth. "Wow, if I knew that was all it took to shut you down, I would have tried it a lot sooner."
Carefully setting his drink down on a table, Ryuuji studies Jin. "Are you really asking me this here? At the Center's Christmas party?"
"Yes." Jin's flat response is totally unapologetic. "The majority of our courtship has been carried out here. Why should this be any different?"
"Because..." Ryuuji hesitates, finding that there isn't really a good response. "Hiromu and Yoko are here."
Jin just laughs again. "How often has Yoko stolen your notebook now?"
"Just twice!" Ryuuji finds his face heating again. After the second time, he had become much more careful about where he left it. "And she stole yours once, too."
"Yep. Instantly regretted that one."
Shaking his head, Ryuuji decides to let the argument go. "You... really want me to come over? Tonight?"
"'Tis the season to be with friends and family and all." Jin swirls his own drink in its glass. "If you want to, if you're willing, I'd be happy to have you."
"Hiromu and Yoko are supposed to come over to my place tomorrow." Ryuuji hesitates. "Christmas... well. You know what it is for us."
"I do." Jin takes a deep drink. "It's not exactly meaningless to me, too."
No. Of course it isn't. Ryuuji can feel his face burning as he realizes how inconsiderate that sounded. It's just so... strange, having someone else who understands how important and complicated this day is for them.
"They'd be welcome to come to my place, too." Jin shrugs. "I even have a tree."
"Let me talk to them." Ryuuji reaches out, takes Jin's hand and squeezes it. "Whether they like that idea or not, I'll be there tonight."
Jin grins, downing the rest of his drink.
Ryuuji heads back into the press of people, looking for his war-siblings.
He hopes they won't be too upset about the change in plans.
The tree is beautiful.
Ryuuji wouldn't have expected it, given what he knows of Jin. And the tree is still very much Jin, a mish-mash of different decorations that somehow comes together into one sparkling whole.
Except for the part that doesn't sparkle.
Except for the five black rectangular pieces of wood that encircle the top of the tree, threaded on a silver piece of garland.
One for each of them.
And a shining silver warrior to top the tree.
Yoko's weight is a warm press against his knees. Hiromu is sitting on his right side, his leg captured by Yoko.
And Jin sits on Ryuuji's left, his feet up on the sofa, his knees drawn to his chest, his body a warm, solid presence that Ryuuji happily rests against.
It's different from previous Christmas celebrations. It's both brighter and sadder—brighter because they have succeeded, sadder because the cost was more than Ryuuji ever wanted it to be.
"To Christmas." Jin raises his glass in a soft toast, his eyes focused on the tree. "To humanity, and all that it can be."
"To Christmas." Hiromu reaches over to clink his glass against Jin's.
"To Christmas." Yoko hastily picks up her glass, casting a pouting look at the wine in Jin's.
"To Christmas." Ryuuji clinks his glass against their collected ones. "To the Go-Busters, all that we've been and all that we'll become."
They drink, and then settle back once more, into quiet camaraderie, most eyes fixed on the tree.
Ryuuji glances at Jin out of the corner of his eye.
Jin doesn't move his eyes from the top of the tree, but he reaches out to grasp Ryuuji's hand, giving it a brief squeeze.
Between the contact and the toasts, Ryuuji doesn't have to ask Jin to tell him how he feels.
He knows, and in the knowing is peace enough to last another year.