“I won’t leave this place without you, I swear.”
Homura says it first, draped idly over his throne, looking at them both; the level, soul-searching gaze they think is his attempt to be sincere and heart-wrenching all at once. It is neither, but they say nothing. They’ve come too far now. There’s no turning back, not from Homura and his mad project, not from anything they’ve done since they jumped on the rollercoaster that will take them to the end of existence. Homura means he won’t leave this world, of course – he wants them to join his in his new-built heaven and earth. But it means something more to them. A terrible foreboding that fills them both with dread. Does Homura feel it? His blue and gold itan eyes reveal no secrets.
When he’s gone into his inner room – the sanctuary where the beginning of the end is destined to take place – Zenon crosses to Shien and pulls his roughly towards him.
“I’m not leaving this place without you, either – God, I won’t…won’t leave-”
His voice breaks and Shien, eyes tightly shut, presses their foreheads together and whispers,
“I won’t leave without you.”
They are silent, now. Ready for battle, weapons in hand; like twin sentinels before the door to Homura’s inner room, where he prepares himself for- what? Does he think of it as the final battle? Does he foresee the battle between himself and the itan child? Zenon idly wonders if they will get to the new world after all. He has a great fear that it will be no better, no less ugly, than the old world. Zenon doesn’t think that anywhere with people in it – gods, humans and youkai alike – can ever be anything less than filthy and hateful. He longs for a world without these things – the three of them, drawn together in a Heaven which is without goodness or mercy; they have had too much harshness. He doesn’t want to look at Shien, and see what it seems almost inevitable he must lose. Everything pure and sweet, everything he has poured untainted love upon in his life has been torn away from him, and he isn’t sure he can bear it another time. Surely a heart can only break so much? But he knows that this time will be far worse, like the first and last times rolled into one, with added pain because it has been far sweeter than the others.
“Shien, I- I won’t. I can’t – not you, not you, dammit-“
“Don’t,” Shien says gently and silences him, closing the void between them that feels like a gorge a mile wide even though they’re almost touching. His presence is all Zenon needs; he crushes him close, holding hard enough to bruise.
Silence, as they listen to each others’ heartbeats and the cries of the crows circling in the sky above them. When they look away, after what seems like a tiny eternity, Zenon is thankful that whatever happens to him, he will have been lucky enough to feel Shien’s touch, and his breath and the ghost of his voice in this bleak morning where souls are lost and won.
The sounds of the Sanzo party arriving cut through the silence, and Shien knows that this, then, is the end. It’s come upon them far too quickly, a sudden jarring in the atmosphere that disturbs the stillness of this last moment. It should be solemn, austere; words unsaid and thoughts unspoken flying between him and Zenon for these last minutes. The worst of it is that they can’t say goodbye, can’t admit that there will be no more. Shien’s never thought he deserved Zenon. He supposes that he’s saved him. He supposes that in a way, they’ve saved each other. All his guilt, all his constant reliving of events – all that he owes to Nataku and will never be able to repay – all that is swept aside in an instant as he realises that any final goodbyes they could have said, him and Zenon – they wouldn’t be enough.
It’s a funny thing, Shien thinks. However ready you are to die, you’re always left wanting that little bit more of life when the moment actually catches you.
Here it is, then. Zenon sees it hurtling towards them as definite as fate and as certain as a bullet to the head. Broken again, one two three, this short time leaving them in three easy steps.
Shien steps towards Hakkai, his sweet smile almost contented before he glances to Zenon one last time. He doesn’t need to open his eyes. He holds it, then looks away and reaches up to his hair. It’s a little shock in Zenon’s stomach, a fluttering like a ridiculous travesty of first love, realising that that was the last time. That Shien’s gaze, with open or closed eyes, will never light upon him again. He almost stops it then, this whole fiasco, where people you love have to fight and die. He wants to throw himself into the path and tear Shien out of reach and keep him in safety for ever and ever and-
There’s Shien’s hair, released in a torrent of sea green and memories, and Zenon wants to wrap himself in it, press himself into the tresses and inhale their scent. He can imagine it now, filling his senses in those long quiet afternoons and silent nights and desperate mornings.
And it starts, and he can almost hear Shien’s voice in his head telling him to look away, to blind himself to what is going to happen here. But he won’t look away. He wouldn’t look away if his eyes – his good eye, anyway – had been torn out.
He can’t help feeling, hysterically, as he sees Shien and Hakkai grapple in an explosion of coloured light, and Shien’s wrecked body fall in a slow-motion arc towards the ground and lie there like a crumpled ragdoll – that this, all of this – is stupid.
Regret. Regret and anger that their circumstances mean he can’t kneel down and scoop up Shien’s body and will a life back into it, but has to stand and face Gojyo with no expression, nothing to let on that there is nothing worth staying alive for, not any more. As he shoulders his machine gun, he looks at Shien’s small troubled face in a pool of his own hair and blood, and grits his teeth.
“I won’t leave without you, Shien,” he promises himself. “I’m coming with you.”
An hour and a year and forever away, Homura lies fading in his perfect construct, the world only he made it to in the end; sealed away from all the things he hated, but, too late he realises, all the things he ever loved. The green of the grass and the sweet scent of the flowers are only made bitter, their very presence taunting what is absent – the faultless creation an exploration of what is not there. He slips away from consciousness, the wind-rustled grass growing louder and louder.
“Konzen,” he murmurs with his last gasp of breath. “Konzen.”
“I won’t leave without you.”