Red is the Color of You
Over the weeks Izumi steadily became more and more comfortable with visiting Wraith’s home, whether he was present or not. At first it was a matter of testing if the bloodstone around his neck would really take him there instantly and unsurprisingly it did. Strangely enough, none of Wraith’s followers really questioned whether he was human or not, and whether that was because of the necklace masking his scent or because they didn’t want to question their boss’s lover and essentially Wraith himself or both, Izumi wasn’t sure and he didn’t want to bring it up to Dahlia and the rest either. All of Wraith’s followers treated Izumi with respect along with a warm and friendly welcome and to him that was enough. It was rare to see Wraith home with his generals, since if Wraith wasn’t taking out invasive spirits alone then it was usually them doing it in his name. More often though did Wraith take matters into his own hands, leaving Izumi to converse with them more frequently. This gave him the opportunity to see where they reside in the massive estate as well as the rest of the land, as before he had really only known Wraith’s room. For obvious reasons, the dining hall was off limits for Izumi, but everywhere else he was free to roam although not on his own, not that the generals would leave him by himself anyways. Considering how enormous it was, however, he decided not to investigate the entirety of the manor and left it to the only rooms that were really important.
Neio’s room was pretty predictable. It consisted of plenty of different types of weights, exercise equipment that clearly wasn’t for the average person, dummies that were torn to pieces and few really still intact, an extensive liquor collection and bar to match, as well as any supplies one can name for the culinary arts. Otherwise, the room seemed like the average room of a middle class citizen.
Dahlia’s room was more plain than one would really expect, only containing a bed, a wall of books, and a coffee table with surrounding couches. The only thing that really stuck out was a fireplace which was by a single recliner. Theirs was overall stylized in a more medieval fashion however.
And finally, Faelan’s bedroom was incredibly dark and wasn’t too different from the cave he was already living in before. Rather than electric lighting, the room was lit by small yet surprisingly bright glow bugs, maybe by some feat of magic. Grass replaced the flooring and the walls were adorned by bushes, vines, and miniature trees. The entire bedroom gave off a small hidden fantasy garden, which strangely actually had furniture. Faelan noted that the only reason it was included was due to both Neio’s and Wraith’s complaints about sitting on the grass every time they stopped by, so two cushioned couches were implemented.
All of the rooms were quite large in comparison to an everyday bedroom, though none met the size of Wraith’s, which was to be expected. Yet of all the general’s rooms, Izumi found comfort in Faelan’s the most and thus spent the most time there if Wraith wasn’t around. Naturally, they stayed with him as well.
Usually Izumi didn’t eat much other than the forced snack Neio would provide since he always reserved dinner time for his mother, so instead Neio forced drinks into his hands in his attempt at hospitality, but really it was for Neio to try out his culinary expertise.
While taste testing a drink for Neio, Izumi conversed with the group. “Neio always jokes about you stealing his job but aren’t you a general already Faelan?”
“Hah! He wishes he was!” Neio scoffed loudly as he scarfed down a glass of his usual liquor.
Ignoring Neio, Faelan answered, “No, I’m not. Not officially anyways, but I help them with what Wraith asks because I want to.”
“Wraith doesn’t ask you to go with them?”
“Not directly no. At first I thought he did, since once it seemed like he implied he wanted me to go with them, but when I had asked him on a separate occasion he told me I could do whatever I wanted, whether stay or go. And…I’d like to help them as much as I can. Wraith gave me a home when he didn’t have to offer me kindness in the slightest, considering the trouble I have given him in the past. I want to prove myself to him and show that he didn’t waste his energy on me.”
“But you don’t have to, Wraith said you could do nothing and he’d still be glad he made the choice to have you.”
Adopting a less boisterous tone for once, Neio put down his glass and interjected, “I’m not sure if it’s something you’ll understand, little boss, and I mean that respectfully. All of us here in this manor, Dahlia and I included, were lent a hand by him when no one else would so much as spit in our direction and he wanted nothing in return. We all do whatever he asks as a means of showing gratitude, and even going beyond and just seeking his approval in voluntary actions. Kind of like when you wanna impress your parents, you know? They didn’t ask or expect you to clean the house or make them breakfast in bed but you wanna make ‘em proud ‘n happy. Same thing. Except we’re just putting our lives on the line instead, but he’s done the same for us and is still doing so. Gets shit from everyone all the time, you know the deal.”
Both Faelan and Dahlia nod as Neio speaks, affirming his statement.
“As much as I hate to agree with Neio, he’s right.” Faelan adds. “It’s just something I want to do to repay him. Whether he rewards me or not is no concern of mine let alone the fact that it is not something I am after, I just want to be of use to him somehow.”
Finally speaking, Dahlia concludes their collective thoughts on the matter, “For as long as he’ll lead, we’ll follow.”
The concept of a deathly loyal group wasn’t something foreign to Izumi, he’s always seen it in shows or movies, but to experience such before him felt entirely different and almost inspiring. It gave him a greater appreciation for Wraith’s actions and made him question even more why Wraith seems to hate himself so much. He never could understand why Wraith always believed himself to be deserving of the animosity that he constantly receives from those outside of his followers, and the looming question plagued Izumi’s mind still.
The pair spent less physical time together, with Wraith getting busier with otherworldly affairs, and their time reduced to texts that would receive responses with hours in gaps, usually wildly late in the night or early in the morning. Eventually, Izumi decided to just wait in Wraith’s room around the usual time that he seemed to supposedly come home in the hopes of seeing him, which turned out to be for better or for worse. It was sometime near four or five in the morning and Izumi was right about to fall asleep when a sudden tap of slow but heavy footsteps echoed in the once deafeningly quiet room. Sitting up from the couch and rubbing his eyes, Izumi tried to force himself awake. Wraith was in a form that Izumi had only seen briefly one other time before, which was in the bath some time ago. His hair was a long red with a pair of canine-like ears adorned atop, mostly deep black skin save for his face and the front of his torso, his usual talons, noticeably larger figure overall, and a spiked tail which could coil around a person several times and still have plenty of feet in length left over. The appearance was almost enough to hide the smears of blood that dripped from his body onto the cold marble floor beneath.
Through his exhaustion, Wraith drew a look of almost petrification upon eye contact. “...Izumi?”
“H-hey, I decided to surprise you by showing up randomly, so um…surprise!...?”
His brows grew into a knit as he looked away shamefully. As he pulled his weight across the room, he shifted into his everyday human form and his lengthy crimson robe reemerged over his shoulders, its weary droop reflecting the fatigue of its owner. “Well, I’m surprised alright.” Wraith weakly joked as he sat across, leaning his elbows against his knees with his head somewhat hanging low. “....I’ll just be honest, I hate for you to see me like this.”
“You know that I’ve seen you kill people right? Viciously.”
“I get that. But that’s not the side of me I want you to get used to, nor is it something I intend to do for much longer. I honestly just want to be done with this whole thing already.”
“All this specter spirit bullshit! I just fucking can’t–do you know how annoying it is that so many fucking people come barging in thinking I’ve gone soft or something and just run to their deaths and the only way they fucking learn is if their head is smeared into the pavement and their heart stops. I’ve never hated anything more than the fucking stubbornness of our race and I hate it even more now. I don’t care if they think I’m a nice lovey dovey guy now, I care that they’re fucking picking a fight with me because of it. I thought it was getting better but it honestly feels like it’s getting worse. At this point I just feel like letting it all fall into the grave and just let them run wild but then my followers won’t have a safe place to go about their business and then I’ll hear it from the other specters oh you’re not doing your job and you’re ruining the balance when I already know they’re gonna tell me I’m already ‘ruining the balance’ by killing off so many spirits but what do you want me to do?! I’m trying to do the only solution that I know but no matter what I do it just makes more fucking problems.”
Taking in a deep breath, Wraith takes a long exhale to help calm himself, and unexpectedly, a warm hand held his own, blood and all. For once, Wraith didn’t even notice when Izumi came beside him.
“Wraith, no matter what you or anyone does you can’t fix everything yourself, let alone make everyone happy. And you of all people aren’t as alone as you think you are, you have Dahlia, Neio, Faelan, Lavina, and your other followers who’d do anything for you. And, I’ll always be here for you too. Even if we can’t spend much time together anymore, I’ll still be here.”
“I…” Wraith stopped. Rather than speaking, he took the time to absorb Izumi’s heartfelt words before finally responding. “Thank you. I honestly should remember that more often, but…”
“I know, it’s hard since you’re the one they look up to. But you’re trying your best and they see that and appreciate that more than you know. Just know that you can lean on them from time to time.”
“Yea…yea.” He sighs, most of his overwhelming stress leaving with it. “Still–”
Knowing what Wraith is going to say, Izumi interrupts his anxieties, “Still nothing, blood on your clothes or what have you doesn’t bother me.”
Finally accepting Izumi’s comfort, Wraith stopped and relaxed. “Alright, alright. At least let me clean myself up first, as hot as you think it is.”
“That’s not what I said–”
“Yea, sure.” Playfully pinching Izumi’s nose, Wraith stood from the couch and left to shower.
In the meantime, Izumi wiped the blood from his hand, and now nose, and waited. It surprisingly didn’t take long for Wraith to come back, who threw the red robes into Izumi’s arms.
“You can sleep in it if you want.”
“Sounds like you’re asking me to.”
As Izumi shook his head affectionately, he got ready for bed by taking off his sweater and pants before Wraith threw one of his shirts at him.
“Please don’t wear my robe with just your underwear on.”
“Why? Can’t contain yourself?” Izumi flirtatiously teased.
“Yes and no, just…don’t.”
“Ok no really now, why? I did it once before.”
“First and last time you’ll ever do it and we were having sex that’s different.”
“How?! Now I’m really confused.”
“Look, I don’t know how to explain it, like…nevermind. Just don’t ok?”
“Does this have to do with your robe? You know, I’ve been meaning to ask, no one seems to know anything about it no matter who I ask. Neio is convinced it gives you superpowers while Dahlia and Faelan just think it’s for aesthetics and Lavina doesn’t seem to care. So?”
Wraith lit a cigarette and sank into the bed, letting the comfort of its cushioning and a good smoke take over him. “I said no comment.”
Izumi laid beside him, trying to ask in the sweetest tone possible. “Will you tell me someday?”
Charm was immediately not working its usual magic, and from that Izumi could tell that Wraith wouldn’t budge.
“Like when it happens.”
“When I tell you. It happens when it happens.”
“So why not tell me now.”
“I don’t really feel like it.”
“That seems like such a scapegoat.”
“Honestly honestly I don’t and it’s not. Here, you want to know something about me that no one else knows?”
“I’m all ears~” The ever-intrigued Izumi smiled.
“I mentioned to you that no one knows how to kill me and they think I’m immortal, which I said wasn’t true and I wasn’t lying. So, can you take a guess about how someone can kill me?”
“Not a stake to the heart I assume?”
“Pfft no, but it might as well be that simple. Someone who doesn’t know my real appearance can never kill me, in easier to understand terms, you could kill me by any normal ways, but it has to be in my actual form.”
“Really? That’s it?”
“Yep. Told you it wouldn’t be all that crazy, because you see, the reason why it hasn’t worked before is because there’ll always be an essential piece of my body left that I can just regenerate from.”
“Did you split your heart in half or…?”
“Something like that you could say. And now, you know how to kill me. Don’t go selling that information, yea?”
“Then don’t make me upset.”
“Hah, I’ll try not to.”
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