Updated: Feb 28
*Winner of Animeforwomen's Fanfiction Contest 2023. Congratulations to author Anj V.!*
The Mornings After
by Anj V.
It’s 5 am. It must be, because there’s just enough light piercing Himeno’s one good eyelid to force her awake, but not enough to set off a raging hangover headache. Well, not yet anyway. Eye still closed, Himeno slowly becomes aware of someone else's limbs entwined with her own, holding her down like dead weight. With a groan, she extracts herself from under the unfamiliar man – did she ever even know his name? – and for a brief moment can’t remember if she went home with him or dragged him back to her place. But then she recognizes the familiar round window by her bed, just barely illuminating the decidedly unfamiliar man beside her, and is sullenly forced to contemplate how best to get rid of both him and the impending hangover.
She hates the mornings after. In the dark, with beer flowing and a whole world of men to choose from, the nights feel filled with endless possibilities. There’s always more to take in- more booze, more food, more attention, more warmth, more passion- and choosing to take all of it makes her feel like she’s flying. But in the light of day she is always forced to confront the truth of her actions- that she was never flying, just running straight into a brick wall. There is only so much food and alcohol her body can take. There are only so many funds in her bank account. There is only so much warmth to be had from the men in her bed. As with everything else in her life, her choices have no future.
Other people might describe this feeling as “empty”, but not Himeno. She learned long ago that the world is a greedy place that will always try to take things from you- your happiness, your peace, your security. This goes double for Devil Hunters, who are forced to give up their body parts, their partners, and eventually, almost certainly, their lives. So Himeno decided long ago that if the world was going to conspire to take things from her, she’d take just as much back. She’d stockpile vices and pleasures and experiences and be so full of a million small things she loves that when the world took anything from her, she’d still never be left empty. However, on mornings like this, as she lays in bed in nothing but cheap underwear with a stranger’s snores fueling a growing headache, she feels as if she has wrung the world dry of good things and there’s nothing more she could possibly want to take from it.
And so she goes to the only person left who makes her want to give instead of take.
She goes to Aki.
Himeno lingers only long enough to throw on the discarded suit crumpled at the foot of the bed and swipe a 6-pack from her fridge before escaping her own apartment. By the time she pounds on Aki’s door less than 10 minutes have passed, but she finds herself already starting in on the third can. The world looks soft at the edges and her headache has faded to pleasant dizziness- she even forgets for a moment that she’s running from last night's consequences and just looks forward to basking in Aki’s calm presence.
Aki opens the door faster than she would have expected, looking tired but not freshly awoken, and reeking of cigarettes. His bleary gaze sweeps her rumpled appearance as she finishes a deep draught from the can. “Himeno-senpai?” he asks, sounding only slightly confused at her unannounced arrival, “Are you just getting in for the night? Why are you at my place?”
Himeno pushes past him into the apartment and haphazardly discards her remaining beers on a table as he shuts the door behind her. Ignoring his first question, she casually closes the distance between them, leaning in close enough to feel his breath on her face before replying with a whine, “Aki-kuuuuun, you gotta give me some cigarettes. I left my last pack with you, remember?” Aki raises an eyebrow and asks, “Why can’t you just go buy more?” to which Himeno sighs and tips forward even further, letting her head drop heavily onto his shoulder.
“My wallet is at home, but I have some unwanted company.” “Pests?”
“Hmmm, of a sort. I’ll go back when they’re gone.”
“....Himeno-senpai, did you leave a stranger alone in your place?”
At his chastising, Himeno buries her face into his neck and slides her arms around his waist, mumbling petulantly, “It’s not like I have anything of value there anyway.”
As always, Aki passively receives her physical affection with a calm readiness. His only response is to rest his hands lightly on her hips- neither pushing her away nor pulling her in closer, just stabilizing both of them as he accepts anything she wishes to give. Perhaps he can sense the unease or discontent in her tonight, because rather than nag further, he just sighs in exasperation and tilts his head so it rests ever-so-gently against hers.
An intense surge of fondness rushes through Himeno at his action and she feels an uncontrollable urge to crush him with affection. Her arms tighten reflexively around him, but it’s not enough to satisfy the whim that’s taken hold of her. She sweeps her hands up his back, and it feels so good to touch him that for just a second it makes her want to cry. She digs the tips of her fingers into the smooth planes of muscle across his shoulders, hard enough that it probably hurts a little, but Aki doesn’t say a word. Under her hands, he feels so solid, so strong, so dependable.
“You’ve been working out more, I can tell. Good, I’ll worry about you less in a fight. Keep it up.”
“Himeno-senpai, it’s 5am. Look, I don’t have any cigarettes for you. I couldn’t sleep and I just finished the last one.”
“Whaaaa?” Himeno slurs with (mostly) feigned outrage as she lifts her head off his shoulder and attempts to glare at him. Unfortunately for her, looking directly into his face instantly melts her faux rage, leaving her staring into his eyes with an intensity that would surely frighten any other man. Aki, however, just gazes directly back. The surge of fondness rears its head again, and before she can think about her actions she finds herself reaching for his face and pulling him down to her. She kisses him hard, bruisingly hard, and his lips part in surprise and shock. She takes advantage of this to sweep her tongue confidently into his mouth, memorizing the contours of his teeth and the velvet feel of his tongue against her own. When she pulls back, a barrage of emotions chase themselves across Aki’s face, too fast for Himeno to differentiate. “Senpai….” He finally utters in a low tone, somehow managing to sound aggrieved, breathless, and uncertain all at the same time.
“If you just finished the last cigarette, the least you can do is give me a taste of it,” Himeno explains, but she swings her gaze away as she says it because she knows it's a lie- Aki doesn’t taste like cigarettes. He tastes clean and comforting and familiar. He tastes like peace. He tastes like home.
Aki’s hands tighten on her hips as he gazes down at her. He doesn’t say a word and his usually stoic expression is firmly back in place, but something burns behind his eyes that wasn’t there before. Finally, he looks away and begins gently tugging her deeper into the apartment. “Just come to bed already,” he says, without meeting her eye.
Himeno’s heart skips multiple beats and her tipsy mind can’t seem to process what’s happening as Aki slips off her suit jacket and then her shoes for her. For some reason, all she can think about is how she’s still wearing that same cheap underwear that some other man had seen and touched just hours ago. As Aki gently tips her into bed, she desperately tries to remember how she would respond with another partner – she knows this, knows how it feels to desire and take intimacy – but she draws a complete blank. She doesn’t know how to take from Aki and she’s not sure she’s willing to try, even if he is freely giving.
While Himeno struggles through her internal crisis, Aki quietly settles into the bed beside her and closes his eyes. One outstretched arm is under her head and he’s laying on his side facing her, open and inviting, but he makes no move to close the significant space between them. After several seconds, Himeno realizes Aki really is just trying to sleep. She fights down a bout of mildly hysterical laughter before closing the distance herself, wrapping her arms around his head and drawing him down to settle against her chest, against her heart.
Himeno spends most of her time trying very hard not to dream of a future– the most certain things in her life were often unpleasant and most good things were often short-lived. However, as she lay there with Aki slowly falling asleep to the sound of her heartbeat, she knew that all her hopes of a future had already settled on him– on this precious boy who refused to ask anything of her and who unquestioningly accepted all of her that she was willing to offer. She vowed then and there that he was the one thing she would not allow the world to take from her, that her future began and ended with him, that she would eventually give all of herself to him and continue doing so, until the end of her days.