It's a bit belated because of excessive build-up of schoolwork, but this chapter is dedicated to Nariko-san, who always prompts me when I forget to post, and Karyx-san, because reviewing three chapters in a row DOESN'T make you look like a dork, it makes me very happy, and it also helps me feel like I'm NOT just posting this fic so that I feel like I'm doing something productive. ^_^ Everyone who has reviewed, thank you very very much! I almost believe that people actually READ this fic now, and I'm not just posting it for my own ease of mind.

In addition to all the warnings and disclaimers listed on the first chapter, which naturally apply to all the intervening chapters, I'm slapping on a disclaimer about triteness in this one. ^_^ Just in case. At any rate, everyone who can see straight knows who's coming in this chapter, so the opening isn't going to be much of a surprise to you. Read and find out what/where/why/how!

where it's another world
by Kay Willow


Azuma Hijikata was not native to the province of Rashville, as all the beggarfolk of the Theatre district knew. He was originally from the barbarian lands far to the East, and he had been a tradesman traveling with his apprentice to seek his fortune in foreign places. Unfortunately for him, he had wound up in the Theatre, where nothing was prized except gold, and Azuma had had little enough of that even before he had opted to live abroad.

Within only a matter of weeks, however, Azuma had gathered together the various assorted bums and thieves and poor folk of the Theatre and organized them as a single unit. Somehow he had managed to acquire influence, and with his skill at management, the poor were gaining enough money for each of them to eat real food for one meal each day, sometimes twice a day. Azuma established a council rule for the underground civilization of the beggarfolk, and now five years after his arrival in Rashville, he had launched the grandest plan of all: the plan to take a nobody from the streets and use him to take a sort of karmic revenge upon those who had scorned the poor who had done nothing save for the sin of being born to the lower classes.

Azuma had not forgotten his apprentice, however; the boy Rei Enna had been like a son to Azuma since the death of his parents had left him in Azuma's care. When it became more convenient to live in a foreign country, it was never a question that Rei would accompany him -- when he chose to settle down in the Theatre, it was never a question that Rei would do the same. The boy Rei became Zero, who helped the beggarfolk the only way he knew how.

It was Zero who taught the poor to defend themselves; he was accomplished in nine different forms of martial arts, and experienced with twenty-two different kinds of Eastern weapons and thirteen different kinds of Western weapons. No one knew how he had acquired knowledge of all these things, not even Azuma, who refused to speak of the manner in which Rei had come into his care.

It was, naturally, Zero who Azuma thought of when he needed someone to play "bodyguard".

Erts thought about all of those things while he practiced the martial arts that he had been taught, moving through his katas with the ease of one who has internalized them long ago. He was out behind Lotte's, barefoot on the grass; the backyard was a small haven of perfectly-landscaped nature which he proudly professed that Reme had designed, for those few guests who enjoyed a little green in between excursions into the endless grays of the city. The rich soil felt good under his feet, and the grass was healthy enough to bounce back easily once his weight was gone.

So he practiced his katas, to clear his mind, and hopefully, he would not be so foolish as to forget himself the next time he made a fool out of Hiead Gner.

There WILL be a next time.>

Because he was attuned and alert, he easily picked up the presence approaching him. When near-silent footsteps quickened into even more quiet running, Erts waited until he sensed that his assailant was ready to pounce, and then threw himself into a tumble to one side.

He had barely somersaulted gracefully back to his feet when the next attack came, a quick blow aimed for his neck that he bent backwards to avoid -- he was still terribly sensitive where Hiead had strangled him -- and, with hands on the ground as support, kicked out in a counterattack that he knew wouldn't connect even though it really should have.

As he expected, Zero managed to twist himself impossibly to avoid it. "Nicely done," the older boy said approvingly as Erts flipped himself back upright, wincing as a muscle in his back protested. "That would've hit anyone else."

"I know," Erts began, preparing to go on to say that a simple 'hello' would suffice in greeting every once and a while, but Zero had already renewed the attack.

He blocked and dodged lightning-quick blows, occasionally finding the space to retaliate but never so much as making grazing contact. At first it was nothing different than usual, but Erts soon began to notice that Zero was aiming an inordinate number of blows at his neck -- if a single one of those landed, Erts would be back in bed for a week.

As if hearing the thought, Zero suddenly paused mid-attack, and looked irritated. "I could've taken you out, you know," he pointed out, shifting the fist that had been heading for Erts' throat, barely caught. "Your focus is too narrow." He waved his free hand.

"Give the crippled a little leeway," the blond murmured, sinking to his knees in the soft turf. He was breathing hard from the adrenaline, covered in sweat; Zero was not terribly winded, but he was also gleaming with a light sheen of perspiration.

"You're not crippled, you're just too lazy to do real exercise." The taller boy began rolling down his long sleeves, and then caught Erts' eyes.

A quick breath escaped Erts, totally unrelated to his exertions of a moment before, and all it took was a heartbeat before he had launched himself back to his feet and then they were kissing feverishly. The rest of the world was chased away for that one brief moment: without any attachments at all, it was just the pair of them, Zero and Erts, and neither had to be anyone other than themselves at the insistence of others.

"I missed you," Zero murmured into Erts' hair when they separated, and Erts basked in that for a moment before kissing him again.


I know it's trite. :P It's okay, I don't mind. It doesn't hurt the story any, and Erts needed some humanizing influence, and....


Right, so, here it is.