Title: Humanity
Authors: Kristen Sharpe and Sage SK
Date Started: March 7, 2016 Date Finished: April 3, 2016
Rating: K+
Warnings: Violence
Continuity: Mangaverse - canon divergence after chapter 77
Disclaimer: "Ao no Exorcist/Blue Exorcist" belongs to Kazue Katou, Shueisha, A-1 Pictures, Aniplex, and various other parties.

Author's Note: Sometime after reading Chapter 77, Sage and I started tossing dialogue back and forth. It went to some interesting places, so I cleaned it up and made it into this fic.

Almost an hour after Hachiro had finally succumbed to Rin's flames, Shura was sprawled across her futon in an exhausted heap. Eyeing her as he carefully cleaned and dried his guns, Yukio wondered what lasting effects the years under Hachiro's contract would have. Given Hachiro's obsession with his "Tatsuko" remaining young and vital, he probably wouldn't have significantly drained Shura's life force until he had a replacement on hand. But, getting their hopes up would be unwise.

Not that there was any point in telling Rin that. He glanced toward his brother.

Rin's mouth was open, his face twisted in an expression of exaggerated disgust. He'd spent half the trip back to the inn like that, spitting and gagging and complaining loudly about the nutrient pellet Yukio had shot into his mouth. Sensing eyes on him, Rin looked up and glared.

"You've been waiting to do that," he accused.

Silence his brother's pointless, obnoxious shouting? Yes.

"I can't lie about that, Brother," said Yukio. There was no sense in lying about it. Not anymore.

"My own brother!" Rin collapsed in a melodramatic heap. "Demon!"

Assured everything was dry and clean, Yukio reached to holster his handguns. "The nutrient pellets didn't even hurt you."

He was becoming increasingly uncertain if even live ammunition would hurt Rin. He had seen it in the instants when he shot his brother in the face. Seen flesh steam into pure flame. He wondered how long it would be before his began to do the same. Already, he couldn't feel the gashes on his chest Hachiro had made only hours ago.

"That's not the point!" Rin was wailing. "Who thinks it's okay to shoot their own brother in the face?"

Who indeed. Rin might be physically more demon than human, more fire than flesh. But, his reckless selflessness was counter to every pleasure-driven demon impulse. Rin would have offered himself in exchange for Shura with no intention or desire for personal gain.

And, Rin would have failed.

"No one normal does," Yukio answered softly, looking down at his weapons harness.

Yes. His plan had succeeded because he'd correctly deduced what would interest Hachiro. Because he had been able to think like a demon.

"See?" said Rin, sure he had made his point. "And, you're supposed to be the normal one!"

Suddenly cold and calm inside, Yukio looked up and smiled back.

The thin, empty smile that had spread across Yukio's face made Rin's skin crawl. It was even creepier than all that stuff Yukio said to the snake guy. At least he had been pretty sure that was an act.

Before he could say anything, Yukio turned away to watch Shura snore into her blankets. "Brother… I need to talk to you."

"...About what?"

Yukio didn't answer. Instead, he stood and strapped on that huge collection of guns and bullets he kept then reached for his coat. Shrugging it on, he headed to the door.

Grabbing Kurikara, Rin followed him. Maybe Yukio was finally ready to talk. The idiot had been bottling something up for months now, shrugging off or snapping at all Rin's attempts to help. If he just knew what it was, maybe he could finally do something.

Except, given that terrible smile and Yukio's creepy calm response, Rin had a sinking feeling that it wasn't going to be that easy.

Left alone, Shura opened a single amethyst eye.

"Scaredy's finally talkin', huh?" She rolled over. "Good."

Better would have been if she could follow them and eavesdrop. But, between the shock of the severed contract and the wounds she'd sustained in the fight, she honestly wasn't up to it. Scaredy wouldn't want her prowling around anyway.

Scaredy who seemed as healed from the fight as Rin was.

Shura sighed. "I hope Rin's ready for what he's gonna hear."

Yukio crunched through the snow on the road down to the lake. The streets were as deserted as the evening they had arrived. The few sounds of life were muted by the snow. Save the heavy thud and squinch of Rin tromping up behind him. But, his brother was otherwise quiet for once, and they continued on to the shore of Lake Towada in silence.

There, Yukio stopped, staring out across the icy crater lake. Today, it was a white mirror reflecting the sky. As empty as he felt and swirling with snow like the thoughts that were tumbling in his head.

Rin hovered at his shoulder, silent but shuffling in place with nervous energy. His breath steamed heavily in the cold, hinting at the furnace inside him. And, he'd forgotten his coat again. He probably wasn't cold, but Yukio should remind him that people would stare. He might have to remind himself soon.

That in mind, Yukio finally spoke. "I'm not normal." He glanced at Rin for his reaction.

Rin visibly bit back a reflexive retort and accepted Yukio's statement seriously. "What do you mean?"

"What I said back there when we were fighting Hachiro..." Yukio turned to watch the snow's dance over the still water. "Some of it was the truth."

He felt Rin jerk beside him.

"W—what part?"

"About wanting to become stronger," said Yukio. "And... I have been experimenting." He looked Rin full in the face. "Brother... I think..."

"Experimenting with what?" Rin's face was unnaturally pale against the white around them. Drained of its usual color, Yukio could even pick out the faint moles that dotted Rin's nose and chin.

They really weren't that different physically, after all.

"Brother," Yukio began again, wetting his lips, "I have the flames."

Rin stared at his brother open-mouthed. He must have heard wrong. That couldn't— Yukio was human. Yukio was a top student and an exorcist and normal. Everyone liked him and admired him, and he was going to be a doctor. He couldn't be a demon. He couldn't.

Unable to bear the frozen horror on Rin's face, Yukio looked past him to where a pier for boarding tour boats jutted into the water. "It's happened three times now. Once in Kyoto, once at Inari." In his pockets, his hands clenched. "I felt the flames, but anytime I needed them, they wouldn't come out." Fingernails dug into flesh. "Not until the third time when I was experimenting."

Rin slowly closed his mouth and turned to look out at the lake too. After a minute, he spoke. "...I hoped you were normal." His voice was soft and cracking, broken.


"You shot me in the face," said Rin, reaching to touch his face as though he could still feel the sting of the pellets. "It hurt. A little." He dropped his hand. "Mostly, it was just hot. Not the painful kind of hot either. It's always like that lately when I get hurt. Like there's nothing inside but fire."

He'd felt that way ever since Kyoto. Ever since he thought the flames were going to consume him. Maybe they had.

Rin shook his head as though he could shake away the thought. "If you're still—" Human. "Don't try to bring the flames out."

Yukio still looked human. Did that he mean he hadn't broken whatever seal kept him that way? Maybe he still had the chance Rin had given up.

Yukio saw the desperate hope on Rin's face and hated himself for the vicious satisfaction he'd taken in shooting down his brother's naivety earlier.

"They're already coming out, Brother." Blunt facts were as gentle as he could be. He already thought like a demon. There was no use worrying over his human appearance. "I need them to come out." So there would be no more questions, no more doubts. So no one could call him weak again. "I have to learn to control them."

The pleading fell away from Rin's face and in its place was something Yukio didn't recognize. He fidgeted for a minute, shifting from foot to foot. Then, he sucked in a deep breath and let it out in a long stream of steam.

"Do you want me to help?"

No. And, yes. There was no one else to ask. Shura had only guesses. Father had taken his secrets to the grave. The few remaining who knew the secrets of the flames would never give the information for free. Rin at least had experienced the blue flames.

And, that sudden clarity to finally see his brother as a valuable resource was only another weight in his soul. Heavy, Yukio sank down to the snow-covered concrete of the walking path, folding his legs beneath him.

"I'm not sure what you could do, Brother."

It was a weak effort to push Rin away, and he knew it. Especially as Rin plopped down beside him, ignoring the way snow immediately began soaking his pants.

"Give me a minute," he said. And, closed his eyes.

Yukio stared at him. "What are you doing, Brother?"

With his eyes closed and the snow dimming every sound but the two of them breathing, Rin focused on Yukio. He wasn't very good at this sensing stuff, but he could usually tell when there was a demon around. Except he hadn't sensed Yukio. Maybe because Yukio was always there. Like Kuro. Because Yukio felt like… Yukio.

Rin grimaced. Fine. Then, what was it that Yukio felt like?

Seeing there would be no answer to his question, Yukio sighed and stood, dusting the snow off his pants. "Anyway, you needed to know—"

"I said give me a minute." Rin reached up to yank him back down. "I was trying to sense you like I do other demons."

Yukio gave him a dubious look, and Rin huffed.

"It's not like anyone's told me how to use these powers," he said. "I have to figure them out as I go."

Yukio ducked his head, remembering all the times he had told Rin not to use his hellish power. "I understand." He folded his legs and settled back beside his brother. It was cold, but he could bear it for a few more minutes.

Rin grinned. Then, he closed his eyes and focused again on that sense of Yukio.

Demons were always "louder", but he could sense humans too. Which wasn't a power he noised around. Because, while demons felt like "huge presence that way" with the occasional addition of "currently homicidal," humans were nothing but raw emotion washing against his senses.

And, that wasn't a power that had started when he drew Kurikara. He had always known who was happy, who was sad, and who was afraid of him. But, it had grown in the last year, gaining shades he'd never imagined before.

So, if he could pick out all the things he normally felt from Yukio…

Yukio was scared. Nothing new there. Yukio's fear had been one of the first emotions Rin ever felt. Scared and angry. The anger had started later, but it was just as familiar. Yukio had been trying to beat the fear all his life, and Yukio hated losing.

So, scared and angry and grimly determined and jealous and guilty. That was Yukio as Rin had always known him. He had so much going on inside, it was a wonder he didn't explode. But, he never gave up.

Rin thought his little brother was the bravest person he knew.

And, under that familiar typhoon of emotions, he finally found what he was searching for. It was hot and wild and furious, and Rin knew it now as well as he knew Yukio.

Rin opened his eyes and looked at his brother. "Yeah," he said, "I can sense them. Your flames."

Yukio studied his face. "Is there anything you can tell me about them?"

Rin grimaced. Yukio was going to hate this. But, he had to tell him. Because everything that was inside Yukio was what Rin had felt in Kyoto. Chained fury and frustration raging to be released.

"You've got a mess in there," he said finally. "Not the flames. Your emotions."

Yukio gave him a half smile as something in his face closed up. "I've had a lot going on recently."

Rin growled. Yukio was the bravest person he knew and the stupidest.

"You're scared," he said. "And, that makes you mad you can't beat it." He hunched his shoulders. "You're jealous of me too. Mad you don't have... whatever it is you think I have. And, you can't stand things you don't have or can't do. Then, you get all guilty that you're like that."

He glared at Yukio, who was staring at him openmouthed. "It's not like I don't get scared too, you know. And, sometimes, I wish I was half as good at everything as you are." His fist shot out, coming down on the top of his brother's head. "So, it's not just you! And, it's not like I care you're like that! Stop beating yourself up!"

Rin rocked back, ignoring Yukio's hiss of pain. "And, the rest of it…" He gritted his teeth. "You can't be angry like that when you use the flames. Because they'll eat it up and get bigger and bigger until they eat you up." He turned to look out at the lake, realizing that it was getting darker. "That's what it was like when Ucchusma helped me do that thing in Kyoto. For a minute, the flames were burning me up, and I just wanted to let them out and destroy everything."

He heard Yukio suck in a quick breath and took a minute to breathe himself.

"So, just..." Rin balled his hands into fists. "You never let me help you anymore, so be careful, okay?"

For a minute, Yukio was quiet beside him, trying to calm the storm inside. Rin knew. Rin knew and understood. He behaved like a demon and Rin knew it and Rin didn't care.

"Brother..." Yukio stood, ignoring the snow caked on his pants this time. For a minute, he looked down at his brother, jaw working. "Brother. I'm sorry."

Rin stared up at him blankly. "Uh… What for?"

Yukio let out a half-laugh. "For underestimating you."

"You should apologize for that!" Rin bounced up in a spray of snow, all seriousness gone. Or was it just hidden again? "Taking your older brother lightly!"

"I won't do it again." Yukio felt oddly heavy and light all at once.

Rin laughed. "Course you will," he said. "That's just how you are." Seeing Yukio stiffen at his words, Rin punched him lightly on the arm. "You wouldn't be you if you didn't. And, no matter what happens, we're still us."

Rin was holding on to that with everything he had. Maybe he wasn't physically human anymore, but he wouldn't give up who he was.

'We're still us.'

The words echoed in Yukio's head. Was he? Had he always been this way?

"It's hard to remember that sometimes," he forced out for Rin's sake.

"Then, I'll remind you." Rin's smile showed off his large, sharp canines, but his eyes were human, bright and understanding. Rin hadn't changed. Not really.

It gave Yukio the strength to manage a small smile in return.

If possible, Rin's smile grew bigger. And then, dimmed.

"So, your flames..." he started, shifting. "If you're sure, maybe I could draw them out. There's this thing I'd been practicing."

He reached back to uncover Kurikara and press his thumb against the guard. It wasn't enough to release his demon form. Only enough to weaken the seal a fraction and make this possible. Then, holding out his free hand, he reached inward to his own demon heart and gently pushed.

A faint blue glow began to coalesce in his cupped palm.

"That's—!" Yukio's eyes were bright in the growing darkness, reflecting the light of Rin's flames.

"My demon heart," Rin agreed. "Sorta. So, I thought—" He extended the flickering light toward Yukio.

Fire exploded between them. Not Rin's, not blue. This was an angry red fire that blasted Yukio through the air. He landed in a spray of snow, dazed but already struggling to his feet. His right hand reflexively groped for a handgun.

The attack had come from above. He had to find...

His brother was the first thing to come into focus. Rin was at the lake's edge, lying on his side amid dying flames and melted snow. His face was folded into agony.

"Brother!" Yukio threw himself up and across the distance between them to crouch at his brother's side.

"I hope I didn't damage him too badly."

That voice.

Teeth clenched, Yukio looked up. He'd forgotten. Shura came here because she was afraid the Illuminati would be interested in Hachiro's regenerative abilities. And, he and Rin had followed her. He and Rin who were always watched.

Toudo Saburota was perched in the top of a barren tree, stolen phoenix fire blazing in the fast falling twilight.

"Hello again, Mr. Okumura." He smiled as his eyes slid from Yukio to Rin's prone form. "Your brother is too careless," he tsked, "showing his greatest weakness like that."

Rin's weakness. His demon heart. Destroying that would kill any demon.

But, Rin was still shaking with pain, which meant he was alive. Injured, but alive.

Crouched over his brother, Yukio leveled his gun on Toudo.

The ex-exorcist's smile widened. "You know that won't work."

"Do I?" Yukio's eyes narrowed. "I've already seen one immortal die today."

Though only thanks to Rin's flames. And, his own were still locked inside.

"Ah, yes, the immortal I came to find." Toudo studied him with demon-slit eyes. "I saw your little display back there. The chance to contract a hydra must have been very tempting."

"There's nothing tempting about a curse."

Except he had been tempted. How much did Toudo know? What had he heard during the encounter with Hachiro and just now? And, how had they missed him?

Toudo smiled as though reading his thoughts. "You must have so much on your mind today. Maybe that's because even a hydra's power is nothing to someone awakening an even greater power." He held up a hand. "Shall we test it?' Fire raced toward Yukio.

And, exploded into steam as it met the spray of a holy water canister. Shots rang out behind the cloud. Eight in sharp succession. Then, silence. When the steam cleared, Yukio and Rin had vanished behind a wall of concealing water.

"The Naiads' Water Cell again, Mr. Okumura?" Toudo laughed. "So predicta—" He stopped himself and looked closer.

The naiads needed to sustain the cell were nowhere to be seen. At least not outside the glowing whirl of water.

"You reversed the water cell to enclose yourself in a bubble of air?" Toudo's smile widened. "I'm impressed, Mr. Okumura!" He dropped lightly to the ground, eyes bright as he stared at the swirling dome of water. "But, how long will you be able to sustain it?"

Surrounded by glittering water and the encircling naiads, Yukio forced himself to think. Panic and exhaustion clawed at him. His experiments had improved his stamina for summoning, but he wasn't a natural Tamer. Even with the lake's proximity easing the strain, he couldn't hold this for long.

"Brother." He looked down at Rin, still huddled beneath his protective crouch.

Rin's eyes were only thin slits, and his breathing was heavy. "Y'kio... okay...?" he whispered.

"I'm fine," said Yukio. "Are you okay?"

If he could give Rin time to recover, his flames should be able to overcome Toudo's.

There was a loud whump, and the water cell shuddered. Yukio clenched his teeth. Naturally, Toudo had no intention of giving them that time.

"... hurts..." Rin's eyes closed tight in pain. Rin who never admitted that he was in pain. Rin who was fire itself.

Rin could not help. And, there was no time.

Something in Yukio's chest tightened. Rin could not help. He had told himself that before. He had refused Rin's help when it was offered. But, there had never been a time he truly believed his big brother could not save him. Not even when he thought Rin was imprisoned and he was alone about to die at Toudo's hands in Kyoto.


Rin's eyes snapped open, glowing with a light of their own. His teeth ground together as he forced his right arm up.

"Brother," Yukio started, "don't try to move. You should—"

There was a fluttery ball of blue flame in Rin's hand. A ball of flame he pressed into Yukio's chest.

The world went blue.

Yukio's eyes widened and then his pupils narrowed into thin, vertical slits.

Rin smirked. "Kick his butt, little brother."

Yukio looked down at him with demon-bright eyes and nodded. "Stay safe."

Then, he stood, feeling oddly light and light-headed. It was so warm inside.

Another whump and another. Toudo must have been getting bored.

Checking his handguns quickly, Yukio looked to the naiads. They tilted their heads toward him, faces set in knowing smiles. One giggled. Breathing his thanks, Yukio dismissed them.

The naiads faded away, and the swirling water stilled and pattered to the ground. Outside the former protective circle, Toudo was waiting.

"So, have you thought up some plan to defeat me?" he asked. "Or could you not support the summon any longer?"

Head bowed, Yukio snorted softly. "You expect me to tell you?"

Then, he was in motion. He fired two shots into Toudo's eyes and another into his chest before breaking into a run. Snow dragging at his steps, he ran a wide arc around his blinded opponent and took aim. His fourth shot went squarely into the flames that marked the tail of the phoenix whose power Toudo had stolen.

Toudo screamed. It was an inhuman sound, piercing like a bird's cry. Flames roared up around him, raging out of control.

Yukio watched with a grim smile, eyes hidden by the flames reflecting off his glasses. "Thank you for reminding me of demons' weaknesses, Mr. Toudo." He took a step toward the inferno.

The flames abruptly banked, forming the shape of a phoenix. And, Toudo half-turned. One eye was still a gaping socket.

"You've found bullets attuned to a stronger water demon than the naiads," he said. "And, you went straight for my weak point. Very good!" Flames licked out from his healing eye, and he smiled. "But, you've neglected to defend your brother." Now between Yukio and Rin, he raised a hand suddenly filled with knives.

Yukio blasted a smoking hole in it with another water element bullet, scattering the knives at Toudo's feet.

Toudo smirked. "Always so dutiful. Don't you ever get tired of it?"

"Every day," said Yukio.

They moved at the same time, Yukio dodging aside as a fresh blade slid into Toudo's undamaged hand, and he let it fly. More followed, all blazing with phoenix fire.

"This is so familiar!" Toudo laughed.

A few strides, and Yukio was in front of Rin again. He knew he had been allowed to get there.

Tracking him, Toudo lazily flicked another flight of flaming knives his way. To dodge would be to leave Rin exposed.

Yukio didn't dodge, only threw out his free hand. Blue flames engulfed Toudo's knives, burning them to ash in midair. And, breathing out, Yukio finally met Toudo's eyes.

Toudo's face filled with glee. "There they are!" he crowed. "This is the first time I've seen them since Kyoto. Those demon eyes of yours."

Cold gripped Yukio's heart at those words. But, not cold enough to drive away the warmth.

"What about them?" he asked.

Toudo laughed, high and manic. "Are you accepting your true self at last?"

"You might say that." Dropping his hand, Yukio took a step toward Toudo. "Your boss, Lucifer, said I was weak." Another step; the gun in his left hand was level with Toudo's chest. Toudo made no move to stop him. "You said we were the same." A final step, and they were nearly face to grinning face.

It was so warm inside. Warm under his skin. Warmth itching against his right palm.

"Neither of you understand a thing about me."

His right hand slammed into Toudo's chest in an explosion of blue fire. The man-turned-demon gasped, mouth gaping open.

"You talked about freeing yourself from obligations," said Yukio, "but all you did was run away." He pulled away as blue flames began to lick at phoenix fire. "I'm not running."

"You..." Toudo staggered back, a mass of warring flames. "You're content to live," red-gold fire was losing ground to blue, "in your brother's shadow?"

"Content?" Yukio sniffed and adjusted his glasses. "I'm never content. And, I hate losing."

"Naturally!" Toudo reached for him with a hand that was burning and regenerating all at once. "Because… you could be... so much more."

"Not with your methods." Yukio held his ground. "Live in my brother's shadow? You only want me to be a greater shadow than Brother. How could I call that winning?" Fierce certainty filled him, building on the warmth already there. "I won't run from this fight. I won't lose. Not to you. Not to Brother."

The warmth was bubbling up and out now. It tingled in his ears, his spine. Cartilage and bone lengthened. Flames burst free at last.

"And, especially not to myself." Fully transformed, Yukio raised his right hand again. "When I surpass my brother, it will be by outshining him."

Another voice cut in before Toudo could speak. "I'll be rooting you on."

Toudo was more savvy than Hachiro. But, he was still too slow to avoid Rin's sword. Blazing blue, Kurikara cut through him as Yukio released another blast from his open palm.

Blue flames roared up, and the phoenix form around Toudo collapsed. This time, his scream was purely human.

Breathing heavily, Yukio watched as the flames consumed his tormentor.

Toudo looked back at him, shocked. His artificial youth was gone. He was once again the aging man Yukio had first met. Then, his crumbling face split in a grin. "I'm impressed... Mr. Okumura. You've chosen... the harder path..."

"Yes," Yukio agreed.

Falling, fading, Toudo smiled as his features disintegrated. "I wish I could see...," only a mouth remained, whispering, "how that works out for you."

Yukio watched, face expressionless. It would be hard. And, there was no going back. But, he had meant what he said, and he would not run.

"I don't think he's coming back this time."

Yukio looked up to find Rin walking slowly toward him, one hand pressed to his chest.

"I can't sense him anymore," Rin added and then grimaced. "If I'd paid more attention before..."

Yukio moved to meet him. "Nevermind that. Are you alright?"

"I'll be okay." Rin offered him a thumbs up, wincing. "You were awesome."

"Brother." Rin was clearly better but still pale. Yukio reached inside himself, trying to grasp the flames again. It had been so easy to release them against Toudo. Concentrating, he forced flames to gather in cupped hands and then offered the flicker-fluttering result to Rin. "Here."

"Eh?" Rin looked from the flames to Yukio.

"I can give you back the flames you loaned me," said Yukio. Or at least he could give Rin the same sort of boost he had been given.

"What're you talking about?" A grin stole across Rin's face as he shoved his hands in his pockets and leaned back. "I never loaned you any flames."

Yukio stared at him. "They were in your hand. I felt them!"

Rin's grin widened. "Or maybe those were your flames you felt."

Yukio let the flames fade and put a hand to his chest. "But, I felt..."

He had felt Rin through the flames. The truth of everything Rin had said to him. Rin's struggles. Rin's understanding. Rin's unwavering love and faith in his little brother.

"See?" Rin reached out and poked him in the forehead. "You're a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for."

Again, Yukio could only stare at him.

Beaming, Rin threw an arm around him and dug a fist into his hair. "Smile! You won!"

"Brother!" Catching his glasses as they slid free, Yukio made a half-hearted attempt to shove Rin off. But, he couldn't quite stop the smile tugging at his own lips. He still felt light.

The future wouldn't be easy or certain, but at least this many doubts and fears had been laid to rest.

"I can't take my eyes off you two for five minutes, can I?" Shura was growling.

Yukio pointedly ignored her. Just as he was ignoring the way blue fire played over his fingertips and his new tail waved behind him. Instead, his focus was on his food. The innkeeper had been bringing dinner just as he and Rin got back, and the smell of it had made him realize that he was starving. It was probably a side effect of his transformation, he mused.

At least the innkeeper had taken his flames in stride the same way she had every other embarrassing, absurd encounter. She had only stared at his panicked face and pathetic excuse about a costume and said, "Yes, yes." He tried not to think too hard about what sort of guests she must normally have.

"Nope," Rin was answering, all smiles as he dug into his own meal.

Shura reached across the table to smack him. "At least act ashamed!"

Rin only laughed. "Never!"

Finishing off the last of his rice, Yukio finally broke into the banter by addressing Shura. "Is there any way my flames can be sealed like Brother's?"

There had to be. Hunger and force of will had allowed him to ignore the flames dancing around him to this point, but he couldn't bear it indefinitely. He couldn't even travel back to the Academy like this.

Casually pinching a flailing Rin's left nostril with her chopsticks, Shura looked at him. "There is, but you know who we'd have to ask."

"Sir Pheles," Yukio said with certainty.

"The clown?" Nose still captured, Rin released a nasally groan. "There's no one else?"

Shura shrugged. "The seal on Rin's sword isn't Shiro's work. If even he didn't trust himself to do it..."

"You can't—" Rin finally wrenched himself free with a cry of pain and clapped both hands over his damaged nose. "You can't trust the clown either!"

Shura tilted her head toward Rin in acknowledgement before looking at Yukio seriously. "Better come up with a good way to play the old trickster. He'll probably make it a freebie if you come up with something interesting."

Rin pulled his face out of his hands, frowning. "Interesting?"

Yukio put a hand to his chin. "...I might have some ideas."

"You do?" Rin asked.

"Aa." Yukio's new tail twitched from side to side as he considered his options. It was in Sir Pheles' best interests to seal his flames like Rin's were. It was just a matter of convincing him to offer his services without a demonic contract. And, if Toudo had been alone and there was no one to report the recent developments to Lucifer... Yes, that could work.

Rin was watching him closely. "You're smiling." He smiled himself.

Yukio met his eyes. "I have the beginnings of a plan."

And, if it worked, maybe he would have a surprise for Lucifer the next time the demon king sought him out.

"Well, whatever it is," Rin's face was serious and smiling all at once, "you know I've got your back."

Yukio's smile widened. "I know."