Title: Learning To Dance

Summary: Kantarou's hurt; Haruka's grumpy; Youko's practical.

Pairings: Haruka x Ricebowl. It's quite a sordid tale, really. (...joking.)

Categories: Drama, Action, Sap.

Rating: PG-16. No kids allowed (at least not until Mommy leaves the room.) :D

Author's Notes: First posted this to lovetactics LiveJournal community, now I'm placing it here in hopes of adding to the woefully small number of Tactics fanfics. I want some more, please. (And if ADV Manga doesn't release the second English volume soon, there will be dire consequences...)

Much thanks to issen4, whose insightful advice and questioning drastically improved the story. I even stole her title suggestion. Betas are wonderful. You should hug yours.

Feedback is much appreciated, constructive criticism duly noted. Feedback: it's the inspirational icing on the cake of fanfiction. It's kind of like being legally paid for fanfiction.

Kantarou was bleeding again.

The lines of worry around Haruka's mouth deepened as he slowed for another landing. He spotted a smooth patch of meadow and glided to a stop, as gently as he could manage so that he wouldn't jostle Kantarou. After laying Kantarou onto the ground, Haruka quickly began to examine him.

"Kantarou?" No response. Haruka tapped the goblin-hunter on the forehead but Kantarou did not stir; his eyes stared vacantly towards the sky. Damnit, Haruka cursed silently, realizing that Kantarou had slipped into unconsciousness sometime after the last landing... that probably meant the poison was spreading. Haruka unwrapped the sodden strip of cloth from Kantarou's neck and thin, black-tinted blood gushed out. Hands trembling, Haruka tore another long strip from his coat and quickly rebandaged Kantarou's neck with additional layers, in a vain effort to stem the bleeding a little longer.

His own injuries had stopped bleeding some time ago, which could only mean that the demon's claws had contained poision specifically injurious towards humans. The poison was causing Kantarou's blood to run thin like water. Haruka gathered Kantarou up in his arms again and launched himself into the morning sky with a renewed urgency.

Harkua knew that if he didn't get Kantarou to the house and Youko's ministrations soon enough, Kantarou would bleed to death.

"Haruka-chan?" Youko stared at him in shock, her dark eyes even wider than usual. The broom fell from her hands, clattering onto the porch.

Haruka followed her line of sight; she was staring at his neck, which was dripping red. "This is Kantarou's blood," he answered as he tucked his wings away and strode into the house, Youko following. "Kantarou needs help right now. I think the demon we fought with had some sort of poison that affects humans worse," Haruka said as he laid Kantarou onto the kitchen floor. "Don't you kitsune have cures for these sorts of injuries?"

"Yes, and I keep the ingredients for several recipes stocked, since you two are always getting into trouble," Youko scolded as she unwrapped Kantarou's bandages, wrinkling her sensitive nose at the smell of poison. Her brown eyes lightened into their true golden color as she focused her kitsune sight onto the injury. "But this one is going to require some special effort. There's a curse in this poison that will have to be counteracted; it's keeping the blood from clotting."

Youko looked grim but not fatalistic, and Haruka felt a small glimmer of hope. "You think he can be saved?"

Nodding, the kitsune stood up and began to rummage through the kitchen cabinets, pulling out a variety of jars and pots. "I'll need your help," she stated. "You can start by trying to give him some water; he's probably dehydrated."

A hint of red had finally returned to Kantarou's pale cheeks. Youko and Haruka exchanged looks of relief: the poultice was working its magic.

Slowly, Youko stood up from where she knelt by Kantarou's futon, swaying slightly, medicine basket trembling in her hands. Haruka caught Youko by the arms, steadying her. He was not surprised at her weariness: to prepare the poultice, the kitsune had steeped cabbage leaves in green tea and then infused the mixture with an enormous amount of her own energy. Such items had natural blood-clotting agents, she had said, but in this case their effects would have been nullified without her infusion.

"You should rest," Haruka said, propelling Youko in direction of her room as they entered the hallway.

Youko shook her head in protest and removed her arms from Haruka's grasp. "I haven't even had a chance to properly examine your injuries, Haruka-kun. Put your wings back out– I saw that you were injured before you tried to hide it from me. Kneel so I can have a look."

Haruka grumbled but obediently knelt and removed his coat, vest, and shirt. Black wings sprouted from his back, accompanied by a shower of blood. "Aargh, Haruka, I just cleaned this floor," Youko fussed wearily as she prodded around his shoulder blades and wing bones. "You've got some nasty gashes here, but your body seems to have expelled the poison on its own, lucky you. I'll just wipe the poison off and then put these bandages on so the wounds aren't exposed."

A few minutes later, Youko wrapped the last bandage into place and stood back to examine her handiwork. "I don't think you shouldn't put your wings away until the injuries are fully closed. Scar tissue will heal too tightly if you don't leave the injured limb stretched out – and that would make it very difficult for you to fly properly."

Haruka fingered his chin, considering her advice. "You're probably right," he said reluctantly. It would be irritating to try maneuvering around the house without knocking everything over with his wings.

"By the way... this isn't all your blood, is it?" Youko said quietly, her eyes averted from his. "You didn't get enough of an injury to account for all this blood on your wings."

Immediately, Haruka stiffened: this was a subject he wanted to avoid. "No, it's the demon's. It tried to kill Kantarou, okay?" He picked up his clothes.

"You brought Kantarou-chan home. That's what matters to me," replied the kitsune, although her eyes betrayed her lingering worry. "I need to clean it... the blood off before it dries."

"I'll take care of it. You've worn yourself out." Haruka pointed to the top of Youko's head, where a pair of fox ears now twitched. She hadn't brought them out on purpose.

"The spell--" Surprise flashed across Youko's face as she shrunk into a small fox; she no longer had the strength to maintain the minor spell to keep herself in humanoid form. The kitsune sighed, still managing to convey a look of utter exasperation even in her furrier form. "Well, at least since I'm not a girl anymore, it's okay for me to take a nap with Kantarou-chan," she muttered.

Haruka watched as Youko padded back into the kitchen and curled up against Kantarou's side, tucking her golden head into her tail. A small tinge of jealousy struck Haruka, and he considered keeping a post inside the kitchen as well. Perhaps Kantarou would simply be happy to be alive and wouldn't press the issue...

Haruka scowled, mentally kicking himself for the foolish hope. No, Kantarou wouldn't overlook it: he had, after all, disobeyed one of the first – and most important -- orders Kantarou had ever given him. The thought of Kantarou waking up, only to stare at him with weary, accusing eyes was sufficient to erase Haruka's desire to be anywhere near the kitchen.

Decision made, Haruka turned and stomped upstairs.