It was Juubei who noticed that Toshiki had not been sleeping. Blind as he was, unable to see the pallor of the other man's skin or the darkness under his eyes, he could hear the hurrying pulse of blood in his veins, smell the dryness and sweat that clung to him like a ghost.
At first Toshiki refused to discuss the matter. "Nightmares," he said, as though that settled it. "Nothing to bother about."
Juubei would have left it at that, but every medical instinct in him revolted at the idea. And Toshiki mattered to Kazuki; therefore, Toshiki must matter to Juubei as well. Even if Toshiki had betrayed Kazuki a year ago, in turning to the man Lucifer and his dark sorceries. Even if Toshiki dared to love Kazuki, when Juubei loved Kazuki himself and knew that love was returned.
"He's ill," he said to Kazuki, that evening, and left it at that.
Kazuki sat up in bed, his long hair falling to brush the futon and lie on it like dark silk. "Ill? How?"
"I don't know," Juubei ground out. "He didn't say." And I hope it involves boils.
"We'll have to ask him." Kazuki ran a hand over Juubei's bare chest. "Can it wait till tomorrow?"
Juubei closed his blind eyes. "Yes."
The next morning, Toshiki was trying to avoid both of them. The first accidental miss might have been pure chance; the second was less likely; the third, when he sent Ren over with lunch but declared that he was busy on a northern patrol, stretched probability to its limits.
Kazuki went out looking for him, Juubei following silently. They cornered him on the northwest corner of the tower block. The summer air was hot and dry and dead, and withered moss had curled up and died in the gaps between tiles. The skyscraper of Mugenjou was its own world, but even Mugenjou could not disobey the laws of the seasons. The heat had struck Japan like a hammer, and there was no hiding from it anywhere, even here.
"Toshiki," Kazuki said firmly. "Juubei tells me that you are unwell."
"He's mistaken," Toshiki said, face half turned away. There was a pause, then he added, harshly, "I appreciate your concern, Kazuki-sama, but --"
Kazuki hushed him with a gesture, moving closer to him and resting a hand on his shoulder. "Toshiki," he said, feeling the heat of flesh through the other's thin black silk top. "I thought we had no secrets between us now. That you are ill matters to me, and to Juubei." And it did; Juubei might pretend to indifference, even to himself, but he knew that the other cared about Toshiki. The separation had hurt more than any of them would admit; the wound of betrayal might have been cleansed of its festering pus, but the scar was still there.
Toshiki would not look at Kazuki. "I didn't need to bother you for something small. It's nothing serious."
"It is," Juubei said behind Kazuki, his voice an angry growl. Kazuki glanced back to see Juubei squaring his shoulders, the Offended Doctor. "If you think that I am just going to stand here and watch you wear yourself down to nothing, Uryuu --"
"You wouldn't understand," Toshiki said thinly through gritted teeth, "and it's my own problem."
Kazuki tightened his grip on Toshiki's shoulder. "You're my man, Toshiki. That makes it our problem. Tell us."
Juubei hesitated. "If you want me to leave for a while, so that you can talk in private?"
Something in Toshiki gave way. His shoulders slumped, and his gaze fell. "No," he said bitterly. "You don't have to go. I'd have to be stupid to keep something from my doctor. Even stupider than . . . I've been before. Stay a while, both of you. Please. I'll tell you, but -- I don't know that I can get away from this. I don't think I'm going to be allowed."
"I say what's allowed and what isn't," Kazuki replied briskly, steel in his voice. "Let's sit down. Tell us about it, Toshiki. We're not going to go away."
Toshiki sat with his back against the wall, and relaxed a little against the heat of the warm stone. He folded his arms around his knees, and watched the dust as it wavered in a momentary gust of wind, avoiding the eyes of the other two. "You know," he said, trying to find a way to make the words acceptable, to put it in such a way that they wouldn't leave him, "how it was last year with myself and Lucifer and the others." A momentary touch of memory; height, presence, elegance, power, burning eyes. He'd obeyed the man. He hadn't known how much he'd cared for him till afterwards. "Lucifer gave us the means to call up those avatars through the cards -- just as you did with your own, Kazuki-sama, with the Manipulator of Threads."
Kazuki nodded, once, precisely.
"So." He remembered how it had felt; the swell of power, so akin to other sorts of arousal, the extra dimension of sensation, the shadows unfurling from behind him as though a gate had opened there, and darkness fell through it instead of light. "Mine was the Hell Knight. I was his Hell Knight; that was what he called me."
Mine, Lucifer had said, and Toshiki had agreed.
He forced himself to look at Kazuki, kept his gaze on the other like a drowning man clinging to his only hope. "For the last two nights I've dreamed. I've heard the hoofbeats as the Hell Knight comes, the way he did before. I smell the wind, the scent of sand and sulphur. It pulls at me . . ." He wanted to shut his eyes, to curl up and block himself away, to keep the memory to himself, and he wasn't sure whether it was shame or desire that stirred the impulse in him. Instead he watched Kazuki, the other man's rich dark eyes, his long hair, his pale shoulders, his bells trembling in the fragments of breeze. "And he -- he takes me and I go with him." He broke off, unable to say more.
There was a pause. Finally Kazuki said, "And tonight is the third night."
Toshiki nodded, unwilling to trust his voice.
"We'll be with you." There was more than certainty in Kazuki's voice, there was command. It did not say maybe, it did not say if you wish, it said this shall be so and you will not argue with me. "We beat Lucifer once before. We can do it again. This is not your battle alone, Toshiki. It's ours as well. Fuuga stands together now and always."
"Indeed," Juubei rumbled. There was an undertone to his voice of You're not going to slip off and make Kazuki-sama unhappy again, are you? I wouldn't like that. I really wouldn't be happy if you did that.
Toshiki swallowed, and nodded. "Thank you," he said shortly.
That night, heat lay over Tokyo like a thick mantle, and wrapped Mugenjou in a close moist embrace. It made the air hard to breathe, and hung in the room like a fourth person. Around them, the tower block went about its regular business, with inhabitants talking, arguing, fighting, selling, plotting; in the bedroom where the three young men knelt by the futons spread on the floor, there was an awkward silence.
"I'll . . . just lie down, then," Toshiki said.
"Do you think you can fall asleep like this?" Kazuki asked.
Toshiki frowned. "No. I'll try, though. I mean, I'm tired . . ."
"I could knock you out," Juubei offered helpfully. "A choke-hold, or pressure on your carotid arteries, or needles in certain points . . ."
Toshiki twitched. "Perhaps just a sleeping pill, Kazuki-sama?" he suggested hastily.
Kazuki weighed the possibilities. "Any of those might stop us waking you up if we needed to do it, though. Let's just . . . relax. Toshiki, you lie on the middle futon. We'll be on either side of you. Juubei, if you could light those candles, please, and turn the lights down?"
Juubei rose smoothly to his feet. A match scratched against the side of the matchbox in a harsh rasp, and there was a brief coil of smoke as the first candle-wick caught. "Did you manage to contact Maria, Kazuki-sama?" he asked.
Kazuki arranged himself on his futon, spreading his hair out to the side on his pillow. "A few words. She was about to leave town." Maria. The gypsy who'd been of such help before, who'd understood the cards and Lucifer's plans, and who'd made sure that Juubei had been there at the crucial moment to call Kazuki back and restore him to himself. The one person who could have been really useful. How frustrating that she hadn't been able to help.
"Did she say anything useful?" Juubei lit the last candle, then paced over to the light switch.
"It's a year exactly since -- that affair. She felt that might have something to do with it. Unfinished business. She agreed with me that we shouldn't leave Toshiki alone." Kazuki looked up at where Toshiki was still kneeling, and gave him a reassuring smile. "She said that emotional bonds had been important before, and that they would be here."
And there had been the other thing she said, the thing which had made him remember those moments of his own darkness, when he had woken to find Juubei's blood on his strings. Don't let him go. Go into the dreams if you have to, but whatever he says, even if he tries to convince you to kill him, don't listen. He'll think he's doing the right thing, the best thing for you, but how can he know?
Toshiki nodded. He laid himself down on the central futon, and folded his hands on his chest with a determined air.
Juubei turned the light out. The candles flickered for a moment, as though the world had drawn a long breath, then resumed their steady burning, throwing Juubei's shadow long and dark across the walls and ceiling as he joined the other two on the futons.
"Toshiki, do you think --" Kazuki began, then broke off as he realised that the quality of Toshiki's breathing had changed. He raised himself on one elbow, and passed a hand across Toshiki's face.
"He's asleep already?" Juubei asked, surprised.
"Indeed." Kazuki stayed leaning on his elbow, watching Toshiki. "He must have been tired."
"That, or it was waiting for him."
"Well, we're waiting for it. Watch."
The church that Lucifer had used as a headquarters was deserted now; the organ that he had played was covered with dust, the pews were out of line, the pillars and floor had the bright colours of their mosaics faded by encrusted dirt. The smell of incense was gone; now there was only the smell of emptiness, the smell of dryness and age.
Toshiki stood there and waited. He could have run towards the altar, but what good would that have done? He knew the darkness that was coming. He knew it intimately. It was part of his own self, his own avatar. God would not save him because he did not believe in God.
He had believed in Lucifer, for a little while, but he had believed in Kazuki more.
Outside, beyond the great oak doors, the sound of hoofbeats.
Kazuki brushed his fingers against Toshiki's brow, and hissed in surprise. "He's freezing!"
"Impossible," said Juubei with the certainty of a doctor, and put his own hand against Toshiki's chest. He frowned. "He is cold."
"And it's hot," Kazuki pointed out the obvious. The room itself was clammy with summer heat, and yet Toshiki seemed to be drained of all warmth, his lips pale, his breathing slow. "And he's not waking. We've got to warm him up."
Juubei checked Toshiki's pulses, then hesitated. "He has the symptoms of hypothermia, but, Kazuki-sama, I'm not sure the treatment . . ."
"Rubbish," Kazuki said mildly. He sat up and pulled off his shirt. "You're the doctor, Juubei. You need to be free to move and to work on him if necessary. I'll warm him." He leant across and untied Toshiki's sash, rolling him to one side so that he could pull away the long strip of silk.
"I'll do that, Kazuki-sama," Juubei objected. He tugged at Toshiki's shirt, pulling it upwards to bare the other's torso. "Though if you're touching him, aren't you risking . . ."
"If it's the only way to reach him, then it's the only way to reach him." Kazuki wriggled out of his jeans, folding them neatly and setting them by the side of his bed. He squirmed across onto Toshiki's futon, and supported Toshiki in his arms, the other's bare back against his bare chest, so that Juubei could work Toshiki's jeans off and toss them to one side. "In any case, we can't let him get colder."
Juubei grunted. He waited for Kazuki to tilt Toshiki back again, then pulled the sheet up over them both. "Kazuki-sama . . ." he began, but cut himself off before he could reach the be careful. But Kazuki could hear it in his voice.
"I'm not going to lose him again, any more than I would lose you again," Kazuki answered the unspoken words. He settled himself behind Toshiki's back, his own warm flesh against Toshiki's icy body, folding his arms around Toshiki's chest to hold the other man against himself, bringing his knees up into the hollow of Toshiki's legs, and laid his head on the pillow beside Toshiki's, smelling the other's hair, his body, hearing his breathing.
I'm not going to lose you, he breathed into the back of Toshiki's neck.
He closed his eyes.
The hoofbeats paused, then there was a crash, and the church doors swung open inwards to show the Hell Knight, his steed rearing to kick at the doors. The wind came in with him, carrying the scents of sulphur and the desert, and the darkness was behind him, an endless sea of night.
Toshiki raised his hands and gathered his chi to strike at the avatar, but within himself he could sense a dreadful hollowness. This was the part of himself that Lucifer had given shape and form to, and he did not, could not know how to kill it. Here in the place of his worst failure, where he had been willing to give over his soul and heart for the chance to bind Kazuki and own him, there was nothing that could strengthen him.
Each hoofbeat rang on stone as the Hell Knight came down the aisle towards him. The creature wasn't a man on horseback, never had been; he was a man and horse melded together, the higher impulse with the animal vitality, all Toshiki's desires and hopes and all the conscious thought put towards achieving them. Something more than human. Something greater. Something dreadful. His cloak blew out behind him, caught in the night wind, and his skull-helm and layered armour and the great lance in his left hand glowed like cinders in the candlelight.
"No more," Toshiki said, and then, more loudly, "I am not yours any more! That bargain was paid when Lucifer took my heart!"
The Hell Knight spoke, and he had Toshiki's own voice. He spoke Toshiki's own words from the invocation that Toshiki had used against Kazuki, when he had struck the other man down. "But you are unfaithful, unworthy to be his people, a sinful and deceitful nation . . ."
The growing wind drew Toshiki a step towards the avatar. He steadied himself, held still, and tried to ignore the gnawing hunger in his muscles, in his own body. There was a part of him that wanted this final surrender. Because he was unfaithful, unworthy, it was true. He had betrayed both Kazuki and Lucifer, and he didn't deserve to be forgiven.
The wind tugged at him, pulled at him. Come, it said. It was a weakness in his knees that made him tremble, a heat in his body that overshadowed him, that seemed to draw at him and empty him out.
"Sinful and deceitful," the Hell Knight repeated, and brought his lance round to point it at Toshiki.
Third night. Last chance. But no more chances. This time I won't be coming back.
He held himself upright and watched the lance as it came closer to his chest.
"Kazuki-sama!" Juubei grabbed at the other man's shoulder and shook it, but Kazuki didn't wake. His flesh was cold as ice, as cold as Toshiki's own, and his breathing had slowed to match Toshiki's. It was as though there was only one person breathing now, in and out, and Toshiki's hair fluttered gently each time Kazuki breathed into it, but there was no true life to it, no real impetus. They lay there like two beautiful models, still and brittle.
Juubei clenched his fists, once, then ran to the bathroom, slapping the hot tap on to full. Kazuki-sama needed him here, so he couldn't go after his master, but he could make sure that their bodies stayed alive, and pray that they would be able to return to them.
Don't leave me again. If you leave me I'll kill you. If you leave me I'll die.
He got a firm grip on the upper end of the futon where Kazuki and Toshiki lay, and dragged it towards the bathroom, while the hot tap gushed water into the filling bath in regular pulses like an artery spurting blood.
A slender hand descended on Toshiki's shoulder from behind and shoved him to one side, sending him falling to his knees. He turned to see Kazuki standing there, the wind sweeping out his hair in long strands and flattening his loose shirt against his body.
"No," Kazuki said simply. The bells in his hair rang as he raised a hand to ready his strings for battle. "This man is mine. You shall not have him."
And with those words, Toshiki remembered what he should be doing, where he should always be. He came smoothly to his feet again and moved to take his place behind Kazuki's shoulder, to guard his back and to protect him.
"He is mine," the Hell Knight said, and again it had Toshiki's voice. Toshiki saw Kazuki's shoulders tense at the familiar tones. "All those who have lost their way, those who are unfaithful, sinful and deceitful. Listen to me, Kazuki-sama." He made the courteous title into something mocking. "I am the last echo of the powers that Lucifer called up. This man is my gate into the world, my hold on reality. He gave his word and heart --"
"And took it back!" Toshiki snarled. "I've paid. It's over!"
"These things are never over," the Hell Knight said. A hoof tapped impatiently on the tiles of the church floor. "Submit yourself and come with me, Uryuu Toshiki; the darkness waits."
Outside the doors, the wind howled and dragged at them again.
"I have never," Kazuki said, each word calm and cold and paid out separately, "heard such arrogance." He raised his head, his spine straight as a sword, and looked at the creature with utter disdain. "You're attempting to break your own rules, aren't you? You're the part of Toshiki that made the contract with Lucifer, and now a year has passed and the last part of his power is fading from this world. And that is you. And you want Toshiki to go in your place."
The Hell Knight reared furiously, and pranced a step before he caught himself, his lance blazing in his hand with a deeper fire than the light from the candles. "How dare you!"
Kazuki took a step forward. Threads glittered in the air around him and between his fingers, barely visible. "I told you that he was mine. But that's not all of it. Hell Knight, listen to me. Toshiki, listen as well."
Earth and sky, hear my words, listen closely to what I say . . .
Kazuki stretched his hand out towards the demonic avatar. "I do not claim Toshiki simply because he is my man. I do not claim him just because I hold his oath and his loyalty. I do not even claim him because he was in Fuuga, and we were sworn to defend each other." He turned to face Toshiki, his hand still extended behind him in a gesture of repudiation towards the Hell Knight. "Toshiki, I hold your heart now, just as you hold mine. Just as Juubei and I are, so are you to me. I will not desert you again. I will not leave you again. I have your heart and I will not give you up. Do you understand?"
Slowly Toshiki went down on one knee. He took Kazuki's free hand, and pressed it against his chest. He could feel the tears running down his cheeks, and he had to struggle to speak clearly. "Kazuki . . . you always have had it. I belong to you."
Kazuki turned again towards the Hell Knight. "Do you hear?" he called, his voice suddenly harsh. "Leave him and go!"
"Then I will take what is mine!" the Hell Knight snarled, abruptly bursting into a gallop, bringing his lance down towards Kazuki.
Toshiki thrust Kazuki to one side as he dodged to the other, only just in time; the lance caught Kazuki's clothing, ripping his loose white shirt open and baring his chest. "Never!" Toshiki shouted, stepping in and close to the demon as he turned to rear above him, massing his chi and slamming it up in a concussive blow into the Hell Knight's chest.
The Hell Knight screamed in Toshiki's voice as he flew apart into a thousand fragments of paper and dust.
"Kazuki!" Toshiki scrambled across and fell to his knees beside Kazuki, grabbing him by the shoulders. "Are you all right?"
Kazuki smiled with surpassing sweetness, and reached up to curve an arm around Toshiki's neck. "I never doubted," he said, and tugged Toshiki down into a kiss, hot lips against hot lips, his hand against Toshiki's cheek.
Toshiki gave way and relaxed into the kiss, abandoning himself to the scent of Kazuki's hair, the sweetness of his mouth, the warmth of his body.
The church crumpled and dissolved around them like a bad dream, frantic bells ringing one last time as they tumbled from the height, stone walls dissolving to dust and ash, the wind vanishing on itself with a final frustrated shriek, and the light from the candles shrinking to a sphere that contained the two of them, that was the whole world to the two of them, as they held each other tightly in the swelling warmth, hands on bare flesh, mouth on mouth.
Kazuki came awake with a start to find that Toshiki was still in his arms and that he was pressed against Toshiki's back, but the two of them were chest-deep in his large bath. Juubei knelt on the edge of the bath, supporting both their heads out of the water, his shirt sleeked wetly against his chest, face full of concern that he endeavoured to force down when Kazuki looked up at him.
Toshiki shifted in his arms, wriggled, coughed, pressed himself back against Kazuki as he rolled over, and looked at Kazuki, then up at Juubei, then down at Kazuki again. Drops of water clung to his shoulders and arms as he partly raised himself out of the water, and his hair was a damp golden halo around his head.
"Thank you," Toshiki said. He hesitated for a moment, then read the agreement in Kazuki's eyes, and lowered his mouth onto Kazuki's again, pinning the slighter man against the side of the bath.
Kazuki luxuriated in the embrace, feeling Toshiki's wet skin against him, Toshiki's body pressing against him in the hot water. But -- yes, there was something else. He reached up a hand without looking, knowing where he would find his other lover, and grabbed Juubei by the hand, pulling him down into the bath.
Juubei was taken by surprise. Kazuki could feel the startlement through bone and muscle, through the flexing of a body that had already begun to feel unwanted and step away. With Toshiki to brace himself against (and oh, the pleasure of that contact) it was ease itself to bring Juubei splashing down into the water to join the two of them.
Juubei spluttered and shook his head, drops of water splattering everywhere. "Kazuki-sama!" he objected, then fell silent as he tried to find words to object. "I -- you -- your hair will get wet!"
Kazuki touched Juubei's cheek. "That can be dealt with. For the moment . . ." he trailed off.
"Kazuki-sama?" Toshiki said softly, but definitely, with a note of trust that had not been there for longer than Kazuki wanted to think.
"For the moment," Kazuki said firmly, "I am not going to give up either of you again. It is not a question of sharing. We are together, we three, and that is how it will be." He trailed a finger down to brush against Juubei's collarbone. "And you are wearing too much for a bath."
Juubei and Toshiki looked at each other, and something must have passed between them, some moment of understanding or acceptance, for Juubei smiled, and Toshiki chuckled deep in his chest.
"And nights," Kazuki finished, more quietly, "will come and go, but we will be together."