Before we start...

(Red Flags Waving) I know it's considered common courtesy in fanfic to warn your readers about certain situations or plot devices that might prove disturbing. But if I were to list all the warnings for this story, there wouldn't be much point to reading it. You can handle it, right? Right? Okay then...

Butterfly's Wings

Chapter One

Everything, and everyone, was interrelated. If you had a group, then you had a group dynamic. It was an undeniable part of life. If you altered one aspect of the group--say if one person's behavior changed slightly--then everyone else in the group would change slightly in response. If the change was more important, then the response would be accordingly stronger; if more than one person changed, if a relationship was removed, then the group would shudder like an earthquake had it. And when the aftershocks had subsided, you would look around and discover that everything in the group--positions, interactions, relationships--had changed. Everyone and everything was interrelated, and a butterfly's wings could cause a hurricane.

And when the change was something so much more than a butterfly's wings, didn't it make some sort of sense that the reaction to it was inverted? Subtler, slower, but still there. She had been blind to think things would stay the same.

These were Keiko's thoughts in the silence after she accused the man she had loved most of her life of not loving her. This was one of the changes in Yusuke, that he didn't answer right away. In the past he might have babbled or yelled or even sworn at her, but he wouldn't have done this--waited to make sure she was done speaking, measured her words, thought about his own response. Most people said he had matured, that the new Yusuke was more responsible and able to think things out, see implications. Keiko was certain, if this was the case, that she wanted the old immature Yusuke back. The one who had been able to love her more than anything, and still have enough time and energy left over for everything else he needed to do; the one who had always come back to her at the end of the mission. She would trade this new, thoughtful Yusuke in for the old annoying one any day.

And when he finally did answer her, it wasn't worth the wait. "I love you, Keiko." Quiet, resigned, his voice as far away as he was, and he thought she would settle for that.

She almost balled her fists up in frustration. "But?"

He looked at her, startled. "There's no but. I love you. I don't know why you think I don't."

He wasn't a liar, so Keiko tried to force herself to calm down and think rationally. He said he loved her--so why did it not feel right? Of course, nothing had felt really right since it happened...

No, that wasn't true. Things had started to mend. Of course everybody was still shaken, still hurt, but Keiko had seen signs of normalcy. Shizuru was almost back to her old self, and Botan too, and Yukina sang to birds again even if it was mostly sad songs. The fractures were healing--but the alignment of the bones was different, and Keiko didn't like it.

"Why haven't we talked about getting married?" she asked slowly.

"Because a lot of shit happened, Keiko." She didn't like the tone he was taking, exasperated and patronizing at the same time. "Because there've been things I had to do."

"It's been a year."

There was something cold in Keiko's voice, cold and just a bit angry, that surprised both of them--and just like that, a line had been drawn. Yusuke's eyes narrowed slightly. "Ten months."

"A long time. You have to go on with your life."

"I am going on with my life."

"But your life is supposed to be with me. Not--"

Yusuke didn't say anything, but the sudden anger that blazed to life in his eyes made Keiko afraid, afraid to even finish her sentence. It was the second line, drawn between them. Realizing what she had been about to say--what she had never said--everything suddenly became clear to Keiko, like a lens sliding into focus. What precisely it was that was bothering her, and what had to change. What she had to ask.

Yusuke controlled himself before he spoke. Swallowing his anger, smothering it--he would not yell, not make a fist, not even glare. He had trained himself not to. "My life," he said, his voice tight and even, "is mine to live how I choose. I spend a lot of it with you, but--there's been other things, other things I have to--I'm trying to be responsible, alright? I don't see how you can have a problem with that."

"The problem, Yusuke, is that you're not really with me anymore."

"Keiko, I love you, and you love me, but you don't need me."

There was silence for a moment. Keiko didn't try to argue with Yusuke's statement; she did need him, she had always needed him, but she knew what he was talking about and knew that her needs paled in comparison. "But--I'm going to be your wife," she said, tentatively.

"Yes," Yusuke said, just as tentatively. Neither of them at all certain.

"Then my needs, whatever they are, have to come first. I have to be the most important person in your life."

"Keiko, you've always known this about me. You've always known that there were things I had to do, and you used to accept that."

"Back when it was saving the world, Yusuke! It's not saving the world anymore. And I deserve to be first."

"But you don't need me as much as..."

Keiko turned her back to him, so he wouldn't see the tears that sprang to her eyes. "And you don't love me as much, do you?"

"...Keiko, I--"

"You have to choose."

Yusuke was silent, but she could sense his shock. She was almost shocked herself. "You have to choose," she repeated. "It's not going to work both ways."

"...Why can't I just care about you both, and want--"

"No, Yusuke. I've waited a long time for you. I deserve to be the first priority in my partner's life, and if you're never going to do that for me then we need to take a step back from each other." She was amazed that her voice held steady.

Contrary to her words, Yusuke took a few steps toward her, but did not try to make her face him. "Keiko... you know what happened." His voice was low, asking for understanding.

Keiko pressed the corners of her eyes, the sharp pain chasing the tears away. Part of her wanted to understand. But instead, her voice oddly calm, she said, "It's been ten months, Yusuke. And instead of coming back to me, you're growing further away. I'm not going to spend my entire life waiting for you. You have to choose, and you have to do it soon."

More silence. Keiko turned just enough to glance at Yusuke, and felt a stab of guilt at the tension radiating from him, the slight hunch to his shoulders. Almost she was tempted to take it back--almost. But she remembered the reservation to his tone when he had said I love you, and instead she said, "Don't tell me now. Take some time before you decide."

Yusuke stood without speaking for a moment longer, and then he moved away from the counter he'd been leaning against, towards the door. "How long?"

How long was long enough to decide something like this? How long would he need? "A few days," she said tentatively.

She didn't watch him leave, but she heard the door open and close. She took a few deep, deliberate breaths, carefully not crying. She knew exactly where he was going.