Sometimes getting back to your normal life and routine can be just as fun as leaving it, Kurogane thought, as he delicately pried the glass away from one of the castle's windows and slipped inside. Breaking into places he wouldn't normally be invited: well, that was just one more thing he enjoyed about his old job.

Or, he supposed, his regular life: the one he fell back on when traveling the worlds and retrieving wings got dull or went into the off-season. He was pretty sure that, Sakura being as accident-prone as she was, that the wings were bound to break again (somehow) and that the group would need to reassemble to save the day once more from a power-hungry dreamseer. He wasn't going to say that he didn't enjoy it, but hell, leaving everything behind at the drop of a hat was rough.

The metal slowly fell away from the window and silently dropped on the floor. He was in.

Life never really turns out the way you think it will, he mused. Breaking into Hoshou's grand palace--Hikari no ...something or another; he'd get the name eventually -- wasn't exactly something he'd foreseen, but he was having a hell of a time doing it. They really needed to up their security. If Tomoyo-hime chose them, then he'd have a few choice words for that Katsukiro about his guards...

Of course, he smiled, that was if Tomoyo-hime still wanted anyone else after he spoke with her.

The journey had been pretty long, going from Fubai to Hoshou. Without her most deadly ninja accompanying her, Tomoyo had had to take more warriors along with her to compensate. She was still about as safe, but with so many extra people traveling in her party, it made the trek longer and finding accommodations for all of them...difficult.

"Alright! We need the elite guard over here, by the princess!" A Hoshou official in charge of finding rooms for them yelled over the uproar. "Everyone else, keep to the sides!"

Tomoyo sighed, surveying the disorder. She contemplated bringing the troops to order, but a young page clad in yellow tugged at her sleeve while sinking into a deep bow. For a moment, she wondered how many times the page had had to practice that particular motion in order to get it right.

"Please, princess. Allow me to show you to your quarters."

She nodded, and followed the boy, leaving the attendants to sort out the mess.

Since losing her foresight and dreamseeing powers, she'd slowly lost most of her suitors. Somehow, though Nihon had stayed essentially prosperous, word had gotten out that the miko princess had lost the talent to see the future. The countries dropped out slowly, some princes recalling age-old, forgotten betrothals, others saying that immediate business regrettably forced them to leave.

Tomoyo doubted that they'd really regretted it. She sighed when she thought about it; it made her wonder how much people valued her without her powers, how much any of them had really liked her for herself. She'd known from the beginning what their true intentions had been, most of them, but that didn't stop it from hurting when she experienced it.

She came to the door of the room she'd be staying in, and let the page open the door for her.

She did not expect that the room would already have an occupant.

"About damn time."

He was seated in the dark side of the room, the part that, when the sun sank to the west, would be lit ablaze in shades of orange and red. His black cloak and clothes stood out starkly against the white cloth and bedspread, as he languidly removed himself from a chair and stood to his full height. She met his eyes unhesitatingly, as she had always done. So why did she feel so different this time?

"Kurogane." She said, surprised at the levelness in her voice. "You've returned."

"Traveling the worlds is a bitch, Tomoyo." The page cringed here, shocked at how anyone could use such foul language in the presence of royalty. "I've learnt a lot."

The princess nodded, hairpiece bobbing gracefully as she did so. One of her ornaments tinkled in the silence. At the door, the page wasn't doing so well. He looked from princess to ninja, wondering what was going on, whether this intruder (for that was what the man was, really, an intruder) would make a move, or if it would be more pert of him to leave, if he was interrupting something personal.

The man in black made his choice for him. Sweeping across the room, he closed the space between himself and the princess in fewer movements that the page thought was possible. Inclining his head to the princess, the man lowered his eyes, too, a gesture of...

Of what? wondered Tomoyo, as Kurogane made his slight bow before her. What was that supposed to mean? For Kurogane, showing respect had never been a strong suit. He'd always chaffed at having to bow, not because of his former status in his own land, but because he hated admitting that anyone was better than him without reason. Even Tomoyo, who had been the sole person to which the infamous ninja had ever owed absolute loyalty or respect, had never seen this.

Back then, she'd been the only person able to exert control on him. He'd been a tempest, a storm that only she could direct, but a storm, an uncontrollable force of nature at best. Now...

Was this deference? Was her wildest guardian at last recognizing her as more than his director, but...?

It was very confusing.

It was made even more confusing, though, by the lingering look at Kurogane gave her, allowing his deep red eyes to take in the sight of her as much as they could, before he left, off to rejoin the others or something. She flushed.

Hadn't he told her what he was going to do? Hadn't he said that on his way out? Tomoyo looked away from the page boy and pretended to examine her quarters.

There was something about him, right from when she'd first set eyes on him, sitting expectantly in her room, that told her that he was different, that something had changed. She watched his back as he disappeared down the hall. He was different than before, different even from when he had learned the true meaning of strength, as though he had settled something else, something that gave his actions certainty and purpose.

Tomoyo swallowed. It was times like these when she really missed being able to see the future. But, that was just how life went, wasn't it?

Later that evening, the duke of Hoshou, Katsukiro, got a very unexpected visit from a man whom that guard at the door said had claimed to be his cousin.


Author's Note:

Somehow, I don't think this visit will be very pleasant.

Now the real romancing begins! Hope you guys enjoy it as I write these next chapters!

--cy.