Disclaimer: Kuwabara Mizuna owns Mirage of Blaze. I do not. No money is made off this fanwork.

Acknowledgements: Much love to my beta, sabriel75!

Crowded

"I'm taking the bathtub," Haruie announced, snatching two pillows and a comforter and locking the bathroom door behind her.

"What? But what if one of us has to use the toilet in the middle of the night?!"

"You'll just have to go downstairs, won't you?"

Takaya rolled his eyes in aggravation and plunked himself down in a chair.

"Get your smelly feet off the table, Kagetora," Chiaki said, across from him. Takaya scowled, but removed the offending appendages.

In the opposite corner, Naoe was sitting on the bed going through the contents of what had been a high quality leather wallet. Judging from his stony expression and mechanical movements, Chiaki wagered that he was barely restraining himself from throwing the ashy remains across the room.

"Looks like they got you good," he observed, whistling.

"This," Naoe said grimly, "is my family Gold Card." He held up an unrecognizable hunk of melted plastic.

"Was, I'd say." Chiaki shook his head with an air of deep disapproval. "And your parents still aren't over the wreck of their last car, right? What must they think of their delinquent son?"

Naoe closed his eyes in pain.

"I am not sleeping on the floor," Takaya interjected, staring at the bed.

"How surprising, from our selfless leader."

"There is no need for concern, Takaya-san. I will take the floor."

Takaya looked relieved for a split-second, before his eyes widened with horror.

"I have to sleep with him? You've got to be kidding me!"

"I'll have you know that there are lots of people who would gladly take your place. Mmm, cute, curvy little things, with nice, soft-"

"Augh, shut up! Like I want to hear your perverted fantasies!"

"Who said they were fantasies?"

"I cannot believe this," Takaya groaned.

"Just because you're a virgin who couldn't get a girlfriend if his life depended on it…"

"Y-y-you! You bastard! My sex life is none of your business! And where are you getting your information from, anyway?!"

"Oh, here and there. Though it's not like I really need to listen to high school gossip. It's pretty obvious from your crappy personality and zero social skills. The nice girls are all terrified of you and assertive girls aren't your type, are they?"

Takaya twitched. Chiaki smiled in satisfaction.

"On top of that, you live with your little sister so you can't even watch porn. Must be rough. On second thought, make sure you keep your hands where I can see them at all times. I can understand how sleeping next to a guy with my looks could tempt someone as frustrated as you. Just remember, if you try anything funny, I'll have you believing you're a sweet little girl for the rest of your life."

Chiaki marveled at the many different colors Takaya could turn in a minute, even while keeping a wary eye on the intense attention Naoe was paying to their conversation, wallet forgotten in hand.

"Your hypnosis doesn't work on me!" Takaya managed to sputter, only to turn yet another entertaining shade as he realized the implications of what he'd just said. Chiaki gallantly refrained from taking advantage. Honestly, the boy was too easy for sport, sometimes.

"Oh? Are you sure of that? How do you know that I just haven't bothered to use it on you?"

"Oh, whatever. Everyone says that I'm stronger than you. You just don't want to admit it. And it's not like I'd do anything to make you want to use your powers- only a pervert freak like you would even think of that."

Naoe resumed fiddling with his charred belongings at that, Chiaki noted with dark amusement.

"Maybe you would be stronger, if you had your memories," he retorted testily. "As it is, you're the weakest link in the team. Irobe could probably take you down."

"But Naoe said that Irobe's just a baby right now…"

"Yes. So?"

Takaya looked on the verge of blowing his top, but mid-yell he seemed to change his mind. Switching tactics, he whirled on Naoe.

"There is no way I'm sharing a bed with this guy. Let him take the floor."

Takaya gave Naoe the full benefit of his beseeching gaze, and issued his command.

"Sleep with me, Naoe."

Naoe stared at him, utterly lost for words.

Glancing between them, Chiaki thought that now would be a good time for a selfless comrade to execute some damage control. He sighed at his own nobility, reclined on the bed possessively, and ruthlessly quashed the moment.

"Naoe's injured, idiot. The last thing he needs is for you to accidentally whack his burns during the night. And I'm sore as hell. I'm not budging for anything, so you might as well stop whining."

"Besides," he said, stretching his arms behind his head and winking flirtatiously, "if you keep that up, I might think you don't like me."

"God damn it."

"I am sorry, Kagetora-sama. I'm afraid that my preparations were insufficient. Given the situation, this is the best I can offer." Now Naoe just looked despondent.

"Well…," Takaya began, looking uncomfortable.

"Don't apologize to him," Chiaki cut in, irked. "Who the hell could predict getting set on fire?"

Naoe's call for assistance had come suddenly. Chiaki had driven himself and Takaya straight over from school, in fact. Takaya hadn't stopped whining about his driving the entire trip over.

It had proven a long and exhausting fight. By the time they discovered that Naoe had been the only one carrying enough funds for multiple hotel rooms, driving back that night had been decisively ruled out. Between the three of them, Haruie, Chiaki and Takaya had scraped together just enough money to purchase a single room.

"Drop the attitude, asshole. I wasn't accusing him or anything. Damn," Takaya gave him a sidelong glare. "I bet you kick, don't you?"

Chiaki snorted and glanced around the bed. It was pretty small.

"If you snore, yes. And you'd better pray you don't drool, either, because I swear I'll-"

The sound of a zipper ended that thought. Chiaki's head snapped around just in time to catch a shirtless Takaya peeling out of his jeans.

Chiaki was off the bed and shoving Takaya into a corner before the other boy had time for more than a startled curse.

"What the hell are you doing," Chiaki hissed, carefully angling himself to disrupt Naoe's line of sight.

"Getting ready for bed, what do you think?"

Chiaki prepared to ream him out for the striptease, but paused at an awful thought.

"You don't plan to sleep naked, do you?"

"Of course not!" Takaya all but screamed. "What are you, crazy?"

"Actually, I consider myself to be the sane one," Chiaki said distractedly, relieved.

Takaya shot him an odd look, and gave him a wide berth as he stepped around to the bed.

"God help us." Chiaki barely heard from across the room.

"Yeah, fuck you too, Naoe," he muttered.

Exhaustion was creeping in now that the last remnants of adrenaline had left his system. Chiaki removed his glasses to rub his eyes, and fantasized wistfully about a totally inoffensive bed partner (not likely) and a good night's sleep.

Naoe settled himself on the floor at the foot of the bed with a pillow and the spare blanket thoughtfully provided in the closet. Takaya made himself comfortable on the bed, cuddling into…

"Damn it! The last pillow!"

"He who hesitates, loses," Takaya murmured drowsily, nuzzling into the soft, fluffy pillow with a beatific smile.

"That's 'he who hesitates is lost,' dumbass."

"Whatever. Loser."

"Why, you-!"

Naoe cleared his throat meaningfully from the floor.

Chiaki grumbled, taking off his belt before sliding into bed. His rolled-up jacket would do just fine for a pillow, but it was only his consideration for Naoe that kept him from shoving Takaya out of the bed when he observed the smug smile on the latter's face.

Chiaki switched the bedside lamp off and all was quiet for a time. That is, until a muffled yelp woke him from a light doze.

"Shit, Chiaki, your toes are like ice!"

"So are yours! And you wouldn't be bothered if you could manage to keep your feet on your own side of the bed!"

"What the hell! You're the one trying to play footsie, jerkoff!"

Chiaki heard a rustle from the foot of the bed.

"Don't be ridiculous," he said quickly. "Just stay on your side of the bed and I won't smother you with your own pillow, capiche?" He rolled away from Takaya.


Haruie was untangling the strip of cloth she had been trying to wrap around Naoe's burned arm for the last ten minutes. Naoe looked rather pale.

Chiaki knelt in a ditch, wondering simultaneously how far he could stick his head out before he gave away their position and exactly how much the dry cleaners would charge for the stains currently seeping into his slacks.


God, it's practically theft, he thought, edging forward to peer over the top. I might as well just buy new ones.

"Fuck this shit," he heard from beside him. He glanced over, meeting Takaya's blazing eyes.


"I'm sick of this. On three, we charge 'em. Got it?"


"And what? We just run out into the open and wave our arms around and shout 'here we are'? Is that about the extent of your brilliant plan?"

"No. We run out into the open and take that group to the left by surprise, then duck behind the building. When the guys to the right focus on us there, Naoe and Haruie take them in the flank."


Chiaki tried to keep the dangerous smile he could feel twitching his lips from growing.
What did you know? It looked like someone was finally stirring. But still…


"And when were you planning on telling Naoe and Haruie?"


"I wasn't." Takaya cocked a brow and the corner of his mouth lifted. Chiaki couldn't help it; he could feel an answering smirk spread crookedly over his face.


"Naoe doesn't need to be told. And Haruie is quick to follow his lead."


Takaya nodded over his shoulder. A glance behind showed that Haruie had finished wrapping the bandage, and Naoe was crouched at the ready, eyes trained on Takaya. He gave a little nod as he noticed his Lord's attention.

"So what does that make me? Deadweight?"

"Hardly." Takaya faced forward, sticking out a fist to begin the countdown. Chiaki's pulse sped with anticipation.

"We are the big guns."

3

2


Chiaki woke with a start, heart racing. He blinked blearily in the darkness as his eyes adjusted, and remembered where he was. But what had woken him? He felt rather hot, certainly, but that alone shouldn't have been enough to drag him from sleep.

Something shifted against him and he froze. Slowly, he rolled his eyes downward.

Don't tell me…

Takaya was curled into his side, head resting heavily on his chest, with one fist wound tightly in his shirt.

Chiaki's immediate reaction was to lie very still and listen hard for the sound of his impending death. Apparently, some god was on his side. Only quiet breathing came from the floor. Rhythmic snores echoed in the bathroom, slightly muffled by the door.

Chiaki slowly released the breath he'd been holding. In its stead, profound irritation flooded in. He raised a hand to shake Takaya awake, but then hesitated, hand hovering over the boy's shoulder. If he woke Takaya, there was sure to be a scene. Naoe would wake up, hear a garbled account of what had happened, and insist that Chiaki join him on the floor to prevent another such occurrence.

He would never get back to sleep. Chiaki broke into a cold sweat just imagining lying shivering on the hard floor all night with Naoe's eyes boring into the back of his head.

Alright, scratch that.

He had to get Takaya off without waking him. That probably wouldn't be too hard. The brat was an incredibly heavy sleeper. Decision made, Chiaki gripped Takaya's shoulder carefully and pushed lightly but steadily. At first it looked like Takaya would just roll right off. Instead, he frowned in his sleep and pulled in even closer, tightening his hold on the shirt.

Chiaki groaned inwardly, and tried to think what to do. His plotting was interrupted when Takaya began to moan and shift restlessly. Chiaki caught his breath, thinking that Takaya was waking up, but it soon became apparent that he was only dreaming. A tic began in the muscle beneath Chiaki's left eye, and he seriously contemplated the pros and cons of smothering his General.

Taking a deep breath, he waited another couple of minutes until the boy had quieted, and tried again. Chiaki eased his hand beneath Takaya's and set about gently forcing him into releasing the death grip on his shirt.

That's it. Easy does it…

Takaya gave him a bad scare when he chose that moment to uncurl and arch up against him, twining his left leg around Chiaki's right, and sighing deeply into his ear before burying his face in Chiaki's neck.

By this time, Chiaki was losing sight of all humor in the situation. The leg resting between his own seemed to radiate heat, and the breaths warming his neck raised goose bumps along his arms. A half-naked Takaya- Kagetora- was wrapped around him, and Naoe was lying only a few feet away.

Oh, to hell with this.

Chiaki made to grab Takaya's arm, but his fingers were still tangled beneath Takaya's, and Takaya's hand closed over them at the movement. Takaya released another long sigh, breath hitching on a whimper.

Chiaki stilled. Brows knitting, he stared at the ceiling.

What are you dreaming about?

It wasn't as though there was a short list of possibilities. The last four hundred years had carried plenty of distressing events, starting with Kagetora's defeat by his foster brother and subsequent suicide, and culminating in that travesty thirty years ago.

As it usually did, anger ran cold beneath Chiaki's skin at the mere thought of it. It always came back to that woman, didn't it? How much pain, how much waste, could have been avoided if Kagetora had only listened to his advice and not allowed himself to become so attached.

A drop of moisture sizzled on his neck.


It's your own fault,
Chiaki thought fiercely at him. Always trying to be such a damn hero and yet still running away from everything. Plenty of people warned you and you wouldn't listen. You have no one to blame but yourself.

Takaya was limp and silent. If Chiaki had only been watching, he would have thought the nightmare was over.

Chiaki felt his General trembling against him and closed his eyes.

Lightly, his thumb traced circles over the knuckles entrapping his other fingers.

Damn you for acting weak when you're strong and strong when you're weak. Why can't you be honest for once?

On impulse, Chiaki turned his face into Takaya's hair. Lips against his scalp, he inhaled deeply. The thick mane smelled of smoke and rain.

More wetness hit his neck and he frowned.

Alright, enough is enough. I can only be so sympathetic.

Oddly, the sensation dribbled slowly down his skin. Chiaki's eyes shot open in outrage.

"How dare you drool on me?!"

His prediction had been correct. A massive scene did follow, and the yelling did rouse Naoe. Even so, Takaya was so disoriented at being woken from a sound sleep by a shove off the bed, and Chiaki was so incoherent with fury, that Naoe returned to his makeshift bed without knowledge of the cause of this most recent altercation, unless the problem of conflicting personalities could be considered the cause. Takaya turned his back on his bedfellow and angrily kept as far from him as the bed would allow.

Despite this lucky turn, and even though he spitefully made sure to steal all the blankets as soon as Takaya drifted off again, Chiaki could not get any sleep that night.

He was too cold.

finis