.prey.

Now was the time to act, now within Ibaragi's illusion, and Raikou found that he was looking forward to it. Ichinomiya Kantarou was a compelling sort of cute: stubborn and protective of his protector and so adorably, misguidedly confident that simply holding the onikui-tengu's chains made him a stronger person.

Surely he would be even more compelling broken.

"Release the contract," he purred. "If your strength is real -- if what you have with the onikui-tengu is real -- it won't change anything, will it?"

He was close enough to taste; the scent of soap on Ichniomiya's skin, clean and fresh, filled his senses. There was no cologne on him, no artifice. Raikou had almost expected him to smell of incense -- but he liked this better.

"You know it will, though, don't you?" Raikou murmured, edging so slightly closer. Thin shoulders trembled beneath his hands, as if a strong wind might steal Ichinomiya from his grasp. His fingers tightened. Such appealing weakness. "These words would not have the power to hurt you if they weren't already inside you. These doubts... this guilt..."

Each shiver of wounded breath, like the desperate flutter of a broken-winged bird, brought a new surge of triumph. Yes, he would be intoxicating once broken. Shattered and hopeless, he would cry out to be possessed, owned. Raikou thought he would be a fitting prize to match his victory over the onikui-tengu.

There were only two kinds of people in this world. The predators: those like Raikou, like the onikui-tengu, who wrestled for glory and power with others of their own kind. Raikou could never be happy without knowing that he was the best at what he did, and likewise, the onikui-tengu would never be happy bound into the pleasing shell that Ichinomiya had trapped him within, as sure a prison as the seal on the stone.

And then there were the weak. There was no protecting the protector, no leashing the savage beast. There was only delaying the inevitable. People like Ichinomiya could only delude themselves.

"Haruka," Ichinomiya said, choked, that hateful name.

"Yes, the one you've betrayed," Raikou said, smug. "You know already, don't you? That you have betrayed the same one you held so dear? ...yes," he mused. "You are no stronger now than you were then... on the day when..."

Raikou had done his research. His hands skimmed lower, brushing into the white folds of Ichinomiya's hakama; the shorter man gasped softly, but he did not struggle. He did not struggle. Long fingers brushed the puckered scar on Ichinomiya's chest, and for a long moment they were still, the only motion the responsive shiver in Ichinomiya's lean form.

Almost, almost. It would be so easy.

The shamisen hit a sour note.

Raikou opened his eyes and smiled.

So the onikui-tengu had come at last for what was

[for now]

his.