Hello all, and welcome to my first full-length shounen-ai story! If you are reading the author's note (which I should hope you are), know that the primary focus of this story will be Kurofai, but there will be hints of other pairings, as well as a bit of mix and match with other characters to shake things up a bit (I'm not giving details yet!) But I'm a firm believer in Clamp's soulmate couples, so please do not be offended if I play cracktastic Cupid for a while with the characters. I promise to leave them in the arms of their proper beloved when I'm done.
Also, this story is more of a scifi/fantasy, with romance and friendship mixed heavily in, but FF doesn't allow for so many categories. The title of this story, will have more significance in the next chapters.
That said, I would like to say that I am in no way making a profit off this story. It is the sole creation of the lovely mangaka Clamp, of which I'm not part of, and I own merely the story line. Also, this story was vaguely inspired by Clover, another Clamp work, which I also claim no ownership of.
"The reason birds can fly and we can't is simply that they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings"- James Matthew Barrie
Kurogane huffed, throwing a rock at a hollowed-out tree stump for the umpteenth time. He was supposed to have been on a plane to Africa by now, if only his father's job hadn't called him away. His friend Doumeki had cut any hope Kurogane might've had salvaging his vacation time when he traveled to a beach resort farther south. He would gladly have spent time with the boy, who was quiet and not a complete moron like the rest of his class.
His new friend, however, was the last sort of person he wanted to deal with. Sure, Watanuki's cooking rivaled that of his own mother's, but he threw bitch fits every time Doumeki so much as looked at him the wrong way. Admittedly, this happened quite a lot, and was bound to wear down on Kurogane's nerves, which were stretched taut to begin with.
As it was, he happened to be stuck here for the better part of the summer break, and therefore he was bored out of his mind. Everyone who knew Kurogane was of the understanding that he became restless when he got bored, especially when a certain friend left him high-and dry and there were no means of entertainment. For Kurogane, being restless lead to being angry.
Not that he was exactly the picture of sunshine in his daily life, but he was considerably less grumpy when he had a purpose to fulfill. Still, the point was that three weeks into summer vacation he hadn't once gone farther than the few miles his dirt-bike could go out of their dirt road before hitting major traffic.
Tossing one last rock at the stump (which by now had several pock-marks where he had missed the hole at the top), he skulked off toward the house. At the last minute, though, he opted for getting his dirt-bike from the garage instead, deciding that it couldn't hurt to find a better way to burn his frustration out. He pulled the red, dirt encrusted machine from the back of the garage, and after walking it to the driveway, held the clutch and cranked it. The loud rumbling of the gas engine in itself was enough to take the edge off his agitation. He twisted the handle bar, revving the motor, and took of down the dirt road. Kurogane twisted the handle bar, turning right, leaning his body as he did so.
Only just having left the street he lived on a few moments ago, arriving to the edge of a busier road, the sound of a familiar car greeted him.
"Kurogane~! Yoohoo! C'mere a minute!" With a slight growl, he pulled up alongside the blue Lexus containing the three females who could make his day or turn it into a living hell in less than five minutes, depending on the day and how they were feeling. He hoped today was one of which they took pity on him. Not that he needed it, but it couldn't hurt to have someone lift his spirits. Tomoyo and Kendappa Daidoji, and Souma, Kendappa's girlfriend.
The latter two were in their second year of college, while Tomoyo was in seventh grade, two grades down from Kurogane. When Tomoyo and he had been in elementary school, third and fifth and grade respectively, the two older high-school girls sometimes picked them up, skipping school, and took them on excursions to ice-cream parlors or the amusement park right outside their town.
There was one incident that Kurogane never forgave them for, however, that happened when he was six. The three girls were sinister enough to force him into one of Tomoyo's dresses, red bows, frills and stockings and all. It wasn't because Tomoyo had cried big, fat crocodile tears. Of course that had nothing at all to do with them managing to get the dress on him. No, it was merely that at such a young age, he wasn't stronger than any of them. Certainly no match for three determined girls, hell bent on killing his dignity, put together. Tomoyo, little miss future fashionista, had jumped up in down on the spot giddily upon the completion of their conjoined masterpiece… Until Kurogane tore one of the bows off of the dress; then she really did cry.
"Yeah?" He asked, parking the bike beside the car on the passengers' side, where the younger sister sat. She wore a white sundress that gave nice contrast to her lily-white skin, and too-big sunglasses atop her wavy dark hair. She was only half Asian, and had inherited her European father's complexion.
Tomoyo threw a hapless glance at her elder sister before deigning to tell him what exactly she had called him over for in the first place. "We were planning on taking a trip to our family's cabin in the mountains…"
"…And we were considerate enough to ask you to join us," finished Kendappa.
"Oh yeah? What's the catch?"
Tomoyo blinked, tilting her head to the side innocuously. Kendappa craned her body over her younger sister's and, eyes sparkling with nefarious intent that she barely masked, replied. "Can't we invite our favorite cousin somewhere without him getting suspicious? You certainly are a distrusting brute, Kurogane." She pretended to look disapproving for good measure.
"Yeah, well I have good reason to be," he muttered under his breath. He knew that mocking tone, and it made his eyebrow twitch. "Last time I took your offer I was dragged shopping against my will. I don't want a repeat of that."
"Goodness, no! We don't want another incident like last time happening. You shouted at that nice clerk at the store, which, if I may be so bold to say," ( and she was), "got us kicked out." A mildly frantic Tomoyo waving her hands in front of her face alleviated his fears. "If anyone should be worried, it should be us. You need to learn to control your temper more."
He bristled at that, crossing his arms in preparation for a defensive rant. "Control my ass! That saleswoman was trying to fucking kill me with that perfume-"
"Are you coming or not?" His youngest cousin interrupted him by rapping her knuckles against his temple. He grunted at her, giving a short nod. She clapped her hands together. "Wonderful, we'll pick you up tomorrow at ten."
And with that, the two girls in the blue car left Kurogane standing there, hardly daring to believe his good luck, if you believed in that sort of thing anyway. Then again, he supposed his cousins would find a way to make certain he never accepted a handout from them ever again without seriously considering the consequences first. They usually did. He entertained the horrifying idea that they hadn't said they weren't going to cart him off to the mall to carry their bags as payment for the vacation they had so graciously bestowed upon him.
Deciding that wasting time worrying about it didn't bode well for his health, he pushed it to the back of his mind and kicked off his bike down the silver-flecked asphalt as fast as it would go, only slowing down when he reached the dirt road leading back to his house.
Once he had retied his bike to the rack, he kicked off his shoes at the door and took the stairs two at a time into the kitchen. He immediately went to the refrigerator, nabbing a cold grape soda and leftover chicken salad. Normally Kurogane turned up his nose at sweets, but the fizzy purple drink was a rare exception; something so delicious it could break even his steely resolve. He popped open the can, grabbed a fork, and headed into his room to take stock of the condition of his wardrobe.
Unlike most other boys his age, Kurogane's room was fairly organized and tidy, mostly because he had very little in the way of possessions. Tomoyo often teased him for being a neat-freak. That wasn't true, however. He just liked to know where to find his belongings, and besides, it wasn't as if he was averse to throwing a few shirts on the floor here and there.
Somehow the room managed to contain a lived-in feel, without being cluttered. The headboard of the bed queen-sized bed doubled as storage with drawers and shelves on the sides. A mirror was located directly behind the bed, and there was and armoire in the corner of the room. The furniture was black, with white accents. The red and black bedspread was unkempt (he rarely made his bed, despite his penchant for cleanliness), the towel from the morning's shower lying forgotten on it.
He pulled out a duffel bag, rolled several shirts, jeans, and other clothing and placing them in the bag. Then, as an afterthought, he tossed in his swim trunks. He knew the cabin had a washer and dryer, so he wasn't bothered about packing two and a half weeks worth of clothes.
Once he was finished, he opened the door to his bathroom, searching for his travel toiletries. His mother had been a wildlife photographer before her illness had incapacitated her, forcing her to stay near home. Still, pictures of exoctic animals lined the walls in the house, a showcase for his mother's work that did not sell at the auctions. And it was inevitable that her line of work took her all over the world, often for weeks at a time. Sometimes, if he was lucky enough, he had been allowed to go with her. He'd been to different parts of Europe and Asia, and almost to South Africa once, until he'd gotten the flu just before it was time to leave. He kept a bag full of hygiene items handy in case they had to leave on short notice. He eventually found said kit hidden behind the stack of towels under the sink, and examined it for all the necessary items. Kurogane stuffed the items into the side pocket of his bag.
"Kurogane, are you in there?" His mother's voice sounded from the kitchen. He shoved his duffel bag off the bed, poking his head out of the room.
"Some help with the groceries would be nice." She pointed outside where the family sedan was parked, trunk open to reveal a dozen or so plastic bags. The teenager went to collect them and set them on the counter as his mother put the food away.
"I'm going with Tomoyo and her sister and her girlfriend to their cabin in the mountains," he declared, blatant, watching his mother put up the bread. "I'm leaving tomorrow morning."
She seemed untroubled by this new information her son had given her, just like he knew she'd be. Other parents might have called her irresponsible, but she was a firm believer in allowing her son his freedom, even when he'd been younger. "I'm glad you found something to do this summer. You've been moping around here like a kicked puppy!"
He growled. "I'm not a freaking dog! And if anyone's doing the kicking, it'll be me."
His mother chuckled, "Only an expression, sweetie."
But before he could stop her, she was squeezing him in a tight hug. His arms remained slack on either side of his body. Kurogane told himself that he endured it only because it was his mother and besides it was in private. When she let finally him go, to his immense relief, he skulked off to the kennels where the animals were kept.
The coyote with the broke foreleg in the first cage snarled as he passed by, skittering to the back of the cage, away from the human with the glaring red eyes, which by now Kurogane was rolling. "I'm coming to feed you. Dumb mutt."
It merely lowered its ears and pulled back its lips to reveal serrated teeth. "Tch. If that's the way you're gonna be, I'll feed you last. See if I care if you starve," he said, opening the barn where the frailer creatures were housed- mainly birds and smaller mammals.
At the moment there was a skunk healing from an attack from a cat, a falcon with mange, and a few songbirds. Kurogane went to the very back of the barn where the feed was kept. He found the chart stating which medicines and food went to each animal, carefully measuring the exact amount into each container. Afterwards, he changed the water in each cage. Half an hour, and many scratches from a rather ornery young bobcat later, he was locking up the barn and heading for the stables where the family horses were lodged.
In the stall closest to the door was Ginryuu, his father's grey gelding. Next was Miko, the black mare belonging to his mother. But Kurogane had eyes only for the last horse. Souhi, a blue roan Thoroughbred, given to him as a present for his eighth birthday. He was as hot-blooded and temperamental as his rider; in fact, Kurogane himself was the only one the horse trusted completely enough to let him ride on his back. At present, he was craning his neck around the side of the stall, ears pricked forward. He nickered a soft greeting when he saw Kurogane approaching him with a carrot.
The blue-gray horse eagerly crunched on the treat as his master patted his neck. Kurogane opened the stall door, and within minutes had Souhi fully tacked, lead him outside the bar. They set out at a canter, but soon the adrenaline was rushing through the veins of both rider and mount, compelling him to kick it up to a full gallop. When they reached a felled tree on the trail, he pushed Souhi onward, who flew over the obstacle as if aided by wings. The horse was a superb jumper, even competing in a few events, though nothing that involved serious committment. Feeling the drum of Souhi's hooves, they road until Kurogane could see the end of the trail, leading to the forest.
By this time they had gone five miles, and now Kurogane felt sweat lathering on both of them, saw the sunset turning the clouds a vibrant lavender-fuchsia. It was too dark by now to go into the woods, although the trail ran even longer. He jumped down in order to give the stallion some time to cool off, to which Souhi appeared immensely grateful, if the way he nuzzled Kurogane's hair was anything to go by. When he felt the dampness from Souhi's neck had evaporated, and that his breathing had slowed to normal, he remounted and set off at a mild pace the last couple of miles to his house. There, he untacked the exhausted, but very satisfied horse, making certain to give the horse an extensive grooming and change his feed. Then, he trudged back the house.
His father was in the kitchen chopping onions for dinner, and looked up when he saw his son. "I hear you're vacationing with your cousins."
Kurogane nodded. "I'm leaving tomorrow morning."
"That soon? Damn," he cursed. His thin eyebrows, so like his son's, knitted together in concern. They were alike, not only in appearance, but in personality. The both shared the same hairline, same dangerous look in their red eyes, and the desire for activity. Mr. Youou, however, was more easygoing, a man comfortable with himself and his life, a peace that his son had yet to find for himself.
"What?" He frowned at his father. He really hoped there wasn't anything that warranted him staying behind, because he honestly did not think he could take another day living in such mundanity.
"I just wish it I'd gotten a few days notice, that's all," he said, chewing his lip. "I'm booked for the next week with calving and the patients need looking after while we're both gone. It'll be no trouble to pay someone, but a recommendation would help."
Oh, right. He'd nearly forgotten about the wildlife patients. His parents had met in college, both majoring in zoology. Although his father's minor was veterinary medicine, and his mother had chosen photography, their shared love of nature had brought them together. Kurogane's father worked as a large animal vet, but he operated a small wildlife clinic on the side. He took pride in nursing the creatures back to health and being able to release them back into the wild. It never mattered to him that this particular line of work didn't pay, either. He was simply a good-hearted person.
The boy thought for a moment. "Hn. I know a couple of eighth graders who might help," he started. "They're both scrawny kids, but the girl especially loves animals. And I'm sure the boy could use the money."
"They're siblings... or…"
"No. Dating," he corrected, shaking his head, thinking of Syaoran's devotion to Sakura, how the boy even held doors open for her and shit, something that made Kurogane shudder at the sickly sweetness of it. They had met when they were seven, having both been new students from the other side of the country, and became friends almost immediately. One was rarely seen without the other being somewhere close by. "They keep quiet about it, though. Not many people even know they're going out."
His father still looked hesitant.
"Don't worry, they'll work hard."
Finally convinced, his father nodded sharply, once, saying "Alright then, call them and tell the they're expected to be here at eight on Friday."
As it turned out, Sakura and Syaoran were more than eager to help out, even when Kurogane reminded them that the animals his father cared for weren't fluffy kittens to be cuddled and played with; the were unpredictable wild creatures. They'd get a rundown of how to feed and give meds, as well as moving the animals from one cage to another in the event it had to be cleaned.
"Nothing too hard," Kurogane said. "Eight o'clock sharp, remember."
"We'll be there," the boy assured him determinedly. "Sakura and I will take good care of everything."
And with that done, Kurogane slid his phone shut, preparing to wash up for dinner.
Tomoyo had told him they were coming at ten. Yet here it was, four minutes past eleven and they still hadn't shown. He was beginning to think the girls had stood him up, that they were lying about taking him on the trip, instead having blasted off down the highway set for the fresh mountain air. Not that it would've surprised him.
"Damn them!" he shouted, outraged. But suddenly a blue Lexus pulled into the driveway with Souma driving this time. He strode up to the vehicle, bags in hand and more irate than he'd been in days, more than ready to tell throw one of his childish tantrums "What the hell do you--"
"Hurry up, Kurogane. We're already behind schedule." Souma called, with enough 'don't-argue-with-me-or-I'll-turn-around-and-leave' threat in it to get Kurogane moving quickly to the trunk of the car. He somehow got his suitcase wedged in the small space, having already been overloaded with necessary (travel bags, television cables, blankets) and unnecessary (makeup kits, hair curlers, and other feminine things he didn't even know the name of) items. The sheets at the cabin might be dusty.
He slid into the back seat opposite Tomoyo with a huff, rolling his eyes. She, engrossed in a shoujo manga, gave him a cursory "Hey," and absently fished in the bag under her feet for another book, which she handed to Kurogane. On the cover was a picture of a young, too vibrant girl with red Rapunzel-length hair brandishing a sword.
"You've got to be shittin' me." Tomoyo blinked up at him, seemingly oblivious. Kurogane tried to refrain from bashing his head into the window. "I'm not reading this girly crap. You told me you were gonna bring something I'd like."
Tomoyo 'ohohoho'd' , setting her book down. Playfully, she tweaked his nose. "But Kurogane," she teased, "everyone knows you're a sensitive romantic at heart."
This of course made him irate, glaring, lunging across the seat to throttle his cousin. Her indigo eyes lit up with unconcealed mirth, though, instead of fear like he was expecting, as she covered her mouth to control her giggling. "My, my. Someone's acting like a spoilt child."
"I am NOT a child!" Hands clenched into fists, he fought the urge to jump out of the car. Why why why had he agreed to this? Was it really possible that he had been so bored sitting at home that he'd willingly trapped himself with the three people who brought out the worst in him?
He must be a masochist for going on this trip, putting his well-being in the hands of three teenage girls. Or insane. There was no way he was going to survive this with his head screwed on in the right direction for long.
"Kurogane, you should know better than to distract the driver," Kendappa said, smirking, her straight dark hair whipping about her head as she twisted to look at him from the passenger's seat. He continued to glower at her, until he felt Tomoyo pushing the book into his hands once again, wearing a martyred expression.
"You may as well read it," she suggested. "We're in here for another three hours."
Damn, she was right. Unfortunately right, because it was a shoujo manga. No self-respecting male in his right mind would dare open it. And it was either this, or three hours of slowly torturing himself by watching the trees flash past the car. He was kicking himself right then for not having brought a book of his own, or at least his Zune to listen to music.
Kill me now, he thought, opening the book.
He decided it wasn't all bad, once you got to the action, soon finding himself turning the pages (semi) enthusiastically to see what new monsters the three girls would face.
"Ooh I love that part," Tomoyo squealed upon seeing the pages he was on. "Fuu's adorable, ne?" Humming noncommittally, he shrugged. "And Hikaru! I'd love to have a friend as energetic as her…" she never finished, cluing him in to the fact that it would be a while before her eyes became less glassy and she came out of her dreamy state.
What did surprise him was seeing Tomoyo hitting her head on the car door a few minutes later, eyelids fluttering slowly. One particularly hard bump caused her to jolt awake, bleary, swaying back and forth in the seat. Kurogane snorted, arranging the young girl so she was laying with her head against the pillow on the armrest.
She snored. Dainty, feminine snores, but still. The freshman wished he had a recorder. Tomoyo would be aghast to learn about this, although she would deny it vehemently.
Once he saw that she was sleeping, he made himself comfortable against the side of the car.
"one-hundred and twelve more miles to go," Souma told them, looking at him from the rear-view mirror.
He nodded to show that he heard, decided to follow Tomoyo's example and settled in for a short nap the rest of the way.