Chapter summary: Cosmo Entelecheia has been defeated but Kotaro has taken a secret from the final battle that may end his partnership with Negi.
7th Period: My Mission! Reunion and Recovery. Part two.
"You've done an incredible thing." The witch who was tending to Negi's wounds, the gatekeeper who has been sworn to protect the balance of the now destroyed magical portal, smiled as he looked him over. He was more badly beaten than he'd ever been but was victorious none-the-less.
"I have to commend you, Negi Springfield and you as well Kotaro Inugami."
Kotaro was tiredly lying back on a chair, lazily watching his husband's injuries begin to heal from the influence of the magic and trying not to itch as his own wounds were healed.
"Heh. Well, what could I have done?" the dog muttered. His hands were ripped raw at the palms with his tail frayed and burnt badly. However, despite this there was a soft easy smile on his face. It was over, after all. "When I showed up there what else was I going to do but help him?"
The witch nodded as she turned to Negi. "Well, that is true and now there's merely one last thing to go over. We must make sure Cosmo Entelecheia's hex didn't affect your minds. It would terrible for you to have to suffer through any … unpleasant side effects because of your proximity to the hex maker."
"And how do you do that?" Kotaro asked with narrowed eyes. He didn't trust anything that was going to wriggle around in their minds. He trusted a former friend of Nagi Springfield even less.
"We'll take a quick peek at your memories from your time in the cave to see if anything was slipped in."
Kotaro stiffened slightly. "Do we … have to do that?"
"Relax Kotaro," Negi told the dog. "Everything will be okay. It will just be like when I go through your mind."
The dog smiled with unease and looked away. Negi didn't realize that his comment had made Kotaro feel worse, not better.
Step, slide, step, slide, step, slide.
The wall is advancing on him as he walks. The shadows ahead, the wall behind, he is literally stuck between a rock and hard place.
The lantern is warm and bright against the shadows, throwing writhing yellow light over the hissing creatures. Eventually his careful steps do nothing to ease the advance of wall. It begins to rush and he quickens to avoid the spikes at his back.
A rumbling, and the wall advancing creates a whoosh of air that is more than a sound but a solid presence threatening to tear the mage apart. Stone skewers as long as the staff he carries jut out awkwardly before being absorbed back into the cascading wall of rock, like the spray just before an ocean wave. He knows even one of those stone rods will be the end of him.
Rush forward, rush forward.
Just an arm's length out of mortal danger. One step ahead of death.
In the flurry of movement, his connection to the lantern is weakened, almost severed. The shadows jump forward, clawing and scraping at his right side, the side with lantern, hoping to drag his light away from him. Sizzle, crack, screech, howl, the creatures incinerate under the touch of the light.
But it only takes one. It only takes a single scratch. Negi trips, his left ankle catch up by a shadowy beast. He tumbles head-long to the floor, spikes beneath him, shadows and stone spears coming down on top of him. He is going to die if he doesn't move.
So he rolls. He concentrates on the lantern and reestablishing the link with the magic item. The flare of light and heat is like fireworks going off. Popping, cracking, howling, hissing, the cave gives a scream of pain as Negi scrambled to his feet, aided by the wind he controls.
In the air he moves. He needs to escape, to somehow wriggle out of his situation. But there is no escape. A dark cloud descends on him, the lantern lost within it. Negi feels the cold immaterial claws of his attackers grabbing at him. He struggles but to no avail. He is going to die there. Panic begins to set in.
Kotaro! Kotaro help me! Kotaro please. Kotaro!
A warm light buds in his chest, sparkling before his eyes, shimmering in the dark and saving him.
"Let's stop there," the witch muttered as she ran her fingers delicately over the bowl of enchanted water that served as the control center to the mind probing process.
Daintily, she shook her fingers of the water, which land in opaque silver droplets around her before vanishing. She moved with grace over to Kotaro who was lying on a recliner of his own, looking nervous.
"Relax, Kotaro. This won't hurt. It will be just like dreaming."
The dog demon scoffed. "Yeah. Dreaming. Dreaming of almost getting killed. That sounds like a nightmare to me."
"I keep telling you not to worry," Negi called soothingly from his recliner. "I'll be right here."
Kotaro felt the witch put her fingers, wet with the enchanted water, over his temples and resisted the urge to get up and flee. That was what he was most afraid.
It's almost like pain. It's not quite pain but it's just as strong. It's bubbling up from his chest and spreading out into his limbs. He feels lightheaded, all his muscles contract and tense against the feeling. He feels like he'd going to vomit. Doubling over the dog demon fully expects to see his picked-at lunch covering the floor at any moment. But no. What lurches from the very center of him isn't so average.
Magic. It almost feels like his contract is being activated.
He'd gotten used to the feeling again in that the few weeks. Negi and he training side by side again had made him know it well. It was like sex. Better than sex almost. A warm feeling of being completely one with another person, it wraps him up and he falls into and feels utterly secure in its strength.
But this feel isn't quite like that. It reminds him of that but it's even stronger, and it's painful. He cries out. It feels like needles are forcing their way out of his skin.
Oh god! It hurts!
His body is being ripped apart; He knows it.
However, it is pain he hears in Negi's voice.
Kotaro! Kotaro help me!
Unmistakable and in terrible anguish Negi screams for him. Kotaro straightens against the pain.
Negi needs him. His ragged breaths get deeper. He ignores the pain. No. He accepts it. Whatever this is, whatever it is doing to him, it will bring him to Negi. He allows it to rip through him, to tear him to pieces and remake him all at once. He no longer cares that it hurts. He fist is flying before he understands he has begun to attack. He feels Negi close to him but can't figure out where he is. He hears him.
Yes. He is there with him and with the strength of their bond he cuts through the darkness. His claws slide through things he can barely see. When he lands, he's in a crater, sharply sloping walls push back against even sharper spikes. The two forces cancel one another and all is still.
Kotaro looks back Negi is injured, but somehow, he is smiling. Their meeting has no words. The staff and lantern are gone. They don't look for them. Negi begins down the path. Kotaro follows.
The gatekeeper turned her eyes from the magical pool where Kotaro's memories were displayed to the door. There, one of her helpers stood breathless.
"This had better be important," the witch commented. Her voice was soft but her tone icy. A visible chill went through the young man at the door.
"Um. Yes. It is. I uh … saw something on the monitor."
"Something?" the witch muttered.
"Yes. The mages from the holding place of the Hex Maker. A few of them have shown up."
"What?" was the response from just about everyone in the room.
"Yea. I just saw two of them. I set someone out to get them."
The witch turned and seemed to consider the situation before smiling. "How pleasant. Perhaps we've made fewer sacrifices for this victory than we believed."
"Do you think," Negi asked hopefully, "that my father is out there too?"
The young man at door beamed. "Yea. Our tracking systems tell us that the mages have been dumped all over. He's probably out there somewhere."
Negi turned his face away, but could barely hide his smile.
"Yes. Well this is good news," the former gatekeeper said. "So let's finish this bit of business so you can go find your father."
Kotaro bristled and turned his head away. He was glad when the witch moved to inspect Negi's memories rather than his. He had to come up with a way to fool her magic and had to do it quick.
There is a rushing. It's more than a sound. It's more than a force. It's like the whole world in crashing in on them.
Negi works quickly. His hands flying over the machine; he breaks through the hex-maker's defenses, trying to ignore the sounds of battle. It feels wrong to be spell casting while the battle rages around him, since he is a combat mage, but he works without pause.
The machine comes apart as he gets past its defense. He lurches forward as something behind him hits him, but he doesn't turn around. He can feel Kotaro. He's in pain; he's suffering. Still, Negi can't turn around. He doesn't turn around.
Finally, the machine begins to collapse in on itself. It all comes apart, falling nearly on his head. He is falling with it. He screams in shock. He can't catch himself. Kotaro's hand reaches for him in chaos. He grabs it. The place is coming apart around them. They must leave.
A wind spell carries them like lighting through all rubble. There is not exit. They are merely dodging death. Negi looks for a way out. He can see nothing. There is nothing. Falling spikes, burning pieces of what was the hex-maker, the last bits of the sentient cave roaring to life in a kamikaze-like torrent, that's all that surrounds them. For the second time, a sick feeling sinks into Negi's stomach.
They are going to die. They are successful, but they are going to die here. He is afraid. Not so much of death itself. No, not death. But he is afraid for Amaterasu. She will never know them. He is afraid for Kotaro. He didn't have to die here with him. He is afraid for Asuna; she will never recover from this. It's over. They are dying.
Still, he can't stop trying. He feels as if the world is ending but he is still reaching out. Kotaro is defending him and he can't stop searching for a way out. He can't lie down and die. Maybe, in the end, that's just not his style. He wants to, needs to, die fighting.
And there in the distance is something he doesn't expect to see. Something he wasn't looking for. His father. He's falling out of a containment pod. There are other mages around him. They're all falling into a soupy, magical mess at the bottom of the cavern and disappearing into oblivion.
Negi grits his teeth, swings around. Kotaro is shouting, telling him to watch it. He has to reach him. He has to save him.
This is not a rescue mission. That was what his father had said. To hell with that.
He swings as low as he dares, dragging Kotaro unwillingly along. They dip under the chaos. Kotaro doesn't like it but defends him. He defends, until that is, something hits him. He slumps forward, dazed but not unconscious. Negi can tell by their bond. However, Negi cannot go forward. He won't go forward with Kotaro like that.
He pulls up hard, flings them straight up. His father is lost to his sight, and he doesn't even glance to see him disappear forever in that murky mess.
Negi glares straight up. He doesn't know where he's going, doesn't care. He flies as fast as his powers let him. The speed slows Kotaro's recovery from the hit; he is unused to the speed and dizziness. Negi tells him to just hold on, murmurs so low he knows he can't be heard. The sounds around them are so loud they've become silent.
And then everything smashes and Negi takes a breath of air.
"And we know what happens from there." The witch took her hands out of the water and shook the liquid from her fingers. "You burst through the top of the mountain, releasing much of the magic along with you and were picked up by my students shortly there-after."
"So I suppose I pass?" Negi asked in a relaxed tone.
"You do. Now you, Kotaro."
Kotaro was gripping the side of his chair like it was threatening to throw him. His knuckles were white. The witch eyed him but said nothing. If Kotaro wanted her to stop, he didn't say anything. Anora dipped her fingers into the water, tapped Kotaro's temples then placed the digits back into the water. The dog held his breath and closed his eyes. This was it.
Pain. There is more pain than he's ever experienced. He is frayed like rope. His palms are bloody, ripped raw to the flesh. He thinks his bones show on his knuckles. But he can't stop.
The hex maker is coming after Negi. He will protect him. No matter what he will protect Negi! The pain is a reminder of what he has to lose.
He fights. He fights like nothing else matters and throws his whole soul into every punch. He is blind to everything around him. He knows Negi only through their magical connection. And so he is surprised when he does see something.
Nagi. It is Nagi Springfield. Locked in a pod of some kind he is fast asleep or unconscious.
Kotaro looks at him. He knows to his very core that he should alert Negi to his presence. It is the right thing to do. But he can't. He doesn't. He keeps fighting and tries not to look at that horrible spot on the cavern wall, even though it keeps wringing into his sight.
When it is over and they are looking for a way out, Kotaro is glad to leave the bastard to drown in the magical quicksand. But there is no way out.
Negi flying, him defending, they are rushing in circles but going nowhere. They are going to die. He isn't afraid of death. He used to not even caring if he lived or died. Death is not something he fears. But fights because that is what he does. He keeps fighting even if death is certain because it is what he knows.
But then they dive. They are spiraling down, down. Flying towards that sticky magical death pond, and Kotaro knows. He understands what is happening without a thought. There is only one reason for Negi to be driving them towards that one way path into eternity. Nagi. They are going to save Nagi.
Kotaro shouts at Negi. He tells him go back, turn back, forget this suicide. However, Negi doesn't hear him or doesn't understand.
Or doesn't care.
He dives and Kotaro can do nothing but keep going.
That last thing he wants is to die for the sake of Nagi Springfield. He turned his eyes way from him before because he wished he would disappear. But now he'll save him, if he has no choice.
However, fate sides with him. Korato feels something hit him. He is dazed but can feel the shift in their movements. They are going up, up, up. He doesn't know and doesn't care why, but they are leaving Nagi Springfield to his fate and flying up together, him and Negi.
The whole world hushes, holding its breath and waiting. Everything breaths at once.
Kotaro shook. Not violently but a noticeable tremor ran continuously through his body. He had, without noticing, cut gashes in the arm rest of the chair he was sitting. The room was completely silent.
"Well," the ex-gatekeeper muttered at last. "You pass. That's good." She couldn't even feign a nonchalant attitude.
Kotaro could feel the eyes of everyone in the room on him. He didn't need to look around to know they were all watching him, judging him. Because now they knew. They knew what he done – or at least what he had tried to do.
Tentatively he looked over at Negi and saw that his eyes were not on him but on the screen where Korato's thoughts and memories had just been displayed. The dog watched, looking for signs of his husband's thoughts and emotions, but found nothing. The whole room was still. Even Evangeline wasn't speaking.
Kotaro couldn't take the silence. He couldn't take all those eyes watching him, judging him. He got up, ripping the wires and little tubes from his body and left. The farther away from the room he got the faster he moved. He didn't know where he was going but he had to escape those eyes. He rushed out of the building into the sunlight which hit at the same time as his name.
It was Negi. No. He couldn't face him. He could see the hate in his eyes.
He kept going, on and on away from the house, back towards the gate as if he could go back and change things. Exhaustion hit him as he approached it and he stumbled, landing on his knees. The sound of footfalls behind him made him panic.
"Kotaro," Negi said as he approached. He was huffing and flushed. He had obviously worked his body too hard.
Kotaro had too. He could hardly keep still under the onslaught of his own breathing. "Negi," he managed to choke out. "I'm … sorry."
Negi looked at him. His eyes were storm of emotions. Anger, of course. Confusion, naturally. Love, but for Kotaro or Nagi? That was the question that Kotaro feared the answer to.
"Why did you do it?" Negi asked as he breathing returned to normal. "Why would you want my father to die? Why would trick me into leaving him? Kotaro, look at me!" Negi was by his side on ground before Kotaro could get away. "Why Kotaro?"
The dog tried to wriggle away but Negi, the stronger of the two Kotaro was loathe to admit, held him too tightly and too desperately. He loved him and wouldn't let him go. That set Kotaro off.
"Why?" he repeated. "You want to know why?" he snatched Negi's arms from around him and yanked up his sleeve. There along his arm was the long tan line that was proof of his suicide attempt. "This! This is why!"
Negi turned his eyes away it. He couldn't stand the look of the scars. He never looked at them. Kotaro growled.
"No! Look! Look at it! That's why I did it! That's why I hate him, why I can't forgive him! He nearly killed you!"
"It was an accident!" Negi countered.
Kotaro groaned in frustration. "It's always an accident! How was Nagi supposed to know that trap was there in case he ever came back? How was Nagi supposed to know his ex-girlfriend would attack his son when she saw him? How was Nagi supposed to know you'd try to kill yourself under the influence of that spell? How is it ever his fault?"
Kotaro had stood up and was pacing in anger at this point, shouting at the sky. "It was an accident! It is always an accident! But you know what? I'm sick of accidents! His accident nearly got you killed, and I can't take this anymore."
He stood before Negi and stared down at him in rage. "My daughter nearly lost her father because of him. She nearly grew up like you did, with only a vague memory to hold onto." He gritted his teeth. "Even now, it seems she'll grow up like you." The absolute, unmistakable look of hatred marred the dog's features. "Chasing after the back of a father too busy to even turn to see his own child."
He shook his head in rage or refusal of the very idea, or both. "I won't let that happen. I refuse to watch my child smile as she suffers. I won't let her endure the pain Nagi put you through, Negi. You can come home and put this behind you. You can leave the past in the past and move forward with me and our child or you keep chasing that image of your father. It's your choice, but don't expect me to wait for you anymore. I won't do it."
Kotaro turned and started back towards the house. He could feel it again, eyes watching his back. But he didn't care now. He had taken a stand and there would be no going back, even if it broke his heart.
The road home seemed very long to Kotaro who was suddenly very aware of his separation from Negi. Sure, he had created the separation himself, but that knowledge only made it worse. He longed to talk to Negi. He wanted to say he was only angry and didn't mean the things he said, but he knew he couldn't do that. He had been angry, but he had meant every word. He couldn't let his pain back him into a place he didn't want to be.
He was glad to curl up in his own bed with his child and sleep.
However, even there he couldn't escape it. He felt where Negi should have been and wasn't and missed his heat. He felt the empty space crowding him from Negi's side of the bed. They had only began to sleep together like they used to a short while ago, and even then they were exhausted from training and fell into deep sleeps immediately. Kotaro felt like he hadn't laid down with his husband and felt his warmth around him in years. He felt like he'd never feel that again.
With a sigh, the dog told himself to get used to the idea of sleeping alone again.
The morning was warm and bright. It was the last days of summer, hot and sticky with the promise of fall in the wind. Kotaro liked this season. It was during this season that he first became a student at Mahora Academy. He had come because of Negi, stayed because of Negi, made friends because of Negi. His whole world had changed because of Negi. The bright sun reminded him of the man's bright smile. He had plucked him out of his dark life as a hanyou and brought him into the dazzling light.
The dog almost smiled, but the dark cloud of reality wiped it from his face. He was alone. He would be alone from now on.
With another sigh, he retreated into the bedroom from the bathroom to pick up Amaterasu. When he arrived in the room it came as a shock that she wasn't on the bed. But she was a strong little pup and could crawl pretty fast. Kotaro walked slowly to bed, wondering if the fall from the bed to the floor would slow his pup down (and doubting it would), as the smell of fried meat reached his nose.
He turned a bit, looking back over his shoulder. It was probably Asuna or Konoka and Setsuna, come to cheer him up with food. He hadn't told anyone about his and Negi's fight, (break-up, falling out, future divorce?) but anyone could see they weren't right. It could even be Evangeline, seeing as she doted on Amaterasu so much. Feeling grateful for the attention, Kotaro turned and headed towards the kitchen.
In the small kitchen the smell of breakfast mixed with sunlight to form a wonderful, hazy atmosphere. Amaterasu was busying herself with a sausage on her plate, getting grease everywhere. Kotaro smiled affectionately at the child.
"Chichi!" she squealed. Her little claws had successfully ripped through the skin of the sausage casing and the pride of a kill was plain on her little wolf-ish features. Well it wasn't quite a kill but it was … Chichi? Had she said Chichi, not Haha?
The dog took the last step that brought him into the kitchen from the doorway. At the stove, Negi was cooking and dancing a little to whatever was playing in his earbuds.
"I see a little silhouetto of a man," Negi muttered as he swung the spatial. "Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango?"
Kotaro bit his lips shut to keep from laughing. Negi always sang in English when he cooked. It was a foolish habit that Kotaro was fairly sure he alone knew about or witnessed.
"Thunderbolt and lighting, very, very frightening me! Galileo, Galileo. Galileo, Galileo. Galileo, Figaro. Magnifico – oo – oo – oo – oo – ooo!"
Kotaro swallowed the laughter that threatened to pop out of his mouth. If this was a dream, he hoped to stay for some time. It was like nothing had happened at all.
Next, Negi would turn to pick up Amaterasu and dance with her. If she was anything like her father, and she was, she'd try to sing along.
"I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me." Negi swung around and took a step not doubt to pick up Amaterasu and sing with her. She was already bouncing in excitement over it in her highchair. However, Negi never got to her.
"He's just a poor – " Negi stopped short when his eyes hit Kotaro. The dog stood there smiling, still trying not to laugh.
"You should have been a singer," he remarked idly.
"I wouldn't have met you if I had been a singer," Negi responded quietly as he pulled his earbuds from his ears.
"You would have been rich and famous and adored by millions," Kotaro countered. They did this. They always used to do this when Negi sang. The next line was:
"I'd rather be here with you, than anywhere else. Riches and fame can't compare to you and our baby. Nothing can."
That wasn't it. It was supposed to be: "What's the adoration of unseen millions when I've got a captive audience right here at home?" and then Negi was supposed to start singing again, not stand there staring at him so intently.
However, Kotaro liked the change. He smiled very softly, almost secretively. "Good to know."
Negi didn't respond to that. He just went back to cooking. Amaterasu whined over the lack of music. Kotaro put Negi's iPod on the dock and sang a little himself before Negi joined in again.
They had breakfast and went on with the day.
Notes and Translations:
Chichi = father
Haha = mother
Chichi and Haha are actually used to refer to other people's family but as a baby I think Ama-chan would have an easier time saying those words than Otousan and Okaasan. Plus since she is a baby I think she'd get confused on what words to use anyway.
Negi is singing Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen if you didn't know. It's a classic! He was going to sing Rock and Roll Jesus by Kid Rock but I got the line "It's all sex, drugs and rock n roll" and said to myself: "Would I sing that line with my toddler? No? Didn't think so." And so I changed the song. Well see you soon. Jaane.