Chapter One

Warrior of Suwa

Halfway up the tree, Kurogane had a sudden memory of another tree he had climbed to retrieve his mother's shawl. Remembering was more painful than he'd expected. He made sure he was well-hidden in the branches, then hunched over for a minute to allow a single, secret tear to slide down his face and be lost among the leafy canopy surrounding him. Then he straightened up and kept climbing.

He couldn't get all the way to the top of the tree. He was only ten, but he was already too big for the highest branches. Still, it would do the trick. He settled his back against the trunk and went to work.

He'd told his guardian that he needed to survey his new neighbourhood and assess it for potential threats. Then he'd pushed the small limits of his ability to be civil so he could ignore Sonomi-san's smirk and Tomoyo-chan's childish giggling. He'd wanted to yell at them for doubting his abilities, but he also didn't want to be placed on restriction. Surveying the neighbourhood was the closest they'd let him to protecting his people until he got older, so he had to be respectful and keep the privilege of "playing" unsupervised. He'd tugged little Tomoyo-chan's hair as he ran out the door, but she only laughed again. She was a happy toddler.

He looked around and saw exactly what he'd expected to see: nothing. If he was being honest with himself, he'd only climbed the tree because there was nothing better to do. He'd already done his sword training today. At that thought, he sighed so deeply he made the closest leaves rustle.

He could see the orphanage from here, or at least the roof. A couple of boys in town had told him the orphan kids were all weirdos. He'd asked Sonomi-san about it, and she'd told him severely not to bother those poor children, and to remember how lucky he was that he hadn't ended up there, too. She had suggested—just like a woman, honestly—he find out if any of the orphan boys were his age and make friends with them. Yeah, right. A warrior of Suwa was not going to waste his time making friends with little kids.

Even if he didn't really have anything better to do.

He heard some people start shouting. They were loud and laughing, with multiple voices, all of them male. Kurogane's sharp eyes looked past the branches to find the source of the noise. He located three boys standing in a rough circle around something on the ground. He could tell they were older than him, but not much else.

He knew immediately these were the boys that Sonomi-san had warned him about. They lived in the neighbourhood and she'd called them thugs and bullies. Her friend Nadeshiko—who often brought over her daughter Sakura to play with Tomoyo—had told Kurogane it was better to stay out of their way. Sonomi-san only smirked and told him not to hurt them too badly. She clearly recognized that she would be hard-pressed to stop him if he wanted to fight.

He saw one of the boys aim a kick at whatever they were standing around, while the other two laughed. Kurogane realized then that it was a person. They were beating someone up. Without a moment of thought, he swung down from his branch and hit the ground running.

"Oi!" he hollered as he barreled up the street. The boys scattered and turned to face him, but the person they were beating up was still hidden behind their legs. "What are you doing?"

"Who's this moron?" jeered a boy with narrow shoulders and a crooked nose.

"Another one of Ashura-san's little bastards, what else?" answered a second boy, who had a beauty mark beside his eye that was really not working.

"I am not," Kurogane scowled at them. Ashura-san was in charge of the orphanage.

"Yeah?" drawled the third boy, the one with a streak of dirt on his chin. "Then who are you?"

"Not that it's any of your business, asshole, but I'm the heir of Suwa."

"Oooo, the heir," mocked the first one, with the nose.

"Of Suwa," said Ugly Mark in a fake-impressed voice.

"Never heard of it, little bastard," sneered Number Three.

"That's because you're stupid," Kurogane answered. He saw movement behind the boys, but he knew better than to let it show on his face. "It's not in this world, but Suwa's famous anyway because of our monsters. Maybe if you learned how to read . . . But I guess you can't help being too stupid to learn."

Ugly Mark was clearly ready to jump on him, but he didn't even get as far as stepping forward. The little boy they'd been kicking stood up, tangled and dirty hair hanging around his face, and he kicked the idiot in the joint of his knee. Ugly's leg buckled and he fell. Nose Job turned around with his fist out and caught the little boy across his temple, sending him sprawling back into the dirt.

"Hey!" Kurogane shouted, bunching up his fists. "He's just a stupid little kid! Why are you beating him up?"

"Because he's a freak," said Number Three.

Kurogane tried, for just a moment, to figure out why that was a good reason to waste energy you could use for more important battles. Then he decided he didn't care that much.


"So?" repeated Nose Job. "He needs to be taught his place around here. He's not just another dirty orphan, he's really a freak."

Kurogane looked at the little boy, who had gotten back up as far as his hands and knees, but no further. He was hanging his head, looking like he was defeated. He seemed to realize he was being stared at, though. One brilliantly blue eye peeked out from behind his tangled blond hair. Kurogane didn't know if the boy was asking for help or not, but he hated bullies, so that was good enough.

"So you don't know anything about other worlds, and you beat up little kids for no reason. That makes you stupid and a coward." He was hoping that Sonomi-san wouldn't restrict him for getting in a fight if it was for someone else, and he had been spoiling for a good fight for days.

"Please. You're just a kid," scoffed Number Three. "I'll have you crying for your mother in seconds." He leapt forward with a grin on his face, not knowing how bad his comment had pissed the other boy off.

The grin probably disappeared somewhere between being taken in Kurogane's hip throw and hitting the ground. Kurogane didn't actually notice, because he was too busy straightening up for an assault from the startled Ugly. He decided these guys weren't worthy enough as opponents to drag the fight out. He roared out a call phrase and infused the sternum strike with a little magic, sending Ugly flying backward into Nose Job and knocking them both down.

There was a moment of silence while all three older boys stared at him. He dropped into a better fighting stance just in case, but he could see the fight leaving their eyes.

"Suwa," Kurogane repeated. "Look it up."

All three teenagers scrambled up from the ground and fled.

"Wimps!" he shouted after them. Then he turned to their victim, who was still kneeling in the street. "Are you all right or what?"

The boy put a hand to the side of his neck, pulling away fingertips red with blood. He gingerly touched his swelling eye. Then he just shrugged. He got up at last, revealing that he was dressed in a weird robe-like garment with a swirling pattern embroidered all over. Kurogane knew that most of the orphans were like him—they'd come here from other worlds. He wondered if the boy spoke a different language or something.

"Can you understand me?"

Those eyes were so blue it was hard to believe, meeting his own red eyes to affirm the boy understood him.

"Well, you could just say so, then."

The other boy only ducked his head and hunched his shoulders.

"Okay . . ." Kurogane muttered. "Well, come on. Those guys will come back if I don't take you home."

The blond boy made no movement, which made Kurogane start thinking he really didn't speak the language very well. Impatiently he reached out and grabbed the boy's shoulder to get him started in the right direction. The boy exploded into movement then. He snapped his teeth and then jumped backward.

"Ow!" Kurogane bellowed, shaking his hand and glaring. "What'd you bite me for? I just saved your stupid butt!"

Blondie was backing away, looking at Kurogane with suspicion.

"I'm bleeding," Kurogane said, slightly shocked at how hard the boy could bite. "You freak!"

Blondie flinched like Kurogane had just hit him, dropping his eyes to the ground again.

"Aw, I didn't mean it," Kurogane said hastily. If the little idiot started crying or something, he really would hit him. "Would you just come with me? I don't want those guys to beat you up. And don't bite me anymore!" he warned as he turned and started walking.

The boy trailed several paces behind him, looking fearful. Kurogane's finger was oozing blood and swelling up, so he wrapped it in the hem of his shirt, wincing with pain. At that, Blondie darted forward, snatching up Kurogane's hand so he could inspect the wound he'd created. Blue eyes filled with tears and he patted gently at the bite. Kurogane decided he'd rather die than have to watch some stupid kid crying.

"It doesn't hurt that bad," he said gruffly. "Biting isn't a good fighting technique, anyway. You should practice that kick you did instead."

Something did spark in Blondie's eyes at that, but it went out quickly. He just took a careful hold on Kurogane's hand, using it to guide him down the street but also holding it aloft to keep it cushioned better.

"I know where the orphanage is," he protested. "I live right over there." He pointed with his good hand.

The boy was still wordless and wasn't about to let go of his hand. Kurogane felt helpless against this silent insistence, so he followed the boy all the way to the orphanage. He kept an eye out for the bullies, but he'd successfully scared them off. The orphanage itself was something of a surprise. It was nothing but a two-story house, only a little bigger than the house Kurogane now lived in. The difference was the screened-in porch that wrapped around the whole building, and something about that big porch shadowed by tall trees made Kurogane think of home. He'd been so wrapped up in mourning his parents that he hadn't noticed he was homesick. He missed Suwa almost desperately for a moment, but he pushed the ache down deep.

When they got close enough, he heard a man's voice talking.

"I'm sure he's in earnest, Sonomi-san, but you said he's only ten years old."

Sonomi? Ten? The man was talking about him, and his tone was stressed and worried. Kurogane strained to locate the man, and found him quickly. He was behind the porch screen. Kurogane couldn't see many details through the shadowed screen, but he made out that the man was holding that thing, that telephone, to his ear with one hand and keeping a small child propped on his hip with the other.

"The boys that have been bothering Yuui-kun are in their teens, and I'm worried. Even if your Kurogane did come across Yuui, I don't know if . . . Anyway, if you could come by for just five minutes to watch the other boys, I'm sure I can find him quickly—"

There was an almighty squealing noise, and the small child began to struggle against the man's grip on him. The man pulled his head back from the source of the noise while trying not to drop the twisting little body.

"You-tune!" the toddler shouted joyfully. Kurogane assumed that meant "Yuui-kun" in baby talk, and furthermore assumed that was Blondie's name.

The man whipped around to face the street when he heard that and saw them. "Oh, thank god," he said in deep relief. "Is your ward tall for his age, with black hair?" He bent down and put the toddler on the ground, still holding the phone, and chuckled. "Yes, yes, I'll never question you again. Thank you so much, Sonomi-san. Yeah, I will. Sure. I'll send him along in a while. Bye."

Throughout this conversation, the boy's hand had tightened on Kurogane's, which hurt what with the bite wound. Blondie had become even more tense than he already was, and when the man opened the door in the screen, he stopped walking.

The tiny boy was clambering down the steps ahead of the man, repeating "You-tune, You-tune," in a happy chant. He tried to run forward, but he must not have much practice with running yet, since he tripped over his own feet and face-planted.

Yuui finally dropped Kurogane's hand so he could dart ahead to the little boy. The boy was already pushing himself up with a grin.

"You-tune is home!" he crowed.

Yuui was on his knees, brushing dirt off the boy's clothes, and he allowed himself to be smothered in the toddler's enthusiastic greeting hug. His hands stopped brushing at dirt to give the little shoulders a tentative but affectionate pat. The little one seemed to be about the same age as Tomoyo-chan, and Kurogane wondered if he ever went over to play with her and Sakura.

"Is Syaoran okay?" the man asked, coming forward with more dignity than his young charge. He was dressed very casually in pants and loose shirt, and he had long black hair falling straight around his shoulders. He must be Ashura-san, the man who ran this orphanage. He looked sort of like a girl, Kurogane thought. But then, Blondie would look like a girl, too, if he didn't look so much like a skeleton. He hadn't noticed at first because of the loose robe, but this Yuui kid was really skinny.

Yuui nodded in answer to the man's question.

"Asha-san worried!" accused the toddler. Yuui was smoothing his mop of brown hair out of his face, still being held in his embrace.

"Yuui?" asked the man, crouching down beside the two children. "Are you okay?"

Blondie shrugged, which seemed like his answer to everything.

"Oooo, they got you, huh?" the man winced with sympathy, taking in the blood on Yuui's collar and the dirt ground into his clothes. He reached out his hand toward Yuui's blackened eye. The boy jerked his head back, lips parting but not producing a noise. Probably-Ashura looked sad at the retreat, but he just pulled the baby off of Yuui so he could stand up.

"What do you think?" he asked the boy indulgently as he settled him on his hip again. "Should we take Yuui-kun inside to get cleaned up?"

"Syaoran will help," the baby answered.

Probably-Ashura smiled at him, then held out his free hand to Yuui, but Blondie didn't take it. He ran back to Kurogane instead.

" 'Bout time you remembered me," he mumbled, nervous about what Yuui wanted with him now. He'd already escorted the weirdo home.

Yuui looked up at the long-haired man and grabbed Kurogane's hand.

"I haven't lost my manners yet," Probably-Ashura said. "I was going to invite him in."

Yuui shook his head, making his tangled hair flop around. He held up Kurogane's hand to illustrate what he wanted. Kurogane finally snatched his hand back.

"You were hurt?" Probably-Ashura asked with dismay.

"Only because your stupid kid bit me!" he snarled. "Anyway, doesn't he ever talk?"

Yuui hunched over like Kurogane had punched him, the way he had earlier.

"No, he doesn't." Still seeming very calm, he gestured at Kurogane's hand. "May I?"

Kurogane scowled as he let the man see the oozing, swollen bite in his finger, which was starting to throb.

"Well, why doesn't he?" he asked.

Yuui looked down at the ground while Probably-Ashura thought about that. He chose not to answer the question at all. "You'd better come let me clean this," he said instead. "Come on in."

Kurogane didn't really want to go inside with these freaks, but he did it anyway because he was becoming very curious. He wanted to know why Yuui didn't talk. So when Probably-Ashura held open the screen door, he headed up the porch steps to go in.

"Yuui-kun, why did you bite him? You really hurt him."

Yuui opened his mouth, and Kurogane thought he was really going to say something, but it was only a silent cry of guilt. He cupped Kurogane's finger in both his hands and bowed his head for a moment. Kurogane stood there awkwardly and tried not to blush. That was total overkill, if it was some kind of apology. Unless the psycho had given him rabies or something. Still, Kurogane didn't think it was fair for him to be in trouble with his guardian.

"He was just scared because those guys were kicking him," Kurogane said. "He didn't really bite me on purpose. Hey, are you Ashura-sama or not?"

The man was just staring at him in surprise, but he shook his head to clear it. "Oh, yes, I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself. You needn't be so formal, by the way. I'm Ashura, this is Yuui, and this little one is Syaoran. You're Kurogane-san, right?"


"Young man, did you say those boys were kicking him?" Ashura-san asked anxiously.

"Yeah, but I got rid of 'em. They were weak," Kurogane said, not very concerned.

Ashura turned back to Yuui with worry. "Are you hurt?"

Yuui shook his head, making his tangled hair flop around. He seemed reluctant to go inside. Kurogane was getting this strange idea that the silent boy didn't like people to be worried about him. But that was stupid, because Ashura-san would just worry more if he didn't look over his injuries.

"Tch," Kurogane said impatiently, "if I have to get fixed up then so do you. Come on."

Now it was his turn to grab the other boy's hand and drag him forward. Yuui came with him, and Kurogane could see that Ashura was very surprised by that. He led the boys up the stairs once they got inside, to a bathroom in a long hallway. Kurogane was curious about the house, but he didn't get to see much before he and Yuui were seated side by side on the edge of the bathtub. Syaoran was put down, but instead of leaving he crawled into the bathtub and played with a washcloth, giggling at his own antics. Kurogane tried to ignore the annoying high-pitched laughter, since he was just a baby. Kurogane could be generous with babies, he figured. For a couple of minutes or something.

The first thing Ashura did was look at each injury. Kurogane just had one, but Yuui had the eye and the cut on his neck, and Ashura patted Yuui's side and asked if that hurt. Yuui was going to lie—Kurogane could tell he was going to lie.

"Of course it hurts, they kicked him there," he said before Yuui could shake his head.

Both of them looked at him with surprise, and he scowled. He was going to blush again. He always blushed at everything, and that was stupid. Warriors of Suwa did not blush.

"Do you like your new house?" Ashura asked politely, kneeling in front of Kurogane and running his fingers over the bite.

It wasn't physical pain that made Kurogane clench his jaw. "I liked my old house." He'd wanted to stay. He'd wanted to find some men to rebuild the broken parts. He was the heir of Suwa, and he should stay in his country after killing the monster so he could help his people. But they said he was too young and he had to come to this other world to live with Sonomi until he got older. That damn witch must have made them say that. Everything was that damn witch's fault.

"You would have been alone there," Ashura pointed out.

Kurogane scowled. So what?

"I'm certain this new life isn't the one you wanted, but I think you will find a way to be happy here in this world. Sonomi-san is a good person. She'll take good care of you, and she won't keep you from going home later, if you choose to. Until then, you'll have to accept things as they are and find reasons to appreciate it."

Kurogane didn't know what to say to that, surprised both by Ashura's kindness and the way he didn't talk down to him just because he was a kid. He didn't have to come up with a response, because they were interrupted by the approach of another boy. He appeared in the doorway and stood there taking in the scene. He had sleek black hair, pale skin, and weird, yellow eyes.

"I smell blood," he said quietly.

Ashura stiffened for a second, then he stood up slowly and turned to face the newcomer. "Are you handling it? What do you need?"

The boy shook his head. "I'm okay. Kamui had to go outside, just in case. But I wanted to see what happened. I was worried that Yuui-kun got hurt again. Yuui-kun?"

Yuui leaned around Ashura to give the other boy a thumbs-up, a gesture which Kurogane had only recently learned the meaning of. The new boy revealed a truly sweet smile.


"Subu-tune!" Syaoran shouted from the bathtub behind them, attempting to climb out.

"Hi," the boy said, coming over and taking the toddler's tiny hands to help him. "You know my name, Syaoran-kun. You can do it. Can you say my name?"

"Subaru!" Syaoran said proudly.

"Good job," the boy said, releasing his hands. The yellow in his eyes was starting to fade away and leave them dark and deep. The weird colour crept back in when he turned back to the others, though, and Kurogane thought he might be holding his breath. "Is Syaoran-kun in your way?"

"I am not!" Syaoran said indignantly, leaning against Yuui's legs when Subaru reached for him. Yuui patted the top of the baby's head indulgently. "Up, You-tune." Blondie complied, of course, making Kurogane roll his eyes. Syaoran settled in Yuui's lap with perfect contentment and popped his thumb into his mouth. Ashura was looking at both of them with exasperation, a jar of cream in his hands. Then he chuckled and started dabbing the cream around Yuui's eye. He had to be careful not to elbow the baby in the face while he worked. Kurogane would have made the runt leave.

"I'm Subaru," the yellow-eyed boy addressed him, but his eyes were looking at Kurogane's finger. It made him nervous, even though he wasn't sure why, so he wrapped his finger in his shirt again. It seemed to work, because Subaru's eyes were turning dark again.

"I'm Kurogane."

"It's nice to meet you, Kurogane-san."

Even though he looked delicate, Kurogane thought the boy might be his age or even a little older. "Yeah," he muttered in return.

"Did you guys get in a fight?"

"I guess."

"Ooo, did you help him fight the bullies?" Subaru asked, sounding impressed.

Yuui nodded vigorously at that, reaching out his hand to hold Kurogane's shoulder. Gross, why? Kurogane shrugged his hand off, but Yuui looked disappointed. Oh. Right. Since he didn't speak, that was probably his way of talking. Using his hands and stuff like that. He was trying to say something.

"Uh . . . You're welcome?"

Yuui's eyes widened just a bit, clearly pleased that Kurogane had figured out that he was saying thank you. He squeezed Kurogane's shoulder, and he did it really hard because Ashura had soaked a cloth with something that smelled bitter and he was wiping the cut with it. Kurogane didn't complain, though. Warriors of Suwa didn't worry about pain.

"So . . . he doesn't smile, either?"

"He hasn't had much to smile about," Ashura said gruffly. "We're working on that." He brushed Yuui's hair away from his face, his hands gentle. "You okay?" he asked. Yuui nodded, and Ashura gave the tangled locks a teasing tug. "Well, Yuui-kun? Can I cut this off yet?"

Yuui immediately looked frightened, squeezing Syaoran. The toddler had become drowsy, sucking his thumb slowly and letting his eyelids droop, but he used his free hand to stroke Yuui's clutching arm. Seriously, what was wrong with getting a hair cut? He looked stupid with his hair all long and dirty.

"You'd be able to see better," Kurogane pointed out. Ashura had moved on to his bite, and he gritted his teeth to silence a grunt of pain when the bitter-smelling cloth descended.

Yuui's response was to cuddle Syaoran's head against his shoulder and give Kurogane a shy look. The toddler had just fallen asleep, and his thumb fell out of his mouth with a soft pop. Yuui stroked Syaoran's hair, which was much tidier than his, then looked up at Ashura and nodded at him.

Ashura was already turning to the sink to rinse out the cloth, clearly having expected a different answer. He turned back, disbelief all over his face. "Did you say yes?"

Yuui looked at Kurogane again, while Ashura and Subaru were gaping at each other. Kurogane was going to blush again, he just knew it. He scowled at Blondie. He had no patience for indecisiveness.

"What are you looking at me for? You should only do something if you want to."

Yuui turned back to Ashura and nodded again, fingering his tangled hair just to be clear.

"I'll get some scissors," Ashura said cheerfully. He gave Kurogane a bright smile—what for, he didn't know. He didn't do anything and it meant nothing to him whether Blondie cut off his stupid hair or not.

"Let me take the baby," Subaru said as Ashura left. "He can play with me and Kamui outside for a while."

Yuui cuddled Syaoran protectively against him and frowned. He pointed to Subaru's dark eyes.

"We'll be fine. Kamui only had to go outside because of the blood, and that's all cleaned up now."

"He doesn't like blood or something?" Kurogane asked.

"Um," Subaru hesitated.

"You guys are something weird, aren't you?" Kurogane asked without surprise. He knew that the orphans sometimes came from different worlds, and he'd been warned already that they were "weirdos." Then of course those bullies had said they were beating up Yuui because he was a "freak." It made sense that Subaru and this Kamui guy would be something weird. "What's wrong with your eyes?"

"We're vampires," Subaru answered.

"Uh . . . what?"

"Kamui and I are vampires," he said, smiling his very sweet smile again. "We're also twins," he added cheerfully.

Yuui suddenly flinched and buried his face in the sleeping toddler's hair. He made a very tiny choking noise. Subaru's mouth fell open, and he mouthed "oops." He started to sit down on Yuui's other side, but Blondie shied away from him. He stood up again and looked helpless.

"I'm sorry," he said, eyes filling with tears that just made them look even deeper and darker. "I'm really sorry, Yuui-kun."

Kurogane was debating whether or not he wanted to ask what this was all about. If he learned much more about this whole situation, he was going to have to be involved in it. Then somebody might get the idea he wanted to be friends with these freaks or something. He was very happy to see Ashura-san return with the scissors. It was hard not to notice the change in the atmosphere, but Ashura ignored it, keeping his smile plastered on.

"Okay," Subaru said decisively, putting his hands under Syaoran's arms. "Come on, Syaoran-kun. Come play with me and Kamui." The dazed toddler was allowing himself to be lifted but was not helping, and the slender boy struggled with the dead weight. "I promise we'll be in control, Ashura-san," Subaru said. "We won't hurt him."

Ashura ruffled Subaru's hair with a smile. "I know you wouldn't. Keep an eye on Kamui, though, okay? Be smart."

Kurogane was starting to wonder about this Kamui guy. And Yuui still looked very worried, his eyes locked on the sleepy baby.

"I'll go with them and make sure nothing happens," he told Blondie, then mentally smacked himself for saying it. He had no idea why he was volunteering to babysit. Not that it mattered, since Yuui's hand shot out and grabbed him when he tried to stand up. His fingers were clamped down so hard it was making Kurogane's skin turn white around them. "Okay, I won't . . ." he said, mystified.

"See you later, Kurogane-san," Subaru said, and took Syaoran away.

Kurogane was envious that the vampire had escaped Blondie's weirdness. "I should probably go back to Sonomi-san's house now, though."

Yuui wouldn't let go. Kurogane looked at Ashura, but the man just shrugged.

"I'll stay?"

Yuui's hand loosened fractionally, although he didn't let go completely. Kurogane sighed and scowled at him. Did he need an audience for his stupid haircut? Apparently he did, because he held on to Kurogane's arm while Ashura started to work with the scissors. Maybe he was afraid? His eyes were squeezed shut while the scissors snicked near his face, so that must be it. Stupid Blondie was afraid of damn near everything, wasn't he? He was holding on to Kurogane because he was scared.

With that thought, Kurogane puffed up with pride. Yuui could tell that Kurogane was a warrior, so he was keeping him close by in case he needed to fight something. He'd recognized the skills. He might not actually be stupid, then, because it was smart to keep a warrior close at hand if you were afraid of something. Still, they were just scissors, so Kurogane wasn't sure exactly what Blondie wanted. There was nothing to fight!

And his fingers were starting to hurt Kurogane's arm. He tugged at Yuui's fingers to get them off. Yuui opened his eyes in confusion, then he slipped his fingers into Kurogane's and took hold of his hand instead of his arm. That was not what he'd been trying to do. He didn't want to hold hands with some little kid!

"Let go," he commanded.

Yuui's mouth fell open in dismay, but he did as he was told. He clutched his own knees while Ashura worked, squeezing his eyes shut again. He was grimacing like he was in pain. Kurogane growled impatiently and picked up his hand again.

"Don't hurt yourself, stupid."

Their hands remained clasped until Ashura-san was finished. Neither of them was particularly comfortable, but Kurogane would have to be a real monster to just leave when Blondie was counting on him. Finally, all that hair was piled up inside the bathtub and Ashura was combing what was left to get it untangled.

"I'm actually not very good at cutting hair," he chuckled. "But I did my best."

It was sort of uneven and flying all over the place, but at least it wasn't a foot too long and tangled up anymore.

"Well, who knew such a cute face was hiding under that?" Ashura said teasingly, brushing some hair free of Yuui's cheek. "Look at you!"

Yuui ducked his head, but Kurogane wasn't going to miss the chance to finally see the kid's whole face. He had big eyes and a pointed chin and he was very pale. Kurogane didn't consider himself a great judge of children's cuteness, but he figured Ashura-san was probably right. He also noticed, seeing Yuui's whole face at last, that they were closer in age than he'd thought. They might even be the same age.

"He'll be cuter if he eats for about a week," Kurogane pronounced, standing up at last. "Don't you feed him?"

Yuui looked indignant at that, and grabbed hold of Ashura's hand. At least it wasn't Kurogane's hand anymore.

"Well, then, eat when he feeds you," Kurogane said. "You look pathetic."

Yuui scowled at him. Hey, it was kind of nice to know there was some fight in the kid. Kurogane couldn't help insulting him further, just to see what would happen.

"I wouldn't even have to fight you. If I just sat on you, you'd die."

Yuui clenched his jaw and jumped on him, taking them both to the floor of the bathroom. Yuui was on top and was trying to punch him, but Kurogane was right—Blondie was too frail. He rolled over and got on top, then he just sat there without trying to punch him. It wasn't worth it when he was so weak.

"You'll have to try harder than that to beat a warrior of Suwa," he smirked.

Yuui glared up at him, then he relaxed, showing himself beaten. Kurogane got off him, and Yuui shot up right beside him, grabbing at his hand. Oh, not this again. But he was holding it up, showing it to Ashura.

"Bleeding again already?" Ashura-san's eyes were sparkling with laughter. "Let me get a bandage on it."

"Aren't you in charge of him?" Kurogane said grumpily while Ashura fixed his finger back up. "You didn't even try to stop us."

"It's nice to see him so lively," Ashura said without apology. "Why? Were you afraid he was going to hurt you?"

"Hell no!" Kurogane snapped.

Yuui's eyes widened suddenly, and he frowned at Kurogane.


He picked up a bar of soap from the bathtub, stepped forward, and touched it to Kurogane's lips.

"Ugh, gross, get that off me!" he snarled, backing up. Yuui just frowned even deeper. "I know, already! I'm not allowed to swear!" Yuui nodded firmly at that, and replaced the soap. "So now you think you're in charge of me, too?"

Yuui nodded again, and something lit up in his eyes. It almost looked like he was going to smile. Ashura came to attention, staring at Yuui. But he didn't actually smile, after all.

"You try to tell me what to do, and I'll just beat you up," Kurogane told him. "I'm going home, now, anyway, and you can't stop me this time. You'd better go with him and eat a bunch of food, because I could beat up your skinny butt anytime."

Yuui frowned, and he pointed at Kurogane and then himself. Kurogane had no idea what that meant, and he didn't care. He wanted out of here before Blondie did anything else weird. Yuui stepped forward, closer to him. He pointed back and forth between them again, then suddenly placed his palms on Kurogane's chest and shoved him back a step. He nodded, his face set.

"You want to fight me right now?" Kurogane asked.

He shook his head, getting frustrated. He dropped his eyes, meekly took the confused Ashura's hand, and pretended to walk away with him. Then he dropped the hand and shook his head. He pointed at the soap. Then he pointed to Kurogane. Then to himself. He put his hands on his hips.

"Yuui-kun," Ashura said weakly. "It's wonderful that you want to talk to us. It's really wonderful. But I don't understand this. Is there some other way you could tell us?"

"Tch, don't bother," Kurogane said, smirking as he figured it out. "I can't tell you what to do, either. Right?"

Yuui nodded, and his eyes were lit up again.

"I can until you get strong enough to beat me," Kurogane said, grinning. He shoved the boy's shoulder as he walked past. "Go eat something, stupid."

He knew, he just knew what Yuui was about to do. He swiftly stepped to the side, and Yuui's kick just barely missed the back of his knee. He'd told Yuui to practice that one, so he knew that's what he would do. While the other boy was off-balance, he pivoted around and grabbed him by the shoulders, flipping him down onto the ground.

"I told you, try harder if you want to beat me."

He grabbed Yuui's hand and hauled him back to his feet, and Yuui held onto his hand as they descended the stairs together. Ashura came behind them, just watching as everything played out. At the foot of the stairs, Yuui tried to tug him deeper into the house, looking up at Ashura with his big eyes.

"I think he wants you to stay for dinner, Kurogane-kun," Ashura said.

Kurogane scowled at the stupid brat. Why him, of all people?

"I can call Sonomi-san and make sure it's okay."

Kurogane sighed and gave in, letting Yuui pull him along. It was just easier to do what the idiot wanted.

"So, how was dinner?"

Kurogane was carefully polishing his father's sword, but he looked up when he heard that. "What do you want?" he asked his new guardian, not caring if he sounded rude.

"To see if you had a good time," she said, apparently taking that as an invitation to come in and sit on the floor by him. He drowned his irritation in logical thinking—it was Sonomi-san's house. She was the one who owned this room, not him, so he couldn't tell her to stay out.

"I guess. Haven't you ever met them?"

"I don't want Tomoyo-chan around them too much right now. Ashura-san has told me that some of the boys are dangerous."

Kurogane thought about Subaru's twin, Kamui, who had a bad attitude and a stronger blood lust.

"Well, yeah," he said. "There's a couple of vampires."

Sonomi's eyes widened in shock.

He tried to remember what he'd been told. "They called themselves purebloods. I don't know what that means, but they said they don't have to drink blood to live. But they get cravings for it sometimes, I guess."

"Is that . . . safe?"

Kurogane shrugged. "They could rip your face off, if they wanted to, but they're not that bad. Ashura-san says that's why he takes care of the orphans. He says he has magic and he can help them stay in control and not hurt people."

Sonomi-san nodded thoughtfully, making her sleek black hair fall over one eye. "I'll wait until my daughter can defend herself a little better, in any case."

"Tch," Kurogane scoffed, thinking of this morning when he'd woken up because Tomoyo-chan had been putting frogs in his bed. How the girl had caught frogs with those tiny pudgy hands was beyond him. "She's a nightmare, she'd be fine."

Sonomi only laughed at that, and that was when Nadeshiko-san came in with her own daughter Sakura on her hip and Tomoyo toddling along at her side.

"We're getting ready to go home, Sonomi."

"Pretty!" Sakura said brightly, looking at the sheen on the blade of Kurogane's sword.

"That is a pretty sword, Kurogane-kun," Nadeshiko said. "But I've only seen you using a stick. Why don't you practice with this?"

He blinked at her in shock. "Don't be stupid. And it's not pretty."

Sonomi scowled at his lack of manners, but they were all waiting for his explanation.

"It's my father's sword. Our family sword. It protects Suwa. It's not for practice."

"They let you bring it here?"

"It's mine now," he shrugged. "It's called Ginryuu."

Sonomi-san's face became a little sad, and she reached out to stroke his spiky hair away from his eyes.

"I know you didn't want it to belong to you just yet," she said softly. "And I know this isn't where you want to be. If you need anything, you just tell me, okay?" Tomoyo-chan had approached him, and she gave him a clumsy hug. "Kurogane-chan sad," she announced. "I will hug you."

"I don't want a hug!" he bellowed. "You're such a girl!"

Tomoyo was mostly unfazed, because she was a crazy little thing. She just ran to her mother, giggling, which made Sakura-chan giggle, too. Kurogane was really not thrilled at having his room taken over by a pack of women. He almost wished he was back at the orphanage, with the freaks, just because they were boys.

Strangely, that seemed to be on Nadeshiko-san's mind, as well. "I heard you found that little boy and brought him home," she said cheerfully.

"A bunch of boys were beating him up. I took care of it," he muttered.

"Did you?" Sonomi smiled. "That was nice of you."

Kurogane clenched his jaw. "If I can't protect Suwa, I'll protect you all," he said. "Even the blond freak."

"Freak? That's not very nice."

"He is a freak. He bit me."

"What?" Sonomi frowned. "Let me see."

"It's fine," Kurogane said calmly, displaying the bandage. "Ashura-san cleaned it for me."

"Why did he bite you?"

"After I beat those guys, I grabbed him to drag him home," Kurogane admitted. "He was still scared, so that's when he bit me. He was sorry, I think. He can't talk, but he grabbed my hand and bowed to me, so I guess that means he's sorry. He's the one who wanted me to eat dinner with them. And he made me stay with him while he got his hair cut. He's a wimp or something, he was scared of the scissors and I had to hold his hand." He noticed the two women were looking at each other significantly. "Anyway, if he ever bites me again, I'll kick his a— his butt. I don't care if he's just a midget. Besides, I think he wants to get stronger and fight me. He acts like he wants to."

They were still looking at each other all weird.


"This is the most I've heard you talk since you got here," Sonomi said.

Inexplicably, he started blushing. He didn't know what he was embarrassed about, because he wasn't even doing anything. "So what?" he growled. "You asked me."

"Why can't he speak?" Sonomi asked.

"Hell if I know," Kurogane said flippantly, picking up the cloth to work on the sword again. "I asked Ashura-san, but he wouldn't tell me. I don't want to talk anymore, I'm busy."

"I just wonder if he can, but he doesn't want to."

"I'll ask him tomorrow," Kurogane shrugged. Seriously, why wouldn't they just leave him alone? Couldn't they see that he wanted to be alone with Ginryuu, and not answering more stupid questions about that stupid Blondie?

"Oh?" Sonomi queried as she stood up. "You're going to see him again tomorrow?"

"I don't know, maybe," he said. Then he paused, and looked up. "With your permission, Sonomi-san." He bowed his head. Mother had done her best to teach him a few manners, and it would be dishonorable to her if he hadn't learned anything. He had to be better about that. He wouldn't have anyone thinking she wasn't the best mother in the world.

"Sure, that's fine," she said breezily. "Come on, Nadeshiko, I'll see you two out."

Kurogane quietly wrapped Ginryuu's blade and put away the metal polish. He leaned it against the wall by his bed, and stood there frowning at it. It was not a properly respectful way to treat the ancestral sword, but this was not Suwa. They had weird things here like telephones and light bulbs, but they didn't have a sword stand.

Sonomi cleared her throat, and he pivoted around with his hands clenched into fists. He hadn't known she was there in the doorway again.


"Hai, Sonomi-san," he said, embarrassed, and weirdly saddened. There had been a time when being in his own bedroom had meant he was at home, and had nothing to fear. That was not true anymore.

"There's a room in the attic where I keep some things that belonged to my mother. It's . . . I wondered if you might like to put your sword away for safekeeping."

He frowned at her.

"You don't have to, if you don't want to. I just thought that since it's so special to you, you might like to put it away someplace clean and safe from Tomoyo." She winked at the end, when she said that. Hah, so she did know her daughter was a terror.

"H-hai," he said haltingly. "That would be—I would like to put it away. Thank you, Sonomi-san."

"You don't want to call me your Oba-san?" she said, pouting outrageously.

He just snorted at that.

"All right. We'll find a place for Ginryuu tomorrow. Goodnight, then."

She waited for him to say goodnight in return, which he did after much rolling of his eyes. He didn't know why women were into stuff like pleasantries and polite conversation. Men didn't need such things. He found that he wasn't at all tired when he turned out his light, after so much excitement during the day. But he was self-disciplined, so he resolutely lay down and closed his eyes, anyway. He hoped he dreamed about home.

Kurogane didn't really like having breakfast with the Daidoujis. Tomoyo-chan was obsessed with pancakes—the more thoroughly coated in sticky syrup, the better. Looking at all that sweet stuff was bad enough, but she tried to make him eat it, too. He was always trying to protect his eggs and toast from Tomoyo's syrup bottle.

Today, he was baffled. Should he be feeling smug that Tomoyo-chan had turned down pancakes and requested eggs and toast like his? Maybe it was a sneaky plot or something. He wasn't sure if 3-year-old girls were capable of sneaky plots, but he wouldn't put it past her.

He was pondering this as he went outside for practice, making his way to the abandoned lot that was near the house. First, he went through his self-improvement forms, empty-handed and moving slowly to warm up, ignoring the dull pulsing pain in his injured finger. Was Tomoyo actually trying to copy him? He didn't want to ask Sonomi-san. That would just be embarrassing.

As soon as he picked up the long stick he was going to use for his kenjutsu forms, he stopped thinking. He pushed all thoughts and distractions out of his mind. There was only him, and the weapon in his hands. He had to close his eyes, feel the potential power waiting in him, and focus it on something. He breathed deeply, listened to the rustling of the tall grass that swayed around him, and began to move lightning-fast. He shifted through his sword forms with precision, slicing off the seed pods at the top of the grass stalks with each sweep of his stick. It would be better if he had a blade to practice with, he thought. He resolved to find out where he could earn the money to purchase one.

Training went on like that until late morning, when he was tired and sticky with sweat from the late-summer sunlight. He threw aside his stick and frowned. He hadn't wanted to go to school, even if Sonomi-san said boys had to do that in this world, but he might change his mind. There wasn't anything else to do here.

He went to the end of the street and climbed the big tree again, resolving to keep an eye out for those bullies. If they found a kid to pick on today, he'd let them have it. This was his street, now. Nobody was going to get beat up just for being a freak on his street.

He was so focused on finding the bullies that he didn't know what was going on right below him. The high-pitched shout from beneath his feet made him jump and caused his hair to stand on end. There was an instant sick feeling in his gut: the monsters were attacking again, and he didn't have a sword.

Then he looked down. "Oh. It's you," he said in disgust.

Yuui frowned right back, but Syaoran was sucking on his thumb innocently, like he didn't know that he'd scared the crap out of him.

"What do you want?"

Yuui was holding Syaoran's hand, probably so he didn't get lost or something. Tomoyo was always supposed to hold her mother's hand when they went out. He had a book cradled against his chest with his other hand. That was dumb, you shouldn't keep both hands occupied. You never knew when you'd need one to defend yourself.

Syaoran pulled his thumb back just enough to speak. "Tum play with us!"

It sounded much more like a demand than a request, but then Yuui squeezed his hand.


"You asking, or is it the stupid Blondie asking?"

Yuui looked up at him with a tiny, soft smile, and Kurogane was amazed. Ashura-san had said that he didn't do that. Was this his first smile? Wait, did that mean he was making fun of him?

"I don't play," he informed them. Really, how stupid could you get, asking a warrior of Suwa to play like a little baby or something?

Yuui maintained his soft smile, and squeezed Syaoran's hand again.

"Tatch fish in the creek!" Syaoran said.

Actually, that didn't sound too bad. He used to do that, sometimes. For mother. With the servants surrounding him and cheering him on . . . he'd never had real friends, but they'd been the closest thing he'd ever had to it.

He slid down through the branches and landed lightly on his feet. "Fine. Let's go."

Yuui looked at Syaoran and sternly nodded his head at Kurogane. Syaoran happily obeyed the command he'd apparently been given, and stretched out his hand to take Kurogane's. His slobbery hand that he'd had in his slobbery mouth.

"Gross!" Kurogane said, snatching his hand away. "I'm not going to hold hands with you."

Syaoran's eyes filled up with tears.

"Okay, okay," he snapped, deliberately forcing the little boy to wipe his hand on his tunic before taking it up. "Just don't do that."

He glared at stupid Blondie, because this was his fault. Yuui had looked serious, but he hesitantly tried to smile again.

"Heh. Better practice that, too," Kurogane said.

Yuui raised his eyebrows, like he wanted to know why.

"Cause you should do it more often," he shrugged. "You look better that way."

Kurogane didn't know where the creek was, so he let himself be led along, Syaoran's exuberant steps nearly enough to keep pace with his much larger ones. He expected Yuui to get dragged behind, but he was faster and had longer legs than Kurogane had suspected. That stupid robe thing he wore kept him really well hidden.

Not for long, though. Once they got to the creek, they all three stripped down to their undergarments and waded into the water. Syaoran tried to go in too far, and Yuui immediately snatched him back and hauled him into the shallowest part of the bank, where the water was only a few inches deep. He shook his finger at the little boy sternly, and Syaoran stuck his lip out.

"No fun!"

Yuui just scowled, which looked pathetic on him. Really, he just looked pathetic anyway. He was so skinny, with his ribs and his spine poking out. Then there were the scars on his snow-white skin, far too many for a little kid to have gotten just from playing rough. Something had happened to him, Kurogane thought. Obviously, something must have happened around him, for him to have become an orphan and wind up on this world. But something . . . something bad had happened to him.

Something worse than watching monsters tear into your home? Watching them eat your parents and leave you alone with nothing but a sword you weren't big enough to use and a sense of shock so strong you couldn't even feel grief? Kurogane had seen the other boy staring at the scars left on his own shoulder from being bitten, so he didn't feel guilty for staring back. Kurogane decided to be grateful that Yuui was mute.

They engaged in a silent contest to see who could catch the most minnows. Kurogane should have won. Yuui was so busy keeping an eye on the baby that he could hardly have time to look for fish. But Yuui was also very, very fast. When he caught sight of a silver flash of fins, his hands sliced in and out of the water in the blink of an eye. They kept pace, making Kurogane more and more frustrated. He should be able to beat this kid! Yuui seemed like he was laughing at him, even though he still didn't smile very well. His eyes were sparkling.

"You think you can beat me?" Kurogane growled, shoving his hands into the water and grasping the tail of a nice fat fish. He yanked it out of the water triumphantly, then his eyes caught sight of the biggest minnow yet, stirring the water around Yuui's knees. He scowled.

Yuui's eyes laughed even harder. His hands flashed down, then up with a huge spray of water that hit Kurogane full in the face.

"Hey!" he shouted, crestfallen that Yuui had caught the biggest fish. Then he looked and saw that Yuui wasn't holding anything. His pathetic little smile was back. He was just splashing him, he wasn't even trying to win! "You stupid Blondie!"

He scooped his hands into the water and splashed him back. Yuui's lips parted in a pant that was almost laughter, and a water war ensued. Even Syaoran managed some passable splash attacks, after five minutes of trying and failing to use his whole arm to spray them. The worst was when Yuui bent down and sucked water into his mouth, formed his lips into an 'o' and jetted water out into Kurogane's face.

"Gross!" Kurogane shouted, and then gave up splashing in favour of tackling the other boy and dunking him into the water. Of course, he went under, too. But he was already soaking wet, so who cared? Yuui writhed around, trying to get away from him and simultaneously trying to dunk him back.

He held Yuui's head under for a minute, just to punish him for starting it. But then Yuui went completely stiff beneath his hands, and bubbles began to rise to the surface too fast and hard to be normal. Kurogane hauled him up again, worried that he was drowning. But Yuui stayed stiff, his eyes wide and wild, and his mouth hung open. Kurogane saw his throat pulsing, and he realized Yuui was screaming. Screaming without sound.

It was the most awful thing Kurogane had ever seen.

He shook Yuui by the shoulders, hard. "Hey! Yuui-kun! Blondie!"

Yuui came out of it, snapping his mouth shut and blinking rapidly. Both his hands came up and clutched at his throat. He gaped at Kurogane, his cheeks pink with exertion and what seemed to be shame. There was a fine trembling coursing through him, Kurogane could feel it in the bony shoulders he still held.

Syaoran came splashing out into the deep water and shoved Kuropane in the small of his back, making him stumble to keep his balance. The little boy was in water up to his shoulders, but he didn't seem to care, glaring at Kurogane ferociously.

"No!" he said sternly. "No, no. No touching my You-tune."

He stretched his arms up to Yuui, who automatically grabbed hold of him and dragged him back into the shallows. Kurogane stayed where he was, staring helplessly at Yuui.

"I—I'm sorry," he said, looking down and feeling his face heat up. "I didn't know— I didn't know you'd be afraid. Sorry."

Yuui might hate him now, because Yuui wouldn't have wanted anyone to see him like that. He might not want to see him anymore. But Kurogane thought about all the long hours he'd been passing alone, far from home and with nothing to do and no one to do it with. He didn't want Yuui to hate him. He wanted someone to come catch minnows with. He didn't care that Yuui didn't talk. He just wanted him to be around.

"Hey," he said suddenly, desperately, splashing his way back to the shore. "See this?" He pointed to his shoulder. "That's where the monster bit me, the one who ate my mother and father. I was trying to fight, to protect everyone, but I couldn't." He tried to cover the scar with his hand, feeling the shame of it all over again as he told Yuui about his failure. "And now if someone walks up behind me and surprises me, I have to control myself so I don't hurt them. I can't—I can't stop being afraid that I'm getting attacked again."

The words had all spilled out of him in a rush, and he stopped there, his chest heaving and his hand clenching down on the scar that had only just formed over his recently healed wound. He didn't know why he was saying these things. He had never wanted to talk about these things. He just wanted to stop Yuui from running away.

"See, I get it. I won't do that again, okay?" He thought about the way Yuui had clutched so desperately at his throat. "It was because you couldn't breathe, right? I'll remember that."

There was a long moment of silence. Even Syaoran seemed to realize he should stay still. Kurogane felt like he was holding his breath. Then he let go of his scar, and inched his hand forward, toward the other boy, so they could shake on it. Yuui looked down at Syaoran, who seemed to be nervous because of how tense everything was, and was sucking on his thumb in a kind of fierce way. He looked at Kurogane's hand. His own hand crept out slowly, like he wasn't sure he wanted it to. Their fingers brushed, and then Yuui's hand clutched over his in a quick spasm. Kurogane sighed in relief.

Yuui didn't let go, though. He used Kurogane's hand to pull him out of the water and back to their clothes, and he didn't seem to want to let go even long enough to dry off and get dressed.

"I can't put my shirt back on until you let go," he said at last.

Yuui released him, gave him that soft and hesitant smile again, then seemed embarrassed by it and busied himself with helping Syaoran get his clothes on. Once they were ready, they set off with Syaoran in between them again. Kurogane explained to Yuui the process of lifting a small child up by his arms and swinging him between them, and Yuui did as instructed, swinging Syaoran back and forth and causing him to shriek with laughter. Yuui didn't seem to get it, though. Maybe he didn't know much about having fun? Or more likely, Kurogane thought, nobody had ever done this with him. Maybe his parents had been dead for a long time.

If these boys didn't have a father, who was going to teach them about protecting people and fighting for what you loved? Kurogane felt more grateful than ever that he'd had the best father in the world—in any world. But it made him feel sorry for these two.

"Hey. You wanna learn how to fight tomorrow?"

Yuui gave him a questioning look.

"I practice every morning. If you meet me in the big field behind your house, you can practice with me."

Yuui nodded to him. They were back on their street now, and they could hear Ashura's voice calling out, looking for his charges. Tch. At least Sonomi-san knew better than to do something so humiliating.

"He's probably worried you got jumped by those guys again," Kurogane said. "You'd better go. I'll see you tomorrow."

Yuui waved as his response. Syaoran darted out and wrapped his arms around Kurogane's legs.

"Bye-bye!" he said cheerfully. Before Kurogane could howl in outrage, he ran back to Yuui. "Tum on, You-tune. Asha-san is worried!"

Yuui waved again and hurried down the street with Syaoran. Kurogane headed for the Daidouji house with contentment. He actually had something to do around here, after all.


So, this is my new story. I'm still trying to gather up the courage and fortitude to dive into the Freefall sequel (as yet untitled), so I'm writing this in the meantime. Ever since Chapitre 198 of Tsubasa RC got released online (well over a year ago), I've been wanting to write a story based on the illustration for the chapter title page. It's one of the cutest things I've ever seen. The plot bunny finally got me a couple of months ago, but I waited until I was finished with Freefall to work on this one!

In case anyone is wondering about what illustration I'm talking about, follow this link (somebody colored it! Hooray!) and as always, remove spaces:

http:/ aokaji21. deviantart. com/ gallery/ 9659416/d1r3fkp

So, this story will be full of fluffy, cute childhood friendship, with plenty of angst thrown in because it's CLAMP, and it's me, and together we are an angst machine. I plan to have about five lengthy chapters, which should take them through their teenage years.

I am anticipating a few of the questions I am sure you all have, and I am going to go ahead and answer them!

This is a world I made up. It bears a very strong resemblance to our world, but minor feats of magic are common and accepted in this world. Therefore, Nadeshiko & Sonomi and Sakura & Tomoyo closely resemble their CCS selves, but are not them. HOWEVER . . . These are the actual Tsubasa versions of the other characters. How they got there, and why, will be explained later in the story. Ashura is NOT going to go nuts and kill everyone later. Yes, Kurogane's "damn witch" is THAT witch; Yuuko plays a very important role in this story.

Anyway, I hope you guys like it! By the way, I need some ideas for other characters who might live at the orphanage. I was hoping for one or two more! Any other awesome magical orphan boys I could throw in there?